Diane Abbott, Arab Autocrats, and Public Sector Pensions

John Griffin

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None of the above has had a great press recently.

Take Diane Abbott – if you dare.  Diane was this country’s first black woman MP and has a reputation of being a bit of a maverick – in other words, she often says things worth listening to and doesn’t always toe the party line.  Given that she’s been an MP for almost 25 years it was surprising that she made a bit of a faux pas recently by claiming that “white people” liked to play “divide and rule”.  Now, although this may not be factually inaccurate – a brief history of European colonialism might provide any required evidence – it’s not really what we expect to hear our MPs say.

Arab autocrats – well, some of them anyway, not the “good” ones in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, where it seems that democracy protesters can be gunned down in the streets, without raising an eyebrow in the Western media – are also taking a bit of a pounding, metaphorically and sometimes literally and, all of a sudden, media commentators are distinguishing between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims; I say all of a sudden but it’s probably been going on for about ten years, since Iraq was invaded.  Is this another example of “divide and rule”?  How much easier would it be for these beleaguered people to topple their despotic, unelected, leaders if they weren’t using much of their energies fighting among themselves?

And what of pension provision in Britain, and the “scandal” of public sector pensions.  Or is it such a scandal?  Or is the scandal more in the private sector?  Why are private sector employees viewing public sector employees as the enemy?  Are they the real enemy of private sector pensions, or would the chief enemy, instead, be private sector directors and executives who are normally comfortably cushioned from the retirement hardship that many of their employees will suffer.  Instead of private sector employees looking inwards, and upwards, the private sector turns its glare on public sector employees and complains that they’re not joining them in the race to the bottom.  A respected American investigative journalist and author recently commented that the Defined Benefit “burden” for US employers, largely relates to the “1%” at the top, and not the other “99%”.  She also described the chief executives of such companies as not so much captains struggling to keep their ships afloat, but “silent pirates who looted the ships and left them to sink, along with the retirees, as they sailed away safely in their lifeboats” – if only Robert Maxwell had been so lucky.

Is this more of the same, more “divide and rule”?  Who knows?  But we shouldn’t be surprised if it is; such a weapon has a long history of success.