Nationalisation: a flawed idea, or an economic saving grace?

Nationalisation is often seen as a buzzword. It usually has a weird effect on people that causes them to start rabidly screaming the words “Marxist” at you every time it’s mentioned. With the Labour Manifesto in the public domain, this phenomenon is becoming more and more common. However, if you’re going to make such a comparison, at least give the Communist Manifesto a read first. The Labour party has pledged to re-nationalise industries such as the Royal Mail, British Energy, as well as Broadband services. Whether the policies put forward by Jeremy Corbyn are plausible or not isn’t the point of discussion, I’m more interested in establishing how or if nationalism fits into the modern-day.

Firstly, it must be established that nationalisation is not actually that radical. Corbyn’s manifesto has been called “Radical” by the BBC and even members of the Labour Party, but the actual policy of nationalisation isn’t as extreme at all. America has utilised nationalisation in various industries, and their Government the exact opposite of socialist. Nearly nine out of ten people in the United States receive their water service from a publicly owned utility and in the last 20 years. Since then, nationalisation of the water industry has only expanded. From 2007 to 2014, the portion of people with water from publicly owned water suppliers increased from 83% to 87%. France’s mass nationalisation of its energy industry in the 1980s, Germany’s re-nationalisation of the Print Office in 2008 after it was privatised in 2001, and Iceland’s re-nationalisation of its largest commercial banks in 2008, shows that it isn’t some outlandish or outdated idea. 

This isn’t necessarily a socialist idea, it’s simply economically liberal. What is then done with nationalised industries is what takes it a step further. Even the services stated above are only a partially nationalised industry, as the state does not have a 100% market share and neither does it legally obstruct private companies from entering the industry. The common question asked is, why on earth would the government want to do this? Simple, it’s because we can’t trust the market completely to operate fairly, and when it crashes, the market won’t protect the public.

In some industries – take water for example – it just makes more sense to have fewer entities providing the service because of the infrastructure involved. The economically savvy readers will recognise this as a natural monopoly. It’s even been used to pull banks and other private entities out of trouble. This is done by temporarily buying them to ensure they don’t collapse and cause damage to the economy as a whole. A good example was when the US government took over GM Motors. When the problem is resolved, the government simply sells the company afterwards. In the case of nationalising industry, it allows the consumer to get a cheaper or even free service whilst the government tanks the cost but runs the companies, they are purchased at a profit which can then go back into your pocket.

Some of you will be reading this and think “Why don’t we just do this for everything? Cheap Nationalised Broadband? Sounds great”. Don’t jump the gun. It’s not something to be taken lightly and isn’t always a good idea. When nationalising an industry, the assumption is the government will actually be good at running the businesses in that industry. You can very easily argue that the British Government, in combination with local government, just isn’t good at it.

To paint a picture, I’m going to use the Labour party promise to provide a state-run fibre broadband service across the country. I am a huge PC gamer nerd. I play mostly League of Legends and Counter-Strike, but anyone who plays video games regularly can unite and agree upon a common enemy, bad ping. Lag spikes are actually the worst, and usually, we all have little tricks we use to try and deal with them, but if they don’t work, we are comforted by the fact that we can just switch broadband providers or upgrade our service. If Broadband is nationalised, you might not be able to do that, leaving you with bad ping and poor gaming experience. 

The state wants to purchase broadband relevant parts of BT, but the BT group also owns Plusnet and EE which have their own broadband services. If only the state broadband service is available in the area you live in, and that service just isn’t good enough, you would have to move to get to a different service provider, because currently there are only 5 providers for commercial usage, and 3 of them (BT, Plusnet and EE) could end up under the state service. To make it even worse, Openreach (a BT Subsidiary) maintains the fibre networks that the other broadband services sell, so if a state broadband service was to exist, the government would either need control of that as well or sub-contract it to Openreach. Even with all those complications, it doesn’t even touch on the fact that everyone who currently works for those companies now becomes state employees, and that’s a whole different fiasco.

Although nationalisation isn’t a ‘pipe dream’ like some would call it. The belief that magically buying all these industries will solve itself is certainly naïve. As I have displayed by briefly exploring the result of the nationalisation of just one service, this is not a straightforward process by any means. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said the nationalisation plans of the Labour Party as a whole is risky and would require a restructuring of the economy specifically in the area of taxation. This would be a slow and gradual process that would take around 10 years. This doesn’t just apply to the Labour Party’s plan, it applies the nationalisation as an idea. 10 years is two governments, maybe three, governments. Who says our economic situation doesn’t change? Who says halfway through the project it’s no longer economically viable and the whole thing gets put on hold?

Nationalisation isn’t the Marxist evil that many claim it to be, but it isn’t necessarily the undeniable saving grace of the British population that it is being peddled as either.

The Scottish Series: The SNP is an independence party, and on this it should focus

If you regularly watch Prime Ministers Questions you’ll know that the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has become a regular fixture of proceedings. He has become as much the voice of the party as Nicola Sturgeon as he is regularly heard asking questions to the Prime Minister. Blackford has drawn support (or at least sympathy) from many on the opposition benches, being unwavering in his criticism of consecutive Conservative Governments. As a friend of mine recently suggested to me though, he has become slightly “repetitive.”

The SNP’s opposition has begun to hit the same notes, ‘Scotland voted Remain and therefore Brexit is against what we were promised in the 2014 referendum, this gives us the right to another independence referendum,’ to summarise. Of course, this is an essential argument and one that needs to be made. The main goal of the SNP is to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and Scotland having a distinctly different result to England and Wales does renew calls for an independence referendum, even after one was lost not so long ago. However, the SNP has taken this a step further and have begun to look like a distinctly pro-EU party, consistently voting with Remainer MPs and supporting the pro-EU Lib Dems in calls for an early election before Labour supported the motion.

The party edging on this ‘Remainer’ stance may be as a contrast to the Conservative Government, who represents the British system that the SNP seeks to escape from, or as a clearer cut option than Labour, whose stance hasn’t been fully understood by many in the public. This shift from arguing for Scotland’s right to self-determination due to a change in circumstances since 2014, towards becoming viewed as a Remain party, may dampen the SNP’s high election hopes.

SNP supporters aren’t inherently pro-EU, a survey by the National Centre for Social Research estimated that as high as 36% of SNP voters supported Leave in 2014. Ex-SNP leader, Gordon Wilson, gives similar numbers of between 30% to 34%. These numbers don’t even account for pro-independence Scots who voted Remain tactically in the Brexit referendum in the hope of generating the point of difference from England, which was a very real factor in how many Scots voted. Many Scots want out of both unions in order to be ‘fully’ independent.

Another possible thorn in the side of the Scottish National Party is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader who took her seat from the SNP in 2017. The flagship policy of Swinson’s is to stop Brexit completely, any Scottish voter who is decidedly pro-EU could easily be turned away from the murky waters of the SNP and Labour into the clear waters of the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP have said they will be fighting hard to take Swinson’s seat back from her, to do this they will have to offer something completely different to her and not just be the other Remain option.

20,000 people attended a pro-independence rally in Glasgow last weekend, including SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. This may have been the change of direction needed for the party, as pro-EU rhetoric was toned down and the perceived importance of Scottish independence was back at the forefront. Sturgeon stated that independence was ‘within touching distance’ and that it was time to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands and not Boris Johnson’s.

Instead of opposing Brexit completely, the SNP must return focus on the uncertainty surrounding it and the opportunity Scotland has to go a different direction. Scottish voters were promised in 2014 that remaining in the United Kingdom was the safer and more stable option, this was untrue. If this is the direction that the SNP take throughout the campaign they will do as well as predicted, possibly reaching the heights of 2015. However, there is a real chance that Blackford’s broken record at Westminster and the perception of being pro-EU may have turned off much of the electorate from the party, which could leave many Scottish separatists very disappointed when they wake up on Friday the 13th of December.

The blues can never be green: why the pausing of UK fracking is an election ploy

After the calling of a general election for December 12th, British politics has taken yet another unpredictable and exciting turn. Already the major political parties have begun to outline their election strategies; from the repetition of Labour’s 2017 strategy that boasts all the optimism of a Manchester United fan’s opinion on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to the Europhilic platform of the Liberal democrats that so nearly distracts from their voting record. 

With headlines dominated for so long by the haze of Brexit that it may now be the national sport of the United Kingdom, one might be forgiven for forgetting the very identities and positions of the mainstream parties outside of the European question. Thus, when the Conservative party announced the “suspension” of fracking operations in the United Kingdom, anyone who has taken an interest in the growing environmentalist movement worldwide would be forgiven for assuming this as the actions of a party that cares about the planet.

Fracking – one of the more contentious methods of extracting shale and natural gas – has received a large degree of public scrutiny in recent years. The potential for geological disruption, resulting in the increased chance of earthquakes and threat posed to local communities, is one of many ecological risks associated with the process, implemented at various sites nationwide. Andrea Leadsom, Business Secretary in the Johnson Government, argued that it was the right move for the Conservative government, who were “following the science… until the science changes”.

Leadsom — who infamously questioned on her first day as Theresa May’s Energy Secretary if climate change was real — seems here to justify the suspension of an environmentally damaging practice; until the point that the facts and circumstances change to allow the government to continue it again sans critique. Here we see the government enacting a temporary suspension of a profitable but ecologically destructive practice, until the science or circumstances change that justify them continuing with the destructive business.

Despite the Orwellian doublespeak of Leadsom, the move is nothing short of part of the election campaign launch of Johnson and the Conservative party. Forgetting for the moment the irony of a campaign centred around the idea of Britain deserving better than the brutal imposition of austerity and political buffoonery masterminded by the Conservatives themselves, Johnson’s political ethos focuses on the notion of “getting things done”. Let us get Brexit done, as the Conservatives cry, and we can focus on getting things done for the police force we have cut, the health service we have dogmatically hollowed, and on resolving the environmental crisis. Suspension of fracking, regardless of its motivations, is in the eyes of the Conservatives at least something they have actually got done in the past years of political weakness and ambiguity.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for forgetting what the political parties of the United Kingdom still stand for in these uncertain to-say-the-least times. The Conservatives can certainly be pointed to as the party of action when it comes to environmental considerations; they cannot be pointed to as the party of environmentalism. This is the party that abolished the department of Energy and Climate Change in 2016; the party that removed subsidisation of renewable energy construction and restricted the ability of renewable energy sources to develop in the United Kingdom; the party that ended the programme of sustainable home development due to a lack of profitability for investors. This is to say nothing of the continued support and subsidisation of Nuclear and non-renewable energy sources; many of which are not only unsustainable, but themselves not profitable. The fact that the Johnson Government has acted to temporarily halt fracking operations in the United Kingdom is simply a drop in the polluted ocean that Conservative policies and ideological profit-focus has helped to create.

This is hardly surprising. It is long documented that free market policies such as those championed by the Conservatives are wholly incompatible with ecological considerations; considerations which require the sacrifice of short term and individual self-interest in order to protect the common long-term good. Such profit-focus is integral to the continued dogmatic adherence to Neoliberalism that runs in the very blood of the Conservative party; an ideology that champions the free pursuit of self-interest for all, giving no consideration to considerations outside of capital and profit. Since the days of Thatcher’s gutting of regional communities, to the willing ignorance to the risks of the most profitable course that led to the Grenfell disaster, the Conservative party have long established themselves as the party that cares only for immediate economic success above any and all else. This perhaps explains why, before the enacting of such an election stunt, the party has been such a champion of fracking; almost a perfect metaphor for the extraction of short-term value with no regard for local communities or long-term sustainability.

It may be worth a modicum of congratulations to the Conservative party. Since Johnson took over as leader of the party and the country, the suspension of fracking is perhaps the one true item that the government can, unlike parliamentary votes and PR visits to hospitals, say that it has achieved success in. Make no mistake, however, the suspension of fracking is in no way motivated by a desire to protect the environment or communities affected by fracking. It is nothing short of a rudimentary and basic election tactic and attempted evidence for its “get things done campaign”; a crumb of success that will be weaponised as a counter argument to the myriad of environmentalist criticisms. When the “Science Changes” in the event the Conservatives win majority in the next election, such a suspension will be quickly and quietly repealed, leading to the next inevitable story of a small community ravaged by fracking disaster. 

As far as Environmentalism is concerned, the Conservative party line is evident; that the planet and the people that rely upon it are an afterthought, until the next chance for Johnson, clad in an ill fitting sports top or hopefully at the top of another zip-wire, to weaponise it for his own party’s success.

Why are centrists so concerned about the ‘politics of division’?

‘The politics of division’ is surely the most banal of political clichés – the most lazy, yet tinged with benevolent intention. Scattered across the pages of history, an epithet to the bipartisan legacy of Obama, a monument to a noble ideal of a society without hate, fear, division; an expression of horror at our inability to communicate. But centrists too often treat is as a cause – rather than a symptom – of political failure. 

We condemn politicians from Johnson to Trump for cynically playing to people’s most base instincts – their jealousy, fear of the outsider, bitterness and nostalgia for an age of simplicity, where everyone could identify with a strong, secure national identity. In so doing, these populists accumulate support from those who have the least to lose. They perversely champion those whose livelihoods have been made less secure by the economic zeitgeist they advocated in the very first place.

Take our current Prime Minister, a man who seeks to portray himself doing battle with an establishment ostensibly bent on ‘suppressing’ the will of the people. This classical enthusiast seeks, like Cicero, to simultaneously appeal to the people and the senate – an ideological hallmark of Dominic Cummings’ Leave Campaign backed by businessmen, hedge-fund managers, Tory grandees and wealthy landowners. The notion that privately-educated Johnson has ever been anything other than an adornment of the establishment is simply nonsensical, yet this advocate of economic liberalism now seeks to be the ‘man of the masses’.

It is surely a sad irony that those who have lost the most are now defending an extreme government whose ideological commitments will hurt them even more. Of course, this is a generalisation – there was, for instance, and still is, a principled Lexiteer case. Nevertheless, the simple fact is that a no-deal Brexit may very well occur under the most right-wing cabinet in history.

To misappropriate the eloquent position of Grace Blakeley in her book Stolen, moments of radical political change often occur in times of crisis. There was no clearer example of this than the actions taken under the Thatcher administration. As she puts it, the Thatcher government asserted the interests of capital using ‘state warfare’: mobilising the state’s power to subdue labour, all whilst legislating for a light-regulation, low-tax economy that would further entrench the dominance of capital.

The circumstances would obviously be different in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but the basic principle still stands. Such an event, with all of the associated economic and political turmoil, would provide an excellent opportunity to solidify the power of capital, remaking Britain a la ‘Britannia Unchained’. This entrenchment of power, indeed, would be over a workforce already atomised and alienated by successive years of anti-union legislation and changing economic conditions favourable to the service economy.

But centrists must take their share of the blame. To return to the original point, there has been a fundamental failure of centrists to engage in any meaningful way with the economic and political circumstances defining our age. By merely seeking to condemn ‘aggressive rhetoric’, they fail to ask the truly important questions; why heightened, aggressive language appeals to people at all. By merely waxing lyrical about the politics of division, they tragically fail to see that politics inevitably involves division, and inevitably involves fighting your own corner.

There has been no better example of this failure than the response of centrist Democrats to Donald Trump. They have criticised – with justification – his homophobia, transphobia, racism and sexism. But declaring their outrage about the President’s rhetoric on Twitter won’t solve anything at all. By failing to offer structural change, and without listening to the voices of left-behind America, they merely offer hollow narcissism and petty sloganeering. By failing to actively engage in substantive, radical policy proposals to solve the contradictions of a broken economic epoch, they allow the President to present turbo-charged capitalism as a viable economic solution for industrial communities devastated by globalisation.

Indeed, the temptation to merely react to the immediately obscene statements of the President is invariably counterproductive. Trump thrives precisely because this is an age of cheap sensation, empty statements, information overload and contrived outrage generated, in part, by a media environment which needs to create a false sense of urgency. By denouncing his Twitter feed with vague insistences that we need to ‘come together’ and ‘unify’, they ironically distract from the devastating impact of his actual policies – playing into Trump’s tactics by allowing him to rally his support base against the ‘liberal media’.

Whilst the goal of rejecting ‘division’ is surely a noble one, treating it as an absolute is invariably a poor political tactic. During the Obama era, Democratic obsession with bipartisanship yielded political capital to the Republicans. As Cornel West asserted, this otherwise inspiring President bailed out Wall Street without helping ‘Maine Street’ – he oversaw a radical increase in drone strikes, he offered additional funds to the Israeli government, and in seeking to appease his Republican critics he called the Baltimore black youth ‘criminals and thugs’ – all in the name of ‘consensus’.

The tragic consequences of seeking unity over division are therefore clear. Politics is – to draw upon Christopher Hitchens, division by definition. Centrists have far too often appeared on the stage of history as the humanisers of the inevitable, bowing to a fundamentally conservative project.

Now, this is not to say that divisive rhetoric ought not to be condemned. It has left a bloody legacy, as the horrific murder of Jo Cox stands testament to. Neither should we accept the scapegoating of migrants, a cynical right-wing strategy that seeks to pit worker against worker merely on the basis of nationality, distracting from their fundamental class interest.

Nevertheless, centrists are obsessed with the politics of division precisely because their political framework has lost all credibility. Politics works where vigorous debate occurs. There is surely a dialectical relationship between the right and the left, each assuming radically different conceptions of human nature, society, the state and the economy; the flaws of each compensating for the other.

We ought to be suspicious of those who reject the ‘politics of division’ precisely because politics involves confrontation. Instead of merely condemning inflammatory rhetoric, progressives in the UK ought to offer a principled, grounded stance, revealing the cynicism of their opponents, persuasively putting forward an alternative vision which – crucially – appeals to those who are most likely to be disillusioned.

Merely complaining about ‘division’ puts progressives on the back foot,  ceding the dominant ideological position. Populism thrives on cheap sloganeering and provocative statements designed to invoke a reaction, engineered to put their opponents on the defensive. It’s time for the left to truly fight their own corner.

How Georgism can be the answer to environmental degradation

The Amazon rainforest has been burning for three weeks. This is devastating the lives of indigenous communities and the wildlife that inhabit this fundamental ecosystem of the earth. On Monday, the smoke covered the skies of Brazil’s biggest city, Sau Paulo, blocking out the sun of a city that is over 2700km (1700 miles) away. The Amazon is often referred to as the planet’s lungs, producing 20% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The fact it has taken up to three weeks for the news of the fires to reach the West has been cause for concern to the public and many have taken to Twitter to express their sadness, anger, and disbelief, as seen below.

Indeed, it is important to identify the role of President Bolsonaro in enabling such catastrophic deforestation, which begun immediately after he took office in January with his assault on Amazon rainforest protections through the transference of regulations and creation of new indigenous reserves to the agriculture ministry. The agricultural ministry is controlled by the powerful agribusiness lobby and led indigenous spokespersons to highlight such an event as a symbolic concession to farming interests at a time when deforestation is rising again.

Such a statement has unfortunately been proven correct by data from the National Institute for Space Research, whom have reported the number of fires in Brazil this year is has increased by 84% than over the same period in 2018.

Nevertheless, it is time for more pragmatism in addressing environmental degradation. Calls to organise demonstrations and other forms of virtue signalling from the left simply aren’t good enough. Environmental disaster is here and now, calls to defeat capitalism are not. Capitalism is deeply ingrained into the global order, therefore to create a new global order takes time which we simply do not have at our disposal. Instead, I argue we must invoke the ideals of Georgism.

Georgist economic theory posits that whilst individuals should own the value they produce themselves, economic value derived from land should belong equally to all members of society because the resources of the land should be free for all to benefit from. Policy proposals that incorporate this are eco-taxes which tax polluters. This would include deforestation by farmers. In Georgist terms, this is a land-value tax which discourages waste. Therefore, for a land mass as large as the Amazon, which provides up to 20% of global oxygen, any attempts to deforest would see a huge financial burden placed on the individuals and businesses that seek to do so.

Although the majority of deforestation in the Amazon is illegal, the actions of President Bolsonaro in weakening the power of government agencies responsible for protecting the rainforest, implicate him as an enabler and as someone who doesn’t take climate concerns seriously. This is most recently evident in his dismissal of former head of agency and physicist Ricardo Magnus Osório Galvão, for releasing a report highlighting the alarming rate of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil.

However,  international sanctions on states which do not adhere to an international standard of land-value tax would demand much more action. This would make the continuity of such economically damaging activities politically nonviable. Therefore, this is a possible route to success in saving the environment from leaders such as Bolsonaro, whom seek to bypass the importance of protecting the environment in their pursuit of development.

If, and it’s a big if, the international community and world leaders can come together to implement a global, Georgist land-value tax, it would go a long way in beginning to reduce pollution and other damaging activities to our environment.

Jeffrey Epstein found dead in New York jail

Prolific financier and alleged child sex-ring kingpin, Jeffrey Epstein, has been found dead in prison before his trial on sex trafficking charges.

Epstein’s body was discovered at 11:30 GMT on Saturday, and is believed to have been found hanged.

Last month, Jeffrey Epstein was found almost unconscious in his jail cell with injuries to his neck, prompting him to be put on suicide watch.

The businessman’s death eliminates the chances of a formal and public trial taking place for Jeffrey Epstein, and calls into question whether much of the evidence collected by law enforcement will ever be released to the public.

The 66-year old hedge fund manager was held in a New York jail pending his trial, where he is accused of abusing dozens of underage girls in two of his American properties.

It is also alleged that these crimes formed part of a child trafficking outfit ran by Epstein that provided similar illegal services to high profile figures across the world.

It was found earlier this year that the well-known businessman, who has several connections with government figures across the Western World, had organized a child sex trafficking ring for rich pedophiles.

When American Law Enforcement stormed Epstein’s New York properties, they found a large number of images of child pornography, including nude photographs of what looked like underage women.

Epstein was known to socialise with notable celebrities and political figures such as Prince Andrew, a ‘well known’ Prime minister, Donald Trump, and the Clinton family.

The news comes a day after newly released court documents implicate Prince Andrew, the son of the Queen of the United Kingdom, and his girlfriend in the trafficking ring.

The documents provided photographic proof of Prince Andrew and his girlfriend were in one of Epstein’s London properties with a young underage American national at the time, who served as a witness to the current trial.

The witness, Virginia Giuffre, alleged that Epstein coerced her into travelling to London under the guise of a legitimate job to perform sex acts for prince Andrew.

The royal household called the allegations “false and without any foundation” and denied that the Duke of York had any sexual contact with the witness.