Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Labour Party purge is getting ridiculous


The Labour Party purge is getting absolutely ridiculous. Not content with banning 130,000 party members from participation in the leadership election out of a fear that they're likely to back Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party hierarchy has set about trawling through people's social media accounts looking for excuses to suspend them from the party.

Some of the most notable examples include the Orgreave Justice campaigner and 45 year long Labour Party member John Dunn, the head of the Bakers' Union Ronnie Draper, a Unison rep and long-time Labour Party activist called Philip Lewis and a woman called Catherine Starr who was apparently suspended for liking a band called the Foo Fighters too much.

The Catherine Starr case was unusual because the letter of suspension actually included a date when the supposedly unacceptable comment was made, allowing her to track down the "abusive" comment to a post where she said "I fucking love the Foo Fighters". Huge numbers of people are being suspended with an explanation consisting of nothing more than "comments you posted on social media" making it pretty much impossible for people to track down the supposedly problematic comments.

There is clearly a lack of due process if people are being suspended from the party and barred from voting in the leadership election based on such vague allegations. If the Labour Party snoopers have evidence of abusive language they should include screen grabs of the comments deemed to be unacceptable, which is hardly difficult given the way that they're snooping through people's social media accounts.

Some people have raised concerns that snooping through the social media accounts of tens of thousands of Labour Party members in order to find excuses to suspend Jeremy Corbyn supporters is a deeply sinister thing to do. Others have argued that it's a tremendous waste of time and effort that could be better used on actually opposing the Tories. My biggest concern is the abject hypocrisy of it all.

You just have to look at the behaviour of some of the Labour Party members who are backing Owen Smith to see how rigged the whole purge is:

In March 2016 Catherine Starr posted a comment about how much she likes the Foo Fighters on her personal Facebook page. The Labour Party donor Michael Foster wrote an extraordinary article for the Daily Mail describing other Labour Party members as "Nazi stormtroopers" and a tide of other abusive comments and insults including "arrivistas", "a divisive, aggressive holier-than-thou cadre of hard-Left socialists", "bullies and arm-twisters", "economically illiterate people", "a mob", "second-rate minds", "the extreme left".

Catherine Starr has been purged and Michael Foster has suffered no consequences for his abusive diatribe.
In 2014 Dr Gemma Angel wrote a Twitter post detailing her reasons for voting for the Green Party at the European elections. Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader she changed her allegiance and tried to join the Labour Party. In 2016 the unelected Labour Party peer David Sainsbury made a donation of £2,150,000 to the Liberal Democrats.
For a tweet supporting the Green Party from over two years ago Dr Gemma Angel was purged from the party. For handing over two million quid to a rival political party between April and June 2016 David Sainsbury has suffered no consequences. 

The fact that the Labour Party hierarchy have decided to trawl through the social media postings of Jeremy Corbyn supporters to look for (often incredibly tenuous) excuses to block them from membership is bad enough, but the fact that party politicians and donors are being allowed to get away with things that are very much worse demonstrates beyond doubt that the purge is being conducted in order to rig the election, rather than to rid the party of abusive people or those who clearly support other political parties.

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10 Economic fairy stories that people need to stop believing in


One of the big problems in the UK is the fact that the vast majority of the 93% of kids who go to state school end up with no economics education. This means that an awful lot of people are susceptible to the kind of ridiculous economic fairy stories that are pushed by right-wing politicians and their cheerleaders in the mainstream media.

In this article I'm going to quickly run through ten of them. I've already written articles critiquing several of these myths individually. Where this is the case I've linked to the full article underneath the section header.


1. Government finances are like a household budget
[Main Article]

This is one of the most pervasive right-wing economic myths. The Tories love it because it allows them to hoodwink economically uneducated people into supporting their economic policies by making them think they understand economic issues that are actually very much more complex.

If your family home has a printing press that can produce money out of nothing (like the Bank of England) then the government finances-household budget analogy is slightly less misleading, but it also means you're a bunch of money forging criminals, so hardly representative of the typical UK family.

Anyone who tells you that government finances are like a household budget is either economically illiterate, or they're someone who knows perfectly well that they're talking economic gibberish but they're deliberately lying to you because they're assuming you to be economically illiterate.

2. The private sector is more efficient than public ownership
[Main article]

There are so many examples of this being completely wrong it's impossible to list them all. Think of the G4S security fiasco at the 2012 Olympics when public sector workers like the army and police had to step in at the last moment to rectify a massive private sector blunder. The private company had months to prepare a security plan and failed, the public sector stepped in at the very last moment and succeeded.

Then you've got the publicly operated East Coast Mainline rail franchise that was outperforming all the private franchises so dramatically that the Tories quickly bundled it back into private ownership to avoid the embarrassment.

If private ownership really is so much more efficient than public ownership, ask yourself why the military wasn't one of the first things to be privatised. Ask yourself why countries at war tend to bring private industries under public management.

3. House price inflation is good for the economy and creates growth

I'm sure you'll have seen plenty of news items focusing on house prices. When house prices fall the media report it as if it's some kind of terrible tragedy, and when house prices rise they often paint it as evidence that the economy is recovering. This is completely wrong-headed.

There's no major problem if house prices increase more or less in line with average earnings, but that's clearly not been the case for decades. The more house price inflation outpaces earnings, the bigger the percentage of people's incomes end up going on mortgage repayments rather than being spent on genuinely productive economic activities like setting up businesses, investment and consumption.

The higher the rate of house price inflation, the more skewed towards house price speculation the economy becomes. 


Things have got so bad in the UK that four times as much money is created by the private banks to channel into house price speculation than is lent to businesses outside of the financial sector that actually produce things and provide services. The more house prices inflate, the more incentive there is for the banks to pour even more money into the housing bubble rather than into the sectors of the real economy that actually generate real economic activity.

4. Austerity is necessary and not just an ideologically driven choice
[Main article]

"Let's cut our way to growth" is an absolutely ridiculous policy from a macroeconomic perspective. The majority of economists recognise that severe spending cuts are harmful to the economy, and more and more people are waking up to the fact that austerity is a con job that uses debt-fearmongering as a cover for policies designed to ensure a huge transfer of wealth from the poor and ordinary to the tiny super-rich minority.


5. Everyone maximising their self-interest promotes wellbeing

This is one of the central ideas that underpins the right-wing economic models that have become accepted as the economic orthodoxy since the 1980s, and it's utterly ridiculous.


The concept that humans are rationally self-interested beings who will always act in their own self-interest is utterly ridiculous. Rational self interest is an impossible concept because in situations with multiple choices (like supermarket shopping) the number of different combinations of choices mean that a rational analysis would take thousands of years to complete, so people just use heuristics to make their decisions. 

A look at the concept of information asymmetry demonstrates how wrong-headed the idea of humans as perfectly rational economic agents is, because without a perfect supply of information, perfect rationality is clearly impossible to achieve.

Another glaring problem is that the concept of people as purely rational self-interested economic agents is the way it conflicts so dramatically with what we know about reality. If we were all perfectly selfish economic automota, then stuff like charity, empathy, voluntary activities and philanthropy simply wouldn't exist.

The problem goes further than the fact that humans don't and can't act as purely self-interested individuals. The idea that if only we were all just entirely selfish, then general wellbeing would be promoted is staggeringly backwards. If only everyone would stop giving to charity or volunteering in their community then the world would be a better place? Who actually believes this drivel?

6. It is a good idea to get China to finance our infrastructure projects
[Main article]

Even before it was revealed that one of the Chinese stakeholders in the bid to construct the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant is accused of espionage in the US, George Osborne's own father-in-law described the deal concocted by Cameron and Osborne as "one of the worst deals ever" for energy consumers and the UK taxpayer.

I'm not going to go into any more detail on this because it really boggles my mind that there's anyone out there who thinks that the UK is better off bribing the Chinese into building our infrastructure for us is a better idea than building it ourselves.

7. Impoverishing people on benefits makes them find jobs

The idea that the benefits system is too generous and that people will just go out and find jobs if the welfare system is slashed is one of the most pervasive right-wing economic myths.

The first problem is that many people on benefits are simply incapable of work. Cutting the benefits paid to the severely disabled and terminally ill doesn't make them more likely to find work, it just makes their already difficult situation much worse.

Another problem is that an awful lot of benefits go to the working poor. Stuff like working tax credits and in-work benefits accounts for a much bigger slice of the welfare system than unemployment benefits. Additionally an ever increasing slice of the vast housing benefit budget goes to the working-poor, whose employers pay such pitifully low wages that they can't even afford to cover their housing costs. 


Slashing Working Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Statutory Sick Pay, maternity and paternity pay and other in-work benefits, whilst harking on about "making work pay" is obscene political propaganda from the Tories, but lots of people actually buy into it because they're unwilling to differentiate between the benefits paid to the unemployed, and benefits paid to the working poor.

Another major problem is that the concept of equilibrium unemployment is central to right-wing economic orthodoxy. They actually believe that there is an ideal rate of unemployment and design their economic policies to ensure that there's always a pool of unemployed workers. The idea of deliberately maintaining a standing army of unemployed people to drive down the wages and working conditions of those with jobs is bad enough, but it's utterly appalling to then say that we have to slash the pitiful subsistence incomes they live on in order to force them into work, when the policy is to keep them out of work.

One last problem is that the government's own evidence shows that impoverishing people in order to make them look for work is totally ineffective. In fact it actually creates more barriers to employment (inability to pay transport costs, printing CVs, cleaning clothes ...).


8. Driving down wages is good for the economy

UK workers have suffered a 10.4% decrease in their average real terms incomes since 2007 which is a decline only matched in severity by Greece in the rest of the developed world. The Tories have actually tried to make out that repressing wages is good for the economy as they tried to justify their 1% cap on wage increases for public sector workers (whilst accepting an 11% pay raise for themselves of course).

Slashing wages is bad for the economy because lower wages means lower aggregate demand in the economy. The only way that demand can be kept up when wages are falling is if people avoid cutting back by incurring private debt. Anyone who thinks that cutting wages and stimulating an even bigger private debt bubble than the one that preceded the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown is a good idea really hasn't been thinking very hard about economic issues at all.


9. Government spending crowds out the private sector


The idea that government investment crowds out the private sector is difficult enough to justify in economic good times, but in a economic situation where the private banks are unwilling to lend to businesses because they see much greater returns gambling on the house price bubble or playing the global derivatives casino it's utterly senseless.

Just look at the decline in house building since the 1970s. The Thatcher government basically put an end to government house building, and if crowding out theory is correct, the private sector should have taken up the government share in the market which would have kept the number of new builds per year more or less the same. In fact if you combine crowding out with the myth of private sector efficiency there should actually have been a huge house building boom since the 1980s. What has actually happened is an extraordinary slump with new builds falling to the lowest level since the 1920s under David Cameron's government. The private sector didn't build more houses, they simply sat back and enjoyed a huge unearned bonanza as the supply of new houses dwindled and increasing demand resulted in skyrocketing prices.

Crowding out theory clearly didn't even work in pre-crisis period, but in the post-crisis economy it's absolute gibberish when the banks are refusing to lend to productive sectors of the economy.

10. Government money creation always creates inflation


This myth is easily accepted by the masses because wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread in Wiemar Germany has been part of the history curriculum for millions of UK school kids. It's easy to perpetuate the myth that money creation creates hyperinflation when you can hark back to stuff like that, but it's basically just economic fearmongering because it relies on a complete misunderstanding of where money actually comes from (it's actually created out of nothing by the private banks) and a failure to consider the different ways in which the money could be spent.

It is true that money creation can lead to inflation, but it clearly depends where the newly created money is directed. The private banks create money out of nothing every time they make a loan and this led to a huge house price bubble. After the 2007-08 economic collapse the monetary system was not reformed and we're now seeing the development of another, even bigger house price bubble.

When the Bank of England created £375 billion in quantitative easing cash to prop up the insolvent financial sector it did not create a large spike in general inflation, it's purpose was to stave off deflation in financial sector assets that are mainly held by the wealthy. As a result of it the values of the assets held by the rich were significantly inflated, while the values of pension funds and savings deflated.

The type of inflation caused by money creation clearly depends on where the targeted money is directed into the economy.

If the government created money to just hand it out to the public that would likely cause price inflation in goods and services, but imagine if the government created £50 billion to invest in ensuring that every business and household in the UK gets free access to high-speed broadband. This spending would obviously have a significant economic effect but whether it causes inflation or deflation would depend on which area of the economy you were to look at. Such a scheme would create a large number of relatively high-skilled jobs meaning an earnings boost. It would create increased demand for materials which would have various economic repercussions, and it would also clearly cause a collapse in the value of companies providing home broadband services.

Anyone trying to claim that money creation to invest in infrastructure and services would create hyperinflation is clearly trying to con you, probably because they prefer money creation schemes that inflate the assets of the rich, rather than money creation schemes that benefit all of society.

Conclusion


After the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown the "too big to fail" banks still utterly dominate the UK market; bankers salaries and bonuses are way higher than before the crisis; ordinary British workers have suffered a collapse in the value of their wages as bad as in Greece; private banks still have a monopoly on money creation and are still using the money they create to inflate speculative housing bubbles; and the Tory government has simply repackaged the hard-right economic dogma that caused the financial sector crisis as their Austerity snake oil elixir to supposedly cure the sickness.

The unacceptable response to the financial sector meltdown has come about because far too many people accept the facile and completely inaccurate economic fairy stories propagated by the Tory party and their chums in the mainstream media. 


If the British public do not learn to stop believing in economic fairy stories like these, there's little hope of any kind of change in direction away from the kind of hard-right economic dogma that created the conditions where the 2007-08 financial sector meltdown became inevitable, which means another meltdown at some point and yet another effort to rebrand the causes of the meltdown as the solution to the meltdown.

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NOTE: This article was inspired by a comment from a guy called Simon Cohen in the comments section on the Guardian website who came up with a list of 10 economic myths that need busting. I kept several of the myths he suggested, but changed others.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Owen Smith's hypocrisy and delusion over Scottish labour


Kezia Dugdale was the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party when they lost 40 of their 41 Westminster seats in 2015. She was then promoted to party leader in 2016 and went on to lead Scottish Labour to their most appalling Scottish Parliament performance in history, coming in third behind the widely despised Tories and not even winning her own constituency seat.

During a Labour leadership debate in Scotland Owen Smith tried to imply that anyone who doesn't agree that that's a "brilliant" and "fantastic" performance is an "entryist"! He then had the absolute gall to whine at the audience who laughed at his glowing appraisal of Dugdale's performance for not supporting their party leader. The absolute hypocrisy of the figurehead of the Anyone But Corbyn coup chastising other people for lack of loyalty to their party leader is absolutely astounding.

The people who laughed were laughing at the absurdity of Owen Smith's glowing appraisal of Dugdale's performance as party leader. It's not like they actually participated in a pre-planned, incredibly poorly-timed and ineptly executed coup-plot against their party leader like Owen Smith did.

It's difficult to just skip past such a searing display of hypocrisy from Owen Smith, but there is a more important issue.  Smith's comments about "entryism"
 just goes to show how utterly out of touch the guy is with what is going on in Scotland. He's banging on about the problem of supposedly undesirable people joining the party, when the real glaring problem is that once loyal Labour members and supporters have been deserting the party in droves.

In 1999 Labour won the first Scottish parliament election with 38.8% of the constituency vote. In 2003 they stayed as the main party in the Scottish government after securing 34.6% of the constituency vote. Fast forward to 2016 and Labour secured just 22.6% of the constituency vote and came in third behind the Tories. The performance was so bad that their own leader Kezia Dugdale failed to win a constituency seat and had to sneak in on the regional list!

The Labour Party leadership doesn't need to be angrily dismissing people as "entryists" if they refuse to accept the bizarrely rose-tinted claim that the current Scottish leader is doing a "wonderful job", they need to urgently accept that something is going terribly wrong with Scottish Labour and start thinking about what they intend to do to rectify the problem.

Pretending that everything is "wonderful" in Scottish Labour under Kezia Dugdale's leadership is very much like the behaviour of an alcoholic denying that they have a drink problem. The first step towards recovery comes when the person with the problem stops reacting angrily and defensively every time anyone alludes to it, and accepts that the problem actually exists.

Scottish Labour driving almost half of their voters away from the party in less than two decades is an incredibly serious problem. Finishing behind the Tories in the 2016 Scottish parliament elections is a clear indication of how severe the problem has now got. If things continue along this trajectory Scottish Labour is going to fade away and become a very minor player in Scottish politics, perhaps even being overtaken by the growing Scottish Green Party and the Lib-Dems (who are now flatlining, which is better than still shedding huge numbers of votes like Labour).

Owen Smith and anyone else trying to furiously defend the Scottish Labour leader when the symptoms of terrible decline are now so completely obvious is clearly living in some kind of closed ideological bubble. Reality-denying ideological bubble dwellers are a serious problem because they will obviously resist any efforts to resolve the problems, because people who are in denial tend to strenuously refuse treatment for the problems that they have deluded themselves into believing that they don't have.


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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The independent media revolution



There is an independent media revolution going on. The mainstream press have been very slow to cotton onto the fact that independent media is having an ever increasing influence on the spectrum of political debate, but they seem to be catching up a little bit now.

Before social media

Back in 1997 a young Tony Blair stormed to power with one of the biggest landslide victories in British history. A lot of people within the current Labour Party hark back to the Blairite era as if Blairism is some kind of magical election winning formula, but they're apparently incapable of understanding that Blair's formula for success simply isn't fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell worked out a strategy for stage managing the mainstream media news agenda, and to be fair to them it was spectacularly successful. They drip-fed press releases to the mainstream media that were essentially pre-written stories, and relied on lazy mainstream media hacks to "churnalise" the hand-picked stories of the day. If they wanted the public to hear a particular snazzy little sound bite, or think about a specific statistic, the Labour Party spin doctors fed them into the mainstream media machine and waited for it to churn out item after item about it.

The Blairite model worked a treat in the 1990s because it was common for people to rely on just a few mainstream media news sources for their information. People generally stuck to the same newspaper, and had the same entrenched habits in relation to broadcast news too. In those days it was relatively easy to stage manage the news agenda because if the newspapers, the BBC and commercial radio stations and the TV news shows all recycled the hand-picked stories, then there was obviously very little scope for alternative takes on the news agenda to reach mainstream audiences.

The spread of the Internet and the growth in social media platforms has led to a huge change in the way that people consume political news. Blairite efforts to stage manage the news agenda simply can't work any more because people don't just read one newspaper or listen to one radio station anymore. These days anyone with a social media account is bombarded with news stories from a kaleidoscope of different sources.

The early Internet age



In the early days alternative media sources generally flew well under the mainstream media radar.

As social media use gradually became established as a social norm the press did address the subject, but often from a very pompous perspective. Leftie liberal columnists sneered at social media users from above, and right-wing tabloid columnists sneered at it with a great big chip on their shoulder, but few of them had the foresight to recognise that social media would soon end completely revolutionising the way that journalism works.

Thinking back to those early days of social media and the sneering editorials from the mainstream press pack, it's impossible not to appreciate the irony that all mainstream media publications and the overwhelming majority of mainstream journalists have Twitter and/or Facebook profiles these days.

Burn it, burn it with fire


Mainstream journalists gradually begun to realise that there is a growing demographic of people who rely on social media as their primary news source.

The initial reaction was one of abject horror at the realisation that their role as gatekeepers of the news agenda was under existential threat.

This terrified reaction was exemplified by a November 2014 "debate" on the BBC Daily Politics show featuring five mainstream media journalists bitterly slagging off social media, without a single representative to actually argue the case for social media!

The Daily Politics piece focused on a misleading infographic contrasting several completely accurate pictures of sparsely attended parliamentary debates on important subjects with jam-packed debates claiming to be from parliamentary sessions about MPs pay and perks.

The BBC correctly identified the fact that the jam-packed images of parliament were not what they were claimed to be, but completely failed to explain the important context that the images had originally been misleadingly used by mainstream media outlets (the Telegraph and the BBC) to illustrate online articles about MPs expenses debates!

They were so busy tearing into social media for being irresponsible, and pleading with their audience to stick with established news formats, that they forgot to even mention that the misleading images that they were spitting blood about actually originated in the mainstream press!

Changing attitudes

After over five years of running Another Angry Voice, and at least a couple of years of being one of the most visible non-mainstream UK political writers on Facebook, I finally got my first ever mention on the BBC when Kerry-Anne Mendoza (the editor of The Canary) gave me a shout out on Newsnight in August 2016 during a piece about the right-wing bias of the mainstream press.

Here is an extracts from the interview:

"What we're trying to do, and becoming increasingly successful in doing, is challenging some of these dominant [mainstream media] narratives. We have a situation in this country where 81% of the mainstream media is owned by six corporations and most of the journalists who staff them went to a handful of universities and graduated about six inches to the left or the right of each other politically. So this little gap between them becomes the minuscule arena for political debate in this country, and anyone who operates outside of that is either mocked, ignored, ridiculed or derided as some sort of mad, bad and dangerous person ... and that's a crisis."
The host Kirsty Wark was determined not to give Kerry-Anne an easy time, rudely interrupting her on more than one occasion, brazenly misrepresenting the above quotation as a determination to "back Jeremy Corbyn to the hilt" and then hurling the accusation that she is "not in any way objective", which is quite something from a BBC presenter for several reasons.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, anyone who claims that they or their organisation is completely unbiased is lying to you because the only form of pure neutrality is complete apathy. Kirsty Wark has as much of an agenda as Kerry-Anne Mendoza, but she is capable of deluding herself that she's speaking from a pillar of unbiased objectivity because she's floating along with the mainstream media tide, rather than actively swimming against it.

If you still believe in the myth of BBC objectivity just speak to someone Scottish about what the BBC's independence referendum coverage was like, or consider the fact that an academic study found that the BBC Six O'Clock news was extraordinarily biased against Jeremy Corbyn during the first week of the Anyone But Corbyn coup attempt, or consider the fact that just a couple of years ago the BBC ran a piece contrasting social media with the establishment media with five mainstream media representatives and nobody from social media at all!

The thing that has undeniably changed since 2014 is that the reach of alternative media is now getting so big that the mainstream media can't simply ignore us anymore. Kerry-Anne Mendoza put it into perspective during the Newsnight interview when she pointed out that despite not even being a year old, The Canary has already surpassed long established political news sources like The Spectator, New Statesman and The Economist in web traffic. There is an independent media revolution going on, and a lot of mainstream journalists have clearly been caught off guard by it.

Continued hostility

There are clearly an awful lot of mainstream journalists who feel threatened by the growth of independent media. This attitude can be seen in the sneering contempt for The Canary that has become oh-so-fashionable. The idea that the arguments of the myriad different writers who contribute to The Canary can all be glibly dismissed because "The Canary is just biased leftie rubbish" is an intellectually lazy attitude that is being spread by right-wing hacks like Michael Deaton in the Daily Telegraph. 


This kind of ridicule is endlessly repeated by mainstream media rote learners who consider such glib dismissals to be dynamite debate winning tactics, rather than cognitively lazy drivel that actually demonstrates a fear of considering and attempting to critique things that exist outside of the comforting mainstream media spectrum of debate.

The interruptions and blatant misrepresentations from Kirsty Wark during the Newsnight interview were another demonstration of this hostility to independent journalism from mainstream journalists who can see the tide changing, but really don't like the threat it represents to the established way of doing things.


The independent media revolution


There are ever increasing numbers of people who choose to obtain their political news from independent sites where the writers can write what they like without fear of reprisals from the editor, media mogul owner or advertisers.

Several high profile journalists like Paul Mason on the left and Peter Oborne on the right have abandoned their lucrative mainstream media platforms for the greater degree of editorial freedom afforded by independence. 

The mediascape is evolving increasingly quickly and it seems inevitable that independent journalists are going to continue playing an ever increasing role in confronting the established, press baron and corporate advertiser approved mainstream media narratives.

Aside from the conversion of big-hitters like Paul Mason ans Peter Oborne, the ongoing independent media revolution has allowed people like me (who would likely never have found the opportunity to write for a mainstream newspaper) and countless others to actually have a voice.

Of course the content is hit and miss. Some of the articles in the Canary are as poor as others are excellent. Of course my self-edited blog features regular spelling errors and formatting problems. But I challenge anyone to point me to a newspaper or television channel where the content is 100% faultless.

Whatever the news source, it's inevitable that the quality of the content is going to be variable, but at least if you're reading my blog, Tom Pride, Craig Murray, Wings Over ScotlandJohnny Void, Vox Political or some writer on The Canary you know that we're expressing our own free opinions, rather than some compromised opinion that has to comply with the political agenda of some sociopathic tax-dodging press baron, bullying editor or the multitude of multinational corporations that advertise in their propaganda sheets.


If you want to help to support this shift away from a news agenda dominated by complacent hacks who churn out copy for billionaire media moguls (being careful not to offend their advertisers or the foibles of their editors) you can get involved.

If you would like to see a change towards genuinely independent journalism, where journalists have the editorial freedom to say things the way they see them, then you could consider setting up small monthly subscriptions to support the work of the independent journalists you like.


By setting up a small monthly donation to some of the independent writers and websites that you enjoy, you could help to support the media diversification that is absolutely necessary in order to stop the political agenda being dictated by the BBC (who will always remain biased in favour of the government of the day who get to hold their purse strings) and a tiny bunch of (savagely right-wing) billionaire media moguls.

millions of people have quit reading newspapers over the last decade. If just a small fraction of them were to set aside the equivalent of 50p a day or whatever to support the independent journalists and websites they like, the cumulative amount would be an enormous boost to independent media.



 Another Angry Voice  is a "Pay As You Feel" website. You can have access to all of my work for free, or you can choose to make a small donation to help me keep writing. The choice is entirely yours.




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Why does Richard Branson think Virgin Trains are above the law?


Jeremy Corbyn clearly exaggerated when he said that the train he was on was "ram-packed" in order to make his case for rail renationalisation, because he now admits that there were a few single seats available but that he didn't want his wife and his team distributed randomly throughout the train.

When there's an ongoing scandal over the Tory health secretary Jeremy Hunt's decision to bury the evidence that his 7 Days NHS agenda is unworkable and dangerous because there simply aren't enough staff it seems odd that week old train stunt is dominating the news agenda.

There couldn't really be a better example of a deliberate distraction than millions of people talking about whether there were sufficient seats on one particular train on one particular day, rather than the fact that the Tory health secretary deliberately hid the evidence that his 7 Days NHS plan was inevitably going to lead to either service reductions or dangerously overworked staff. One man sitting on a train floor is suddenly more important than the safety of millions of NHS patients!


The week old story of Jeremy Corbyn sitting on the train floor was reignited when Virgin Trains released CCTV images of the train journey to the press to try to prove that the service was not as crowded as Jeremy Corbyn had claimed.

The Data Protection Act is pretty damned specific when it comes to the use of CCTV images. The law of the United Kingdom says that "Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted; the disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.".

The data protection rules that Virgin Trains are obligated under UK law to maintain state that "In certain circumstances we may need to disclose CCTV images for legal reasons. When this is done there is a requirement for the organisation that has received the images to adhere to the Data Protection Act".

A private train franchise feeding their CCTV images to the press in an attempt to damage the reputation of a politician who wants to renationalise the rail network clearly doesn't fall under the definition of a legal reason or a law enforcement purpose.

The Information Commissioner's Office has stated that they are investigating the Virgin Trains CCTV leak as a potential data protection breach. It would be very surprising if they didn't conclude that Virgin Trains had broken the law by leaking their CCTV images to the press because doing so is so clearly not a law enforcement issue.

Richard Branson clearly endorsed the unlawful behaviour of his company by sharing a link to the press coverage of the CCTV leak on his Twitter account.

The answer to the question of why Richard Branson and Virgin Trains decided to ignore the law of the land is completely obvious: Jeremy Corbyn favours renationalisation of the railways, meaning that their company stands to lose their profiteering cash-extraction schemes. Damaging Jeremy Corbyn to protect their own business interests clearly takes precedence over complying with the law.

It's incredibly fanciful to imagine Branson and whoever it was in Virgin trains who decided to authorise the leak had no access to lawyers who would have told them that such a leak would be unlawful, but just for the sake of argument let's keep it alive as an option. This leaves us with two potential scenarios.
1. Whoever it was who authorised the leak was unaware of the Data Protection Act and didn't bother to run their plan past Virgin's legal team. Conclusion - Virgin Trains are incompetent
2, Whoever it was who authorised the leak was well aware that leaking CCTV images to the press for political purposes is unlawful, but they decided that the law of the land is secondary to Virgin Trains business interests. Conclusion - Virgin Trains are criminals
The behaviour of Virgin Trains in this scenario is illustrative of what has gone so horribly wrong in this country. Business tycoons, corporate executives, bankers and the like have come to believe that they are completely above the law.

They believe that stuff like obeying the law and paying tax are just for the unimportant little people, and that the only thing that governs the behaviour of their corporations is profit. If more profit can be made by paying tax lawyers to hide their profits in tax havens, that's what they do. If the law stands in the way of their scheme to discredit a politician who threatens their ability to keep profiteering from their taxpayer subsidised monopolies, they just ignore it.



These people are so used to buying influence and hobnobbing with the Westminster establishment club they genuinely believe themselves to be untouchable. 

Look at Fred Goodwin and his oh so cosy relationship with Gordon Brown and the way he got to walk away from destroying RBS with a fat pension instead of a jail term. 

Look at Philip Green and his love-in with David Cameron and the way he pillaged BHS and its pension fund and then flogged the husk of it to a bloody charlatan with no retail experience whatever resulting in over 11,000 job losses. 

Look at Richard Branson's cosy relationship with Tory Blair and the way that he's clearly going to be let off with an insignificant slap on the writ  at the absolute most for completely ignoring the Data Protection Act in order to try to protect his profiteering rail franchises from the threat of nationalisation.

These people are used to buying influence, dodging-tax and ignoring laws that don't suit them, and that's why they're absolutely terrified of Jeremy Corbyn. They know that his principles can't be bought. They know that he won't back down on plans to renationalise the railways or make corporations actually pay tax on the profits they earn in the UK, even if they offer him a cushy post-politics corporate consultancy.

That's why they'll attack him relentlessly, even if that means ignoring the law of the land to do it.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

"Train-gate" vs "NHS patient safety-gate"


There are two stories about political Jeremies doing the rounds, it's interesting to consider which is actually the most important, and which is being given the most media attention.

Jeremy Hunt

A leaked risk assessment document drawn up by the government's own civil servants revealed serious risks in the 7 Day NHS service that Jeremy Hunt has been pushing.

One of the highlighted risks is that there are simply not enough trained NHS staff to implement the 7 day programme. In the section entitled "workforce overload" the document admits that without sufficient consultants, GPs and other health professionals the full 7 day service simply cannot be delivered.

This revelation is a complete vindication of the Junior Doctors who have always stated patient safety as their number one reason for their strike actions. The Junior Doctors repeatedly argued that without significant additional investment in staff, the choice would be either a deterioration in NHS service coverage, or patient's lives being put at risk by tired and overworked doctors. This leaked risk assessment document proves them absolutely right.

A second subsidiary lie that the report reveals is the way the Tories endlessly harked on about their "Plan" for the 7 Days NHS as if it was an actual plan, rather than a just an empty vote-winning sound bite. The risk assessment document states that the objectives and scope of the project were not properly finalised meaning it was liable to scope creep, and that there was no robust, quality assured plans for the various NHS work streams meaning a likely inability to effectively deal with delays in the project's implementation.

The leaked document reveals that Jeremy Hunt and the Tories repeatedly mislead the public by hiding concerns about the risks to public safety, and again by pretending that they had a proper plan for a 7 days NHS rather than just a vague vote-grabbing sound bite that was always likely to turn into a complete shambles.

Jeremy Corbyn

After Jeremy Corbyn filmed a short clip about over-crowding on Britain's shambolic and massively over-priced private rail franchises onboard a Virgin train, the company responded by breaching the Data Protection Act* and their own privacy policy** by releasing CCTV footage of Jeremy Corbyn apparently walking past empty seats before he recording his piece.

It's absolutely obvious why Richard Branson would want to undermine Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn's policies of renationalising the rail network and ending the ongoing Tory NHS carve-up would clearly hurt Branson's Virgin Health and Virgin Rail business interests.

It's no surprise that the mainstream media and a load of Anyone But Corbyn coup-plotters jumped on the story instead of focusing their efforts on the much more serious case of Jeremy Hunt deliberately provoking a series of Junior Doctors' strikes and misleading the public over the safety risks inherent in his 7 Days NHS project.

I'm not going delve too deeply into the debate over whether there were available seats on the Virgin train or not. There are pictures Corbyn walking past loads of clearly reserved seats, a video clip of him walking through a clearly crowded train and there's public testimony that the train was over-crowded too, but then there's also the Data Protection Act breaching CCTV images of what appear to be unreserved seats on the train. To me the bigger issue actually appears to be that billionaire business tycoons like Richard Branson feel entitled to completely ignore Data Protection laws and use the CCTV data they collect on unsuspecting members of the public to launch political attacks against them, which is all a bit Orwellian for my liking.

The important issue isn't whether there were seats on a particular train. Everyone who has travelled by rail in recent years knows that rip-off prices, unreliable services and dangerous levels of overcrowding are real problems faced by millions of commuters a day.

All rail users have thought "how bloody much?" when buying train tickets (even pre-booked ones); we've all experienced severely delayed or cancelled trains (especially people who are reliant on the abysmal Southern franchise); we've all had to stand on trains that are so jam-packed that it's a filthy perverts' fantasy of inappropriate touching opportunities; and we've all wondered how many people in the severely over-crowded carriage we're travelling in would end up dead if there was some kind of accident.

The sad thing is that people (including an awful lot of Labour people) are so busy going potty over "Traingate" and poring over images and video clips to see if seats on one particular train on one particular day were reserved or not, that they're forgetting all about the fact that the other Jeremy was willing to put the lives of millions of NHS patients at risk, and that he repeatedly and deliberately mislead the public by hiding the safety concerns about his project, and by misusing statistics as propaganda in favour of his dangerous reforms.

I guess that trying to discredit Jeremy Corbyn's rail renationalisation policy is a much more important political agenda for a lot of people that the safety of NHS patients.


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* = "The disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes". Trying to undermine the pro-nationalisation policy of a politician doesn't really seem to be a "law enforcement purpose" to me.

** = "In certain circumstances we may need to disclose CCTV images for legal reasons. When this is done there is a requirement for the organisation that has received the images to adhere to the Data Protection Act"