Pensions: Thatcher’s vision is coming to fruition

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Society is indeed a contract. It is a partnership…. not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born”  Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France 1790

Pensions: Thatcher’s vision is coming to fruition by Prue Plumridge

At the end of last year the Institute for Public Policy Research published its ‘Future Proof report’. It painted a bleak picture for British citizens by 2030.  It suggested that, unless solutions were sought, an ageing population would place a huge and unsustainable burden on the public coffers.

In 2013, The Intergenerational Foundation published the results of a survey of 50 of the UK’s leading thinkers on economics which was entitled ‘Can the UK afford to pay Pensions?

The growing national debt and pension liabilities either to public sector pension schemes and the state pension were cited as reasons to seek solutions to the so called ‘demographic burden’ of an ageing baby boomer population.  The report suggested that these liabilities would be a considerable financial burden which future generations would have to pay off through their taxes.

In 2014, the Institute of Economic affairs also added its warning by claiming that future generations could be ‘short-changed’ and the public finances put in jeopardy unless the UK takes serious measures to reform the state pension system.  Clearly there is no shortage of organisations and politicians ready to pitch in to reinforce this message.  To that end, Sir John Cridland, former CBI Director General, is due to publish an interim report early this year aimed at ‘ensuring the state pension remains affordable’.

In response to these fears, changes to the pension retirement age are already in progress and, whilst it is currently set at 66, it has been suggested that the Department of Work and Pensions may have plans to increase it further to the age of 70.  Furthermore, the Chancellor Philip Hammond has hinted that after 2020 state pensions may no longer be ring-fenced from spending cuts.

Added to these messages of unaffordability there is also something far more insidious going on.  In Australia, a crossbench senator recently said that ‘taking the pension shouldn’t be something you aspire to, it should be something you try to avoid because it signifies you’re in a low-income group’.  He suggested that payments be viewed as welfare not an entitlement.  Right wing ideologies which promote the primacy of the individual over that of the well-being of a wider community have led to an emphasis on individual responsibility which has, in turn, led to the shaming of those who find themselves on the wrong end of the economic stick.  The inference is that if you’re poor, unemployed or sick then you only have yourself to blame.

The political discourse is making it clear now that pensioners are not only about to be added to this list but also perhaps even condemned for not having saved sufficiently to pay for a decent retirement.  Even the prospect of retiring is no longer sacrosanct.  The Tory peer, Baroness Altmann, tweeted last year that “private pension/health will drive retirement age” thus suggesting that unless you’ve got a big fat private pension or health insurance you can forget retiring on a state pension because it simply will not pay enough to cover your costs.  Clearly retirement is intended to become the privilege of the rich and well heeled.

Citizens face the prospect not only of a two-tier health and social care service but also a two-tier pension entitlement – one for those who can afford to save for one and one for those who can’t which may condemn people to working beyond retirement just to survive.

As Peter Fleming recently wrote in an article in the Guardian:

“We can trace the untimely demise of retirement to a number of assumptions about how society ought to be organised.  At no other time since its inception has the welfare state been so hated by the governing elite.  Social care.  Unemployment assistance.  Health.  Local councils and libraries.  Municipal parks.  Anything relating to what used to be called “the public good” is attacked at the roots.  Austerity redefines these things as fiscal liabilities or deficits rather than shared investments in common decency.  It was only a matter of time before pensions too were put on the chopping block”.

Of course, it might also be said that things are not looking favourable either for those who are paying into private pensions.  Not only have many defined benefit pension schemes been closed and replaced with pensions linked to the uncertainties of the stock and bond market but also in a new development the government has recently announced a consultation paper which could take thousands of pounds of income away from 11 million retirees.  This means basing annual increases on the consumer price index rather than the retail price index.  The paper also suggests that where a company is facing significant financial pressures it could suspend increases altogether.  In the heady days of market superiority private pensions might have been all the rage but in these cash strapped times and market uncertainty the gloss may be rubbing off.

Whilst clearly the mainstream and ideologically inspired experts view this demographic transition as a ticking time bomb of the financial kind, I want to investigate in this article how this view has arisen and show that, because we misunderstand how our money system actually works, the argument is far from an affordability issue.

Since the post war settlement which led to the creation of social welfare provision including a state pension and free healthcare and education citizens have been bound together by a social contract based on mutual support across the generations.  That social contract is now under threat.  Young people quite rightly compare their impoverished lives with those of their post war parents and grandparents.  Lack of adequate, affordable housing, debt ridden higher education, poorer employment opportunities, low pay and lack of job security not to mention the prospect of working longer and a poverty stricken old age are all a cause for anxiety among young people who fear for their future prosperity.

Quite predictably it stirs up resentment as they perceive the older generation having very nice, comfortable lives thank you with their own homes and decent pensions!  These are advantages that the young can scarcely dream of unless they are lucky enough to have a helping financial hand from parents or grandparents. The inference is that the social contract is no longer sustainable because in the future there will not be enough young people generating tax receipts and income to fund all those things which we have come to rely on to make society decent and civilised.

At the Conservative Conference last October the current Chancellor, Philip Hammond, warned of the dangers of piling up debt for our children and grandchildren promising he would restore fiscal discipline and get Britain back to living within its means.  Georgia Gould, a Labour Councillor in North London, has even suggested that we may have to reconsider the principle of universal pension benefits in the light of the supposed financial ‘black hole’ they represent.

What should be the right ‘balance’ of public spending between the generations to ensure a fair distribution of wealth and resources is the mainstream question and is there even a future for state paid pensions?

The message that our pensions along with our social security system is too costly and unsustainable is constantly drummed into the public consciousness.  Austerity, cutting public spending and privatisation have been presented by all the main parties (until recently) as necessary to get our public finances ‘under control’.  And yet, despite the growing evidence that cutting government expenditure on public and social infrastructure has had catastrophic consequences for the nation’s overall economic well-being – fiscal discipline and paying down debt is the re-occurring mantra of mainstream economists and politicians (even if the timescale for such plans has slipped somewhat in the face of an uncertain economy).

We need urgently to challenge these claims.

It might first be worthwhile spending some time on explaining from where this narrative arose.  The Keynsian inspired post war consensus started to break down in the 1970s with the two oil shocks and resultant rising inflation and unemployment.  This also coincided with the infiltration of neoliberal/monetarist ideas into the political mindset which was to have increasingly destructive consequences on economic policy for the next 40 years.

This decade saw the death knell for post war Keynsian policies and initiated a shift away from full employment.  Labour eventually paid a high price for its management of the economic crisis and lost the election to the Tories in 1979.  Margaret Thatcher brought to the table an economic vision inspired by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman and her policies reflected her belief in the superiority of the market, less government involvement and the importance of the individual.  The idea implicit in this dogma was that the welfare state deprived people of the opportunity to make their own arrangements for pensions, health and housing.

As a result, the merits of home ownership were promoted and our stock of social housing sold off, along with the opening up of the market for private pensions in an attempt to weaken the state’s own pension provision, both of which continue today.  Treasury documents released last year revealed that Thatcher also supported a plan to dismantle the welfare state and introduce private health insurance to end the NHS.

By the time Labour finally returned to power, market driven ideology was firmly entrenched in the political narrative.  Under Tony Blair’s leadership the party, with its ‘third way’ credentials, rejected its socialist roots and fostered a laissez-faire capitalism of globalised markets and increasing corporate power.

Philip Bobbitt in his book ‘The Shield of Achilles’ published in 2002 suggested that power of the nation state would, over time, lose its authority to the ‘market state’.  The ‘nation state’ he said ‘derives its power through its promise to improve its citizen’s material wellbeing, while the market state is legitimised through its promise to maximise its citizens’ opportunities.’ To put it simply the centralised state has indeed been replaced by a market state orthodoxy which is fragmented and outsourced. In short, public money is being poured into the coffers of global companies to run public services for profit.  It is a place where, it would seem, the term ‘public purpose’ has its narrowest meaning.

Following the Global Financial Crash when Labour with some success flirted for a short period with Keynes, the Tories returned to power in 2010 to reinforce the corporate dominated, revolving door politics of the past decades.  And, on the basis of an incorrect accusation of Labour’s overspending, began their attack on public services, the NHS and social security peddling the cruel mantra of ‘we must live within our means’ in justification.

However, the increased poverty, inequality and insecurity can be attributed not to previous governments overspending or living beyond their financial means but rather a pernicious ideology which has put increasing the wealth of the few above the well-being of society and raised the status of the corporations to gods.

Politicians aided by a self-interested press, corporations and the wealthy have convinced the public that the state finances are like their own household budgets and that the national debt and deficit are dirty words.  We have to cut expenditure to get our public finances in order to prevent burdening future generations with debt and higher taxes is an oft repeated message in the media.

So, is it true that by borrowing now we are burdening future generations?  The short answer is NO and is indeed illogical.  We should be challenging such a distortion and indeed presenting the real facts about how our money system works in practice.

The economist, Professor Bill Mitchell rightly points out that past and current policy decisions do affect young people today and will also affect future, yet to be born, generations.  However, as we have seen this has been presented by politicians and think tanks in terms of financial affordability – whether there is enough money in the public pot to continue paying for social security, the NHS, public services and education both now and in the future.

Deficits and public debt have become society’s bogeyman which has proved a very useful myth to justify continued public sector cuts and privatisation thus serving the pursuit of a political ideology rather than any sort of economic reality.

We are regaled endlessly with the message that fiscal discipline is vital if we are to maintain a healthy ‘bank’ balance, save for a rainy day or avoid bankruptcy.  Of course, that would be true if the State’s finances ran like our own household budgets where our expenditure is limited by our income.  However, this may come as a shock to some but in a post gold standard world government spending is not constrained by the taxes we pay.

For an explanation, we must look at how a sovereign, currency issuing government like ours actually operates.  As Professor Bill Mitchell points out:

“The fact is that the current government has as much ‘money’ now as it had yesterday and the same amount, it will have tomorrow.  That is, it has whatever it wants to spend.  It always has that.  It has no more or less capacity to spend today because there were surpluses in the past than it would have if there have been deficits in the past.“

“Borrowing” doesn’t take any money at all from the pockets of future taxpayers and baby boomers (like myself) have never been asked to pay back a single penny of the public ‘debt’ accumulated by their parents’ generation.  Indeed, those fiscal deficits created public assets and infrastructure from which we have all benefited. Those terms debt and borrowing are loaded words which fit very nicely with our understanding of how our personal finances operate in practice in a Wilkins Micawber sort of way.  However, in terms of a sovereign state issuing its own currency it bears no relationship to our own household budgets.  The funds that pay for bonds or what is called ‘borrowing’ began life in government spending.  So, when economic experts and politicians refer to debt clocks claiming that we are sinking under its weight and we cannot afford to burden future generations we need to take a step back and look at it rationally.

If the government is the currency issuer then as Professor Mitchell points out, it is in fact, only ‘borrowing’ its own spending back.  So how on earth can we be said to be ‘borrowing’ from the future?

As Paul Segal, a senior lecturer in economics noted, the debt is ‘the money the government owes us, not money that we owe to anyone else. […..] What is called the ‘national debt’ is our own savings, looked at the from other side of the balance sheet”.  And how does it get there?  We put our savings into banks and pension funds which are then invested by those same banks and pension funds when they buy interest bearing government bonds, which include premium bonds by the way,from which investors and retirees then enjoy a return as income which is either saved or spent into the economy. In short, if you’re worried about the national debt then you should do the decent thing and stop enjoying the proceeds of your investment savings.

Furthermore, and fundamentally, as Bill Mitchell highlights ‘Every generation chooses its own tax rates. That is, the mix of public and private sector involvement in the economy is a political choice’  The key word here is choice.  Governments make policy choices related to the particular politico/economic ideology they espouse and for the last forty years and more that choice across the political spectrum has been neoliberal and market driven.

The result has been more about redistribution of wealth upwards than ‘trickle down’ and this has been at the expense of ordinary working people.  As the economist, Ellis Winningham recently noted: ‘The rich have been robbing us’.

Oxfam reported in January that runaway inequality has created a world where 62 people own as much as the poorest half of the world’s population.

The idea that government policy should serve public purpose aims as it did during the post war years for the economic well-being of a nation has largely been abandoned in favourof the rise of a deregulated corporate driven state whose hallmark has been excessive greed.

When those on opposition benches take the government of the day to task for rising debt and increasing deficits as if these were signs of poor economic management, the public are quite understandably horrified at government’s apparent wastefulness – how that suits the orthodox agenda!  The debt and deficit are, however, largely misunderstood by the public, and politicians either take advantage of that confusion to be better able to justify ideological austerity, cuts and privatisation or simply don’t understand that their own knowledge is flawed.

In short, deficits (i.e. the difference between what is received in taxation and actual government spending) are neither good nor bad in themselves – they are more of an economic indicator of whether a government is doing its job effectively or not.  Thus, the success or failure of an economy will depend on whether there is an appropriate level of government spending to ensure full and productive employment.  Historically, fiscal deficits have in fact been an enduring feature of post war economies and are, in the words of the economist Dr Steven Hail, ‘normal and necessary’.

Indeed in 1982 Gardner Ackley wrote:

“My own position on deficits has always been, and remains, that deficits, per se, are neither good nor bad.  There are times when they are not only appropriate but even highly desirable, and there are times when they are inappropriate and dangerous.  During a recession or a period of “stagflation”, deficits are nearly unavoidable, and are likely to be constructive rather than harmful.”

…It is not the government’s role to run deficits or surpluses. We want governments to make policy choices that will maximise the potential of the people to enjoy their lives and contribute the best they can, given their own circumstances to the well-being of society and the planet.

We might call this goal one of public purpose.  An essential element of that goal, given current cultural mores in most nations, will be to ensure that everyone who wants to work has a job and for those that are unable to work, for whatever reason, have adequate income support so they are not alienated and socially-excluded.

When Labour came to power after the second world war the aim of Clement Atlee’s government was to create a more stable, fair and less exploitative society than had been the case before the war.  Fiscal deficits were an enabling factor in achieving this.  Our parents and grandparents didn’t whisper in corners about government wasting money or talk about how governments should be fiscally sound they understood its role in making their lives better.  We have all benefited from that wisdom and foresight even if we have increasingly forgotten that, over the last few decades, as market and monetarist orthodoxy has replaced a public purpose vision which benefited citizens through access to publicly paid for health and education, decent housing, public services, social security (including pensions), redistribution of wealth and a focus on full employment.  We neither went bankrupt then creating a fairer society and nor can we do so today no matter what those that claim to know try to tell us.

The idea that we can no longer afford such a vision because we can’t afford it is one of the biggest inventions of our time and one that will continue to impoverish society if we let it.  So, in the same way as our parents and grandparents understood the importance of government’s role in investing in better lives for themselves and for their children we must embrace that same understanding and reject the paltry arguments of orthodox economists which has led to increasing poverty and inequality through a casualised labour market, wage suppression and attacks on trade unions all to support global trade, an emphasis on a largely unproductive finance sector and the politics of austerity.  There is an alternative to this miserable economic narrative which wants us to believe that governments are financially constrained and all it requires, is for us to challenge those who tell us there isn’t one.

Fundamentally a healthy economy is dependent on a healthy and educated population which is not driven by fear of want.  The social security system including state pensions, the NHS, public services and transport networks are all necessary to the good working of society and a nation cannot function properly without the vital infrastructure which underpins a strong economy.

So, if a sovereign state like ours which issues its own currency, is not constrained by taxation, cannot run out of money, go bankrupt or burden future generations, are there any real constraints to government spending?  There are certainly caveats which relate to resource availability whether that’s raw materials, goods, services or human labour.  Money is not finite but resources are whether they are human or otherwise.  To quote again Gardner Ackley:

“That goal is constrained by the availability of real resources that the nation commands – labour, capital, land, etc – but not by the financial capacity of the currency-issuing government.”

Whilst this generation cannot burden future generations with higher taxes or debt burden we have to recognise that there are limitations related to consumption of finite resources and that the resulting damage to the environment will diminish the prospects for our children’s children and beyond.  This is perhaps the most pressing problem of our times which we must reflect on urgently.  Therefore, the onus on this generation and its elected governments is to do two things: firstly to commit to investing in our young people over the long term to ensure that they can be employed in productive well paid jobs to serve the needs of future generations including the retired; and secondly but more importantly we have a responsibility to ensure that we actually have an environmentally sound planet to bequeath to our grandchildren and their children.

We should be clear that the current government has made an ideological choice instead to impoverish future generations by cutting spending and all for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with the well-being of society today or in the future.

References

http://www.ippr.org/publications/future-proof- britain-in- the-2020s

http://www.if.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Can- the-UK- Afford-to- Pay-

Pensions.pdf

https://iea.org.uk/publications/research/the-government- debt-iceberg

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/john-cridland- cbe-launches- consultation-on-

the-state- pension-age

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b086t0mb

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/24/young-bear- burden-of-

pensioner-prosperity

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01- 02/david-leyonhjelm- calls-to- restrict-pension-

assets-test/8157924

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/14/wealthy-retire- austerity-

pensioners-work

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/03/philip-hammond- budget-surplus-

conservative-conference- live/

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2017/02/goodbye-liberal- era

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/may/19/philip-bobbitt- kissinger-cuba

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jun/17/fiscal-deficit- threat

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=28597

https://alittleecon.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/government-debt- is-not- a-burden- on-

future-generations/

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=3891

http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=23673

A Tale of Two Summers and the Electable Jeremy Corbyn

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The Electable Jeremy CORBYN

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1. A TALE OF TWO SUMMERS

As a child I learned of honestly, fairness and justice, and I learned about socialism. These philosophies go hand-in-hand. But in my lifetime, The Labour Party I loved has become fearful of the truth, and has lost the trust of the electorate. For the second consecutive summer, we are facing a Labour leadership election, a protracted civil war in a party which no longer represents those it purports to exist for.

The summer of 2015 took the establishment by surprise as alongside carbon-copied neoliberals, someone talking honestly, among people, listening to them, ignited the disaffected with hope and optimism. Jeremy Corbyn, with  anti-austerity policies was elected leader of the Labour Party with a huge mandate  on 12th September 2015.

The summer of 2016 took many by surprise because the referendum on EU narrowly resulted in a “Leave” majority. Examination of those results clearly shows the EU was rejected by those who had nothing. If you have nothing to lose, why would you want to keep everything the same? While there were some on the Left, advocated a break from the  corporate stranglehold of EU, the Labour Party and leadership campaigned to remain in the EU, to make changes with other socialist groups to bring about change.

There were a number of reasons why the message was not heard.

The main culprit is the collective bias of the mainstream media. The leader of the opposition was given hardly any coverage (4%) , despite country wide meetings, while Nigel Farage, not an MP was shown repeatedly. Labour’s remain campaign  (after the effect of a shared platform at Scottish referendum), quite rightly did not share a platform with David Cameron despite Harriet Harman doing so. Corbyn campaigned extensively but the media did not show it.

The sad and tragic death of Jo Cox may not have resulted from the vile, divisive, and racist reports of the right wing press, but there was certainly a lack of responsibility, and a biased presentation can indeed incite anyone with extreme views or mental illness to behave in a certain way. It was unforgivable.

What this amounts to is a total lack of understanding of the feeling of many people in society, who feel abandoned, neglected, who feel despair, hopelessness, and in some cases hatred.

And in order to begin to repair our divided nation, and indeed world, we have to understand how this has come about. It results from the flawed economics of neoliberalism. It results from the erosion of democracy, which has become a sham.

In recent years, regardless of whichever party becomes the government, no elections have achieved the great change as  Labour did in 1945 because of the establishment’s stranglehold. There are immense riches for some and yet the state’s responsibility to its ordinary citizens has been eroded.

Solidarity, socialism, and neighbourliness,  are words from the past which we are told was some far-left extremism and  has no place in the future.  That fear of being destitute, of being alone and helpless is a direct result of neoliberalism.  Austerity, created by the IMF and described in the Zombie Economy was hatched seventy years ago in New Hampshire, has been pursued around the world ever since.

They have overseen the transfer of power from the State to the private institutions and corporations.

Ordinary people in the UK, as around the world know that austerity has failed,  yet increasingly they feel that their votes will achieve nothing. What do they say to politicians who ask for their votes on the doorstep?

“There is no point in voting; they’re all the same.”

“They’re all in it for themselves.”

“They are all liars!”

“They only want to know at election time.”

“I like Labour, but we can’t trust you with the Economy.

“Too many immigrants taking our jobs.”

“Foreigners are flooding into Britain”

“I’m not interested in Politics.”

That may be a fair assessment of the situation from their view but I am filled with despair. The Labour Party’s recent abstentions on the Welfare Bill resulted in it being carried. 47 Labour MPs did oppose the vote on Trident renewal. Please refer to this list.

  The vote to spend masses on Trident when finances and resources would be so much more wisely spent on jobs, houses, NHS and infrastructure, was supported by many Labour MPs who should be ashamed.  Why is this happening? Nothing will change until Austerity is challenged and the truth is out. There are people challenging the neoliberal consensus, and one of these is Jeremy Corbyn. He is immensely popular, and has support of 80% of CLPs.

Such is the fear of the establishment of real democracy and change that the press and majority of the PLP have bullied, orchestrated a coup and attempted to push out our democratically elected leader. The NEC and Iain McNicol has blocked democracy by cancelling political meetings, suspending CLPs and even encouraged a challenge to automatically putting the incumbent Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on the ballot paper, and agreeing to a date which was post nomination time and which could have led to the sole remaining challenger, Owen Smith being automatically made Labour leader.

judge

This in itself was questioned by the judge, and it has been ruled that Jeremy Corbyn should be the defendant, rather than Iain McNicol.

This is a real threat to democracy of the Labour Party, and of our parliament. It must be challenged.

2. 1983 Manifesto was too left-wing – a myth to be challenged

One claim from the right of the Labour Party is that a Corbyn-led party would be unelectable, because of “extreme” left-wing policies, and that was why Labour failed to gain power in 1983 under Michael Foot.

Labour’s 1983 Manifesto was not extremely Left Wing. Some examples include:

  •  In 1983 Labour promised to invest in homes, transport, new technologies and industry.
  • It promised to work for equality, for women – equal pay, maternity pay and assistance for child care
  • Planned for Investment in Education, and Provision for under-fives
  • It proposed to improve the environment, to tackle pollution and to conserve energy.
  • It planned initiatives to promote peace and development around the world, and to cancel Trident and not to co-operate with Cruise Missile deployment,
  • Labour would have expanded services for social care and to reverse Tory cuts in the maternity grant.
  • Begin a Strategy to Eliminate Low Pay.
  • Open immediate negotiations with our EEC partners, and introduce the necessary legislation, to prepare for Britain’s withdrawal from the EEC, to be completed well within the lifetime of the Labour government.
  • Rebuild British industry , and up these steps with a new National Investment Bank, new industrial powers, and a new Department for Economic and Industrial Planning.

These are immensely popular policies, and so are those of Jeremy Corbyn. Expanding on the details here show refreshing, positive policies describing a world I wished we could have seen.  It was not this manifesto that led to Labour’s defeat in 1983. They called it the greatest suicide note in political history. It looks more like a survival note for a thriving society. Neil Clark in the Guardian, describes how that defeat determined how the resistance to neoliberalism crumbled.

See Capitalism, Neoliberalism and Plutonomy and Neo-feudalism

“That moment in 1983 was the last great opportunity to derail the neoliberal bandwagon before it did lasting damage to the UK’s economic and social fabric. Labour’s emergency programme of action would have halted the de-industrialisation of Britain and removed the spectre of mass unemployment from the land. The re-imposition of exchange controls would have put a brake on the growing power of international finance; thanks to Thatcher’s deregulatory measures – money power was soon to rule the roost.”
The yawning wealth gap, already starting to develop in 1983, would have been reversed by Labour’s staunchly progressive tax policies.

3. Popularity Of Austerity policies and Thatcherism

In 1981 and 1982, the Tory cuts were very unpopular, and Michael Foot’s Labour Party was well ahead of the Tories in 1982. But Margaret Thatcher’s gamble to send a task force to the Falklands ignited a false patriotism where flag-waving citizens cheered the task force on its way. Thatcher’s gamble paid off. In times of austerity, it was like some kind of hysterical party.  It was a close thing, but without victory in the Falklands it is unlikely she would have remained in power.

‘The nation drank deep of an experience it had not enjoyed since 1945: a clear military triumph. The victory dragged Thatcher’s leadership from the brink of collapse. She won global celebrity, in both the United States and the Soviet Union, and 10 points were added to her poll rating. She was at last in the lead over Labour. The emergent Social Democrats never recovered. Thatcher wrapped herself in the flag, denouncing all sceptics and crudely boasting the renaissance of the British people as a world power against dictatorship.’

We have witnessed a greater gap between rich and poor, more deprivation and a disturbing rise in right-wing nationalism. The recent vote on Trident was unnecessary, but served to position Theresa May as Thatcher-like and reinforce the current divisions among the PLP. Austerity has failed, and it is opposition to austerity and neoliberalism which is behind the surge in political activity and a rise in Labour Party membership to over half a million people. Let us build, not divide. Let us oppose neoliberalism, together.

4. DIVIDED LABOUR in 1981 and 2016

It is a cliché, but true that as a Labour movement , we are strong when we have a common aim which is cohesive. United we stand, divided we fall. It was the split in Labour which cost us victory over Thatcher in 1983. The divisions in Labour at the moment  has cost us the lead we had just built over the Tories. It seems there are some in the PLP who do not share the aims of the Labour Party. As representatives of their  democratic socialist party, many Labour MPs are behaving in a destructive way again. They look to neoliberalism and not socialism.  There is no place for neoliberalism within the Labour Party. There is no room for disunity and disloyalty either. The membership is overwhelmingly supportive of Jeremy Corbyn and there is an incongruence between the membership and the PLP, which must be overcome in some way. As John Prescott, so succinctly put it recently in the Daily Mirror, The Labour Party is its own worst enemy scoring own goals like the England football team.

In 1983, the British electoral system was very much a two-party affair, and as we have seen recently, in a first-past-the-post electoral system, a divided opposition inevitably leads to defeat. In 1981, four former Labour cabinet ministers Bill Rogers, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Roy Jenkins had crossed the floor and formed the SDP. In 1983, ten days before the General Election, an SDP-Liberal Alliance was formed. Their agreement not to oppose seats resulted in Thatcher’s biggest ever electoral landslide. The lesson of the need for Party  unity, I hope was learned. In this betrayal, we have all paid dearly.

The Falklands war and the SDP-Alliance splitting the vote,  swung it for Mrs Thatcher not the Labour manifesto whatever the press and Blairites say. I remember it as clear as it was day, what a shock it was. The press was wicked. That is what started fear of the truth.

As we know the victors write the history.  The massive privatisation policies of the Thatcher years, which continued under Blairism, is still continuing today, though we have little left to sell off, would have been averted. Despite claims, there is evidence that Corbyn’s challenger this summer, Owen Smith, believes in neoliberalism, and many have observed that  “he is more Blairite than Blair”.

What resulted from these divisions was neoliberalism for 30 years , a parasitic, out-of-control capitalism which  grew exponentially. Manufacturing declined further, unemployment soared, employment rights eroded, and what we have been left with is a growing inequality where fear of being trampled on has led to social divisions and isolationism. Divisions in the Labour Movement today will not bring people together. Many in the PLP have behaved irresponsibly, undemocratically, and unprofessionally, and should unite behind the leader and membership to fight the Tories. Others have been loyal and present the foundation of  the New politics. Jeremy Corbyn wishes to see a reunited party fighting injustice, together. Let’s do that.

5. DEMOCRACY, TRUTH and electability

Listen to Jeremy Corbyn, and  you will hear he talks sensible, pragmatic, socially desirable policies which are supported by the electorate. His approach is courageous and honest, and that is why is was elected in 2015 as Labour leader, and why it is likely that he will be elected again in 2016, and why he is very likely to be elected as Prime Minister.  After the EU referendum, and prior to the coup, under Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party was edging ahead of the Tories in the polls. A cynical, and orchestrated attempted coup is an attempt to hold back democracy as people sense a once -in-a lifetime opportunity to make a difference to their own lives by political action.

The fable of the Emperor’s new clothes is well-known. Everyone could see the emperor was naked , but too fearful to challenge so they admired his new clothes. Everyone knows that the very, very rich, are the real scroungers  – representing a hidden welfare state while millions depend on food banks in this country alone. If everyone knows this, then why is our Labour Party still supporting Tory cuts and austerity? It is time to call the Emperor’s bluff.

Truth is always the way. Remember the lines of Tony Benn? “Say what you mean and mean what you say!” Wise words. Jeremy speaks honestly. He speaks the truth. He has integrity, a quality rarely seen among politicians, but one which the electorate respects. He has been proven correct many times, and has remained always true to his principles.

But  Jeremy Corbyn has not attempted undermining coups and exhibited bullying behaviour as we have seen this summer. He is popular, principled, and he is very electable. He believes in socialism, and in democracy.  He welcomes a reunited party. We aim for government and to change politics.

Jeremy Corbyn has my vote, yet again, and very my best wishes and hopes.

It’s all a game of Monopoly really

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It’s all a game of Monopoly really by Prue Plumridge

When Labour left office in 2010, Liam Byrne left a very unfortunate message saying there was no money left. The Tories have dined out on this lie ever since. We were compared to Greece and next in line to be affected by a sovereign debt crisis, and in 2010 Osborne claimed that the Tories had taken the country back from the brink of bankruptcy. The Tories have used the household budget narrative of deficit reduction, balanced books and surplus to justify the need for austerity when, in fact, it is not just the wrong recipe to return our economy to health but also a deliberate deception about how our state finances and economy actually work.

This deception has allowed the Tories to funnel more and more money into ever fewer hands and make the claim that we cannot afford public services or the NHS. The mantra of ‘there is no money’ has been used to justify the dismantlement of the safety net for when we are at our most vulnerable, and worse still the selling off of every aspect of our publicly provided services to the private sector. This government is making a political choice and people across the country are paying the price for it.

Most of us will identify with Dicken’s character Micawber in David Copperfield who wrote:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

So it is easy to understand how we buy into the idea that we have to pay our national debt down and balance our books. However, one cannot, in any way whatsoever, compare our own household budgets with the state money system.

And this is why:

A sovereign government:

  • Issues fiat money which is not backed by gold or anything else. (The gold standard ended in 1971 with the oil crisis)

 

  • Is not like a household. It doesn’t have to balance its budget (even though George Osborne says we do). In fact, reducing the deficit or going into surplus will remove money from the non-government/private sector.

 

  • Doesn’t tax first then spend later which means it doesn’t have to rely on raising taxes to spend. It doesn’t save its tax revenue – it destroys it.

 

To explain this strange concept think of a game of monopoly. You appoint a banker but he doesn’t collect taxes to get the game going because no-one has any money yet. The banker has to issue the money before it can collect anything back or the game can’t even begin. The issuing of the currency comes first. The bank can never go broke. If it runs out of money it can issue as much as is needed to keep the game going. So, you move about the board and you draw a card from the Community Chest or Chance – so you pay £50 – there goes a leakage. You play another hand and tax is due. The game will end very quickly if there isn’t a replacement for the money that is leaking out. Which is why every time you pass GO you collect £200. This keeps the game going. The banker always has to spend out more than he collects otherwise the game will quickly come to an end.  Which is to say that in this instance if the banker aka government is not deficit spending the game will end much sooner. (From Angry Birds by Dr Stephanie Kelton)

So to be clear taxes are not paying for anything not even your pensions!

However, they do have a function to:

control inflation or otherwise by raising or lowering taxes

redistribute wealth and income through progressive taxation

express public policy by subsidising or penalising certain industries or economic groups – for example railways for the first and polluting industries for the second.

To continue, a sovereign government:

  • Doesn’t spend money like we do – it isn’t the user of the currency. It is an issuer of the currency and creates money as it needs it.

 

  • Can’t ever run out of money and it definitely can’t go bankrupt. (Unless it is a European government and a member of the Eurozone. In that case a country becomes a user of the Euro and not the issuer. Then it is perfectly possible for it to go bankrupt as it is using what is, in effect, a foreign currency).

 

  • Can’t borrow its own money through selling bonds or treasuries to fund deficits and doesn’t’ ever have to worry about selling bonds to do so. When such bonds or treasuries are issued it is not about financing government spending it is a mechanism for controlling the interbank lending rate and the money supply. These treasuries/bonds are a bit like our bank accounts where we have a current account and a deposit/savings account where we park spare money we don’t need to get some interest. This is what the private sector does – pension funds for example – stash their money in a risk free place to earn some interest. Some call this corporate welfare and it is completely unnecessary. To follow the logic to its natural conclusion. If a government can issue the money it needs, it doesn’t have to borrow a bean from anyone at all. Indeed, why would it borrow money it had issued in the first place?
  • Can’t save up its own currency for a rainy day. Last year George Osborne announced that he would attempt to bind future governments to maintain a budget surplus when the economy is growing saying ‘we must act now to fix the roof while the sun is shining’. Budget surpluses do not represent ‘public saving’ which can be used to fund future public expenditure or a cache of money that can be spent later. A budget surplus only exists because private income or wealth is reduced so when there is a budget surplus private wealth is destroyed.

 

  • Can’t live beyond its means. Wait I hear you say won’t the magic money tree lead to inflation like it did in Germany or Zimbawe? Whilst it is the issuer of the currency that doesn’t mean that it can carry on spending ad infinitum as this would be inflationary. The only thing that will restrict government spending is access to resources. So, assuming there are idle physical resources including labour a government can continue to spend without concern for inflationary pressures.

Just before I go a word about that scary national debt. The online debt clock is designed to have us shaking in our boots at our financial recklessness! The national debt, however, is not like a mortgage or a car loan that has to be repaid. Paul Segal in an article describes it thus:

‘It is the money the government owes to us – not money we owe to anyone else. That’s right 80% of our government debt is owed to the British people. What is called the national debt is our own savings looked at from the other side of the balance sheet.’

Banks, businesses, people or countries may choose to invest their money in bonds as they earn some interest – they are in effect non-risk places to park money. This is our ‘National Debt’. To explain: you have a current account receiving no interest at all. So you put some of the money you don’t need into a deposit account like a Bond for example. The bank debits your current account and credits your new savings account. When it matures the bank debits your bond account and credits your current account with a little bit of interest to boot. You are always in the same financial position plus you get a little bit of interest. Nobody ever says that the bank is ‘in debt’ because you moved money from your current account to your savings account. So saying that the UK government is ‘in debt’ because people, institutions or corporations have exchanged their pounds for government bonds is just as misleading. Government bonds are basically £ equivalents and the government creates them both from thin air.

The “National Debt” is not by any measure a debt, but a measure of saved pounds.

And since that pile of saved £ never gets any smaller, you can consider those £ to be “retired.” Government bonds, in a net sense, don’t ever get cashed in and spent (although they could). They just sit there, unused, and once in a while a small bit of interest is added to the pile. And that pile has no discernable effect on the economy.

So there you have it – we are not in debt up to our ears – George Osborne and the media just want you to think we are.

Finally, on the subject of the burden of debt on future generations. Only today, the Chancellor shamelessly used yet another scare tactic in response to his plans for more public spending cuts by saying “We need to act today now so we don’t pay later”.

To quote the economist Professor Bill Mitchell:

“The fact is that a government has as much ‘money’ now as it had yesterday and the same amount it will have tomorrow. That is, it has whatever it wants to spend. It has no more or less capacity to spend today because there were surpluses in the past than it would have if there have been deficits in the past. The idea that fiscal surpluses (as indicated above) provide more spending capacity in the future or lower tax rates is just plain false. Every generation will choose its own tax rates. That is, a mix of public and private sector involvement in the economy is a political choice. Currency issuing governments do not draw down on the savings provided by previous government’s surpluses. It is a nonsensical notion to think that a sovereign government would ‘save’ in its own currency.”

However, this is not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned about the direction in which the country is travelling in. Reducing the deficit and aiming for surplus simply removes money from the private sector which means that people have to take on debt. There has, over the last few decades, been a huge increase in private debt and the trade deficit (that is the difference between our exports and imports) is at worrying levels. But that’s another story.

 

Links and credits:

http://ineteconomics.org/ideas-papers/interviews-talks/demystifying-modern-monetary-theory

https://petermartin2001.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-earth-is-not-flat/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTZGU9s0idM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d57M6ATPZIE

https://alittleecon.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/government-debt-is-not-a-burden-on-future-generations/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/jun/17/fiscal-deficit-threat

http://theaimn.com/its-all-just-numbers-in-a-computer/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/video/2015/feb/04/another-economic-crash-is-coming-how-did-this-happen-video

http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2015/07/taxes-for-revenue-are-obsolete-precis.html

http://hubpages.com/politics/The-US-National-Debt-explained-MMT-style

 

Note: These articles whilst written for largely for a US and Australian audience you just need to replace $ for £. It’s all the same!

 

Len McCluskey: Labour Right must stop scheming and start fighting the Tories

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Len’s speech lasts 25 minutes then a Q&A

Len McCluskey | Jeremy Corbyn: Blast From The Past Or Leader Of Tomorrow? | Oxford Union

Published on Feb 25, 2016

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In his address to the Oxford Union tonight (20:00 hours, Tuesday 9 February), McCluskey will say that last summer’s Labour leadership election saw an exhausted New Labour collide with rising public discontent about the inability of business-as-usual politics to tackle growing inequality.  Against this backdrop, an electrifying campaign based on the promise of real political change propelled Jeremy Corbyn to Labour leader.

McCluskey, the first modern day trade union leader to address the Oxford Union, speaking on the subject Jeremy Corbyn: Blast from the past or leader of tomorrow? will say:

“Some have sought to excuse their disloyalty to Corbyn by pointing to his own rebellious past on the backbenches. But who can seriously argue that his votes in parliament against the Iraq war, identity cards or university tuition fees now diminish his ability to lead the Labour party today? On all these issues he was not only right, I believe, he was giving voice to the views of most Labour supporters.

“I’m not saying that any Labour MP should have to abandon his or her own views, or cease to articulate them within the party’s democratic structures. But I am saying that this continual war of attrition is achieving nothing beyond taking the pressure off the government.

“So my clear message to the plotters is – stop the sniping, stop the scheming, get behind Jeremy Corbyn and start taking the fight to the Tories.”

The leader of the 1.4 million-strong union will remind those undermining Jeremy Corbyn that they have failed to grasp why their brand of politics was roundly rejected by the Labour electorate – and dismiss the term ‘moderate’ as  wholly inappropriate for MPs advancing further foreign wars or versions of austerity:

“These MPs, who refuse to accept the overwhelming mandate Jeremy Corbyn got from Labour’s membership, are generously described as the “moderates” in the party.  It’s an abuse of language – there is nothing “moderate” about voting to bomb Syria or agreeing more public spending cuts, anything more than it’s “extreme” to vote for peace or for an end to eye-watering austerity.

“Such labelling simply obstructs the debate we need to have which is what went wrong with New Labour, what lessons can we learn, and how can we craft an appealing electoral pitch for the reality of 2020, not 1997?

“Their analysis of Labour’s defeat in 2015 was unconvincing, their proposals stale, minimalist and uninspiring – and for the most part they have still not shaped up after Corbyn’s victory. Until they can do that, they are a plot without a programme; a cabal without a critique.

“Labour cannot simply go back to where  it left off in 1997, 2007 or 2010.  Jeremy Corbyn’s message, his authenticity, his radical challenge to the status quo is part of an international movement against business-as-usual politics.”

McCluskey will further say that that the efforts of some in the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) to present the May elections as a referendum on the leader should be thoroughly dismissed:

“This is a sensitive issue and I am not a supporter of going  back to mandatory re-selection or other changes designed to intimidate or undermine Labour MPs. But I also believe that we need to issue a clear warning to those who are advocating the PLP being used as a lever to force Jeremy Corbyn out.

“The bizarre plans outlined by Joe Haines and pollster Peter Kellner, the call to arms by Damian McBride in his Times article and the ludicrous 99 days’ notice given by Michael Dugher to the arch-Tory Mail on Sunday – all have to be dismissed with distain by any real Labour supporter.

“If the Labour MPs want something constructive to do, then start working out policies and ideas that might help attract voters back to Labour. The leadership election revealed just how much the New Labour faction had run out of political impetus.  They offered no answers to the big questions of inequality, economic management, and 21st century social justice. There were certainly no big ideas from what were dubbed the “mainstream candidates” during the last leadership election.”

Turning to the need for an alternative to austerity, McCluskey will advance that Corbyn represents the best chance the UK has to reverse Conservative policies that have rendered this the most unequal of the major western nations:

“The global political and economic problems are so stark that they can no longer be ignored. Politicians who are willing to talk frankly about them will be listened to.  Under Jeremy now, we have a clear message: one that rejects austerity economics and promises investment and growth instead.

“Fairness, tackling corporate greed, tax avoidance and tax evasion, and holding power and wealth to account – all popular proposals which are resonating on both sides of the Atlantic.

“What Jeremy Corbyn offers – like Bernie Sanders in the US – is a calling out of corporate corruption, a rejection of the austerity that has made the UK the most unequal economy in the G8 and the promise that politics and politicians can and will put things right for ordinary working people.”

– See more at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/len-mccluskey-to-labour-plotters-stop-the-scheming-back-corbyn-and-take-the-fight-to-the-tories/#sthash.xTOVqWw1.dpuf