Wednesday, 27 March 2013

BCSA call for level playing field (Steel Construction)

I was pleased to read the following article in New Steel Construction yesterday. For those of you unaware of the context for this the contract for building the new Forth Bridge Crossing was awarded to Forth Crossing Bridge Contractors, a consortium comprising Hochtief, Dragados, American Bridge International and Morrison last year. The tender price was £790m, well below the estimated price of £900m-1200m. But all of the steel and probably the concrete will be sourced from outside the UK. So Transport for Scotland have saved circa £200m in construction costs but have failed to provide additional jobs for UK industry. [admittedly they had to carry out the tender in line with EU guidelines, however they don't have to give the contract to lowest cost. Clients can choose how to weight the tenders; quality, sustainability and social impacts can be allowed for. I fail to see how transporting the steel from Poland, China and Spain can be justified on sustainability grounds]

"BCSA President Ivor Roberts criticised the award of the Forth Replacement Crossing steelwork contract to a Chinese company as a blow that must not be allowed to happen again. Speaking at the BCSA’s National Dinner Mr Roberts said the award to an overseas company was completely unnecessary, causing taxpayer’s money to flow out of the country.
BCSA Members have secured the steelwork contracts for the north and south approaches to the bridge, but he said this was too little and too late. Mr Roberts said the Forth Replacement Crossing contract award was one of the spurs for the recent launch of the BCSA’s Rebuilding Britain Campaign, which calls for the Government to ensure that local supply chains are put first for the good of the economy and the industry.
UK companies were not competing on level playing fields when they faced the higher costs of quality assured production and health and safety and other regulations that overseas competitors did not bear.
The campaign calls for the economic benefits of using UK and Ireland-based companies to be written into procurement guidelines and for the benefits of using UK and Ireland constructional steelwork contractors to be recognised in procurement processes. Constructional steelwork on all government funded, endorsed or private finance infrastructure projects should be procured using a BCSA quality assurance scheme member.
News that the Government is supporting Chinese investment in UK infrastructure and construction poses an enormous risk to the whole construction supply chain, he said, adding:’ This is one battle that I believe we can win – but only by working together to engage in a concerted and long term campaign.’
Mr Roberts urged Members not to engage in pricing below what is needed to earn a sustainable profit. He said: “As steelwork contractors we have to price our business to actually make a profit as well as insisting on fair and reasonable contractual terms, or we will run the whole industry into the ground. And as a steelwork contractor I know that it’s possible to just say no to suicide pricing and unfair contracts, and continue to run a successful business.”"

Budget 2013: RIBA slams Osborne for missed housebuilding opportunity

From BDOnline

President Angela Brady calls for major public investment in affordable housing
The RIBA has slammed efforts to boost the housing industry in today’s budget announcement and said measures such as housing loans and mortgage guarantees will “barely make a dent” in the UK’s housing shortage.
RIBA president Angela Brady said Osborne had missed an opportunity to announce a major programme of public investment in affordable housing to meet demand where private house builders have failed.
“Government should act as a catalyst for sustainable construction growth where the market is failing to deliver,” she said.
“Today’s budget was the opportunity to kickstart a major programme of capital investment in new affordable homes and to lay the foundations for the green economy – on both counts the chancellor has failed to deliver.”
Brady pointed to figures which show that the private sector has only ever provided around 150,000 homes a year, while around 300,000 new houses are required each year to meet demand.
She welcomed Osborne’s Help to Buy package, which included an interest free loan scheme for homes up to £600,000 and £12 billion of mortgage guarantees, but warned that the government had not gone far enough.
“Whilst today’s Help to Buy announcement will enable greater access to mortgage finance, it does not sufficiently address the root cause of the housing crisis.
“We are not building enough homes, many of those that are being built aren’t good enough, and we cannot rely on private housebuilding alone to turn things around.
She added: “We weren’t expecting a game-changer budget today, but this country desperately needs one.”

Where the Hell are we going to live?

The recent announcements on housing in the budget reminded me of a track from a Levellers album; Where the Hell are We Going to Live, which was originally written by a gentleman called Paul Wright. The song deals candidly with the effects of social engineering where "efficiency" is considered more important than the interests of the people.

This version is by Vin Garbutt.

Where the Hell are we going to live?
(Paul Wright)

Well the May that I was married
We tried to settle down
And all we need's half a million quid
for to buy a two up and two down
We were on the council waiting list
number six thousand and five
We're due for a house in 2001
that's assuming we're both still alive.

Where the hell are we gonna live
where the hell are we gonna live?
Some miserable mansion up in the sky
walking around in a block a mile high,
Tellin' my friends that I'd much rather die
where the hell are we gonna live?

Well, it's all a bleedin' fiddle
forgive me for bein' so rude
I know we could save for the mortgage right now
if the two of us stopped eating food
Where the hell do our kids play
where the hell do our kids play?
No ball game allowed, stay off of the grass
Keep out of the way, don't block up the path
Shove all your plans right up your

Where the hell are we gonna live...

They're building battery farms for humans
where houses stood before
Where there used to be just one family
now they're tryin' to keep 24
There's no shops, playgrounds no boozers,
in the architects' great plan
You may wanna live like a chicken my friend,
but I wanna live like a man.

Where the hell are we gonna live
where the hell are we s'posed to live?...

Where the hell are we gonna live
where the hell are we s'posed to live?...

From Levtabs website:

Many thanks to Tony Coll, a friend of Paul, and Jessica Meadows, Paul's neice who
both got intouch to point out that it was in fact Paul Wright who wrote this song.

The following is from Tony (January 2006):

  Paul Wright was quite free about giving his songs to others, and I expect it was
  about 17th hand and credited to 'anon' by the time it reached The Levellers. Paul
  would have loved to know that it ended up on a Levellers album via the 'oral
  tradition' which he loved!

  Paul Wright was born and lived in Walthamstow, where he worked for a time as a
  reporter on the Waltham Forest Guardian newspaper. He wrote 'Where The Hell Are We
  Going To Live?' at a time when so-called slum terraces were being pulled down and
  replaced by horrible tower blocks. Coincidentally, the Beaumont Estate in Leyton -
  exactly the type of horror he was protesting about - is being pulled down in a few
  weeks time, and there's a community play called 'Home' being enacted in one of the
  blocks before it comes down. I'm angling to get Paul's song performed as part of
  the show!

Governing for people; not property and profit

I wrote the following piece almost two years ago and it was first published on the Labour-Uncut website.

I'm posting it again here, because three years into the parliament the coalition government are still trying to protect corporate interests at the expense of the people. The recent budget by George Osborne can be readily characterised as conforming to the 'Muashar Doctrine'  - “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control”.

Governing for people; not property and profit

by Robin Thorpe
In December last year, Neal Lawson and John Harrison presented an outline of their proposal for new socialism. With many European nations still circling the edge of the economic abyss and people starving to death in Africa is now a pertinent time to look again at the way in which we organise our world?
Each generation seemingly gets a chance to make a paradigm shift in the way in which their brand of civilisation is governed. Apart from a very few cases, they opt for evolution in the place of revolution. The consequence of this evolution is that despite the diminishing role of aristocracy and landed wealth, most world nations remain capitalist economies.
For the majority of the so-called civilised nations, the primary objective of governance has for centuries been as an enabler in the pursuit of profit and the expansion of capital. Historically this was because the ruler and the ruler’s peers were the primary holders of capital. More recently, because the professional political class are the acolytes of the wealthy and the preservers of the capitalist economy (particularly in the USA where election depends on the size of your marketing budget). Even our celebrated legal system only exists because of our forebear’s predilection to the preservation of private property rights.
The people of Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and to some extent the other European and North American nations are being asked to submit to severe austerity programmes. Austerity measures that could be described as being designed to protect the investments of bankers and venture capitalists (often illustrated by the expression “socialise the risk and privatise the profit”). Although they are justified with vague notions of national interest they are not specifically for the benefit of the citizens of any individual nation.
Outside Europe famine has once again brought death to Africa. The saddest thing about famine, in any part of the world, is that the globe provides enough nutrition to support the entire world population; it is not, however, equitably distributed. Unfortunately for the Somalians, “the markets” do not see fit to provide them with enough food and water to live. A market economy based on private ownership does not seem to me to be able to solve any of the social or political challenges that have emerged in the last century. Indeed the financial crisis was entirely created by the issue of private ownership; more specifically the debt created to finance private home ownership. Why then do more people not question the very nature of the economy? A global conversion to socialism with major countries abandoning the all pervasive markets isn’t likely. But why is an economy based on the private ownership of capital and the religion of market efficiency, held up as an untouchable panacea?
Chomsky describes this as the ‘Muashar doctrine’ after a quote from Carnegie endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muashar, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control”.
In a speech in Amsterdam, in March 2011, Chomsky pointed out that a greater danger yet could occur if short-term profit is given a greater priority than the environment. The fate of the species could be threatened (the US congress has already cut funding for measures that could mitigate environmental catastrophe). He concludes that, “All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome”.
If there is to be any potential for change, then meaningful leadership must be forthcoming. But meaningful must meant more than merely populist: idealist. Across the Western world, the political leaders are, without exception, intelligent and well-educated, But in the search for electoral success they follow only populist motions, always seeking to control the enigmatic middle-ground to ensure their power.
It must be accepted that contemporary voters load politicians with paradoxical demands; both reviling the political system and expecting political leaders to solve all their woes. However this does not mean that these leaders should hide from the bigger challenges by debating only the scandalous and the provincial.
Democratic leadership should not be predicated on marketing strategy or research, but on strongly held beliefs and a vision in securing a brighter future. Leadership, in any field, is categorized by the ability to helicopter over the field of reference, make decisive strategic decisions where it matters and the ability to inspire a greater collective response than that provided by the sum of the individuals.
The markets, whoever they are, cannot provide the answers to any of the questions on equality, justice, environmental preservation and security that are important to millions of people across the world. Only people can provide these answers. And no doctrine that promotes the importance of the individual and of private property over the collective society will ever come close to resolving these challenges.

This entry was posted on on Sunday, August 7th, 2011

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Magic Money Tree

NewsFlash – George Osborne has discovered the Magic Money Tree:

From the Huffington Post 
“George Osborne, the British Chancellor, has publicly disagreed with his prime minister on a fundamental issue of monetary policy – in an official Treasury report.
The prime minister recently argued that “There’s no magic money tree to fund” what he called “this ever more wishful borrowing and spending”.
But his Chancellor, George Osborne, disagrees.
The disagreement is aired in one of the documents tabled by the Chancellor on budget day. It’s titled: “Review of the Monetary Policy Framework.” – and is tucked away in the bundle of documents issued last Wednesday.
In paragraph 3.34, the Treasury makes plain that the monetary authorities could finance increased government spending on infrastructure “through the creation of money“.
Taxpayers, the Treasury makes clear, are not the only source of finance for governments – as neoliberal economists would have us believe.
There is a money tree, and it’s called the Bank of England.”
(hat-tip to Richard Murphy)

Enough Food for Everyone #IF: Hatful of Rain - Strawberry Leaves

The #IF campaign is to raise awareness of global food issues and to put pressure on international leaders to work together on four key issues: 
  • Aid; Enough Food For Everyone IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves.
  • Tax; Enough Food For Everyone IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.
  • Land; Enough Food For Everyone IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars.
  • Transparency; Enough Food For Everyone IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.
Together, we can make IF happen.

James Shenton, of Hatful of Rain, was inspired to write this song about a world of hunger and fear while working on his allotment garden

Strawberry Leaves (Shenton/Overton)

Babies crying in his sleep
children playing around our feet
A little bread and no more meat
There ain’t enough for us all to eat

The wolf is howling in the trees
Grandpas sitting shelling peas
Papas praying down on his knees
And Grandma’s eating strawberry leaves

No more corn, no more chow,
Folks are eating all sorts now
Fetch the knife, kill the cow
Got too thin for milk or plough


Dogs are barking in the back
A riders coming down the track
If he steals the horse and tack
Then his grave I’ll surely hack


Sitting in a rockin’ chair
At an empty plate I stare
The mice have left; the cupboards bare
Its time to go but I don’t know where


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Masters of War - Bob Dylan

Epic cover, by Pearl Jam, of a great song by Bob Dylan. Themes that still resonate today, 50 years after the song was written.

"Masters Of War" Bob Dylan from The Freewheelin' BOb Dylan

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks.

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain.

You fasten all the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion'
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud.

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins.

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
That even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul.

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead.

Iraq 10 years on

Ten years since the launch of the Iraq war and the most that seems to have been achieved is the lining of rich men's pockets. The following is from the Daily Mirror.

Who really won the Iraq war? Oil barons, big business and mercenaries

10 years after the fall of Saddam, we examine who were the winners and losers of the conflict
US President George W. Bush aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003
US President George W. Bush aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003
There has been no shortage of Western leaders and military chiefs willing to declare victory in the Iraq War.
Six weeks after the US-led invasion rolled into Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, George W Bush addressed the world in front of a banner that boasted: Mission accomplished.
Shortly afterwards, Tony Blair told British troops: “The way you won the war was extraordinary.”
And in 2009 when the 20th Armoured Brigade lowered its flag over the garrison in Basra to finally mark the end of British combat operations in Iraq, then-PM Gordon Brown hailed the conflict a success.
But now – a decade after the war began on March 20, 2003 – one group can toast victory most of all.
They are the oil bosses, mercenaries and tycoons who cashed in when the war’s aftermath turned into a multi-billion-pound goldrush.
This gravy train has paid out as more than 100,000 people have been killed in Iraq’s decade of turmoil.
Just 18 months after the invasion, commercial airliners packed with security personnel and business investors were flying daily into the capital Baghdad.
Private security contractors from the UK, European, South African and US special forces were lured by the offer of £1,000 a day to guard dignitaries and prime terror targets.
Tycoons had their eyes on the big prize – a slice of the first £6.6billion in reconstruction money being flown into the city on US military aircraft.
This cash belonged to Iraq. It was the proceeds from the sale of
oil that funded the UN’s Oil For Food Programme and was intended to be used to rebuild the ravaged country.
Disgracefully, much of the money ended up in the pockets of crooks or corrupt officials.
In one case, American Robert Stein, the Coalition Provisional Authority’s controller in the central Iraq city of Hilla, was jailed in 2007 for nine years after admitting his role in a multi-million-pound corruption scandal.
Between 2003 and 2004, when he was in charge of distributing reconstruction money, Stein used a rigged bidding process to hand contracts worth £5.7million to his co-conspirator – construction contractor Philip Bloom – who was also jailed.
That is just one example. In 2004, the Americans began to build a sewer and water system in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. Originally planned to cost £23million and take 18 months to complete, the project has already cost £129million and is still unfinished.
Iraq has been a test bed for the privatisation of war and apart from making lots of businessmen rich, it is not a model for reconstructing a country. The US government, eager to reduce casualties and convinced that private firms could do the job more efficiently, awarded huge contracts, mostly to US firms.
It was the birth of the truly privatised modern war. In the Second World War, there was one contractor deployed for every seven soldiers. During the 2003 invasion, that number had increased to two in five. By 2006, contractors in Iraq were outnumbering the soldiers.
Private security firms were first in the queue for work and British firms won some of the biggest contracts.
Aegis, then run by ex-Scots Guards officer Lt Col Tim Spicer, won a £250million deal to oversee all private security operations. He founded Sandline along with mercenary Simon Mann, later jailed for plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea.
Another British firm, Global Strategies Group, won a contract to provide security to diplomats in the southern city of Basra, in a deal worth up to £265million over five years.
A third London-based firm, Erinys, landed a £90million contract to secure the country’s oil fields, training 20,000 Iraqi guards to protect pipelines from sabotage.
The most controversial private security firm to profit from Iraq was Blackwater USA. In 2004, four of its security guards were ambushed and burned to death in Fallujah.
Blackwater was accused of failing to protect the men. Three years later, it was in the spotlight again when guards shot dead 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
A US judge later threw out charges against five Blackwater guards. Last year the firm, now called Academi, agreed to pay £4.8million to settle US arms trafficking charges.
Opponents of the war have claimed the real reason for the invasion was for the West to get its hands on Iraq’s massive oil reserves.
Suspicions were heightened when oilfield specialists Halliburton, which used to be run by ex-US Vice President Dick Cheney, profited from the war he helped to launch.
Dick Cheney
Former Vice President Dick Cheney used to run Halliburton [AP/MEET THE PRESS]
  Between 2003 and 2010, Halliburton’s subsidiary KBR earned £20billion in US Government contracts in Iraq. KBR was accused of overcharging and investigators found that £365million in payments should be held back.
British firm Amec won a joint £600million contract to rebuild Iraq’s water supply, while a group of companies led by BP is set to earn £1.3billion per year to develop Iraq’s Rumaila oil field.
Iraq’s oil wealth has the potential to transform the country but it still has regular power cuts and many of its people rely on untreated water.
Tony Blair, who has urged British firms to invest in Iraq, is thought to earn £20million a year, including £2.5million from his role as an adviser to US investment bank JPMorgan.
The tycoons who made fortunes from Mr Blair’s decision to wage war probably would not begrudge him a penny.

Poverty Knock - The Houghton Weavers

2013 and still people are hungry in rich nations throughout the world. Complete lack of compassion from the leaders, 'progressive' and neo-liberal alike.

Enough food for everyone #IF corporation tax was accounted for properly throughout the world.

Budget 2013 - short-term gain, long-term pain?

I am a busy person with a family and a job that does not require me to spend hours researching the entire breadth of the budget so I can't possibly cover everything. I will merely record my initial thoughts on some of the aspects that grabbed my attentions.
Despite the measures that were loudly announced for SMEs this budget appears to me to be mainly for the benefit of large corporations.
The cut in NICS for small businesses will not create any jobs and will have a negligible impact on the balance sheet of the business. It may provide a little extra cash for the director of a small company but not enough to generate investment.
The cut in corporation tax will not affect SMEs as many will already pay small business rate of 20%. This will massively help corporations to save on their tax returns. George and Co may think that this will be of benefit but the direct evidence says otherwise. Left Foot Forward go into far more detail then I can; suffice to say that German corporations pay 29%, I don't see any lack of investment in Germany. The main outcome of this is not a more competitive industrial economy, just richer corporations. Their recent track-record of investment has not been that good either, corporations are sitting on record levels of cash. They don't need extra incentives, they need confidence in the market.
Confidence in the market was the reason behind the two, seemingly rather hurried, policies on leveraging in extra investment to the house-building industry. The historical evidence seems to point towards increased availability of finance massively increasing house-prices. So short-term gain for a few, long-term pain for the many. The practical application of these schemes does not seem to have been thought through either. These schemes will probably work to get more houses built, but at what cost? Furthermore the type of house-builders that will benefit the most are the large corporations; the ones that haven't stopped building for the last five years. They may have cut back in some areas, but they haven't stopped building. They are, however, sat on land banks that are not being used and not being taxed.
Child-care tax incentives; apart from the fact that this disenfranchises stay-at-home mothers and won't come in till 2015 this policy will simply drive up prices of childcare. IPPR (I think, haven't got time to find the link) have done some research on the best way to increase the availability of childcare and they found that tax incentives are the least efficient way.
VAT - should have cut this and left fuel and alcohol duty escalators in place. VAT is a highly regressive form of taxation benefiting the wealthy more than the poor.
Income tax - raising the tax threshold is not the best way to lift people out of poverty. I am aware of research (again sorry but not enough time to find the link - I think Richard Murphy and IPPR have both done work on this) that unequivocally finds that raising tax thresholds benefits the wealthier disproportionately. This leads to an increased differential in wealth and thus increases (relative) poverty. Furthermore taking people out of tax disenfranchises them. Taking part in taxation gives people a stake in their society. Reducing indirect taxes and VAT should be a priority, not income tax, if politicians genuinely want to help the poorest.
Beer - clearly done as a sop to the leisure industry but at odds with the overall strategy on reducing alcohol consumption. Short term gain, long-term pain.
In general a tinkering at the edges budget but with some policies that are designed to help the better off rather than those suffering at the bottom of our society.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Dreams Are Made of Money - Sam Carter

Budget day 2013; the nations economy is stagnant, peoples wages are falling in real terms and many businesses have an uncertain future. Will anything change for the millions of people struggling to get by? I very much doubt it. This Chancellor is an ideologue acting on very little personal knowledge and taking advice from people who have their own interests at heart. David Blanchflower, among other leading economists, has been frank in his assessment of the Chancellor and what is required from this budget:

Over the last year the deficit has increased, the economy has flatlined and the AAA credit rating has been lost. Animal spirits remain worryingly low and it looks like we are headed into triple-dip recession. Osborne is directly responsible for the slowest recovery since the nineteenth century and needs to apologise to the British people for his abject failure.
Reckless and misguided austerity has failed miserably as many of us predicted it would. A fiddling at the edges Budget won't do.
The basic rate of income tax should be cut by 2% along with a 5% cut in VAT alongside a major boost spending on the infrastructure, primarily on housebuilding. But he won't do it.

Major corporations and banks continue to increase their profits and hoard their cash while the majority of people are treading water. If you’re broke and you know it, wave your P45; Dreams are made of money.

Dreams Are Made of Money
from No Testament by Sam Carter
You can tell yourself anything you like
Dreams are made of money
From your mortage down to your kid’s first bike
Dreams are made of money
When you’re in the red and you long for black
Dreams are made of money
When your head’s full of worry as you hit the sack
Dreams are made of money

Here’s the rainy day we’ve been spending for
Dreams are made of money
Now we’ve blown the loan and we still need more
Dreams are made of money
And we’re bailing out as the markets crash
Dreams are made of money
When we’re strapped to a parachute that’s made of cash
Dreams are made of money

Condemned, condemned, you can hear the cry
Dreams are made of money
While the placards wave and the banners fly
Dreams are made of money
Keep your CV handy and your hopes alive
Dreams are made of money
If you’re broke and you know it, wave your P45
Dreams are made of money

You can tell yourself anything you like
Dreams are made of money
From your mortage down to your kid’s first bike
Dreams are made of money
When you’re in the red and you long for black
Dreams are made of money
When your heads full of worry as you hit the sack
Dreams are made of money

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Balancing the budget and the magic money tree

Roahld Dahl is one of the worlds most celebrated authors of books for children; his books are renowned as funny and original. A fact often forgotten by adults who leave Dahl behind in their childhood is that he is a bitingly accurate satirist. The following excerpt from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator is testament to this. To set the scene, Willy Wonka, Charlie and the bucket family are in space flying towards the International Space Station, the world does not know that this strange space craft is Wonka’s Glass Elevator and think that an alien ship is about to make contact:

In his study in the White House sat Lancelot R. Gilligrass, President of the United States of America, the most powerful man on Earth. In this moment of crisis, all his most important advisers had been summoned urgently to his presence, and there they all were now, following closely on the giant television screen every move made by this dangerous-looking glass capsule and its eight desperate-looking astronauts. The entire Cabinet was present. The Chief of the Army was there, together with four other generals. There was the Chief of the Navy and the Chief of the Air Force and a sword-swallower from Afghanistan, who was the President's best friend. There was the President's Chief Financial Adviser, who was standing in the middle of the room trying to balance the budget on top of his head, but it kept falling off.

I of course mention this today because Osborne is to deliver his budget tomorrow. Osborne famously believes in “balancing the budget”. The notion of balancing the books for a national economy is spurious at best and deceitful at worst. Like many other concepts in national politics it is a purely political construct. In overseeing the economy of a nation with a sovereign currency Osborne as the ability to both set rates of taxation and to create money. This can be explained by MMT; no not a Magic Money Tree but Modern Monetary Theory. A theory of economics that I would like to explore further in the future.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Gonna be an Engineer - Peggy Seeger

Gonna Be an Engineer (Seeger, Peggy)

When I was a little girl I wished I was a boy
I tagged along behind the gang and wore my corduroys.
Everybody said I only did it to annoy
But I was gonna be an engineer

Mamma said, "Why can't you be a lady?
Your duty is to make me the mother of a pearl
Wait until you're older, dear
And maybe you'll be glad that you're a girl.

Dainty as a Dresden statue, gentle as a Jersey cow,
Smooth as silk, gives cream and milk
Learn to coo, learn to moo
That's what you do to be a lady, now.

When I went to school I learned to write and how to read
History, geography and home economy
And typing is a skill that every girl is sure to need
To while away the extra time until the time to breed
And then they had the nerve to ask, what would I like to be?
I says, "I'm gonna be an engineer!"

"No, you only need to learn to be a lady
The duty isn't yours, for to try to run the world
An engineer could never have a baby
Remember, dear, that you're a girl"

She's smart --- for a woman.
I wonder how she got that way?
You get no choice, you get no voice
Just stay mum, pretend you're dumb.
That's how you come to be a lady, today.

Well, I started as a typist but I studied on the sly
Working out the day and night so I could qualify
And every time the boss came in, he pinched me on the thigh
Said, "I've never had an engineer!"
"You owe it to the job to be a lady
The duty of the staff is to give the boss a whirl
The wages that you get are crummy, maybe
But it's all you get, 'cause you're a girl"

Then Jimmy came along and we set up a conjugation
We were busy every night with loving recreation
I spent my days at work so he could get an education
And now he's an engineer!

He said: "I know you'll always be a lady
The duty of my darling is to love me all her life
Could an engineer look after or obey me?
Remember, dear, that you're my wife!"

As soon a Jimmy got a job, I studied hard again
Then busy at me turret-lathe a year or two, and then
The morning that the twins were born, Jimmy says to them
"Your mother was an engineer!"
"You owe it to the kids to be a lady
Dainty as a dish-rag, faithful as a chow
Stay at home, you got to mind the baby
Remember you're a mother now!"

Every time I turn around there's something else to do
Cook a meal or mend a sock or sweep a floor or two
Listening to Jimmy Young - it makes me want to spew
I was gonna be an engineer.

I only wish that I could be a lady
I'd do the lovely things that a lady's s'posed to do
I wouldn't even mind if only they would pay me
Then I could be a person too.

What price for a woman?
You can buy her for a ring of gold,
To love and obey, without any pay,
You get a cook and a nurse for better or worse
You don't need a purse when a lady is sold.

Oh, but now the times are harder and me Jimmy's got the sack;
I went down to Vicker's, they were glad o have me back.
But I'm a third-class citizen, my wages tell me that
But I'm a first-class engineer!

The boss he says "We pay you as a lady,
You only got the job because I can't afford a man,
With you I keep the profits high as may be,
You're just a cheaper pair of hands."

You got one fault, you're a woman;
You're not worth the equal pay.
A bitch or a tart, you're nothing but heart,
Shallow and vain, you've got no brain,

Well, I listened to my mother and I joined a typing pool
Listened to my lover and I put him through his school
If I listen to the boss, I'm just a bloody fool
And an underpaid engineer
I been a sucker ever since I was a baby
As a daughter, as a mother, as a lover, as a dear
But I'll fight them as a woman, not a lady
I'll fight them as an engineer!

Words and music by Peggy Seeger in 1970
Copyright Stormking Music, Inc.

Sexual Equality - rights not privileges

The Old Statesman blog on the New Statesman website today is about women's rights in 1913 and the rise of the Women's co-operative guild. 100 years later have things drastically changed? In many walks of life there is at least notional equality, achieved relatively recently through legislation and in no small part by the actions of the women at the Ford factories. In some respects though, in particular political representation and media perception, women are increasingly marginalised. Laurie Penny explains far better than I could in her article for the New Statesman.

Beatrice Webb wrote this in 1914:
“In every part of that great voluntary industrial democracy which is being slowly but surely evolved by the manual workers as…a complement, to the political democracy established by the upper and middle class, we find knots of active women proving, by business capacity and self-subordinating zeal…the right of human beings of their sex to take their full share in the government of the country. It is in these facts that we find the justification of the demand of the Labour and Socialist Parties of all countries and all races for the complete political and economic enfranchisement of the working woman.”

This clearly has not been achieved; not even in relatively progressive northern Europe. A report by Anne and Paul Ehrlich at the Wood Institue for the Environment, Stanford contend that this has very clear ramifications for the future of civilisation. Studies of the planet's ecological footprint suggest that sustaining today's 7 billion people at current standards will require roughly an additional half planet of resources (or, four to five more Earths if all citizens of the planet were to consume at the level of the United States). The single best step toward avoiding a collapse, Ehrlich said, is to give total equality to women around the world. "This will allow us to include more of their brainpower to help solve these problems," he said. "And studies have shown that when women are given full rights, they have fewer children, which will help slow birth rates. We also need to give every sexually active human free access to modern contraception and emergency abortion."

I haven't read the whole report but I certainly agree with the conclusion that enabling women to take a full role in society is essential for the future sustainability of our planet. Education is a key part in this; it has been proven over and over that education is the key to both lifting people out of poverty and in allowing women in particular to make choices about their life and their body. This does usually lead to a lower birth-rate.

This clip from Made in Dagenham sums up the situation for women in the UK - Rights not privileges.

Further reading;
The Womens timeline
Measuring Up, A report by Rights of Women
Action Aid-

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Primal Scream - 2013

"We're angrier than we've ever been about the way this country's going," says Gillespie. "Our kids are going
to grow up into a really bad place."

Primal Scream are clearly not a folk music band. They are not know for their lyricism or finger-style guitar playing but they are known as a politically aware band. Their latest album continues in this vein of shining a mirror to contemporary life. The first single from More Light, 2013, sets out their discontent with modern culture ("Every generation buys the lie, just like the one before") in a style that doesn't so much get off the fence as take a chainsaw to it (Guardian Review).

Bobby Gillespie also told the Guardian that he thinks that the younger bands just don't get what music is for - "We always saw music as some kind of revolutionary force," he says. "People can laugh at that all they like but we saw it as fucking psychic resistance.".."We're living in extreme times and if you listened to modern rock music you wouldn't know that," says Gillespie. "I just think it's odd there's no protest, resistance or critique of what's going down. It's like people are tranquilised. All the rights people had fought for – people like trade unionists, anarchists, artists – are being clawed back by extremists. These people [in charge] aren't rational thinkers. Someone like Boris Johnson hides behind that bumbling public schoolboy image but he's a sinister right-wing cunt trying to bring in anti-strike legislation … we've got to fight these fucking people!"

I haven't bought a Primal Scream album since Riot City Blues but I might check this out. 

Bombers Moon

Mike Harding is one of the UK's best known folk singers. He has written several outstanding songs in the English and Irish tradition and has been a successful stand-up comedian. Despite this I first came across Mike as the composer of the Dangermouse theme tune and as author of a book on the walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

I wanted to share his song 'Bombers Moon' because I think it carries a powerful anti-war message. Music is a powerful medium through which to tell a story; I think it is important that songwriters and musicians can relate to significant themes and there is perhaps none more momentous then "Young men dying for a politician's lies".

Mike perhaps feels this more keenly then others, as his father was killed on a bombing mission 4 weeks before he was born. The song does not really focus on the whys and wherefores of the war; no blame is cast on any side. Instead the song, in the folk tradition, focuses on the human story. The people dieing on both sides, the wife left behind. The story is of the bombing missions in WW2 but the message is universal. It is the ordinary man in the street, the common man, that is sent out to die in wars.

I really like the song; I doubt it would get in many peoples top 5 anti-war songs but I like the simplicity of it. I think Mike Harding is an underrated song-writer.

Bombers Moon (Harding, Mike)

'44 in Bomber County
Young men waiting for the night,
In the hedgerows birds are singing,
Singing in the falling light. ~
And the captain says,
'Tonight there'll be a bomber's moon,
We'll be there and back underneath a bomber's moon.
A thousand bombers over the northern sea
Heading out, out for Germany.'

Chalky White stands at the dartboard,
Curly Thompson writes to his wife,
Nobby Clarke and Jumbo Johnson
Are playing cards and smoking pipes;
And over the hangers rises a bomber's moon,
Full and clear rising, as the engines croon
And the planes they taxi out on to runway five
And sail off out into the silvery night.

Sandy Campbell checks his oil gauge,
The Belgian coast is coming soon;
Curly Thompson lifts his sextant,
Lines up on a bomber's moon
And waves are shining there beneath the bomber's moon.
The Lancasters flying high beneath the bomber's moon
Coming in along the Belgian coast
A thousand silver-shrouded ghosts.

Flak flies up around the city,
Jumbo Johnson banks the plane,
Goes in low and drops his payload,
Turns to join the pack again.
And people are dying there beneath the bomber's moon,
The city's a raging hell beneath the bomber's moon,
And the planes head out towards the northern sea:
Young men coming home from victory.
Over Belgium came the fighters,
Flying high against the night;
Curly Thompson saw them coming,
Closing in before he died.
And the young men shot them down beneath the bomber's moon,
Shot them down in flames beneath the bomber's moon;
Young men sending young men to their graves
Saw them down into the North Sea waves.

Now it's '84 in Bomber County
Mrs White dusts the picture and she cries:
Chalky White in uniform
Looking as he did the day he died.
And for God's sake no more bomber's moons,
No more young men going out to die too soon,
Old men sending young men out to die,
Young men dying for a politician's lies.

For God's sake no more bomber's moons,
No more young men going out to die too soon,
Old men sending young men out to kill.
If we don't stop them then they never will.

No more no more bombers’ moons
No more no more bomber's moons.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Freedom of Association

I'm a member of the Co-operative Party. The Co-operative Party is the fourth largest political party in Parliament, and the political arm of the Co-operative Movement. We believe that people will achieve more by working together than they can by working alone.

We believe that the only way to create a just and fair society is through power being spread evenly throughout society, and not arbitrarily based on wealth, class, gender or race.

The Sycamore Tree in Tolpuddle represents the principle of the freedom of association and the right of people to organise in groups to achieve common objectives.
Image of: Sycamore at SY78959444


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Time to rethink the role of government

This article was first published on Labour-Uncut
In December 2011 I wrote a piece for Labour-Uncut on the subject of how we address the meaning of socialism today and in the future. In this piece I discussed the notion of solidarity and how Leo Panitch describes this as meaning “transcending diversity” and not merely collating groups of ethnically or culturally similar people. I was reminded of this article and a few of the comments by several recent events.

The first of these was a training course in which the trainer presented Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This made me think of the following comment by Amber Star;
“Here’s the dichotomy… the more successful a Labour government is in legislating for minimum wages, equality in the workplace, health & safety, maternity/ paternity leave, paid vacations & other workers’ rights, the less need there is for working people to join a Union &/or organise themselves”.

The fundamental basis of Maslow’s theory is that each of us is motivated by needs. “Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development” (
This notion has particular relevance in industry where employers can optimize the workers potential by ensuring that they have a secure standard of living, welfare etc and are therefore focused on doing their job. The other side of Maslow’s needs based model is that where systems of support that maintain lower order needs are removed, then an individual no longer has the motivation to achieve higher order needs.
This has particular resonance in the field of politics. Amber Star’s statement is superficially true but it misses the point that we need to maintain this safety net to enable us to succeed in life. Furthermore, successfully resolving these needs is not possible without collaboration.
Maslow’s needs based model has been a central tenet of management theory for the last 50 years. One of the weaknesses of Maslow’s hierarchical model; however, is that it can be too simplistic. Maslow Rewired redefines the needs hierarchy as an interactive cycle that is anchored by social connection.
This reimagining of the model does not negate the fact that basic needs must be met in order for people to seek higher goals. What Maslow Rewired does is place more emphasis on social interaction; “The system of human needs from bottom to top, shelter, safety, sex, leadership, community, competence and trust, are dependent on our ability to connect with others. Belonging to a community provides the sense of security and agency that makes our brains happy and helps keep us safe.” (Rutledge, P.)
Maslow Rewired for Social Media (Rutledge, P)
What ramifications does this have for the labour movement? Superficially it means better communication but much more substantially it means reappraising how the Labour party goes about its business. Whether we consider the established model of a hierarchy represented by a pyramid or an interactive cycle the fact remains that big government can only achieve certain objectives. That is not to say that government does not have a purpose; I am not an advocate of tea party politics.
But government can not merely reside in Whitehall/Westminster and direct from afar. For all organisations, public or private, to build sustainable success it is vital that they enable people to maximize their individual potential.  Maslow Rewired suggests that the optimum way of doing this is through social connection (what we may call co-operation). This academic theory has similarities with the business philosophy, Radical Management, developed by Steve Denning.
Steve Denning (formerly Programme Director of Knowledge Management at the World Bank and now a business consultant and author of “The Leaders Guide to Radical Management”) argues that in order to achieve innovation and efficiency a fundamental shift is required to change managers from controllers to enablers – “To reach the new level of performance, the organization has to empower those doing the work in self-organizing teams that are responsible for deciding how the work is to be done”. In an article for Forbes,
Denning summarizes five big surprises that he has observed when implementing Radical Management. One of these is that this is a hugely profitable way of doing business; another was that the practice can have wider application then its current usage in high-tech industries. He theorizes that by changing the way that governmental organisations operate from “shaking the vending machine to get more or better services out of it, and over to the idea of government building frameworks that enable people to build new services of their own” then it is possible to reform education and health service to genuinely put students and patients first.
This brings me to another event that made me think about my interpretation of socialism. This was a programme on Radio 4 about Roberto Unger. For those of you not familiar with him (which included me until a week or so ago) it is worth your time listening to a few of his lectures on YouTube. You may not agree with everything that he says, but like Chomsky, he has a knack of getting straight to his point and rationally defining his argument and evidence. I happen to agree with most of what he says; if only because he validates and expands on my own opinions – a happy coincidence which will always result in a favourable predisposition.
In an article in Counter-Punch Unger provides a damning indictment of contemporary politics “Progressives in the world and in the United States especially, do not contribute to the objective of social and inclusive economic growth. They do not work for a form of national development based on a sustained broadening of educational and economic opportunities. Instead they accept the present arrangements and seek to humanize them through compensatory redistribution, that is entitlement programs. Thus, the progressives become the humanizers of the supposedly inevitable. They don’t have a program. Their program is the program of their conservative adversaries with a humanizing face. The practical result is that the talents and the energies of the vast majority of ordinary men and women are squandered.”
Unger then draws a similar conclusion to the far more centrist Steve Denning “This is not simply a problem about how resources are allocated by the government. It is a problem about the way things are organized. Thus my focus falls on institutional reimagination and institutional reconstruction.”
Unger expands on this theme in an interview with the European “The opportunity for change has already been largely squandered. But the opportunity for insight, not yet, and insight today can mean transformation tomorrow”
Unger explains that the organisation of labor, just like the notion of markets, is not a natural phenomenon but is a human construct. Prior to the industrial revolution industry was decentralized; workers were organized in small teams and often worked in co-operation with other teams. Since the mid-19th century labor forces have become concentrated in factories that are owned and managed by large corporate entities. Contemporary bureaucracy and trade unions have evolved to cope with mass production from a largely unskilled workforce.
As technology changes again we seem to be entering a new period of decentralized labor often engaged in temporary or contractual work. Rather than fight against this tide of globalization Unger proposes that the balance of power both within democratic and corporate organisations is altered to allow citizens more autonomy and more personal responsibility. He states that “the primary responsibility of the union is to ensure the capability and endowments of its citizens so that they can raise a storm of experimentation and try things differently and try this and try that”. He does not propose that this means removing the social safety net; but does insist that it must change and adapt.
I find it fascinating that Rutledge, Denning and Unger have reached similar conclusions from widely differing viewpoints. This does not necessarily mean that they are right but it is worth thinking through the alternatives to the status quo. Rutledge places emphasis on social media in achieving greater connectivity; Denning believes in the power of small task-orientated, self-organizing teams to produce greater innovation and efficiency and
Unger argues for a transformation in the balance of power between the labor force, the employer and governmental organisations. All of them recognise the importance of communication, collaboration and control. Social cohesion (solidarity) is not just desirable; it is necessary to allow us to reach our potential. The role of government in this context is to be an enabler; to ensure that individuals and SMEs are equipped with the tools and knowledge to compete in a local, national and global market.

Free the People - The Dubliners

'Free the People' was a 1972 hit song for The Dubliners. It was written by producer and song-writer Phil Coulter and is often seen as a song promoting Irish republicanism. I understand that the song was in fact written about the internment of Irish peoples in Northern Ireland (catholic and protestant, although mainly catholic) under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act. This was controversial because it gave the authorities the power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial. Brian Faulkner, the Northern Ireland PM said after the announcement that Northern Ireland was "quite simply at war with the terrorist."

For me the song remains a beacon of liberty and the importance of equality before the law. The lyrics have relevance throughout the world whereever people struggle against tyranny and repression. For us in the western developed world it is a reminder that the cost of liberty is that we cannot rest if we wish to retain it. More than that it is a rollocking good tune.

[Note: This video would appear to be in support of the republican cause. I am not a supporter of the use of violence in the fight for liberty (nor am I in fact Irish). One mans freedom fighter is another mans terrorist etc. The point that Phil Coulter and Luke Kelly were making with the song was that men were being arrested without being told of what crimes they had committed; the suspicion of terrorist collusion was enough for a man to be interned. See also the trial of Gerry Conlon and the Guildford 4]
Free the People (Coulter, Phil) Performed by The Dubliners.
Laws were made for people
And the law can never scorn
The right of a man to be free
Free the people , let them have their say
Free the people let them see the light of day
The dismal dawn was breaking
When they took her man away
Not knowing what was his crime
Just what was he guilty of
Not one of them could say
But they'll think of something in time
He says goodbye and remembers
We shall overcome
Comforting her children
Softly crying in the night
She tried very hard to explain
You know your daddy never did a thing
That wasn't right
So soon he's bound to be home again
He is a good man
And we shall overcome
What does it profit him
The right to be born
If he suffers the loss of liberty
Laws were made for people
And the law can never scorn
The right of a man to be free
We are the people
And we shall overcome
We are the people
And we shall overcome

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


In 1832 six men from Tolpuddle in Dorset founded the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. They met either under the sycamore tree in the village or in the upper room of Thomas Standfield's cottage. The intention of the society was to protest against wage deflation among agricultural labourers. Members swore an oath of secrecy – and it was this act that led to the men's arrest and subsequent sentence of seven years' transportation [learn more at the museum website]

The society was led by George Loveless, a Methodist preacher; following his sentencing he wrote these words while in prison:

God is our guide! from field, from wave,
From plough, from anvil, and from loom;
We come, our country's rights to save,
And speak a tyrant faction's doom:
We raise the watch-word liberty;
We will, we will, we will be free!

This rallying call underlined the Martyrs’ determination and has since served to inspire generations of people to fight against injustice and oppression (although belief in a supernatural deity is not now a prerequisite).

Following years of economic growth and rising living standards many people are now confronted with falling wages and a dilution of the support services that local and national government provide. This blog is to remind everyone that we achieve more when we stand together. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were released following a petition and mass protest march, the first of its kind.

I am a member of the Co-operative Party and as such share many of the views of the party and its members. The party stands for a sustainable economy and society, a culture of citizenship and socially responsible business represented by the practice of retail and industrial co-operatives. The Co-operative Party seeks to advance its agenda through the Parliamentary Labour Party, with whom it shares common values. I think that this is best summed up by clause IV of the Labour Party constitution:

The Labour Party is a democratic socialist party. It believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone, so as to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.