The Royal Bank of Scot-free: Retracing the Libor scam

image via Ian Fraser.

[First published in The Morning Star, 09/02/13]

RBS chief Stephen Hester wore an especially frowny face this week to admit his bank’s role in the biggest scandal since the financial crisis itself.

Years of wholesale manipulation of the Libor rate had put a gloss on an otherwise collapsing economy, lured investors into risky financial products under false pretences and had gone on to fudge the figures of trillions of pounds’ worth of consumer loans and contracts worldwide, with the resulting sleight of hand driving businesses into bankruptcy and families from their homes.

But worst of all, it made them look bad.

There is no room in RBS or in our industry for that kind of wrongdoing,” he told reporters, adding without a trace of irony that “we won’t be the only bank with these findings of course.”

Indeed they won’t: Barclays and UBS have already been stung for their own part in the affair, while more than a dozen other banks across Europe, Japan and the US are also under investigation.

So what exactly did they do? Read the rest of this entry »


Up Yours: Benefit uprating & the Westminster consensus of cruelty

[First published in The Morning Star, 12/01/13]

“These are not decisions taken lightly or easily,” said the devout Catholic millionaire as he clipped the jobseekers’ allowance to as little as £54 a week.

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith inspired revulsion and ridicule this week with the welfare uprating bill — a euphemistic plan to deliberately starve vulnerable households over the next three years by restricting increases in a slew of benefit payments to just one percent, half the expected rate of inflation. But Labour’s principled opposition is not so principled as it seems. Read the rest of this entry »

Lies, Damned Lies : doing a number on the latest job figures

A naked, crowned David Cameron with Nick Clegg as his fool.

[First published in abridged form in The Morning Star, 22/10/12]

“He’s got no clothes!” the child cried. The crowd lapsed into stunned silence; the emperor’s retinue cast worried glances at one another. The laughter would begin any second now, tinged with scorn, and who then would hear the Imperial Edicts?

Then the emperor’s press secretary spoke. “As a matter of fact I have carefully inspected His Holiness’ wardrobe. Today’s waistcoat is a 90% / 10% cotton wool blend. The pea-green stockings are a sumptuous 65% / 35% cotton polyester blend. The shirt is, I am pleased to say, 100% linen, while the cravat…” The heralds quickly took up the call, as did the town criers: The emperor was more richly dressed than ever before, and there were figures to prove it. And his pneumonia would surely clear up any day now.

So it was last week with the latest labour market figures. “More People In Employment Than Ever Before”, trumpeted the Department of Work & Pensions’ press release with the impressive but meaningless figure of nearly 30 million. Britain’s population as a whole is at a record high since 1960; civil servants only began collecting relevant employment data in 1971. You could just as easily say there are more people eating ham sandwiches than ever before.

In fact the employment rate – the metric that governments can actually influence – is at 71.3 percent, a record high since… well, three years ago. So we’re not back even to pre-recession levels — and that’s hardly the worst of it.
Read the rest of this entry »

London Calling: A Society In Lockdown

So earlier this month I cranked out a piece for my old friends at Scoop – specifically Gordon Campbell’s must-read Werewolf magazine – on last year’s riots across the UK and the ugly truth that no amount of Olympic marketing or Jubilee barges will erase its root cause: the festering crisis of economic dispossession and systemic racism against people of colour in Britain.

Gordon’s team have done such a bang-up job of formatting it and linking to sources already that I’d ask you to read it there — but  in case a giant magnet should tumble out of the sky and crash directly onto their servers, here it is again after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Some Things I Meant To Say Re: Occupy & The Riots

Kiwi Summer on Radio New Zealand National

[A ridiculously long postscript to my interview with Radio New Zealand’s Kiwi Summer (listen here)]

I love radio, but every time I do a spot I always come away kicking myself because there’s a million more points or stats or clarifications overlooked without which I’m convinced I’ll sound like a blithering idiot. Luckily Charlotte and Sonia of Radio New Zealand’s Kiwi Summer have kindly offered to repost this on their Facebook page so I can completely undermine the point of a radio interview with a massive wall of text. So let’s get cracking.

Occupy & The August Riots Are Rooted In Dispossession
While Occupy and other protest groups have been frequently portrayed in media as a public menace, even the most right-wing media outlets have been wary of associating them with the ‘feral youth’ narrative that immediately sprang up in the wake of the summer’s week-long riots. Many Occupy activists I’ve spoken to have outright rejected any notion of common ground: we are Peaceful Protesters with Placards; they were just Violent Looters. Certainly there’s almost no demographic overlap — and there is an ethnic component to this which is delicate but vital — but it seems blindingly clear to me as an outsider at least that both Occupy and the riots could only have burst upon the country in the way they did because of a backdrop of political disenfranchisement and massive social deprivation. Read the rest of this entry »

What Would Jesus Donate?: The Big Money Behind St Paul’s

[First published in The Morning Star, 29/10/11. This piece was filed on Thursday, the day before the Cathedral announced it would take legal action to evict the protesters.]

The public furore around London’s occupation movement hit a new peak on Thursday when the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral quit, reportedly over internal pressure to take legal action against the social activists of Occupy London Stock Exchange who have sought sanctuary on the cathedral’s steps for the last fortnight.

The Revd Giles Fraser, who the campers regard as an ally within the church, issued a statement just days before his resignation insisting that rumours the cathedral had closed its doors for commercial reasons were “complete nonsense.”

But in light of his sudden exit and the cathedral’s loss of income – an estimated £20,000 a day – it’s worth taking a look at who does control the cathedral’s purse strings. Read the rest of this entry »

This Sceptic Isle: Why Noone’s Stealing Your Job

[Excerpted from a piece for this weekend’s Morning Star]

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle…This happy breed of men, this little world, /This precious stone set in the silver sea, /Which serves it in the office of a wall /Or as a moat defensive to a house, /Against the envy of less happier lands,– /This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.
– Richard II, Act II Scene I

The ideological battle over immigration raged on this week, with big-business think tank CentreForum’s spirited defence of the admission of international students.

The group put out a report on Monday which criticised the government’s plans to halve immigration levels over the next four years through a combination of tougher English-language tests, fewer entitlements and possibly repealing graduates’ right to work for up to two years here after completing their studies.

Read the rest of this entry »