Tag Archives: Vince Cable

Milton Friedman’s Vision for Universities

by Anne Archist

In 1955, Milton Friedman published a highly influential paper entitled ‘The Role of Government in Education’. All the major UK parties have borrowed policies from the text. It argues that lower levels of education should be funded by the state, with only “citizenship or leadership” education being funded beyond this (not “vocational or professional” education); all levels of education should be administered privately, through a system subject to market pressures.

The goal here is to ensure that education providers must respond to “consumer” demands, there is no “unfair” competition between the state and private providers, and only appropriate educational activities are funded. While recognising the difficulty of distinguishing between the two types of education in practice, Friedman holds that they are in principle separable. A key passage dealing with the latter type argues that the market ensures appropriate incentives and it is unjust for taxpayers to bear the costs while graduates reap the benefits.

“[Vocational or professional education] is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non human capital. Its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being. If it does so, the individual is rewarded … by receiving a higher return for his services than he would otherwise be able to command. This difference is the economic incentive to acquire the specialized training … [I]f the individual undertakes the investment and if the state neither subsidizes the investment nor taxes the return, the individual (or his parent, sponsor, or benefactor) in general bears all the extra cost and receives all the extra returns: there are no obvious unborne costs or unappropriable returns that tend to make private incentives diverge systematically from those that are socially appropriate”.

The American higher education system has led to an underinvestment in human capital, according to the paper, so easier access to capital must be provided for this purpose. However, if this easy access to capital took the form of state subsidies for students, there would tend to be overinvestment in human capital. Friedman’s solution is to provide an advance for up-front investment secured against later earnings. In the modern political vernacular “the funding follows the student”, exercising market pressures, while the system as a whole is still funded through a form of semi-progressive taxation.

What Friedman’s article doesn’t give due consideration to is the difference between training in different areas – “education” and “training” are treated abstractly. The “return” varies greatly depending on degree subject, and to a lesser extent with race and gender. All of this is obliquely acknowledged when Friedman says that “[Repayment] should in principle vary from individual to individual in accordance with any differences in expected earning capacity”, but there is no exploration of the effects.

Where does this leave arts degrees, which I presume are not covered under training for “citizenship or leadership”, and others that represent a low return compared to the current cost of education? At present, all undergraduate degree courses generally cost the same at a given institution. In some subjects the cost is already greater than the return, and this will only become more common as fees rise and graduate premiums potentially fall due to greater supply of graduates. Medicine degrees, for instance, have a huge impact on earning potential, whereas male arts graduates may not earn any more than they would otherwise, according to some studies (this varies, but there is unanimity on the fact that the arts are currently very low-payoff disciplines). If the student were to bear all the costs of such a degree up-front, they would have no economic incentive to study it. Nobody would want to invest in students on such low-earning courses so easily available capital would dry up in these disciplines; it would represent the death of the arts for all but the wealthiest.

On the other hand, Friedman wants graduates to bear the costs of their own education, so there is no reason why he should support cross-subsidisation between faculties. For consistency, arts subjects would have to be provided at a much lower cost, meaning that medicine, engineering, and similar high-cost, high-return subjects would be even more expensive than they currently are. The gulf in graduate earnings would be reflected by a gulf in tuition costs. This would avoid the death of the arts but may cause less expensive degrees to be seen as the poor person’s degree, as low-quality (‘cheap’ in a derogatory sense), or as unattractive due to evidently low returns.

All of the above is an attempt to impose market logic onto the education system. Despite our best efforts, consecutive governments are following Friedman’s paper as a blueprint – this puts us in a difficult position if we want education to be about more than individuals investing in future earnings. Not only this, but it raises the question of whether the idiosyncrasies of higher education (e.g. providers select consumers as well as vice versa, we only know what we were paying for after the transaction has been completed, etc) conflict with the neoliberal market logic that Friedman sought to discipline it to. I’m interested in that question and might write about it later, but for now I just want to leave you with this question of what further ‘marketisation’ could do in terms of differentiating courses financially, and the broader consequences that these changes might have. Any ideas are welcome in the comments section below.

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Will We Win?

by Edd Mustill

Video footage showed protesters entering the Oxford building and walking through corridors before being ejected by police. The Conservative leader of the local authority, Keith Mitchell, said on Twitter: “County Hall invaded by an ugly, badly dressed student rabble. God help us if this is our future.”
The Guardian, 30th November

Yesterday’s student protest in London was another display of energy, vitality, and determination. The police were literally given the run-around as demonstrators refused to fall into another kettling trap in Whitehall and spread out around central London. This made the movement visible to a public which seemed somewhat sympathetic, which bodes well for the weekend days of action on the 5th and 11th December which will aim to get supportive non-students on to the streets.

The protests have so far been excellent, but there is an unanswered question that must be in the back of everyone’s mind: how are we actually going to stop the government’s proposals going through? How are we going to defeat the Bill?

It is very likely that the government will try to get the Bill through before Parliament’s current term ends on the 21st November. They are hoping to get this issue, a potentially fatal one for the coalition, out of the way as soon as possible, and use the end of term and Christmas holidays to demobilise the student movement.

So we have three weeks to beat the government.

The arithmetic looks like this: If all MPs vote the Tories need 323 for a majority, and they have 306. Assuming no Tories rebel and no Labour MPs vote in favour, this means that the Tories need only 17 of the Liberal Democrats’ 57 votes.

There is increasing talk of abstention from LibDem quarters, even, ridiculously, from Vince Cable himself. Cable was the first to stand up in the House and accept the substance of the Browne Review. But abstention will not be good enough. It will save the LibDems’ consciences at the expense of a discarded generation. If all LibDems abstain, the Tories can vote the Bill through without them. The Days of Action will only defeat or postpone the Bill if enough LibDems are more frightened of the strength of the movement than they are of potentially breaking the coalition agreement, and vote against.

Demonstrations

Lots of the time people on a demo say things like “We’re here to make our voice heard” or “It’s important that the government listens to us.” This misses the point. A government can “listen” to anyone, it doesn’t mean they give a damn about them. We are not trying to get politicians to have a crisis of conscience and a change of heart. We are trying to force them to do something that they do not want to do. The way to stop cuts is not by persuading the government to act in a different way, but ultimately by bringing down the government.

Remember that the government want to scrap EMA. They want to raise tuition fees. They had a choice and they made it. Any of them who change their minds as a result of protests should not be treated with gratitude or regarded as saviours. The same goes, by the way, for any opportunistic Labour MPs who voted for top-up fees in the first place.

In forcing – rather than asking for – a political climb-down we raise the question of how, and in whose interests, the politicians are running our society. As the economic power of students as students is virtually non-existent, we cannot do this through withdrawing labour. But we can challenge the authority of the government to rule, of the police to enforce the law, and of the rich who benefit from it.

Demonstrations are a visible challenge to power, but in order to strengthen that challenge we need to strengthen organisation between days of action. History tells us that just bringing people out on a string of marches can only radicalise people so much, the next stage is self-organisation. This means setting up groups to co-ordinate things locally, especially in schools and colleges where such structures don’t exist.

Occupations
Occupations of buildings or rooms on university campuses have been fairly common in the last two weeks. Unlike the demonstrations, the occupations are not targeted at the government, but at university management, although they do publicly call out those senior figures who back higher fees, like Malcolm Grant at UCL.

It is unlikely that the taking of a lecture hall or admin office will get significant concessions from university authorities, especially at the moment. They can wait out until the end of term, or make a few vague commitments towards some of the occupiers’ demands.

This does not however mean that these occupations “fail.” Cambridge Defend Education, for example, have had no direct negotiations with management but their action can still be counted as a success. Through their liberation of the Old Schools, they force people to confront the reality that the university is a political and economic body. Making demands of universities to publicly oppose fees and cuts is a way of breaking down the ivory tower and dragging academia into real-world struggles. In Cambridge, the impressive number of supportive academics is part-proof of this.

By breaking down the distinction between “politics” and academia, occupations also throw the question of education itself into the spotlight. They become places where students can educate each other on whatever issues they want. They can share academic knowledge or activist skills. Students can become teachers. The collective body of the students and workers can finally become masters in their own house, and education can finally be a democratic experience.

We should not exaggerate. So far, only a very small number of students have involved themselves in occupations. They are not shutting down universities (or even seeking to), but they are posing an alternative to them. As demonstrations ask the question of where power lies in society in general, so do occupations ask that question of the universities. Occupations, teach-ins, and “Free Universities” should be kept up wherever possible, to educate and draw people into the movement.

It is possible, should the Bill be passed, that a second wave of occupations could occur to get universities individually to promise not to charge higher fees. But this would be uneven, and the likely delay in the Bill coming into force means that it is hard to see where the momentum would come from. Our best chance is now, in confronting the government head-on.

Anti-cuts campaigning
So where does this leave us?

We have to keep up relentless pressure on LibDem MPs right up until the vote. But we also need to recognise that the best way of stopping fees and cuts is to bring down the government. More students are beginning to see the attack on education as part of the general austerity plan, and of course student-worker unity has long been the favoured policy of the Left.

We need to help push trade unions into action. The prospect of any strike action in the education sector before Christmas is pretty much non-existent, but there are things the unions can do, not least mobilise their members for the weekend actions.

Student groups can contact local anti-cuts groups and get them to do the same, and likewise anti-cuts groups and Trades Councils can send delegations to visit occupied university buildings.

If (when!) union leaderships refuse to throw themselves into the movement, students can appeal directly to members. Cambridge have done so with postal workers and others. Within the university, students can raise demands for union recognition and rights for workers, learning from the cleaners’ campaigns in London.

Many have held up the anti-poll tax campaign in the late 80s and early 90s as proof that governments can be defeated on specific policies. This is, of course, true. But the poll tax was brought down by a very particular method: mass non-payment. This is not an option open to students where tuition fees are concerned, and more generally is not applicable to anti-cuts campaigns.

The poll-tax campaign does show, however, that the way to defeat a government is to make it impossible for them to govern. This is also happening, sort of, in Ireland where the Fianna Fail-Green coalition has been forced into an early election because it has lost all political legitimacy.

Students alone cannot create this situation, but they are at the forefront at the moment. They are shaming the TUC, which has only called a national anti-cuts protest for 26th March, and indeed the education unions themselves. They are organising previously unorganised groups, and they are bypassing official leaderships.

Even if we don’t beat the Bill, lots of young people will be pushed into the emerging anti-cuts campaigns, and we will have forced a debate in the trade union movement about the use of militant tactics and direct action to stop other cuts. If we do beat the Bill, the political possibilities this opens up will be enormous.

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How to make people really angry

Make them a promise:
“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”

Text of NUS pledge signed by all Liberal Democrat MPs in April 2010

Hey, that sounds pretty good…

Break the promise by coming up with a pathetic non-reason:
“With the benefit of hindsight, I signed a pledge at a time when we could not have anticipated the full scale of the financial situation the country faces now”

Nick Clegg, October 2010

…wait, when did he suddenly realise the economy was bad? May 7th?…

Deny that you broke the promise:
“We didn’t break a promise. We made a commitment in our manifesto, we didn’t win the election. We then entered into a coalition agreement, and it’s the coalition agreement that is binding upon us and which I’m trying to honour.”

Vince Cable, 21st November 2010

… hang on, the pledge you signed didn’t mention whether you would be in government or opposition. You committed yourselves to voting against higher fees, full stop. We’re not idiots…

Demonise people who are starting to get angry:

“I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying property and that is completely unacceptable. And we need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished and we need to make sure that we don’t, as the police put it, see scenes like that on London’s streets again.”

David Cameron
, 11th November 2010

… but there’s no punishment for flagrantly breaking election promises, or trashing the welfare state?…

Be hypocritical:
“Here’s what makes me angry. Oxford and Cambridge take more students each year from just two schools – Eton and Westminster – than from among the 80,000 pupils who are eligible for free school meals.”

Nick Clegg, 23rd November 2010

…yeah, I especially hate it when they become Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and make a living screwing over everyone else…

Be patronising:
“Listen and look before you march and shout.”

Nick Clegg, 23rd November 2010

…we’re not crossing a road, Nick. How about you listen to us…

Give over billions more pounds to failing banks:
“We are doing this because it is overwhelmingly in Britain’s national interest that we have a stable Irish economy and banking system.”

George Osborne, 23rd November 2010

…not this shit again! Seriously?!

That should do it.

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Julian Huppert MP on fees, cuts, and coalition

by Edd Mustill

This interview with Cambridge MP Julian Huppert was conducted before last week’s education protest in central London.

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert is one of those MPs that advocates of first-past-the-post dream about. Brought up and educated in the area he represents, he seems to embody the MPs’ attachment to their constituency which is regarded as so important.

Fees
Like his Liberal Democrat predecessor, he is a fellow of Clare College. As an academic, he is perhaps more concerned about higher education that some of his colleagues.

“I was one of the student campaigners, I led some of the marches in ’97 and ’98 when Labour were first planning to introduce fees. I think it’s a mistake, I think it’s the wrong way to get people to pay at all,” he says. “Having said which, currently it’s going to be very hard, with the economic climate there isn’t the money to put into it right now.”

However, he is quick to defend his senior party colleagues who have faced so much anger from students in recent weeks. Given that a majority of MPs want higher fees, he says:

“I think Vince [Cable] was placed in an impossible position. Actually he’s done a fantastic job in terms of bringing down the fees from what they would have been otherwise.” He adds: “Do you say I don’t think there should be fees so I’m just not going to play any part in this. Or do you say, look, the two main parties want to do this, we’re not going to win this one, so what I’m going to try to do is to make it as good as possible.”

These are words that perhaps won’t hearten any prospective students who want to see fees defeated in Parliament. Huppert explains that the vote on the fee rise will be taken separately to the rest of the Bill, and he will support the Bill as a whole if he loses on the fees vote:

“I will be quite happy to vote for the Act that introduces the rest of it because if we don’t and we’ve lost the thing on fees, then it would be perverse to say I’m not going to vote for supporting part-timers and all the rest of it.”

It seems even those who will rebel on tuition fees regard the bulk of the government’s proposals as largely “progressive.” Of the NUS pledge, which Huppert re-signed after the Browne Review published its findings, he says:

“There were two halves to the pledge. The first half was to pledge to vote against an increase in fees and the other to try to get a more progressive system, and we are doing the second half. Everybody within the LibDems is going to do the second half.”

Wasn’t the coalition agreement, that only allowed LibDems to abstain on this issue rather than vote against, already an abandonment of the first half of the pledge?

“I don’t think it was. We didn’t know what the government response [to Browne] would be, and I agree with what is in the coalition agreement which is that you come up with something that ensures universities get fair funding.” He adds, “There are so many better solutions to the problem. A graduate tax. There are ways of raising a graduate tax which would be much better than those being proposed.”

But he insists that he still believes in education free at the point of use: “Ultimately I think the correct solution is for it to be funded from central taxation.”

Cuts
Huppert accepts the government’s argument that the deficit needs to be closed quickly, although he says it is being dealt with by changes to the tax system as well as cuts.

“If we do it too slowly there’s a whole psychology about that, and what happens is what’s started to happen in places like Greece. The markets don’t trust each other, interest rates shoot up, the cost of borrowing shoots up as well,” he says.

His argument for public spending cuts is one that public sector workers have heard a thousand times before.

“We know that there is huge inefficiency, frankly, in a lot of things the government does,” he says.
“I think spending money by government is a bad thing; the good thing is what you get for it.”

Some in the public sector, such as police chiefs and fire authorities, have warned that they cannot avoid job cuts given the figures they have to work with. Is he worried that this will result in frontline redundancies, given the figure of 490,000 job losses that the government itself has raised?

“That figure is over four years, and a lot of that will be people retiring, leaving and so forth.” He adds: “In the last 6 months there were 300,000 new private sector jobs created. I don’t particularly mind whether people are working in the private sector or the public sector.”

He is quick to deny that supporting the creation of equivalent jobs with similar skill sets in the private sector implies the privatisation of services:

“No, not necessarily in the slightest. We’re not talking about privatising a service. It’s just that there are other jobs people can do which do not consist of having more bureaucrats.”

In defending the cuts, Huppert touches on an interesting point about higher education funding that is largely ignored. Because fees are not paid up-front, the government has to provide the universities with the money that covers them.

“Universities get the money for students from two sources; HEFCE teaching, and the fees income comes from the government,” he explains. “There is a large amount of money that will go from the government to the universities, from fees, but none of that money comes back in, in the whole time we are talking about.”

This means that charging higher tuition fees may not even save the government any money, especially as their expectations of how much of the debt will be paid back are based on unrealistic assumptions about how much graduates will earn.

Huppert thinks the best way of saving money in higher education is to have less people go to university in the first place. His criticism of the target of getting 50% of school leavers to university is one which has become common on the centre-left and the right alike. He wants to see more vocational courses.

“The fact that we are not good at training people to actually do things, has hit us very badly,” he says.

Coalition
Although Cambridge is much more than the university, it would be safe to say that Cambridge MPs rely less on party machinery to get elected, than on the amorphous mass of liberal-inclined students in the town. These are circumstances that perhaps allow the town’s MP a greater degree of independence than many others.

The day before our interview, Huppert had made the news for celebrating the loss of the last Tory seat on Cambridge City Council on twitter. Labour had won, and the LibDems only came third. “Cambridge is officially Tory-free. Very satisfying!” he tweeted.

Such an episode might betray some of his feelings about his coalition partners, but Huppert doesn’t have a kind word to say about the Labour Party, describing their position on fees in particular as opportunistic. They have no alternatives, he says, to what the government is doing:

“I think their line that ‘We’d cut stuff, we’re not going to say what,’ is really pathetic. It’s really tragic when you have a political party like that, which is now betting everything on the economy collapsing.”

However, he was keen, after the election, for the LibDems to at least explore a coalition with Labour, but not for the usual reason.

“I do not count the Labour Party as a progressive party,” he says. “On some things the Conservatives are being more progressive than Labour have been, which is astonishing. The fact that Labour weren’t prepared to introduce a bank levy and the Conservatives are is astonishing.”

“Labour’s starting point was essentially that we had to support their manifesto. I remember when we had the report back from the first negotiation sessions. We had to support a third runway at Heathrow, we had to support ID cards, we had to support fees at £7,000 per year.”

He does admit to being slightly worried about his party’s poll ratings since they went into government with the Tories, but says: “They’re always very low at this time of the year. It’s a per cent or two lower than typical, but that’s what happens.”

Huppert acknowledged that the fate of the coalition, and of the Liberal Democrats themselves, is tied to the economy. But he is adamant that the party is healthy: “Membership has gone up. We have lots of new members coming and joining.”

Nevertheless, regardless of how he votes, it’s difficult to imagine how these new members will replace the party’s student electoral base which seems to have been so comprehensively trashed.

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Is this the shittest political slogan ever?

Yellow? I'll say

Liberal Youth members who are using this “Yellow not Browne” slogan all over their twitter and Facebook pages might want to rethink it, especially in light of Vince Cable pulling out of a visit to Oxford in the face of a protest by hundreds of students.

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Could fees destroy the Liberal Democrats?

by Edd Mustill

The coalition government has so far proved stronger than many on the left hoped or wished. The fall out from Lord Browne’s review of higher education funding, which has recommended the removal of the cap on tuition fees, may present the biggest challenge yet to the coalition agreement.

Fees: More ammo for anti-Clegg LibDems

Higher Education is a big issue for the Liberal Democrats. In recent years their successes have come in university towns, like Cambridge. Nick Clegg’s own constituency of Sheffield Hallam has a concentration of students. All their MPs, while running for election, signed an NUS pledge to vote against higher fees.

The Liberal Democrat leadership’s arguments justifying their U-turn are incredibly weak. They are trying to plead ignorance, saying they did not know how bad the economic situation was until after the election. This is a strange attitude to take to a protracted economic crisis that has so far lasted for over two years, and also ignores economic indicators just after the election pointing to a smaller budget deficit than had been feared.

Even this is beside the point. The pledge was not “to vote against higher fees unless we decide that it’s not economically reasonable.”

“Politician breaks promises” is hardly headline news, and the public are well used to it. But party activists will be annoyed that the move comes just weeks after the party conference, which is supposedly the sovereign policy-making body, voted for a campaign to replace fees with a graduate tax.

The leadership know this, but it would be too embarrassing for Clegg and Cable to climbdown after accepting the substance of the Browne Review. A U-turn for the sake of power is good political sense, but a U-turn for the sake of principle would be one they cannot afford to undertake.

The parliamentary party is already in disarray as some MPs openly state their willingness to break the pledge, while others affirm their anti-fees position. The party’s youth wing, which has its conference next weekend, has urged MPs to vote against any fee rises.

Although outrage has exploded in the light of Lord Browne’s recommendations, the reality is that the coalition agreement, formed days after the general election, already effective broke the Liberal Democrat’s pledge. It allows for LibDem MPs to abstain on raising fees, but not to vote against.

Given that this has therefore not come as a bolt from the blue, one wonders why the membership did not make more of an issue of fees at the recent party conference, where the coalition agreement was endorsed with minor grumbling. Will a fight develop inside the LibDems as the young people who joined as anti-fees, or anti-war, activists in the last few years finally tire of an agreement that has systematically shut out what they regarded as their flagship policies?

This will rely on an organised force emerging. It will depend on whether MPs see that their party is heading towards an electoral catastrophe, and whether they and Liberal Youth want to risk a confrontation with the leadership that could increase the possibility of a general split in the party, between its pro-Tory and anti-Tory elements.

In this sense, the emergence of LibDem senior figures like Simon Hughues and Ming Campbell publicly disagreeing with government policy is potentially significant. I should stress that I see this as important not because the LibDems could provide us with a “better” alternative to the Browne Review. They can’t. Opposition will come from the organised left, and from angry students. In fact, it already is.

Rather, it is important if the government is politically weakened at a time when the spending review is about to unleash battles all over society. Student opposition to the government has the potential to be much more powerful than it has been for years, partly because the issue of fees could cause cracks in the LibDems more than any other issue, but mostly because what universities face is part of a generalised and ferocious attack on the public sector.

In 2004 I watched the Higher Education Act that brought in top-up fees pass through the Commons by five votes on television. Those of us who have spent a lot of time in the years since then arguing that this was the thin end of the wedge, and would lead to indefinite fees and a marketised university system, have now been vindicated. The era of students joining the Liberal Democrats as a right-on “progressive” group is dead and gone. Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats were amusingly (tragically?) out on the lash at the same time as a meeting was being held in the town to discuss the Browne Review.

The Liberal Democrats will disintegrate as a political force on campus. As discontent spreads on campuses and in workplaces, they could easily disintegrate as a party entirely.

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The media have no problem with class politics

by nineteensixtyseven

The dust has barely settled on yesterday’s Labour leadership result and already the Tories and the media are adopting the line of attack which is likely to dominate the political discourse for this Parliament.  According to them, ‘Red Ed‘, son of a Marxist academic- no, not Vince Cable- has been ‘installed‘ as the leader of the Labour Party by ‘Middle England’-hating trade union ‘barons’, salivating for a fight with the government and ready to march their legions of minions into battle during a new ‘Winter of Discontent.’

The unelected Baroness Warsi (an actual baroness) was quick of the mark:

‘Ed Miliband wasn’t the choice of his MPs, wasn’t the choice of Labour party members but was put into power by union votes. I’m afraid this looks like a leap backwards for the Labour party.’

Who, we may ask, was she the choice of?  Yet it is not just the Tories who hold this view.  The right-wing of the Labour Party, too, appear to agree that the failure of the electoral college to elect David Miliband is a ‘leap backwards.’  The motley crew of Blairite ghosts traipsed grimly from the shadows to warn against any deviation from the strategy which has seen the Labour Party lose 5 million voters since 1997, start an illegal war in the Middle East and drop any pretence of even mildly social democratic instincts.

More fundamentally wrong, however, is the mendacious conflation of the votes of hundreds of thousands of individual union members with the votes of so-called ‘barons’, who presumably sit above the stage at Labour Party conference in rooms filled with Cuban cigar smoke, tugging puppet strings and dictating policies down the red telephone.  ‘The Unions’, invariably so described to suggest that they are one homogeneous entity, have delivered nothing; it was the votes of  their members that decided the outcome.  To be sure, union bureaucrats made their recommendations but these were not binding, and nor is it likely that they were universally followed.

Nevertheless, Nicholas Watt in the Guardian has some ‘useful’ advice for the new Labour leader:

‘The Tory line of attack shows that Ed Miliband will need, as a matter or urgency, to show the unions can expect no favours under his leadership.’

I would have thought that the engagement of thousands of workers in the political system, voting democratically in voluntary organisations, was a positive thing.  Indeed, don’t trade unions fit in so well with the ‘Big Society’?  Apparently not; Miliband should ignore them.  Britain’s millions of beleaguered workers can expect ‘no favours’ from the party ostensibly set up to represent them.

Yet the same columnists and politicians express nowhere near the same alarm at the influence of wealthy individuals such as Rupert Murdoch, Lord Ashcroft and Sir Philip Green over our political system.  Murdoch, one of the first people Blair and Cameron met after their assent to power, is poised to take over a controlling stake in Bskyb and thereby cement his sinister power over the media.  Green meanwhile, who owns an estimated 12% of the UK retail market, has taken advantage of the fact that his wife, who is the direct owner of the Arcadia Group, happens to live in Monaco which, conveniently, happens to be a tax exile.  This is the man who will advise the government on next month’s Comprehensive Spending Review.  Clearly, class politics is fine so long as it is not the working-class exercising any modicum of political power.

The Spending Review, we might add, is based on a deficit reduction strategy that most people rejected last May at the polls and which, according to a recent Populus poll, is opposed by most voters. Still, we must be on guard against those ‘union barons’!

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