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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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.