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Scotland… they wouldn’t, would they? April 11, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics, Scottish Politics.
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Reading this this morning in the Guardian, that:

Sources in the diplomatic corps in Edinburgh, which is home to nearly 50 consulates and diplomatic missions, have told the Guardian they think the tide of opinion has shifted significantly in recent months, after a noticeable swing against David Cameron’s government and the no campaign.

One senior diplomat, who asked not to be named, said he had believed last year that a yes vote was unlikely, but had since changed his mind. In his view “it is now likely, but not certain” that Scotland would vote yes in September, he said.

…it struck me that while I’d tend to the view that the No vote will shade it – and perhaps by a considerable margin, still, it’s not as if those in Scotland viewing the prospect of independence (of sorts) find they like it less the more they look. The polling data is interesting too:

While backing for independence in the Survation poll was slightly down on its poll last month, Yes Scotland said the average of all recent polls put a yes vote at 46% and no at 54% – a difference of eight points compared with a 38% to 62% gap last November.

That’s still some weight against the proposal, but… but…

Could it happen? And what of the broader context if it did in relation to these islands?

More on that state visit… April 10, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish History, Irish Politics.
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…a curious tone I thought to this piece from Mary Warnock in the Guardian this morning in relation to the attendance by Martin McGuinness at a state lunch. It’s something about the language, a sort of detachment that perhaps characterises the level of engagement on the part of many English (and/or British) in relation to matters relating to Northern Ireland. And that can manifest as an oddly – or perhaps not – partial view of matters. Take for example the following:

Of course, we cannot overlook the horrors of the Orange marches, nor the continuing hatred between Catholics and Protestants.

I know what she’s getting at when she says ‘horrors’ but that simultaneously seems to exaggerate and diminish the broader dynamics which they are representative of. Or what of the following where we are treated to an old chestnut – old, but no truer about the Irish than any other people:

Though people sometimes talk as if the Troubles began in the 1970s, this is far from true. They were centuries old; and the Irish have extraordinarily long memories. (I did not live for nearly 50 years with an atheist but fanatically Protestant Ulsterman without becoming aware of this.)

Guardian editorial on the Higgins state visit to Britain April 8, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Irish Politics.
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…which can be found here. Some very useful points made in the last paragraph which underscore how far from Britain and the UK itself being changeless there’s considerable movement afoot.

Some in Britain will be tempted to dismiss the Higgins visit as a sideshow. But this is not how it is seen in Ireland. That’s worth remembering, because the networks of connection between the different nations of these islands are currently being put to the test. The Scottish referendum, like the history of British-Irish relations, is a reminder that nations and states can evolve as well as endure. The British – the English, in particular – have paid too little attention to this, with the consequences that now loom in Scotland. This week’s pageantry and mutual self-congratulation should not mask the reality that political relationships in these islands have rarely been in such flux.

Not sure about the rest of it though. A fairly superficial analysis in parts.

And an archive of British Labour materials from 1923 onwards… April 7, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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…can be found here. Genuinely interesting stuff.

Speaking of polls… March 31, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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…some strange one’s in the UK. In the wake of the Budget it appeared that the Labour lead was dipping – in some instances significantly. And yet, and yet, the extremely good UK Polling Report notes that there remains a projected Labour majority of 32 – which is down and the average is 37 for the LP and 34 for Tories with 10 for the LDs.

This weekend brought two polls, one from the Observer which had Con 32, Lab 33, LD 10 and UKIP on 15, and another from the Sunday Times which had Con 33, Lab 40, LD 9 and UKIP 11.

This variability suggests that there’s considerable churn, but it also suggests

And as UK PR notein relation to the ST poll:

These would have been perfectly normal a fortnight ago, but contrast with the average Labour leads of two points or so that we’ve had for the last week. All the normal caveats apply – it could be a sign that the post-budget narrowing of the polls is coming to an end and things are headed back to the pre-budget situation, or it could just be random sample error, and next week’s polls will be back to leads of one or two points. Wait and see.

UK PR also reflects on the figures on the European Election voting intentions from the ST where tellingly, “CON 24%, LAB 32%, LDEM 11%, UKIP 23%, GRN 5%.”. Difficult not to think that that reflects a clearer assessment (in terms of distance between LP and Tory) than the headline figures seen elsewhere given that the Euro’s are imminent – though it also points up the danger for the LP that much of its vote can be ‘captured’ as it were.

What are unions? March 14, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy, The Left.
3 comments

Following on the post from the Bottom Dog a week or two back let’s consider another example of the hollowing out of the workplace and rights for workers.

Businesses certainly seem to have an opinion about unions, that being – in many instances – that they’re a problem. Nick Cohen relates a gloomy tale in the Observer a couple of weeks back (and apologies for the delay in posting this but some trouble in the Ukraine sort of upset the schedule!) when he writes about the example of Boots. Boots was until fairly recently a ‘solid Nottingham (based) retailer), but all that changed when an US-based ‘private equity firm [that] specialises in borrowing money to take over established firms, and then sweats the assets and restructures the firm to pay off the debt and take the profits’ took them over six years or so ago.

And Cohen points to the practical impacts of that sort of dynamic, one where capital is now supreme and workers are utterly expendable.

Less examined are the intellectual consequences of the power imbalance. The notion that employers exploit workers has a precarious place when established society hails the executive or the dealmaker as the real wealth creator. Workers do not create, so they cannot be exploited. They are cost centres to be squeezed, when they are not being patronised.

That example?

If this sounds like radical language, consider the position of an upright group of men and women. Boots’ private equity owners are so jealous of their profits and contemptuous, arguably, of their workforce that pharmacists must seek a change in the very laws of the land to get the bosses to talk to them.

Because…

In 2012, the Pharmaceutical Defence Association asked Boots if it would recognise it as a trade union. This was a mild demand, indeed no demand at all. We still have free trade unions in this country and rights to association are still regarded as fundamental liberties, although you would be forgiven for not knowing it. Pharmacists need them as much as everyone else. They are caught in a trap, which is closing on many middle-class people.

And then the company did a neat turn and…

…strung the Pharmaceutical Defence Association along, then pulled a trick on it. Rather than recognise the independent trade union, it said it would deal with a Boots staff association instead. John Murphy, the general secretary of the rejected union and a former Boots chemist, said that the staff association didn’t challenge the employer or seek to negotiate or bargain collectively.

Subsequently the PDA took this through the courts and it transpires that while Boots may have a right to not recognise the union it may also be in breach of the European Convention.

As Cohen notes;

All this just so pharmacists can have the right to raise legitimate concerns with their vastly rich and proud employers.

The worst aspect of this, the very worst, is that it is the workers themselves who want a union to represent them and not some house-trained ‘staff association’ that has no ability to present their case in a sustained fashion.
Even given the power that companies have for some that is insufficient, it is necessary to so totally dominate and control structures that they will allow for no dissent whatsoever. I continue to find it remarkable how unremarked all this actually is, that companies themselves by their intrinsic structures, tend to be the most regimented and undemocratic entities in the societies we live in. Given how much time so many of us spend within those structures this blind spot is curious – itself a reflection of how hegemonic capital actually is.

And as Cohen concludes.

The crisis that the soaring growth of inequalities of wealth and power has brought can be glimpsed everywhere. You can see it in the inability of the young to afford an ordinary house in an ordinary street. You can see it in the vast levels of debt weighing down on ordinary working- and middle-class families, and you can see it at the Boots pharmaceutical counter, where chemists are treated like red revolutionaries just for wanting to negotiate with their employer as free men and women.

I’ve mentioned before how some years back Cohen wrote that this society (by which he meant advanced capitalist western democracies like the UK and Ireland) were about as left-wing as they plausibly could be. I thought him wrong then, and hope that the last few years has shaken him out of that mindset, because without question they can certainly be a hell of a lot more right-wing.

Behold the wonderful new UK economy… March 13, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy.
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The scale of the use of zero-hours contracts has been revealed after a revision of official figures showed that nearly 583,000 employees – more than double the government’s estimate – were forced to sign up to the controversial conditions last year.

That from the Guardian.

And let’s remember that as LP shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna says about zero-hour contracts… ‘less-secure’…’once marginal and niche’… and the figures above may still be an under-estimate because as the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority said:
[he] feared that some workers were not telling the surveyors about their zero-hours contracts simply because they did not understand what they were. He said in a letter: “It is evident that there are some risks of such estimates being too low due to individuals not describing their working arrangement as being a ‘zero-hours’ contract to the interviewer.”
Not every job is worth doing. Some aren’t worth looking at. And let’s note the reality of ‘zero-hours contracts’, even if it will bear watching whether the person outlining this reality will – if given the opportunity – do much to ameliorate them, let alone roll them back…

Ed Miliband told the TUC last year that he would ban the exploitation of workers on zero-hours contracts by banning employers from insisting employees on the contracts are available even when there is no guarantee of any work, ending “exclusivity clauses” and stopping the use of the contracts when employees are in practice working regular hours.

Services and manufacturing March 11, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy, Irish Politics.
6 comments

William Keegan in the Observer points to some curious facts at the weekend.

Writing about a ’40-year old Tory obsession with services that has served no one’, he argues that:

As I wasted several hours on the telephone last week to various branches of BT stretching from here to India, I reflected on what a farce modern management has made of privatisation.
True, there are those who recall having to wait to get the old, nationalised BT to install a new line; but I seem to remember that in those days if your phone was out of order, you merely rang a three-digit number and called an engineer. Nowadays it requires endless calls and a truly Kafkaesque routine of questions and “procedures”.

And this points to a reality about services that he then outlines, that for all the rhetoric service is overstated, massively so in some instances.

I fear there is a wider problem with modern management. They outsource to cut costs and make life difficult for the customer. And part of their secret is to make the consumer do the work. Indeed, I am lost in admiration for the way some modern businesses have managed to force so many people to “go online” and do the things that the business itself should be doing if it really wanted to provide a “service”.

We can see a particularly pointed example of same in relation to the way the banks here are currently offloading anything that could be regarded as a ‘service’ to customers and charging handsomely for same (indeed the SBP’s money doctor had a piece on same and it is breathtaking how cynical and mercenary that process actually is).

Anyhow Keegan notes that privatisation and service oriented policy/ideology had odd roots:

The biggest joke is that the originators of the drive towards privatisation – Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher – somehow convinced themselves that the future of the British economy lay with the development of “services”. Jim Prior, employment secretary in Thatcher’s first cabinet, wrote of the Treasury ministers at the time: “None of them had any experience of running a whelk stall, let alone a decent-sized company. Their attitude to manufacturing industry bordered on the contemptuous. They shared the view of the other monetarists in the cabinet – that we were better suited as a nation to being a service economy and should no longer worry about production.”

That dislocation between ideology and experience is remarkable, isn’t it? Having worked in the private sector for most of my working life I’ve always been amazed by the rhetorical boosterism by some politicians of an area that is – to put it kindly – problematical. Indeed a lack of proportion in regard to its very real weaknesses (whatever it’s certain strengths) is endemic now – one which surely matches or exceeds the most credulous adherent of the unreconstructed command economy.

Still, I tend to think there’s a more fundamental reason for the reification of ‘services’ and the indifference (shading into antagonism) for manufacturing, for it was in the latter that unionisation in the private sector was at its strongest while in the former it was weaker, and by extending one it was thought that the power of unions would weaken further. So this was intrinsically ideological a decision, and note that economically the concentration on one at the expense of the other seems at this remove to be so deeply problematic that even the Tories are having to make some efforts to to pay lip service to ameliorating the situation of manufacturing in the UK.

And Keegan makes one very basic point when he notes that:

…veteran Labour MP Michael Meacher says in his eminently readable new book, The State We Need – Keys to the Renaissance of Britain: “Any sustainable growth of living standards can only be built on a strong and resilient manufacturing base. Therefore rebuilding that badly weakened manufacturing capacity, halved in the last 30 neoliberal years, should be made an overriding aim for the next Labour government.”

Well, maybe the LP in the UK will do that. Maybe.

Welfare ‘reform’ in the UK and public support. February 26, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Austerity, British Politics, The Left.
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A small snippet from the always useful UK Polling Report.

Also worth noting there is an interesting non-Scotland related question – YouGov repeated a question from last April about the government’s welfare reform package as a whole, freezes, caps, bedroom tax, etc. Back in April 2013 56% of people said they supported them, 31% were opposed. Now 49% support them, 38% are opposed – so still more in support than against, but a significant movement over the last year.

A depressingly high figure of support, but suggestive of a situation where reactionary measures can be pushed back against and that public opinion is far from set on such matters.

The new UK ‘Workers’ Party… February 25, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics.
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…dear God, no.

Speaking at the new Conservative campaign headquarters, the Tory chairman will say: “The Conservatives are the Workers’ party and we are on your side.”

BTW, btw… check this out.

The name of the Workers’ party has a long, if less than noble, history. It was the moniker taken by former supporters of the Official IRA, which split from the Provisional IRA in 1969, when they broke from paramilitarism in the 1970s. Provisionals refer to the Officials as “stickies”

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