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Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

We’re all in this together (Part II)

August 11, 2010 Leave a comment

So this is what societal regression looks like.

Cost of benefit fraud to the UK economy (2008-09): £900m (all figures approximations per annum)

Cost of the tax gap to the UK economy: anything from £40bn to £120bn

Demonising the poor, encouraging widespread cronyism, pursuing a discredited, economically illiterate agenda and ruining any chance of recovery: erm…priceless?

The unequivocally appalling rhetoric emerging from Cameron himself over the weekend is that, rather than challenge the vast amount of potential tax revenue lost through tax avoidance (not a crime, albeit socially irresponsible) and tax evasion (accounting for the overwhelming majority of the tax gap and a criminal act), they would rather attack some of the poorest members of society. Benefit fraud is undoubtedly a (relatively minor) problem but accounts for a minimal amount of the total fraudulent activity in the UK each year. Of the £5bn figure quoted by Cameron, a significant majority is in the form of benefit error, rather than fraud.

This is all illustrated strikingly by the following rather interesting graph from Left Foot Forward, and reinforced by this damning indictment of the Tory’s misguided focus from Richard Murphy at Tax Research UK.

In addition to attempting to denigrate and stigmatise those on low incomes for pretty much their entire duration in office thus far, the Tories have made a further disgraceful decision over the monitoring of this alleged rampant benefit fraud. Through incentivising credit reference agencies to seek out cases of benefit fraud (surely a move that will only encourage individuals to use cash rather than credit), there is a serious risk of accusations been levied at perfectly innocent people. By all accounts, over 80% of current allegations of benefit fraud are found to be malicious – a figure that will only rise under the new system. There is an absolute necessity for regulation of the credit reference agencies within this context, although this will almost certainly not be forthcoming.

It’s also fairly unsurprising to discover that there are vested interests between certain credit reference agencies and the Tory party themselves. Experian, one of the UK’s leading credit reference agencies, already has a contract to inspect housing benefit claimants and, with Michael Spencer as its founder, has a major Tory party donor as one of its leading lights.

It’s ultimately a classic illustration of Tory politics. Attack the most vulnerable in society through protecting the interests of the wealthy, replacing state services with unregulated and incompetent private sector provision, a fair amount of cronyism if not corruption itself, and an outcome which only damages society and the economy further. It really has been remarkable to watch just how low the Tories will sink. New depths are reached with every passing week and the downward trajectory shows little sign of abating. Should they not successfully manage to achieve the most blatant and undemocratic piece of gerrymandering in recent decades, they will incur serious damage to their credibility during this first term of office.

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Vote Tactically

This post was originally going to list all the potential failings that a Tory government would likely possess, and the subsequently damaging impact that these would have upon the UK in the foreseeable future. However, such is the overwhelming presence of similar articles doing the rounds in the mainstream media and blogosphere, a simple picture seems a rather more effective warning.

Vote tactically. Don’t let The Conservatives destroy everything they touch.

The threat to media diversity

October 9, 2009 Leave a comment

labourslostitAs was touched upon in this post, and following a week in which we have seen The Sun unsurprisingly shift its political allegiance to the Conservative Party, the influence that the media holds over our parliamentary representatives has never been greater.

The Sun has a remarkable track record in recent general elections of always backing the winning party. Is this merely that it closely matches the prevailing mood of the British public or, rather, that it shapes this public opinion through its editorial stance? Obviously these processes are not mutually exclusive, yet the idea that the present UK media could strongly influence UK public opinion is deeply troubling.

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The timing of The Sun’s shift in political allegiance (on the night after Gordon Brown’s keynote speech at the Labour Party conference) was intended to cause maximum damage to the Labour brand at a particularly sensitive time. Labour, to their discredit, appeared to fall into denial. Dismissive and mocking of The Sun’s decision, whilst simultaneously not failing to make repeat mentions of it throughout the remainder of the conference.

Labour are concerned and rightfully so. Clearly, there is more to this story than a mere editorial decision. Cameron openly welcomed The Sun’s move with an element of faux-surprise. His disingenuously earnest face matched by his now all-too-familiar empty rhetoric about ‘the task in hand’. Whilst The Sun’s decision has the dirty prints of the Tories all over it, particularly with respect to its timing, the even filthier paw of the Murdochs left its greasy residue for all to see. The Sun openly admitted so, yet this makes their overwhelming involvement no more palatable.

It has become increasingly clear that the Murdochs are fantasising over the potential dismantling of the BBC, and the Tories are happy to comply if it gains the support of one of the globe’s most powerful media actors. Both have made threatening noises over the perceived media dominance of the inefficient behemoth that is the contemporary BBC. The Conservatives will almost certainly prevent any further rises to the licence fee over the coming years, which (due to inflationary pressures) will significantly reduce the BBC’s amount of revenue leading to possible job losses, lower quality programming, and the loss of channels BBC3 and BBC4.

Mini Murdoch has, unsurprisingly, reinforced such attacks upon the BBC, citing in a speech at this year’s Edinburgh TV festival that the BBC’s prominent position across a range of media is a threat to private competition. Such apparent concern for retaining media plurality is disingenuous at best, given the apparent ease in which the Murdoch empire continues to expand, removing many competing media outlets as it does so. The BBC stands as a major obstacle to a Murdoch media monopoly, an entity that would prove extremely threatening to democratic ideals in the UK.

Given the apparently coincidental coalescence of both the Murdoch and Tory attitudes to the UK media’s future, it is pertinent to question the relationship between the two. It seems increasingly likely that a behind-the-scenes deal has been brokered. The Tories will emasculate the BBC in its current form, providing an increasingly open media market for the Murdoch empire to further increase its presence and, potentially, control. In return, the Murdochs will use their increasingly dominant media presence to promote the Conservative Party and its ideals. An easy decision given the favourable economic and sociopolitical climate that the Tories will provide for the Murdochs. Make no mistake, this is an overwhelmingly political decision. The creation of this coalition is a serious threat to an already divided and weak British Left.

Further evidence is provided by the Conservative’s threats/blackmailing of The Guardian. Removing the newspaper’s invaluable revenue stream by ensuring that “all government and local authority jobs will only be advertised on a single government-run website” could very conceivably lead to its destruction. The notion that both the BBC and The Guardian have given the Conservative Party a relatively easy ride in recent months is becoming increasingly prevalent. Blackmailing the media’s Left into submission is a cowardly act by a Party that is only too self-aware of the unpalatable nature of many of its policies and members.

The financial crisis is central to these recent media developments. Besides obviously suffering a sharp reduction in advertising revenue, the Murdoch’s media empire represents a world view that has become almost wholly discredited. The same view that is largely shared by the Conservatives. The idea that unfettered markets have failed is unquestionably damaging to the Right. However, much of the UK media has spun the lie that it is the monolithic UK state that is to blame for our economic downturn – a view widely supported by the Conservatives. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the UK public appear to be buying this myth. A fact that has not gone unnoticed to Murdoch et al.

Whilst global opinion favours a return to more Keynesian economic models, the Conservatives will reduce state expenditure on a level not experienced since the Thatcher era. Despite such ideas holding little credibility amongst most prominent economists, they do gain support from many media owners. The gravest short-term danger of this Conservative-Murdoch alliance is that the UK public will support economic reforms that will lead to a double-dip recession. The long-term effects could be even more damaging. Attacking what remains of the media Left will only serve to reduce government accountability in the UK – a healthy society has a balanced political spectrum. Without a credible opposition, government can operate with impunity.

A final note should be made of a definite trend, particularly (although not exclusively) prevalent amongst media outlets on the Right of the political divide, for misinforming the public. The mythical association between the state and the financial crisis is relatively benign in comparison to the recent rise in the number of children suffering measles infections – a direct consequence of Right-wing media outlets’ lies regarding the MMR vaccine. Recent belligerence from the Daily Mail with respect to the alleged (though completely unfounded) dangers of the cervical cancer vaccine suggests little has changed.

This is (sh)it

September 28, 2009 1 comment

This is it?

cameron

Hardly.

As Britain dumbly meanders its way towards a change of government (http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/voting-intention), how exactly have the Tories come to be viewed as a credible, electable party?

With the current round of UK political party conferences, and in the run-up to next year’s general election, it is inevitable that slogans will be created, tv news channels will go into overdrive, and manifestos shall be set out. The new Tory slogan, at least according to BBC2’s Newsnight sometime-last-week, This is it, is rather apt for a party who remain seemingly vague on detail for the vast majority of issues that the UK public consider of greatest importance.

With the clear prominence of economic concerns amongst the UK public (“54% place it amongst the most important issues” – Ipsos Mori Poll, August 2009), it seems incredible to consider that the Tories are yet to lay out a full, ‘progressive’ string of economic policies, choosing to place their wholly negative approach towards opposing the globally-implemented fiscal stimulus packages (as Gordon Brown ventured in Pittsburgh) whilst retaining their evident fetish for cutting away a politically-threatening public sector.

The Conservative Party, already isolated within the EU, will find few friends in the international community with what could be kindly termed against-the-grain economic reforms. The fiscal stimulus is working: much of the world is moving out of an unexpectedly short-lived recession. The global consensus is moving away from favouring the unfettered market, calling instead for far stricter market regulation and a stronger role for the state.

The Tories remain at odds with such principles and, operating within a culture of greater international cooperation and national economic success dependent upon coordinating with global economic trends, the Conservatives are likely to leave Britain diplomatically isolated with a weak economy characterised by high unemployment and crippling interest rates besides a lack of overseas investment and little available personal credit to encourage spending (critical in a nation heavily reliant on its service industries). Admittedly, the national debt will undoubtedly be reduced, yet the likely benefit of this as a short-term plan is open to criticism, in addition to being unpopular with the UK public.

And what of their other plans for the UK? We can assume that the demonisation of single mothers, an increasingly privatised education system and the disgraceful removal of the Human Rights Act will happen. Perhaps most disconcerting is their proposed reform for the House of Commons, which will reduce the number of overall MPs, and will, surprise surprise, prove most beneficial to the Tories themselves. The implications are serious – a Conservative government will unfairly reduce the level of political influence for regions which are traditionally unlikely to support their party (and, insultingly, at the expense of the political void that is the South of England outside of London). This is a threat to future political plurality in the UK and those who support democratic choice (as many undoubtedly should in a culture that misguidedly prides itself on a sense of fair play which is rarely evident) should be strongly opposed. Although providing a broad outline, the current Conservative Party manifesto appears short on detail. Policies are stated with little reference to how exactly these can be implemented.

Perhaps Tory policy appears weakly conceived due to the failure to communicate with the British public. This is quite possibly not the problem it appears however. The party’s current popularity suggests that the UK public are disconcertingly undiscerning when it comes to their media consumption. Inextricably linked to the Conservative Party’s undeniable popularity, is the uncritical nature of the UK media towards them, as Alastair Campbell notes in last week’s  (21 September) edition of the New Statesman:

Journalists, particularly after so-called Labour spin, like to pride themselves on their refusal to be spun. They are being spun big style: what they write is informed by their view that Cameron has won. Anything that points in that direction is news. Anything that doesn’t, isn’t. If he does win, he will do so as the most underexamined, under-scrutinised, untested and policy-lite leader in history…

It’s looking bleak.