Saturday, 24 December 2011

End of war fought for US power

So, the Yanks are going home. Apart from the thousands of their servicemen and women whose life-blood they are leaving in the sands of Iraq. And the tens of thousands too maimed or otherwise damaged to make it back to home and hearth. And minus the trillions of dollars in treasure they have expended on destroying an Arab country (which may have lost a million souls and seen three millions off into exile), fanning the flames of fanaticism, and unleashing a wave of sectarianism throughout the Muslim world.

Nice work, but hardly "Mission Accomplished" as the melancholy valediction delivered by President Obama at Fort Bragg this week made clear to the discerning. The more he talked about what he once called the "dumb war" the more obvious it was that his was the task of holding the dipped banner of defeat. And the crew of thick-necked servicemen straight out of central casting roaring their approval at his description of their success could not quite drown out the sound of the Last Post. This is the death knell of American empire. Like Ozymandius history, which hasn’t ended after all, will invite us to gaze upon its ruined works and tremble. But instead we will rejoice, rejoice. For the Project for the New American Century it will be never glad confident morning again.

The war which was waged, yes for oil and yes also for Israel, was waged above all to terrify the world (especially China) with American power. It turned into the largest boomerang in history. For what has been demonstrated instead are the limits of near bankrupt American power. Far from being cowed, America’s adversaries and its enemies have been emboldened. With shock and awe the empire soon dominated the skies over Iraq to be sure. But they never controlled a single street in the country from the day they invaded until this day of retreat. One street alone, Haifa Street in Baghdad became the graveyard of scores, maybe hundreds of Americans. Fortresses like Fallujah entered history alongside Stalingrad as symbols of the unvanquishable power of popular resistance to foreign invasion. Crimes like Abu Ghraib prison where Iraqis were stripped naked and humiliated forced to perform indecent acts upon each other and videotaped doing so for the entertainment of their torturers in the barracks afterwards entered the lexicon of the barbarism of those who invade others, flying the colours of their "civilising" mission.

As Chairman Mao once said; "sometimes the enemy struggles mightily to lift a huge stone; only to drop it on its own foot". In an America where a third of the population according to the Census Bureau are living in poverty or terrifyingly near it and where imperial hubris met its nemesis on Haifa Street, China now knows it has nothing to fear from this paper tiger.

Almost nobody in Britain or America any longer believes a word their politicians say. This profound change is not wholly the result of the Iraq War, but the war and the militarised mendacity which paved the way to it was, when it moved into top gear. In America this malaise has fuelled both the Tea Party phenomenon and the Occupy movement alike. And from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf the plates are moving still...

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Working class are paying for the war budget

Over the last year public sector workers, pensioners and students as well as other sections of the working class have been identified as those who must bear the brunt of the austerity measures. It is us who will pay for the chaos created by the insane and uncontrollable banking system.

EMAs removed, student fees increased, wage freezes, cuts in the welfare supports and the change in the indexation of pensions and benefits from RPI to CPI have, together with the huge increases in unemployment, ensured that all know that the government priorities are to protect their class and squeeze the rest.

The increasing impoverishment of the old, the poor, the sick and the young has developed with a stark rapidity. No democratic mandate. No debate about options. Just a list of all that they can do to suck any margins from those who have so little.

Yet meanwhile the war budgets are sacrosanct. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2001/2 announced the open budget for the war - the government would spend whatever was required for the military budget, again with no debate. While pensioners are finding that winter fuel payments are slashed, the expenditure on drones, weapons, Humvees and the forces continues.

Whilst the state retirement pension is still substantially below the poverty line, with £102 per week and over 2.5M living in poverty today (only Cyprus, Latvia and Estonia in Europe paying lower pensions) the war budgets can swell if NATO decides to institute a no fly zone in Libya. No questions asked.

While the top earners in the country – the top 0.1% - take over 6.5% of GNP and the average pay of the 350 FTSE directors increased their earnings by 73% at a time when share prices fell by 5% and the directors of the large companies take pensions averaging £175000 pa there is no drive to tax the wealthy as part of the anti austerity drive. As the rich get richer and the poor poorer, in Britain and the US, war budgets are untouched. Britain has been spending around £7 billion pa on Afghanistan and Libya and £2 billion annually on the “upkeep” of Trident.

Each year the US Congress pours $120 billion + into the Afghanistan operation. This constitutes over $100 million per day for military purposes and other NATO countries put in $7 million a day for non military aid. Britain spends over £6 billion each year on the military operations.

Since October 10th 2001 the US, UK and others has been conducting a constant war against the Taliban and others. But they also claim that development and reconstruction are also integral to their anti-insurgency operations. Today there are still over 200 000 “coalition forces” together with 250000 contractors, many more commonly known as mercenaries, but the claim is that the troops will leave in 2014. (If the US wants to maintain their presence and if the Turkmenistan – Afghanistan - Pakistan – Indian pipeline is to start in 2012 and be completed by 2014 this leaving date may be postponed).

Given the injection of inconceivable sums of money what is the result after 10 years?
War and occupation! This means large numbers of deaths, injuries and traumas amongst the Afghan population. Civilians slaughtered, “insurgents” killed; and a constant bloody toll of occupation troops which is now hardly mentioned in the western media. A society torn apart; corruption, violence, torture, instability, suicide bombings in the “safe” areas of Kabul, drone attacks on areas under insurgent control and through the Pakistan / Afghanistan border areas, and widespread opposition to the puppet Karzai government.

The Red Cross reports that Afghanistan is a more dangerous country than it has been over the last 30 years, as described by Afghan activist Malalai Joya:

"Ten years ago the US and NATO invaded my country under the fake banners of women’s rights, human rights and democracy. But after a decade Afghanistan still remains the most uncivil, most corrupt, and most war torn country in the world. The consequences of this so called war on terror have only been more bloodshed, crimes, barbarism, human rights and women’s rights violations which has doubled the miseries and sorrows of our people". Monthly Review Oct 7th 2011

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The year of meltdown

The old Europe is in tatters. The debt crisis afflicting the Eurozone is a crisis of modelling society on the needs of the bankers and the extremely wealthy. It is the crisis of neo-liberal market economics that allows the rich to borrow huge sums, gamble on international markets and then demand that the rest of us bail them out when it goes wrong. When they profit, taxes are not paid and the money is moved abroad. Either way, the rest of us lose.

In Britain, millionaires and their lackeys hold sway. Cameron and Osborne try to convince us that ‘we are in it together’ and we lived beyond its means. In reality, the fabulously wealthy 1% does not pay its bills. Austerity has created a new recession, emptying purses and destroying jobs just when we needed more. Service cuts, privatization of the National Health Service and benefit cuts have reduced buying power still further so Britain is entering a destructive cycle. Cuts in housing benefit from January will increase homelessness dramatically as private rents climb. The poorest are squeezed to breaking point. The only escape is for those creating the crisis – bankers and the rich that do not pay their taxes. In Europe and Britain, it is the year of meltdown for market economics.

As things grow more desperate, the US, British and Israeli governments threaten war against Syria and Iran. They have learned nothing from ten years of chaos in Afghanistan and Iraq, where occupation has failed and ruined the countries. Libya is repeating the turmoil after NATO’s ‘humanitarian intervention’ cost over 50,000 civilian lives and destroyed entire cities.
In Italy and Greece, democracy is being sacrificed to unelected bankers, installed to run the governments. In Britain, Tories try to deflect blame by claiming the new recession is Europe’s fault when it is about their obsession with cutting services and helping rich mates. For all pretence at being ‘progressive’, the Liberal Democrats in government are the Bullingdon Boys Fan Club without a squeak of opposition. Cameron whips up Islamophobia and May makes false claims about immigrants while the Liberal Democrats pretend they did not put them in government.
A world cries for change so what is the Labour leadership’s response? Timidity. On every issue, Labour is hamstrung by its government record and the legacy of ‘Blair Thought’ still infecting it. The Tories cut, Labour says ‘yes, but a little less’; Tories cry for war, Labour says ‘yes, but a little less’; Tories blame Muslims, Labour says ‘yes, but a little more’! Ed Miliband has made efforts to change Labour to opposition but it’s far too little and too quiet. The result is a massive build-up of frustration and anger in society that finds few that speak for it.
The global Occupy movement has succeeded in bringing deteriorating living standards and growing inequality to the media and politicians. The Respect Party supports this breaking open of debate about the horrific effect of market policies. On 30 November, a huge public sector strike will involve up to 3 million workers who want to protect their pension provision. It can break open the debate on the ConDem assault on living standards. It is wrong to increase retirement age simply so that more die before they can collect pensions. It is wrong to say public sector pensions should be like private sector pensions when these are raided by companies. Private sector pensions need improvement to the level of public sector pensions. The bankers that lost billions (gambling with pension funds) got huge pensions even when sacked. This attack creates more misery and inequality. We support this strike action.
Construction workers are balloting for strike action and campaigning against a 35% wage cut for electricians from December. Respect supports them as they fight for a future. We note that Balfour Beatty profits rose by 4% in the first half of 2011. More inequality!
The failure of the major parties to provide any voice for change or even effective criticism of the current disastrous policies is the biggest feature of our time. We desperately need progressive voices to reach large numbers of people with an alternative to recession, war and racism. The Respect Party can be one such voice. Respect has shown a talent for high impact campaigning across a number of issues including peace, resistance to Islamophobia, council housing and supporting Palestine. We retain a number of high profile figures committed to our ideas.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Immigration Good or Bad for Economy

IMMIGRATION is a sensitive subject at the best of times, and this is not one of them. The economic crisis has destroyed millions of jobs in rich countries, making their governments especially touchy about the impact of immigration on the demand for indigenous labour.

Such concerns are illogical, because immigration is counter-cyclical. Recession in rich countries has discouraged some would-be incomers from trying their luck. America, for instance, has seen a sharp decline in Mexicans trying to cross its southern border. Immigration to Europe has slowed. Some studies also suggest that increased inflows of migrants are a leading indicator of a pickup in growth.

Yet governments are often reluctant to leave migration flows to the labour market. In recessions, they tend to take steps to discourage new migrants and even get rid of existing ones. David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, has imposed a “migration cap” for those from outside the EU.

Concerns about immigration are understandable, especially at a time when jobs are in such short supply. Polling in both Europe and America suggests that a majority of locals think immigrants do more harm than good and damage locals’ chances in the job market. Evidence that immigration hurts indigenous workers is, however, weak. In seasonal work and construction, cheap foreign labour can depress wages and make it harder for the low-skilled to find work, but the flexibility and willingness of new workers can also boost productivity and encourage innovation

Strains on public services can sorely test the patience of locals, especially when budget cuts are making it hard to maintain such services. In Britain, for instance, a contingency fund to help cash-strapped local authorities facing pressure on public services has been scrapped. Yet over time immigrants more than repay the extra short-term burden they impose on education, health and other budgets.

Politicians often say that they want a sensible debate about immigration; but too often they pander to voters’ fears of immigrants rather than attempting to allay them. They should be particularly wary of doing so now. There is growing competition for their skills elsewhere (read this article). Asia is fast becoming the new magnet for migrants.

China, which used to be closed to immigrant labour, is now handing out residency permits to professionals, academics and entrepreneurs. In 2009 Shanghai recorded 100,000 foreigners living there. A similar number have settled in the southern port of Guangzhou, drawn from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. South Korea has also witnessed a rise in incomers since 2007 and is particularly keen to attract American-educated graduates.

Immigration is, on the whole, good for economies; and right now, rich countries can do with all the economic help they can get. Rather than sending immigrants home, with their skills, energy, ideas and willingness to work, governments should be encouraging them to come. If they don’t, governments elsewhere will.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Protests against state of the Economy

From New York to London, protesters have taken to the streets. Whether they are inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York or by the indignados in Madrid, they burn with dissatisfaction about the state of the economy, about the unfair way that the poor are paying for the sins of rich bankers, and in some cases about capitalism itself.

In the past it was easy for Western politicians and economic liberals to dismiss such outbursts of fury as a misguided fringe. In Seattle, for instance, the last big protests (against the World Trade Organization, in 1999) looked mindless. If they had a goal, it was selfish—an attempt to impoverish the emerging world through protectionism. This time too, some things are familiar: the odd bit of violence, a lot of incoherent ranting and plenty of inconsistency (read this article). The protesters have different aims in different countries. Higher taxes for the rich and a loathing of financiers is the closest thing to a common denominator, though in America polls show that popular rage against government eclipses that against Wall Street.

Yet, even if the protests are small and muddled, it is dangerous to dismiss the broader rage that exists across the West. There are legitimate deep-seated grievances. Young people—and not just those on the streets—are likely to face higher taxes, less generous benefits and longer working lives than their parents. More recently, houses are expensive, credit hard to get and jobs scarce—not just in old manufacturing industries but in the ritzier services that attract increasingly debt-laden graduates. In America 17.1% of those below 25 are out of work. Across the European Union, youth unemployment averages 20.9%. In Spain it is a staggering 46.2%. Only in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria is the rate in single digits.

It is not just the young who feel the squeeze. The middle-aged face falling real wages and diminished pension rights. And the elderly are seeing inflation eat away the value of their savings; in Britain prices are rising by 5.2% but bank deposits yield less than 1%. In the meantime, bankers are back to huge bonuses.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Turning a blind eye

The secret life of the UK's biggest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange has been uncovered today revealing that 98 out of 100 are using tax havens. ActionAid's research show for the first time just how deeply embedded this practice is for nearly all of Britain's top multinationals.

 Corporate tax avoidance, which is one of the main reasons companies use tax havens, is having a massive impact on rich and poor countries alike. Developing countries currently lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.

ActionAid's report Addicted to tax havens shows banks are doing a brisk business via tax havens, despite the ongoing repercussions of a global financial crisis they helped to create. The banking and financial sector are by far the heaviest users with the ‘big four' High Street names HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Group and RBS notching up 1,649 tax haven companies.

Chris Jordan, ActionAid's tax justice expert said: "ActionAid's research showing the use of tax havens by Britain's biggest companies raises serious questions they need to answer.

"Tax havens have a damaging impact on the UK exchequer, the stability of the international financial system, and vitally on the ability of developing countries to raise tax revenues which would lift them out of poverty and make them less dependent on aid."

ActionAid's key findings:

•98 multinationals declared tax haven companies. The banking sector makes heaviest use of tax havens, with a total of 1,649 tax haven companies between the ‘big four' banks. They are by far the biggest users of the Cayman Islands, where Barclays alone has 174 companies.

•The biggest tax haven user overall is the advertising company WPP, which has 611 tax haven companies.

•A quarter of the 34,216 companies set up by FTSE 100 multinationals are located in tax havens.There are over 600 FTSE 100 companies in Jersey (more than in the whole of China), 400 in the Cayman Islands and 300 in Luxembourg - all tiny tax havens.

•Only two little-known companies Fresnillo and Hargreaves Landsdown, don't use tax havens

 The use of tax havens facilitates tax avoidance and evasion, which undermines the revenue bases of both developing and developed countries. Additional revenues are urgently needed both to invest in the fight against poverty and to tackle the deficits incurred during the financial crisis in rich countries.

 Chris Jordan continued: "When multinationals use tax havens to avoid paying their fair share, ordinary people in both poor and rich countries are left to pick up the bill. Spending on doctors, nurses and other essential services gets cut for those who need it most.

 "Tax havens might provide the lure of financial secrecy and low tax rates for big companies, but at a time when all countries are desperate for revenues, the UK government can't afford to turn a blind eye."
 
ActionAid is calling on the government to urgently rethink its current proposals to relax UK anti tax haven rules. The Treasury itself estimates these changes will result in an £840 million tax break for multinational companies that use tax havens.

 With both developing and developed countries bearing the brunt of debilitating losses, ActionAid says the UK must ensure that G20 takes the decisive action it promised on tax havens at the London summit in 2009.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The World vs Wall Street‏

Thousands of Americans have non-violently occupied Wall St -- an epicentre of global financial power and corruption. They are the latest ray of light in a new movement for social justice that is spreading like wildfire from Madrid to Jerusalem to 146 other cities and counting, but they need our help to succeed.

As working families pay the bill for a financial crisis caused by corrupt elites, the protesters are calling for real democracy, social justice and anti-corruption. But they are under severe pressure from authorities, and some media are dismissing them as fringe groups. If millions of us from across the world stand with them, we'll boost their resolve and show the media and leaders that the protests are part of a massive mainstream movement for change.

This year could be our century's 1968, but to succeed it must be a movement of all citizens, from every walk of life. Click to join the call for real democracy -- a giant live counter of every one of us who signs the petition will be erected in the centre of the occupation in New York, and live webcasted on the petition page:

The worldwide wave of protest is the latest chapter in this year's story of global people power. In Egypt, people took over Tahrir Square and toppled their dictator. In India, one man's fast brought millions onto the streets and the government to its knees -- winning real action to end corruption. For months, Greek citizens relentlessly protested unfair cuts to public spending. In Spain, thousands of "indignados" defied a ban on pre-election demonstrations and mounted a protest camp in Sol square to speak out against political corruption and the government's handling of the economic crisis. And this summer across Israel, people have built "tent cities" to protest against the rising costs of housing and for social justice.

These national threads are connected by a global narrative of determination to end the collusion of corrupt elites and politicians -- who have in many countries helped cause a damaging financial crisis and now want working families to pay the bill. The mass movement that is responding can not only ensure that the burden of recession doesn't fall on the most vulnerable, it can also help right the balance of power between democracy and corruption. Click to stand with the movement:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/the_world_vs_wall_st/?vl

In every uprising, from Cairo to New York, the call for an accountable government that serves the people is clear, and our global community has backed that people power across the world wherever it has broken out. The time of politicians in the pocket of the corrupt few is ending, and in its place we are building real democracies, of, by, and for people.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Poor students are still being left out


A new government report shows that nearly one in four universities failed to meet their own targets to recruit more poor students last year. In total, 44 institutions, including 23 universities, five of which are elite universities, did not meet their own goals in 2009/10. The figures are included in the Office for Fair Access’s (OFFA) fourth monitoring report, which looks at how much money universities and colleges are spending, and how well they are doing at attracting and supporting candidates from poorer backgrounds. It shows that overall, English universities and colleges received £1.57 billion in additional fee income in 2009/10. This is additional fee income gained from tuition fees charged above the basic rate of £1,285. The maximum fee in 2009/10 was £3,225.

OFFA’s report shows that a quarter of this extra income (25.1%) – £394.7 million – was spent on recruiting and supporting poorer candidates, with £355.7 million going on bursaries and scholarships. In return for charging above the basic fee rate, institutions must submit access agreements to OFFA setting out how they plan to help poorer students. This includes setting their own targets on increasing the numbers of applicants or entrants from poor or under-represented groups. The report raises concerns that while 77% of institutions have either met or exceeded all or most of their targets, 23% (44 in total) are falling short.

OFFA director of fair access Sir Martin Harris said: “The large majority of universities and colleges are also meeting their statistical targets. Where they are not doing so, I am concerned to understand the reasons why. “Over the coming months, we will therefore be discussing performance with a range of institutions, including those that have reported the least progress.”

The report shows that more students are receiving financial support, but the average bursary awarded is smaller. Three-quarters (75%) of money spent on bursaries and scholarships in 2009/10 went to students from the poorest backgrounds, helping more than 271,000 youngsters on full state support. On average, these students receive a bursary of £935 a year, down from £942 in 2008/09 and £1,019 in 2007/08.

Sir Martin said institutions can decide to give funding to “more or less everybody” or decide it is only for students on the very lowest incomes. “What we’ve tried to do is encourage universities to focus money more on students that are genuinely disadvantaged,” he said. Smaller average bursaries are “going in the wrong direction”, Sir Martin suggested. “It is better to focus more on students whose income level is particularly low.” He added that the latest report is for 2009/10 and universities are likely to be encouraged to focus on giving large sums to smaller numbers of very disadvantaged students in the future.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Induction for Overseas Doctors

News that the General Medical Council (GMC) is planning an induction programme for doctors who are new to the UK has been welcomed by healthcare employers.
In its first "State of medical education and practice" report, the GMC reveals that approximately 12,000 doctors from around the world start work in the UK for the first time every year. Of the 239,270 doctors that were on the medical register last year, just over 150,000 qualified in the UK. A further 23,000 trained initially in the European Economic Area (EEA) and 66,000 completed their medical undergraduate education overseas.
But, while overseas doctors have helped employers to address skills shortages, there have been some examples of language difficulties, and differences in expectations of UK medical ethics and culture compared with overseas. Language was one of the difficulties cited in the case of Dr Daniel Ubani, an out-of-hours doctor from Germany, who was found guilty of gross negligence and manslaughter after the death of a patient he injected with 10 times the recommended maximum dose of diamorphine in 2008

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Hands off Our Pension

The country's three largest trade unions — Unite, Unison, and the GMB — joined the Fire Brigades Union in announcing they will ballot their members over a coordinated programme of industrial action in protest at proposed changes to pensions.

It could see hundreds of thousands of Scottish workers, and millions across the UK, downing tools in November.

The mass walkout has been pencilled in for November on the date Chancellor George Osborne is expected to give his pre-Budget report.

Mike Arnott, secretary of the Dundee Trade Union Congress, said there is widespread anger over plans to increase workers' pension contributions.

"If this is well coordinated then it will have a massive impact," he said. "There will be more people coming out than in the General Strike 85 years ago. There is a huge amount of anger."

Mr Arnott, a member of the GMB, added: "We are not one of the most radical unions so when they get annoyed it indicates there will be a massive response."

He added that he disagreed with Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said the unions should not threaten industrial action while negotiations over the proposed changes to pensions are continuing.

"We have to kick the negotiations on by taking some action. People are talking about paying another 3.2% into our pensions but it's not going into the pot — the money will go to the government and we'll get less in our pension. It is quite horrendous."

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Riots and condemnation without context

very eloquently written by John Wight

Just as the explosion of social unrest that has engulfed working class communities all over London are a predictable outcome to the enormous economic and social pressure said communities have been under as the Tory-led coalition government doles out its punishment to the poor and the working class in response to an economic recession not of their making, and with the tension that has long existed between the alienated youth of our inner cities and the police, so has been the response by the political class and mainstream commentators.

Condemnation without context has been the stock in trade of those sitting at the apex of society, as they seek to explain away the unrest as nothing more than “wanton acts of criminality” or the actions of “mindless thugs”.

While this may be the accepted truth according to the norms of polite society, it fails utterly to get at the root causes. But no one should be under any illusion that this failure is the product of ignorance. On the contrary it is exactly as intended. Assorted right wing commentators and politicians clearly have a vested interest in refusing to admit their own culpability in shaping a society more unequal than at any time since Charles Dickens was in his pomp as a searing critic of Victorian barbarism in the treatment of the nation’s poor and working class over a century past.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

In the name of NHS Reforms

The Government is planning huge changes in the NHS.  In the past few weeks it’s had to amend some of its proposals, because of opposition from NHS workers, the trade unions, the Labour Party, and the general public. But most of what the Government wanted to do, it’s still doing. The NHS is in grave danger.

STRATEGIC HEALTH AUTHORITIES AND PRIMARY CARE TRUSTS TO BE REPLACED BY GP GROUPS

The Government wants to scrap SHAs and PCTs by April 2013. In fact SHAs and PCTs have already started restructuring, downsizing, and making staff redundant.

Instead of having SHAs and PCTs to coordinate local NHS services, the Government wants to hand over the health budget to groups of GPs. These groups were originally going to be called “GP consortia”. Now the name has changed to “clinical commissioning groups”. The groups will have to have a token doctor and nurse on their board, but they’ll still be GP-run. Other parts of the NHS workforce are unlikely to get a look in.

These GP groups would have to buy the services they want direct from providers, which is a bad idea. GPs would be put in an awkward position, because they’d control the purse-strings. GPs would have more opportunities to make money off the NHS. They may even be allowed to charge patients for services currently provided free on the NHS.

NHS TRUSTS TO BECOME FOUNDATION TRUSTS

The Government says it “strongly expects that the majority of remaining NHS trusts will be authorised as Foundation Trusts by April 2014″. Foundation Trusts are semi-independent organisations. They have more ability to change staff terms and conditions. More Foundation Trusts means a worse deal for patients. The Government wants to allow Foundation Trusts to take in as many fee-paying patients as they like. NHS patients would be pushed to the back of the queue.

MORE PRIVATE COMPETITION

The Government originally said it wanted the healthcare regulator to “promote competition” in the NHS. Because of the public outcry, the Government changed its wording slightly. It now says it wants to “prevent anti-competitive behaviour”. That’s not a big difference! Hospitals would be fined for any collaboration which the regulator thinks is “anti-competitive”. The idea is to make it easier for the private sector to muscle in on NHS contracts.

The Government doesn’t want the NHS to be the “preferred provider” of healthcare any more. Instead, “any qualified provider” will be free to operate under the NHS brand. The Government is planning to push the “any qualified provider” initiative from April 2012. It’s essentially another way of opening up the NHS to more private competition. In case the competition gets too fierce, the Government is having to put in place measures to deal with hospitals that become insolvent.

The Tories and Lib Dems are running down the health service. The NHS faces a four-year budget freeze and £20bn of “efficiency savings”. This is despite the Government having pledged to increase NHS spending in real terms every year. Yet Tory Health Minister Andrew Lansley is willing to waste upwards of £3bn on implementing his “reforms”.


NHS staff are bearing the brunt. Pay for many NHS workers has been frozen. There is growing job insecurity as well as downward pressure on terms and conditions. Downbanding is a big problem. Because of the cuts and reorganisations, the ability of staff to deliver patient care is deteriorating. More treatments are being rationed and waiting times are up. And if the Government’s plans for the NHS go through, there will be plenty more trouble ahead.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Public sector workers strike

When hundreds of thousands of public sector workers go on strike, the government should take note. These are not the ‘militants’, the ‘extremists’ or the ‘bully boys’ that feature in the fantasies of the Tory media.

These are hard-working, mostly low paid, men and women who keep our vital public services going despite inadequate resources and ever worsening conditions. When these people, who are at the heart of our communities, feel they have no other choice but to walk out, we should all realise that there is a serious grievance that must be addressed.

What on earth does Labour leader Ed Miliband mean when he opposes the strikes by saying, “we are on the side of parents and children"? As if the hundreds of thousands of strikers are not themselves parents or users of the very same services that they work so hard to provide!

Public sector pensions are under attack from a government that values the work of the millionaire banker more than they value the work of a classroom teacher. Home care workers who do the most difficult jobs looking after vulnerable elderly and disabled people face massive cuts in their wages, and changes to their working conditions, that would make it impossible for many of them to survive.

First and foremost, this is an issue of justice. Low-paid public sector workers are not responsible for the economic crisis we are in. Yet they are the ones who will struggle to pay their mortgage, and put food on the table, while Tory bankers only struggle to think how to spend their obscene bonuses.

Yes, people will be inconvenienced by strikes. That is because the services these workers provide are so important to our society. But on this issue we really should be “all in it together”. Those men and women who take strike action this week are fighting for us all

Arrest of leading Palestinian activist

Protests have been called across the country in response to the arrest of leading Palestinian activist Sheik Raed Salah in London. He had been due to speak at a meeting in the House of Common this evening organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign attended by Labour MP's including, Jeremy Corbyn and Birmingham's Richard Burden.

A vigil is being held at 6.30pm today outside Waterstones in the city centre. Please email the Home Secretary and request a reconsideration of the deportation order to allow a court appeal. Call the Rt Hon Theresa May on 02072195206 or email at: mayt@parliament.uk

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Brian Haw Rest In Peace

Some sad news. After a long illness the peace campaigner Brian Haw has died. Brian was the instigator on June 2 2001 of the peace camp opposite parliament. He maintained the camp for 10 years, literally around the clock, in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Explaining his motivation, Brian said, 'the children of Iraq and other countries were every bit as valuable and worthy of love as my precious wife and children. I want to go back to my own kids and look them in the face again, knowing that I've done all I can to try and save the children of Iraq and other countries who are dying because of my government's unjust, amoral, fear - and money-driven policies'.

For his conscience and dedication, we are all in his debt. May he rest in peace.

Solidarity with Saudi women car drivers

The struggle for women's rights in Saudi Arabia put down an important marker on Friday when at least 29 women defied the country's de facto ban on driving.

The campaign has been inspired by Manal al-Sharif, a young mum and computer expert who has received international attention, and a week in jail, for posting a film of herself driving on YouTube.

Although women are not formally banned from driving, to all intensive purposes they are. Women who drive get harassed and arrested by the authorities. In 1990 50 Saudi women were sacked from their jobs and banned from foreign travel for organising a similar protest.

Saudi Arabia is a deeply reactionary country. Women are banned from voting and must get 'written permission from a male relative – even an underage son – to work, travel, seek treatment or study'.

Protests are banned and there is great fear about expressing even the most elementary of rights, especially if you are a women.

And yet... these handful of women are scaring the daylights of Saudi authorities fearful that any campaign for more equality could inspire calls for more widespread democratic reform.

They are right to be scared. As the Arab Spring highlights, once people who have been oppressed get a taste of freedom, who knows where things will end up…

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Dutch Muslims and Jews unite to oppose ban on religious slaughter

In a sign of growing religious intolerance in Holland, the Dutch parliament is set to introduce a law which will essentially ban kosher and halal slaughter. The proposals has united a coalition of animal rights and anti-Muslim groups.

The measure is being viewed as part and parcel of a European wide attack on multiculturalism: ‘Many Jews and Muslims see the ban as part of a growing European hostility to immigration and diversity. Geert Wilders the far-right Dutch politician, has called for the Netherlands to ban the burka after France curbed the public wearing of the Islamic face veil; politicians including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s David Cameron have proclaimed the failure of multiculturalism; and anti-immigration parties such as Finland’s True Finns have been increasingly successful at the polls’.

The Amsterdam Jewish-Moroccan Council has organised protests against the law with imams and rabbis marching together in opposition to it.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

CRISIS AT SOUTHERN CROSS

Jamie Buchan Chief Executive of Southern Cross recently told national media that "if the company does not reach agreement with its landlords and lenders the group is unlikely to be able to continue to trade."

So Southern Cross could go under at anytime since the rents it pays on the homes is £100m too high. If they do, the world of the 31,000 residents in their care will be turned upside down. To say nothing of worlds of the 44,000 staff and the residents' families.

The residents, their families and the staff in the 736 care homes all over UK are living in a state of massive uncertainty. No one should suffer this kind of worry, least of all the elderly and the vulnerable: those least able to defend and protect themselves.

Only the government and politicians have the power now to end this uncertainty. Only the politicians can answer the question who will look after the 31,000 elderly and vulnerable if Southern Cross goes under.

These care homes, run by Southern Cross, are not factories that are failing from lack of demand but are an essential part of every community which now face ruin due to the combination of privatisation and private equity. Everyone knows, moving the elderly and vulnerable is the worst thing that can happen to them and can lead to premature death.

Support the Connexions service

More than a million young people are unemployed. Yet the government is taking an axe to Connexions, a vital service that helps young people find work, education and training.

An early day motion has been tabled in parliament that calls on the government to “reverse its policy and instead to provide sufficient funding to the Careers and Connexions Service to help our young people plan and organise their futures”.

The Early Day Motion, and the names of the MP’s who have signed it, can be viewed here.

If your MP hasn’t signed it yet, please contact them and ask for their support. You can contact your MP directly, using this website: www.writetothem.com

University campuses are not 'hotbeds of radicalisation'

With the government set to release a revamped version of their counter radicalisation strategy, Prevent, I am expecting there to be new clamp downs on freedom of speech.

The 'mood music' for this has been created by right-wing think-tanks and commentators who have been creating the impression that our universities are virtual breeding grounds for violent extremism among Muslim students.

Well, not according to chief executive of Universities UK, Nicola Dandridge.

In an interview in the Daily Telegraph she upholds freedom of speech, dismisses claims that 'that because wild things are said at university that automatically equates to radicalisation”, and cites advice from the security forces that “that there is not necessarily a link that they can prove between open debate in universities and violent extremism subsequently.”

More here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Announcement of new Gaza aid flotilla marks anniversary of Mavi Marmara attack

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the Israeli massacre of nine Palestinian solidarity activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The Turkish ship was bringing humanitarian aid to the besieged population of Gaza.

Among those present were two friends of mine, Kevin Ovenden and Sarah Colborn.

The murders were a shocking blow to the international Palestinian solidarity movement, but it has since emerged unbowed and undeterred.

Turkish NGO's have announced plans for a new flotilla, comprising 15 ships and intending to bring 1500 human rights activists, politicians, artists, and journalists to Gaza this June.

There could be no better tribute to martyred Palestinian activists than to see the international solidarity movement they made the ultimate sacrifice for reemerging strengthened and unbowed.

Germany to go nuclear free

The German government has announced it intends to shut all its nuclear plants by 2022.

It intends to become a 'trail blazer' for renewable sources of energy.

At present nuclear energy provides 23% of Germany's total energy needs.

The change in policy comes against a background of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster and pressure created by a powerful anti-nuclear movement in Germany.

The move has been widely welcomed, though not by everyone.

The utility companies are threatening legal action and have warned the phasing out of Germany's reliance on nuclear power will lead to winter black-outs.

This has been dismissed by the German government, who are planning their own green new deal, with massive investment in more solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

At present Germany employs around 370,000 in the renewable energy sector. This is expected to increase significantly. As Chancellor Angela Merkal said:

"We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power - or not to start using it - how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies."

The counter argument is that whatever its dangers, the benefits of nuclear power outweighs them and help reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the warming the planet, causing floods, droughts and rising sea levels.

With more nuclear power plants planned in this country, we are led to believe that there is simply no alternative. There is a political consensus that nuclear power is intrinsic to meeting Britain's energy needs.

The issue has even divided stalwarts of the environmental movement, like George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas.

However, if an environmentally conscious country like Germany can decide to end its nuclear porgramme, and in a way that will create jobs and economic growth, isn't it time for policy makers here to start having a serious debate about our reliance on nuclear power, instead of just dismissing it?

Rafah crossing reopens today

One of the most dramatic consequences of the overthrow of the Mubarak regime has been the decision of the Egyptian government to reopen the Rafah crossing. This is an important step in the lifting of the siege of Gaza which has been in place since June 2007. You can read Israeli and British coverage here and here. The video is from the Iranian news channel, Press TV.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Libyan war costs £38 million per week

The cost of the war in Libya is over £38 million a week, has already has topped £100 million after just two months, and is set to hit £1 billion by September. More here.

Justice for Stephen Lawrence

After 18 long years, the family and friends of Stephen Lawrence can now hope that a new trial will uncover who was responsible for his murder.

In the face of a terrible personal tragedy, his family fought for justice. Their campaign exposed a disastrous police investigation, and revealed just how much racism had infected the criminal justice system. But, as Sabby Dhalu from One Society Many Cultures explains, real reform is still needed to root out racism:

“Today’s decision would not have been possible, if not for the commitment of the family of Stephen Lawrence, who have had to overcome tragedy, heartbreak and institutional racism, and who are still pursuing justice which should be a basic human right

“The Lawrence family have had to contend with the racism both from Stephen’s murderers and from a police and criminal justice system that failed to appropriately investigate Stephen’s murder and pursue his killers.

“11 years ago the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry was a watershed moment for the anti-racist movement in Britain. It highlighted the depth of institutional racism in Britain’s criminal justice system, including the way the racial murder of a Black person was not treated with the same seriousness as other murders.

“However 11 years on, many of the recommendations in the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report have not been implemented. The proposals were deemed necessary to reduce the inequalities of the criminal justice system, so should all be implemented.

“One Society Many Cultures calls on the government to take action to ensure the Stephen Lawrence report recommendations are carried out in full. We hope that today’s announcement of a new trial will lead to justice. Our thoughts are with the family of Stephen Lawrence. “

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Osama bin Laden mission agreed in secret 10 years ago by US and Pakistan

The deal was struck between Pervez Musharraf and George Bush in 2001 and renewed during the 'transition to democracy' – a six-month period from February 2008 when Musharraf was still president but a civilian government had been elected.

The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week's raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

George on bin Laden's death

"I despise Osama Bin Laden, the mediaeval obscurantist savage. The difference is I have always despised him, even when Britain and America were giving him weapons money diplomatic and political support."

 That speech which won me the parliamentary debater of the year award was given on the recall of the commons after 9/11. Younger readers may be unaware that the Osama Bin Laden killed yesterday was once a key member of the western coalition fighting the Russians in Afghanistan. In fact one of the Rambo movies carried a dedication at it’s end saluting the “freedom fighters” he recruited and led.

It turns out that he was living a surprisingly comfortable life in a million dollar home near Islamabad where yesterday he met his end. As he had lived, by the sword, so he perished and could have had no complaints at being gunned down by Americans having inspired the slaughter of so many of them.

But though rejoicing is inevitable as always we must be careful what we wish.

If as is reported Bin Laden hadn’t even a phone line or Internet connection in his palace it’s clear that he long ago ceased to have hands on control of the network which virally proliferated around the world in his name. That this fanatic movement will continue, perhaps revitalised by his killing, is surely obvious.

And of course the swamp of bitterness and hatred out of which he and his followers mutated and climbed becomes ever deeper and more bloody. A swamp sewn by the same western powers with whom he was once in league. A swamp watered by double standards and injustice. By blanket support for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people for over sixty years. By endless occupation and bombardment of Muslim countries by western forces. And by the propping up by us of virtually every dictator who rules in the Muslim world from one end to the other.

“If our problems could only be solved by zapping this bearded turbaned Mephistopholese we would be lucky indeed,” I told my parliamentary audience a decade ago.

Zapped he now is in an operation, as reported, of which Rambo would have been proud.

But when we leave the cinematic glow of the killing of public enemy number one we will find I suspect that many more are emerging from the swamp.

George Galloway condemns NATO's murder of innocent children in Libya

George Galloway this morning expressed his outrage at the NATO air attack which killed Gaddafi's youngest son, Saif Al Arab, and three of Gaddafi's grandchildren in a Tripoli suburb.

"This was a cold-blooded targeted attack on a residential house in the suburbs of Tripoli," said George Galloway who is campaigning in Glasgow for election to the Scottish Parliament. "It beggars belief that this was not a deliberate attempt to assassinate Gaddafi, in the full knowledge that innocent children would be killed in the process. This is a total breach of UN resolution 1973 which authorised action to protect civilians - not kill them.

"NATO sorties are now being used to commit war crimes. Both nationally and internationally the cry must go up for NATO's military actions to be halted immediately and a ceasefire declared. And David Cameron must answer straight, not fudge as he has been doing all day, whether attacking so-called command and control facilities allows the deliberate targeting of Gadaffi and his family, with no regard whatever to the innocent men, women and children who are incinerated as a consequence."

Monday, 25 April 2011

The attacks on multiculturalism are linked to the economic crisis

Earlier last week the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) published Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism - a detailed analysis by Executive Director, Liz Fekete, of key speeches made over the past six months by leading centre-right politicians from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

These speeches attack multiculturalism and immigration and link them to the economic crisis. The IRR finds that:

* In singling out multiculturalism as a threat to national identity, the leaders of Europe's centre-right parties are using the same kind of rhetoric and specious arguments as Enoch Powell did forty years ago. Only this time, it is not one rogue European politician carrying the flag, but the leaders of centre-right parties now replacing race and immigration with culture and religion as the watch words.

* As multiculturalism becomes code for discussing the 'Muslim problem', the language, terms and metaphors used by centre-right politicians subtly (and in some cases crudely) convey a sense of national victimhood, of a majority culture under threat from Muslim minorities and new migrants who demand special privileges and group rights and refuse to learn the language.

In Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism the IRR warns that:

* The attacks on multiculturalism are taking place at a time of economic crisis and swingeing cuts, when politicians are desperate to deflect public anger and explain societal break down. The centre Right is establishing a narrative, with some centre-left parties following suit, to justify the biggest round of spending cuts since the 1920s, blaming the current economic crisis not on the bankers and global financial crisis, but on immigration, and on Muslims.

* As the extreme Right increasingly enters national parliaments, sometimes holding the balance of power, there are dangerous signs that the centre Right is preparing for future power-sharing with the extreme Right, as well as nativist anti-immigration parties. The fact that mainstream politicians are now speaking to the fear and hatred promoted by the extremists' anti-multicultural platform, is giving legitimacy to conspiracy theories about Muslims and to anti-Muslim hatred.

Read the IRR's research Understanding the European-wide assault on multiculturalism here.

Liz Fekete, author of the IRR's research commented:

* 'Multiculturalism is being used as the whipping boy, to explain away the impact of the economic and social crisis.'

* 'A recurring theme in the debates about multiculturalism and national identity and immigrants and Muslims causing the economic crisis, is the issue of language or, more accurately 'language deficit'. Government hypocrisy is at its most blatant when immigrants are blamed for not learning the language when the same government slashes funding for language provision.'

Parliament should be recalled as Libya threatens to become the new Iraq

In 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq began, Tony Blair insisted that oil had nothing to do with it:

"...the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it...It's not the oil that is the issue, it is the weapons..."

Of course there were no weapons, just a great deal of oil.

Government papers now reveal just how much the oil industry was licking its lips at the prospects in Iraq. The Independent reports:

“The Foreign Office invited BP in on 6 November 2002 to talk about opportunities in Iraq "post regime change". Its minutes state: "Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there and anxious that political deals should not deny them the opportunity.... Whereas BP was insisting in public that it had "no strategic interest" in Iraq, in private it told the Foreign Office that Iraq was "more important than anything we've seen for a long time".”

Yet all the time we were told this was really a humanitarian venture, motivated by the deepest of concerns about the victims of an evil dictator.

Fast forward to 2011, and the United Nations has passed another resolution authorising military action to ‘protect civilians’. Once again, this country is rich in oil and gas.

And once again, the mission that was supposed to be humanitarian becomes an attempt by former colonial powers to overthrow one government and impose another one.

As Simon Jenkins put it in The Guardian:

“Throughout the west there is a desire to relieve people in distress, but when humanitarians arrive with screaming missiles and a clear political agenda, those being attacked are understandably suspicious of motive... The first humanitarian duty to those who are suffering should be to relieve that suffering, not to fight their civil wars, suppress their dictators, partition their countries and destroy their infrastructure. Something has polluted foreign policy.”

It is quite clear that the original decision to establish a ‘no fly zone’ in Libya has become something else entirely. British ‘advisers’ are now on the ground. Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama are calling for ‘regime change’. This is not what the United Nations, nor our own parliament, decided.

Parliament should be recalled and the government held to account.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Why there should be a left challenge in the GLA elections

The Respect party announced that they will be standing for the London Assembly and approaching others to form an anti-cuts slate for the May 2012 election.

Party Leader Salma Yaqoob said:

"There is a democratic deficit in London. There is a large constituency who want to see Ken beat Boris but are deeply uncomfortable with the Labour party choices for the assembly, marked as they are by a tepid opposition to the spending cuts, support for a decade long war in Afghanistan and now a new war in Libya.

There are many fronts on which this governments military wars abroad and economic war at home can be contested. The forthcoming GLA elections is one arena. We will be approaching others in the student and anti-cuts movement, those opposed to war and the tide of Islamophobia it has generated, and others on the left, to discuss standing a united slate with the aim of defeating the Tories in City Hall and putting into the assembly the strongest anti-cuts, anti-racist and pro-peace voices".

Statement from the RESPECT Party Officers Group
Why there should be a left challenge in the GLA elections

Cameron’s Enoch Powell moment

David Cameron complains about people coming to this country who don’t speak the language. It is nothing more than hypocrisy from a government that is closing the door on the very classes that help people to learn English.

From September, spending on ESOL classes (English as a second language) is being slashed. They are hugely popular, with over 180,000 students attending classes in England alone. Up to 100,000 people will now lose the chance to learn the language.

Of course, Cameron’s speech is not really directed at immigrants. It is not meant to welcome, or encourage, or point the way towards getting the language skills that people need.

No, for all his talk about integration, his words are directed at those who don’t like immigrants at all, whether or not they speak English. His speech means to press the xenophobic buttons of parts of the electorate.

As Rebecca Galbraith and Mel Cooke from Action for ESOL note:

‘From Jewish workers arriving in London’s East End in the late nineteenth century to the diverse groups of people migrating to the UK today, the ability of migrants to speak English has long been a preoccupation of politicians and the right-wing press. And blaming migrants for social and economic problems is nothing new and is always more heightened in times of economic depression”.

Three weeks before an election, with opinion poll ratings falling, the health reforms in crisis, and the economic looking ever more fragile, David Cameron has conjured up the ghost of Enoch Powell.

Monday, 21 March 2011

George Galloway on West's intervention in Libya

Fear or Hope?

I have been thinking about the recent ‘Fear and Hope’ research published by Searchlight. On the face of it, the results are worrying. They appear to show growing support for the far right, increased opposition to immigration, and a particular hostility to Muslims in Britain.

Certainly, these most negative findings were seized upon by the media. Featuring prominently was the assertion that “almost half of voters would back a far right party that did not promote violence”.

This is news, of course, and any serious evidence about attitudes to race and immigration needs to be considered carefully. But I am concerned about the way the report was spun by its own authors, who often seemed to be accentuating the negative.

This is an important debate, and Unite Against Fascism have now published a comprehensive response to the Fear and Hope report. It concludes:

“At a time when austerity and cuts are creating fertile ground for scapegoating and racism, providing a breeding ground for the extreme right, the real priority should be to explain the enormous economic and social contribution that generations of immigrants have made to this country, and defending Muslim communities from those who would blame them for their feelings of malaise”

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Government 'war' on welfare state is hitting women hardest

One hundred years ago that struggle was for basic equality for women like the right to vote. Today, that struggle is increasingly about women's right to work and maintain basic living standards.

As the TUC point out the governments 'war' on the welfare state is hitting women hardest. Unemployment is increasing and cuts in child benefit, maternity grants, working tax credit and housing benefit are all impacting on women disproportionately.

This year is the centenary of the founding of International Women's Day.

I can think of no better way to celebrate it, and the memory of the suffragette activists, than for women the length and breadth of this country to travel to London for the TUC's March for the Alternative on March 26th.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Mubarak Goes! Let Tyrants Tremble.

The departure of Hosni Mubarak is a world historic victory for the poor, the oppressed and the exploited of Egypt, the Arab world - and indeed for the wider world..

For decades we have been told that the Arab masses were apatheitic and impotent, that the best that could be hoped for were venal and autocratic rulers whose job was to support US policy in the region while lining their own pockets. Yet in just a few short weeks the masses of, first Tunisia and now Egypt have torn this view to pieces.

While US politicians toyed with the idea of democracy, as a stick to beat their enemies, they resolutely turned their back on democracy when it came to supporting their own puppet presidents and princes. Today the democratic demands and heroic bravery of the Egyptian people have begun a process of genuine people's regime change.

The victory in Egypt today - despite the fact that there is so much further to go - is already fueling further revolutionary developments across a region. These developments will have the US and its allies quaking - as their imperial order, so secure for decades, is now under threat.

The Egyptian revolution is a glorious advance. Everyone who believes in genuine progress owes the Egyptian masses a profound debt of gratitude. There is much yet to do, but for the moment we join with the celebrations of the Egyptian people on this historic day.

Victory to the Eyptian Revolution.