Is Time up for ‘The Big Lie’?
Over the past five years the Tories and their Lib Dem supporters have lied on an epic scale. Orwellian double-think and newspeak has nothing on them. They damn Labour for borrowing, whilst borrowing more than Labour has done, not only during the previous Labour administration but in history; boast of growth whilst overseeing the slowest economic recovery since the South Sea Bubble 300 years ago; and a rate of growth that still doesn’t match the one they inherited – and let no-one mention that the national debt Labour was bequeathed in 1997 (as a % of GDP) was larger than was passed on to the Tories in 2010.
The Tories know this perfectly well. But the credit crunch was a Tory wet dream, offering undreamed-of opportunities to implement a huge shift of wealth away from the public to a tiny ruling elite. It is no coincidence that the U.K. now has the largest number of billionaires per head of population than any other country. When the Tories ask where the money has gone – referencing ‘that’ note – the answer is clear.
From the privatisation of the Royal Mail for £1bn less than its market value – at a conservative estimate – to the handing out of NHS contracts to the private sector, the evidence of how this asset-stripping is playing out is there for all to see.
But what is in plain sight is not always what is most visible.
I give you, for your distraction, the ever-changing galaxy of scapegoats presented by our friends in the media and their Tory chums: foreigners; gay men and women; black people; asylum-seekers; refugees; gypsies; benefit scroungers; and, the current favourite – Muslims. There are many, many more, of course.
The crowding around the political centre ground left many working class people feeling abandoned, disenfranchised, bemused by what has happened and angry at the impact the undermining of their lives, homes and jobs has had upon them. UKIP, the ultra-Tories, have simply taken the next step, exploiting those fears to argue, for example, that raising the Minimum Wage would attract more lazy foreigners to the country, to take our jobs whilst living on benefits – let’s not dwell on that contradiction too long. The lie remains, only it’s even larger and even more dangerous.
Yes, only an idiot would argue that strategy hasn’t worked to an extent. A bigger idiot, though, would argue that everyone attracted by UKIP’s rhetoric is, therefore, racist, a hopeless, mindless bigot to be dismissed. Of course they’re not.
In their private lives when people go through the ups and downs of life they often grasp at small, almost insignificant issues and obsess about them. An argument about a partner not remembering to do the shopping, to put the bin out, to sort the gas bill, all these become mountainous problems because they feel themselves to still have an element of control over them – the ‘small stuff’. The underlying problems are too big, too difficult to face and are put to one side but forgetting to hang out the washing, now that sums up what’s wrong with your life…..
As in private, so it follows that the big public issues of the day can seem unfathomable, so far beyond their control that they don’t bear thinking about, let alone understanding, because there is no point. An earnest discussion of globalisation, the free movement of capital but not labour or the operation of City trading houses will leave many people completely cold. So, back to the ‘small stuff’: now, that bloke at no. 26 who’s never done a day’s work in his life, who claims benefits…., he’s the one. He is what is wrong with society. And those they read about in the press, now if we sort them….
And, returning to the theme, why would anyone tell such blatant lies about Romanians, Muslims, etc.? There must be some truth in it because they wouldn’t print such stuff if it wasn’t basically true, give or take the odd exaggeration…. Surely. Surely, people don’t tell such outrageous lies….
The last General Election saw an unpopular Labour Government, dealing with the biggest financial crisis in modern times, still suffering from the hangover of ‘New Labour’ – just how toxic that had become – and it hit rock bottom. But the Tories didn’t win. Despite everything, they had to be propped up by the Lib Dems (when ‘propping up’ was fine – it’s a crime now, it seems.). Was this the first sign of the weakening of the ‘Big Lie’? People were clearly fed up with Labour but not enough bought into the Tory message.
Cameron and Osborne have perfected their straight faces whilst telling the biggest lies possible but still not enough people have fallen for them. And as the election has approached, the lies have gotten larger and, abandoning all pretence of reporting news, their allies in the traditional media have joined in making a huge noise about how a man eats a bacon sarnie. There can never have been a worse, more negative, down-right vicious campaign in modern British political history.
But the louder they shout, the clearer it is becoming that not enough people are listening to them. Today’s headlines [6th May 2015] go beyond hysterical. The plebs, it seems, aren’t paying enough attention.
Younger people have tended to vote differently to the older sections in society but is that gap widening? Some of the polls suggest there is a growing and significant difference between the levels of support for UKIP by age-group. Society has changed and UKIP focuses upon older people, relying on a twisted version of nostalgia to spread its appeal, so that’s understandable. But what else is going on? At the same time the amount of time spent by people reading print news media is seemingly in terminal decline, likewise the time spent watching network TV news is suffering too. By contrast, the numbers accessing their information from the internet, and social media, has grown and grown. And internet polls are now beginning to highlight different outcomes to those carried out by telephone. (But that’s all Russell Brand’s fault, isn’t it?)
There is always the issue of causation against correlation but is the increasing use of the internet with the access it provides to a bewildering array of information (yes, not all good), information that is not controlled by peddlers of the ‘Big Lie’ changing how people think? If the messages given to people by the Tories can’t rely upon their massive reinforcement by the Murdochs and Mails of this world, is it the beginning of the end for the very tool that has been so useful to them up to now?
Well, probably not. Not yet. But, to paraphrase Winston Churchill – a man who knew the power of words if nothing else – whilst this isn’t the end; it isn’t even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning for the growing challenge to the ‘Big Lie’.
And aren’t they terrified of that?
One of my neighbours came over to say hello the day the Royal Mail was privatised. ‘I expect you’re looking forward to getting your hands on all that money you’ve just made,’ he said. The shares allocated to me as a member of staff had gone up by almost 40 per cent in a day. The government had brought forward the date of the IPO in order to beat a strike ballot by the Communication Workers’ Union.
Most of us, like most people, were against the privatisation. It felt like my neighbour was congratulating me on taking a bribe. I lost my temper, and told him what I really thought about the privatisation. I pointed out the contradictions: that the state has spent billions of pounds of public money to subsidise the bargain basement sell-off; that the pension fund was nationalised to sweeten the deal; that the loss-making Post Office was decoupled from its more successful partner and retained in public hands; that pricing restrictions were lifted in anticipation of privatisation, allowing the company to increase its profits. None of this has got anything to do with the free market. This is direct government intervention to create a rigged market. If the price restrictions had been lifted ten years ago, the entire argument for privatisation would have disappeared overnight.
My neighbour said that governments shouldn’t be involved in the business of running companies. He said that privatisation would allow the company access to future investment. He said that previous privatisations had been a great success, and cited British Telecom and British Airways as examples. He said that taxpayers were fed up with subsidising the Royal Mail. The argument went on for a while. Every time I was about to get in my car he’d say something that I had to contradict. I finally lost patience and drove away when he talked about the investors who were going to help the company become a big success:
‘They are wealth creators. They build the factories so that we can have jobs.’ You hear that phrase ‘wealth creators’ a lot. It is a commonly used justification for the privatisation agenda, the idea that these individuals generate wealth by their investment. They are the ‘wealth creators’, and we are the beneficiaries of that wealth. It’s a form of magical thinking, like the pharaohs believing that their rituals were responsible for the flooding of the Nile, a post hoc fallacy: because they have invested in the company and increased their wealth, their investment somehow ‘created’ the wealth. The actual wealth creation, the work that my colleagues and I do, in this version of reality, is an accidental by-product of the process, a privilege I am allowed by the goodwill of these magically endowed individuals.
Moya Greene, the chief executive of Royal Mail, has already told us to expect job losses. Very soon I expect to be begging for the privilege of working longer hours for less money. –
George Osborne was only 5y old when the film ‘Network’ (1976) was released but he evidently subscribes to its philosophy of ‘The world is a business’.
There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T & T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.
Clearly, to the advantage of the financial sector and the City of London, Royal Mail was under-valued. Not only have the share prices jumped to indicate a valuation of £5bn rather than £3.3bn but just one of the twelve major sorting offices, Mount Pleasant located on a prime London location, is valued at over a billion.
RBS is to be broken up and the good bits sold asap .. and now the Chinese are to fund the Hinkly Point C nuclear power station. However, it seems unlikely that the £14bn investment is the real story because if the UK can fund £40bn for HS2 then we could certainly fund our own power plant. My guess is that the significance really lies in allowing the City of London to trade/speculate directly in Chinese renminbis, with (of course) the necessary watering down of regulatory reforms. As Ned Beatty says in the clip:
There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet.
Network (1976) – Ned Beatty – “The World is a Business”
You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear?! You think you’ve merely stopped a business deal — that is not the case! The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back. It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity. It is ecological balance. You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multi-variate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!
Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?
You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen, and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and A T & T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state — Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale! It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there’s no war and famine, oppression or brutality — one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.
“…”extreme capitalism”: the obsessive, uncritical penetration of the concept of the market into every aspect of American life, and the attempt to drive out every other institution, including law, art, culture, public education, Social Security, unions, community, you name it. It is the conflation of markets with populism, with democracy, with diversity, with liberty, and with choice—and so the denial of any form of choice that imposes limits on the market. More than that, it is the elimination of these separate concepts from our political discourse, so that we find ourselves looking to the stock market to fund retirement, college education, health care, and having forgotten that in other wealthy and developed societies these are rights, not the contingent outcomes of speculative games.
Privatisation of the Royal Mail
By C J Stone, previously published here
As I’m sure you are all aware by now, the Royal Mail was privatised on Friday. It was sold for £3.3 billion. Within a day the share price had risen by 38%, meaning that the company was seriously undervalued and some people made a quick profit.
So in this case the government has spent three times the value of the property, in order to sell it at a significant loss, in order for the new buyer to then sell it on for a profit.
Meanwhile, the company has spent the last two years modernising the business. Postal workers have been provided with new vans, new trolleys, new walk-sequencing machines, new GPS devices, new bags, new shelving units, new uniforms, and a range of other equipment. Delivery offices have been closed all over the country and consolidated into larger units. Costs have been cut and door-to-door (junk mail) incorporated into the work load. New working methods have been introduced, and every round in the country has been extensively restructured.
All of this has been done at the taxpayers expense, of course.
The regulator has lifted pricing restrictions, which means that the company is now making a healthy profit. So, you have to ask, why couldn’t the regulator lift the restrictions earlier, in which case the company could have been earning a healthy profit for the taxpayer for years?
70% of the company has been sold to large investors: to banks, hedge funds, pension funds and sovereign wealth funds, including the one belonging to the Kuwaiti Royal Family. In other words, the British public have taken a significant loss so that this fabulously wealthy family can extract even more wealth for themselves.
The Kuwaiti Royal Family are the absolute rulers of a medieval feudal state. Not ‘wealth creators’. Wealth extractors. That means that postal workers in the future are going to be the servants of a feudal Lord. Serfs, in other words. Who says there’s no such thing as progress?
Moya Greene, the current CEO, has also said there will be further job losses, which can only mean that postal workers will be expected to work harder. She took £1.47 million in pay and bonuses last year. No doubt she will be given substantial share options too, now that the company is in private hands.
So what will this mean for you? Let’s make the comparison with previous privatisations.
Water charges have risen by 245% since the water boards were privatised. Subsidies to the rail industry have more than doubled, while fares have increased above the rate of inflation and standards have declined. And in the same week that the Royal Mail was floated on the stock exchange, the energy company SSE put up its prices by 8.2%. More price rises are expected to follow.
Our public utilities are now almost exclusively owned by foreign corporations.
Did you know that the origin of the word ‘idiot’ is from the Greek word meaning ‘private’? Or, to put it another way, the sale of Royal Mail has brought even more idiocy into our public life.
I thought I was a shareholder in Britain
The funding, running and maintaining of our essential services has become such a complete and utter farce that, like a growing number of people, I despair at and hold in contempt, those private companies and successive governments who are responsible. Energy, the Emergency Services, Health and Social Care, Education, Water, Transport, Law, Order and Justice – and now the Royal Mail: how dare they! How very, very dare they…
I would re-nationalise our essential services in a heartbeat. I don’t believe that the private sector should be offered public contracts which are of national common interest, import and necessity. And I’m tired of hearing that state ownership is bureaucratic and unwieldy. It doesn’t have to be and anyway, we, the people: we are the State! Or at least we’re bloody well supposed to be and it’s flamin’ well time we were. This point actually bothers me the most because I vote, pay taxes and pay the wages of politicians as my consent for them to act on my best behalf. We pay them to know – or find out – to negotiate, advocate and to oversee. We pay them to work for us and they increasingly don’t – or can’t. Which is worse?
Why can’t the taxpayers own the services? It’s much better than some detached profiteer owning us! Government just has to press the magic money button. Better to invest etheric capital on the preservation and renewal of national infrastructure than give it to the banks to squander. In fact, why can’t a public body borrow in its own right like the private sector? It’s being suggested that councils should be able to borrow for the purpose of investment in housing. Why should ‘speculate to accumulate’ belong only to the private sphere and so-called ‘capitalists’? What inhibits a public body from using the vehicles available to the private sector is government policy.
I don’t know how feasible it really is to re-nationalise in its previously understood sense; if it’s as possible as I would like it to be, given the tangled knot, but I do know it’s possible to redress the wrongs and reconfigure the balance of power in these relationships. And I sure as hell know that privatisation was never necessary in the first place and that to do it again to any other service would be grossly ignorant and negligent.
If we step away from the politicising and just focus on the why of our wanting public ownership, the how might stand an ethical and sustainable chance of becoming.
I want my country’s interests represented by and reflected through respect for the needs and wishes of the people who live in it. I want the taxable revenue to stay in the country; the profit to be reinvested in service and workers rather than boosting the CEO’s coffers. I want the State to work in my favour. I want the externalities such as the long-term costs of environmental and social impact to be properly factored into decisions. I want everyone to have the same high quality and ease of access to each service regardless of who they are or where they live. (Actually that’s a global aspiration, too…)
I want those services and resources upon which everyone depends for their common and basic needs to be in the control and interests of the people who use them. I don’t want some foreign-based and sometimes actual other sovereign interest owning such essential assets – owning us. I want the government to ensure, as far as is possible, that only those whose motives are the well-being, prosperity and sustainable sustenance of the land and people first should be allowed to invest in our country: to invest in us.
I don’t want some multi-national corporation owning and exploiting the heart out of our domestic and wider planetary resources. I don’t want profiteers exploiting the government – colluding with it even, to suck dry our country’s security, prosperity, or conscience. Selling us cheaply and selling us out: now that is cheap.