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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

An alternative, for radical change and power for the people

Chancellor George Osborne has welcomed the 0.7 per cent rise in GDP in the second quarter of 2015 as proof that Britain is “motoring ahead, with our economy producing as much per person as ever before.” And it’s true that GDP per head is almost back to where it was on the eve of the 2008 financial crash.

Yet it’s a strange boast that, seven years on, we are only just reaching that point. Between them, chancellors Alistair Darling and Osborne imposed public spending cuts which suppressed Britain’s economic recovery below the levels achieved in France, Germany, the US and even Japan in the two years after the end of the recession in 2009.

Indeed, their plans almost derailed the recovery altogether over the following period, as EU-imposed austerity programmes did in Spain and Italy. Initial cuts in public-sector investment and then far deeper ones to government spending on wages, pensions and benefits, together with the private-sector attack on wages and pensions, slashed demand in the British economy at the very time when sustained consumption and investment were required.

The TUC analysis published this week confirms that this has been the slowest and shallowest recovery of the eight biggest recessions in almost two centuries of British capitalism. In the five years since the depth of the most recent one, the British economy has grown by just 6.1 per cent — less than half the level (15.5 per cent) achieved after the recession of the early 1980s, barely half that (11.4 per cent) in the mid-1970s and less than one-third of post-Depression growth (21 per cent) in the 1930s.

No wonder Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who sits on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s panel of economic experts, has been widely quoted as saying: “Anyone who continues to describe what is happening in the UK as a ‘strong recovery’ either has not bothered to look at the data, or is being deliberately deceptive.” Nonetheless, however unevenly between different sectors, regions and sections of the population, the British economy now appears to be growing more firmly than in some other major capitalist countries.

What are the prospects for this recovery to continue and its prosperity to trickle down and spread more evenly? The recent surge in corporate profits should offer some protection against involuntary cutbacks in production, investment and jobs. Yet, as Centrica is determined to demonstrate, the drive to maximise shareholder profit trumps all — especially when monopoly power has an entire population at its mercy.

Six thousand redundancies may lower service quality and security of supply, but the Big Six energy utilities which produce and distribute our gas and electricity can collude to charge whatever they like. They know that regulators and the government are on their side — and that, effectively, consumers have nowhere else to go. The ongoing tumble in world commodity prices over the past two years could make British exports more competitive and free up corporate funds for investment.

Certainly, Britain’s trading position with the rest of the world has been improving this year. Manufacturing investment has also risen, if sluggishly, although a slowdown is forecast by Lombard in its latest report for the EEF employers’ body. But there can be little confidence that falling commodity prices will counteract severe structural imbalances and weaknesses in the British economy. The City gamblers will still speculate the final prices to British industry upwards, while the big monopoly firms and financiers continue to direct much of their capital into property, services (including privatisation), bond and currency markets and overseas, rather than into domestic productive industry.

The priority given to City of London interests maintains the pound at a high exchange rate, to the disadvantage of export prices. There is no sign of this rate weakening against the euro, in Britain’s main export market, although it may not quite keep up with the dollar after a rise in US interest rates later this year. Further down the line, an increase in the Bank of England base rate will make it more expensive for industrial companies to borrow for investment. Quality based on more R&D and new technology is as important as price when it comes to exports — unless British capitalism intends to compete against Third World labour costs. It is also vital when it comes to productivity, the balance of payments, employment and rising living standards at home.

Yet British levels of business and scientific investment remain poor in relation to most other G7 and Brics economies, even after a prolonged period of low interest rates. A new Office for National Statistics survey confirms that Britain spends far less on investment (only 15 per cent of total annual spending) than any other G7 or leading Brics country, including Japan (21), France (20), the US (19), Germany (17), Russia (26), India (36) and China (49).

For at least the past four decades, fixed capital investment in Britain has languished at between two-thirds and three-quarters of the level in France, Germany, Japan and more recently the US. According to Eurostat, British industry consistently devotes less (around 18 per cent) of the new value it creates to investment than most other EU member states.

Hampered by continuing low investment, labour productivity here has yet to return to its pre-recession level as, in particular, the US and France surge ahead. British ruling-class strategy to sustain investment and competitiveness is to rely on relatively low wages, kept down by unemployment and anti-union laws, together with inward investment and — funded from privatisation sales — slightly increased government infrastructure spending.
The CBI targets workplace pensions as a drag on internal company funds that could go to investment instead.

Public spending cuts, privatisation and lower corporation tax on company profits are also essential elements in a strategy which has its central goal the expansion of capital’s profit base — and the restoration of the rate of profit itself. This being capitalism, there are contradictions.
Austerity for the working class will reduce purchasing power, but the intention is for this to be counteracted by extra household and corporate (as well as government) borrowing — even though this is almost certain to create another financial crisis.

One basic problem for capitalism is that, in the drive to maximise profit, companies seek competitive advantage by reducing labour costs and increasing production and market share. Purchasing power is restricted at the same time as output expands until, at the peak of a boom, not everything produced can be sold a profit. Credit cannot postpone such a recession infinitely. Capital accumulates which has nowhere profitable to go, so its value has to be slashed as investment, production and employment spiral downwards.

Just such a cyclical crisis of over-production was already gathering in the major advanced economies on the eve of the 2008 financial crash, manifested in a glut and then fall in steel production. Moreover, in the perpetual drive to reduce costs by introducing labour-saving machinery and new technology, the proportion of new value being created by labour power falls as a share of output. Yet this surplus value, for which the capitalists are competing in any given sector and the economy generally, is the basis of capitalist profit as whole.

Marxist economist Michael Roberts has recalculated official figures recently to show how this tendency for the rate of profit to fall has occurred in the G20 countries collectively, since 1950. Post-war expansion ended in an international recession and a collapse in profit rates from 1974. The long decline since then has only been interrupted twice — by “New Right” policies during the 1980s and, until 2002, the post-Soviet neoliberal globalisation offensive.

Since then, the main capitalist classes have had to intensify their efforts to try to increase both the rate and mass of profit. This is the context in which to understand the renewed drive to maintain austerity, cut business taxes, restrict trade union rights, impose even greater labour flexibility, increase the state retirement age, cut pension rights, expand privatisation and increase the power of transnational corporations through international trade and investment agreements such as TTIP.

This is the strategy of British state-monopoly capitalism, the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF.

Rob Griffiths. General Secretary, Communist Party of Britain

Saturday, 9 May 2015

How the Tories won

The biggest factors in the Tory victory were political and ideological. Labour’s response to the Tory ideological offensive has been feeble, confused and contradictory and its refusal to campaign for public ownership of gas, electricity, water and the railways cost it potentially wide support beyond the party’s core base.

Why did the Tories win the general election, when their policies serve the interests of a wealthy and powerful minority rather than the mass of the people? First, it has to be remembered that Cameron & Co won only 37 per cent of the poll, 25 per cent of the electorate and little more than one in five of adults eligible to register and vote.

These figures should be of little comfort to Labour, whose percentages in each case are even lower.

Nonetheless, it is significant that the groups least likely to register to vote — tenants, especially in private rented accommodation, foreign-born residents and young people and students — are also among the least likely to vote Tory when they do register.

The failure to inspire these people to register and vote therefore helped the Tories to win a parliamentary majority.

So, too, did the first past the post electoral system, which awarded the Tories just over half of the Westminster seats with little more than one third of the votes.

But an effective and fairer system of proportional representation would still have given the Tories, Ukip and Ulster unionists around 50 per cent of the seats, with Labour, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru having only 40 per cent.

With the assistance of the mass media, Cameron and Osborne were able to perpetuate the myths that a profligate Labour government had crashed the economy, that austerity is essential and that Britain’s recovery is the spectacularly successful result.

Labour’s response to this ideological offensive has been feeble, confused and contradictory, rendering it even more incapable of challenging media orthodoxy.

The Labour leadership failed to point out on every possible occasion that bankers and speculators — not spending on welfare and public services — had plunged the whole international financial system into chaos and crisis.

Eds Miliband and Balls could have reinforced this approach by arguing for the bailed-out banks to remain in public ownership and used to promote investment in productive industry, housing and green technology.

Instead, they went along with privatisation.

Labour’s refusal to campaign for public ownership of gas, electricity, water and the railways cost it potentially wide support beyond the party’s core base. Instead, Miliband opted for an energy price freeze which sent big business and the right-wing press into a frenzy, with little to make the fight worthwhile for Labour. Indeed, the Labour leadership utterly failed to make City of London fraud, tax-dodging and overseas tax havens a major election issue, having previously supported lower taxes for super-rich “non-domiciled” residents. Nor was enough said about rebalancing the British economy away from financial services towards manufacturing and R&D. Rather than oppose more “quantitative easing” cash for the banks, Miliband and Balls spent too much time apologising for Labour’s financial record in office and promising to be better behaved in future. In this they were not helped by the puerile “no more money” note bequeathed by arch-Blairite Liam Byrne to his Treasury successors.

The Labour leaders also failed to point out incessantly that Osborne’s shock treatment from 2010 stifled an economic recovery already begun under Labour, preferring to predict a “double dip” recession that never quite arrived. Their difficulty, of course, was that the Tory Chancellor was deepening the cuts previously planned and being rolled out by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Which brings us to the biggest factor favouring a Tory victory — Cameron and Osborne winning the battle of ideas over austerity, although it was more of a walkover despite the efforts of the Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru leaders.

Miliband and Balls could have spent the past five years exposing the fraud that is austerity, privatisation and the Tories’ trite “long-term economic plan.” Instead, they carped but capitulated, playing into the hands of the SNP and — in England — the hysteria whipped up against the prospect of a minority Labour administration dependent on SNP support.

Had Labour been campaigning against austerity all along, it could have made clear its willingness to co-operate with all anti-austerity MPs at Westminster, instead of appearing shifty and insincere when rejecting it. The party might even have won an outright majority. A genuine commitment to building a federal Britain, combined with anti-austerity measures to redistribute wealth from the super-rich to all its regions and nations, might have shored up Labour support in Scotland.

Support for an EU referendum and a more critical attitude towards EU anti-democratic institutions and neo-liberal policies might have stopped at least some working-class voters defecting to Ukip. Labour’s enthusiastic support for more nuclear weapons in Britain did not only haemorrhage votes in Scotland, it might have led to crucial votes going to the Greens in quite a few marginal seats.

These are the kinds of policies Labour must now consider if it is to recover many of the four million Labour votes lost since 1997 — an election won on a social democratic manifesto, not a Blairite New Labour one. This is what the trade unions should demand, together with a fresh Labour Party leadership that will carry them out.

Otherwise, the party is heading for oblivion as the parliamentary voice of organised labour and as a vehicle for far-reaching progressive change. Immediately, the workers and peoples of Britain face an escalation of Tory attacks on public services, the welfare state, democratic local government and trade union rights. The Tories will fan the flames of English nationalism and drive Scotland closer to independence. And, with the support of far too many Labour MPs, Cameron’s government will dance to the Nato war drums and commission a new generation of nuclear weapons. We will need our trade unions, the People’s Assembly, CND and the Communist Party as much as we ever have before.

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party

Reblogged via: 21st Century Manifesto

Monday, 30 March 2015

Communist Party of Britain to contest Tamesides` Audendshaw Ward in May Elections

Stockport Senior Registered Nurse, Paul Ward, will contest the Audenshaw Ward for the Communist Party of Britain in this May's local elections.

Paul will call upon Audenshaw and Tameside voters to demand that Droylesden candidate, Council Leader Keiran Quinn & Tamesides` ruling Labour Group immediately withdraw all support for `DevoManc`, Chancellor George Osbornes' backroom deal with Greater Manchester Combined Authority for a Greater Manchester `City Region` with an appointed US style Mayor.

Instead, Paul will call upon Tameside`s Labour Group to demand & fight for a Peoples Devolution to ;-

- Devolve tax & spend and investment powers away from the Whitehall/Bank of England/ `City of London` big money axis, to democratic English Regional Assemblies & development bodies.

- For investment in sustainable manufacturing growth technologies & services

- an end to the low pay, zero hours, casualised economy.

- for big investment in public housing, providing affordable homes for all and the regulation of private renting.

- for a fully funded, high quality NHS with a Local Authoity integrated health & social care system.

- for an inclusive, non-selective, equally funded, Local Authority controlled education, delivered by professionally qualified teachers.

- for the elimination of poverty.

For further information contact us at manchester@northwestcommunists.org.uk

Malcolm Hulke: talk on Communist writer

Terrance Dicks will be speaking at an event in Manchester on the afternoon of Sunday 19 April to celebrate the work of his friend and co-writer Malcolm Hulke. Terrance was the script editor on Doctor Who between 1969 and 1974, and worked closely with producer Barry Letts to create what many see as one of the show's golden eras.

Malcolm Hulke wrote a number of serials for Doctor Who between 1967 and 1974 including "The War Games", "The Silurians", "The Sea Devils" and "Frontier in Space". He was a socialist, belonging for a time to the Communist Party of Great Britain and his political views influenced his work. Malcolm wrote "The War Games" with Terrance and they also wrote for The Avengers in the early 1960s.

Michael Herbert will also be speaking at the event, who is the author of Doctor Who and the Communist: Malcolm Hulke and his career in television, published by Five Leaves Press in January 2015. Copies will be available for sale on the day.

There will be a screening of one episode of Doctor Who to be chosen by the audience.

The event will take place at the Fab Café, 109 Portland street, Manchester M1 6DN. Door open at 1.30pm, the event starts at 2.15. Tickets are £4 and may be booked in advance.

Tickets available here

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The attack on public spending and the poor intensifies

Repeating the lie that Britain’s chief problem is government borrowing and spending, Chancellor and hereditary millionaire George Osborne intends to intensify his attack on public services, public sector workers and on the unemployed, sick and disabled who rely on welfare benefits.

In order to reduce the government’s funding deficit by an extra £30 billion to 2018, the Tories and their little LibDem helpers would slash spending on public sector services, wages and pensions by £13bn and on benefits by £12bn. The cuts would be twice as deep over the next two years as this year and previously.
The other £5bn would be found from feeble measures to tackle the tax dodgers.

In other words, more than twice as much would be squeezed from welfare claimants and the poorest one-fifth of the population who own no net wealth at all, than from the richest 1 per cent of the population who are hiding somewhere between £2,000bn and £4,000bn in tax havens around the world.

Any Tory or Labour government serious about closing the public finances deficit could do it at a stroke by placing a modest 2 per cent wealth tax on the richest 10 per cent of the population and abolishing the tax haven status of Britain’s crown dependencies and overseas territories from the Isle of Man to the British Virgin Islands.

But instead of slapping a windfall tax on the monopoly profits of the banks, supermarkets, energy utilities and arms companies, Chancellor Osborne hands out more than £1bn in tax relief to the oil and gas corporations and boasts that tax-dodging multinational companies here pay less tax on their profits than almost anywhere else in the developed world.

However, the biggest winners from this Budget may turn out to be the very City of London crooks and spivs who fund the Tory Party. Osborne announced today that the same vultures who mis-sold workplace pensions and payment protection insurance can now sink their claws into annuities sold by today’s as well as tomorrow’s pensioners.

Behind Osborne’s bluff and bluster, the reality is that the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts a slow-down in Britain’s economic growth from 2.5 per cent this year to lower rates all the way to 2019-20. Even that presumes that this new round of public spending cuts doesn’t strangle economic recovery as they did after his 2010 emergency budget.

Far from the Tories and LibDems reducing inequality and raising everybody’s living standards, last week’s survey from the right-wing Social Market Foundation indicated that the wealthiest one-fifth of the population are 64 per cent better off than a decade ago, while the poorest one-fifth are 57 per cent worse off.
The tragedy is that the Labour Party leadership has largely swallowed the Tory line that austerity is more important than investment in public services, public ownership and planning when it comes to health, education, housing, energy and public transport.

Even so, it is now clearer than ever that victory on May 7 would be taken by the Tories as the signal to make far deeper and quicker cuts in public services and the welfare state than Labour would, supplemented by more privatisation and a new barrage of anti-trade union laws.
That is the real substance of this Tory-led government’s ‘long-term economic plan’ and why it must be derailed at the forthcoming General Election.

Tory Spending Devolution To Manchester Spells Disaster For NHS

AS THE dust clears a week after George Osborne’s bombshell announcement that £6 billion in health and social care spending is to be “devolved” to the emerging Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA), it is still unclear exactly what is being proposed.

Early interpretations of the scheme have been discarded and revised in different accounts, leaving little in the way of unambiguous fact.

Is the NHS budget — and even major NHS and foundation trusts — to be handed over lock, stock and barrel to control by local government, or not? Is an elected mayor, who will not be elected until 2017, but replaced in the interim by an appointee, to have control, as some say, or not?

Will it become, as the enthusiasts of the Socialist Health Association claim, a new MHS — a Manchester Health Service, separate from the NHS and somehow belatedly sprouting some form of democratic accountability?

Or will it, as Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese told Channel 4 News, remain part of the NHS? Will the new bodies controlling Greater Manchester’s health budget really be able to make changes in the terms and conditions of NHS staff — as the memorandum claimed? Or will national agreements remain?

For many the bizarre intervention of Osborne negotiating the shape of healthcare services in a single English region, and working with NHS England boss Simon Stevens to sideline his Tory colleague, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was puzzling enough: the subsequent confusion and contradictory statements are even more baffling.

Of course Osborne is one of a rare breed of Tories who have managed to hang on to northern seats, and has been eagerly beavering away at constructing what he describes as a “northern powerhouse,” to be showered with government patronage.

The GMCA had already been given control of transport, housing and the skills budget — but the £6bn for health and social care is a much bigger prize, eagerly accepted by the eight Labour leaders and by leaders of the other two Greater Manchester councils as well as local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), none of them troubling even to enquire as to the views of those they supposedly represent, still less the population of Greater Manchester.

While the local bigwigs, no doubt eyeing up positions of power that would by no means leave them out of pocket, were happy to ignore trivial questions like the views of their electorate, Osborne in turn seems to have gone beyond his legal powers in carving out such an attractive slice of budgetary cake.

The memorandum of understanding’s footnotes openly admit that “some of the areas described in the MoU go beyond the statutory powers of NHS England and CCGs, and are often commissioned nationally.”

An earlier footnote also admits: “There will need to be an agreement as to the precise scope and extent of the commissioning functions that can lawfully be delegated.”

But hey, why let a few legal questions and technicalities get in the way of a £6bn deal?

Cautionary notes sounded by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham — warning of the implications of a “two-tier health service,” and a “Swiss-cheese effect in the NHS whereby cities are opting out” — were brushed aside equally by careerist Labour councillors and many of his Manchester Labour MP colleagues. But it seems Burnham’s response was much closer to the popular view on the ground. This is not so much devolution as abdication of responsibility and passing the buck.

Burnham will also have spoken for many in other parts of England when he warned that no deal should be offered to one area of the NHS that could not work everywhere and also be offered to other areas. “If I was health secretary I would not be offering this deal,” he said.

Wigan Labour MP Lisa Nandy, writing in the New Statesman, has also warned strongly over the complete lack of a democratic base for the whirlwind changes being imposed top-downwards on the “city region.”

She writes: “Ministers have confirmed to me that no thought has yet been given to public scrutiny or involvement,” adding that the three-week consultation on the impact of the changes had only 12 responses — 10 of them from local authority leaders who brokered the deal in the first place.

“The consultation didn’t even mention the NHS once, let alone the transfer of responsibility and billions of pounds of NHS funding that was announced and signed by George Osborne today, just weeks ahead of the general election”.

Her view is shared by the Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils, which is mounting a protest at the whole stitch-up. Both Unite and Unison in Manchester have up to now opposed a single elected mayor for fear whoever takes office would resort to wholesale privatisation and cuts in business tax.

The timing and the choice of Labour Manchester for the first experiment is clearly designed to wrong-foot Labour and boost Tory hopes.

Let’s not forget, either, that the new scheme unveiled by Osborne completely ignores the structures so controversially imposed with no mandate by his Tory colleague Andrew Lansley in the Health & Social Care Act.

Once again a major change is being imposed from the top downwards with no discussion whatever with local CCGs created by the Act or the GPs who were supposedly to be put “in charge.” Instead a number of CCG chairs have signed up, irrespective of the views of the GPs they supposedly represent.

Health and wellbeing boards, the council bodies set up under the Act which are supposed to link social care with public health and wider health services, were also ignored. They are not even mentioned until page 10 of the memorandum, which simply declares: “Local HWBs will agree strategies and priorities … within their districts and in the context of the GM wide strategy and local priorities.” Many localities will
certainly find their priorities overruled by the “GM wide” bodies that are really in charge.

The GMCA has effectively taken over the role of one of the strategic health authorities that were scrapped by Lansley’s Act, but it will also have control over social care budgets and quite possibly even less democratic accountability than the old SHAs, since it seems unlikely the high-powered decision-making will take place in open session or publish board papers. They will carry on as they began.

A new “Health and Social Care Devolution Programme Board” will be set up — with three bureaucrats from the GMCA, three from Greater Manchester’s CCGs, an undisclosed number from the 15 NHS and foundation trusts serving Greater Manchester and bureaucrats from NHS England and the Department of Health.

The programme, says the memorandum, “will need to be supported by full-time resources … this will include a full-time chief officer, a full-time finance director and such other staff as the parties agree.” The bureaucracy is already growing.

Where will the money come from to pay for all this? The MoU says: “A programme and resourcing plan will be agreed with all parties by March 13 2015” — just a fortnight after the scheme was announced! It’s anything but democratic.

Even if we disregard the high-handed and undemocratic fashion of its creation, there are serious problems with handing over billions of pounds of NHS funding to local government bodies that have been slashing spending on social care, and which have developed a culture of putting almost every service out to tender for the cheapest bid.

The social care administered by councils has already seen the privatisation of almost all home care and care homes. It always differed from the NHS not just because of who was in charge, but because unlike the NHS where healthcare has always been free of charge at point of use, funded from general taxation, social care has always been subject to means-tested charges — putting it increasingly beyond the reach of many who need it most.

More recently social care has been among the pioneers of giving service users “personal budgets,” rather than services, leaving them to fend for themselves and buy their own services in a harsh and cheerless market. They will increasingly find they need to top up inadequate budgets to fund the care they need.

If the NHS budget is to be controlled by cash-strapped local government, how long before barely adequate, frozen health budgets are siphoned off to prop up social care, or the values of means-tested charges for social care begin to erode the NHS principle of services free at point of use on the basis of clinical need?

And while the council chiefs rub their hands in glee at the £6bn to be handed into their control, they might ponder whether this sum is enough to do what needs doing and how long a devolved Greater Manchester could count on receiving the £22bn each year it gets from Westminster when its taxes to the Treasury add up to just £17bn. How long before the flow of funds is cut off, leaving Manchester to slash even more services — and carry the can?

Amid all the confusion two things are clear: the Manchester “devolution” is yet another major reorganisation of the NHS and, contrary to NHS England claims, requires legislation as well as a democratic mandate.

And it follows on Andrew Lansley’s hugely controversial “reforms” which have fragmented the NHS, and parcelled up a growing number of services for competitive tenders and privatisation. In that respect “devo Manc” is consistent with the previous reform it largely ignores.
A real answer to Osborne’s stitch-up is not to go back to the post-2012 status quo, but to reinstate the NHS as a public service, the way it was before 25 years of market-style “reforms.”

That means repeal and reversal of the Health & Social Care Act, and the development from the local level upwards of new health authorities to take charge.

- John Lister is co-author with Dr Jacky Davis and Dr David Wrigley of a new campaigners’ book NHS for Sale (Merlin £10.95), available from www.keepournhspublic.com.

Reblogged via: Morning Star