Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Nick Clegg

Inequality -Europe and the Precariat

A version of this article appeared in the July 2014 issue of Echelon magazine

 

European Values and Inequality

In theory, the core of the EU project was opportunity. Free movement, competition, a single market and non-discrimination should be pillars of an equal society. Nevertheless, socio-economic inequalities in Europe are greater today than in the 1980s and many who oppose free movement were recently elected to the European Parliament.

 

Five years of austerity policies have led to a further deterioration of living standards. Europe’s social model of welfare will no longer be sustainable if a majority of citizens can barely scrape by and have no security or opportunity. In Greece, infant mortality is up 43% because of stringent cuts to healthcare services. In Spain, over 400,000 families lost their homes. There were 4.5million people in Ireland on Census night (10th April 2011). There are an estimated 1,300 ghost estates in Ireland with 300,000 houses lying empty. There are plans to demolish these estates. In 2012, Focus Ireland, a charity for homeless people dealt with 8,000 customers.

 

Spending on education has effectively dropped in most EU countries. Youth unemployment affects a quarter of young Europeans and in Greece and Spain, 50% of the young are unemployed.

A study launched by UK deputy PM (at time of writing) Nick Clegg (educated at the private Westminster School and Cambridge University), shows that in Britain, one child in five is on free school meals. Only seven per cent of children attend private schools, but these schools provide 70 per cent of High Court judges and 54 per cent of FTSE 100 CEOs.

David Boyle, a fellow at the New Economics Foundation think-tank, warned that rising property prices would effectively render the middle classes extinct as the dream of home ownership becomes ever more distant. The “squeezed middle”, would need to take three or four jobs just to make ends meet and no longer have time for cultural activities.

Causes of Inequality

Over the last few decades, large international corporations have been powerful generators of inequality. By the early 1980s, the CEOs of the largest 350 US companies were getting 30 times as much as the average production worker. By the start of the 21st century, they were getting between 200 and 400 times as much. Among the 100 largest UK companies, the average CEO received 300 times the minimum wage.

The EU encourages cuts in social spending, even presenting them as preconditions of recovery. They argue that recovery depends on “employer-friendly practices”. “Labour flexibility” really means crushing trade unions. More than a third of all workers in the private sector were union members forty years ago; now, fewer than seven percent are members of a trade union. France and Spain used to have powerful unions, but today less than ten per cent of their workforce is unionised.

Precariat

Employment is becoming increasingly unstable. Privatisation of government services, short-term and part-time contracts, temping agencies and low wages undermine job security. The British economist Guy Standing has coined the term precariat. Professor Standing argues that the dynamics of globalization have led to a fragmentation of older class divisions. The precariat consists of temporary and part-time workers, interns, call-centre employees, sub-contracted labour – those who are engaged in insecure forms of labour that are unlikely to help them build a desirable identity or career or guarantee them secure accommodation.

Spirit Level and Malignant Growth

The Spirit Level is a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, published in 2009. The book argues that there are “pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption”. The authors claim that for each of eleven different health and social problems: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies, and child well-being, outcomes are significantly worse in unequal rich countries.

Piketty

Capital in the 21st Century, by French economist Thomas Piketty, focuses on wealth and income inequality in Europe and the US since the 18th century. The book’s central thesis is that inequality is not an accident but rather a feature of capitalism that requires state intervention to reverse. The book argues that unless capitalism is reformed, the democratic order is in danger.

Piketty predicts that the rise in inequality under neoliberalism will increase throughout the 21st century, reaching Victorian levels by 2050. He argues that if growth is low, labour’s bargaining power weak, and the returns on capital high, this will encourage speculation rather than entrepreneurial risk-taking or working hard to accumulate wealth.

Arguments against Promoting Equality

Companies are reluctant to implement equality measures because of what they see as heavy costs, which reduce their profit margins and impede their investment capacity. Equality and anti-discrimination contradict the ‘freedom’ of their enterprise, as executives would not be free to hire and do business the way they choose. They argue that inequality is not systemic but a failure of individuals to be resilient.

The engine of the neo-liberal system is widespread discrimination, and inequalities of class and geographical location. Globalisation so far has ensured that cheaper labour can always be found somewhere else. Some entrepreneurs have been cynical enough to claim that discrimination makes perfect business sense and should be acknowledged as such. From this perspective, removing inequalities would bring this very profitable system (for a few) to collapse.

Arguments for Equality

Almost all production and wealth creation is the result of cooperation. Society as a whole and its infrastructure contributes to everyone’s income and living standards. Accumulated technical and scientific knowledge, an educated population, transport systems and electricity supplies help the wealthy to become and remain wealthy. The combined efforts of vast numbers of people affect the living standards of even the rich.

Promoting equality is an investment. Excluding able individuals entails a huge loss of talent and skill when the economy needs to harness all potential creativity. A 2012 talent shortage survey found that around one in three employers around the world found it difficult to fill vacancies. Talent is often wasted because of discrimination.

Conclusion

In a speech to the Sutton Trust, Mr Clegg admitted that the Coalition “cannot afford” to leave a legacy like the current position. “Morally, economically, socially: whatever your justification, the price is too high to pay. We must create a more dynamic society.” Clegg’s statement is part of thetherapeutic management of inequality”- the officially sanctioned smokescreen of seeming to promote fairness, social justice, social equality, and equal access to education. A fear of what UK PM David Cameron called a “broken society” is the organising principle behind a wide range of measures to regulate supposedly dysfunctional behaviour. The “middle” sees itself as living in a nightmare world being ripped apart by greedy bankers at one extreme and sub-human Chav ‘trailer trash’ at the other.

Standing noted that, lacking any work-based identity, or sense of belonging to a labour community, the psychology of the precariat is liable to be determined by anger, anomie, anxiety, and alienation. Perhaps the precariat will rise up but they are not the real vandals. The one per cent or ten per cent’s constant looting of the middle classes as well as the working class engenders resentment. In a context of too much debt and slow or no growth, austerity weakens the body politic rather than strengthening it. Austerity only really helps those who are wealthy enough to take advantage cheaper asset prices and sell the assets back later.

The EU needs to remember its founding principles and take action to complete the banking union, protect small savers from the banksters, create decent jobs, implement a realistic investment policy, and protect consumers and the environment. Equality must be at the heart of every European policy.

 

Vintage Sleaze Part 1 The fox in charge of the hen house.

 

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Wednesday July 9 2014.

 

Colman's Column3

 

Last week, I mentioned that I had observed a certain degree of masochism in some Sri Lankans who seemed to find a pride in what they perceived as the sheer bloody awfulness of their native land. One aspect of this is the firm belief that Sri Lankan politicians are the most corrupt in the world. I have repeatedly pointed out that, anywhere in the world, the kind of people who go in to the politics game are the type who are after personal gain and are often not very nice people. One response I get to this is that in other countries, corruption is properly investigated and punished. It is sometimes claimed that in the UK, for example, politicians who are caught out do the honourable thing and resign.

 

coulson

I have just heard the news that David Cameron’s former press secretary, Andy Coulson, has been jailed for 18 months for conspiracy to hack phones. Asked about the jailing of his former communications chief, the prime minister, who has apologised for hiring him, said: “What it says is that it’s right that justice should be done and that no one is above the law – as I’ve always said.” That’s OK then. The fact remains that Cameron employed the editor of a sleazy newspaper against all good judgement. Coulson did not own up to allowing his minions to hack the phone of a murdered teenager.

Labour MP Tom Watson was the scourge of Coulson and Murdoch. He is now campaigning for an investigation into long-running allegations that a senior Conservative cabinet minister and well-known celebrities were involved in a paedophile ring. Watson raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on 24 October 2012. A journalist from the investigative news website Exaro passed the information to Watson. Rumours have been flying around the blogosphere for a long time and some of the blogs making allegations are somewhat flaky. There are allegations against many famous people including members of the Royal Family. These bloggers often follow the logic of Beatrix Campbell – stranger things have happened so why not believe this? However, journalists of repute, such as David Hencke, formerly of the Guardian, contribute to Exaro.

Peter McKelvie, a retired child protection officer, has spent more than 20 years compiling evidence of alleged abuse by authority figures. He helped bring the notorious paedophile Peter Righton to justice in 1992 when he worked in Hereford and Worcester child protection team. In a letter to his local MP Sir Tony Baldry last month, Mr McKelvie suggested that a further 20 MPs and Lords were implicated in the “cover-up” of abuse of children. It was as a result of information provided by Mr McKelvie that Tom Watson raised the issue of child abuse at Prime Minister’s Questions in October 2012. He spoke of “clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and Number 10” that arose from the Righton case.

Following Mr Watson’s intervention, the Metropolitan Police began Operation Fernbridge, an ongoing investigation into allegations of sex abuse at the Elm Guest House in Barnes, south London. At least one witness is understood to have told police in the 1980s that he was abused by a Tory MP at the guest house when he was aged under ten, but the alleged victim has so far refused to give a sworn a witness statement to the police.

When I lived in Putney in the early 1980s, I used to enjoy long walks on light summer evenings down across Barnes Common to the Bull’s Head pub to listen to jazz. Little did I know that Barnes Common was a popular gay cruising site after dark. In the late 1970s, the Elm Guest House on Rocks Lane was a safe, unthreatening meeting place for homosexual men free from the stigma of a sexual orientation  legalised barely a decade earlier.

elm

However, “It became a convenient place for rent boys to take their clients,” says one person familiar with the place. In 1982, the Met’s notorious Special Patrol Group raided the property on suspicion that it was a brothel. As many as 12 boys gave evidence to the police to the effect that they had been abused by men at the house. The police only seemed interested in pressing charges against Carole Kasir, who owned the place. Child-protection campaigners alleged that boys had been taken from a local council-run home and abused by politicians and showbiz entertainers. The real unlawful activity was underage sex, but the police only interviewed the boys a view to them being witnesses against Kasir, not as minors who were abused themselves. In 1990, at the age of 47, Kasir, a diabetic, died of an insulin overdose. Two Naypic (National Association for Young People in Care) employees told the coroner they believed she had been murdered, the victim of powerful people who feared she knew too much.

Kasir

Chris Fay, a social worker at Naypic, has alleged that a terrified Kasir had shown him about 20 photographs of middle-aged men with young boys, taken at what he said were kings and queens fancy-dress parties, attended by a number of powerful and well-known people.

In the early 1990s, I worked in the child protection field myself. I often attended meetings at the Home Office and came to know a young lawyer named Alison Saunders. She is now Director of Public Prosecutions and has often been in the news relating to the fallout from the Jimmy Savile saga and the subsequent investigation under Operation Yewtree. She is the first lawyer from within the Crown Prosecution Service and the second woman to hold the appointment. Tom Watson said he was writing to Ms Saunders to ask her to examine the evidence relating to an unnamed Tory politician.

dpp

A police investigation, Operation Fairbank, started in late 2012. This was a “scoping exercise” aimed at a “preliminary assessment of the evidence rather than a formal inquiry”. The existence of the operation was confirmed on 12 December 2012, after beginning in secret. The secrecy was such that nothing was even put on computers. Cynics say this was because so many of the culprits were police officers. A full criminal investigation, Operation Fernbridge, was launched in February 2013.

Geoffrey Dickens

Between 1981 and 1985, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens campaigned against a suspected paedophile ring he claimed to have uncovered. In 1981, Dickens named the former British High Commissioner to Canada, Sir Peter Hayman, as a paedophile in the House of Commons, using parliamentary privilege so he could not be sued for slander. Dickens was an admirable fellow in many ways but he did allow his willingness to believe take him to the wilder shores inhabited by Beatrix Campbell and Valerie Sinason – he took on trust their fantasies about satanic abuse.

In 1983, Dickens claimed there was a paedophile network involving “big, big names – people in positions of power, influence and responsibility” and threatened to name them in the Commons. The next year, he campaigned for the banning of Hayman’s Paedophile Information Exchange organisation. Dickens had a thirty-minute meeting with Leon Brittan, who was Home Secretary between 1983 and 1985, and gave him a dossier containing the child abuse allegations. Dickens said he was “encouraged” by the meeting.

hayman

On 29 November 1985, Dickens said in a speech to the Commons that paedophiles were “evil and dangerous” and that child pornography generated “vast sums”. He claimed that: “The noose around my neck grew tighter after I named a former high-flying British diplomat on the Floor of the House. Honourable Members will understand that where big money is involved and as important names came into my possession so the threats began. First, I received threatening telephone calls followed by two burglaries at my London home. Then, more seriously, my name appeared on a multi-killer’s hit list”. Barry Dickens, the MP’ son later said that about the time when the dossier was given to the Home Secretary, his father’s London flat and constituency home were both broken into but nothing was taken.

Tom Watson asked the Home Office in February 2013 for Dickens’s dossier. A Home Office review in 2013 concluded that any information requiring investigation was referred to the police. Mr Dickens’s dossier was “not retained”. A Downing Street spokesman rejected calls to publish in full the 2013 review of paperwork, saying: “My understanding is that the executive summary reflects very fully the report.” The opposition said the work was carried out by just two officials and took just four weeks.”This is not good enough,” said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper.

spit

Last year Brittan said he could not remember getting the dossier, but recently released a statement saying he could now recollect a meeting with Dickens. He said he had asked officials to look into the claims and could not remembering hearing any more about it. A Home Office review last year found Brittan had written to Dickens in 1984 saying the DPP assessed the material as worth pursuing and passed it “to the appropriate authorities”.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP who came to Sri Lanka to seek justice for a murdered constituent, said he had received a dozen new allegations naming the same politician. Danczuk is taking an interest because Sir Cyril Smith used to represent Danczuk’s Rochdale constituency. The late, “larger than life” Liberal MP has been the subject of rumours for decades that he was a paedophile. Liberal party leaders have consistently ignored Smith’s activities with boys in the care of the social services. Danczuk has been pressing Lord Brittan to reveal what he knew about the dossier’s contents.

smith

Barry Dickens said: “My father thought that the dossier at the time was the most powerful thing that had ever been produced, with the names that were involved and the power that they had… “I would like Lord Brittan to name the very next person he handed it on to. And where did it end up? There must have been a person who was the last to handle it.” Former DPP, Lord Macdonald, said the circumstances in which the dossier had gone missing were alarming and recommended an inquiry.

The Prime Minister told Mark Sedwill, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to “do everything he can” to clear up what happened to the file. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who worked for Lord Brittan in Brussels in the 1990s, said the police were in the “best position” to investigate the allegations and he did not want anything – such as a public inquiry – to “cut across that or disrupt that”.

Danczuk responded that another internal inquiry was merely trying to limit damage, and that a public inquiry was necessary to retain public confidence. “The Prime Minister knows that there is a growing sense of public anger about allegations of historic abuse involving senior politicians and his statement today represents little more than a damage limitation exercise. It doesn’t go far enough. The public has lost confidence in these kind of official reviews, which usually result in a whitewash. The only way to get to the bottom of this is a thorough public inquiry.” A public inquiry into historical child abuse in public life, has been demanded by 139 MPs.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism committed an embarrassing blunder when they named Lord McAlpine as the senior cabinet minister in the Thatcher government who had been abusing young boys. He received damages, which he donated to charity, for the false allegation. McAlpine said: “There is nothing as bad as this that you can do to people. Because they [paedophiles] are quite rightly figures of public hatred. And suddenly to find yourself a figure of public hatred, unjustifiably, is terrifying.”

 

The media are wary about naming names again. The Daily Mail is sending coded messages. I know who the alleged culprit is and have done for some time. The other day I received an e-mail from a friend who spent many years as a child protection social worker. He said, “At last, what to every 80s social worker was common rumour.”

 

Will the name be named or will the cover-up continue?

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