Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

If I were to vote no, it would be despite the Better Together campaign, rather than because of them. The issues they pick up on seem to be weak and, for me at least, not the important ones. Firstly, this constant scare campaign of Scotland being a small “basket case” economy with a weak currency just doesn’t hold up. As you see below, a country Scotland’s size sits by the most prosperous countries in the world (a few war torn countries excluded), and perhaps most importantly, all these countries have their own stable currency.

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This is why I just don’t understand why the Yes campaign don’t just propose an independent Scotland with it’s own currency, if a currency with the rest of the UK is rejected. Furthermore, they’d be saving 5 billion a year in debt repayments they wouldn’t have to pay off in this case, which would certainly offset any additional costs of minting and managing a new currency; a perfectly reasonable response to being denied the assets of the Bank of England that has really scared Better Together. This is not to deny that there aren’t benefits of sticking together, but for me the whole issue is a null point as whether it’s a country or a business, everyone knows that large and small scale each have their distinct pros and cons.

If the economic arguments generally balance each other out, the for me it’s the political that would most certainly push me towards Yes. The Better together campaign, quite unavoidably in their defense, has done a brilliant job of painting the Westminster political establishment as a homogeneous boys’ club. Alistair Darling having to defend Tory policies (priceless!)  has really shown the true colours of the old red blue carousel and a Scotland that does appear to be at least a politically separate nation.

However, for me the gravitational pull preventing me from supporting the Yes campaign is that of my identity, which for me trumps short term political and economic expediency. We’re talking about the United Kingdom, an ancient institution that has maintained a peace between it’s people for more than 300 years. A Union of nations almost unique in the history of mankind in which different national identities compliment rather than challenge one another. One in which there is no domination of the larger over the smaller. Has this been achieved anywhere else ever before? This is why I wouldn’t be so hasty in pulling apart  hundreds of years of history and tradition that is the bedrock of our national identity, for the sake of the current political situation which is flux. Burke describes this as an “inheritance” going back to the Magna Carta, which is the “true contract between the government and the governed, a permanent partnership of the living, the dead and the yet unborn. Unless it were willingly accepted that none have the right to tear asunder this partnership, government could depend only on force”.1

Nevertheless, I do get the feeling that the Yes campaign are making an effort to preserve this. Their criticisms are aimed at the Westminster, not the UK. They pledge to remain in the Commonwealth, and want to keep the pound. I wish the same could be said about Better Together, but rather than appealing to what is truly important we are deluged with constant scare stories generally regarding the economy.

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This approach almost pushes me to voting Yes just in order to assert my own intelligence; a middle finger to politicians using their scare tactics that we’re all sick of. We must admit that the Yes campaign and the SNP are far more in touch than Yes and Westminster, yet we must remember, as Burke (once again!) puts it “Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to occasional organs by which they act, and the transitory modes in which they appear.”2

Whichever way the referendum goes, I urge those who can to vote on hope, not on fear. Whether this be the hope of a new nation rather than fear of the current UK political set up, or hope that we as the United Kingdom together can make this country a better place, rather than the fear of uncertainty. For me, half Scottish half English, no politician can draw a line down the middle of my identity nor my family. One country or two, I vote for the people of our nations standing together as we have done so for hundreds of years to defend what we have built and improve upon it.

1: Robert and Isabelle Tombs, That Sweet Enemy

2: Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France


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Or, to whose benefit?, goes the Latin saying. A pertinent question, which appears to have been brushed over in the “case for war” in Syria that we have been presented with recently. This could be due to the fact that it produces several awkward inconsistencies which certainly weaken the case for military action and could possibly lead to damaging revelations for powerful actors involved in the Syria crisis.

What is most striking about the fallout from the chemical weapons attack last week in Syria, is that many of us found ourselves in at least partial agreement with Putin when he pointed out that it would be stupid of Assad to use chemical weapons at this point in the conflict in which his forces have managed to wrestle back some kind of initiative. Yet, the evidence presented by German intelligence seems to suggest just this; desperation on the part of the Assad regime. Furthermore, in his supposed desperation Assad apparently did the one thing Obama said would draw the US into the war, while UN chemical weapons inspectors were based in Damascus. All a little to convenient?

To many of us, the idea that the Syrian rebels would gas their own people just to draw the US into the conflict seems just too cynical to stomach. However, here we stumble on a common fallacy in the analysis of this conflict;  that it is the rebels versus the government, when the reality is a far more complex web of interests and actors. Take the Gulf states for example. Qatar alone has ploughed more than $3 billion into Syria only to achieve a bloody stalemate, rather than their intended goal of a new islamist leaning regime (as has been the result in many other qatari sponsored uprisings of the Arab Spring); a situation that could possibly provoke reckless, opportunistic and desperate measures?

As well as a motive, the Gulf states could also have had the capacity. US cables leaked to Wikileaks evidence Gulf state cash to be behind Sunni extremist groups, many defined as terrorists, from Mali to Pakistan; according to Hilary Clinton, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,”. Furthermore, “overall level of [Qatari] counter terrorism co-operation with the US is considered the worst in the region”. With the funds and contact with thousands of foreign Jihadists in Syria, in such a chaotic context it is not unimaginable that one of these groups got their hands of Assad´s chemical weapons stock and used them against the civilian population. The Gulf states certainly  need to topple Assad in order to put pressure on Iran (the main threat to their power in the region) and foreign Islamists trained in Afghanistan and Iraq would certainly not shy away from  fighting the Americans in Syria, in fact it could be very good for their Jihadist cause.

Finally, it can´t be denied that gulf sates have a long history of funding Sunni extremist groups for this very purpose and the US turning a blind eye. In an interview with Seamor Hearsh of the New Yorker Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, who has written widely on Shiites, Iran, and Iraq, tells us “It seems there has been a debate inside the [US] government over what’s the biggest danger—Iran or Sunni radicals … The Saudis and some in the [US] Administration have been arguing that the biggest threat is Iran and the Sunni radicals are the lesser enemies. This is a victory for the Saudi line.” Although at this stage it would be rash to begin pointing fingers, this posts hopes to show that it is far from “almost certain” that Assad is responsible.

Although Putin´s stance does upset many of our prejudices and we could certainly question his sincerity, the meat and bones of his proposals (international control of Syria´s chemical weapons stocks) seems far more sensible than the west´s “attack first, ask questions later” approach. Furthermore, it looks like the best way to open the door further negotiations which many are beginning to see as the only real solution to this conflict. This isn´t to say that we should let those responsible for war crimes in Syria (Be they the rebels, Assad, or even foreign actors) off the hook. They need to be brought to justice, yet without due process, what is this justice worth? When it comes to war, the stakes are massive yet we are always sold rapid action on the grounds of national security. Hats off to the British people and their parliamentary representatives for slamming on the breaks, giving us a chance to get to the bottom of the spider web of interests that is Syria. Shame on those who paint this as an inherent weakness of the West: democracy, a willingness to negotiate, respect for evidence and due process, this is what makes us strong and we musn´t forget that.

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There we go I said it, and despite going against all my political instincts, I actually feel better for it!

After giving it some thought, I realized that after RIPing Hugo Chavez and Osama Bin Laden (I’m sure the lady would be thrilled at being lumped in with these guys!), I realized it would just be to hypocritical not to extend the same respect to Margaret Thatcher.

Let me leave it quite clear that I did not agree with much of her politics, especially when it comes to outlandish statements such as “there is no such thing as society” and “there is no alternative”. Now that the dark days of left versus right ideological battle are behind us, with the light of day it is quite clear that actually, there is such a thing as society, and there is always an alternative. Likewise, the Unions that Thatcher confronted were not entirely the faithful representatives of working Britons and the Militants within their ranks were not likely leading us to a new socialist golden age.

British politics was divided and Thatcher played that game better than anyone else; her non-negotiation with “terrorists” (in this blog placing the word terrorist between inverted commas doesn’t excuse political violence, but rather signifies the meaningless of the term) in Northern Island aggravated the conflict and brutal “shock therapy”  installed on mining towns was a blow from which many ex mining communities are still yet to recover from. Privatization,  while a bonanza for shareholders, left the rest of us with worse, more expensive services, and suddenly, it was ok to be selfish. Was is worth it to “save the UK”? We’ll never know, but hopefully we have learnt from her mistakes, although this appears unlikely given the behaviour of our current government.

Love her or hate her, at least Margaret Thatcher had backbone; she fought for what she believed in rather than what a collection of opinion polls, spin doctors, and political scientists told her what to believe in. She may not have had a tough upbringing, but at least she didn’t grow up groomed for politics within a political elite. She may have lead us into Neoliberal misery, but at least she, our elected leader, lead us, instead of god knows who pulls the strings of the stooges we are stuck with today. She may have subjected us to more than a decade of grim conservatism, but at least it was dished out to us by the Tories and not Labour a la Tony Blair. At least, when she lead us into war, it wasn’t on the back of a pack of lies.

At the end of the day, I’d rather be in conflict with politics I don’t agree with than be lied to, manipulated, and cheated by those I do, or am ambiguous to. Furthermore, and most importantly, she was just an old women like you or my Granny, so when I see some being happy with her death, it worries me. The political left is supposed to be about being more compassionate, caring, and peaceful, so what’s all this about celebrating the death of someone’s grandma? Instead, try RIPing Margret Thatcher. It may feel dirty but you might just feel good afterwards, and what’s better than starting the day with a pleasant surprise?


Contact the author: robbie_packer@hotmail.com

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It´s Saturday the 20th of October 2012 when I meet Juan Carlos Chindicue, a coordinator of the Indigenous Guard,[1] in the centre of Cali and we set off together 20 minutes on motorbike up towards Alto Napoles, an indigenous “Nasa” community located in the outskirts of the city.

As we leave behind the paved road, and the houses begin to close in on us, Cali and the surrounding valley of Cauca unfold before our eyes. I was on my way to talk with the community about their displacement and resistance in the context of the peace negotiations between the FARC (the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) and the Colombian government. Being one of the populations most affected by the conflict, I was especially interested in learning more about a specifically indigenous perspective on these potentially historic talks.

Upon arrival, I am greeted by María Eugenia Osnas Osnas, governor of the community’s high council (Cabildo Mayor), she tells me “In 2009 25 of us, or 3 families, arrived here after being forcibly displaced. Today more than 250 people live here, some also having been displaced and others simply having come in search of work. The vast majority of us come from the north of Cauca, our ancestral homeland and an area of the country especially scarred by fierce fighting between the government and the FARC.”

After María Eugenia shows me around the community and we are sat chatting in the community’s meeting hall, it becomes clear that the state maintains very little presence here, except for a military base overlooking the community from a nearby hill. The electricity, water supply and drainage have all been installed by the residents themselves, whilst the indigenous guard take charge of security. “Supposedly, we are living on ´high risk land´, but the truth is the authorities have plans to build apartment blocks here. We live with the constant threat of being ousted and they have attempted to shut off our water supply; in the future we also want to leave but we don´t have anywhere to go” María Eugenia explains to me whilst we weave through the houses balanced precariously on stilts occupying every inch of the steep slopes.

Luckily, the Nasa of Alto Naples are not alone in their struggle. Together with other neighbouring communities they are organizing themselves in defence of their water supply, and in their struggle for recognition by the authorities of Cali they enjoy the support of the association of indigenous councils of the north of Cauca (ACIN) and the regional indigenous council of Cauca (CRIC). These two organizations represent indigenous populations in the southwest of Colombia in similar, if not worse, conditions to those in Alto Napoles. In fact, although the level of violence and conflict in Colombia has not increased since 2010 and 2011, according to the national indigenous organization of Colombia (ONIC), 2012 saw a disproportionate and worrying increase in the levels of violence inflicted upon indigenous communities, especially those from the North of Cauca[2] “It could be pure geographical coincidence, or it could be in reaction to our resistance” María Eugenia explains to me with a sad smile.

 A history of resistance

Later in the day I meet with Berenice Celeyta,  forensic  anthropologist and president of the association for investigation and social action (Nomadesc), a Colombian human rights organization accompanied by PBI. She explained how the Colombian indigenous movement has been steadily gaining ground since the eighties. On 12 October 1980, the first National Indigenous Gathering was convened as the first concerted effort among indigenous communities, authorities, and organisations to provide the indigenous movement in Colombia with a political and organisational structure at the national level.[3]  Going from strength to strength, they achieved recognition for the full diversity of Colombia in the 1991 Constitution [4] which opened “a new chapter in the history of indigenous mobilisation.”[5]  Since then, they have continued to be at the forefront of the Colombian social movement.

The mobilisation reached its peak in 2008 when more than 40,000 indigenous people, accompanied by representatives from various social sectors, marched nearly 100 kilometres to Cali to demand that the then president Alvaro Uribe Velez halt the violence against indigenous peoples and follow through on various unfulfilled agreements.[6]  However, they were met with disproportionate violence and the use of explosives on the part of the police in addition to shots fired by “men dressed as civilians inter-mingled with police forces.”[7]  This violence resulted in three deaths and nearly a hundred injuries.[8]

“Despite the extermination to which, historically, indigenous communities have been subjected, their mobilization has permitted them to denounce abuses and strengthened their resolve,” Berenice tells me. “The Minga [9] for Social and Communitarian Resistance was initiated by the indigenous communities of Cauca and went on to gather the support of various sectors including peasant farmers, students, workers, and black communities,” she adds.  Four years later, the Minga continues to mobilise these different populations with its program “Spread the Word” (Caminar la palabra) that addresses five thematic issues: land, war and human rights, economic policies, unfulfilled agreements, and a peoples’ agenda.[10]

Since the intensification of the conflict in Northern Cauca in July of this year, the Minga has reiterated its support of the demands made by ACIN and CRIC: “All armed actors must withdraw from the area!” These demands have encountered strong criticism from the State, the National Army, and the media [11]  which peaked after the destruction of several fortifications, and the expulsion of soldiers and guerrillas by the Indigenous Guard. [12]

Though the Government has agreed to talks with representatives from the indigenous movement, the conditions are highly adverse.  The communities point out what they perceive as a lack of good will and commitment on the Government´s behalf.[13]  This is compounded by the dozens of indigenous leaders who have been threatened or killed, the absence of a cease fire[14], and a national press, which, according to CRIC, is “biased and irresponsible, with content that is racist and disdainful of indigenous autonomy.” [15]  In Northern Cauca, a long a treacherous path to Peace still lies ahead.

  We cannot go it alone: ¡Solos no podemos!

In 2009, the Minga launched the “Peoples´ Congress”, a platform from which to take their proposal for a “transformative peace” to the national level. It began with “pre-congresses” in Cartagena, Bogota and Cali which led up to the Peoples’ Congress in October 2010 in Bogota. This was followed by a thematic gathering on land and sovereignty in 2011, and the planned gatherings for peace and on women in the fist semester of 2013 and 2014 respectively.  During these events, up to 20,000 “congresistas” come together to develop a “mandate of all mandates” upon which they plan to build legislation for the Colombian people that truly reflects the diversity of the country. [16]  “The principle achievements of the Congress are two-fold,” says Berenice: “In the first place, it’s the first movement that, in the face of extreme persecution and barbarity, has united so many diverse social sectors and grassroots communities to present a common proposal for the country.  Secondly, despite the great diversity of opinions and needs, we are making progress, overcoming and understanding differences, and this has permitted us to formulate an inclusive strategy that is broad and diverse and also permits us to transform the current conditions of war and conflict.”

“Clearly, we have been surprised, because to date the proposals from the social movement have not been taken into consideration in the peace talks” Berenice tells me.  “If, at this time, they are not able to generate trust to overcome a history of deceit [in these processes] and if they do not open the pathway to a true participation by the Colombian people, they could be squandering a valuable opportunity to build a definitive peace, with social justice and dignity for all: that which the Colombian people have been desperately seeking for so long.”

For these reasons, the Peoples’ Congress continues to gain strength and demands to be heard.  Furthermore, the proposals of the Peoples’ Congress are being channelled through the Common Social Path for Peace, a coordinated space which aims to bring together different social sectors, movements, communities and organisations in order to connect with one another in their work towards peace, with the explicit goal of demanding a place at the table in the peace talks between the Farc and the Government that began in October in Oslo. [17]

Armed with words

In the Community of Alto Napoles, at the edge of the western cordillera of the Andes and at the periphery of Cali, I felt very far from Oslo.   These people are the Nasa, one of 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia that were declared at risk of extinction by the Constitutional Court in 2009.[18]  In this way, they are fighting for their very survival which demands the recognition of two principles that sometimes appear mutually exclusive: diversity and equality.  However, the synthesis of these two concepts has become one of the unifying principles of the today`s social movement in Colombia, allowing a unity in facing the war like never before. “We start from the

Contact the author: robbie_packer@hotmail.com

Version español (original)

principle,” Berenice very simply puts it, “that we all want peace.”


[1]  The Indigenous Guard is a security force that is part of the organising process for indigenous Colombian communities in their autonomy and self-governance, principles recognised by the 1991 Constitution.

[2] National Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC),  “Por la defensa, respeto y exigibilidad de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas en Colombia,” January to September 2012

[3] ONIC, “Historia de la Onic”

[4] Green Storcel, Abadio, “El aporte de los pueblos indígenas a un país diversoIn: Sánchez Gutiérrez,” Enrique & Molina Echeverri, Hernán: “Documentos para la historia del movimiento indígena colombiano contemporáneo”, Colombian Ministry of Culture, 2001, pg. 319.

[5] González, N. C., “¿Qué papel juegan las organizaciones indígenas del Cauca en la búsqueda de una solución negociada al conflicto y la crisis democrática colombiana?” In: L. Helfrich y S. Kurtenbach (eds.). “Colombia: Caminos para salir de la violencia.” Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert, 2006

[6] “Marcha indígena llega a Cali y se prepara para diálogo con Uribe”, El Espectador, 25 October 2008

[7]  “Ejército mató a esposo de líder de Minga indígena,” Semana, 16 December 2008

[8] Contravía, Documentary, “Minga 2008” (Marcha Indígena), Morris Productions, 27 October 2008

[9]  Translator’s note: Minga is a term utilised by the indigenous movement in Colombia, and now more broadly, to mean gathering together through social mobilisation and resistance.

[10]  Rozental, Manuel, “¿Qué palabra camina la Minga?”, Deslinde, November-December 2009

[11] ACIN, “Carta a los grupos armados,” 9 July 2012

[12] “Indigenas desalojan base militar en Cauca y piden mediacion de Baltazar Garzón”, El Pais, 12 July 2012

[13] CRIC, “Comisiones de trabajo entre autoridades indígenas del Cauca y el Gobierno nacional no avanzan satisfactoriamente,” 31 August 2012

[14] González Posso, Camilo, “Negociaciones en medio del terror”, Indepaz, September 2012

[15] ONIC, “Por el Derecho fundamental a estar bien informados,” 24 July 2012

[16] Peoples Congress, “Objetivos,” 8 September 2010

[17] ASDEM: “Nace la ‘Ruta Social Común para La Paz’, «la paz es también salud y educación»,” 5 October 2012; PBI Colombia: “A country in peace does not build itself up from the top,” 12 November 2012

[18] Colombian Constitutional Court, Auto 004/09, 2009

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I have nothing but fond memories of living in Canada: a country of stunningly beautiful landscapes; happy, unassuming, and industrious inhabitants; and a firm adherence to coffee breaks at 16:20. Likewise, my encounters with Canadians around the world have always been positive, just always remember (as with the Scottish, Irish and Welsh) to ask if they are Canadian before assuming their accent means they are American (I still often find it hard to tell the difference!)It is however American (USA) travellers who pay the Canadians the highest of compliments by sewing Canadian flags to their backpacks so as to avoid having insults / rotten fruit / grenades (please select appropriate projectile) thrown at them by locals anxious to expel the gringo invader (see photo below) from their country.

American Tourists....

However, attention Canadians, Americans and all those looking to throw shit at gringos, this is all due to change unless all cool Canadians take drastic action. Canada`s imagine as “the US` “cool northern neighbour” is under threat by a conservative political takeover and a growing tendency to disregard human rights and destroy the environment that is just not… cool.

The environment

After Saudi Arabia, Canada boasts the largest oil reserves in the world which would be bad enough if a big part of this was not locked up in the oil sands of Alberta. Extracting said oil consumes 5 times more energy than conventional methods and leaves vast swaths of pristine wilderness looking more like Tolkein`s Land of Mordor. It was probably such environmental inconveniences that prompted Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper to ridicule the Kyoto accord as “a money-sucking socialist scheme” and vow to battle to defeat it.

Consequently, Canadian delegations have consistently blocked the international community in coming to an agreement in order to tackle climate change. Nationally, Canadian environmental spending has been savagely cut, and Canadian climate scientists are finding themselves gagged from talking to the press while the oil and gas lobby are given free rein to “muddy the waters” through the spread of misinformation.

Human rights

Instead of bringing “economic development and jobs” the Albertan oil sands projects have brought severe problems for local indigenous communities. Traditional hunting lands have been destroyed, rivers poisoned and cases of cancer have increased alarmingly. Furthermore, the Canadian government do not limit human rights abuses to their own backyard. From Guatemala to the Congo, Canadian mining companies have the worst human rights record in the world (involved in four times as many incidents as their Australian and British counterparts) which includes forced displacement, murder and even accusations of supporting genocide.

The Harper administration are not just turning a blind eye to the shameful conduct of Canadian multinationals abroad, they are actively aiding and abetting!

Oh, Canada!

Now, come on Canada, I can understand the need for many other countries to abuse human rights and destroy the environment. How else are the middle eastern oil states supposed the pay for their giant air-conditioned shopping malls with ski slopes in the middle of the desert? African countries are full of yummy resources that must be exported, the Chinese have to keep their workers in their sweatshops somehow, and the US must continue exporting fabulous free market democracy to an often ungrateful world.

Canadians, however, live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a half decent democratic system, workers rights, and no need to maintain any kind of international hegemony. Canada always ranks high in the UN`s human development index and consistently comes top or close in various other quality of life indexes.

Yes, tar sands and international mining may be profitable and pesky human rights and the environment do get in the way of this. But do you really believe more money will make you happier? The choice  to live by ones values and morals is a luxury in a world in which scarcity is the norm. Those lucky enough to live in stability and prosperity have the responsibility to look beyond their own material well-being and build their societies on values, morals and principles.

Since their electoral victory in 2006, the Canadian Conservatives have consistently lied, cheated, stolen, broken the law, defrauded, defamed, and disregarded democracy in order to grab and hold onto power. This shameful charade can no longer be ignored nor tolerated. So Canadians, I urge you to put justice and liberty ahead of pure profit. If not, then investing in little American flags to sew onto your bags when travelling abroad will be necessary (and profitable!).

"simply remove maple leaf and replace with stars and stripes"

Contact the author: robbie_packer@hotmail.com

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Although I consider myself a pretty open-minded person, I must admit, I did find it quite unsettling to be in (more or less) agreement with an article I came across in the Daily Mail recently. In his unsurprising euro bashing “string up them tax dodgers” tone, the author, Andrew Malone, highlights corruption to an outrageous degree which has existed within our dear EU, under our very noses, since Greece was admitted in 1981.

It`s true, we have to admit it, on first impressions it`s very simple; the Greeks overspent and must balance their books, so what`s all the fuss about?

Well, the key word in the last sentence is “Greeks” which assumes that the whole greek population shares equal responsibility for the fiscal irresponsibility at the heart of the current crisis. In reality, only a small wealthy percentage of Greeks benefited from the massive influx of funds that EU and Euro membership brought. Today they are the only ones able to move their funds, children and even themselves abroad while the average greek suffers record unemployment and poverty.

Is it not reasonable to imagine that, if EU funds and loans were spent by the Greek people with the good of the Greek people in mind, we would not find ourselves in the crisis we are in? Longterm investments would have been made in health, industry and education rather than funds being used to prop up a rotten system that, as it turns out, has only benefitted a privileged minority.

Would you not be upset at having to pay someone elses debt? The EU bailout package demands the average greek pay for the excesses and corruption of a parasitic politico-economic elite. Greeks have no confidence that tax reform will be respected or enforced and their politicians are not even symbolically cutting their wages!

As EU citizens, whether we like it or not, we must demand a fair bailout package. It is unacceptable that our taxes should go straight to the offshore bank accounts of wealthy Greeks while the majority of their countrymen suffer crushing austerity as a consequence. But then again, can we really expect such equity from the EU and IMF considering the serious democratic deficits characteristic of such institutions?

Be this the case and the EU cannot offer a fair bailout package which demands serious political reform, then Greece would certainly be better of defaulting and leaving the EU (to which they are certainly well within their rights). Yes, the whole system may collapse, but if it does, it will be due to its own internal weaknesses. One thing is clear, we must look beyond the rosy dream of a united Europe and demand serious reform of the EU if it is to survive. If not, we`ll have to start again from scratch.

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Welcome to the city

Ever seen one of these? When you pass one you are either entering, or leaving the City of London. You may think,  wasn’t I already in London before? Well yes, but not the City, which is something very different.

The City of London is a political island in the centre of our capitol  which has managed to quietly maintain a state of special exemption from the values upon which we have built British society for several centuries. The City is represented by a Member of Parliament voted in, not by constituents, but rather a coalition of corporate interests; each business that is registered there enjoys voting rights relative to the amount of employees they have, around half of these business are foreign owned. As well as a political organ, the City is also a private corporation which owns the land of the City of London and manages its own amenities; it even has its own police force. Unsurprisingly, the mayor of London has no authority in the City which is, instead, run by the Lord Mayor of the City of London, from whom the queen must ask permission to enter the City of London.

With all the pomp and ceremony, it may appear as though this may be just part of our quirky English tradition which, like the Queen, in reality does not infringe upon our fundamental democratic rights. On the contrary, this unaccountable little “state within a state” exerts huge influence in this country and the world through its representative in parliament (Strangely, it’s the only borough to have one) and the millions that it contributes as donations to political parties. In fact, the Conservative party have quadrupled their financial dependence on donations from the City since Cameron came in. Also, as they manage their own affairs, and with the help of some effective anti-trust laws, obtaining evidence and information relating to a criminal investigation is almost impossible. Finally, although tax levels are the same for the City of London, it is well known that through political manoeuvring and imaginative accountancy, the City pays well below their required contribution in taxes. One such example is that of Goldman Sachs who were recently just “let off” £5 million missed tax contributions.

The City do not deny their special status, in fact, they claim that they deserve it due to their “special role” in British society as “the beating heart of the financial services industry which accounts for 10% of British GDP”. So basically, as with the whole banking sector, it seems to be a case of “better the devil you know”. However, many are now beginning to question the real worth of the City of London to the British economy; is renouncing our democratic values worth the financial gain we, as a nation, get from the city? Are we even better off economically because of the City?

The Financial services sector contributed £53.4bn in the last tax year and accounts for 2.4% of national income. However, this tax contribution is eclipsed by the £850billion outlay that UK tax payers have had to pay in order to bail out the banks and the billions we are paying to the IMF in order to stabilize economies such as Greece; victims of the unfettered capitalism practised in the City of London. Furthermore, it is estimated that the total damage to the economy from the banking crisis and its resultant repercussions has been between 11 and 13% of GDP; so overall, we are experiencing a net loss from the City of London. Aside from economics, the actual social value of the City of London is not reflected in its financial contribution; “On best estimates it contributes 3 per cent a year in value added compared to 12.5 per cent value added contributed from manufacturing.”

However, it must be kept in mind that 300,000 people are employed in the financial services sector in the City of London and this rises to over a million when we take the whole country into account. Many are afraid that regulation of the City would cause the big banks to up and leave, taking with them valuable jobs. However, as always, it is not as simple as this. The Tobin Tax, a tax on speculative financial transactions, is one way in which it is possible to ensure the banking sector make a fair contribution to society while also acting as a tool with which to control market volatility. This will only affect pure speculation whilst leaving the socially useful parts of the finance industry intact. For example, shares are already taxed (stamp duty) and pension and investment funds will not be affected because they buy and hold and hardly ever sell. So it’s not like bringing financial services into line will cause the whole sector to up and leave. Rather, it would be good riddance to a small wealthy group of financial speculators whose only value to this country can be justified by the widely disregarded theory of “trickle down” economics.

Finally, the City of London acts as a “coordinating hub” for a global network of tax havens in which the assets of the rich are stashed, allowing dictators and multi national corporations to continue robbing the poor of the world. Many of these tax havens are British dependencies and the fact that we have it in our power to dismantle this backbone of international organized crime yet do nothing is a shame on this nation. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”; did we worry about loss of jobs and wait for international consensus when we became the first western power to ban slavery?

For better or for worse, Britain has been changing the world for the last 300 years. These days however, we have become a nation of hand-wringers, worrying about our ever dwindling resources. The opportunity to change the world and improve the lives of billions of people sits right on our doorstep. Not taking it will doom as to live as the intermediaries between the capitalist slave masters and the hungry masses of the world.

We must finally wake up to the fact that unregulated capitalism is bad for us due to it’s fundamental tenant of a separation of economics and politics being a complete myth; the case of the City of London stands testament to this. Have your doubts? Check out this banker chatting on the BBC. Our politicians must normalize the City of London and take measures such as the Tobin Tax in order to regulate the financial services sector. As citizens, we must demand of them this as well as not recognize the legitimacy nor authority of the City of London as it stands. Remember, their power is based on nothing more than our obedience.

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