Monthly Archives: May 2012

Social mobility really is a force for good

I read an article on the Guardian website today by Zoe Williams in which she claimed that the idea of social mobility is not as brilliant as we all presume it to be. Williams claims that Nick Clegg’s form of social mobility, in which the cleverest children are allowed to achieve their full potential, is not progressive as it merely means that a minor reshuffle takes place in personnel between the classes and many of those who begin in the gutter are left there to rot.

However, having moved from a comprehensive school at primary level into a grammar school at secondary level and for sixth form, I must disagree with Williams, as I see grammar schools as an important tool for social mobility and look forward to the day when grammar schools can replace our private education system and allow an equality of opportunity to prevail in the British education system.

Firstly, let me say that I find private schools and education an abhorrent idea and one which in Britain allows for the continuation of the class system and the elite, ruling class in society. I wish to see all private education demolished and replaced with a system where no-one can pay for the privilege of a better education. It is this private school system which continues to allow Britain’s elite to keep the positions of politicians, the rich and the powerful within the upper classes and keeps bright members of the working-class out of these positions.

Nick Clegg has suggested that the brightest children, no matter their background, should be given the chance to achieve their full potential, and I believe that grammar schools are an effective vehicle for this development, taking from my own experience.

Williams asks how social mobility will help those who are not blessed with high levels of intelligence and I would hope that she is wrong to dismiss social mobility for this reason. As Tory MP Nadine Dorries has said recently, part of the problem with the current Tory leadership in government is that they do not understand the effects their policies would have on normal people, claiming that they would have no idea what the price of a pint of milk is. I agree with Dorries on this point (although little else), as the privileged background of a lot of Britain’s ruling classes have enabled them to achieve their positions of power with relatively little work and/or merit, a system that could be rectified by allowing even those who begin from humble backgrounds the same opportunities as those at the top.

The difference to society of having members of the working-class making it to the top and positions of power would be that these would hopefully remember their roots, and have a greater idea of the effects of their policies on ordinary people. Furthermore, it would hopefully be an ambition for these people to allow people from a similar background to their own to achieve what they have, rather than see the top jobs go to privately educated, rich kids with little experience of the real world.

I believe therefore that Williams is wrong to claim that social mobility does little to help the lower-classes in society, as it is only through furthering the aspirations and achievements of these classes that we will gain rulers who are prepared to fight for the rights of these people to equal opportunities in society.

 

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Coalition infighting

The Lib Dem attack on Adrian Beecroft’s call for no-fault dismissals to become commonplace within British businesses has led to even further coalition infighting, a trend that has continued to worsen for the Tories and Lib Dems ever since their respective trouncings in the local elections earlier this month. As this infighting continues and indeed deepens, is it finally time that we can envisage the coalition falling apart and an early general election being called?

Today, Beescroft, smarting from the rejection of his repressive, ideological proposals to further degrade the rights of British workers, attacked the Lib Dem leadership in a very personal, and Toff-like fashion. Firstly, the Lib Dem business secretary and party darling, Vince Cable, who, until recently was seen as the left’s big hope within the coalition. This reputation was of course besmirched by the lack of backbone displayed on central liberal and progressive issues by the Lib Dem leadership. Beecroft however, clearly still feels that Cable can do a job for the left in coalition, labelling him “a socialist who found a home in the Lib Dems”. Despite the fact that I, and I suspect many others, would receive this as a massive compliment coming from a large Tory donor, I suspect that Cable viewed Beecroft’s remarks as a personal attack in retaliation for Cable labelling his no-fault dismissal plans “bonkers”.

As if attacking the Lib Dem’s favourite minister wasn’t enough, Beecroft then took to attacking the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, accusing him of threatening to go “nuclear” and meltdown the coalition. He was backed-up in this case by the head of an Oxford, private school, who claimed that Clegg was using “communist tactics”.

It would appear that the tensions that have previously simmered away under the coalition’s surface are finally beginning to spill over into the public realm and Cameron and his Tory friends will have a lot of work to do to patch up the coalition, particularly if they wish to forestall major Lib Dem backbench intervention; they too are far from happy with the direction of the coalition.

With Lib Dems worrying about the party’s reputation at the next general election, as well as their leadership’s lack of ideological backbone on issues such as tuition fees, which have caused the party copious amounts of distress and hatred, and Tory backbenchers worrying that the Lib Dem’s are having more than their fair share of input into coalition policy, there is a chance that backbench pressure will tell and cause the breakdown of the coalition. Certainly, this possibility appears more likely now than at any time since the 2010 general election.

However, both parties would be impulsive and self-destructive were they to bring down the coalition having only made things worse for the country economically and with both receiving recent batterings at the polls. For Labour of course coalition infighting is good news. Ed Miliband can now expose both parties for what they are, the Tories as ideological and regressive and the Lib Dems as power-thirsty and unprincipled. This would fly right in the face of the coalition’s claim to be working together to sort out the economic conundrum Britain is still in.

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No-fault dismissals would be catastrophic for Britain

A recent report, drawn up by Tory party donor Adrian Beecroft, called for employers to be given the right to dismiss unproductive employees with no explanation. Vince Cable will appear in the House of Commons in just half an hour to answer urgent questions from Labour’s Chuka Umunna regarding this report and any government involvement in this potential policy. I believe that Chuka Umunna and the Labour party must fight this proposal hard, as its implementation would lead to a huge backward step in the continuing search for worker’s rights.

Beecroft’s proposal argues that red-tape and bureaucratic rules (no doubt many brought in by EU legislation) make it far too difficult for employers to sack unproductive employees and as such businesses are being damaged by the continued presence of workers who do not pull their weight. Furthermore, it has been argued that the complex, legal processes involved in dismissing unproductive workers means that businesses are less inclined to employ new workers as they fear being unable to rid themselves of these workers if it turns out that they are incapable of doing their job effectively and professionally.

However, the truth about this proposal is that it remains part of an ideological agenda from the Conservative party to restore a Victorian era hierarchy in the workplace that makes employees beholden to their employers and in constant fear for their livelihoods.

Conservatives argue that the red-tape surrounding employer-employee relations has meant that businesses find the processes of hiring and firing too stressful and expensive an ordeal, leading to a lack of business confidence in job-creation. This, they argue, has a negative effect on the economy as employers are put off hiring workers and job creation is lowered, particularly damaging in a time of recession. However, this measure would have only a negative effect on the economy. If a culture of on the spot sackings was to be introduced into British business, we would soon find that, workers, in fear of losing their jobs, were hoarding capital rather than spending, as they lived their lives precariously balanced on a knife-edge waiting for the push of their employer which would send their household into economic oblivion, for no reason whatsoever. The amount of consumer spending therefore would inevitably drop were these proposals introduced and the economy would suffer as a result.

Furthermore, Britons have spent centuries fighting for, and gaining, rights in the workplace to protect the jobs of the most vulnerable in society. It is fair, and right, that an employer should give a credible, fair reason for the dismissal of any employee. Even given the rights won by Britons in the past, Britain still has relatively low workers’ protection legislation when compared with much of the developed world, so to strip away the few rights that British workers have would be wrong.

We cannot make it acceptable for employers to arbitrarily remove jobs from the working-class on a whim. This would lead to the abuse of employees and have a detrimental effect on the economy. The Labour party, in tandem with the unions, must protect the rights of British workers and not allow ideological conservatives to return Britain to a state whereby workers are vulnerable to the business and upper classes.

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A chance for Labour?

Despite the successes of Labour in recent local elections and the continuous unpopularity of the coalition government, I fear that it is still true to say that a large percentage of the population believes the coalition’s narrative on the economy. This narrative reads that Labour overspent in government building up a massive deficit and is directly responsible for the economic collapse in Britain and the mess left for the coalition government to admirably clear up.

Whilst it is true that the UK (and much of the developed world), built up irresponsible amounts of debt, it is doubtful that a Tory government would have done any different. After all, up until 2008 the Tories very rarely disagreed with the amount Labour was spending in government. Furthermore, the basis of the economic crisis in Britain was the worldwide crash instigated by the collapse of American banks, which caused tremors across the developed world. Labour then took some very hard decisions and Gordon Brown called it right, pleading for the bailout of the banks and leading Europe away from the crisis. Labour then began to deliver stability and small amounts of growth before inevitably losing power at the 2010 election, largely due to the public’s decision to not trust Labour with the economy.

However, since 2010, the UK economy has consistently stalled and stagnated and has now returned to recession, despite the implementation of Tory economic plans. Despite the fact that the economy has slid backwards over the past two quarters, the Tory party continues with their damaging fiscal ideas and the country continues to allow ideological cuts to ruin the economy due to their distrust of Labour. As well as denying the UK economy growth, the prime minister has today claimed that the Eurozone must replicate the coalition’s “pro-growth” agenda, a laughable gesture considering that the UK has returned to recession.

It has been clear for a long time that the economy will be the defining factor of the next election, probably in 2015. It is key for Labour’s election prospects therefore that the party regains economic credibility and destroys that of the Tories. You would expect the return to a double-dip recession would make this job easy but the sheer level of distrust between voters and Labour has made this a difficult task. However, I believe that David Cameron’s speech today, urging the Eurozone to replicate his policies, and continued stuttering growth allows Labour a golden opportunity, one they cannot afford to miss, in destroying Tory credibility going into the next election. As for restoring respectability to Labour’s economic plans, the party must recognise the faults of Labour before the 2008 crash, and ensure that they produce spending plans that are realistic and accounted for. Furthermore, I believe that Labour can gain a stranglehold on the election by presenting their economic vision as one of equality and fairness.

In attacking the coalition’s economic plans, Labour have already been presented a massive opportunity by the UK’s return to recession, and faltering voter confidence in the coalition policies was shown by Labour’s massive local election victories. Furthermore, Cameron called today for the adoption of UK economic policies throughout the Eurozone, and who in their right mind espouses an economic policy so consistently failing. Labour can surely use Cameron’s speech today to present the prime minister as hellbent on austerity due to his ideological interests, as surely any pragmatic leader would look to change course so as to restore growth.

To restore faith in Labour’s ability to handle the economy the two Eds must acknowledge first and foremost that Labour under Gordon Brown made mistakes and they must accept that voters still have not forgiven these mistakes. They must use this opportunity to distance themselves from the old Labour regime and stamp their own authority on the Labour party. One question always asked of me regarding Ed Miliband is “what does he stand for?”, and it is a question I struggle to answer and usually I respond with vague murmurings about fairness and equality. I believe that, even if voters do not trust Labour to deliver economic excellence, they are currently seen as the party of fairness, and I believe Ed should make fairness central to his agenda as a whole, and his economic policy. Tory cuts are ideological and ruthless and must be attacked as so, whilst Labour must produce a correctly costed economic policy which restores growth and jobs to the working-class and squeezed middle, regaining voters lost to the Tories in 2010. Whilst I believe Labour has been right to keep its cards close to its chest up to this point regarding a potential spending plan post-2015, now the two Eds must deliver a credible alternative.

Therefore, it is key now that Labour takes advantage of what may be the best opening they get regarding economic policy in this government’s term in office. To take full advantage Labour has to produce a credible alternative, correctly costed, which produces a narrative for Labour’s route back to power, one of equality of opportunity, fairness and growth.

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Is Cameron delusional, a liar, or just plain stupid?

Today David Cameron called on Europe to copy the UK’s “pro-business, pro-growth” agenda. The prime minister claimed that whilst the deficit must be dealt with “growth in much of the eurozone has evaporated completely”. Of course Mr Cameron is right, growth must be high on the agenda of all European governments as the continent looks to bounce back from recession. But for Mr Cameron to be advocating the eurozone transferring the coalition’s economic policies to the continent so as to achieve growth is phenomenally idiotic. The UK, prime minister, is in yet another recession!

Since the crisis of 2008, the only real signs of economic recovery came when the Labour party was in government before the 2010 election. Since the election, the coalition has implemented swingeing cuts which have deepened the recession, the economy has stagnated, and now the UK finds itself in a double-dip recession. How anyone can advocate a policy that has delivered another recession from the jaws of recovery is beyond me and will astonish most voters.

The coalition government has increasingly had  to revise down its growth estimates over its term in government, upping the amount it is borrowing and consistently adding to the debt levels that they pledged to eradicate. The truth is that the coalition must now realise that it will be nigh on impossible to eradicate the deficit in the near future if they refuse to stimulate the economy and move it towards growth, yet they refuse to do so for the sake of saving face and stubbornness. Any change in policy would add credibility to Labour’s economic policy and the Tories still hope that by 2015, voters will not trust Labour with the economy. However, it is time for Cameron to realise that, if the economy continues to stall in a similar manner to the present, voters will trust the Tories no more than they trust Labour.

The prime minister claimed today that the coalition is implementing a “pro-growth” economic policy, but as GDP figures show this policy is achieving the exact opposite of growth, the economy is receding. The coalition’s ideological cuts to the public services have drained even more money out of the economy at a time when the government needs to maintain the public services so as to ensure that consumers continue to spend. The problem at the moment is that consumers are not spending because Mr Cameron’s policies have made them fear for their jobs!

The prime minister has shot himself in the foot by advocating the spread of his economic policies to the eurozone. The coalition has consistently failed to provide economic recovery for the UK and yet the prime minister fails to recognise this (at least publicly), and, rather than changing direction, he continues to espouse ideological economic policies rather than pragmatic ones.

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The rich and taxes

At the start of 2012 Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates announced that he felt the amount of tax he contributed to the American economy was too small for someone with a fortune as big as his. Gates found his views supported by other members of the super-rich elite worldwide, yet most governments, including our own coalition in Britain paid very little attention to the call of the super-rich to pay higher taxes.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in Britain cut the top rate of income tax in this year’s budget from 50% to 45%, a move that the coalition said would result in a decrease in tax evasion and therefore higher revenues for the Treasury. Apart from the ludicrous assertion that dropping the tax rate by 5% will cause those already avoiding to tax to go to the effort of reversing whatever affairs they had in place to avoid tax, this move was a backward one for equality and fairness, particularly in hard times such as these. I presume that the coalition intends to clamp down on tax avoidance, thus forcing tax avoiders to pay their fair share and by 2015 have ‘evidence’ for an increased tax return at the 45% rate, without notifying voters that this same medicine could have been administered at the 50% rate and resulted in even higher returns.

Parties that are ready to fight for equality and fairness therefore have to oppose the tax cut for the rich and hope to reverse the cut in the near future. However, whilst it appears that the current coalition are stridently opposed to increasing tax rates for their super-rich friends, perhaps they could choose to take a more radical path and introduce a tax policy that gives the tax payer greater control over their rates of tax.

If the super-rich such as Bill Gates are prepared to pay extra in times of hardship then I believe that the government should do everything within their power to collect this revenue and distribute it in such a way as to allow the majority back into work and the economy back to health. It is clear that some of the super-rich will need encouragement to warm to the idea of paying extra taxes at a time of recession so I propose that the government allows the super-rich the option of increasing their rate of tax in times of recession and economic hardship in exchange for a temporary cut (dependent in length upon their contributions in bad times) when the economy has recovered. This policy would allow the super-rich to pay higher taxes at a time when their cash flow is probably at its lowest as people spend less. For the government, these extra contributions will plug the gap left by those out of work or earning less in times of recession. Furthermore, in good times, when the government’s tax revenues from the not super-rich is increased as more people find themselves back in work, the super-rich will be allowed a temporary tax cut/relief at a time when their incomes are highest, therefore saving them capital in the long-term, the main incentive.

This policy is based on the simple fact that if the super-rich feel it their duty to contribute more than the highest rate of tax at a time when the government’s tax returns are low, then we should allow them to, and furthermore we should reward them for this service in better times. This extra revenue for the government could then be used towards job creation policies to get the unemployed back into work, and spending more money, to kick-start the economy again, the most important issue facing Britain and the wider world at this time.

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How Hollande can change Europe for the better

Francois Hollande was today sworn in as French president before heading to Berlin to meet German chancellor Angela Merkel in a bid to get to grips with Europe’s ailing economy. Up till this point, the Franco-German axis that has led the efforts to lead the eurozone out of the gloom of the recession has focussed on austerity and fiscal constraints and tightening. Before this point the leaders of the two countries were both centre-right politicians and Nicolas Sarkozy certainly did little to stand in the way of German efforts to bring the eurozone countries and economy to heel, imposing rigorous fiscal discipline on states that, in some cases, would be far better off out of the eurozone with the ability to control their own economy rather than be used as a toy of the Franco-German axis. Hopefully, with the advent of a new leader in France, Europe can begin to reverse the negativity of the centre-right governments that have dominated Europe and bring growth, fairness and equality to the continent.

The first step hollande needs to take in his new job is to let Merkel know that austerity will no longer be good enough for Europeans. An obvious failure to establish good, continuous growth following the recession has proven that the policies of the current European leaders regarding the European economy are not good enough, and hopefully Francois Hollande can bring to the table a more positive agenda for growth and lead the eurozone out of the economic quagmire it finds itself in. As part of this, Hollande must recognise that European governments need to invest in their countries and there is no way around this. Earlier this year, whilst the Dutch, Italian and German economies were contracting, the French economy experienced a 0.2% growth boosted mainly by exports. Hollande should pick up on this and rebalance Europe’s economies towards manufacturing and exporting products to the prosperous, large and rising economies in Asia and South America. The rejection of centre-right governments in votes across Europe should give Hollande the impetus and backing he needs to stand up to Merkel and replace austerity with a growth agenda.

Furthermore, Hollande must allow the weaker eurozone countries such as Greece to make as pain-free an exit from the Euro as possible, allowing the Greeks to balance their own books in their own way. The mixed election results in Greece and the inability of Greek leaders to form a coalition is worrying and Greece needs strong governance soon, but that governance must come from Greeks, not technocrats in Brussels. The Greek people will accept nothing else, as made clear by the lengthy demonstrations and rebellion against conservative policies in the country. The same case must be made for other eurozone countries such as Spain where the plight of the indignados has aroused much interest and points to a similar public anxiety with austerity as that exuding from Greece.

It is important therefore for Hollande to oppose Merkel’s wish for continued austerity in Europe as well as loosening the regulation imposed in countries from Brussels, allowing the masses to choose for themselves how their economies are run and by whom.

Another aspect to Hollande’s job will be to help bring success to other left-leaning parties across Europe in their next general elections. Voters across Europe will be keeping an eye on the progress made by Hollande and the French left, particularly concerning the economy, as a guide to how well social democratic policies can work for them. It is important that Hollande not only performs well in the French economy, but also on the domestic front, if Europe’s socialists are to again find themselves in the position of power and ascendency within Europe.

Finally, Hollande must seek to combat the far-right in France, where Marine Le Pen achieved surprisingly good results with her Front Nationale party, a xenophobic, anti-immigration, fascist-esque movement not dissimilar to far-right parties in the UK and Europe as a whole. Hollande must ensure that he eruditely and efficiently opposes the policies of the far-right and particular condemns Nicolas Sarkozy for attaching himself to Front Nationale policies in the final run-off in an attempt to gain far-right voters, a particularly dirty and disgraceful part of Sarkozy’s re-election bid.

Hollande therefore has a big job to fulfil on entering office and I hope for the sake of the European left that he is able to perform his duties in a capable and successful manner. It would certainly be disastrous for the economic policies of centre-left opposition parties in Europe were Hollande to fail to turn the tide of economic gloom descending over the eurozone.

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