Saturday, 10 January 2009

We need a new Hanif Bhamjee

Among the most effective tactics the anti-apartheid movement used against the racist South African regime back in the 70s and 80s was the boycott, whether of sporting events, cultural links or goods.

Here in Wales, the tireless campaigning of Hanif Bhamjee - an exiled South African - led to A-A becoming one of the most prominent political movements of the time.

The ongoing Israeli assault on the right of Palestinians not only to their homeland but to exist means we need a similar solidarity movement that stops treating Israel like a normal state. Israel should be shunned in sporting and cultural arenas and its goods boycotted. The UK accounts for half Israel's fruit and veg exports, so we're uniquely placed to make an impact on Israel's economy.

Many fresh herbs and out-of-season (for us) fruit and vegetables are Israeli. Don't buy them. Check the labels to see if they say "Israel" or "West bank" - the latter are produced on illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank not by Palestinians.

Friday, 2 January 2009

You're nicked

Vaughan Roderick has posted an honest assessment of the new intake of AMs - it's a shame he didn't expand that to take in the rest of them.
Basically he's impressed with Nerys Evans and Bethan Jenkins on the Plaid back benches, tells us Alun Davies is a Marmite politician (he certainly leaves a nasty taste in the mouth) and has a go at Nick Ramsay, the serial claimant of a Tory.
It's also a shame there's no-one honest enough to make the same sort of assessment of the motley crew of MPs that represent Wales. What good are political journalists if they're not telling us who's good enough to represent us in Parliament?
Vaughan's broken the mould here and deserves some praise.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Eyeless in Gaza

Depending on your age and upbringing, Eyeless in Gaza will stir memories of the Bible or a crap punk band.

The present slow-motion slaughter by the Israeli army is a demonstration of how blind and complacent many in the West have become to the "sledgehammer to crack a nut" approach of that state to its enemies.

This is no "drive the Jews into the sea" rant. In my younger days I had a lot of sympathy for the Israelis, many of whom were refugees fleeing terrible atrocities and persecution. I have visited Israel three times at various stages of my life.

Perhaps that's what makes me sadder and angrier - that the state the persecuted Jews have created is now indulging in the same atrocities their forefathers fled from.

The latest carnage is in retaliation for the death of an Israeli from a rocket attack on Sderot, which in turn was retaliation for an earlier Israeli incursion into Gaza that killed leading Hamas militants. No doubt this was in retaliation for something else and so on back to the Nakba in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes as the Jews fought to create a homeland for themselves.

The Nakba is why so many Palestinians are crowded into a barren strip of land called Gaza - this is little more than a giant refugee camp, along with others across the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan to which those displaced Palestinians fled all those years ago. Refugee camps that were meant to be temporary shelters before people returned home have become home to new generations of displaced Palestinians. Not surprisingly they seethe with the injustice doled out to their families and people. The refugee camps bred a new generation of armed resistance, of intifada and finally - in desperation - suicide bombers.

The Israelis were also complicit in building up the Islamic resistance within the Palestinian liberation movement, initially to undermine the dominance of Arafat's Fatah movement. As with the CIA's initial support for the Taliban (as a means to oust the Soviet Union from Afghanistan), this intelligence-led tactic has backfired on Israel because the Islamic forces grew to be a dominant force among Palestinians with Hamas winning democratic elections to the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, such democracy is there to be ignored by both Israel and the USA. Hamas was boycotted and targetted - "we don't talk to terrorists" became the mantra. Except that we know you do (ANC, IRA) and the Israeli state itself was founded on terrorism.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza are state terrorism - similar to WW2 Nazi atrocities such as Lidice, where an entire Czech village was butchered because local partisans had successfully killed the SS leader Heinrich Himmler.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Ex-Labour Ministers get their snouts in the PFI trough

Organised Rage carries a long list of former Ministers in the Labour government, (and the senior civil servants who serviced them) who have benefitted from the privatisation of sections of the NHS and State education.

Like pigs at the trough.

Alan Milburn, Health Secretary from 1998 to 2003
Alan Milburn is listed in his declaration of members' interests at the
House of Commons as a director of Covidien, which describes itself as
"a $10bn global healthcare products leader". He is also a member of
Lloydspharmacy's Healthcare Advisory Panel. Milburn is an advisor to
the European advisory panel of leading private equity firm
Bridgepoint, which specialises in healthcare investments. Milburn
declares his income from these senior appointments as over £30,000 a
year from Bridgepoint; over £25,000 from Lloydspharmacy; nothing
listed for Covidien; and a further over £20,000 as an advisor to

Charles Clarke Education Secretary from 2002 to 2004 Home Secretary
from 2004 to 2006
Charles Clarke a non-executive director of the LJ Group, which
supplies teaching materials and equipment to schools and training
services, including through the Government Building Schools for the
Future programme, which Clarke initiated as education and skills
secretary in February 2004. Clarke is a consultant to KPMG on public
sector reform, for whom he wrote a booklet promoting the use of
co-payments – service user contributions – to the NHS and other public
He also advises Charles Street Securities investment bankers/private
equity fund managers. In addition, Clarke is a consultant to
Beachcroft LLP, a legal firm that specialises in advising PFI/PPP

Patricia Hewitt Health Secretary from 2005 to 2007

Patricia Hewitt is now senior adviser to Cinven, a private
equity-backed private hospitals and healthcare group (payment, over
£55,000 pa). She is also special consultant (payment over £45,000 pa)
to AllianceBoots, which is owned by private equity firm KKR. In
addition, Hewitt is a director of BT Group, which is providing business
outsourcing, IT and telecoms services to a range of public bodies.
Hewitt established the telecoms and media regulator Ofcom in an
earlier job as secretary of state for trade and industry and was in
charge of the National Programme for IT – in which BT won one of the
largest contracts – while secretary of state for health. According to
BT's submission of details to the US Securities and Exchange
Commission, Hewitt will be paid an initial £60,000, but with an
expected increase as she takes on more responsibilities, in return for
working at least 22 days a year.

David Blunkett Home Secretary from 2001 to 2004 Education Secretary
from 1997 to 2001 and Work and Pensions secretary in 2005

David Blunkett is now an advisor on business development to A4e Ltd,
for which he is entitled to be paid at least £25,000 a year, but which
(according tohis Parliamentary declaration of interests) he has not
yet been paid. A4e describes itself as a "market leader in global
public service reform".

Lord Warner Health Minister from 2003 to 2007

Lord Warner had specific responsibility for reform of the NHS –
overseeing the introduction of more private sector involvement. Since
he stepped down from that role he has taken on a directorship with UK
HealthGateway and is chairman of the Government Sector Advisory Panel
for Xansa plc – a leading provider of business outsource services to
public bodies and holder of the £1bn NHS's shared business service
centre contract, providing accounting and finance services to the NHS.
Lord Warner is also an advisor to Byotrol (a provider of micro
biological health treatments), Apax Partners Worldwide (a private
equity firm, with strong connections to the Government and which has
invested heavily in health providers seeking contracts with the NHS),
Deloitte (an accountancy and consultancy firm, with large incomes from
government agencies) and DLA Piper (a legal firm, which, like
Deloitte, specialises in advising on private contracting to the public
sector). Lord Warner remains influential within the NHS as chair of
the NHS London Provider Agency.

Hilary Armstrong secretary of state for local government from 1997 to
2001 for the Cabinet Office from 2006 to 2007
Hilary Armstrong has recently taken a position as chair of
wastecompany SITA's advisory committee.

Nick Raynsford a Local Government and Housing minister from 1997 to 2005
Nick Raynsford is now non-executive chairman of local authority
recruitment agency Rockpools PLC and of Hometrack, a lettings service.

Ian McCartney Trade Minister from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2006 to 2007
Ian McCartney is a senior adviser to the US Fluor Corporation, an
energy contractor that is believed to have ambitions to win nuclear
clean-up contracts in the UK. McCartney is paid at least £110,000 a
year for his advice. The former Department of Trade and Industry had
responsibility for energy policy.

Stephen Byers Trade and industry secretary from 1998 to 2001
Stephen Byers is now non-executive chairman of water treatment company
ACWA and Ritz Climate Offset Company.

Richard Caborn Trade minister from 1999 to 2001
Richard Caborn is now a consultant to AMEC assisting them with their
work in the nuclear industry. His payment for this is at least £70,000
a year. He is also a former sports minister and now a consultant to
the Fitness Industry Association, for which he is paid at least
£10,000 a year.

Brian Wilson Energy minister from 2001 to 2003
Brian Wilson is now a non-executive director of AMEC Nuclear and is UK
chairman of the renewables company, Airtricity.

Stephen Ladyman transport minister from 2005 to 2007

Stephen Ladyman is now an adviser to It is Holdings, a company selling
traffic information, for which he is paid at least £10,000 a year.

Frank Field welfare reform minister from 1997 to 1998
Frank Field is now a director of Medicash, which operates a healthcare
cash plan.

Sir Michael Barber former head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit
Michael Barber oversaw public sector reforms in health, education,
transport, policing, the criminal justice system and
asylum/immigration. He is now the expert partner in consulting firm
McKinsey's Global Public Sector Practice.

Baroness Sally Morgan
Sally Morgan was a close aide to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister
and she was director of government relations in Downing Street and
subsequently was made a minister and a member of the House of Lords.
She is now a director of the largest care home operator in the UK,
Southern Cross, which has expanded substantially as a result of
government reforms to the structure and funding of social care. She is
a member of the advisory panel of Lloyds Pharmacy, which is expected
to bid for contracts under the Department of Health's £1.25bn
Alternative Provider Medical Services programme. Morgan is also a
director of Carphone Warehouse.

Sir Gerry Loughran was head of the Northern Ireland civil service from
2000 to 2002.

After retiring he took on a number of private sector
directorships. These included Phoenix Natural Gas, which is owned by
the Terra Firma private equity firm, and he soon became chairman upon joining the board. While a senior civil servant,
Loughran chaired the Strategy 2010 project,57 to sell and leaseback
the civil service property portfolio. After leaving the civil service,
Loughran became a director and chairman of Partenaire, where he led
the company's (unsuccessful) bid to win the £2bn Workplace 2010
contract that resulted from Strategy 2010.

Lord Wilson of Dinton
Lord Wilson of Dinton was, as Sir Richard Wilson, head of the Home
Civil Service and secretary to the Cabinet – as such he had the
overall responsibility for seeing that the Prime Minister's policies
on public sector reform were carried out. He was afterwards appointed
a director of Xansa (now part of the Steria group), one of the main
providers of business process outsourcing services to the public

Lord Turnbull
Lord Wilson's successor as head of the Home Civil Service was Sir
Andrew Turnbull, now Lord Turnbull. Lord Turnbull's current
directorships include British Land (active in the PFI/PPP market),
Prudential (also active in the market) and Frontier Economics (which
advises private sector clients on public sector reform). Turnbull is
also chairman of Brevan Howard Global, an investment management

Sir Peter Gershon
Sir Peter Gershon was brought in by The Treasury in 1998 to reduce
government expenditure and improve efficiency – he conducted a series
of reviews in the period to 2004. He became a civil servant in 2000 as
founding chief executive of the Office of Government Commerce. Sir
Peter is now executive chairman of Vertex, one of the largest
suppliers of business outsourcing services to the UK public sector. He
is also non-executive chairman of the General Healthcare Group, the
largest private healthcare group in the UK – owned by the private
equity group Apax Partners and the South African healthcare company
Netcare, which has ISTC and other supply contracts with the NHS. In
August 2008 Sir Peter completed a review of ICT procurement policy for
the Australian government.58

Chris Woodhead
Following his period as chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead
set-up the Cognita group of independent schools, using funds supplied
by a private equity firm, Englefield Capital.

Sir Steve Robson
Sir Steve Robson was one of the most controversial senior civil
servants of recent years, who oversaw the privatisation of British
Rail on behalf of Sir John Major. Robson went on to become second
permanent secretary at HM Treasury until he retired in 2001. During
his earlier career, he was seconded to 3i while remaining a civil
servant. He oversaw the Government's policy on PPPs while serving the
current Government at the Treasury. Since retiring, Sir Steve has been
a director at Partnerships UK, JP Morgan Cazenove (a global bank), Xstrata (a mining group) and the Royal Bank of Scotland (one of the leading investors in PPPs) and is a member of the Chairman's
Advisory Committee at the accountancy and consultancy firm KPMG (a
leading adviser to PPP and PFI schemes).

Simon Stevens
Simon Stevens was Tony Blair's health advisor within 10 Downing Street
and, with Alan Milburn, was the key architect of the NHS reform
programme. He is now chairman of UnitedHealth UK, which has won
contracts with the NHS to manage and advise primary care trusts. The company's executive director, previously chief
executive, was, until late 2007, Dr Richard Smith, a former editor of
the British Medical Journal. He is now working for United Health in the

Tom Granatir
Another US-based healthcare group with serious aspirations in the UK
is Humana Europe. Its director of policy and research in the UK is Tom
Granatir, who was seconded for six months to the NHS in its Health
Inequalities Unit and was then seconded on a separate assignment with
the influential health think-tank, the King's Fund.

Darren Murphy
Darren Murphy was a special advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair from
May 1997 to September 2005. After a period as head of government
relations and external affairs for AstraZeneca UK Murphy became
managing director at the London office of lobbying firm APCO whose
clients include most of the private healthcare firms bidding to run
Independent Sector Treatment Centres.

Kirsty for success

Decisive, consistent, principled. Kirsty Williams is none of these things as this sly but rather wonderful attack demonstrates.

Her only saving grace is that Lembit is among those sticking the boot in.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Independence - Labour starts the debate

How disappointing that Roy "Woy" Jenkins is not around to pay tribute to Huw Irranca-Davies, a Labour minister with far too much time on his hands it appears. Despite the poverty of his argument, it's a welcome contribution to the debate about the future of Wales.

Irranca-Davies defends the Union with these thoughts:

“When the idea of independence becomes mainstream, as we’ve seen in Scotland, it’s a dangerous time socially, economically and politically. This is far from harmless fun for constitutional anoraks, it’s a recipe for anarchy."

Sounds like a minister rattled and veering dangerously off-message regarding Scotland too.

"There is a worrying trend in Welsh politics with the re-emergence of the debate over independence, without much challenge."

Oh, oh - shades of Don Touhig here.

“It’s time for those who believe in a strong Wales and a strong UK to step up and take this challenge. Look at some of the benefits we’ve had over the years in terms of public sector jobs. In Llantrisant, we’ve had the Royal Mint, relocated by Jim Callaghan. Take the DVLA, everybody accepts that is has always been in Swansea, it’s there for a reason, located there as a deliberate policy of the UK government. Those are historic examples, but if you bring it right up to date there have been thousands of jobs relocated to Wales under the Lyons review, and there is a huge investment in St Athan coming under a direct MoD contract.
“If Plaid Cymru, Adam Price or anybody else want to enter the debate about what independence would mean for Wales, they have to explain how those jobs would be defended.”

Adam Price et al can speak for themselves, but the examples he poses are interesting. Is he saying the DVLA and Royal Mint will disappear if Wales became independent? That is the implied threat with consequent job losses.
With the Royal Mint, this is highly unlikely as it supplies coins to more than 100 countries around the globe. Make that 101 when Wales becomes independent.
An independent Wales would still need a DVLA, albeit smaller, but that loss is far outweighed by the extra work created for a civil service dealing with pensions, child benefits, taxes and other government services currently provided in England for Welsh citizens.
The re-location of jobs to Wales promised under the Lyons Review doesn't create new jobs for Welsh workers.
Lastly, the St Athan "investment" - if it happens at all (and part one of the huge Private Finance Initiative project has already fallen by the wayside) it will represent a huge investment of public money into a private venture. Even if the project happens, the economic benefits for Wales are arguable - a number of low-paid unskilled jobs. The skilled trainers' jobs will all be re-locating from a number of English bases.
If the economic case for the Union rests on these examples, then it is flimsy to say the least.

The economic case for independence has to be based on the understanding that Wales will do things differently to Whitehall and Westminster. Even the toothless Assembly has shown that this is the case. Independence, if it is to mean anything, will move social justice up the political agenda.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

'We need a better system and we need it soon; but it has yet to be born'

The past week of financial turmoil has demonstrated that the ideas of the left are more relevant than ever. Capitalism, as even Dafydd Wigley acknowledged in a conscious echo of Marx, "contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction".

The speculators and gamblers that have profited from the financial system regardless of their impact on wider society are now running cap in hand to governments across the world. Brown and Bush are busy bailing out these ruling-class spongers to ensure that capitalism doesn't grind to a halt. Maintaining the system is all and bugger the costs. 

But it's likely that, given the scale of the bailouts of banks like the Northern Rock, that it will be us the taxpayers who bear the burden. As always. The super-rich don't bother with tax - that is for "the little people" as one notorious US billionaire tax evader once claimed. 

Handouts to save bankers aren't available to improve our communities. The financial markets are move important than building new council housing, replacing our crumbling schools or cutting NHS waiting lists.

Our role, in Wales and internationally, is to ensure that it is not "the little people" who pay the price for the casino gamblers of the City. And to advance the ways in which the vast majority of the people of Wales, the working class, take control over their lives, workplaces and communities.

Dafydd Wigley, not a man of the left in normal times, is explicit in looking beyond capitalism: "We need a better system and we need it soon, but it has yet to be born".

That system will not be the dead hand of Stalinist bureaucratic Communism that stifled the human spirit and became as much an oppressor of workers as capitalism itself. The replacement we're looking for will be more in tune with the needs of peoples throughout the world - democratic, green and inclusive. Whether that system is called socialist, workers control or a "direct democracy" of a new kind remains to be seen.

But we can't go on as we are. Here in Wales, we're suffering higher than average fuel bills but lower incomes than any other part of the UK. Anglesey "enjoys" household incomes of just 53% of the UK level and inequalities are growing.

How do we achieve our goal of social justice, of equality for all and putting people before profits? How does this fit in with the debate over the future of the UK and Wales's place within it? Is there a parliamentary (or should that be Assembly) road to socialism?

 This blog is one contribution to that debate. You're welcome to use it.