Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Migrant and Refugee Myths 1: Why are they all young men? They’re not

First, they’re not. Of the one million people who came to the EU by boat from non-EU countries in 2015, half were women and children. As the vast majority of migrants come by boat, this will mean close to 50% of all migrants were women and children.  Eurostat figures on all non-EU asylum applications in EU countries in 2014 (coming by land and sea) show 70% were male and 30% were female, and of those who were male, many were children  (1) – (2).

The figures for the first half of 2015 were similar. This led to claims that migrants were “mostly young men”, but by the end of it , as mentioned already, half were women and children.

Some claimed the change in the percentages over time was due to the UN and EU fiddling the stats, ignoring the fact that well over half a million more migrants arrived in the EU in the last several months of 2015.

One of the actual reasons for the change over that period is that many of the men are making the long, hard, dangerous journey to an EU country so their wives and children can follow them from the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon or Syria. If they are granted asylum then their families are likely to be granted asylum too. Then their family can join them legally, without having to be at the mercy of criminal gangs of people smugglers, or the significant minority of criminals among the migrants who prey on the ordinary refugees, often robbing, raping or killing them (3).

Of Syrian refugees in Middle Eastern countries , over 50% are female and 26% are 17 or younger on UN statistics (4).

The higher proportion of young men among refugees travelling to the EU is likely also down to the fact that  the journey to the EU is a long, hard one and can be risky too. And men are not any safer from being killed in a civil war – they may even be more likely to be jailed, tortured or killed as they’re more likely to be suspected of being a fighter for another side.
The Bosnian Serbs at Srebrenica in 1994 massacred every “male of military age” which they defined as from 16 to 65 years old.

Of course some migrants from some countries will be more economic migrants than refugees, but that does not make every male asylum seeker a fake, or an economic migrant.

Another reason why more younger men may come is that families in poor countries often send one member to go to a wealthier country to get a job and send money home. Money sent back to the country they were born in by people who have come to wealthier countries dwarfs the amount of foreign aid provided by governments (5).



(1) = UNHCR Refugees/Migrants Emergency Response – Mediterranean (retrieved 20 Jan 2016),

(2) = Eurostat 21 May 2015 ‘Asylum Statistics :  Share of male (non-EU) asylum applicants in the EU-28, by age group and status of minors, 2014 (%),http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics  and http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Share_of_male_%28non-EU%29_asylum_applicants_in_the_EU-28,_by_age_group_and_status_of_minors,_2014_%28%25%29_YB15_III.png

(3) = National Review 12 Oct 2015 ‘Why So Many of Europe’s Migrants Are Men’, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/425398/why-europes-migrants-are-men

(4) =  UNHCR Syria Regional Refugee Response - Inter-agency Information Sharing Portal (retrieved January 2016) http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

(5) = www.theguardian.com 30 Jan 2013 ‘Migrants' billions put aid in the shade’,

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Corbyn is not an anti-semite - He promotes peace negotiations while his critics approve arms sales

The accusation that Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic based on some of the people who have spoken at the same rallies as him or run charities he has backed is a serious one, but unfounded.

Corbyn did call members of Hamas and Hezbollah who came to a conference in Britain “our friends”.  It’s fair enough to discuss whether that was a good choice of words. Corbyn argues he was being diplomatic and says he does not agree with many of Hamas or Hezbollah’s views or actions (1).

But it is not evidence that he is anti-Semitic just because some of them are and he favours peace negotiations between them and Israel

Corbyn did speak at Stop the War rallies in which some other speakers have at other times and places expressed anti-Semitic views. Again, that does not make Corbyn an anti-Semite (2).

If it did then Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, who has been calling for negotiations with Hamas for almost a decade now would also be anti-Semitic. It’s a safe bet that he’s not (3) – (4).

The same goes for Shlomo Gazit , the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet military intelligence agency, who told the Jewish magazine Forward in 2007 that the Israeli government’s demands for full recognition of Israel by Hamas before negotiations even began was “ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate” (5).

Israeli professor Yossi Alpher also pointed out in 2006 that “Israel never demanded recognition from Egypt or Jordan as a precondition for negotiating with them; recognition is a logical way to conclude successful peace talks, not to begin them.” (6)

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami has made the same point (7).

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim pointed out in an interview with BBC Newsnight recently that Corbyn had backed the Deir Yassin Remembered charity long before it was taken over by a Holocaust denier. And Shlaim said he himself supports Deir Yassin Remembered because that massacre (of Arab civilians by Zionist militias during the 1948 war) should be remembered (see from 23.30 on in this BBC iplayer recording) (8).

As for associating with people involved in terrorism, the Israeli government has repeatedly overseen operations in which the Israeli military deliberately target and kill civilians in war crimes – most recently in Netanyahu’s last Gaza war, in which a British reporter witnessed Israeli forces targeting and killing civilians with artillery , tanks and small arms during a ceasefire. Amnesty International’s investigation found war crimes in the first day’s Israeli strikes alone which killed hundreds 135 civilians including 75 children (9) – (11).

Netanyahu and many of his government ministers have also made it clear  that they will never allow a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – and in some cases said that they will not allow any kind of a state at all.

How is this better than those Palestinian extremists who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist on any borders – who incidentally, do not include all of the Hamas leadership, many of who have said they would consider a two state solution on roughly the pre-1967 war borders.

Yet  current and former members of the British government – New Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative - are not condemned as anti-Semitic against Arabs (Arabs, like Jews, also being a Semitic people) for their associations with the Israeli government – which are far closer, involving providing arms to them. The current government has scrapped the last restrictions on arms sales to Israel despite its recent war crimes (12).

Gordon Brown, who criticises Corbyn for the people he talks to, oversaw a government which continued arms sales to Israel even after the war crimes committed by Israeli forces in the 2008/9 Gaza war – and to Sri Lanka while the Sri Lankan military were firing on field hospitals with heavy artillery and rounding up and massacring Tamils on suspicion or being Tamil Tiger fighters, before dumping their bodies in mass graves. (13) – (14).

Jeremy Corbyn has never armed Hamas or Hezbollah. Nor would he. He has done far more to promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians than most of his critics, many of who have actively facilitated war.

(1) = Channel 4 news 13 July 2015 ‘Jeremy Corbyn: 'I wanted Hamas to be part of the debate'’, http://www.channel4.com/news/jeremy-corbyn-i-wanted-hamas-to-be-part-of-the-debate

(2) = BBC News 19 Aug 2015 ‘Corbyn 'forgot' meeting banned pro-Palestinian activist’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-33991920

(3) = Interview with Efraim Halevy in Mother Jones Magazine 10 Feb 2008 ‘Israel's Mossad, Out of the Shadows’, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2008/02/israels-mossad-out-shadows

(4) Independent 10 Jun 2015 ‘It's time for Israel to talk to Hamas, says former Mossad head’,

(5) =  Forward 09 Feb 2007 ‘Experts Question Wisdom of Boycotting Hamas’, http://www.forward.com/articles/10055/

(6) = Forward 20 Oct 2006 ‘Preconditions for a Problematic Partner’,

(7) = Times 26 Feb 2009 ‘Peace will be achieved only by talking to Hamas’, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5804266.ece

(8) = BBC Newsnight 18 Aug 2015 – watch on BBC Iplayer here from 23.30 on,

(9) = See the post on this link and sources in it

(10) = Channel 4 News Blogs – Paul Mason 01 Aug 2014 ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’, http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892

(11) = Amnesty International 29 Jul 2015 ‘Gaza 'Black Friday': Cutting edge investigation points to Israeli war crimes in Rafah’, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/07/gaza-cutting-edge-investigation-rafah/

(12) = Independent 16 Jul 2015 ‘Government lifts remaining restrictions on arms sales to Israel after year-long review’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/government-lifts-remaining-restrictions-on-arms-sales-to-israel-after-yearlong-review-10394143.html

(13) = theguardian.com 30 Mar 2010 ‘MPs call for review of arms exports after Israeli assault on Gaza’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/mar/30/arms-british-gaza-assault

(14) = Times 02 Jun 2009 ‘Britain sold weapons to help Sri Lankan army defeat Tamil Tigers’, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/asia/article2610539.ece

Many respected economists say Corbyn’s ‘Peoples’ QE’ plan to issue money to invest in ways that could create economic growth is a good one

There are politicians and media commentators every day claiming that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan for Peoples’ QE is unrealistic and economically unfeasible. The policy would involve government issuing money to invest in public services and in loans and grants for small and medium businesses, in order to increase economic growth (1).

Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has claimed that basic economics tells us it won’t work. Yvette Cooper, one of Corbyn’s rivals for the post of labour leader, claims that as an economist she can say it would be disastrous (2) – (3).

Labour Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie has even claimed that it would lead to both inflation and an increased national debt. That would be pretty surprising if it happened, given that inflation reduces the value not only of a nation’s currency but also its debts denominated in that currency, suggesting the Shadow Chancellor’s grasp of basic economics is somewhat shaky (4).

Gordon Brown's continuation of "light touch regulation" of the banks (a euphemism for the minimal regulation begun under Thatcher) led to the banking crisis. And his claim that he would "end the cycle of boom and bust forever" predictably turned out to be nonsense. So New Labour's economic credentials aren't exactly great.

Yet many highly respected economists, including some who predicted the banking crisis say it and Corbyn’s other anti-austerity policies would work – and work far better than the current UK government’s counter-productive ones.

Australian economics professor Steve Keen, who predicted the banking crisis, says it’s a good policy. Nobel prize winning former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz backs it and Corbyn’s other economic policies. So does Paul Krugman (5) – (8).

Even some columnists for the Financial Times have said the policy could work (9).

Critics of the policy say it would lead to inflation. It would lead to some inflation, but inflation is currently zero, while quarterly economic growth is under 0.5% and unemployment is 1.85 million on official figures and much higher in reality, as these figures are fiddled. So creating economic growth and jobs should be a much higher priority than inflation at the moment (10) – (11).

Ha Joon Chang, a South Korean economist who teaches in the US, wrote in his book ’23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’ that one IMF study found inflation does not negatively affect economic growth or living standards until it reaches 8% - and that some other studies put the figure at 20% (12).

Of course that doesn’t mean unlimited amounts of money could be issued each year, nor that an eye wouldn’t have to be kept on the effects on inflation. But Corbyn has never suggested printing unlimited amounts of money. The plan is to issue money and invest it in ways that will lead to increased economic growth and so increased tax revenues. That would reduce our national debt, not increase it. This is, as the plans critics would say “basic economics”.

It’s also worth remembering that all the New Labour politicians criticising Corbyn and claiming knowledge of economics backed the deregulation policies New Labour adopted from the Conservatives, which led to the banking crisis, the worst economic disaster for the UK since the 1930s. And that that crisis led to Labour losing voters’ trust on the economy and the two elections since it. Taking their advice on economics would be a bit like taking advice on how to prevent fires from an arsonist.

(1) = Tax Research UK 03 Aug 2015 ‘Chris Leslie has got Corbynomics wrong’, http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2015/08/03/chris-leslie-has-got-corbynomics-wrong/

(2) = Scotsman 13 Aug 2015 ‘Jack Straw adds voice to anti-Jeremy Corbyn chorus’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/uk/jack-straw-adds-voice-to-anti-jeremy-corbyn-chorus-1-3858368

(3) = www.guardian.co.uk 12 Aug 2015 ‘Yvette Cooper says Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn's policies not credible or radical’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/13/yvette-cooper-jeremy-corbyn-policies-not-credible-labour

(4) = Guardian 03 Aug 2015 ‘Jeremy Corbyn to unveil public investment plan to end austerity’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/02/corbyn-vision-2020-end-austerity-public-investment-plan?INTCMP=sfl

(5) = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Keen

(6) = https://twitter.com/profstevekeen/status/629411010542223360

(7) = Guardian 27 Jul 2015 ‘Joseph Stiglitz: unsurprising Jeremy Corbyn is a Labour leadership contender’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/26/joseph-stiglitz-jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-contender-anti-austerity

(8) = CNBC 18 Aug 2015 ‘‘People’s QE?’ Left-wing leader’s plans for the UK’,

(9) = FT Alphaville blog 06 Aug 2015 ‘ Corbyn’s Peoples’ QE could actually be a decent idea’,

(10) = BBC News 30 Jun 2015 ‘UK's economic growth revised up’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33323999

(11) = BBC News 15 Jul 2015 ‘UK unemployment rises for first time in two years’,

(12) = Ha Joon Chang (2010) ‘23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism’, Penguin / Allen Lane, London, 2010, ‘Thing 6’, page 55 of Allen Lane hardback edition

Sunday, February 01, 2015

German and EU hypocrisy and short memories on Greece : Syriza aren't extremists - they're asking for the same debt relief deal Greece gave Germany in 1953. The EU is handing the banks almost ten times the amount of money Greece is asking written off in debts

Syriza extremists or unrealistic? No, moderates, asking for deal Germany got in 1953

The deal Syriza are looking for is a reasonable one. For their creditors to forgive 50% of their debts, for debt repayments to only have to be made once the Greek economy is growing again, for the EU to stop privatising Greek government assets and services by selling them off for buttons at the bottom of the market, and an end to austerity policies which prevent growth (1).

This is a plan based on the 1953 London Agreement under which Germany was forgiven 50% of its debts incurred during two world wars and from Marshall Plan aid from the US after them. The creditors forgiving half of those debts included the governments of Greece, Ireland and Spain, three of the four countries much derided as ‘PIGS’ over the debt crisis. The London Agreement also included Germany only having to pay back debts out of 3% of its export earnings, so that its creditors imported German products (2).

While saying there will be no more debt reductions for Greece, Angela Merkel and other EU government leaders have approved issuing 1.1 trillion (one thousand one hundred billion) euros of “quantitative easing” money to be handed straight to private banks (3).

How is it that there is infinite money available to the banks, but none to keep ordinary people in work? Or even on benefits while there are more unemployed people than job vacancies?

How is it that one thousand, one hundred, billion euros can be created and handed to the banks, but none of it can be used to reduce Greece’s debt of around 300 billion euros by half (150 billion)? (4)

Syriza’s proposal is that some of the QE money should be used by the European Central Bank to buy bonds not just from private banks, but from governments suffering debt crises, like Greece and Spain’s.

Some Greek and American economists are saying the only problem with Syriza’s proposals are that they’re not radical enough (5) – (6).

While many have tried to paint Syriza as being left wing extremists, mirroring the neo-nazi Golden Dawn party’s right wing extremism, in fact Syriza’s leadership are moderate left wingers. Even the Telegraph newspaper, which favours the right wing of a Conservative party whose centre is right of Thatcher, considers Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s Finance Minister, to be a moderate (7).

Far from being ideologically opposed to EU or Euro membership, Syriza leader Alexis Tspiras preferred a coalition with the right wing but anti-austerity Independent Greeks party to one with the radical left KKE party which wants to leave the Euro and the EU (8).

Lazy Greeks? Nope – they work the longest hours in Europe

The supposedly “lazy” Greeks work, on average, the longest hours of any nationality in the EU according to OECD figures, over 2,000 hours per year, and did so even before the crisis. The “hard working” Germans rank 33rd at under 1400 hours a year .The average employed person in the UK works 1,600 hours a year, 400 less than the average Greek. (9) – (10)

Other studies found that Greeks work on average 38 hours a week, compared to 35 in the UK and Germany (11).

And Germans take  more days of holidays per year than Greeks too (12).

Greece allowed more tax avoidance and corruption?
There are tax havens and corruption in UK dependencies and across Europe

Tax avoidance by Greeks is also often raised to try to justify the conditions imposed by the EU. Tax avoidance is certainly a serious problem in Greece, but the idea that other EU countries have done anything to prevent it is laughable. The UK allows offshore ones in the Channel Islands and in the UK dependencies of Bermuda and Belize, as well as the main party in government in the UK getting more than half its donations to party funds from the financial sector. Both Luxembourg and Switzerland are renowned tax havens.

It’s highly likely that much of the tax money avoided by wealthier Greeks is in those tax havens in other EU countries and territories they control. Since they’re demanding a crack down on tax avoidance and evasion by the Greek government, perhaps they could help out at the other end by closing down their own tax havens?

Mark Field, the Conservative MP for the City of London & Westminster, Mark Field, boasted in 2010 about all the foreign money coming into UK tax havens (13).

Government minister Francis Maude said in 2012 that turning the UK into a tax haven is “exactly what we are trying to do” (14).

Lord Fink, Treasurer of the Conservative party, and director of three firms with subsidiaries in tax havens (the Cayman Island,s Luxembourg and Guernsey) called for the same (15).

And progress has been made towards making the mainland UK a tax haven, with many US firms now relocating their headquarters for tax purposes here (16).

Ireland’s economic “miracle” and then collapse were, like Britain’s , largely down to deregulation (though worse for Ireland as it didn’t have it’s own currency). This included Ireland slashing its corporation taxes to the lowest in Europe in order to get companies to relocate there for tax purposes (17).

That’s why Ireland was able to recover relatively fast from the crisis. But, as Greek government ministers point out, there is not room for every country in the EU to have the lowest taxes, and competition to reduce taxes results in crises for government funding in all of them.

As the firms and banks benefiting most from tax havens also tend to be big donors to party funds for the biggest parties in countries across the EU, corruption is as much a problem in the UK as in Greece, it’s just done in a more formalised way and at a higher level in Britain.
Cash in brown envelopes is for amateurs. Donations to party funds, and jobs as advisers or directors for retiring ministers for favours done in office, are preferred.

Does Greece have any choice but to do what the EU and Germany say?

Yes. It could drop the Euro as a currency and return to the drachma, or adopt another currency, such as the dollar. This would likely cause another crisis and considerable hardship, but with the austerity imposed by the EU having seen average incomes cut 40% and unemployment over 25%, most Greeks are already suffering plenty of hardship and might decide that having control of their own government and economic and welfare policy and budgets again was worth a bit more.

This would likely lead to a run on the Euro, which might well lead to Portugal, Spain and maybe even Italy also dropping the Euro as currencies. The Eurozone benefits Germany most of all. Countries leaving the Eurozone would reduce German export earnings, which have been greatly increased by the Eurozone effectively reducing the price of German exports in countries using the Euro (18).


(1) = Greek Reporter 28 Jan 2015 ‘Greece: This is SYRIZA’s New Government Plan in Detail’, http://greece.greekreporter.com/2015/01/28/greece-this-is-syrizas-new-government-plan-in-detail/

(2) = EU Observer 07 Jan 2015 ‘Europe's debt revolution: Can Syriza's plan work?’, https://euobserver.com/news/127115

(3) = BBC News 22 Jan 2015 ‘ECB unveils massive QE boost for eurozone’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-30933515

(4) Washington Post 30 January2015 ‘Greece really might leave the euro’ =

(5) = Truthout 22 Jan 2015 ‘Economist Leonidas Vatikiotis: Syriza's Proposals Don't Go Far Enough for Greece’, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/28661-economist-leonidas-vatikiotis-syriza-s-proposals-don-t-go-far-enough-for-greece

(6) = NYT 26 Jan 2015 ‘Ending Greece’s Nightmare’,  by Paul Krugman, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/opinion/paul-krugman-ending-greeces-nightmare.html

(7) = Telegraph 26 Jan 2015 ‘Yanis Varoufakis: Greece’s future finance minister is no extremist’, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11369851/Yanis-Varoufakis-Greeces-future-finance-minister-is-no-extremist.html

(8) = Guardian 26 Jan 2015 ‘Greece: claims of a far-left victory are nonsense’,

(9) = OECD Stat Extracts ‘Average annual hours actually worked per worker’, http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?DataSetCode=ANHRS

(10) = BBC News 26 Feb 2012 ‘Are Greeks the hardest workers in Europe?’,

(11) = Busting the myth of France’s 35-hour workweek, http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140312-frances-mythic-35-hour-week

(12) = See (10) above

(13) = Bloomberg 03 Nov 2010 ‘Tax Havens Send ‘Massive Capital’ to London, Lawmaker Says’, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2010-11-03/tax-havens-send-massive-capital-to-london-lawmaker-says

(14) = This IS Money 07 Apr 2012 ‘Francis Maude in new row after saying it would be a compliment if Britain were seen as a 'tax haven' under coalition’, http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2126452/Francis-Maude-new-row-saying-compliment-Britain-seen-tax-haven-coalition.html

(15) = Guardian 21 Sep 2012 ‘Tory treasurer wants UK to become more like a tax haven’,  http://www.theguardian.com/business/2012/sep/20/tory-treasurer-make-uk-tax-haven

(16) = Reuters 09 Jun 2014 ‘Britain becomes haven for U.S. companies keen to cut tax bills’, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/06/09/uk-britain-usa-tax-insight-idUKKBN0EK0BA20140609

(17) = Forbes Magazine 06 Nov 2013 ‘If Ireland Is Not A Tax Haven, What Is It?’, http://www.forbes.com/sites/taxanalysts/2013/11/06/if-ireland-is-not-a-tax-haven-what-is-it/

(18) = Business Insider 20 Nov 2011 ‘Why German Taxpayers Should Be Forced To Bail Out Italians And Greeks’, http://www.businessinsider.com/why-germany-should-bail-out-italy-and-greece-2011-11#ixzz3QRQBjDjw

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Big Money, not the house of Lords, is the really big problem with our democracy - and it's not just a Westminster problem, it's an SNP problem too

I can see why Alex Salmond would suggest making the House of Lords elected, but on its own that will not fix the biggest problems with our democracy. The US has an elected upper house, and even more corruption in the system than the UK has. Nor will devolution, or even independence, fix the biggest problem with our democracy without other reforms (1).

That’s because the biggest problem is that we allow big banks, companies and the super-rich to buy up political influence. They do this partly by big donations to party funds and election campaigns.

The big political parties use the donations to pay advisers, advertisers, graphic designers and pollsters to design campaigns of leaflets, billboards and adverts to persuade people to vote for them. Then, when they’re in government, they pay the donors back many times over, with taxpayers’ money.

They do it with public contracts that massively over-pay companies and have no safeguards to ensure value for money for taxpayers, for instance with PFIs. They do it by permitting tax havens in UK dependencies like the City of London and the Channel Islands so the big donors can avoid taxes easily. They do it by letting them off with most of their evasion of tax even when they’re caught, through “sweetheart deals”. They do it by not enforcing anti-monopoly laws and de-regulating whole industries so a few large companies can dominate each economic sector and charge consumers what they like whether their own costs are going up or down. This de-regulation also led to the banking crisis.

In the last 5 years the Conservative party has got more than half its donations from the financial sector – mostly big banks and hedge funds. It has failed to bring in any proper regulation of the banks of the Glass-Steagall kind that would ban high street savings banks from also being “investment” (actually mostly stock market casino) banks (2).

To save on the millions every few years it would take to publicly fund the election campaigns of all candidates at a low and equal level, we end up losing tens to hundreds of billions every single year in big companies allowed to overcharge us for electricity, food and many other things ; in PFI contracts ; in lost tax revenues ; in companies allowed to grow too large so there is no longer real competition to reduce prices for consumers ; in de-regulation leading to everything from higher prices to banking crises.

The Revolving Door Between Government and Big Business

They also do it through the “revolving door” between government and the firms its meant to regulate. If government ministers, civil servants, MPs and advisers do favours for big donors to party funds, we allow them to leave government and go straight to work for firms they were regulating, deciding on taxation for, or giving contracts to.

For instance Sean Worth, an adviser to David Cameron on NHS “reforms” (largely contracting out services to private firms) left that job after just two years, to become an adviser to MHP Communications, which lobbies on behalf of the Priory Group, which runs mental health services for the NHS (3).

Labour in government were no different. Health Secretaries Alan Milburn and Patricia Hewitt both contracted out NHS services to the private sector, and both became paid advisers to private healthcare firms on leaving government (4) – (5).

 Many other former ministers and advisers, Labour and Conservative, have done the same (6).

And one of the ways the parties pay back donors to party funds is by allowing people employed by these firms to take up jobs in the same government departments, so that the biggest firms are able to scrap any regulations they don’t like, as well as avoid competition laws being enforced to break them up when they become too big.

Not just a Westminster problem – a Scottish and SNP problem too

And the problem is not just at Westminster. Even if Scotland was independent the same problem of big business and the super-rich buying up political influence would remain.

The SNP has already shown it can be bought by big donors too.

Within a month of receiving a £500,000 donation from Brian Souter, who owns much of Highland Transport group,  in January 2007, the SNP scrapped its policy of re-regulation of the bus network. And to this day the Scottish governments has no plans to renationalise or even seriously re-regulate bus services (7) – (8).

Legalised Corruption

All of this is political and government corruption by any other name. In legal terms it may not be corruption, because while there are laws against bribes in money, there are no laws against taking those bribes as big donations to party funds in return for favours at taxpayers’ expense, nor taking them in kind as paid employment, nor in letting representatives of the banks or companies into government to write their own regulations in return. But there should be laws against it. In moral terms, and in its effects on voters and taxpayers’ interests, isn’t it just as corrupt as taking a bribe?

The almost powerless House of Lords is a distraction from the big problems

The House of Lords has almost no power. The majority of what it does is to review bills sent to it by the Commons (often badly thought out laws rushed through by the government) and suggest amendments to them. It can do that twice. When it comes to the third time it has to approve them even if the commons has rejected all the Lords' amendments. That’s been the case for over 100 years since the 1911 Parliament Act.

Scrap it and don't replace it and the government can rush through half-arsed laws without any oversight or amendment and frequently no-one will even notice till it's too late.

Scrap it and replace it with an elected upper chamber, without having fixed all the other problems, and you end up like the US - with either a rubber stamp (if the same party or parties control both houses) or gridlock with almost no laws passed at all (if different parties control the two houses), and most laws only passed if they benefit big donors to election campaign funds.

I'm not saying there are no problems with the Lords - how Lords are appointed needs changed. Party leaders shouldn't just be able to hand seats to big donors to party funds, and there doesn’t seem much justification for hereditary peers.

Electing them is one possibility, but on it’s own will solve little and might well just hand the party machines and big donors to party funds as much influence in the upper house as they already have in the more powerful House of Commons.

Binning our votes unrepresented – First Past The Post Elections

Another problem is than the the First Past the Post electoral system used for UK General Elections, which often gives single parties big majorities on a minority of the votes and throws away any vote not cast for the winning candidate in a constituency unrepresented (and the winning candidate can win on the largest minority of the vote, doesn't even need 50%) .

In the 2010 General election more than half the votes cast were for losing candidates and were effectively binned unrepresented.  In 2005 and 2010 two-thirds of MPs didn’t even have a majority of the votes cast in their constituency. And it’s even worse than that, because of safe seats. The safer a seat the less voters bother voting at all  (9) – (10).

Lack of Democracy inside parties

A fourth problem is the lack of any written constitution or law requiring democracy inside political parties.
So for instance in the Labour party, the party leader can change policy to benefit big donors to party funds at any time, and ignore votes by party conference as “non-binding”.

Whether we are part of the UK or an independent country, private donations to political parties and the revolving door between government and big business are two of the biggest weaknesses in our democracy.

How to fix our democracy

Public funding of all candidates in elections at a low and equal level would allow the giving or receiving of any private political donation to be made a criminal offence. This would have to include any donation from any source, as otherwise companies could use phony “charities” or industry front groups.

Making it also a criminal offence with a stiff jail sentence to move between employment in a government department in any capacity and employment in any firm regulated by, given contracts by or whose taxes were decided by that department within a 10 year period would end the revolving door syndrome.

 Those two measures could take most of the big money influence out of politics and make politicians look to the people who elected them first.

We could end dodgy PFI contracts. It could end de-regulation of the kind that led to the financial crisis and allow the banks to be re-regulated to prevent another one (six years after the crisis there is still no law against high street savings banks also being “investment” banks). It could stop government letting big donors to party funds use government permitted tax havens in UK dependencies like the Channel Islands, and end “sweetheat deals” that let Goldman Sachs and others off with millions in tax at a time, even when they are caught evading it.

If we just have an elected House of lords, or get more devolution or independence, and think that’s democracy fixed though, business will continue as usual with the majority’s interests over-ridden by those of big donors to party funds.

A written constitution specifying internal democracy within parties (e.g constituency parties to have the sole right to select or deselect candidates ; votes of party conference must become party policy etc) would also be progress, but is similarly a minor issue as long as big money is allowed to controls our governments and opposition parties.

(1) = Guardian.com 20 Dec 2014 ‘Alex Salmond calls for ‘peasants’ revolt’ vote to abolish House of Lords’,

(2) = BBC News 09 Feb 2011 ‘More than half of Conservative donors 'from the City'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-12401049

(3) = Guardian 23 Nov 2012 ‘David Cameron's former NHS privatisation adviser becomes lobbyist’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2012/nov/23/david-cameron-privatisation-adviser-health-lobbyist

(4) = Guardian 17 May 2011 ‘Former Labour ministers rushing to take private sector jobs, report finds’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/may/17/labour-ministers-consultancy-private-sector

(5) = Telegraph 12 Jun 2012 ‘Social mobility man Alan Milburn is on the way to a million’,

(6) = Lobbying Transparency – Revolving Door is Unhealthy, http://www.lobbyingtransparency.org/15-blog/general/62-revolving-door-is-unhealthy

(7) = Scotsman 22 Apr 2007 ‘SNP under attack after bus U-turn’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/scotland/top-stories/snp-under-attack-after-bus-u-turn-1-744256

(8) = Scotsman 12 Feb 2011 ‘£500,000 war chest for Alex Salmond’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/163_500_000_war_chest_for_alex_salmond_1_1493699

(9) = Electoral Reform Society 6 May 2010 ‘The UK General Election 2010 In-depth’, page 35,

(10) = IPPR 2011 ‘Worst of Both Worlds -Why First Past the Post no longer works’ , by Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried, http://www.ippr.org/assets/media/images/media/files/publication/2011/05/Worst%20of%20Both%20Worlds%20Jan2011_1820.pdf

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The government, IDS and Katie Hopkins are all lying about food banks – the evidence that welfare “reforms” are causing poverty and hunger

Katie Hopkins is hardly renowned as a great intellect. In fact she’s famous for her stupidity, for example criticising people who named their children after countries on live TV when she called one of her own children India.

However there is more to her than just a brainless celeb. She’s also a brainless celeb who was handed everything on a plate from the age of 3 in an incredibly pampered upbringing as part of a smug establishment, but loves to condemn people so poor they rely on food banks to eat .

She has become a spokesperson for the rich and powerful, targeting the poor and the powerless on their behalf. That’s not exactly a hard position to get if you were born into the right family. There are thousands of the smug braying nobodies spilling nonsense at us from every newspaper from the tabloids to The Telegraph. They have these positions not because of any talent, but because they are part of the smug establishment, “one of us” , grew up with them, went to public school with them.

No wonder The Sun gave her a column and she goes out shooting with its editors. And The Sun pretends it’s the newspaper of ordinary people!

They share their prejudices and blind ideology, which is why Hopkins is so often stating her agreement with something tory government ministers like Michael Gove have said. In her ludicrous Huffington Post piece on food banks she quotes him on those who rely on food banks supposedly only having to do so because they mismanage their finances.

What a co-incidence that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, condemns food banks too. And they both, like Hopkins, are tories who went to public school (1).

Hopkins claimed recently on twitter that only people who deliberately give up working could become poor.

She also tweeted that “Food banks are bridging the gap between income and the number of Sky, mobile, car finance contracts clueless individuals prioritised.”

And she keeps on posting links to her own 2013 comment article as supposed proof that food banks are “a complete con”. (2) – (3)

Hopkins’ idiotic witterings would be irrelevant on their own. But they’re part of a propaganda campaign against the poorest by the government, political parties and the establishment. So the lies have to be challenged.

Now let’s take a look at the facts – or more accurately the lack of them – in her piece on food banks.

Hopkins writes that

One food bank user commented: "We were given a food parcel. Me and my partner sat down and ate for four hours solid until it was all gone".

To get hold of this free food, users have to wangle a voucher from an agency worker at a job centre or drop in clinic, supposedly to a maximum of three. This limit is not enforced.

Oscar-winning performances of desperation are plenty. A recent BBC documentary showed one man lying that it was his son's birthday in order to procure a voucher.

Individuals like this have become vouchers tourists travelling between agencies, collecting vouchers quicker than genital warts on a student.’ (4)

No source for the “comment” from the food bank user. Googling the quote provides no sources for it. So basically her entire article is based on one BBC documentary.

Given the date of her article it has to be ‘Britain’s Hidden Hungry’ from November  2012. Either she didn’t watch it or else she just picked out the bits she liked, because even the summary on the BBC website page says:

Care-leaver Charlotte eats just one meal a day. It's all she can afford, so she starves herself till evening. Sandra, middle class mother of five, is embarrassed that all she can give her son for his school packed lunch is bread and butter. Middle manager Kelly, mother of two, hasn't eaten for two days. Meet Britain's hidden hungry.

As of 2012, more than 170,000 people are believed to be dependent on a chain of 300 foodbanks run by a Christian charity, the Trussell Trust. Bafta award winning film-maker David Modell has spent six months at the Coventry foodbank following the stories of Charlotte, Sandra and Kelly to find out how, in 2012, so many Britons are suffering genuine and prolonged bouts of real hunger.

Another BBC documentary on hunger and food banks this year ‘Hungry Britain’ came to similar conclusions. You can watch that documentary online here.

A report by Oxfam and Church Action Against Poverty in 2013 found that:

We estimate that over 500,000 people are now reliant on food aid – the use of food banks and receipt of food parcels ….Some of the increase…is caused by unemployment, increasing levels of underemployment, low and falling income, and rising food and fuel prices. The National Minimum Wage and benefits levels need to rise in line with inflation…

…up to half of all people turning to food banks are doing so as a direct result of having benefit payments delayed, reduced, or withdrawn altogether. Figures gathered by the Trussell Trust …show that changes to the benefit system are the most common reasons for people using food banks…

There is a real risk that the benefit cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit (which will require internet access and make payments less frequently) will lead to even larger numbers being forced to turn to food banks. Food banks may not have the capacity to cope with the increased level of demand.
’ (5)

A recent report of an inquiry into food banks and hunger by MPs of all parties had similar findings – that the main causes of food bank use were rising costs of food, energy bills, low wages, unemployment and welfare “reforms” (6)

So Hopkins, like IDS and Gove, is picking out a handful of examples of people exploiting food banks and ignoring the mountain of evidence that the majority of people going to food banks are in genuine poverty and would go hungry without them.

And now on the lie that most people in poverty are unemployed and unemployed because they don’t want to work.

First, large numbers of people going into work remain in poverty (under 60% of median income or £119 per week for an adult or £288 for a couple with two children) or in deep poverty (a third or less lower income than that). Since 2012 there have been more people in work and in poverty than out of work and in poverty in the UK (7) – (8).

Newly created jobs have increasingly becoming part-time and/or low paid over the past two decades. This accelerated after the banking crisis with the number of people in the UK who want full-time work but can only get part-time having increased by 1 million between 2008 and 2012 alone (9).

Second the number of unemployed people continues to exceed the number of job vacancies even on the government’s figures of 1.96 million and 637,000 respectively, which fiddle the former down and the latter up (10) – (11).

So much for Katie Hopkins’, IDS and every other propagandist and useful idiot who claims food banks are “a con” and that anyone in hunger or poverty is there purely due to their own failings.


(1) = Independent 22 Dec 2013 ‘Iain Duncan Smith accuses food bank charity the Trussell Trust of scaremongering’, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/iain-duncan-smith-accuses-food-bank-charity-the-trussell-trust-of-scaremongering-9021150.html

(2) = Huffington Post 18 Oct 2013 ‘The Real Reason Food Banks Have Trebled’,

(3) = Huffington Post 10 Jan 2014 ‘Katie Hopkins Calls Food Banks 'A Complete Con' And Defends Benefits Street (VIDEO)’, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/10/katie-hopkins-food-banks_n_4574311.html

(4) = See (2) above

(5) = Oxfam & Church Action Against Poverty 30 May 2013 ‘Walking the Breadline: The scandal of food poverty in 21st-century Britain’, http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/walking-the-breadline-the-scandal-of-food-poverty-in-21st-century-britain-292978

(6) = BBC News 08 Dec 2014 ‘'Pay benefits faster' to reduce hunger, MPs urge’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30346060

(7) = Joseph Rowntree Foundation 06 Dec 2010 ‘Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2010’,

(8) = Joseph Rowntree Foundation 26 November 2012 ‘In-work poverty outstrips poverty in workless households’, http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2012/11/work-poverty-outstrips-poverty-workless-households

(9) = ONS 28 Nov 2012 ‘People in Work Wanting More Hours Increases by 1 million Since 2008’, http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/underemployed-workers-in-the-uk/2012/rpt-underemployed-workers.html

(10) = ONS Statistical bulletin: UK Labour Market, November 2014 ‘Vacancies Aug – Oct 2014’,

(11) = ONS Statistical bulletin: UK Labour Market, November 2014, ‘Key Points for July to September 2014’,

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The Smith Commission Report – a deal among parties, ignoring the greater powers that polls show most people want

The dispute over the Smith Commission report turns on whether additional powers should be decided by negotiations between political parties on what powers they are willing to concede, or the views of the majority of the people of Scotland (1).

The “vow” didn’t refer to Home Rule, Devo Max or federalism, but Gordon Brown did, in widely reported comments in the last few weeks of the referendum. Opinion polls show majorities for devolving far more powers than Smith recommends.

A recent ICM poll found 63% want all welfare powers and  taxes devolved to the Scottish parliament. This would have to exclude Scotland’s share of Defence and Foreign Policy funding, but goes far beyond Smith’s recommendations of only devolving disability and carers’ benefits and the bedroom tax (2) – (3) .

A poll just after the referendum reported by STV found that80% …supported Scotland having control over welfare, with 62% saying it should be in charge of pensions. Almost three quarters (71%) of people back the devolution of income tax while 62% want to see Scotland get control of corporation tax and 61% say Holyrood should be in charge of VAT.’ (4).

Smith only recommends devolving income tax, air passenger duty, the Aggregates levy and the first 10% of VAT. The UK government retains all corporation tax, capital gains tax , national insurance, oil and gas revenues, vehicle excise duty and other revenues raised in Scotland (5).

The UK parties’ argument that the power to set corporation and VAT tax rates couldn’t be devolved as it could lead to different parts of the UK competing to have lower rates was understandable. However their willingness to devolve income tax, which could similarly lead to competitive tax cutting, suggests their motives there are party political.

No UK government has raised the basic rate of income tax in decades because it’s political suicide to do so. It seems likely that, with the SNP having a majority in the Scottish parliament, the UK parties want to force the Scottish government into either income tax rises or spending cuts to try to lose it votes.

And there’s no reason why most of the revenues from income and corporation taxes raised in Scotland couldn’t be assigned to the Scottish government and parliament to decide on how to spend them, while leaving the power to set the rates  of these taxes set by the UK government, and so uniform across the UK.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are a few other positives in the Smith commission. The report recommends the devolution of the power to issue or refuse onshore oil and gas (paragraph 69), which would give the Scottish government the power to block fracking (assuming the Scottish public put enough pressure on it – so far Scottish ministers’ responses on fracking have been very evasive). The power to scrap the bedroom tax and provide benefits for carers and the disabled are important, but they are not close to control over all welfare powers and the budget for them.

The power to allow the public sector to bid for rail franchises (paragraphs 25 to 26, page 21) is positive too, but a long way from allowing renationalisation.

However it’s equally wrong to pretend that the Smith recommendations are anything approaching the “home rule” , “devo max” or federalism which Brown talked of. The usual definition of these is that most domestic policy and most of the budget for it is devolved. Nor do the powers Smith offers come close to the ones polls show most Scots want.

And equally some of the recommended devolved powers are so limited as to be almost non-existent – see those over Crown Estates in Scotland for instance, which allow sweeping exceptions by the UK government on extremely vague and general terms (paragraphs 32 – 34, page 16). Similarly for those over Energy Efficiency and Fuel Poverty measures (paragraph 68).

One telling line is Paragraph 24,  page 13 ; ‘the Scottish Parliament will have no powers over the regulation of political parties (including donations)’.

This indicates a deal in the interest of parties, not voters. The major UK political parties rely heavily on donations from banks, hedge funds, big firms and the super-rich – particularly the Conservative party.

It also ensures no requirement for more internal democracy within all political parties in Scotland. So Miliband can keep imposing his policies on the Scottish branch of his party.

One month was long enough for horse-trading between the main UK parties on what level of devolution they’d tolerate. It wasn’t long enough to receive or read submissions from thousands of members of the public. Nor should we be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it package decided only by parties. Opinion polls and consultations, and/or a second elected constitutional convention, could be used to draw up a list of possible additional powers, with a multi-question referendum allowing voters to vote for or against each.

Brown might want Scottish politics “reset” with constitutional issues labelled “dealt with”, but opinion polls suggest many voters disagree (6).

Opinion polls suggesting a massive rise in the SNP vote in the next General election, combined with those on additional powers, may force the next UK government into offering considerably more devolved powers than the Smith negotiations resulted in (7).




(1) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf

(2) = STV 30 Nov 2014 ‘Poll finds majority want Holyrood to control all taxes and benefits’,

(3) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf , paragraphs 42 – 54, pages 18 - 19

(4) = STV 21 Sep 2014 ‘SNP on course to win third Holyrood term, according to new poll’,  http://news.stv.tv/scotland/292917-snp-on-course-to-win-third-consecutive-holyrood-term-says-new-poll/

(5) = https://www.smith-commission.scot/ and https://www.smith-commission.scot/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The_Smith_Commission_Report-1.pdf , paragraphs 75 - 92, pages 23 - 25

(6) = BBC News 29 Nov ‘Gordon Brown calls for Scottish politics 'reset'’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-30256101

(7) = Guardian 30 Oct 2014 ‘Labour faces massive losses to SNP at UK general election, poll shows’, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/30/scottish-labour-snp-general-election-poll