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‘They’ Don’t Need Minitruth – The BBC Charter suits ‘them’ just fine

In Orwell’s dystopia, Minitruth was one of the four great ministries that served the Inner Party of the Ingsoc state. It was a massive bureaucracy, whose job was to continuously rewrite history in the most minute detail. In reality it could never have worked perfectly. Certainly it would have been incompatible with either democracy or the sham version of it we experience.

For those like Edward Bernays, who in 1928 published his book ‘Propaganda’, there was a problem with democracy. If everyone was allowed to develop their own opinions there would be chaos. A country would become ungovernable. There would have to be ‘manufactured consent’. People would have to be told what to think. This has worked pretty well. The majority of people rely on the mainstream media for their perception of social and economic reality. Those with direct experience of a particular corner of reality realise the distortions and feel that they are victimised, but they may not realise that such distortions apply right across the board. It is only those with the time and the determination to actively use the internet and other sources, who realise that too often we are being fed a totally unbalanced and misleading version of reality.

Very often the distortions arise from things that are not covered rather than direct lies about what is covered. But there are significant distortions in what is covered. Who for example, looking at their household bills, believes that the Consumer Prices Index represents any meaningful reality? Certainly the study by the Joseph Rowntree Trust did not find so. In these days of zero hours contracts, what meaning do figures of numbers of people ‘in work’ have? David Cameron reports that ‘we are paying down the National Debt’. No they are not; they are trying to reduce the deficit (i.e. the rate at which the debt increases) but they are well below target on that. The BBC, for example, never seems to challenge any of these things. People are taken in by these distortions; for example the government likes to portray all recipients of benefits as ‘scroungers’, in spite of the fact that many on benefits are working their butt off, but cannot make ends meet. But those same people buy the lie and criticise all other recipients as scroungers.

It is obvious why commercial media are happy to convey the distorted message. They have to satisfy the interests of their advertisers and the prejudices of their proprietors. However under the BBC Charter, the first of its public purposes is, “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? What does mean in practice? The Charter itself does not say, but it gives the Trust the job of defining ‘purpose remits’. The remit for “sustaining citizenship and civil society” reads,

“SUSTAINING CITIZENSHIP AND CIVIL SOCIETY

The Charter and Agreement note the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm and obliges the Trust to ensure that the BBC ‘gives information about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas.’ In doing so, the Trust is obliged to ‘have regard to the need to promote understanding of the UK political system (including Parliament and the devolved structures) including through dedicated coverage of Parliamentary matters, and the need for the Purpose Remit to ensure that the BBC transmits an impartial account day by day of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament.’ The Trust is also obliged to have regard to ‘the need to promote media literacy’, and the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm.

What the BBC will do to achieve this purpose:

1. Provide independent journalism of the highest quality.

BBC journalism should be independent, accurate and impartial – providing news and current affairs of relevance, range and depth which audiences trust. BBC Journalism should offer a range and depth of analysis not widely available from other UK providers…”

There are three important points about this: The focus on how things are done in Britain as opposed to how they might be done, the use of the word ‘impartial’, and reliance on what [the majority of] audiences trust.

Given that distrust of politicians is at an all time low and things have got worse for the majority of people, surely the BBC should encourage constructive discussion on how things might be done better, including reform of the political system. The Trust does not seem to see things that way.

What does the word ‘impartial’ mean? The Trust does not appear to have defined it. Surely the word should mean the opposite of partial, i.e. all sides of the story should be told. I see no sign that the Trust understands this. The one thing the Trust does try to measure is public perception. In their annual report for 2013/14 they write,

Impartiality is central to the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee. It is one of our principal concerns in terms of editorial standards, particularly in relation to news and current affairs. Each year, the BBC runs a survey of perceptions of the impartiality and trustworthiness of BBC News compared with other media. In this year’s results, released in June, 50% of respondents said that BBC News was the source they were most likely to turn to for impartial news coverage. This is a much higher figure than for any other broadcaster and remains at around the same level as last year…”

But surely if only 50% of people say they would turn to the BBC for impartial coverage rather than to commercial media which have obvious motives for biassed reporting, that is an appalling commentary on a public service broadcaster. More importantly if most people rely on mainstream media, all of which are biassed towards ‘orthodox’ views, how can they possibly judge which media are more impartial? The system does nothing to encourage the BBC to challenge orthodoxy.

The government of the day does not officially tell the Trust how to judge the BBC, but members of the Trust, who are appointed by Order in Council, no doubt know what is expected of them.

How does the ‘establishment’ get away with its orthodox view of reality, largely unsupported by evidence? It is possible that politicians think there are no such things as truth, only interpretations, a carry over from the late 20th century philosophy of post-modernism. In the academic world this philosophy has largely played itself out in absurdity, but politicians appear to think that they justify their actions in terms of their unsupported beliefs, even where these are contradicted by the facts.

The BBC should give weight to all ‘heterodox’ opinion that is supported by fact, and represents a credible challenge to that orthodox opinion. However it should be a criminal offence for anyone whatsoever to knowingly lie to the public. Democracy cannot function properly without these measures.

Reforming the BBC

Perceptions of the BBC appear to vary widely. On the one hand opinion surveys seem to indicate the bulk of the population hold the BBC in high regard, a substantial minority – those who use a variety of sources, especially the internet, to keep themselves informed, are extremely angry about the BBC’s pro establishment bias.

Under the BBC Charter, it has six public purposes:

1. Sustaining citizenship and civil society

2. Promoting education and learning

3. Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence

4. Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities

5. Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

6. In promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of

emerging communications technologies and services and, in addition, taking a

leading role in the switchover to digital television.

Although it may do well on the majority of these purposes, in my opinion it dismally fails on the first. The BBC Trust, in setting a remit for this purpose writes,

“The Charter and Agreement note the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm and obliges the Trust to ensure that the BBC ‘gives information about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas.’ In doing so, the Trust is obliged to ‘have regard to the need to promote understanding of the UK political system (including Parliament and the devolved structures) including through dedicated coverage of Parliamentary matters, and the need for the Purpose Remit to ensure that the BBC transmits an impartial account day by day of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament.’ The Trust is also obliged to have regard to ‘the need to promote media literacy’, and the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm.”

It then goes onto to define what the BBC will do to achieve this purpose.

In spite of the ridiculous Tory claims that the BBC is left wing, on the contrary it is strongly pro establishment and in particular (in my opinion) fails to:

  • Exhibit ever rising inequality, its causes, and its consequences.
  • Explain that there are other economic theories than neoliberalism – theories which actually have some empirical support.
  • Portray the Palestinian point of view in the Israeli – Palestine conflict.
  • Point out that there are other countries such as Italy with far more of a challenge from immigrants.
  • Cover well informed criticism by doctors of NHS privatisation
  • Cover the failure of governments to do more than pay lip service to climate change
  • Cover adequately the failure of government to regulate banks…

In my view the BBC is not ‘Sustaining citizenship and civil society’. How is it held to account?

Under Section 5 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, Ofcom has the duty to enforce, ‘Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy’ and to prevent ‘Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions’. This however does not apply to ‘BBC services funded by the licence fee, which are regulated on these matters by the BBC Trust.’ So how does the trust enforce impartiality? I see nothing on this in the trust’s work plan for 2014/15 found at http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/how_we_operate/2014/workplan.pdf

In the section on BBC Trust – Setting Strategy and Assessing Performance in the BBC’s Annual Report for 2013/2014, the bit on Impartiality starts,

Impartiality

Impartiality is central to the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee. It is one of our principal concerns in terms of editorial standards, particularly in relation to news and current affairs. Each year, the BBC runs a survey of perceptions of the impartiality and trustworthiness of BBC News compared with other media. In this year’s results, released in June, 50% of respondents said that BBC News was the source they were most likely to turn to for impartial news coverage. This is a much higher figure than for any other broadcaster and remains at around the same level as last year…”

50% may be higher than for other broadcasters, but surely it is still a dismally low figure. More importantly I have a problem with a measure of impartiality based on public perceptions, when, as many claim, the bulk of the population is politically illiterate just because they rely on the BBC and the gutter press.

The report went on to say, “The Trust held an impartiality seminar on Africa in November

2013, with guests from inside and outside the BBC. The seminar highlighted some of the tensions felt by audiences about all media reporting of Africa.”. OK fine but why not on Israel – Palestine? Why not on inequality?

Finally the report said, “In June we published an impartiality review, ‘Rural Areas in the UK’, led by an independent author, Heather Hancock. Taken as a whole, it found the BBC’s coverage of rural issues in news, current affairs and factual programming was impartial, with strong specialist output on network TV and radio. It also found that services in the devolved nations and those in Welsh and Gaelic featured a wide range of voices. However, it found that network output relied on too narrow a range of organisations and charities and concluded that the range of rural voices used should be broadened. It also found that many news stories tended not to be considered from a rural perspective and that there was a particular deficit in coverage of rural issues in England. We have therefore asked the Executive to address this, including how it will ensure staff are able to report on rural issues with knowledge and confidence.” Fine but we need more of those.

The trust has also carried out a Breadth of Opinion Impartiality Review, though I could not find their report. The terms of reference were deeply flawed in many respects, the worst being that they said that it [the trust] would assess whether “’due weight’ has been given to a range of perspectives or opinions e.g. minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.” This is simply appalling. The ‘prevailing consensus’ on key issued is manufactured by corporate lobbying and propaganda, and government prejudice; and the BBC helps to propagate the message. The relative weights given to orthodox and heterodox views should be determined by the quality of the argument and the evidence for them. Regrettably, in too many cases this would mean that heterodox views should be given more weight, not less.

The BBC trust writes the ‘purpose remits’ and because the remit on impartiality is so flawed it cannot be trusted to hold the BBC to account. Could Ofgem be trusted? Section 5 of its Broadcasting Code is so loosely worded, that as a government agency Ofgem is clearly too vulnerable to political pressure to do an honest job.

My remedy would be to set up a new body called the BBC Impartiality Jury, the governing body of which would be randomly selected by the Electoral Commission. It would be responsible for ensuring that BBC coverage gave weight to different view on the basis of the quality of the argument and the evidence, paying no heed to whether or not the view in question was ‘orthodox’. This in my view should be merely be good journalistic practice. The Jury would come into play when the BBC significantly falls short of this standard. A major tool in the work of the Jury would be the analysis of complaints. The existing BBC complaints procedure would not be abolished, but if the complaint went to appeal, the complainant would have the option of referring the matter to the Trust as now, or to the Jury. There would be a parallel procedure whereby complaints could be sent directly to the Jury, but the Jury could refer complaints back to the BBC in appropriate cases.

Where the Jury judged the complaint to be justified, it would attempt to persuade the BBC to mend its ways, but it would have the power to suspend on full pay indefinitely any employee of the BBC in order to enforce its judgement. The Jury would have statutory protection against any civil action resulting from such a suspension. It would be up to the BBC to decide whether the member of staff remains on suspension, is sacked, or any other action taken. The Jury would not be subject to English libel law, though it would be subject to the law of Malicious Falsehood, where the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff.

Wealth – Trickling down or sucking the poor dry?

Mike Joslin was quite right (Dorset Echo letters 8th October, ‘A warning from Orwell’) in pointing out how a very few people own most of the world’s wealth, and are the ‘power behind the throne’. Whether they are fully conscious of it or not, they replace the ‘Inner Party’ of Orwell’s dystopia. In his ground breaking book ‘Capital in the 21st Century’, Thomas Picketty points out what ought to have been obvious. Owners of capital receive a return in the form of interest, dividends, rents etc., and under most conditions, far from wealth ‘trickling down’, capital sucks the poor dry. His analysis is based on an extensive historical study of the distribution of wealth and its causes, rather than relying on the poisonous and baseless doctrine of neoliberalism which the rich promote to justify their privileged position.

The tendency towards ever increasing inequality is only checked or reversed by shocks such as the two world wars and periods of exceptionally high economic growth, such as that between about 1945 and 1975. Since then income inequality has been steadily rising. Wealth inequality lags behind but has been steadily rising since the mid 1980s. So long as the return on capital remains substantially above the rate of growth – absent major ‘shocks’ or changes in taxation inequality will continue to rise.

Increasing inequality means misery for more and more people. It could suppress the overall level of economic activity because it is the poor who need to spend a greater proportion of their income. It will lead to a downward spiral. Conventional thinking argues for high growth as the way out, but as natural resources become depleted this involves extreme methods of extracting fossil fuels and minerals such as opencast mining, fracking, tar sands, dangerous deep sea drilling… As well as the obvious and visible signs of these activities and the poisoning of the oceans with CO2, there is the question of man made climate change, which few genuine scientists dispute.

So we are, it seems, caught between on the one hand an increasing fraction of the human race (including Britons) living in extreme poverty and dying of the diseases that engenders, and on the other hand making the surface of the planet virtually uninhabitable. The latter course seems to be favoured by the very rich, if their actions are anything to judge by. But do they want their offspring to have to live in underground bunkers?

There are just two ways out of this dilemma:

  • One is a dramatic reduction in the global population through disease. Few would admit to preferring this option; the Duke of Edinburgh is a possible exception.
  • The other is redistribution of income and especially wealth. The rich are determined to prevent this.

The rich use ‘manufactured consent’ to keep us in line. This includes neoliberal ideology endlessly promoted as unassailable truth by captive media, mainstream politicians, and economists working for the banks and transnational corporations; and by the endless ‘war on terror’ which just promotes more terror. Voters distrustful of mainstream politicians are moving to UKIP, but how can a party led by a banker, and whose main policies are to bash the immigrants and leave Europe, address inequality?

Powers of Attorney – Hints for Carers in Dealing with Banks

Introduction

This note is intended for people who care for a relative who is beginning to find it difficult to cope with his or her finances and wants you to take away the worry. There is a certain amount you can do informally; for example if he or she has difficulty trying to speak to a bank on the phone, you could sit beside her, get her to identify herself to the bank and to authorise the bank to speak to you. But she may find it difficult to answer the identity questions in which case she will be cut off, usually without apology. It is wise to persuade her to grant you a power of attorney. You can read about these at on the Office of the Public Guardian website https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-the-public-guardian.

I will assume that your relative either has granted, or intends to grant, a Lasting Power of Attorney – Property and Finance (LPA). The process of creating and registering the LPA is relatively straightforward and is clearly described on the website. Just two tips here:

  • You will need to find two people who have known your relative (the ‘donor’ or grantor of the power) for at least two years and are not relatives, to certify the donor is mentally capable of granting you the power. Failing that you have to get someone acting in their professional capacity to do so. The obvious choices are GPs or solicitors. We would recommend the donor’s GP – there will be a fee of course. You may have very good friends of yours who have not known your relative but are prepared to say they have. Don’t accept their offer. You would get the power registered, but if the donor subsequently develops dementia and starts accusing you of stealing her money the validity of the LPA could be challenged and you and your friends could be in serious trouble.
  • Consider asking your relative to appoint two attorneys, yourself as carer to sign the cheques and to ask questions as necessary, and someone else who is assertive and can help you battle with the banks. That person could also take over if you are unable to continue. If you feel able to fight your own corner it might be simpler to have the second person appointed as an alternate.

Having got the LPA registered and having received the original back, you may think that you do not need to use it for a while and you can sit back and relax. BAD MISTAKE dealing with banks is time consuming and needs perseverance, and self belief.

Problems with Banks

Our experience together with comments on message boards such as, http://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/showthread.php?36520-Banks-and-power-of-attorney and

http://forum.alzheimers.org.uk/showthread.php?35074-Online-Banking&highlight=bank+power+att.

suggests that although banks will handle powers of attorney, they are not well set up to do so:

  • Procedures are unclear.
  • Most staff do not know how to handle a power of attorney, but are too often reluctant to admit it and may give you false advice.
  • It is difficult to get through to those who do know.
  • Branch and HQ staff will contradict each other
  • Different customers have very different experiences with the same bank.
  • banks can lose powers of attorney
  • Some banks are better than others
  • Some terms and conditions are plain wrong – e.g. they require a Lasting Power of Attorney Registered with the Court of protection, whereas in fact LPAs are registered with the Office of the Public Guardian

You can get through this, but it is you versus the banks. Banks do not have to offer facilities to attorneys. The government recognises this, but has no intention of changing this situation[1]. In consequence official bodies such as the Office of the Public Guardian, The Financial Ombudsman, or the Financial Conduct Authority can do nothing to help. Short of civil action your only weapons are the bank’s reputation and your power to switch. It is essential to find out as much as you can as soon as you can about what services they will provide and how to use them. Then consider whether you should switch to another bank.

Step 1 – Planning

Think through all the banks etc. you need to deal with. Decide what services you need from them both as soon as possible and in the future e.g. telephone banking, power to sign cheques, use of debit cards, faster payments, on line banking, savings etc.

Step 2 – Gather the information

Never let the original LPA out of your hands for more than a few minutes at a time while it is copied. It is wise to obtain several certified copies. Copies can be certified by people such as solicitors or accountants. Most will charge a fee – shop around and try to get a discount on multiple copies.

Make sure you have proof of identity – normally valid passport or driving licence for both donor and attorney(s), but the bank where the donor has an account may not need the donor’s proof of identity. If you don’t have these forms of identity you need to contact the branch to see what options there might be.

Acquire branch phone numbers if you can, though you may find that branches never answer the phone.

Ideally acquire brochures on powers of attorney for each bank you want to deal with, either downloading them from the website or from a branch if you are nearby. These will not give you all the information your will subsequently require, but may prompt useful questions.

Step 3 – Make an appointment at a branch

Phone the branch if you can, explain what you need to do and discuss. Say you hope this will not be interrupted by a cash delivery etc. If you cannot phone the branch call in and make the appointment or you may find a way of getting HQ to make the appointment for you.

Step 4 – Meeting at the branch

Make sure you take all the documentation including your list of requirements. Offer them the original power of attorney to copy and make it clear at the outset that you will not leave the branch without it. If they say a problem has arisen and they cannot copy it now then demand the original back and offer a certified copy. If they will not accept that, then demand the original back saying you need for another appointment today, and you hope that when you call again they can copy it while you wait. Remember banks can and do lose powers of attorney. Never trust them to send it back in the mail to you.

Once they have registered the power of attorney you can discuss your requirements:

Telephone banking – we suggest you ask for this straight away. Try and get the form filled in then and there. But it is not enough to be registered; you need to know how to use it. If you phone the normal bank number and supply the account number by keying it in or talking to a machine then it is a pretty fair bet that either you will not get through the menus or if you get through to a person they will not know how to help you and probably just say you have done it wrong. You may need a special phone number and be told how to bypass the menus.

Paying Bills – it may be that all bills can be paid by cheque. All you need to know is what needs to happen in order that you as attorney can sign them. You may be told you can use the donor’s cheque book using your signature and adding the letters ‘POA'; or you might be told you need a new cheque book and that cheques signed by the donor would no longer be honoured. In the latter case you need to know what happens if the donor is temporarily disabled, say by a stroke, but then recovers and wants to sign cheques again.

Drawing Cash – You could simply use the donor’s card at an ATM. The bank would certainly not approve and you might get found out. You should ask how you can do this legally. The donor might be able to sign cheques but not get to an ATM.

Using the debit card at a shop – You might want to buy food for the donor at a supermarket. Ask what your options are given that the donor might occasionally want to go to a supermarket using the trolley for support, and then to pay the bill. Of course if you can make all the purchases and pay yourself back from the donor’s account by cheque some of the above requirements may be superfluous.

After the meeting – you should have been taking notes. Write a letter setting out what you have learned and get the bank to confirm your account is correct.

Have your needs been adequately addressed? - If not consider switching the account.

Step 5 – Check that telephone banking works. It does? Have a cup of tea!

Complaints

You may need to make a formal complaint. You may be encouraged to make the complaint by phone ‘to get the problem resolved quickly’. That’s as may be, but you really do need a written record of both your complaint and their response. If you complain by phone insist that they confirm the main points in writing, but keep your own notes in case they have ‘misunderstood’. If you complain in writing they may respond by phone, even if you have said that is not acceptable. Again insist on a letter setting out what they said. If you do not have an adequate written record any subsequent reference to the Financial Conduct Authority is likely to be fruitless.

GOOD LUCK!

The above advice is offered in good faith, but the author cannot accept responsibility for the consequences of relying on it. He would like to hear any comments at dhs648@hotmail.co.uk.

[1]”Valuing every voice, respecting every right: Making the case for the Mental Capacity Act,  The Government’s response to the House of Lords  Select Committee Report on the Mental Capacity Act 2005″ , para. 8.14.

Treaty with Columbia – What a Farce

I have recently seen comments to the effect that Parliament has ratified a treaty. This is misleading; the following illustrates the quaint procedure actually followed.

The recently ratified bilateral investment treaty with Columbia illustrates British ‘democracy’ at its finest. The text was apparently agreed by heads of government back in March 2010, but were we told? Ratification was delayed due to the Lisbon treaty, but the Columbian government ratified the treaty in 2013 and have been pressing the UK to ratify.

It was formally laid (as Command Paper 8887) before Parliament by the Foreign Secretary on 5th June 2014. Did he get on his feet to tell MPs? Not a bit of it. In order to ascertain that it was laid you have to go to Hansard for the day in question, click on Latest Business Papers/ House of Commons Business Papers/Votes and Proceedings, select the date again, go down to the Appendix and read through it.

The NGO Tradecraft picked this up and consequently, on 24th June the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its 3rd report of the session reported:

“this instrument sets out the terms of a reciprocal trade agreement between the UK and the Republic of Colombia which protects investment against expropriation. A letter has been received from Traidcraft which expresses a number of concerns about the level of protection for the investor and about the effect of the agreement on the human rights of certain groups within Colombia.”

On Thurs 10th July, 21 sitting days having elapsed without challenge from the date it was laid, the treaty was deemed to have been passed by parliament and the government was free to ratify. I could find no record of this in Hansard.

On 30th July the House of Lords sitting as the Grand Committee debated the treaty in a ‘motion to take note’. Concerns were expressed but it was all a bit late. Incidentally the concern raised by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara was that the treaty was worse for Columbia’s ability to regulate foreign direct investment than the massive TTIP treaty currently being negotiated. Lord Stevenson’s remarks indicate that he knows a lot more about what TTIP is likely to contain than has been made public.

According to House of Commons Library standard note SN/IA/5855 dated 8 Feb 2011,

“Parliament now has a new statutory role in ratifying treaties.  Under part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 the government must lay most treaties subject to ratification before Parliament for 21 sitting days before it can ratify them.  If either House objects, the government must give reasons why it wants to ratify before it can proceed, but the Commons can block ratification indefinitely.   However, there is no statutory requirement for a debate or vote, and parliament cannot
amend treaties.”

This merely brings into statute a convention known as the Ponsonby Rule which has existed since the 1920s. As far as I can ascertain neither House has ever objected within the 21 days.

In 1994 the UK ratified the Marrakesh (or Marrakech) Agreement which was a multilateral treaty setting up the World Trade Organisation and including agreements on trade in services, intellectual property, investment… There was a House of Commons debate within the 21 sitting days, but it was an adjournment debate so the MPs did not vote on the subject under discussion. It was also in retrospective singularly ill informed. There was no hint of controversy to come.

But them in Westminster are just puppets

Published in Dorset Echo, 2nd October under title ‘Trade Treaty Secret’

Richard Denton-White and others have called for democratic reforms, but there is one thing that Richard’s otherwise excellent letter ‘Time for Real Democracy’ (Tues 30 Sept) leaves out and that is international trade treaties. One major trade treaty has more influence on our lives than a dozen Acts of Parliament. In fact the latter are often driven by the former. Furthermore the UK ratifies a treaty (i.e. agrees it shall come into force) without parliamentary approval, and usually without parliamentary debate. This is unusual; the USA and most European nations for example require their legislators to debate and approve (or not) all treaties. Suppose for example the UK and Germany had a disagreement about some details in a treaty that was under negotiation, Angela Merkel might ask David Cameron if he couldn’t give way on that one little thing; must it be a deal breaker? Cameron might give way. But if it was the other way round then Merkel would laugh and say, “Sorry Dave; no way could I get that past the Bundestag and the Bundesrat”. So why don’t we change?
One reason is that the leadership of the major parties want to hold onto the trappings of power, but I believe the more powerful reason is that they are more beholden to their paymasters than to the people. It is a mistake to think of trade treaty negotiations as primarily a contest between national governments; rather it is a contest between them and giant trans-national corporations which show no loyalty to the state in which they happen to be registered.
The major treaty now being negotiated between the EU and the USA is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It is being negotiated in the utmost secrecy and if heads of government sign up to it, MPs will have just 21 sitting days in which to read it and, if so minded (which they never are), vote to block it for another 21 days. If MPs had to vote to approve it before it could be ratified, then there might be a real debate, which who knows might even be covered on the BBC and so most people might get to know it’s happening.
If we had a proper voting system then MPs might have to pay attention to voters rather than their party bosses.

The Free Market Cannot Address Climate Change

Effective climate action is now so urgent that the free market cannot deliver it. This is the key claim in Naomi Klein’s latest book, ‘This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. the Climate’, released on 16th Sept 2014. She points out something which I had not fully realised before, that from the very outset at Rio 1992, climate change negotiators had accepted that any agreement on combating climate change had to conform all present and future trade agreements. So two decades of climate summits have been largely wasted.

Naomi Klein illustrated her points with a wealth of examples and I am totally convinced. The New York summit starts tomorrow (Tues 23rd Sept). Unfortunately the UN website points to a study (The New Climate Economy, downloadable at: http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/2014/09/report-reducing-climate-change-need-curtail-economic-growth/ ) which purports to contradict her. I have skim read it and it looks like a piece of corporate puff to me. Read the book and the report and let us know which you believe. Another summit wasted if Klein is right.

Which is more important, that the human race survives into the second half of the 21st century, or that free market ideology continues to inform public policy? This ideology is ridden with internal logical contradictions and enjoys virtually no supporting empirical evidence. But it is used to justify the very rich holding onto almost all the wealth, and that minimum wage levels set at below subsistence level, coupled with zero hours contracts produce a healthy economy.

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