‘Prince John Tax’: Stealing from the Elderly to Feed the Super-Rich

They may have toiled for decades, but pensioners are still paying for the mistakes of latter governments. That certainly was the case this week following the Budget announcement, in which Chancellor George Osborne sought to raid £3 billion out of pensioners’ pockets. The “granny tax” has turned out to be just another farce to serve high-earners, cutting the 50p top rate for Britain’s wealthiest earners.

The government has put a spin on the whole ‘pensioners will be better off’ slant by stating a move towards a simplified single personal allowance. By freezing existing Age Related Allowances (ARAs) from 6 April 2013 until they align with personal allowances, and withdrawing ARAs from new pensioners; almost 360,000 people could lose £285 per year. A little contradictory to their ‘better off’ angle, especially as the richest 1% (earning more than £150,000), are having their taxes cut.

No doubt, young people are also receiving the short end of the straw. But while we may feel that work invades the majority of our lives now; improvements in technology, with easier-to-use computers now on most people’s desks, have meant that we are working on at a less frenetic pace than back in 1995.

Dr Burchell, a senior lecturer in the sociology department of Cambridge University, has with European colleagues been surveying workers every five years. The long-running study found that in 1990, British workers on the verge of retiring now spent 37% of their day working intensively. This increased substantially in 1995 to 49%, as the great majority of offices started to adopt computers on a widespread scale. However, in 2000 the figure fell to 45%. In the latest update, covering 2005, the figure has fallen again to 40%.

The Office for National statistics also dispels the myth that we are working longer hours now, as earlier this year; the average hours worked per week was 31.7, while in 1995 the number of hours worked by the average full-time worker was 38.5 hours a week. So is it really fair to ask those who spent the last four decades working intensively in technologically disadvantaged workplaces, to then foot the bill for the rich and privileged?

The Treasury acknowledged that some 4.5 million pensioners will lose out as a result of a decision to phase out ARAs, however to add insult to injury, businesses will also profit from the Budget as another 1% cut has been made in the rate of corporation tax.

The ‘Sheriff of Nottingham’ has also said that by 2014, the tax rate will drop further to 22%, despite pensioners earning a lower income of £10,500 to £24,000 unfairly losing allowances. Pensioners with an income of more than £30,000 (a mere 10%) will not be affected at all because they would not have received the extra allowance.

Saga director-general Ros Altman said on Twitter that pensioners have already been hit by high inflation and low interest rates giving them little return on their savings. Ms Altman wrote: “Older people already faced stealth taxes: Low interest rates, higher inflation, Quantitative Easing on annuities/income drawdown hit their income.

“The message of this Budget is – don’t bother to save for the future and if you’re too old to work anymore, you don’t count.”

The Institute of Fiscal Studies have also confirmed that people turning 65 next year will lose up to £323 with little forewarning. Labour’s shadow Chancellor Ed Balls reacted to the report stating: “It’s now even clearer that this was a Budget that asked millions to pay more so millionaires could pay less.”

And for the younger generations with longer lifespans, the Chancellor has introduced an automatic review to make sure retirement keeps with the pace of mortality. A 21 year old, emerging this summer from university will need to keep that steam up until they are 75, while a 2012 baby may see the prospect of retirement only 80 years later in 2092.

Next on the coalition government agenda: how to pilfer from the poor and public services. Oh wait, they already are.

National Health, Wealth and Political Stealth: Privatisation through the ‘Back Door’

This week, I actually had to look up the term ‘Liberal’ and ‘Democrat’ again in the dictionary. The Party may be advocating free trade, but they certainly are going against individual liberties and social political reforms with the introduction of the NHS reform bill. The Health and Social Care Bill is making its way through parliamentary legislation, as Labour failed this week in derailing the coalition’s final plans to privatise Britain’s healthcare system.

It’s important to understand the journey that the National Health Service has taken since its inception on July 5th 1948, in order to truly grapple with post-war British mentality. The ethos and the pattern of the NHS had much in common with the newly-nationalised state industries, railways, steel and the utilities after the Second World War.

Former Labour politician, Aneurin Bevan had created a command structure for the NHS, a ‘welfare state’ ideology and the idea that the system would be heavily dominated by those providing the services. Mr Bevan written in “In Place of Fear” (1952): “The collective principle asserts that […] no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

According to Medicine and the Community published in the British Medical Journal, author Sir George Godber said that what the NHS had done for society was change the way in which people could obtain and pay for care. They ceased to pay for medical attention when they needed it, and paid instead, as taxpayers, collectively. The NHS improved accessibility and distributed what there was more fairly. It made rational development possible, for the hierarchical system of command and control enabled the examination of issues such as equity.

The Times pointed out that the ‘masses had joined the middle classes.’ Doctors had become social servants in a much fuller sense. It was now difficult for them to stand aside from their patients’ social difficulties or to work in isolation from the social services. The Ministry of Health, having worked for the establishment of the NHS, now became passive.

The original structure of the NHS in England and Wales had three aspects, known as the tripartite system consisted of hospital services, primary care including general practitioners and community services run by local authorities. The service was an extension of the centralised state-run ‘Emergency Medical Service’ (EMS).

The government had grasped the reality of the situation: thousands of people ailing from conflict meant that half of Britain’s workforce was out of commission, and in turn the economy had no labour force to continue growth in the country. Before the nationalised health system, patients were generally required to pay for their health care.

So what does the Health and Social Care Bill 2010 – 2012 entail for UK citizens now? Well, for a start, groups of local GPs and other clinicians will plan and buy most of the health care for the people in their area, known as ‘commissioning.’ It will be Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that will be in charge of budgets for their area.

The new arrangements will be very different and mean that GP groups are in charge. And strategic health authorities will be abolished by April 2013 and primary care trusts (PCTs) will formally hand over their commissioning responsibilities to GPs by April 2013. All NHS hospital trusts will become foundation trusts, in which NHS hospitals that are run as independent, public benefit corporations, and controlled locally.

Essentially, the government’s move will lead to the abolition of all 10 strategic health authorities and the 152 management bodies/ primary care trusts. The new structure will be held accountable by an independent NHS board which would be free from political interference, the government said. Meanwhile, responsibility for public health will be passed to local authorities. Hospitals are to be moved out of the NHS to create a “vibrant” industry of social enterprises under the proposals.

And that’s the key issue. The repercussions of changing healthcare into another ‘industry,’ is that the NHS will no longer be a national service, but a local business, with the quality of care being at jeopardy as it runs as another entrepreneurial venture. The ‘welfare state’ ideology has been demolished into a capitalist dream and the only welfare considered will be private patients with insurance companies lining their pockets.

It reminded me of a moment in Michael Moore’s acclaimed 2007 documentary ‘SiCKO,’ based on the American healthcare system. The film compares the for-profit, non-universal US system with the non-profit universal health care systems of Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Cuba. Mr Moore entered a UK hospital and was astonished to find that patients had no-out-of-pocket expenses. While according to the film, fifty million Americans are uninsured and the remainder, who are covered, are often victims of insurance company fraud. And it seems like the UK are heading in the same direction.

Yesterday, an emergency debate was held at the House of Lords which showed the Liberal Democrats ousting individual freedom for free market economics. Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Burnham said that one of the “best health services in the world” and the “Labour party’s finest achievement” was being dismantled. He opened a debate over whether the Government should publish the Risk Register, an internal document on the risks associated with the health reforms.

Mr Burnham argued for transparency in the system, a key factor to a nationalised public service. However, political stealth officially made its way into parliament, as the Commons voted 328 to 246, majority 82, against Labour’s attempt to derail the Health and Social Care Bill. But then it won’t really be a state-run ‘public’ service anymore, (which the Liberal Democrats fail to admit) and so no one will be held accountable for the imminent crash.

Colin Leys, an honorary professor at Goldsmiths University of London and author of ‘The Plot Against the NHS’ wrote an article last September, highlighting ‘the end of the NHS as we know it.’ Mr Leys reiterated that the cost of market-based healthcare was more expensive to implement, than the current system. He said:

“From making and monitoring multiple and complex contracts, to advertising, billing, auditing, legal disputes, multimillion pound executive salaries, dividends and fraud – [it] will soon consume 20% or more of the health budget, as they do in the US.”

And now the only difference between the US system and the coalition government’s reforms is that they continue to work under the guise of a social democracy. But the government are heading towards an epic collapse, verging on Tony Blair’s ‘Iraq,’ and it’s unlikely they will ever recover.

Mixing Archaic Religion with 21st Century Politics

Britain is a veritable hotpot of cultures, with Christians, agnostics, atheists or even Jedis taking its share of the census. But why is it that despite religion’s unwillingness to conform to modernity, 21st century politics is still bending to the will of an antiquated tradition? It’s a disaster waiting to backfire.

Earlier this week, Tony Nicklinson, a long-term sufferer of locked-in syndrome won his case to go to the High Court, in order to lawfully end his life at the hands of medical professionals. It was a mini success for those advocating civil liberties, but a major setback for religious establishments, with the Church’s moral compass spinning uncontrollably. ‘Pro-life’ alliance Care Not Killing has said that the current law was “clear and right,” claiming that Mr Nicklinson’s case is an “assault on the Murder Act 1965.”

However, what Care Not Killing conveniently forgets to state is the fact that Mr Nicklinson does not have a choice in terms of wanting to have an assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia. “Mercy killing” as it is widely known, refers to the active termination of another’s life to end some form of incurable suffering to which that person is subjected to, with informed consent.

Although both are forms are illegal in England and Wales, in the case of assisted suicide proceedings can only be taken by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions which will only be given where it would be in the public interest to prosecute.

As a result of this where a person clearly wishes to commit suicide, but requires assistance to do so, it may be less likely that the DPP will prosecute a person providing such assistance. However, the 1961 Suicide Act makes it an offence to encourage or assist a suicide or a suicide attempt in England and Wales, and a person could face up to 14 years in prison in doing so. Hence, it isn’t as straightforward as asking for permission to end a person’s life.

Yet, in Mr Nicklinson’s case, who is completely paralysed, suicide is not even a valid option, which limits his choices to voluntary euthanasia. Mr Nicklinson released a statement that summed up the issue eloquently: “I was given no choice as to whether or not I wanted to be saved […]What I object to is having my right to choose taken away from me after I had been saved.”

“Why should I be denied a right, the right to die of my own choosing, when able-bodied people have that right and only my disability prevents me from exercising that right? […]It’s no longer acceptable for 21st century medicine to be governed by 20th century attitudes to death.”

No doubt, it raises a complex issue in terms of how far a person may go to help others. But in a ‘democratic’ world, it is a fundamental right to have choices, in spite of the pro-life alliance’s incongruous thoughts: “Even in a free democratic society there are limits to choice.” Unsurprisingly, the coalition includes: the Christian Medical Fellowship, Church of England and the Church of Scotland.

In 2008, 45-year-old MS sufferer Debbie Purdy invited the judicial system, to do what parliament has declined to do, which is to define the reasons under which euthanasia will be allowed, if not yet regulated. In this she was supported by a YouGov poll putting support for assisted euthanasia at 86% (in 2010, it was 87 %.) A poll for Dignity in Dying records 76% support, and a British Medical Association survey of doctors 56%. Again, the government took a backseat in the euthanasia debate.

And true to form, the (former) Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams confessed to the Telegraph that “every life in every imaginable situation is infinitely precious in the sight of God.” So this isn’t really about people suffering from terminal illnesses, having the choice to end life in dignity, it’s about the religious ‘moral’ obligation to a ‘God,’ and the fact it is considered a ‘sin.’

A shame really, as in 2007, Dr Williams said an oft-quoted passage in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans meant to warn Christians not to be self-righteous when they see others fall into sin, specifically to those Conservative Christians who cite the Bible to condemn homosexuality.

Let us reiterate, religion has taken a massive tumble in the polls according to YouGov, claiming that only 29% of people are practicing their faith in the UK. So why do the minority still have such a stronghold over the government?

Following Dr William’s speech about ‘sin’ in the Telegraph, he then drew parallels to the growth of abortion since it was introduced, with around 200,000 pregnancies a year now terminated in Britain. He said: “The default position on abortion has shifted quite clearly over the last 40 years and to seek a change in the default position on the sanctity of life would be a disaster.”

Controlling women’s bodies by means of religion has been part and parcel of the history of misogyny. Unfortunately, it is still very apparent in the US, and is now slowly creeping back into UK legislation. Whether it is on the topic of contraception or abortion, establishments have been bringing religious ideologies into women’s reproductive systems, regardless of scientific evidence proving otherwise.

Since the inauguration of the Conservative parliament in May 2010, sexual health reforms have been hit the hardest by the government. From strongly favouring cuts to the current 24-week upper time limit on abortion to the issuing of anti-choice group LIFE on the sexual health forum board over leading abortion provider, British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) it seems the UK is backtracking after decades of progress.

In May 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron put forward a motion for the abortion time limit to be cut to 20 weeks and Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, to 22 weeks. However, due to widespread campaigning by both pro-choice advocates as well as thousands of disgruntled women, MPs voted 304 votes to 233 to retain the current abortion time limit of 24 weeks.

Louise Hutchins, Abortion Rights Campaign Coordinator said: “The Commons vote against anti-abortion amendments is a decisive win for women and the pro-choice movement. Despite a sensationalist and misleading campaign by the anti-abortion lobby, women’s voices, the wealth of medical evidence and the majority of the population have been listened to. This must now be the end of anti-abortion attacks on women’s crucial rights.”

Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, a firm promoter of the anti-choice bill, backed by many religious lobbying groups was one of those responsible for the appointment of LIFE’s pregnancy counselling centres to sexual advisory health board. The pro-life service conveniently are unable to provide contraceptive services as well as testing for sexually transmitted infections, as they are not included on the Department of Health’s register of Pregnancy Advisory Bureau, not to mention, they violently oppose abortion. Do the government want women to return to backstreet abortions, essentially putting their own life at risk?

And if it isn’t religion dictating choices to live or die, to give birth or not to; it’s choosing who can be married under the eyes of the law. The government may have made some headway with enforcing civil partnerships, and current plans to legalise same-sex marriages, however, as Home Secretary Theresa May reiterated it has “nothing to do with telling the Church what to do” and that religious marriage would remain illegal. Although this is clearly no longer the case.

Now even the Bible has been lost in translation and muddled by interpretation, asserting that homosexuality may or may not be a ‘sin.’ Either way, the only thing that religion has done for its reputation is make sure people feel sufficiently oppressed and alienated from an old-fashioned mentality. It’s really no wonder that there are so few practicing any religion.

The Bishop of Leicester, The Right Reverend Tim Stevens has said that the “government has gone too far” in terms of civil marriage, according to an ITV News report. However, the point he raises is that of ‘procreation’, stating that same-sex marriages would be unable to fulfil the purpose of matrimony. But again, without taking 21st century technology and social politics into account; IVF treatments, sperm donors, surrogacy, pregnant men, and the collapse of the ‘nuclear’ family – marriage isn’t the same as what it used to be.

In a world where science and innovation is progressing at warp speed, why is politics continually held back by irrelevant, outdated cultural interpretations? Let’s not forget the hundreds of wars that have been fought thanks to that Molotov cocktail of religion and politics. In their Encyclopaedia of Wars, authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document at least 123 wars involving religious conflict.

Even now, areas in Northern Ireland are affected by three decades of violence between the Roman Catholics and Protestant unionist community. The Serbian Orthodox Christian attacks on Muslims during the Bosnian war were elevated to the level of genocide. And currently small scale conflicts between Shiite and Sunni Muslim sects in Iraq, and even pacifistic Buddhists have been at the end of long-term battles in Thailand and Tibet.

Whether in the name of a crusade or jihad, the hypocrisy that stands can be summed up into one phrase: “Love thy neighbour,” but with a fifty-foot barbed wire fence between you and your fellow citizen. So why should one stay far away from the other? Because while religion is riddled with contradictions; politics acts upon it, making it a messy reality for those in society.

It may be International Women’s Day, but free speech still trumps women’s rights

Cambridge Feminist Action against French politician DSK

Following a week of celebrating International Women’s Day, a counter-blow to the feminist movement seemed inevitable. After all, one day in a year is apparently enough to satiate the thirst of gender inequality around the world. And the age-old question has reared its ugly head conveniently at a time supposedly celebrating women’s freedom. What’s more important: free speech or hate speech?

Well, that certainly was the case when French economist, politician, and alleged sexual predator Dominique Strauss-Kahn was asked to speak at the Cambridge Union this week. Mr Strauss-Kahn, who resigned as head of the IMF in May last year after being charged with attempted rape, gave a private speech about global economics to hundreds of student members of the Cambridge Union Society.

And though the charges were dropped by prosecutors in New York, Cambridge students challenged DSK, asking whether Mr Strauss-Kahn could “explain” the bruising to Miss Diallo found “the day after you met her.” And more so, the fact that the only voices subdued were not the ones of the politician, but the women protesting outside. It raises the question; who exactly is everyone protecting? It certainly isn’t the approximate 85,000 women being raped every year, but rather those who have a reputation to defend.

As Feminist Cambridge Action reiterated in their recent blog post, women at the demonstration started speaking out to a crowd of 200 people that they had been raped. And like a domino effect, many women began telling their own stories of rape. Yet, these were not the stories that we heard about in the mainstream news. Instead, we hear of the three people arrested, accused of ‘criminal damage’ and the fact that the union said Mr Strauss-Kahn had a right to “free speech”.

But it only highlights that governmental bodies, unions and society prioritises free speech over gender hatred. Rape claims against Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange were shrugged off almost instantly as some sort of conspiracy theory and by the very same people who contend to be left-wing liberals.

Police documents exposed in the Guardian revealed that according to the allegation of one of the women, Miss A had told a friend that “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent,” highlighting the very definition of rape. But as per usual for rape cases in the UK, the allegation was twisted into a “cry-rape” story, in accordance to different political motives.

“Assange’s supporters point out that, despite [Miss A’s] complaints against him, Miss A held a party for him on that evening and continued to allow him to stay in her flat.” Well, tell that to hundreds of women who have equally been blamed for being raped, and subsequently been paraded around as “asking for it.”

The issue has quickly become part of a web of debates between the left and right-wing media, and Assange was hailed as the new face of socialism, as seen through his invitation to various events such as the Occupy movement.

And it’s not only people involved in politics that get this treatment. Hollywood rallied behind director Roman Polanski, despite Polanski unspeakably raping a 13-year old girl in the late 1970s. Actress Whoopi Goldberg said on US chatshow, The View that: “I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and when they let him out he was like, ‘You know what, this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail. I’m not staying.’ So that’s why he left.”

This new coined phrase of “rape-rape” apparently excuses the act, because the director has been acclaimed as an ‘artist.’ So what else can people indicted of rape be? Footballers, actors, priests…

The list depressingly goes on when it comes to finding excuses to defend those accused of rape and sexual assault. Hence, DSK’s invitation to the union only epitomises what has already been enforced in people’s minds. When it suits, women’s pleas of ending violence against women and children are celebrated. However, on any other day, it’s the ‘free speech’ of a celebrated individual that trumps over gender inequality and women’s defence.

They may move their tents, but they can’t shift their beliefs

Occupy London Stock Exchange at St Pauls

October 15th 2011 marked a historical day in the anti-capitalist movement, when hundreds of protesters took to the streets to fight against the global financial system and corporate greed. But earlier this morning, the Occupy London Stock Exchange resistance came crashing down as bailiffs and police began evicting the protesters from St. Pauls. The riot police emerged alongside dozens of bailiffs with bin bags and disposal units, as they dismantled the camp. But it did not seem to disassemble the spirit of the activists.

Occupying the London Stock Exchange was a symbolic manoeuvre, attempting to humanise capitalism as it spirals out of control in the 21st century. According to the Occupy ethos, “reclaiming space in the face of the economic systems that have caused terrible injustices across the world can open up and engage our communities into public discussions.” And it certainly has.

The Occupy London School of Ideas opened to communities in Islington, by reusing an abandoned school, complete with 10 class rooms. It prepares for a new phase of community engagement and outreach. The School of Ideas intends to provide a platform for Occupy London to work hand in hand with the local community in Islington, developing programmes of learning and local provision of activities that the community most want to engage with.

Bank of Ideas Occupy Movement

Repossessing a bank and relabeling it the ‘Bank of Ideas’ in November 2011, may have been short-lived, however, the impact seemed to be substantial. The former UBS bank was transformed into a “public repossession.” Spokesperson Jack Holborn said: “As banks repossess families’ homes, empty bank property needs to be repossessed by the public.” And despite eviction from the property, the message that ‘corporate greed’ would be challenged stayed firm throughout their occupation in London.

The biggest move came from St. Paul’s Cathedral itself, as the Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Chartres together with St. Paul’s, suspended its legal action against the protest. In a statement on cathedral letterhead, the bishop said: “The alarm bells are ringing all over the world. St. Paul’s has now heard that call. Today’s decision means that the doors are most emphatically open to engage with matters concerning not only those encamped around the Cathedral but millions of others in this country and around the world.”

And there was not just a u-turn on legal proceedings, the canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Rev Dr Giles Fraser, resigned in protest within a week of the protests, at plans to forcibly remove activists from its steps, saying he could not support the possibility of “violence in the name of the church”.

Praying as evictions begin

But despite the camaraderie amongst the Occupy movement, the High court ruled in favour of the City of London Corporation on January 18th, giving them the power to order the forcible eviction of occupiers from the St Pauls Camp.

George Barda, protester and litigant for the Occupy movement has stated that despite the eviction, the movement will continue. He said “We have a long way to go for “moral capitalism” to become more than a cover for subservience to vested interests that so many of the cabinet themselves epitomise.”

There’s no doubt that the Occupy campaign is an ideological political movement. But it is more than just an anti-capitalist group. It is a real ‘big society’ in the making.

The ‘Thatcheron’ years: How David Cameron has adopted an ‘Iron fist’

Lady Thatcher with PM David Cameron at 10 Downing Street

It seems as if someone has hit the replay button in Britain. Strikes, austerity measures, tax increases for the underprivileged with a hint of the Falklands creeping back to the surface. No, it isn’t the 1980s’ with Thatcher holding the reins. It is 2012 and David Cameron is the driving force behind the wheel. The Liberal Democrats are skirting around the Tory’s coalition government, anxious to keep a smidgen of power and a Royal has been sent to the Falklands in the uniform of a ‘conqueror‘.

With the highest rate of unemployment in 17 years, affecting a staggering 2.67 million people, and welfare being reduced to only those already in poverty; capitalism is at its most discriminatory, as the middle-classes are sectioned off with the rest of the population under the breadline. And though the working class may have changed in appearance, they still bear the sign of a disgruntled mob with the police being the government’s own army of soldiers.

When Thatcher came to power in 1979, the economy was generally considered to be facing severe structural problems, paralleling current issues. Unemployment reached an unprecedented level of 3 million by 1984, a post war record, and the country faced a crippling recession. Thatcher was heavily influenced by the idea of Monetarism and free market economics, (partially inherited from the previous Labour government), the belief of controlling inflation by controlling the money supply. Reducing the government deficit became the principal factor in managing the supply of money.

Therefore, extreme deflationary policies were implemented. Firstly taxes were raised and government spending cut. Interest rates were also increased, as the government sought to reduce inflation. In the middle of 1980, the economy had been plunged into full scale recession, but the government still pursued its deflationary policies. During 1981, in a famous letter to the Times, 365 economists signed a letter calling on the government to alter its economic policy and put an end to the recession.

On the one hand, inflation was reduced, but arguably it could have been done with much less pain. In seeking to meet spurious money supply targets they caused an unprecedented level of unemployment. This unemployment caused not only personal loss but widespread social problems. The mass unemployment, associated with inner cities, was very closely responsible for the riots which sparked across Britain in 1981, comparable to the London riots seen last year.

Apart from the hideous fashion-sense from the 80s’, it seems we have adopted far too many Conservative quirks from the Thatcher era. Fresh aggravation from the tiny South Atlantic islands suggests another colonial war brewing, in true sense of the British Empire. And a feeling of desperation to devolve connections with the European Union and deny proposals from the European community; only reiterates Britain’s need to be ‘Great’ again. But clearly, now is not the time for stuffed shirts and pomp with the country facing a debilitating recession.

David Thatcheron, the man who rules with an 'Iron fist'

Are the Falklands really our priority right now? Sending envoys to the archipelago seems rather futile, with people camped out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral, desperate to get basic human rights. But in a sense, the Argentinean government may have hit the nail on its head stating that Britain was ‘distracting’ itself from the gravity of the economic situation.

With £1 million bonuses being given out left, right and centre to bailed out bank’s chief executives such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and now Barclays Capital; I have to ask how it even came about that the Government are prioritising profits over their population? The Bank of England recently announced a further £50 billion is going to be injected into the economy, as part of their quantitative easing programme, without taking into consideration the long-term effects on retirees, who will be the victims of recession. This money isn’t being injected into the welfare system, rather the bankers who are part and parcel of gambling the country’s wealth away.

The policy of privatisation has been called “a crucial ingredient of Thatcherism”. After the 1983 election, the sale of state utilities accelerated; more than £29 billion was raised from the sale of nationalised industries, and another £18 billion from the sale of council houses. Although Thatcher never put QE in place, she increased interest rates to slow the growth of the money supply and thereby lower inflation, introduced cash limits on public spending, and reduced expenditures on social services such as education and housing.

Thatcher’s cuts in higher education spending resulted in her being the first Oxford-educated post-war Prime Minister not to be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford, after a 738 to 319 vote of the governing assembly and a student petition. Her new centrally-funded City Technology Colleges did not enjoy much success, and the Funding Agency for Schools was set up to control expenditure by opening and closing schools. They now come in the form of ‘Academies’, in which schools are independent of local authority control, and part-funded by private business sponsors.

David Cameron, on the same spectrum, has been accused of bringing in ‘privatisation by the back door’ for many public services including the National Health Service as well as higher education.

An equally massive backlash has been seen under the Prime Minister’s term in power. An unparalleled increase in tuition fees in 2010, initiated one of the largest student protests in Britain since the Labour government first proposed the Teaching and Higher Education Act in 1998. Students were seen to be holding banners that read Don’t Put the Kettle On, Mr Cameron and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Thatcher.

So is Cameron repeating the same mistakes that Thatcher’s government made? Undoubtedly. However, the Conservative coalition government have had an opportunity to look back in hindsight and learn that wearing a humanitarian mask may keep the public at bay.

The Ice Giants of the Cold War: Why Russia and China vetoed Syria

Medvedev and Hu Jintao - An Alliance between the Bear and Dragon

Russia and China - An Alliance between the Bear and Dragon

Russia and China are unlikely candidates to support the United Nations when it comes to their interests in the Middle East and Africa, and especially the dispute over Syria. The countries’ stronghold over arms, trade and politics within the Asiatic and African regions are unparallel and have been for decades.

Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China have vetoed a draft bill for an Arab peace resolution, calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign from his position. And despite the countries being two of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council; the relationship between the primary giants are symbolised by their continual icy coverage of one another in the media.

The Cold War seems to have mutated into something more intelligible for a modern technological society. A war of words by means of digital and print news represents a true picture of how Western governments feel about the Asian administrations. Let us not forget, as little as 40 years ago, the political and military tensions between the USSR, (as Russia was formerly known) China and the West were only too evident.

The United States forged NATO, a military alliance using containment of communism as a main strategy through the Truman Doctrine, in 1949. And despite neither country ever directly fighting one another (apart from the Cuban Missile Crisis) – they did ‘fight’ for their beliefs using client states who fought for their values on their behalf. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization’s initial goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” suggesting the nature of the alliance.

Although Russia is now a major player in the Partnership for Peace programme with the NATO council; the relationship has been persistently strained with conflicts of interest. The most recent diplomatic tension had arisen in 2008 when Russia and separatist governments waged war in Georgia.

Despite consistently being at odds, in December 2009 NATO approached Russia for help in Afghanistan, requesting permission for the alliance to fly cargoes (including possibly military ones) over Russian territory to Afghanistan. In an open letter co-written by German defence experts, it was suggested that Russia was needed in the wake of an emerging multi-polar world in order for NATO to counterbalance emerging Asian powers- China being one of them.

Mao Tse-Dong and Joseph Stalin during the Cold War

Mao Tse-Dong and Joseph Stalin during the Cold War

The geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the U.S. is also exemplary between China and the West. In the 21st century, Sino-American relations are mainly based on trade with China being the U.S’s largest foreign creditor.

However, in similarly underhanded methods over the years, America’s capitalist influence was extended via client states and individuals including Chiang Kai-shek during the Sino-Japanese war in 1937. He was then used as a pawn against Mao Zedong’s Chinese Communist Party, to fight for the U.S’s political ideology. Chiang manipulated the Soviets and Americans during the Second World War, as he increasingly became frustrated with the U.S’s imperialist motives and eventually, relinquished power to the People’s Republic of China. Both the Korean and Vietnam War shortly followed, in which both the Soviet Union and China were aiding the opposition via means of arms.

But it seems that the turning point came after the September 11th attacks in 2001, wherein China publicly expressed their condolences and the PRC offered strong support for the war on terrorism, contributing $150m in bilateral assistance.

Between these super-powers remains almost 60 years of diplomatic tensions – the only thing that seems to keep any conflict at bay is the interests that lie within mutual trade and debts to one another. However, beneath the surface, both China and Russia are still seen to be a threat as the forces have sought to strengthen ties by signing a Treaty of Friendship as well as building the Trans-Siberian oil pipeline, geared towards growing China’s energy needs.

The United States and Russia may now have a lukewarm relationship, but Russia still has the same nuclear capacity as they did during the Cold War. According to the Nuclear Forces Guide in 2008, Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. Since 2001, it is currently the world’s top supplier of arms, accounting for approximately 30% of worldwide weapon sales and is continuing to upgrade major equipment in the next five years.

And Syria has been top of the weapons agenda when it comes to dealing with Russia. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has recently defended their arms trade with Syria, despite the clashes that the country has been involved with.

“We’ve explained the facts: No matter what we supply to other countries in the region, this can in no way affect the balance of power in the region,” Lavrov said at the 38th Munich Security Conference in Germany. “We don’t supply firearms and what we supply is not used in the conflict.” Russia was one of the strongest supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad during the Syrian uprisings.

Syria bought $700 million worth of Russian weapons, or 7 percent of Russia’s $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad in jet trainers for over half a billion dollars in 2010, according to the Russian defence think-tank CAST. So it comes as no surprise that Russia would veto the sanctions this week.

Although China’s military spending may seem infinitesimal compared to both the U.S. and Russia, they are rapidly expanding their military, technological and cyber warfare capabilities. And more so, China’s strengthening of relations in Africa, the Middle East and South America directly opposes U.N. sanctions. With the use of subsidiary state-run oil companies, (none of which I shall name,) the country has been able to evolve their natural gas and liquid petroleum reserves; illicitly partnering with Iran, Syria, and Sudan.

While Russia and China may have alliances with the west, their interests lie in the heart of economic growth at any cost. Their involvement in Syria is merely a tool in becoming a superpower on the global stage and so a veto has always been inevitably unlikely.

Andaman Unable to Escape from its Murky History

Jarawa tribal woman - asking to be left alone

The Andaman Islands have had a turbulent history. As the colonial Alcatraz of Bengal, India and the local habitation for an indigenous Aboriginal population, the islands were a political hub of freedom fighters, imprisoned for struggling against British imperialists. And despite 65 years since India’s independence, a comparable form of oppression is apparent on the land mass: modern day slavery composing of “human safaris.”

The Guardian and the Observer have recently released footage exposing tour operators in Andaman coercing semi- nude women from the Jarawa tribe to entertain paying tourists in exchange for food, as part of a “human safari” package. Under the Protection of Aboriginal Tribes Regulation, 1956, the Jarawa tribe have opted for strict isolation from outside contact due to risk of disease, ethnocide and evident exploitation, continued from a long tradition on the Andamans.

Perhaps “safari” is a misleading term, with tourists and operators alike physically and verbally interacting with the tribe. The ‘zoo’ in which the ethnic women were exhibited to the public for entertainment, subjected the women to having bananas thrown at them. And the island still hosts the most infamous cage in the shape of the Cellular Jail (Kala Pani,) which raises the question-how far has the island come in terms of its discriminatory past?

Freedom fighters returning to Andaman

The exploitation is reminiscent of the abusive mentality that exists on the Andamans, despite the many years that have passed. As a remote isle, Andaman is an ideal location for India’s Guantanamo Bay; isolated from the mainland and the solitary cells bear a stark resemblance to the confinements in which animals are enclosed in.

And perchance Andaman may never shake off its stigma as a remote and brutal land mass; with the ghosts of its prisoners and political ideologies still haunting the islands.

(In memory of Ananda Prasad Gupta (d. 2005), the youngest political activist to be imprisoned in Cellular Jail, Andaman as well as a close family friend; and Ramesh Chandra Dutta (d. 2006) a literary and political freedom fighter in addition to being my beloved grandfather.)

Big Brother is watching…All of You

Under Surveillance

It’s been the month of in-depth tailing. Spying on unsuspecting students, watching the every move of celebrities and celebrity victims alike; Britain has surpassed themselves in creating an Orwellian nation. A society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party, as well as pervasive government surveillance are certainly two aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and reflective of year ‘Twenty-Eleven.’

Total policing” was the buzz word on the London streets and the student tuition fees protest earlier this month, and the Leveson inquiry has more recently placed the role of the press and the police at the forefront of corrupt British media ethics. It seems only reminiscent of Newspeak in which our modern-day ‘think-police’ are avid users of ‘telescreens,’ and telescopic lenses alike.

Although I am not an aficionado of the confused nationalists English Defence League, it seems rather apparent that the police had their eye on the right-wing group, issuing pre-emptive arrests on 179 people, despite no crime having been committed. Naomi Colvin, spokesperson for Occupy London had suggested that: “In their statements to press, the Met police said they were working on ‘intelligence’ – we expect they are also monitoring the EDL’s Facebook page, where such plans are, we understand, openly discussed.”

And on the innocent end of the spectrum, British police have used intelligence from installed CCTV surveillance cameras inside university and college campuses to spy on student protesters as young as 16. The University and College Union’s (UCU) conference has tabled a motion condemning attempts to “criminalize protest” through “state surveillance of higher education and further education institutions for eliciting intelligence regarding protest activities.”

A worrying thought as the issue of intrusion into youth’s privacy was reiterated by Andrew Neilson, assistant director at the Howard League for Penal Reform in June 2011. He said: “It is an anomaly that the police only view young people aged 16 or under as children. The law recognises children as those aged under 18 and we are signed up to international obligations which state that no child should be deprived of his or liberty unless it is a measure of last resort.” And with absolutely no sign of parental permission, the privacy problem has advanced into dangerous territory.

It’s not the only area breached in terms of child safety. Within the Leveson inquiry, the abduction and brutal murder of Milly Dowler resurfaced, only to add insult to injury regarding the News of the World’s role in hacking Dowler’s phone. Sally Dowler, mother of young Milly described the moment that she became “elated” in hearing Milly’s voice through her personal voicemail believing that she was alive, unaware that NoTW had deleted messages to raise a false sense of hope.

Mrs. Dowler said: “I certainly never thought that ordinary or vulnerable people like us would have been subject to phone hacking and that a newspaper would have accessed Milly’s voicemails during the time that she was missing and we were desperately trying to find out what happened to her.” In order to avoid ‘rubbishy news’ containing almost nothing but sport, crime, astrology and ‘pornosec’; it seems that a type of regulation in opposition to Orwell’s vision may be essential.

As part of a wider discussion into Hackgate, the Guardian’s Editor Alan Rusbridger delivered a spectacular lecture paralleling the scandal with Orwell’s prophecy. The pioneering prophet may have found it difficult to imagine future generations talking about press regulation. However, he would be more interested to see how one man and one corporation have come to monopolise British political, commercial and cultural life and become an essential part of the prolefeed. To coin a phrase, it is ‘prolefeed at its worst.’

Privacy International is responsible for presenting the UK Big Brother Awards, an annual attempt at naming and shaming the government and private- sector organisations that have done the most to invade personal privacy in Britain. And though the panel usually consists of journalists pointing the finger at government officials, the tables have turned with a need to discredit newspapers alike.

The list of red-faced organisations and individuals have previously included a dedicated David Blunkett Lifetime Menace Award for proposing ID cards, whilst British Gas had won the Most Invasive Company Award. A new category to be added should embrace the Murdochs for the true gangsters that they are- the Murdoch Mafia Media Award.

Perhaps a V-for-Vendetta mask and some headphones are in order as “it [is] terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you are in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away.”

 

On Hiatus for One Week

Apologies for lack of recent posting. On hiatus whilst working at Channel 4 this week. Will be writing and assisting production with a 3-minute short documentary film. Watch this space!

Find the event here:

(Channel 4) 4Talent- For 3 Minutes