Weekly Roundup | Weeks 19–20 | 11th–17th May 2017
Is the propaganda making you WannaCry?
Cyberattack | Labour manifesto | Conservatives suffer embarrassment, spread propaganda & claim to become the party for workers
Welcome to Weekly Roundup, a summary of the most significant recent UK/global sociopolitical developments, environmental issues & other topics that affect your life. Read more about FuturePolitics here.
This week: • WannaCry? • General election campaigns, including the release of Labour’s manifesto, Conservative’s claim that they will back workers’ rights and a week of Conservative propaganda and embarrassments
There’s really not a great deal of news this week — the most newsworthy non-election event was the “WannaCry” cyberattack, which is reported to have links to North Korea. The ransomware was somewhat ironically leaked from the US National Security Agency, a military intelligence organisation and part of the US Department of Defense that routinely spies on anyone and everyone it possibly can. It works by encrypting and blocking access to infected computers running various versions of Microsoft Windows and demanding payment of a $300 Bitcoin ransom in order to decrypt the files. Within the first few days of discovery, it had already spread to hundreds of thousands of computers across more than 150 countries, hidden in Word, pdf and other files sent by email. Its effect shouldn’t last long, as anti-virus companies are responding quickly to release fixes, and it’s advised not to pay the ransom if your computer is contaminated. If you have a backup of your data, you can recover it and reinstall the operating system on your PC.
The Conservative Party has received much criticism because NHS computers that were affected are running outdated software. This prevented some hospitals from providing urgent care to patients. Although the attack was not targeted at the NHS, the current government has consistently sought to destabilise the NHS through harmful and unnecessary funding cuts. Data from software company Citrix suggests that 90% of NHS trusts were running Windows XP in 2014 — a system that was 15 years old at the time and was already no longer supported by Microsoft. Given the escalating cuts to and privatisation of the NHS, it is expected that the number of computers running outdated software is still very high, causing a potential privacy and health risk to patients.
The general election campaigns continue
Labour’s manifesto gets its official release, following last week’s leak
For a more complete, balanced guide to Labour’s manifesto, read this. Their policies have proven to be more popular than those of the Conservatives when shown to voters without mention of the party — but not when the party’s name is attributed to them — proof of the bias that the media inflicts upon voters. The media’s relentless claims that the manifesto is unfunded — despite it having been leaked early — combined with screams of “it will take us back to the 1970s!” are further proof. I personally wouldn’t mind living in an era with workers’ rights, funding of social care and nationalised utilities and transport systems. Meanwhile, here’s a brief summary of Labour’s policies:
- Raise corporation tax from 20% back to the 2011 rate of 26% — but only for large companies. The UK has the lowest corporate tax rate of all G20 countries, enabling banks and multinational conglomerates to exploit our infrastructure for financial gain. There are no large economies with a lower rate that would be favourable for companies to relocate to in response to a corporation tax rise — Brexit is a much more likely cause of relocation to the continent over the coming years — but despite this, the Conservatives and the media claim that this will drive companies abroad.
- No rise in VAT or personal National Insurance contributions. No rise in income tax for those earning under £80,000. An increase from 40% to 45% on income over £80,000, and from 45% to 50% on earnings above £123,000 — these figures were misreported by the BBC, which claimed that a worker earning £123,000 would pay £23,000 more tax each year, but the real value is £2,149.15, since the extra tax rate is only applied to the amount above each threshold.
- £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020. 20:1 maximum pay ratio for public sector contracts. Ban unpaid internships. Abolish employment tribunal fees.
- Create a National Education Service, funded from higher corporation tax. Free school meals for all primary school children in England, funded by VAT on private school places. Free childcare for all two-year-olds & eventually some one-year-olds. Replace childcare subsidies to parents with direct subsidy of childcare places. Cap class sizes at 30 for 5–7 year olds. No cuts to school funding. Abolish university tuition fees. Reintroduce maintenance grants for students.
- Commit to maintain the ‘triple lock’ on pensions, ensuring that throughout the next parliament pensions will rise by at least 2.5% a year, or higher in order to match inflation or pay growth. Retirement age to be capped at 66 instead of rising to 68, with a new flexible retirement age to be considered.
- Immediate energy price cap so that the average dual fuel household bill stays under £1,000 a year. Renationalise energy transmission & distribution grids & ensure there is at least one publicly owned energy company in each region of the UK. 60% of energy generation to be from renewable sources by 2030.
- Bring privatised rail franchises back into public ownership as they expire. Once in public ownership, freeze fares, introduce free wi-fi across the network, ensure safe staffing levels & end driver-only operation.
- Renationalise Royal Mail.
- No immigration cap, but supports “controlled” immigration. Replace the minimum income threshold on non-EU spouses with an obligation to live in Britain without relying on benefits. Crackdown on employers who undercut wages with migrant labour, or recruit workers solely from abroad.
- Eliminate the current budget deficit. Reduce debt as a share of “trend” GDP.
Who could seriously argue with that manifesto? Other parties are stronger on some points, but overall, everything Labour is setting out to do is beneficial to 95% of the population of the UK.
What do the Conservatives stand for?
Workers rights. Apparently. No, this is not a joke. The party that made the empty promise in 2010 of forming the “greenest government yet” — and then repealed renewable subsidies and gave the green light to fracking companies due to vested interests — is now trying it on with workers’ rights. The Labour Party was founded to protect the rights of the workforce and despite some hiccups under the New Labour era, the party is now back on track as one of the leading parties for the average in-work voter. The Green Party also works towards workers’ rights — read more about Labour’s and Greens’ effort to redress the wage gap in this morning’s FuturePolitics article on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have a track record of dismantling workers’ rights, such as: cutting legal aid and hiking fees for employment tribunals, which had previously been free to access — meaning that anyone who feels they have been unfairly treated at work now has to pay hundreds of pounds in order to challenge their employer; raising the minimum turnout needed for a vote to strike; suppressing union action by preventing the use of electronic voting, which boosts turnout; attempting to further deregulate the labour market; and filibustering a Labour bill that sought to ensure the protection of workers’ rights following Brexit.
The new manifesto policy that the Conservatives are claiming proves their commitment to workers’ rights is a pledge to give workers the right to take a year off work in order to care for elderly loved ones. What isn’t being widely reported is the small print — there’s no funding for this, meaning the carer would receive a maximum of £62.70 per week in return (the existing carer’s allowance). It then becomes clear that this isn’t a policy that supports workers’ rights — rather, it’s a desperate attempt to address the social care crisis caused by the current government by making the average worker responsible for caring for their loved ones — without offering any extra financial support.
What you can do about our extreme wealth disparitymedium.com
While Labour pledge to invest in it, the Conservatives continue their relentless privatisation of the NHS — this time selling £780 million worth of health services to 11 private, for-profit companies, three of which have poor track records of providing care to patients. This week also saw a drop in children’s rights from 11th to 156th place in global rankings within a one year period — a shocking indictment of the Conservative government, which shows how brazenly they disregard the society that we have worked hard to build.
Furthermore, it was reported yesterday that the Department for Work & Pensions now rejects at least 80% of mandatory reconsiderations — appeals against potentially incorrect rejections of benefit claims. The government department claims it is using the figure of 80% as a guideline for judging the original decisions, rather than a guideline, but figures from cases that were taken beyond this level of appeal — to a tribunal — show that the DWP’s measure is really just a crude measure to reduce the amount of benefits that the government pays. The department only passed 20% of Employment & Support Allowance appeals, compared to 47% at tribunal, and for Personal Independence Payment, 17% of appeals were granted by the DWP compared to 67% at tribunal.
What’s up with Labour’s increasing vote share? I wrote at length about the increase in Labour’s poll rating since the…elections.newstatesman.com
The onslaught of Conservative propaganda continues — but May suffers a week of under-reported embarrassments
Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to resort to questionable tactics. In one example, May stands on a podium, surrounded by loyal Conservative Party campaigners, positioned to give the impression she has a huge follower base at her “rallies”. This contrasts strongly with Corbyn’s rallies, many of which have drawn large crowds of people backing a leader that will support them.
In another example, the opening question of last week’s Question Time — which was highly critical of Labour — was posed by a Conservative politician, councillor Eric Holford of South Lanarkshire Council. The programme is supposed to be an arena in which members of the public pose questions to leading political thinkers and hold politicians to account — not a chance for an existing politician to criticise a specific party.
However, it’s also been an embarrassing week for Theresa May for many reasons. As she has attempted to respond to calls to face the public, she has had several unfortunate experiences. It was revealed that the prime minister is using the same bus that the Conservative-led Britain Stronger In (pro-EU) campaign used to tour the country, even though she is now campaigning on a pro-Brexit agenda.
Fortunately, Corbyn had a rare opportunity to confront the prime minister outside the House of Commons, during her Facebook Live event. His question took May by surprise and according to her usual policy, she avoided answering. She also avoided giving a meaningful answer when a disabled woman confronted her over benefit cuts. The lady, who also suffers from leaning disabilities, told the prime minister that she would like a carer, and that she can’t get by on £100 per week.
If you want to find further examples of embarrassing moments for the Conservatives, you often need to look to social media, as the mainstream media is so occupied with criticising the sensible policies of the Labour Party, suppressing the voices of other political parties and fawning over our strong and stable leader, Mrs. May.
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