Friday, April 16, 2010

A Special Relationship ... with Truth?

The Spokesman 108

Edited by Ken Coates

‘… If one studied official American military doctrine, one could be excused for failing to find any relationships, anywhere, but those of subordination. ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ is still the official credo of the American military-industrial complex, and there, it might be thought, is an end of it. But Britain is perhaps unique among the dominated in seeking actually to celebrate its subordination. That is why it was so refreshing to hear Clare Short testifying before the Chilcot Inquiry.

When Sir John asked her if she had any comments to make on the re-evaluation of her experiences, which she had described with some candour, she said that she thought that her old Department of International Development had not been adequately involved; that the machinery of Government ‘has broken down quite badly’; and that the role of the Attorney General must be adjudged unsafe following his various pronouncements on the legality of the war. But then she added a fourth comment, braver than all the others, which broke new ground for the Inquiry. The fourth problem, she said: “is about the special relationship. We really need a serious debate in our country about what we mean by it, whether it is unconditional poodle-like adoration and do whatever America says, or whether we have bottom lines and we sometimes agree and we sometimes don’t and we use our influence responsibly, and I think we have ended up humiliating ourselves and being a less good friend to America than we could have been if we had stood up for an independent policy.

But that’s a bigger question, because you should see, when America asks for something, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor all get terribly excited and love America asking us to do something, and we really need to rethink that.

Those are my lessons.” …’

Excerpted from Ken Coates' Editorial

Editorial: Special Relationship? - Ken Coates

Lord Goldsmith and Iraq – The Rt. Hon. Sir Edmund Thomas QC

Parade of the Old New – Bertolt Brecht

Another Agenda – Bob Marshall-Andrews MP

Demockracy – Bob Dixon

Britain Can’t Handle the Truth – Scott Ritter

Writing PrincipiaBertrand Russell

Kurt Is up in Heaven Now – Kurt Vonnegut

Farewell Michael Foot

Judgment – The Rt Hon the Lord Judge, The Rt Hon the Lord Neuberger

Spooks Sold down the River - Clive Stafford Smith

The Chilcot Enquiry – Alexis Lykiard

Carnage in Gaza – Nurit Peled Elhanan

Dossier – Russell Tribunal on Palestine

Reviews: Christopher Gifford, Henry McCubbin, Bill Hagerty, Tony Simpson, Nathaniel Mehr,
Ken Coates, John Daniels, J.E. Mortimer, Frank Barat,
Graham Hallett, Abi Rhodes

The Spokesman 108 is available to

Friday, April 9, 2010

New book challenges privatization claims

Mar 31, 2010

One of the world’s leading authorities on the privatization of public services has published a new book dismantling the corporations’ sales pitch.

Professor Dexter Whitfield has assembled his wide-ranging work on privatization into a new, intensively researched and detailed book. Global Auction of Public Assets outlines how over the last three decades major international corporations have fought to turn public services that meet basic human needs into commodities to be traded.

Whitfield is the director of the European Services Strategy Unit, an agency committed to the provision of good quality public services by democratically accountable public bodies.

In 2008, Whitfield made an engaging presentation to CUPE New Brunswick’s P3 Summit. He set Canada’s work to keep services public in the context of the global push by corporations to turn public services into profit-making ventures.

His book traces the history of privatization and public private partnerships from the time of Margaret Thatcher. It provides a detailed description of the companies that play a leading role in Canada, South Africa, England and Australia.

Whitfield documents the growing importance of infrastructure around the world, because of both the “infrastructure gap” and future infrastructure needs that will be brought on by climate change.

He challenges the myths used to sell privatization, identifying that “[n]early 1,000 PPP and privatization projects have failed, were distressed or have been renegotiated.” Where failed P3s have been renegotiated, he finds that overwhelmingly the companies are the winners.

When services are privatized, the public loses both transparency and accountability. Whitfield writes that with P3s, everything is determined by contractual relationships, “yet a complete or perfect contract does not exist, any more than perfect competition or procurement.”

That sentiment was recently echoed in the business case for sewage treatment in Victoria, B.C. which found that P3s must rely on the operating contract “to force private sector parties to respond to difficult situations with customers.”

Whitfield disputes claims of private sector efficiency quoting an International Monetary Fund study that found the empirical evidence for this is, at best, mixed.

Whitfield outlines how corporations reap outrageous profits from building and operating P3s, then refinance their borrowing, and finally resell their equity to other P3 consortia.

Whitfield makes the case that these multinational corporations are determined to undermine the role of the state in meeting the needs of its citizens. Citizens pay the price of privatization through lost public control; increased taxes tolls and tuition fees; and other out-of-pocket costs for education and health care.

He calls for a radically different approach to public infrastructure procurement. That means closing the financial casino that is the global infrastructure market and recognizing that public debt is needed to deliver public services. It means recognizing that we can’t have excellent public services and very low taxes. And it means looking at new kinds of taxes on highly-mobile capital. Regional infrastructure funds can help. Pension funds need to change their priorities to a combination of reasonable return and social benefit.

Whitfield gives a shoutout to CUPE for its work in building coalitions. He writes, “The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ work with the Council of Canadians on water, energy and trade campaigns is a good example of alliance building.”

Global Auction of Public Assets can be ordered online.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Inside the Left by Fenner Brockway

Morning Star, Monday 22 March 2010
Reviewed by John Green

Many today will not remember the legendary Labour MP Fenner Brockway, who died in 1988.

Hopefully, this reissue of the first volume of his autobiography by Spokesman Books will make him better known to a new generation.

Like Tony Benn, Brockway was one of those rare figures who started early on as a principled socialist and remained so to the end of his life.

His political career spanned the bulk of the 20th century and for most of that time he was at the centre of progressive politics nationally and internationally.

He was a founder member, among other organisations, of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), the Movement for Colonial Freedom - now Liberation - War on Want and CND.

He became an MP for the ILP at a very young age and, after its demise, for the Labour Party. Vehemently anti-war, he spent several years in various prisons as a conscientious objector during the first world war.

His description of the treatment he and other "conshies" endured makes gruesome reading.

They were subjected to draconian and petty rules, bread and water punishments for the slightest infringement and were so brutalised a number of them didn't survive.

His reporting of the General Strike is a masterpiece of historical documentation.

Brockway writes with eloquence and commitment. This is history seen through the eyes of a courageous, deeply humanitarian, perceptive and intelligent man who fought all his life on behalf of working people and for peace and justice.

But Brockway was not just a journalist. He took an active part in organising and supporting the strikers.

He campaigned lifelong for unity of the left and was never blindly loyal to his party. The people he met and knew intimately reads like a political Who's Who of the great, the good - and not so good.

His portrait sketches of Ramsay MacDonald, Oswald Mosley, Gandhi, Nehru, Keir Hardy, Bernard Shaw, James Maxton, Lenin, Trotsky, Kautsky and many more are fascinating and illuminating.

But with an election looming, this book should be made compulsory reading for all prospective Labour MPs because Brockway's detailed portrayal of the political process, parliamentary manoeuvring and international shenanigans is still as insightful as ever.

His chapter on the role of Parliament is a masterpiece of political writing.

He reports how most elected Labour MPs soon succumbed to the seductive luxury of parliamentary life and signed up all too readily to the comfortable club that Parliament was - and still is - with its all-night bars, cheap food and expenses culture.

It took a person with strong discipline and clear principle to resist the allure of an easy life and very few managed to do so.

Doesn't that sound incredibly contemporary?

Brockway excoriates the numerous vain, power-hungry opportunists who have always bedevilled the movement by selling out when crunch time came.

He himself refused dinner invitations from the Establishment, not out of vindictiveness or inverted snobbery but "due to a realisation of the way in which social life associated with Parliament blunts the sense of identity with the working class in their struggle," as he so succinctly put it.

His description of the second Labour government in 1929 as "being afraid to offer a real socialist programme and kow-towing to the bankers" and "preferring to manage capitalism instead of financing popular social legislation" sounds all too familiar.

As a result, Labour suffered a humiliating electoral defeat shortly afterwards.

Could we see history repeating itself in a few weeks time?

So despite being a history of the 20th century, Brockway's work has such a timeless feel to it that his views and outlook are as relevant today as they were then.

He would have liked to see communists and other socialists working together rather than scrapping with each other and he highlights many of the weaknesses and how they came about.

The most tragic result of such divisions was seen in Germany, where Hitler was able to gain power while socialists and communists fought each other on the streets.

If you want to experience a vivid journey through recent history and learn from it, this is the book to read.

Inside the Left: Thirty years of platform, press, prison and parliament

is available to BUY NOW from Spokesman Books.

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