Archive for March, 2012

A voice is missing in the debate about fuel shortages and the tanker drivers’ strike……

31 Mar

….and that voice is that of the tanker drivers. You know, the people driving the tankers?

This will come as no surprise to those of you who pay any attention to how UK industrial relations is covered by our media.

The usual sequence of events goes something like this:

Step One. A newsreader gravely informs us a strike is being ‘threatened’ and if we’ve very lucky we’ll get ten seconds of a possible striker or occasionally a union spokesperson ‘balanced’ by another ten seconds from some PR suit or Director defending the company/employer position.

Step Two. Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians will ‘interpret’ what the dispute is about, invariably telling us that the workers involved are greedy/irresponsible/politically motivated (delate as approporiate). If we’re lucky we’ll see a senior Labour Party person being asked by a supposedly neutral interviewer to ‘condemn the strike’.

Step Three. A consensus emerges that reduces the dispute to personalities – exemplified recently by smiling thug Willie Walsh assuring British Airways shareholders and the travelling public that his unilateral attempt to smash his employees’ organisation into pieces and force them to take poorer conditions and wages was in no way responsible for the action being taken by said employees.

Step Four. The union’s democracy is questioned without fail and by everyone, as if it is a perfectly normal thing to do. This is always amusing, since it is usually done either by people elected by no-one such as NHS Trust managers, London Underground directors, HR or Company bosses, or more often by politicians who, in the case of this Coalition Government, weren’t elected by a single person in the UK. No-one voted for a Coalition, no-one voted for this Coalition, and a majority of all our MPs are in any case elected by a minority of their constitutents.

Search high and low, you won’t find a single word of this repeated in mainstream media. And I’m suggesting that this may be linked to the fact (note the use of the word ‘fact’) that said media is overwhelmingly owned and controlled by super-rich right wing bigots like Rupert Murdoch (Sun, Times, Sunday Times, Sky) or Richard Desmond (Daily Star, Express, Sunday Express).who despise working people being organised in trade unions, support the Tory Party and hate Labour because they might take away some of their profits and waste it on fripperies like schools and hospitals.

Step Five. The consensus builds around some key points – take your pick from the menu: the ballot was questionable; the workers are being selfish and unreasonable; why won’t they sit down and talk with those reasonable and cuddly employers?; the country’s economy will be undermined; why aren’t the Labour Party doing something to stop it?; isn’t it time we made strikes illegal?; hopefully the workers will break their own strike; the public don’t support this.

Step Six. Either the dispute goes ahead and the working people already losing a much-needed day or a week’s pay also face intimidation, discrimination, police harassment and condemnation by people who don’t know and don’t care about the issue - or the workers and employer sit down - as the Union in the case of the tanker driver dispute has been trying to do for a mere 18 months - and thrash out a solution.

The next time there is a dispute of any kind, pay close attention to how the people who are taking or proposing to take action are treated. Watch how many times you hear a teacher, a driver, an office worker, a mechanic, explain their case and outline why they’re considering doing something about it.

I’m suggesting the number ill be a continuous line with no straight edges.

The Crud Hits The Fan

26 Mar

The weekend’s events included unseasonal blue skies and sunshine, time well spent with my lovely girlfriend in Oxfordshire, a win for Rangers against FC Semtex and a Tory Party funding scandal, coming hard on the heels of a Budget as popular as a rat sandwich. Carlsberg don’t do weekends, but if they did….

The Conservative’s latest scandal (I’ll recap previous incidents later) is significant because David Cameron and wee George have, so far, proved relatively successful with a ‘nothing to do with me, guv’ approach, shored up by ruthlessly cutting loose anyone who gives the game away. This time, however, they’re caught bang to rights.

A look at the Tory Party website today ( sees no less than five ways in which you can buy influence – sorry, make a donation.

It starts at a bargain £50 a year for the hoi polloi and quickly moves up to the £2,500 a year ‘City and Entrepeneurs Forum’, billed as being for “business professionals, City executives and entrepreneurs keen to help the Party to get Britain back on track (!) and open for business. Discussions with leading industrialists, parliamentarians and prominent City figures are held in London’s West End and the City.” Admittedly this sounds like the world’s dullest social club but the key part of this is the open offer of discussion with parliamentarians – and I’d suggest to you that Business professionals, City executives and entrepreneurs are going probably to want to talk about business.

The next step up the ladder is the £5,000 Front Bench Club, where members “have the opportunity to meet and debate with MPs at a series of political lunches and receptions held throughout the year.” Then for £10,000 the Renaissance Forum “allows our closest supporters to enjoy dinners and political debate with eminent speakers from the world of business and politics.”

After that, things become a wee bit more expensive with the Treasurers’ Group and  an annual membership fee of £25,000. The Group “is aimed at substantial financial supporters with a keen interest in politics. Members are invited to join senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches.”

Finally there is the £50,000 required to join the Leader’s Group, “the premier supporter Group of the Conservative Party. Members are invited to join David Cameron and other senior figures from the Conservative Party at dinners, post-PMQ lunches, drinks receptions, election result events and important campaign launches.” Presumably to talk about how Spurs are doing or whether Adele outselling Pink Floyd is significant?

Can someone explain how these tiered and very public requests for substantial sums of money aren’t offering political access for cash?

The most laughable comment made by Conservative Party co-treasurer Peter Cruddas, after he was caught by (oh sweet irony!) a Tory-supporting Sunday Times hack offering access to the Prime Minister, was surely:

‘Clearly there is no question of donors being able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.”

You’re right, Peter, there isn’t any question– we all know it happens.

Mr Cruddas – presumably now forced to sail a gold-coloured yacht off the coast of Somalia with ‘All pirates are wankers’ painted across his sails – has done us a service by opening up the one subject the Tories don’t ever want to talk about: how they’re funded and in who’s interests they govern.

The Crud has hit the fan, indeed.

What don’t the Tories want you to know?

I’d suggest the sort of facts discovered by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last year, when they discovered that Hedge funds, financiers and private equity make up 27% of Tory funding The Bureau mapped precisely which business sectors contributed to the Tories in the year ending June 30 2011 and trawled 450 separate donations given to Conservative Central Office by individuals, companies and limited liability partnerships, to reveal that 27% of the £12.18m donated to the party came from hedge funds, financiers and private equity firms.

The Bureau’s investigation, on the eve of the 2011 Tory conference, showed that the proportion of donations to the Conservatives from the financial services sector reached 51.4%. My maths isn’t great, but isn’t that a majority of their funds?

At this point in the article, let’s look at six things the Bureau showed as enacted by the Government before the 2012 Budget:

  • Exempting UK resident companies from corporation tax on all profits for their foreign branches.
  • A commitment to reduce corporation tax from 28% to 23% by April 2014 for companies whose annual profits exceed £1.5m.
  • A reduced tax rate to 5.75% on the treasury functions of large corporations in tax havens.
  • Reducing stamp duty tax for bulk purchases of residential property.
  • Planning reforms that propose to create a presumption to approval for schemes that are considered ‘sustainable’.
  • A firm commitment to oppose a Europe-wide financial transaction (Robin Hood) tax.

Add in the tax reduction of 5% for those earning a mere £150,000 per year plus other Budget goodies handed out to the super rich by wee George after he robbed pensioners and the welfare budget and I’m sure you’ll agree there’s no link whatsoever between Tory Party donors and influencing policy………..


PS I’ll cover trade union backing of the Labour Party another time but for now, let’s remember every penny of that money is open to public scrutiny in annual accounts,  agreed by elected union executives and subject to the agreement of union conferences and ballots for the use of Political Funds. Think about that the next time you shop in Sainsbury’s or buy a sofa from DFS, companies which give money to the Tories.


22 Mar

Some of you may remember the Dennis Moore sketch from Monty Python. John Cleese played a completely useless Dick Turpin type who stole lupins.

The title song stuck in my memory because of a line at the end, sung to the ‘Robin Hood’ theme tune: ’Robs from the poor, gives to the rich, stupid bitch, stupid bitch, stupid bitch…’

Yesterday’s Budget by wee George Osborne did nothing for the poor  – but it did give tax breaks to those poor little lambs earning a mere £150,000 a year. Or £2,884 per week, £12,500 a month, if you prefer. But this wasn’t because he was stupid….

Cynical? Yes.

Regressive? Indeed.

Wrong-headed? Totally.

Ideological? It was a Budget Nigel Lawson or Norman Lamont could have delivered.

Back to the 80’s, facing the wrong way, evidence-free.

Turns out wee George is just another adherent to the cult of trickle-down economics, spouting the rhetoric of a free market zealot.

All the headlines were about the backdoor raid which diverted £3.3 billion in a tax raid on five million pensioners, which helped balance his Budget.

A freeze on personal allowances on income and their eventual phasing out means pensioners will be, on average, £80 a year worse off, with some retiring in the next year £322 worse off every year. That, rather than focusing on the billions avoided by conglomerates or the super-rich, was George’s big surprise.

Let’s remember that the coalition government, on coming to power, agreed six imperatives:

  • economic recovery
  • cut the deficit
  • stimulate private sector jobs to compensate for public sector job losses,
  • rebalance the economy by making it less dependent on financial services,
  • improve exports………and keep the City happy.

It will surprise no-one that most of these have been missed by a mile, but guess which one they’ve met?

That’s right, the very same people who got us into this mess in the Square Mile have had their crimes forgiven, and their ample stomachs tickled.

And can anyone explain why the Office for Budget Responsibility thinks from almost zero, the economy will grow by 2.5% next year and 3% the year after?

The government which came to power blaming Labour for borrowing too much is, er, borrowing too much, far more than it said it would; the private sector has unsurprisingly been unable to pick up the slack for the mass cull of public sector employment; manufacturing output has flat-lined; and the expected ‘rebalancing’ is nowhere in sight.

I make that one out of six aims met.

So why, you might ask, wouldn’t a set of politicians, who want to be reelected or actually care about the UK’s economic prospects, change course?

Well, the answer to this question is the same answer given by the Right to any economic or social issue – sell off anything not nailed to the floor (Roads, anyone?), incentivise the wealthy, hammer the poor, cut the public sector back, have faith in the market.

This is akin to believing that the earth is 10,000 years old and a core tenet of the Right’s blind faith that ‘the market’ – and by that they mean millions of people buying and selling from each other – can be made to work via an enduring belief in trickle-down economics. In this case tax cuts at the top will somehow magically result in job creation.

While those of us on Planet Earth are stymied with sub-inflation rises, minimum wage levels, reduced tax credits and (an old tune played on a new fiddle) regional public sector pay, it is odd that the very same incentives supposed to stimulate the economic activity of the rich don’t apply to anyone else…….

No, this Budget shows that the Westminster Pantomime Horse doesn’t have a Scooby how to get things moving on job creation, tackling poverty or narrowing the obscene and dangerous gap between poor and wealthy. 

Not a single clue.

This Budget will do nothing for growth. Yes, it balances already ruinous fiscal books but it is also deeply regressive; like putting a splint on a snake to help it slither.

The final image from Budget Day?

How about Danny Alexander, aligning his supposedly progressive political party behind a Budget giving tax breaks to people earning £150k (£12,500 a month, or nearly £2,900 a week).

I expect Tories to act like Tories: it is what they are and what they do.

But if their recent betrayal of the NHS didn’t do it, surely this was the moment we realised the Liberal Democrats are as bankrupt as the country they purport to serve?



The UK’s national sport: too important to be left to rich men?

21 Mar

That, friends, is a purely rhetorical question.

Of course football – just like the rest of society – is too important to leave in the hands of the super-rich: so, in 2012, it is time to look at an alternative model, a model which reconnects football clubs with the communities they serve and sit within. One which works successfully across other European footballing nations, nations far more successful than England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I am talking here about community ownership and supporters’ trusts, the not-for-profit democratic bodies run by and for football supporters. Supporters’ trusts fly below the radar yet are established at 170 clubs, with a quarter of a million people in membership. In terms of raw finance alone, supporters’ trusts have brought in more than £30m of new finance. No less than 26UK football clubs are already in ownership or control by supporters’ trusts and over 100 trusts have significant shareholdings in their clubs, with over 65 supporters’ trusts providing directors. (more…)

Rangers memories: 1982-83 part one

21 Mar

The bare facts of season 1982-1983 saw Rangers finish fourth in the League, reach (and lose) both Cup Finals and exit the UEFA Cup at the second round to an FC Koln side featuring Schumacher, Bonhof, Allofs and Littbarski, after beating Borussia Dortmund.

It was fairly typical of the doldrum seasons we experienced in the period after 1978 and before David Holmes and Graeme Souness appeared but sticks in my memory for a number of reasons, including the fact that I emigrated to Canada that year. That event very nearly didn’t happen due to the events of Saturday October 30th, but more of that later….

Unthinkable now, but the SPL race was a three-cornered contest between eventual Champions Dundee United, Aberdeen and the IRA’s athletic
wing. Despite winning one game fewer that their rivals, the Arabs shaded by a single point: Celtic and Aberdeen securing 55 points and separated only by the Glasgow club’s superior goal difference. (more…)

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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