Tuesday, 30 June 2015

North Lanarkshire Update

Here's a lovely email from a regular reader in North Lanarkshire who'd like to know how she can help get justice for GMB members over their outstanding equal pay claims.

Now I'll give some thought to that, but isn't it heartening to see people expressing solidarity with their fellow workers.

Hi Mark,

I've been reading ur website blog since day 1 and think ur amazing.

If it hadnt been for u n A4ES, hundreds if not thousands of HSWs in North Lanarkshire would never have known about equal pay claims far less been paid out.

And that includes Unison members and Unite members and for that I will be eternally grateful I'm not in any union as unison has sold me and my colleagues down the river too many times for my liking.

Which is why I'm glad there are still people like urself with real values and morals and r willing to stand up for joe bloggs.

I would really like to know if there's any way I can help my friends and colleagues in GMB union to get a fair deal and get the money that is rightfully theirs?

I feel terrible on their behalf and wished there was something I could do to help I do no newspapers not interested i already phoned advertiser so wot can we do to help?



Political Islam (19/11/14)

The latest staged murders by the Islamic State speaks volumes about the shallow nature of 'political Islam' because the response from Muslim countries around the world has been muted; the absence of any public protest is very noticeable as is the sound of silence from influential governments, for example Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

Yet a young American was savagely killed along with 18 captured Syrian soldiers, fellow Muslims, who were ritually and cruelly beheaded despite being prisoners of war.

Now compare this evident lack of outrage within political Islam to the huge protests against a publicity seeking Pastor in America who was threatening to burn copies of the Koran, a stupid but essentially harmless act; or the publication of some cartoons in a Danish magazine depicting the Prophet Muhammad.   

The BBC reports on the life and times of Peter (Abdul-Rahman) Kassig who, unlike previous kidnap victims, was not murdered live on air along with the Syrian soldiers, suggesting that he may have denied his captors the sadistic delight of using his killing for propaganda purposes.  

Abdul-Rahman Kassig: Idealist 'simply seeking to help'

Mr Kassig's parents said they were proud of his aid work in Syria.

Abdul-Rahman Kassig believed it was his duty to alleviate the suffering of people affected by conflict in the Middle East.

Mr Kassig, known as Peter Kassig before he converted to Islam, founded a humanitarian organisation to help refugees who had fled from Syria.

In interviews and letters to his family, Mr Kassig, 26, said he was driven by a "sense of purpose" and a desire to help others after serving with the US military in Iraq.

In 2012, he wrote: "The truth is sometimes I really think I would like to do something else, but at the end of the day this work is really the only thing that I have found that gives my life both meaning and direction.

Abdul-Rahman (aka Peter) Kassig
  • Former US Army Ranger 
  • Served in Iraq in 2007
  • Travelled to Lebanon in May 2012, volunteering in hospitals and treating Syrian refugees
  • Founded aid organisation Special Emergency Response and Assistance (Sera) in 2012 to provide aid to Syrian refugees
  • Captured by Islamic State in October 2013 while travelling to Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria
  • Converted to Islam in 2013, changing name from Peter Kassig
Abdul-Rahman Kassig's letters home

A native of Indiana, Mr Kassig "spent his late teens and early 20s searching for his place in the world", his parents Ed and Paula Kassig said in a statement.

He joined the US military and served as an Army Ranger in Iraq in 2007. He was given an honourable discharge from the Army for medical reasons. But on returning home "he felt called to be a peacemaker", according to his parents.

In 2010 he enrolled at Butler University in Indianapolis, where he majored in political science. Mr Kassig described how, in the wake of a brief marriage and divorce, he had needed a "game changer".

He travelled to Lebanon in 2012 during a spring break, volunteering as a medical assistant in border hospitals.
With his mother Paula at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park near Corbin, Kentucky, in 2000
Fishing with his father Ed near the Cannelton Dam on the Ohio River in southern Indiana in 2011

There he helped treat Palestinian refugees and, subsequently, people escaping the conflict in Syria.

During the summer of 2012, he was interviewed by CNN while working at a hospital in Tripoli, Lebanon. He told the crew: "This is what I was put here to do."

He added: "I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, and I am an idealist, and I believe in hopeless causes."

Later that year, he founded a non-governmental organisation named Special Emergency Response and Assistance (Sera), dedicated to providing humanitarian aid for the growing number of people who were fleeing Syria's civil war.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig founded the relief organisation Sera

In the summer of 2013, Sera's operational base moved to Gaziantep, Turkey. Mr Kassig located and distributed food and medical supplies to the refugee camps on both sides of the Syrian border. He also provided primary trauma care as well as medical training to civilian casualties in Syria.

According to his family, he "worked closely with and befriended Syrian medical and humanitarian workers who were trying to save lives and restore hope".

The BBC's Paul Wood, who met Mr Kassig while he was on the Turkish-Syrian border, said he "always cut a slightly unworldly figure... open, honest, slightly intense, beguiled by Syria's uprising".

Mr Kassig was working with Sera when he was captured on 1 October 2013 while travelling towards to Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. 

For a year, his parents remained silent at the behest of his captors. Along with his friends inside and outside Syria, his family worked to secure his release.

In a statement, his parents said their son's "journey toward Islam" had begun before he was taken captive. In the summer of 2013 he observed the month-long Ramadan fast which had a "great impact" on him.

According to his family, he converted voluntarily while sharing a cell with a devout Muslim, between October and December of the same year. He is said to have taken his faith seriously, praying five times a day and adopting the name Abdul-Rahman.

French hostage Nicholas Henin, who was held with Mr Kassig for four months, described him as "a very dedicated Muslim".

"Peter told me about how important Islam was to him, how much it helped to overcome his situation in captivity," Mr Henin told the BBC.

When the hostages received food, "Abdul-Rahman was basically sharing all of his food but looking for sweets," Mr Henin added. "He was always looking for some extra marmalade."

In a letter to his family received on 2 June, Mr Kassig wrote that he was "pretty scared to die" but said the the hardest part was "not knowing, wondering, hoping, and wondering if I should even hope at all". 

He expressed his sadness at the pain his capture had caused those closest to him, adding: "If I do die, I figure that at least you and I can seek refuge and comfort in knowing that I went out as a result of trying to alleviate suffering and helping those in need. 

"In terms of my faith, I pray everyday and I am not angry about my situation in that sense." 

The letter ends with the words: "I love you."

Apologists and Murder (27/02/15)

Image result for jihadi john + images

I watched the press conference given by CAGE yesterday, a self-styled advocacy organisation which has had a long association with Mohammed Emwazi who has been unmasked as 'Jihadi John', a sadist and murderer. 

The chap at CAGE doing most of the talking was Asim Qureshi who appears on its web site as the group's Research Director, but for the most part he was really just a terrible apologist for Emwazi, arguing that the UK's security services had helped to radicalise this young man.

Which is an old story, of course, the same one used by the murderers of Drummer Lee Rigby who argued 'offences against Islam' drove them to kill and butcher an off-duty young solider who was walking in a London street.
So CAGE is to be believed the alleged 'harassment' and interference by security services is to blame for Emwazi's actions rather than the young man himself or the choices he made by joining up with the detestable death cult of IS which has been committing appalling acts of murder in Syria, Iraq, Paris and Copenhagen - against other Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, Jews and non-believers. 

Here's a mealy-mouthed statement from the CAGE web site which is attributed to the group's editor and I hope the organisation now comes under a lot more scrutiny and criticism because the activities of CAGE seem to be encouraging and giving succour and to the Islamists instead of challenging their behaviour, at home and abroad.
Thursday 26 February 2015 - 
Written By: Editor 

Mohammed Emwazi first came to CAGE in 2009 after being detained, interrogated and recruited by Mi5 on what was meant to be a safari holiday to Tanzania. Thereafter, the harassment continued and intensified which led to him losing two fiancée's, his job and new life in Kuwait. The harassment and abuse he suffered, was all without criminal charges ever being brought against him, with the legal remedies available to him failing, he attempted to start a new life abroad in Kuwait only to be blocked by the UK security agencies continually. A Washington Post investigation recently alleged he was the British IS member known as “Jihadi John”.

Religion of Peace? (24/03/15)

The gang of Muslim men who attacked and beat to death a young Afghan woman in the name of their religion made a big mistake apparently.

Not that this will come as any consolation to the victim, Farkhunda, to her family after an Islamic cleric urged the angry mob to mete out this terrible form of religious 'justice' over a false allegation that Farkhundha had set fire to the Koran.

Now if I were a religious person, I would be asking myself how an all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing God managed to get things so terribly wrong, not least because an innocent young woman has paid with her life.   

Kabul mob attack: Women help bury 'wrongly accused' Farkhunda

Women's rights and civil society activists helped bury Farkhunda at the funeral in Kabul

The coffin of a woman, killed by a mob in Kabul on an apparently false charge, has been carried by women, marking a break with Afghan funeral customs.

Hundreds of people attended a funeral for the woman, named as Farkhunda, demanding her killers be punished.

Farkhunda had been accused of burning the Koran, but an official investigator said there was no evidence for this.

The attack on the woman, as well as the alleged failure of police to intervene, have been heavily criticised.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he had ordered an investigation into the killing.

Footage of the attack, filmed on mobile phones, has been widely circulated on social media.
The mourners demanded justice for Farkhunda

A relative said Farkhunda, seen here on a placard at the funeral, was training to become a teacher

A mob, largely made of men, attacked the woman with sticks and stones, beating her to death before setting her body alight, while police reportedly looked on.

Witnesses said the crowd had accused the woman of burning a copy of the Koran.

The attack, near the Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque and shrine, is thought to have been the first of its kind in Afghanistan.

At the funeral on Sunday, women's activists carried the coffin, breaking with tradition as men usually perform that role.

An interior ministry official in charge of investigating the case said he had found no evidence that the woman had burnt the Koran.

"Farkhunda was totally innocent," Gen Mohammad Zahir told reporters. He said 13 people, including eight police officers, had been arrested.
A blackened area by the river marks the spot where the woman's body was burned

The woman was attacked outside the Shah-Du-Shamshaira mosque in Kabul

Earlier claims that the woman was mentally ill have also been contradicted by a relative and a neighbour.

Farkhunda's brother told Reuters news agency that his sister was training to be a religious teacher. He said her father had said she was ill after hearing of her death, out of a desire to protect the rest of the family.

A neighbour of the family, interviewed by the Associated Press, also said the woman had no history of mental problems and had been training as a teacher.

The US has spent millions of dollars on programmes designed to empower and educate Afghan women.

However, women in much of the country still suffer discrimination, and attacks on them often go unpunished.

Fight for Equal Pay

Here's a post from the blog site archive which highlights the long fight for equal pay in South Lanarkshire and the ultimately futile attempts of the Council to keep secret the big pay differences between male and female jobs.

As I said in my letter to local MSPs the Council's behaviour was similar to that of the last Labour Government which fought tooth and nail to prevent the public from understanding the true scale and extent of the great MPs' expenses scandal at Westminster.

How strange it is that the leader of the House of Commons at the time, Labour's Harriet Harman, and the Glasgow MP Michael Martin tried everything to undermine their own government's FOI legislation which was designed to hold big bureaucracies to account.  

Yet Labour-run South Lanarkshire followed this lead for another three years until the UK Supreme Court intervened and forced the Council to come clean about its pay arrangements three years later in 2013.

Now wonder Scottish voters are 'scunnered' with the Labour Party.

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire

Alex Neil is another MSP who has been in touch - about the recent post on South Lanarkshire Council and Equal Pay - see post below dated 23 July 2010.

Alex has also passed on contact details for two local SNP councillors from the East Kilbride area - whom readers may wish to contact, if they wish to take these issues up.

Anne Maggs who can be contacted by e-mail at: anne.maggs@southlanarkshire.gsx.gov.uk

David Watson who can be contacted by e-mail at: david.watson@southlanarkshire.gsx.gov.uk 

No doubt these councillors - and others as well - can be also reached by phone - details of their contact numbers will be available via the council's web sitewww.southlanarkshire.gov.uk

Spotlight on South Lanarkshire (Friday 23 July 2010)

Here's a copy of a letter that has been sent today by e-mail to all South Lanarkshire MSPs - a list of South Lanarkshire's Consituency and Regional List MSPs' has been published previously - in the post dated 15 July 2010.

Dear MSP

South Lanarkshire Council and Equal Pay

I attach a copy of a letter to the Scottish Information Commissioner.

The letter focuses on the refusal of South Lanarkshire Council to publish basic pay information about traditional male council jobs.

The problem stems from a strategic decision taken by South Lanarkshire in February 2003 - which is summarised in the following extract from an official council report:

“Acceptance and implementation of the Single Status package would be on the basis of trying to avoid employees experiencing a reduction in basis contractual earnings, this would be achieved using the Competence Based Grading Scheme.”

“This would include double time payments for Sunday overtime where this is part of employees existing conditions and current shift payments being consolidated and matched across.”

“The aim will be not to disturb protections in place for existing groups of employees which have already been agreed, such as arrangements for holidays, overtime working and how bonus has been dealt with.”

What South Lanarkshire Council did was to preserve on a personal basis the much higher, bonus-related salaries of traditional male jobs.

In my view, the council's actions fatally undermined the commitment to equal pay and fair treatment which were at the heart of the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

No other council in Scotland has behaved in this fashion - nor has any other council tried to bury the evidence by refusing to publish the pay rates for traditional male jobs.

In fact, every other council in Scotland came clean long ago including neighbours such as North Lanarkshire Council and Glasgow City Council.

The issue at stake here is openness and transparency - versus deliberate concealment and obfuscation.

The point is that people are entitled to know how public funds are being used - the workforce is entitled to know how male council jobs are paid compared to their female counterparts.

In truth, these details should be freely available - and at nil cost.

Instead the information is being dragged out of South Lanarkshire - bit by bit - with the council using its huge resources to obstruct the spirit and intention of FOISA (Freedom of Information Scotland Act).

So the issue is simple: should a major public institution such as South Lanarkshire Council be allowed to thumb its nose at FOISA and the Scottish Parliament's freedom of information regime?

I am encouraging readers of the Action 4 Equality Scotland blog site, especially those in South Lanarkshire with equal pay claims, to raise these issues with their MSPs.

My own appeal is currently with the Scottish Information Commissioner, but this does not, of course, prevent MSPs from speaking out on the issues and making clear where they stand.

MSPs are not being asked to indicate support for individual claims or groups of cases - the point is to challenge the council's behaviour which is making a mockery of its public 'support' for the principle of freedom of information.

Equal pay is all about comparators, as you know.

To my mind the best comparator for South Lanarkshire Council's behaviour is the former Speaker's Office in the House of Commons - which fought an unprincipled, but ultimately futile, battle to prevent the public from understanding the true extent of the MPs' expenses scandal.

Kind regards

Mark Irvine"

Elvis Lives!

Image result for elvis lives + images

The Times published this trenchant critique of Alexis Tsipras and his colleagues in Syriza who seem to believe that the Greeks voting for other people to clear up their debts has some connection with fairness and democracy.   

Which is nonsense, of course, just as it would make no difference to the Greek economy if a referendum were held on the proposition that Elvis is still alive or that the moon is made of green cheese.

Tsipras and his naive cronies have no one to blame but themselves

By Ian King - The Times

Alexis Tsipras’s call for a referendum is an act of supreme cowardice - Nicolas Koutsokostas / Demotix Images

The key exchange in the Greek crisis came when Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s narcissistic finance minister, told his fellow eurozone finance ministers that they had to accede to his government’s demands because they were those of a democratically elected administration.

It is a pity that Mr Varoufakis — who, it is obligatory to note at this stage in most articles, is an expert on game theory, even though he seems not to have the first idea of negotiations — did not heed the response he received at this moment from Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister. He curtly reminded Mr Varoufakis that he and all the other eurozone finance ministers were also elected. It is a pity that Mr Varoufakis did not take that on board.

But, then, the biggest tragedy about this saga is that it was all so avoidable. It could have been avoided when, 14 years ago, at the birth of the euro, Greece had been excluded from the single currency but was admitted, according to accounts at the time, because representatives of the French government insisted: “You cannot say no to the country of Plato.”

More recently, the more avoidable disaster came when Alexis Tsipras and his ragbag coalition of superannuated Marxists, half-baked socialists and hard-core Stalinists sold Greek voters the lie that there was an alternative to the austerity to which his predecessor, Antonis Samaras, had signed up.

It must never be forgotten that, this time last year, Greece was the eurozone’s fastest-growing economy. It had begun to achieve a primary budget surplus. And, astonishingly, in April last year it had even returned to the bond market, selling €3 billion of five-year bonds with a yield of 4.95 per cent. The implied borrowing cost on those five-year bonds today — one can scarcely talk of a yield any more since the wretched things are barely tradeable — is close to 16 per cent.

Such is the cost of Syriza. The election of Mr Tsipras and his fellow jokers has set back the country’s economic recovery by many years. The moment Syriza was elected, many Greeks reverted to their previous behaviour of regarding the payment of taxes as an option. The government’s finances are back in the red. The recovery has slammed into reverse.

And for what? It does not take Pythagoras to calculate that Syriza has achieved the square root of nothing in its negotiations with its creditors in the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. The terms on which the bailout that expires tomorrow could have been extended to the Greek government were exactly those on offer to Mr Samaras when he was ejected from office in January. So much for all those promises made by Mr Tsipras and his strutting finance minister to the Greek people. So much for that supposed expertise on game theory. It is a crying shame, and the Greek people are about to discover the true cost of putting this naive, preening rabble into power.

The probable truth is that Syriza was never interested in negotiating with its creditors. Its proposals to try to return the government to surplus almost exclusively by raising taxes on productive economic activity, rather than by reforming Greece’s sclerotic, corrupt public sector, or even at least making the gesture of asking whether all public spending was essential — as responsible governments in Spain, Portugal and Ireland have done to dig their way out of trouble — suggested that they were never really serious about doing a deal.

The latest gambit from Mr Tsipras and his ministers, to call a referendum on the bailout terms, is an act of extreme cowardice. True leadership would have involved admitting to the Greek public that there was no alternative, just as Mr Samaras did, to make a clean breast of things and apologise for having promised voters the earth, moon and stars. Instead? A referendum that puts at risk Greece’s membership of the euro. Mr Tsipras will have to resign if he loses. Instead, he is gambling that he can win, taking Greece down an even more dangerous route. It is the ultimate example of putting one’s party before one’s country.

Not that one can expect any contrition from Mr Tsipras. Now that the ECB has made clear that it will maintain its present level of lending to Greek banks, rather than make new funds available, the chances are there will be a run on Greek banks today. The logical thing for Greece to do under such circumstances would be to impose capital controls. You can bet, if that happens, Mr Tsipras will blame the ECB rather than admitting that his own actions have brought the country to this point.

Should Mr Tsipras triumph in the referendum, Grexit begins to look inevitable. But do not suppose that such an outcome would represent a panacea for Greece, as some have suggested. Greece is not a big exporter, so devaluation via a return to the drachma would not be a miracle cure for the woes of its economy. It might make its tourism sector more competitive, but that’s about it. On the flipside, the cost of imported goods would rocket, bringing unimaginable misery to ordinary Greeks.

Incredibly, comments from Mr Varoufakis to the eurogroup, published at the weekend, make clear that, should the Greek public vote next Sunday to accept the terms on offer to the government by its creditors, he and his colleagues would “do whatever it takes” to implement the agreement with the institutions. It is to be hoped that, should this come to pass, it is the last act of a Syriza administration before resigning and handing the governance of this proud country back to the grown-ups.

Ian King is business presenter for Sky News. Ian King Live is broadcast at 6.30pm Monday to Thursday

Doing Bloody Well (23/06/15)

The Sunday Times puts its finger on the nonsense that underpins the ongoing saga of Greek's finances: 

'Why should the rest of Europe subsidise the lifestyle of people in Greece who are still doing bloody well?', to paraphrase the words of the Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president.

Why indeed, as I've said myself on the blog site recently.

Because how can it make sense for the Syria-led Greek government to abolish taxes on second and third homes in Greece only to demand, often in petulant fashion, for their European neighbours to rescue the Greek economy?

Berlin’s final warning to Greeks

By Bojan Pancevski and Tim Shipman - The Sunday Times

Greek protesters march against austerity measures demanded by the EU (Panayiotis Tzamaros/Demotix)

GERMAN officials have issued a dramatic warning to the Greeks, telling them they will have to leave the eurozone if they fail to do a deal with their creditors.

It followed an equally blunt warning to Athens by Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, that “the game of chicken needs to end and so does the blame game”.

Leaders of the eurozone countries are due to meet in Brussels tomorrow evening in a final attempt to persuade Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s far-left prime minister, to implement reforms demanded by his country’s creditors.

If no deal is reached by June 30, when Greece’s international bailout ends, the country will run out of money and find itself unable to pay its debts or finance the running of the state.

“The deadline is clear and this is not a moving target,” warned a source close to Chancellor Angela Merkel. “If he refuses to accept a deal, Tsipras will take his nation into a very bad direction.

“It appears that the Greek government was betting that Germany and other eurozone partners would not remain firm in the face of the programme unravelling. But this was a mistake.”

Failure to agree a deal could trigger a default, capital controls and a return to a national currency — perhaps a new drachma — that could be expected to fall sharply against the euro, sending the price of medicine, fuel and other imported goods soaring.

Greece yesterday said it would put new proposals to creditors ahead of the meeting. Alekos Flambouraris, a minister of state, said he did not believe the European Central Bank would allow Greek banks to collapse.

Tsipras is due to take part in a conference call with Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, to try to hammer out a rescue deal ahead of the summit, which will be preceded by a meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

The German government, however, is understood to be sceptical about a possible deal tomorrow. The key points of dispute are debt relief, which is demanded by Greece and rejected by creditors, and further pension cuts, which Greece’s creditors want but which its government is refusing to concede.

“The Greek government knows its pension system is unsustainable and needs to do something about it,” said the German source. “This is not a matter of a couple of billion more or less; it is a matter of having a principled agreement by all sides.” Merkel and her aides were “calm” but “aware of the gravity of the situation”, he added.

The negotiations have gained urgency amid mounting fears Greek banks may tumble into insolvency and could be forced to close their doors. It is estimated that last week alone, €3bn (£2.1bn) was withdrawn by depositors. More than €30bn was taken out in the five months to the end of April.

A Greek exit would have implications that would extend far beyond Greece. Here, ministers have ordered airlines and tour operators to draw up rescue plans to fly holidaymakers home from Greece amid fears that a Greek exit from the euro could leave thousands stranded without money. Treasury and Foreign Office officials have also moved to beef up a scheme that lends small amounts to Britons abroad if Greek banks fail to open tomorrow and cashpoints are closed down to prevent a run on the banks.

Treasury officials say the exposure of British businesses and banks to a Greek financial collapse is minimal, and contingency plan are focused on the risk of “contagion” and the impact on broader economic confidence.

Juncker said he could no longer understand the actions of his “friend” Tsipras and that the Greek prime minister did not “reciprocate” the trust that had been put in him. “There are people in Greece who . . . are still doing bloody well,” he added. “I have therefore asked Mr Tsipras to tax wealth more, but his response to my suggestion did not have the resonance I expected.”

His concerns were echoed by Tusk, who said the Greek government was near the point where it would “have to choose between accepting what I believe is a good offer of continued support or to head towards default”.

“This not a game and there is no time for any games. It is reality with real possible consequences, first and foremost for the Greek people,” he said.

While some members of Tsipras’s Syriza party are not averse to quitting the euro, opinion polls suggest most Greeks want to remain in the currency bloc. Thousands of Athenians are expected to attend a rally tomorrow calling for Greece to stay in the single currency.

Tsipras, who returned apparently empty-handed yesterday from a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, was due to talk to his advisers. Greek businesses have also called on him to solve the crisis. Andreas Andreadis, head of the Greek tourism association, said a “Grexit” would be “devastating” for the country. 

Green Cheese (17/04/15)

I enjoyed this report from the BBC which reports that the Syriza-led Government in Greece will not be calling further elections anytime soon.

Because what would be the point of an election or a referendum if the question being asked is effectively: 

"Do you want your neighbours to pay off your debts and subsidise public spending because successive governments can't be 'arsed' raising enough in taxes from Greek citizens?"

So it just goes to show that while elections and referendums are part of the democratic process, they don't of themselves solve anything if the 'winners' behave in a completely unreasonable fashion.

Now I live in an apartment building and if one of my neighbours held a vote and decided to exempt themselves from having to pay their communal maintenance charges in the expectation that the rest of us would pick up the slack, then I would definitely have something to say.

And if the Greeks were to vote on the proposition that the moon really is made of 'green cheese', that's up to them, but it doesn't make it true or any of my concern.

Greece not considering snap election, says Tsipras ally

Greece's government has been locked in strained negotiations with creditors since coming to power in January

Greece's state minister has ruled out speculation that the government is considering an early election.

Alekos Flambouraris told Greek TV there was "no point" in calling a poll, saying the country did not need it.

He was responding to reports that the government was considering a snap vote if it failed to find a settlement with its international creditors.

Greece has been locked in strained negotiations since coming to power in January on pledges to end austerity.

On Monday, Germany's Bild reported that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was prepared to call an early election in a bid to show that the Greek population was behind his attempts to renegotiate the terms of the country's €240bn (£176bn; $272bn) international bailout.

It quoted a Greek minister saying: "We have nothing to lose. If the EU remains hard, we must show that we stand firm."

'Specific mandate'

But Mr Flambouraris, a Greek state minister who is said to be close to the prime minister, ruled out the suggestion on Wednesday.

"There is no point in calling elections," he told Greek TV.

"They took place two months ago, we received a specific mandate which we will serve."

European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff was quoted by Bild as saying that a new election would act as a referendum on Greece's future in the eurozone.

But Dimitrios Papadimoulis, an MP in the left-wing Syriza party leading the government, said on Twitter on Wednesday that it was only the newspaper that wanted a poll, not Greeks.

Mr Tsipras's government has faced strong opposition from EU partners who are unwilling to offer major concessions in discussions over Greece's bailout.

It is in talks over a three-month extension to its €240bn (£176bn; $272bn) bailout negotiated at the end of February.

Greece is due to pay the International Monetary Fund (IMF) €203m on 1 May and €770m on 12 May.

But reports suggest it is rapidly running out of money. It needs to find €2.4bn to pay civil service salaries and pensions this month.

Greeks Bearing Debt (30/01/15)

The Independent carried an interesting article on Syriza the other day in which Sean O'Grady made a very sensible point - if Greek debts were to be written off, the whole sorry saga would be bound to start all over again. 

Syriza has come to power by promising to 'spend, spend, spend' other people's money and to squeeze the rich in Greece until the pips squeak.

Good luck to them, I say, but what's that got to do with the rest of us?

Far from raising taxes across the board to pay for essential public services, Syriza has promised to abolish a new property tax on second homes which was introduced for the first time in 2011.

So relatively well-off, middle-class Greeks will now get off Scot-free while Syriza goes cap in hand to the European Union asking for the country's debts to be written off.  

Which is as daft as it sounds.  

9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure

Beware Greeks bearing debts

By SEAN O'GRADY - The Independent

Greece’s new cabinet faces the biggest task of any Greek government since democracy returned in 1974; how to save the nation. A frustrated, fatigued and angry electorate has put into power a new radical left party because all else seems to have failed. Indeed, in some ways the austerity programme had made things worse. So now prime minister Alexis Tsipras, and finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, a self-described libertarian Marxist, face Angela Merkel and the conservatively-inclined Germany taxpayer in a battle of wills. All the signs are that the Greeks will not win…

Popular mandates don’t mean a thing

Or at least not in the hard world of international finance. It really doesn’t matter that much, when push comes to shove, if your government won 35% of the vote or 65% per cent of the vote in a general election. You owe the money; you need to pay it back as agreed. Alexis Tsipras and his new cabinet will soon be told that.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right) talks to Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis during the first meeting of new cabinet post elections in the parliament building in AthensIf Greece has her debts written-off everyone will want the same treatment

So every other nation that has had to have a bailout will want the same treatment; and if they don’t get it then they just hold an election and put a leftists Syriza-style party into power that just says “can’t pay, won’t pay” into power. Soon all of Europe will be run by governments that don’t believe in honouring their obligations, and have a few more damaging policies besides. Not something to be encouraged.
Beware Greeks bearing debts

A few years ago, in the acute stage of the Eurozone’s unending crisis, the idea of a Greek exit from the Eurozone was enough to destabilise the whole world’s financial markets. Nowadays we’re much more used to the idea, and the financial markets are calmer. The shock factor has disappeared. The contagion of the Greek crisis spreading to Italy, Spain, and Portugal and so on is much less likely to transpire.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Spain’s anti-austerity party Podemos, appeared at a Syriza rally (Reuters)

The Greeks have no bargaining power

If they cannot scare the Germans into easing up because they can threaten the whole European project then they have nothing left to rely on for leverage. They have some sound arguments and seem more reasonable than was assumed by some, but in that is all they have to rely on.

Greece could exist outside the euro

Admittedly, it would mean yet more hardship and austerity, but maybe one day they would be able to use the freedom having their own currency would give them to rebuild a more competitive economy. It worked for Britain. That said, their euro currency debt would immediately rise in real-terms value against any New Drachma, and would make the debt burden even worse. Default would be inevitable; as it may be anyway.

Even if they got their debts entirely written off, it would all start over again before long

This is the fundamental point. Greece was living beyond her means after the euro was introduced; taking advantage of the cheap interest rates on the euro bestowed by its status as a strong currency backed by Germany. They had a great big party, buying all those nice German cars and the consumer digital wonders of the noughties; and now the hangover is still taking time to work through. There is no reason to believe that such reforms as there have been in Greece will be enough to enable Greeks to live comfortably within their means. The debts will pile up and the crisis will return. Syriza has no policies to make Greece competitive with say the Slovaks or Poles, let alone Korea and China.

The Germans are fed up

Semi-reluctant about the euro in any case, which meant giving up their cherished Mark, the German taxpayer is growing weary of bail-outs and rescues for what they often regard as lazy southern neighbours. They fear “printing” money to solve these problems will re-ignite inflation, a national folk fear after the hyperinflations of 1923 and at the end of the Second World War. Right wing protest parties such as Alternative For Germany are gaining support. Angela Merkel recently prevented the European Central Bank from making them liable for other governments’’ debts. The tide has turned.

Supporters of Germany's left-wing Die Linke party, hold placards as they show their support to Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza left-wing partyThe Germans can’t afford many more bail outs

A few years ago German was growing strongly; not so any longer. Lack of confidence at home is tipping the economy into deflation; slowing exports to the likes of China is also hurting the national finances. Even if they wanted to they cannot afford to prop everyone else up, with only the Finns and Dutch able to join them on the solvent side of the Eurozone divide. 

Fudge is a way of life in Brussels

Like Belgian chocolate and pralines, political fudge is a commonly found commodity in Brussels; the EU and Germany will do a deal with Greece, but only a face-saving, cosmetic affair. Greece is not going to get off the hook, but its new prime minister will be able to declare victory and move on.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Union Priorities

GMB members in North Lanarkshire must be hopping mad at the importance union leaders attach to the Labour Party and its various leadership contests - compared to, say, their efforts in relation to equal pay. 

Here's a message from 'Sir' Paul Kenny, the GMB's UK leader, encouraging union members to vote in the forthcoming leadership elections and I imagine the other unions have gone to similar lengths.

I can't see the sense in this I have to say, not least because the unions' intervention last time around saddled Labour with Ed Miliband as party leader and that didn't work out too well.

Far better to let individual Labour members decide who they want as leader and for the unions to concentrate on the bread and butter issues of real importance to their members such as the fight for equal pay.

From: Kenny, Paul
Sent: 29 May 2015 
Subject: FWD: Important: your right

Dear Harry,

In the coming weeks and months there will be a debate about the future of the Labour Party and who leads it – a decision like that is too important to leave to politicians, the newspapers and think tanks.

As a GMB member you have the right to vote in the Labour leadership election, but you need to sign up to do so.

The Labour Party is our Party – we were there when it was set up and we’ve been there ever since. You have a right to cast a ballot for the leader and deputy leader of the Party but because of changes in the rules you won’t automatically get a ballot paper. Unionstogether have set up an easy to use sign up page so you can let Labour know that you want a say in who leads our Partywww.unionstogether.org.uk/our_voice

We’ll be hearing from lots of Lords and Baronesses, MPs and journalists about who Labour should choose as our next party leader but if you sign up, your voice and your vote counts exactly the same as all of theirs. Don’t leave politics to the politicians. Make sure your voice is heard. Click here.

Many thanks,

Paul Kenny
GMB General Secretary

Money Down the Drain (31/05/15)

Image result for down the drain + images

Trade union members in Scotland will be interested to know that while the fight for equal pay has been in full flow, union bosses have been wasting a small fortune in trying to sell Ed Miliband to the nation.  

In the run up to the recent Westminster election Labour's top three donations were:
  • £3.5 million from Unite
  • £697,000 from the GMB 
  • £572,000 from Unison
Members' money down the drain if you ask me.

Union Priorities (16/06/15)

Image result for wrong priorities + images

Adam Boulton writing in The Sunday Times highlights the great efforts trade unions have made to sign up members to vote in the Labour Party leadership contest.

Now just compare that with the completely paltry efforts of the big Labour-supporting unions over equal pay: with members being kept in the dark for years over the huge pay differences between male and female council jobs.    

Says all you need to know about the priorities of Britain's union bosses (the Bubs) including 'Sir' Paul Kenny who says he would give up his knighthood in return for better rights for low-paid workers.  

Three Labour races and each one a gift for the tee-heeing Tories 

By Adam Boulton - The Sunday Times

Like a naughty schoolboy of yesteryear, David Cameron is still sticking his tongue out behind teacher’s back after his slap for gloating issued by Harriet Harman, Labour’s schoolmarmish caretaker leader.

Prime ministerial bumptiousness is almost inevitable. The Labour party is caught up in a tangle of leadership contests that are simultaneously hurried and drawn out. At least five televised debates are planned between now and September. And, as Cameron has pointed out, when it comes to the day job, the most significant act so far by the re-elected Labour MPs has been to vote in overwhelming numbers for his European Union (Referendum) Bill — the one they had just spent the election campaign opposing.

Labour’s selection battles may feel like a sideshow, but a defeated party should hope to be refreshed, stronger and with a new sense of purpose after choosing a new leader. Instead it may emerge more muddled, divided and weaker.

The contestants in three races come under starter’s orders this week. At noon tomorrow nominations close for the Labour leadership. On Tuesday there are the first Labour hustings for London mayor; and on Wednesday we’ll find out who has qualified for Labour’s deputy leadership contest. Voting for each post will end on September 10, with the winners announced at a “special conference” two days later.

Instead of reflecting calmly on the implications of its recent defeat, Labour is plunging straight on: loyalty to Ed Miliband’s lost cause is cheered, while some who criticise it are branded traitors. Almost unbelievably, Andy Burnham attempted to consolidate his position as Labour frontrunner by declaring the rejected general election manifesto as the “best” he had stood on.

Even in defeat Labour remains deferential to its leader. Few criticise the decision of Miliband and his wife Justine for him to stand down immediately after his defeat to avoid further personal humiliation. But even his closest aides regret that there has been no transition period before electing a new leader.

The activist and union-dominated national executive committee declined to keep Harman on for an extended period as acting leader (perhaps because Cameron had impudently advocated it). She also failed in her bid to hold the leader and deputy leader contests at different times to ensure that the posts could be shared between a man and a woman.

As a result, “the only people who are getting excited are the candidates”, according to an organiser of the biggest leadership event so far — the GMB conference in Dublin. He went on to express wonderment on the basis of the performances there that Labour will be “trading down on Ed”. Burnham, this year’s favourite, came fourth in 2010.

Labour had hoped to use the contest to attract new supporters, but in London last week only a pitiful 92 people had coughed up £3 to register as supporters and buy the right to vote. After running 24-hour hotlines, the unions had succeeded in getting only 1,200 of their hundreds of thousands of London members to sign up.

By last count on Friday, 42 Labour MPs were still declining to back a candidate. Those hedging their bets included party grandees such as Alan Johnson and Miliband and all the candidates for deputy — so there will be no dream ticket of leader and deputy working together to plot a course ahead for the party.

So far Burnham has the support of 66 MPs, Yvette Cooper has 56 and Liz Kendall has 40. They have all passed the required threshold of nomination — 15% of the parliamentary party (35 MPs).

For the post of deputy, only the Brownite Tom Watson, with 57 nominations, and the Blairite Caroline Flint, on 37, are certain candidates, although there is likely to be a push to get some of the younger female challengers, such as Rushanara Ali or Stella Creasy, to qualify.

In the contest for London mayor, Tessa Jowell and Sadiq Khan are out in front, with other candidates such as David Lammy and Diane Abbott in danger of being winnowed out by party officials.

For the Conservatives, the dream Labour winners would be Burnham, Watson and Khan — they consider all three to be representatives of the Gordon Brown-Ed Miliband tradition that they have just trounced. Some Labour MPs are amazed that the bullying and factional Watson is the frontrunner for deputy.

Burnham started as an aide to leading Blairites, including Jowell, but he has risen recently by emphasising his “northern soul” and his links to the public sector unions, as exemplified by his divisive campaign against the government over the NHS.

In government Burnham was a health minister during the appalling treatment of patients in Mid Staffordshire and as health secretary he declined to order a public inquiry. When the Francis report was finally published, Cameron suggested Burnham should be sacked from his shadow cabinet post.

The health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been slyer, praising Burnham for proposing the integration of care and health services, which this government just happens to be pioneering in the “northern powerhouse” and Labour heartland of Greater Manchester.

If Burnham becomes leader, the Tories are confident that they can hang “Mid Staffs” around his neck as successfully as Liam Byrne’s “there is no money” letter became a noose for Miliband.

Among those who think the party still has lessons to be learnt from its successful New Labour years there is dismay that Lord Falconer, Tony Blair’s unelected protégé, has hitched himself to Burnham. He says he was impressed by Burnham’s championing of the families involved in the Hillsborough football disaster.

Meanwhile, some who worked closely with Burnham in the Miliband team don’t rate his abilities. They expect him to stumble before voting ends in September and, if he does, they predict that the safe but unexciting Cooper could be the beneficiary. Kendall needs to raise her public profile dramatically and quickly if she is to be a contender in an election that is also a popularity contest.

The best hopes of self-styled Labour progressives are in London. They are increasingly confident about Jowell’s chances. She would be 68 or, as she likes to say, “the same age as Hillary” if she is elected. But if Labour ends up choosing Burnham and Watson in one race and Jowell in the other, the party will still be pulling in opposite directions — as it has for the past 10 years. Stop that sniggering, Cameron Minor!