What’s behind Tory claims that privatisation cannot deliver fair energy prices, asks Lindsey German
The Tories' manifesto pledge of a cap on energy prices is interesting. Only two years ago Ed Miliband's proposal of a price freeze on energy was described as proof that he was living in a 'Marxist universe'. Now it is in 'the national interest' to 'support working families'. Just to make sure we don't all succumb to incipient Marxism, the cap will be reset every six months to make sure that there is still competition within the market.
What has happened with energy privatisation is that in the name of competition, all prices have been raised. In the past year, they have all gone up, as you would expect from a cartel. The majority of people stay on standard tariffs no doubt for a range of reasons. Perhaps the main one is that they don't regard getting basic utilities as the same as shopping for a new pair of shoes. They just want an adequate and affordable source of energy. The whole idea of the market in these utilities has failed, and we are all paying to line the pockets of the giant companies' directors and shareholders. Already the companies are squealing at what this will mean for competition. A return to nationalisation under proper public control is the only way to ensure this doesn't happen.
The fear of Jeremy Corbyn is that he is supportive of these sorts of policies. He is pledging to build a million new homes over 5 years, half of them council houses, and wants a return to public ownership. Cue accusations of - guess what - Marxism. No doubt we will get more of this when he launches his campaign today and calls for people to take back their wealth. But that is exactly what needs to happen.
A pledge to increase racism
Nice touch by Theresa May to use the day after the French elections, when fascist Marine le Pen (described as ‘fit’ by Nigel Farage who was so disappointed she didn’t win) got nearly 11 million votes, to recommit to further racism on the question of immigration. Her pledge that she will cut immigration figures to the tens of thousands is both racist - a nod to her new found friends from the Ukip camp – and meaningless since it is a pledge which the Tories have never come close to meeting and which they cannot.
As many people acknowledge, migration is centrally important to this country and will always take place. What matters is the conditions under which it does and how migrants are treated. Immigration controls help to stoke up racism by implying a ‘problem’ with immigrants, and leave many migrants prey to problems including exploitation by employers and landlords, and as the victims of racist attacks.
Of non-EU migrants, there are three main categories: students, who pay extortionate fees to come and study here; skilled workers who are essential to the economy; and families of people already here. None of these groups are going to be seriously cut back, nor should they be. All these pledges do is make life much more difficult for them, and create a climate of racism and scapegoating.
The Theresa team
What has happened to the Conservative Party? The placards behind May say ‘Theresa May and her Team’, with 'Conservatives' and a Union Flag very small underneath. So can we all remember to let people know: Theresa’s a Tory, her team are Tories, and the Conservatives are Tories. And yes, they are out to wreck the NHS, education and public services, while forcing us to work in ever worsening conditions that we are told are good for us.
Labour’s right, not left, should own this election
Just a thought on last week’s local elections and it all being Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. I’ve been looking at the case of Hartlepool, in Teesside, where the mayoral election resulted in a very narrow Tory win on a 20% turnout. This has raised fears that Labour might lose the seat, especially since the MP, Ian Wright, is standing down. Wright won the seat in a by-election in 2004, when Peter Mandelson went off to be an EU commissioner.
This was not long after the Iraq war and his vote on a low turnout came in at 40.7%, beating the Lib Dems who surged to get 34.2%. For the first time, UKIP came third with around 10%. By 2005, Wright won 18,251 votes, nearly 8,000 ahead of the Lib Dem second place. In 2010, this majority fell to around 5,500 with the Tories now in second place. By the election of 2015, Wright won 35.6% of the vote, with now UKIP on 28% and with a slashed majority of 3024.
In last week’s mayoral vote Labour was ahead of the Tories, but only 17.72% of the electorate turned out to vote.
None of this can be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn. Labour’s right has always been in control and has presided over this crumbling vote. It will be familiar to many people in safe Labour seats. The 2015 election showed how Labour had become increasingly detached from any sort of base in these areas. It might be that the present level of Labour in opinion polls, low though it is, might be much worse without Jeremy Corbyn and the new members and activism he has brought to the party.
NHS cuts and leave votes: the connection
Very welcome that Labour pledges to scrap parking charges in hospitals. They are a source of distress, anger and frustration to visitors and patients, and are an unfounded tax on already poorly paid staff. One reason given by the Guardian for the decline in Labour’s vote in Hartlepool has been the discontent with local hospital services, following the closure of A and E and some maternity units at Hartlepool. Now patients have a 30-minute drive or 90-minute bus ride to Stockton, in one of the poorest and most deprived parts of the country. Interestingly it is also one of the highest leave voting towns, at nearly 70%. In Who Voted for Brexit?, the University of Warwick study of voting indicators, the authors argued:
‘We find that the quality of public service provision is also systematically related to the Vote Leave share. In particular, fiscal cuts in the context of the recent UK austerity programme are strongly associated with a higher Vote Leave share. We also produce evidence that lower-quality service provision in the National Health Service is associated with the success of Vote Leave.’
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
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