September 29, 2013
I was there. The turn-out for the march and the rally was astonishing, and the Conservative Party cannot pretend not to realise the depth of feeling against them around the country now.
Does David Cameron have any new policies that are big enough to silence the rising clamour of discontent against him?
He’ll need something big – Coalition partners the Liberal Democrats managed only a tax on plastic bags (an idea stolen from the Labour Welsh government) and a few weak cries of “Please let us stay in government after 2015”.
The married couples’ tax allowance isn’t it. It seems this is how the Tories plan to spend any money saved by imposing the bedroom tax, and people are already naming it as an election bribe – albeit a poor one at £3.85 a week.
He has set aside £700 million for the scheme, which is more than the government would have spent if it had not imposed the bedroom tax.
A brand-new ComRes poll is showing that 60 per cent of voters agree with Labour’s plan to abolish the bedroom…
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September 26, 2013
by Martin Odoni
We, by which I mean the Western world and further, have gone through over five years of the worst financial crisis since before World War II, so we are told. The crisis has been cynically blamed on widescale ‘over-spending’ on welfare, accusations of public sector self-indulgence that I and many others have debunked elsewhere. In truth, the damage was done by ridiculous risk-taking in the financial services sector, chiefly in the United States of America, but by no means limited to there.
But irrespective of whose fault it is that the financial crisis happened, the simple fact is that it is still here, and one of the consequences for the UK was that the last Labour Government, headed up by Gordon Brown, chose to hand the banks a series of enormous bail-outs of public money to prevent the whole financial system collapsing. This more or less quadrupled the National Debt owed by the British Public Sector in the blinking of an eye. The exact debt the country owes depends very much on which calculation, and indeed which definition, you use. By the kindest calculation i.e. the one that leaves out all private sector debts, including ones that have public sector overlaps, the country owes roughly £1.4 trillion. By other, more realistic calculations, it is somewhere between £5 trillion and £6 trillion.
Since the present Coalition Government came to power, it has been in the grip of what seems a frenzied obsession with paying down the National Debt as the only way it can think of to end the crisis. To do this, it thinks it would need to dismantle the structural Deficit i.e. put a complete stop to the amount it has to borrow each year to meet its spending commitments.
This is not quite the case though. While there is no doubt that the National Debt is too high – it damages the country’s credit rating and also can put an unhappy strain on international relations – it is certainly not the out-of-control runaway locomotive that the Government seems convinced it is. Indeed, it’s not exactly a problem. It contains an absurdity, for sure, and one day it might well evolve into a real problem, should economies in certain other countries collapse, but as things stand, it really is not a big deal at all.
The National Public Sector Debt is largely just the sum total credit belonging to non-Government agencies (which we shall call ‘the creditors’, although a lot of them are exporters instead) in deposit accounts within the Bank Of England.
What happens is that, when the UK Government purchases goods or services from a foreign country, it sets up a deposit account (yes, just like the sort of deposit account you get in a regular High Street Bank) within the Bank Of England in the creditor’s name, and credits that account for the full cost of the goods purchased. Whilst the money is in the deposit account, it can’t be used for purchasing anything (again, just like in a normal High Street Bank deposit account), but it receives a high rate of interest. This account is sometimes called a ‘Gilt’, a ‘Bond’, or a ‘Security’.
Now, when the deposit account ‘matures’ i.e. reaches the date when it needs to be paid back, all the Government has to do is to transfer the whole sum into a current account in the creditor’s name, again within the Bank Of England. (Yes, yet again it works in exactly the same way as a current account on the High Street; low interest rates, if any, but the sums can now be used for making payments.) Then the Government simply has to forward credit notes for the total to the creditor. That credit note will allow the creditor to claim any British goods available for sale up to that total, without having to pay any money for them.
Once that total is off the creditor’s deposit account and into the current account, the debt is officially paid off. That’s all that most of the National Debt really is, just a combined total of credit notes that haven’t been printed yet, because the respective deposits haven’t matured. As soon as one of these credit notes is printed, its sum is no longer part of the Public Sector Debt.
And that’s it. That’s all that happens.
This is happening with trade deal after trade deal every single day. But new deals are also being struck every single day, which is one of the reasons why the Debt never seems to go down.
And the most important point, before anyone asks, is this; no, the credit notes cannot be cashed in by the creditors for international transfer. The creditors cannot demand money in their place, or that they be paid off in gold, or some-such; the pound-sterling is not signed up to the gold-standard, it is a non-convertible currency.
The upshot of this is that the British Government doesn’t have to send its creditors any actual money. All it has to do is just give a guarantee to let the creditors claim British-owned sales goods to the value of the amount owed – in other words, it has to give them the credit notes. What the creditor chooses to do with a credit note once received is really up to him. He can leave it in limbo, he can use it to open another deposit account within the Bank Of England to increase the interest further, he can genuinely use it to claim sales goods (in the unlikely event that he can find any available on the British market worth having), or he can even trade it to someone else. But those are pretty much the only options the creditor will have. There is near enough nothing that he can do to get the money itself. (Well, he could demand the cash, technically, but he would have to come all the way to London and collect it himself, and then ship it all the way back home under his own steam. And why would he bother doing that, when all those pound notes are only really usable in the UK?)
There is a point of bad honour in this, in that the UK has effectively taken vast quantities of goods from countless trading partners without really paying for them (“What else is new?” cries most of the Commonwealth). But looked at in purely practical terms, there is no real need, as things presently stand, for the UK to pay off the National Debt at all. The creditors would have known the risks when they sold their goods to the UK (and indeed to other countries) in the first place – that they were never going to receive any actual money for the goods, only credit to their agreed value that they could eventually purchase British-owned market goods with in return. Such a trade is merely an exchange-in-waiting. From the moment the value of the sum is transferred to a Bank Of England current account, the creditor can use it to make purchases on the British market, therefore he has received the ‘purchasing power’ the deal entitles him to as though the credit were real money, so the debt is classed as ‘paid off’.
Even if the creditors find there is never anything on the British market that they wish to buy, there is every possibility that at least some of them will continue trading with the UK, depending mainly on which country he is from. For instance, countries that are ‘export-driven’ (see below), such as China, are more or less compelled to keep selling to the UK – and yes, even more so to the USA – even though there is seldom anything they can do with the credits they receive. This is because if they do not keep exporting, their own economies will collapse; they will only have their own markets to sell to (and maybe a few countries with much smaller markets of their own), but if they have little or no internal demand because of inadequate pay-rates among the general population, which is usually the case, most of their goods will go unsold, and the industries will have to stop retailing or producing, causing surges in unemployment. This is why the Chinese Government currently holds an ever-growing mountain of over $2 trillion at the US Federal Reserve, and hardly ever uses any of it – because it needs to keep exporting to the US to keep its heavy-manufacturing base turning over, but can hardly ever find anything it can use from the US markets to take back in return.
Because Britain has little native manufacturing industry, it has to keep importing, as it would struggle to meet its population’s own needs if imports stopped. (This is quite different from the position of the USA, which still has a large native industrial base that can ‘kick in’ very quickly if necessary.) So for the sake of trading relationships, it would be best for the UK if it can get the Debt down quite substantially in real terms – say by going back to manufacturing goods again that creditors would actually want to buy – especially in case circumstances in exporting countries were to change. Say the Chinese economy did collapse, or introduced a substantial minimum wage for its workers to stimulate domestic demand, then the British would have to look elsewhere for many of the imports it needs. Not all prospective trading partners will be ‘export-driven’ in the same way as China, in which case the bad real-terms record of the UK as a trading partner would come back to haunt the negotiations – the new prospective exporter might say, “You people never produce anything that I would want to buy, so what use are your credit notes going to be to me? Pay me in dollars or euros, or something!” But one way or another, this has almost nothing to do with the methods the Coalition Government are trying to employ to reduce the Debt anyway.
The Public Sector Debt is not really a crisis after all, and it’s not even an issue to any great extent, at least not yet, and it won’t be until a major export partner collapses. But the problem is that nobody in Parliament seems to be aware of how the National Debt really works, of how little pressure there really is to pay it off, or of how simply (and automatically) it is paid. All they do is see the huge numbers involved, nearly have a heart attack, and respond by taking a hatchet to necessary services in order to cut costs. In-so-doing, they cause economic slowdowns that reduce tax yields and so make the borrowing requirement grow even bigger.
The Government’s whole approach is quite pointless, and it has caused much needless suffering for many people, to no achievable end. We are still lumbered with a crisis that is in large part a phantom, even though its effects are very real.
That the crisis is ongoing after half a decade is a testament, not to national self-indulgence, but to national self-harm.
September 25, 2013
by Martin Odoni
(NB: This review was originally published on the Amazon UK website in March 2012. Therefore, it does not reflect information released with the Report Of The Hillsborough Independent Panel.)
In hindsight, Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough is possibly a little over-rated, as it doesn’t exactly go out of its way to let the audience draw its own conclusions about (undoubtedly) one of the most flagrant instances of British legal corruption in the Twentieth Century. But even if its message could have been stated a little more subtly, it was probably for the best that it wasn’t, given the then-widespread misunderstanding of what happened on 15th April 1989. The Disaster had been badly and cynically misportrayed in the media and in Government for over seven years by the time the docu-drama was made, and correcting for this had to be the first priority. That the film had to be made at all was a tragedy in its own right, and over-rated or not, it is still one of the great British docu-dramas.
It is undeniably harrowing, effective viewing, acted with great realism by a gifted and knowledgeable cast; a very young Christopher Eccleston portrays Trevor Hicks so convincingly, for instance, that it’s easy to miss that he was probably too young, while Ricky Tomlinson, as John Glover, shows he can do drama at least as effectively as he can do parody.
Every time I watch the film I well up, alternately wanting to cry at the needless loss of life, and shaking with the same powerless rage that the families of the Disaster’s victims forever feel, in the face of the bungling and mendacity of the South Yorkshire Police force, and the heartless indifference of the Thatcher/Major Government. (How sad that the likes of Paul Middup, Irvine Patnick and Bernard Ingham weren’t given the ‘treatment’ in this as well.)
Most of the scenes portraying the unfolding Disaster are remarkably well done given budget limits, although the reconstruction of the scenes on the Leppings Lane terrace is a bit obvious. But what stands out above all is the very accurately bleak, almost insidious atmosphere. That ninety-six lives could be lost through such casual negligence, and that grieving relatives of the victims could
be treated with such callous disregard, provide the bleakness; that such insensitive and cowardly attempts to obscure the causes could occur provides the insidiousness.
Sadly, the cut of the film that appears on this DVD has been significantly abridged (costing it a star in my rating); after objections logged with the Broadcasting Complaints Commission by one former policeman about the way he was portrayed in them, scenes showing medical information being falsified before submission to the Coroner’s Inquests – including an officer being pressured into changing his statement – have been excised.
In the years after the film was made, it was discovered that the South Yorkshire Police had edited over one hundred and eighty statements that their officers had written for submission to the Inquiry into the Disaster. The edits were trying to play down reference to the poor performance of the match commanders and to play up references to supposed crowd misbehaviour. One is given to wonder what extra impact the film would have had, were these additional details known then. Between the ‘mysterious disappearance’ of two CCTV tapes from the stadium control room during the evening after the crush, the untrue assertion that one of the CCTV cameras covering pens 3 and 4 on Leppings Lane was malfunctioning, the pressuring of several key witnesses to change their stories, the alteration of witness statements, the incorrect imposition of a 3:15pm ‘cut-off’ time for information from the day of the Disaster to be considered valid at the Coroner’s Inquests, and the persistent smear campaign against the Liverpool supporters in the media, the Hillsborough cover-up should be seen as one of the most vile legal scandals in living memory. How no one in the SYP has ever been convicted over the cover-up (to say nothing of over the Disaster itself) is an indictment of the British judicial system.
More essays about the Hillsborough Disaster: –
September 24, 2013
A neat sum-up of why all the interminable hysteria over the Public Sector Debt is actually making a mountain-range-out-of-one-half-dug-molehill (although yes, it would be better if it was lower), and why the Government’s boasts about keeping interest rates low are in fact a confession of economic self-injury.
The Tory Party conference is coming up, so expect to hear lots about how they literally saved the country from becoming like Greece, tackling the deficit head on and paying down Britain’s debt. The reality’s a little different though. Mercifully, and despite their better efforts, the deficit has remained high, as the government’s cuts have been offset by higher welfare spending and lower tax take. The high deficit seems to be supporting the economy just enough to allow a weak recovery at the moment. The national debt however, continues to grow.
All the main parties want us to fear government debt and play on our wish for our children to have a better life by constantly talking about the burden we are placing on future generations. To a large extent, this scaremongering has worked. Most people hate austerity, but accept “there is no alternative”. We must get the deficit down.
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September 20, 2013
To understand the true Imperialistic nature of the USA, you only need analyse its historic relationship with Syria, and from there to understand the real reasons its leadership wishes to intervene militarily in the civil war there.
In 2003 in the run-up to the Iraq War, tens of millions protested around the world. The New York Times was forced to take note and acknowledge there were two superpowers in the world – the United States and the people.
The people failed to stop that war, but the people are playing a critical role in resolving the crisis in Syria without war.
The peoples’ response was essential to the reversal of President Obama’s stated desire to bomb Syria in the face of what sounded like a done deal, given the mass media’s promise that bombing would start on Thursday – now three weeks ago. Diplomacy has quickly resulted in a framework for the removal of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons, although we recognize that sometimes diplomacy is a prelude to war.
This situation may be temporary, and there are still many opportunities for the United States…
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September 19, 2013
by Martin Odoni
Every great drama needs its pantomime villain, it’s the only way a drama can be coherent in the average person’s mind; to have someone to personalise the wrongdoing. Where would Shakespeare’s works have been without his portrayals of MacBeth, Shylock, Richard III, Cassius, Edmund of Gloucester, and so on? What would Dallas have amounted to without JR Ewing? Where would the Star Wars trilogy have been without Darth Vader? House Of Cards without Francis Urquhart/Frank Underwood (depending which version you’re watching) would be like a book without pages.
The pantomime villain is almost omni-present.
The problem is, that’s drama. It’s fiction, and fiction has a wonderful knack for making the complexities of injustice look reassuringly simple, and it can become a serious hindrance to putting things right when that simplified image is mentally superimposed on the real world by the wider public.
So with Sir Norman Bettison and the Hillsborough Disaster. (If you need a recap of exactly who Bettison is, and what his role was in Hillsborough, please read this.) Now I am certainly not disputing, nor have I ever disputed – despite words that certain ‘individuals’ have tried to put in my mouth – that Bettison is the epitome of the bent copper. A read-through of the record of corruption in the West Yorkshire Police force during his time in charge of it is enough to make even the most hardened cynic’s face turn so white it would glow in the dark. And yes, despite his denials, there is a very real probability that he was deliberately and actively involved in the Hillsborough cover-up itself. (Although it is still not certain. It has been pointed out to me by one survivor of the Disaster that, in the aftermath of the Taylor Interim Report’s publication in August 1989, Bettison was the officer in charge of ‘redacting’ video footage for presentation to Members of Parliament. This raises the probability that he selectively edited it to make the fan behaviour look worse than it really was, but again it is not certain, not without knowing far more detail about the redaction process. See pages 359-to-364 of the Report of the Hillsborough Independent Panel.)
However, there is an advancing tendency amongst more and more Hillsborough campaigners almost to view Bettison as the heart of everything that is wrong with human society. It is as though they think that if he were eliminated, the whole world would suddenly be put to rights.
Only the other day, I was studying on online conversation between Hillsborough campaigners regarding the notorious disappearance of two CCTV tapes from the Hillsborough video control room on the evening of the Disaster. The speculation that followed as to how the tapes had vanished inevitably turned to perfectly reasonable declarations that they had been stolen. (This is the only plausible conclusion, as the tapes were stored in a locked cupboard, and the control room had been locked as well after Sheffield Wednesday’s video technician, Roger Houldsworth, had put them away. There were apparently only two sets of keys, one set in the possession of the club, the other in the possession of the South Yorkshire Police.)
It is a symptom of the unthinking general animosity towards Bettison that almost immediately, people in the online conversation nominated him as one of the likeliest candidates to have stolen the tapes. This suggestion is a huge stretch, as all indications are that, by the time that Houldsworth had departed from the control room, Bettison had already left the stadium – probably upwards of an hour earlier. (Bettison’s witness statement reveals that he returned to the stadium around 1am, confirmed by the statement of DC Robert Hydes, but he went to the club gymnasium, being used as a temporary mortuary, to check ‘Missing Persons’ Reports against the list of confirmed dead, not to the control box.) And frankly there is no need to drag Bettison into the scenario at all when there were so many other South Yorkshire Police officers still in the stadium, some of whom, such as Assistant Chief Constable Walter Jackson (just for instance), would have had better access and more immediate motive to remove the tapes – it is doubtful in the extreme that Bettison would have known at this stage that there was anything to cover up.
Now I feel no inclination actually to defend Bettison, whose history as a police officer is quite unambiguously corrupt, irrespective of whether or not he really did take an active role in the Hillsborough cover-up – which, to repeat, he probably did. But at the same time, I am getting increasingly bothered by the ludicrous mental gymnastics some Hillsborough campaigners are prepared to resort to in their hopes of incriminating him. My main issue with this is that the fixation on Bettison is beginning to blot out every other aspect of the cover-up, which rather plays into the hands of the system that is the real root of the scandal.
To explain; one of the fundamental reasons the cover-up occurred in the first place is institutional, not personal. Sure, many officers near the peak of the hierarchy in the South Yorkshire Police were trying to protect their own reputations, but they were also semi-compelled to by the system of the Police Force itself. The culture of the police requires that it have an unsullied image of incorruptibility, and even where it has fallible practises, it must in any event appear to have infallible intentions. It requires this illusion in order to maintain the moral authority to do the job of governing the day-to-day activities of society, and of enforcing the Law. Any lawman who wishes to impose his view on what he perceives to be a violation of the Law will have little authority to do so if he himself has a known history of violations. The public just won’t trust him enough to co-operate with him. That problem can be multiplied by many scales when it happens to an entire Police force; any Police force that does not have the public on its side faces an uphill struggle to maintain order.
In the case of Hillsborough, the South Yorkshire Police did a lamentably poor job, both in terms of whom they selected to head up the operation (Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield, who had almost no experience policing a football match in over ten years), and in its prevailing attitude towards the people they were supposed to ensure the safety of. By treating football supporters as inherent scum, they were violating the ‘Duty-of-care’ that all police officers must sign up to on the day they join the force. With this dismal record of mismanagement before the day, and on the day, the only way for the South Yorkshire Police to maintain the illusion of moral authority was to create the secondary illusion that the Disaster was self-inflicted – that the supporters themselves were the creators of their own fate. This allowed the South Yorkshire Police, as a collective body, to maintain its position as the enforcers of the Law, by giving the appearance of being fully within their rights to do so: Even if we failed, they insisted, it was because we have our limits, not because we didn’t care. We may not be perfect, but we are not negligent, we are not corrupt. So long as this illusion was kept intact by the orchestrated campaign of blame-shifting, the wider public in Yorkshire would continue to trust them, and would be less prone to a skeptical or rebellious attitude to the authority of the police.
And it is this system, and the illusions that maintain it when it so clearly and desperately needs overhauling, that above all else need to be exposed, because without its mixture of complacency and evasion-of-responsibility, the Disaster would probably not have happened, and the cover-up certainly would not have happened. But instead, this growing obsession with going after Bettison, and trying to implicate him in parts of the cover-up that were nothing to do with him, is drawing attention away from that more fundamental issue. Yes, if Bettison was an active contributor in the cover-up, which he probably was, then he should be sent down for it, no arguments. And in any event, he deserves to go down for all the other dirty pies his grubby fingers have been in down the years*. But taking him to task will not even begin to address the systemic problems that allowed the Disaster and the cover-up, nor the culture of unaccountability, the dominant mentality of ‘enforce-the-law-without-being-subject-to-it’, which is clearly rampant throughout the British Police.
On the contrary, so long as Bettison remains the pantomime villain that keeps drawing everybody’s attention, he will give that system and the people near the apex exactly what they need in order to keep the broader illusion intact – a scapegoat. Let the public destroy him, they will think, let the public think all the corruption is embodied purely in Bettison, and maybe one or two of his accomplices. Then we won’t have to face the wrath of mass outrage, and we shan’t have to face the daunting task of reforming the system and changing its culture, all while still having to maintain order when the public have no confidence in us.
Any skilled trickster knows that, to maintain an illusion, you have to draw the audience’s attention away from the important part of what you are doing. By becoming fixated on Sir Norman Bettison, the audience is sparing the tricksters in the Police Force even the effort to draw their attention away; because the audience is distracting itself.
* It needs to be recognised that, while Bettison’s record is about as far from spotless as a police officer’s can be, not every accusation put his way will prove to be true. For instance, he was recently cleared by a Derbyshire Police investigation of alleged involvement in the attempted sale of stolen platinum wire while he was an Inspector with the South Yorkshire Police in 1987. Strangely, this case with the wire was defiantly presented to me a few months ago by one Hillsborough campaigner as ‘evidence’ that Bettison was definitely guilty of colluding in the Hillsborough cover-up. Given that it was a completely unrelated case, that seemed a gigantic leap anyway, but when the news came out of Bettison’s acquittal over the matter, it is noticeable that some Hillsborough campaigners reacted with outrage, proclaiming it to be yet another cover-up. As is so often the case with these mass outcries, there was a mindset of irrational stubbornness to the shrieking. Actual evidence stating why Bettison was guilty over the platinum wire incident was never put forward, beyond a very incongruous, “Well he must be guilty of this because he’s guilty of the Hillsborough cover-up!” So, to sum up, the stolen-wire incident proves his guilt over the Hillsborough cover-up, and the Hillsborough cover-up proves his guilt over the stolen-wire incident.
This is, need it even be said, circular reasoning of a very low standard.
What, indeed, would be the point of covering up Bettison’s would-be involvement in the stolen-wire scandal, when his name has spent over a year being dragged back-and-forth through the mud of the British media? Would evading this one scandal really make any positive difference to him?
Far more serious and concerning is Bettison’s apparent involvement in the Stephen Lawrence murder case in 1993, where his intervention sounds rather more consistent with his seedy habits of PR-savvy control-of-message.
Yes, he’s a bent cop, no doubt about that. But let’s get the facts right about what he actually has done. I mean, what will he be accused of next? The Kennedy Assassination? Bettison was only seven years old at the time. How about The Murder Of The Princes In The Tower? That was, er, a little while before Bettison was even born.
More essays about the Hillsborough Disaster; –
September 19, 2013
This is how the right-wing media try to stifle popular protest against their masters – by trying to distract attention away from the facts.
There can be no doubt about what today’s big news story is: According to the Daily Mirror, hundreds of thousands of families have been put into rent arrears because of the ConDem government-imposed Bedroom Tax – and, according to the Independent, 50,000 of those people are now facing eviction.
Isn’t that exactly what the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was saying at the end of her recent tour of Britain to investigate the effect of the Bedroom Tax (often wrongly described as the spare-room subsidy. A subsidy would give money to people; this takes it away)?
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which the UK is a signatory) includes housing as part of the “right to a standard…
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