Agent Osborne goes rogue

Is the Chancellor an accelerationist sleeper-agent sworn to provoke a socialist revolution?

Nikolai strolled into the stuffy office where the older man stood waiting behind a desk which had stood in the same spot back in Stalin’s day. The older man – Colonel Rakhmetov – gestured him brusquely to a seat in front of him, sat down himself, looked up and said “Sit”.

The Colonel glared at him. “The plan for Agent Gideon began under Brezhnev. Do you have any idea of the resources required to place a mole at the heart of the British establishment, trained from birth to further the cause of Communism? So can you tell me what, precisely, is happening in that miserable backwater right now?”

Nikolai took a deep breath. He was new to this world of hidden communist sleepers, left in place as the KGB became the FSB and knew he had to tread carefully around an officer who had earned his pips back when the letters CCCP still struck such fear into the heart of capitalists that they’d made concessions to the working class.

“Sir, you are familiar with the works of Nikolai Chernyshevsky?”

The wrong thing to say. The Colonel ran nicotine-stained fingers through his hair, glared. “I am. The originator of the doctrine of ‘the worse, the better – that only through a continual worsening of the conditions of the proletariat can they be motivated to throw off their chains. Author of the original “What is to be done?” a work that so inspired Lenin that he named his own book after it. What of it?”

“Well agent Gideon has rather taken the doctrine to heart. Rather than gradually introduce Socialism, as per his original instructions, he’s trying to incite the British working class to revolution. Thus, although government debt interest accounts for only a shade over 3% of UK GDP, he’s inflicted growth-destroying fiscal tightening of more that amount on the country already, with more to come. And to ensure maximum damage, he’s taken the bulk of the money from public sector investment – which he’s halved.It’s killing two birds with one stone sir. You kill economic growth and you also reduce the ability of the country to grow in future.”

The Colonel’s brow wrinkled. He disapproved of initiative, which in his day had meant replacing a long retirement by the Black Sea with an early but short one by the White Sea.

“Yes so I heard. And the riots were surely promising, even if class-consciousness wasn’t entirely obvious in the raiding of sportswear retailers over government ministries and barracks. But now he’s run out of control. But wouldn’t it be more effective to just bankrupt the country by running up debt?”

“Not really sir. All the money in the UK is crying out for a home, so interest rates are extremely low. And the average maturity of the debt is 13 years, so it’s almost impossible to provoke a liquidity crisis – I think our other agents in the banking sector are much more promising in that respect. And without getting completely into the realms of fantasy, it’s quite hard for the government to get rid of a huge amount of extra borrowing without causing some economic growth. But the cuts are excellent for provoking discontent with the public at large.”

“Interesting. Sounds like things are going well. So why did you request this meeting?”

“Well sir, to be frank, it looks like Agent Gideon is going rogue. He’s overreaching, and it can only lead to his downfall. He’s been emphasising the privilege of the ruling plutocracy” – Nikolaj wondered if he should spit, decided against it – “by cutting taxes that only apply to the very elite, insisting on defending the privileges of the bankers who brought the country to its knees. Only someone with his training in Socialist theory would be quite so adept at underlining the injustice and contradictions of capitalism, and it’s only a matter of time before British Intelligence catch on.”

“Yes, I can see why this is an issue, and you were right to come to me-”

“Excuse me sir, but that’s not the worst of it. His latest scheme seems intent on provoking revolution this year, and I fear he’s overreaching. It’s called Help to Buy. Essentially it puts the government balance sheet – which he’s promised can’t be used for even essential infrastructure – to work to boost house prices without really increasing the number of houses being built. So the government can take losses, but all the benefit accrues to the homebuyer.”

“So he pushes up house prices in a country with already expensive prices, increases the risks to the banking sector, pushes more people into loans they can’t afford and spends money without creating any real benefits to society?”

“Yes sir. He did try to get it extended to buy-to-let landlords, but even the Treasury spotted that one. But it will make a nice subsidy for second homes for the rich.”

The Colonel frowned, but paused no more than a second. “We’ll risk it. This is the best chance we have to make England the vanguard of the new socialist revolution. You’re overruled. let Agent Gideon proceed.”

This piece originally appeared on Morski's blog, and is reposted here with permission.

A man resembling Agent Osborne, pictured with Josef Stalin, date unknown. Image: Getty Images/Alex Hern

Pawe? Morski is a fund manager who blogs at Some of it was true…

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How can London’s mothers escape the poverty trap?

Despite its booming jobs market, London’s poverty rate is high. What can be done about it?

Why are mothers in London less likely to work than their counterparts across the country, and how can we ensure that having more parents in jobs brings the capital’s high child poverty rates down?

The answers to these two questions, examined in a new CPAG report on parental employment in the capital, may become increasingly nationally significant as policymakers look to ensure jobs growth doesn’t stall and that a job becomes a more much reliable route out of poverty than it is currently – 64 per cent of poor children live in working families.

The choice any parent makes when balancing work and family life is deeply personal.  It’s a choice driven by a wide range of factors but principally by what parents, with their unique viewpoint, regard as best for their families. The man in Whitehall doesn’t know best.

But the personal is also political. Every one of these personal choices is shaped, limited or encouraged by an external context.   Are there suitable jobs out there? Is there childcare available that is affordable and will work for their child(ren)? And what will be the financial gains from working?

In London, 40 per cent of mothers in couples are not working. In the rest of the country, the figure is much lower – 27 per cent. While employment rates amongst lone parents in London have significantly increased in recent years, the proportion of mothers in couples out of work remains stuck at about 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the UK.

The benefits system has played a part in increasing London’s lone parent employment rate. More and more lone parents are expected to seek work. In 2008, there was no obligation on single parents to start looking for work until their youngest child turned 16. Now they need to start looking when their youngest is five (the Welfare Reform and Work Bill would reduce this down to three). But the more stringent “conditionality” regime, while significant, doesn’t wholly explain the higher employment rate. For example, we know more lone parents with much younger children have also moved into jobs.  It also raises the question of what sacrifices families have had to make to meet the new conditionality.  

Mothers in couples in London, who are not mandated to work, have not entered work to the same level as lone parents. So, what is it about the context in London that makes it less likely for mothers in couples to work? Here are four reasons highlighted in our report for policymakers to consider:

1. The higher cost of working in London is likely to play a significant role in this. London parents are much less likely to be able to call on informal (cheaper or free) childcare from family and friends than other parts in the country: only one in nine children in London receives informal childcare compared to an average of one in three for England. And London childcare costs for under 5s dwarf those in the rest of the country, so for many parents support available through tax credits is inadequate.

2. Add to this high housing and transport costs, and parents are left facing a toxic combination of high costs that can mean they see less financial rewards from their work than parents in other parts of the country.

3. Effective employment support can enable parents to enter work, particularly those who might have taken a break from employment while raising children. But whilst workless lone parents and workless couples are be able to access statutory employment support, if you have a working partner, but don’t work yourself, or if you are working on a low wage and want to progress, there is no statutory support available.

4. The nature of the jobs market in London may also be locking mums out. The number of part time jobs in the capital is increasing, but these jobs don’t attract the same London premium as full time work.  That may be partly why London mums who work are more likely to work full time than working mums in other parts of the country. But this leaves London families facing even higher childcare costs.

Parental employment is a thorny issue. Parenting is a 24-hour job in itself which must be balanced with any additional employment and parents’ individual choices should be at the forefront of this debate. Policy must focus on creating the context that enables parents to make positive choices about employment. That means being able to access the right support to help with looking for work, creating a jobs market that works for families, and childcare options that support child development and enable parents to see financial gains from working.

When it comes to helping parents move into jobs they can raise a family on, getting it right for London, may also go a long way to getting it right for the rest of the country.