First Thoughts on the EU elections

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By Prue Plumridge

The UKIP campaigned on an anti-europe ticket.

My question is:

If they are anti-europe why have they not declared their position on the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership currently being negotiated behind closed doors?

They have been surprisingly quiet on the issue.  Now why could this be?  It would have been a powerful weapon in their campaign against the EU.

Let’s remember that Nigel Farage’s great hero is Thatcher.

Her pursuit of the neoliberal ideologies of deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation have left behind a destructive legacy which we are now more than ever reaping the consequences of.  Time will prove (I am certain) Farage’s hypocrisy and deception.

We should be clear that the UKIP are libertarians who believe in free market economics and this is the economic model currently being promoted by an unelected, undemocratic cabal of EU commissioners who are negotiating a trade deal with the US that will favour globalisation and the continuing ascendancy and undemocratic power of the big corporations.  

Clearly there is a dissonance between what Ukip supporters believe the party stands for and reality.

Whether they are in denial or their support is a protest against the established parties it matters not.  There will be tears before bed-time if we continue to think of this party as a group of fruitcakes or loonies or purely a focus for protest.  They are cleverly dissimulating their real agenda and the next few months will be interesting as surely they will have to nail their colours to the wall.

It may seem to some that I am expressing anti-EU sentiment.  I hasten to add that I am not.  I believe that our future lies within the EU.  Not the current austerity imposing neoliberal juggernaut which is bringing Europe to its knees but a properly democratic EU which is socially just, acts for the benefit of its citizens and ultimately remembers its history. 

I wrote an article, in May last year, for Think Left. ( https://think-left.org/2013/05/04/on-fascism-and-facts-ukip-the-strategic-adversary/).  A year on I stand by it.  The rise of the right throughout Europe is, whether we like it or not, an articulation of the fear being expressed by its citizens over continuing uncertainty and fear for the future.  Citizens, however have not woken up yet, to the fact that the Right including UKIP are only offering more of the same.

The Left need now to rise to the challenge and show there is another fairer and more socially just way.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Jobs and Skills

The Mysterious Disappearance of Jobs and Skills

When Norman Tebbit made a notorious comment that jobs could be easily found merely by hopping onto a bike, he made an assumption that it would solve unemployment because that’s father what his did, apparently. He repeated such advice this February by saying if Eastern Europeans migrate for work, why can’t the Brits?

How starkly this contrasts with what we are hearing Tory back benchers cry in the wake recent success of UKIP! Are we seeing a sudden surge to the extreme political right and 1930s divisions in society as ordinary people blame one another for high rates of unemployment, increasing poverty and unaffordable housing?

Deborah Orr (Guardian) comments: People are told EU migrants steal jobs – in truth bosses want cheap labour . People are told that immigrants stole their jobs. In truth, it was employers who wanted a ready supply of workers unused to the living conditions that it took the second world war for the ordinary people of Britain to achieve. The goal of neoliberal globalisation is supposedly a redistribution of wealth around the planet. It also, as the EU itself is discovering, redistributes poverty.

History has led to migrations of the workforce. In Cornwall, tin and copper had been mined for 4,000 years. Closure of the majority of Cornish tin mines forced whole communities to migrate in the 19th Century, leaving behind empty villages, graveyards surrounding them (Gwennap) the evidence that communities were once busy with industry.

tin_minerabove150Cornish tin miners faced

increasing competition

from alluvial mines abroad

Families were forced to move – or else starve. The simple fact was that the mine owners closed the mines, not because there was no longer a need for copper or tin. It’s because there was more money to be made elsewhere. Cheaper labour makes those looking to line their own pockets to ignore the plight on those who have come to depend on them – because they had the power to do so.

tin_mine203

In the 20th century a few mines survived, but the shortage of work put pressure on the working people. A row of differential pay rates resulted in a strike which pitched miner against miner, family against family, and only ended with the onset of WW2 and the greater demand for tin. Cornwall has never really recovered from the decline of this millennia old industry, and poverty exists there today.

  • How and when did these mine owners come to own the land and mines?
  • Why did such a few people have power over the many?
  • Who benefited from metals extracted from mines?

Removal of workers’ autonomy, their rights to sell labour for a living wage leads not only to their downfall, but that of everyone. The very rich may have the power to determine who shall have work and who shall not, yet their own very existence requires the same basic needs, provided by those workers. The race to the bottom, the search for the cheapest, poorest labour is fundamentally flawed, only a fool will argue otherwise.

Mankind’s survival has always involved work or labour – growing food, making clothes, caring for the community. Much of this work did not involve payment. Because of a division of labour, we can trade our skills, each contributing and receiving. Having a tradeable skill empowers us. If we can no longer cook a meal without a ready meal or grow our own food, we become yet more dependent on the supermarkets and their global supplies and speculation.

If we can no longer make garments, we buy-in fashion produced cheaply and unethically, thousands of miles away. In Bangladesh, cheap clothes come at human cost as health and safety of workers has no importance resulting in a deadly fire where hundreds died.

Yet, even now, the ConDemNation Coalition government aim to return UK to Victorian conditions, and have already removed workers’ right to health safety in the UK workplaces, and abolished the agricultural workers wages board. (See 114 year workers’ rights scrapped by Coalition government) Then UKIP, clearly trading on fear of unemployment and poverty, do not speak for working people. They are no party, but a bundle of individuals with extreme, bizarre attitudes, for example, Geoffrey Bloom, who advocates that employers should not employ women of childbearing age.

Deskilling a population disempowers them, to say nothing of lack of self-respect, independence and the prospects of lives in poverty. Thatcherite policies of attacking trade unions, decimating British manufacturing, closure of coal mines, ship-building, car industries, clothing and so on, led to massive unemployment, and broken communities, just as in the Cornish tin mines. Even food is being imported unnecessarily, for cheapness, and recent the recent horse meat scandal exposed the dangers of lack on control and monitoring. Lack of investment in education and training will not create a skilled workforce.

The Labour Party are setting out plans for full employment

“For Labour, that goal of full employment has always been the foundation for getting our country back on its feet. It was for Atlee’s Labour. It was for New Labour. It will be once more for One Nation Labour. Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt. And the faster we can put the “something for something” back in to social security.

The Tories’ problem isn’t just that they are failing, but that they lost a belief in full employment many years ago, and never rediscovered it. That means more money spent on unemployment, so there is less to go around for working people and less for care.

After three years of failure we’ve got to find new ways to break out of this viscous circle. Seventy years ago, we set out a new path to full employment. Just as the Beveridge Report is a still a good roadmap for today, so too is the 1944 White Paper on Full Employment. It teaches us to be radical reformers to bring down the costs of social security; building exports; supporting public investment; fanning consumer demand – and taking determined action on jobs. It is a long road, but tackling poor places would be a big first step to getting our country back to full employment.’

From the New Statesman

If the British electorate are concerned about unemployment, they also have a very clear sense of injustice. They see bankers’ bonuses, they see politicians benefit from lobbyists, seeking to line their own pockets rather than serving the people, as they were elected to do. This week Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has pledged to address the Tax Justice.

He’s specifically committed to:

■ Pursue a new global system where multinationals must publish their revenues, profits and other key corporate information useful to revenue authorities in each country in which they operate.

■ Force multinationals to publish such information in the UK even if international agreement cannot be found on the issue, as they do in Denmark.

■ Make it a legal requirement for multinationals operating in the UK to disclose details of any tax avoidance schemes they are using globally.

■ Seek reforms to “transfer pricing” rules to stop companies from shuffling money to other parts of their firm based in tax havens in return for spurious services.

■ Open up the ownership of companies sited in Britain’s tax havens to the UK revenue authorities, but also seek to allow developing countries access to such information.

Whether the popularity of UKIP is a blip, a protest, or anger, it certainly represents an alienated electorate. Those in work feel they are working for the benefit of the rich and powerful. Those without work have little hope of finding work which pays a living wage. Women are hit hard by childcare costs, and equality with men has taken a backward step. Cuts hitting the disabled will make it more difficult, if not impossible for them to work, and those who are old or ill live in fear. It is time to do things differently, let us hope for a socialist Labour government, with policies which will unite people once again.

References and Further reading

On Fascism and Facts – UKIP – The Strategic Adversary?

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Fascism – the Strategic Adversary?

From Prue Plumridge

‘The strategic adversary is fascism … the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour.  The fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.’

Michel Foucault.

Alex Andreou wrote in the New Statesman’ ‘The danger with extremism is that, when filtered through eyes and minds of reasonable people, it appears ridiculous. The reasonable assumption is that others will view it through the same filter and find it equally ridiculous. But, while The Reasonable laugh, support for extremist views creeps up. Because what The Reasonable fail to notice is that fear and insecurity have a way of robbing others of reason.  Instead, if you find yourself nodding in agreement with a couple of items on Ukip’s long list of empty promises, remember all the other things you will also be signing up for. They represent a particularly insidious brand of extremist; Bigotry Light, if you will – all the hatred of normal bigotry, but none of the calories.’

In the days prior to the local elections there was a lot of media attention given to UKIP aiming at discrediting their ideas and policies. If I am cynical I imagine this attack originating in the corridors of power in the Conservative party and right wing media in an attempt to woo back wavering supporters.  In the aftermath there are those who are saying  that the subsequent swing towards UKIP in the elections is simply a protest vote against the coalition or, in these difficult times, as support for its policies on immigration and the EU which have become the whipping boys for all the country’s ailments.  However, we would do well to look beyond UKIP’s rhetoric and dreams of  a return to a glorious past, a time of empire, Judeo-Christian values and so called Britishness.  Behind the fluffy and ill-thought out policies presented by Farage and his party hides something much more unpleasant which senior UKIP members take great pains to try and deny.

farage images

It is time that the public woke up to the problem of right wing extremism which is lurking underneath that very reasonableness.  I imagine that in pre-war Germany Hitler’s economic promises seemed very reasonable to a people who had been crushed by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles after the first world war, and those who were willing to turn a blind idea to some of his crazy ideas about the Jews and Roma peoples, the disabled and mentally sick and the creation of a pure Aryan race.

Apart from the fact that the party opposes gay marriage because apparently it undermines the rights of Churches and Faiths (but obviously not the rights of gay people to be treated equally) various candidates have soiled the UKIP copybook with a variety of extreme and nasty comments:  women should resign from their jobs if they want to have a baby;  women of child bearing age should not be employed because maternity rights are too draconian; there should be compulsory abortion when a foetus has been detected with Downs Syndrome or Spina Bifida; the unemployed should not be allowed to vote; physical exercise in schools can prevent homosexuality; Dr Julia Gasper was reported as saying in the Daily Mail that there were links between homosexuality and paedophilia;  Winston McKenzie (the Culture spokesperson) likened adoption by same sex couples as child abuse; Kim Gandy, a former UKIP activist, joked on Facebook that elderly people should be euthanised when  they became a burden; Maggie Chapman said ‘muslims have sex with camels’ and that pakis go home for Christmas and spread Christmas cheer with her ‘egg-nog for nig nogs.’  And let’s not forget that nazi salute!

What is even more disturbing is that the Party is a member of the Europe Freedom and Democracy group which has links to far right parties.  Nigel Farage is co-president of the group along with  Francesco Speroni a member of the Lega Nord in Italy who described the multiple murderer Anders Breivik as someone whose ‘ideas are in defence of western civilisation.  It matters not that sometimes the party has distanced itself from such comments. What matters is that there are such people  within the party who have expressed such disgusting views at all within what seems to be becoming more than just the fringe ‘clowns and fruitcakes’ party described by David Cameron and Ken Clark.

It is shocking that following the local elections it seems that some people in their voting choices have moved even more to the right than the Conservatives. I ask myself whether they are aware of some of the extreme opinions that have been expressed by members of the party or indeed do they actually  know what UKIP stands for (apart from their views on immigration and the EU)?    They might be surprised.  Just a brief look shows an ill thought out political agenda which has little substance and seems more like something jotted down on the back of a fag packet whilst in the pub.   Even one of their own MEPs  has suggested  that it might be better to buy a set of ‘off the shelf’ policies to fill the manifesto vacuum.

How about their proposals for: 

  • A flat tax rate of 25% which would give a 14% tax cut to the wealthiest whilst costing the treasury billions
  • An increase of 40% in defence spending including the purchase of new aircraft carriers, fighter jets and nuclear missiles.
  • A prison building programme (to house a rising population of criminals) which again would cost billions (and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act.)

And where, in this age of austerity, is this money to be magicked up from – well apparently it will all be paid for when we leave the EU freeing up £8-9 billion but which, in actual fact, would barely cover half the proposed defence spending let alone fund the Party’s other crazy spending ideas.

And speaking of the EU, UKIP’s promise to exit the EU holds great attraction for those who ask the question ‘what did the Union ever do for us?’   So much rubbish has been spouted about bendy bananas, curved cucumbers and chunky carrots that we fail to see the wider picture. Apart from a wide ranging programme which includes regional economic funding,  employment, public health, health and safety, equal opportunities and environmental legislation, over 50% of trade worth £450bn a year is done in Europe and 3.5 million jobs are reliant on the EU.  Over 100,000 businesses  export to the EU, 94,000 of which are SME’s .  Over 80% believe that the market delivers significant benefits to them.  A recent poll of British businesses showed that 90% of them favour continued membership.   The UK has also benefited substantially from 45 free trade agreements with countries outside Europe which have been negotiated by the EU and if we were to exit the UK would have to renegotiate on a country by country basis.  Over 50% of companies investing in the UK cite EU membership as a reason.  Of course the EU is not perfect and reform must come if it is to have a future but UKIP harks back to a glorious Great Britain existing still in some other time warp ready to be re-invented, without even considering the effects of such an exit on our economy.   On a more personal note Farage might well rejoice at what the Union has done for him since he openly boasts that he has claimed £2million in expenses whilst bemoaning the amount of tax-payers money going to the EU.

The party is sceptical about climate change, rejects scientific opinion on the issue and is inconsistent in its pronouncements.  It opposes efforts to combat climate change, supports coal fired and nuclear energy along with shale gas extraction and fracking whilst opposing wind power and other renewables. Its intention will be to scrap all subsidies for renewable energy and cancel all wind farm developments.  And yet, despite stressing the need for clean technology in coal fired power stations, it opposes the EU’s directive to close polluting coal fired stations claiming that ‘it won’t make a scrap of difference to global emissions of greenhouse gases’.  As a party they have the worst attendance, voting and work performance of any political party across the EU according to figures for the last three years to July 2012.  And despite lots of fine words and support for legislation against fishing discards,  when it came to it Nigel Farage did not vote and the rest of the UKIP MEPs abstained.  To end on a wacky note they also want to ban the showing of Al Gores ‘An Inconvenient Truth in schools.  It seems that if they don’t believe in it then no-one else should hear about it and make up their own minds.

In education UKIP intend to bring back grammar schools and operate a voucher system which parents can spend in the state or private sector whilst in the NHS it  plans to franchise out key services including hospitals and GP surgeries to companies and charities and create a voucher system to allow people to opt out of the NHS system entirely.  It is also proposing to reduce employment rights, bring public expenditure down to 1997 levels by making cuts of £77 billion with a loss of 2 million jobs, scrap employers’ NI with the revenue to be recouped from Corporation Tax, VAT or reduced welfare.  All of these policies can be seen as creating more division, reducing the safety net and further impoverishing some of the most vulnerable in society.

And yet more worryingly with their views on immigration (whilst refuting  the charges of closet racism) they have nonetheless tapped into a reservoir of hate which appeals to some people’s fears about an uncertain future.

They ignore the valuable contribution made to the UK economy by immigrants and the fact that they are less likely to claim benefits than those who were born here.   UKIP intend to end the active promotion of the doctrine of multi-culturalism which it claims has divided society and has also spoken of forced repatriation or assimilation – a policy which shadows that of the far right BNP.  The idea that there is something that might be defined as a homogenous British culture is misleading – our culture has over centuries been an amalgam of influences from the  Romans, Danes, Angles and Saxons, and Normans, to India and modern Europe more recently.  It is not static but a fluid affair not to be defined by a bundle of old fashioned stereotypes which figures bulldogs, Winston Churchill,  god, queen and country. Our ability to live together and respect each other has come a long way in the last few decades and whilst there is still much to do the idea that we can impose something defined as British culture or values is a mistaken one.

Some may say that these are reasonable policies and we may laugh on the other hand, as Alex Andreou says, at the open expression of such extreme ideas and put them aside as simply unwise.

But we should not forget Martin Luther King’s words ‘our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter’.  Fascism will creep up on us and when we least expect it, when our defences are down,  it will pounce upon us with disastrous consequences.

Sources

Immigration, economics and Ukip

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With Ukip’s present success in the opinion polls, and with the local elections on Thursday, it is bad timing that their Immigration Policy, one of the policies most associated with them as a party, is currently undergoing a review and update (18.04.13). Unfortunately, there is an Observer report of Ukip in chaos over policy on eve of key poll, ‘herding cats’ and proposals to buy off-the-shelf policies.

Michael Burke’s evidence-based assessment might be helpful with regard to one of their ‘principles’ on which the detailed policy will be based.  This involves future immigration being allowed where it can clearly be shown to benefit the British people as a whole and our economy.  As you can read below, Michael Burke’s evidence indicates that:

‘The cause of migration is growth, to which migration is a decisive contributor.  The consequence is stronger growth.’

So a bit of a conundrum for any party advocating both economic prosperity and draconian measures to restrict immigration….  Migration results in stronger growth.. 

Needless to say, Michael Burke’s conclusion is that:

‘the debate on immigration in Britain is not about the economic causes and consequences of immigration at all.  It is overwhelmingly a ‘debate’ that allows politicians and others to whip up xenophobia and racism, while posing as being concerned about the interests of workers or the poor.’… 

First posted on Friday, 29 March 2013 on Socialist Economic Bulletin

Economics and the debate on immigration

By Michael Burke

Political parties in Britain have once more begun to talk about immigration, especially in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election.  Unfortunately the debate is usually an all-informed one and typically just a cover to introduce racist notions about the impact of immigration.  Therefore it is useful to examine some of the more important economic aspects of immigration.

Immigration

There are a number of countries in the world which have a higher per capita GDP than Britain.  There are also a number of countries in the world who have a higher proportion of migrants as a proportion of the population.  Both those facts are worth stating simply because discussion in Britain often seems to be dominated by the implicit assumption that Britain is both uniquely attractive to migrants and that it alone experiences immigration.

The chart below shows the countries with higher levels of per capita incomes than Britain.  It also shows those countries proportion of the population which is migrant, that is not born in the host country.  The table below specifies the data shown in the chart.

Chart 1

13 03 29 Chart 1

Table 1

13 03 29 Table 1

There are 13 countries in the world with a higher per capita income than Britain.  Of these, 10 countries have a higher proportion of migrants.  Some of these, such as Australia, Switzerland and Luxembourg have very much higher levels of immigration and have a much higher level of incomes.

There are 3 countries which have higher incomes but lower levels of immigration.  However, of these 2 countries, Norway and Iceland have higher per capita GDP because they have a very large energy resource that comes pumping out of the ground (oil and geothermal energy).  The remaining country is Belgium, whose geographic position means it has an exceptionally high proportion of people who work in Belgium but commute there from other countries.

By contrast, among the 18 OECD countries with a lower per capita income than Britain 12 also have a lower proportion of the population as migrants.  The remaining 6 countries are small economies which generally have specific geographic or historical reasons for unusually high levels of immigration, or both.  (The exception in this group is France.)

Migration is part of growth

According to the IMF the total number of migrants in the world rose from 75 million people in 1965 to 195 million in 2005.  Official data shows that most of that is to high income countries, about 80 million and most of the remainder to middle income countries.

The growth in the world’s migrant population is far more rapid than the growth in the total population.  Over the same 40-year period to 2005, the world population doubled while the migrant population grew by 3 times.

However, this cross-border migration captures only a fraction of the world’s total migrant population.  From a strict economic perspective there is little difference between cross-border migration and internal migration.  This is especially the case when internal migration encompasses vast distances and differences of language or dialect.

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics in 2008 there were 285 million internal migrants in China.  This is far larger than the world’s total number of cross-border migrants.  For the migrants themselves this frequently encompasses far greater geographical distances than is required, say, in intra-Western European migration.  This level of migration is certainly the greatest level of internal migration in human history.  It is also associated with the greatest rate of growth for any major economy in world history.

In India, the level of internal migration is over 300 million people according to UNESCO.  India’s medium-term growth rate is below that of China, but both countries have been growing at a rate considerably faster than the high income countries.  The rate of internal migration has been a necessary accompaniment to high growth rates.

Correlation does not prove causality.  But within the high-income countries higher levels of income are associated with higher levels of migration.  Within the middle income countries, higher growth rates are associated with higher levels of internal migration.

Economic development depends on two key factors, the proportion of national income devoted to investment and increasing participation in the division of labour.  Migration is a key part of the division of labour, allowing workers to migrate where production (and wages and jobs) are expanding.  It also allows production to increase on the basis of employing the most adaptable workers.

Opposition to immigration

The government has recently produced a video to show potential migrants from Romania and Bulgaria that Britain is not a great country to emigrate to.  There is a certain logic to this.  The only way to stop immigration over the medium-term is to reduce the growth rate of the economy to zero or below.  This is the basis for the government’s self-proclaimed success in reducing net migration in the most recent data; by curbing overseas students growth is directly reduced.  Of course prolonged economic stagnation would also lead to a more rapid swelling of the 5 million British people who now live overseas.

Immigration of all types provides a substantial net benefit to the British economy, which a Home Office report clearly demonstrates.  Growth attracts immigration but is also increased by it.  The proportion of workers leaving a country will increase when there is an economic downturn and the proportion of the workforce arriving from overseas will tend to decrease.  The reverse is also true: net immigration increases when the economy prospers.

There are a series of reactionary myths about immigration, which are perpetuated in the labour movement by outfits such as ‘Blue Labour’.  These tend to focus on the supposedly local or microeconomic effects of immigration, particularly that they drive down wages.  These arguments are a rehash of Labour notions which opposed the growth of women in the workforce and even supported restricting their wages relative to men.

Jonathan Portes has done very good work in countering the assertions that immigration drives down wages, even for the very lowest paid workers in Britain.  As the Home Office study shows, the average wages for migrant workers in Britain are also about 5% higher than British workers, because on average they are more highly qualified.  The relationship between unemployment and immigration is also equally clear; immigration increases while unemployment falls and vice versa.

Chart 2

13 03 29 Chart 2

In reality the debate on immigration in Britain is not about the economic causes and consequences of immigration at all.  It is overwhelmingly a ‘debate’ that allows politicians and others to whip up xenophobia and racism, while posing as being concerned about the interests of workers or the poor.  The cause of migration is growth, to which migration is a decisive contributor.  The consequence is stronger growth.  The contrary argument is being raised now as a reactionary diversion from the current economic crisis, and the policies which are responsible for it.