The Quiet Revolution

There is some good news. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are right to say that a quiet revolution is taking place in the UK economy, as its shape changes for the better. Not only is self-employment on the rise, but also new business formation is at levels that suggest an entrepreneurial revival is under way. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, there were a record 5.2 million private sector businesses at the start of 2014, an increase of 330,000 on the previous year. That is up 51 per cent on the numbers at the turn of the century. It is on this improvement that Mr Osborne plans, quite sensibly, to hang his hopes. The UK is in the middle of a painful readjustment, to which a substantial part of its workforce is adapting by just getting on with it. There is no credible alternative or easy fix.(The Telegraph 29 Nov 2014)

Surprise surprise! The country’s economy is being ‘reshaped’ by a ‘new revolution’ people have stopped hunting for poorly paid work. They’ve stopped claiming the dole and being sent on time wasting government funded courses, and they have decided (out of sheer desperation) to set up their own businesses! It has to be sheer desperation because even as people are setting up their modestly run enterprises, bigger sharks are busy closing them down (see the Shepherd’s Bush market in Hammersmith & Fulham, for an example).

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Yes people, those well paying jobs that were supposed to herald our emergence from austerity haven’t materialised. But what has, is reliance on foodbanks, pay-day loans and credit cards in order to make ends meet. True, the numbers on the dole have decreased, even as the numbers of those being sanctioned on a whim have increased, giving rise to a possible figure of 500,000 unemployed people who aren’t on the dole but aren’t in employment either. It makes you question how they’re managing to eat or keep a roof over their heads.

Begging

That is until you realise that prosecutions for begging have rocketed across England and Wales over the past year with dramatic increases recorded in many police force areas. The number of cases brought to court under the 1824 Vagrancy Act has surged by 70%, prompting concerns that cuts to support services and benefits are pushing more people to resort to begging. Kind of makes you wonder whether we’re intractably stuck in Victoria England, whoops! I keep forgetting, it’s the turn of the century!

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One can but wait with bated breath for the Chancellor’s autumn statement, the economy is clearly recovering (look at Black Friday!). Even so, the government has clearly stated that it intends to continue with its austerity agenda and cut a further £25 billion from public spending should it be re-elected in 2015. The recovery it would seem is not nearly so impressive as the government would have us believe. In fact it’s so unimpressive that those of us who still have libraries to use, face the prospect of losing them in the next couple of months, as councils facing further cuts try to balance their non-existent budgets.

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The Married Go Public

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Here is a photo of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, two people in public life who are married to each other. And just below this, is a picture of Kim and Kanye West, two very public people who are also married to each other.

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Now, I know I’m labouring the point a bit so lets cut to the chase, here’s a picture of a very public and publicly funded (your tax pounds) service.

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The National Probation Service (or rather your probation service since you pay for it) for England and Wales is a statutory Criminal Justice Service, mainly responsible for the supervision of offenders in the community and the provision of reports to the criminal courts to assist them in their sentencing duties. Now lest we forget, here is a picture of a ‘Peckham bracelet’, and I don’t believe anybody needs reminding of the debacle that ensued, when our ‘Peckham bracelets’ were left in the inept hands of Serco and G4S.

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Probationary supervision that fell so far short of what was needed to keep us taxpayers safe, that even the wives of offenders were complaining about the service. In the words of one tagged offender’s wife, ‘The service was a joke’. And then of course there was the scandalous overcharging for a service that neither company was competently providing, and which led to them paying £180 million back into our public purse. Now it seems that Grayling has rectified that mistake and awarded a contract worth £228.8 million to Capita. While Capita will manage the overall contract a Redditch-based company, Steatite, will develop and manufacture the GPS tracking tags. Airbus Defence and Space will provide satellite mapping and Tefonica will supply the network. It honestly sounds as though this time (and at last), things will go according to plan (The Guardian 2014).

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So back to public life and public marriages and the awarding of yet another probation services contract, this time to Sodexo. The deputy managing director of Sodexo is Janine McDowell the wife of Paul McDowell, who is the chief inspector of probation services. That’s right, the company which was given preferred bidder status and as a result won the largest number of probation contracts is in part run by the chief inspector of probation services’ wife. Hardly a case of nepotism since he was not the one who awarded the contracts, but definitely a case of conflict of interests, so what to do?

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Chris Grayling maintains that there isn’t a problem,’We should also remember that people in public life are sometimes married to other people in public life’ he quipped. He had perhaps conveniently forgotten the mishaps and calamities, that characterised  the handing out of previous probation contracts to the likes of G4S and Serco when he said this. Others have been less sanguine about Graylings appointment of Mr McDowell,

‘Sir Alan Beith, the chairman of the justice select committee, and the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, said the disclosure raised serious questions about McDowell’s independence. Beith is particularly concerned that his committee was not told of Janine McDowell’s leading role in Sodexo when they endorsed her husband as Grayling’s preferred candidate at a special pre-appointment hearing for the job last autumn’ 

Ultimately, the bottom line in this is the taxpayer’s pound and whether we as taxpayers are destined to witness yet another instance of ineptitude, as opposed to the competent provision of probation services which we as the general public deserve.

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The Problem With RIPA

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R.I.P.A better known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation. In short it enables the Police and the secret service to access your phone records without talking to a judge and getting his permission. The act also prevents the existence of interception warrants and any data collected with them from being revealed in court. That’s right, not only can the police & MI5 access your phone records, but should they choose to prosecute someone using that information that person would have no legal entitlement to disclosure.

Pretty scary when you think about it, that you can have a private conversation with a friend or a contact and its not really even private? What if for example, a whistle blower wished to divulge some information on atrocities carried out during the theatre of war in say, Syria? What if in doing so that whistle blower was breaking the law but also ensuring that hundreds more lives would be saved? What if the only thing standing between that person and prison was your promise to protect their identity? Under RIPA this would be a promise which despite your best intentions you would be unable to keep.

i-am-chelsea-manning-i-am-female Worse still, once prosecuted that person would find themselves wondering whether you were the one who divulged your source, since they would be allowed no evidence to the contrary. Think Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s release of data that showed Iraqi civilians being bombed ‘for the pleasure of it’ by American soldiers. His ‘treachery’ showed us tons of truths about the Iraqi war. Would we have had to wait for the information to leak out in ‘drips’ and ‘drabs’ through the mouths of former prisoners whose words we might very well have discounted anyway?

RIPA also permits certain public bodies, such as the police, to monitor peoples internet activities. Rather like an employer who is anti-trade union, who decides to give themselves the contractual right to snoop on their employees internet use at work. Such a thing happened at one company I worked for and they used that permission to warn employees off protesting about their lack of employment rights. They also used it to keep tabs on those employees intent upon setting up a union ( in 21st century England? Yep, I know!). Unsurprisingly, they had one of the highest incidences of workplace corruption I had ever observed.

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But back to RIPA, how does a journalist or activist investigate abuses perpetrated by public bodies like the police, if the people they’re investigating are several steps ahead of the game? How do we ensure that the most vulnerable in society are protected, that their rights are defended if the opposition is able to intrude upon every conversation had via email, the telephone and social networking sites? We are told that RIPA is being used in the interests of national security, for the purpose of preventing or detecting serious crime and for the purpose of safeguarding the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

Nobody objects to RIPA being used to fight gang crime, in fact some might say that if it were used in that regard a lot more there would be no need for ‘Joint Enterprise’ laws. But then observe the case of former Metropolitan Police officer, Jeremy Young, jailed for twenty seven months for various offences including six counts of conspiracy to intercept communications unlawfully. And of three other former police officers and a private detective who were also jailed for their part in running a private detective agency called Active Investigation Services. 

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It seems we have an act in place that is supposed to help safeguard the public against acts of terrorism and criminality. Yet in reality what we’ve been handed is little more than a ‘spies charter’.

A Government Without A Conscience?

Good news for those of you who used to work in the City of London and are looking to get back in. London will be the base for the first clearing bank outside Asia for the Chinese currency. People’s Bank of China (PBC), the country’s central bank, has appointed China Construction Bank as the UK’s first clearing bank for renminbi. The word ‘Renminbi’ means the people’s currency (how ironic), but I digress so let us continue with the good news. The announcement concludes months of talks and coincides with a trade visit to the UK by China’s premier, Li Keqiang. His first trip to Britain since becoming prime minister is expected to lead to about £18bn of deals. Please see below this smiley pic of Li Kequiang (with all of his internal organs in place and intact).

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Now for some not so palatable facts, the overall percentage of Falun Gong now imprisoned in Labour camps in China? Fifteen to twenty percent. The number of Falun Gong practitioners having blood and urine tests so that they may be matched via a hospital to donor recipients? All of them. In fact the number of practitioners killed for organs within China’s labour camps could be as high as 120,000, with a low estimate of 9,000, and 65,000 being the median. The Chinese government has denied these accusations stating that ‘the haters gon hate’. Meanwhile, Mr Kilgour former Canadian secretary of state and Mr Matas a human rights lawyer say otherwise. As does Ethan Gutman who interviewed Falun Gong Practitioners and non-practitioners.

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Any clues as to who is telling the truth? The average waiting time for a kidney transplant in China? Fifteen days, in contrast to 1825 days in the U.S and 1095 days in the UK. Despite very low levels of voluntary organ donation, China performs the second-highest number of transplants per year. Kilgour and Matas also presented material from Chinese transplant center web sites advertising the immediate availability of organs from living donors, and transcripts of telephone interviews in which hospitals told prospective transplant recipients that they could obtain Falun Gong organs.

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Torturing and then slaughtering dissidents who oppose the manner in which they are governed, this is nothing new. But torturing and then extracting organs from internees in order to meet the demands of a niche organ transplant market is just, so…I don’t know entrepreneurial? At any rate the U.S whilst noting that there was no evidence to support these allegations expressed a mild amount of dismay at China’s ‘appalling’ human rights record and continued to do business with them, as has the UK.

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BP has  signed a long-term deal to supply liquefied natural gas worth about £12bn to China. Rolls-Royce has agreed to co-operate with two Chinese nuclear reactor suppliers, SNPTC and CGN, on civil nuclear power projects. And George Osborne, the chancellor, has said that, “Connecting British firms and markets to China’s extraordinary expansion is a key part of our economic plan, because it brings jobs and investment to our country. In fact, relations with China have improved as never before since David Cameron led a 100-strong business delegation to China last year. Could the screams of peaceful Falun Gong practitioners be heard in the background as the British Prime Minister sat down to his umpteenth business banquet I wonder? Probably not.

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Ignorance Is Strength?

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“Privacy has never been an absolute right,” he said, “and the debate about this should not become a reason for postponing urgent and difficult decisions. 

– Robert Hannigan, the newly appointed director of GCHQ

I agree with Mr Hannigan, if we all believed privacy to be an absolute right we would not have applauded the actions of Wiki-Leaks. If we were obsessed with privacy and unreservedly condemned those who breached it, we could never have learned about the illegal activities of the US and other great powers. As Mr Hannigan knows, knowledge is power and the Machiavellian behaviour of the secret services, as sanctioned by the government, becomes intolerable once you know what they’ve been up to. Hence Mr Hannigan’s criticism of Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden whose ‘revelations’ triggered off an ACLU lawsuit against the NSA and led to a UN Inquiry, into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies. Without Mr Snowden’s invasions of GCHQ & the NSA’s privacy, we would never have known that the right to privacy was barely considered a right at all, by the security services. Most of us at grass roots level were grateful for that revelation, not so, many Conservative politicians.

Hannigan, alleges that young foreign jihadis in Syria and Iraq have benefited from leaks by the former American intelligence contractor. His words are not dissimilar to what was said when the Guardian Newspaper published Snowden’s revelations. The response of the UN? That these allegations needed to be made subject to closer scrutiny (doesn’t sound as though that has happened).

‘Isis is the first terrorist group whose members have grown up on the internet. They are exploiting the power of the web to create a jihadi threat with near-global reach. The challenge to governments and their intelligence agencies is huge’ (Hannigan,GCHQ).

ISIS uses the internet and because of its simplistic and idealistic creed ISIS is popular and how is this popularity expressed? The way most popularity is, through copious interactions with social media. So how about shutting down ISIS social media presence? Would that require technology companies giving a rubber stamp to government agencies to snoop on everybody and nobody? Hardly. They would only be focussing on the terrorist groups that mattered, as opposed to creating terrorists out of thin air.

‘Techniques for encrypting messages or making them anonymous which were once the preserve of the most sophisticated criminals or nation states now come as standard. These are supplemented by freely available programs and apps adding extra layers of security, many of them proudly advertising that they are “Snowden approved” (Hannigan).

GCHQ and its new boss are gutted because it’s suddenly so much harder to track and eavesdrop on the communications of terrorist groups? A UN Special Rapporteur tasked with the job of investigating illicit GCHQ & NSA surveillance activities. A civil liberties union incensed enough to sue the NSA. A Home Affairs Select Committee querying whether GCHQ had been made subject to insufficient oversight. All are these are clear markers indicating that in their surveillancing the NSA & GCHQ went too far. They can hardly blame technology companies therefore for being wary of aiding them in their ‘war on terror’.

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Hard Times

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‘If you get on a jubilee train from Westminster, for every stop that you travel east, life expectancy in the capital falls by a single year. By the time you’re out in East London you’ve got nearly a decades difference in life expectancy. This is something that we should have outgrown by the end of the Victorian period. The gap between the rich and the poor is now greater than it was when Charles Dickens was writing ‘Hard Times’. After twenty five years of a Neo-Liberal economy this is where we’ve got to’

John Rees (A People’s History of London)

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England has one of the top ten largest economies in the world and yet almost a third of children in London are living below the poverty line. Three and half million children are growing up in poverty in Britain, and 1.6 million are facing severe poverty. More than half of families in poverty are cutting back on food, almost a third have nothing left to cut back on and a quarter say they some times skip meals in order to feed their children (Save The Children). Children going without a hot meal, the right shoes or a decent winter coat for school, whilst BBC Breakfast discusses the decrease in Winter coat and cardigan sales, attributing this decrease ‘Pravda’ style to global warming.

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Wages remaining stagnant with rising housing costs and zero hour contracts are contributing to this child poverty. Add to that the unexpected curve ball of sudden illness and you have a lot of households struggling to remain on the poverty line, let alone above it. One would think that the ‘cradle to the grave’ welfare system we have all paid into would lessen the worst effects of suddenly falling ill. But, after years of paying into the welfare state, there is a feeling for some people that the government isn’t doing nearly enough for those who have now fallen on hard times. In the words of one disabled claimant with a family,

“Children in your own backyard should come above everyone else. If my disability benefits get cut even further I don’t know what I’m going to do, because it’s either clothe your kids and they go without food or feed your kids and they go without clothing, which one are you going to do?”.

Reverend Bruce Thompson Methodist Church Lincoln District Chair had this to say,”The church mandate is not to neglect our brothers and sisters around us but to feed them”. Lucy Rigby, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Lincoln had this to say, ‘when tax credits were cut back, all of a sudden people found that though both of them were working, they were still struggling. Until the minimum wage some are being paid becomes a living wage, we won’t see an improvement in this problem’. The living wage, essentially making sure that people are paid an honest amount for the work that they do. I would have included something Lincoln’s MP Karl McCartney had to say on the subject, but apparently he doesn’t have much time for this sort of conversation.

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