Money in politics: Conflicts of Interest?

This post is prompted by finally finishing Parliament Ltd, by Martin Williams.

I didn’t anticipate being surprised or shocked. I just thought ¬†it would provide me with excellent examples to share. ¬†I was wrong. ¬†I was shocked.

Nothing prepared me for ¬†an illustrative example offered relating to a politician referred to as “Loretta“. ¬†That is not his/her real name. Why can this not be shared? Read on.

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Transparency?

The research for this book has clearly been laborious. ¬†If you, like me, thought we had a transparent, & accountable’ system to register MP’s interests think again. ¬†The delving required led the author to conclude that it is ” really really easy for MP’s¬†¬†to hide their investments in big business” (p17).

British companies have to send their list of shareholders to Companies House on an annual basis. It’s a public register so it should be easy to check. Turns out to be quite labour intensive. ¬†Inaccessible if not nigh on impenetrable.¬†¬†To track down shareholders for BAE Systems ¬†(UK’s largest Arms dealer) the author had to physically travel to an office in Lancing & search for politicians one at a time! ¬†The alternative is to pay ¬£95 for each separate search. This is prohibitively expensive if your aim is to establish share holding¬†for dozens of companies.

Let me cut to the chase. ¬†In 2003 ¬†Loretta¬†was a senior conservative MP who “held a powerful & influential position” (p.17). ¬†S/he was pro-war and voted for the Invasion of Iraq. S/he actively promoted war making speeches in favour of military action. ¬†After the vote was passed s/he purchased shares in BAE systems which were held from 2004-2006. ¬†This was never declared or made public by the MP. ¬†War proved to present too tempting an investment opportunity. There was , however, no way of knowing that a politician had seized an opportunity, to profit, on the back of a war for which they voted.

Why don’t we know? Should it not be Registered?

Well reading the code of conduct quoted on page 29 it seems we should. A member should register anything ¬†“if the Member considers that it might reasonably be thought by others to influence ¬†his or her actions or words”. That seems to cover it.

In reality there are zero internal, formal audits to check the Register of Interests. ¬†If an omission is discoverered (presumably if reported) there are limited sanctions ¬†There are plenty of egregious examples, in the book, of precisely these types of “omissions” . There are scant penalties even if there is the will to pursue and “prosecute” alleged offenders.

Why can’t s/he be named?

This was the most Kafkaesque  part.  The Companies Act  2006 has a provision called Section 116. Before this act shareholder registers were free & accessible to the public. After this legislation section 116 has a bizarre consequence.  If you want to access the information you have to provide reasons. You also have to disclose the name and address of anyone with whom who you will share the information.  So the author cannot reveal the name of this MP to his readers, such as myself, because he has no way of anticipating who will buy his book.

Loretta , as of 2017, remains a prominent figure in the House  of Commons and can still maintain a cloak of secrecy about his/her investment in the arms trade. It seems, we  the voters have no right to know about this.

There are plenty of other egregious examples in this book.  It raises the serious question of just who MPs ( and Lords)  really work for?  Those politicians who work long hours as genuine public servants are done a disservice by this lack of transparency.  I do not think they are all should be tarred with the same brush but until things are tightened up they will , regrettably, suffer from widespread public mistrust.

I hope lots more people read it. A thoroughly well researched and , despite the content,  entertaining read. Manages to be humorous without diluting the anger that we should all feel on reading it.

 

 

 

 

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Food Banks

 

Why do we tolerate this?

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I think we have gone beyond the early attempts to ignore, or deny, rising food bank  use. Sadly Food Banks are now a significant feature of the way we tackle food insecurity. Brave would be the politician who tried to argue they did not exist.  For an overview of their prevalence  I refer you to the Trussell Trust. They commissioned an 18 month survey by Oxford University.

You can find this report here : June 2017 report.

Lone parents, disabled, insecure workers & those subject to benefit sanctions  figure prominently in those accessing foodbanks.

Facts on expansion of foodbanks are that in 2009 the Trussell trust had 30 foodbanks this increased to 420 by 2017.  This is only one provider and there are many more new entrants to the Food Bank sector.  For Trussell Trust alone they provided 1.8 million instances of food supplies in 2016/17 financial year.  The evidence is incontrovertible: Food Banks are now a central plank of how we address food insecurity.

Also important to know :users are only allowed to access this support through “referral agents” who act as gatekeepers. ¬†These agents have access to vouchers and have to follow criteria before they refer anyone. ¬† They are typically drawn from health or social service providers or schools. ¬†Bear this in mind when we come to look at reactions to the existence of food banks from our political elite.

The  issue that I am interested in exploring is how, in the sixth richest country in the world, is this  understood &  defended by the political classes.  To do this I have done a brief media survey and checked out debates on Hansard on line.  This is a searchable facility and a fantastic resource for any similiar political  geeks out there.

You can find this link here: Hansard

The Conservative government offer most fertile soil for this analysis & much of their approach is easily satirised as it has been by the Tory Jesus at the head of this piece.

More than one Tory MP have adduced a supply and demand theory of foodbank useage. This is a misunderstanding of the standard protocol of using “referral agents” and is exemplified by Lord Freud. ¬†His famous contribution to the debate ¬†was this reply:image

Norman Tebbit also expressed a similar view though he did row back from this as I found after some further research. For the purpose of this blog I include it here. It is illustrative of a particular mindset:

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Regrettably I can’t locate an anthropologist link that talked about how asymmetrical giving is commonly rejected by societal norms and ,contrary to the scrounger narrative, there are massive cultural barriers to accepting charity. ¬†They don’t teach this at Eton.

I move on to one of the more desperate explanations for food banks.  One of the many contributions that signalled the death knell of satire

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Now we move into the next desperate attempt to spin PR gold out of food insecurity. ¬†It is a good thing. Don’t look at the hunger. Look at the human goodness that has been awakened by the need of our fellow citizens. ¬†It’s not poverty you should focus on. Look at the humanity of those stepping into the breach :

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It is not uplifting. It is a consequence of a toxic narrative perpetrated by a distanciated elite who have zero experience of 99% of the people they govern.  We are taught to respect the kind of learning that produces these out of touch political overlords.  Actually I reject the cultural deficit model of working class (& now middle class ) experience. I am, however, increasingly of the view that a cultural deficit model of Etonians may be in order.

Do I forgive them. Indeed they know not what they do. Is ignorance an excuse in the eyes of the law? Can it be for an excuse our political elite?

 

 

 

TACTICAL VOTING? BENEFITS OF SINCERE VOTING.

TACTICAL VOTING? NO. SINCERE VOTING?  YES!

I decided to do a bit of research on tactical voting and discovered that there is a huge amount of research. One article tipped up at 51 pages and much of that was taken up with complex arithmetical formula.

I also discovered that there is a term called ‚Äúsincere voting‚ÄĚ and lots of research (complete with mathematical formulae) on that too.

What did I conclude? There are masses of people who seem to be deluded enough to cast a sincere vote for Lib Dem’s on the basis that they will stop Brexit. They won‚Äôt.

There are others who feel compelled to vote Lib Dem, on the basis that it will stop the Tories. It won’t¬†and if there is a choice it will be the Tories with whom they will enter into coalition.¬†I would advise you check their record and think again.

HOWEVER:

If Labour’s vote falls away, due to tactical voting, who will hear the real desperation for an end to a Labour that echoes rather than carves out a new path?  If the vote does not demonstrate the sincere support for a change of direction then there will be backlash. This may be our last chance to get a Labour party that works for all and does not consign the bottom 30% to electoral isolation.

Secondly voting tactically only really works if you have solid evidence of other people’s voting intentions. With the shock outcomes of TRUMP & BREXIT and even the last Conservative Win [i]  I would say we are not on terra firma.  The biased media and the polls are both misleading. These are invariably owned by the right wing and questions can be framed to skew the outcomes.

IN CONCLUSION:

It is my very FIRM view that it is both SINCERE & TACTICAL to vote for the Labour Party we are seeing now.  This might be our last chance.

p.s. I should add that I am very conscious that this post is written from an English perspective. It saddens me every day that we in the North of England are also plagued with the imposition of endless Tory Governments which has bedevilled Scotland.  If we could ever have got it together for a progressive alliance of SNP, Greens and Labour I would have been content with that.  I do not regard the Liberal Democrats as progressive elements of our electoral system.

[i] #TORYELECTIONFRAUD NOT WITHSTANDNG.

Press release 9/1/2017

Excellent blog on the threat facing University Staff and Students and the entire future of Higher Education in the UK. First they came for the Teachers, the Doctors, the Lawyers. Who else?

The Convention for Higher Education

Students and staff speak out as the Lords prepare to challenge Jo Johnson over his Higher Education and Research Bill

Universities return to teaching this week, but lecturers, students and researchers face an uncertain future. The Government is pushing ahead with its Higher Education and Research Bill, currently in the House of Lords. A cross-bench alliance of Lords are organising a major revolt over the bill.

What is going on? Why does this matter?

Professor John Holmwood, a sociologist at the University of Nottingham who set up the Campaign for the Public University and is a founding member of the Convention for Higher Education, explained:

‚ÄúThe HE Bill is a deliberate attempt to remove all the checks and balances that protect university teaching standards ‚Äď and thus the quality of student degrees ‚Äď in the Higher Education sector.

“A student at a UK university knows that their degree programme…

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HOMELESSNESS : Fifty years on from Cathy Come Home

FeaturedHOMELESSNESS :  Fifty years on from Cathy Come Home

 

I walk home through Bradford. A ten minute walk to the train station. Here are just a few stories from the people I meet. It is by no means exhaustive. By the time I reach the train station I have nothing left to give. ¬†This does not reflect well on me. I just don’t have any more resources (emotional or financial) to make much of a difference. ¬†This is one street.

In a week in which a man in his thirties froze to death on the streets of Birmingham. I did a quick search on Homeless deaths due to the cold. It turned up many results and reflects a global disregard for our fellow citizens.  Do a quick search it is instructive but utterly heartbreaking.

But let us just start with the local.

Meeting obligations whilst homeless:  Sanctions.

Marek. He was a chef. He emigrated here. He speaks three languages. One of them is Russian. He was orphaned at 18 and was ostracised as a Russian speaker in his country.  Lost his home due to financial troubles . Very soon lost his job due to struggling to keep up with his obligations. I have not seen him for a while and hope this is a good sign. Fear it is not.

Joanne.  I have not seen Joanne for about three months.  She has been sanctioned (again) for failing to meet her DWP appointments. Her life is chaotic. She did not even make her hospital appointments after her abnormal smear. She had a head injury and did not even go back to get her stitches taken out. She talks with great love about her grandparents who looked after her. They died in their sixties.

Last news I had about her was that she had been curfewed ( I kid you not). How do you curfew someone who is homeless ? Turns out ¬†it’s OK to curfew someone to a squat.

Joanne was a great support to me when dealing with my sisters terminal illness. She was also a support to me when it looked like I had the same. It was not one-sided. Whatever her demons her hugs kept me going. I miss her.

Life expectancy

Ian: He has a tumour which affected his speech. Guessing he is in his thirties.  He was waiting for tests to find out if it was cancerous. This was not enough to get him accommodation. He went from the street to his hospital appointments. One bright spot is that it is benign and he hopes for surgery in the new year. NHS permitting.

Neil: He is Ian’s friend. They look out for each other. Neil has sciatica. He is on the streets with a walking stick. ¬†This has been his life for six years. Neil has lost two friends recently and worries about who is next. Average life expectancy, if you live on the streets, is 46.

Homelessness Fit For Heroes

The veteran. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was discharged from the army  with a fairly paltry sum. He suffers  from PTSD. He ran through his money quickly. Could not hold down a job. Turned to gambling. Lost everything. Veterans are disproportionately represented in the homeless community. Homelessness Fit For Heroes. Not a great slogan for recruitment but an honest  assessment of what you might face.

Can we do better?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the people I meet.  Note this is one street. I repeat . One street.  Furthermore this is only rough sleepers. There are many more whose homeless status is masked because they are sofa surfing or in temporary accommodation.

To simply characterise this as a consequence of the rise of feckless behaviour is a lazy, toxic and cruel distortion of reality. (Though no doubt this affords some comfort to the architects of the failed housing policy).

 What Finland did.

It was recognised that in order to resolve street homelessness a paradigm shift was required. Finland brought in the concept of Housing First. Nobody can be expected to resolve any issues whilst dealing with the daily challenges of being homeless. Get people a home first. Then tackle the “why”. Result. Rough sleeping all but eradicated.

Cathy is still without a home. 50 years on!

NHS : SAFE IN WHO’S HANDS?

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The death knell for our NHS is sounding and action needs to be taken before it is too late. ¬†In the 1980’s we had constant media coverage of the consequences of a cash strapped NHS which helped rein in the worst excesses of Tory cuts. Margaret Thatcher backed off. We need to ensure we stop the next onslaught in its tracks.

Tactics deployed rarely amount to a public pronouncement of intent.  The government lacks the mandate for full frontal assault, even from conservative voters, so is not attempted. Instead the acronym laden, shape shifting, assault is hard to follow, it is a world of smoke and mirrors. Nevertheless it is happening. Right now.

American style health insurance companies are circling.

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Standard practice to move to privatisation is to squeeze funding, demoralise staff, engineer a degraded service and then shift the blame to the service. This is the current tactic.

On funding. It is estimated that , to keep pace with our demographic challenges, we need between 4 -5% increased allocation annually. Since 2008 the NHS has been allocated 0.9%. (David Wrigley). This is the defund bit. Danes, Swedes, French and Germans all spend more.

The demoralisation of staff takes the form of capped pay and, for Junior doctors, the eventual imposition of a contract that triggered 98% support for strike action. This was unprecedented  and yet media coverage, of the 98% , was decidedly muted.  In addition staffing levels see a ratio of 2.8 doctors per 1000 people , compared to a EU average of 3.4 , with 4 per 1000 provided in Germany.  Unsurprisingly stress has sky rocketed seeing early retirement rates peaking and junior doctors moving abroad. Available beds are  reduced.

Factor in the decimation of social care with 40% cuts to Local Authority. No wonder the service is creaking under the strain.

The cuts are forcing hospital trusts to think the unthinkable. The closure of hospitals is proposed amidst arguments that concentrating services is necessary.   I suspect there is merit in some specialisation but this is being used to remove necessary, and accessible, services which need to be proximate to the people they serve.

As Harry Smith ¬†( Harry’s Last Stand) expressed it:

“Now, a nation that once had the courage to refigure society, to create the NHS and the modern welfare state, elects governments that are in lock-step with big business whose overriding pursuit is profit for the few at the expense of the many”.

We are already hearing talk of health insurance, moves to co-payment ¬†and more procedures being defined as “of limited clinical value”. ¬†This could be cataracts or hip replacements. Who will access these in the future? Those who can pay?

Simon Stevens is the head of NHS England. Check out his background. Does he really embrace the ethos of the NHS or is he fatally compromised?

This is what Sustainable Transformation Plans are about. Better known as Slash, Trash & Privatisation.  The only way they can prosecute these plans, in the teeth of public opposition, is by sleight of hand. Smoke & Mirrors to open up the NHS to private health insurance companies.

It’s not over yet.

4th March 2017. March in defence of the NHS. We need to scare the government off. Be there. It’s in London there will be coaches. Keep an eye out.

I am indebted to Keep our NHS public (Leeds) for its conference on campaigning with the excellent speakers : John Lister and David Wrigley. ¬†I was out campaigning today for #careforournhs. I took my copy of NHS for Sale with me. Full of sticky notes for things I wanted to get across. Until it’s you. Until it’s yours. You will not “know” but empathy is not dead. You good people can imagine.

The time for solidarity is now. With our doctors, nurses, practitioners of all descriptions.

Also those people who NEED this: Free at the point of NEED

 

 

DEATH OF A LABOUR VOTER

I have voted for Labour all my life. (Loyalty)

In 2015 when I was canvassed I surprised myself , and the poor labour foot soldier, by the vehemence of my proclamation that this was the last time they could take my vote for granted. I was tired of voting with a peg on my nose. ¬†I rattled off a litany of complaints about the lacklustre, timid, campaigns of recent times. ¬†We were living under the most toxic government of my lifetime but seemed cognitively captured by the language of “austerity” and “difficult choices”. ¬†Rather than leading and shaping opinion we were assuming we had to constantly echo the language of the Tories by constantly referencing “hard working” . To me this carries with it the implication that we were overrun with lazy and feckless scroungers as so many natural Labour voters are villifed ¬†by the Tory party. ¬†Workers versus shirkers had entered the lexicon of the party of the working class! We had accepted the marketisation of education and the NHS, extended PFI, and been relaxed about growing inequality. Where was Labour?

I was not surprised when we lost. If I was struggling how many more voters were we alienating?

So  I decided I could not vote Labour again. 

I was out. I had bought into the myth that we had to appeal to Tory voters, in the south of England, to get power, one too many times.  It had not worked. Now I was faced with a party I no longer recognised. It looked as though Labour had finally left me,  and I no longer had a political home.  Then, by chance, I found out about a rally in Bradford with a little known MP who had been allowed onto the ballot for the Labour Leadership. I was running late so needed a taxi. There was a massive queue so I was sure I would not make it. This was a queue with a difference though. All were there for the same reason so I shared a taxi with a father and his 18 year old daughter. I was late but that was ok because the turnout was so huge that the venue had to be moved outside, to accommodate the numbers. I  listened to the speeches and, for the first time in years, I  could see the point of voting Labour, not just to stop the Tories, but as a positive choice. This was not just about Corbyn but the other speakers and the energy and reaction from the crowd. Not one man. A collective roar from the disenfranchised.

Three days later. ¬†Dead people can’t vote.¬†

On the Monday I was diagnosed with three brain tumours.¬† (Now Jeremy gets blamed for a lot of things but, trust me, that is not where I am goingūüėÜūüėČ). ¬†My sister got the same diagnosis in October 2013. They were secondary brain metastasis. She died on Boxing Day 2014. I fully expected¬†this would be my path. ¬†So I had to get down to business. My sons needed a better future. It takes a village to raise a child, they say, it also takes a decent politics. This was my aim. To leave my boys in a better world.

I spent a summer of tests in our wonderful NHS. I took the book NHS for sale (Davis, Wrigley et al) with me to all my appointments and had some fantastic conversations with the NHS staff who were the embodiment of all that I hold dear about the NHS. My passion and commitment to these Labour values carried me through. I expected my time to be limited so no way was I having the ignominy and shame of dying with only 4 Twitter followersūüėČ. As I was on steroids and hardly sleeping (every cloud) I followed the defeat of Stephen Harper in the Canadian elections and reawakened my dormant activist. I tweeted obsessively.

I attended rallies in Manchester , got involved in political Facebook groups. Talked politics during my lumbar puncture and marched for junior doctors.  On the morning of the Labour leadership election I was too tense so went to a Refugees welcome march in Leeds. Jeremy Corbyn won.  We won. A week later I got the news that I did not have brain tumours or cancer.  Tumours now lesions. I was out of the darkest of woods.

So what does an entryist look like?

I joined labour. I got active and pounded the streets leafleting and campaigning. I met many good people thirsty for change. Also those that had been the bedrock of the local party and ,though kind and welcoming, inevitably they had some residual concern about who we were. Just for the record I am not a rabid, foaming at the mouth extremist. I am not secretly channelling Derek Hatton and the only thing I know about Trotsky is a line in a Stranglers song.  I would also add that it is a perfectly valid lament ,from longstanding members, that if we had turned up earlier we may have made a difference. I for one accept the validity of that criticism.

So here we are again

Best to gloss over the last year? I joined labour. Attended branch and constituency meetings. Met some great people. I am in it for the long haul. I feel full of energy and hope. There are massive challenges that face us and they are not the battles of the 1980’s. ¬†The world is not as it was in 1997. PLP need to really see who we are and accept some humility for two lost elections. We re/joiners also need to accept some responsibility and work with, and for, people that loyally stayed.

So tell you what. You show me your loyalty and I will show you mine! ūüėČūüėČ Deal?