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Can the NHS Survive a UK-US Trade Deal?

The NHS was established to provide healthcare free at the point of use, so that people with high healthcare needs and low income are not denied adequate care. The cost is shared by everyone. I believe that most people support that principle, but some Conservative politicians do not, although they are reluctant to admit that publicly.

The question is, if the NHS is publicly funded, what should the balance of public versus private provision. This should surely be decided on the basis of overall value for money. There are three reasons why I believe that private provision should be very limited:

  1. Private providers expect to make very large profits. Why should the public purse pay these?

  2. Private provision involves complex contracts. Not only must these be fair to the public sector but they need to be managed by the public sector to ensure that the private sector pays when it fails to perform. Experience suggests that public servants lack the skills either to negotiate fair contracts or to manage them. In fact often the public sector does not seem to understand the necessity of actively managing them. If the public sector were to manage contracts properly that would be a substantial cost, though probably not as much as not managing them

  3. Private providers offer worse employment terms to their employees than does the NHS, but if these terms mean employees have to seek benefits, this goes back on the public purse.

So if value for money analysis were conducted properly, I believe it would show the the scope for private provision would be very limited. But does trade law allow this? My concern about this goes back to the Marakech agreement of 1994 and in particular the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Under this treaty if a nation allows private provision of a public service, it may not change its mind. Whether the UK ever committed itself to signing onto that in relation to the NHS is something that subsequent governments have been very reluctant to clarify.

In the noughties multilateral trade negotiations conducted through the WTO ran into trouble because African and Asian nations realised they were being shafted and would not play any longer. The US then focussed on trying to get so called bilateral deals. In reality they are trilateral deals, corporations being the third party. The terms of such deals are biassed in favour of corporations and against sovereign nations, especially those that believe that extensive public services should be provided.

Not only that but Liam Fox seems desperate to get any deal with as little interference from Parliament as possible. This actually weakens the UKs negotiating position. The constitutional position appears to be a hang over from the 19th century when diplomats were happy to screw ‘lesser breeds without the law’. The boot is now on the other foot. The Constitutional and Governance Reform Act 2010 was billed as putting the Ponsonby Rule onto a statutory basis. It changes very little. Our constitution is now a major threat to the British people.


Are Western Media Colluding in the Extermination of the Houthis?

Western media have reported the failure of the Houthi delegation to turn up in Geneva for peace talks, but have not enquired why. The Iranian source Press TV say it is because neither the Saudis nor the US will let them fly, see,

I believe the Saudis deny this, but whom do you believe? The Saudis’ declared war aim is simply to reinstall Yemen’s former President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, but I fear that if the Houthis were to surrender they would face extermination. Why would they not want to attend at Geneva so that at least their side of the story could be heard by the West? Assuming the Press TV report is correct why would the Saudis not facilitate the Houthis’ travel to Geneva? Presumably because the Saudis know that their case is weak?

The Price We Pay For First Past The Post

The case against First Past The Post is well-established. It provides the bare minimum of democracy, is unrepresentative for the majority, and distorts the allocation of power. But how many people are aware of its costs in wasted public expenditure and excess taxes, its maintenance of spent ideologies and their progeny of poor policies, its role in the decline in standards of political parties and politicians and thus of governments, and its value to preferential lobbies and their appropriation of wealth? This article seeks to raise this awareness through describing the unseen consequences of FPTP, and requests the Office for National Statistics, Institute For Fiscal Studies, Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy and/or Institute of Economic Affairs to estimate these costs. Changing FPTP is an essential first step to changing the system of government. Facing up to its high costs will help build the national will for change.

for more read

Brexit – the Role of the Military


According to the Mirror 21st August 2018,

“Second Brexit referendum could spark ‘civil disobedience’ says top Labour MP Barry Gardiner

Barry Gardiner warned people could turn to “more socially-disruptive ways of expressing their views” and a second vote could fuel the extreme right.

The shadow cabinet minister’s comments come despite growing support among backbench Labour and Tory MPs for a new referendum on Britain’s final Brexit deal.

Critics say such a vote – which Labour hasn’t backed, but hasn’t ruled out in future either – would betray the 52%-48% vote to leave the EU in 2016.

Mr Gardiner said both Remain and Leave campaigners had argued the 2016 vote would determine the UK’s future for the next 40 or 50 years.

However the smart money seems to be on a No Deal Brexit with all the disruption that will cause. Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK writes,

“I admire my friends who think we will stay in the EU. I wish I shared any of their confidence. I can’t see it happening.

I suspect that Lord (Bob) Kerslake accurately reflected the opinion of the civil service at the weekend when he said that he believes they will advise ministers that they must put leaving on hold because of the damage it will cause to the country. I cannot, however, see them acting on the advice. The Tories are too fearful of Johnson and Rees-Mogg to do so. Nor will they call an election for fear of losing it, and no one else can force it. Nor I suspect does Labour have the willing [sic]: I am far from alone in thinking Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are entirely happy about leaving. In that case I can’t see how March 29 can be avoided.

But nor can I see any agreement being reached beforehand: none of the key components, whether they be willing, competence, or the political capital to deliver any proposed settlement, exist to make that possible. We are, inevitably, and by default, heading for hard Brexit as far as I can see. I would love to think otherwise. I admire those who are willing to put their efforts into seeking to avoid this disaster, which might be the biggest self-imposed act of economic self-destruction in very many decades, if not centuries. But, it would appear that the only outcome of which we are capable is the worst, which is leaving without a deal. I would love to be wrong for once: I simply doubt that there is even the smallest chance that I am at present.

The best we might hope for is that this then might be the catalyst for the absolutely essential change that is required if British society is to be reformed. But even that may be optimistic. It may instead permit something much worse to develop.

If anyone has a way of avoiding disaster might they say so now? The time for avoiding it is fast running out.”

The possibility of the military being called in to help in some capacity has been mentioned; it seems inevitable, whether or not we crash out in March. Can the military expect a coherent set of orders from politicians? I suspect not. They should take note of thje experience of Major General Jonathan Shaw, who when he was GOC of the MND(SE)) in Basra, Iraq in 2007, tasked with sorting out the situation there. He writes, “We found ourselves without an overall cross-government plan within which to construct our own military plan.  In part this was because of a misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict we were engaged in.” [note 1] The usual plan of using force first to bring stability, and only then tackle the politics was not working; a parallel approach was required. His unit had to draw up its own terms of reference which then had to be agreed by the FCO and DfID.

In regard to Brexit the politicians are too wrapped up in the politics to appreciate the economic and social facts.. Hopefully the military could do better; they could hardly do worse. I hope they already thinking about it.

Note 1: Jonathan Shaw, “Britain in a Perilous World: The Strategice Defence and Security Review We Need”, Haus Curiosities, 2014

Can Parliament Prevent Dr Fox Ratifying a Terrible Trade Treaty?

Dr Fox is desperate to conclude any trade treaty with the US as soon as possible and to keep the details secret for as long as possible. It seems likely that the US will press for:

  • lower food standards, including, crucially, acceptance of meat contaminated with a high level of antibiotics administered as a preventative and growth promoter. (This threatens the future availability of antibiotics for curative and surgical purposes.),

  • Lower animal welfare standards, and

  • Wholesale privatisation of the NHS – this is already happening but a future government should be able to reverse it.

The deck is stacked against the UK because:

  • The US is in no hurry,

  • The US trade department is notoriously aggressive in pursuing US interests (forget the ‘special relationship’),

  • Dr Fox’s department is understaffed, and

  • Dr Fox is, I submit, more interested in concluding any deal than in serving the interests of the British people.

Up to now Parliament has had no role in determining whether a treaty should be ratified. However under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 there is a slim chance that it could. Sections 20 through 25 cover ratification of treaties.

I interpret section 20 as a process as follows:

  1. A Minister of the Crown lays a copy of the treaty before Parliament

  2. Each House of Parliament has then 21 sitting days (period A) in which vote against ratification. (this would only happen on an opposition day)

  3. If the House of Commons votes against ratification, (regardless of whether the Lords also votes) it is blocked temporarily, unless the Minister has laid before Parliament a statement indicating that the Minister is of the opinion that the treaty should nevertheless be ratified and explaining why.

  4. If the Minister does make such a statement, the House has the opportunity during Period B to vote against ratification. The trouble is that Period B is the 21 sitting days beginning with the first sitting day after the date on which the treaty was laid before Parliament, so that if the statement is laid towards the end of Period A, the House has no time to react.

  5. If the Commons has not voted against ratification, but the Lords has, the Minister may make a statement as to why the treat should be ratified and the Lords has no further recourse.

21 sitting days is a ridiculously short period in which to react to the text of a treaty. Section 21 allows the minister to extend Period A, but significantly not Period B. Section 22 allows the minister to override Section 20 in ‘exceptional circumstances’

In order to give the opposition parties a realistic chance of blocking ratification of a treaty whose provisions are clearly unacceptable to the people, ‘an humble address’ is needed asking the Queen to direct Her ministers as follows:

  • To invoke Section 21 to extend Period A to 63 sitting days (in two stages).,

  • If a minister intends to lay a statement under Section 20 (4) (a), he or she shall do so before the text of the treaty is formally laid under section 20 (1) (a) allowing such time (bearing in mind the timing of opposition days) as is needed for the Commons to vote against the text of the treaty under Section 20 (1) (c) and then to respond to the minister’s statement under section 20 (4) (b)

  • If a minister believes there are exceptional circumstances and intends to invoke Section 22, then the government shall provide an opportunity before the treaty is ratified for the following motion to be debated. “This House believes that in the case of a trade treaty there are no exceptional circumstances that justify a minister invoking [Section 22]”. The result of this debate shall be respected.

This humble address needs to be moved on an opposition day as soon as possible.

How Has the BBC become So Biassed?

The BBC is still trusted by many, especially those who do not time to consult other sources. That is why any bias is especially dangerous to our democracy. In my opinion the BBC fails in the following ways:

  • Giving prominence to those with money, without identifying who funds them.
  • Giving too much time to trivia – celebs etc.
  • Giving too much time to right wing views
  • Failure to distinguish between reporting and comment
  • What they leave out

I have been puzzled HOW this has become so much worse over the last few years. Someone posted the following on facebook over the night 7th/8th August. I cannot vouch for his accuracy but it makes sense to me:

“With apologies for the length of this comment, but I used to write for the BBC and have a lingering fondness for the place, which is one of the reasons I’ve been paying very close attention to what’s been happening behind the scenes.

A number of changes made during the last eight years or so, spearheaded by David Cameron, have led to the corporation’s news and politics departments becoming little more than ventriloquists’ dummies. Of particular note are the following:

a) important posts at the BBC being filled by pro-government figures from the private sector (Rona Fairhead, David Clementi, James Harding, Robbie Gibb etc)

b) direct links with the manipulative tabloid press being strengthened by Downing Street giving important positions to dubious characters like Andy Coulson and Craig Oliver

c) the subsequent recruitment of people like Alison Fuller Pedley (of Mentorn Media), who is responsible for choosing who gets to be in the Question Time audience, and Sarah Sands (formerly of the Telegraph, Mail and Evening Standard) who now edits Radio 4’s Today programme

d) all of the above follows Cameron’s appointment, in June 2010, of John Browne (Baron Browne of Madingley) to the post of ‘Lead Non-Executive Director’ for Downing Street, his role being that of ‘recruiting business leaders to reformed departmental boards’ – Browne’s questionable history at BP notwithstanding (remember Deep Horizon!)

e) how all of this quiet, underhand activity has been largely unreported, but has given the current Conservative government immense power within fashionable and influential circles.

This means they can not only dictate what information is made available to the public, but also the manner in which it is presented. History is full of examples of unscrupulous political leaders exercising control over the populace by taking control of the means of communication.”

– Marcus Moore”

Meaningful Employment Statistics

Whilst no single indicator can fully capture the employment situation, the current headline number makes no sense. In a world where zero hours contracts, often under terms dictated by employers rather than willingly accepted by employees. It makes no sense to count someone who works for one hour a week the same as one who works 60. A better measure would be full time equivalents. A standard working week would be defined at say 40 hours. Hours worked would be divided by 40.

Of course if the average hours worked were more than 40, one in theory could come up with a % employment rate of more than 100%, but I see no problem with this.

Furthermore, if an independent adult earns less than a living wage, (or is classed as an apprentice), then either he or she will be dependent on state benefits, and so the employer is sponging off the state,  or he or she will fall into debt, land up on the streets and suffer an early death. Either way it is not a sign of a healthy society. If an employer pays less than the minimum wage then it should be deemed that that employee is not fully capable, and hie or her effective hours should be reduced.

If a full time job is offered at £2 per hour, as advertised on Esther McVey’s website, and a living wage is reckoned to be £8 per hour,  then that person’s working should be multiplied by £2/£8.