Category Archives: Welfare State

The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


Labour’s proposed £10 minimum wage shows just how unelectable they really are

Criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and attacking him personally is now futile. It has been done and done again. It is demonstrable that, from an electoral standpoint, he is ineffective. Don’t take my word for it; listen to the increasingly agitated voices of his critics on the Left.

Equally true in my opinion is that one of the worst aspects to contemporary politics – thanks especially to the public relations industry and mass media – is the celebritising (Microsoft Word tells me this isn’t a word, but I have not been corrected in person and refuse to let a red line discourage me from using it) of politicians and the focus placed upon personality rather than policy.

This trend will continue to have a profoundly negative impact upon the legitimacy of public servants. In an age of status and reputation obsession, it is important to draw attention back towards the things that matter.

One thing that matters immensely to a country is having a strong opposition that applies adequate pressure to an incumbent government. They say that it’s best to have conservative government with a strong labour movement in opposition, and the UK is in renewed, desperate need for a strong labour movement.

One of the things that most frustrates me about the Left is its insistence that its programs help the disadvantaged, the poor and the worker, when, in actual fact, evidence shows that they do precisely the opposite. Mr Corbyn’s fresh pledge to raise the UK’s minimum wage to £10 per hour provides an excellent example of this problem.

First off, government should be out of the business of setting wages (with the exception of those working in the civil service, of course). We have seen throughout history the damage caused by government control of pricing.

And wages are a price. They represent the cost of labour to an employer, and ought to remain a private concern that both parties to that transaction agree to. The beauty of capitalism has always been that it is based most fundamentally around the concept of voluntarism.

When government steps in and artificially raises the price of labour, several important things happen. Firstly, a surge in unemployment is almost inevitable. A 2006 review of more than 100 minimum wage studies by David Neumark and William Wascher found that about two-thirds found ‘negative employment effects’.

When employers are forced to pay their staff more money, they need to make alterations in order to break even. This could mean cutting back on staff directly, cutting the benefits of existing staff or scrapping hiring plans or schemes in the future. Young people, too, will suffer disproportionately as they lack the skills and habits of work and will be more expendable in the workforce.

Secondly, arbitrary rises in the price of labour may lead to significant price hikes on the high street. As basic market laws and common sense tell us, if the price of a good increases, the likelihood that a customer will buy it decreases. For the worker on minimum wage, there may be a crucial trade-off: a pay rise for all, for his job.

In his influential Economics in one lesson, Henry Hazlitt notes: “it may be thought that if the law forces the payment of a higher wage in a given industry, that industry can then charge higher prices for its product, so that the burden of paying the higher wage is merely shifted to consumers.” A pay rise is, after all, only relative to inflation and changes to the cost of living.

It therefore stands that the best way to raise the earnings of a worker is to ensure that market forces are culpable for the raise. Labour productivity must be increased either by means of management or production innovation, or by improving technology and training. Creating an environment that is conducive to the making of profit will be far more beneficial to workers in the long run.

We have just entered a period of two distinct changes to the National Minimum Wage (now called the National ‘Living’ Wage because, you know, PR): its introduction and its subsequent raise. Employers are currently coming to terms with these rises as well as the prospect of leaving the European Union.

Any further government control of labour costs is bound to have a substantial disemployment effect. But there is more. The difference between welfare and wages must also be taken into account.

If as a country we say that it is illegal to pay a man less than £160 per week, and we also say that an unemployed man can earn up to £120 (I am using arbitrary figures) per week through the welfare state, then we prevent another man from enjoying the dignity of work and self support for anywhere between £120 and £160 per week.

This may sound like pedantry, but it is an important consideration for those who advocate governmental wage control. Artificial increases in the cost of labour will result in a gap between the minimum a person will earn in work and the maximum he or she will receive in benefits. Any such gap is a barrier to employment. 

And why does the Labour Party not see this? I am struck by just how coy the Left can be with economic programmes. Anybody remember Natalie Bennett’s housing policy disaster at the last General Election? Of course, I do not think this will matter in the long run.

Labour will not be elected into government in 2020. Even with a change of leader in the next twelve months, its troubles (from a damaging referendum divide to the lingering stench of anti-Semitism) are far from being dealt with.

Perhaps Jeremy Corbyn’s quiet resignation that he will not make it to Number 10 is making him lazy. If he thought he had a real chance, he would surely be trying a lot harder. Most polls now show ‘don’t know’ to be a better candidate than the Labour leader for Prime Minister.

And with policy proposals like a new inflation-inducing minimum wage, it’s not hard to see why.


I don’t dislike Labour, I pity them

I have a softer spot for the Labour Party than most on the Right. This is mainly because, through an expansionist welfare state, they were very helpful to my family throughout my upbringing.

I grew up in a single parent family, in the Kent/South East London overlap, with a younger brother and an older sister, and was on free school meals at school (I hope this is helpful for those in political circles who have misguided preconceptions about me or my background).

I mention this very quickly not to invoke any kind of unwanted sympathy, but to illustrate that the Labour Party actually did do good things for single mothers and dependent children. In an age of a one-party state, we prefer to forget any remnants of Labour’s successes.

In the days when my siblings and I were growing up (and I suspect the same is true today), single parents were better off financially if they did not seek work.

Jobseekers allowance simply did not compensate for the pressure that unemployment benefit alleviated. Housing and child allowances were larger and those affected were not forced into work once their children had reached the age of 3.

Recipients of benefit payments ought not to be demonised for this very reason. More often than not, they are pursuing a course of action that best fits the predicament that they have found themselves in.

In the case of my family, my father abandoned me when I was a baby, and I do not have any contact with him today. That is all I am comfortable revealing about my personal life, but it should help readers to understand why I am forced to sympathise with Labour more strongly than others on my side of the political spectrum (remember that I’m not referring to the Tories).

In general, I am supportive of a strong welfare state and oppose cuts to disability benefits. I think welfare should never out-compete the lure of work, but ought to be substantive enough to provide those who fall down the ladder with a sturdy rung from which to rebuild their lives.

The most fundamental reason for supporting a strong welfare state is to assist in the stimulation of production. I believe that a government hoping to create more jobs should present the poorest with a higher disposable income. It is at least a better use of public money than funding a bloated, nationalised health service.

My relatively low hostility towards the Labour Party thus has its roots in my own, subjective (past) circumstances. It is therefore saddening to me that it is not stronger.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not yearning to become a member and would not do so if somebody more competent, like Yvette Cooper, was leading the party. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that I pity Her Majesty’s opposition.

I just feel that, especially during a period of landmark political change, Labour’s lack of bite and inability to provide the government with adequate opposition or scrutiny has had a harmful effect on the country’s Brexit debate.

To blame Jeremy Corbyn, too, seems a little too easy. His party’s problems, vast and not easily solved, most definitely stretch far wider than his critics are willing to acknowelege.

He isn’t to blame for lingering anti-Semitism (which I believe to be problematic but slightly overblown), he isn’t to blame for Tony Blair’s damaging legacy, and nor is he to blame for staunch internal divides over the result of Britain’s EU referendum.

It is true that his leadership has been slapdash. He resembles a small child who has just taken his first leap into the deep end of a swimming pool, only to find that it is difficult to navigate without armbands or a float.

He must also learn to take swift and decisive action against figures like Ken Livingstone, who I think has spent far too long in the political sphere and may well be showing signs of senility. I long for the day that both he and Lord Heseltine bow out from party politics.

Investigations are a step in the right direction, but the problem of prominent Labour figures making unpleasant or silly comments is so fully embedded within the party that they may well be futile.

And so we have a chronic credibility problem. It is worth noting that the Left all over Europe is experiencing unprecedented difficulty, but not all hope has been lost. The recent Dutch and Austrian elections show that leftist liberals still have places that they can call home.

If Labour is to regain its lost momentum, or at least pretend to be an electoral threat, it will need a new leader and to cease ignoring its voter base, particularly in the north of England and in Scotland, where the SNP’s legitimacy is beginning to wane.

I don’t hold out much hope. Not even our withdrawal from the European Union could breathe life into them.


A Sunday reflection on the week’s politics

I thought, for a change, that Sunday might be quite a good opportunity to sit down and reflect on the week’s politics, in a slightly different format. Whether I make this sort of post a weekly deal (I may well choose to do so) or not, I’m not absolutely sure as of yet. The post will not necessarily be in an order of any real importance but will include segments of news that have interested me over the last few days.

Project Fear hits the Premier League

There aren’t many things the ‘remain’ camp won’t say or distort in order to secure an EU stay after June 23rd. They know that football (and specifically the Premier League) is at the very core of British culture, and scaremongering over the importing of foreign players will no doubt present a great way of striking fear into what seems to me to be a heavily undecided electorate.

Not only did BSE (Britain Stronger in Europe) make the claim that various players would no longer be allowed to take part in English football, they also took the time to compile a list of players at each major Premier League club that, allegedly, would not have been able to move to the country without EU membership. I knew that our resident europhiles were unambitious and misguided, but I never had them down as clairvoyants.

Apparently those at ‘Stronger In’ don’t spend too much of their time following football (or logic, for that matter). Work permits are a common fixture inside the Premier League, allowing players to be transferred across continents with very little trouble at all. Problems seldom occur, and many talented players from outside the European Union have enjoyed great success in the UK.

Sol Campbell understands this simple concept. Why don’t Britain’s EU fanatics?

Another ‘Leave’ campaign enters the fray

How many unique campaigns now have their sights set on Britain’s departure from the European Union? With Grassroots Out, Vote Leave and Leave.EU currently the caretaker triumvirate in active competition for the mantle of official designated leave group, the phrase ‘too many cooks’ comes to mind.

In hindsight, this referendum’s ‘leave’ campaigners haven’t organised themselves particularly well. One campaign was enough to present the arguments for an exit, and so Friday’s news that a new Left-wing competitor, ‘The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’, has thrown its name into the hat didn’t exactly fill me with joy.

I’ve sought to avoid baseless tribalism in recent months; opting for membership of both ‘GO’ and ‘Vote Leave’ in an attempt to meet more people and be as active as I possibly could be. I don’t have a dislike for any of the campaigns per se, but a more unified approach to the summer showdown could well have been preferable.

I am happy that the Left have representation as we march towards the end of June, as a European Union exit isn’t just about those of us on the Right, but I do feel that such a late inclusion will only splay and ignite more tension.

People can represent any campaign that they so wish, but the bickering and political point scoring must come to end; if not for the sake of those involved, then for the sake of our EU membership.

Is this a ‘Ta ta’ to British steel?

How sad it is to see a magnificent beacon of British industrialisation beaten to its very knees by incompetent politicians, dumping and malicious energy costs. I feel for workers at Port Talbot, and would very much like the government to save our steel industry (one of the few bright spots across the UK’s manufacturing landscape).

I’ve been sceptical over the weekend as to whether renationalisation was the way to go to combat the issues our steel faces, but if no other option presents itself, then renationalise we should. Since state aid ‘in principle’ is not generally permitted across the European Union, government intervention will likely be tricky to coordinate.

If Sajid Javid fails to salvage what is left of our steel industry, he may as well say a brisk goodbye to his integrity and any future cabinet positions. He has a tough job ahead of him, but so long as thousands of innocent, hard-working steel workers are not dumped onto the welfare system, he’ll get a pass from me.

As the signs read only a couple of days ago, we bailed out the banks, now it’s time we bailed out our steel.

Praise for the Mail on Sunday

Pleased I most certainly was this morning to read about the Mail on Sunday’s belated (but nevertheless necessary) campaign targeted at the government concerning the extortionate amount of money that Britain gives away in foreign aid.

The feature, based on Friday’s leaked report which revealed that over £170m had been spent over the allotted £12bn budget, encouraged readers to sign an e-petition which calls for the government to re-think the policy and consider putting some of the money to better use.

I’m not myself a fan of a foreign aid ‘budget’ as such. Instead, I believe that the UK should play its part in providing moral, humanitarian aid where possible on a sporadic and prioritised basis. By introducing a parameter in the form of a budget, some international disasters may not receive proportionate or adequate funding, and as has been shown over the last few days, over-spending is also inevitable.

Despite the Tory party’s target of setting aside 0.7% of our GDP for the purposes of global aid being a generous and fairly popular one, charity does often start at home, and over-spending should not be tolerated whilst Britain is gripped by intense industrial woes.

There is a fashionable line that argues that taking from the foreign aid budget is no way to cure domestic ills as it will only incur more suffering abroad. In some cases, this may well be true, but those fronting such an argument may like to consider that there is a huge wealth of difference between helping and appearing to help.

Much of the foreign aid budget is wasted on projects which do not provide direct relief to the intended recipients, and many governments shell out over-generously as a way of point scoring with ethnic minorities at home, or in a bid to bribe or sway certain international governments.

Britain spent £12.2 billion in foreign aid in 2015, and kind-hearted thought it may well seem, I think a far more moral approach would be to target crises individually and divert accidental over-spending towards problems happening at home.

2016 is the year that the UK’s steel industry urgently needs help, so let us hope that George Osborne does the right thing.