Sunday, 31 October 2010

Social Cleansing in London

Guest blog from Mike Shaughnessy of Haringey Green Party.

Boris Johnson, Tory mayor of London, has been courting controversy again with a comment he made in a radio interview about the coalition government’s proposed policies on Housing Benefit. Johnson said that he was not prepared to tolerate a ‘Kosova style social cleansing in London on his watch’. It is not the first time that he has made controversial statements in the media, but this time he has provoked outrage from government ministers, who have accused him off ‘making inflammatory remarks’.

It is perhaps a rather over the top comparison to cite Kosova, but he sure knows how to capture the attention of the media, and he is highlighting a very important issue. He may have been more accurate to compare government Housing Benefit changes to the enclosures and clearances of land in eighteenth and nineteenth century Britain, where huge amounts of rural land was cleared of inhabitants who were forced into the burgeoning urban areas by wealthy landowners.

Make no mistake about it, these changes to HB will cause profound social upheaval. The particular policy of capping the amount of payments to a third of ‘market’ value (down from a half) from next year, was what Johnson had in mind. In wealthy parts of London, HB claimants will be unable to afford private sector rents, and so will be forced into cheaper areas of the capital or outside of London altogether.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Haringey will suffer from an exodus in the wealthy western parts of the borough and an influx into the cheaper eastern areas, from claimants within Haringey and from outside more expensive boroughs. All this will lead to more pressure on other services, such as hospitals, schools and social services in the east of the borough, not to mention housing overcrowding, making these parts of Haringey more deprived than they already are.

Another change to HB which will cause social problems is the twelve month rule. HB claimants will automatically lose 10% of their benefit after twelve months, whether they are on Jobseekers Allowance or in low paid employment. How are these people meant to make up the difference when they are already on the breadline? Inevitably, this will lead to evictions and homelessness which in turn will lead to health issues and probably an increase in crime, at a time when police numbers, prison places and probation officers are all being cut.

Clearly huge sums are being spent on HB at the moment, but why punish the claimants when the problem is caused by a lack of affordable social housing and astronomical ‘free market’ rents in the private sector, in London particularly?

We are moving towards the kind of problems we saw in the 1980’s with poor ghettos becoming increasingly unsettled and a powder keg which exploded into urban riots in these areas in the end.

This is the ConDem government future, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Arms marketing department avoids cuts.

The UKTI Defence Services Organisation is a taxpayer funded department staffed by 160 civil servants, costing £13m or so per year, existing solely to promote weapons sales overseas. Needless to say, this piece of corporate welfare escaped the cuts. Why should the arms companies that benefit not be expected to pay for their own marketing. More info on

UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) is a government department that helps businesses sell their products worldwide.
. In 2008, it opened the Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) to promote arms exports. UKTI now employs 160 civil servants to sell arms
Despite its obscure name and low profile, UKTI DSO is at the heart of the government’s support for the arms trade.
• It exists purely to help arms companies sell weapons to other countries.
• Working on behalf of private arms companies, it promotes weapons sales to unstable and repressive regimes, with little regard for the impact of such sales.
• This work is all paid for by the UK taxpayer.
• UKTI DSO reflects the huge and disproportionate support given to arms companies: UKTI employs more civil servants to sell arms than it does to support every other industry sector combined.
• There is no economic justification for such support: arms sales account for just 1.5 % of UK exports and sustain just 0.2% of the national labour force. Instead of fuelling insecurity and abuse around the globe, this money would be better spent on tackling real threats to our security, such as climate change: a move that would also create new jobs and boost the economy.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Doubtless everyone knows that pets should be kept indoor on bonfire night to avoid being terrified by the noise of fireworks. However wild animals also suffer at this time of year, and none more than hedgehogs. These wonderful animals, which help to ensure that our gardens are not totally destroyed by slugs, find a pile of wood or leaves the ideal place to hibernate. And so it is if it remains undisturbed until spring, but if it is set on fire they cannot escape and are roasted alive.
So please, do not store stuff for a bonfire in the place where it is to be burned but move it to its final position as late as possible before setting it alight.
More information can be found on

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The London FBU go on strike today until 6pm.

PLEASE SUPPORT THEM. Go along to your local fire station picket line and give them your support.

The administration is hell-bent on wrecking the union to make way for the introduction of practices that will put us all in danger.

FBU press release:

London's 5,600 firefighters will go on strike at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday)
morning, and will stay out until 6 p.m., after the London Fire Brigade sent
them all letters of dismissal on 11 August.

"It is a terrible step to have to take" says Fire Brigades Union general
secretary Matt Wrack, who will join the walkout at Euston fire station.
"But London's firefighters feel it is the only step they can now take."

They are taking the action because, on 11 August, the London Fire Brigade
formally began the legal process of terminating the employment contracts of
5,600 London firefighters.

"If they had not started that process, we would not be going on strike. If
the dismissals are lifted now, the strike will be called off straight away"
said Mr Wrack.

He added: ""People say to me: it can't be that simple. But it is.
Firefighters hate going on strike, but they hate being bullied even more.
The London Fire Brigade is trying to bully them, and they won't have it.
That's why there was a 79 per cent majority in our ballot for a strike, on a
79 per cent turnout; a huge mandate by any standards."

The London Fire Brigade was acting under section 188 of the Trade Union and
Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. If, 90 days after it sent out
the letters, the firefighters have not reached an agreement which is
satisfactory to the employer, the London Fire Brigade has placed itself in a
position where it may legally sack all of London's 5,600 firefighters and
offer them re-employment on a unilaterally imposed contract.

"It is a process which is designed to avoid having to negotiate a
settlement" said Mr Wrack. "Why negotiate when you can sack everyone and
impose new contracts?"

Matt Wrack will lead the walkout at Euston fire station on Euston Road at 10
a.m. tomorrow. It is the first of two days' planned strike action; the
second is on November 1.

London firefighters have been taking industrial action short of a strike
over the mass sackings threat, including a ban on overtime and "acting up",
since September 24.


Provisionally, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack's programme on Saturday
morning will be:
At 10 a.m. he will lead his members out of the door at Euston fire station
in Euston Road.
At 11 a.m. he will speak in Chalcot Street at the start of the demonstration
against the cuts.

He will then visit other picket lines during the day until the return to
work at 6pm and will be available for interview throughout.

FBU media contacts on Saturday will be Helen Hague on 07889 792360 or 0208 340 5571; and Francis Beckett, who will be accompanying Matt Wrack, on 07813 001372.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Caroline 7th on Twitter - worldwide!

Caroline Lucas got so many complimentary comments on Twitter last night that she became a "trending topic", which means her name was one of the ten most used phrases on the entire network. The phrase "Caroline Lucas" was the most mentioned in UK on twitter, and the 7th most mentioned worldwide

This prompted even more messages from confused people around the world asking, "who is Caroline Lucas".

You can see it on iPlayer

Well done Caroline and also well done to Spencer, Scott and Cath for some excellent briefings.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty here and around the world.

In case you have not already heard of it, I want to draw your attention to a campaign called The Robin Hood Tax. Please take a look at their website, there is a great little video with Bill Nighy explaining what it means for the bankers, for us and for the Government.

On October 11th, MPs who support the campaign are hosting a briefing for their fellow MPs, please ask your MP to attend, by following this link:

You can also follow the campaign on twitter: @robinhood
And Facebook:

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


From 'Privatee Eye'

WHEN Vodafone bought German engineering company Mannesmann a decade ago for €180bn, it desperately wanted to use the mother of all tax avoidance schemes so taxpayers would subsidise what turned out to be a massively over-priced mistake. The plan was to route the acquisition through an offshore company.

This, however, would potentially fall foul of British anti-tax avoidance laws, and when the company asked the then Inland Revenue to clear the arrangement, it duly refused. Vodafone went ahead anyway and bought Mannesmann using a Luxembourg subsidiary company called Vodafone Investments Luxembourg sarl (VIL), in which it would go on to dump vast profits taxed at less than 1 percent.
An epic legal battle began, with Vodafone resisting the taxman’s efforts to get all the information on the deal and arguing through the courts that the British laws striking out the tax benefits of its deal were neutered by European law which granted, Vodafone claimed, the freedom to establish anywhere in the EU (including its dodgiest tax havens) without facing a tax bill.
VIL’s accounts show that, up to March 2009, €15.5bn income was stuffed into the company, suggesting it is now heading to the €18bn mark and resulting in £5bn in lost tax and interest so far. But, armed with strong advice from eminent legal counsel, tax inspectors were confident they could win the cash back, not least because until 2004 the scam was run through the Luxembourg company’s Swiss branch. This of course was not even in the EU (although that year Luxembourg changed its own rules to allow the trick to work without inconveniencing tax avoiders with the need for an Alpine branch).
A less ‘black and white view of the law’
Officials were further emboldened last year when the court of appeal ruled that British laws striking out the avoidance scheme could conform with European laws. But they reckoned without HM Revenue & Customs’ (HMRC) “permanent secretary for tax”, Dave Hartnett, and his customer-friendly approach to big multinationals.
Despite HMRC’s victories, Hartnett moved the case from his specialists and lawyers – dismissed in recent comments to the FT as “very intelligent people” suffering from “a black and white view of the law” – to a dimmer but more amenable group to negotiate with Vodafone’s head of tax, John Connors, who until 2007 was a senior official at HMRC working closely with Hartnett on handling big business.
The fruits of these talks, conducted without consulting HMRC’s litigators and specialists in the tax law concerned on the chance of success in the courts, was a bill for Vodafone of £800m, with another £450m payable over five years and, remarkably, an agreement that the arrangement can carry on into the future with a promise of no challenge from HMRC. The Eye understands that the settlement also swept up several other Vodafone tax avoidance schemes.
More sweetheart deals to come
The bill for all other taxpayers in lost tax is likely to be at least £6bn. Resentment within the HMRC ranks is high and one former official familiar with the case described it as an “unbelievable cave-in”. But there is no means for the deal to be audited: the National Audit Office refuses to look at specific cases.
Hartnett’s comments to the FT signal more sweetheart deals to come. The “conciliatory” approach can be presented as an urgent cash-gathering exercise, but in practice it encourages tax avoidance and sells other taxpayers well-short. It also masks the fact that staff cuts at HMRC are destroying its abilities to fight tax avoidance. Spending on the activity has already fallen from £3.6bn in 2006/07 to £1.9bn, with more cuts to come, prompting the association of senior Revenue officials to compare the government to “a drowning man who decides to throw off his life jacket, because it weighs too much”. How fortunate then that under HMRC’s reporting practices the Vodafone settlement will count as a £1.25bn success in the fight to close the “tax gap”, rather than a £6bn gift to a large phone company.
PS: The Tories have further cause to thank Mr Hartnett. As Eye 1136 revealed five years ago, government cuts adviser Philip Green had personal discussions with Hartnett over his tax affairs while legal battles raged over schemes for husbands and wives to share their income for tax purposes. Dividends from Green’s businesses continue to be paid to trusts controlled by his Monaco-resident wife Tina, undisturbed by the taxman.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A labour movement in the image and interests of women

From today's Guardian:

Beatrix Campbell

As he was Listening to Radio 4's Reunion series, film producer Stephen Woolley became enthralled by a group of working-class women involved in a historic event he'd never heard about: the Ford sewing machinists who went on strike in 1968. Ford was the biggest car-maker in Britain, one of the most powerful corporations on the planet, and 187 women working in one of their craggy hangars brought them to a standstill.

It was a revolutionary year: sex, drugs, rock'n'roll, riots, student sit-ins, protests against the Vietnam war, general strikes, institutions besieged. Even the Folies Bergere's burlesque dancers went on strike in Paris during the May 68 whirlwind.

I wasn't a student and I wasn't on strike, but one May weekend a group of communist women – we weren't yet feminists – sent off a missive congratulating the dancers for their militancy.

When Woolley heard the women on the radio he registered that they weren't in his historical memory. They reminded him of his own Islington mother, and together with his producer partner, Elizabeth Karlsen, he decided to bring their story out of the shadows of history.

I heard that Reunion broadcast, too: I'd met some of the strikers, but instead of feeling excited, like Woolley, instead of hearing this as a triumphant story, I heard a narrative that has been muted.

Woolley's resulting film, Made in Dagenham, shows us unexpected success. Those women almost triumphed. Certainly they triggered the then employment secretary to introduce an equal pay act. But Barbara Castle fixed a deal, she managed a crisis: she didn't honour those women's yearning for respect as skilled women. They never really got what they wanted. They were never really heard. Their convenor, Bernie Passingham, a genial, clever communist (played by Bob Hoskins) liked and believed in them and facilitated their militancy. But their unions, the government, the Labour party, the men of the left and their own men in Dagenham, weren't actually interested in them. They were foxed by the Ford women. So, they didn't learn from them.

Woolley and Karlsen took a strategic decision to mount a comedic Dagenham. They want their film to be popular. I would favour more edge, a touch of House of Cards or Mad Men – though there is an exquisite gesture in that direction: the trophy wife of a boss, Lisa (Rosamund Pike) relinquishes her poise, momentarily, and seeks affinity with Rita O'Grady, the strike leader. "Do you know who I am?" she asks. Her husband treats her like a fool, but she has a first-class Cambridge degree in history and adores reading about people making history. "That's what you are doing," she tells O'Grady. "Tell me what it feels like when you've done it." This is an elegant and clever moment where gender transcends class, and it provokes tears in the audience.

Made in Dagenham stirred my class hatred: we witness the contempt for these women not just in the bosses' tone and voice, but in the peeling, windy, sweating cavern in which they were employed. It doesn't exist now and Ford is reformed.

The Ford sewing machinists changed my life. I was a young journalist; I didn't get on to the newsdesk for three or four years, until the retirement in the early 70s of the news editor, fondly known as "the bosun", whose favoured maxim was "My arse is a teacake". He wouldn't let me be a reporter because he already had one woman on the newsdesk and one was enough. This was the Morning Star – formerly known as the Daily Worker.

I came alive in the 70s, in the excitement of the women's liberation movement and reporting on a tumultuous decade. In 1976 the Ford unions submitted, with the help of experts at Ruskin College, an annual pay claim that for the first time seemed to embrace not only wages but also life. It addressed pensions, access to adult education, sabbatical leave – Ford employed workers from India, the West Indies, for whom two weeks off in the summer was no use.

In the context of the first phase of the social contract between the government and the unions – which for the first time prioritised the low-paid, ie women – this was interesting. I wanted to write a story about the sewing machinists' reaction – where had they got with their own claim, not just for equal pay (on the bottom unskilled grade) but also for regrading as semi-skilled? One of the convenors spoke to me. "They're great, the women," he said. "Oh yes, and they're militant. But ..." Sucking his teeth: "I dunno, can't explain it ..." More sucking of teeth. They were an enigma. "You'll see," he said.

I did see. I asked what were their priorities in this claim? The money mattered, they said, but their greatest concern was control over their time. They wanted paid time to work with, rather than against, the demands of daily life. They wanted "facilities" at the workplace. I wrote their story. The industrial editor read it. "Crap," he said. "Wrong."

Lest we forget: the trade union movement's century-old historic compromise with capitalism was at the expense of women – trade unions fought for the expulsion of women from waged work; even as late as the 1930s they campaigned to ban married women, or all women, from the workplace.

During the second world war more than 7 million women worked in factories. They earned 53% of the men's pay. At the end of the war the Labour government, backed by the Trades Union Congress, closed nurseries and resolved that equal pay for women was "inappropriate".

Britain did not become a member of the European Union, whose Treaty of Rome affirmed equal pay. Towards the end of the 70s my own women's group, Red Rag, which published a feminist and Marxist journal, advocated an "alternative feminist economic agenda". It was provoked by a crisis. One of us had separated from the father of her young children. How would she manage? We investigated the ingredients of the pay gap – men's bonuses just for being men, men's hours, men's absence from home and the work of care; we proposed the abolition of the breadwinner (still in those days enshrined in the wages and benefits system) and a child benefit that corresponded to the costs of children; we suggested a new politics of time, instead of the polarisation between men and women's time that institutionalised inequality, a 30-hour week for all, and working time that synchronised with the seasons of daily life and children's time. Fashion an economic strategy around a woman worker, a "part-time" worker, we said, and you've sorted out stuff for everyone.

We have the opportunity, on the screen, to revisit those wonderful sewing machinists: to listen to their stories that are never only about the strike and always about life. Woolley and Karlsen have done something important and their film is radiating in the zeitgeist: feminism is stirring again and the chronicle of those nice, dangerous women is being aired all over the place – in cinemas, schools, blogs and on the streets. They are a reminder of what could have been: a labour movement in the image and interests of women. Revolutionary.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

World War One finally over.

According to Bild magazine, the First World War will finally end this weekend when Germany pays off the last instalment of the interest it owes on loans it took out in the 1930s to pay £22bn in reparations to the allied powers.

The idea isn't new, of course: Rome exacted punitive indemnities from Carthage after the Punic wars in the second century BC. But there has long been a feeling that the practice might be unfair: the people who end up paying are rarely those responsible. There are few more eloquent examples of the injustice of reparations than Haiti, which has never recovered from having to compensate France for the loss of slaves and property after independence in 1804. At one stage this absorbed 80% of Haiti's budget, and the interest on the foreign loans Haiti took out to meet the bill was not paid off until 1947, by which time its economy was pretty much shot.

In 2007, a disgruntled American founded the International Coalition for British Reparations, demanding £31tn from Britain as "the greatest criminal nation on earth . . . responsible for such atrocities as genocide, the industrial revolution and global misrule (but particularly in the Middle East), as well as atrocious inventions such as machine guns, slums, child labour and concentration camps," from the time of the Crusades to the second Iraq war.

I wonder about how long our decendants will take to pay off the debts incurred in bailing out another set of international criminals - the bankers.