Friday, 26 April 2013

Ed Balls has subcontracted Labour's policy to tax avoiding PriceWaterhouseCoopers : Over £600k "advice" from PriceWaterhouseCooopers to Labour

MP’s on the Public Accounts Committee attacked the way  the Revenue and Treasury took staff from accountancy firms like PriceWaterhouseCoopers to advise on tax “on secondment” – because those consultants go off and advise firms on how to exploit loopholes on the laws they drew up. It’s a “too cosy relationship”, with tax avoiding consultants shuttling between government and industry, advising on avoiding tax laws they helped design. It’s what Margaret Hodge calls  “Poacher turned Gamekeeper Turned Poacher again”

Margaret Hodge and the MP’s on the Public Accounts Committee are right.

But Ed Balls has also outsourced the Labour opposition’s economic policy to tax avoidance advisers PriceWaterhouseCoopers as well.

Balls said PriceWaterhouseCoopers gave him a “"a research assistant/analyst to support me in my opposition front-bench role" for free last year. He’s not the only one. Since 2009 PriceWaterhouseCoopers have given over £600,000 worth of “advice” to the Labour Party’s front bench

In the latest Register of MP’s Interests, Labour’s Shadow Treasury team announce the latest PriceWaterhouseCoopers agents in the Labour Party.

Labour’s Shadow Treasury Ministers - Kilmarnock MP Cathy Jamieson and Nottingham MP Christopher Leslie  - both announce  the services of a Technical
Support Analyst to support me in my role as a Shadow Treasury Minister during the passage
of the Finance Bill 2013 committee stage, for three months between 18 March and 18 June” That “analyst” came from PriceWaterhouseCoopers: Labour let PriceWaterhouseCoopers help write up the way they take on  George Osborne – which is why they are so useless at taking on the Tory Treasury.

PricewaterhouseCoopers knows all about tax. It helped both Vodafone and Goldman Sachs on their controversial tax deals, spiriting billions away from the Treasury and onto corporate balance sheets. MP’s recently uncovered another 'extraordinary' structure 'to avoid tax on UK properties',

And it isn’t just tax:-  Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has subcontracted Labour's economic analysis to PriceWaterhouseCoopers - the firm which lumbered the last Labour government with PFI schemes, poor banking supervision and tax avoidance. 

Labour has started scoring a few hits on David Cameron by stepping outside the new Labour comfort zone - attacking health service privatisation and help-the-rich tax schemes. But Balls is stuck in 2010. Why get Labour or the unions to supply a research assistant when management consultants like PriceWaterhouseCoopers will help? 

Balls and his Treasury Team are not  alone. PricewaterhouseCoopers also supplied other Labour shadow ministers with research assistants. 

Shadow ministers getting free help from the firm include shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint, plus Jim Murphy for defence and David Hanson for Treasury issues. 

When Ed Miliband reshuffled his shadow team the positions changed, but PricewaterhouseCoopers stayed the same. 

Umunna replaced John Denham, but the management consultants supplied assistants to both. The advice may be free, but it will cost the party dear. 

PriceWaterhouseCoopers was one of the main promoters of PFI and was also intimately involved in the financial collapse as Northern Rock's auditors. 

It saddled the party with crap, "business-friendly" policies that still damage Labour's credibility.
Its influence on Balls doesn't help Labour's attempts to shrug off some of the failures of the last government. 

Balls may not know what he is doing, but PricewaterhouseCoopers does. It plays both sides of Parliament. 

Before the last election it ran Frances Maude's "implementation team" which prepared Cameron's shadow ministers for government. Whichever way you vote, PriceWaterhouseCoopers wins.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

When We Beat Thatcher : The grassroots, rank & file and unofficial campaigns that beat the 'Iron Lady'

(This was my Morning Star piece for 12-Apr-2013. Usually they appear on The Morning Star website as well as in the print edition, but they were a bit busy and missed this off the Website this week)  

The Mail demand  we cry over Thatcher’s death. Self righteous Tories want national tears  , busily peeling onions to fake  their own emotions. Labour MPs try  looking somber, supressing smiles flickering at the sides of their mouths. Spontaneous street parties kick off from Bristol to Glasgow, singing what the Mail called a “chorus of hatred”.

All these conflicting emotions , but one agreement: We are sad or happy about Thatcher because she won. They are sad to lose their victorious champion, we celebrate our enemies’ loss.

That’s the big picture: Thanks to breaking the NUM and shackling unions with laws Thatcher severely weakened the oppostion. We live in a world she made –  perhaps a world  she broke - where  privatisation , deregulation and deindustrialisation gave us City dominance,  growing inequality, housing crises and poverty

But this wasn’t all one sided. We won battles while we were driven  back in the war:

Thatcher always faced some defeats. She won the Miner’s Strike, but in 1983 , after a month long strike, Thatcher gave water workers a decent pay rise. Wildcat action by waterworkers in the North two years earlier prepared ground for the strike. Thatcher paid up before suspended water maintenance made our taps and toilets sieze up. Many  people say  strikes are useless in our post industrial age, often while eating a slice of toast and drinking a cup of tea. But the electricity and bread in the toaster are both manufactured goods. Water comes through an industrial process. It’s harder to pontificate about post industrialisation while eating cold stale bread and drinking the juice from your last can of pineapple chunks. In the dark.

Thatcher lost  much more often in the latter part of her reign : Winning the miners strike hammered the unions, but did not break them. Within three years the unions bit back and destroyed Thatcher’s annointed successor: In 1987 Thatcher appointed a new  Health & Social Security Minister, John Moore: He had film star good looks and right wing ideas. He was called “Mr Privatisation” .  There were serious discussions about Thatcher retiring to let  “Golden Boy”  John Moore take over  . In 1988  Moore and Thatcher  faced a series of unofficial , semi official and official pay strikes by nurses: Fighting  these at the same time as trying to increase NHS privatisation and implement health cuts became a political nightmare : “Thatcher Frightened of meeting nurses” ran one Times headline. Nurses made the Iron Lady look weak. The nurses strikes were scrappy and spontaneous and wildly popular. Thatcher tried using her personal authority to face them down ,  attackinh  nurses in Parliament, but lost. Finally, John Moore , who seemed to be disintegrating , threw money at the nurses. He then disappeared from the Cabinet, and then Parliament. Thatcher’s favourite “Golden Boy” has never been heard of since.

More strikes from supposedly “broken” unions nipped at Thatcher. In 1989 tube drivers showed anti-strike laws were not invincible: They took several, completely unofficial days strike action . Unlike the nurses, tube drivers were supposedly “unpopular”. The Evening Standard ran barmy propaganda about Civil Servants beating the strikes by punting up the Thames or skateboarding across London. But the secret mass meetings kept happening, the strikes remained solid, and the drivers won more pay.

The same year Thatcher faced another health strike : Ambulance crews took the most extraordinary action. First they struck. Then they occupied their stations and ran the ambulance service themselves with cash raised by the same networks who supported the striking miners. Thatcher talked tough. She sent in Ken Clarke to call the Ambulance unions a “sick joke”. They tried sending in the army to run ambulances. Then they admitted defeat. Clarke also tried to win back some popularity by introducing defibrillators into all ambulances – up until then they were only in ambulances thanks to fundraising by the crews themselves : If you are saved from a heart attack by an ambulance  defibrillator that’s thanks to striking union members.

Even before the Poll Tax campaign persuaded Tory Ministers to ditch Thatcher, there was a rising tide of dispute. There are three points about the anti-poll tax campaign, which delivered the final blow. First it was completely ‘unofficial’ , openly attacked by  Labour’s leadership, mostly ignored by union leaders. Secondly, it involved massive community organising by committed activists- socialists, anarchists, every possible member of the awkward squad. Thirdly, all this broad, community based movement came to a head at the Poll Tax demo of 1990. The march was massive, but just a few hundred people sat down outside Downing Street. Police attempts to push them out of the way sparked a riot, which most of Thatcher’s ministers now admit spelled the end for Maggie. The people now demanding respect for Maggie actuallyditched her in fear. If her funeral was really going to represent her life, a bevy of Tory ministers would have to rush forward at the end and throw her coffin into the street. A year before the  protest, Thatcher had steel gates erected at Downing Street, showing her growing fear of  the people. The sit down that started the riot that brought her down happened at those gates: They are her monument. Like Ozymandias statue, they were meant to show strength, but actually show weakness.

There are two points I am making here. The first is that even the strongest enemy can be beaten. The second is that much of the action that beat her was unofficial, or semi official grassroots stuff . Thatcher was stopped by democratic mass movements from below. Many of the battles that beat her were also not defensive: They were succesful strikes for higher pay, not a defense against cuts.

Unfortunately, the official oppostion of the Labour party  wasted some of this victory by losing the 1992 election.  It seems to me that the  spontaneous, grass roots protests over Thatcher’s funeral are a fitting memorial,  because they look like the movement that got her out of office.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Ten Proposals For a Memorial Statue for Mrs Thatcher

(1)   The Herald of Free Enterprise, bow doors open sinking, in Marble . (1987) 193 passengers and crew drowned on this passenger ferry . Working people, health and safety, trade unions, all thought less important than ‘unfettered free enterprise’ thanks to Thatcherism

(2)   Piper Alpha, wreckage, in twisted steel (1988) 167 dead on this North Sea oil rig. Reasons above

(3)   Kings Cross Tube Station, in blackened stone (1987). 31 dead because sacking the cleaners who removed flammable grease and dirt was how the Underground interpreted Thatcher’s “enterprise culture”

(4)   A frieze, in marble, of St Paul’s, Bristol, Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth , all ablaze. Thatcherism made riots normal again.

(5)   A Policeman, in ‘Nato’ helmet, ‘Nato’ boilersuit, Short Shield, Long Baton, ‘Northern Ireland’ Gloves, in Bronze : The statue of the unknown snatch squadder: A new look Mrs Thatcher brought to our picket lines and inner cities to replace the old fashioned ‘Bobby’.

(6)   Sam Fox driving a tank through the Wapping Picket Line (1986) in Steel. Because strike breaking, legal and police attacks on workers and Murdoch were all part of Thatcher’s scheme. And all they brought us was more Page 3 and more ignorance.

(7)   A Homeless Youngster in a doorway, in stone: Removing benefits from youth -  especially  a bizarre 1985 scheme by Thatcher’s minister Norman Fowler slashing housing benefits for under -26’s to stop them “living off the state” caused the first big outbreak of homeless youngsters in my lifetime. Up until then we had homeless older people – so-called ‘tramps’, those who had lost their way in life. Thanks to Thatcherism we saw our youngsters living on the streets.

(8)   “Tell Sid” etched into concrete: Because Thatcher’s privatisations of gas, water and electricity created a brave new world in which bad managers can rip us off with incomprehensible “tarrifs”.

(9)   An MRSA bacterium, in glass: By privatising hospital cleaning, Thatcher enriched her friends, like Lord Ashcroft, who took over the new business. But left wards dirty and dangerous: As at Kings Cross, sacking cleaners kills.

(10) A burning flame, in Trafalgar Square: The last time there was fire in the square, it was thanks to the Poll Tax riot, which finally ended Thatcher’s rule.