1990s >> 1991 >> no-1040-april-1991

Sting in the Tail: Competition Humbug

Competition Humbug
Every Chairman and Director of every company will insist that competition is essential, indeed, is a sacred principle of capitalism.

But look at this: several top companies in the concrete business, Tarmac, Redland and RMC among them, have just been convicted of having 65 secret deals to keep concrete prices high.

The same situation exists in every industry. During the last few years 60 glass companies, including the largest, Pilkington, operated a price-fixing racket; 66 private bus operators colluded to avoid competing with one another, while ICI, BP and Shell did likewise in plastics. The list is endless.

Yes, they will all agree that competition is essential — for everyone else, but not for them.

Spare a Tear
Yet another left-wing firebrand has mellowed somewhat. Eric Heffer MP, recalls that when he first entered parliament he thought it was like “a great church which practised ancestor worship”. (The Guardian, 20 February).

Now that he may be forced to retire through ill-health, he will “miss the place”, especially “the friends . . . from all sides of the House”. Tories too? Certainly, indeed he even admired Enoch Powell who could whip-up a bit of racial hatred.

Above all, he will miss “the great debates”, or, put another way, those bawling sessions which often degenerate into near-riots, and is

  “. . . glad that Churchill insisted that the Chamber be restored exactly as it was . . . with the seats facing each other, like choir stalls. It gives an intimacy . . .”

Isn’t that touching?

So remember, the next time some Labour MPs follow Heffer’s example by singing “The Red Flag” in parliament or mucking around with the mace, it doesn’t follow that they don’t fondly embrace the hoary Institutions of what has been called “the best private club in the world”.

Opportunism Knocks
Gorby’s attempt to boost his waning status through his Gulf “peace” initiative had Labour leader Neil Kinnock worried.

Delaying the ground attack, he fretted, might encourage Saddam to regroup his forces and

  he feared a hold-up in military action could give Iraq a wrong signal, possibly prolong the war and causing more loss of life.

ITV’s Oracle (22 February)

Once he was Kinnock the left-wing firebrand, then he became a “Statesman”, now he’s a military strategist.

The opportunist tradition set by all previous Labour leaders is obviously safe in Kinnock’s hands.

War for Freedom?
After the cessation of hostilities in the Gulf many newspapers went well over the top with claims such as “Kuwait City is freed”. Anything approaching freedom in that city has a long way to go, whether ruled by an Iraqi or Kuwaiti dictator.

The Anti-Slavery International recently reported a case of how the Kuwaiti ruling clique treated their workers in London, never mind Kuwait City.

  Alice, a Filipino domestic who said she worked for Kuwait’s ruling al-Sabah family, said: “I was forced to sleep on the floor between the bedroom and the bathroom. I had to wear a bell so they could call for me at any time.
I worked from 6am to 2am each day. They fed me their left-overs and used to kick me at night, on their way to the bathroom.
They kept my passport”.
The 29-year-old woman, who was too frightened to give her full name, said she ran away after an attempt to rape her. At the time she was so thin from lack of food she escaped by crawling through a cat flap.

The Independent (7 March)

Super Sports Event?
One of the less publicised aspects of the Gulf War was the way hundreds of US companies poured their products free of charge into the area for the US troops. Behind this apparent generosity there is a sordid economic reality.

  The ferocious soft-drink war is the sub-text of the larger better known conflict. “Anyone who helps someone out there is making a friend for life” according to Coke, and no doubt the same logic is driving the other US companies sponsoring the war effort — 1,127 had signed up before a shot was fired.

The Independent (17 February)

The view of the marketing people on war is worth noting:

  “One tries to associate a product with an experience”, says David Stewart, a US marketing expert. “War is a particularly intensive experience. War alone is not attractive, but there are aspects which are. There are heroes. There’s style, magnanimity . . . It’s like a super sport event”.

This view of war contrasts sharply with what actually happens in these hellish conflicts as reported in the same newspaper on 28 February 1991:

  “Don’t be surprised”, the man said, “I had two neighbours who the Iraqis thought were in the resistance. So they pushed them into drains, closed the grill, poured petrol on them and set them on fire. Their families buried them later — you can’t leave bodies in drains.”

War as a super sports event is typical of the sick morality of the capitalist system.

Praise me Blame them
It is an old political ploy for politicians to claim the praise if anything ever works out well in capitalism (a rare event); and it is equally part of the strategy that if anything goes wrong ( a not unknown occurrence) to blame someone else. But Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, has probably overplayed that much used ruse.

On the same day he was pointing the finger of blame in two different directions as reported in The Independent on 7 March.

  Politicians often have louder voices than scientists, Sir David Phillips, chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils (ABRC) told the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology. Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Education and Science, has insisted that scientists cannot blame him for the current financial crisis. He says he is acting on the advice of the ABRC.
Leaks suggest that the ABRC this year recommended spending at least £50m more on science than was allocated.

Brought to task on declining reading standards at primary schools he was equally blameless according to him:

  He startled members of the Commons Select Committee on Education who are investigating claims of a decline in reading in English primary schools by telling them: “I won’t take responsibility for things that are utterly beyond my control.” Mr Clarke Insisted:”Today’s schools are the best resourced we have ever had”, and went on to criticise some local education authorities for “extravagance and incompetence”.

It will be interesting to see if at the next General Election Clarke is talking about “things that are utterly beyond my control” or has resorted to the usual arrogant electioneering pose of all his kind.