Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Lady Stocking worth more than 1,000 Rwandans? Guardian nonsense on foreign aid.

The Guardian has this morning gone on the attack over suggestions that the cost of flood damage across much of the UK should be taken from the foreign aid budget. The suggestion was first made by UKIP leader Nigel Farage and subsequently made into a national campaign by the Daily Mail.

The Guardian naturally reels off a list of impressive sounding statistics provided helpfully by those organisations who are responsible for the disbursement of aid. How many children were vaccinated, how many people were provided with fresh water, how many schools were opened. All terribly noble stuff.

But I am reminded of some research I did back in 2001 when I first stood as a candidate for UKIP. The EU's own report on its poverty reduction efforts in Rwanda saw it spend something in excess of $250m over a five year period, and yet the report stated that there had been little impact on poverty reduction, and few wider tangible benefits to report. To put this into context, at the time Rwanda had a population of 7 million, and a per capita income of under $140 and yet giving the equivalent of 4 months wages per person had somehow not managed to make anybody - except those in charge - richer.

The question must be whether things have changed. As things stand now, almost 20% of the nation's GDP is in the form of aid payments. A report by the HRF Foundation - When foreign aid hurts more than it helps - has found that heavy inflows of aid did not materially affect the lives of the vast majority of Rwandans. According to an IMF report, while the richest 20% (predominantly Tutsi) of the population shared over 50% of the nation's GDP, the poorest (predominantly Hutu) 20% shared 10 times less, with only 5.4%. The country ranks amongst the most unequal in the world. The reports authors argue that what such huge tranches of foreign aid have achieved is to ensure that while the nation is broadly peaceful, the repression which lead to the genocide in 1994 between Hutu's and Tutsi's is being reinforced by aid payments which enable the Tutsi minority to cement its position of power, while denying aid to the majority Hutu population. Is this really what we wish to achieve with our foreign aid budget?

And then there is the more obviously undeserving waste. The Daily Telegraph reported in December 2012 on the following:

* £800,000 out of the EU aid budget is being spent on a water park being built in Morocco by the French owners of Center Parcs
* Iceland has received £20 million from an EU fund subsidised by British aid. The funding is to prepare Iceland for EU membership - even though two-thirds of the country no longer wish to join
* a former Lancashire detective turned DfID consultant was given £223,683 for fighting corruption in Jamaica, one of eight consultants paid more than £100,000 for their work

But even when we focus on the alleged successes of our aid programme - which is now inextricably linked with that of the EU - the reality is less than impressive. As the Guardian reports:
European aid, in particular, has helped almost 14 million new pupils enrol in primary education and connected more than 70 million people to improved drinking water, since 2004, according to the European commission.

Which sounds good until you recall that the EU aid budget for this year is over £9bn, and it has been at a similar level for some time. If we assume total EU aid over the past decade to be in the region of £65bn (and that is a conservative estimate), this is equal to the combined GDP of the world's 34 poorest countries according to the EU's own index of GDP. Even worse, in many of these countries and those just above them on the GDP table, national wealth is actually falling rather than rising.

The problem is that while committing 0.7% of GNI to international aid makes anyone touched by the madness of government feel all warm and soft inside, it seems to escape their notice that much of that money is simply being poured down the plughole whilst making the lives of the poorest citizens of countries which receive aid worse rather than better. We should not make the mistake of thinking that these are isolated incidents either - you do not have to dig very deeply on the internet to find a wealth of information concerning misappropriated aid payments, such as:

"Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an independent non-profit organization, suspended US$367 million in grants to Uganda in August 2005, after discovering that $45 million had been diverted to sham NGOs created by local politicians"

which is taken from the report "Killing them Softly: Has foreign aid to Rwanda and Uganda contributed to the humanitarian tragedy in the DRC?", written by a former aid worker with experience of both military and civilian humanitarian mission. One hardly needs to descend to the language of 'Bongo-Bongo' land to make the point that there is something seriously wrong.

Part of the problem is the extent to which the aid agencies have become an increasingly politicised industry. The Guardian quotes Oxfam as saying "that money should be redistributed from the UK's wealthiest population sectors to help alleviate suffering in the sodden flood plains. British bankers had received more than €70bn in bonuses since the onset of the financial crisis – far more than the UK's aid budget, according to a statement by the aid agency". Am I alone in wondering what the one has to do with the other outside of the pages of a Labour Party manifesto? Has Oxfam suddenly decided to run for office? We should not forget that Oxfam itself works in Rwanda, where its own publicity states that "60% of the population subsist on less than $1/day", and yet it is their disbursement of aid which helps to cement that in place. Oxfam states that it is assisting "by organising village sessions on such cross-cutting issues as...gender", a favourite topic - along with climate change - of the pro-Labour former Chief Executive. As head of Oxfam Lady Stocking earned £119,000 in 2012/13. The average salary in the banking industry according to Reed International is a more modest £48,000, while the average salary of a Rwandan Hutu is £120. Is Lady Stocking worth more than 1,000 Rwandans? You decide. It's not as if she has ever worked outside the public sector.

I won't pretend to know what the answer is to the foreign aid question. I think most people would agree that we are right to give it, but probably not in its current form, and that is without mentioning aid given to nations which have space programmes and aircraft carriers or are members of OPEC. That much of what we give is wasted, mis-spent, diverted to inappropriate uses or supplied with political strings attached is beyond question. If we are failing to help those most in need, then why has aid become such a sacred cow?


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Labour links of 'non-political' residents featured in UKIP leaflet

A row erupted in the Manchester Evening News today over the inclusion of three local residents in a photograph used in a UKIP publication. The three residents - Bernard Caine, Irene Lawrence and her daughter Rachel - claimed that the photograph was used without their permission. The article says,

"Mr Caine, who says he has no party political affiliation but on this occasion has picked Labour candidate Mike Kane via postal vote, added: “It is diabolical.”

Irene, 67, said she only went to the meeting because her housing association asked her to go."

That Mr Caine should vote for Labour candidate Mike Kane is not entirely a surprise as they were both directors of the Parkway Green Housing Trust back in 2006/7 and worked closely together. There are a host of other organisations which Mr Caine has occupied senior positions and in which he would have worked closely with Kane.

As for Mrs Lawrence, she is far from a stranger to Mr Kane either. She was a director (for 11 years) and chairman of the Willow Park Housing Trust, and also worked closely with Kane for many years, most recently over the building of a skate park on the estate in 2010 - as featured in the Manchester Evening News which ran the story about their 'lack of political affiliations' while relegating the story about vandalism and theft from the UKIP office to a side bar.

It is not of course just Mike Kane that Bernard Caine has worked with. He was also a fellow director of the Manchester Tenants & Residents Federation Ltd with Labour councillor David Royle.

Now, it may well be true that neither Bernard Caine nor Irene Lawrence belong to the Labour Party, although I have my doubts about their innocence in that regard. Be that as it may, what is undoubtedly clear is that in an area where the Labour Party vote is weighed rather than counted it would be almost impossible to reach the chairmanship of a Housing Trust without having the whole-hearted support of the local Labour administration. Such support would hardly be forthcoming unless it was reciprocated, and they wholeheartedly supported the Labour administration.

It may also go some way to explaining why certain Labour activists were telling those who displayed UKIP posters in the windows of their social housing that they were 'their' houses, and they couldn't display UKIP posters their. Are the housing trusts as corrupt as the Labour administration? We couldn't possibly comment.

Have a look at these two pictures. Is that Bernard Caine - 'local non-political' resident - on the right at a meeting with Mike Kane and Harriet Harman at the beginning of the  by-election campaign? The second picture is definitely of Mr Caine, taken at the funeral of Paul Goggins, the former MP where he was widely quoted, not least by the BBC - "Bernard Caine said Mr Goggins was always there for his constituents" - in a strictly non-political sense.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

'We told you so' - flooding concerns not just a publicity stunt

It was with some amusement that I read in the national media suggestions that Nigel Farage is 'courting publicity' with his visit to the flooded Somerset Levels.

As publicity stunts go, this one is particularly long running. Attached is an article from the Dartford Messenger on the 8th January 2003. You will recognise a (rather younger) Nigel Farage protesting against the building of a housing estate on the flood plains in Dartford which were formerly occupied by the (frequently flooded) Joyce Green Hospital.

The hospital is of course long gone now, replaced by a new housing estate. While the houses have escaped flooding in the recent rains, the adjacent dual carriageway - Bob Dunn Way - sits at a lower lever, and was closed for much of January because of flooding. The cause of the flooding? Heavy rain which would formerly have soaked into the flood plain can no longer do so because of the new housing estate, and so instead it runs onto the road.

Bob Dunn Way is a major arterial road linking Junction 1A of the M25 with access to South East London. The result, predictably, was gridlock across many local roads.

If you read the article, Nigel says the building on flood plains is a 'recipe for disaster'. He also mentions that he has been studying flood problems in the South East.

Needless to say, the Environment Agency approved the development at Joyce Green, helpfully redrawing their flood maps to show there was little risk of flooding. With the current heavy rain and the proximity of the already swollen river Thames, we can look forward to more travel chaos in Dartford over the coming few days. Would it be publicity seeking to say 'He told you so'?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

We told them so - Postal Voting parliamentary inquiry, 2003

The news today that UKIP leader Nigel Farage has written to the Electoral Commission raising questions about the security of postal voting - mentioning the Unions Together organisation we investigated yeaterday - cast my mind back to 2003, when I appeared for UKIP before the ODPM parliamentary committee considering postal voting.

Even then it was clear that there were likely to be problems with postal voting. A representative os the Metropolitan Police's Special Branch stated quite clearly that voting fraud in Asian households was difficult to police for cultural reasons related to patriarchal society, and much discussion centered on the provision of marked voting reigsters so people could check whether their vote had been cast:

Mark Croucher of the UK Independence Party does not believe that provision of a marked register to voters would help detect fraud:

“[…] people who make a conscious decision to abstain and not to vote presumably take sufficient interest in a political process to make those checks, but in terms of finding out on a wider basis you do not remove the element of fraud from it. If people cannot be bothered to vote then they are unlikely to check to see whether they have or not"
Appears in the Hansard record of proceedings, as does:
 Q326 Chris Mole: Do you believe that having all-postal voting favours one political party over any of the others? Conversely, do you believe not having it favours one party over any others?
    Mr Forse: It probably has an advantage for the larger parties over the smaller parties, but not individual parties.   Mr Croucher: I would concur with that entirely...  it makes it much easier for existing and established parties to turn out people who are members of their parties and to encourage them to vote by post... So, yes, we tend to feel that it is an advantage to the major established parties and a disadvantage to smaller.

Mr Forse was representing the Scottish National Party as I recall. I got rather a hard time of it over Europe from several of the MPs on the panel - the details have not survived to the published version of Hansard! - but finished off by saying

"Attempting to somewhat artificially inflate turn-out by using convenience as a means to twist people's arms into voting is perhaps the wrong approach to it. Perhaps making politics more relevant to the people that we are asking to vote would be the answer. We historically never had a problem."

Naturally, this was not what our elected MPs wanted to hear: one can only guess whether they had already worked out how to subvert the postal voting system before they bothered with the Parliamentary inquiry. UKIPs written submission - which was prepared by former MEP & party chairman Dr John Whittaker - covered almost everything except the prediction of institutionalised corruption of the system by the trades unions in concert with the Labour Party. Fraud in sections of the Asian community was raised by the police, and by the Post Office. Did they pay attention? Of course not.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How the headlines are made....

In honour of the most recent UKIP coverage the following joke:

David Cameron and Nigel Farage are on the terrace of the House of Commons having a drink, it's sunny but gusty and the wind blows David's hat off his head and in to the river.

"Don't worry David," says Nigel, "I'll get it!" and he jumps over the wall and in to the river.

However, there is no splash. David peers over the wall and to his surprise sees Nigel walking on water. Nigel strolls across the surface of the Thames picks up David's hat and takes it back to him in front of the entire House of Commons press lobby.

The next day the headlines read: "Nigel Farage Can't Swim!"

What would have Peter Mandelson and Nick Griffin working together? Wythenshawe, of course

Whilst doing some digging around, I came across some quite interesting information about the groups currently ranged against UKIP.

In the current Wythenshawe & Sale East by-election, UKIP have seen leaflets put out by a variety of organisations, including Unions Together and Solidarity. There is also a host of online campaigns, including Hope not Hate, Action2014 and British Influence and even a comedy tour, the 'StopUKIP' tour which is currently playing to rows of empty seats across provincial theatres.

There are several interesting points to note about these groups. Firstly, with the exception of Hope not Hate, none of them are registered with the Electoral Commission despite their spending being high enough for registration to be required by law. Search their on-line database, and you won't find entries for Unions Together, Solidarity, Action2014, British Influence or Stop UKIP.

So who are they all?

Hope not Hate we already know: funded by a mixture of unions, central government and outside trusts and campaign bodies such as Peter Mandelson's 'Progress' group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation - with some help from Lord Ashcroft for their increasing anti-UKIP workload - they are targeted against UKIP. Their on-line campaigning is handled by Blue State Digital, whose political director Gregor Poynton is the husband of Labour MP Gemma Doyle. Poynton was a former employee of the Labour Party. Their managing director, Matthew McGregor, is a former Hope not Hate and Labour Party activist who worked on Ken Livingstone's London Mayoral campaign. Blue State Digital are the company who helped Hope not Hate evade up to £70k in tax as described in an earlier post.

Unions Together are an umbrella groups for political campaigning by trades unions: their membership comprises ASLEF, Bectu, BFAWU, Community, CWU, GMB, MU, NUM, TSSA, UCATT, Unison, UNITE, Unity and USDAW, but of course is dominated by the largest. Ostensibly set up to act as a pressure group within the Labour movement - "we campaign within the Labour Party because we want to help make sure that Labour stands up for the needs of our members" - their forays into electoral politics are relatively recent. A disclaimer at the bottom of their website reads 'website hosted by Blue State Digital'. One of Unions Together's tasks is harvesting of postal vote forms for Labour, as discussed in my previous post: such actions are questionable, if not directly illegal.

Then we have British Influence and Action2014 - the latter being wholly owned and operated by the former. The co-presidents of British Influence are Danny Alexander, Kenneth Clarke and Peter Mandelson, which tells you all you need to know about its political views on Europe and UKIP. British Influence don't use Blue State Digital for their on-line campaigning, they use a company called Mass1. Mass1 include amongst their clients the Labour Party and several unions including the TUC, Unite, GMB and PCS. There are three directors of MASS1, who are:

Mark Epstein - who worked with Blue State Digital director Matthew McGregor on Ken Livingstone's campaign
Tom Gutteridge - who also runs 'The People's Operator', a mobile phone company which donates part of its profits to campaign organisations, and runs a scheme for large unions and campaign organisations including GMB, Unite and the Labour Party
Peter Luff - who is also a director of the European Educational Research Trust Limited, a 'charity' which has failed to file returns with the Charity Commission for over 3 years, and which in 2008 donated almost its entire income to the European Movement.

Finally, we have leaflets put out by "Solidarity". Originally I had assumed that these were from the 'Revolutionary Socialist' group as they were so full of bile against UKIP, but closer examination reveals that the issuer is actually the 'Solidarity Trade Union' set up by the BNP in 2005 and not recognised as a trades union by anyone apart from the BNP. Nowhere on their leaflets does it mention the BNP, and given their attempt at class based attacks they are likely only to be of use to Labour as it tries to pretend it is still interested in the working man. Once again, Labour and the BNP seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet.

All of these organisations have a single aim in common: to ensure a Labour victory. With the exception of Hope not Hate, none of these organisations are operating legally: they are not registered with the Electoral Commission, and therefore are not entitled to take part in an election as a 'third party'.

So where are the Electoral Commission in all of this? Springing into action? Of course not: nothing has been heard from the organisation which is supposed to police all of this. And how about Hope not Hate? Are they shouting as loudly as they usually do about the BNP's fake trades union? Of course not: there is a deafening silence from Lowles and co.

In some respects, this should be regarded as an accolade. The threat of UKIP in a safe Labour seat has brought together the far-right and the far-left in their attempts to halt the UKIP juggernaut. A plethora of left wing advertising agencies back them up with all the power that the champagne socialists of Islington can muster. In a week, we'll know how well they succeeded.

Union postal vote applications go straight onto Labour's computer system

I was taking a look at 'Unions Together' earlier on this morning. In case you weren't aware, that is the operating name of TULO, the Trades Unions and Labour Party Liaison Organisation. They are currently taking part in the Wythenshawe & Sale East by-election despite not being registered with the Electoral Commission, but that is another matter. TULO is located - according to their website - at 1 Brewer's Green, London SW1H 0RH, which is also - coincidentally - the registered address of the Labour Party.

On their website, they feature a section called 'Make your voice heard' to make sure that you are registered to vote, and which allows you to apply for a postal vote. For voter registration, it helpfully encourages people to hold voter registration drives, and supplies materials including voter registration posters in Polish. No, really.

Of more interest is the postal vote application. When you follow the link, it invites you to select your union and download a postal voting form. The unions features are ASLEF, Community, CWU, GMB, TSSA, UCATT, Unison, UNITE and Unity. Clicking on the union link will bring up a pdf document with a postal voting application and a pre-printed address label. All of the forms have the appropriate union's logo displayed in the top right hand corner, but otherwise are pretty standard. Except for one thing. In the bottom left corner is a data protection disclaimer permitting the union to use the details you have supplied to contact you in the future.

So, having filled out the form in blissful ignorance of this, you then send it to the address on the pre-printed reply label:

Nothing particularly controversial there, you might think. Except that if you Google that address, you find that the National Communications Centre is actually the National Communications Centre for the Labour Party.

So what does this mean? It means that every single postal vote gathered by the unions ends up on the database of the Labour Party even before it is submitted to the Electoral Registration Officer in the constituency concerned. As the form also asks for phone numbers and e-mail addresses this is undoubtedly quite useful for another organisation which operates from the same address, the Labour Party Contact Creator software team, which promises:

Of course, they suggest that it will 'allow the Labour Party to meet the challenges of the 21st Century'. Others might suggest that it will 'allow the Labour Party to circumvent the Data Protection Act while breaching the spirit of electoral legislation and the Electoral Commission's guidelines on the handling of postal votes'.

TULO and Unions Together is noted as being promoted by Byron Taylor at the Brewer's Green address above. Byron Taylor is also a Labour councillor and Deputy Leader of the Labour Group on Basildon Council who is 'committed to Basildon' just two years after being Labour's candidate in Stoke on Trent at the general election.

Needless to say, the Unions Together website is hosted - outside the UK, of course! - by Blue State Digital, who are also responsible for Labour's online presence and help Hope not Hate evade VAT, as discussed previously.