Friday, March 23, 2007

Budget response March 2007 – Stealing from the majority to give to the wealthiest

The minimum wage and the 10% tax rate for low earners were the only progressive things Brown ever introduced as Chancellor.

Now he's scrapped the 10% tax rate - doubling taxation on low earners - in order to give a 2 % tax cut to big companies and a small tax cut to everyone on above average incomes . If that’s fairness I’m the Dalai Lama’s attractive cousin.

Of course Brown will tell you about tax credits for low income families – but the amount of time and trouble involved in filling out the ridiculously complex forms to claim these means that many people on low incomes don’t have the time or energy left after work to complete them – so many ‘tax credits’ never get claimed or paid out

Of course Brown will tell you about tax credits for low income families – but the amount of time and trouble involved in filling out the ridiculously complex forms to claim these means that many people on low incomes don’t have the time or energy left after work to complete them – so many ‘tax credits’ never get claimed or paid out (between 7% and 20% even on the treasury's (biased) estimates).

Parliament's Public Accounts Committee say the tax credits system is complicated and frustratingly arcane . Many low income earners don't claim as a result. Every year billions in tax credits goes unclaimed. It's estimated that
£2.3 billion will go unclaimed this year. If people on low incomes are single and without children they won't qualify for enough credits to cancel the doubling of their tax rates anyway.

The governmenthas even been so confused by the complexity its own system that it paid out too much to some low income families - then demanded it all back , by which time it caused serious financial hardship for people who had budgeted with money the government now told them they didnt have. The over-complicated system also facilitates fraud. The government writes off around £1bn in over-payments and fraudulent tax credit claims each year.

The obvious solution is to cut or abolish income tax for people on low incomes. That would mean they actually got their tax reduced in reality rather than just in treasury theories. It would also eliminate much of the fraud facilitated by a system so complex treasury officials don't even know who is entitled to what.

Brown has made it crystal clear that like Blair and Cameron his only real commitment is to his own ambition by discarding people struggling to make ends meet while he laughs and jokes.

He did nothing to oppose the Iraq war in which so many of our soldiers and so many Iraqis have died for nothing and agreed to provide "whatever it took" in spending to continue that disaster. If that's fiscal prudence then I'm the King of Siam.

The £14bn extra for the NHS would be good if it wasn't going to go straight into the pockets of PFI /PPPP investors and executives and as a result increase annual costs on the NHS so that new hospitals with less beds and staff than the old ones they replace will mean taxes increasing and services being cut again to provide more income for the already over-paid at the expense of everyone else. That is not fiscal prudence. That's subsidising the very very wealthy tiny minority at the expense of the vast majority again. If that’s fiscal prudence or fairness I’m a four-armed six-legged re-incarnation of the Emperor Haile Sellassie of Ethiopia reborn in cyborg form with built in anti-aircraft weaponry.

Brown's shown again and again that when the choice is between his ambition and other people's lives or suffering its his ambition he cares about.

Most other current and potential candidates for Labour leader have the same policies - so do Cameron and the Tories. No wonder Brown's 15 points behind even the con man Cameron in the polls.

The most popular candidate for Labour leader who would scrap all these disastrous policies is John McDonnell MP. You can read his response to the budget on the New Statesman website here.

Starving Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban:

Why pushing the Afghan government into a poppy eradication policy won’t end the heroin trade - and the legal alternative that could

The disastrous policy of pressuring the Afghan government to destroy poppy crops without providing any alternative source of income for Afghans – many of whom are still starving to death as I type this – shows no signs of changing unless we all put pressure on our governments to change it.

This policy has inevitably pushed many farmers in Southern Afghanistan into the arms of the Taliban or hiring gunmen to protect their crops. After all if the choice is starving to death – and watching your children starve to death - to obey a government that provides you with nothing and seeks to destroy your only source of income – or else disobeying and even defending your crops by force which would you choose?

That’s one of the reasons that British troops are also being killed in Afghanistan – because our government wasn’t prepared to consider alternative strategies such as the obvious one suggested by the excellent Senlis Council report on Afghanistan. That alternative is to buy the poppy crop and use it to produce opiate based painkillers - which are in short supply. Of course the Bush administration haven’t been too keen on this. They're great abstract moralists (and the Republican party gets campaign donations from the big pharmaceutical companies who profit from high prices of painkillers due to restricted supplies of opium

If our government , former Defence Minister John Reid and current defence minister Des Browne were really supporting our troops surely they’d be questioning this policy though? In fact they haven’t. ‘Outspoken’, ‘straight talking’ John Reid never uttered a word , never changed the policy.

It seems when it comes to clashing with the Prime Minister or the Bush administration over strategies which are bound to fail and so lead to out troops dying for nothing he just isn’t willing to speak out or talk straight – and isn’t a safe pair of hands at all.

Des Browne – the current defence minister – has emphasised that British troops aren’t carrying out the eradication of poppy crops. That’s quite true. They’re not. The people mainly involved in actually destroying poppy crops are Afghan government forces. The Afghan government’s motives are first that the American and British governments have put pressure on them to end the heroin trade and second that the Taliban and other warlords take a significant share of the profits in the form of protection money used to buy arms and pay fighters.

Yet we’re told that criticising this policy – which was bound to fail from the first (if you destroy the only source of income a country has without providing an alternative they’re not going to all accept it gratefully) is in Des Browne’s phrase ‘undermining the troops’. So continuing to support a self-defeating strategy that’s increasing the number of Afghans who are fighting our troops is ‘supporting’ them – while saying that we should either switch to a strategy of licensing of poppy crops for sale as painkillers and negotiate a peace that stops our troops being killed for nothing is ‘undermining’ them?

If we offered a better price for poppy crops to produce opiate painkillers than the black market offers for heroin almost none of it would become heroin at all – and half the fighters hired by farmers to protect their crops from us wouldn’t be fighting our troops. We could even fund the construction of pharmaceutical factories in Afghanistan to give Afghans legal export earnings and jobs in a highly profitable and legal industry.

It’s not as though we’re reducing heroin production – in fact it increased in Afghanistan by over 1000% between the invasion of October 2001 and the start of 2003. Past efforts at drug crop eradication in other countries have failed utterly – as in Colombia – or simply led to the relocation of production to other countries (e.g from Turkey to Afghanistan in the 1970s).

Of course the heroin trade would not be entirely eliminated by supporting a transfer to painkiller production – but it would be reduced greatly without massive loss of life. The current failed strategy has seen increased heroin exports from Afghanistan at a high cost in lives. NATO’s commander in Afghanistan has even said Afghans could turn to the Taliban soon if we don’t start improving their lives rather than making them worse.

Everyone in Britain, France , Canada or the US who can could write to or email their MP or representative and ask them to support a change in this disastrous policy which costing the lives of our troops and Afghans in a war neither side can win – and pointlessly when a legal and beneficial alternative to this pseudo-moralistic ‘war on drugs’ is readily available with the only people likely to lose out from increased painkiller production being pharmaceutical firms who can afford reduced profits a lot more easily than Afghans can afford to starve or be shot or our troops can afford to be killed because of a self-defeating strategy based on tabloid headlines rather than reality.