The Week: It’s more than our rivers that smells a bit off
TruePublica Editor: Rishi Sunak’s budget was the big event of the week. For all of his grand-standing at the despatch box, I found it rather underwhelming. It’s noticeable that Sunak mentioned the word ‘wine’ twice as many times as he did either ‘education’ or ‘children.’ Lucy Fisher, deputy political editor at the Tory-supporting Telegraph newspaper made a point of saying that Rishi Sunak has raised tax by the highest amount in a single year for almost three decades. She quotes the OBR and says – “taking his March and October Budgets together, 2021 has seen the biggest tax hike ever since tax increases announced after Black Wednesday in 1993.” In a gloomy analysis of yesterday’s budget, the Resolution Foundation said real wages would fall next year and the UK was in the midst of its weakest decade for pay growth since the 1930s. Average household taxes will now rise by £3,000. And yet, the media has covered this budget more or less as a giveaway on day one and then some back-peddled a bit the following day when they found out it wasn’t.
There are two truths here. The first is more obvious. This budget is a big-spending budget but it only takes government expenditure on social services such as education, welfare and then libraries and so on to the same levels as those in 2010 just prior to the savage cuts imposed by Cameron/Osborne.
But there’s something else that no one seems to have noticed. Since this pandemic started, we have all been told that the government has bailed us out (with furlough and business loans) but this has ramped up the national debt to levels not seen since the war. Then on budget day, it was announced that the national debt was not just over 100 per cent of GDP but 85 per cent of GDP. This is because the Bank of England has bought every penny of government pandemic expenditure (via quantitative easing). This magical accounting trick takes government debt and moves it off its liability book and onto the Bank of England that can hold it forever and wait for it to inflate away over decades. Additional tax rises and the creep of other taxes will drag many more into the tax system or step them up into higher tax brackets over the next few years, allowing the government to go on this spending spree – and somehow call itself ‘prudent’. It’s like the classic cups and ball trick – the ball is still there, you just keep losing where it is by sleight of hand.
In the meantime, Britain continues to roll on from one crisis to another. This week we saw a classic political U-turn as a direct result of adverse public opinion – and the sewage story is a perfect parable for Brexit. As one enlightened twitter user eloquently says – “We don’t have sufficient chemicals directly as a result of Brexit supply chain issues. We don’t have legal protection because of Brexit. We’ve ‘taken back control’ and given it to a government that doesn’t give a shit … because of Brexit.” Actually, it seems they’ve given us more a bit more shit than we bargained for!
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Health of the Nation
Currently, the UK, like many countries is facing the biggest healthcare crisis in many decades. Throwing money at the NHS helps but with a shortage of well over 50,000 doctors and 35,000 nurses, the news only gets worse when we learn that surgeons are facing a shortage of anaesthetists too. Those that have left the NHS early have complained about not feeling valued and had concerns over taxes and the recent attack on their pensions. We’ve also just learned that an astonishing 57 per cent of midwives have decided to quit within a year, so says the most recent survey from the Royal College of Midwives. The most cited reasons were staffing levels and being unsatisfied with the level of care they could offer mothers and babies.
44 per cent of healthcare workers are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD
To make the entire thing so much worse, a study out this week from Oxford University shows that 44 per cent of healthcare workers are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD as a direct result of the Covid pandemic.
To sort all this, the government decided the best thing to do was send in a retired military general with no healthcare experience whatsoever to determine the biggest shakeup of the NHS ever (again) – and in the meantime, threaten doctors, which caused GPs’ to condemn ‘malicious criticism’ by politicians – all of which, only makes matters worse.
This one smacks of pure, unadulterated desperation to me. From 7th January the UK will cease to recognise or even allow the import of mineral water from the EU and EEA. This is apparently – “In order to promote Britain’s clean, healthy and delicious natural mineral waters” so says the Johnson government.
And speaking about clean, healthy water – it was only a few weeks ago that the scandal of our polluted rivers by privatised water companies came to light. The BBC obtained data that revealed how some big water companies have been illegally dumping untreated sewage into rivers and beaches. That was then followed up last week with the government actually voting to allow the water companies to do so, so they weren’t breaking the law. This then attracted huge public protest – and the government swiftly U-turned.
In their own countries, such practices would bring serious fines and criminal prosecutions.
It should be said though that it is extraordinary that the largest shareholders in just one of these companies (Southern Water) – JP Morgan Asset Management (40%), UBS Asset Management (22%), Hermes Infrastructure Funds (21%) and Whitehelm Capital (8%) – can continue to pay dividends from profits as householders continue to pay to have local rivers and beach areas contaminated with untreated effluent. In their own countries, such practices would bring serious fines and criminal prosecutions.
Who do you think said – “We have one of the most imbalanced societies and lopsided economies of all the richer countries“? It might floor some, but these are the words of Boris Johnson. Somehow, Johnson can’t see the reason for that imbalance, which was imposed by … his party over the last 11 years. Austerity is the smoking gun along with four decades of neoliberal capitalism that has worked hard to make the bottom half of society much worse off than it was with housing costs and employment the biggest culprits. Most of that damage was done in the north of the country.
To help level up the north, the number of civil servants working in London is erm … significantly higher than anywhere else in the past year, even though Johnson promised to shift Whitehall’s work from the capital to the North as part of the “upgrade” agenda. There was a jump in London from 91,660 to 101,930 in the year to March 2021, more than double that of other regions. Oh!
To great applause from many, the government says it wants to implement the most far-reaching online tech regulation of any western democracy. The Conservatives’ answer of how to curb online hate is to give its politicians excessive new powers and make the Daily Mail’s former editor in chief, Paul Dacre the country’s first internet censor-in-chief. Let’s be clear here – Downing Street is desperate for Dacre to become the chair of Ofcom, right at the point when it dramatically expands its own powers. The new regulator will be a massive online moderator and Dacre could well be the one who decides what you do and don’t see or read.
The Online Harms bill will be a mechanism to force regulators to follow political instructions just like they do in places like China and Russia
Last year, the government’s own appointments advisers concluded Dacre’s views were too extreme to be given such a role. So, the government has effectively booted its own advisors into the long grass and are now making strong efforts to ensure Dacre gets his knees under the table at Ofcom. It won’t surprise some to know that the new legislation within the Online Harms Bill also gives Conservative politicians the right to tell everyone at Ofcom what they can and cannot regulate. The consequence to all this is that this piece of legislation will be a mechanism to force regulators to follow political instructions just like they do in places like China, Russia – you know – the evil empires that this government have declared are autocratic despots. It appears the Conservatives are not satisfied with propaganda campaigns funded by shadowy rightwing organisations to get them into power – they want to take back control … from democracy and free speech.
Autocracy not Democracy
Last month we saw the Boris Johnson government decide to empower themselves by reducing democratic principles that would see the current preference-based Supplementary Vote method used to elect Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners removed and First Past the Post imposed.
This change will let unpopular candidates sneak into powerful regional roles
In the words of the Electoral Reform Society – “Let’s be clear what this change would do – it would force millions to vote tactically, ban you from expressing a second preference, and let unpopular candidates sneak into powerful regional roles.”
The move was announced during a reshuffle which consumed the entire mainstream media space, but even before that there has been a serious lack of the normal pre-legislative scrutiny – in other words – the government sneaked this through when no-one was paying attention.
Facebook has proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that it is unable to moderate itself. There is a simple solution to this problem that applies to every shop window in the land. If a shop owner prints off say racist hatred or incitement to terrorism from a Facebook page and sticks it in their window for the public to see, the police will come and arrest the shop owner. Facebook makes money like a shop window – so treat it the same way.
Some will say that it would not be possible to manage such a task. That’s not our problem – that’s theirs.
Facebook won’t pay to clean up its toxic waste
When Ford builds a car, it has to comply with thousands of pieces of legislation to sell that car – from the chemicals it uses to treat seat fabrics to crash testing regimes – where much of the legislation differs country-by-country. Globally, Ford employs over 200,000 people. Facebook employs 48,000. Last year, Facebook turned over $87billion (half of Ford’s turnover) and made a profit of £30billion – Ford didn’t make anything like that.
The problem is, Facebook won’t pay to clean up its toxic waste. Tell main board members that extradition orders will be sent for their arrest if they allow hatred to be posted in their shop window in Britain. And if their profit falls by a billion or so employing people to do the job properly and legally – then so be it.
What’s the problem with HS2 – other than the fact that it’s already outdated by Zoom and the ever-increasing awareness that we shouldn’t make unnecessary journeys due to the climate crisis? We know the project is costing the taxpayer over £100billion and that Chancellor Rishi Sunak appears to be baulking at its cost. But there are a few other reasons.
HS2 is Europe’s biggest deforestation project. Indeed HS2 is expected to damage or destroy 108 of the UK’s most ancient woodlands
In the week of the COP26 climate conference, many will soon find out that HS2 is Europe’s biggest deforestation project. Indeed it is expected to damage or destroy 108 of the UK’s most ancient woodlands when the need to act against climate change is clearer than ever. Then there’s the wildlife, which will experience yet more habitat loss, threatening a number of locally-endangered species with extinction. Leaving aside homes that have been seized through Compulsory Purchase Orders and that building works is causing relentless noise & dust pollution there’s another little factoid worth knowing: A third of all HS2 staff earn six-figure salaries. Chairman Allan Cook, who works three days per week, took home a salary of over £266,000 in 2019-20. To pay for all this, HS2 tickets are expected to cost about a third more than they do currently for the same. At around £240 for a Manchester-London ticket, this is beyond what most can afford. Currently, HS2 is a gravy train.
Does anyone really think that the human species is capable of internationally pulling together and going shoulder-to-shoulder in the challenge to save us from what we are doing to our own home planet? Well, if you really do think that, just remember that bank bosses attending the green investment summit last week head up institutions that have provided over £700 billion of financing for the fossil fuel industry since the 2015 Paris Agreement, including £129 billion in 2020 alone.
“Inviting these banks to a Green Investment Summit is like having Marlboro at a cancer summit,” Adam McGibbon, UK campaign lead at Market Forces.
One piece of research shows that for all their ‘green’ talk – just over half of all directors at 30 of the world’s largest insurance companies have affiliations to polluting companies and organisations. And if you were in any doubt about just how bad things are – it’s important to know the scale of what lies before us. Levels of climate-heating gases in the atmosphere hit record levels in 2020, despite global coronavirus-related lockdowns, the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation has just announced.
Population growth is “like putting up another New York City every month for the next 40 years.”
And here’s another little disturbing factoid for you. Population growth creates prodigious demands: By 2060, the world’s building stock will double what it is today. The calculation is that it’s like putting up another New York City every month for the next 40 years. Right now humans add 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere every year. And to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we have to emit none, not one.
And yet – a new report finds that fossil fuel companies in the UK are planning 40 new oil, gas and coal extraction projects that would produce more than a billion tonnes of greenhouse gas over their lifetime. So anything that any politician is saying about mitigating greenhouse gasses is nonsense.