Thursday, 27 January 2011

Health-care in the Big Society.

We're All in this Together.

If you care dearly about the National Health Service and don't wish to see it destroyed in your life time, please sign this petition and partcipate as much as you can in any upcoming anti-cuts demonstrations.

The National Health Service was founded on the idea of universal health-care in the Labour government which was in power from August 1945 to January 1951. It was the creation of the great socialist Aneurin Bevan and we ought to remember his words "No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means." Almost every developed society has a national health service of some form, the notable exceptions being South Africa and the United States. The NHS was established as the welfare state was created in order to combat the 'Giant Evils' identified in the Beveridge Report of '42, namely squalor, disease, idleness, ignorance and want. Since the very beginning there have been attempts to repeal the NHS, and take us back to a private health-care system, bit by bit over 30-odd years it has been undermined. By 2007 NHS had fallen in ranking to number 18 in the world standards of health-care. France held the position of number 1 and the United States was at number 37.

In the same month of Christmas the glare of the press shifted from student protests to the cuts the National Health Service is facing. Those of you who have a memory span longer than 6 months may recall the claims made by all three political parties to ring fence the NHS from public spending cuts. It should not surprise you that this was another instance of lying on the part of the political class. Just as the party-line of the Coalition - that the funding of the NHS is not being cut but increased by 1% over 5 years - is a misleading lie. The costs of health-care may rise by 1% or 2% above inflation which would make the "increase" a cut in effect. The rest of the cuts are being made under the guise of "efficiency savings", or "productivity savings", which involves moving work out of hospitals into poly-clinics and encouraging people to treat themselves. These cuts come to £20 billion in total, not including the effective cut in funding for the NHS over 5 years. For the sake of necessity these "savings" are already being made to avoid a shortfall of £10 billion.

The architect of the reforms is Andrew Lansley, the man who once claimed that the recession will allow most people to spend more time with their loved ones and was later forced to apologise. Lansley's office was bankrolled by private health-providers like Care UK, the CEO of which contributed £21,000 to fund the personal office of Mr Lansley in November 2009. In 2009 Care UK provided services for half a million patients last year, working with all ten Strategic Health Authorities and one in three Primary Care Trusts. It runs hospitals, NHS Walk-in Centres, GPs’ practices and care homes. As of January 2010 it ran 59 residential care facilities with over 3,000 beds. Close to all of Care UK's business is with the NHS, 96% to be specific, which amounted to £400 million in 2009. No wonder the Tories pledged to increase the use of private providers before the election and now we see these reforms on the menu. As with the contributions of banks to the Conservative Party from 2006 to 2010, which added up to £16 million, we should not be surprised when Cameron bails out the banks.

So it shouldn't surprise us that these health-care reforms favour the wealthy, after all a "reform" is a change you're supposed to like and is rarely interchangeable with "revolution" - except perhaps in the way that Thatcherism was "revolutionary". As part of the overhaul of public health Mr Lansley has set up five responsibility deal networks on which businesses and ministers come up with policies. Along side groups like Cancer Research UK and the Faculty of Public Health an array of private companies will sit, many of which are in the food and alcohol industry. The alcohol responsibility deal is chaired by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. The food network includes Compass, the company attacked by Jamie Oliver for it's turkey twizzlers, as well as fast-food companies and processed food producers. Not only do the leading supermarkets have a place in this network, influencing health policy, but so does PepsiCo who own Walkers crisps along with the Fitness Industry Association - a lobby group for private gyms and personal trainers.

 The Time has come to Grow up!

So keep in mind that in the background there is a convergence of class interests invested in a health rationed by wealth and not need. The "policy community" in the shadows consists of corporations, management consultants, think-tanks, freelancers and hired hands, including some academics and doctors. Oh and of course there is the "revolving door" letting company envoys can get jobs in the Ministry of Health, and ex-ministers and officials can get well paid jobs in the private sector. The model is the American health-care system and it's unlucky for us that we have a government keen on defending our independence from the EU and not the US. We ought to look at the US to see what we might become if we lose universal health-care. There is public funding for health-care in the US, but it is only a way of covering the costs of private enterprise and providing the bare minimum. In many states public funding for health-care has been cut to balance the budget and reduce the deficit - sound familiar? In Arizona this process has gone as far as cutting funding for organ transplants, leaving people in need of such transplants to die, even though Governor Brewer has been given $200 million in stimulus funds to spend.

Then in the Monday of the New Year, formally known as the month of January, David Cameron told critics of the health reforms to "grow up". Along with some words about the NHS being "second rate", though he was keen to correct himself as the Freudian slip tore a fissure in his public image and revealed the truth to the "bewildered herd" who would surely trample him. Notice Cameron spoke of the importance of choice and claimed not to be speaking of any grand ideological vision. This is nothing new from a market liberal, the freedom of the individual to choose out of a wide range of options is placed above any interest of community or society as a whole. As Hayek thought, human beings are not naturally disposed to living in a market economy and will attempt to rebel against it. People don't really want the "material progress" promised by neoliberalism, it is an "involuntary" affair as seen around the world, people must be coerced or "educated" into accepting such radical reforms. In the case of Britain the government has chosen the method of "education", by which I mean telling us over and over again it's the only way to go.

"There is no alternative" is the mantra of the Con-Dems and the right-wing media, as it was under the Thatcherites. Of course the media neglects to mention that government debt as a proportion of GDP is 70%, which is far lower than the 260% of GDP it added up to after WWII which was before the NHS was founded. In recessions tax-revenue go into sharp decline as a result of rising unemployment and the collapse of companies. So the normal rate of public spending, which typically increases as tax-revenue increases, was no longer sustainable. However, the fall in tax-revenues is a result of the recession which means the best of dealing with the issue of debt is by increasing economic growth and creating jobs. This would require a move away from 'Big Finance' to manufacturing and maintaining a high rate of expenditure by raising taxes. Instead the government are making the deliberate decision to cut spending and in doing so increasing unemployment whilst undermining the safety-net that would soften the blow to those put out of work.

David Cameron has taken a hyper-active approach to governance with the intention of going further and faster than Thatcher ever did. The current incumbents have not even been in government for a year and we're seeing the economy being put through "shock therapy", at the same time universal education and health-care are being undermined. Now there is talk of the mass-privatisation of British forests. At the same time we've seen how fragile the Coalition is on a number of issues, the student protests wobbled the government and support among Lib Dems fell to 21 votes in the end as thousands stood outside in the cold being kettled. The stealth privatisation of the NHS is to be taken as seriously as an attempt to undermine suffrage. If voting is a civic duty because of the centuries of fighting that, so is defending universal health-care.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Communism in 1848.

Interlude: These lists consist of goals and demands set in 1848, which Karl Marx was the major author of, I've posted these demands as a "food for thought" exercise. It is interesting to see what we take for granted today, e.g. the right to vote and universal education, which should be a call for us to act to fight for what has been lost over the years as well. As well as to defend that which is coming under threat today, specifically universal education and the welfare state as a whole. The lists are also a testament to how forward we have come. Not only do we take the right to vote for granted, we can see that the German Communists were not radical enough in stipulating a voting age of 21 and excluding citizens with a criminal record. We can see that a heavily armed populace is not a desirable aim. We notice the absence of attacks on colonialism, misogyny and racism. Though we should not judge an entire movement by a couple of lists, nor any specific author. The fact remains that we have progressed and that is not a reason for passivity - it should be a reason to push onwards.

These are the demands listed in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848):

1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
3. Abolition of all right of inheritance.
4. Confiscation of property of all emigrants and rebels.
5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and on exclusive monopoly.
6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of wastelands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
8. Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries, gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc.

When in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so another, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organise itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The following list was the demands of the German Communist Party (1848) and was written by a number of socialists including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels:

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

1. The whole of Germany shall be declared a single and indivisible republic.
2. Every German over 21 years of age shall be able to vote and be elected, provided he has no criminal record.
3. Representatives of the people shall be paid, so that workers, too, will be able to sit in the Parliament of the German people.
4. The whole population shall be armed. In future, the armed forces are to be forces of workers as well, so that the army will not merely be a consumer, as it was in the past, but will produce even more than the cost of its upkeep. Furthermore, this will be a means of organising labour.
5. The exercise of justice shall be free of charge.
6. All the feudal dues, tributes, duties, tithes, et.c, which have oppressed the rural population until now, shall be abolished, with no compensation whatsoever.
7. The estates of princes and other feudal lords, and all mines and pits etc., shall become state property. On these estates, large-scale agriculture is to be introduced for the benefit of all and using the most modern scientific aids.
8. Mortgages on peasant lands shall be declared state property. The peasants are to pay the interest on these mortgages to the state.
9. In those regions where there is a developed system of lease-holding, the ground rent or the "lease-shilling" shall be paid to the state as tax.

All measures listed 6, 7, 8 and 9 are designed to reduce public and other burdens on peasants and small tenant farmers, without reducing the requisite means for paying the expenses of the state and without endangering production itself.

The real landowner, who is neither a peasant nor a tenant, has no part in production. His consumption is therefore nothing but misuse.

10. One state bank shall replace all the private banks, and its note issue shall be legal tender. this measure will make it possible to regulate credit in the interests of the whole population and thus undermine the domination of big money-men. The gradual replacement of gold and silver with paper money will reduce the cost of the indispensable instrument of bourgeois commerce, the universal means of exchange, and reserve gold and silver for effective use abroad. Finally, this measure is needed in order to bind the interests of the conservative bourgeois to the revolution.
11. All means of transport: railways, canals, steamships, roads, stations, etc. shall be taken over by the state. They are to be transformed into state property and put at the free service of the needy.
12. All civil servants shall receive the same pay, without any distinction other than those with a family, e.g. with more needs, will receive a higher salary than the rest.
13. The complete separation of Church and State. Ministers of all confessions are to be paid only by their congregations.
14. Restriction of the right of inheritance.
15. The introduction of severely progressive taxation and the abolition of taxes on consumption.
16. The establishment of national workshops. The state is to guarantee all workers their existence and care for those unable to work.
17. Universal and free education for the people.

It is in the interests of the German proletariat, petty bourgeoisie and peasantry to work energetically for the implementation of the above measures. Through there realisation alone can the millions of German people, who have up till now been exploited by a small handful, and whom some will attempt to maintain in renewed oppression, get their rights, and the power that they are due as the producers of all wealth.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

In Contempt of the Liberal Democrats.


For all who feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, and rightly despise Nick Clegg, the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election will provide an enjoyable view of things to come - "enjoyable" in the sadistic sense as the Lib Dems crash and burn. Incidentally other opportunities to humiliate the Lib Dems and affirm the end of the "Cleggasm" include the referenda on voting reform and devolution as well as the Party Conference in September. Don't worry though I'm sure there will be plenty of demonstrations held before then! If you want to know, the next national demonstration is due to be held on January 29th. In the spirit of Christmas the Coalition has continued its attempts to sell the cuts agenda to the public. David Cameron released a New Year's message to present the cuts as necessary and not ideological. Simon Hughes "celebrated" the New Year by writing an article for The New Statesman in defence of the Lib Dems. Hughes is keen to convey the true "reality" of politics to the electorate in a patronising tissue of lies and hypocrisy.

The main argument of this stratagem is made obvious by the title "The Hard Reality of Power". Hughes argues that the Liberals remain a progressive force in politics today and is quick to remind us it was Beveridge who helped construct the welfare state. The Party's links with such great liberals should not be exploited in this way. If Hughes, along with the other members of the Beveridge Group, want to honour the memory of William Beveridge they should have voted against the rise in tuition fees - abstention is not good enough! It is evident early on, not just in the title, that Hughes views the public with disdain barely concealed by his choice of words. "Although the electorate (and, to a lesser extent, senior people in the Labour Party) did not give us the chance to form a coalition of the centre-left, which many of us had hoped for, we rose to last year's challenge" he writes. Notice in Hughes' mind it is the public who are at fault for creating a situation in which the Liberals had to forge an alliance with the Conservatives.

Hughes goes on to add that the Liberals "overcame" these problems to enter into a coalition without abandoning the commitment to "pluralist politics". It is s sick joke to imply that the Coalition is the affirmation of political pluralism. Before going on to assure himself of the Liberals' place in history Hughes repeats the party-line: "Not getting your own way on everything is the inevitable consequence of coalition." Supposedly the Liberals would like to abolish tuition fees but couldn't because of the election result. This is another way of blaming the public for the current state of affairs. These politicians have conveniently forgotten about the lies and pledges made to attain power. It is never acknowledged that the Liberals had a secret team drawing up a shadow platform before the election. The shadow platform, which is now naked for all to see, includes planks such as a u-turn on tuition fees. 2 months before the election and the Lib Dems were prepared to raise tuition fees. These facts are missing in Hughes' stratagem.

Instead Hughes flings himself from one stone to the next in hope of convincing the herd of his Party's integrity. Hughes distinguishes between a "hard reality" and a "easier world of opposition" with total disregard for the disillusionment the Party is stirring up in the public. The implicit message is that the public are fools for falling for the Lib Dems' promises. The voter should have known better than to believe that politicians are honest and have moral fibre. Of course, the average voter is well aware that politicians lie and betray pledges. Simon Hughes is only digging his party's grave by insisting that we abide such conduct. The Lib Dems have probably convinced themselves that the public is being immature and should learn to understand the nature of politics. This patronising attitude will contribute to the downfall of the Liberal Democrats over the next few years. No doubt the Liberals will have to recreate itself in order to survive.

There is No Alternative.

The political fallout of the cuts itself is potentially dangerous as the disillusionment with the Establishment is exacerbated, as it has been so often in the past around the world. The left-wing opposition to the government is just building momentum and we've already seen a resurgence of extremist politics during the recession. The widespread disillusionment is accompanied by a wave of misinformation that is aimed at leading people to believe that the country is overrun with foreigners, scroungers, drunks, promiscuous and murderous yobs. A culture of fear has been brewing for years in this country. But the economic inequalities which have produced much of the social decay and rot in society are quietly kicked under the rug. The struggle of the working-classes against elites is displaced onto rebellions against the welfare state, multiculturalism and tolerance. The lip-service of the Con-Dem Coalition to progressive change will only serve to nurture anti-politics in Britain.

Hughes is not alone in his complicity in trampling the legacy of social democrats and compared with Chris Huhne, another member of the Beveridge Group, is a less of a sycophantic shithead. Simon Hughes has accepted the role of peddling the prescription of cuts and higher tuition fees to the public - an Avon lady for Thatcherism. Over the next 6 months Hughes will be taking his sales pitch to colleges around the country. No doubt his article is part of this new found role in the Coalition. Speaking of which in the article he goes onto claim that the Lib Dems have replaced Labour as the "constructive party" of progressive politics. The grounds for this claim are that Labour is advocating a graduate tax which is no different to the higher tuition fees enacted by the Coalition. Another old trick by party hacks is to point the finger at Labour and scream "They're no better!" A fine demonstration of capitalist realism and the cynicism of the political class who can't justify their actions so they seek to discredit the Opposition. This will no doubt contribute to the disillusionment with mainstream politics.

From here Hughes points out to readers that Labour made false election promises and pledges. Stressing the Lib Dem commitment to an elected second chamber of Parliament, voting reform, localism and taking people earning less than £10k a year out of tax altogether. It is true that there is some ice-cream to be found in the bowl of dog shit the Coalition is trying to feed us. Even in regards to the education cuts and tuition fee hikes. Hughes goes on to claim that these changes are not possible without Lib Dems in government, which may be true. But it is also true that the Conservatives might not have been able to ram through the cuts and regressive taxes as a minority government. The Liberal Democrats have enabled the Conservatives to erode social democracy, the gestures left over for the Liberals to make are mostly meaningless progressive tokens - from referenda on devolution and voting to diluted control orders and opposition to ID cards.

The Thatcherite mantra of "There is no alternative" is alive and well in the last paragraph of the article. The budget deficit is also added to the list of reasons we can't have a decent government, as if he nearly forgot about it and quickly slipped it in at the end. The necessity of the cuts is implicit and Hughes tries to extend this to the Con-Dem Coalition itself "The alternative to coalition was a single-party Conservative government. I have no doubt about which I prefer." While it is true that a minority Conservative government would have been less liberal than the Coalition it would have also been less powerful. The Conservatives may have been forced to compromise by a Lib-Lab Opposition combined with the grass-roots protests to the cuts. The very presence of the Liberal Democrats in government is indicative of the poor excuse for a democratic process we have in the UK. MPs are elected and then we watch as they collude with one another to appoint each other to various roles. The seats are sold and public policy is the price.