Passengers arrive at Kings Cross station in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Only a radical government can end the Great British Rip-Off

The next Labour government will tackle vested interests, reduce income inequality and end the race to the bottom.

The ‘Great British Rip-Off’ is a series of events launched by Unions Together, the Trade Union Group and CLASS in Parliament tonight. Sadiq spoke alongside Frances O’Grady, Zoe Williams, Katy Clark MP and Matthew Pennycook.

In my constituency of Tooting in south London, as right across the capital and the country – the cost of living crisis is a lived experience for most people, with very real consequences away from the words of Westminster and Fleet Street. People work long and hard hours, but yet too often still struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month. Work should pay for everyone and it should pay enough for people to eat healthily and provide for their families with dignity – a real living wage. Yet for too many people, this just isn’t the case, with zero-hours contracts on the rise, exorbitant tube and train fares, rising energy bills and a housing crisis so acute that many people can’t afford their rent, let alone dream of buying a home.

Labour has said unequivocally that we will address the cost of living crisis. We will ban the exploitative working practices associated with many zero-hours contracts and take on the vested interests of the Big Six energy companies by freezing prices while we fix the broken energy market. These policies will make a real difference to millions of people. The next Labour government will also tackle the long-term causes of the cost of living crisis.

The issues I hear about every day from Londoners are the symptoms of deeper and longer trends, that have seen a decline in living standards and a sharp rise in income inequality. The IMF has highlighted that the decline of trade union power is associated with the dramatic increase in income inequality over the last 30 years. In the early 1980s, collective bargaining covered 70 per cent of the British workforce but that has now dropped below 30 per cent. This has reduced the ability of the trade union movement to deliver fairness, safe working conditions and support productivity in the workforce.

Incomes in London are more unequal than in any other region, with 16 per cent of the population in the poorest tenth nationally and 17 per cent in the richest tenth. Twenty eight per cent of Londoners now live in poverty and almost 60 per cent of them are from working families. The richest 10 per cent have 60 per cent of all assets, while the poorest 80 per cent of the population share just 20 per cent. As our economy finally begins to recover after wasted three years, we are unambiguous that the benefits of growth must be shared by everyone in our society, rather than just going to the wealthiest.

Ed Miliband has been clear that to do that, we must end the Tories' relentless race to the bottom and ensure that the benefits of growth are distributed more fairly. This re-balancing of our economy will be tough. But Labour are up to the challenge. It’s why this week we have laid out our plans for a 'Jobs Guarantee'; we will guarantee a job for all young people aged 16-24 who are out of work for more than a year, paid for by a tax on bankers' bonuses and by restricting pensions tax relief for those earning over £150,000. It’s why we will introduce a Mansion Tax on properties worth more than £2m and use the funds to introduce a 10p tax rate to help lower paid workers – putting right a mistake of the last Labour government. And it’s why we have committed to building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament.

And we will do more to tackle the long-term causes of income inequality. That is why Ed Miliband has said that under a Labour government, all companies will have to have an employee on their remuneration committees, to give them a seat at the table when decisions about pay are being made. And that’s why the next Labour government will take action to strengthen the national minimum wage and promote the living wage.

The National Minimum Wage is the achievement of the last Labour government of which I am most proud. But this crucial protection for low-paid workers is being eroded. It is worth less in real-terms than it was when we left office in 2010 and not a single company has been named and shamed for non-payment under David Cameron. Labour will increase the fines for paying below the minimum wage to £50,000 and we have asked Alan Buckle, former deputy chairman of KPMG International, to look at how we could strengthen the policy and ensure that where sectors can afford to pay more, they do.

Government needs to do more to promote the Living Wage so we can raise the wages of the lowest-paid workers. All 32 Labour Council Groups in London have agreed to pay all staff and contractors at least the Living Wage if they win control at the local elections on 22 May. And on entering office, the next Labour government will launch a national campaign to agree Make Work Pay Contracts with British businesses. These contracts will mean that, in return for becoming accredited Living Wage employers within the first year of a Labour government, businesses will receive back 12 months’ worth of the resulting increased tax and National Insurance revenues received by the government.

We also need to get excessive executive pay under control  by increasing transparency. The next Labour government will simplify remuneration packages, make all companies publish the pay ratio between the highest paid executive and the companies median average and put an obligation on investors and pension fund managers to disclose how they vote on remuneration packages. In contrast, the Tories have consistently attacked and weakened employee rights and have prioritised policies that benefit the wealthiest, such as the tax cut for millionaires.

Tackling the deep-rooted and long-term causes of the cost of living crisis will not be easy. It will require a radical and transformative government with the political will to take on vested interests and challenge those who abuse their power – something David Cameron has proved incapable of as Prime Minister. Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has that will. We will do what it takes to tackle the cost of living crisis in this country, reduce income inequality and end the race to the bottom.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?