Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

The End of the Home Owning Dream

August 15, 2010

The Observer today reports on the end of what was in many ways the most emblematic feature of the Thatcherite programme – home ownership. We know that the Tory decision to sell off huge quantities of public housing in the UK was driven by both ideological and more nakedly party political considerations. Displaying an awareness of the truth of Marx’s theory that it is social existence that determines human consciousness, the Tories aimed to change the consciousness and political inclinations of large sections of the working class by allowing them to buy their homes cheaply. In the words of Norman Tebbitt, they aimed to make them possessors of capital, and thus, to turn them literally into capitalists. This, along with the deliberate de-industrialisation of the country, was part of a plan to destroy the social conditions that had bred the assertive labour movement of the 1970s, and to hand over the keys of the kingdom to finance capital. At a party-political level, as seen most nakedly in Westminster, it was expected that the new homeowners would vote Tory. The consequences of course were deepening inequality and division, and the devastation of the former mining and industrial areas that were left behind. The transfer of property was reliant upon cheap credit. At the same time, the orgy of speculation and spiralling property prices that resulted has now reached the stage where although the cult of home ownership has become firmly embedded in British social and political culture, it is becoming an unreachable dream for growing numbers. As could only ever happen, it has created a new contradiction in economy and society, especially now credit has dried up as a result of the current crisis. A new generation faces a lifetime of renting in a culture that valorises home ownership.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) warns today that the “golden age of home ownership” is coming to an end. In the most expensive parts of the country, lenders are demanding deposits of £40,000 for even the cheapest properties – requiring a level of savings that most renters could only dream of.

The British rental sector, the Observer reports, is in crisis, and demands are growing that the government take action to address the needs of the 3m households in the private rented sector.

Campaigners and experts point to government figures that show 44% of all privately rented homes are classified as “non-decent” – a far higher level than for owner-occupied houses (32%) and social rented homes (26). They also highlight the plight of the “in-betweens” – low-paid workers unlikely to be offered council housing but with little chance of buying a home.

There are other problems as well, with short-term leases with one or two month notice periods creating insecurity, especially for families with children. In the social housing sector, things look like getting worse under the Con-Dem coalition. Along with changes to housing benefit that put up to three quarter of a million people at risk of becoming homeless, Cameron recently announced that he planned to end social housing tenancies for life, and that council tenants would have to move on if their circumstances changed. This is what the big society means. Forcibly removing publicly-provided resources and facilities in order to allow profiteering in a private sector that is incapable of providing what is needed, as the figures for non-decent housing in the private rented sector show.

Not surprisingly, there is a generation gap here.

Estate agency Savills has identified 1976 as a key year dividing the property haves and the have-nots. For those born before that year, there have been far more chances to get on to the housing ladder and profit from it. For the younger generation, it is a different story. Many have not made it on to the ladder, and many of those who succeeded bought at the peak of the market and risk being plunged into negative equity.

So what might be the answer?

Sarah Webb, chief executive of the CIH, says the time has come to move away from the notion of “right to buy” and “wrong to rent” and to focus on how to make renting a positive choice. In essence, campaigners want to see a cultural shift on a par with the one Thatcher began in 1980, this time in favour of promoting renting

It seems sensible that there is going to have to be a change in culture, in which renting becomes more normalised. Not only because of the problem of affordability, but also because of the environmental sustainability issues surrounding ever-increasing numbers of houses being built. Those who have bought in flood plains and who are getting flooded every couple of years would probably agree, but there are also issues surrounding demands on the sewage system, transport links etc. An integrated approach to housing and urban planning is definitely needed, in which the issue of renting is part of a broader plan. Of prime importance must be the provision of social housing built by the state. The property speculators and the private sector have made more than enough out of the public sector, and out of the public. We have seen the damage that has been wrought economically and environmentally by handing over control to the market. If the government takes responsibility for providing affordable quality social housing, then we will have gone some way to solving the problems caused by the collapse of the Thatcherite dream. And at an ideological level, with the state demonstrating its power to transform the lives of citizens for the better, we may have gone some way to reversing the damage done to social consciousness as well.

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Con-Dems: Hammering the Poor, Protecting the Rich

August 10, 2010

The Guardian reports Cameron announcing a crackdown on the most evil people in Tory eyes since single-mothers: benefit cheats. Cue tough-sounding rhetoric about stealing from hard-working taxpayers.

“We are looking urgently at different options for reform,” he writes. “Tougher penalties for fraud, more prosecutions, encouraging those who know fraud is taking place to come forwards [sic] and making greater efforts to reclaim money that’s wrongly paid.
“We will look at all these things and more. Including, for example, using more information from third parties such as credit referencing agencies to identify circumstances which are incompatible with the benefit claim.”

There’s one issue which you think he might chase up that he seems less keen on. Something that costs 15 times the amount annually lost through benefit fraud. Tax evasion. But then again, it’s his friends from Eton, Oxford, and in the City that benefit from tax evasion. And one certainly wouldn’t want to rock the boat there, eh? And where are the Lib Dems in all this? Preparing a policy statement that they won’t try and push through no doubt.

Utter Speculation. A Hung Parliament and Abstentionism.

October 31, 2009

Just thinking out loud and very speculatively in this post. Whehn Fianna Fáil decided they would establish some kind of presence in the north, they said that while they might stand for elections in the Northern Ireland Assembly, they would never seek seats at Westminster. Not, I suspect, out of any principles, for I believe they have none, but just to avoid the possibility of being in government in Dublin and negotiating with an EU partner government they were in opposition to in London. PSF long ago abandoned absentionism as a political principle, but they still refuse to take their seats at Westminster. They do, however, use the office facitilies they are entitled to there, and claim expenses. There were however noises during the expenses scandal that this arrangement would no longer be acceptable in a newly-changed climate, though the issue seems to have dropped off the radar. PSF are also of course already administering part of the UK, and so the refusal to go to Westminster is more symbolic than anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that most people expect a quite crushing Tory victory at the next UK general election. I’m one of them. Not so Michael Heseltine, who thinks that a hung parliament is more likely.

But in order to get an overall majority, David [Cameron] has got to have the biggest swing, with two exceptions, since the war.
I think David is doing a very good job, I think that the odds on him winning are significant, but the overall majority is a mountain to climb and I think he’s been absolutely right in making this point clear.
I think it’s very unlikely we’ll see a Labour government, that I do believe.
Then you come to another problem – there are not many parties… that will form any sort of relationship with the Conservatives, so the Conservatives have got to win outright or be sufficiently the largest party that there isn’t a coalition against them and they face the House of Commons, which of course will mean a relatively short Parliament.

It’s an interesting possibility. I would agree with him that there is next to no chance of a Labour victory, but if the economy takes an upturn, Labour succeed in mounting a strong campaign, and disillusioned voters chose the Liberal Democrats rather than the Tories in sufficent numbers, there might be some chance of a hung Parliament. At which point, Northern Ireland’s 18 seats may or may not prove crucial, as they proved after John Major’s narrow majority after 1992 was chipped at by by-elections and Tory splits, and the UUP forged an agreement with him.

In a hung Parliament, the seats PSF hold (now five, and likely to be the same after the next election I think) could make them a serious player in Westminster deal-making. Given that the Tories are once again unambiguously the Conservative and Unionist Party and formally allied to the UUP, and that they are likely to make savage cuts in public services and benefits in line with their underlying Thatcherism that would hurt Northern Ireland disproportionately, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in such circumstances pressure would emerge from within northern nationalism to take the seats in Westminster to protect nationalist interests. In such a scenario, the case for retaining absentionism might well be weakened. Would pragmatic people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness spurn such an opportunity to have the British government dancing in part to their tune? I’m not sure. It’s likely that they would, on the grounds that it is not their job to determine the government of a country they wish to see leave Ireland. But then again, who remembers “no return to Stormont” and “not a bullet, not an ounce now”? Nothing is beyond the bounds of possibility.

International Solidarity for Coca Cola Workers and Seán Garland

October 27, 2009

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This post also appears over at Cedar Lounge Revolution.

The strike by Coca Cola workers over plans to sack 130 workers and outsource their jobs pits Irish workers against Coca Cola HBC Ireland Ltd, which is a subsidiary of the Greece-based Coca Cola HBC. Following a request from the International Department of The Workers’ Party, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) and the workers’ organisation PAME organised a protest in solidarity with the Irish workers at a recent shareholders’ meeting of Coca Cola HBC in Athens. The KKE has also been a strong supporter of Seán Garland, with a delegate from their international department who was present at the 2005 Ard Fheis when Seán was first arrested taking part in protests, and protests taking place in Athens within days. The KKE also raised the issue in the European Parliament.

Meanwhile, two musical giants have added their voice to the campaign against the extradition of Seán Garland, who is due to appear in court again tomorrow. The 90-year old folk music legend Pete Seeger has been active in left-wing politics since the 1930s. Like the Hollywood Ten, he refused to plead the fifth amendment against the McCarthyite House Un-American Activities Committee, and was subsequently convicted of contempt of Congress, a conviction subsequently overturned. Seeger opposed the Vietnam War, and was active in the US Civil Rights movement. He was one of those who helped popularise its anthem “We Shall Overcome”. His is a powerful voice to be added to the campaign against the extradition, and hopefully will help raise the profile of the issue in progressive circles and beyond in the United States. Christy Moore, who of course needs no introduction here, has also added his support to the campaign, another sign of his long-term commitment to progressive causes. Both of their signatures are signs that the injustice of attempting to extradite Seán Garland to the US is plain for all to see.

And the British branch of the Campaign to Stop the Extradition of Seán Garland is holding an awareness music and social night to raise the profile of the case in Britain. It will addressed by Councillor Ted Tynan of The Workers’ Party. It takes place in the Green Room in Lewisham High Street on Saturday October 31st at 8pm.

Internationalism is alive and well.

Griffin on Question Time

October 22, 2009

This is also over at Cedar Lounge Revolution.

I have to say I was never spectacularly exercised by this issue of the BNP’s leader Nick Griffin appearing Question Time. I think the British far left’s obsession with them is way over the top, and often has more to do with trying to give their own members something to do and to recruit new members than anything else. Having watched the show, the whole thing was a waste of time, and you would thiink that the only political issue of the week was the BNP – basically the whole show except for about 8 minutes on the Daily Mail on Stephen Gateley was about them, and even that became about them to an extent. Naturally the overwhelming majority of the audience and the other people on the panel, not to mention the BBC’s David Dimbleby, were all determined to show that they abhor the BNP. Tell me something I don’t know.

Having said that, there was one issue worthy of serious consideration for the left. During the inevitable debate on immigration, Griffin must have been sitting laughing to listen to the representatives of the mainstream parties vie with each other to sound opposed to immigration. I found Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, repeating the mantra of “we must have an honest debate about this” particularly nauseating. Jack Straw did make the point that he was having an honest debate. I thought that was an important point. The right tries to get round this issue by saying that anyone not calling for immigration to be effectively halted is being dishonest. That is in fact the most dishonest contribution possible to the discussion of immigration. It’s clear though that the left in Britain has some serious work to do on the issue of immigration. Serious work.

The last question was whether the programme represented an early Christmas present for the BNP. It’s hard to say. Griffin did not a bad job, trying to defuse things through laughter and referring to the other panelists by their first name as though he was just a normal panelist. He did though let the mask slip somewhat over homosexuality (although if I recall right Searchlight had some interesting things to say about Nick Griffin and this issue), and when he denounced the BBC as part of an ultra-leftist establishment. He also was exposed as effectively telling lies on several occasions. The Labour and Tory representatives were convinced they had exposed the BNP, and to an extent that is what happened, with some of Griffin’s more embarassing comments being displayed to the public. Having said that, there was quite a lot where Griffin appeared perfectly in line with the rest of the panel, and as I noted already, there can be no doubt that his party has succeeded in driving the immigration debate to the right.

So I think Griffin will be happy enough, but so will the other panelists. The real question it seems to me though is what happens when the BNP is on next time. Even if it’s only once a year, you can’t keep having the should they be part of the show in the first place debate. By its nature they are going to be normalised to some extent. But we cannot forget the reasons they are there in the first place. They have two European seats. So they already have quite a lot of credibility. Being on Question Time or not won’t change that. Only work on the ground, and possibly there own stupidity, will. I remember seeing an interview with Warren Mitchell, who played Alf Garnett. He said people would come up to him and praise him for sticking it to the black people. And so it is with Griffin – people will have seen what they wanted to see regardless.

SNP: A Brave Move to Protect Public Housing

October 18, 2009

I’m impressed. Very impressed. Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that in Scotland the right to buy council houses has “had its day”.

She said: “We’re building record numbers of houses, but our ambition to substantially increase the supply of homes for rent will be frustrated if we sell them off under the right to buy.
“That is why I believe that the right to buy has had its day.”
She said the reforms to right to buy, first introduced by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, would safeguard up to 18,000 houses, providing rented homes for those who most needed them.

Given the fact that in many respects the engine of huge parts of the economy and in many respects politics of the UK (and for that matter the Republic) over the last two decades or so has been shifting housing stock from public to private ownership, and the associated building boom of private housing, this is a brave, and much-needed move by the SNP. Although it no longer carries the political dangers that it would have in the past, it still is a move motivated by a more communitarian vision of politics than that which has dominated British politics since Thatcher took over.

Public housing goes to all sorts of important issues about the type of society we want – the role of the state and public responsibility, environmental protection (ask anyone whose new house is on a flood plain about this), the motor of economic development and others. The brand new housing estates in the south of Ireland with literally no-one living in them are indicative of the problem of having the construction of new homes as the engine of your economy, never mind the impact of so-called toxic assets worldwide on the economy and the taxpayer, although again it is hard to find a better example than the Republic’s NAMA of the idiocy involved. Much of the debt people labour under is driven by the issue of home ownership, and property speculation.

NICRA raised the slogan not just of one man one vote, but also one family one house. It’s long been my opinion that the drive to have one person one house introduced under Thatcher is environmentally and socially unsustainable. Not only that, but I think that it will be necessary in future to adopt a more continental model of people living in flats rather than houses. As a WP member once said to me, where would you build large factories in west Belfast now – the space isn’t there; it’s all been given over to houses. The need for social housing is all the greater because of the increase in immigration – part of the reason for the increase in racism in Britain has been perceived competition for increasingly scarce public housing.

Given these circumstances, I think that the SNP position is a major step forward, and one which I hope to see extended elsewhere. They deserve a lot of credit. A good job.

New Scare Story: Daily Telegraph Delighted

September 16, 2009

Just came across the headline “Mohammed now top name for boys” under editor’s choice on the Telegraph website. Except of course, it isn’t. Mohammed – in its variant spellings – is in fact the number one name for baby boys in four parts of England: London, West Midlands, North West and Yorkshire/Humberside. So is Britain set for a Muslim majority in these areas? Of course not. This statistic simply reflects the massive dominance that Mohammed has as a name for boys among those from a Muslim background. This is also why it is the third most popular name in England as a whole. Muslims as a whole remain a very very small minority in the UK. But you know, the Home Counties don’t want to hear that – they need something to be shocked and appalled by. Their own bigotry and prejudice might be a good place to start.

Teenage Kicks: Sex Abuse and Violence Rife Among Teenagers

September 5, 2009

Just saw this disturbing story from a few days ago on the BBC website about teenage relationships in Britain.

A third of teenage girls suffer sexual abuse in a relationship and a quarter experience violence at the hands of their boyfriends, a survey suggests.

One in three of the teenage girls questioned in England, Scotland and Wales said their boyfriends had tried to pressure them into unwanted sexual activity by using physical force or by bullying them. The NSPCC said the unwanted sexual activity ranged from kissing to intercourse.
A quarter of the girls interviewed for the survey had suffered physical violence, including being slapped, punched or beaten.
Only one in 17 boys reported having been pressured or forced into sexual activity but almost one in five had suffered physical violence in a relationship.

To say these figures are shocking is a gross understatement. What sort of society is this? Teenage girls are clearly being pressured and beaten into submission on a massive scale. Only a society that is failing to instil in young people basic respect for others could produce these figures. It seems that in schools and in culture generally the principles not only of feminism but of common decency are failing to be passed on to the next generation. The state must act. Not only through education, but through heavy sentences for those engaged in this type of violence.

Bob Crow on Rail Nationalisation

September 5, 2009

Short piece here on the need for rail renationalisation by Bob Crow of the RMT.

The Real Face of Tory “Progressive” Politics

August 16, 2009

Yesterday’s Guardian had an interview with George Osborne. The Shadow Chancellor has taken to declaring that the Tories have taken over from Labour as the vehicle for progressive politics in the UK. He has been appointed to the advisory board of the think-tank Demos. So apparently some other people seem to think he is within the broad confines of the New Labour project. I’m not one of them.

Bad from a left-wing perspective as New Labour may be, there is a fundamental difference between them and the Tories, as has been revealed in both this interview and a story from today’s Observer about the Shadow Cabinet’s desire to destroy the NHS. Basically, New Labour has some sense of the importance of the state as a provider of services, and have some commitment to their albeit far too limited view of equality and fairness. A good example of this was Peter Mandelson’s response to Osborne’s claims. Now, we all know Mandelson is far from trustworthy, and the original master of Blairite spin. But he does a good job of bringing out the differences between himself and Osborne, and the reality of Cameron’s lick of shiny paint on the callous Thatcherite edifice.

When Cameron and Osborne took over, they promised to follow New Labour spending plans, and that they would maintain and improve public sector investments. This was an attempt to ape New Labour’s succesful attempt to convince middle England they could trust it with the budget by keeping their first term expenditure within Tory spending plans. Once the banking crisis hit, the mask slipped, and this language was dropped in favour of the Tory perennials of public sector reform and retrenchment. Apparently progressive politics now means a rhetorical commitment to public services while saving money. Something that did not pass unnoticed by the Guardian

Tory circles are abuzz with excitement about yet another chance to wage war on the big state, and usher in Cameron’s “post-bureaucratic age” even more zealously than the party leadership plan to. Tax rises have not been ruled out, though as Osborne recently put it, “the bulk of the strain in dealing with this debt crisis has to be cutting public spending”. Only health and international development have been ring-fenced – though today, when it comes to health spending, he says only that “we will work hard to protect it”.

Given the fact that it is precisely their public spending levels that have enabled the Germans and French to exit the recession, we can see that Osborne is motivated by the same cruel and heartless ideology as ever. It’s not quite the open class war rhetoric of Thatcherism, but as we can see, it’s not far from it.

“Maybe I’m being too optimistic,” he says. “There is an absolute resolution on behalf of the Conservative party that we will deal with this debt problem … I think we have demonstrated our toughness in sticking to our message. We are the people who said the government’s spending plans were unaffordable. We are the people who have talked to the country about the debt crisis and the Age of Austerity. No one should doubt that if they elect a Conservative government, we will deal with the public finances, and put them right.”
This time, there’s at least a glint of Thatcherite steel. “And if necessary, we are prepared to stand up to people who are in our path. But I begin with the hope that we can work with the public sector unions, and others, in trying to deal with this problem. Now, if they don’t want to have a discussion about pay restraint, and they don’t want to have a discussion about how we make public-sector pensions more affordable for future generations, then so be it.”

So how do his shadow cabinet colleagues see Tory progressive politics in action?

The Observer can reveal that leading Tory MPs – who include Cameron’s close ally Michael Gove – are listed alongside controversial MEP Daniel Hannan as co-authors of a book, Direct Democracy, which says the NHS “fails to meet public expectations” and is “no longer relevant in the 21st century”.
Others listed as co-authors in the book, published shortly after the 2005 general election, include shadow cabinet members Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt and frontbencher Robert Goodwill.

More than 20 Tory MPs and MEPs have given support to books by Hannon calling for the NHS to be scrapped. Hannon told Fox News that the NHS was a 60-year mistake. Charming. In my recent post on the sense of entitlement felt by the rich Tories who form Cameron’s inner circle, I expressed a hope that Labour would use the brayings of these arrogant elitists to their advantage in the forthcoming election campaign. Looks like it could be beginning to happen.

Gordon Brown last night broke off from his holiday to issue a statement declaring he would place the future of the NHS at the heart of the next election. “I will not stand by and see the NHS and its brilliant staff denigrated and undermined, whether that’s by the right wing in the United States or by their friends in the British Conservative party,” he said.

Let’s hope that Labour has the requisite moral courage to play on the social origins of Cameron’s crew. Not only are they incapable of understanding the lives of working people, they have no desire to do so, and feel contempt for the working poor, never mind the unemployed. The Tories have nothing to offer but pain for working people. This must be the message of the Left for the next election.