Brits behaving badly: From arrogant m’lords to BP


From Margaret Thatcher onward, Britain has been governed by neofeudal lords who are bent on destroying the last vestiges of the social contract, and even the nation’s vaunted healthcare systems is up for grabs.

So here’s a roundup of the latest news from the land of fog and feudalism, 21st Century style.

Egregious gaffe forces one lord to resign

Nobody better epitomizes the loathsome arrogance of the British aristocracy than Lord Young of Graffham, who until Friday held the post of Health and Safety Law and Practice advisor in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Just last month, the PM’s Cabinet office sent out a preening press release with the headline”Lord Young restores common sense to health and safety and the compensation culture.”

Well, it turns out the lord was a few slices shore of a full loaf in the common sense department, and now he’s out of a job.

Polly Curtis of The Guardian reports:

The Conservatives suffered their first embarrassing resignation since the election [Friday] after Lord Young quit as enterprise adviser to David Cameron.

Young caused controversy by saying Britons had “never had it so good” in this “so-called recession”, prompting frustration in No 10 and provoking a welter of criticism from Labour.

Downing Street sources said Young had been upset by the furore and had thought about his position overnight. He did not want to cause the government any future embarrassment, so he decided to resign.

Cameron was grateful for the good work the peer had done for him, the sources said.

The prime minister initially appeared to give the peer a rap over the knuckles, condemning the comments and saying that Young would be doing a “little less speaking” in the future.

“So-called recession”? And “never had it so good”?

Well, at least he didn’t say “Let ‘em eat cake.”

And that perennial bad boy BP faces new sanctions

The company once known as British Petroleum [and before that, the Anglo Iranian Oil Company] has been the exemplar of badly behaving Brit, including a since-departed noxious m’lord of their own who got the boot for using company funds to party with his boyfriend.

Better known here in Berkeley as the de facto owner of a local college campus, BP has chalked up a disastrous safety record, as reported here on endless occasions, most recent here.

And now this from The Guardian’s Edward Helmore, the perfectly named reporter to be telling us the latest BP controversy:

BP is facing new fines in connection with its criminal conviction for a huge oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006.

Federal probation officer Mary Frances Barnes argued in an Anchorage federal court yesterday that a second spill in Alaska in November last year constituted a violation of its probation.

In 2006, a corroded pipeline leaked 200,000 gallons of oil on to the tundra in the worst leak in the history of the North Slope. The company was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $20m (£12.5m) in criminal penalties and restitution.

The leak in 2009 occurred when a pipeline at the BP-operated Lisburne oil field burst, leaking nearly 46,000 gallons of crude and oily water near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

After roughly 165 days of low-temperature warnings, BP found ice in the pipe. Fifteen days later, operators discovered the rupture.

Investigators said BP operators had “failed to respond to the alarms and failed to investigate or troubleshoot the cause of the alarms” and argued that BP should have known better, as it had suffered a similar ruptures in other frozen pipelines as far back as 2001.

The Brits reintroduce the jobless corvee

For those unfamiliar with the term, the corvee was an institution of the original feudalism, defined as “unpaid labor (as for the maintenance of roads) required by a lord of his vassals in lieu of taxes.”

In the neoliberal feudalism exemplified by the moderne regime of Her Brittanic Majesty, the corvee is unpaid labor from the unemployed required by the neoliberal regime in order to receive jobless benefits.

Hélène Mulholland reports for The Guardian:

Ian Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, faced a backlash from poverty campaigners. . .over plans to impose severe welfare penalties on people who are out of work and refuse to take up jobs.

Leading anti-poverty charities accused the coalition government of creating a “climate of fear” and exposing families and children to the “risk of destitution” as Duncan Smith outlined tough sanctions as part of a radical shake-up of out-of-work benefits which he said represented a “fair deal” for both the jobless and the taxpayer.

Under the changes outlined in a white paper. . .a work programme will be introduced to help people return to the workforce – with some long-term jobless required to do unpaid community work.

But unemployed people who persistently fail to turn up or turned

down and refused to apply for jobs will lose their £65-a-week jobseekers’ allowance for up to three years.

Those without jobs will lose benefits for three months if they fail to take up one of the options for the first time, six months if they refuse an offer twice, and three years if they refuse an offer three times.

Duncan Smith, who said earlier today that it was a “sin” that people fail to take up work, said his welfare reforms would create a system “fit for the 21st century, where work always pays”.

While the proposal calls for the jobless to work at manual labor, just as with the feudal corvee, the British government is also announcing that scores of unpaid jobs are open at the country’s Home Office at the very time the agency is paring its rolls of paid workers.

And on this side of the pond, unpaid labor — especially for overtime hours — has become increasingly common, even in our own Magic Kingdom™.

Doctors fear the wrath of semi-privatized health care

As noted here yesterday, Britain’s national health system has been declared the most effective in the world’s industrialized nations at delivering prompt service at the least cost to the suffering, and as folks in the U.S. know, there’s nothing neoliberals hate more than a good public health system.

Now it appears that the plutocrats are taking the first step towards deconstructing the best thing in Britain.

Here’s The Guardian’s Denis Campbell on the most heinous of all the Tory scams:

Doctors face demonstrations outside their surgeries and questions about their high salaries by angry patients because of the government’s radical NHS shakeup, the new leader of Britain’s GPs warns.

Desperate patients denied life-extending drugs or surgery for their ailments may also vent their frustrations on GPs, because they are due to assume control of deciding how £80bn-a-year of health funding is spent, said Dr Clare Gerada, who takes over tomorrow as chair of the Royal College of GPs.

In an outspoken attack on health secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform plans, she also hit out at his decision to transfer responsibility for rationing access to treatment from the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) and primary care trusts to GPs in England from 2013.

“At worst, the negative impact for GPs could be patients lobbying outside their front door, saying, ‘You’ve got a nice BMW car but you will not allow me to have this cytotoxic drug that will give me three more months of life,’” Gerada told the Guardian in an interview.

“I’m concerned that my profession, GPs, will be exposed to lobbying by patients, patient groups and the pharma industry to fund or commission their bit of the service. There could be letters from MPs and patient groups, and begging letters from patients.”

Making GPs “the new rationers” of NHS care could ruin the long-established bonds of trust between them and their patients, undermine “the sacredness of the consultation” and turn patients into little more than “customers” who shop around trying to get the best treatment for their ailment, Gerada added. Inherent conflicts of interest in the new system could also jeopardise GP-patient relationships, she warned. “Patients might think that the decision made about their healthcare will be based on self-interest – GPs saving money for themselves rather than spending it on patients.” Certain treatment decisions, and a GP consortium’s need to balance its books “could be misconstrued”.

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