Will 2013 Be a Year of Social Unrest in Britain?

The potentiality of 2013 proving one of the most convulsive and ugly in Britain’s social history is real.

The brunt of this Tory-led coalition government’s assault on welfare and public spending come on stream in April. Swingeing cuts in child benefit, housing benefit, and a cut in council tax benefit will plunge millions of UK families into the abyss of destitution and despair. Add to this a one percent freeze on Jobseekers Allowance, tantamount to a real terms cut, and the conditions for social unrest in the UK have hardly been more propitious.

Since coming to power 2010 this Tory-led coalition government, aided by its allies in the right wing press, has been diligent in its efforts to prepare the public for the economic tsunami that it intends to unleash on the public sector, the poor and benefit claimants. It has engaged in a concerted and determined propaganda campaign designed to demonize the unemployed, people on disability benefits, and public sector workers, the main targets of its attacks with the objective of turning what was and remains an economic crisis caused by private greed into a crisis of public spending. Pitting one section of working people against another has been a key plank of the Tory strategy to minimise resistance to the most egregious and brutal assault on the incomes and lives of poor people in living memory.

Save The Children calculate that currently in the UK 1.6million children are living in what they describe as severe poverty. Households mired in severe poverty are forced to make a choice between heating and eating each winter on an income of £15,000 or less. The extent of child poverty in the UK is a badge of shame in the word’s seventh largest economy. Indeed, along with food banks, it is this badge of shame and not the Olympics which is Britain’s lasting legacy in 2012.

Given the criminal lack of social and affordable housing in Britain, a consequence of Thatcher’s decimation of council housing stock throughout the 1980s, a policy continued throughout the nineties, wherein tenants were able to buy council properties at huge discount, and New Labour’s failure to address the yawning gap during its 13 years in office, millions of people are currently living on the edge of homelessness, victims of the inflated rents and insecure and short term tenancies offered by private landlords. With the collapse in the mortgage market, demand for private rented accommodation has spiked, which with the government’s intention of scrapping housing benefit for under 25’s and restricting it for everyone else is a recipe for disaster.

These facts, no matter how shocking, do not come close to describing the stress suffered by those on the receiving end of the government’s assault. This is a crime in itself, a cruel and brutal attack on the welfare of millions of men, women, and children, punished for daring to be poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.

Meanwhile, as 2013 gets underway, those same rich have never had it so good. Last year’s Sunday Times Rich List confirmed that the 1000 richest people in Britain have seen their wealth increase by a staggering £155 billion over the past three years of the worst economic recession since the 1930s, enough to wipe out the entire deficit with around £30 billion to spare. Yet thanks to the government’s decision to reward those earning £1 million a year or more with a £42,000 tax cut starting this spring, the rich can look forward to their wealth increasing still more. As for the corporations and businesses which many of them run, those are set to enjoy a two percent reduction in corporation tax in 2013, while VAT remains at 20 percent, a tax on consumption with a disproportionate impact on the poor.

Thanks in large part to the unstinting efforts of the campaign group UK Uncut when it comes to shining a light on the immorality of tax avoidance by the rich and big business, we now know the full extent of the theft committed by multinational companies such as Asda, Ikea, Starbucks,Vodafone, Google, Amazon, and others when it comes to exploiting tax loopholes to avoid paying anything like their fair share of tax on UK revenues. Plugging these loopholes at any time, never mind in the midst of the deepest recession since the 1930s, you would think would be done as a matter of urgency by a coalition government whose mantra since it entered Downing Street after the 2010 general election has been ‘fairness’ and ‘we are all in this together’.

The opposite has been the case. In fact, worse, the government has turned its guns on the poor and working class to make sure that the wealth and profits of the rich remain intact. It is class war by any other name.

The lack of investment by the private sector has led to a collapse in demand, which in other words means we are living through a crisis of underconsumption. It is a crisis screaming out for an investment-led response by the government to fill the vaccum left by the lack of private investment in the economy, specifically via the banks, the beneficiaries of billions in taxpayers money to keep them afloat at the height of the financial crisis.

The result is an economic shambles with injustice at its heart and the wonder is that we have yet to witness wholesale riots and civil unrest in towns and cities all over the country in response. 2013 may well see it erupt.


Frontbench abstains, but left MPs vote against Welfare Bill

9th March 2011

The Labour frontbench abstained on tonight’s vote on the Welfare Reform Bill. John McDonnell MP, LRC Chair, was among just 22 MPs who voted against the Bill. John tweeted, “Ed Miliband decided PLP should only vote for amendment to Tories Welfare cuts Bill & then abstain.It is so appalling I am voting against”. The LRC previously vote to all Labour MPs urging them to vote against the Bill.

The 22 MPs who voted against the Bill were: Ronnie Campbell (Lab), Katy Clark (Lab), Michael Connarty (Lab), Jeremy Corbyn (Lab), Jon Cruddas (Lab), Mark Durkan (SDLP), Jonathan Edwards (PC), Dai Havard (Lab), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab), Stewart Hosie (SNP), Sian James (Lab), Elfyn Llwyd (PC), Naomi Long (Alliance), Caroline Lucas (Green), Angus MacNeil (SNP), John McDonnell (Lab), Angus Robertson (SNP), Jim Sheridan (Lab), Dennis Skinner (Lab), Eilidh Whiteford (SNP), Hywel Williams (PC) and Mike Wood (Lab).

The full text of John’s speech in the debate is copied below Click to continue reading

Little Mileage for Tory/liberal Merger

Fascinating polling reported by Tim Montgomerie from Conservative Home

I cannot remember this having been done before but Angus Reid has asked voters which party they would support if the Tories and Lib Dems combined as a Coalition Party against Labour.

The result is that Labour would score 45% and the Coalition would win the support of 38% of voters.

Angus Reid finds normal voting intention as Labour 40%, Conservatives 35%, LDs 12% and UKIP 5%.

So if the Lib Dems and Tories join together they lose supporters while Labour gain supporters.

More from Angus Reid here:

“The main hindrance for the unified Coalition party—if it ever materialises—would be the patent disappointment from Liberal Democrat supporters. While the merged party would hold on to four-in-five voters who cast a ballot for a Conservative candidate in 2010 (83%), only one third of Liberal Democrat voters in 2010 (32%) would support a joint Tory/Lib-Dem candidate. In fact, almost half of them (46%) would vote for Labour instead.”

Remember: the Tories Are the Main Enemy


There is something very gratifying about the collapse of the Lib Dem vote. The slight thrill of justice as chickens come home to roost for the party that has always promised all things to all men (and women). Voters are necessarily dismayed that the Liberals abandoned no less that three of the core pledges on which they fought the election: opposition to rapid spending cuts, opposition to a rise in VAT, and opposition to an increase in student tuition fees.

But that is the rub. What makes people angry about the Liberals is that they have acceded to Tory policies. But the policies themselves come from the old enemy, and it is the Tories we have to ideologically and electorally defeat.

The Oldham by-election is crucial. Not only must Labour win, the Liberals will hopefully be humiliatingly defeated. The best result would be for them to come third.

This is not Schadenfreude, the Liberals need to be convincingly dispatched so that we can move on to seeing that it is the Tories we really have to beat. And to defeat the Tories we need more than the moral outrage that we can so easily deploy against the Lib Dems.

The Tories need to be countered by winning the arguments that the spending cuts are not necessary, that the dismantling of so much of the public infrastructure is unnecessary vandalism, and that a good society comes from better government, not smaller government.

Good luck to Debbie Abrahams, and all those campaigning in Oldham this weekend.

Tax Dodger Ads

jqhoaldxunqism8da1w.jpgThe online and Facebook activist group, 38 Degrees, which emerged in response to the MPs expenses scandal last year, has succeeded in raising funds to place this ad in major newspapers on January 4th to coincide with the rise in VAT. The ad is designed to highlight Government hypocrisy over its austerity plans whilst at the same time taking no action to stem the mammoth sums of money lost each year to the exchequer due to tax avoidance on the part of the rich and big business.

In conjunction with UK Uncut, the grassroots organisation which is currently playing such an exemplary role in the same regard up and down the country and which has grown exponentially since it began, these ads and the counter argument they contain presage, along with the excellent student protests that have already taken place, a torrid 2011 for the Coalition and its objective of making the majority foot the bill for a recession caused by the few.

Liar Liar – on Sale from Today

You can but this now.

Released 12th December for XMAS no 1. On I-tunes and all other digital shops. Proceeds to: Crisis, Disability Alliance, FalseEconomy and Women’s Health Matters. Launch gig for “Liar Liar” and FalseEconomy website 13th December, Vibe Bar Featuring Captain SKA, comedian Josie Long, Hackney Colliery band and DJ Jamie Renton (Chilli Fried)




Gove’s Bad Week

Michael Gove, one of the more ideologically motivated of the Tory cabinet, is having a difficult time. Scrapping the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, has resulted in 719 school redevelopments being axed across England and significantly it contradicted George Osborne’s pledge in the Budget last month that “there will be no further reductions in capital spending totals”.

Some 180 schools have been rebuilt or revamped since the programme was introduced by Labour in 2004. And building work is in process on a further 231 schools. As Labour’s education spokesperson, Ed Balls, has pointed out on his blog

[Gove’s] handling had been botched and chaotic with change after change.
On Monday he said local councils which had signed final contracts for new school buildings – what’s called financial close – would see their new schools go ahead. Today it turns out that in Wigan and Bolton, where they have already got to this ‘financial close’ stage, the new schools have been axed too.
This now seems to be a totally arbitrary process, with no clear criteria to decide which schools are safe and which face the axe. No wonder government Ministers, Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers are joining the protests.

However the real significance of this canceled buildings programme is that it is the first major and nationwide impact of Tory cuts into the real world, where ordinary members of the public are aware of the damage. Up until now the Con-Dem cuts have appeared abstract, so Gove’s political difficulties may only be the first swallows of Spring.

Gove has appeared incompetent in his handling, he is learning the hard way that government is more difficult than it looks. But his vulnerability comes from the lack of political mandate for canceling these refurbishments, which will not necessarily even save money.

Some 1,100 schools have already signed up to the Building Schools for the Future programme, investing time, energy and money into drawing up plans for redevelopment. The total expenditure wasted by cancellation is greater than the proposed savings. According to Ed Balls:

If these arbitrary cuts go ahead then the taxpayer could be liable for hundreds of millions of pounds as local authorities and private companies seek compensation for money that’s already been spent.

The scale of the cancellations will affect every town and area of England, which can be politically damaging for the coalition. There is scope for mobilizing parents, staff and governors of affected schools to lobby their MPs, because it is possible that Gove may wobble if put under further pressure.

Con-dems Declare Class War

by Ken Livingstone, from the Morning Star

We have a collective responsibility to oppose the government’s hardline economic agenda. Not only because of its social implications but also for the sake of simple economic rationality.

What’s happening now is a rerun of Thatcherism – but it will be worse.

Osborne, Cameron, Clegg and Cable are planning cuts of £145 billion or 10.3 per cent of gross domestic product over six years.

That’s more than twice the real cuts of the first Thatcherites, and will feel even worse.

It is not surprising that the Financial Times has said the Budget is “risky.”

Throughout the entire period under Thatcher the economy generally, and government finances in particular, benefited from North Sea oil revenues. These were equivalent to over 3.2 per cent of GDP in the financial year 1984-5.

That will not be repeated this time.

We must show that we can speak for those who are under attack and that, where we can exercise power before the next general election, we are willing to work to protect people from the brunt of the damage that will be done.

In recent weeks there has been a concerted effort to soften up public opinion in favour of cuts. We are told ferocious cuts must come because either the national debt was too high or that the annual deficit of the public sector was too wide.

However the level of the national debt, at 62.2 per cent of GDP in May, is still one of the lowest in the European Union. The deficit is already declining under the impact of moderate economic recovery and Labour’s mildly stimulative 2009 Budget.

The Treasury originally expected the deficit in this financial year to be £178bn. That was lowered to £163bn at the time of the Budget. The Office of Budget Responsibility now expects it to be £155bn.

That improvement in the deficit projections highlights a key fact – growth is the remedy for the deficit.

The economy limped out of recession, growing by just 0.7 per cent in the first six months since the end of the recession. Yet billions have already been wiped off the deficit even with this meagre growth rate.

That’s not because of spending cuts, as these had not yet been implemented. The narrowing of the deficit has happened because tax receipts have risen as the economy is no longer contracting – they stood £2.6bn higher this May than last.

Without a crisis level of debt to cling to and a deficit that is already narrowing even as growth recovers to some extent, George Osborne has identified a mythical beast in the form of the “structural deficit,” the deficit that he says will still persist even when the economy fully recovers.

Even Investors’ Chronicle has exploded the myth of the structural deficit, not least because it is based on the idea of limited spare capacity in the economy, even with one in five workers economically inactive.

But the real focus of Osborne, Cameron and Clegg is not to reduce the budget deficit at all.

Under Thatcher, having inherited a deficit of £8.7bn in 1978-9, the deficit actually rose and averaged £9bn over the next five years, while the debt level rose from £98bn to £157bn.

Every time the deficit showed any sign of narrowing, taxes were cut. This is exactly what the Con-Dem coalition proposes, with the focus now on the regressive lifting of the income tax threshold to £10,000 – with the main beneficiaries being couples who both earn just under £100,000, according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies – and promises from Osborne that the level of corporation tax will be cut.

Meanwhile retailers are already planning for a VAT rise, which hits hardest those who spend most of their incomes, the poor.

And a spurious campaign against public-sector pensions is underway. Yet teachers’ real pensions have fallen by 4 per cent since 2000 and NHS pensions are unchanged.

If Labour or the trade unions had started a programme of redistribution based on fairer taxes for the richest, better pay, conditions and job prospects and better minimum standards for employees, then the right would be foaming at the mouth about class war.

But we should be clear that what has opened up now really is class war. Not from the trade unions or Labour, but by the government.

The real aim is to cut the living standards of workers and the poor and to raise the living standards of high earners and the rich.

Osborne’s Budget was a full-blooded attack on the working poor, the disabled and those on benefits.

The priorities were absolutely clear from raising VAT and the continuous cuts in the corporate tax rate – a Robin Hood in reverse.

Public-sector pay, child and disability benefits have been frozen and huge cuts to departmental spending limits of up to 25 per cent are to be made.

Students are likely to be forced to pay more for their education.

The jobs being lost now through hiring freezes will swell from the tens to the hundreds of thousands and the quality of services will plummet as a direct result. No wonder the government intends to abolish monitoring of waiting times for health treatments.

But this is not just an attack on the public sector.

Innumerable businesses rely directly on supplying government departments and many others will suffer a fall in demand when pay, jobs or benefits are cut.

The Budget will only deepen the renewed downturn taking place in London and elsewhere.

A double-dip recession in London could have disastrous consequences in the rest of the country.

The Budget will leave London with one of the highest levels of unemployment in the country at 9 per cent compared with 7.9 per cent for the whole economy.

The economically inactive rate in London is now 24.4 per cent, compared with 21.5 per cent in the rest of the economy.

Business confidence and activity will drop further, directly linked to the coalition’s ferocious cuts to public spending.

Ultimately the overwhelming majority will suffer from the planned reduction in government investment of one-third over the next four years.

It is a repeat of the fundamental error of the Thatcher years.

The British economy has suffered from chronic underinvestment and the decline of business investment is the biggest single contributor to the recession – nearly half the total.

There is an alternative to a Budget that makes the poor pay for the disastrous actions of the banks and rich.

Our campaign for a living wage in London will not only put money in the pockets of those that need it most but they are also the most likely to spend it, boosting private business and private-sector jobs.

In addition, investing in infrastructure – especially in housing, including rented housing – meets a desperate social need.

It would also create much-needed jobs in the construction sector as well as providing an income stream that can be used for further investment or to pay down the deficit.

Investment is the key to future prosperity and the economy cannot make a sustained and robust recovery without it.

Cutting public investment worsens this crucial economic deficit, and cuts to spending on areas like schools and hospitals lead to reduced private-sector investment.

Osborne said in his Budget statement that reducing corporate tax rates to 24 per cent would show that Britain is “Open for business.”

Really he is saying that Britain will be a low-tax, low-wage, low-growth, low-skill and low-investment economy.

He and his colleagues are the new Thatcherites and our duty is meet their agenda with our own, protecting and standing up for the vast majority who stand to lose under this economically brutal and damaging programme.

Ken Livingstone is former London mayor and a contender for Labour’s next mayoral candidate. He writes a monthly column for the Star.