Friday, April 30, 2010

An 'offer' we can and should refuse

When Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, let slip that whoever wins the election would subsequently be out of power for 30 years, he was speaking with inside knowledge. King knows better than anyone the real state of the country’s finances – and it doesn’t make bedtime reading.

It’s the stuff of nightmares, with a budget deficit that is so huge that it threatens to overwhelm the state’s finances. What’s happening to Greece (with Portugal, Spain and Italy next in line) is a warning of the events that follow when a sovereign debt gets too big to pay off.

What King is indicating is that the scale of the cuts in public spending that will be implemented after the election – if Britain is to avoid the fate of Greece – are so vast that the anger of those on the receiving end will destroy whatever government emerges after May 6.

Of course, if the leaders of the major parties acknowledged what King was talking about, you might have to pay people to vote next Thursday. Instead, the political class are bound by an omertà. The Sicilian oath of silence, which became associated with the Mafia, is the only way to describe what’s happening with less than a week to go to a general election that is at best fraudulent and at worst a major deception at the expense of the British electorate. It only confirms what a joke the Parliamentary system has become with its claims to democracy and to represent the “will of the people”.

For example, today Lord Mandelson, asked if there was a hole in last night’s TV debate on the issue , the business secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I refute that."

He then wittered on about New Labour’s “deficit reduction plan”, and claimed: “I don't think it's fair to say we have left the public in any doubt about the size and scale of the turnaround and what's involved." Pull the other one. Everyone from the Financial Times to the Institute of Fiscal Studies is saying the exact opposite and I know who I’d rather believe.

Extending the Mafia analogy a little further, you could say that messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg are making us an offer they think we cannot refuse. But why lend any of them our votes when they will use them to claim a mandate for destroying living standards? In a sense, the opinion polls point towards a general desire not to hand any single party a clear mandate. Such is the uncertainty and fear in many voters’ minds about what’s likely to happen when the dust has settled.

The crisis that is unfolding in Greece is now being compared to the sovereign equivalent of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 which precipitated global financial turmoil. The Greek people are resisting dramatic cuts in living standards that are a consequence of the collapse of a global capitalist economic model driven by debt. Naturally, the measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund will intensify Greece’s economic catastrophe as people have less money in their pockets.

Similarly in Britain, capitalism can only “return to growth” on the basis of a scorched earth policy founded on an unheard of reduction in living standards and jobs. May 6 will settle nothing. All the election will do is draw up the battle lines between government, the state and ordinary working people.

The struggles that are soon to unfold will quickly assume a social character that raises the question of questions: how do ordinary people achieve the power to call a halt to capitalism’s meltdown. These are the kind of issues we will take up at our conference on May 22.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

Thursday, April 29, 2010

BP is beyond the pale

The oil corporation BP likes to brand itself as “beyond petroleum”. Beyond the Pale might be more appropriate after the latest of a series of disasters which the company has to take responsibility for.

Four hundred species of sea life, from turtles to shrimp and octopus, plus miles of coastline, ocean and wetland, hundreds of homes, beaches and livelihoods are threatened by a massive oil slick heading towards the Louisiana coast.

A week on from the explosion at the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed eleven workers and fractured underground pipes, the oil is gushing at a rate of 42,000 gallons a day. It could prove to the be the worst oil leak since 1969.

It is only 20 miles from the Mississippi Delta, an area that contains 40 per cent of all the wetlands in the United States. It covers an area of 2,138 square miles. It will arrive sometime on Friday, or sooner, it is said.

Attempts to halt the flow which is 5,000 feet down have failed, and so oil is now being coralled behind floating barriers and set on fire. It could take weeks to find a way of blocking the pipe.

A federal investigation is being launched into this latest disaster involving BP. In 2005, 15 people were killed at a BP oil and gas plant in Texas, and in 2006, BP was responsible for the biggest-ever oil leak in Alaska, damaging wildlife and the fragile eco-system of Prudhoe Bay.

In spite of that, BP was one of the corporations who lobbied successfully against new, fairly modest proposals for safety regulation of off-shore drilling. In September 2009, vice president for Gulf of Mexico production Richard Morrison, wrote: "We are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations.” He claimed that voluntary codes of practice "have been and continue to be very successful”.

And so it was with this same hopeless system of self-regulation in force that the Obama administration recently issued licences for extensive new oil exploration and pumping in areas formerly off limits for a whole range of safety and environmental reasons, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

Every time a disaster like this takes place, hands are wrung, crocodile tears shed – but then it’s back to business as usual. Because such events are not aberrations – they are the normal working of the profit-driven oil industry which has as its priority to get the stuff out of the ground as quickly as possible, whatever the effects.

The Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea in 1988 remains the biggest ever loss of life in the oil industry, when 167 people died when the rig caught fire. The recommendations of the Cullen Enquiry that followed have never been fully implemented.

As the oil runs out, what is left becomes harder to get at and the pressure for profit forces operators to keep costs low and put safety a long way second. Governments shy away from introducing tough regulations because they live in fear of the global corporations, especially the energy giants like BP.

The only way to resolve this issue is to recognise that the products of the earth cannot be treated as a free-ride for carpet-bagging capitalists and must be taken into common ownership. The whole decision-making process about what is extracted, what methods are used and for what purpose has to come under social control.

Penny Cole

Environment editor

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Greek crisis triggers debt tsunami

A debt tsunami is now sweeping across Europe to Portugal, Spain and Italy and onwards to the shores of the United Kingdom, before crossing the Atlantic to the United States of America, triggered by the financial earthquake that hit Greece yesterday.

Share markets plunged after credit rating agency Standard and Poor downgraded the long-term credit rating of Greece’s government and banks to junk status, the first eurozone member to have its bonds declared worthless. Markets fear that many banks are stuck with worthless Greek bonds and that the world is heading for renewed financial meltdown.

S&P’s action was its response to the decision by the two biggest trade unions in Greece to call a 24-hour strike against the government’s austerity measures for May 5. This will be the third joint strike of the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) and Federation of Civil Servants (ADEDY) against the government’s budgetary measures since the beginning of the year.

This further deepening of the crisis undermined the bail-out deal for Greece cooked up between the eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund, prompting the IMF to toss a further $10 billion into the pot. But the additional strings attached can only provoke further anger from Greek workers.

Early warning of the arrival of the tsunami in Britain has now been delivered to the parties contending to be the next government following next week’s General Election. Whilst all of the parties are keeping quiet about the detail of their plans to reduce the government deficit, the Financial Times and the Institute of Fiscal Studies have been doing their sums.

Both the IFS and the FT have identified black holes amounting to more than £30 billion in each of the manifestos of the three main parties.

The FT says the “next government will have to cut public sector pay, freeze benefits, slash jobs, abolish a range of welfare entitlements and take the axe to programmes such as school building and road maintenance – or make a set of equally politically perilous choices”. It has built a computer game enabling its readers to play at being Chancellor, to get the measure of the job he or she will have to do to attract investors to finance its debt.

The IFS said no party had come "anywhere close" to making clear where the axe would fall after the general election. This, it said, was despite the parties' plans implying the deepest cuts in spending since the 1970s and - in the case of the Conservatives - the biggest one-year reduction in public spending since demobilisation at the end of World War II.

The parties are keeping quiet because they too fear sparking a Greek-style revolt (actions taken or planned by university, college and school teachers against cuts are a sign of what’s to come). Never mind New Labour’s “hard choices” to be made, there’s a conspiracy amongst them all.

The IFS, the FT and the rest of the media and the political parties offer no choice at all. Somehow or other the cost of the debt must be paid by the millions of people being persuaded to vote for bailing out the capitalist system with the destruction of their jobs, pensions, health, education and social services.

But there is another way. We can build a better kind of democracy around a different kind of economy. A network of People’s Assemblies can oppose the next government and refuse to accept the cost of bailing out the banks and of putting profits into shareholders’ pockets.

They could decide to cancel the debt, outlaw speculation, close the profit system, and turn the private financial sector into a public service like, but even better than, the NHS.

Vote with your feet – take the revolutionary road on May 22nd.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Election deepens political crisis

The death at the weekend of writer Alan Sillitoe and the looming possibility of a hung Parliament have no direct connection. And yet looking back at Sillitoe’s writings, and reflecting on the latest twists in the election campaign, you can detect a profound shift taking place in British history.

Sillitoe’s brilliant story, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner appeared as a film in 1960. The story of a borstal boy symbolised the rebelliousness of an entire generation of young people – and the gritty realities of working class life in post-war Britain.

That world has passed. Communities of factory workers like those depicted in Sillitoe’s writings disappeared under globalisation and the policies of Thatcher and New Labour. New class relations have emerged. Workers are more dispersed and less unionised. Large sections of the community no longer work and live in impoverished conditions in, for example, former mining areas.

The old party loyalties have gone as a result. That, at the political level, can help to explain the sudden rise of the Liberal Democrats and an historic break-up of the two-party system. The choice between first the Tories and the Whigs and later Tories and Labour has dominated British politics for 200 years. Formal coalitions have been reserved for war time only.

That is why the threat of a Parliament without an overall majority for any party signals a moment of instability in which the “known knowns” are – at least temporarily – shattered, and has forced a realignment between those who represent capitalism.

The connection between this political transformation is inseparable from the economic processes of the last 40 years, in which the British welfare state has changed into a “market state” – entirely subservient to the rule of global capital. This process, explained in A World to Win’s book Unmasking the State, has led to a “hollowing out” of the state itself.

As the state’s role has altered, more and more people have lost interest in politics, realising that exercising your right to vote does not lead to any influence over those elected. Clegg’s sudden stardom following the first TV debate was not so much due to his personal charisma as the desire to pin on him the widespread disaffection with New Labour and the Tories.

After all, Clegg is even more ruling class than Cameron, and the Lib Dems are even more pro-banker than Brown and Cameron put together, if that’s possible. Don’t forget that Clegg’s deputy leader, ex-banker Vince Cable was the oil corporation Shell’s chief economist.

As Clegg knows only too well, Both Brown and Cameron’s “love bombing” is just hot air and he is walking a political tightrope. Many Lib Dem voters would see entering into an agreement with Cameron, as a "pact with the devil” and those who want to get shot of New Labour will feel betrayed if Clegg joins with Brown.

Achieving a stable form of government under these conditions could be well-nigh impossible. Some will see the political crisis as simply shadow-dancing while the real power-brokers remain hidden from view in the corridors of Whitehall and the global corporations. In some respects they are right.

But at the same time, to view politics separately form the deep currents underneath is also to miss the real moment of opportunity. The political crisis means that the ruling class is unable to rule in the old way at a time of a serious financial emergency. The strength of those in power is precisely that they are aware of this weakness and will do all in their power to address it.

Our strength must be to see it as an opportunity for those excluded from power to exercise their power in a meaningful way. That is why our strategy of forming People’s Assemblies is a thousand times more realistic than believing we can influence any parliament that will result from the election.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, April 26, 2010

PR is not the road to happiness

As the likelihood grows of the Lib Dems holding the balance of power in terms of seats after May 6, so does the debate about what price Nick Clegg’s party might exact for joining a New Labour or Tory-led coalition government. Centre stage is the idea of replacing the present voting system with PR or proportional representation.

The Lib Dems have always been in favour of PR, which is not surprising. Under the present system, they could, for example, gain a larger share of the total votes cast than New Labour and yet end up with fewer than half the number of seats. Even the Tories could poll far higher than Gordon Brown’s party and still have fewer seats than New Labour. Democracy in action this isn’t!

Some people who are fed up with the present political system see PR as a way forward. It would, they argue, allow smaller parties to be represented in Parliament. PR could even open up the floodgates to “revolution or fundamental reform”, according to one response to our election policy of “hang on to your vote – build People’s Assemblies”.

But would it? PR assumes that a) Parliamentary representation is the only possible form of democracy b) Parliament in the shape of the House of Commons has real power c) reforming the voting system will benefit ordinary people d) the Lib Dems are alright really e) the present capitalist state system can become the tribune of the people.

None of these presuppositions holds water, however. As we have demonstrated many times, Parliament has had no real power for over 140 years, when the executive first established a permanent stranglehold over MPs. Representation is an extremely limited form of democracy. It was first elaborated by Alexander Hamilton, one of the key thinkers behind the American Revolution. He saw it as a way of filtering popular sentiment while keeping it at arms length.

So what developed much later in Britain following the 1867 Reform Act was representation – but without power, which lay firmly in the hands of the state. The founding of the Labour Party did not fundamentally alter this relationship, even when it took office for the first time as a minority government in 1923.

This is because the government is only a part of the state system as a whole. And this state is indisputably capitalist by nature in the sense that its primary role is to uphold the status quo of private property and the wage contract system for workers, with force when necessary. Globalisation has brought the character of the state out into the open for all to see, with banks and corporations ruling through parties like New Labour and the state reorganised to facilitate global finance and the free movement of capital.

In this context, PR would not make a jot of difference. Sure, smaller parties would be represented in Parliament – the Greens, the neo-fascist BNP and the ultra-right UKIP to name but three. But the levers of power would remain in the hands of the ruling classes.
The experience of Italy, which elects its MPs through a system of PR, is a clear example that a more balanced voting system does not result in progressive change.

Advocates of PR are in danger of missing the wood for the trees, the form for the content. A fairer voting system is obviously required because the first-past-the-post method used in general elections is clearly weighted against change. But something like PR only makes sense within a truly democratic political system built around ideas like People’s Assemblies. Otherwise PR could actually be used to reinforce the status quo.

This is, we repeat, a crisis election. Britain’s debts are enormous and the crisis convulsing Greece is a warning of what’s to come here. Whatever the manoeuvres around a post-election arrangement, whatever regime emerges will be down on our necks like a ton of bricks because that’s what the money markets are demanding. Voting for any of the parties planning these cuts would be like turkeys voting for Christmas, whatever the merits or otherwise of PR.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, April 23, 2010

TV debate masks fraud of an election

With the general election now firmly in the realms of a TV game show, the degeneration of mainstream politics is clear for all who care to take note. Another ninety minutes of well rehearsed assertions could not disguise the fact that in essence, there is nothing between the major parties.

Fundamentally, there are no disagreements between the three parties when it comes to the economy, immigration, defence, Afghanistan, climate change etc. Even on Iraq, where the Lib Dems opposed the war, the subject hardly got a look in, with the questions from the audience reduced to anodyne levels (e.g. should the Pope be allowed into Britain?!).

Forget all the knockabout stuff – that’s routine in the House of Commons every week at prime minister’s questions. It’s all for show, to try and sell the electorate the idea that politics is exciting and that New Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are brimming with different ideas.

Any differences between them are about emphasis, not content. They are about ways of doing things – not changing the things themselves. The electorate is being asked to change management rather than elect a new government. None of the three leaders, for example, questions the assumption that massive cuts in public spending are needed to reduce the mounting budget deficit.

As the Financial Times reported hours before the televised debate, the government borrowed £163.4bn in the past financial year, the worst level of in Britain’s peacetime history. Public sector net debt rose to 53.8% of national income in 2009-10, up from 44% the previous year. The bankers’ paper noted: “The level of borrowing – at more than 11% of national income – highlights the need for the next government to enforce stringent public spending cuts and tax increases as the economy recovers, something all the parties agree on (emphasis added).”

The only reason the cuts are deemed necessary, however, is to appease international lenders who finance the deficit with loans and global foreign exchange traders buying and selling the pound. Yet the deficit itself is the result of the recession caused by the collapse of the very same financial system which has benefited from state bail-outs on a massive scale.

The alternative to making massive cuts in spending would require a total reorganisation of the economy and financial system. It would mean defying capitalist markets and relaunching the economy on the basis of gearing production to social need. None of this is going to happen at Westminster. After May 6, some sort of coalition will be cobbled together to clobber the electorate. Make no mistake about it.

So our twin policy of hanging on to your vote while campaigning to launch a network of People’s Assemblies may appear utopian but is actually a practical alternative. If you wouldn’t buy a used car off of Brown, Cameron or Clegg, why lend them your vote? If the present parliamentary system is undemocratic and unrepresentative, one where your vote counts for little, why participate in the fraud that is the 2010 general election?

If we want a real democracy in a society not beholden to bankers and corporations, we are going to have to take the initiative ourselves. A struggle for power against the political and economic elites is a tough road to go down. A World to Win is launching as an international organisation next month, committed to providing leadership for such a strategy. You are warmly invited to take part in the May 22 conference.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 22, 2010

'Socially acceptable' land grab rejected

Over 100 community and farmers’ rights organisations from across Africa, Asia and Latin America have denounced the World Bank’s proposed code of practice on land sales. They issued a statement today headed Stop Land Grabbing Now, which says that the code effectively facilitates the corporate take-over of rural people’s land.

The World Bank starts from the idea that any investment to increase land productivity in lower income countries and rural areas “is desirable in principle”.

It admits, however, that “some countries have been confronted with informal requests amounting to more than half their cultivable land area”. The World Bank also acknowledges that the key driving forces behind this phenomenon are far from philanthropic.

They are “the 2008 price spike in food and fuel prices, a desire by countries dependent on food imports to secure food supplies in the face of uncertainty and market volatility, speculation on land and commodity price increases, search for alternative energy sources, and possibly anticipation of payments for carbon sequestration”.

The World Bank adds: “The range of actors includes agro-enterprises in agri-food, biofuels, and extractive industries, private equity and other financial institutions, government-linked companies including sovereign funds, and individual entrepreneurs.”

The opposition statement contemptuously dismisses the World Bank code, which is any case entirely voluntary, saying:

“Since these investment deals are hinged on massive privatisation and transfer of land rights, the WB wants them to meet a few criteria to reduce the risks of social backlash: respect the rights of existing users of land, water and other resources (by paying them off); protect and improve livelihoods at the household and community level (provide jobs and social services); and do no harm to the environment. These are the core ideas behind the WB’s seven principles for socially acceptable land grabbing.”

The community and farmers’ groups say that facilitating the long-term corporate takeover of rural people’s farmlands is “completely unacceptable no matter which guidelines are followed”. They also warn that the World Bank’s principles distract from the fact that today’s global food crisis, marked by more than 1 billion people going hungry each day, “will not be solved by large scale industrial agriculture, which virtually all of these land acquisitions aim to promote”.

The statement sets out its own principles for land use which support the rights of communities, small farmers, fisher people and pastoralists. They would ensure local food supply and local control over water use and bio-diversity.

No surprise then that almost the first comment posted on the statement comes from China Farmer – aka a Chinese government official assigned to monitor this issue on the web.

He/she states: “This sounds like it was written by a westerner who does not understand local situations and does not wish to help people get out of poverty. Where is analysis? Why do westerners wish to help poor people but not help poor people be rich?” This is Chinese government speak for “don’t challenge the right of our new-style agricultural corporations to rove the globe making money”.

Those governments who are buying land for profit represent a new brand of colonialism in cahoots with the global corporations, but hiding behind anti-imperialist rhetoric. Those who are selling it are not much better. They can try to put people off the scent, but global fairness can only be achieved by ending the market in land.

This means completing the anti-imperialist struggles of the 20th Century with a new political movement to overthrow the élites who inherited the colonialists’ power and are exploiting it to the full on the same free-market principles.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ash cloud shows the folly of capitalism

There is some faint irony that natural causes emptied skies over Europe for a week, triggering anguish in business circles over the likely impact of longer-term airspace closures on economic growth.

Yet decades of unsustainable growth, including the recent burgeoning of air transport, have brought the planet’s ecosystem to the limit of its ability to support life. Climate change activists and the rapidly growing global Transition Initiative have pointed this out for some time.

The Transition movement has been particularly vocal, warning that the activities of profit-seeking corporations have depleted many of the natural resources that we now depend upon. Globalised production and distribution can’t function without the oil which, they’ve argued, is passing the peak of production.

Those who’ve been warning of the catastrophic social, economic and political impacts of failing to plan for either the declining availability of oil, or to minimise the damage to the environment from continuing to burn it up in the engines of cars, planes, heating systems and factories, have got a surprising new ally.

The US military is warning that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.

The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels, cutting into the pay of those who have to drive to get to work, and the cost of crude oil is predicted to pass $100 a barrel.

"By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day," says the report.It adds:

"While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India."

Despite repeated denials from the International Energy Agency and the oil companies which are intent on pumping and squeezing the last drop of profit from millions of years of fossilisation, there can be little doubt that demand is now passing supply. As oil runs out, it is certain to lead to increased tensions between the United States, China and oil-producing countries like Iran and Venezuela who do not share the political interests of the major capitalist economies.

What the volcano’s ash disruption to flights has demonstrated is that there is no future for a civilisation based on continued life-threatening, oil-burning economic growth.

The battle between airlines’ profits and passenger safety, and the likely political fallout from aircraft damaged by volcanic ash, has put most other news in the shade. But it cannot hide the fact that the British state is on the edge of insolvency, a consequence of the collapse of the credit-fuelled boom urged on by New Labour and the Tories.

Today’s figures on unemployment show the human price being paid for an unsustainable capitalist system. The number of people without a job in Britain rose by 43,000 to 2.502 million in the three months to February, the highest total since October-December 1994. That took the jobless rate up to 8.0%, the highest since 1996. All the major parties are planning huge cuts after the election, adding tens of thousands more to the dole queue. Whichever way you look at it, the case for revolutionary solutions to the crisis gets stronger every day.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tescopoly takeover gathers pace

Whilst most families struggle to meet their bills, owners of shares in Tesco will be thrilled by today’s news. Britain’s biggest supermarket has announced pre-tax profits of £3.4 billion for the last 12 months – an astonishing rise of 10% on the previous year.

Tesco now has over 30% of the £130 billion a year British market, far ahead of its nearest competitor. Its profits are larger than its main rivals put together as Tesco’s takeover of the supermarket sector continues. Independent stores only have 2.4% of the market.

Naturally, Tesco has had more than a little help from the government and its light-touch planning regulations, as Helen Rimmer of the Tescopoly Alliance explains. “Weak planning and competition rules have allowed Tesco’s aggressive expansion to continue unchecked. Even when a new store is turned down, Tesco comes back again and again with an army of legal and planning consultants to try to force it through.”

Last year, Tesco won the backing of a tribunal when it appealed against the “competition test” set out by the Competition Commission. As a result, the chain was granted permission for a 7.390 sq metre shop to open in Yiewsley, west London, where there are already three superstores within a 10-minute drive. The decision made a mockery of the Competition Commission’s investigation into the £120 billion grocery market.

In addition to dominating the grocery trade, Tesco has built up a huge property division. This has enabled the company to cash in on the real estate market. Under its chief executive Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco has built up the biggest property portfolio of any European company with £28bn worth of assets.

Shane Brennan, public affairs director of the Association of Convenience Shops which represents more than 33,500 local shops, says that whilst his members “have a lot to learn from Tesco, the question arises how big is too big?” He says:

“While Tesco claims that it is the customers who decide, in many Tesco towns, customers have few alternatives. When a Tesco opens, there is massive pressure on other shops. The number of small shops has declined year on year in the last decade. Buying and owning land is one of the key elements in the Tesco success story. If they were to build on it, they would massively increase their size.”

Tesco’s tentacles are spreading much further than the retail and property markets. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is about to “reform” the way that property is sold in the UK. Whilst this may sound like good news for people who want to bypass estate agents by going straight to the Internet, it will allow giant companies like Tesco to muscle in on the market.

According to the consumer advice website Buy Association, “the granting of estate agency powers will create a monopoly itself; such is the marketing and loss-leading power of the Tesco brand. In many ways, the only competition that a Tesco property website would face would be from Google should it decide to also enter the property sales arena”.

Meanwhile, back in Pimlico where a new Tesco is about to open, taking the place of three local shops, the Lib Dems claim to have secured an undertaking from the company that deliveries will be at the front rather than the back of the shop! That’s alright then. All that remains is the small problem of the Tesco takeover of Britain.

Corinna Lotz

A World to Win Secretary

Monday, April 19, 2010

Political pop idol comes to Britain

Such is the decline in traditional political allegiance in Britain that one appealing TV appearance can thrust an average performer to apparent super stardom as the general election comes to resemble a TV talent show rather than a political campaign.

The political version of Britain’s Got Talent or Pop Idol has propelled Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg from an also-ran to the one to beat, according to the pollsters. Clegg’s rise to fame certainly makes a hung parliament more likely than not.

There is no other way to explain the violent swing in the opinion polls since Clegg’s triumph over Gordon Brown and David Cameron during their TV debate last week. Faced with the prospect of either a New Labour or Tory government, voters have understandably taken fright.

Whatever Clegg is, he is not Brown or Cameron! Never mind what he stands for – he is young, appealing and pours scorn on the two parties that for almost 70 years have taken turns in running the country in a Tweedledee-Tweedledum act.

Disgust with New Labour runs deep for a variety of reasons. Watching Lords Mandelson and Adonis outside Downing Street, explaining why the volcano eruption in Iceland is bad news, is enough to put you off on its own. Both are courting the Lib Dems because essentially that is their natural home.

Mandelson came within a whisker of defecting to the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s, while Adonis was a member of the outfit that broke away from Labour and subsequently joined with the Liberals (Britain’s oldest capitalist party, going back to the mid-19th century) to form the Lib Dems.

New Labour – with the support of the Tories – enabled Britain to become an offshore haven for global financiers and left the economy to stagger and eventually collapse under unparalled debt burdens. Add in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the undermining of human rights and creating markets for public services, you can see why many people find it hard to stomach voting New Labour.

As for inequality, City bankers have experienced near-unprecedented income growth over the past decade, with the highest-paid workers taking home nearly a third of the UK’s total wage bill, new research from the London School of Economics shows. The report reveals that the top 10 per cent of workers seeing their share of wages rise from 27 per cent to 30 per cent between 1998 and 2008. Big bonuses paid to bankers and traders accounted for most of those gains, with financial services professionals taking home an extra £12bn per year by the end of the decade.

The extreme electoral volatility shown in the polls does not herald, however, a new political dawn so much as the break-up of the old arrangements under the impact of globalisation and its offspring, the world economic and financial crisis.

The fact that Clegg himself represents constituents in Sheffield – once an engineering and steel-making town – speaks volumes for the decline of New Labour in what were once its heartlands. The city council is also Lib Dem controlled, as is Newcastle, York and other northern towns and cities.

If the Lib Dems do end up joining a coalition to keep New Labour in power it would mark the full turn of the circle and the completion of the Blairite project to unite both parties. Labour was formed in 1900 to end Liberal influence over the trade unions and win reforms from capitalism. A coalition would be a step along the road to a merger that would signal the formal and historic end of that venture.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, April 16, 2010

Revealed: the secret debate rules

There were apparently about 80 rules agreed between the major parties about how last night’s TV debate should be conducted. We can reveal some of the rules for the first time – and they go a long to explaining why those viewers who didn’t switch channels had to endure what they did.

  1. All the leaders will be pompous white males in shiny suits with ludicrous ties that relate to their party’s colours.
  2. All the questions will be so anodyne that they wouldn’t frighten a pussycat.
  3. The Big Three will decline to inform viewers about the scale of the cuts in public spending they would make if in government.
  4. All three leaders will pledge to protect front-line services, while knowing that the budget deficit makes this impossible.
  5. Each leader will have a go at immigration levels, trying to steal votes from those thinking about voting for the neo-fascist BNP.
  6. No one will mention the word capitalism or criticise the system in any way that links it to the economic and financial crisis.
  7. No one will acknowledge that that the British state’s debts are larger in proportion to gross domestic product than Greece’s.
  8. Tory leader David (call me Dave) Cameron will talk about creating a “Bigger Society” when he actually wanted to say a “Big Society”.
  9. He will bang on about “efficiency savings” when he means cuts.
  10. New Labour leader Gordon Brown will speak like a programmed robot and wear a stupid grin from time to time.
  11. He will hector Cameron and viewers whenever he gets the chance.
  12. Brown will accept no responsibility for anything New Labour has done in 13 years in office.
  13. Cameron will sometimes look bewildered, wondering what he was doing in Manchester for the debate and thinking about the playing fields of Eton.
  14. Cameron will talk about “change” in such a vague way that he could be talking about what you get back after going to the local shop.
  15. Nick Clegg will boast that his party is different from the two “old parties” because it is new.
  16. Clegg will omit to say that the Lib Dems come out of the Liberal Party, which was one of the two major British parties from the mid-19th century until the rise of the Labour Party in the 1920s.
  17. He will also refer to the number of admirals there are relative to each warship (as if anyone cared) and the cost of a new police car.
  18. From time to time, the three leaders will agree with each other totally to show that when it comes down to it, there’s not much between them on policies.
  19. None will give a hint that behind the scenes they are secretly negotiating the terms of a coalition/national government that could well prove necessary after May 6.
  20. At the end of the 90 minutes (thank goodness there’s no rule about playing extra time), all three will shake hands.
  21. Cameron and Clegg will wander off the platform together, while Brown approaches frightened members of the audience.

For the masochists amongst you, there are two more of these events to come before polling day. Now you can see that our policy of hanging on to your votes is the only one guaranteed to keep you sane.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mother Earth gets to have her say

Delegates from around the world are gathering in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba as the momentum builds for the start on Monday of the historic World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth called by the country’s president, Evo Morales.

An anticipated 15,000 people, including many indigenous and local groups, will be joining political leaders, scientists and academics in response to Morales’ impassioned call following the abject failure of December’s Copenhagen Summit. Outspoken Hollywood actors Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Robert Redford have said they will be there to join leading climate scientist James Hansen and Avatar director James Cameron.

Two climate scientists who will be travelling to the Cochabamba conference have spoken out at the increased threat posed by climate change. Veli Albert Kallio and John Nissen warned of much more rapid global warming in the polar regions than is generally understood. They were present at a meeting hosted by the Bolivian ambassador in London, Maria Beatriz Souviron-Crespo, which A World to Win also participated in.

The ambassador herself denounced a $3.5m reduction cut in US aid as “extortion” and “punishment” for Bolivia’s and other countries’ refusal to sign up to the worthless Copenhagen accord which had been secretly concocted by 28 leaders, including the US, Brazil and China, behind the backs of the majority of the delegates – African and island nations in particular.

“We think Copenhagen is a step back from the Kyoto protocol of 1992. Two degrees [of warming] is not enough to save the world. The consequences will be devastating, mainly for small island nations and the poorest countries of the world,” Souviron-Crespo warned, saying that the world was sleepwalking to disaster.

She backed Veli and Nissen’s accusations that governments were putting pressure on climate scientists to tone down their findings. Veli is a respected environmentalist and geophysical researcher, founder of an organisation to protected the frozen isthmuses in the Arctic and North Atlantic oceans. He has predicted that a massive destabilisation of the Greenland ice mass is imminent and could threaten major cities, including London.

Both scientists indicated that UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s own investigators were not facing up to the seriousness of the fact that arctic sea ice was disappearing at a much faster rate than has been previously thought. Nissen, who researches geoengineering solutions to global warming, insisted that a much more rapid emissions reduction was needed action to slow down Arctic warming. “The current Copenhagen course is suicidal,” he warned.

Also this week, dramatic evidence of global warming came in the southern hemisphere - far nearer to Cochabamba – when a chunk of a Peruvian glacier fell into an Andean lake. The piece of ice, which was the size of four football pitches, caused a tsunami.

Peru’s tropical ice fields have retreated by 22% since 1975, according to a World Bank report, and warmer temperatures are expected to erase them entirely within 20 years. The disappearance of the Andean ice sheets would threaten hydro-electric power supplies.

The Cochabamba conference is aimed at mobilising people in every country to act on climate change because the major economies have made it clear that enforceable reductions in carbon emissions are simply not up for discussion. Uniquely, the conference will also discuss the underlying causes of climate change, which centre on the capitalist system of production for profit. A World to Win has made its own contribution to this crucial discussion at what promises to be a landmark conference.

Corinna Lotz
AWTW secretary

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cameron's great con trick

Conservative leader David Cameron launched his party’s election manifesto with a head-turning invitation to working people in their communities to take on the power to change the system. But don’t be deceived. This is just part of the Tories’ approach to paying off the towering debt that’s threatening to sink the British state.

If elected, he says his government will devolve power, allowing co-operatives and social enterprises to run schools and health services. “Giving public sector workers ownership of the services they deliver is a powerful way to drive efficiency, so we will support co-operatives and mutualisation as a way of transferring public assets and revenue streams to [the] public sector," says the manifesto.

Using language long familiar to the labour and trade union movement now deeply disenchanted with 13 years of New Labour, and appealing to the recent upsurge of people determined to defend and develop not-for-profit services in and for their communities, Cameron has clearly picked up on some popular sentiments.

The Tory leader has noticed that co-operatives, mutuals and not-for-profit social enterprises can mobilise the support of large numbers of volunteers eager to work for the benefit of their community when the lifeline services provided by post offices, schools, health and care centres, as well as local shops are threatened with closure. He could hardly fail to notice the charity shops that feature prominently in every high street in the land now that the credit-funded property and retail boom has collapsed.

So the Tories have put two and two together. On the one hand are the hedge fund managers, bankers and similar types with which he has filled the ranks of his party depleted by departing expenses fraudsters. They and their backers are determined to ensure that the interest payable on government bonds finds its way out of the economy and into their bonus payments. And they are demanding savage cuts in public sector spending so as to reduce the government debt to manageable levels and avoid state bankruptcy.

On the other hand are the millions of people who feel and sense that the systems and services essential for social cohesion are being knocked away prop by prop.

So, thinks Cameron, why not hand the essential services over to be run by volunteers? The choice to be offered to public sector workers will be redundancy and an end to the public sector as we know it, or they can form themselves into co-operatives and compete for contracts offering the cheapest tender using willing volunteers. Brilliant!

Cameron’s proposals for the public sector don’t extend into the world of private profit, of course. And New Labour’s manifesto talks of returning Northern Rock to the private sector as soon as possible.

But if profit-sharing employee-owned businesses and not-for-profit community enterprises can run things on a not-for-profit basis, and there are plenty of successful examples to prove that they can – the John Lewis Partnership to name just one – why not extend the principle to the whole of society?

Why not run the banks on the same principle as the NHS, as a not-for-profit service to society? It isn’t a new idea – building societies were created for exactly that and it is good of Cameron to raise the idea again. Why after all, do for-profit finance houses need to exist at all, tempting us into deeper and deeper debt?

What’s needed now is to go the whole hog. Let’s set up the democratic structures to take all of the assets of the corporations and banks into social ownership, cancel the debt and run the whole of the economy on not-for-profit lines. It’ll do us and the planet a world of good. In the meantime, hang on to your vote!

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A future unfair for most

Once upon a time in the 18th century, a Frenchman wrote “the style is the man”. Studying New Labour’s election manifesto published yesterday, it is wise to keep this in mind.

The garish-kitsch-retro design of the manifesto cover is a ham-fisted attempt to refer backwards to Old Labour with lashings of Stalinist Socialist Realism. The “vision” it presents is of a white family looking out over green fields towards a radiant sun emblazoned with the words “a future fair for all” (whatever that means).

From where most of us live in large or small cities and towns, this is not a Britain we would recognise, except when we might be on holiday. Likewise the bizarre fake cornfield projected behind Gordon Brown at the launch – has Britain suddenly turned into a rural idyll?

The appeal is directly to the middle classes, as confirmed by Brown: “We are the party of everybody of middle income and modest incomes in this country. We are the party appealing to middle class voters in every constituency.”

New Labour’s hope is that it can keep the real issues and its real plans in the shadows. Behind all the tinsel and promises of crumbs, the real strategy is “to encourage a culture of long-term commitment to company growth”. There is not an instant’s reflection on what has taken place since 2007, when the financial meltdown got under way.

New Labour’s corporate-friendly “high growth” policy of the last 13 years will continue if it is re-elected – as if there has been no evidence that the financial and economic crash was the direct result of giving free sway to the interests of the banks and global corporate capitalism.

That’s why Lord Mandelson said that “the spirit of Tony Blair smiles down on New Labour today” and described the manifesto as “Blair plus”. Helping the corporations to maintain their growth and profits will remain at the heart of New Labour, however great the suffering this will wreak on all but the super-rich.

New Labour intends to recover the staggering £900 billion national debt by huge cuts in public spending, including £20 billion-worth in the National Health Service and attacks on public sector pensions – punishing the very people who keep the country going – fire-fighters, NHS and council workers.

The manifesto boasts: “We will take a tough stance on public-sector pay, saving over £3 billion by capping public-sector pay rises at one per cent in 2011-12 and 2012-13. We have agreed tough reforms to public-sector pensions.”

Meanwhile, immigrant workers, young people and “problem families” are effectively blamed for social problems and crime. The manifesto proudly announces its primitive attitude: more punishment and medieval-style “shaming”: “We will ensure a total of 96,000 prison places by 2014. More EU and other foreign prisoners will be transferred abroad….For offenders not sentenced to prison we have brought in tough new ‘Community Payback’: hard work in public, wearing orange jackets.”

The database surveillance state will be breathing down our necks and prying into our lives. CCTV, DNA profiling and databases, biometric ID schemes (i.e. passports) will be “offered” at high prices. DNA data will be kept for six years for “serious” offenders.

A vision? New ideas? Quite the opposite. The manifesto is a tawdry and shameful attempt is to hoodwink the middle classes and whip up anti-immigration sentiments. Meanwhile, the need to pour money into the black hole of debt to pay for the banking bail-outs will consign lower-paid and public sector workers, the poor, the young, the disabled and pensioners to an impoverished and insecure fate.

And yet, you still meet people who tell us that you have to vote New Labour to keep the Tories out. Surely they are just joking?

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Monday, April 12, 2010

Privatisation by stealth set to soar

Whatever the result of the general election, private sector corporations are eagerly looking forward to getting their hands on larger and larger areas of public services as state spending comes under pressure because of the budget deficit.

The trend was set as soon as New Labour was elected in 1997 when prime minister Blair declared that what mattered was “what worked” – not what sector the service was in. Within a short period, contracting out in Britain surpassed every other major industrial country in its size and scope.

Total British government expenditure stands at about £620bn, of which just over a fifth is contracted out to companies operating for profit. You name it and the private sector is involved. They clean your streets, maintain social housing, run prisons and detention centres, train military pilots, transport prisoners, collect parking fines, maintain databases, inspect schools, administer the criminal records bureau and collect TV licence fees.

This is in addition to full privatisation of public services, as well as the so-called public private partnerships (under which the London Tube system is part-privatised) and private finance initiative (PFI) partnerships. Under these, the private sector build new projects like hospitals and schools which they then lease back to the public sector at vast expense because the state picks up the interest on the finance.

With all the major parties promising to cut state spending and find cheaper ways to run services, the leading companies in the field are rubbing their hand with glee. Their shares on soaring as the market anticipates rich pickings.

Shares in Capita, the back-office specialist, closed at 796p on Friday, a record. Shares in Serco, which runs prisons and welfare-to-work schemes, are at their highest since November 2000. The firms have told the parties that they can run services 30% cheaper. “There is almost no area of public services where we wouldn’t be able to help provide efficient and quality services,” said Chris Hyman, chief executive of Serco.

Local authorities account for a fifth of Capita's business, which describes itself as “the UK’s leading outsourcing company”. Outsourcing is increasingly being applied to "frontline" services. Recently outsourcing firm Tribal Group announced it had won a £64m five-year contract from the government funded education inspection body Ofsted to inspect almost half of England's nurseries.

“It will be a really great opportunity,” says Ruby McGregor-Smith, chief executive of Mitie, the facilities management group whose contracts include providing security services for courts across the UK. “I think the challenge can be met.”

In 2008, the DeAnne Julius report commissioned by the government estimated that services outsourced to the private sector cost 20% less. The explanation is obvious. The “savings” are more often than not achieved by cutting jobs and hiring new staff on inferior pay and conditions.

Dubbed “stealth privatisation” by trade unions – whose leaders have done precious little to resist the process – the prospect of an even larger market in the near future has produced a spate of mergers. Babcock, which makes most of its profits from defence contracts, has taken over VT, formerly Vosper Thornycroft and once famous for shipbuilding, which reinvented itself as a provider of services to cash-strapped government and local authorities in a bid to diversify its business.

With all the parties capable of forming a government after May 6 committed to contracting out, oursourcing, private-public partnership – call them what you will – it is just one more reason that the election is a fraud. The best thing you can do in these circumstances is hang on to your vote and instead use your energy to begin to create real democratic politics and a society where services are provided because they are needed.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Friday, April 09, 2010

Cameron plays populist card

Tory leader David Cameron claimed today that his party and New Labour have swapped places in British politics – the Conservatives are now the “radicals” while New Labour are the “reactionaries”.

He says this is a “strange reversal”. And, he’s right. It is strange in more ways than one. For a start, if a top Tory believes that appealing to radicalism could be a means of gaining votes that should be a wake-up call to those who believe that conservatism with a small “c” is the most dominant force in British politics.

Reinforcing his earlier calls for community assemblies to revive local democracy, Cameron yesterday teamed up somewhat bizarrely with actor Michael Caine to raise the idea of a national service for youth, as part of his notion of a “Big Society”. Caine referred to the Conservative Party as “the government”. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

Cameron has also called for a 5,000-strong army of full-time professional community organisers, in an emulation of Barack Obama. The US president once immersed himself as a community organiser in Chicago’s most deprived neighbourhoods, working with black car workers, youth and unemployed. The Tories along with their house newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, have been praising the virtues of co-operatively-owned and run local shops in communities killed off by globalised commerce as great initiatives.

Those who still cling to the delusion that New Labour retains its old credentials of being the party that represents in some way the working class will, of course, simply dismiss this as lying word-twisting by power-hungry Tories. It’s easy to pooh-pooh Cameron’s “visions” as the usual election posturing, by of all people a rich boy educated at the best public schools in the country, whose wife’s wealth is estimated at more than £30m.

But the truth is that the Conservatives, have done some serious homework. They are sensitive to the widespread disaffection and alienation that has built up in the 13 years of New Labour. In their hunger for votes and power, even privileged toffs like Cameron must appeal to the vast numbers of people in Britain who have lost faith in politics and politicians and the establishment in general.

For all Cameron’s fine talk and “sympathy” for teenagers in deprived areas who are frustrated and bored, the Conservatives in power would make the same immense cuts in public spending as New Labour is secretly planning. The Tories are already proposing to cut inheritance tax which will directly benefit the richest 2 per cent in Britain. Most of it will go to the 3,000 wealthiest estates including those of his wife. There will be handouts of billions more to the richest 1 per cent of the population.

In this respect the Tories are the same as New Labour, under whose rule more wealth and power has been handed to the rich than ever before in recent history. Prosecuting neo-imperialist wars, retaining and strengthening anti-trade union legislation, widening the gap between the rich and poor and giving the forces of the state unheard of powers have made Blair and Brown almost indistinguishable from their Tory predecessors, Thatcher and Major.

Therefore, the only way that Cameron’s Tories can really make themselves look different is by occupying what political ground remains with some form of populist democracy. The ruling elites are, as ever, quite adept at making adjustments to the state in order to try and reel the electorate back into the traditional parliamentary political process.

The answer is not vote for discredited New Labour but to step up the campaign to expose the sham nature of the election and the undemocratic state that is beyond reform. That has to go hand in hand with establishing the framework for transferring actual political and economic power from the state to People’s Assemblies, thereby creating our democratic society.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Drill baby, drill!

You went to bed with President Obama’s “yes we can” ringing in your ears. You woke up to Sarah Palin’s “drill baby, drill” echoing across the land. That must have been how many Americans felt when they heard that the White House had overturned a moratorium on Atlantic oil exploration in place since the 1980s.

In a move that exceeds anything even the oilmen of the Bush administration tried, Obama has announced that drilling will be now allowed off Virginia and much of the rest of the Atlantic coast. Whilst some Alaskan leases were cancelled, the possibility of future exploration was left open, and other previously announced leases will go ahead. Exploration will also be allowed in the Gulf of Mexico and areas of the Pacific.

The justification is that this is what Obama must do if he is to win Republican support for a climate change bill. But the result will be a bill that will have no binding commitment to emissions reductions, just optimistic targets. And it will enshrine previously announced commitments to nuclear and unproven “clean coal” as part of a “clean energy policy”. It will be so compromised that it will make little difference to greenhouse gas emissions whilst giving a boost to the nuclear, coal and oil industries.

The coal industry will continue to destroy landscape and wilderness – and people’s health – with open-cast mining. The drive to restart uranium mining in the Lakota reservations in the Black Hills will be stepped up. Obama has even withdrawn from a previous commitment to overturn a Bush-era law allowing mining corporations to freely dump mined waste on public land.

Lifting the moratorium on drilling drew an angry response from environmentalists. Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the US Centre for Biological Diversity, said the announcement was “unfortunately all too typical of what we have seen so far from President Obama - promises of change, a year of 'deliberation,' and ultimately, adoption of flawed and outdated Bush policies as his own." He added:

"Rather than bring about the change we need, this plan will further our national addiction to oil and contribute to global warming, while at the same time directly despoiling the habitat of polar bears, endangered whales, and other imperilled wildlife."

Michael Brune, of the wilderness protection organisation, the Sierra Club, said: “What we need is bold, decisive steps towards clean energy – not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling. The oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records."

As for Obama, the president optimistically claimed: “I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that's going to foster new industries, create millions of new jobs, protect our planet, and help us become more energy independent.” The question is, just how far does Obama have to go to get support from Republicans who have no interest in legislation, because it suits them to believe that climate change is not happening? The answer is, he can never go far enough.

Responding to the announcement on drilling, John Boehner, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said he couldn’t see why drilling should be banned anywhere, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “a step in the right direction, but a small one that leaves enormous amounts of American energy off limits". Obama has opened the door and the Republicans and their friends who run the energy corporations will keep pushing until they get what they want.

Penny Cole
Environment editor

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Uncertainty grips the markets

The value of the pound fell in response to the official launch of the election campaign as foreign exchange markets reacted to the distinct possibility that it could produce weeks of wrangling over which leader or leaders and which party or parties are left in charge of the British economy.

It’s not that dealers are consciously “sending a message” to the electorate or even the candidates, though that is how their actions are translated into news reports for public consumption and interpreted by the contending parties. Market traders are directing their attention to the single-minded pursuit of profit.

It is their perception of the actual and likely trajectory of political change that affects and responds to actual and predicted movements in the relative price of currencies on international markets. The same logic determines the price at which government bonds change hands, and the interest rates attached to them.

As the period of profit derived from the growth of globalising corporations waned in the 1990s, world economic expansion became increasingly dependent on credit to fund both the production and consumption sides of the equation.

This coincided with the coming to power In Britain of New Labour. Gordon Brown was its Chancellor for most of the period, single-mindedly working to build relationships with the heads of the global financial institutions by turning the City of London into the world’s most attractive place for them to do business.

And the business was credit. Britain became a central hub for financial transactions. As time passed, the balloons of fantasy finance needed to keep the global capitalist economy from shrinking were inflated to unsustainable pressure.

When all that collapsed, Brown was to the fore, leading the world in shoring it up again through the invention and deployment of new, ever more fantastic sources of credit. Britain’s personal, corporate and government combined debt in relation to its annual output exploded, surpassing every other country.

But now it is payback time. Investors who bought government bonds with credit given to them by those very same governments want to see some return on “their” capital. The concern is that the debts have grown so high that they can’t be serviced, let alone repaid. Just like the default on sub-prime mortgages that triggered the collapse in 2007. Only on a much grander scale.

Payback will require governments to inflict unprecedented pain on their electorates. Investors, speculators and market traders will only put their money into places where governments show the greatest determination to extract the value needed to service their debts. An indeterminate election on May 6 is not what the markets want and it shows itself in currency gyrations.

Even where there seems to be agreement to slash state budgets, popular resistance is throwing governments off balance. The Greek government is already wavering in its determination to impose the recently-agreed austerity programme on its restive population. Iceland is in a political limbo following the overwhelming rejection of the terms of the repayment of its debts to the British and Dutch governments.

The conflict between the masters of the global economy and their political pawns on the one side and the mass of the population on the other is certain to mount. Strikes are growing in frequency and intensity throughout Europe, whatever legal obstacles are put in their way by the state.

Britain’s general election will not settle any of these questions because they reflect the deep divisions and insoluble contradictions at the heart of capitalism itself . New systems of democracy that put people in ownership and control of society’s resources are posed as the only practical way out of this impasse.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor

Monday, April 05, 2010

The great deception

The reasons for hanging on to your vote at the general election next month are mounting. But surely the most significant is the fact that the electorate is being kept in the dark by a conspiracy of silence by all the major parties capable of forming a government.

How can people vote for parties that are refusing to say what their immediate post-election plans are in relation to cutting the budget deficit? Despite all the squabbles between New Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats over national insurance contributions, no one has admitted the truth: that savage reductions in public spending are on the cards.

Leaving aside for the moment whether the deficit ought to be cut as opposed to repudiated, from a capitalist point of view there is no choice. The deficit is close to 12% of the value of annual output (GDP) and similar in size to that of Greece, which is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

The government is forced to borrow on the bond markets to finance the gap between state spending and income – and the cost of this is rising. Currently, the Treasury is charged about 4% on borrowing and this is expected to rise to 5% this year. Interest payments alone are running at over £40 billion a year – adding to the total debt every day.

Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics, is typical of City observers in noting after last month’s budget that “the current plans to halve the deficit over the next four years rely both on spending cuts which have not yet been properly detailed, and on almost certainly over-optimistic projections for the economy”.

His view that “the momentous task of tackling the UK's fiscal crisis will get under way after the election – and it's going to hurt" (my emphasis) is self-evidently true. But as that is the case, how can people actually take part in the election? Why should they vote when the major parties are effectively lying about what’s to come?

After all, you wouldn’t buy a car or a fridge or even a pint of milk without making some sort of check, would you? If you knew the milk was off, you wouldn’t buy it. So how can voters be expected to “buy in” to what’s on offer when the information on the label is pure fiction?

The great deception is what this election will be known for, therefore. And it is all part and parcel of the great wipe-out of democracy, where corruption and the big lie have undermined not just the significance of the right to vote but eaten into the very heart of the capitalist political system. Which is another good reason – perhaps the most important of them all – to hang on to your vote.

To those who say we have to use our vote because people died fighting for it, we say that their sacrifice was not made so that we could participate in a charade. The plot of the major parties is actually to steal our votes. Let’s not give them that opportunity.

We have to open a campaign that challenges the right of the political elites to impose the burden of a crisis created by their complicity with financial and economic powers on to the backs of ordinary people. That means withholding our vote, denying them a mandate to make draconian cuts. At the same time we favour building support for People’s Assemblies that would find ways to reorganise the economy and state finances along lines that benefit the majority instead of the privileged few.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Government in shock move to slash emissions

In a shock move today, New Labour promised not only to make a commitment to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions a central plank of their election campaign but also to withdraw subsidies and tax breaks from fossil fuel corporations and transfer them instead to developing renewables.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said energy and climate change minister Ed Miliband. “The planet is under threat – people are facing actual death as a result of climate change, human society will not be able to survive the disruption and misery – what else can we do but act, and act now.”

Miliband promised to make Britain an example for the world, including working for a new climate change agreement that focused on justice not only between countries, but within them as well. He admitted that the “energy” part of his brief had for too long relied on the fossil fuel, nuclear and power marketing corporations to deliver the reliable and sustainable supply people need.

“It hasn’t worked, though, has it? They have taken the profits and failed even to build enough storage for gas to get us through a cold winter. They don’t care if the price goes up – they just pass it on to the consumer. The time has come to take things into our own hands.”

As well as promising to take the energy generation and supply industry back into public ownership in short order, Miliband announced support for a new generation of local energy initiatives including:

* Combined heat and power plants (CHP) to provide electricity, heating and cooling. This will enable waste heat from one building to be used in another that needs it, rather than going to waste.

* Anaerobic digesters transforming the community’s waste, to create bio-gas to fuel the CHPs.

* Combining decentralised CHP with solar thermal panels for providing hot water and photovoltaic arrays, plus using the storage capacity of the ground itself to make the whole community a clean, de-carbonised power station.

* Rural and coastal communities forming community owned not-for-profit energy generating co-operatives to benefit directly from the harnessing of wind, wave or tidal power from within their communities for exporting to urban communities.

* Formation of not-for-profit co-operatives of architects, construction workers, suppliers and product makers, creating all new buildings with energy efficiency as the main driver, not pushed to the margins.

* A crash programme of insulating all existing homes, and firms to achieve agreed standards of insulation and energy efficiency for offices and factories. The firms would participate fully in the energy strategy for their district.

Commenting on the proposals Conservative shadow environment secretary Peter Ainsworth said: “Nationalisation? That’s a bit old hat isn’t it? We’re going to put the energy corporations into the hands of the workers, and establish energy trusts where consumers and suppliers can work together to create a sustainable energy future.”

As he spoke, Miliband was seen to be holding a small, buff-coloured book. When asked what he was reading, he told reporters: “The most revolutionary concept of a sustainable future I’ve ever read. Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Penny Cole

Environment editor