May to add Tory peers in attempt to control Lords’ Brexit rebellions

Following numerous setbacks to Brexit in the House of Lords, Theresa May will add 10 new Tory peers to try and boost progress in the upper chamber. She will also hand 1 peerage to the DUP. The addition of new peers is designed to help the government pass more Brexit legislation without further amendments.

The Lords have been the principal opposition to Brexit having voted against the government 15 times. Most recently, they voted to guarantee equal environmental protections after Brexit as guaranteed by EU law. Other notable votes in the Lords have included guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, keeping the EU rights charter, and making staying in the EEA a primary negotiating target.

The government has so far reversed its defeats but the revising chamber remains a problem for Theresa May and her Brexiteers. They see these amendments as a limit to their executive power and freedom in negotiating Brexit.

The 11 Brexiteers that will be added (10 Tory and 1 DUP) will be joined by 3 Labour peers. Labour’s decision to add more peers to the chamber was criticised by Labour Remainer Lord Andrew Adonis, saying “I’m very surprised that the Labour party is playing this game by agreeing to make a small number of peers because it legitimises the actions of the Tories.”

The 11 additions are unlikely to make a huge difference. The government has been defeated by far more than 11 votes in most of its defeats. The last defeat, on environmental protections, was by a majority of 5o. The Conservatives will not hold a majority in a chamber made up of 780 peers, although full attendance is extremely rare. The move has been criticised as a desperate attempt to force through the government’s Brexit agenda and can be seen as a major flaw in the House of Lords.

Analysis from Iwan Doherty – Editor in Chief

As a socialist, it is very rare for me to support the House of Lords. However, their role as a force for good as a technocratic, yet unelected, revising chamber in the Brexit process cannot be denied. My respect for the Lords and the system has dramatically increased. It’s not perfect, as this story shows, but having a technocratic chamber to control and refine populism is something we would be worse without.

Too often, the referendum result has been bandied around as an excuse for the seizure of power from Parliament by the government. The Lords have done a good job in creating practical solutions to problems that the government has been unable or unwilling to solve.

The House of Lords have gone much further to calm the worries about Brexit than the government itself. Its attempts to guarantee human rights, environmental protections, and rights for EU citizens are what the government should have done. The fact the Conservatives have been embarrassed so many times doesn’t show the Lord’s resilience, but shows how abstract and unrealistic the government’s plans have been.

However, the fact that the Prime Minister can simply create more peers to try and get her way shows a serious flaw in the Lords. It is not only a mistake by the May to try and subvert our Parliamentary democracy like this, but it is also a mistake in the system.

The government is keen to get a free hand to negotiate Brexit. However, considering the Tory record on negotiations and political policy to date, it is wise to make sure Parliament, not Whitehall, is the ultimate power in the Brexit process, as the Leave campaign wanted.

Tories to renationalise East Coast train line

Chris Grayling, the current Secretary of State for Transport, has today announced that the government will renationalise the East Coast Main Line, a 393 mile long railway link between London and Edinburgh. The line was privatised as part of John Major’s 1993 Railways Act.

Grayling confirmed that he will terminate the contract with Virgin Trains East Coast on June 24. Private operators since 1997, when the railway was nationalised, have complained of losing money on the line. In the last year Stagecoach, who operate alongside Virgin Trains, lost £200m on the line.

The Transport secretary told Stagecoach and Virgin that he would take the line back and give it to an “operator of last resort”. The service is expected to be run by this operator until at least 2020, when it will then be handed to a “public private partnership”.

Stagecoach announced it would lose almost £260m as a result of Grayling’s decision, including a £165m bond, and a one-off charge of £75m. This has raised the prospect of job losses within the employees: Stagecoach currently employ almost 40,000 people.

‘Bring Back British Rail’, a campaign for nationalisation, said: “We’re over the moon. That’s what we’re fighting for”. It has been reported that Grayling initially favoured giving the Virgin franchise a management contract, effectively keeping them in control of the service but with no risk to their profits. However, it seems there were concerns at Number 10 due to the current Tory instability. The party is in its weakest position in years so there were doubts whether the government could take any political backlash.

Indeed just today, Jeremy Corbyn stated “if the prime minister cannot negotiate a good deal for Britain why doesn’t she step aside and let Labour negotiate a comprehensive new customs union and living standards backed by trade unions and business in this country.”

Comment from Henry Jones – Director of Communications

The decision to renationlise the East Coast Main Line shows one thing. The Tories have seen how popular Labour’s policies are, and have decided to implement them themselves. In short, the Tory government is taking a leaf out of Labour’s book:

“On our railways, we pay some of the highest fares in Europe for increasingly unreliable and overcrowded services.”
Labour Party manifesto, 2017

In 2017, Labour said they would start ‘bringing our railways back into public ownership, as franchises expire or, in other cases, with franchise reviews or break clauses’. This was one of their most popular policies of the election, and especially appealed to me. I frequently travel by train, and fares are ridiculously high, and getting higher. Furthermore trains are consistently late. The tweet below encapsulates the current state well:

Returning to a more serious point, the case for nationalisation of our railways is clear. Integrating the UK’s expensive and fragmented rail network under public ownership could save hundreds of millions and also provide a better service for everyone.

For those who argue for privatisation, let me present you with maths. A one way ticket from London to Manchester has increased by 238%, from £50 in 1995 to £169 today.* That is more than three times the rate of inflation.

Official figures show that all but one of the private train operators in the UK receive more in subsidies than they return in the form of franchise payments to the government due to the subsidies paid to operators when they make losses. Subsidies to the rail industry have increased dramatically and the British taxpayer now pays 5.1p for every km travelled by a passenger on a private rail operator.

A program of nationalisation would reduce costs for the government in a number of ways. The amount shareholders claim in dividend payments are currently £200m a year. When in public hands in 2013 East Coast Mainline made £217 million for the taxpayer. Money that would have gone to shareholders if it would have been in private hands.

In the current system, the taxpayer pays for the infrastructure and foot some of the bill if the operators make a loss but take home none of the profits. It’s a fool’s deal for passengers and taxpayers, but good for the few rich men who own the operators.

‘Transport for Quality of Life’ estimate that £76m a year could be saved on private subcontractors by creating the staff positions in house. Finally, more than £2m per year could be saved in admin costs.

Instead of this being paid to shareholders, this amount could be reinvested into the railway and reduce the taxpayer’s contribution. This windfall into the exchequer could also be used on other public services. Teachers, nurses and police officers could finally be awarded the full pay raise they deserve.

Private firms like Virgin hike up train fares and profit from commuters. Our railways, although initially look competitive, are a monopoly. If I want to get the train from my home in Sherborne, Dorset, to London Waterloo, the only choice I have is to use South West Trains. They can charge whatever they want and I have no choice but to pay it.

Prices are high, and trains are inefficient. Prices are high because firms are incentivised to make a profit. The Government is not. A national rail service can afford to lower prices until they trains just break even without causing financial damage to the company. Our trains are late because, similar to the previous point, they’re more incentivised to make money than to be on time. Train companies would rather cut their engineers and save money through wages and then just take the delays that come with the longer repair times.

Nationalisation is the solution. Gayling’s decision today is a rare bold move from the Tory government, and a good one. But we mustn’t hide from the fact that the Tories are implementing Labour party policies. I echo Mr Corbyn’s comments today. If May cannot provide a fair and efficient system for the United Kingdom, she must step aside.

*Figures correct as of 1430, 16th May 2018. London Euston (EUS) to Manchester Piccadilly (MAN), departing 0720. Source: Trainline

Over 50 Palestinians killed by Israel whilst protesting against US embassy

Israeli forces have shot at protesters on the Gaza border killing over 50 and wounding hundreds, Palestinian officials say. Tens of thousands came to protest the opening of a US embassy in Jerusalem. Casualties included a 14 yr old boy.

Palestinians see the opening of the embassy as a violation of agreements that determine Palestine controls the east part of the city.

Trump’s announcement in December ignited 6 weeks of protests, and during these protests, Israeli forces shot and killed dozens of Palestinian protesters and injured over 1,700 people. Israel has shot at protesters regularly in the last 6 weeks as Palestinians have been involved in the ‘great march of return’.

The weekly protests are in the run up to Nakba, which is on Tuesday 15th, a commemoration of the events following the foundation of the Israeli state where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by Israeli settlers and forced to flee their homes.

Hamas stated that it would not stop citizens from heading towards the perimeter fence but says it supports peaceful ideals advocated by civilian leaders.

Israel has attempted to portray this as a terrorist ploy by Hamas and a spokesman labelled the protesters “murderous rioters” despite the fact no Israeli has been injured since protests started on the 30th March.

More follows

Analysis from Iwan Doherty- Editor in Chief

The fact the US and the Trump administration has now fully backed Israel seems to have only emboldened the Israeli regime. The move by the President seems to have put peace in the region far out of sight and has resulted in the murder of dozens of Palestinian citizens. The fact our nation stands idly by when a so-called ally murders innocent civilians is a disgrace and it truly brings into question of the morality of our foreign policy.

To continue backing Israel after such actions is more than morally questionable. The fact that the Israeli government accuse the protesters as being murderous is not only wrong it is tragically ironic.

Americans are mostly oblivious to the death and destruction their president has helped to cause and this move highlights Trump’s inability to understand the complexity of geopolitics.

Israel’s actions should be condemned by the international community but with the US backing Israel fiercely it would be difficult to enact sanctions, despite the fact Israel shows little regard for the human rights of Palestinians.

Photos courtesy of Mohammed Yasin 

Ten of thousands protest falling wages caused by austerity

Thousands have gathered in London today to protest the declining pay of workers across the UK. The TUC have called for a ‘new deal’ for workers, a deal that is desperately needed.

The economic policy of austerity has decimated wage growth and voters should be joining the TUC in the end to policies that have eliminated consumers in our economy strangling growth whilst increasing the labour force by utilising exploitation and zero hour contracts.

The TUC, who are being joined by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other activists, seek an end to zero hour contracts, public sector pay cap and want an increase in minimum wage.

However, the effects of austerity are not only felt by those on zero hour contract working at minimum wage or in the public sector. The economic policy as a whole has created an environment that kills wage growth across both public and private sector.

Real wage growth in the UK remains negative since the Conservative government took power. A decade on from the global financial crash the average worker is still £1250 a year worse off.

The economic performance this country has endured only looks worse when we compare ourselves to our European neighbours. The UK ranks 103rd out of 112 in the world for wage growth between 2008-2017, the only European nation below us is Greece.

In addition to this, unlike our neighbours, our wages are still falling. The increased inflation, caused by the devaluation of the pound due to Brexit, and the slow economic growth this year, which was 0.1% in the first quarter, have caused wages to continue to decline. Our wage growth forecast for 2018 is -0.5%, worse than any other European nation.

The reason for the bleak conditions for workers? Austerity, not the financial crash.

The drop in wages can be clearly seen as a result of austerity, not the global financial crash. The cause of this wage decline is austerity and the cuts. By cutting spending, they cut jobs, directly or indirectly, which cut out consumers which cut out jobs and the cycle continued. The economy’s response was to lower wages so profits could be continued to be made. Near fanatical deficit reduction only made this worse as money was being drained from the economy.

It is a miracle they have got away with it for so long but by pinning our problems on Labour’s non-existent overspending the Conservative government have distracted the general public from the real problem austerity.

Co-operatives are the key for an economy for the many

In the 2017 general election, The Labour Party put forward a vision for a different Britain. Corbyn’s vision of classic social democracy after years of Neo-Liberal governance has been extremely well received. When polled on policies alone the vast majority of Brits support the Labour Party’s vision.

However, it relies on using the state to bend corporations into a shape that can be used to help the people. Instead of looking to make corporations cuddly, we should look to replace them with a socialist alternative. The progressive movement should put its faith in co-operatives, and work to encourage their growth.

In the age of Neo-Liberalism on both sides of the Atlantic, left-wing parties gave up on helping those who needed them and instead angled themselves as the lesser of two evils. In the US this resulted in a corrupt corporate Democratic Party, and in the UK it was Blair and New Labour. With the defeat of state socialism in the Cold War and the seeming triumph of markets, the left seemed to run out of ideas. They certainly ran out of bold ones. Co-operatives should be there next bold idea.

We’re all aware of the problems caused by corporations. Allowing economic power to be in the hands of so few men has caused poverty, war, and greed to spread among society. However, we should not underestimate the power of the markets either. The solution therefore would seem to be a market system, where workers have democratic control of their companies and their products.

Co-operatives are simply companies run democratically by the workers or members. Workers elect their board of directors, instead of it being appointed by shareholders, who manage the company. The profit made by the company is kept by the workers.

Co-operatives should replace corporations, not just because of the problems corporate power causes, but also due to the fact they are a more efficient way of doing business. The advantages to the workers and the nation’s economy as a whole are truly vast.

Research done by Leeds University Business School on labour-managed firms concluded that giving workers direct stake creates a more efficient business model. The study concluded stating ‘worker cooperatives are more productive than conventional businesses, with staff working ‘better and smarter’ and production organized more efficiently.’

The superior efficiency of co-operatives is most easily seen by looking at the Employee Ownership Index (EOI). The EOI compares the share price of worker-managed companies with those on the FTSE companies. Since 1992, the worker-owned companies have outperformed corporations by an average of 10% a year.

As well as being more efficient, they are also more resilient than corporations, having a much higher survival rate than corporations. 10% of co-ops will fail in the first year. In comparison, 70% of corporations will fail. After 5 years in business, 90% of co-ops are still in operation, in comparison to 5% of businesses. Studies show that co-operatives are a far more sustainable way of doing business.

As well as being good for entrepreneurs, they are also good for the wider economy in a crisis. During a recession, the economy entering a decline is the main issue. As the economy slows businesses lay people off, which cuts out consumers, which cuts spending, which means more businesses lay people off. However in a recession, co-operatives do not ship jobs like corporations. 3.5 million people were made unemployed in Spain in the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis. In Basque region, the largest co-operative in the world, Mondragon, fired zero workers as a result of the recession. They simply moved their workers around and lowered their profits. Studies in Uruguay have shown similar resilience against recessions. Co-ops are more willing to adjust wages rather than fire workers, and this allows them to keep workers on. This isn’t just good for the workers at co-ops, it’s good for the businesses where the workers buy things. It is the ideal business model in a recession. In a nation with a large co-operative sector, recessions may be much shallower and much shorter due to their ability to retain workers.

It is also worth noting that co-ops also means jobs don’t disappear abroad. In the age of globalisation, many people are worried about outsourcing. Jobs will not flee overseas if employees control the board. One could argue that co-operatives are a real answer to the wave of anti-globalist feelings that have swept western society. 

Another big advantage with co-operatives is they don’t avoid tax. Unlike corporations, who choose to hide their profits offshore, co-operatives are very good at paying the proper tax rate. In Germany, for every €1 billion in assets, co-operative banks pay €2.5 million in taxes. This is compared to big private banks who only pay €0.5 million.

Co-operatives generally have a much fairer pay system. In the average FTSE company, the pay scale ratio between the top and the bottom is 1:129. At Mondragon it is only as high as 1:8. This creates motivation to work hard and get promoted. It also means that unlike in some major corporations, employees are not left on food stamps whilst directors make millions. The average income per worker at a co-op, when compared to an equivalent corporation, is higher.

For a socialist, the true appeal of co-operatives is worker liberation. Finally the masses having a say in how our economy is run. In the current capitalist system, the fact that 1% of the population owns 2/3rds of all the shares creates a rigged game. It allows small numbers of people to control not only economics but politics as well, creating a system where they remain rich at the cost of the rest of us. Democratic controls at work will help the majority of people become better off, and will take back control not just of our jobs, but our society as a whole.

In small groups around the world, this is already occurring. The Basque country, Cleveland, and at home in Preston, have all used co-operatives to enhance their economy. Co-operatives brought £200 million to the Preston economy when their council established schemes to encourage their growth. It’s time we brought encouraging co-operatives to the forefront of the progressive agenda.

These ideas are popular. 76% of the public believe large employers should be required to share profits with staff. All in all, we have a business model that is more efficient, more sustainable, more resilient, pay more taxes, pays its workers more, and gives citizens real control of the economy.

Corbynista Sakina Sheikh early favourite to succeed Heidi Alexander

The resignation of Labour MP Heidi Alexander has triggered a By-election in East Lewisham. The seat is a very safe seat for Labour, Alexander won the seat in 2017 with an increased majority of over 21,000 votes. However, with the internal power struggle within the Labour Party still not over who the party select as their candidate will be of large importance to many inside Labour.

Heidi Alexander was often a critic of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and in 2016, in a coup against the Labour leader, resigned from his shadow cabinet stating it was “entirely dysfunctional” and that Corbyn lacked leadership ability.

 

The current favourite to replace Heidi Alexander is Sakina Sheikh, who is currently a Councillor in Perry Vale, Lewisham. Sakina is a supporter of Corbyn who during her public announcement putting herself forward to be the next Labour Candidate in Lewisham East stated “Jeremy Corbyn has opened the door to a new kind of Labour Party, one which sticks to its principles, opposes Neo-Liberalism and utilises the knowledge and experience of its members”

This stark rejection of Neo-Liberalism will be a welcome change to many members who see a few members of the PLP, like Heidi Alexander, as not fulfilling the desires of the membership who are overwhelmingly democratic socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn.

Other names that are a possibility for Labour are GMB organiser Nadine Houghton and Katy Clarkand the former North Ayrshire MP who works in Corbyn’s office as political secretary.  The right of the party might want to see Kevin Bonavia, a Lewisham councillor. It is also worth noting Labour may impose an all women or all BAME shortlist excluding a number of these names.

The majority of the membership would prefer a supporter of Corbyn to win the by-election but remains to be seen who the party will select as their candidate.