Saturday, January 31, 2009

Blinkered Brown Is Stuck In The Past

The striking picture of refinery workers has become so iconic, posters should be made, rolled up and slapped around Brown's chops. Will that man ever wake up to reality?

Today last Davos Man had the gall to admit he hasn't a clue how to fix the economy. History, Brown said, offered "no clear map" of how to deal with it. Rubbish. If he hasn't a clue he could try reading JK Galbraith, or move over and let someone else have a go. 

Talk about living in the past! The government is clinging onto false boom years policies, while the economy crumbles around its ears, bringing thousands of jobs down with it.  

Start by supporting workers in times of deep recession and override neo-liberal EU trade and employment agreements. Warning about the perils of protectionism was fine for the 'boom' years but fall on deaf ears during times of bust and mass unemployment.

The wave of strikes across the country came as Brown struts around the World Economic stage, repeating his hollow promise to do his best for jobs while his ill-advised "British jobs for British workers" is thrown back in his face.  

Look at the lessons of history. Anxiety over jobs has turned to anger and spilled over in mass protests, expressing the fears of working people, as the recession exposes the truth about the state of the bankrupt economy. 

Rhetoric and angry polemics mask a deep and disturbing underbelly of uneasy unrest which is beginning to surface. 

Refinery protests are showing a nasty side with mounted police, dogs and riot squads standing by and nationalist movements milking the unrest to whip up support. Industrial unrest can so easily turn to civil disorder and a stand-off with political police. 

For years the government has encouraged crucial and strategic industries to sail off into foreign hands, allowing the wealth created to go with it. Banks have been allowed to sail into Galbraith's "wild blue yonder" with taxpayers cash. 

A free market has been allowed to get out of control, leaving the country plundered by big foreign firms and on its knees, while the government turned a blind eye to cheap, exploited foreign labour. 

Now the country has lost control of all its key industries, they are ripe for exploitation and the chickens are coming home to roost. 

Just exactly what is 'Labour' about a New Labour Party, which has abandoned its workers and left them to rot, more bothered about forcing them to fit into its global market ideas, rather than protecting their interests. All with the tacit support of a new breed of trade union officials who'd rather cosy up to their pals in government.

Over the 'boom' years, growth in employment has been deliberately concentrated in the City financial market, emerging 'new' industries and a pool of low skilled, low paid workers to do the dirty work in poor conditions, while the manufacturing base was left in ruins. 

Cheap credit and a debt-ridden culture bred a false consumer which mirrored the 'boom' before the US Great Depression. Here it allowed the government to recklessly pursue its neo-liberal trade and employment policies, driven by an obsession with an ever expanding and controlling EU. 

Short-term contracts, agency work, subcontracting and fewer workers rights are all part of the downside of that good times policy. 

Those times are over. The false security of mortgaged homes and easy, cheap credit to plug the income gap has evaporated. 

A government stuck in the past cannot offer real alternatives. The recession should be an opportunity for a great leveller. The obscene gap between rich and poor must be halted. Tougher regulation is needed to end the ruthless exploitation of low paid casual slave labour. 

Jobs should be protected and created in strategic and vital industries and manufacturing by bringing them back into full short-term public ownership until the recession eases. And stop borrowing billions.

Both the Tory right and Labour left are calling for a radical rethink over the economy and the working backbone of the country, albeit from different political perspectives. Neither want a return to the bad old 'boom' days and in that respect they are singing from the same hymn sheet. 

Stuck in the middle and stuck in the past is the sad, tired spectacle of Brown and the New Labour Project, floundering around, clinging on to power with failed, out-dated policies and ignoring lessons of history, until a very bitter end. 

Picture: The Bearfacts, engineering construction workers website

UPDATE: William Hill has Brown now 5/2 to jump or get the push in 2009. Green shoots of an early election?


Friday, January 30, 2009

This Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

Wildcat strikes are spreading across the UK as Brown's "British jobs for British workers" is thrown back in his face with a warning of a "social timebomb leading to civil unrest and soaring crime". Where's our illustrious leader? Swanning around as last Davos Man, droning on about global economics. Lose touch with reality and you lose touch with people. 

The writing is on the wall. When asked about the growing unrest back home, a deluded Brown predictably said the government was doing "everything we can" to shore up the economy as well as help individuals back into work. Empty words. Where have we heard all that before? 

Riots on the street of Paris has led to a blast from international labour leaders accusing world politicians of a failure to  respond effectively to a deepening crisis of their own making and a warning that the Paris unrest will spread around the world. 

It has, with oil refinery workers here staging mass walkouts over the use of foreign labour. The Orange Party warned earlier, that's a message leaders at the World Economic Forum ignore at their peril.

The Paris riots, over big unfair bail-outs for banks, have been greeted here with a mixture of arrogance and complacency - 'well that's what they do in Paris. Not much sign of revolution in the air thus far it seems'. But that is exactly what they do. They take to the streets. 

It's called the Paris mob stupid. And it can be students, public workers, fishermen or agricultural workers, it makes no difference. The result is the same. President Sarkozy will sit up and take notice.

Over here it's over construction jobs at refineries. Industrial unrest is usually confined to tightly controlled pockets of resistance. Only with big issues like the miner's strike does it spill over onto the streets, the mining villages, blockades of the Humber Bridge and running battles with political riot police. And that could well happen here.

The line between industrial unrest and civil disorder is very fine. But history tells us there is an English and Scottish mob out there too, quite prepared to take to the streets when homes, jobs and livelihoods are threatened. 

And it could all be nipped in the bud so easily. Coming out in support of the workers of this country, in times of deep recession, should override neo-liberal EU trade and employment agreements. Warnings about the perils of protectionism was fine for the boom years but fall on deaf ears during times of bust and mass unemployment.

Instead of swanning around with the high and now not so mighty, Brown should be on the picket lines, listening to the grievances, instead of wandering round busy doing nothing. Leave with a promise of action not words and a roasting maybe, but he'd come away with real soundbites, real pictures and real respect. 

Cameron too has missed the boat, preferring instead the delights of Davos. An industrial picket line may seem the unlikely setting for an eloquent public school orator but he's angry and it shows. 

It's about rolling up your sleeves and getting down and dirty with the workers. Cameron could well end up agreeing with them and staying on for a mug of tea. 

This isn't a dispute whipped up by political agitators. Coordinated by Constructionworker UK, the protest come from solid working people, worried sick about their jobs, their homes and how they are going to make ends meet. Those workers need answers and they are entitled to them. 

As one of the workers said: "All we want is for Gordon Brown to fulfil his promise. He said British jobs for British workers ... It's been a kettle ready to boil and the lid has blown off now."

Picture: The BearFacts, engineering construction workers website


The Other Davos-With Attitude, Not Altitude

Davos Man woke up, smelt the coffee and realised the Alps are so last year. It's a wonder anyone bothered to turn up. Real folk are heading for a Brazilian and the alternative Davos with attitude.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. Chancellor Darling's the latest to decide enough's enough and he's not going to join the dwindling band stuck on the top of a mountain, leaving Brown to wander around with a few tired pals from the old New World Order.

Apparently Darling decided "as a number of the people he was due to meet had pulled out, his time would be better spent doing other things," according to a spokesman.

Banana-skin boy, David Miliband, is also not attending, probably a good idea after making rather a monkey of himself as foreign secretary.

That left good ship Cameron and prime minister in-wanting Brown, who's there to "lay the foundations for the G20 summit in Britain in April" according to his spokesman. And to hope and pray Obama will drop by in April for a pre-election photo-op.

What a difference a year makes, when Brad and Angelina were the life and soul of the party, Bono tried to bend everyone's ear and the great and good strutted around as Masters of the Universe.

If there was ever a case of bad timing, Davos and the World Economic Forum takes the biscuit.

Riots on the street of Paris and refinery workers here staging mass walkouts over the use of foreign labour has led to a blast from international labour leaders accusing world politicians of a failure to respond effectively to a deepening crisis of their own making and a warning that the Paris unrest will spread around the world.

Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, warns in the Times: "The current financial turmoil had triggered a social timebomb that would lead to deepening civil unrest and soaring crime." That's a message leaders at the Forum ignore at their peril.

Meanwhile over in Belem, Brazil, five South American leaders are heading to the alternative World Social Forum to join 100,000 activists demanding a long overdue overhaul of capitalism.

The presidents of Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela are due to join leftes of all colours and persuasions at an annual protest against the Davos shindig.

The date was chosen deliberately because organizing a mass protest in Davos with tight security was out of the question.

Heading off to the Forum, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez said the World Social Forum will show the planet how to make "a better world, distinct from capitalism."

And Brazilian president, the not so leftie Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has given Davos a miss and will making his first social forum appearance in three years.

Organisers hope leaders there will want to do more than just boost their popularity while people suffer and struggle in a global financial meltdown.

"I would hope their coming here is a genuine reflection of their interest in engaging in civil society and not just a photo op," said Gladys Cisneros, from the Washington based American Center for International Labor Solidarity.

it may be a little steamy in the jungle and crammed full of old and new lefties but hey, it beats freezing your socks off at a high altitude Swiss ski resort. And it beats having to get down and dirty with the rich and powerful dumbos at Davos with the economic world crumbles around their ears, hanging around for a photo-op for Brown's Downing Street website album.

Meanwhile over at Davos, Blair is coining it in and best buddy Murdoch is selling newspapers. Mandelson, Osborne, Rothschild and Deripaska will be bitching behind each other's backs. The Forum is conspicuous for the absence of the shamed big international money-men. But that still leaves 1,400 business executives and 41 heads of government to enjoy the power and privilege while they can.

Picture: Real people at a camp site during the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Cruddas And Perils Of Political Language

Labour's last of the few MPs standing, Jon Cruddas, has fired off a broadside to Brown, warning he needs a new language to explain what the government is doing about the recession. Political code for 'Brown has lost his marbles'? 

Downing Street spinners will not be happy bunnies. Battered Brown's blubberings over the Heathrow commons vote and whether he can weather the economic storm are already causing consternation, with speculation it will be men in grey suits or white coats who will come and take him away. 

That prompted the Orange Party to  ask if we are seeing the green shoots of an early election

Cruddas has piled on the dismay for Downing Street. His observations,  reported in today's Independent, are sharp and refreshing, including a back-handed compliment to Cameron who he thinks "is doing well". But they should come with a health warning. 

Cameron's Angry Party is starting to capture the public mood and the voters in a clear, simple and straightforward way, in contrast to the robotic dronings of Brown's NewLabourSpeak and that's to be applauded. 

But that connection with a new language is exactly what Blair in the early years achieved, now copied with huge success by Obama. 

Such a figure may not be always benign, as Oborne has pointed out: "there is a frightening prospect that he will be able to adapt the techniques of manipulative populism to his own purposes".

Dave is a pretty straight sort of guy. But in the hands of a slick, smooth talking spinner who talks the talk while lording it up, that would be dangerous. 

Brown and the gang have dug themselves into a messy hole of their own making. No amount of clever language will get them off the hook. And nor should it. Cruddas should be careful for what he wishes.


Green Shoots Of An Early Election?

Beleaguered Brown is scurrying off to plot a New World Order with his pals at the sinister-sounding Davos but will the men in grey suits be waiting for him when he returns after Black Wednesday's mauling? 

The deluded prime minister was left battered and blubbering, with confidence draining away from both his Party and the country. 

Calling a general election is the gift of a prime minister only when thing are going well. When they are not - when there's a crisis of confidence from both within the Party, coupled with a crisis of confidence in what's best for the county - it's a double edged sword and the men in grey suits come from the back door and the front. 

If there was 'peace crimes' tribunal Brown would be in the dock. Time and again he repeated the mantra that the country was well placed to weather the storm. 

The IMF put paid to that, confirming the UK slump was the worst in the developed world, forecasting the country will suffer a worse recession than any other advanced economy. 

Brown is either suffering from blind incompetence or he's been telling porkies. He needs to spend more time with his family for the sake of his and the nation's health. Grey suits or white coats? It makes no difference in bankrupt Britain.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) waded in saying the country would be saddled with government debt for more than 20 years. The IMF and IFS warnings scupper Brown's plans to borrow billions more. 

Brown gets a mauling from Cameron over the despatch box. For once the soundbites are broadcast on TV evening news. None of them in Brown's favour.

It could only get worse. The Tory Heathrow rethink motion was defeated by just 19 votes, eight of them a bail-out from the DUP, in a rerun of the pork-barrel politics of the 42 days debacle

Backbench rebels were reportedly hauled in to be confronted with a blubbering Brown, yet 28 of them still had the courage to vote for the Tory motion. That's a sizeable revolt with the noble cause of Heathrow coupled with the fear of losing their marginal seats. 

Sky News Jon Craig claims a "tearful and dewy eyed" prime minister called the backbenchers into his office one by one and pleaded with them to back the government.

Claiming that losing the vote will be bad for the government and the Party is emotional blackmail. Once again the Heathrow issue was used as a test of Brown's leadership, putting cheap party politics above the best interests of the country.

Government spinners point out that the IMF forecast is just one indicator and anyone can cherry pick statistics. But this is the IMF - one of the big global finance institutions set up to monitor world markets and hand over cash with strings attached. The Heathrow vote too was spun as a government victory. It got very close to a humiliating defeat. 

Another day and another gloomy poll for the government, with the Tories increasing their lead and winning back the crucial C2 voters who deserted the Tories in their droves for the New Labour promised land.

The battle over the date of the next election is a battle between political strategists looking for damage limitation and politicians clinging onto power until the bitter end in the vain hope that things will get better come spring 2010. The economic forecasts have now put paid to that. 

Brown will try to cling on by his finger nails but he's taken a huge battering. Even his last hope to ride on the back of Obamamania with a London visit by the Great One in April is now uncertain. Brown may be forced to cut and run. 

The windows of opportunity for calling an election come and go. Call an election soon and there's a slim chance New Labour can hang on to some English seats with a hung parliament. 

Miss the boat and leave it too late - again - and there will be a wipe out, leaving the Tories to claim the prize of a sizeable majority and a national government. 

With a mixture of a lack of confidence and political self-interest, this time the decision may be out of Brown's hands. 

Picture: MarceloRuiz


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Is Labour Now The Party Of Sleaze?

Erminegate came like a bolt from the blue with corruption in the highest of places. Yet the government has been slow on the uptake with public reassurance of confidence in the House of Lords. That leaves the Tories to milk the scandal and turn the tables on New Labour as the Party of sleaze. 

The Sunday Times investigation which sparked off the New Labour "cash for laws" scandal came 15 years after the same newspaper first exposed the Tory 'cash for questions' scandal in the commons, swiftly followed by the Guardian

Major's government was left wide open to attack as the Party of sleaze and, waiting in the wings, Blair milked it for all it was worth to help to bring down Major's nice 'n sleazy government. 

Now the tables have turned and it's the Lords of Corruption and New Labour cronies who are firmly in the firing line. 

As the story broke on Sunday, the Orange Party asked - how many more Lords of Corruption? And there lies the problem for the New Labour government. 

Out of the ten peers approached, in the Sunday Times sting only the New Labour lords went a-leaping, with three Tory, one LibDem and an Ulster Unionist having nothing to do with it. It's a New Labour problem because the place is stuffed full of its stooges, with a direct line to over a decade of political power.

Investigations are underway into the accusations. The Tories are promising a root and branch reform. A thorough deep clean is the only way to remove the stench of corruption filling the air. But behind Cameron's message is that the Conservatives will end New Labour's nice 'n sleazy ride.

Blair's much heralded reform of the Upper House went off half-cock as he set about getting rid of hereditary peers much to the delight of the Party. But behind the scenes, Blair was beavering away creating peerages for pals, stuffing the cosy gentleman's club with more than 370  cronies.

Privileged hereditary peers gave way to political stooges rewarded with a "lordship" whose job was to serve the Party and act as a convenient way of getting non-elected pals into the heart of government and the cabinet. The rich and powerful who bought peerages with Party donations came spectacularly unstuck with the greed-fuelled 'cash for honours' scandal. 

Sadly it seems few people are deeply shocked by these latest corruption revelations. They're all at it, aren't they? And it seems to chime with the general culture of greed and rewards which is the hallmark of the New Labour years. 

But our democracy runs on two Houses - one elected and the second to act as a trusted back-stop. Without the credibility of the House of Lords, that democratic process falls apart. 

For over a decade New Labour has been digging itself into a squalid monumental hole and there's no way they can dig themselves out of it. History is set repeat itself - only now the boot is on the other foot. 


Obama's 'Mad', Mad World

The world is holding its breath for what the Messiah will do next in his first 100 days. So much false hope, so many dreams to shatter. And so little time to walk the walk, talk the talk and fool some of the people, some of the time. It's tough being a snake-oil salesman from the Windy City.

Obama's BBC fan club is kindly posting an on-line daily diary of the Great Man's every move. Everything's there except for the comfort breaks but maybe the Chosen One doesn't choose to go.

Channel 4 News, "blessed is the Blessed One", managed to slip in a quick Obama info-commercial during a recent news bulletin, with stock footage from
National Geographic showing 'The One' on Air Force One - ordering dinner from a menu. Even the Messiah has to eat sometimes.

Thank goodness for the mad world of Mad Magazine.

Obama reached out to the Muslim world, choosing a Saudi-owned satellite TV network for his first formal television interview. He asked the Arab World for forgiveness and told audiences that some of his relatives are Muslim. Strange that throughout the campaign that was the one issue Obama kept well under wraps. That and the fags.

Meanwhile there are reports that Iran is almost ready to declare itself a nuclear power, with enough enriched uranium to blow Israel off the face of the earth.

In Obama's war, the 'enemy' is being softened up on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border with an increase in drone attacks ready for a massive US troop surge as part of the hopeless and unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

Gitmo is to close within a year we are told, yet the actual executive order gives the president plenty of wriggle-room over what to do about the detainees and when to do it.

And there's that $825 billion bail-out coming up soon which "will save or create three to four million jobs over the next few years". Where have we heard all that before? Obama's favourite community group ACORN, under investigation for voter registration fraud, will be eligible for billions.

But don’t despair, President Barack Hussein Obama, is there to fix all the problems, the leaking roof and restore confidence in America.

Well isn’t this all wonderful! He may have captured the hearts and minds of the media liberal luvvies but in this mad world, he sure as hell scares the pants off the Orange Party.

Top picture: Mad Magazine


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not Just A Bail-Out, A Mandy Bail-Out

When is a car bail-out not a car bail-out? When it's announced in the Lords by Brown's deputy Mandelson. It must be galling for MPs to hear about the latest government "loans for cars" scandal from the BBC but hey, that's democracy for you. 

Business secretary Mandelson is due to outline his latest wheeze for UK carmakers in a statement to the House of Lords because he's not allowed to face the music from elected MPs. 

But you can read all about it on Brown's BBC 'news' website, courtesy of Robert Peston's blog, in a glorious technicolour dreamworld, with all the government spin in place. 

Car manufacturing has been among the first big industries to be hit as the recession turns into a US-style Great Depression and people face fear and anxiety over jobs. 

But the government continues its reckless policy of throwing good money after bad. That didn't work in the US in the 1930s and it won't work here now. 

So what's the cunning plan for a nation crippled with debt? Get us all into more debt by enticing customers to take out whopping loans for new cars. Er, aren't we supposed to be trying to kick the habit of a debt culture that cause all the problems in the first place? And who can afford a new car in these harsh days of recession?

The widely-reported package for carmakers is supposed to help with jobs. But allowing car manufacturers to apply for credit, which they can use to provide loans to new car buyers, is  all part of the wonderful world of borrow now pay later. 

Downing Street has been bending over backwards to shout out that Mandy's measures were not a "bail-out". So exactly where does the cash come from and whose pocket does it go into?

With 80% of cars in the UK produced by overseas firms and the vast majority bought on credit, the government's 'loans for cars' plan, will go straight into the pockets of the overseas firms and the City finance houses. Nice work if you can get it. 

There is a solution, a short-term fix which would end once and for all the ridiculous taxpayers subsidies and borrowed cash for bail-outs which is drying up as overseas investment banks say No. 

That's to take the big strategic industries into short-term full public ownership. But that wouldn't go down well with the government's foreign pals, industry bosses or the City. 

UPDATE 3.45pm: Mandelson played the old 'green card" as he outlined a £2.3 billion package of car industry loan guarantees  including £1.3 billion from Europe and a government guarantee of a further £1 billion. He said the package was "not a bail-out" but would "reinvent" the industry "for a low carbon future". The Orange Party thinks it stinks and even a £2 billion loan guarantee is a pittance to help with jobs. But maybe that's all the government can now beg and borrow?