Posts Tagged ‘Cuts’
I wonder sometimes if there are any limits to the Tory leadership’s contempt for the people of this country. It appears not, as a cursory examination of the background of Baron Browne of Madingly, the peer entrusted with the responsibility of achieving a sustainable future for higher education all to readily reveals.
The ‘official’ version is that Browne’s glittering career in BP, starting as an apprentice and ending as group chief executive from which lofty position he trousered a renumeration package of approximately £5.7m in 2004, equips him, as a man who has been there and done it, to make sound recommendations, not on corporate governence, of which more, later, but on education. Presumably on the basis he has attended a university at some point in the distant past. That would be Cambridge in case you were wondering.
From 1997, Browne sought to re-brand BP as a “green” energy company. The company linked itself in its corporate communications with green issues by the overt link of its BP initials with the phrase “Beyond Petroleum”. Browne stated that the right to self-determination was crucial for people everywhere, and that he saw his company’s mission as to find ways to meet current needs without excessive harm to the environment, while developing future, more sustainable sources of energy. He promised that BP would cut its production of CO2 by 10% by 2010, although it is as yet unproved whether BP met this goal.
All good and well, though I doubt the inhabitants of the Congo basin would applaud the oil industry’s efforts at conservation. However, Tom Bower, an investigative journalist who began his career on Panorama and went on to publish unauthorised biographies of Tiny Rowland, Mohammed El Fayed, Richard Branson and Robert Maxwell amongst others, disagrees.
Bower claims that Browne, far from prioritising the safety and sustainability of the environment, was responsible for a “ruthless” programme of cost-cutting at BP that compromised safety, and was therefore the man most responsible for a string of major accidents including the Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005 and the notorious Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. Bower also accuses Browne of tolerating only “sycophants” in his “corporate court”, including the hapless sailor Tony Hayward who succeeded him as BP Chief Executive. Browne has of course rejected Bower’s account, saying that he actually increased the number of engineers appointed to BP and flatly refused to take part in a BBC documentary in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. However, according to the Guardian, ”Browne’s reputation was tarnished by a string of accidents in the US which hastened his retirement”.
Incredibly, the rewards heaped on Browne’s sloping shoulders include a knighthood awarded in 1998 and a Baronetcy in 2001. The peoples of the gulf of Mexico will no doubt be tickled pink by his FIRST Responsible Capitalism award in 2000.
Ruthless cuts? Just the man for the job then. Set aside the embarrassing environmental record, after all, as David Cameron knows too well, if you say something often enough, it eventually becomes the truth. In any case, surely even the Tories would appoint a man of the utmost probity to the sensitive task of safeguarding the future of the next generation, wouldn’t they?
Well, apparently not. When Browne was eventually persuaded to resign his profitable position at BP, in the aftermath of some embarrassing allegations about the misuse of company funds, he successfully sought an interim injunction preventing details being published about his private life. Naturally, this quickly went pear shaped. In April 2007, after a court case lasting over four weeks, Browne appealed to the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, who ruled that he could not prevent Associated Newspapers from printing allegations about his romantic life and the alleged misuse of company funds. Browne finally resigned from BP on 1 May 2007, and resigned as a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs on 10 May 2007. More embarrassing still, Browne faced charges of perjury for lying to the court over how he met his former partner.
In a deposition to the court Browne initially said the pair had met when they were both exercising in Battersea Park. Browne later admitted this was a lie. He acknowledged that he had actually met Chevalier via a commercial gay escort website, Suited and Booted. Mr Justice Eady, the presiding judge in the case, said he decided not to refer the matter to the Attorney General with regard to possible perjury charges, as disclosure in the judgement of Lord Browne’s behaviour was “probably sufficient punishment”, adding Browne’s “willingness to tell a deliberate lie to the court, persisted in for about two weeks, … is relevant in assessing his own credibility … So too is his willingness casually to ‘trash’ the reputation of Mr Chevalier and to discredit him in the eyes of the court”.
Of course the judge could not possibly have forseen the phoenix like revival of Browne’s fortunes under the Tory government, but at the very least this displays (yet again) questionable judgement by David Cameron in appointing this man as an advisor on government policy? Or outright contempt? Is Cameron simply taking on anyone who will help implement his political agenda?
It may be a personal thing, but I don’t want people of this stripe to be involved in governing the country. I’ve never been known to be particularly engaged in politics, but I don’t like what I see going on in this unelected government. I don’t want to be governed by liars and hypocrites. Is that too much too ask?
By their economics shall you know them. Are the Tories about to pull off the most dramatic economic rescue of modern times as they would have us believe, or are they taking an irresponsible and potentially catastrophic risk with the economy in order to impose their ideology on the national consciousness?
The Tories have always advocated a free market with minimal state intervention. What we are seeing now is a government hell bent on dismantling the public sector using the excuse that the deficit can only be recovered by cutting public spending.
Let’s look at some of the facts. The Tories have just announced a bank tax of less than 0.1% on the wealth accumulated by the banks. The banks have responded with the usual veiled statements about reviewing the feasibility of the UK as a base. The money raised by this tax is calculated to be £2.5 billion a year by 2013. Seems like a lot of money? How about the £81 billion the Tories are extracting from the public spending budgets? Are 490,000 (yes, nearly half a million) jobs really going to be created by the private sector?
The Tories attacks on the quangos betray their agenda. The Guardian’s George Monbiot argues in this article that the attacks follow a pattern. That many of the quangos dissolved are bodies that hold corporations to account. That almost all of the surviving quangos are dedicated to increasing corporate profits and in so doing, sweeping large amounts of money into their own coffers. This is not about cutting back on waste, this is about increasing the power of the free market.
The economic policies espoused by the Tories have their roots in the extreme free market model created by Milton Friedman in the seventies. Friedman argued that the only successful economy was one where the market was unregulated and government intervention via public bodies was minimised. In such an economy, a kind of natural selection will ensure the survival of the fittest.
It’s worth considering the history of Chile. General Pinochet’s regime was advised by a group of CIA funded economists. Alumni of Friedman’s classes at the University of Chicago. All the usual suspects, privatisation, deregulation, massive tax and spending cuts were in place and the effects were catastrophic. By 1974 inflation had reached 375%, the highest on earth. Incredibly, on a personal visit to Chile in 1975, Friedman persuaded General Pinochet that the reason the experiment had gone wrong was that the cuts had not gone deep enough and that he should hit much harder. The result was another massive hike in unemployment and the near eradication of the middle classes. By 1982, unemployment had reached 30% and personal debt had exploded. However, the rich were richer and corporate interests thrived, with most of the money finding its way out of the country. Pinochet finally acted decisively. He sacked the economists and re-nationalised key industries. The economy responded and Chile came back from the brink.
It couldn’t happen here? Could it? Well Friedman’s policies are still being imposed on any disaster ridden country that will listen. Iraq being the most recent. I’ve saved the worst bit for last. Friedman preached that ”only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change”. After a crisis has struck, he added later, “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.” Ring any bells?