Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Transportation to and from London dominates the news again

Our government still fancies the country as a world leader. If there were prizes for short-sightedness and bloody-mindedness, we'd certainly be top of the pile.

I awoke today to news of new runways for both Heathrow and Gatwick. HS2 has gone quiet for the time being but there's rarely a time these days when people aren't discussing new ways of transporting people to and from our over-crowded, unaffordable, claustrophobic capital. Recently, domestic news stories have been dominated by house prices and the lack of new homes being built and new runways for London airports will result in houses being demolished. I feel like my brain is going to explode!

When are our leading politicians going to realise that drastic FORWARD-THINKING action is needed to reduce the pressure on London and spread employment opportunities more evenly around the country?

I still think that the amount of business-lead transportation is absurd in this day and age. But even if more environmentally and economically friendly ideas continue to be ignored, there's still no sense whatsoever in continuing to develop London only and ignoring everywhere else. HS2 will bring people to business in London; it will not bring business elsewhere. Increasing the capacity of London airports will just make the City even busier, even more expensive.

Constantly concentrating everything in London is like giving plates to 10 people but putting all the food on just one of them. Instead of trying to squeeze more people into an ever more expensive, more claustrophobic corner of the country, we need to move some of the country's opportunities to other areas with more space to expand. This is especially obvious with many areas desperately short of work.

It's infuriating how the problems of airport and rail capacity, housing shortages and prices and unemployment in other areas are being worsened by this ridiculous, short-sighted, pig-headed obsession with London.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Home building needs a hand; retail and profit is often the enemy here too.

A thought occurred to me that the lack of land available to build homes on might have a link to the growth in retail seen over the last two or three decades.

I looked over maps of places I’ve known for more than a decade: the Chorley area and the Manchester area. I recalled buildings etc that existed ten or twenty years ago in certain places and realised something quite worrying but not altogether surprising.

Business premises often stand empty for a long time after companies go out of business or move elsewhere. Whenever something is demolished, be it old run down housing, empty warehouses and business premises etc, it is more often than not replaced with a new retail development of some kind, often a supermarket. Sometimes a supermarket with a petrol station and a row of large retailers. Stores such as Currys, Carpetright, Halfords etc have always used this sort of development but now high street stores are there too: Marks and Spencer, Next, New Look etc. The new stores and office developments tend to be larger than the next nearest alternative, and when the customers/clients cease to use the original stores, they sometimes close even if they were not intended to. This results in town centres becoming quiet and often with many empty shops. And those customers who were still using the shops that are left behind will gradually stop using them too as the decline continues.

I’m well aware that linking town centre closures to out-of-town retail developments is nothing new. But this is the first time I’d thought about the impact on housing. Town centres are not usually the best places to live and as shops close, areas become run down and are even less desirable. So with retailers buying up land – and with councils encouraging this because such projects usually bring in revenue in the short term, where will new houses be built?

We don’t need to build on green field sites; we need councils to look more closely at commercial development proposals and only accept those that use existing commercial sites, or at least carefully consider the availability of land for future housing before giving them the green light. They also must lower town centre business rates, or raise out-of-town rates to match. Public transport may need to be improved and town centre parking will need to be looked at.

Town centre regeneration is a well-known issue and towns need to bring customers back there from the outskirts, leaving those areas free for housing projects. This can work hand-in-hand with the idea of satellite offices I’ve mentioned before.

I'm aware that using my memory to note the changes in of a couple of towns is not a scientific way of viewing the entire problem but wherever I go, I see new, or fairly new out-of-town retail parks so I can only assume this issue is replicated across the country. Something needs to change.. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Something HAS to change

This government, particularly that smug git Gideon Oliver Osborne (that's his name - he added 'George' himself), are very satisfied with themselves. What they've managed to do is shrink the state and cripple the poor and vulnerable enough to reduce the budget deficit a bit* and we even have a bit of growth.

*For anyone who doesn't quite understand these terms yet - and you're in powerful company, because the Tories regularly get it wrong too - the 'budget deficit' is basically the difference between money coming in in taxes and money going out to pay for public services, benefits, pensions, handouts to people like Richard Branson, MPs expenses etc. A 'structural deficit' is a term sometimes used when an economy has been running at a deficit for some time. Deficits can be re-balanced either by recouping more taxes (so closing tax loopholes, or if there were more people in work paying income tax,that would help) or by making cuts. The 'national debt' is the amount of debt the country is in. That hasn't been falling, despite the cuts.

The growth, of course, is based on more personal debt, mostly as a consequence of buying homes. This had to happen eventually: people have been buying far fewer houses in the last 3 or 4 years so it was only a matter of time before people started to buy again. The 'help to buy' scheme has, inevitably, driven prices up because it enables people to get 95% mortgages again, meaning there are more people in the market and very few new homes being built.

So with house prices now back on their pre-recession trajectory, are we in a better place? No, absolutely not. This current flurry of housing market activity will not last unless the economy begins to re-balance and this current government's policies will not help that.

Already there are people in some areas earning good salaries who can't afford a modest home and elsewhere people with average and above average incomes are unable to buy a house that less than ten years ago would have been well within their means. Salaries, which have fallen dramatically in real terms* since the crash, are still rising lower than inflation and significantly more slowly than property prices. So this growth that the government are milking will flat-line again in no time, unless salaries start to rise. But the reason salaries are not rising is not going to change any time soon.

*'Real terms' basically means 'taking into account inflation' and is only used by politicians if it suits their point.

Capitalism works when those at the lower end of the economic scale can afford to buy luxury good. The way that capitalism has evolved in most countries, particularly in the UK and US is not about those with money being liberal with it - unless of course that money is someone else's. Company chairmen/women do not satisfy shareholders by paying staff good salaries and in a time of austerity, those employers who value, reward and share profits with their staff have to be more cautious. On top of this, public sector organisations are suffering - or are at risk of - huge cuts and so they are also having to change pay structures.

So with no one driving salaries up for the majority of workers, who on earth is going to be able to afford to buy homes? At present, a lot of properties in certain areas - particularly London - are being bought by overseas investors who then rent them out. But as the sale prices increase, the rents will rise and eventually, potential tenants and some of these overseas investors will be priced out too.

I can't work out what the Tories' plan is. Either they know that their policies are destined to fail the economy but are using this opportunity in government to rip chunks off the state and feed their wealthy friends and donors with nice public services at bargain prices. Or they are actually completely inept.

I'm not sure which is more worrying.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

They're selling OUR assets, so where's the outrage?

I found out yesterday - and I can't believe I had missed this one for so long - that the government are fiddling with further and higher education to encourage private sector growth in the area. And of course, we're talking about the Tories here, who 'encourage' private sector involvement by handing them pots of public money and tipping the scales massively in their favour.

This is on top of the Royal Mail privatisation, which was at least well reported unlike the NHS, fire services, security and probation, and all the other sell-offs that are going on under our noses.

So where's the public outrage? These services have been built up with taxpayers' money for decades and we're just sitting by and letting this government sell them off to their rich friends and donors for bargain basement prices. On top of that, they'll now be profit-making organisations and as a result, will need to change in order to make profit. There will be cuts to spending - probably meaning job losses - to increase profit margins, unprofitable areas will be cut out altogether (which will have a huge impact on services to rural areas, for example) and overall, the quality of the service will suffer. Either that or they'll start to cost a lot more. I actually think - looking at the railways, water, electricity, gas and all of the other things that have been privatised over the last few decades - that they'll cost more AND be lower quality.

These are OUR services. WE paid for them and nobody voted to sell them off to the rich friends of the tories. If someone broke into your home, took your possessions and sold them off for profit you'll never see, you'd be livid and would expect the police to do something about it. This is hardly different. And the BBC yet again are failing to report what this government is doing so a lot of people have no idea.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Scottish independence

Ever since the debate became serious a few years ago, I've been hoping that Scotland votes 'no'. This is mainly for two reasons:
  1. I have been hoping to see borders coming down, not new ones going up. Borders divide 'us' from 'them' and are usually as a result of some form of conflict. Borders divide us and are used to control us. I don't like borders.
  2. The way the debate has been conducted. I don't trust Salmond. Much of the debate has been fuelled (pardon the pun) by the fact that oil and gas off the coast of Scotland boosts the UK economy as a whole and many Scottish people would prefer this to be kept to themselves. But it will run out in time. The campaign has become very much one of 'them' vs 'us' and puts all English people on the wrong side. I like Scotland and want what's best for Scotland and I don't like being one of 'them'. Especially when 'them' are Tories and the contented (yet oddly grouchy) upper middle class and landed gentry.
Despite this, I would love to have the opportunity to vote for something that has the potential to mean real change to the political landscape. The Tories are supported by the wealthy and others who don't want to pay taxes that might benefit anyone other than themselves. Yet repeatedly we have their ideals forced upon all of us, whether by a Tory government, a Tory-led coalition or a Labour party following a general right-ward shift of mainstream British politics since the late 1970s.

I think that if people in the north of England (where I was raised and have now returned to from Scotland) had the opportunity to break off from Westminster, many would vote for it. And it wouldn't just be the north: people all over England feel that the last few governments have served a few rich people in London and the 'home counties' and for the most part, ignored the rest.

So although I still hope Scotland votes 'no', if they vote 'yes', I'll seriously consider moving back up there.

Monday, 18 November 2013

To vote or not to vote

In the aftermath of Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight and many responses to it - some in the public eye and some just on twitter - I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of turning up to vote on polling day.

I’ve also been thinking about the pros and cons of people in the public eye having their say and as far as Russell Brand goes, I can see mostly positives. His popularity brings this sort of political discussion - and the idea that we don’t have to just put up and shut up - to people who might feel that they’re usually excluded. And the coverage his appearance on Newsnight (following his article in The New Statesman) received has opened up debate about our voting choices amongst some our most established political commentators.

Brand advised people not to vote, although he would expect individuals to be able to decide for themselves. And there’s a distinction to be made between ‘voting’ and ‘turning up’: it would be good to have a ‘none of the above’ option but whilst there isn’t one, many people might not know that they can spoil their ballot paper. 

Robert Webb, amongst others, hit back strongly suggesting that people fought for the vote and we shouldn’t waive our opportunity to have our say. But right now, many people feel that none of the main parties speak for them and what’s more, none of them can be trusted. A few people decide that they would like to vote for one of the smaller parties but many decide, understandably, that in order to keep the party they like least out, they must vote for the party that has the best chance of keeping them out.

I have always voted. But recently, I’ve struggled to decide who to vote for (although if we had a proportional representation system, or even AV, it would be much easier: with the current options it would be Greens followed by Labour followed by Lib Dems followed by anyone else standing against the right). In 2010, I was very seriously considering voting for the Liberal Democrats but a couple of their policies just didn’t seem convincing (for example taking the income tax threshold up to £10k p.a. - I think introducing a living wage is a better idea - seemed to have flawed Maths at the root of its supposed funding) and I eventually voted Labour. I wasn’t at all happy with Tony Blair’s time in power; it seemed that New Labour were far too much like the Tories. They took us to an illegal war in the middle east. They were keen on expanding on the flawed PFI projects started under John Major. They were clearly very comfortably in the pockets of the City and Gordon Brown made the Tories very happy when he removed yet more financial regulation; phase 2 of Thatcher’s Tories’ big bang plan if you like. Such were the meagre choices, they were the best hope I had. I now know more about Brown's time as chancellor and prime minister (selling off our gold reserves for example; intentionally causing market fluctuations which might have made the city happy but which ultimately left those of us propping up the economy even more burdened) which makes me even more disappointed. But I would still have voted for them because our first-past-the-post system almost forces you to vote for one of the main two parties. Of course, when Tory lies and the right wing media convinced the public that the recession was Labour's fault (which, despite Brown's actions, it wasn't), they lost.

The problem with not voting of course, is that it is assumed people can’t be bothered or don’t think it affects their lives. I suppose that sort of apathy might be indicative of people feeling that their lives are fairly ok. But it's probably more likely at the moment that people feel it doesn’t make any difference who they vote for because none of the main parties will actually run the country in the interests of the majority of the people they represent. And on recent evidence, they're right.

The Labour party shifted right in the 90s because keeping to the left - albeit not too far left - hadn’t worked for them. After losing the election, their rhetoric was that of a party accepting the idea that the recession was their fault and and trying to convince the public that they can be trusted. The result: slightly diluted Tory policies. Now they seem to be moving back to the left but if they don’t promise to reverse the cuts, the NHS reforms and changes to welfare, it’s hard to know for certain if they’re really beginning to return to their original, socialist ways. It’s understandable in a way because the dominant right-wing media’s Labour-bashing is deafening. 

The Liberal Democrats are likely to have now lost much of their support, having assisted the Tories with what seems to me like an even more right-wing government than Thatcher’s: her party didn’t try to sell off the NHS or the Royal Mail. Most of the prominent Lib Dems also repeat the party mantra in interviews and nod approvingly in parliament when they could say “I don’t agree with this decision personally but we are the minority party in this government and have pledged to support this particular policy.” If the Tories had been forced to form a minority government, they wouldn’t have had the parliamentary majority needed to carry out many of the cuts, sell-offs and reforms that have hit the public hard (although many have been snuck in through snide policy-writing under the noses of parliament or whilst other more pressing matters were at hand). So the Lib Dems are absolutely complicit. Nick Clegg’s repeated assertions that they had no choice but to form the coalition is just plain wrong and the Lib Dems might struggle to shake off this period "in power".

The soundbites all parties utter; the inability to answer straight questions and the lies just flow like Russell Brand’s flowery language. How on earth can we decide who we trust if we can't tell what politicians really think?

It’s interesting though, to go back over the argument many people have used about why we should vote: “because people fought for your right to have your say.” Is it not time, then, to fight again, this time to bring about a fundamental reform of our political system? 

The difficulty of course is that what we all want isn’t exactly the same. You can’t just want ‘change’; there has to be some sort of direction and I think there are lot of small groups offering their own brand (no pun intended) of new politics - although I’ve yet to see any projected visions. I think it’s likely though, that they will all share a few common beliefs:

1) The government should serve the people not private business interests.2) The environment can and should one of our top priorities.3) The NHS, rail and energy services should be nationalised. And possibly RBS too.4) Members of Parliament should not have second jobs or any other links with private companies.

Any such movement is going to very very tough, despite having public opinion mostly on side. The most conservative (those wanting to keep the status quo) are the wealthiest, most powerful and the best served by the media and their message will out. Perhaps we will see a collaboration of disparate groups before the next election, coming together to give people something else to vote for, even if that is simply advising anyone who feels disillusioned to add their own tick box to their ballot paper and vote for ‘none of the above’.

Vote-winning tactics: tell people what matters

Political parties should listen to the what the public wants and if appropriate/possible/viable, act accordingly. But they don't. They already have their agendas, and simply set their media minions out to feed the public with stories.

As I've discussed before, the right-wing is far better represented in the media than the left. The left have The Guardian/Observer, Channel 4 News and The Mirror. The right have The Sun, The Telegraph, The Times, The Mail, The Express and Sky News. This gives the right-wing parties a distinct advantage. In these austere and Tory-led times, tales of immigrants on welfare, healthcare tourism, benefits claimants in mansions and bloated, wasteful and even dangerous public sector organisations pad out the pages (often the front pages) of the right wing papers and the minutes on Sky news.

Before long, the public have soaked this up and get angry and feel ripped off. As interest in these matters grow, the themes seep into BBC radio and tv shows and the right-wing angle permeates as many of the other stories as possible. Meanwhile there's real corruption in the private sector, with big business lobbyists and donors paying the government millions and in return, getting billions of pounds of public money to provide services, or policies bent in their favour. And yet most people don't have a clue.

Job done. The Tories can now justify their nasty policies by arguing that this is what the public wants and hardly anyone is aware of the real scandals blossoming over expensive dinners and rounds of golf.

This is how politicians get things done: via close links and shared interests with the press. But let's not have press regulation because of course, that would lead to the press and politicians getting too close...


Watch or listen to any of the political programmes on the BBC (Today, Question Time, Sunday Politics, Andrew Marr etc - and no doubt on ITV and Sky too although I don't watch those channels) and you will hear a lot about Union bullies and corruption, all with Labour's handling of it as the main political issue at stake.

The Tories and the right-wing media are getting desperate. Labour are ahead in the polls - although the right-wing media's constant dirt-throwing continues to soil Ed Milliband's opinion poll ratings and inexplicably, Cameron seems to be more popular. The right haven't got much to bash Labour with any more now that the public seem to have grown tired of the 'it's all Labour's fault' rhetoric. After all, it's three and a half years now since they lost the election. So the right are returning to the old Tory favourite theme that served Thatcher so well and are bashing the Unions.

Large sections of the public seem more than happy to accept that all Unions do is bully employers and hold them to ransom with threats of strike action, causing problems for people requiring public services. Whilst what went on in Falkirk was a disgrace and shouldn't be allowed to happen, the idea that Union bosses are power-mad bullies is out of order. If it wasn't for the Unions, women and indeed all working class people wouldn't be allowed to vote. We'd all be working - children included - long hours in appalling conditions for very low pay. We live in a time when workers are under immense financial strain, meanwhile employers are finding new ways of controlling their workforces such as forcing them to become self-employed (which removes their obligations on paid leave, sickness leave, expenses etc) and using 0-hour contracts. Many employers are also using numerous part-time staff instead of fewer full-time staff to avoid having to pay employer's NI contributions. They simply do anything they can to increase the bottom line. With workers at the mercy of such penny-pinching and controlling employers, it's clear our Unions are still valid and are relied on by many hard-working people to try to reign in some of this behaviour.

Often companies, and even governments refuse to engage in talks with Unions, despite being obliged to do so. They make decisions that affect workers or the general public without consultation and often will hide away from attempts by Unions to negotiate. When a rich CEO or Director has made such a decision and then chooses to hide away at home so that he doesn't have to face the workers, is it so wrong of the workers to go to their house and confront them there? And is it such a huge crime to dress as a rat? It's not like they threw dead rats at their windows or shoved them through their letterbox. If they won't discuss matters with Union reps in a boardroom, what are workers expected to do? Just accept shoddy treatment and shut up? These bosses must be able to sleep comfortably despite treating their workers with contempt; I don't think memories of a man dressed as a rat outside their vast house will keep them awake at night.

Trotting out the old stories about Union bullies is a good way of deflecting attention from the corrupt lobbying and massive Tory donor windfalls that are happening all the time. These stories creep into our subconscious, introducing the idea that workers rights are not important and that powerful company bosses should not have to answer for their actions.

This is what this government wants: control the workers; show them their place.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Moveable workforces are a thing of the past.

In the now distant past, when employment in one area declined or ceased altogether, workers could often move to another area where opportunities were in the rise. I’m sure it was far from easy but it was possible. Housing demand back then would produce housing; sometimes this would be cheap, often inadequate - in line with the standard of workers’ housing at the time - but that doesn't happen anymore.

The idea, as vaguely suggested by Ed Davey (most things he says are vague) on Question Time, that up to 1,000 workers from Portsmouth’s ship yards could move to another area for work is ludicrous.

These days, housing demand is not being met. School places in many areas are limited. Selling your home in an area in decline will be difficult and buying or renting in an area with more work opportunities could be harder still when house and rent prices can vary massively. Most couples are both in work; would the moving workers’ partners be able to move to another job too?

It’s just not possible in the 21st century to have large numbers of workers relocating. And what happens to the area they leave? If there’s no other work taking the place of that which is lost, we see certain decline and once an area has lost its way, it can stay lost for a long time.

Yet again, the coalition's responses put all of the problems on the public rather than consider consequences and areas that require intervention and act. They do not consider the feasibility of their 'ideas'.

The UK has been losing industries to cheaper foreign alternatives for decades. But with a fraction of the sort of investment governments are willing to put into the financial sector or other large privately-dominated sectors (be it through bail-outs, tax breaks or subsidies), industries could be saved and even helped to grow.

It's easy to accept that labour is cheaper abroad but look at our wealthy European cometition: the car manufacturing industry in Germany, for example, continues to thrive. Why can't we do it here? The government could invest in our shipyards and help them to produce not just miltary vessels, but cruise liners, container vessels and all of the other smaller boats needed when using large ships. If German manufacturing can be competitive then so can ours.

But the government would rather see docklands turned into fancy flats for overseas investors to snap up and rent out. Although where they think the rent money will come from in these declining areas, I don't know.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Conservatives* who oppose small-scale wealth redistribution are wrong

*That's conservative in the true sense, although this does apply to the vast majority of Tories.

When the majority of the population find that inflation is pushing up the cost of everything while their pay remains much the same, their disposable income will be reduced. That means they'll have to reduce their spending on luxury items and even on the essentials - and that affects private profits. If, at the same time, more and more people are receiving in-work or out-of-work benefits (due to high unemployment, underemployment and low pay), not only does the country's welfare bill increase, tax income also falls - a double hit to government coffers. This has been the case in the UK for some time now and has been getting much worse since the recession began.

If companies weren't so focused on reducing their costs, they would see that the more disposable income people have, the more they will spend. And that will increase their profits. Plus, workers will be happier because they're earning more and that can only benefit them too. People are distracted at work when they're worried about paying their bills and they're more likely to be late if they're trying to get to work in a car that desperately needs replacing.

But try and tell any right-wing capitalist this and they'll either laugh at you or go berserk and tell you you're communist scum with a few other nasty expressions thrown in for good measure.

They're idiots.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Satellite Offices - I've said this before...

...perhaps it's a crap idea? But I've thought about this for some time (I've written about it on here before too) and I can't think of reasons why it wouldn't work for many many types of work. And I'm sure many other people must have thought of it too because it's pretty simple and quite obvious. And some companies and organisations already do it.

It seems to me that satellite offices - by that I mean small local offices of larger companies or organisations - is a simple solution that would help with a number of problems: traffic and transport, quality of life, the environment, massive disparities in house prices and struggling local economies.

So many people drive or struggle on inadequate, unreliable and expensive public transport to the big towns and cities for work because there isn't any work where they live. And companies pay through those nose for large office spaces in the most expensive areas AND lose time and money to traffic and transport issues as well as problems with workers' childcare and ill-health. Meanwhile, businesses in small towns and villages struggle to make ends meet, with many local shops, pubs etc closing all the time.

So why, when many many jobs can be done remotely these days, do we not have more satellite offices in small towns and villages? Or for that matter, in large towns with heavy unemployment. Workers could walk to work or drive short distances, having dropped their kids off at school. Shops, cafes, pubs, restaurants would open up to serve the workers. House prices would start to even out, so those in more 'central' areas would become more affordable whilst those in less central areas or in towns/villages with inadequate transport provision would become more valuable. Quality of life would be hugely improved for spending less time in traffic.

Of course there are many jobs where it's necessary to be on-site for most of the time. But if less people are travelling to central business areas, transport would be somewhat easier. And many jobs would benefit from more localised offices, and can use web conferencing for meetings and paperless electronic fileservers that most employers should be using now anyway.

This also feeds into my uncertainty about HS2: although we desperately need a more modern rail network, HS2 will not provide that; it's not a network - it's just one line. It will make many areas even worse off, some areas even more expensive and will only serve a very thin strip of the country.

I just can't see many reasons why having more satellite offices wouldn't be hugely beneficial and I would estimate that of the people I know, more than 50% of them work in jobs that could be done from a smaller local office. Perhaps the government should be spending £50bn on this scheme instead.

Monday, 7 October 2013

The government's 'lobbying bill' will actually worsen the problem.

Lobbying - to anyone who doesn't know - is where representatives of a company or organisation representing a group of companies, have an audience with the government in some shape or form whereupon discussions are held on a topic of importance to the companies. The majority of this, of course, is done with profit in mind.

Surely this shouldn't be allowed? Well it is. Many many decisions that have been made over the last few decades have been influenced by lobbyists. Everything is up for cosy discussion with whomever has the resources to do so: policing/security, healthcare, alcohol and tobacco advertising and licensing, rail franchises, TV deals, waste, fire services - EVERYTHING.

The Lib Dems wanted a bill to control lobbying and make it more transparent. It should have fallen to Nick Clegg to oversee this but he declared a private interest because the law firm his wife works for are involved in lobbying, so it fell to his Conservative junior minister instead.

The bill as it stands, does not include direct lobbying, only third-party lobbying. So staff from Centrica, for example, could lobby to their hearts' content to help their case for fracking, whereas a group representing charities campaigning for British retailers to tighten their policies on supplier standards wouldn't be allowed to. The bill's definition of a lobbyist is so tight that it would be incredibly easy to get around. Also, it wouldn't cover staff crossing between government and private companies. At present, there are staff from a number of companies actually working in the government, on 'secondment', in advisory groups or lifted straight into new, prominent roles.

This is from The Independent online (Sunday 6th Oct 2013): "Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive at British Gas owner Centrica, whose chairman Sir Roger Carr led industry opposition to Labour’s conference announcement, is a member of David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, which briefs the Prime Minister on “critical business and economic issues facing the country”. Tara Singh, a former public affairs manager at Centrica, took up her newly created role at Number 10 this week as Mr Cameron’s personal advisor on energy and climate change."

The 'big six' energy companies have met with the Department for Energy and Climate Change 128 times since the coalition was formed. In contrast, there have been only 26 meetings with representatives of energy consumers. Surely this proves that consumers are less important to the government than the big six energy companies?!

Members of the public are allowed to lobby their MP. But doing this individually by letter or even in person, has little to no impact. This lobbying bill will prevent groups representing individuals to lobby the government. The Labour party are proposing changes to the bill which, if accepted, will fix most of the issues with it. But it will still be going on, behind closed doors, in the corridors of power, restaurants, hotels and bars across the capital (and occasionally elsewhere). Big companies have been getting closer and closer to the government for the last 20 years and as long as this goes on, the less interest the government will have in the interests of the people it is nominated by and paid to represent.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

An electoral system-booze selection analogy.

Imagine you had an event you needed to buy drinks for, and were restricted to only one option of wine, beer, or spirits. Which would you choose, given your 10 guests had the following preferences?

Person 1302
Person 2203
Person 3231
Person 4032
Person 5321
Person 6132
Person 7230
Person 8203
Person 9302
Person 10230

Wine is the clear winner and beer only narrowly beats spirits. In a proportional representation system, most people get their first or second choice. 

However, in a first-past-the-post one-person-one-vote system as currently employed in UK general and local elections, beer would win because it was the first choice of most people. The fact that more people didn't rank it at all than the other options counts for nothing.

In this event scenario, you would of course provide more than one option. Unfortunately, the only way this can happen in British politics is when two of the three collude against the other. And that, as we know, tastes foul.

Hardly anyone voted to change our stupid system. If only the 'yes to AV' campaign had come up with something like this?!

Monday, 15 July 2013

The lies continue

I've been too busy to write any posts here for a while and there are plenty of lefty bloggers doing this far better anyway. But I like to have a rant occasionally.

It seems that, despite our ability to fact-check everything instantly on our smart phones, tablets etc, the lies continue and sadly, they still seem to be working. Here is a list of the right wing's favourite lies (some of these are new favourites) and brief responses to them:

1) The last government caused the financial crash.

The banks caused the crash. We know this. Tighter regulation would have forced the banks to work to use more stable methods but Labour, under pressure from the Tories and the whole financial sector, continued with the deregulation policies started under Thatcher's reign in the 80s. Had Labour even mentioned they were considering tightening regulation, the Tories would have torn them to shreds over it and the right wing press and all of the economic might of the right would have brought the Labour government down before the crash happened. And then it would have happened anyway.

2) The UK's debt is/was bigger than most countries

Wrong. The coalition government uses percentage terms when it suits them, and cash terms when it suits them. In cash terms, the debt is/was higher but that is because our economy is bigger. Put it this way: someone on £1m per year can spend a lot more on his/her credit card without even worrying about it, than for example, I could.

3) The last government borrowed too much

In 2007 before the crash, the national debt was lower than in 1997 when the Labour government took over the economy the Tories had left. Then the Tories' friends in the city needed bailing out and borrowing had to soar.

4) The last government spent too much on welfare and disability benefits

The economy was doing great before the financial crash. Spending on benefits was down because unemployment and underemployment were low. This means fewer people needed benefits and - double bonus - more people were paying more income tax.

5) Immigration costs too much

Economic migration benefits the economy as a whole. Healthy young people from across Europe come to the UK, work hard, pay their taxes and take very little from public services. Non-economic migration doesn't pay for itself but this is different and will not be changed by the Tories charging people who are here to work for healthcare.

6) The public sector leaks money; the private sector is great

Wrong and wrong. The trains are affordable and reliable since privatisation, right? No. Gas and Electricity? No. Water? No. In each of these cases, the government use our taxes to subsidise the railways, improving infrastructure etc and to improve gas and electricity pipelines. If we were all paying the same for these things but instead of being squirrelled away in tax havens or other dodgy tax avoidance measures the profits were invested back into the system, we'd have much better railways and trains and energy supplies. An example: East Coast rail is the last publicly-owed rail franchise. Despite this, it costs the tax payer less money than ANY of the private franchises. Why? Because the profits are invested in upkeep and improvement projects and the government doesn't need to use our tax to fix problems and upgrade infrastructure. It's not rocket science (but if we did use rockets to get to work etc you can guarantee Richard Branson would be making a mint whilst we subsidised the space ports).

7) Labour's links with the Unions causes corruption of the house

Ok so this isn't exactly a lie. A couple of grubby cases of fiddled selection makes the union links look worse than they are. The Tories, however, reside in huge glass palaces and should not be throwing bricks. Why is it that the poor are paying for a disaster caused by the rich? Why have the large financial concerns received ever-more preferential treatment since the coalition came to power? Why have we not got our money back despite the banks doing well again and paying themselves large bonuses? Why will David Cameron not agree to a cap on donations suggested by Ed Milliband? These and other questions can be answered by simply stating that the Tories are, and have long been, bankrolled by their wealthy friends in the financial sector. The Tories will, and are telling barefaced lies when they claim that massive donations do not buy influence. These very wealthy business and individuals have become so via shrewd deals and not by throwing money away or being charitable. Why would they pay so much to a political party if it was not in their interests?

And you can check all this using your preferred search engine and the words "official UK government statistics".

I'm almost as fed up with Labour failing to argue these cases as I am with the Tories' constant lying. The constant shouting and arguing in the house of commons holds up proceedings massively and I'd like to see that time used by an assistant to the house checking the facts or figures or other outlandish claims made and the speaker forcing whoever has lied to the house to apologise and admit to it. That would stop them.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Divisive in death as in life

I have now had a little time to reflect on the passing of Margaret Thatcher. I haven't ignored the opinions of those who think she was a great prime minister, or think she saved the country. But this is my take. 

Thatcher divides the nation now as she did in politics: polarising opinion like few have ever done. This will be her legacy. A divided nation: thousands - possibly hundreds of thousands - for whom employment became unattainable. The forgotten people who have not known regular employment in their families since the 1980s who are now derided and crushed by today's Thatcherites.

A stubborn politician; not for turning even when her targets retreated she attacked them for her own gain. She supported Pinochet who killed somewhere between 1,200 and 3,200 of his own people and tortured tens of thousands more. She denounced Nelson Mandela's liberation movement as a "typical terrorist organization".

Thatcher's politics focused on encouraging people to go out and help themselves; this is positive. But some took this too literally; taking all that they could at any cost. The culture in the city changed dramatically during this period and we are all too aware now of the result: a massive financial meltdown that the poorest, who are not responsible, are paying for. The decisions made by her government to let entire industries crumble with no thought about the consequences are responsible for condemning whole sections of society to a life without work. She encouraged people to buy their council houses but neglected to build more; leaving councils to pick up extortionate bills from private landlords. Now the current government are trying to combat this by moving people away from expensive areas (which is tantamount to social cleansing) and cutting their benefits if they have an extra room. A period of prosperity between 1998 and 2008 hid the issues that the current government are now dealing with in callous and cruel ways. Just as Thatcher would have wanted it. 

Much will be said about the first, and so far only, female British prime minister. I'd be interested to hear how feminists feel about her legacy. Our main parties are still dominated by men; it would appear that she changed very little in that respect. Thatcher did change politics. She defined an era and cast a very long, potentially infinite shadow over the country. Change was needed in UK politics but her party's policies have had a long, negative effect. She is still such an evocative figure across the globe but that is not always a good thing: we can all think of political figures who will endure in our memories and most who do do so for negative reasons. 

Tributes will in the main be positive. Those from the left who are asked will be respectful; those from the right will be gushing. Many will call for respect but she did not always show respect and I would stand up for anyone who has reason to respectfully decline that call. 

If you think she was good for this or for that, you're entitled to your opinion. But so are those who were permanently affected by her time in power. They deserve to treat her passing as they see fit.

Friday, 1 February 2013

The crooks writing the laws

"The 30 companies called in to help write the new 'controlled foreign companies' rules have some 3,000 subsidiaries themselves in tax havens"


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Don't forget to hate the banks.

I haven't been on here in ages. Mostly because I've had more important things to
do like getting my head around the various tasks in my new job.

I know I'm lucky and most of my ranting is not based on what I think I deserve or how I'm feeling the effects of what the government does, it's with the poorest and most vulnerable in mind.

But just for a few minutes I'm going to focus on something slightly less important to the worst off. 

I'm going to talk about all those people who got on the property ladder during the boom years. There are terrible cases of banks - who were quite happy to lend large sums in the good times - taking peoples' properties away who can't pay their mortgages; usually as a result of the problems they cause. But as I'm talking more from personal experience, I'm going to concentrate on those who were sensible and bought something that wasn't too over-priced that they could comfortably afford. Many of those people are now at a point in their lives where they need a bigger home. And they're stuffed. 

In the downfall from the boom, many many people lost their jobs and had to switch to interest-only mortgages whilst they got back on their feet (or took jobs paying them a lot less than their pre-recession ones did). The recession was NOT the fault of the poor; it was the fault of the banks - we should never forget this. 

The property market was unrealistic and could never continue like that and that was caused by the banks too. People could pay more for homes because the banks would lend more and prices kept on rising. Then all of a sudden, we found out. We found out what the banks had been up to and that the economy was on a knife-edge. They stopped lending; people stopped buying. Prices stagnated and in most areas, they fell.

Despite being bailed out by taxpayers and being given more "incentives" (hand-outs and tax breaks to you and me) by the government, banks are still not lending and the housing market continues to stagnate.

Bail-outs, forced mergers and various financial sector changes mean that some banks have been off-loading some of their mortgages. At the moment, many homeowners are temporarily paying over-the-odds to a bank who doesn't want them any more. But they can't get a new mortgage deal because they don't have permanent jobs; those are rare since the government forced these ever-tougher austerity measures on us all.

So because of the situation people have been in as a direct result of the recession, many have only paid a tiny amount of their mortgages and large numbers will be in negative equity. This being the case, moving to a larger property is impossible and people are going to either have to try and cope with their original small homes or cross their fingers that time will not get the better of them.

So to sum up:

The banks caused property prices to be very high
The banks caused the recession
The recession caused countless job losses
Job losses meant mortgages unpaid
The recession caused house prices to fall
The banks, despite having lots and lots of our money, are not lending
The banks reluctance to lend keeps property prices low
The weak market means many won't get what they paid for their properties and many in negative equity.

Societies should protect the most vulnerable. This shower of shits caused the mess we're in and yet the Government shields them from everything and even goes marching, all pig-headed to the EU to fight on their behalf. Meanwhile, the poorest and most vulnerable are losing jobs, having services taken away, benefits cut, being vilified for not having jobs that don't exist and basically, being turned into 'the problem'.

Instead of looking after the banks, we should be kicking them until they give us our money back.