Relocation of site

The New Observer is in the process of moving from a hosted WordPress site to a site on WordPress.com.

Please bear with us during this transition period – some links may not work. We are working to fix everything, but it may take some time, as the editor only has a limited amount of time available for this work. Thank you for your patience.


The perils of privatising social care

This is a story in the Guardian about how children in care are treated as commodities in a market-system of placement.

The Guardian often does these kinds of stories quite well. However; they never draw the obvious conclusion. The system is not ever going to be fixed by a worried / outraged article in the press and some more regulation / money.

The problems described in this article are the inevitable result of bringing the profit system into the field of social care for looked after young people. Of course if you do this calculations are going to be made on the basis of profiteering and of course this will not result in the “best care” for young people.

There may be some fields where the profit-motive can produce results which socialised production cannot. An obvious example is the case of any field in which technological innovation can be stimulated by profit and competition. It is hard not to accept, for example, that the competition between Nikon and Canon – both chasing profits – has not been the driver for the exceptional technical developments in digital cameras in the last few years.

But some fields do not require innovation. Social care is one such field. Care is care and the basics of what is needed does not change or develop over time. What is needed is not technical innovation but long-term planning and the stability that comes from this. There is no need to make profits to invest in R&D. Private companies operating in these fields are simply creaming off the profits. If the service was delivered on a socialised basis any surplus could be re-invested.

These services have been privatised so that greedy business people (in many cases US investment capital) can make lots of profits and accumulate even more capital into private hands.

The system of social care for young people taken into care in this country is frightening. If the public knew what was going on there would be widespread horror. Since the ideology of privatisation of local authority services has taken over there has been a surge in small private providers running a small number of care homes – with just a few beds per home. In some cases (probably many – I don’t have figures) these private companies are run by people who used to work in social services departments. They use their contacts and training and domain knowledge (all provided for them by the public purse) to develop their profitable private businesses. Local authorities pay whatever they are asked. There are multiple reasons for this lack of cost-control which it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss. But we can note that local authorities operate in a risk-averse environment – penalties accrue for allowing a scandal to occur but there are no rewards for taking a small risk and saving some money.

The Guardian article gives some mouthwatering ideas about costs of placing a young person in a private care home.

The author of this site worked for one shift in one of these homes. A young boy aged 12 had just arrived – he had just been taken into care and the home had just accepted his (no doubt lucrative) placement. It emerged that one of the older youths had on his file the remark that due to his sexual behaviour no younger people should be placed in the same home as him. Fortunately, one of the staff remarked, this was just a comment and not a legal ruling so the home was able to ignore it when taking the placement of the younger boy. This is precisely the kind of decision making based on financial motives which occurs when you have a privatised market. And it is harmful to young people. In this case definitely so; during the night – I heard a scream from the bedrooms – I am 100% sure this was the 17 year old pedophile introducing himself into the bed of the new arrival (the 12 year old).

The arguments about ‘efficiency’ with which the public were sold large-scale privatisation in the 80s are massively overstated. The costs, especially in sectors, which should be embodying social values, were never considered.

There are similar problems in the system of local authority funded care for the elderly. As private care homes go bust their elderly victims are turfed out and dumped in hospital wards.

Money won the argument. Care lost. Articles like the one linked to above in the Guardian can highlight the problems – but it will take more than a little bit of regulation to fix. Some “services” can only be properly provided on a socialised basis. The left – what remains of it – should at least focus on bringing social care, prisons, probation and education back into the state sector.

A trip to A&E

I had to visit A&E in Hillingdon in Greater London today. I was expecting a lengthy wait. In the end I was seen by a doctor within 2 hours – which is really pretty good.

There is quite a well-organised triage and queuing system. On arrival I was logged into a system – just name and address. After 10 minutes I was see by a nurse who took a few medical details. After an hour I was shepherded from the main waiting area to a more privileged area – like a GP’s waiting room. People were taken in groups of 3 from the outer waiting area to the inner. I think that people were being prioritised – for example a child who arrived after me was seen before me.

The main impressions I had in the outer waiting room:- people were poor. This is Hillingdon. (I was one of very few white faces in the waiting room). One white woman, with a child, had a look of desperate but patient endurance – the sort of look in their eyes that people have who have spent their lives waiting for a few crumbs to fall from the table of officialdom. A second impression; hardly anyone actually seemed to need the doctor. There was one guy who looked like he’d been in a fight, with blood on his face. There were a couple of people who had injection devices in their arms; perhaps they had run out of some necessary drug and had come in for a top-up. But in the main it was very hard to detect any signs of illness or injury – apart from the relentless signs of poverty. Apart from the above, and one or two children who looked like they had tummy upsets, it could have been the DSS waiting room. No broken bones; no sprains; no one looking seriously ill.

What were all these people doing with their Sunday afternoon? Why were they there? Did they really need to be there? Or is this some kind of ritual? I don’t know, to be honest. But I was stuck by the lack of any obvious signs of illness/injury.


Housing in the UK

The Guardian has been running a series of exposes this week about poor conditions in the private rented sector; stories include tales of neglect by landlords who live abroad, and landlords who have been prosecuted able to continue letting.

Up to a point, good journalism.

But – the call is for more regulation, and this isn’t going to get us anywhere. The landlords, their allies in parliament, the resistance of the bureaucracy to do anything which transfers power to the powerless will always make sure that any regulation is tokenistic only. For example; the government has announced that tenants will be able to access a database of ‘rogue landlords’ run by local authorities. But, in reality, how many desperate people – those in the market for a slum property run by a slum landlord – will be in a position to check this database? In reality, people who are desperate enough to be considering a slum property don’t have the luxury of selecting their landlord – on any criteria.

In general all attempts to regulate private greed and exploitation of the powerless start from the premise of legitimising greed and exploitation. It is not permitted to do anything to call into question the founding principles of capitalism – and so the regulation is necessarily toothless. At best regulation is designed to hide some of the very worst excesses which bring the system as a whole into disrepute.

A few personal experiences by the author of this site. At one point he rented a small flat in Oxford from a private landlord. They seemed quite friendly. I paid the deposit and moved in. After a few months some problems developed with a boiler. It had become furred up and started making a terrible racket at night – causing me sleepless nights. I tried to contact the landlords. When I’d met them they had appeared to live just round the corner so I didn’t think this would be a problem. However – after multiple attempts to contact them it seemed that this was not the case. In the end I discovered that they were living in the Caribbean – presumably on the rent I was paying them. After 3 sleepless months they finally managed to send someone round to fix the boiler..

On another occasion I rented from a private “buy-to-let” landlord in a small town in Oxfordshire. He had to be pressed to take away the rubbish left by the last tennant and he eventually did so, albeit making a fuss about it. Once he’d done that I moved in. As he handed over the keys he said, “these modern houses run themselves”. I.e. don’t call us if it needs any repairs.

Both these people (who were a long way from the kind of slum landlords exposed by the Guardian) were lazy and keen to make money out of someone else’s need. Neither had much  sense of social solidarity. They are quite happy to see other people, not as brothers, but as objects to be exploited to make themselves rich. Such thinking and behaviour is of course not simply normalised in capitalism; it is an expression of capitalism’s founding principles. At its basis is an indifference to others; a willingness to exploit them and not care what that does to them. In the Soviet Union such behaviour was illegal; a crime.

The Guardian’s call for more regulation will change nothing. If we want the problems exposed by the Guardian to end the only way to do this is to outlaw private renting altogether and for the state to take responsibility for providing social housing. Private greed is private greed – it never has a pretty face – and making it jump through a few tokenistic regulatory hoops is no more than applying a dab of powder to it. It is fundamentally ugly.







Why does the Guardian lie so much on Russia?

Quite possibly a Russian intelligence agency was behind the alleged attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. If this was the case then maybe the Kremlin knew about it in advance; or maybe they didn’t. There is quite a lot of material in the public domain which makes the former quite a strong possibility.

All this makes it all the more surprising that the Guardian incessantly lies when they write about Russia. If they want to criticise Russia there is  surely plenty to write about without lying?

This is Guardian ‘journalist’ Andrew Roth writing from Moscow on Putin’s comments that Skripal is/was a traitor and scumbag.

These are the lies in Mr Roth’s piece:

i. The piece is headlined “Vladimir Putin calls Sergei Skripal a scumbag and a traitor”. However; in his actual remarks Putin called Skripal a traitor and then went on to say that surely seeing a traitor as  a ‘scumbag’ is the natural reaction. (The Russian word he used is подонок for which Wiktionary offers the following translations “rogue, bastard, rat, scum, scoundrel”). That is – for Putin Skripal is a traitor and it follows from this that he is a rogue/rat/scum/scoundrel. To report this as “scumbag and traitor” i.e. to change the word order obfuscates Putin’s principled position – he doesn’t like traitors, and for Putin it follows from this that Skripal is a подонок. Furthermore; the word “scumbag” appears to be the worst possible translation of the Russian word Putin used. These errors are likely not unintentional. Mr Roth wants to tell a story about how terrible Putin is and he will distort the facts to prop up his story.

ii. “The novichok used was one of a number of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union”. This is tendentious. Indeed this lie has already been called out. The substance allegedly used has been identified as being of a type which was developed by the Soviet Union. However, the specific material that was used in Salisbury could have come from a wide number of countries (including Britain) with the knowledge and capacity to produce this kind of agent.

iii. “Investigative journalists claim they have identified one of the two men as Col Anatoliy Chepiga, a military intelligence officer who strongly resembles one of the two suspects.” This refers to claims by a blogger called “Bellingcat”. Bellingcat specialises in scouring social media to find material to bolster NATO narratives on various matters. His analytical abilities do not reach the standard required of an investigative journalist – as this website has shown. Citing the weak ‘analyses’ by this propagandist as the work of an “investigative journalist” is one way that Western propagandists/journalists produce their narratives.

iv. “The Kremlin has said it will not help secure an interview with the suspects or discuss speculation as to their identities, despite the fact that Putin had originally called on them to come forward and protest their innocence on television”

In fact the two suspects were produced and gave an interview to RT.

v. “Russian television presented the two suspects, naming them as Boshirov and Petrov, as tourists who travelled twice to Salisbury because they were determined to see the city’s cathedral”

If Mr Roth is referring to the RT interview this is incorrect. RT simply interviewed the two men. It didn’t “present” them as anything. The interviewer (the editor of the channel) declined to state her personal opinion as to whether the men were telling the truth or not.

Embellishing a story or outright lying – a matter of semantics perhaps. But in either case – not journalism.


It really is incessant. Here is today’s article which links Skripal and alleged Russian cyberattacks. It is by ‘Diplomatic Editor’ Patrick Wintour. He writes:

Official Russian explanations for the two men’s visit to Salisbury have been widely ridiculed, prompting tensions inside the Russian government over the inept handling of the episode.

However; there haven’t been any official explanations. See point iv. above: “The Kremlin has said it will not help secure an interview with the suspects or discuss speculation as to their identities”. You can check they are lying because they can’t even get their story straight.

Then we have:

The cyber-attack on the DNC headquarters, critical to the outcome of the 2016 elections, has often been attributed to the Russians, but it is the first time the UK intelligence services have made the claim.

Maybe ‘critical’. But that is a judgement not an objective fact as Mr Wintour presents here. (And a simplistic hack as this was reported to be is not a ‘cyber-attack’. A cyber-attack is when you set out to actively damage or cripple infrastructure – such as the US/Israel cyber-attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. In this case it was a hack to obtain data. Calling this event a cyberattack is just another lie).

Actually this story about alleged Russian hacking (perhaps provided to the Guardian by the Security Services?) should be understood completely in the context a) of Britain having recently set up its own dedicated cyber warfare unit and b) Britain trying to create a post-Brexit security role for itself in Europe.

We “bolster” – they meddle

You have to do a double-take to check that the author of this Guardian article on the recent referendum in Macedonia is not having a laugh. But no – this is how they think. The referendum asked people if they wanted to change the name of the country so as to be able to resolve a dispute with Greece and move towards EU and NATO membership. The vote was high – about 90% in favour – but the low turnout (36%) meant that the result was not binding.

There are the usual unsubstantiated claims about “Russian meddling”. There is the usual reliance on claims by US officials. As usual “allegations” are treated as facts. And a smattering of Facebook posts (which could, as far as the article evidences, be by anyone at all) are cited as evidence of Russian interference.

But what is really surprising is how they manage to keep a straight face when after all these (vague and unsubstantiated claims) of Russian “interference” they calmly discuss how the US spent USD 8 million trying to “bolster” the yes vote.

The vote – to move towards NATO and EU membership – was not binding on the government because the turnout was only 36%. But in a nice show of Western progressives true attitude towards democracy – they report that “The paradox is that, whatever their country is called, a large majority of Macedonians support EU and Nato membership, according to a recent survey”. The source of the survey is not mentioned. So; the referendum abjectly failed to achieve the desired result despite a massive US/EU attempt to “bolster” the result . This was blamed on Russia – simply based on a series of allegations and claims by Western officials. But – not to worry – a survey said that Macedonians want NATO and EU membership so, hey ho, lets press on anyway.

Russian meddling does seem to have a purpose. The story (true or not – in this world of media narratives it makes no difference) of Russian meddling allows progressives to blame Russia for any failure of their “democratic” political projects – it isn’t that some of their domestic audiences are beginning to tire of the Western political project.

The intolerance of the new ‘progressives’

This article by Guardian columnist Owen Jones is a statement of the new credo.

Owen is up in arms because Sky News has interviewed Tommy Robinson (founder of the English Defence League). Owen says that “The far right is not a legitimate political perspective”. Its spokespeople should not be heard. Giving them a “platform” i.e. interviewing them,  legitimises their bigotry and hatred. Owen argues that if we allow the principle that people with irrational beliefs and “any old idea” can legitimately be interviewed by the media then “why aren’t we holding prime-time debates about how the earth is flat”? It appears that Owen Jones would also like to ban interviews about whether the earth is flat.

The problem with this is simple and obvious. Who decides what is “irrational” and “any old idea”? The whole idea of a rational democracy is that the people, who are assumed to be capable of making their own rational assessments, make these decisions. And they can only make these decisions if they can hear the views. Despite his (strategic and transparent) attempts to distance himself from the ‘liberal media’ Owen Jones is simply re-iterating one of its core beliefs; a self-appointed elite should decide what goes and what does not go in terms of what is considered acceptable debate. By defining what can and cannot be debated they hope to short-circuit debate and simply force their views through. (Another example of this was how in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on gay marriage the then Equalities Minister announced that there would be a period of public debate and then, a few days later, said that anyone who disagreed with the proposal was a bigot and their views could not even be countenanced).

The only solid argument that Owen Jones offers to support his banning call is that the Finsbury Park mosque bomber had seen online videos by Tommy Robinson.  However; the problem with this argument is that publishing material which incites racial or religious-based hatred are already arrestable offences in the UK. If the Finsbury Park bomber really was ‘radicalised’ by Tommy Robinson’s videos (as Jones quotes a senior police officer as saying) then the question is – why had the police not arrested Robinson (and required ISPs to remove the videos?). The law already provides precisely the protection which Owen is now seeking to obtain through a banning of media interviews. Not only does it provide this protection but – just because it is the law – and not the arbitrary legislation of self-appointed guardians of the airwaves – it provides a rational mechanism for determining what is hate-speech and what is legitimate debate. There may well be a serious set of questions to ask concerning why the police had not arrested Robinson for publishing material “stirring-up” hatred of religious groups (if that is what he is doing) – but the call for a media ban is something else. A media ban is a blanket ban on a person or organisation – once enforced the banned people cannot say anything at all. It is characteristic of the new progressives (or modern liberals – despite Jones’s attempt to distance himself from the tag ‘liberal’ he is indeed a representative of modern liberalism) that they like, where possible, to bypass the due process and considered judgements of the courts in favour of blanket bans which they control. While no doubt Jone’s cause is in many ways a worthwhile one (tolerance is a better value than intolerance) he is closer to Nazi book-burnings than he might think.

The other problem with the idea of a media ban is that it will probably not, as Jones appears to believe, somehow make intolerance and racism go away. The bigotry which Jones is concerned about is rooted in the real experience of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, in the UK. Guardian journalists probably do not feel the heat of economic competition from immigrants. But many do. Owen Jones himself might not mind his children being forced to eat cruelly slaughtered halal meat at school because the local authority has a policy that all meat is halal – but does this mean that those who object are bigots? The only valid crucible in which what is a reasonable (but different) point of view and what is simply a hate-crime can be tested is the crucible of public debate – and, when a conclusion is reached, though the process of legislation and judgement in a court.

Owen’s piece, linked to above, is a clear example of the credo of modern progressives (liberals) that seeks to bypass the ‘old’ approach of rational debate and legislation and replace it with a new approach where a very narrow metropolitan elite of political and media figures decide for everyone else what is right and wrong.