Saturday, 25 October 2014

The Tory welfare scroungers continue to bank along

For all the cretinous duplicity of Iain Duncan Smith, whose ignorant and evil perpetuation of the myth of generational welfare-dependency was a further example of the extent to which government has been captured by a delusional fantasy, there is a silence from Labour and the left around the extreme hypocrisy that continues to underpin current ideology.  From Gideon through Beaker, there is a myth around the necessity and desirability of bankers, "entrepreneurs" and other Tory-donating parasites continuing to receive copious subsidies while the rest of the population have austerity and privations thrust down their throats.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that, in the face of the global financial meltdown, Brown and Darling did what they needed to in order to stop the UK being sucked into an over-leveraged crash of even greater proportions.  This does not absolve them, or their Tory forebears, of responsibility for creating the environment where over-leveraged, ill-informed speculation backed by other people's money caused the breakdown of the system.  However, in the light of subsequent amoral cupidity they look like the Rochdale Pioneers.

A reasonable expectation, in the light of the complete irresponsibility and incompetence of the self-styled wealth generators, would have been for a thorough rethink on the basis on which the economy and society is managed.  However, this would have involved debunking all the myths of the right with which we have been plagued for the last three decades.

There is nothing morally sound about capitalism.  At best the market is the "least bad" method of conducting economic life, but that does not imply any moral superiority or financial worth to the protagonists on either side.  Nobody has seriously suggested that there is a viable alternative - even in the former eastern bloc the market continued with the ineptitude of planning ministries substituting for the cupidity and avarice of gangsters.  The success of the new right is in removing any moral responsibility from those in a position to exploit their interests.

Whenever even marginal reform is proposed, for example in splitting off the functions of retail banking (on which individuals rely for their financial stability) from "investment" banking, where self-styled geniuses gamble with money in which they have no direct stake, there is a cry that this will be "inefficient", as the allegedly higher returns from the latter might not "subsidise" the former.  The amoral and brazen way in which the creatures dress up their cupidity and greed, through the abuse of language through pseudo-respectable terms such as "risk" and "analysis", should make them candidates for lamppost-decoration rather than adulation.

Having received billions in bail-outs (far more than the pygmy storm over EU budgets currently being peddled by the Tories), they then think that they have the moral right to lecture the vast majority of the population on the need to accept and embrace a masochistic austerity.  Never having had a job where their own actions lead to direct consequences, and usually living in the kind of community which has been insulated through corporate welfare payments from the consequences of their actions, they have the morals of a desensitised alley-cat, and the charm of said animal infected simultaneously with rabies and ebola.

A just society would regard their selfishness and hypocrisy as a worthy target.  As a start, there should be moral equivalence in the treatment of bankers and welfare recipients.  As many of the latter are in the straits of desperation as a direct or indirect consequence of banking incompetence and fraud, this would be a fair deal.  On bonuses, instead of arguing how they can be reformed, they should be taxed out of existence.  Until every penny of direct subsidy and lost output has been reclaimed from the group that has caused and exacerbated the depression, any attempt to reward the guilty should be protested.

Nobody argues that the majority of people who work in order to live are entitled to automatic bonuses just for doing their job.  To postulate that a bonus culture is what is required to drive "wealth creation" is a breathtaking parody of genuine interest - and if that is what is required to attract people into banking the world would be better off if they were populating the bottom of gravel pits.  To counter that any reform would drive out organisations from London and the EU is possibly valid, but the social and institutional benefits that would be derived makes it perfectly reasonable to set out an alternative which is not reliant on the snivelling thieves.

As Duncan Smith argues for tighter and tighter controls on welfare for the emerging underclass, the corporate state continues to subsidise its beneficiaries.  The intention of Blair's tax credit system was to reward work - instead it becomes a scheme that allows companies to underpay staff and boast about wealth creation whilst simultaneously expecting the state to pick up the difference between starvation and subsistence.  As part of a reform of corporate tax, an incoming government should ensure that profits are taxed at 100% up to the value of the tax credits paid out to the workforce - this might make any changes to the wider welfare regime more equitable as well as reducing the corporate subsidy.

We live in a world where challenging the shibboleth of the moral capitalist is seen as a fringe belief, bordering on subversion.  If reform is possible, it will come at the expense of dismantling the apparatus and the busting of mythologies.  If this results in the machine spewing out its apostles and evangelists at all levels with a life of dispossessed paupery, given their lack of human and technical skills, then the usual Tory mantra should apply.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Carry On Planning - or "The Scum Also Rises"

For any citizen wishing to wonder precisely why emasculation and possibly even evisceration should be a lifestyle choice, the process of  planning in England is one of the most compelling arguments in favour.  A recent experience of how this process works gives an insight into the extent to which the corruption and self-interest of the institutional mire is a cynical adjunct of the desire of the self-perpetuating political caste to throw the remainder of the populace into a state of perpetual apathy and subjection.

Existence in a civilised society requires the rights of the individual to do what the hell he or she wants to be tempered by the right of others to do the same.  The utilitarian basis of good libertarian liberal philosophy applies to planning, whether it is a new railway line or whether it is a minimal extension to a house, codified through legislation, precedent, and a huge volume of allegedly-applicable policies.

It is always salutary to remember that election to public office does not automatically elevate the individuals concerned.  Indeed, it often has the reverse effect.  Somnolent councillors, anxious to pick up taxpayer-funded allowances, give the impression of not wanting to be there, unless they can score cheap political points.  In the case of the particular meeting concerned, they were easy to come by, given the ineptitude and behaviour of the Chair, which will remain sub judice pending the outcome of an official complaint, but they did not give any confidence to citizens that this is anything more than a charade to allow the remaining Councillors to trouser yet more dosh to keep them in whichever poison maintains their IQ at rather lower levels than the average plankton.

When you add the venality of many local councillors to the behaviour of their executive staff, the best thing that a sane citizen should do in current circumstances is buy a Scottish island and a box set of The Good Life.  The impact of pay freezes, imposed by central government, and the creeping pernicious corruption of outsourcing, imposed by local government mostly of the blue persuasion, means that the calibre of local government staff is at the very least questionable.  Dealing with the public in a formal situation gives the scabrous combination of planning, legal and governance officers an opportunity to pretend to be both important and competent.

A toxic combination of the indequate and the ego-tripper, in other words.  The councillors are only as good as the advice they are given, and many of them are insufficiently bright even to work out when the advice is at best perfunctory and at worst wrong.  The mutual back-slapping that goes on is enough to induce a coma - the mutual protection in the face of maladministration and the potential for a reasonable perception of incompetence mutating into covert corruption.  A civil servant who gave their Minister the quality of output that the average Planning Officer spews out would be on remedial measures before discharge.  Yet they perpetuate a malodorous cartel of smugness.

Anyone who comments on a planning application is required to ground their views on a narrow set of criteria.  The problem for the average, concerned citizen, is that each authority has a prolix, corporate-bollocks range of policies resembling computer-generated garbage, running into hundreds of pages of guidance, often contradictory, or vague, that gives both the officers and the councillors opportunity to stitch up the process between them.  If in doubt, then the approach appears to be that of the thwarted toddler - denying that the policy or the procedure even exists, and "what does it matter, anyway?".  It would be a much better use of resources to suggest to the general public that if you are not a bully, a liar or wealthy you might was well give up.

The presumption of current planning policy is that everything is desirable if it contributes to "development", which the idiots appear to regard as a synonym for growth.  Nothing to do with appropriateness, the environment and community, or even the rights of others.  This would be an admission of weakness and accountability.  The process is managed to deliver the presumption of approval of even the most egregiously egotistical vandalism, usually nodded through by councillors house-trained by the officers into being worried about the costs of an applicant appealing to the Planning Inspectorate, rather than implementing their own council's declared policies.

This might not be quite so blatant a travesty of natural justice if there were proper challenges to the range of malpractice that the current process appears to sanction.  The applicant has the right to go to a Planning Inspector if they don't like the decision - objectors, if they can demonstrate maladministration might receive £1,000 if they have the patience to pursue this through the byzantine self-serving council complaints procedures and reach the Local Government Ombudsman, but otherwise only have the option of the self-funded and risky judicial review process to restart the clock.  Hardly a level process, especially given the restrictions on legal aid and the narrowing of criteria that the Coalition has presided over in the name of cost saving.

To watch local administration at work is dispiriting, as it appears to undermine every aspiration of left-liberal political thought.  It does not provide an inspiration to bright, altruistic people to engage in local politics, as they will inevitably get sucked into the corrupt machine - often when trying to mitigate its malevolent tendencies.  Rather it encourages direct action, sabotage and disruption, and a lack of the deference that these inadequate filth regard as their due rights.

Ironically, one of the recent meetings I observed was chaired by someone whose is allegedly a member of the Variety Club of Great Britain.  Sadly, it wasn't Coco the Clown, whose intellect, integrity and moral compass would have dwarfed and shamed the participants in what turned out to be a charade and a rodomontade of atavistic denial, the perception that the process works for the interests of a small group, and further alienation of anyone with a sense of decency, justice and the requirements of the elected officials and their executive to behave in the interests of the wider citizenry.  If I was angry about it, rather than unsurprised, this would be dangerous - instead it confirms that there is a need for a complete purge of the legacy of English corruption and deference.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The corruption of the political class could lead to revolution

The Tories are in a panic about the rise of Farage's neo-fascist hordes, while Labour are anxiously looking over their shoulders at the loss of the reflexive rightist bigot vote.  At the same time, all parties in Scotland expect the SNP to do very well in the 2015 General Election as a means of holding Westminster to its reluctantly-conceded enthusiasm for pseudo-federalism.  In Wales four party politics is also established.  Local issues play as much part in politics around the country as the bipartisan consensus that the media, Cameron and Miliband wish to promote.

This is partly because it is easier.  Most people accept that there are shades of grey in all politics, all decisions and all parts of life.  However, in presenting "clear choices" the establishment politicians have done their best to destroy the potential for political debate.  Whereas the SNP tapped into this in a positive way, the recent surge in support for the far right demonstrates that for large groups of the population the litany of "they're all the same" and the acknowledged inequalities exacerbated by the Coalition's economic policies is now a much more persuasive argument than anything that the Westminster clique can put forward.

The next General Election will be interesting, because the outcome will not reflect the national opinion polls.  It is feasible to imagine scenarios where there is an even more blatant distortion in the allocation of seats against votes received than even 2010 or 1983.  A situation where Miliband or Cameron emerge triumphant despite their vote shares declining is possible, and creates a thorough crisis of democratic legitimacy.  The defenders of the existing constitutional settlement may find it difficult to argue the right of the majority party in the Commons to govern if they have failed to receive a mandate of support that surpasses the leading opposition party's (let alone the other groups represented).

So we have a faux-outrage storm around the television debates before the next election.  UKIP have so far gained one MP, so the aim is to enmesh Farage.  The fact that the Greens, SNP, PC, Respect and the Northern Irish parties are also entitled to claim participation on this basis appears to have been ignored, possibly because Nige is the sock-puppet of Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclays and Desmond, and he has the estimable benefit of the bogus charisma that has propelled Boris into the fastnesses of the desirable Uxbridge.

Political engagement is possible - an 85% turnout in Scotland demonstrates this.  However, so long as the parties, mostly now populated by interns, lobbyists and very few people with genuine experience of life as most people would know it, deny this chasm, the more the snake-oil ultra-right frontmen will make their inroads.  It is difficult to articulate the impotence that closed systems represent, for example the processes of local government, where (see previous blog) the best that can be assumed is naive, stupid incompetence and at worst active or passive collaboration with graft, corruption and petty dictatorship.

For a large country, direct democracy can be difficult, especially if there has been an accretion of power to the centre and a further privatisation of areas that are legitimately controlled by the people.  Miliband might be best advised to tap into this by indicating that, whatever the outcome of the election, afterwards Labour would work with other parties and none to address the nature and structure of government.  Blair's hypocrisy after 1997, when the vagaries of a sham landslide meant that he could govern without fear of challenge from within his own party, need not be repeated.

Suddenly, the irrelevance that electoral reform assumed (alongside the ineptitude of both the Liberal Democrats and the "Yes" campaign) may not be sustainable.  For those of us who have lived in three- and four-party systems, the legitimacy of the state depends upon having at least a semblance of representative government, and in 2015 there will need to be fleet-footed leadership to stave off the illegitimacy of the state.  Getting rid of the current bastards does not in itself suffice - to counter the tide of apathy, anger and hate needs a more considered and coherent proposition.  Waiting for Miliband, as he is the only leader with the opportunity both to articulate it and to make it is the centre of an election campaign.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The pantomime of Barnet Council - but nobody's laughing

In the pond of local government, the London Borough of Barnet and its ruling Conservative Group are a particularly rank scum.  Hardly a month goes by without the latest exposure of incompetence, maladministration, graft and an arrogance that ensures that those of us who are fortunate enough not to live there can drop our jaws at Rotten Boroughs in the Eye and wonder how much further the unholy cartel of superannuated post-Thatcher has-beens and the wide-boy right-wing louts, seeking snoutage through self-defined allowances, can drag the reputation of government into the mire.

The most recent effluvia to emerge has been the sudden departure of the Council's Monitoring Officer, following a monumental fiasco when the governance of business was found to be illegal.  As said Monitoring Officer was not legally qualified, this was a disaster waiting to happen, especially as the Council's legal services had already been outsourced.  However, they have now got a temporary shoe-in from that other beacon of Tory reputational rectitude, Westminster, on arrangements that are to say the least opaque.

As part of the Council's outsourcing policies, the vast majority of its activities have been transferred to a venture under the control of those paladins of probity, Capita.  This is badged as "Regional Enterprise" - presumably to lull the gullible - but is based on a 10-year contract with very few get-out clauses.  The main document is a mere 179 pages long - the attached schedules run into the thousands.  More on this later.

It is pleasing to note that the contract has been drafted with all the care that expensive lawyers can muster.  For example Clause 8.4 contains the reassuring provision that:

  • The Service Provider shall provide appropriately qualified and experienced solicitors dedicated to advising and supporting the Service...  The Service Provider shall refer any decision by the Authority to prosecute, defend or appear in legal proceedings to the Authority's Monitoring Officer...
Bless.  This goes on for several clauses which assume that the management of the contract is in the hands of people who are more capable than Capita.  As the former Monitoring Officer had no legal training and there were no in-house lawyers, the Council is clearly totally competent in contract management on the legal side.

There is somewhat less reassurance from the policies relating to staff transferred.  Remember that these people are the executive agency to implement authority process and policies.  The contract came into effect on 5 August 2013.  Clause 26 (it would have been ironic had it been been Clause 28 as the Council would not wish to intentionally promote public service) sets out a number of issues relating to staff issues.  At the time of transfer the management practices were enshrined through Clause 26.2.3:
  • The Service Provider agrees that it will not vary the terms and conditions of employment of any Transferring Employee (except insofar as the Authority is added as an employer to the contracts of employment of the Joint Employees and the additional clauses mutually agreed between the Service Provider and the Authority to effect such Joint Employment) for the first 12 months immediately following the Service Transfer Date...  If the Service Provider seeks to vary the terms and conditions of employment of any Transferring Employee after the expiry of 12 months following the Service Transfer Date, it shall comply with its consultation obligations as the employer of the Transferring Employees and conduct all reasonable negotiations with any recognised trade unions.  The parties agree that the Service Provider may make such changes to the Transferring Employees' terms and conditions of employment as are reasonably necessary to effectively manage the organisational structure of its workforce... 
In terms of employment law, this is about as much use as a chocolate teapot - the definition of "reasonably" is as elastic as employers want it to be these days.

For anyone concerned about how services are managed and delivered, this should set alarm bells ringing.  For Capita effective management is about minimising costs and activities to boost its margins.  Therefore, to take a hypothetical example, planning officers might be incentivised to approve applications to meet performance targets, and to increase the number that they handle in order to reduce headcount.  For a contract like this to work, there needs to be confidence in both the Council's remaining Officers and the elected Members themselves.  Even Pollyanna would by this stage have become a Goth.

If you have an IQ higher than your shoe-size, this is a recipe for maladministration and unaccountability.  Contractual ping-pong can be played for days between outsourcer and outsourcee, especially if the latter party complies with its contractual obligations to employ competent lawyers.  To audit a contract requires competencies and skills that Barnet has been only to willing to further outsource, and Conservative councillors are compliant in this murky dereliction of the principles of accountability and transparency that they pay ritual lip-service to - while simultaneously shredding what remains of public trust.

At the same time, the former Monitoring Officer presided over a dismantling of the standards process for elected Councillors.  This is now certainly in breach of the Nolan principles for standards in public life, and potentially open to legal challenge.  Admittedly the previous regime had serially censured the unlamented Brian Coleman (only kicked out of the Conservative Party from HQ because the leader of the Council, the risible Cornelius, did not consider repeated breaches of standards and criminal conviction to debar Tory membership), but its replacement is toothless - conniving in what is at best sophistry and at worst dishonesty with respect to members' interests, and unable to take effective action because of its partisan composition.

The current Mayor of Barnet was effectively let off the hook by the new Group Leader's Panel, after complaints about non-disclosure of pecuniary interests - despite the best efforts of opposition councillors.  In addition, the former Monitoring Officer ruled several of the complaints raised to be beyond the competence of the Panel, using immense legal knowledge and sagacity.  The complaint had been raised by the GLA member, Andrew Dismore, who is seeking to remove Matthew Offord from the Commons, so it was hardly not politically-charged.  However, a proper process would have heard the allegations and identified genuine misconduct if such had occurred.  Hardly the stuff that builds confidence in local authorities.

At the same time it was also permitted to Tory members the privilege of voting on issues where by rational and objective standards they would be excluded due to conflicts of interest - but then many of them are buy-to-let landlords and this would have absolutely no bearing on either general housing policy or the disposal of the Housing Benefit budget.

Unless Eric Pickles does something drastic, this ominshambles will rumble on indefinitely, or until the Tory ranks deplete themselves for whatever reason.  In the meantime, this is exactly the situation where challenge and insurrection may be necessary.  Councillors need to be challenged at all levels as to whether they are confident that decisions being taken are legal, and that they are receiving proper advice and policy.  If I lived in Barnet I would be using Freedom of Information and every opportunity to disrupt, legitimately, the hubristic bandwagon until it turned into a tumbril.

Any new administration in Barnet would be tied by the Capita contract - although tight and effective management could result in early termination through mutual unwillingness to continue.  Competence in Council Officers, no prejudicial interests and transparent governance (as opposed to a current tendency to debate policy outside official forums) would be a start, but in the meantime it must be admitted that there is a gory fascination in watching this disgraceful charade degenerate.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

"We hate humans" - the hooligans take over the Tory asylum

To be identified with a bunch of 1970s itinerant football hooligans is a peculiar aspiration.  Behaving like an amoral horde of barbarians, laying waste to the unsuspecting bystander who is unlucky enough to be in the vicinity, leaving a trail of destroyed lives and failed ambitions... it could only be Cameron's Conservative Party, desperately trying to shore up its lunatic credentials in the face of a Kipper onslaught.  The unspeakable in pursuit of the despicable, or vice versa.

In Birmingham, the Tories demonstrated once again that their instincts are foul and hypocritical.  Miliband was monstered for not taking the economy seriously, while Cameron promised income tax cuts at some unspecified point in the next parliament, without so much as costing them or providing any indication of what further cuts would be needed to fund them.  For this the cheer-leading lickspittles proclaimed him as John the Baptist.  Had any other party had the temerity to come up with such a farrago then the press would have been all over them.

Quite apart from stealing the Liberal Democrats' clothes, appropriating about the only genuinely popular economic policy of the Coalition, the economic and fiscal illiteracy of such a proposal is breathtaking.  Unless of course Cameron was lying, which has a probability close to 100%.  An unfunded commitment to an income tax cut requires either further austerity or stealth tax rises elsewhere, a crime that the Tories were braying whenever Labour committed the offence.  As the Tories will not do anything around Inheritance Tax, this will be funded through duties, higher Council Tax, extending the VAT base and potentially milking property Stamp Duty - anything that doesn't impact upon the Tory client classes.

The idea that income tax policy is the sole determinant of what people pay is the kind of simplistic garbage that only the right-wing press will swallow.  The cost of living is determined by many other factors, including other taxes, and the necessary outlay for subsistence.  So for the Tories to concentrate on direct personal taxation should make everyone alert to the chicanery of politicians doubly-aware of the potential for cant elsewhere.  A Dutch auction that pays no attention to utility prices, housing costs and the huge disparity in economic conditions across the country is just what the spin doctor ordered to distract from the hollowness and class interest of the Tory policy platform going forward.

However, this was just the forerunner of the New Messiah status that Hamster-face has been seeking. To hear the orgasmic chants emanating from the Daily Mail and the Scum you would have thought that walking on water had been superseded by something more noble than any cause fought for over the centuries.  Instead of which, we got the commitment from the Tories to scrap the Human Rights Act, in the name of British freedom and British values.  There is no term that captures the depths of contempt that such a policy should evince.  This is a party whose instincts are both warped and demented.

The HRA is anything but perfect, but it encapsulates into UK law the rights that Cameron makes out that we want to spread to the remainder of the world, by force if necessary.  A British Bill of Rights, the promised sop to those of us who don't trust the state to protect the interests of the citizen, is the kind of retrograde and unenforceable step that was lapped up by the Tory dog-whistlers, whose contempt for the lesser beings who might challenge their hegemony was blatantly displayed during the conference.  The reason many of the Tory grandees and the spluttering elderly bigots cannot see their hypocrisy is because they consider the rest of the world beneath them and such rights as we possess are bones thrown as palliatives to head off the possibility of uprising.

Cameron cannot recognise, or does not want to recognise, that the Human Rights Act has nothing to do with the European Union.  The UN Declaration predates the EU, and the European Convention emerged through the Council of Europe, to which even Dave's role models like Putin belong.  In terms of cranking up the rhetoric to stop his loons defecting to the Farage xenophobia machine the truth is an inconvenient side issue.

The lies about a modernising Tory party have been revealed - and we are back to a paradigm where a combination of bribery and fear is all they can offer.  The hegemony of the South East, the financial and business interests who have been bailed out by taxpayer, and therefore state funding, and the promotion of the Dacre/Murdoch agenda have become the overarching themes that will propel the election campaign.  Anyone who values their freedom and rights should run scared at the moment, as our interests are trumped by a constituency of the oligarchs and the selfish, supported by those parts of the middle classes scared into acquiescence.  A noble prospect.

The triumph of the Bullingdon yobs and the plutocrats in the Tory Party is obvious.  Promises that aren't real and a crackdown on the liberty of the citizen are the platform on which the Tories will go into the next election.  There is still a six-month period where an alternative narrative can be developed, building on the real insurgency that the Scottish referendum demonstrated.  Anything that deprives the Tories of the potential to influence the shape of the government is legitimate.  Cameron's mask has finally slipped and the Nasty Party is back in open business.  Thatcher would be turning in her grave for missing this audacious opportunity for evil-doring, if there is no stake through her heart.