Living off the state

No, I’ve not joined the long list of politicians taking a pot shot, for party political advantage, at those who need welfare support to get by. Indeed, as regular readers of this bogsite will know, I’m very much in favour of universal basic income (UBI) to tackle poverty and reliance on benefits once and for all.

This post is actually about companies who get government/public sector money to run public services or provide goods and services which the public sector requires.

That our government is mired in all sorts of controversy regarding contracts being handed out to companies, sometimes without a proper tendering process, seems sadly to be an everyday thing these days. The connections between some MP’s and companies is often rather obvious yet it keeps on happening and there’s no proper/effective scrutiny/remedy to it.

The irony of all this for me is that often the politicians with worrying connections to benefiting companies will stomp about, at elections times in particular, calling for more openness and efficiency in what the UK Government, its agencies and local councils are doing when it comes to spending public money.

My view is that as a country we have lost our way with regard to who gets to do government/public work and how they’re selected to do it. Interestingly, there have been contracts where informed observers have said that the work could well have been done more cost effectively by the civil service/NHS/councils etc. However, huge sums of money get thrown at consultants and companies some of whom don’t have any prior expertise in the work they’re getting contracts to carry out!

The present approach flows from a dislike of ‘big government’ yet often it seems that by reducing the capacity of the public sector the work which can no longer be done ‘in house’ then costs a huge amount more to buy in. Frankly, it makes little sense to me. Surely governments of all colours should want the functions of the public sector to be carried out in the most cost effective way not the most expensive way!

There must be many companies across the UK who significantly rely on public sector contracts to stay afloat, pay their staff and give dividends to their shareholders. My fear is that we have governance by consultants who can always find a way to screw more money out the public sector and the pockets of taxpayers.

I’ve never been a fan of privatisation as I’ve seen too many failures by councils and government. A better way to encourage innovation and efficiency in the public sector would be to limit outsourcing to mutuals, cooperatives and not for profit companies so that the greed to feed off the public purse is very much reduced and hopefully eliminated.

The control of what MP’s and senior public sector employees can be involved in in terms of company directorships and their connections with others who control companies needs to be much tighter too. Anyone who works for the public sector or who is elected to run it needs to be clearly unconnected with suppliers to the public sector. As soon as such connections are established and verified, by a powerful and independent watchdog, the person/s involved should be removed from office. No ifs, no buts, no 2nd chances and no power to veto the outcome by political leaders.

We need to have confidence that our public services are being run efficiently and by people with the expertise to deliver top quality outcomes. Whilst we feel that politician A’s brother/sister or best mate got the contract to do the work we won’t have such confidence and we could well be getting inefficient and costly services which don’t serve our needs. This is not rocket science, it’s about openness and transparency in all that is done with taxpayers money.

And just as I finished this posting what pops up on my Twitter feed but Layla Moran MP saing this – ‘One of the basic pillars of democracy is that taxpayers can see how their money is spent. As private firms continue to land public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds behind closed doors, people’s trust in Govt is reaching an all-time low.’

Is Starmer another John Smith?

Now I’m a Liberal who had some time for John Smith as Labour Leader; I thought he had something about him even though I had little time for his party. That someone should compare him to Keir Starmer struck me as more than a little odd as to me Starmer as Labour leader has been quite a big disappointment. I’d thought that when he was seemingly reluctantly running along with Corbyn that there was far more about him than has subsequently been shown since he became Labour’s leader.

So what about the article that got me thinking about how on earth Starmer could possibly be another Smith? Here’s a substantial extract from it

When talking about Keir Starmer, think of John Smith – by Mark Pack

The parallels between former Labour Party leader John Smith and current leader Keir Starmer are striking.

Both took up post after four Labour general election defeats in a row (1979-1992 and then 2010-19). Both succeeded a Labour leader whose personal ratings had a positive burst but had fallen into persistent negative territory by the end (Kinnock, then Corbyn). Both themselves had not only been a leading member of the Shadow Cabinet prior to the last Labour defeat, they had even held the post central to the key issue seen at the heart of that defeat. Brexit for Starmer, the economy for Smith. On becoming leader, both addressed a major internal issue that had been seen as costing Labour votes (anti-Semitism with Starmer, the union block vote and move to OMOV for Smith). But beyond that, both also were modest in the extent to which they set out to change their party or its policies. Both looked to have an approach to winning the next general election of, ‘Let the government mess up while I’ll show that I’m not my predecessor’. One more heave rather than one big revolution.

Whether this would have worked for John Smith, tragically we will never know. The plaudits given to him after his early death from a heart attack in 1994 were of the sort any of us should be honoured to receive. If you or I receive even an echo of such fulsome words, we will have led a good life. For all Smith’s many positives, the one thing left hanging unresolved is whether or not he was a good leader of the Labour Party. Had he set the course for victory or was he going to turn out to be too timid to win? We’ll never know.

With Starmer, we will. For there are two competing stories waiting for historians to pick between them. One is of Starmer the triumphant, who wisely realised that oppositions don’t win elections but governments lose them. So he made clear he was not his highly unpopular predecessor and other than that mostly kept out of the way, doing little radical and letting the government destroy itself. The other is of Starmer the timidly defeated, who turned out to have nothing much to do or say beyond, ‘I’m not Corbyn and I’m opposed to anti-Semitism’, and who then went down to defeat as the Conservative Party pulled itself together when the general election neared.

Either could yet be true.’

Well yes I get the parallels but Starmer’s too right wing for me. Yes I know, he’s desperate to get his white working class right wing supporters back who voted Tory in December 2019 and virtually everything he does is a dance to their tune but that’s certainly putting off progressives in spades too. He’s not willing to embrace electoral reform/fair votes, he opposes Universal Basic Income (UBI) which is the only real way to seriously tackle poverty and he led his party to support Johnson’s appalling Brexit Deal. As I say there’s nothing to warm the heart of a progressive there what so ever!

So for me Starmer is no John Smith

Progressive politics in the UK is desperately short of leaders and that’s important because for the Conservative’s majority to be overturned* it’s going to take a huge joint effort by Labour, Lib Dems and Greens in some way working together rather than in opposition to each other. For that to happen credible leaders need to be found whom progressives can coalesce around. The alternative is more years of populist right wing government and if that’s not enough to sober up anti-Conservatives I don’t know what is.

* Labour’s usual route to a majority, via Scotland, went west when they were all but wiped out by the SNP.

Poverty – Our governments only manage it, with no intention of seriously tackling it

What has the UK become, how have we sunk so low? Poverty and food banks are now an everyday part of many communities.

I’m not religious in any way but the recent high profile BBC News story about what a Pastor and Priest have been doing to help the utterly desperate in Burnley disturbed me profoundly.

The fact that in one of the richest counties on earth they have to do it should shame us all. We’ve had government after government which are for the middle incomed and wealthy with the poor getting litte more than crumbs off their table. In recent times footballer Marcus Rashford has stepped up to call for change particularly with regard to feeding children but more benefits/increased benefits will only be yet another sticking plaster, it won’t deal with the core problem of poverty.

After 40 years in politics I am convinced that Universal Basic Income is the only real solution to poverty. Politicians, who oppose UBI whilst hiding behind a lack of willingness to find a way to fund it, are actually saying we will not be doing anything useful about poverty and are leaving those who can’t survive via our mean spirited benefits system for charities, volunteers and churches to look after.

Sadly, the Burnley story is being replicated across the UK whilst the well off and our leaders in Westminster spend time picking ridiculous trade fights with the EU over Brexit. But when we get all the independence, prosperity and opportunities promised by those who promoted and voted for Brexit how much of it will filter down to those most in need? If it’s little or nothing then what have we been fighting for; just to make the rich richer and poor poorer? Developing a society based on a significant percentage of that society having to live in abject poverty is hardly something we should be aspiring to yet it seems to be where we have arrived.

I am profoundly depressed by how we expect those with nothing to live off almost nothing. Growing an ever greater number of people who are destitute has been the result of political decisions and political indecision but we’ve been voting (or at least a significant number of us have) for politicians who have been in charge of this growing poverty crisis for many years now. Is it not time to chuck out those politicians who simply want to manage, ignore or even punish those in our society who are the most in need? Oh and please don’t assume that all the problem politicians are Tories because poverty is an issue that many politicians want to ignore and they get away with it bacause the poor often don’t or can’t vote.

Rashford, feeding children & UBI

That Marcus Rashford has highlighted the fact that even in 2020 too many children live in such poverty that they don’t have sufficient nutritional food to eat is a given. His well known solution is to try to get government to provide free school meals in school holidays, a battle he won for the last summer holidays but is presently losing for the next Christmas holidays. The BBC has the latest on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/54550587

I support his campaign but is it really a long term solution to fix child poverty? Is it not just another sticking plaster for our failed welfare system?

My view is that we need to be looking towards a solution that does not require high profile campaigners to launch a renewed fight before every school holiday to ensure children eat well. In short we need to revolutionise the way our society runs so that we really do tackle poverty properly. Form me there’s only one way to do that and it’s a rather obvious solution which has been talked about for many years – Universal Basic Income or UBI.

Yes I know that those on the right of UK politics will straight away will say things like ‘how on earth will we pay for it?’ or even ‘I’m not paying for it through my taxes’. Yes UBI will be expensive but at it’s core it’s about trying to say goodbye to poverty once and for all. And yes I also know that many on the left oppose UBI (Kier Starmer for one) but it is gathering ground amongst politicians who see themselves as being progressives, including many liberals and some socialists.

That UBI has gained such significant traction in recent times amongst liberals has even surprised me as a radical social Liberal of the left because often liberals, particularly those with a middle class background, can be fearful of promoting a social policy that has taxation implications. Maybe it’s a sign that liberals and progressives across the political spectrum are finally realising that fighting poverty by chucking crumbs off the table to the poor has never solved and indeed never will solve the poverty that’s so endemic in our broken UK society.

Good luck to Rashford, a wealthy man from a poor background who really does want to do some good for those with nothing. However, if we back what he’s doing let’s do it in a way that brings about a more permanent solution to poverty rather than engaging in a regular battle with government about whether children will eat in the next school holiday. As I say the solution is rather obvious – UBI.

Labour’s dilemma – Class based V Progressive Politics

Labour is trying to pull back into its fold the right wing white working class voters who voted Tory at the last General Election. This despite the fact that these voters can often hold views which would embarrass a truly progressive party – This is summed up by Jim Hancock who says this in one of his recent blog pieces (Hancock’s Half Page):-

‘Sir Keir’s statement that “we love our country” was really important. For Labour to have any hope of regaining its northern strength, it must recognise the deep patriotism of the working class.’

To me that deep patriotism sadly often proclaims itself as racism, anti-Semitism, pro-Brexit, anti-gay, anti-Muslim etc. etc.

At the same time Labour’s also looking to bring on board real progressives who certainly reject the views outlined above but who, like the working class backers, became disillusioned with the party in recent years mainly due to the party’s fence sitting over Brexit and its anti-Semitism problems.

And thereby hangs Labour’s dilemma; trying to appeal to progressives and regressives at the same time. Under Tony Blair they achieved it although more I think by ignoring their white working class supporters (whom I’m sure must have been a huge embarrassment to Blair, whilst he still needed their votes) than by currying favour with them.

Starmer, who certainly does not have Blair’s charismatic qualities, therefore has a huge task on his hands. And if you add into that heady mix the fact that Labour has been almost wiped out in Scotland the task gets all the more difficult with Labour, like the Lib Dems, being a unionist party when the Scots are moving further towards independence.

My point in writing this posting is that Labour needs the Lib Dems to be successful just as much as Lib Dems need Labour to be successful. They’ve tried going toe to toe and it gave the Tories a free hand so they’ve got to do just the opposite and find a way not to fight each other in those seats where doing so simply hands seats to the Tories.

Yes I know that in many policy areas the Libs will continue be to the left of and more progressive then Labour. That’s just been highlighted by the Libs backing UBI & Labour rejecting it. And of course Labour traditionally has wanted to fight the Libs probably more than the Tories because they’re another left wing sect they want out of their way. However, unless the two parties want a re-run of the terrible campaigns which Corbyn and Swinson delivered in December 2019 then they’re going to have to find a way to live with each other as Blair and Ashdown did.

And yes I know it’s our appalling electoral system that creates this need to co-operate between two very different parties but without that co-operation then you know what the probable outcome could well be – yes that’s right another Tory Government!

But Labour’s USP has always been that they are not the Tories and maybe not being the Tories is all that’s needed now? If so it explains why Labour’s all but a policy vacuum; they stand for nothing much at all but they’re not Tories.

Universal Basic Income

Now this is a subject I’ve blogged about before, on a few occasions actually, but our present health crisis seems to have brought it very much to the surface of political thinking beyond us Social Liberals who have been banging on about it for many a year now.

I came across the poll results above from 2019 almost by chance recently and am pleased to see that UBI is finally finding favour amongst a wider group of progressive thinkers.

And here’s what the World Economic Forum thinks:-

www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/covid-19-universal-basic-income-social-inequality/

And the New Statesman:-

www.newstatesman.com/politics/economy/2020/04/covid-19-universal-basic-income-benefits-welfare

There’s no doubt that UBI is radical, progressive and if implemented properly i.e. not half heartedly it can change our so unequal society very much for the better. However, getting politicians who are neither radical or progressive (there are many of them in the Tory Party and sadly too many in the Labour Party) to see the advantages will continue to be an uphill struggle, but who said promoting fairness was easy.

But and it’s a BIG but you can’t back Brexit and UBI. Brexit is about making the super rich richer and the poor poorer, UBI is about re-balancing our economy and social justice.