Banks, Balls and those cuts

When will bankers pick up the bill for the financial crisis and the recession that they caused?

Two headlines from the front page of the Guardian/Observer website over the weekend caught my eye:

Public sector cuts wipe £1bn off building firms' stock market value

and

City banks squirrel away £5bn to pay for staff bonuses

Notice any glaring contradictions there? And who says that public-sector cuts are all about "bloat" and "inefficiency" in the state sector, and have no impact on the private sector? Tell that to the folks on the board of Taylor Wimpey, which has lost 30 per cent of its value over the past two months.

It is outrageous -- OUTRAGEOUS! -- for RBS, Barclays et al to set aside roughly a third of their income for bankers' pay and bonuses. Whatever happened to us all being "in this together"? Labour leadership candidates are right to urge this coalition government to extend the bankers' bonus tax into the next financial year. It's just a shame that the last Labour chancellor -- Alistair Darling -- went out of his way to make it a "one-off".

The fact is that both the public sector and private-sector companies such as Taylor Wimpey are paying the price for the sins of a reckless, irresponsible and greedy financial sector.

By the way, on the subject of Labour leadership candidates, have you read Ed Balls's comment piece in today's Guardian? It is a passionate, informed and well-argued riposte to those on the right, and in the centre, who are rushing to cut the deficit without stopping to learn the lessons of history (and is entitled "Don't repeat the 30s folly").

My favourite bit?

Yet there are Labour voices who believe our credibility depends on hitching ourselves to the coalition's handcart. That is wrong. I believe this risks condemning Britain to a decade of deflation, unemployment and social division.

There is an alternative. Like Keynes and Lloyd George, it is Labour's responsibility to set it out. It must be a clear plan for growth, a more sensible timetable for deficit reduction, and a robust explanation of why that will better support our economy and public finances.

More of this, please.

In terms of attacking and opposing the coalition and setting out an alternative to Con-Dem cuts, I think even the Miliband brothers would agree that Balls has dominated the party's leadership election so far. Indeed, the shadow education secretary's campaign team will be delighted by this passing remark in Julian Glover's column in the same newspaper:

This battle is real. Ed Balls is doing well, ripping into Michael Gove and VAT. Conservative theories as to which Labour leader would cause them most trouble have been revised as a result.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Ukrainians now have more freedom of travel - but less freedom of thought

Ukraine's government is rightly concerned about Russian cyber aggression. But does that merit online censorship?

Ukrainians have sacrificed so much in their bid to be recognised as fellow Europeans. Their struggle to extricate themselves from Russian domination is written in the blood of the Euromaidan protestors and the toll of its military dead.

The slow progress of Ukraine’s emergence, into something resembling normality, passed another milestone on 17 May, when President Petro Poroshenko signed an agreement with the EU allowing for visa-free travel in 34 European countries. 

From Sunday 11 June Ukrainians with biometric passports will be able to travel in Europe and stay for 90 days within a 180 period. There are obvious economic benefits to the new agreement. Ukrainians will be free to travel and conduct business with much more efficacy. The new agreement will also reduce the insularity of Ukrainians, many of whom yearn for the cosmopolitanism they see in Western Europe. President Poroshenko was mindful of the symbolism of the agreement. He declared: "Ukraine is returning to the European family. Ukraine says a final farewell to the Soviet and Russian empire."

Perched on the periphery, Ukraine is now set to become more woven into the European mainstream. Ukrainians sense that the western door is slowly but inexorably opening, and that both recognition, and validation beckons. In this respect, it seems that there is much to celebrate.

However, as ever, Ukraine hangs uneasily in the balance between the old ways and the new. On 16 May, Poroshenko signed a decree blocking access to Russian social media websites Yandex, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Millions of Ukrainians sign in to these websites every day. Even Poroshenko himself uses them. Five Russian TV stations are already banned in Ukraine. Poroshenko says that "Ukrainians can live without Russian networks". And it is certainly a fact that Ukrainians have responded to the decree by turning away from the Russian platforms in great numbers. Ukrainian Facebook is growing by some 35 percent a day.

In the context of Ukraine’s continuing conflict with Russia, it is perhaps understandable that the government in Kiev wishes to limit Russian trolls, together with Russian state influence and misinformation. This is certainly also the case across the whole western world, which is keenly aware of Russian cyber aggression. Nevertheless, one must ask why countries such as Britain, France and Germany continue to allow their citizens to access Russian media platforms, when Ukraine does not. 

While the new travel freedoms for Ukrainians has unleashed optimism, the latest decree has indicated something a little darker about the future. President Poroshenko would do well to consider the actions of other European governments that he so ardently wishes to emulate. Closing down social networks is usually done by authoritarian regimes like North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia. But Poroshenko advocates democracy, and in democracy there is no place for such acts. It is surely a mark of a nation’s maturity to encourage freedom of thought, as well travel.

Mohammad Zahoor is the publisher of Ukrainian newspaper The Kyiv Post.

 

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