What is our government doing about abuses in Bangladesh and Kashmir?

Wikileaks is providing a huge public service in highlighting the complicity of governments in human rights abuses, as the latest reports about Bangladesh and Kashmir illustrate.

According to today's Guardian the British government are involved in training what human rights organisations describe as 'Latin American style death squads' in Bangladesh. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has a notorious reputation. It kills and tortures with impunity and, allegedly, is responsible for 1,000 murders in the last 6 years. The Guardian says 'the cables make clear that British training for RAB officers began three years ago under the last Labour government' and that British officials had provided training as recently as October.

Wikileaks also revealed more evidence of 'abductions, enforced disappearances, custodial killings, rape, torture and detention' in Kashmir. Indian journalist Dilnaz Boga rightly asks what it would take for western governments to exert pressure on India over its blatant abuse of human rights.

Outside interference from Pakistan has often been used as a cover to justify human rights abuses in Kashmir but as Dilnaz comments, 'the summer of 2010 brought on a significant change in the Kashmiri struggle for independence from India. From being a pan-Islamic militant movement sponsored by Pakistan in 1989, it has now transformed into a non-violent indigenous people's movement. But the response of the state has not altered since the 1990s'.

For historic reasons Britain has a distinct influence in the region. It is time that influence was used to end human rights abuses rather than begin them.

Len McCluskey is right

Yesterday, Len McCluskey called on his trade union colleagues to discuss coordinated strike action to stop the government's 'austerity frenzy'. He also called for a coalition of resistance to unite trade unionists, students and service users. It makes sense to me. How else can an ideologically inspired attempt to destroy the welfare state be stopped without resistance on the broadest possible scale?

But some of the reaction to his interview has been very revealing.

Government officials weighed in with new threats to tighten anti-union legislation. They suggested that a legal strike should only be possible if a majority of union members vote for it, regardless of whether they chose to take part in the ballot or not. The double standards are breathtaking. This is a government that nobody voted for, in an election in which 35% of the electorate did not feel inspired enough to vote at all. Yet this is apparently a mandate to destroy the welfare state, and millions of jobs along with it.

The Guardian’s editorial wasn’t as threatening. It was just pathetically abusive, portraying McCluskey as a trade union dinosaur, misty-eyed with nostalgia for the 1970's. This is the same Guardian that advised its readers to vote for the Lib Dems, without which this Tory government would not exist. Perhaps they have resorted to Daily Mail-style clichés out of embarrassment. In any case, they offer no way of reversing this Tory agenda. In typical Guardian style they regret its excesses, appeal for a middle ground, and then conclude that resistance is futile.

Len McCluskey was certainly right to praise the way the student movement has shaken up this government. The heat has been turned up, and I suspect Vince Cable’s statement about walking out of government if 'pushed too far' over the cuts is directly related to it.

But students alone won't be able to reverse the government’s agenda. For that, we need a movement of similar militancy throughout the rest of society. We are not there yet. Many people still think the cuts are ‘necessary’.

Len McCluskey is right again that the unions, much weaker than they once were, are still uniquely placed to unite workers with users of public services, and the rest of the community, into a formidable alliance.

With unemployment predicted to hit 3 million in the coming year, a 20% increase in VAT on the way, and the public still to become fully aware of the assault upon the NHS, a fall in support for the Con-Dems is predictable. But without pressure being applied, on as many fronts as possible, the government could still emerge unscathed.

Len McCluskey is stating no more than the obvious truth when he says, “It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.”

Stopping 'austerity frenzy'

I was very heartened by this interview with Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of the UNITE union, in which he outlines his determination to work with students to undermine the government's 'austerity frenzy'.

Our ability to do so will stand or fall on whether we can forge a coalition of resistance: one the unites the trade unions, students, and the general public.

To that end the TUC’s national demonstration on 26 March is a critical event. Building the demo, and ensuring the largest turnout from Birmingham, will be central to my work in the new year.

Education plans fail the economic test

When the Tories are challenged on their devastating cuts programme they will deny it is an ideological choice and insist the cuts are necessary to reduce the budget deficit. Why are they so shy about revealing the truth about their plans?

One reason is that spending on health, education and keeping people working is generally popular. Most people understand it is something that makes our society a better place to live. So, the Tories would rather frighten people with talk of future generations burdened by a national debt that is out of control.

But almost every cut they make can be show to have the opposite effect. Cutting back on investment in education and jobs will invariably lead to a widening deficit. Investment, on the other hand, will almost always pay dividends by generating economic growth and reducing the deficit.

There is plenty of economic evidence that investment works. Michael Burke, at the Socialist Economic Bulletin, takes on the government’s plans for education funding and shows how illogical it really is.

In two articles he shows how cutting Education Maintenance Allowance for poorer families will widen the deficit and how investing in education as a whole delivers both short and long-term economic benefits.

These are important arguments as they undercut the ‘common sense’ propaganda from the Tories. They also show that the student protestors are not engaged in a selfish campaign. Their fight really is in the interests of the whole of society.

The psychology of a suicide bomber

Coming hot on the heels of the Stockholm suicide bombing, the Wikileaks cables expressing misgivings about PREVENT have reignited debate about the appeal of violent extremism in the Muslim community.

I was not surprised by the critical comments about PREVENT. I made most of them myself at the time.

PREVENT lacked transparency, was a gravy train for self appointed community consultants, and evaded addressing the fundamental issue; politics as the principal driver for those engaged in suicide bombing.

This latter fact has been proven again and again yet our politicians are reluctant to admit it, because to do so is to admit their culpability. Yet the academic evidence is conclusive.

A recent study from Tel Aviv University into Palestinian suicide bombers found that their 'depth or intensity of religious belief was not something which distinguished them from other non-suicide terrorists' and a sense of 'national humiliation' ranked higher than religion as a motivation for their actions.

Anthropologist Scott Atran makes the same point. He dismisses western clichés about incompatibilities of Islamic and Western identities and describes religion as a 'negative predictor' of violence.

Instead he points to the impact on those 'cast in the driftwood of globalisation', living lives that feel without meaning and purpose, subject to demonisation and marginalisation at home while their brothers and sisters are bombed abroad, and painfully aware of a sense of humiliation, not in individual sense, but in the collective of friends, family, and communities.

Instead of a global conspiracy pulling the strings of terror via brain-washed terrorist sleeper cells, Atran says the reality is the opposite.

He cites case studies to argue that Muslims caught up in extremism 'self-radicalise' in tightly knit groups of friends, neighbours, schoolmates, football and body-building circles.

Sometimes this self-radicalisation is triggered by encounters with people who have been to Afghanistan or Pakistan, sometimes not. Once it takes hold, those infected seek Al Qaeda, usually via the internet, not the other way round.

He highlights the example of the Madrid bombers. Five of the 7 bombers responsible, who blew themselves up when cornered by the police, all grew up living 200 meters from each other in a neighbourhood in northern Morocco.

They had no background in religious indoctrination and drifted into petty criminality and the drug trade when they arrived in Spain looking for work. They were attracted to extremism in the disastrously mistaken belief that they were doing something noble with their lives for others, in the process finally attaining purpose and meaning for their own lives.

For Atran the real battle is for the minds and souls, and for some, the outcome is finally balanced. Take the findings of opinion polls in the same Moroccan neighbourhood from which the Madrid bombers originated.

Shortly after the bombings, and before the election of Barak Obama, the top three heroes were 1.
Ronaldinho, 2. the Terminator (the character, not the actor, and even less the politician) and 3. bin Laden. After the US presidential election Obama had knocked bin Laden off the number 3 perch. Disaffected Muslim youth are finding themselves at the crossroads between 'yes we can' and 'happiness is martyrdom'.

Atran concludes that extremism 'cannot be fought mainly with bombs, traditional law enforcement or military means (although such means can help thwart attacks). It must be fought with ideas and proposals for action that appeal to this rising sense of injustice and moral outrage among increasing numbers of youth. In the long run, this is a public health issue rather than a strictly criminal or military issue.'

He is absolutely right.


We protest at the attacks on Wikileaks and in particular on Julian Assange.

The leaks have assisted democracy in revealing the real views of our governments over a range of issues which have been kept secret, and which are now irreversibly in the public domain.

Everything we knew about the mass killing, torture and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan has been confirmed.

The world's leaders can no longer hide the truth by simply lying to the public.

The lies themselves have been exposed.

The actions of major corporations such as Amazon, the Swiss banks and the credit card companies in hindering Wikileaks, are shameful, bowing as they do to pressure from the US government.

The US government and its allies, and their friends in the media, have built up a campaign against Assange which now sees him in prison facing extradition on dubious charges, with the presumed eventual aim of ensuring his extradition to the US.

We demand his immediate release, the dropping of all charges, and an end to the censorship of Wikileaks.

For more info contact Stop the War Coalition.

Best wishes to students protesting! Don't let the liars off the hook!

Three cheers for the students!

Wednesday's student protests were absolutely fantastic! Tens of thousands of students from universities, FE colleges and schools streamed onto the streets to defend their education and the rights of generations to come. Congratulations to everybody involved and particularly to those students at Birmingham University who occupied a university building.

The student protests are piling the pressure on our hypocritical politicians. They are an inspiration to everyone to make their voices heard.

It is a disgrace that politicians, who got their university education for free, along with a grant for living expenses that they did not have to pay back, should now deny this to the student generation of today.

Like many parents I am worried about the financial burden of sending my children to university. But there are millions of families on much lower incomes who now couldn’t even dream of finding the money to support their children’s education. These young people will be denied the chance to reach their potential.

This government is very vulnerable over the tuition fees issue. The Liberal Democrats made specific promises at the General Election that they are now going to tear up. They have to be made to realise that their political futures depend on them sticking by their pledges to oppose increased tuition fees.

This movement looks like just the beginning of a wave of protests by young people against the injustice that is being imposed on them. I hope it intensifies and spreads to every corner of the country. I will be doing my very best to support it.

Cut this PFI debt

Time and time again we are told that vital services and valuable jobs have to be sacrificed to pay off the national debt. So why are we guaranteeing to pay an index-linked £267 billion, over 50 years, to a few privileged private companies?

According to George Monbiot, this extraordinary sum is the amount we now owe to private companies that built hospitals, schools and roads under New Labour’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI). He explains that in 1997, “the Labour government gave companies a legal guarantee that their payments would never be cut”. The result is that “the NHS now owes private companies £50bn for infrastructure that cost only £11bn to build, plus £15bn for maintenance charges”.

Monbiot argues that the debts should be declared “odious” (a term used by some lawyers to describe debts incurred without the consent of the people and against the national interest). We should simply refuse to pay them.

When something has to be cut, why should the self-declared risk-taking entrepreneurs be protected? For them, it seems to be all profit and no risk.

That’s unlikely to find any favour with the government – or the Labour opposition who got us into this mess. But these companies have made enough profit out of our public services. We are entitled to ask why we should starve the NHS to keep feeding their greed.

Young people are right to strike back against cuts

The Guardian is reporting that, “Thousands of schoolchildren and sixth formers are expected to take part in a national walkout on Wednesday...in protest at plans to raise tuition fees and scrap the education maintenance allowance (EMA).”

I expect some right-wing newspapers will make a fuss about young people taking things into their own hands. Take no notice of them. A new generation is waking up to the fact that cuts in higher education are an attack on their futures. And I applaud those young people who are fighting for education to be a right and not a privilege.

The school strikes against the Iraq war in 2003 are a great example to follow. Thousands of school students poured into Birmingham City Centre after a wave of walkouts beginning at Queensbridge School in Moseley. It was an inspiring moment.

I don’t know whether these planned walkouts against the cuts will be as widely supported. But it is just the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of young people risk having their lives blighted by cuts in education and a squeeze on jobs. They are right to take a stand.

Respect Party conference plans for a year of struggle

The annual Respect Party conference took place this weekend. The conference was smaller than in recent years. I was not surprised by that. There’s a big difference between winning elections and losing – however close or hard fought the contest. We couldn’t quite take a big step forward at the General Election, and that isn’t going to make it easy for us in the coming year.

But I do feel that Respect is shaking off the post-election blues, and there are some exciting developments in the pipeline.

The conference was dominated by discussion of the attacks being unleashed upon us by the ConDem government. It is important to understand the scale of these attacks if we are to work out how to best resist them.

50,000 marched to stop education cuts - that's the big story

The Metropolitan Police were caught on the hop when some people on Wednesday’s student demonstration took out their anger on the Conservative Party offices at Millbank Tower. I am not sure why it came as such a surprise to them.

A lot of people are going to be hit hard by ConDem cuts. Families will be forced from their homes, and priced out of their own communities. Young people will be priced out of higher education, and face the prospect of joining the growing ranks of the unemployed. Millions of people, who thought they could look forward to a reasonably secure life, will suddenly find themselves caught up in a crisis they did not create.

There is going to be anger. There is going to be bitterness. And no-one should be surprised if there is social unrest. You can’t set about casting millions of people into the economic wilderness, while dismantling the protection that comes from our welfare state, and still expect a polite response.

Upwards of 50,000 students and their supporters marched through London. That is a remarkable achievement, and shows that opposition to the ConDem plans is growing, and growing fast.

The media will be full of outrage about the trouble at Millbank Tower. And I don’t think those involved did themselves or their cause any great favour. What is needed is a nationwide movement of millions willing to protest. This will be built by winning the arguments, not by smashing windows.

But any destruction they caused is nothing compared to the damage the Tories and Lib Dems are about to do to our country. And the really big story is that tens of thousands of young people marched peacefully to defend our education system, and to show solidarity with those whose future is threatened by Tory cuts.

Labour MPs disgrace themselves in supporting Phil Woolas

Labour MP Phil Woolas told lies about the character of his Liberal Democrat opponent in order to discredit him. It wasn’t a mistake. He knew what he was doing. The judges decided it was beyond reasonable doubt that he had broken the law, and ordered the election to be re-run.

But, amazingly, Labour MPs are up in arms at the injustice of it all. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, is under attack from all sides for making it clear that Woolas would not be allowed back into the Labour Party even if he won his appeal on a technicality.

It is very revealing to observe the things that really get Labour MPs angry. The freedom of a Labour candidate to lie in pursuit of an election victory would not be top of my list of causes to fight for.

But what really disgraces Labour MPs – and the Labour Party as a whole – is the fact that the election leaflets produced by Phil Woolas were ever thought of, never mind printed or distributed.

Woolas, and the Labour Party in Oldham, circulated disgusting leaflets; propaganda that could only be read as inciting tension between communities. To what depths had Labour sunk when their election agent could say “We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don't get the white vote angry he's gone”?

This revolting attempt to stoke the flames of racism should have produced anger and dismay among Labour MPs. But no, it appears that this kind of behaviour is “all in the game” at election time.

Harriet Harman is right. Phil Woolas should have no place in the Labour Party.

The cuts won't work

"The cuts won't work - they'll just make it worse."

This, in a few short words, is why we oppose the ConDem attack on the welfare state. The attack is driven by ideology, not economics. And with every cut comes more evidence that it is the poorest who will be hit hardest.

For a simple explanation of why these cuts won’t work, and some of the alternatives, take a look at http://www.thecutswontwork.co.uk/.

You can win one of these T-shirts with Respect's November competition CLICK HERE for details

Toxic brew

The rise of the Tea Party is now generating considerable publicity this side of the Atlantic as well. The best analysis I have read so far is this from George Monbiot. It is a fascinating expose of how people who 'think they are fighting elite power are been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting'.

Italian Taliban

For those chasing the Taliban, check out southern Italy. According to this report from the Guardian the Mayor of one small Italian town wants to introduce fines on women wearing miniskirts and showing too much cleavage. He intends to empower police officers to make 'snap decisions' on what is 'modest dress'. Talk about giving authorisation for sexual harassment. You can imagine the joy pervy Italian cops will have with this one. It is no surprise that the Mayor is a supporter of Silvio Berlusconi, a shining example to all of us for the way he has raised standards in public life. My message to the Mayor is this; whether the hijab or miniskirt, it's a woman's right to choose.


The Viva Palestina convoy of almost 150 vehicles, 370 people from 30 different countries and $5 million of aid has entered Gaza.

Amidst scenes of jubilation from thousands of Palestinians there to greet the convoy, Kevin Ovenden, the convoy director, expressed his joy at being in Gaza once again. "We have driven more than 3,000 miles to bring this essential aid and to break this illegal siege of Gaza. We have been joined by supporters from Morocco and Algeria and from the Gulf States and Jordan, to make this the biggest convoy ever to break the siege of Gaza. We are absolutely overjoyed to be here and to bring with us the soil from the graves of those who were massacred on the Mavi Marmara which will be used to plant trees as a memorial to their sacrifice."

The convoy set out four weeks and five days ago from London. It travelled through France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Syria. Everywhere the reception was fantastic and the generosity of well-wishers unsurpassed. Towards the end there was a frustrating delay in Syria whilst negotiations at the highest levels were conducted with the Egyptian authorities. In the end it was all worth it as the Egyptian authorities decided to allow passage of the whole convoy, sadly excluding just 17 members of the convoy including George Galloway.

The convoy will be handed over in its entirety to the relevant bodies tomorrow and the members of the convoy then expect to leave Gaza and return home in the next 48 hours after celebrations and formal thanks are given.

Jobs under threat - and the Tories cheer

When Tory Chancellor George Osborne stood up in parliament and announced his attack on jobs, public services and the welfare state, his MPs cheered every cut. That is how much they understand what the real impact of this is going to be for individuals, families and entire communities.

The price for the financial crisis is going to be paid by people who had nothing to do with causing it. The bankers will keep their bonuses. The shareholders will keep their profits. And the 23 millionaires in the Tory-Lib Dem cabinet will not have to worry about their jobs, how to pay the bills, or where their pension is going to come from.

On top of that there is no evidence that this bonfire of public service jobs will actually work. Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel prize winner in economics, says it is no more than a gamble:

“Britain is embarking on a highly risky experiment.... If Britain were wealthier, or if the prospects of success were greater, it might be a risk worth taking. But it is a gamble with almost no potential upside. Austerity is a gamble which Britain can ill afford.”

His conclusion is simple: “Austerity converts downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions.”

An alternative exists – based on investment not cuts – and the more this is understood, the better we will be able to resist the Coalition government’s plan to destroy our welfare state.

Military spending protected in Tory cuts

The BBC has reported that the Defence budget will only be cut by 8% in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, compared to cuts of not less than 25% for other departments. Read more here.

Kicking away the ladder of opportunity

Last week, Lord Browne published his review of student funding. True to form, the Liberal Democrats promptly dumped their promise to oppose increases in tuition fees.

As Fiona Edwards, secretary of the Free Education Campaign, explains in an article published in Saturday’s Morning Star:

"Politicians who benefited from a free university education are now planning to kick away the ladder of opportunity for generations to come... The plans represent a double assault on students - tuition fees are set to more than double to £7,000 per year and commercial interest rates will be introduced on student loans."

These plans are not only unfair to students from less well-off backgrounds; they are also damaging to the future of our economy; and Fiona’s article sets out how investment in education is the “key to economic revival”.

Opposition to this attack on higher education is growing. And I am glad to see that support for the Liberal Democrats is falling the more they betray their promises. The latest poll from YouGov puts them on 11% - down from the 23% who voted for them in the general election. They are the weak point of this rotten coalition, and Liberal Democrat MPs need to be held accountable for the promises they made.

Tuition Fees and The Fib Dems

Remember Lib Dem promises at the election to abolish tuition fees? Well, they lied. Instead, tuition fees could rise to as much as £12,000 per year!! One consequence will be to burden the vast majority of students with levels of debt they will carry well into their working lives.

There is speculation about a Lib Dem revolt. I really hope so. But I am not holding my breath. Both nationally and locally the Lib Dems have shown themselves to be a pretty slavish bunch when it comes to their Tory masters. For some, even hanging on to the coat tails of power corrupts.

Save the NHS

Until now, no party could realistically hope to be the government unless it declared that the “NHS is safe in our hands”. In his attempt to re-brand the Tories, David Cameron went so far as claiming that they were the “party of the NHS”.

But now the Tories are in power, the mask has slipped. Their plans for NHS reform – which weren’t mentioned in their manifesto – threaten the very existence of the NHS as a free public service. As an investigation in the magazine Red Pepper shows: “In place of a public service we will have a profit-driven healthcare market.”

Red Pepper sets out how powerful business interests have lobbied for years to get access to the huge NHS budget. New Labour tried to bring the market into the health system, and only partly succeeded. But now there is a government that is determined to change the face of the NHS once and for all.

Already, cuts of up to £20 billion are being made in the NHS. And these cuts are going to have a devastating effect. Hospitals around the country are cutting back on essential operations – cataracts and hip replacements for example.

This is just the beginning. If the NHS becomes a marketplace for private companies to trade, then many more people will be told it just isn’t ‘cost-effective’ to treat them.

As the Red Pepper article concludes: “..the injustice that will flow from the loss of the NHS will be massive. It will change the face of English society more profoundly than the poll tax. And it will be for all practicable purposes irreversible – unless we stop it now, all of us resisting in whatever way we can.”

Housing crisis and asylum seekers

Earlier this year, the Red Cross described the way our immigration system treated those whose claims for asylum have been denied as 'shameful'

“Asylum seekers last in the housing queue” said the Daily Mail as John Lines, the Cabinet Member for Housing, secured the headlines he wanted. But asylum seekers were never in the front of any queue, and are among the most desperate and destitute people in our society.

As the recession bites, we can expect a lot more of this kind of unscrupulous 'blame the victim' politics from the Tories and Lib Dems. We got a taster at the Tory conference with its creeping Victorian values of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor.

Thousands of people are having their homes repossessed as jobs are lost. What would make a difference to the homeless figures is if banks, bailed out by public money, were unable to turf families onto the streets if they couldn’t keep up mortgage payments. But politicians would rather play ‘blame the foreigner’ than ‘blame the banker’.

What would make a difference to the housing crisis would be a government programme of house building, putting people back to work and boosting the economy. But with unemployment set to rise dramatically, and people losing their homes as a result, we can expect politicians to point the figure at anybody but themselves.

There are different ways we can respond to this recession. One response, with a long and ugly pedigree, is to scapegoat the vulnerable, the weak, and those unable to defend themselves. The other is to challenge the economic madness of slashing public spending in the middle of a recession, and to challenge the political logic which says that ordinary people losing their jobs and homes is a price worth paying for the criminal recklessness of a rich elite in the financial sector.

Are we in it together?

David Cameron says it is time to pull together to help reduce the national debt. But he has only given us his plan about cuts in public services and reducing the benefits for the poor. He has failed to put the burden of reducing national debt on the bankers and the mega rich of the country. 

OK then here is a suggestion. How about this idea? A one-off tax of just 20% on the richest 10% would practically clear the national debt at a stroke. And without having to slash public services and throw people on the dole.

Seems fair to me. The total wealth of the top 1,000 increased by a third in the last year. The top 200 people alone on the rich list were worth a collective £228.8 billion and the richest 10% are worth over £4,000 billion!

Think the Tories will go for it? Not in a million years. When Cameron talks about spreading the pain, it is not the rich he has in mind who will be doing the suffering.

(Watch Respect Party's Ken Loach make the same case for taxing the rich on Newsnight from earlier in the week).

World Day for Decent Work

Across the world this Thursday, 7 October, will be marked by Trade Unions as 'World Day for Decent Work'.

The campaign's core message for an economics that puts people first couldn't be more timely with the Con-Dem government onslaught on jobs and working conditions.

In any global race to the bottom in labour standards, then Bangladesh is where the finishing line is.

Thankfully, a national campaign for the country’s three million garment workers has been able to lift the minimum wage from a medieval £15 per month, up to £27 per month.

This  is still short of the modest £46 that unions were asking for and the police repression against workers and unions has been terrible. At least 21 garment factory employees and labour rights activists have been arrested. Many more have gone into hiding or faced threats of imprisonment, and worse.

I'm pleased to say that the British TUC has been at the forefront of international solidarity with our brothers and sisters campaigning in Bangladesh for decent work and the leader of the country's textile workers trade union, ZM Kamrul Anam, will be speaking this Thursday at the TUC's Stand Up for Decent Work event

Child benefit cut, bankers bonuses rise

Two weeks ago, the Liberal Democrat conference voted to “Safeguard universal child benefit in conjunction with progressive taxation in order to provide a reliable source of income protection throughout childhood.”

But, as we all know by now, the Lib Dems are only useful for keeping Tories in power, and this week the Tory conference was told that child benefit would be withdrawn for any family where a parent was paying higher rate tax.

The Tory plans are full of holes. A single parent earning £44,000 will lose child benefit, but a couple earning £43,000 each, that is total household income of £86,000 will keep it. More than a million families will lose out.

But there is a bigger principle at stake. By focussing on the issue of child benefit being paid to better-off families, the Tories are looking for an easy target. It seems illogical to pay benefits to some people who clearly don’t need it. The evidence shows, however, that universal benefits are extremely successful, and child benefit is one of the most successful of all.

As Kate Green, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, said last year: “Simple, straightforward and easy to claim, child benefit reaches more children living in low-income families than any of the complex means-tested benefits or tax credits intended for them. With a take-up rate of 98%, it provides financial security in households that are struggling to keep afloat.”

The Tories say they can “no longer defend paying out £1bn a year to better-off families”. But at the same time, as the Independent reports, cash bonuses to bankers will reach £7bn in this year alone. If the Tories were genuinely interested in 'sharing the burden', they could start with the bankers. This attack on child benefit is just another part of the ideological drive to roll back support for the welfare state.

(For another look at whether the cuts are a necessity or ideologically-inspired, see this video by Guardian journalist, John Harris at Sunday’s demonstration outside the Tory conference.)

Getting some perspective

A defensive David Cameron is busy trying to downplay the impact of the cuts by saying we need to put them into 'perspective'. Yes we should. As this excellent article by John Lancaster points out, 'the £82b worth of cuts that George Osbourne is going to announce in 2 weeks time are unprecedented. No government has ever achieved anything like that reduction in public spending. To put it in perspective, since 1950 there have been only two periods during which public spending was cut for two years in a row. The coalition is proposing to cut it for six consecutive years. Their cuts will exceed anything Margaret Thatcher did.'

Indeed she oversaw the return of mass unemployment, greater inequality, increased social tension, and riots on our streets. The new Thatcherites want to achieve what the old ones could not quite manage; a permanent reduction in the size of the state and an end to extensive public services. If they get away with it Britain will be a more divided, a more unequal, and a more unfair society for generations to come.

Respect Rejects Racism

It has come to my attention that a prominent Respect member in Tower Hamlets has made antisemitic remarks.

We can't stand racism. It rots the core of our humanity. It is the tool of those who seek to divide and rule. It especially angers me when people who have been victims of bigotry themselves, and who know what that feels like, make bigoted remarks against others. I won't tolerate it, and neither will the Respect party.

I completely endorse the decision of our national officers to expel the member in question with immediate effect. We cannot give an inch to racism, prejudice, and intolerance, whether directed against Jews, Muslims, women, immigrants, the Roma community, homosexuals or any other section of society. Antisemitism has proven to be one of the most virulent forms of racism through the ages. It has to be opposed whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.

With racism set to increase as the full impact of the recession kicks in, we need to hold on even more tightly to the political wisdom and deep morality in the old trade union slogan 'an injury to one is an injury to all'.

It's not David

Let’s start with the good news. The new Labour leader is not David Miliband. By the narrowest of margins, Labour has decided not to elect the person who was ‘unrepentant’ about the Iraq war but who believes that Labour should raise the white flag in the face of the Tory war on public services.

And there’s more good news. Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, and the rest of the authoritarian, warmongering and privatising Blairites, have tasted another defeat. In fact, with Ken Livingstone having won a crushing victory over Oona King the day before to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, the Blairites have not had a good week at all.

Call to Freeze Pakistan's Debt

The global anti-poverty campaign ONE International is Calling upon the IMF to freeze Pakistan’s debt as the country recovers from one of the worst natural disasters ever recorded.

More than 20 million people have been displaced by the floods that hit Pakistan in July. A fifth of the country was under water, with 2 million acres of crops destroyed. Thousands of people have lost their lives and millions more have lost their homes. Severe threats of water-borne disease and malnutrition are putting survivors of the initial floods at further risk.

With 60% of the population already living below the poverty line, Pakistan will need all its available resources to help it recover from this crippling crisis and to fight long-term poverty. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – the institution that oversees debt repayments - can play a key role in this. By freezing Pakistan’s estimated $3billion annual debt repayment for two years, the international community can give Pakistan vital extra resources to spend on recovery and rebuilding, rather than debt-repayment. Currently every dollar spent on debt servicing is one that could be spent on the flood victims. Strong oversight mechanisms should be put in place to ensure this money reaches the people who need it most. Head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Khan, is the target of the petition.
Please sign the petition here

Aaifa Siddiqui sentenced to 86 years

It has been a bad week for human rights in the United States. Last night Teresa Lewis, a woman described as being 'borderline mentally retarded', was killed by lethal injection in the state of Virginia. She was the first woman to be executed in Virginia since 1912. On Wednesday another woman suffered at the hands of the American penal system. Aafia Siddiqui has not been killed by the American state. She has been given a living death sentence instead.

The Pakistani neuroscientist has been jailed for 86 years - on charges that this disturbed mother of three tried to kill US agents and military officers after allegedly snatching a rifle from one of her interrogators. There are two facts about this claim we know for sure. The only person shot was Aaifa, and her were fingerprints never found on the alleged weapon. Aaifa's arrest took place against a background in which it was alleged she was an Al-Qaida agent plotting an attack. Part of the evidence being provided by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. His claims are highly suspect, especially considering he was water-boarded 183 times by the CIA in a single month. Despite the claims, Aaifa was not found guilty of plotting any Al-Qaida style attack.

Vince Cable's Hot Air

It does not take much political courage these days to lay into the banks. Even children know many of our bankers are lucky not to find themselves in jail for their irresponsibility so it is easy for politicians to crank up the indignation. Vince Cable's speech is a case in point. It was high on rhetoric but short on content. As Michael White commented, there was not much in the speech that the Financial Times would have disagreed with. And on the banks, after you take out some name calling, there is very little left.

Yet two years after the collapse of Lehman's Bank, the event that triggered the global financial crisis, all the factors inherent in the banking system responsible for the crisis are still very much in place. The banks have shamelessly taken public money while resisting regulation. The appointment of Bob Diamond, the 'poster boy for casino capitalism' as the new chief executive of Barclays is evidence, if more was needed, that they really don't give a damn what the public think because they feel that no matter what, they are indispensable. Well, they are not, as the New Political Economy Network point out in their excellent e-book.

Banking in Britain delivers very little social benefit for the economy. Between 1996 and 2008, while all those profits were being made, productive business investment remained at a steady 10 per cent of GDP, and lending to manufacturing was flat. In other words, banks – as they currently operate – do not allocate capital usefully in our economy…Banking has become an industry that makes money only for itself. Ever expanding, and entangling banks in a state of mutually assured destruction, it concentrates wealth in a few hands. It is a kind of transaction-generating machine that operates in its own interests….Market fundamentalism has created a crisis of economic coordination, and this is an important aspect of the financial crisis. Too much capital is allocated to leveraged and unsustainable asset- price growth.Too little is channelled into productive, socially useful investment that might generate sustainable economic growth.

Interview with Tariq Ali

There is very interesting interview with Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political commentator, writer, activist and editor of the New Left Review, on Democracy Now in which he talks about the impact of the floods in Pakistan and Obama's record. You can watch it here.

Business leaders say government cuts threaten recovery

Criticism of the government's economic policy is finding support in some unexpected corners. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) warn today that recovery is jeopardised by a lack of investment in “those areas which most galvanise growth, namely infrastructure and capital investment." Their comments echo those made earlier in the week by the Director General of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These are both traditionally very right-wing institutions, strong advocates of neo-liberalism and pure, unfettered free markets. Y'know, like the ones responsible for the current mess. Their comments reflect growing concerns in elite policy circles about the impact of rolling back state spending in the middle of a recession.

Damage is done

On Saturday, the news broke of the arrest of six street cleaners in Westminster on suspicion of plotting to kill the pope. The Daily Express was in tabloid heaven: MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE was the screaming front page headline.

Not a plot by terrorists, I note, or even by ‘Islamic terrorists’ (as the first words of the Express article describe them). No, the headline has to point the finger at all of us; it is a ‘Muslim plot’.

Now, I don’t know any more about the background to this case than I have read in the papers. I have no idea how seriously or otherwise the police should have taken the information they received. And no doubt many people would understand a 'better safe than sorry' approach. But on Sunday, I read that the police decided there was “no credible threat” and released all six men without charge.

In short, the police received information, arrested some suspects, questioned them for a day, and then released them. On the face of it, it sounds like a normal criminal investigation.

So, now it is Monday, and I am looking at the Daily Express. Is there a front page headline screaming “NO MUSLIM PLOT TO KILL POPE AFTER ALL”?

No, I didn’t think there would be either. The damage has been done.

Only 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support cuts

With the Lib Dem conference about to open it feels timely to revisit one of my regular themes: the great deceit the Lib Dems perpetuated on British voters at the general election.

According to a poll for the Sunday Times just 1-in-3 Lib Dem voters support the scale of government cuts. And over 50% think Nick Clegg is only interested in the trappings of power.

Simon Jenkins captures that sentiment, with some humour, concluding that Clegg's gift to the Liberal Democrats is a "ticket to oblivion". Let's hope so.

As I have said before the Lib Dems are the soft underbelly of this deeply reactionary government. The heavier the blows landed on them in forthcoming elections, the more chance we will have of halting Clegg and Cameron’s plans to introduce 21st century Thatcherism.

Trades Unions vote to boycott Israeli occupation

As the Viva Palestina convoy prepares to leave for Gaza, the annual TUC conference has voted unanimously to “work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and construction of the Apartheid Wall.”

The TUC also called for an immediate end to the siege of Gaza, condemned the Israeli attack on the ships taking humanitarian aid, and demanded a full independent inquiry into the attack on the Mavi Marmara.

The Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Huge Lanning, said:

"It is a massive step forward in the movement for justice for the Palestinian people, and reflects growing public anger at Israel's aggression towards the Palestinians and those, such as the humanitarians on the Gaza aid flotilla, who try to help them...Trade unions were pivotal in helping to end Apartheid in South Africa and bring freedom to that country's people. Today's vote shows that Britain's unions are prepared to stand up again in support of an oppressed people - this time the Palestinians - and help them to win their freedom. This is an historic moment for the union movement in the UK, and one that it can be proud of."

There is an alternative to cuts

With a new report from the TUC showing the poor will be hit 10 times harder than the rich by the government's devastating austerity programme, the Public and Commercial Services Union have just produced a timely pamphlet outlining the case for an economic alternative. You can download it here.
PSC General Secretary Mark Serwotka rightly says we need a movement of popular resistance to stop the cuts:

“We are constantly told by a cabinet of millionaires that cuts are inevitable. Far from being unavoidable, their plans to cut government departments’ budgets by up to 40% are a political choice driven by ideology, not necessity.

“We will take every opportunity this week to say there is an alternative – one that will ensure the economy continues to grow and, crucially, protects the public services that we all rely on. While industrial action may be necessary, it is clear the most effective opposition would be the biggest popular movement we have seen for many years.”

Halal Only Menus

Residents across Harrow have vented their anger about proposals to have Halal-only menus in primary schools in the borough. Meat is meat. What does it matter how it’s killed? These parents should find other things to whine about. Halal meat is more hygienically processed anyway. The newspaper revealed exclusively how Harrow Council has employed a catering company to only prepare Halal meat – to serve youngsters in Harrow. This is nothing new to my knowledge, Tower Hamlets council has been doing Halal meat in schools for at least 3 years or more.

The Halal slaughter method (along with Shechita which is the name for pretty much the same method used by Jews) is not cruel at all. When the animal's throat is slit, it results in a massive drop in blood pressure causing pretty much instantaneous unconsciousness. As long as the cut is performed correctly the animal will feel a mere instant of pain compared to the intense suffering they can go through in abattoir's with the "normal" slaughter method. The link that has been made between this story and Britain becoming an Islamic State is a bit extreme. Whatever the religion of majority of British people, why can't we try and make life easier and better for people of all faiths and cultures? All children should be offered a choice. That way Muslims can eat what they want and non-Muslims can eat what they want.

Eid Mubarak!

Today, Muslims throughout the world are celebrating Eid, the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As always, after a month of fasting, it will be a joyful occasion, so Eid Mubarak to everyone!

War corrupts

One aspect of the war in Afghanistan that really gets under my skin is its reportage. With a few notable exceptions it is rare to read real critical journalism in the mainstream media about our commitment to a war that is nearly a decade old yet much further from being won now than when it first started. Instead, what often passes for journalism is thinly disguised bias from embedded journalists.

Don't get me wrong, there are human stories to be told about the lives and experiences of the occupying troops. Not only can such work be very dangerous, sometimes such close contact provides stories of real public value.

Just think of the revelations from the Rolling Stone journalist who got access to General McCrystal's inner circle and their real thoughts about the war. But the Rolling Stone example is very much the exception to the rule. And interestingly, the journalist responsible for the coup, Michael Hastings, found himself subject to attack from fellow journalists for breaching so-called 'ground rules' of journalism.

Instead, much of the coverage from journalists in Afghanistan could as well come from NATO's propaganda wing. You think that comment is a bit too strong? Just read this scorching critique from Seema Jilani. She paints a picture of adrenaline and booze fuelled journalists, embedded with diplomats in ex-pat bars, and detached from the lives of the Afghans who surround them. corrupts. But not always in the most obvious ways.

ConDem cuts declare war on equality

Ken Livingstone has published a damning analysis of the impact of government cuts on women. His report concludes that "women in London are paying twice as much as men for the government's cuts in public spending".

Up to 600,000 public sector jobs are under threat. Around 65% of public sector workers are women and will bear the brunt of these job losses. Women pensioners already suffer more poverty than men and public sector job losses and attacks on public sector pensions are likely to widen this gap even further. And women are far more likely to pay the cost of cuts in benefits and tax credits. A staggering 72% of these cuts are paid for by women and 38% from men - according to figures from the House of Commons library, commissioned by Labour MP Yvette Cooper.

The scale of this war on low paid women may even land the government in legal hot water. The Fawcett Society is taking the government to court, arguing that ministers were legally obliged to consider the impact of its budget measures on equality. Ceri Goddard, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, says:

"Women already earn less, own less, and have less control over their finances than men. Yet some £5.8 billion of the £8 billion of cuts contained in the budget will be taken from women, who will also be worst affected by the coming cuts to public services - 65 per cent of public sector workers are women....The blatant unfairness and the sheer scale of the impact this budget could have on women have left us little choice but to resort to the courts for action."

The ConDems are clinging on to the bizarre idea that they are 'progressive'. But as reports like this demonstrate, they are anything but. The clock is being turned back to the days before a welfare state, and women are expected to pay the bulk of the cost.

Blair's crocodile tears won't wash

Across every TV screen and newspaper appears the face of Tony Blair; the man who took us to war in Iraq; the man who justified this war by lies about weapons of mass destruction; the man whose decision to plunge Iraq into the nightmare of war has now cost the lives of at least 100,000 civilians.

Blair has, apparently, shed tears: ""Do they really suppose I don't care, don't feel, don't regret with every fibre of my being the loss of those who died", he says in extracts from his new book. But one thing he does not regret, and will not apologise for, is the decision to go to war itself.

He does not seem to understand that this is not about his personal feelings. Nothing is made better by knowing that he acted in 'good faith', even if we were to believe him. The deep and divisive political issues at stake are not resolved by the tears of Tony Blair.

He took momentous political decisions in the face of huge opposition. He now says he never guessed the "nightmare that unfolded". But as the Stop the War Coalition says: "The majority of people in Britain had no difficulty in seeing that the nightmare we faced was not Iraq, but Tony Blair and his war policies."

Drop Aid, Not Bombs

This Monday's news once again highlights the desperate need for aid in Pakistan. Millions are going without because of a lack of helicopters for transportation. Imagine the political impact across the Muslim world if the American and British governments announced a ceasefire in the war in Afghanistan to divert resources for aid relief? That would win hearts and minds. But while the people of Pakistan have been let down by world leaders, the public's response to their plight has been uplifting. And no where more so than in Britain. According to one leading aid agency, the British public is 'leading the way and shaming politicians across the world with the generosity of its response to devastating floods in Pakistan. Read the full story here.

HANDS (Health And Nutrition Development Society) Relief Efforts

The flood in River Indus continued to wreak havoc and massive devastation in many parts of Sindh. Thousands have lost their lives; millions are homeless, without food and deprived of even basic needs of life. They are lying under sky, hungry, thirsty, ill and wandering for help

HANDS is doing its level best to mitigate the worries of affectees and has arranged emergency relief camps in most effected district of Sindh Shikarpur, Jacoabad, Sukkur, Ghotki, Khairpur, Matiari and Hala, Thatta and Badin

Latest Pakistan Flood Situation Report

“This situation report is based on information provided by PDMA and HANDS Emergency Response Centers which are available at both sides of Indus River in Sindh. These Regional Offices include Sukkur, Shikarpur, Kandhkot, Jacobabad, Ghotki, Khairpur, Dadu, Thatta, Tando Mohammad Khan, Matiari and Hyderabad.” View full report here

Support the Pakistan floods crisis appeal

As the scale of the human tragedy caused by the floods in Pakistan increases, the Pakistani community here is digging deep to support relief efforts. With over 1,600 dead, millions displaced, and the rains worsening, the victims need all the help they can get. Number of charities and NGOs are working to help the suffering humanity in Pakistan. You can donate to any of these charities. Please give generously.

A Sympathetic Noose: Gideon shows his colours

The ConDem government claims to be ‘progressive’. It is nothing of the kind. Led by no less than three public school boys in Cameron, Clegg and Osborne, this is rule by bankers and the rich in the interests of bankers and the rich. Gideon Osborne, the 18th baronet of Ballentaylor (old Anglo-Irish aristocracy), has unveiled an ‘emergency budget’ that strangles the poor while delivering handouts to the rich.

This budget is sprinkled with minor measures that seem to help the poorest. State pensions are to be linked to earnings or rise by 2.5%. This is welcome but goes nowhere near addressing the poverty that pensioners are in after more than 20 years of pensions getting smaller. Those earning under £7,475 per year will now be exempt from income tax.

The only way that these can be considered ‘progressive’ is by reference to the appalling record of New Labour in tackling poverty while in government.

The noose
The reality of this budget for working people is that we will be expected to pay for the bailout of the banks. VAT is to rise to 20% - this is regressive taxation as it will affect everyone regardless of income so hits the poor hardest. It is the taxation model of the poll tax. This rise alone will wipe out any gains in state pensions.

Public sector workers are to suffer a pay freeze for two years, when most are already underpaid. For those earning under £21,000, there will be a flat £250 pay rise (again this does not cover the rise in VAT alone). There will be 25% cuts in most government departments, which signal more job losses, so raising the welfare needs in society.

While we suffer a housing crisis, the ConDems will not help. Instead, Gideon the aristocrat will put a cap on housing benefit with no recognition that the lack of council houses is the factor pushing private sector rents up and raising the cost of housing benefit. Child benefit is to be frozen for three years in a country with the highest level of child poverty in Europe. The general linking of benefits to the Consumer Prices Index is designed to stop benefit rises so contributing the extending poverty in Britain.

Paying the hangman
While there are cuts for the poor, the rich are given even more tax breaks. Capital Gains Tax is an instrument for taxing wealth which is created when selling stocks, bonds or property. It taxes speculators. Yet the ConDems have decided to increase the loophole that allows the rich to only pay 10% on the first £5 million. Before 1998, it was normal to pay 40%, the same rate as income tax for the rich at the time.

Corporation Tax is a tax on profits, which have risen for the richest in the recession. The banks were recording multi billion pound profits even as they demanded bailouts. New Labour started cutting this tax for the rich and the ConDems have gone further reducing it to 24% over the next four years.

The Chancellor has proposed a banking levy from January 2011 but this will only be £2 billion and it is unclear whether it will be a ‘one-off’ levy. When set against the banking bailout, it is ridiculously small and ineffectual. The National Audit Office puts the actual cost at £850 billion, including £76billion given to Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds to buy their worthless shares, £200 billion to increase credit (a measure that failed), £250 billion to guarantee bank borrowing, £40 billion in loans to failing banks and £280 billion to insure banking debt (which could be as high as £2 trillion).

This is a budget that cuts the services, jobs and pay of the poorest while handing out tax breaks and handshakes to the rich.

Respect’s alternative
The public debt is £903 billion. Most of this is a result of the banking bailout and the increased cost of unemployment to the state. There need to be more jobs not less. Respect would start a programme to convert Britain to environmentally friendly power with the aim of creating 1 million jobs. It rejects the idea of cutting public sector jobs.

Respect would launch a council house building and renovation programme which would create jobs, homes and relieve the rent burden on housing benefit.

The banks and energy companies are getting away with huge rip-offs. Respect would raise Corporation Tax back to 30% (which would bring in £130 billion per year) and introduce the Robin Hood tax of 0.5% on financial dealings in the City. This would bring in an estimated £250 billion. Respect would also clamp down on tax evasion by the richest, which cost the UK more than £100 billion per year.

There is no need to cut public services or benefits. There is no need to tax the poor.