Linklog entries in September 2015

Monday, 28 September 2015

The billionaire behind pig-gate 

Solomon Hughes writes about Lord Ashcroft and the lack of scrutiny given to how he made his fortune:

[In the 1980’s] his main business, Hawley Group, was heavily into contract cleaning. Behind the scenes, Ashcroft funded a political lobby to privatize the cleaning of schools and NHS hospitals.

The lobby group he funded, called PULSE (the “Public and Local Service Efficiency” Campaign) was set up in 1985 to persuade the public sector to contract out services like cleaning and catering. Ashcroft gave PULSE around £500,000.

Ashcroft’s firm, Hawley Group, got around a third of the new NHS contracts in 1983-1988.

Ashcroft cashed in, sold off the firms that got rich from the policy he had promoted — and then took his money offshore to Belize.

This Guardian article from 1999 provides more detail, including comments from PULSE’s campaign director Peter Clarke, who praised Ashcroft’s ‘political engineering’:

He gave a six-figure sum for maybe five years, and it opened up a multimillion-pound market for himself and other cleaning contractors. The episode ignited his imagination. It helped Ashcroft realise how he could put on pressure for changes in the law that would benefit him commercially. He was a bright button.

The comedian Stewart Lee also urged his readers to focus less on the diverting story of pig-gate, and more on the messenger:

What matters is who is telling us this, and why, and what power do they wield? But, we’ve been so busy laughing at an amusing jpeg of Peppa Pig running away from the prime minister, it’s a question we haven’t found time to ask.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Question Time panel criticise vegan Kerry McCarthy’s appointment as Shadow Environment Secretary 

I was very frustrated watching the one-sided discussion on Question Time last night about Kerry McCarthy. The audience member’s question was:

Is putting a vegan, who likens meat-eaters to smokers, in charge of DEFRA, contempt or inspired leadership?

David Dimbleby quickly corrected the questioner:

She’s not actually in charge, she’s the Shadow Environment Secretary.

But then added a mistake of his own:

Kerry McCarthy, who today said ‘Meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco with public campaigns to stop people eating it’

This quote wasn’t new. It was taken from an interview McCarthy gave much earlier this year for the Spring edition of the magazine Viva!Life, well before she was appointed Shadow Environment Secretary.

The columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer and Conservative MP Ken Clarke both dismissed McCarthy’s views as ‘nonsense’ and invoked a biological justification for meat-eating. Clarke said:

I just take the straight-forward view that if you look at the human condition, at our anatomy, our jaw, our digestive system, we’re plainly omnivores, we always have been.

Hartley-Brewer went a step further:

We need to eat meat… Have you checked what your teeth are for? They do different jobs, different teeth do different jobs.

Just because we have teeth that enable us to eat meat, does that mean we should? This argument doesn’t address the ethics of modern meat consumption.

Interestingly, Hartley-Brewer acknowledged that there was a ‘strong moral argument’ for people eating less meat and paying more for meat in order to ensure better conditions for livestock. That’s precisely the view that McCarthy advocates.

Clarke went on to say:

I admire Kerry’s view that she’s so consumed by her love of animals that she’s prepared to go onto a non-meat diet but I do think that it’s scientifically and realistically nonsense and I hope she’s got some rather more scientifically, factually based views on the environment if she’s going to cover that particular brief.

McCarthy’s views are likely rooted in more science and fact than Mr Clarke’s. McCarthy told Viva!Life that her motivation to become vegetarian and then vegan ‘wasn’t emotional or sentimental, rather it was entirely rational, logical. Why cause harm and suffering to others if it isn’t entirely necessary?’

Clarke only need look to Hansard for evidence of McCarthy’s scientific and factually-based reasoning. McCarthy secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons for World Vegan Day back in 2011 and addressed issues of animal welfare, dietary health, efficient land use, and the huge greenhouse gas emissions of the livestock industry. McCarthy also wrote a piece for the New Statesman raising concerns about animal agriculture’s contribution to world hunger and environmental degradation.

It was lamentable that Chris Bryant didn’t muster any of these arguments in defence of his shadow cabinet colleague. There was no evidence of environmental awareness on the panel.

UKIP Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans responded:

I actually don’t rule out the idea of a vegan, in theory, becoming a Shadow Agriculture Minister

How generous. One would hope that a person couldn’t be discriminated against because of their choice of diet.

Evans continued:

We’ve had health secretaries that know sod-all about health, we’ve had education secretaries that know absolutely nothing about education, but this one – she is absolutely committed to the eradication of livestock farming and so I really don’t see how she can even begin to do her job.

Where is Evans getting this from? McCarthy’s statement on her appointment as Shadow Environment Secretary said:

Although I have been vegan for many years, this will not affect Labour policy in relation to the farming industry, although I am of course keen to see farmers adopt the highest welfare standards, and keen to develop policies which promote a move away from intensive, industrialised farming.

McCarthy also told Radio Four’s Farming Today programme:

People have this sort of slightly bizarre idea – the world is not going to turn vegan because I’m in post… I have my own personal views on what I choose to eat but I accept that we have a livestock industry in this country.

I was astounded by the narrow-mindedness of the Question Time panel. The status quo fails to acknowledge that all diets are a choice. Whenever someone asks me, ‘Why did you decide to be vegetarian?’ I counter, ‘No, you first, tell me why did you decide to eat meat?’

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Al Gore speech criticises UK government for inaction on climate change 

Al Gore:

Since the election was held, this country’s commitment to zero carbon homes has been cancelled, this country’s commitment to zero carbon buildings has been cancelled. The green deal has been cancelled. The climate change levy exemption for zero carbon energy has been cancelled. Solar support via the renewables obligation has been cancelled. Onshore wind support via the renewable obligation has been cancelled.

The dismal list went on. You can watch Gore speaking here.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Corbyn’s QE for the people 

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on QE:

Much of the money has leaked into asset booms, greatly enriching the “haves”, with a painfully slow trickle-down to the rest of society. A pervasive sense that the financial elites pulled a blinder – while austerity is for little people – explains in part why Mr Corbyn has suddenly stormed into the limelight…

…if we have to do QE again – and right now the US and the UK are preparing to tighten, so it is not imminent – it would surely be better to inject the money directly into the veins of the real economy.

Evans-Pritchard goes on to describe in detail how People’s QE could be managed to avoid inflation and to remedy low levels of investment. The New Economics Foundation has also produced a good primer on People’s QE.

This sober and well-informed analysis from The Telegraph is a welcome contrast to Jeremy Warner’s hysterical dismissal of Corbyn’s shadow chancellor as ‘a nutjob’, a charge which was then amended following complaints to become ‘a man from cloud cuckoo-land’.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Petition for the BBC to call Cameron the ‘right-wing Prime Minister’ 

If the BBC refer to Jeremy Corbyn as ‘the left-wing leader of the Labour Party’ then they should refer to Cameron as ‘the right-wing Prime Minister’. At present their label for Corbyn insidiously asserts that Cameron holds the centre-ground, while Corbyn is on the fringe. This is dangerously uncritical and biased reporting.

The BBC must recognise that what constitutes the centre-ground in politics is ever-changing and dynamic.

Mark Curtis recently wrote a blog highlighting the fact that most of Corbyn’s key policies are widely supported by the public and thus could be construed as the true centre-ground.

Corbyn didn’t sing the national anthem 

You’d think a man could freely choose to remember the dead in respectful silence and not to sing the national anthem, without provoking headlines.

In truth, he’d have been damned by the press either way. Yesterday, The Sun’s front page berated Corbyn for being willing to kiss the Queen’s hand in order to become a member of the Privy Council. So one day he’s branded a hypocrite for jettisoning his principles and being willing to conform, and the next day they berate him for honouring his republican principles and not singing God Save the Queen.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jon Snow interviews John McDonnell 

This is a rare moment. Two of the most rebellious people in the House of Commons have become the leader and the shadow chancellor of the Labour party.

And so Jon Snow described history being made. The Establishment doesn’t approve. This is a good time to bypass the press and go straight to primary sources, avoiding media distortion and misrepresentation. Hence linking to Snow’s full interview with McDonnell here.

For example, there was a lot of noise yesterday about Labour being a boys club and giving its top jobs to men. In fact, Corbyn’s cabinet is gender-balanced, with women edging past men.

John McDonnell said:

Well, we’ve now announced the shadow cabinet – it’s 16 women, 15 men. That’s a historic breakthrough. I’ve heard all this thing about ‘none of the four top jobs are occupied by women’ – Jeremy’s said quite clearly there’s no top jobs, that’s archaic, that’s like something from the nineteenth century when government only invaded places, or just had a police force or managed a small budget. Now the real jobs I think are about the delivery of services like health and education. And in all those key jobs there are women. So I think it’s a real breakthrough and sends a message out that not only have we fulfilled our promise but I think we’ll have better government as a result.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Why the Tories are now saying ‘security’ alot 

“Security” is the new “Long Term Economic Plan”.

The Conservative party are now parroting their new watchword: Security. Their message discipline is well-coordinated to shape political debate. It’s a crude tactic; maddening for those of us who consume lots of news and become incensed by the inane repetition. But will it succeed in brainwashing the public?

Friday, 11 September 2015

How To Change The World 

Jerry Rothwell’s brilliant documentary chronicles the birth of Greenpeace and its charismatic founders. It’s a story of idealism, courageous activism and visionary leadership – but also of fractious group dynamics, egos and human frailty.

I’m grateful that it has introduced me to the writing of founder Bob Hunter – which I look forward to exploring further.

Rothwell has uncovered incredible archive footage. Go see it on the big screen, it’s in cinemas now.