Friday, February 25, 2011

Joined-up Looting

Plans to sell off forestry land have been put on hold as the Coalition confesses that it misjudged the public mood. The plans will be back. All three of the main London parties are committed to continuing privatisation in order to fund big giveaways to their respective backers.

The great fire-sale is driven by five key principles.

The first principle is that if it makes money, it must be sold to the bankers. In the case of forestry, the trees come with a very helpful tax regime attached. The State, having lost the revenue and given away the capital receipt, must then raise taxes to fill the gap. Bankers know how to arrange their affairs to avoid paying those.

The second principle is that if it doesn’t make money, it must be sold to a voluntary group, under the threat that it will otherwise be shut down. These groups need to raise capital to finance the purchase and any future investment. Banks extract interest in return. If, or rather when, the voluntary groups fail to balance the books, the banks can repossess and sell the assets. The failure of the voluntary groups will provide baseline data about costs that will then enable multi-national corporations to price their bids for State funding to provide any services still deemed vital.

The third principle is that taxes must remain high, even though services are in decline, in order that the State may continue to shovel money into bankers’ pockets. Banks will continue to make profits on debts they have created out of nothing. The UK’s government debt is now £2.32 trillion, of which the cost of bailing out Lloyds Group and RBS accounts for £1.3 trillion. Smaller banks are already included in the larger figure. RBS lost £1.1 billion last year but paid out £950 million in bonuses anyway.

The fourth principle is that property rights must continue to take precedence over human rights. David Cameron recently set out his vision of a State that has withdrawn from everything except provision of the coercive power – the police, the intelligence services, the judiciary and the armed forces. The Pig Society does not extend to farming out justice to local vigilantes, nor security to foreign mercenaries. Cameron knows just enough history not to want to share the fate of Vortigern. His vision nevertheless is a starkly regressive one. The poor are to be taxed to pay for protecting the interests of the rich, not the other way around.

The fifth principle is that any opposition must be neutered, employing ever more draconian laws and sophisticated psychological manipulation to disarm any criticism of the elite consensus. The new emphasis on cyber-security is not about fighting off virus attacks on critical infrastructure but about monitoring and disrupting any organised reaction to the looting. Meanwhile, Cameron’s establishment of the Behavioural Insight Team at Number 10, building on Labour’s ‘Mindspace’ project, demonstrates the extent to which politicians from all three London parties now view voters as no better than lab rats to be subjected to ‘libertarian paternalism’.

The alternative we seek is a Big Democracy, one where the power of money to corrupt our lives is reined in and other values, like accountability, inclusiveness and stewardship, are re-asserted. It also needs to exist as of right, not as a hand-down from the PM that can be swept away at the first sign of a bad headline. This requires leaders less testicularly challenged than Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, all of whom are too close by far to the City of London to take it on. Like the rest of the essentially fraudulent (but allowed-to-be-legal) globalised ‘competitive’ (reptilian) economy, the City must become a thing of the past. Its ill-gotten gains need to be redistributed to local communities to begin the work of restoring all those life-enhancing qualities that the financial class has so long despised.

The coming ecological crisis will require clear thinking about real things. Things like food, fuel, regions, resources, skills, land and clever technology. It will have no room for sociopathic bankers, and they know it. It does no harm to remind them that their crimes against humanity and against the planet will end. And will Big Bang then become Big Whimper? We shall see.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Infamous Five

In 1945, the Labour Party campaigned to destroy Beveridge’s 'five giants' of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness. In 1997 and each subsequent election it tried the same trick, the latest pledges being to “secure the recovery”, “raise family living standards”, “build a high tech economy”, “protect frontline services”, and “strengthen fairness in communities”. All a bit desperate really.

It has been said that Labour deserved to lose last May, while the Conservatives did not deserve to win. That’s how it turned out, though happily for David Cameron the third party was waiting in the wings, to hand him the keys to Number 10 anyway. Since then, nostalgia for Labour has been growing daily as memory decays. Here then is a reminder of what we have lost, five reasons why we should detest the whole lot of them, five reasons to vote only for parties that advocate real change worth having.

1. Labour took power promising an ethical foreign policy. It left power embedded in American-led wars for oil. Illegal wars sold on the basis of lies. Tens of thousands have died needlessly, deaths for which Labour’s leaders, no less than their Conservative collaborators, must stand trial. A by-product has been the increasing re-militarisation of our own society, with death in war now once more normalised and any criticism of armed intervention smothered in the name of patriotism. Meanwhile, our arms trade continues to make a killing.

2. Labour’s onslaught on civil liberties was relentless. Historic freedoms of expression, association and assembly have all taken a terrible mauling, along with many guarantees of due process. The icing on this loathsome cake was a hideously expensive identity card scheme, expressing Labour’s view that the People belong to the State and not the State to the People. Overall, Labour’s actions, at home and abroad, have increased, not reduced, the terrorist threat.

3. Labour’s contempt for the environment has been a badge worn with pride. The challenges posed by runaway population growth have been met with reckless indifference. Only the collapse of the mortgage market, High Court challenges under European law, and finally a change of government have prevented the destruction of tens of thousands of acres of Green Belt and other protected countryside in Wessex. Half-hearted attempts at a sustainable transport policy, all stick and no carrot, provoked a predictable backlash.

4. Labour’s piper-payers called the tune. Propped up by rich donors as an insurance policy against the declining popularity of John Major’s Tories, New Labour continued the policies of privatisation and debt-based public finance that have got us where we are today. It did nothing as vital industries passed into the hands of international investors devoid of local loyalties. Labour’s leaders would sell their own grandmothers; they already have sold everyone’s grandchildren.

5. Labour once again bungled devolution, just as it did in 1979. This time it got Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London away but this was always the limit of its enthusiasm. It hitched itself to a set of unworkable regional boundaries inherited from the Tories, then deliberately obstructed grassroots movements in Cornwall, Mercia and Wessex pointing to a more promising way forward. In local government it refined the Tory policy of arrogant interference and dismantled public debate, substituting executive members and elected mayors for meaningful scrutiny and collective decision-making.

We attack Labour not because we are happy to see Wessex under Coalition rule. We are far from happy. We attack Labour, as we attack all the London-based parties, because each falls short of our vision for Wessex. We attack the other two for what they are. We attack Labour for trying to fool folk that it is what it demonstrably is not.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It's That London Again!

Good news, for some, but not for all. Yesterday, Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation & Skills announced arrangements for the winding-up of the Regional Devastation Agencies. Wessex will breathe a sigh of relief now that their reign of tendentious mediocrity is drawing to a close. Wessex does not need ‘development’. It needs conservation, along with the rest of our abused planet. Instead, with ‘local economic partnerships’ filling the void, we are promised, according to Cable’s department, “a new economic delivery landscape”. No joined-up thinking is allowed, no imaginative marketing of the Wessex regional brand. It all comes down under the Coalition to something as boring as functional labour market areas instead.

Bad news, for some, but not for all. The assets built up by the RDAs are not to be handed over to local communities as we have argued they should be. At least not in Wessex. In most cases they are to be sold, to help pay off the Government’s silly, imaginary debt to the banks (who created the debt out of nothing, like all bank-created money). There is an exception. In London, all the assets of the London Development Agency will pass to the Greater London Authority, to “give the GLA an important portfolio of regeneration assets to support its new responsibilities for housing and regeneration”. London, apparently, is a functional labour market area, and a world city too. So, it’s all right then, isn’t it, that we wurzels should slave for its benefit and be denied a voice of our own?