True tales from Britain’s public sector (1)

Your editor went for a job interview the other day – at a Higher Education public sector organisation which will remain nameless.

One of the interview questions was “what issues are facing the Higher Education sector at the moment”. The correct answer was “the funding crisis”.

Later (in fact at a second interview) he was sat down in the technical office and asked to complete a test. This started at about 3.15pm.

First of all a young woman glided in. She asked some people in the office if they had any returns to make (of some kind). “No”, they said. She said she’d go and find some people who did. I may be reading too much into it but this had all the hallmarks of a “non-job”. (That is a job which generates no useful, productive, results at all).

Next; two staff in the office started discussing a technical task. It didn’t sound very complicated. It wasn’t very clear why it needed any discussion. They discussed it for about half  an hour. One of them mentioned that someone had been sent “for training”. (Observers of the public sector will know that ‘training’ is required to do anything new; people are never expected to be able to work it out for themselves).  After that these two staff pushed off. It must have been about 3.45 pm at the latest. It was a Wednesday.

A small microcosm of life in the public sector.

In any other country it would be called corruption. But it is so prevalent that it is not seen as such.

 

There is a ‘political debate’ in this country about public sector spending. One side, driven by the Unions, tells us that there is a crisis of under-funding. The other side, the government, is making cuts in central government grants. Neither side is addressing the real problem – institutionalised graft and corruption.

Instead of talking about the corruption there is an entirely fake discourse about the necessity or not of the ‘austerity agenda’.

Lenin probably had the (only) answer to this – public officials should be elected, instantly recallable and paid no more than the average wage for a working man.

 

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A lack of realism in the political class response to terrorism

At least one of the attackers on the 7/7 London Tube bombings was known to the intelligence services. [1]

Khalid Masood who attacked Parliament on March 2017, killing several people, was known to the intelligence services. [2]

Salman Abedi who blew himself up – killing 23 at a concert in May 2017 was known to the intelligence services. [3]

At least one of the attackers in the June 2017 London Bridge attack appears to have been known to the intelligence services. [4]

In at least some of the cases above (Abedi and one of the as yet unnamed London Bridge attackers) there are claims of multiple reports by the public to the police and even the Prevent helpline (set up to allow the public to report concerns about terrorists).

In fact this pattern is repeated for virtually all (if not all) the recent terrorist attacks in Europe including the French theatre bombings (November 2015) and the Madrid train bombings (March 2004).

This fact – that all these criminals are already on the watch lists of the intelligence agencies – shows what amazing work the intelligence services do.

However; this fact raises the question as to whether or not these attacks could have been prevented. After the Manchester attack MI5 leaked to the press that at any one time they have 23,000 in a wider pool of suspects and 3,000 under active scrutiny.  They only have resources to keep 3,000 under active surveillance at any one time. [5] It would appear that in the 4 cases above of attacks on UK soil the attacker(s) known to MI5 were in the 23,000 list but not in the 3,000 list. [6]  Given that none of the above 4 attacks in the UK were carried out by people in the 3,000 list we can reasonably infer that this level of surveillance may be effective in preventing attacks. The conclusion is obvious; at the least MI5 should be resourced to place all 23,000 under active surveillance. Given the levels of training presumably required for this kind of work this cannot probably be done overnight; but it seems to be a direction worth heading in.

Beyond that there is the fraught and extremely problematic question about the existence in the UK of thousands of people who are basically potential terrorists. Surveillance is extremely resource intensive and can only go so far.

At the same time; it is time perhaps to drop some of the niceness and absurdities that this is not to do with Islam. All of the attackers above thought that they were doing something in the name of Allah and most seem to have thought that they were acting for the benefit of Muslims suffering under Western bombs in the Middle East. (The 7/7 attackers gave this as their reason. Masood did). That alone means that this is a problem not just with ‘extremism’ but with Islamic extremism. The UK is, again a fact, involved in an illegal military intervention in Syria and illegally invaded Iraq in 2003. That Muslims are suffering considerably in the Middle East is incontrovertible. Even if the individuals who commit these atrocities are psychologically damaged people acting out of their own personal problems who have just latched onto a cause to make themselves appear heroes it remains the case that there is an undoubted connection to what is happening in the Middle East. Chaos in the Middle East leads to chaos at home.

The argument that ISIS ‘hate our values’ and would attack us even if we withdrew from the Middle East is not serious. ISIS always overstate the case; it is part of their modus operandi. Furthermore; whatever some Twitter account linked to ISIS says the fact is that it is the sight of Muslims suffering in Iraq, Syria and Libya which gets some British Muslims so worked up. The argument that there is no connection is simply imperialism; an attempt to continue our war ad infinitum by claiming that all the aggression is on their side. In this link Labour politician Andy Burnham gives a very good illustration of the kind of sheer phantasy land that deniers of the connection between British Foreign Policy and domestic terrorism exist in. He claims that “let’s remember that the appalling atrocity of 9/11 happened before interventions anywhere”. This is completely untrue. 9/11 was carried out by a group which had been part of a movement funded by the CIA in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. Bin Laden gave as his rationale the Western presence in Saudi Arabia. Andy Burnham shows precisely the kind of childish thinking which would, if allowed to inform policy, ensure we will never escape from this problem. These people don’t drop down from outer space. Their actions – even if they are the actions of a deluded minority with psychological problems – are connected with British interventions abroad.

Britain has a clear track record of interventions in the Middle East which create chaos and cause suffering to Muslims. There are 2.75 millions Muslims living in the UK. Of these 4% “sympathise” with suicide bombings. [7] That makes 110,000. Of these 1% “completely sympathise” – which is 27,000. MI5 says that 23,000 are ‘subjects of interest’. Just 3,000 are being actively watched at any one time. There is a real problem here. One which the political class is dancing around the edges of. Either because, on the one hand, they don’t want to admit the connection between these attacks and Britain’s involvement in ill-thought out interventions abroad (which they want to continue) or because they are too wedded to a politics of ‘promoting diversity’ at all costs and can’t bring themselves to admit that there is a cultural and religious dimension to this.

There is a serious lack of real politik here. As long as this is the case this spiral will continue.

Update 6 June

In a truly disgusting spectacle of political blame avoidance we can now see Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and London Mayor Sadiq Khan trying to blame the police for letting these events take place. It should be evident to anyone that surveillance alone cannot stop 100% of these attacks.  There are thousands of people in this country who are potential terrorists. MI5 can play a guessing game about which ones are likely to move to the active stage but it is inevitable that they can’t always get this right. Human behaviour is not 100% predictable. The clear reality here is that this is a political problem; here we see two political class politicians trying to duck the problem by making wholly impossible demands on the police.

Notes

1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/may/19/july7-atacks-mohammad-sidique-khan-shehzad-tanweer

2. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/24/khalid-masood-questions-over-how-much-mi5-knew-about-attacker

3. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/may/28/mi5-launches-inquiries-into-failings-on-manchester-arena-bomber-salman-abedi-moss-side-raids-amber-rudd

4. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/05/questions-raised-about-police-knowledge-of-london-bridge-attackers

5. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/27/23000-people-have-subjects-interest-scale-terror-threat-emerges/

6.  According to this article in the Guardian one of the London Bridge attackers was in the 3000 list. However a) no source is given and b) the police had said he was no longer considered a threat which would suggest he was not being actively monitored. RT who also provide a quote but without giving many details about the source say that Butt, one of the main London Bridge attackers, was classified as “low priority” which would appear to mean he was on the 23,000 list and not the 3,000. All matters considered RT is probably right.

7. http://www.channel4.com/info/press/news/c4-survey-and-documentary-reveals-what-british-muslims-really-think

Corbyn is mainstream

In an ideological campaign driven by the interests of its owners the “free” (as in free-market) press in the UK is telling its readers that Labour under Corbyn represents some kind of radical fringe.

This is not remotely true. The motive for this distorted picture is to maintain the gains for private capital secured to private capital by Britain’s relentless privatisation programme carried out since the 1980s.

A few points (this article is a stub due to time constraints):

i) Corporation Tax. Corporation Tax in the UK is currently 19%. Corbyn wants to increase this to 26%. Radical? Well; it is a big increase. But still less than rates in Germany (up to 33%), France (33 – 36%) and Belgium (34%). [1]

ii) On nationalisation. Corbyn wants to nationalise rail, the Royal Mail and part of the energy industry – including state control of the National Grid. But, noticeably, not BT, the water companies, oil or gas. Radical? Not really.

In France the state owns: the postal service, some national media companies (e.g. Radio France), and the railways, amongst others. The state owns a large and controlling stake in the private national electricity generating company. [2]

In Germany the state owns the railways (through ownership of a private company). The state has significant but not controlling shares in a number of businesses including Deutsche Telekom and significant shares in the banking industry. In addition there is a significant amount of state ownership of smaller businesses at a regional level. [2]

In Belgium the state owns the railways, the postal service and has a considerable stake in the media. [2] In Denmark the state owns the largest oil and gas production company. [2]

In short; while privatisation has been a trend in recent times across Europe including in Britain’s main competitors, France and Germany, it is the case that it has not been taken to such an extreme as in Britain. Were Corbyn’s plans on nationalisation to be realised the UK would be more aligned with the model prevalent in other European countries. That is: direct state ownership in one or two key sectors (rail and the post) and some degree of ownership in others e.g. energy. So; nothing radical there.

This is the reality. Corbyn’s programme is in line with mainstream social democracy in Europe. Even the proposed increase in the top-rate of income tax has equivalents in some European countries – though it looks like it would be higher than the top rate in France (49%) [1] and Germany (47%) [1]. The message that this is a ‘radical’ programme is simply propaganda by capitalists to protect their interests. This also shows us all too well how the “free” press in the West acts in the interests of its owners – that is finance capital – in just the same way that state media companies (such as RT) acts in the interests of their owners.

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_rates_in_Europe (sources unverified)

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State-owned_enterprise (sources unverified)

 

A manifesto for the election

A Manifesto

Summary

The main aim is to reverse the idea of private wealth being the main agent of social and economic initiative and replace this with the idea of planned running of the economy. At the same time permit private initiative on a smaller scale – up to the level at which it does not become a private political force.

A socialist country will be overall less wealthy than a capitalist one. We accept this and believe that the values of socialism more than compensate for this.

Sectorial policies

Economy: Nationalise all the natural monopolies. No need to pay shareholders compensation. Nationalise the banks. A new nationalised bank lends on the basis of social benefit not return on investment.

Health: Massively cut NHS funding. Shift spending to long-term disease prevention via Health Education. Re-orientate NICE away from promoting the interests of US pharma and towards health. (Launch an audit of drug prescriptions to eliminate unnecessary ones).

Education: reduce the number of hours of compulsory schooling. Reduce the reliance on certification. Make education more interesting. Eliminate University fees, but make entrance more selective. Re-introduce Polytechnics.

Welfare: aim to make massive cuts in the welfare budget. Move towards a model of subsidised employment in the state sector. Promote the idea that the family is the primary source of help in times of difficulty.

Defence: fund defence using nationalised domestic suppliers (not US ones).

Foreign Policy: stop imperialist, capitalist, foreign interventions. Use Britain’s influence to promote ‘democracy and human rights’ by argument and example.

Media: regulate the media in such a way as to prevent it being used to promote the interests of large-scale (foreign) capital while at the same time permitting measured criticism of the authorities. (This is a difficult balancing act. It could be that one way is to create a body composed of academics to have an oversight role).

Political engagement: promote the idea and practice of democratic involvement at all levels of society including schools and factories while accepting the reality that most people are willing to take a lead rather than lead. Make state officials more directly accountable to the population. For example; require that they meet with groups of citizens when those groups require. Regulate this so that such groups represent citizens with genuine concerns not private lobby groups.

Political parties and democracy: start a national dialog aimed at producing a consensus model of government. Once this is produced require that all political parties subscribe to it. The aim is to prevent a permanent ‘debate’ about major ideological questions. At the same time this is an ongoing process and ideological questions can continue to be raised. This requires political mechanisms which act as a steadying influence and brake on endless political change while at the same time avoiding a situation of pure dictatorship. A model is the Iranian model of giving significant power in the constitution to a body of clerics. This particular approach would not suit a secular country such as Britain. But a similar role could be played by a panel of academics based in a rationalist and humanist tradition.

Religion. The state actively supports and promotes the Christian Church (all denominations) and Islamic institutions which firmly set their face against political violence.

And the name for this movement? It is called ‘self-help socialism’.

Does this look like Russia? Yes; there are some similarities. We can learn from others and maybe it is time to do so – and stop lecturing them from the position of a decaying and degenerate Western capitalism.

 

 

 

Fake democracy

The political class constantly lecture us about how we have ‘democracy’.

Democracy is used to justify foreign wars. (Entirely selectively since many of our allies are hardly ‘democratic’). It is used to sell the current political-economic system to the population. (Yes; you may be relatively poor but you are free). It is used as a stick to bash e.g. Russia who is presented as not ‘democratic’. Etc.

The only occasion for the practice of democracy in a bourgeois parliamentary democracy is at the ballot box every few years and the occasional referendum. And; look what happens. The campaign by the Tory party in favour of a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum was characterised by fear and scaremongering. The campaign for a ‘Remain’ vote in the EU referendum was run on the same basis. (For example the taxpayer funded leaflet produced by the government in favour of ‘Remain’ linked leaving the EU to being threatened by an Iranian nuclear missile; a claim precisely on a par with the mocked up “45 minute” claim that was used to justify the Iraq war). These campaigns are precisely not democratic political campaigns. They don’t present arguments and appeal to reason. They are produced by people who work in the advertising industry, or who have similar skills, and are aimed at manipulating people through the mass media. They use fear and shame. They often aim to do no more than make it hard for people to make the other choice. (The Tory party attack ad. on Corbyn’s history of not condemning IRA bombings is of this ilk [1]). The political class are not ‘doing democracy’. Theresa May said she did not attend the main national televised debate in the election which she called because she doesn’t believe in “squabbling”. The likely reason is that a strategist has determined that her appearance would give wind to the sails of the Labour opposition by making it appear like a genuine race. Her non-appearance is tactical and manipulative. Parliamentary democracy is a limited form of democracy. And these people cannot live with even that. They are mocking it.

Why then should anyone accept the rationale for the foreign invasions? Or the justification for a society of wild economic inequality?

The whole thing is a sham.

Notes

1. In fact it turns out that the Tory attack ad which offered quotes suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn had declined to condemn IRA bombings was cooked up. Corbyn’s words were highly edited to the extent that he was completely misrepresented. As this Guardian article (which links to the original interview) shows.

Can the “free” press be trusted to allow a debate on public ownership?

This is an interview with Cat Hobbs who is the Director of “We Own It” – a campaign group based in Oxford which campaigns for public ownership.

What is striking about this interview is how entirely ideologically committed to privatisation the interviewer is. (His commitment to privatisation goes far beyond what might be regarded as asking challenging questions).

His ideological commitment is such that he makes the following questionable statement [2.37]:

“Since privatisation the railways are now more or less paying for themselves”. This is not true. The railway companies receive £ billions in public support and subsidy. [1]

This sort of interview is also relevant to the whole sham discourse about the “free press” in the West. Western media is usually presented as “free” in contrast to (typically) Russian state media. The Russian state media certainly tends to favour the line taken by the Russian government on most issues. But then, as we see here, the “free” press in the West does something similar and at the same time much more insidious. Sky, the broadcaster here, for example, is a publicly traded company. That is; it is owned by finance capital. Here we see it, in the guise of fulfilling the role of a “free press”, working as hard as it can including using factually questionable statements in order to promote the interests of its owners – finance capital. Who, we can be assured, love the idea of a publicly subsidised ‘free-market’ in the railways.

The interview does not deviate from the ideological free-market line. There is no sense here of “journalistic balance”. Even in terms of conventional classical economics there are arguments for and against privatisation but in this interview only one side is considered by the interviewer. For example note the way he argues as if it were an ideologically free point that privatisation is good because passengers pay for their travel rather than the taxpayer. This is in fact not the kind of neutral point the interviewer presents it as, but is one side of the argument. The other side of this argument is that a nationally owned rail network with prices maintained at an affordable level a) is fairer – which is a value in its own right which is simply discounted by market economics and b) also has economic benefits in that it allows more people to consider jobs which they cannot afford to travel to in a for-profit system – and this has wider benefits for the economy. We can see in the interviewer’s question a radical and ideological position masquerading as “common sense”. This is not an attempt to “stimulate democratic debate” but an attempt to close it off.

To be clear; it is one thing for a journalist to put the other side of the argument to an interviewee in order to challenge them. But what we see here is something somewhat different. Here one side of the argument is offered as straight fact. This is an ideological position.

Ms Hobbs does a fantastic job up against this example of the “free press”.

Notes

1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/16/rail-operators-200m-dividends-subsidy

 

 

You have to laugh…

So much for ‘regulated capitalism’.

Wondering who I can complain to about the flaky Broadband service I receive from Plusnet (BT) I looked around, naively expecting to find a state regulator. Toothless no doubt but still, something vaguely accountable and democratic.

But no. They’ve privatised the freaking regulators as well!!!

If you are not satisfied with Plusnet’s response to your compalint (or they’ve simply ignored it) you can complain to Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS). This organisation is a Ltd company. As such they aren’t subject to Freedom of Information requests. BT itself operates the same system – only they use a different private ‘regulator’. (I haven’t had time to look into it but I would assume that the legislation allows these monopolies to simply choose their own arbitrator).

It is no great loss. In 2015 Scottish Power messed up the accounts of thousands of people in a botched IT transformation exercise. They cancelled accounts; started new ones while warning people that their discounts may have changed, didn’t reply to correspondence etc. etc. In the end their regulator (Ofgem) fined them… £1.00. Yes. £1.00. Obviously the directors and shareholders of these large companies are laughing all the way to the bank. Along with the corrupt politicians who’ve sold democracy down the river and who are looking forward to payback time when they leave parliament and need a few directorships to cushion their retirement.