Wednesday 5 November 2014

Maximus - a name like a sex aid and a history of fraud and failure

Maximus are back in the news because the government have given them a £500 million contract for "Work Capability Assessments", taking over the job of harrassing the sick from Atos.

So I am republishing this piece that I wrote in the Morning Star on July 12th 2012

Solomon Hughes
Morning Star 12th July 2012

The government's work programme is failing. Currently only 24 per cent of those on the scheme are leaving benefits, and some of those are being forced out without even getting jobs. This is below government estimates for the number who would find work without the scheme - the programme is literally worse than nothing. There are two problems with Iain Duncan Smith's £5 billion plan to "help" the unemployed by hiring big "benefit-busting" contractors. First, it's the wrong scheme. Second, he's got the wrong people running it. The work programme is based on the idea that there is something wrong with the unemployed - maybe they can't find jobs because they have forgotten how to get out of bed. But rising unemployment is mostly caused by lack of jobs, not issues with the unemployed. Investing £5bn on schemes creating actual jobs - like housebuilding - would cut unemployment by far more. There is a case at the margins for an employability programme - some people really do get knocked out of the labour market and need help to get back in. Training, coaching and some job subsidies can help. But Duncan Smith has hired the wrong people to help the unemployed. The big work programme contractors are almost universally better at helping themselves to profits than helping the unemployed. All studies so far conducted show that public-sector Jobcentre staff do a better job. I've been writing about bogus "benefit-busting" firms A4e and Working Links for a few years. But there are plenty of firms you've never heard of that squeeze millions from the government to help the unemployed but only help themselves. Enough in fact for me to run a short series on the subject. This week, step forward Maximus. Maximus has a low profile, a name like a sex aid and contracts worth £176 million running the work programme in west London and south-east England. It's probably just as well that this US firm is unknown in Britain, as its record across the pond includes fraud and failure on a major scale. In 2007 Maximus paid a $30.5m (£20m) fine in the US over charges that it had cheated Medicaid, the state-funded health service for the poor, by making tens of thousands of false claims. The fraud took place in a "payment-by-results" contract. Washington state had hired Maximus to make savings in its spending - Maximus and the state shared the money claimed from the national Medicaid system for children in foster care. But Maximus, in a plan called "operation lightning rod," increased its income by making claims for children who had not received medical care. After the fraud was uncovered Maximus said it would not sign any more "contingency-based contracts" where it is paid from "savings" in state expenditure. But Duncan Smith's "payment-by-results" work programme is just such a "contingency based contract." Also in 2007 the state of Connecticut sued Maximus over the "abject failure" of its computer system. Maximus was supposed to run a police database, including real-time police record checks. Connecticut's attorney-general said that "Maximus minimised quality, squandering millions of taxpayer dollars and shortchanging law enforcement agencies." He said the database could "make a life-and-death difference to police and other law enforcers," so the failure was unacceptable. In 2010 Maximus settled the case for $2.5m (£1.6m). Maximus's performance over here is less dramatic, but still unimpressive. The firm got some benefit-busting contracts from the last Labour government. It never managed to get a "good" grade from Ofsted for these schemes. The last full inspection by Ofsted of its "workstep" programme for the disabled jobless in western England gave the firm the second-lowest possible grade, "satisfactory." Inspectors noted that "the proportion of participants leaving the programme without progressing into open employment is high." A 2010 follow-up inspection found "insufficient progress" on half of its targets. As the work programme fails, there are calls to bail out the scheme with extra cash. But as Maximus's record shows, this would be throwing good money after bad.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Evo Morales re elected - but FOIA papers show UK Labour Ministers stood with BP and British Gas against Morales.

With Evo Morales re-elected in Bolivia because of his socialist policies, I am republishing this 2009 article based on FOIA docs that is a reminder that our own New Labour government did all it could for BP and British Gas to throw Morales off course- they failed -

A sinister minister; Howells's push to clear the way for British profiteers inBolivia

Solomon Hughes
Morning Star
February 6, 2009
When shops find out that something they sold contained unexpected dangers, they issue a product recall.
From time to time, small notices in a newspaper carry announcements such as "customers who purchased Binky the Rabbit children's T-shirts from our store should discontinue use and return them to us for a complete refund. Some units unexpectedly contain barbed wire and poisonous ants."
Our government should now be issuing a product recall through its embassies. "Customers who were persuaded by Britain and its G7 partners to use neoliberal policies should discontinue their use. These may cause unexpected economic instability, wipe away value and require emergency nationalisations."
Britain's foreign policy, like its economic policy, was based on worshipping banks which unfortunately turned out to be tin gods. Well, less than tin gods, because at least if they were you could melt down the metal and sell it on. By contrast, the banks were based on completely imaginary values, although they made very real transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich.
This looks most stark in Britain's relations with Latin America.
Bolivia, for example, made efforts to drag its citizens from poverty by nationalising their natural resources rather than being dictated to by the market.
This enraged British politicians, because our companies were trying hard to exploit Bolivia - Britain's United Utilities tried to run off with Bolivian water at Cochabamba, while BP and British Gas  tried to make off with the country's hydrocarbons. This inspired urban uprisings that put Bolivia'ssocialist government in power, much to the regret of our Labour government.
Papers that I obtained from the Foreign Office under the Freedom of Information Act cover then foreign office minister Kim Howells's 2007 visit toBolivia. As I showed last year, the papers reveal that Howells used his time not to explore Bolivia's anti-poverty programmes or to understand how a socialist government could be so consistently popular. Instead, Howells nagged the Evo Morales government about nationalisation.
As the papers record, "Dr Howells used his meeting with Foreign Minister Choquehuanca to express our concern about investment security in Bolivia, after the recent wave of nationalisations of European-owned companies in telecommunications and hydrocarbons.
"Bolivia had to compete with the rest of the world for investment. Investors needed to know that Bolivian investment rules would be consistent over the next 10 years. Private investment was, as in the UK, a key resource if the government wished to achieve priorities such as poverty reduction."
Well, as Britain has now been forced into its own emergency nationalisations, carried out in a British panic rather than with Bolivian planning, it seems obvious that Howells owes David Choquehuanca an apology.
However, the Foreign Office papers also show why being new Labour means never saying sorry - the documents show that Howells did not make a fraternal visit to the people of Bolivia. Instead, he came as an emissary of BP and British Gas.
One "steering brief" for Howells says: "Following the 1 May nationalisation of the hydrocarbons industries, which affected Shell, Ashmore and BP, the meeting with Choquehuanca is also an opportune time to discuss investment security."
Another preparatory paper notes that Howells would meet Choquehuanca and President Morales.
With Choquehuanca, Howells could "have a chance to make clear how the recent government measures and rhetoric, and the uncertainty over judicial security, act as a disincentive for potential foreign investors."
With Morales, "Dr Howells might, if there is time, also care to mention the nationalisation process, and how it is sending negative signals to international investors."
If Howells had any honesty, he would now have to visit Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson to warn them against their nationalisations.
Not content with representing British businessmen against Bolivia's government, the British embassy also organised a rally of discontented Bolivian businessmen as well.
Howells's visit included a talk with various Bolivian rightwingers who offered "a pessimistic message from economic and political analysts." Nobody was invited from the working-class suburbs of El Alto to deliver a positive message about Morales reform.
Howells then ganged up with the European Union to try to bully Bolivia back into BP's arms.
The Foreign Office documents record: "Dr Howells' visit usefully coincided with the visit of the EU Commission Director General for External Relations, Eneko Landaburu, who gave an equally robust private and public message on investment security to the Bolivian authorities after meeting EU and hydrocarbons company representatives."
Howells also used the local newspapers to moan at Morales.
"Dr Howells used his La Razon interview to make similar points (headline: 'This is a country with great investment insecurity'): Bolivia needed to open up to the world; investor confidence was one essential condition of Bolivia making progress in its key goals."
I am pleased to say that Bolivia's foreign minister sent Howells away with a flea in his ear, as "Choquehuanca admitted that Bolivia was taking a risk. But it was a government priority - on a popular mandate - for Bolivia to take back control of its natural resources 'after 500 years of pillage by foreigners.'
"The new constitution, once passed, guaranteed long-term investment, within the context of a strong state."
British ambassador to Bolivia Nigel Baker summed up Howells's visit with a sentence that is in equal parts comic and threatening.
He wrote: "Visits like that of Dr Howells are essential in getting our messages across, but also in flagging up the dangers faced by an inward-lookingBolivia. Drugs, energy security, investment security are all at risk if Bolivia goes the wrong way. (Information redacted)."
The idea that credit-crunch Britain knows the "right way" to send Bolivia seems silly. But the way that a secret, "redacted" sentence follows the possibility of Bolivia going the "wrong way" is, given the history of Latin America, downright sinister.

How New Labour sell-outs Helped Evo Morales win in Bolivia.

With Evo Morales set to win a third term as Bolivian president, I am republishing this 2006 article based on FOIA papers that shows how New Labour sell-outs - in the shape of Brian Wilson - helped Morales win by betraying their own principles. New Labour loved BP and British Gas too much to see why Morales was popular.

Helping hand :Solomon Hughes exposes the bullying British tactics in Bolivia that backfired on Foreign Office officials

Solomon Hughes, Morning Star, April 21 2006.

When Bolivians elected their radical new president Evo Morales last year, the Foreign Office congratulated him on his "decisive victory."
The British government deserves some of the congratulations as well - it helped Morales move from his rented single room into the presidential palace. But it did not mean to do it.
Britain helped Morales's Movement for Socialism get elected by pressuring his predecessors to stick with the unpopular privatisation of the country's oil and gas. Morales's opposition to these British-backed policies swept him into power.
Documents released to me under the Freedom of Information Act show that Labour ministers threatened Bolivian MPs with legal action and investment strikes if they stopped favourable treatment of British multinationals.
As Morales won his votes by opposing these policies, the Foreign Office congratulations must have been delivered through tightly, if elegantly, gritted teeth.
Most British newspaper stories about Morales focus on his attitude to cocaine - presumably, because journalists like to stick with an issue which they know a lot about rather than trying to figure out how Bolivia works.
Morales came to politics as a representative of the cocaleros, farmers growing the coca leaf, and he still wants to let Bolivians grow the plant for traditional remedies, in opposition to the US "war on drugs."
However, letters from the British embassy in Bolivia show that, as Morales came closer and closer to power, diplomats focused on his attitude to less glamorous products, specifically oil and gas.
Since the mid-1990s Bolivia followed a World Bank-backed privatisation programme, including handing hydrocarbons - oil and gas - to foreign firms.
Large hydrocarbon resources were discovered after privatisation and these pools of oil and gas could fund major social reforms, but they are in private hands - a point that finally made Morales president. However, Labour ministers were putting all their efforts in the opposite direction.
In 2002, Morales was narrowly beaten in an election by President Lozada, a man commonly called "the Gringo" because he was raised in the US and speaks Spanish with a US accent.
Lozada backed Bolivian hydrocarbon privatisation.
He particularly supported a plan from businessmen in what is called the Pacific LNG consortium. Two UK firms, British Gas  and British Petroleum lead this consortium and wanted to pump Bolivian gas via Chile to the United States. Britain made sure that the Gringo kept to this gas plan.
In 2002, Energy Minister Brian Wilson visited Bolivia. At the time, I asked both the Foreign Office and Wilson if they were going to Bolivia to boost the Pacific LNG scheme. They both said that they were not. They claimed that the visit was to "offer any help with a new regulatory framework for gas" rather than boost British businesses' grip on Bolivian resources.
However, papers released under the Freedom of Information Act tell a different story. Wilson wrote to Bolivia's industry minister saying: "Thank you for your letter ... inviting me to visit you in Bolivia to discuss hydrocarbons. The Bolivian hydrocarbons industry is very important to British gas companies and I am keen to support British investments in your country.
"I am considering a visit to Bolivia later this year with the purpose of helping British companies secure more business in this important market."
A note from his officials says: "A visit needs to have the involvement and support of key British gas companies."
Wilson visited Bolivia with a host of British businessmen, including local British Gas boss Rick Waddell, an ex-US army major who used to work for Enron.
Briefings for that visit from the Department of Trade and Industry say that the minister must emphasise that British Gas “is very keen to develop as quickly as possible" the scheme.
The briefings show that Britain was aware that a Bolivian announcement in favour of the Pacific LNG scheme could be unpopular and that "the packaging of the decision will need careful management to avoid a public outcry," especially the plan for foreign firms to send Bolivian gas to the US via their national rival, Chile.
The papers note that "a fierce campaign against the Chilean route has been organised by indigenous groups and trade unions."
After Wilson's visit, this "fierce campaign" organised mass demonstrations in Bolivia's capital, La Paz. However, President Lozada's forces were fiercer - they shot dead 60 protesters before "the Gringo" fled to Miami in disgrace.
After Lozada's fall, the British kept pressing Bolivia on oil and gas. Lozada's partner Carlos Mesa became president. He tried to contain popular anger over Bolivia's natural resources by imposing a new tax on energy firms.
However, a 2004 DTI briefing for Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien to help him greet a delegation of Bolivian MPs recommended that he threaten them with a lawsuit and investment strike over these taxes.
The briefing says that the taxes represent a "wholly new philosophy of increasing state control over the whole oil and gas chain," suggesting that this is a bad thing. The papers suggest warning the Bolivians that "BG/BP suggest that key investors consider the draft legislation in its current form would breach existing contractual rights, disrupt further development of Bolivian reserves and may lead to legal action by them."
The ministers' briefing also says that the new laws would cause "a freeze by them on current and future investment." In the end, Mesa's failure to press down on foreign oil and gas firms was one of the main reasons for Morales's decisive election victory last year.
Morales becoming president is an event that would have excited many Labour ministers when they were young - he is the first Bolivian Indian to win the top job. He campaigned under a socialist banner, promised to undo World Bank-inspired privatisations and to halve his own presidential salary while taxing the rich.

Ironically, Britain's Labour ministers helped Morales win by standing against the ideas that they have abandoned but he still holds.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Gove's Fall - I predicted it in 2013, and why it is like the fall of "Greasy Stain" Education Secretary John Patten in the 90's

 In the Daily Mail Max Hastings protests against the sacking of Michael Gove as Education Secretary . Hastings says that Cameron has sacked Gove because he did not want to "face an election amid an ongoing war with teachers", and is angry NUT members will be "dancing round bonfires" having won a battle. Hastings says that "John Major did the same 20 years ago when he appointed, as Education Secretary, Gillian Shephard, herself a former schoolmistress in place of the abrasive John Patten"

I don't think Hastings knows how unflattering the comparison between Gove and Patten is:- Major sacked Patten because he more-or-less had a nervous breakdown and started gibbering about the need for more discussion of "Damnation" in the classroom.

I made the Patten/Gove comparison back in 2013 in this Morning Star article (maybe Hastings read it)

Morning Star
February 7, 2013 Thursday

Gove U-turn follows the Tory Patten

 Solomon Hughes

Michael Gove's EBacc U-turn shows the Tories' supposed tough guy could face the fate of John Patten, the Conservative's least successful education secretary. Gove's education plans are very similar to Patten's. The Tories think Gove is a front-bench hero, taking on teaching unions, bringing in the private sector, sticking two fingers up at Labour and winning popular support. But his EBacc backdown shows Gove might be as weak as Patten as well. Opposition from the National Union of Teachers eventually drove Patten into a bit of a breakdown, so he had to be gently removed from the Department for Education HQ.

Gove also seems to be overheating. His English baccalaureate would have replaced GCSEs. He wanted a qualification to fail more pupils - kids who could do well in one or other GCSE would fail the EBacc, which bundled several subjects together. Just before abandoning the EBacc, Gove gave a crazy speech, claiming Labour "want to be the Downton Abbey party" over the EBacc because "they think working-class children should stick to the station in life they were born into." Gove was trying to claim that his plans, which were designed to trip up most schoolkids, were actually going to help them. His rhetoric was getting shrill because opposition to the EBacc went well beyond Labour. The teaching unions opposed them. So did the universities and the qualifications regulator. Logically, following Gove's U-turn, either he now believes in "Downton Abbey" politics, or knows he was talking twaddle in the first place. Gove's weakness surprises his Tory pals. They thought he was David Cameron's "most successful reforming minister." But to me he has some similarities with Patten who was education secretary in the John Major government between 1992 and 1994. Patten was such a failure that he is largely forgotten. Most people confuse him with former environment secretary Chris Patten. Chris was the blond one who became the head of the BBC Trust. John was the one with brown hair in a kind of Brideshead floppy style. John Patten always had trouble making the right impression, according to his former girlfriend, author Lucinda Lambton. She called him "the slimiest skeleton in my cupboard." She said that in the 1990s when he walked into the same room as her she "felt sick" and had to leave as he had been "repellently smooth." She told a friend: "In my greasy past, he is the biggest grease spot of all." Many of us feel the same way about Gove. Patten also failed to impress the teaching unions. He tried to take them on over pay - and failed. In his autobiography Major wrote that Patten was "rather worn down by it," to the point where "his health suffered and I decided he needed a sabbatical." Patten was widely rumoured to have suffered a nervous breakdown. He always had a bit of an unhinged side. He wrote a high-profile article claiming that "dwindling belief in redemption and damnation has led to a loss of fear of the eternal consequences of goodness and badness," that youngsters were out of control because they did not fear the Devil and hell. Gove, who was groomed by Rupert Murdoch to sound off in the Times, is also prone to making ludicrous, overblown statements. Major sacked Patten and sent him to the back benches, his ministerial career over. But Gove is systematically reviving Patten's policies. Patten made a fool of himself by describing leading educationalist Tim Brighouse as a "nutter." Brighouse sued for defamation and Patten had to pay out £100,000. Nobody has sued Gove yet, but his speeches about the "educational elite" are increasingly hysterical. Patten wanted schools to opt out of local authority control. He wanted centrally funded schools answerable to a committee that he set up, stuffed with Tory-funding businessmen. It flopped. Gove's free schools and wild expansion of the academy scheme follow the same lines. And Gove has appointed Tory-funding businessman John Nash as a minister to speed up schools privatisation. Patten launched a "licensed teacher" scheme. He was convinced that teacher training colleges were soaked in the "fashionable ideas of the 1960s." He wanted to send people with a business background straight into the classroom to learn on the job without the influence of the ungodly radicals he thought infested the colleges. It flopped. But Gove has hired Charlie Taylor, an Eton chum of Cameron's, to run a copy-cat scheme called School Direct, which will also try and throw teachers straight into school, bypassing teacher training courses. Gove wants to put partly qualified people from business backgrounds in the classroom. He models his policies on the Patten pattern. History shows that determined resistance can give Gove the Patten treatment. After all, Cameron's government is weaker than Major's. But Gove has a secret weapon - Labour. Between 1997 and 2010 Labour also aped Patten's policies. Their academy programme copied Patten's schools plan. They introduced schools-based teacher training, the GTP which also performed badly. This blunts resistance to Gove's schemes. Worst of all, Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg still believes in these Tory-lite policies. He is the most new Labour and least effective performer on Labour's front bench. He barely opposes Gove because he mostly agrees with him. There are two ways to exploit Gove's weakness - an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to sack Twigg and replace him with someone who believes in teachers, is a friend to the teaching unions and backs local education authorities. If Twigg stays in place, then the unions and anti-academy campaigners will have to do it by themselves. It's a harder road, but it is still possible. When it comes to Gove, Labour need to decide if they want to be part of the problem or part of the solution

Tuesday 17 June 2014

I Told You So about Iraq - why Hugo is wrong

The frightening advance of ISIS fighters in Iraq has brought back questions about the 2003 war and

Unfortunately it has also brought back people writing rubbish about Iraq in the Times – something that happened a lot in 2002 and 2003.

In the Times (17th June 2014)  Hugo Rifkind , who marched against the war back then, argues that the war's opponents should not  say “We told you so!". Actually he accuses people of ‘trilling’ this, so he is obviously annoyed about people who don’t write for the Times being right. Rifkind says he doesn’t “remember that they did” and that “I don't remember predictions of chaos, sectarianism and failure” and “I'm pretty certain that's not what we were marching about”.

Of course, people were marching against an invasion for a range of reasons. But they weren’t, on the whole, marching because they thought war would be orderly and successful. The anti-war case usually relies on the idea that war causes destruction, chaos and social conflict (mostly because it does).

The pro-war side had such a variety of bad arguments for the war – often relying on lies and rubbish pumped out by the Times – WMD ! Saddam in league with Obama ! Liberation ! –that people arguing against the war had to make many cases.

But the case about chaos and sectarianism was widely made. So for example

The Daily Mirror had a major article by Denis Healey in February 2003 arguing


If anything Healey overemphasised the possible chaos and sectarianism, but he was on the right lines, writing

The most likely scenario is that there will be a civil war between the Kurds, the Shia and the Sunni Moslems and it will spread over into neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia, a very close ally of the West, and Iran, Syria and even Jordan. The Jordanian government warned Tony Blair about this only last week”

I put this to Hugo and he said I was “cherry picking”. As if an article in the multi-million selling Daily Mirror by a former Foreign Secretary was obscure.

They were hardly alone – just search any newspaper database on the words “ Chaos” and “Iraq” in the months before the war , and you’ll find plenty of results.

Think also of the many references to an Iraq war becoming “Like the Vietnam war” : They weren't made because  the war’s opponents thought Iraq would be orderly, or a  “cakewalk”

It is also important to note that what went wrong with Iraq didn’t all happen during the invasion. It was the occupation that tore Iraq apart, as the occupiers systematically weakened the Iraq state and encouraged sectarianism. The disbanding of the army and banning Baathists from office was just part of this. The US and UK occupiers encouraged sectarianism to split the rebellious Iraqi’s who didn’t want them remaining in Iraq after Saddam’s fall . They weakened the state so that it would not present a possible threat to the occupiers (which is why the supposedly rebuilt Iraqi army only got tanks, armoured cars and an airforce very much later).

We saw this unfold in front of our eyes – the looting, the botched “reconstruction”. At any point even those who supported the war could have protested about this, and our governments could have changed their course. Indeed many British army officers in Iraq raised exactly these complaints. It wasn’t just about warning about chaos and sectarianism before the war, it was about acknowledging they were happening during the occupation, and trying to do something about it.

So I found Hugo’s ‘don’t say I told you so ‘attitude really mystifying.

Particularly where he writes “I remember a whole bunch of utter guff about Halliburton and oil”. The role of Halliburton, and Bechtel and Blackwater and all the contractors in the occupation was an important source of the chaos: By handing over Iraqi “reconstruction”, including water and electricity and gas and ‘security’ to Western contractors – and paying them with Iraqi oil money – the occupiers weakened the Iraq state, and helped spread the chaos. Especially as they botched the job. The lack of water and electricity and sewage and security all added to the chaos. This was hardly a secret. The US were advertising their wild plan to privatise Iraq before the war. Hugo didn’t understand it, perhaps. It’s odd when journalists proudly display their ignorance, when I thought finding stuff out was one of our key skills.

I think at one point I did grasp why Hugo can’t remember the predictions of chaos, even though I can.

He writes that “I remember fevered debate about whether we, the West, had the right to remake the world in our image.”

Now the “Noecons” were pretending they were going to make Iraq into a modern free market liberal democracy. And apparently Hugo and his circled believed they meant it. And had a “fevered debate” about whether this was a good idea.

But plenty of people sussed out, without the need for a "fevered debate",  that this was just window dressing on some crazy imperial adventure. When Dick Cheney and his pals made those kind of noises, we didn’t believe them. We thought that sinister Dr Strangelove types were more likely to do what the US had done in Vietnam or El Salvador or Nicaragua. That there would be death squads and chaos and shady types trying to get rich from blood. People thought George Bush was a cowboy, but apparently Hugo’s friends thought he really could deliver a functioning Iraq. They just worried if that was the right choice.

The problem is that Hugo tries to make his very odd circle of pals, the kind of people who took the Noecons seriously, and make them “we”, make them stand in for all the anti-War people. And they just didn’t.

It’s the same naivety that makes Hugo want to “rescue” liberal intervention from the “tragedy” of Iraq.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Euro Elections 2014 aren't just about the right: Italians vote for Greek Party, Spanish get Indignant and say "Yes We Can". Benny from Abba helps out.

British reporting of the Euro elections won’t help anyone make sense of what has happened in the EU. Great clouds of Farage gleefully fanned around by Fleet Street obscure the view . A deep commitment by the news papers not to report what happens in Southern Europe doesn’t help. The gains for the far right were truly worrying, but there were also gains by the left.

But it is easy to paint a fair picture in broad strokes. The details are different in each nation, depending how and how much the different parties have seized on the crisis. But the big picture looks like this.

The crisis has broken many people away from the main centre parties. Stagnant wages, social cuts, businesses going bust make people very unhappy. And that makes them unhappy with the mainstream parties – Conservative and Social Democrat – who were in power when the crisis hit. They blame the mainstream parties for creating the crisis, especially as many of the politicians personally enriched themselves in the process: During the boom, bankers were allowed to invest in risky, speculative and dangerous schemes – including completely fraudulent and artificial ones. Local politicians and their business friends enriched themselves – often corruptly – in these schemes. Few were prosecuted when they fell apart in the financial crisis, but jobs, social spending and small businesses did suffer in the slump.

Former Tory voters – both suburban middle class and working class Tories – are more likely to vote to the right of the mainstream. Former Socialist voters are more likely to break to the left. The right wing parties blame immigrants for the crisis, the left wing ones put blame on the banks. The proportion of people breaking from the mainstream parties is not fixed, and it is the job of active socialist campaigners to shift the balance in favour of the left wing break.

In Northern Europe the right wing parties did better, in Southern Europe the left made more breakthroughs: This reflects an economic as well as a geographic reality, and for this map, Ireland heads southward. This puts pressure on the EU in both cases, but for very different reasons. In Northern Europe, right wing parties like UKIP or the Front National blame the EU for immigration. In Southern Europe people blame the EU for forcing the banker’s agenda. This part of the picture is barely described on the UK TV news or on the British front pages. Words like “Troika” and “Debt” and “Restructuring” which are central to the Euro elections are absent from too much British reporting. The crisis was caused by the banks, but the solution has been to cut ordinary people’s living standards to bail the banks out, leaving the bankers rich and dominant. In Greece or Spain or Portugal, the EU is the instrument used to force people to pay the banker’s price: Southern Europeans hate  The “Troika” made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund which arranged the bail-out. This will sound odd in the UK, because the press haven’t really explained how the bailout works for Southern Europe. How can people in Southern Europe hate the bail outs ? The answer is, because they bailed out the bankers at the people’s cost: The bail outs were given so that EU countries could pay their debts to banks: In effect the bankers were bailed out. The “Troika “ did negotiate “haircuts”, where the bankers agreed to take less than the full debt (because without “haircuts”, the debts were unpayable and they would have faced default). But they negotiated far harsher social “haircuts”, enforcing cuts in social spending and austerity to fund the bailouts. The EU, as part of the Troika, are a mechanism to take money of ordinary Spanish or Portuguese or Greek pockets and pass them on to the banking system. The Troika is enforcing wage cuts, spending cuts and privatisation to bail out the banks.

Hence the growth of Left wing parties who are angry at the EU in Southern Europe. This includes results for  groups based on the traditional Communist left  or some variety of the “new left” or some combination of the both . Newer organisations included Syriza in Greece,  Podemos in Spain or O Bloco in Portugal. More traditional Communist Party-ish organisations like Izquierda Unida  (united Left) in Spain

Some standouts  of the Euro Elections

(1) If you want votes, get active in the streets – Syriza  and Podemos built whole new parties not just by issuing manifestos , but by a hard , broad struggle of demonstrations, strikes and meetings.Podemos were able to relate to the "Indignados" who occupied Spanish squares in a rebellion over the economic crisis. In the process Podemos helped make the Indignados much more a part of the left. In turn, this gave a new language to the left:- A party called "Yes We Can" formed out of the "Indignant" is quite clearly finding a new way of talking about social change.

(2) Italy was the worst “Southern European “ result for the left, with Beppo Grillo’s “Five Star” movement filling the space that the left took in neighbouring countries. Grillo’s party is a bit like if voters got so sick of politicians that they voted for a  ‘Topical Comedy Panel Show’ instead  : Sneery, but are they pretty  right wing (Jimmy Carr?) or sort of left-ish (Phil Jupitus?). Grillo is making friends with Farage, so it looks more Jimmy Carr.

(3) Even among bad results there are good moments – Italy elected Three  MEPs from a party called “Anther Europe With Alex Tsipras”. Tsipras is the leader of the Greek party Syriza – so this is the equivalent of British voters electing four French socialist radicals as the MEP’s for London or Manchester or Leeds or Bristol.

(4) Even in the EU “North” there were some good results . The Front National winning the French EU elections was a very bad problem: Marine Le Pen’s party are full fat fascism compared to the semi-skimmed right wing populism of UKIP. But even in France the left had some good results. Melenchon’s Left Front  had four seats. France’s “Green” party EELV, which is a left-ish leaning party took 6 seats.

(5) One of the more standout results from Northern Europe was the first Feminist Initiative MEP elected. Soraya Post is the first MEP ever elected under the “Feminist” banner. Her election slogan was “Out with Racists and in with Feminists”. In a charmingly Swedish touch, the Feminist Initiative has been built with the hard work of many members , aided by a donation of around £80k from Benny from Abba.

So beyond the headlines about extreme right success, there were also gains for the left : Gains made by new left wing groups who were able to use new language,  form  new alliances and find new ways of  relating to movements on the street.

Monday 2 June 2014

Kellogg's Krave, the slimy dog fart taste of corporate sugar-pushers

Kellogg's were criticised in Channel 4's  Dispatches today  (June 2014) for using "Social Marketing" to target young kids with their sickly sugary cereal Krave . I caught them up to similar slimy behaviour in 2010 
First published :
Morning Star
February 19, 2010 Friday

Feature - Kellogg's: a taste of dog farts;
Solomon Hughes explains how the government's big anti-obesity drive is being undermined by the involvement of big business

BYLINE: Solomon Hughes

Kellogg's is a "partner" in a Department of Health anti-obesity drive. And it is just about to launch a campaign to persuade young people to chomp through Krave, one of the most calorific breakfast cereals available.
Kellogg's is part of the Department of Health's Change4Life campaign. The cereal firm funds a few breakfast and swimming clubs and puts out the odd advert telling people to "move more."
Of course people need to move a whole lot more to shake off the calories squeezed into the company's sugary products.
In return, Health Minister Alan Johnson puts out statements praising Kellogg's for helping to "tackle the growing problem of obesity."
Most importantly, Kellogg's wards off any difficult regulations. The government is not going insist that its anti-obesity partners cover foods with awkward "not good for you" labels or launch a public health campaign that embarrasses the food giants.
So Kellogg's puts out Change4Life messages about the need to "eat better." But this month sees the launch of its Krave advertising drive to persuade teens to eat worse.
Krave is aimed at 16 to 24-year-olds and is made of "crispy cereal shells with a chocolate hazelnut filling."
Kellogg's claims it is "unleashing a new breed of cereal" with these unhealthy little parcels stuffed with a Nutella-like paste.
But in fact Krave is already available in France under the brand name Tresor. It comes in at around 440 calories every hundred grams - more calorific even than existing Kellogg's morning monstrosities such as Coco Rocks. They are 29 per cent sugar, 16 per cent fat.
Kellogg's got a company called Landor to market Tresor in France. Landor's data sheet on Tresor shows what Kellogg's wants to do with its chocolate paste parcels in Britain.
Landor says: "Teenagers are progressively rejecting the cereals of their childhood and opting for the bread and a spread option like their parents."
Kellogg's doesn't think 16 to 24-year-olds should eat adult food. So it wants to launch a war on toast.
Perhaps it will advertise Krave with the slogan "Don't grow up, eat our gunk." Or "Be a baby forever with Krave."
Kellogg's also wants people to suck on their processed lumps all day, because "Tresor has become a favorite snack for teenagers and no longer just a breakfast cereal."
Kellogg's claims to be backing the Change4 Life campaign, which suggests we "try replacing the unhealthy snacks with ones you don't mind them eating - fruit, oatcakes, breadsticks and frozen fruity ice-cubes."
However, the snack it really wants you to eat is a mixture of cereal flours, sugar, plant oil and dyes.
In the mind of Kellogg's, young adults are in the front line of the war against bread.
"There's a huge opportunity to grow breakfast and cereal consumption in the adult market by retaining young adults," Kellogg's sales director Mike Taylor told the Grocer magazine.
"We've focused on creating a brand that genuinely answers the demand of this market."
To get young adults craving Krave, Kellogg's is going for super-trendy "social marketing." Instead of just advertising the stuff on telly, it wants to push Krave on Facebook, by email campaigns, on message boards and the like, in a somewhat desperate effort to catch "the yoof."
Krave will also be advertised at music festivals and universities, which all suggests something a bit cynical in the marketing.
In France Kellogg's targeted young adults with the harmless name Tresor - or treasure.
But why would British teens crave cereal and want to cram it in their mouth at odd times of day or at music festivals?
Maybe this shows I am being cynical rather than Kellogg's marketers, but I know Munchies wasn't available as a trademark. Perhaps they felt "stoned" or "muntered" might be a bit too obvious.
Some of Krave's appearances on "social media" have already backfired. Sometimes attempts to make products look trendy just makes them look lame.
Constant messages - or spam - about Krave on student web boards irritated their readers so much that actual students started posting anti-marketing messages, including: "Hey student chums! I just tried this new Krave cereal by Kellogg's! It tasted really bad and made me throw up in my mouth a little."
And "After trying Kellogg's Krave I had to bleach my tongue to get the taste out of it. Gross! Do not buy this cereal."
And the delightful "I had a spoonful of new Kellogg's Krave cereal and it tasted like a dog had farted directly into my mouth."
A more sober judgement by one young taster in the Grocer magazine, who was previewing the product for shopkeepers.
She noted that the cereal "goes a bit slimy when you add milk."
To which I can only add that government anti-obesity policy goes a bit slimy when you add corporations.