Cameron’s ‘Predator State’ vs Junior Doctors

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RK on social media wrote (with a little editing):

An item on the news, said that teacher assistants were increasingly being used to teach full classes, some up to 30+ hours. PCSO staff are taking over much more of the standard police work and someone I know has just left a job taking bloods on wards, after little training, left alone to do the job on her own… and paid the same wage as a hospital porter.

I believe that by stealth, fully trained, higher waged professionals and semi professionals are being weeded out of many working environments.

Perhaps (just as nurses are taking over some doctor tasks) we will eventually only find the fully qualified in executive positions and barely trained, poorly paid staff will be undertaking most of the work.

Is this part of Hunt’s plans for the NHS, with doctors supervising a collection of underpaid individuals to deliver our health service?

We are fast heading to a worker bee situation, where cost cutting determines a very basic Health Care, Education and security for the masses except for those that can afford to pay. The rich will have the very best of care, education and security… further dividing an already horrendously divided nation.

This constant undermining of skills has been happening in industry for decades, where apprenticeships have ended and Mickey Mouse schemes qualify someone in a trade, after a six week course in a tech college.

It’s the bottom line that always matters most under capitalism. Skill, pride in workmanship, ethical standards of delivery, knowledge of the tasks, are all obstacles in the way of maximising profit. Perhaps that’s why we have so little of our industrial base left.

The argument is always: ” If we can’t be competitive, then we will take our manufacturing abroad to the third world”.

They can’t do that with health, welfare and education, so it has to be de-skilled to make it competitive. It’s also an attack on organised Labour, good pension schemes and secure employment. We all have to live in fear of the sack, or a wage freeze or as Public sector workers have long known, the gradual drip of outside tendering, ripping up of service agreements and eventual wage cuts and overtime payments.

While the working population is under increasing attack, there is a mirror image… one of unbridled growth in profits, bonuses and executive pay, for those that are ruining our nation.

 

I fully recognize the point RK is making and I think most of us could add even more examples of de-skilling of the workforce, whether in the public or private sector. However, he specifically puts the question:

Is this part of Hunt’s plans for the NHS, with doctors supervising a collection of underpaid individuals to deliver our health service?

Dr Bob Gill provides an answer:

The reality is that more qualified staff are being driven out in preparation for the de-skilling that is always part of healthcare privatisation and corporate takeover. For the UK, this is mapped out in the Five Year Forward View by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England. Stevens used to be an executive of the US based private health care company, UnitedHealth.

http://koshh.org/the-connection-between-the-junior-doctors-contract-and-the-american-corporate-takeover-of-the-nhs

Motions at the BMA conference raised similar concerns that the future training plans could reduce the standards of patient care and safety; that by de-skilling doctors, de facto ‘sub-consultants’ would be introduced who could be paid less, and be subject to more rigid terms and conditions of service; that unacceptable power would be given to local hospital managers to determine training and workforce planning; and limit the career aspirations of many hospital doctors to a sub-consultant grade.

So how does this fit with ‘The Predator State’ of the title?

It is the term used by economist James Galbraith (2008 book) to describe this phase of capitalism in which politicians have colluded with the corporate and financial sectors to privatize public services, using …

‘The state as monopoly collector of taxes and corrupt distributor of the spoils to the private sector.’

This is certainly what is happening to the NHS. Only this week, Richard Branson took over the NHS Children’s Services in Wiltshire. He will be paid by the state for that provision and will doubtless introduce the usual cost-cutting measures to increase its profitability ie reducing the wages bill, weakening union representation and paring the service back as much as possible. Using under or unskilled labour to do the work of a highly trained professional is the obvious way to reduce the wages bill – wages will be the biggest drain on his profits. The UK government will pay Branson for taking on the service (probably with a huge subsidy) and in return, we will get an impoverished service.

So what, where, why?

Aren’t we told that the Tories are all about ‘free-markets’ and competition … but that sounds just like a rigged ‘market’.  How can Richard Branson possibly lose? Just as with the banks and care homes for the elderly, if the private company goes bust or gets fed up, the government will have to step in to pick up the pieces.  In other words, it is yet again …

‘Privatisation of profits and socialization of losses.’

 As Max Keiser pointed out, privatizing health, education and other public services provide great investment opportunities to hedge against more risky speculative ventures. And with another banking crisis predicted for the near future….

So why are the politicians going along with this rip-off of the nation?

Historically, we need to go back to Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and even further back to Hayek on Mount Perelin in 1947.  Put simply, Margaret Thatcher couldn’t bear the Welfare State and wanted Britain to resemble Churchill’s wartime fantasy of pre-WW2…   The Austrian economist Hayek and his book ‘The Road to Serfdom’, offered her a political philosophy and economics that was an intellectual vehicle for her dreams.  The fact that his ideas were so diametrically the opposite of the Welfare State and a mixed economy meant that there were limits to how fast radical dismantling/restructuring could occur without provoking riots.  The ‘Boiling frogs’ strategy was adopted (put frogs in saucepan of cold water and gradually increase the heat – the frogs don’t notice until it’s too late).

The annual release of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet papers after the 30y rule confirms all this, and it is notable that this year, Cameron has stopped the release of a majority of the minutes from 1986.

But Margaret Thatcher was egged on and undoubtably manipulated by much bigger vested interests than her dreams of an England fit for Miss Marples and Agatha Christie. The City of London provided experts and consultants who saw the opportunity to return wealth and power to its ‘rightful heirs’ (and themselves) – those who we now call the 1% but more properly should be called the 0.1% or even the 0.001%.

It is highly significant that after the Great Depression, and in that short window of 1945-1979, the rich were not so rich and that has now been reversed back to ‘normal’.

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 01.49.36

http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/SaezZucman2014Slides.pdf

 

Sadly, the LP lost its way in the 80s and bought into the idea that there was no alternative (TINA). Many actually believed in The Third Way. However as Tony Blair said recently, he had seen his role as to build on Margaret Thatcher’s achievements, and ironically, it seems that New Labour politicians continue to believe in ‘the wisdom of the markets’ when it is quite clear that George Osborne and the Republicans in the US do not.

James Galbraith insists that the original Monetarists like Milton Friedman were serious economists but after deregulation, market solutions were abandoned in favour of Crony Capitalism ‘in all important areas of policy-making’.

 For them, [a market solution] now serves as nothing more than an enabling myth, used to hide the true nature of our world. Ironically, only the progressive still takes the call for “market solutions”

http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2008/05/the-predator-st.html

In other words, we’re being spun a load of economic lies (like austerity, the deficit drama and competitive efficiency) which are intended to persuade us that the impoverishment of the next generation, to benefit the global over-class of super-rich, is unavoidable. And as it happens, we have a government of Old Etonians and aristocrats who belong to that over-class, as do their cronies, friends, relatives and future employers.

‘Cameron himself went to Eton, and the many Old Etonians in his inner circle include Oliver Letwin, minister for government policy; Jo Johnson, head of his policy unit; Ed Llewellyn, chief of staff; and Rupert Harrison, George Osborne’s chief economic adviser.’

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/mar/14/gove-attacks-preposterous-number-old-etonians-cameron-cabinet

“What did the new class… set out to do in political terms? The experience of the past decade permits a very simple summary explanation: they set out to take over the state and to run it — not for any ideological project but simply in the way that would bring to them, individually and as a group, the most money, the least disturbed power, and the greatest chance of rescue should something go wrong. That is, they set out to prey on the existing institutions of the [ ] regulatory and welfare system.”

http://forensicstatistician.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/a-predator-state-the-worst-bits-of-capitalism-communism-and-feudalism/

So where does this leads us with regards to the junior doctors’ contract and Jeremy Hunt?

Jeremy Hunt’s behaviour really doesn’t make any sense if he wants a ‘seven day’ NHS. No-one can imagine that it is feasible, not without more doctors, more hospital porters, nurses, radiographers etc… and expecting 20bn worth of cuts to the NHS budget at the same time? The old adage is that if something doesn’t make sense, ‘Follow the Money’.

After the last 5y of Lansley’s Health and Social Care Bill reorganization and cuts, it is no surprise that hospital doctors feel demoralized, undervalued, over worked and now they are being threatened with a substantial pay cut. Hunt’s imposition of the new contract on the Junior doctors is particularly criticized for driving doctors to work abroad.

Thousands are set to quit the NHS in protest over plans to shake up hours… more than 6,000 requests have been made for the paperwork needed to practise medicine outside the UK.

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/junior-doctors-fleeing-country-after-7367186#ICID=sharebar_facebook

 

Well, the resulting shortage from a mass exodus of doctors would be a perfect reason for using under-skilled staff … and it could be even be spun as unreasonable doctors, disloyally abandoning the NHS.  Hence, the conditions of the NHS could be harmonized with the expectations of private health care providers.  And all who could afford it, would be tempted to go for private treatment… as in the two tier system of the US.

Hunt has good reason to want to upset and alienate the Junior doctors.  It seems all too likely that he would love the awkward squad to go.  Then he can move on to the consultants…

As James Galbraith writes:

There is no common good, no public purpose, no shareholder’s interest; we are the prey and governments as well as corporations are run by and for predators. The “failures” enrich the proper beneficiaries even as they “prove” government is no solution.

 

Fortunately, we’re not told the truth about how the economy really works… and there is no economic reason why a new courageous state could not (in time) restore the NHS to being an improved, truly nationalised service….  And it just so happens that Jeremy Corbyn supports full re-instatement of the NHS.  Fingers crossed.

http://www.nhsbill2015.org/jeremy-corbyn-supports-the-nhs-reinstatement-bill/

 

 

 

https://think-left.org/2012/02/16/the-nhs-and-tina-mrs-thatchers-ideological-anti-democratic-political-legacy/

http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2014/05/23/this-mornings-political-landscape-is-a-victory-for-the-cowardly-state/

 

The Changing Face of Europe – As Greece says NO, what will we say?

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The Changing Face of Europe – and The World

Socialists differ from nationalists in that their concern for the welfare of others is not confined to arbitrary boundaries of nations and states. In modern times, as transport and technology has advanced, so the time , scope and range of communication and trade has expanded. One world, one community, one people is a possibility. But the reality is that it is not national boundaries which define and divide us, but wealth, class and property. And above all – power.

(1) In April 1970, during the 1970 general election, Edward Heath said that further European integration would not happen “except with the full-hearted consent of the Parliaments and Peoples of the new member countries.” However, no referendum was held when Britain agreed to an accession treaty on 22 January 1972 with the EEC states, Denmark, Ireland and Norway, or when the European Communities Act 1972 went through the legislative process. Britain joined the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973, with Denmark and Ireland. This later became the European Union.Ted Heath’s Conservative government entered the Common market in 1972. At the time many felt that was unconstitutional, and even questioned the legality. ( See (2) Vernon Coleman’s comments)

 Clearly external pressures were being exerted on Heath’s government. Britain and American intelligence services supported Britain’s entry into EEC to oppose the Communist bloc. Funding was put in place to influence public support.

The Cambridge Clarion (3) describes how the MI6 pushed Britain to join Europe.

“A secretly-funded Foreign Office unit used public money to mount a covert propaganda operation aimed at ensuring Britain joined the European Community.

British and American intelligence services had traditionally supported Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community us a bulwark against the Communist Eastern bloc.

The CIA funded the European Movement, the most prominent extra-governmental group, seeking to influence public opinion for a European Community. Between 1949 and 1953, it was subsidised by the CIA to the tune of £330,000. In June 1970 Edward Heath’s Conservative government had been elected with a pro-European manifesto. But public and parliamentary support for Europe was slipping and Britain’s entry was in doubt. Although the Cabinet was dominated by pro-Europeans, Heath presided over a party that was deeply ambivalent about the “Common Market”.

Later that year, a meeting of senior information officers in Whitehall was convened to discuss what could be done. An official present at that meeting says the only department that seemed capable of achieving something effective was the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department. IRD had been set up in 1948 by Christopher Mayhew, then Foreign Minister, to place covert anti-Communist propaganda throughout the world and was funded by the intelligence budget – the secret vote. IRD was closely linked with MI6 and shared many officers – including at one time the double agent Guy Burgess. By the late Sixties, IRD had more than 400 people occupying River-walk House opposite the Tate Gallery and undercover officers in embassies all over the globe.

The civil servant who ran the covert pro-Europe campaign was Norman Reddaway, Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, with a brief covering IRD and other FO information services.

Mr Reddaway, who later became ambassador to Poland, and is now retired, set up a special IRD unit to propagandise in favour of British entry and counter those who opposed it. In an unpublished interview, Mr Reddaway says: “The researchers were extremely good at researching the facts about going into Europe”

The unit worked closely with a number of pro-European politicians to rebut anti-EEC arguments. IRD wrote and brokered articles which were placed in the press “There was no shortage of MPs who were pleased to see something published under their name in The Times and elsewhere,” a former insider said.”

The Labour party were split on the issue, with many grassroots opposing remaining in Europe and Wilson called a referendum on the issue of whether to remain:  The Common Market Referendum on 6th June 1975.  (4) At that time, I voted “No”, feeling that it was a treaty backing private business and had little to offer working people. The No campaign included the left wing of the Labour Party, including the cabinet ministers Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, and Barbara Castle. Some Labour “No” supporters, including Varley, were on the right wing of the party, but most were from the left.

The funding supporting European Entry clearly was effective, and even the Daily Mirror attacked those opposing the entry as lunatics and extremists.

Much of the “Yes” campaign focussed on the credentials of its opponents. According to Alastair McAlpine, “The whole thrust of our campaign was to depict the anti-Marketeers as unreliable people – dangerous people who would lead you down the wrong path … It wasn’t so much that it was sensible to stay in, but that anybody who proposed that we came out was off their rocker or virtually Marxist.”.[ Tony Benn controversially claimed “Half a million jobs lost in Britain and a huge increase in food prices as a direct result of our entry into the Common market“, using his position as Industry Minister as an authority. His claims were ridiculed by the “Yes” campaign and ministers; the Daily Mirror labelled Benn the “Minister of Fear” and other newspapers were similarly derisive. Ultimately, the “No” campaign lacked a popular, moderate figure to play the public leadership role for their campaign that Jenkins and Wilson fulfilled in the “Yes” campaign.

The establishment control of the press has been effective at attacking those using democratic means as extremists. Michael Foot, Tony Benn, and Neil Kinnock were neither loony, extreme-left, dangerous  nor undemocratic. Later, at the time of their deaths, when they could no longer challenge the establishment, Michael Foot and Tony Benn were admired and appreciated as men with intelligence and courage. The strength of that courage is precisely why the press attacked them, and continue to attack anyone who questions the status quo. That is the reason we have plunged blindly into neoliberalism, with a Labour Party impotent and fearful of the media.

The No campaign also included a large number of Labour backbenchers; upon the division on a pro-EEC White Paper about the renegotiation, 148 Labour MPs opposed their own government’s measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.

The Guardian (6) reported the outcome of the 1975 referendum with a smiling Margaret Thatcher . thatcher europe 

…and reported that Wilson needed to take on the opposition from the Left.

left paper eec

Certainly, I can recall that within Labour meetings, more positive aspects of being more closely allied within Europe began to emerge. It is a long time ago, I wonder how many others can recall how opposition to Europe from the Left began to crumble, as there was talk of a Social Contract, treaties supporting workers’ rights and a renewed solidarity across Europe? As socialists, the fraternal support of the left across Europe seemed a positive force – the idea of “united we stand, divided we fall” and so on. The greatest influence, was no doubt the danger at home – an extreme, right-wing reactionary government with Thatcher privatising everything in sight with Reagan encouraging  her from across the ocean.

Our own Labour Party of the 80s and 90s no longer opposed the neoliberalism game. Enthusiasm for Europe and monetarism was pursued by a Labour Party led by John Smith and later Tony Blair. Labour had joined the race and power for Blair was an addiction, and the Left voice against Europe was silenced – gagged even.

Europe seemed the friend and the US the enemy.

The truth was very different, in that the US was always the driving force of the European Community.  As previously mentioned, the US was involved in the instigation of a Europe wide force from the beginning, and has continued throughout. Their intervention was opposed as long ago as 1950s and 60s by De Gaulle, The American Challenge Le Défi Américain, published in 1967 by Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, and referred to by Bill Mitchell’s blog  Europe’s EU imported Nightmare. (7)

Because of a technology-gap, the US would achieve a hold on Europe. Servan-Schreiber’s main predictions were based around three main points

1. The flow of profits out of Europe to the US-owned firms.

2. The colonisation in an economic sense of Europe by US firms.

3. The cultural invasion.

And so it has come to pass. The power of a US led neofeudalist plutocracy (8) is now so great that treaties such as TTIP are being readily signed by politicians with arms held behind their backs.  Our NHS of 67 years now may be privatised, in such a form we could not repeal legislation because governments can be sued?  What democracy exists at all? (9)

The real crisis now in Greece (10) was inevitable in hindsight, as far from a united people in Europe, some were very much stronger than others.The most powerful economy in the Eurozone was Germany, and so served its own interests. Weaker countries such as Greece struggled, and neighbours withheld aid as the global financial crisis struck. Greece has been abandoned, and even when Greece democratically elected a party opposed to austerity measures, the financial power base of the ECB pressures those people against their democratic will.

If we take a look at Spain, (11) where gagging laws have been compared to the days of Franco’s dictatorship, we see  another example where democratic expression becomes a sham. There is a limit to  freedom of speech and curbing the right to peacefully protest with the introduction of fines ranging between €100 ($111) and €600,000.

1) Fines for protesting Under the new law, anyone who organizes or takes part in an “unauthorized protest” could be fined between €30,000 and €600,000 if the protest takes part near institutions such as the Spanish parliament.

2) Disrupting public events Disrupting events such as public speeches, sports events or religious ceremonies could face fines of between €600 and €300,000.

3) Botellón The Spanish tradition of getting together with mates for outdoor drinking sessions looks to be officially over – drinking in public will be hit with fines of €600 under the new law. And teenagers won’t escape – Parents will be held responsible for the payment of their offsprings’ fines.

4) Social media activism Using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to call on people to protest will be fined under the new law, an attempt to put paid to the spontaneous protests that have proved very powerful in building the indignado movement.

5) Photographing police People will be fined for taking unauthorized photographs of the police, a measure introduced with the argument that being publicly identified could put officers and their families in danger.

6) Smoking weed It puts an end to the laissez-faire attitude that has seen Spain become a nation with one of the largest potsmoking populations in Europe. But from now on lighting up a joint in bars or on public transport could result in a fine of between €600 and €30,000.

7) Leaving furniture in the street It is a tradition that has existed in Spain long before the current upcycling trend but from now on dumping unwanted furniture in the street could come with a penalty. Those caught obstructing streets with old furniture, cars or other unwanted items will be fined.

8) Trying to stop an eviction People trying to stop an eviction from taking place could be fined between €600 and €300,000. The number of evictions in Spain has skyrocketed since the beginning of the economic crisis.

9) Not having your ID

Spaniards who are asked to show their ID card and do not have it on their person could be in trouble under the new law. If they cannot immediately locate it at home and have failed to report it missing, they are liable to be fined.

10)  Disrespecting a police officer Showing a “lack of respect” to those in uniform or failing to assist security forces in the prevention of public disturbances could result in an individual fine of  between €600 and €30,000.

Is Big Brother watching us? Undoubtedly. How many recall the passing of 1984, and thought of Orwell’s predictions of Big Brother? The Orwellian world in which we now find ourselves is more terrifying than the books we read at school. There again, it cannot be long before the books  disappear and history rewritten, so when those who can remember have gone nothing else remains.

It is not that everything in Europe is bad news for Britain, or vice versa. It is right that we continue to travel, to befriend, to trade with and support those across Europe and the world. But what is wrong, is to continue to play the game, like counters in a game of Risk, pushing people to despair, withholding their livelihoods in the name of a European Economic Community. The European Union is both anti socialist and anti democratic.(12) It is not for the Labour Party, founded to protect working people to continue to pursue policies which blackmail states and their democratically elected representatives.

This is why, while I will not walk away from Europe,  or turn my back on people in need in Europe, the world, or next door – when the next  referendum comes I will vote “No” again.

  1. Wikipedia Referendum 1975 
  2. Vernon Coleman “Did Heath’s government enter the common market illegally?
  3. Cambridge Clarion: How MI6 pushed Britain to join Europe using public money to mount a covert propaganda operation.
  4. BBC On this Day: Referendum 1975
  5. New Statesman : 1975 Referendum on Europe
  6. How the Guardian reported referendum in 1975
  7. Bill Mitchell “Europe’s EU imported Nightmare”
  8. Capitalism, NeoLiberalism, Plutonomy and Neofeudalism
  9. Are we already in the post democratic era?
  10. Bryan Gould – the Real Greek Crisis
  11. Spain – the ten most repressive points of Spain’s gagging law
  12. Kelvin Hopkins: The EU is Anti Socialist and Undemocratic

The Real Greek Crisis, – Bryan Gould

The Real Greek Crisis

By Bryan Gould

Most people will feel that they don’t need to look far for an explanation as to what lies behind the Greek crisis. Lazy reporting and racial stereotyping will persuade them that the Greeks – a feckless lot, no doubt – have spent more than they should, got into debt, taken out loans from the hard-working Germans and now won’t repay the loans because they refuse to tighten their belts.

But there is another narrative that tells a somewhat different story. That story is one of a powerful economy enforcing its will on its weaker neighbours and refusing to acknowledge that it has thereby made it impossible for them to dig themselves out of a hole.

The story begins at the turn of the century when the Greeks, along with many others, were persuaded that being part of Europe required them to give up their own currency and accept the euro. A single currency meant a single monetary policy and a single central bank – and guess who decided what that policy should be and what the central bank should do?

Germany, by far the most powerful economy in the euro zone, ran it to serve its own interests, but life wasn’t so easy for the weaker countries. The Greeks, for example, with their smaller and less developed economy, had no chance of surviving the competition from efficient German manufacturing. We do not need the benefits of hindsight to make this point, since many commentators, myself included, foresaw the inevitability of this outcome at the time.

As things began to go wrong, and they had to borrow to keep their heads above water, the Greeks were assured that they could look to the Germans and others to help them out. But this was in the days of cheap and plentiful credit; when the Global Financial Crisis struck and the cheap credit dried up, the creditors who had happily lent to the Greeks wanted their money back.

The Greeks didn’t have the money. But the price they had to pay for borrowing yet more from the IMF and the European Central Bank was to accept a programme of savage austerity. The cuts they have already been forced to make have meant that 25% of the Greek economy has simply closed down and 60% of young people are without a job. Again, as some commentators observed at the time, it was impossible to see how the Greeks could ever – from an already weak economy that is now so much smaller and still going backwards – find the resources needed to repay their debts.

And so it has proved. The price that creditors insist upon for a continued bail-out is yet more austerity which can only mean yet more closures and unemployment. Leaked papers show that the creditor institutions themselves recognise that more austerity will make it even less possible for the Greeks to pay back their debts.

So why are the Germans and other creditors determined to force the Greeks into such a damaging dead end? The answer is that they care little for the travails of the Greek people. Their focus is on those countries that are watching the Greek situation closely – countries like Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, even Italy, that have faced similar problems, and suffered similar penalties, but that have not yet been compelled by pressure from their populations to resist a further descent into even more austerity.

The fear from the financial establishment and from the Germans in particular is that the Greeks might find a way to demonstrate to other similarly afflicted countries in the euro zone that there is a way out – and that those other countries would then follow a similar course. The rational course for the Greeks to take, after all, would be to leave the euro zone, restore their own currency and then print the drachmas needed, as monetarily sovereign countries are able and entitled to do, and repay their debts in devalued drachmas.

The difficulty that Greek Prime Minister Tsipras faces is that he has committed to resist austerity but also to retain the euro. It is doubtful that he can achieve both. In the forthcoming referendum, no one can be sure whether the dislike of austerity or the fear of leaving the euro zone will prevail. The poor and the unemployed – those who have suffered most from austerity – will vote to reject the new bail-out offer; the holders of assets and the pensioners will vote to stay with the euro.

Either way, the outlook for the euro looks bleak. In the long run, the attempt by the financial establishment to over-ride the wishes and interests of ordinary people and to negate the power of a democratic government to protect them will fail. The only question is as to how many more crises there will be and how much more suffering has to be endured before common sense prevails.

Bryan Gould 

“I once contested the Labour party’s leadership myself. The answers to the dilemmas facing British politicians today seem to me to be more clear-cut than was the case in 1992. It is easier now, with a longer perspective on the orthodoxy that has prevailed for so long, to see what has gone wrong, and to see what is needed to put it right. What is needed now is to unlock the intellectual straitjacket in which Labour has been shackled for too long. Where is the leader to deliver that?” Since Bryan Gould wrote these words,  Jeremy Corbyn agreed to stand as leader, and there is hope for a change from the intellectual straitjacket Bryan speaks of.

How the The Reverse March of Labour Led to Defeat in May

The Reverse March of Labour. What went wrong in May

By Bryan Gloud and Carl Rowlands, Previously published here

With the Labour Party still reeling in the wake of May’s electoral disaster, New Left Project spoke to Gould about what went wrong. Bryan Gould answers Carl Rowlands.

Why did Labour lose in May? What aspects of the defeat were familiar from your own time in British politics?

I think Labour lost (setting aside technical issues like the restriction of the franchise) because they failed to offer an alternative view of how the economy should be run and in whose interests – which is the central question in current democratic politics. They had no chance of convincing people that they could produce different and better outcomes, if they failed to signal a departure from Tory priorities – as in the case of committing to eliminate the deficit, as though it makes sense to isolate this relatively minor aspect of the UK’s economic problems and treat it as the top priority.

Almost all candidates in the Labour leadership contest have talked of the need to appeal to ‘wealth creators’ whilst enabling ‘aspiration’. Back in 1992 you referred to those ‘involved in wealth creation’ rather than simply ‘wealth creators’ – quite an important, if subtle difference. Wouldn’t wealth creation include many who work in the public sector (for example, in universities) – in fact, anyone who creates anything? In relation to socialist objectives, how can we move on from this to define a common wealth in 2015?

The keenness to talk about ‘aspirations’ is often short-hand for, ‘we need to pay more attention to middle class interests and be more like the Tories’. I don’t say we shouldn’t try to appeal to a wider range of opinion and interests, but that should not mean abandoning others. The goal should be to show that a different approach would meet the interests of most people. The point you raise about ‘wealth creation’ illustrates this point. The current tendency is to accept that ‘wealth creators’ are the owners, employers and investors, while the contributions made by others are best regarded as production costs. I think that all those involved in the productive sector, in whatever capacity, are ‘wealth creators’ and that they should be distinguished from those in the speculative sector – the financiers and rentiers – who make their money not by creating new wealth but by gouging it out of the rest of us. The shame is that the unemployed are denied the chance to join the ranks of wealth creators.

In 1995 you described Labour’s progression as follows: ‘It’s been a painful process of withdrawal from hope and idealism…. I think we have simply given up. I think we will secure power, but I don’t think we’ll make much of it. As soon as the voters recover their confidence in the Tories we’ll be removed, in order to make room for the real thing’. Is this fairly accurate as an appraisal of the last Labour governments, and if so, what now?

I adhere to this view. If the best we can offer is that we will be ‘Tory-lite’, we can’t be surprised if the voters prefer the real thing. Even if they don’t like Tory policies much, they are attracted by those whose hearts are really in it. The left, for three or four decades, have too often believed in their heart of hearts that there is no alternative to neo-classical economics and they have therefore struggled to sound convincing when they say they can do better.

As the MP for Dagenham you were one of a handful of Labour MPs in southern seats in the 1980s. After thirty years, Labour’s situation in the south is in some respects worse, with heavy attrition of membership and the breakdown of multiple smaller branches into sparsely populated Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs). What can Labour do to win support from voters in the south in the future?

Labour too readily accepts that voters in the south are different, with the result that they either accept that those voters are beyond reach or believe that they have to be addressed differently. That is not how I see it. While voters in the south (which is just another way of describing the better-off middle class) are on average better off and have better jobs, services, etc., they have just as big a stake as anyone else in a successful economy that serves everybody’s interests and in a society that is not fragmented or divided against itself.

I think it is too easy to assume that particular approaches have to be made to particular groups, such as ‘white working class voters’, when Labour’s best approach is to assert that policies that will, in fact, benefit virtually everyone are the best way of looking after particular groups, including the disadvantaged. And in any case, not every voter in the south is well off – there are many who will be sensitive to poorer public services, widening inequality and worsening job security. The task for Labour, in other words, is not to develop many sets of policies that will meet as many specific interests as possible (thereby running the risk of confusing and embarrassingly inconsistent policy stances) but to provide an overall and persuasive analysis of what a successful economy and an integrated society would look like and of how to bring them about.

It’s a further illustration of Labour’s lack of confidence. The Tories are perfectly ready to proclaim that they are the party for the ‘working man’.

On the point about activism and membership, all parties face this problem. The Tories don’t worry about it, because they can use their advantages in financial resources and media support to communicate directly with the voters. We need to be much quicker on our feet – taking up individual, local and short-lived issues that command public interest and showing how the correct responses to those issues are best arrived at by applying our overall set of values and view of how society should work. People drawn in, even if only temporarily on a particular issue, will remember that experience on polling day.

You once described New Labour as a ‘souffle of good intentions’. Do you think this incoherence remains an issue with Labour in 2015? If so, what, if anything, can be done to provide a true, values-based ethos to Labour as a prospective party of government?

Yes, I still think this is true. Labour would like to do good things but is faced with the roadblock that they have no idea how to disengage from the current orthodoxy. They are unwilling or unable to do the hard work needed to identify a better alternative and can’t conceive that there could be new thinking that is not going to be condemned as ‘left-wing extremism’.

Moving on to economics, you were very critical of the decision to make the Bank of England independent, and have consistently argued for a different approach to monetary supply. To what extent do you think it is essential that the supply of credit is diversified?

This next question takes me to the heart of the problem. Without a new approach to major issues like monetary policy and an understanding of its true purposes we can’t develop an alternative economic strategy. We need to update Keynes (if that doesn’t sound too presumptuous) so as to fill a couple of lacunae in his analysis. We need to ensure, for example, that monetary policy is not the exclusive domain of the banks and is not used solely to boost their profits rather than serve the public interest – and that’s why allowing the central bank to run it is such a bad idea. If we want government to take responsibility for full employment, which should be the primary goal of economic policy, ministers should be accountable and not permitted to sub-contract their responsibility to the bank.

There’s been a bit of debate in some circles recently regarding the validity of full employment as a goal. This is not to say that consigning people to a life on poverty-level benefits is acceptable, more that the goal of full employment is both too unspecific regarding under-employment (for example, zero-hour contracts) and also neglects the danger that the state will use coercion upon the unemployed to force them into workfare and other deflationary schemes. As the founder of the Full Employment Forum, do you think that in the world of ‘Sports Direct’-type employment, full employment remains a valid goal? Implicit within a lot of current criticism of full employment is that the state should offer Unconditional Basic Income….

I’m suspicious of the argument that full employment, however defined, is for some reason now unattainable, since it is so convenient for employers and others to retain a pool of unemployed. Keynes and others had no difficulty in defining full employment as a condition where there are as many jobs as (or perhaps a few more than) there are people looking for work. I think we should be careful about what employment means for the purposes of this and any other definition. A zero-hours contract is not in my view the equivalent of a job and nor is part-time work a job for someone wishing to work full-time. In New Zealand at present, even a one-hour working day is treated as a job and therefore as reducing the unemployment total.

As to how full employment is to be achieved, Keynes was interested in direct job creation so that the government or public sector would be the employer of last resort. He saw this as the means of avoiding variable employment levels since even a high level of aggregate demand or GDP would not necessarily mean that effective demand (i.e. predictions as to future demand) would be high enough to persuade the private sector to employ everyone available for work. I think the theoretical argument is accurate enough but the proposition is politically difficult (particularly for a public conditioned to believe that unemployment is the result of fecklessness!) and may not be practicable, in its pure form at any rate. Similar doubts of course apply to the notion of a ‘refusal of work’. I do think, however, that something that would be recognised as full employment is attainable if we were to get the economy moving again by addressing our two main problems – a loss of competitiveness in the productive sector and the absence of proper financing for industry.

As a slightly separate point, I think there is considerable merit in a Universal Basic Income, both as an anti-poverty measure and a simplification of our complex benefits system and as a recognition that, as citizens, we are all entitled to share in at least the basic benefits of living in society.

I am quite clear that the rise and rise of house prices is huge driver of widening inequality.  A good illustration of the process is the recent announcement that a generous right-wing government in New Zealand will raise benefits for the poorest families by $25 per week, at a time when the owners of houses in Auckland have seen the value of their houses rise over the past year on average by $2000 dollars per week.  That rise in dollar value is entirely the result of irresponsible bank lending, and is not matched in any way by a rise in real output – it represents a transfer of resources from those who don’t own their own homes to those who do.

One of the more controversial stances you took in the 1980s concerned employee share ownership, and encouraging this as a form of common ownership. Would you revise this stance, based upon developments since then?

If the profit motive is so vital and beneficial, why not extend it to the whole work force? Employee share ownership, or something like it, would be a practical reflection of the fact that they are all wealth creators. Anything that would make private companies more responsive to the wider interest would be helpful.

Over the space of the last five years, Labour has moved from defending investment to subscribing to a reduced version of Conservative spending cuts. What are the political implications of this? Could it eventually lead to what is sometimes called the ‘Pasokification’ of Labour – its slow disappearance and fade to obscurity? Is there a way for Labour to move beyond what could be permanent austerity, in the face of fierce media attacks?

As I indicated earlier, the commitment to cut public spending was the major mistake made by Labour over the past five years. It seemed to validate the Tory attacks on Labour’s economic record and to demonstrate that there was no alternative to further cuts. It shows a serious lack of expertise and a complete unawareness of what is happening outside Westminster in respect of moving away from current orthodoxy. When the IMF and the OECD, every major central bank and many leading economists are in various ways denying the validity of austerity as a response to recession, seeing inequality as an obstacle to economic growth rather than as a necessary price and pre-condition of it, and recognising the possibilities of monetary policy (albeit through quantitative easing to shore up the banks) as a means of getting the productive economy moving, rather than just as a counter-inflationary instrument, why does Labour remain stuck in a time warp? If we don’t escape from this intellectual straitjacket, our days are numbered – Pasokification indeed!

During the late 1980s and early 1990s you were possibly the only consistent front-bench Opposition critic of the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which set the conditions for monetary and fiscal convergence, and which institutionalised harsh monetary control into the European project. Whilst the UK has been spared the worst excesses of monetary restraint, it is a less-connected part of a European Union which has increasingly acted as an enforcer for economic liberalism and privatisation, and whose institutions remain remote from popular consent.

With the In/Out referendum approaching, is there a serious prospect that the EU – and the Eurozone – can be reformed to reflect a progressive economics that places social and environmental goals at its centre? If not, then what are the likely consequences of a vote to leave the EU?

The euro was always doomed and we did well to keep out of it. A single currency was a means of enforcing a single monetary policy for a highly diverse European economy (which was always going to be disastrous), and of setting in concrete a monetary policy that would be congenial to Germany but – reinforcing as it would neo-classical precepts – would do great damage to everyone else. I fear that the supporters of the euro will press on to the bitter end, whatever the consequences. A ‘grexit’ would help but would be no more than a warning which the Germans would no doubt ignore. The only solution, which a British withdrawal from the EU might help to achieve, would be to abandon the euro and re-configure a Europe that is built on functional cooperation and growing convergence, with each step going no further than would warrant political support from the people. The question for the UK is not, in other words, either wholly in or wholly out – it is inconceivable that trade barriers would be re-erected and we would retain, even outside the EU, a huge range of common interests with it – but how best to preserve a European future that has some chance of success, further development and longevity.

Bryan Gould was a front-bench MP for Labour from 1983 to 1994, before returning to his native New Zealand. He is the author of a number of books, including The Democracy Sham: How Globalisation Devalues Your Vote and Myths, Politicians and Money. He blogs at http://bryangould.com.

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