Captain Ska on "Liar Liar"

An interview with the campaigning musician who hopes to be Christmas No. 1.

Captain Ska is a musician from Camberwell in London whose anti-cuts single "Liar Liar", which launched on Monday, is a contender for this year's Christmas No. 1. Since the video went online at the beginning of October it has run up over 128,000 youtube hits and attracted comment from the Observer and the BBC.

Is the "Liar Liar" refrain in your song directed at Nick Clegg?

The song is anti-coalition and anti-cuts. Clegg is dreadful but likewise so are Cameron and Osborne. The whole idea of the cuts is totally wrong.

Is making political music a new thing for you?

It's new. I'm a freelance musician and have been writing songs with a slight political edge for awhile but this is the first time I felt really angry and that's why I decided to get involved.

Have you thought about the effect you want to have with the song or is it just an outlet for your frustrations?

I'm really angry and think that other people should be too. My initial thought was to have an outlet for some of my frustrations but now the song seems to have taken a life of its own. I wasn't at the protest on Thursday but my song was.

What do you think about what Nick Clegg's comments referring to opponents of raised tuition fees as "dreamers"?

That's outrageous, absolutely outrageous. Clegg is a liar. He's obviously been waiting for a bit of power for awhile. He's got his place in the government. That he can say what he said is outrageous. This is the end of Clegg. It's probably the end of the Liberal Democrats. It will be a very long time before people vote for them ever again.

Do you think the protests will change the political landscape of this country?

They will make a difference, yes. I spoke to someone the other day who was my age in the eighties when the poll tax riots were happening. It wasn't the violence that made a difference; it was the mass mobilisation and general feeling that something was wrong. When you had 5,000 people marching in small provincial towns and local MPs seeing it, that's what made a difference.

It feels to me like nobody is behind these cuts, no one thinks they're being done in the best way, even people on the right seem to think it's being done too quickly. I know there were a couple of Tory abstainers in the vote.

So you're optimistic about the future?

Last week's vote on tuition fees was a disaster but I don't see this government lasting much longer. At some point in the next few months the Liberal Democrats will realise that unless they start to vote against things they're not happy with then they're going to be political history. I don't think the government's going to last much longer and it's really important that we keep up the pressure, especially on Liberal Democrat MPs. They are in a difficult situation and we can put pressure on them to make them think about what they're doing.

You talk a lot about your anger but seem very calm in person.

Well, I think the anger I've got is similar to a lot of people's. You don't have to be screaming and shouting to think that things are wrong. Outlets for anger can come through a lot of things and for me it's through my song writing. Last night, when I saw the vote come in that's possibility the most angry I've felt. I thought "wow this is really happening. We really are ruining the country. It is just happening." I had hoped that more MPs would abstain but they didn't and the vote was passed. So what started as medium amounts of anger, enough to make a track and put together a video has now risen.

I also think that more important than being overtly angry is having your point of view out there. If you can enter the general subconscious with your point of view that this is wrong then you're going to reach more people. You can shout and shout and be heard by 100 people or you can talk moderately and thousands of people will listen and that's what the anti-cuts movement needs.

Proceeds from "Liar Liar" will go to False Economy, Crisis, Disability Alliance and Women's Health Matters

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Is TTIP a threat or an opportunity?

TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US - we should keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Barack Obama made it abundantly clear during his visit to the UK that if Britain left the European Union then it would be quite some time before we would be able to negotiate a trade deal with the United States. All the more reason to examine carefully what the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will mean for the UK. For Labour this is especially important because a number of trade unionists and Party members have expressed concerns about what TTIP could mean.

The economic worth of such a partnership between the European Union and the US has been questioned and it has been frequently stated that TTIP could give multinational companies unprecedented influence and undermine the British NHS.

With regard to the economic benefits of TTIP there are few that would argue that there are no economic gains to be achieved through the partnership. The question is to what extent economic growth will be stimulated. On the positive side the European Commission has argued that an agreement could bring economic gains of between €68 billion to €119 billion per year to the EU (0.3% to 0.5% of GDP) and €50 billion to €95 billion (0.2% to 0.4% of GDP) to the US. For Britain, this means that an agreement could add up to £10 billion annually to the UK economy.

On the negative side, a study commissioned by the European United Left/Nordic Green Left Group in the European Parliament has maintained that TTIP would bring only “limited economic gains”. These gains have to be weighed, it was argued, against the “downside risks”. Those risks have been identified as coming from the alignment of standards in areas such as consumer safety, environmental protection and public health.

These are important concerns and they should not be quickly dismissed. They are made all the more important because the existence of already low tariffs between the EU and the US make the negotiations to reduce non-tariff barriers to trade all the more significant.

There are a number of areas of concern. These include food standards and the regulation of GM crops and the worry that the EU’s focus on applying the environmental precautionary principle might be weakened. The European Commission, which has a responsibility for negotiating TTIP on behalf of the EU, is however acutely aware of these concerns and is mindful of its legal responsibility to uphold, and not to in any way weaken, the agreed legal standards to which the EU adheres. A concern has been expressed that irrespective of what European law may say, TTIP could undermine those standards. This I find difficult to accept because the ‘rule of law’ is absolutely central to the negotiations and the adoption of the final agreement.

But the EU is mindful of this concern and has brought forward measures which have sought to address these fears. The latest proposals from the Commission clearly set out that it is the right of individual governments to take measures to achieve public policy objectives on the level that they deem appropriate. As the Commission’s proposal states, the Agreement shall not affect the right of the parties to regulate within their own territories in order to achieve policy objectives including “the protection of public health, safety, environmental or public morals, social or consumer protection or promotion and protection of cultural diversity”.

Of course, this is not to suggest that there should not be vigilance, but equally I believe it would be wrong to assume the theoretical problems would inevitably become reality.

The main area of concern which has been expressed in Britain about TTIP relates to the NHS and the role of the private sector. Under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions investors would be able to bring proceedings against a foreign government that is party to the treaty. This would be done in tribunals outside the domestic legal system. If a Government is found to be in breach of its treaty obligations the investor who has been harmed could receive monetary compensation or other forms of redress.

The concern is that the ISDS arrangements will undermine the ability of democratically elected governments to act on behalf of their citizens. Some have maintained that measures to open up the NHS to competition could be made irreversible if US companies had to be compensated when there is a change of policy from a future Labour Government.

In response to these concerns the European Commission has proposed an Investor Court System. This would be based on judgements being made by publicly appointed and experienced judges and that cases would only be brought forward if they were precisely defined. Specifically, it is proposed that cases would be limited to targeted discrimination on the basis of gender, race or religion, or nationality, expropriation without compensation or the denial of justice.

Why, you might ask, is there a need at all for a trans-national Investor Court System? The reason in part lies in the parlous state of the judicial systems in some of the relatively recent EU accession countries in Eastern Europe. To be frank, it is sadly the case that there are significant shortcomings in the judiciary of some countries and the rule of law is, in these cases, more apparent than real. It is therefore not unreasonable for investors to have an international framework and structure which will give them confidence to invest. It should also be noted that there is nothing proposed in TTIP which contradicts anything which is already in UK law.

We need to remember too that this is not only about US investment in Europe, it is also about European investment in the US. No US-wide law prohibits discrimination against foreign investors, and international law, such as free trade and investment agreements like TTIP, cannot be invoked in US courts. The Investor Court System would therefore benefit European companies, especially Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. 

It is of course impossible to come to a definitive conclusion about these provisions because the negotiations are ongoing. But it would surely be unwise to assume that the final agreement would inevitably be problematic.

This is especially true regarding the NHS. Last year Unite the Union commissioned Michael Bowsher QC to provide an opinion. His opinion was that “TTIP does pose a threat to a future government wishing to take back control of health services”. The opinion does not express a view on whether TTIP will “force” the privatisation of the health service (as some have claimed) and Bowsher admits that much of the debate is “conducted at a rather speculative level” and he has been unable to produce any tangible evidence to support his contention about future problems. On the other hand, it is the case that there is nothing in the proposed agreement which would alter existing arrangements for compensation. There are of course many legal opinions which underpin the view that existing legal arrangements would continue. While I accept that it is theoretically possible for the Bowsher scenario to occur, it is nevertheless extremely improbable. That is not to say that there ought not to be watertight safeguards in the agreement, but let us not elevate the extremely improbable to the highly likely.

A frequently heard criticism of TTIP is that the negotiations between the US and the EU are being conducted in ‘secret’.  Greenpeace, for example, has strongly sought to make this a central part of their campaign.  Although the Commission publishes EU position papers and negotiating proposals soon after they are tabled, it is impossible to see how complex negotiations of this kind can be practically conducted in public.  However, I believe that the draft agreement should be made public well before the final decisions are taken.

Once the negotiations have been concluded, the draft agreement will be presented to the European Council and the European Parliament, both of which have to agree the text. The European Council is, of course, made up of representatives of the governments of the EU and the European Parliament is democratically elected. Both Houses of the British Parliament will also debate the draft and there will need to be parliamentary approval of the agreement.

Transparency and democratic scrutiny are two things which there cannot be too much of. But, in practical terms, it is difficult to see how there could be more of either without making it nigh on impossible to secure such a complex agreement. Unite, of which I am a member, and others are quite right to express their concerns about TTIP, but let’s not exaggerate the potential difficulties and let’s not assume that the worst case scenario will always come about. TTIP offers potentially huge opportunities to both Europe and the US, and we should therefore at least keep an open mind on what the final agreement will mean.

Wayne David is the Labour MP for Caerphilly and is Shadow Minister for Political Reform and Justice. He is a former Shadow Europe Minister and was a junior minister in the last Labour government.