Lobbying Bill: a threat to trade union freedom

September 3, 2013 at 7:41 am (Civil liberties, democracy, expenses, Free Speech, labour party, law, politics, protest, reblogged, unions)

The snappily-named ‘Transparency of Lobbying Bill Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ gets its second reading in Parliament today. It is ironic that a piece of legislation ostensibly intended to clean up politics, will, in reality undermine basic liberties and – in particular – trade union freedom.

Above: this would be effectively outlawed in the 12 months before an election

KEITH EWING explains the issues:

The TUC has expressed serious concerns about the far – reaching consequences of the government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, due for a second reading next week.

Such concern is hardly surprising, for this is a Bill that not only represents a threat to basic liberties generally, but to trade union freedom specifically.   So much for the Illiberal Democrats, who promised that they would be the guardians of freedom when in government.

The Bill presents two major threats to trade unions.   Here the concern is with the consequences for trade union electoral freedom, which is not intended to diminish the other threat which relates to even greater – and yet more intolerable – State supervision of trade union membership lists.

But so far as electoral freedom is concerned, the strategy is clear – previous Tory governments having stripped trade unions of their industrial freedoms, the Coalition is now set on stripping trade unions of their political freedoms as well, continuing in the illiberal vein that has already produced secret courts and the harassment of journalists.

The proposed new restrictions are designed to silence union election campaigning, though as the TUC has pointed out, they have much wider implications.   It is a nasty and cynical attempt at self-preservation, the law being used purely as an instrument of partisan self-interest.

But although the impact on trade union political freedom is likely to be far-reaching and (as the TUC pointed out last week) wide – ranging, such concerns should not divert attention from the Bill’s central purpose, which is clearly and unequivocally to weaken trade union support for the Labour party at the election in 2015.

Trade unions take part in elections in a number of ways.  First, they make substantial donations to the Labour party to help it with its election campaigns.   But secondly, some trade unions – notably UNISON – may run their own national campaigns independently of the Labour party.

Other unions will provide grass – roots support to the Labour party at constituency level, helping with the national campaign and assisting Labour parliamentary candidates.  Some unions will also make contributions to organisations campaigning against racism and the BNP.

Where trade unions engage in their own campaigns nationally or locally they are already subject to tight legal controls.   As ‘third parties’ for the purposes of election law, these controls apply to ‘controlled expenditure’ – a term used to describe national election campaign costs, capped at just under £1 million for each union.

So far the law has not been a serious problem for trade union election activity.   That, however, is about to change, with an extremely densely written and confusing Bill proposing to expand the definition of ‘controlled expenditure’, while also reducing the amount of money unions can lawfully spend. Read the rest of this entry »

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Scargill’s sad decline

October 7, 2012 at 5:03 pm (corruption, expenses, history, Jim D, populism, stalinism, strange situations, unions, workers)

“When he lost it, he lost the ground on which he lived and moved and had his being” –  from Robin Page Arnot’s epitaph to A.J. Cook

On the TUC demo in Brum today. much of the informal discussion was about Scargill’s High Court dispute with the NUM over the ‘grace and favour’ flat he claims is his by right. Several good, veteran trade unionists were clearly shocked by Scargill’s bare-faced avarice, as well as his bizarre and embarrassing appearance on Channel 4 (http://www.channel4.com/news/scargills-silence-over-expenses-case) when confronted by reporter Katie Razzall last Thursday.

Judging by that performance, Scargill has lost it. Which is probably the most charitable explanation that can be given.

Scargill’s determination to hang on to the million-pound Barbican flat, which is costing the cash-strapped NUM (with fewer than 2,000 members, a shadow of its former self) £34,000 per year, is simply inexcusable. Especially as he appears to want to bequeath it, on his death, to the woman he’s presently living with. On top of that, he is demanding that the NUM pays for the fuel for his house in Barnsley.

Scargill’s politics were always a dodgy mixture of Stalinism, vainglory and populism, but even so,  he played an overwhelmingly positive role during the great strike of 1984-5. It is a genuine tragedy to see a once-great figure reduced to such ignominy.

Above: A.J. Cook

One senior trade unionist I was talking to today compared the sad figure of Scargill to A.J. Cook’s shocking personal and political decline after the defeat of the general strike. I was only vaguely aware of Cook’s tragic final years, but having now read Paul Foot’s account (http://www.marxists.org/archive/foot-paul/1986/01/ajcook.htm)  I have to say I feel rather more sympathy for Cook than for Scargill.

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Vote Livingstone: tax-dodger, hypocrite and scumbag

March 9, 2012 at 11:31 am (Asshole, AWL, expenses, Guardian, islamism, Jim D, labour party, Livingstone, London, New Statesman, Pabs, populism, tax, unions)

“You know that I have long held the opinion that a Labour Left which accepts you as any sort of leader, or even as a member, is a Left that lacks purpose, standards, memory, self-definition and proper self-respect” – Sean Matgamna, Open Letter to Ken Livingstone, 2010.

The net finally seems to be closing on Ken Livingstone. For decades, this strutting shyster and shameless charlatan has somehow ‘got away with it’ in the eyes of much of the ‘left’ (from the liberal-left Guardianistas to the ‘far- left’ of the Socialist Action and Socialist Worker variety).

Some of us, like Sean Matgamna of the AWL, rumbled Livingstone early on and had no hesitation in denouncing him for what he was (and remains): a posturing, fake-left gobshite willing to grovel to the powerful and, indeed, anyone, no matter how reactionary, who might do his career some good.

But, astonishingly, most of the ‘left’ and much of the trade union movement has continued to be taken in by (the future) Lord Redken of Gobshite. Their chummy approach is summed up by the fact that they feel themselves to be on first name terms with him – he’s always “Ken” to these idiots.

Even when he sank as low as anyone who claims to be a socialist can sink, and called for scabbing, the Livingstone ‘brand’ has remained strangely unsullied. Until now.

It turns out that this champion of the poor and oppressed, this scourge of the ruling class, is nothing but a dirty, hypocritical, two-faced tax-dodger. Most of us first heard about this last Sunday from Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer. Cohen, an honest left-wing journalist has been one of the very few writers in the mainstream liberal-left media, to have consistently attacked Livingstone in recent years, and for the right reasons. But Cohen’s understandable hatred of the man has led him to an unfortunate political conclusion with regard to the forthcoming London elections: “I will vote for Labour assembly members, then Green, Lib Dem or something equally silly for mayor, and offer no second preference. If Johnson wins by one vote, I’ll say that was Labour’s fault  for putting forward Livingstone, not mine. We own the politicians. They don’t own us.”

The AWL, which has been denouncing Livingstone for even longer than Cohen, still calls for a Labour vote in the mayoral, as well as GLA, elections;

Vote Livingstone… very critically

By Andrew Smith       

Ken Livingstone has aligned himself with the Occupy movement and attacked the tax-avoiding rich. Now, however, it seems he is one of them himself.

There has been a minor scandal in the media because Livingstone and his wife set up a company to channel money from his media appearances and speeches — allowing them to avoid the 50% income tax rate and pay 20% corporation tax instead.

It’s right that there should be a scandal. It’s a shame it’s so far mostly limited to the press, and limited to the issue of tax-dodging. The real issue here is that Livingstone is a very rich man trying to get richer — not the kind of individual who can seriously represent working-class London.

Nor is it “just” a matter of personal wealth. It’s his policies. In 2008, when Labour chancellor Alistair Darling proposed a trivial tax on foreign financiers, and was backed by the Tories, Livingstone opposed the move. While as London Mayor he never offended the City, or property-developers, he did go out of his way to attack the unions on London Underground.

Livingstone’s record and his policies on a whole range of issues — not just basic “class struggle” ones, but his links to reactionary semi-Islamist forces — rule out the idea that he is a serious left-winger, let alone a socialist. This is abundantly obvious, if you don’t close your eyes to it. Go on Livingstone’s campaign website, for instance, and you immediately confronted with a special page featuring an image of policeman’s helmet and a pledge to increase police numbers.

Unfortunately a huge swathe of the left is closing their eyes. Livingstone’s union backing is — so far — completely uncritical, while the SWP seems to have only published one sentence on the election: “We will be backing Labour’s Ken Livingstone for London mayor” (of course, the SWP sees Livingstone’s Islamist links as a virtue).

We should still work for a Labour victory — despite Livingstone.

However inadequate from a working-class socialist point of view, Livingstone’s policies are different from Johnson’s. He says he will cut fares and reinstate EMAs for London college students. He has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. He opposes more cuts than Johnson does, anyway, and has even supported some strikes.

These differences reflect the underlying reality that Livingstone is the candidate of the labour movement. The fact that the labour movement does not have the political will to impose a better candidate — a candidate who is not a friend of the City and who has not openly encouraged RMT members to scab on their strikes — or even to put more pressure on Livingstone is a reflection of our weakness. We seek to address that.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is openly and unreservedly a servant of the ruling class, committed to class warfare against the working class and the labour movement. He opened his campaign with an Evening Standard interview pledging to bring in driverless trains and smash the Tube unions.

A victory for Labour in the mayor and GLA elections will be a blow, however limited, against the Tory government. We should not trust Livingstone an inch, and organise to exert the maximum pressure on him. But we should do that while working for a Labour election victory.


NB: Even one of Livingstone’s closest media allies is now being mildly critical…but his no.1 cheer-leaders on the ‘far-left’ remain diplomatically silent. The tragedy is that a whole generation of socialists have been encouraged to have illusions in Livingstone, and many are now left very disillusioned indeed.

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Amis on Drink: Mean Sod’s Guide

December 27, 2010 at 12:14 pm (beer, Christmas, expenses, food, Jim D, whisky, wine)

[At this time of austerity many of us neverthless feel obliged to hold a party. So here are some useful tips from Kingsley Amis, the master of mean-spirited parsimony and calculated vindictiveness at party-time]:

The point here is not simply to stint your guests on quality and quantity – any fool can pre-pour Moroccan red into burgundy bottles, or behave as if all knowledge of the existence of drink has been suddenly excised from his brain at 10 p.m. – but to screw them while seeming, at any rate to their wives, to have done them rather well. Note the limitation: your ideal objective is a quarrel on the way home between each husband and wife, he disparaging your hospitality, she saying you were very sweet and thoughtful and he is just a frustrated drunk. Points contributing to this end are marked *.

* 1. Strike at once by, on their arrival, presenting each lady with a rose and each gent with bugger-all. Rub this in by complimenting each lady on her appearance and saying in a stentorian undertone to the odd gent, “I heard you hadn’t been so well” (=pissed as a lizard every day) or “You’re looking much better than when I saw you last” (ie with that emperor-sized hangover).

2. Vital requirement: prepare pre- and post-dinner drinks in some undiscoverable pantry or broom-cupboard well away from the main scene. This will not only screen your niggardliness; it will also make the fetching of each successive round look like a slight burden, and *will cast an unfavourable limelight on any individual determined to wrest additional drinks out of you. Sit in a specially deep easy-chair, and practice getting out of it with a mild effort and, later in the evening, a just-audible groan, though beware of overdoing this.

3. As regards the pre-dinner period, procedures vary. The obvious one is to offer only one sort of drink, a “cup” or “punch” made of cheap red wine, soda water, a glass of cooking sherry if you can plunge that far, and a lot of fresh fruit to give an illusion of lavishness. Say you invented it and add menacingly that it has more of a kick than might be expected. Serve in small glasses.

The cold-weather varient of this – same sort of wine, water, small glass of cooking brandy heated in a saucepan, pinch of nutmeg on top of each glass or mug – is more trouble, but it has two great advantages. One is that you can turn the trouble to positive account by spending nearly all your time either at the cooker, conscientiously making sure the stuff goes on being hot enough, or walking from the cooker – much more time than you spend actually giving people drinks. The other gain is that after a couple of doses your guests will be pouring with sweat and largely unable to take any more. (Bank up the fire or turn up the heating to aid this effect, remembering to reduce the temperature well before the kicking-out stage approaches.)

If, faced with either of these, any old-stager insists on, say, Scotch, go to your pantry and read the paper for a few minutes before filling the order. * Hand the glass over with plenty of emphasis, perhaps bawling as you do so, “One large Scotch whisky delivered as ordered, sah!”

Should you feel, as you would have reason to, that this approach is getting a little shiny with use, set your teeth and give everybody a more or less proper drink. You can salve your pocket, however, by adding a tremendous lot of ice to fill up the glass (troublesome, but cheaper than alcohol), or, in the case of martinis, by dropping in an olive the size of a baby’s fist (see Thunderball, by Ian Fleming, chapter 14). Cheat on later drinks as follows: in preparing a gin and tonic, for instance, put the tonic and ice and thick slice of lemon in first and pour on them a timbleful of gin over the back of a spoon, so that it will linger near the surface and give a strong-tasting first sip, which is the one that counts. A friend of mine, whose mother-in-law gets a little excited after a couple of drinks, goes one better in preparing her third by pouring tonic on ice, wetting a fingertip with gin and passing it round the rim of the glass, but victims of this procedure must be selected with extreme care. Martinis should be as cold as before, but with plenty of melted ice. Whiskies are more difficult. Use the back-of-the-spoon technique with coloured glasses, or use then darkest brand you can find. Water the sherries.

4. Arrange dinner early, and see that the food is plentiful, however cheap it is. You can get away with not serving wine with the first course, no matter what it may be. When the main course is on the table, “suddenly realise” you have not opened the wine, and proceed to do so with a lot of cork-popping. The wine itself will not, of course, be French or German; let us call it Ruritanian Gold Label. Pour it with ceremony, explaining that you and your wife (*especially she) “fell in love with it” on holiday there and will be “interested” in people’s reactions. When these turn out to consist of polite, or barely polite, silence, either say nostalgically that to appreciate it perhaps you have to have drunk a lot of it with that marvellous local food under the sun, etc., or announce bluffly, “Doesn’t travel well, does it? Doesn’t travel.” Judge your audience.

5. Sit over the remains of dinner as long as you dare or can bear to, then take the company off to the drawing-room and make  great play with doling out coffee. By this stage (a vague, prolonged one anyhow), a good half-hour of abrupt and total forgetfulness about the very idea of drink can profitably be risked. At its end “suddenly realize” you have imposed a drought and offer brandy, explaining a good deal less than half apologetically that you have no cognac, only a “rather exceptional” Armagnac. This, of course, produced with due slowness from your pantry, is a watered-down cooking brandy from remote parts of France or from South Africa – a just-potable that will already, did they but know it, be familiar to those of your guests who have drunk “Armagnac” at the average London restaurant. * Ask the ladies if they would care to try a glass of Strelsauvada, a “rather obscure” Ruritanian liqueur made from rotten figs with almond-skin flavouring which admittedly can “play you up” if you are not used to it. They will all say no and think highly of you for the offer.

6. Play out time with groan-preceded, tardily-produced, ice-crammed Scotches, remembering the recourse of saying loudly, * “I find myself that a glass of cold beer [out of the cheapest quart bottles from the pub] is the best thing at this time of night.”

7. Along the lines of sticking more fruit than any sane person could want in the pre-dinner “punch” or “cup”, put out a lot of pseudo-luxuries like flood-damaged truncheon-sized cigars, bulk-bought * after-dinner mints, bankrupt-stock * vari-coloured cigarettes, etc.

8. Your own drinks. These must obviously not be allowed to fall below any kind of accustomed level, however cruel the deprivations you force on your guests. You will naturally refresh yourself with periodic nips in your pantry, but going thither at all often may make undesirable shags think, even say, that you ought to be bringing thence a drink for them. So either choose between a darkly tinted glass (“an old friend of mine in Venice gave it me – apparently it’s rather valuable, ha, ha, ha”) and a silver cup of some sort (“actually it’s my christening-mug from T.S. Eliot-believe it or not, ha, ha,ha,”) which you stick  inseperably to and can undetectably fill with neat whisky, or boldly use a plain glass containing one of those light-coloured blends known, at any rate in the U.S.A., as a “husband’s Scotch” – “Why, hell, Mamie, just take a look; you can see it’s near as damn pure water,” and hell, Jim, Jack, Joe and the rest of the crowd.

9. If you think that all or most of the above is mere satirical fantasy, you cannot have been around much yet.

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The mystery of Laws’s resignation

May 30, 2010 at 2:24 pm (Champagne Charlie, crap, David Cameron, expenses, gay, Lib Dems)

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and even Ed Balls are all agreed: David Laws is a wonderful man, a fine public servant and as honest as the day is long. He made an entirely understandable  mistake over the incredibly complicated and unclear Commons rules about accomodation expenses (the ACA, or “Additional Costs Allowance”).

That being so, then why exactly did he have to resign?

Here, by the way, is a clause from those fiendishly hard-to-understand rules:

ACA must not be used to meet the costs of a mortgage or for leasing accommodation from:

– yourself;

– a close business associate or any organisation or company in which you – or a partner or family member – have an interest; or

– a partner or family member.

It has also been suggested that the Daily Telegraph‘s motivation in breaking this story was, at least in part, homophobic.

The admirably sensible Chief executive of the gay rights group Stonewall, Ben Summerskill, has given that line of argument short shrift: “…public concerns about Laws’s expenses claims are almost certainly not on this occasion motivated by irrational homophobia. They might well be motivated by a more justifiable ‘second home-ophobia’ instead.”

Prosecute him!

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The Manufacture Of Outrage

November 26, 2009 at 8:47 pm (bloggocks, capitalist crisis, expenses, Max Dunbar, media)

The self-appointed guardians of speaking truth to power have hosted a long piece by reporter Jonathan Cook, who compares the recent Medialens book with journalist Nick Davies’s Flat Earth News. Naturally (it would not have been published on the site otherwise) Cook raves about the two Davids’ masterpiece of conspiratorial binary thinking while dumping on Davies’s reality-based look at how the media works.

Don’t read Cook’s entire piece, it is tedious beyond belief, but in it he does make one interesting point about this year’s expenses scandal. Here it is:

It is interesting that the revelations about the British MPs emerged in the immediate wake of a far more important scandal involving the banks’ extortion of western governments to save themselves from liquidation, and the later feathering of their own nests from public finances. Whether it was the goal or not, the trickle of reports of parliamentary graft over several months very effectively distracted attention in Britain both from the banks’ shocking behaviour and forestalled a tentative debate about the profound crisis facing corporate capitalism. 

In addition, a Chomskian might suspect that the timing of the attack on our elected representatives, using information leaked to the establishment’s favourite newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, had a beneficial consequence for the embattled finance sector. With their own integrity in question, British MPs and ministers lost the moral high ground and with it any hope, admittedly already feeble, of turning on the bankers. With the parliamentary system in crisis, the banking system faced little threat of significant reform, which would have required an unprecedented assertion of political will. 

Even efforts to make the banks more accountable lost momentum during this period. In fact, while our elected representatives were being flayed by the media, the bankers quietly went back to business as normal. By personalising the issue of graft and directing popular anger at a few individuals – at first, the most visible bankers and then many MPs – the economic system itself was given a reprieve from a serious debate about its merits and failings.

This does make a certain amount of sense to me. The spectacle of a wealthy elite being bailed out by the public after gambling the future of the economy on other people’s money looked like becoming a catalyst for real democratic reform of capitalism. Then came the Torygraph‘s revelations – and the public and commentariat, stampeding with anger about Fred the Shred and the con of the free market, obediently turned round and stampeded in the opposite direction. Relatively minor public sector graft has overshadowed the greater crimes of the banks.

The expenses scandal could have broken at any time. Lembit Opik MP claimed in the Observer that ‘The expenses system was set up as a salary substitute. MPs were told that overtly.’ Welcome to human nature! (We always say we want our politicians to be human – yet we hate it, when they are.) Even the worst offenders, like David Wiltshire MP, have ripped off very little compared to the Telegraph’s owners, a pair of reclusive twins who live on a tax haven so they don’t have to contribute to a society their newspaper purports to represent.

There was a lot of big talk about cracking down on bonuses and tax havens when the markets fell. But now the champagne pyramids are back up in Square Mile bars and, at least in this country, populist reforms have been quietly forgotten. It’s business as usual, except it’s on your tab. It will be business as usual until the next huge disaster.

What does this tell us about the press? Chomsky said the role of the media was to manufacture consent. In the UK, it looks more like the manufacture of outrage.

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Questions for Chris Mole

May 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm (capitalist crisis, expenses, Max Dunbar, welfare)

So it’s looking like the Great Crunch hasn’t caused any kind of revision in the government’s workfare plans. This is a press release from Chris Mole MP (crazy name, crazy guy):

The Minister was in Ipswich to visit the JobCentre Plus in Silent Street to see how people are being encouraged to return to work, and discuss with staff the role of sanctions on benefits for those who don’t cooperate with new training and assistance from the JobCentre. The discussion also focussed on the role of local employers in helping to encourage those who are long-term unemployed back to work.

The proposals would see people who have been unemployed for two years or those who go on and off of benefits working for their benefits and for the benefit of the local community.

The proposals would see those people in Ipswich who have been through the support of the New Deal and still haven’t found work or people who have a history of going on and off benefits taking part in full time community activity in return for their benefits. This will give people work experience that employers look for and will help flush out the people who are abusing the system or working while still signing on.

Commenting on the new plans, Chris said:

‘Long term unemployment is down 76% in Ipswich and more people are in work than ever before. But the days of mass unemployment have left scars and in some families worklessness has been passed down from generation to generation.’

‘This could be a win-win situation. Unemployed people will get valuable experience of work and we can all think of work that needs doing in the local community.’

The Ipswich Unemployment Action blog makes the point that claimants will have to be supervised. How much will it cost to train and salary these supervisors?

I have some questions of my own:

– Why is it that we never hear any information about what these claimants will be doing for their £1:73 an hour, or names of companies and organisations that are signing up? Volunteer work can be a great way to improve your skill set and thus increase your social mobility, but filling in potholes or doing outbound sales for next to nothing is not going to achieve much either for your CV or your quality of life in general.

– In these Troubled Economic Times™ shouldn’t every possible vacancy be advertised as an actual job? If there is work that needs doing why not pay a proper salary for it and get some wealth creation going on?

– If claimants are working 30 hours per week for their benefits, doesn’t that cut into the time when they could be filling out proper job applications and attending interviews?

– Why is it that, as a society, we are obsessed with cracking down on people who defraud the state of relatively small amounts while MPs who charge their servants’ accommodation to the taxpayer face almost no sanction?

The Ipswich bloggers raise the point that this is going to undercut the pay of those already in work. This could be a precedent for the further downgrading of the salaried job. We’ve gone from permanent contract work with benefits and protection to temporary work with almost no benefits and a third of the salary creamed off by recruitment consultants. This could be another step down.

(Via Andrew Coates)

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The Ridiculous takes on the Repugnant

May 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm (elections, expenses, MPs, voltairespriest)

I suppose that most of the Westminster world will tonight be talking about David Cameron’s decentralisation plans, which are splashed all over the media. I thought however that just this once I’d celebrate the trivial instead, and salute the rotund Tory newspaper columnist Simon Heffer, for signalling his intent to lance the boil on the carcass of politics that is the expenses scandal by taking it on at source. Yes, he’s going to stand against the political titan that is Deputy Speaker of the House Sir Alan Hazelhurst, if he doesn’t pay back £12,000 in claimed expenses.

Go for it Si. I can just sense that the voters of Saffron Walden are ready for a real choice. And with people like you, Esther Rantzen, Lynn Faulds Wood and Robert Harris in the Commons, we at Shiraz Socialist just know the political sphere is in safe hands. Furthermore, if Bozo the Clown gets that deposit together to run against Birmingham Perry Barr’s Khalid Mahmood, then we shall be out on the streets working for him. Be sure of that.

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