The Roots of Conflict 59

There is an excellent article by Simon Hughes on response to the looting. He has in many ways the same position as me in seeking radical solutions to the malaise of our hugely unequal society, while in no way sympathising with criminal looters.

The direction of all of Hughes’ proposals is correct, but his proposed action does not go far enough and is not specific enough. In both public and private organisations, the earnings differential between the highest and lowest paid should be limited by law to a factor of four, including the effect of all non-salary perks and benefits. Hughes does not give specifics on his desire to limit this gap, but Will Hutton has been promoting a factor of ten in the public sector – that is far too wide an equality gap.

Similarly Hughes’ pious wish to promote worker partnership and cooperatives needs to be given concrete form by legislation forcing all companies to give truly significant – I am thinking around forty per cent – shareholdings to employees.

If Simon really wants to roll back the excesses of the last thirty years, then natural monopolies like the utilities companies and the railways need to be returned fully to public ownership. PFI should be discontinued and all PFI assets nationalised without compensation.

Housing Association properties should be taken over by local authorities as traditional council housing, and massive new public funded mixed home building programmes should be begun that include the demolition of the ghastly huge sink estates of sub-standard housing. That would help boost the economy out of recession.

Hughes’ diagnosis is correct. But the reversal of the incredible and dangerous expansion of the gulf between rich and poor requires truly radical use of the power of the state with measures along the lines of those above. Anything else is just tinkering.

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59 thoughts on “The Roots of Conflict

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  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Craig,

    The expenditure of large amounts of money in bailing out the City and the defence and military expeniture budgets and exenditures on funding wars all diverty funds from domestic ecnomic needs. One cannot escape that marco-economic fact.

    The street looting and anti-social conduct at the micro level fits within the macro structural dynamic.

    Again, not excusing criminal acts – just explaning it in context.



    An American professor writes a piece in contrast to yours Craig.

    “…and we get a powerful glimpse of just how volatile relations are between cops and minorities, all while the poor are made scapegoats for the very oppression that their aggressions aim to spotlight.”

  • Courtenay Barnett


    @ Craig,
    The expenditure of large amounts of money in bailing out the City and the defence and military expenditure budgets and expenditures on funding wars all divert funds from domestic economic needs. One cannot escape that macro-economic fact.
    The street looting and anti-social conduct at the micro level fits within the macro structural dynamic.
    Again, not excusing criminal acts – just explaining it in context.
    An American professor writes a piece in contrast to yours Craig.
    “…and we get a powerful glimpse of just how volatile relations are between cops and minorities, all while the poor are made scapegoats for the very oppression that their aggressions aim to spotlight.”

  • IC

    Do you realty believe this right wing government will take any notice of hand-wringing apologist Simon Hughes. The man’s a compete pudding.

  • craig Post author


    No, I have no illusions that the current government will do any of this. Nor did I say anything in this post that could be remotely construed as indicating that I harbour such illusions.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Build more prisiosn? Spend more on job creation and commuity development. Increased the budget to drop more bombs on Libya? It is all linked and intertwined.

    What set of public policy options to address the problems – and how funed. Then the government will have to focus on two sets of criminals…

    Feral bankers – and – feral looters.
    Take your pick of which wild animal in social and economic terms , as regards national impact – poses the greater danger – and which to curtail to sort out the mess.

  • deQuincy'sGhost

    “This is noble, and will not be done”. Quite. Lib-Dems are still theoretically part of government, aren’t they ? Are they likely to do anything constructive at all ?
    I’m dubious about the fascination with water-cannon, given Sir Hugh Orde’s comments, but the later stuff does seem rather more hopeful. It’s been a long time since I remember an MP even trying to say such things. It would be nice to think the tide really is beginning to turn.

  • ingo

    Indeed, and the enclosure acts of the 19th. century should be reneged and national trust land made available for sustainable housing.
    Nice dreams from Simon, they’ll be buffered by the Tory’s. It looks likely they will accept the banking review just accepted by Germany’s rich, making it ever easier to siphon off monies into swiss bank accounts, legally.
    Off course it will be dressed up as ‘sorting out the tax havens’, once and for all.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    I am seriously suggesting that criminality at the top of British government has fed downwards into communities and contracted opportunities that has led to this widespread discontent and lawlessness at the street level. Let’s do some simple arithmetic:-

    Cost of the troops in Afghanistan? = lost opportunity for domestic investments?
    Cost of war in Iraq? = lost opportunity for domestic investments?
    Cost of the war and bombing in Libya? = lost opportunity for domestic investments?
    Total cost of the billions handed to the city and ‘bangsters’? = lost opportunity for domestic investments?

    The list could be longer. However do weigh…

    There is a culture of greed and corruption and criminality at the top as surely as there is a culture of crime and violence at the bottom. One lot loot the public purse at one end, and the pathetic petty thief loots the High Street shop at the other end.

    The cost of incarcerating a non-productive convict versus investments in early schooling, jobs and funding for a more cohesive and productive society and nation are real options.

    Indeed conflict has its roots. Water cannons and the strong response will quell the immediate street onslaught but it provides and does little by way of viable long-term public policy.

    Again – not saying that the looters should loot – nor – that the thugs should rob and burn – same comnent in modified terms for the government and “banksters’.

  • John K

    Agree an aim of government should try to limit the multiple of highest and lowest paid as the salaries paid to the (so-called) top people have increased to ridiculous levels, but a factor of 4 is ludicrous – at a minimum wage of £6 a factor of 4 would mean a maximum salary of only £50,000. Even Hughes’s 10 is hopelessly unrealistic at £125k. A multiple 20 would give £250k, a defensible maximum for the very top of the public sector.
    It would be impossible to impose any multiple on the private sector, IMHO. For better or worse there IS a market and business would simply leave if salaries were capped at £125k or even £2450k. Some might say this would be a good thing but we don’t live in a socialist utopia, you have to have capitalism to pay for the things we all want. And even if they stayed the banksters and business fat cats would get round it anyway.

  • Courtenay Barnett


    If I were to be facetious, I would start a company that made bumper stickers that read:-
    “Don’t steal – the government hates competition.”
    And sell millions of these all over England.
    It is unacceptable at any level to steal, and all the worse so at the upper echelons by those who really don’t need it.
    What are the national lessons that are being taught and learned?
    – i) theft pays – just ask the ‘banksters’;

    ii)war is a profitable enterprise – so use the government to attack Afghanistan – Iraq and bomb Libya relentlessly to the point of submission – very profitable exercise for some – especially if BP can be placed in control of Libyan sweet crude after the war.

    iii) have a “decent philosophy” of greed – materialism – and – excessive commercial acquisitions.

    iv) the ‘ rule of law’ is a noble standard to be upheld in a democratic society – but – do not forget that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.

    v) there is equality in the UK – no discrimination – the ‘banksters’ played and lost other people’s money and the government picked up the tab; the street looters who get caught played and lost – so – the government also picks up the tab and shall pay fully for their prison sentences. There is absolutely no discrimination here.

    People see and understand what has transpired – only a matter of placing it in, and seeing it in, true perspective.

  • Azra

    @Courteny, what a fantastic idea, I think the one who makes that bumper sticker will sell a million in no time! I will definitely buy..

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Azra,

    Great – if I provide the investment funds – could you be my manager for national distribution?

    We need to get moving quickly while the market is receptive for the message.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    50/50 share in the company – let’s get going.

    Shouldn’t make funny of what is really a pretty serious national crisis. However, it all just goes to show:-

    -A governement can lie to the people – sell unsuspecting youngsters to fight oil wars on the basis that they are actually there fighting for the goodness of Queen and country -when in Afghanistan it is an “oil pipeline” war -In Iraq an oil war – and now the latest new oil war in Libya. Each one riddled with illegality and crimnality at the highest levels of government.

    – Cut domestic budgets because the funds have been allocated in the trillions to fight these illegal wars.

    – come with moral platitudes about the street criminals while reward the white collar criminals in the City.

    That is actually being faced – if you care to look at it without any gloss or undue emotions introduced. If I were to be emotional – I would shed tears for the lives lost and the billions wasted to fund what is in essence – a war economy.

  • Clark

    At the bottom end of the income spectrum, housing benefit creates a poverty trap. A recipient of housing benefit loses 66% of their earnings above the ridiculously low threshold of “what the law says you need to live on” (plus a derisive tenner per week or something in some cases). This is a serious disincentive to any HB claimant taking part time or low paid work, and makes a mockery of the minimum wage. It makes it too attractive to not declare work, thus criminalising those workers. Who says that crime doesn’t pay?

  • Courtenay Barnett


    You are touching, quite accurately so, on the techinical real computations of what gives rise and incentive to a dysfunctional society.

    If only there was honest,caring government.

  • Azra

    @Clark, of course crime does pay.. look at BP and the other oil companies, arm manufactures, bankers..

    Courtenay, so you are giving up the idea yes?
    you are a disappointment to capitalism!

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Azra,

    I thought it through – and here are my options:-

    1. Invest in a project with Azra and give up my law practice;and
    2. Run the risk that we could make financial success and have a great life thereafter; but
    3. Since investment involves risk and uncertainty – there is always a chance that we could lose. So, I was going to write to Cameron and ask him to sign a “bail out letter of indemnity” so that the government would gurantee pay back in full for anything that lost by way of investment, profits and potential profits. On second thought – I figured that Cameron would not sign.

    Thus – since I can’t have the same safety net like the ‘banksters’ – I don’t consider it fair and so will not be investing in an unsafe investment.

    If the government changes its mind soon and wants to treat us fairly – then we have a deal.

  • Clark

    Azra, of course you are right, but I wanted to highlight how the harsh roll-off of benefits gives a powerful incentive for the lower paid to take their first step onto the ladder of criminality, just by taking some work and not declaring it.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    No Azra – only if Carmeron is fair and gives us equal financial rights and justice – why should the ‘banksters’ have a better deal than we are seeking? Fair is fair.

  • Young One

    The trouble is that the majority of the elites have aspirations to become bankers or for their own children. Non of them wants to open up a chemist to serve the public or a dentist charging fair ammount of money for good work.

    @Clark, Starkey is an elder now. We shouldn’t take everything he says word by word, but just do as he says and not as he does.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Azra,

    Actually – ” Off the subject : an interesting article in FPJ,…” – this is on topic.

    Engage in illicit drug trafficking and then the funds flow inot the pool of general war funds. This is not intended to flow back into Western coffers for meeting domestic needs. The drug money keeps the war machine going.

  • Martin Green

    Craig – you are correct in asserting that Hughes does not go far enough. We really do need radical alternative thinking in a similar vein to the New Deal of the 30’s. My current thinking is very much influenced by The Spirit Level’s evidence alongside the ‘social democracy’ models of the late, great Tony Judt. If only the politicians would put their heads above the parapet! Not much chance of that methinks.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    Take a pick between the Taliban stopping heroin trafficking – or – the Western powers increasing it and flooding the streets of Europe – that’s the reality.

  • Jaded.

    Build more prisons and privatise them. That is the only solution I can see coming. 🙂

  • Jonangus Mackay

    ‘All the established institutions we are supposed to rely on are complicit in an economic system which is a train wreck sliding towards a cliff. The kids on the streets today can smell a rat . . .’

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