Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Most people dislike politicians but I think we are still too deferential

MPs have never been the most popular people in the world, unless perhaps they're your MP and you think they're doing a great job. In recent years, as more and more people have become tired of spin and soundbites and feel that they are not being represented, politicians have become even less popular.

So why do we believe them? Conservative MPs in particular are able to latch onto negativity and humankind's instinctively defensive nature and attack whole sections of society as excuses to hide their state-shrinking, low-tax, privatised UK policies. And yet, polling continually shows that people trust the Tories on the economy more than Labour.

I think I should quickly sum up reasons why the Tories are not to be trusted with the economy:

1) Their stubbornness over extreme austerity is recent. If it's the only answer to sorting out the deficit, then why did they pledge to match the Labour government's spending?

2) The change in policy came about in response to the economic crash. The Tories claim the problem of the deficit was Labour's 'over-spending': 'over-spending' that the Tories pledged to match. The real cause, as we know, was a global banking disaster, where the teetering piles of debt finally became too much for the tiny amounts of actual capital in the system. The deficit is mostly due to the huge sums of taxpayers' money that saved the City. And if they really believe that it was Labour's 'over-spending' that has caused the deficit regardless of bailing out their city chums, then again: why did they pledge to match it?!

3) The vast majority of respected independent economists correctly predicted that the Tories' austerity measures would not bring the growth that Cameron et al claimed it would. Many also correctly predicted that their targets to "pay down" the deficit were not realistic and that austerity would cause economic stagnation significant enough to counter-balance the reduced spending.

4) The national debt has continued to rise despite the cuts we've faced.

5) Austerity and stagnation has caused a double-sided problem for the treasury: lower average earnings means more benefits to pay out and less tax coming in. We need one to pay for the other but the Tories' permanent dream of ever-lower taxes makes the situation twice as hard to cope with. Other countries which have not pursued such strict austerity might have had lower growth but it hasn't hit the economy as hard because wages have not been dragged so far down and public services (which help to reduce personal poverty by providing things that people would otherwise have to pay for) have not been cut so hard.

I could go on but I'm repeating things I've been saying for years.

So why do people still trust the Tories with the economy more than Labour? I've often mentioned the dominance of the right-wing in the mainstream media but I've started to think it's also partly deference. I think that without realising it, people do feel that upper and upper middle class people with posh accents and expensive suits know how to run the country best. And even though there's very little to choose between Tory MPs and Labour MPs in terms of presumed status, the Tories are the party of the establishment in the eyes of the voting public.

People are used to the wealthy and powerful looking and sounding a certain way because it's always been thus. Tony Blair succeeded where Neil Kinnock failed because he looked and sounded like the politicians and minor royals we've always known. Blair spent most of his childhood in Durham and Edinburgh. But instead of a mixture of Scottish and North-East, his accent is pure 'home' counties.

There are many left-wing politicians and activists speaking out for much fairer and more progressive policies but they can easily be dismissed by suited, privately-educated men with "ohh, it would be wonderful if it was all so simple but unfortunately, we've just come out of the deepest recession since blah blah blah..." People need to actually listen to what is said and learn to read between the lines to work out what the person speaking really wants, rather than just believing the person who looks and sounds like they were born to rule.

Friday, 12 December 2014

A very different blog post: what anxiety does to me

Everybody feels anxious from time to time. Most of us can cope while the feeling is there and it soon passes, as soon as the cause goes away or you come to terms with it.

I, like lots of people, have anxiety disorder. It's quite common and I suspect many people have it and don't realise. The disorder results in feelings of mild anxiety for quite normal everyday things and feelings of unbearable anxiety for anything that most people would get anxious about.

I think I've always had it but I was diagnosed a few years ago following a bout of depression that was caused mainly by being unemployed during the recession. In many cases, and for a case such as mine, which doesn't usually affect me so seriously that I can't get through everyday tasks, the most common treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. My CBT therapist taught me what happens to my body when I'm anxious and how that makes what's going on in my mind worse. The therapy is not a cure, it's designed to help to develop strategies to counter it and can be so effective for some people that they are able to almost eradicate the symptoms most of the time.

It didn't work quite that well for me. I have developed coping stragies that got me through bullying at school; periods of crippling self-doubt; bouts of depression and unemployment. But I think those strategies might be unhelpful in the long term. I can't really describe what those strategies are: there are many of them and they're woven into every thought and every action. But I know I have some sort of blockage in my information processing that stops other techniques that might be better in the long term from being successful.

If I have anything stressful on the horizon, even months away, I can't put it out of my mind. When there are several things all at once, I'm constantly on edge. At those times, I find it very hard to enjoy anything and have to distract myself every few minutes just to get through the days. I can't watch stressful films, or sad films or sad tv programmes. I'm on edge all the time and would cry frequently if it was socially acceptable.

Recently, I've been dealing with the following:

Moving house
Baby on the way
Recent job change that means more responsibility, a heavier workload and learning lots of new difficult tasks.

Add to that learning to drive and something has to give.

I had lessons when I was young but never passed my test. I was told the theory test was easy and that I didn't need to revise for it and I failed it. I then lost my wallet containing my provisional licence. I was also at University and didn't really have the money to continue lessons. 16 years later, my wife and I are expecting a baby and finally I have to stop the excuses (cars are too expensive to run; lessons are too expensive; I don't need to drive) and get driving.

Ahead of my first test, I feared it for weeks but had the distraction of a house move to stress about. Minutes before I wanted to burst out crying and run away. Despite this, I'd learned well and should have passed. My instructor was livid after the debrief: he couldn't believe how strict the examiner had been. I'd been near perfect: 5 faults. The "serious" faults were apparently moving into a right-hand lane too early for a junction (I'd seen the sign; there was a hill brow I couldn't see over; I'd never driven up that road before) and a slightly rubbish bay park, yet I ended up neatly in the bay having straightened up twice.

Today I had my second attempt and the outcome of the first (if I failed that one, how could I ever pass?) was eating at my mind and spirit. I did what I could to focus and calm my mind but I cocked it up. 8 faults; one serious. It was a fair decision - I knew I'd failed after 10mins yet apparently the law forces me to go through the remainder of the test, just to make failure that bit more drawn out.

I haven't told friends or family about my lessons or tests but I do want them to know why I don't have a licence. They won't read this but getting my thoughts out here might help me to speak to them. I'm a failure. A pariah. I know that part of the reason is my struggle against debilitating anxiety but although I can tell myself that, instead of cutting myself a break, it just makes me feel even more pathetic.

So if you read this and think I just need to pull myself together, or get a grip, you can relax. I have far more disdain for myself than you could ever muster.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

TV helps us to switch off our conscience

When the wealthy hold power, the poor and vulnerable are always seen as mere collateral damage, regardless of the issues. Protecting the interests of the top few in society usually seems far more important than being fair to the many. At certain points in history, this has meant lining up banks of untrained and under-resourced soldiers like a human shield, hoping that the corpses of poor citizens and migrants will be enough to trip up the opposition and prevent them from stealing all the shiny things. At the moment, this means starving them and making them homeless to make sure the wealthy are kept in the luxury to which they have long been accustomed.

I've said this so many times, and so have countless others, but it wasn't the poor who caused the economic crash: it was extremely well-paid City workers (and their non-working bosses). So why are they paying the price? Why have the top earners become wealthier since the crash? Why haven't tax payers got their money back from the banks? After all, the main reason for the cuts that the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP agree are necessary is the debt caused by bailing out the banks with around ONE TRILLION POUNDS of taxpayers' money. And the deficit, which is apparently more important even than the debt, is the result of paying too much out and getting too little in return. Which is no wonder, given how much tax we pay to people who don't pay tax, just so their bosses can make bigger and bigger profits from their labour.

The main parties are made up almost entirely of career politicians who use a different language to the rest of the population. Unless you spend time learning how to decipher the language of politics, interpret the soundbites and work out how to read between the lines, you don't really know what they're talking about. And if you're more concerned about how you're going to pay your gas bill or put food on the table, it isn't a priority. So a lot of people who are being made to suffer the consequences of a crash they had no part in see nothing to vote for. And so the parties know that kicking those people won't make much difference to their polling. Meanwhile, those who do sit through Question Time* or listen to Radio 4* in the morning hear what is being said, work out what they prefer and vote accordingly.

*Although as they're both on the BBC, the central topics tend to miss issues which affect the poorest in favour of something about the EU or immigration, neither of which are particularly crucial to what our government does with our money.

So let's generalise by saying that the most vulnerable are less likely to vote than the well-off who mostly vote to keep themselves rich and that those in power are ok with homelessness and malnutrition rising. What about the rest of us? What about the people who aren't rich but aren't poor, who donate a little to charity now and then to make ourselves feel better? Too many of us don't vote either. And many will dip in and out of politics and pick up on some rhetoric and lies without getting a bigger, clearer picture and might vote in the party who will kick the poor the hardest.

Ed Milliband's 'squeezed middle' could do a lot of good by stepping up and protesting against the nasty policies paid and lobbied for by the rich instead of quietly muttering something about a politician's hair or hand gestures before switching channel and switching off their conscience.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

What Osborne should say today.

Today Osborne announces the condition of the UK economy. If he told the truth, it would go something like this:

"As you may know - because some people have found the official accurate statistics and put them on twitter - we have increased the debt by more in four and a half years than Labour did in thirteen. This means they did not bankrupt the economy as we claimed.

It also makes a lie of our attempts to convince you all that Labour haven't got a clue how to run the economy because even though we've made massive cuts that have crippled public services and made the poorest people even poorer, we still haven't sorted out the deficit.

One of the biggest problems is tax receipts. Because despite our talk of there being more people in work than ever, people aren't paying enough tax. There are a number of reasons for this and all of them are our fault:

1) People are taking home less pay. Most of these new jobs we talk about all the bloody time are part-time and the less people earn, they less they pay in income tax. 

2) We have cut income tax at both ends of the income spectrum. To keep our wealthy chums happy, we cut the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p and despite our claims to the contrary (which completely defied logic and basic maths), those people are paying less tax. We have also cut the bottom rate of tax - again to keep our wealthy chums happy. You see, if we raised the minimum wage to a rate that people might actually be able to afford to live off, the big profit-making companies would have to foot the bill and we didn't want that. So instead, we raised the lower threshold so the poorest workers don't pay any tax at all.

3) We haven't dealt with tax avoidance. If anything, we're made it worse by giving more public money to huge multi-nationals such as Virgin who we know hide their profits off shore and use complicated avoidance schemes.

A second issue which is directly related to low pay is benefits. We try to convince you that the majority of 'welfare' goes to unemployed people. In fact, after pensioners, the biggest chunk of benefits go to those in work. And the less people are paid, the more taxes have to go on in-work benefits to subsidise peoples' incomes. So when we protect the huge corporations by allowing wages to remain low, we need more tax revenue to supplement poverty wages. And the more poverty wages there are, the less taxes we receive. 

Another related issue is falling consumer spending. Those businesses who do pay their taxes - usually the smaller ones - make less money when people have less to spend. Even people who are on quite good incomes are no longer able to spend as much money on goods and services that helps our economy to grow. Wages for everyone except the few at the top has fallen in real terms, whilst the cost of pretty much everything has risen. And if people aren't spending as much money, the retailers and service providers are paying less taxes.

So you see, I'm coming clean with this autumn statement. I know there's any number of cushy 'jobs' waiting for me when I leave government and I think there's a good chance that will happen next May. 

But why admit all this now? Why not just hide behind the power of the right-wing media? Well I got off my tits last week - as many of you will have seen from the footage from Prime Minister's Questions - and I had an epiphany. I was visited by a wild-eyed old lady who told me that I should change my ways and stop lying to the British public. I asked her what if I didn't. She said that the giant technicolour wasp-rat would haunt my dreams every night. I've had those dreams every night since and I've had enough."

So we can all look forward to that.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Yet more economic lies and hidden details

The Tories are getting worse. Nothing truthful passes their lips or press releases. As Polly Toynbee put it in her Guardian article today: "If the chamber had a polygraph and a Geiger counter to measure radioactive levels of untruth, the place would bleep so loud nothing else would be heard." 

They've made huge crippling cuts to council budgets particularly in traditional Labour areas and are now claiming that a couple of million here or there is much-needed local investment. They announce cuts to NHS budgets and then claim that part of what's left is new funds for more front-line staff. They say that they're putting more money into road building plans that are actually previously promised funds - like not giving someone a present last Christmas and then saying they'll get it this year.

Then there's the missing details: how will the tax cuts for the lowest and highest earners be paid for? The government department cuts: all the major independent economic bodies have shown how the cuts already made have left those departments unable to manage but there's more to come. More cuts will be made to benefits, as if we don't already have enough evidence that poverty is rising and people are being left literally starving.

#CameronMustGo is still trending but the shit doesn't stick with this lot. Osborne was drunk, or massively hungover, or high on something at last weeks PMQs but beyond twitter and small articles in the press, nothing has been said about it. If I turned up to work once in that state, I would get a warning at least: this man only has to look professional once or twice a week and he can't even manage that. He's supposed to be running the economy!

It really concerns me that people who don't read between the lines or spend time seeking the truth behind Tory claims and promises will hear of supposed new funding for something they want in their constituency might believe it and vote for them next May.

Lies should be outlawed in the houses of parliament more than anywhere else. Yet at the moment, I think if no lies were permitted, there would be silence in the commons.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

East Coast rail privatisation: private pockets before public profit

It's unbelievable.

East Coast, despite being publicly-owned, actually cost the public considerably less than the private sector rail franchises do (we pay them massive subsidies and usually end up paying for line upgrading etc). Profits generated were invested back into the service and they ploughed more money into the treasury coffers in five years than Virgin have in fifteen.

Just think about these figures for a minute: the country were making money out of this public-owned railway line, in contrast to the privately-owned lines, which plough profits into their shareholders' pockets (who then stash their wealth in tax havens, of course). Add to this the fact that passenger satisfaction with East Coast are at a record high and you begin to wonder how on earth the Tories can justify this.

They can't. But they don't need to. They're the ruling class and they can do whatever the hell they like.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Empty vessels make the most noise

I remember a primary school teacher saying this quite a lot. They may not have twigged that if it's true for people too, as they were suggesting, the children this comment was aimed at might not have understood.

And so it is with UKIP supporters. Whatever level of debate, whatever the proportion of fact and mere rhetoric there is, the UKIPper will always shout the loudest, failing even to realise that the other person has already won the argument. And sadly, it seems to be quite effective. It's terrifying to watch this right-wing hate spread. The fruitcakes have mobilised and are swamping online articles in the Guardian and Independent in huge numbers against reason and decency.

Good people need to start shouting like UKIPpers. We're not being heard; the little England hate brigade are becoming deafening.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

IF austerity = growth AND recession = austerity working, then X = ?

Cameron and Osborne say that the UK economy's growth is proof their austerity measures are working. Nothing to do with sky-high property prices and overseas investors raking in millions from the costs of living and working in London and the tax breaks afforded to investors in the capital, or the pound's strength against weaker economies.

Cameron now says that there's a new recession looming and that this is proof that they need to continue with their austerity measures. Nothing to do with falling tax revenues. Nothing to do with the fact that, despite the supposed low rate of inflation and "record-high employment", disposable income, which usually keeps our economy going, is lower than pre-recession and apparently falling.

The last recession was Labour's fault of course: nothing to do with Thatcher-era financial deregulation allowing the greedy and reckless to gamble and lose; nothing to do with taxpayers bailing them out to the tune of around £1tn; nothing to do with falling tax revenues leaving the treasury coffers too short to pay for everything the country needs.

But none of the facts matter, when you have the majority of the press and broadcast media on your side, pushing the lies and spinning the inconvenient truths into insignificant left-wing clap-trap.

Friday, 14 November 2014

The "speak English" brigade should learn their history.

Sensible people can repeat the "we're all descendants of immigrants" as often as we like but the moronic little Englanders just stick their fingers in their ears.

But there's another popular illogical anti-immigration chant about at the moment: that people should always speak English when they're in the UK. This, too, is easy to argue with. I'd like to see a little Englander explain how our language came to be and when it stopped evolving. I'd ask "why do we say "children" and not "childs"? Or "where did the word 'jumper' originate"? I would delight in informing them that what we now call the English language has only existed for a fraction of the past they seem desperate to move back to and that it evolved from a number of other languages, all of which introduced by a different wave of immigrants.


Milliband's 'comeback' speech was an improvement but he's still losing the war

Ed's speech yesterday wasn't bad. He sounded and looked resilient: I guess he always knew what he was in for. He's an intelligent and savvy man and will have looked at the past. Blair was popular (in the early days) with people across the political spectrum. He looked and sounded the part. He was close enough to being Conservative to keep some on the right happy enough to cut him some slack but he was Labour leader and even if he didn't sound like the Labour leaders of the past, the public were desperate to get the Tories out. Kinnock had an altogether different experience and Milliband may have expected his treatment to be similar to that of 'the Welsh windbag'.

The speech yesterday achieved a few things. It gave him the chance to appear unrattled by the criticism; to talk about the economy, having forgotten to in his conference speech (although if I were him I'd have laughed this off and pointed out that Ed Balls is the shadow chancellor and spoke clearly about Labour's economic plans); to challenge the public's perception of what UKIP stands for; and to outline the differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

But any little boost this will have given him will quickly be wiped out. The dominant right-wing media will have his head back down the toilet bowl quicker than he can utter another cliché (zero-zero? I don't think that one's going to stick, Ed).

Unfortunately, it's more important these days to be able an expert in handling the media than it is to be eloquent and enlightened. What Labour needs is someone who will sound like they're promising everything people want to hear and be convincing enough to make them think there's substance behind it, and someone who will, once in power, actually do what the Labour party should be doing. I really like Alan Johnson but even if he was up for the job - which he's made clear he isn't - I don't think he could con the public the way Cameron or Blair (or even Farage, but that's more luck than expertise) have. Of course I don't want our politicians to con us: I hate it when they do; but that's what Labour needs to beat the nasty, all-powerful right wing media.

It's good to see Labour voters and members getting behind Ed on social media but I'm not convinced it'll make much difference against the might of the right-wing media machine. We'll see what May brings but it's not looking good.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Looks like the media have succeeded in destroying Milliband

It has now reached a stage where I feel that Milliband must step down to give Labour a chance of winning a majority - or even enough to consider joining forces with Lib Dems and/or Greens (not sure whether the latter would consider that or not) to defeat a potential Con-UKIP coalition.

The media have won. They've been out to get him from the very start: 'the wrong brother'; weird; can't eat a bacon sandwich; wallace; part of the previous failed labour administration...mentioning these things now, it doesn't sound like a lot to kick him with but they've kept it up since he became leader like trying to fell a tree with a penknife. I would almost admire their persistence if his attackers didn't have such large vested interests in bringing him and the party down.

Compare this with the Tories. They're the ones in power and they are the ones who should be having to answer to the press on a daily basis but somehow the pressure has mostly been on Milliband. The Tories have been proven on numerous occasions to be lying to the public, misleading us, trying to hide information, gagging people who speak out against them, they've been caught doing highly dodgy deals, covering up information that could lead to prosecutions, spending public money on their own campaigns, and yet NOTHING sticks. It's like we all know what to expect from them and we let them get away with it. Ok, so the media mainly leave them alone because it's in their interests to (most of the papers are owned and run by wealthy people who benefit from Tory policies and the BBC are running scared of being closed down - oh, yes, and there's the small matter of those potential left-wing BBC employees whose cards were marked in the 70s and 80s which now means none of the current senior BBC staff have even the slightest left-wing opinions) but we do have social media to fill in the blanks.

The Tories didn't win the last election. They've also lost out on parliamentary votes in the UK and in Europe on matters that they'd fought hard to win. UKIP and Labour have set the political agenda: immigration and the cost of living. But somehow the Tories are still standing, still in the fight and still with vague chance of a majority at the next election, or at least enough to take control of another coalition.

This happened with Neil Kinnock, too. The dominant right-wing media put all of their power and influence into destroying him. The left-wing media were also asking questions of him because they were concerned the attacks were working. It's happening again now, and that is why I think Milliband must step down. It's unfortunate for him but they have won. Milliband would win a lot of favour for the party if he said "I've been kicked and punched by the media since I became Labour leader. I wasn't hurt by any of this; I can take it. But it's hurting the party and that is why I've decided to step down. The party needs to be united under a new leader to make sure we win the next election and my successor will have my full support."

The Tories and the right-wing hacks would be winded by this and I think there are a number of candidates strong enough to take over and win the arguments for Labour.

Who knows, if they take the party in the right direction, I might even vote for them myself.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Inter-city train links will not fix our main transport problems

The infamous Beeching report, a piece of work so short-sighted and under-researched one might think it had been dreamed up by a City broker in 2006, led to the closure of more than 2,000 railway stations. The crucial flaw was to acknowledge the increase in road traffic and the low cost of road use without realising that the kind of increase seen would begin to cause problems within 20 years.

Defenders of Dr Beeching say that if his report hadn't suggested the closure of these lines, the larger routes would also have been at risk as the costs spiralled totally out of control. What they fail to see is that whilst the UK was ripping up railways and closing stations, other nations were beginning invest heavily in developing their networks. Those countries now have far better rail networks than we do.

As part of the 'backing the workers' rhetoric, talk about transport is a popular theme among the main political parties but they are focusing on the wrong things. My friends could all be described as middle-class and have the sorts of careers you might expect middle-class people to have: insurance, pensions, education, civil service, healthcare, retail management etc. None of them regularly travel between cities. Some occasionally travel for conferences etc but this is pretty straightforward to do when they need to. It is already possible to get direct trains between northern cities; all that the politicians' proposals would do is speed it up slightly.

The real problem in the country is getting to work from villages and towns, not getting from one branch office to another, or from your office to a conference centre 50-200 miles away. There are huge areas of the country where the only choice, other than a convoluted, lengthy and expense public transport route, is to drive.

When I left University and started commuting to my first job in Manchester from my parents' house in Lancashire, I experienced this first hand. I had to walk for 8 minutes, take a bus for 15 minutes, walk from the bus station to the train station - another 5 minutes, get the train to Manchester which took at least 30 minutes (depending on whether it was the slow local route or the quicker route with less stops) and then walk for another 10-15 minutes to work. Include the waiting times and that is at least 90 minutes - all for a 30-mile commute. Sometimes the trains in the evening were so full I couldn't get on and had to wait for the next one. I lasted two weeks before moving to a shared house in the Manchester City area. I was young enough to be ok with living like a student but that isn't suitable for everyone and for many, moving to the City area is far too expensive.

Trains still pass through the village my parents live in - sadly, they no longer stop there. It used to be possible to get direct trains to Blackpool, Preston, Wigan and Liverpool and the current trains passing through go all the way to London. But the station was closed in 1963 and local people and local businesses have suffered greatly. It's only 30 miles from Manchester but that journey by car, during rush hour, could easily take 90 minutes and quite possibly more. And that's before you factor in the fuel costs and parking costs in Manchester.

People from all over the country will have similar stories. Villages and towns all over the UK need alternatives to using our massively-congested roads and the environment would be greatly improved too by re-opening old railway lines and stations. Not only would people have better opportunities for work, quality of life would improve and house prices would balance out more evenly once forgotten areas are reconnected. But for some reason, politicians only seem interested in making direct journeys that are less vital and are already possible just a little bit quicker.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

If benefits claimants should get smartcards instead of cash, so should MPs

It's a terrifying idea that I almost envisaged months ago (almost because I was referring to 'workers credits' rather than 'benefits smartcards'), long before hearing IDS' proposals: pre-loaded smart cards for benefits claimants instead of cash. Apart from being a nasty and stupid idea (sometimes people need cash e.g. for bus fares, car parks and all sorts of other things), it is open to favouritism and corruption and independent retailers would probably miss out on the deal.

I wonder how MPs would feel if they didn't get expenses, just a pre-loaded smart card that was only valid for the following;

  • Groceries
  • Public transport (not including taxis)
  • This is the end of the list.

If they want to cosy up to some lobbying corporate suit over dinner and wine, let the profiteers pay for it. Otherwise, they can eat like the rest of us. And as for £100 taxi rides across London, they can squeeze themselves onto the tube or bus.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The neo-liberal trilogy of illogical economic ideals

"Capitalism doesn't work without capital." Brilliantly simple quote from Max Keiser a year or two ago. If everyone is in debt and nobody has anything to spend, then capitalism can't work. Ok, some people have money. But they either live in Russia or the oil-rich Arab states, or they hide it in offshore tax havens.

Here's an idea: share the wealth. It's a very old, very simple idea that those with wealth and those in power dismiss immediately, laughing, scoffing, puking up their expensive (possibly subsidised) breakfast onto the Times, Telegraph or FT (I'm not suggesting for a second that any of those papers might promote the merits of wealth distribution; this is a hypothetical scenario where someone within earshot of a wealthy/powerful person makes this suggestion).

Why should they consider it? Because they'll all be better off. It's obvious but worth repeating: if people can afford to spend money, they'll spend it and the rich will make bigger profits. And surely capitalism needs consumers with capital? As things stand, instead of making money from sales, they have to squeeze their outgoings by reducing the amount they spend on staff wages (by freezing or reducing salaries, making redundancies, reducing hours or moving to contracted or self-employed staff with no rights) and avoiding tax where they can (which at the moment, is in many places and many ways).

That brings me on to the second factor in this doomed (yet somehow still perpetual) neo-liberal capitalist model, and that is low tax revenues. The rich, those on the right and most of those in the centre ground of politics (Labour and Lib Dems are included in that) have been promoting, begging for (or rather, wining and dining and yachting in aid of) and implementing the low-tax policies of the anti-socialist movement for decades. The country does not generate enough tax revenue to supplement the incomes of those being paid peanuts by their employers. But because they're being paid so little, we have a large benefits bill which subsidises wages so people stand a chance of eating three meals a day and having a roof over their heads. And this is only going to get worse if the Tories stay in power (or if the Lib Dems get in - which they won't) because they will raise the income tax threshold to a level which means that almost anyone on the minimum wage will pay no income tax whatsoever. Why not increase the minimum wage to make sure they have the same amount left at the end of the month? The reasons why they won't raise the minimum wage to a living wage are lurking in think-tanks and restaurants around Westminster, lobbying from within on behalf of their private-sector employers.

The third and final factor is the idiotic and irresponsible ways that governments try to force perpetual growth. Economic growth has mostly been able to continue despite huge national and personal debts. This can't go on in economies where tax revenue and personal wealth are both low because debts will just grow and grow: despite their claims, the current UK government are increasing the national debt. They may be reducing the 'deficit' but only thanks to massive cuts to public spending (deficit is basically income minus expenditure). If their claims about rising employment were having an effect on the economy, you'd see a two-fold improvement because there would also be more tax revenue helping to "pay down the debt" (I hate that phrase). In fact, when you look at the figures, although the huge bail out of the banks during the last parliament should have been a one-off (albeit in stages over the course of a year or so), the state of the economy under the current government has meant that even the deficit has reduced gradually despite the huge cuts.

I disagree fundamentally with the pursuit of low taxes and a smaller state. We would all benefit - including the richest few - if we are all paid a decent wage and all paid into the taxes that we need to run the country. Low tax, low pay (for the vast majority) and the pursuit of growth together simply cannot create economic prosperity. And those who claim that it is are lying to you.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Tories' economic plans makes lies of their claims to "represent" those on low incomes

We know the Tories hate tax and want to see a minuscule state with as little tax as possible. So their plans to increase the 40% tax threshold to £50,000 (thus taking some people on good salaries out of the top rate) and take the lower tax level to £12,500 (thus taking anyone working 30 hours or less on minimum wage out of income tax altogether) is not surprising. I'm just sick of hearing lies.

The party's claims that they are helping people on low incomes are utterly false. They are reducing benefits to 'encourage' people into work and raising income tax for those earning minimum wage to make it slightly more worthwhile having a minimum wage job. But this totally goes against their claims that they're giving people the opportunity to earn a living rather than relying on handouts. A tax cut IS a handout. Surely if people on low incomes were earning a wage that they could afford to live on and contributing to the costs of the services they use by paying income tax, THAT would be more likely to make them feel as though they were valued and making a valuable contribution?!

The Tories' solution is a quadruple win for them:

1) They feel that doing this means they don't have to tackle the problems of the rising cost of living and poverty wages
2) Which is great for the big private businesses flogging their staff whilst creaming massive profits off the top
3) They are also lowering taxes which is a permanent Tory policy
4) The fall in tax revenue allows them to show figures suggesting that further spending cuts are necessary

In fact, it's a quintuple win:

5) Keeping people on low incomes tied to government policy rather than being able to afford to exist because they're earning a decent salary keeps the plebs in line and stops them feeling like they might be say, half as important as a tax-dodging hedge fund manager.

Of course this only works if you believe them. How to make people believe them? Get the majority of the media onside.


And where is the money for these tax cuts going to come from? They're going to tell us later.


Thursday, 18 September 2014

Maybe Scotland leaving the union will be the change that England needs too.

Past election results don't quite prove that no Scotland means Tories forever in England, but it will be very difficult to get rid of them with the Labour party in its current form.*

*I actually don't mind Ed Milliband. I think his real beliefs are probably quite similar to my own; unfortunately there are still too many powerful Blairites in the party and a dominant right-wing press ready to crush any socialist ideas he might want to put into practice. 

But maybe this is what England needs to shake things up.

For years, English politics have been stuck in post-Thatcher mode: pro-greed, anti-Union, low tax and overly suspicious. Thatcher really was a massive success. I'm sure that others in the Conservative party of the late 70s and 80s share a lot of credit too but between them, they gave the country 10 new commandments:
  1. Kick, punch, trample and bribe your way to the top! 
  2. Keep grabbing as much as you can before someone else does! 
  3. Cheating the system means you're brilliantly talented and deserve your ill-gotten gains! 
  4. Unions are only there to steal from the vulnerable rich people and need to be squashed! 
  5. Anyone who considers the fortunes of others before their own is a communist and will destroy us all!
  6. Poor people only have themselves to blame and don't deserve anyone's help!
  7. Tax is a con to help the poor; rich people shouldn't have to pay for things they don't use!
  8. Tax is optional; wealth in offshore accounts or in fiendishly clever avoidance schemes doesn't count!
  9. If you can pay your staff less, you're paying them too much!
  10. Publicly-owned organisations are only used by the poor; these need to be harvested for private profit!
In their pursuit of power, the Blairite, Tory-lite New Labour party seemed only too happy to accept this and yet were still seen as the party of the left. Political commentators conceded that they might be 'centre-left'. But in truth, they were bang in the centre at best. New Labour weren't all bad, but they left us without a proper alternative to the City-hugging, privatising, greed-cheering, corporate lobbyist-loving Tories. And that's what really needs to change.

Of course it's difficult. The public in England seem convinced enough by most of the Thatcherite ideals even whilst cheering the news of her demise that the opposition are too scared of upsetting the status quo by being more radical. And frustratingly, the Labour party don't realise that playing around with minor changes to the Tory manifesto (scrapping the bedroom tax, reversing the privatisation of the NHS that they themselves started) is not enough. They would be far more popular if they gave voters a proper alternative.

As I've said before, given the option of choosing a temporarily poorer but fairer and more equal place to live, I would take it. I don't agree that most of the questions surrounding an independent Scotland have been answered. And I really don't like a lot of the shouty YES attitudes: many people are far too aggressive and unwilling to even listen to counter arguments. But I can't get over the feeling that although I would prefer the UK to stay the same, I think they should go for it.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Get out while you can Scotland (but take your first opportunity to appoint an effective leader)

As I've said on this blog before, I hope the people of Scotland vote no. My wife’s family are all from Scotland and I've lived there too. I have a great affection for the country and did contemplate living there permanently. We still might reconsider that later in life. However, I've also said that if I, as someone living and brought up in the north of England, could vote to separate from Westminster, I would probably take it.

There’s this idea that London has all of the money. It’s mostly true. But why and how? There’s also the idea that we don’t make anything any more; we have no industry. This is also broadly true. But why? The answer to both of these is mostly by Government design.

Don’t let anyone convince you that our manufacturing ceased to become commercially viable. If that was the case, we wouldn't have Japanese manufacturers producing cars in this country. I would also point out that if Germany can be home to some of the most successful car manufacturing plants in the world in Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and others, then we can too. 

I wouldn't claim that it is a massive conspiracy to keep all of the money in the City of London but the fight for job security and better pay and conditions by unions in the 1970s didn't exactly endear them to the Tories. I would stand with them of course, but as soon as Thatcher came into power, she saw them as a nuisance to be put in their place. Why would any right-wing government help out a struggling industry whose employees might strike again the next time their pay was frozen or colleagues made redundant? Instead all of the country’s finances were focused on the ‘big bang’ in the city. De-regulation entrusted wheelers and dealers to gamble safely and if they wanted to line their own pockets at the same time, more power to them (literally). Government assistance via tax breaks and infrastructure investment fuelled the boom. Publicly-owned organisations one by one became commodities to be bought cheaply and sold handsomely. 

Engineering and manufacturing never received that kind of help and for the most part, was left to crumble. We still, despite everything, have quite a strong aerospace industry (according to Wikipedia, it is the second or third largest in the world, depending on the method of measurement). Just imagine what it could have been with a fraction the sort of special treatment the precious financiers are constantly given.

Those with money donate to the powerful and the powerful reciprocate with special allowances and policies that suit their trade in cash-grabbing. It’s a happy, pin-striped partnership all served by a gloved hand on a silver-platter with glasses of champagne and expensive canapĂ©s. The City is the favourite child, doted on and lavished with presents and praise while other sectors are the runts, fighting for scraps on the floor, getting kicked should they get in the way.  

No wonder the Scots want out. I do too.

I hope, though, that if Scotland votes for independence, the country takes its first opportunity to elect leaders who will get on with the job of running the country. Alex Salmond has done a fine job of getting Scottish people more for their money and then convincing them that, despite this, they need to be independent. He hopes to go down in history as the man who gave this to Scotland but he will not go down in history as a great Scottish Prime Minister. Once this is over, his job is done. He will want to stay in power but I don't get the impression that he can deliver on the promises he’s made. And I don’t know much about the party as a whole but I wouldn't put money on Nicola Sturgeon being able to make their rhetoric a reality either. Someone will need to deal with the realities of the Scottish economy and although I feel it is within their grasp to at least continue to enjoy the standard of living they currently have, it will require realism and professionalism as well as vision.

I'm a socialist. Amongst other things, that means that I think of the greater good rather than what would be best for me. And for that reason, I think if they do really want it, Scotland should take this chance.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The pig-headedness of the climate change sceptic

Anyone with a financial interest in maintaining the status quo with regards to energy usage and pollution will go to great lengths to deny strong scientific evidence. On their side are all of the other people who don't have a financial interest in fossil fuels or energy but like to keep their heating and/or air conditioning on, like to drive their large cars everywhere, fly regularly, leave the lights on to save the effort of flicking a switch and believe that greener energy will cost them significantly more.

Let's just forget the environment and consider costs.

Admittedly, building newer, greener energy systems will initially cost money. But the continuing efforts to plunder the planet's natural resources does too. Take drilling for oil. As supplies that we're already guzzling reduce, not only does it become more expensive to buy, it also becomes more difficult and thus more expensive to find the next source. Deeper drilling means hotter temperatures and that requires more money spent on the research into and the production of materials that can withstand these temperatures and still do the job. Then there are areas where the materials used are subject to incredibly acidic, corrosive environments which requires different research and different materials. And this cycle will keep on going, costing ever more money in research and development until eventually, we've used every drop of oil or gas the planet can give us.

So instead of investing in harnessing renewable energy such as tidal power - to take one example - energy companies are spending money on chasing the next source of oil or gas. Tidal power is a very interesting source. For one thing, unlike wind and solar, we can predict exactly when and where power can be harnessed. For an island like the UK, it should also be possible to establish a constant system - where different tide times from around the UK are used to balance out the wave power being harnessed (where one tide goes out, another is coming in) and thus, ensure that there are no peaks and troughs. I say "should": research is already under way into the best ways of doing this. Once tidal power systems are in place, the only certain costs will be upkeep (although of course, improvements will be made from time to time).

Failing to adequately fund new energy is not only short-sighted, it makes no economic sense in the short-term. The sector is already employing more people in the UK than teaching and there is a huge capacity for growth. Employment means people earning and paying tax back into the economy. In the UK, where our earning power in energy is not the greatest (we have little oil and gas and much of the energy work undertaken in the UK is by non-UK companies who pay their taxes elsewhere - what little taxes they pay, that is), the benefits to our economy of growth in this area would be huge..

The constant denial from the right has echoes of the fight to recognise the dangers of smoking. Common sense won that battle in the end; we just need to keep going.

Friday, 11 July 2014

British Rail: the naysayer’s favourite story of state failure

I’ve been trying to find out what really went wrong with British Rail. I failed to find anything. I then turned to finding out information from the time to support the modern idea that it was badly run. I haven’t been able to find that out either. (If anyone can point me in the direction of any real information from the time that supports either of the above, do let me know – I’m always willing to see the other argument).

What I did learn is how the idea of privatising the railways came to be: and I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t some grand plan with widespread support, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Thatcher, the original queen of state-stripping (now of course totally out-classed by the current mob), didn’t see it as worth pursuing. There was no evidence that it would appeal to the private sector and there was little interest in the conservative front bench, or ministers and peers who had previously been involved with transport. Not only did the opposition and the Unions opposite it, so did the majority of the Tory party – with many voicing fears that it would destroy the railways. A leaked proposal to hike up prices by 16% in the South East, with further rises to follow (the intention being to make it appear more profitable to potential private buyers), caused outcry. The idea was killed off.

But then Thatcher was ousted and John Major, elected with only the proposition of electoral defeat ahead of him, needed policies. Rail privatisation was thrown into the mix and seemed to fit the bill. With a policy like that, the government could show they weren’t afraid of bold ideas and the right wing press, always happy to help by a spot of state-bashing, got stuck into British Rail.

The public can be easily convinced that something is wrong with a public service and scared that they were losing money to a failing state-owned system, privatisation didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

I still don’t think it would have been this policy that caused the shock victory but whatever it was, somehow, the Tories stayed in power. With a narrow mandate, they needed to make their promises stick and so the privatisation of British Rail was on. Inner discussions considered a few ways of going about it and the party and its private backers settled on the model of regional franchises and between 1994 and 1997, British Rail was pulled apart and sold off.

Fast-forward 20 years and we now have a good model to use in arguments against the privatisation of large public sector organisations.

The rail franchise which is the most cost-efficient to the taxpayer and the most highly-regarded by passengers is the only one which is not privately-owned: East Coast. East Coast put profits from fares back into the business and pays for improvements to the rolling stock and the service they provide. And there are no shareholders to satisfy. East Coast has paid almost £800 million to the treasury in less than five years. That is more than Virgin have paid in 15 years.

As a result of privatisation, our railways are now more expensive to passengers, more expensive to tax payers and less reliable. It should be impossible to believe that privatisation is now going ahead in the NHS. Yet we’re under Tory rule and pretty much anything which takes taxpayers money and puts it into the hands of the wealthy is to be expected.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Short-termism drags us back to the 1900s.

We need our own home. Sadly, we're unable to buy one simply because of our age: we're the mid-30s of the mid 2010s.

We just missed out on being in the slightly older bracket of late 30s-early 40s. If we were a few years older, we'd have been ok: we'd have bought a long-term home just before the crash. But we bought a flat; a reasonably-priced one at that.

The area has improved since we bought it. There's new employment locally, new public transport and so many nice shops and cafe bars that BBC Breakfast can be there about once a week, asking the contented, cultured, middle-class residents the lifestyle question of the day without anyone realising it's the same small area every time. So why can't we sell it?

Whilst we're trying to find a buyer for our flat, houses are getting further and further out of reach, even though we're looking at areas that are considerably more affordable than the affluent, sought-after area we live in now. The economic crash robbed us of the income that had enabled us to get on the property ladder and we've only just now caught up to where we were 7 or 8 years ago. But despite all of the local improvements (and some improvements to the flat itself), our flat has been on the market for four months and nobody is willing to pay the amount we need to raise enough deposit to buy a house. And the longer it takes, the more expensive houses get.

Short-termism is an every-parliament problem. Why would a government invest in the future so that the next reaps the rewards? And can you imagine a government minister, or the media for that matter, letting a member of the shadow cabinet claim credit for an improving economy, or improving Schools, or an easing of the housing crisis? The opposition don't have a voice. And even if they did, the majority of the electorate wouldn't be listening and when they're fine with how things are, they either don't vote, or vote for the status quo. So no party in power would ever make short-term losses, and in doing so risk being seen as a failure, and let their successors claim the credit.

But this government have got short-termism in their blood; it's like an addiction. Scrapping green levies that were intended to pay for greener and cleaner energy in the future to bring bills down now. Cutting income tax and cutting spending on infrastructure that will mean more critical need and higher costs at a later date. Cutting benefits and care for people who need it now and ignoring the longer term costs of doing so.

This government is only too happy to let house prices spiral up and up and up again, boosting the economy in the short term, gambling that in the next parliament, the fall-out won't be their problem. What is happening now is putting people with quite healthy incomes in situations similar to how quite low income families would have been 100 years ago. We're faced with cramming our future into a scruffy two-up two-down with only a yard for any children we might have to play in. And even a property like that would be pushing the limits of our finances.

We should be able to afford a family home. But many people like us are putting off having children because we just can't.

Monday, 9 June 2014

In the mind of one UKIP voter.

I had a bit of a shock after work recently. Conversation over a couple of congratulatory drinks turned to people's attitude towards homosexuality and a young colleague said that "people of my generation don't even think about it." My response was that that is great but added a note of caution, mentioning recent EU elections where right wing parties made large gains across most of the continent. Then I said the fateful words:

"A lot of people are voting for parties like UKIP."

What followed could have turned very nasty. Another colleague (fortunately someone I don't work with often), who henceforth shall be referred to as 'bile-man' erupted into a seething monster, burning red and spitting uncontrollable vitriol. It was incomprehensible, though his point was clear. He voted UKIP at the recent elections and hate cannot describe his feelings towards anyone who disagrees with what he thinks is right.

I didn't want an argument. If he had reacted more calmly I would have happily engaged in a heated debate about Europe, immigration, the economy, welfare etc but this turned nasty in a split second and it was obvious bile-man was not going to discuss the issue in anything like a measured way. I tried to calm things down by saying "I understand why you don't want to vote for the main parties - I voted green." This didn't help - "THE GREENS ARE THE WORST!" How anyone could think the Green party are less likeable than one of the main parties, I have no idea. Even if you hate the idea that we should all be treated equally and don't think that we should be compassionate or look after the planet, you can't deny that they're probably the nicest party. 

I suddenly felt the need to go to the gents. When I returned, a friend who had had a bit more to drink than me had somehow managed to wade into this situation and yet also calm it down a little. I was trying not to get involved. I feel equally as strongly as bile-man about this topic but the shock of his ridiculous reaction had left me on edge and I didn't want to erupt too. I finished my drink and made my excuses. 

It really affected me though and I went over the earlier discussions again and again on the way home and again in quieter moments over the weekend, wondering why it is someone I had otherwise quite liked could be so angry. I recalled an earlier conversation: a colleague had mentioned the 'no more page 3' campaign and bile-man had proudly stated that he reads the sun and likes it very much. He'd also mentioned that he was from the baby-boomer generation, although I can't remember why that came up exactly. 

I woke very early the next morning and immediately began thinking about this all. Why is he so aggressively anti-socialist (I like that term; I think I'll use it again)? I looked at the facts:

Baby boomer
Formerly in the private sector, now a low-paid public sector worker.
Sun reader
UKIP voter

I came to the following conclusion, which may be almost as reactionary as bile-man himself but I'll share it anyway:

As a young baby-boomer (approximately 60), he didn't witness the difficulties of war-time Britain or the immediate aftermath when people helped each other and helped the country to recover. He is young enough to have always had the NHS and the welfare state to support him and anyone he cares about although he has rarely needed it, if ever. Before he was born, all adults had the vote. By the time he started work, the Unions had sorted out fairer working hours and better working conditions. He will have been in his 'prime' during the difficult late Labour-Union years in the 1970s when the right wing press (owned and paid for by the rich, of course) made people believe all Unionists were scum, and/or Trotskyite revolutionaries and that the Tories, Capitalism and Thatcher, were the only positive choices for an empire punching below its weight. 

He's a public sector worker who doesn't earn very much and probably earned a better salary in the 1980s and early 90s when he worked in a private sector industry until that failed and spat him out when times got tough. He likes golf: a man's sport where men often talk about work and business and moan about 'er indoors'. He becomes older and less tolerant to change as he sees his prosperity worsen and thinks back to when life was better for him. He didn't see many people from different countries at work back then. The Sun tells him other working and non-working people are to blame for him being worse off. 

So he's learned from Thatcher's Tories that he has to fight for himself and during that time, he was doing ok. Now the only fight left in him is directed at those he feels are taking something that he feels belongs to him. 

He fails to consider that of our ancestors were immigrants and we have all benefited from the changing culture in this country. He doesn't realise that our country's wealth was built on taking land from other nations and plundering their resources; using the poor to make profits; bringing in cheap foreign labour when the home-grown workers started to become too expensive, or were fighting in wars; and our prosperity is still reliant on using cheap overseas labour to increase profits in the retail sector which our economy is now so reliant on. 

The UK has used other countries to make its wealth and we still need them. At the moment, the UK is producing less than 60% of the food we need. We are not self-sufficient. Bringing in cheap food from overseas means that some countries have to produce more than they consume and when there's a short-fall, it won't be the UK that goes hungry.

But bile-man won't care. He's one of the special original good people of Great Britain, and anybody else can **** off.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

My apology

In May 1997, I was 19. I'd grown up under Thatcher and saw what nasty divisive people in power could do to working families - and those who desperately wanted to be working. I was far too aware at far too young an age of what the Tories stood for - and against.

The Labour party under Neil Kinnock were still the party of the working majority. John Smith's leadership was all too brief though I think his ideas were very much still towards the left. People like us had someone to vote for during the champagne-swilling, porsche-driving, wad of cash-wielding, white collar and braces yuppie era.

But the Tories kept winning. They conned many of the older generation of working class - those who had fought in the war and rebuilt the country afterwards - that policies such as the 'right to buy' scheme were in their interests when really they were in the interests of the wealthy few and shrinking the state. In the 80s, the right wing had even more control over the media than they do now: we have the internet now; back then it was even easier to manipulate tabloid readers.

The BBC at the time used to keep a second personnel file for each employee which included security information collected by Special Branch and MI5. If a staff member was thought to harbour any kind of left-wing bias, their file was marked with a symbol which looked like a Christmas tree. This would, in most cases, leave them with no chance of a promotion or any key role in the corporation. The BBC also communicated with secret services to check the 'record' of any potential new employee. Of course, employees with links to the Tories would be treated entirely differently. With this level of bias at the BBC, plus the majority right-wing press, the Labour party didn't stand a chance.

And then came Blair. A Labour leader the right could get behind. Thatcher said in 2002 that her greatest achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour and that's one of few things she ever said that I agree with. The right-wing press went soft on Labour. In the run up to the 1997 election, the Sun switched allegiance and so did a lot of tabloid readers (compare that with now: Ed Milliband is constantly under vicious fire because the right-wing press wanted David Milliband - the most Blairite of the leadership candidates).

I voted for Labour in 1997 because all I knew was that I wanted the Tories out. John Major had been nothing like the destructive force that Thatcher had but they were still Tories: friends of the rich and powerful; architects of inequality. Despite the Iraq war, continuing to assist the rise of the few and the promotion of private sector involvement in public services, New Labour did do some things right and they were still the lesser of two evils - as we know all too well right now.

But the worst long-term legacy of that post-Thatcher, pre-Brown, Major-Blair era, for me, is the bullshit non-speak. We now have the benefit of the internet where we can find facts to prove or deny what we are told by politicians but when they don't speak their minds and if we can't tell what they really mean by what they say, how do people decide who to vote for? I spend a lot of time reading, listening, watching and learning what is going on and what parties are doing or might do and I know who I agree with. But for most people who have more pressing matters, such as trying to put food on the table, this is just not possible.

You know when you need to pay someone to fix something for you and they baffle you with things you don't understand until you pay them a lot of money? That's what most politicians do these days. If people can't decipher it, or they don't have enough background knowledge to know what parties are likely do if they get into power, they're unlikely to vote. This is how, plain-speaking, beer-guzzling, fag-smoking, hate-feeding UKIP make such surprising gains.

If Labour still represented the majority of working and non-working people in the UK, and they still told us what they thought rather than dithering in the centre ground, making sure they don't upset the racists, the people who hate benefits or the bankers, the differences would be clearer and I think voter turn out would be considerably higher. The Tories are just as bad, only instead of dithering, they just lie in their manifesto and then tear it up when they get into power and go about sneaking policies in - often whilst parliament is particularly quiet (did you know it's now easier for your employer to sack you? Do you know how busy parliament was when the gagging law was passed?).

So, I'm sorry. I apologise unreservedly for my part in bringing Blair and New Labour into power. I only hope as many protest votes go to the Greens as to the little Englanders in UKIP.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

England in 50 years' time.

The year is 2064. England is booming. Scores of people are arriving from all over the world to buy fancy goods, eat fabulous cuisine and enjoy the best in theatre, music and art. It is the only place in the world where you can arrive in luxury, check out the new retail city you recently bought shares in, buy the latest fashions and jet back home the same day.

Many choose to stay for a while in 5, 6 and 7-star hotel complexes and soak up the international culture available amongst the urban sprawl just a 5-minute limo drive from the nearest airport. While they're here, they can pick up art or sportscars and have them shipped home for when they return. The very wealthy invest in property, too. There may not be as much property available as there was in the early part of the century, but the quality and potential return is simply outstanding.

The healthcare here is also world-beating. Built on the foundations of a world-renowned health service, the best surgeons and consultants now operate in gleaming towers that are more like hotels than hospitals. Patients visit from overseas for surgery and get a facelift or tummy-tuck while they're under anaesthetic.

England in the 2060s is the place everyone in the world wants to be wealthy enough to visit.


In large cities and motorway junction retail towns, shiftworkers change over for the third time that day. It's like the changing of the guards: solemn; perpetual. Those who have another short shift the next day gather in food courts. They can exchange their workers' credits for coffee or something to eat from Starbucks, McDonalds, Subway, Dunkin' Donuts or Taco Bell. Later, they disperse into unknown spaces; possibly unused back offices or the basement vaults where generators and air conditioning systems are housed - basically anywhere security won't move them on. They only re-emerge for food or coffee before it's time for their next shift. Those who do not have a shift the next day have set off on their journey home, exchanging credits for a bus ticket. The cost of gas-powered transport has risen again, so credits don't go as far and some shiftworkers have taken to walking the last few miles of their journey. The exercise should be good for them but pollution takes its toll on their health.

In recent months drilling has been halted at another fracking site following more surface disturbance and damage to the site structure. Though tax revenue is at an all-time low (after decades of tax reductions and breaks for private sector corporations and the poorest workers), all over England, taxpayers' money is funding the repairs to tremor-damaged foreign-owned bore sites, and for the channelling of water from higher ground to replace contaminated supplies.

The living arrangements of some shiftworkers - possibly as many as 50% - is unknown. Many people have reported co-workers living in the large closed-off spaces underneath road junctions that were once retail developments, warehouses and offices. 'Home' for those who do have a registered address is often just a room in a private tenement in 'ranges' up to 50 miles away from work. Some of these ranges have old schools nearby, kept open by charities since the end of the state system. Shiftworkers who have any credits left at the end of the month pay to keep them open, so it's more like very cheap private education. Food banks, 1 credit stores ('Everything 1WCR!'), bookmakers, pawnbrokers, launderettes and coffee and takeaway food chains occupy the ground floors of the tenement buildings by the bus stops. They all accept workers' credits. Some pawnbrokers keep cash and a little is always in circulation amongst the shiftworkers: credits run out, particularly when they need medication.

Most ranges have a health centre where basic treatments are available in exchange for credits. There are some care centres run by charities for anyone whose credits don't stretch as far as the operation they need but the waiting lists are long and the quality of the treatment varies greatly. Some charity care centres are in old state hospitals which are in desperate need of repair.

England in the 2060s is the place everyone in the world wants to be wealthy enough to visit.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Are we sinking or are we being dragged under? Isn't it obvious?

The Tories seem very proud of their work so far. A little growth and they want us to believe they're geniuses. They're not. They also claim to love our NHS and have pledged to protect it. They don't - and they're not.

They claim that more people than ever are in work and they snort all over suggestions that more people than ever are in part-time work and zero-hours contracts - not even considering that important enough to respond to. They also claim that we can't afford the cost of benefits, the NHS, basically anything that poor people couldn't do without is too expensive. 

So if there are more people than ever in employment, where is all that lovely income tax and National Insurance going? Well for one thing, the government cut the top rate of tax, and reduced the amount of people paying the lower rate of tax. The latter may be a popular policy because it gives the lowest earners a bit of extra money - but if they were paid a living wage, they could afford a little tax. Now the government are talking about cutting National Insurance. 

The public seem to be, for the most part, unaware of the Tories' plans to give anything and everything profitable in the public sector to their rich friends and donors but it seems obvious, doesn't it? And what about the sections that wouldn't turn a profit? Charity will probably take over what's left of the public sector, and the greediest and most selfish in the country can choose to keep all their cash to themselves. 

It's baffling to me that anyone would vote conservative. The other main contenders aren't exactly great options but surely the people of Britain (or England, Wales and Northern Ireland - depending) would sooner choose a papercut or sand in the eye than being robbed and kicked to the ground?


I would not be saying anything new to suggest that top earnings keep rising whilst the middle and lower incomes keep falling but new reminders come along all the time. My generation - and presumably the next - are being made to pay for the supposed profligacy of the one before.

Of course, the profligate ones were at the top - yet the top earners still see their wealth and prosperity rise.

I applied for a job yesterday, which would financially be one step up from my current one. My current job, I should add, has been downgraded in the last few years: colleagues with the same job title and the same responsibilities who have been here longer are on a higher pay scale than I am but I'm in the education sector, which has had to cut pay. This new job, when you look at the long list of responsibilities, sounds like quite a senior role. The successful candidate will be have sole responsibility of managing an academic centre with a hard-won multi-million pound research council budget and their salary: £25,000 rising to £28,000. This at one of the most well-established and well-respected Russell Group Universities. Incidentally, the colleagues I mentioned who have the same job title and responsibilities as I do in my current role are on that same pay scale but I feel the two roles should be two pay grades apart.

Important jobs are being massively undervalued and of course I wouldn't put my line of work in the same category as nursing, for example. Nurses are so important to us all and yet they are paid a pittance, as are other care professionals.

The downgrading of many jobs whilst the top get richer and richer and property and transport gets more and more unaffordable is a ticking time bomb. How can we expect people to be motivated to work hard when they can't afford a decent living? How can we expect nurses and other care professionals to do all the things we need them to do with care and consideration when they are so undervalued? How are people expected to be able to afford to live somewhere close enough to work or afford the transport costs of living further away? 

This government have set about trampling down anyone in the public sector and have then changed policies which demand more from them. Cuts have led to redundancies and extra pressure on those left behind. Changes to targets and box-ticking have meant further pressures still. 

Anyone would think this is an attack on the state from all sides; running people and services into the ground so they can say "Look: it's failed - but don't worry, we know some excellent private companies that will take over." And how much more attractive these contracts will be to their friends' and donors' private companies when staff are so cheap.

I've said this so many times before but on what basis do people think that outsourcing or selling off our services is done in the public interest or in the interests of improving services? PRIVATISATION MAKES THINGS WORSE.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Capitalism's success is a stick to beat the poor with

One of the under-lying topics of the benefits and living standards debates is about material possessions. 

Those who want to reduce the benefits bill by simply reducing benefits (as opposed to, say, getting people off poverty wages and more people into full-time work) will say that the poor can afford big tvs, smart phones, tablets etc, so they're obviously not really poor. Let's put aside the point that these possessions may have been bought when they were more affluent, and the fact that people need mobile phones if they're looking for work, and the fact that we all end up tied in to long contracts for phones, broadband etc. I'm going to concentrate on the reasons people might have such things.

Capitalism brought us materialism. Over the last 50 years, we have gradually been more and more bombarded by advertising, marketing, product placements etc and it’s still getting worse. Every celebrity endorsement, magazine cover, reality tv programme, bus, billboard, newspaper advert promotes a lifestyle we ought to seek out. We are constantly under pressure to have the latest styles, products and more and more stuff.

The hardest hit are often the poorest. People who have a good career can find status in that (and often that comes with a salary that means they can afford stuff if they want it) but those who don't might not want everyone to know their financial status. Anyone who has never been unable to afford the stuff we're told we need needs to try to understand how demoralising it is to silently display to the world that you’re too poor to buy new clothes or the latest technology.

What makes this even harder, is our children. Has Ian Duncan Smith ever tried to tell a 6-year old why the expensive trainers all his friends have are not necessary? Or why she can’t have the toy that her friends are getting for Christmas? It’s desperately sad that such young children care about such things but they do. A few months ago we had some friends over for dinner and they brought their children aged 6 and 5 with them. They hadn’t been to our flat since they were babies and they quickly set about comparing it to their house and their friends’ houses. Unfavourably (our modern-ish two bed flat could compete with their parents’ four-bed semi with a large back garden). They weren’t doing it to make us feel bad – they’re too young to realise that it’s not a nice thing to do – it’s clearly normal.

I remember vividly what it’s like to be a child at school with Mercury or Nicks trainers rather than Adidas or Nike. Or to get a new games console that’s 4 years old and inferior to the latest model that my friends had. At school, I resorted to defending myself by telling my peers that my family were poor but instead of making them feel sympathy or even pity, I suffered further and more brutal ridicule and bullying. I realise now that I wasn’t the poorest but other parents had clearly decided that by whatever means, they would buy their children the trainers and toys that their friends had. I thank my parents for what they did: it taught me not to be materialistic – in fact, I actively avoid having branded clothing and don’t see the worth in buying the latest gadgets and have been this way since my adolescence. But I completely understand parents who choose the other option and use credit cards or monthly payments (home shopping catalogues were the thing in the 80s and 90s when I was at School) and probably end up in financial difficulty as a result.

Now this government is using the participation in materialism by impoverished people as a tool to hit them with in debates about benefits or the level of poverty in the UK. The fact that this materialism is feeding the capitalism that lines the Tories’ pockets and drives their policies seems entirely lost on them.

Monday, 31 March 2014

A three-pronged attack on our country from within.

Conservatives are fundamentally and permanently driven towards lower taxes. To them, it makes sense that they should pay a lump sum for something if they need it and not a small amount from their pay packets in case they do. Which is fine for them: they can afford it. If their poorly-paid staff end up unable to clean their brandy and truffle-infused shirts because of cuts to their poverty wage subsidies, or inability to get healthcare, then fine - they'll get someone else to do it. After all, there are literally millions of people across Europe who are fit and desperate to do their dirty work.

When in power, the Tories are able to wage a war on public services from both sides. On the one, more obvious side, they claim there's not enough money in the treasury to pay for "failing" and "inefficient" services. So they cut them. On the other side, they exert even more pressure on the treasury coffers by reducing income tax for the top earners and taking the lowest paid out of it altogether. The result being, of course, that there really isn't enough money coming into the treasury to pay for the extra low-pay subsidies (in-work benefits) that they themselves are creating. So one project makes the other necessary and also true at the same time. You almost have to marvel at the audacity and disregard shown by this latest bunch of nasty Tories.

There's a third prong, too. The wealthy business-owners, shareholders and other sundry wealth-stealing Tory supporters and donors are dragging wages ever lower with more minimum wage part-time jobs, zero-hours contracts and forcing employees to become self-employed and in doing so, stealing rights from them such as sick pay and holiday pay. The more this goes on, the less taxes are being generated. And of course, this is without mentioning tax avoidance, which has not been dealt with at all.

The Conservatives and their cash-guzzling throng are shafting this country from all sides. And at the moment, it does not look like we have an opposition who will do much to change it.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Tory plan is right on course.

When Ed Milliband introduced the 'cost of living crisis' debate to parliament, it seemed like a good thing - and it kind of was. It was a handy catch-all phrase that helped to bring a discussion about the financial troubles of working people alongside the constant strivers vs scroungers rhetoric. However, what it also did was to bury discussions about who and/or what caused the recession even further down the agenda and the problem is, it isn't being dealt with at all.

The deafening right-wing crowing about the deficit fails, as of course it would, to mention that the last conservative government had a higher deficit than the pre-bail-out labour government. And the argument from the right about the collapse of the economy is that the last government spent too much on wasteful things like giving the poor enough money to feed themselves. The idea being that if the last government had been more frugal while the economy was good, the country would have been able to cope with the recession.

What is wrong with this argument? I'm fine, in principle, with the idea that a government might run a big surplus in case they need it - provided of course that the economy is strong enough to do that (which it isn't at the moment). What's wrong with the argument is that it suggests we should always expect recessions of this type to happen, rather than discuss what went wrong and how to fix it. What the tories want is to cut spending right down so that the city can carry on being greedy and reckless, safe in the knowledge that when it all falls down, the taxpayer will bail them out again. The handy by-product of this is a far smaller state, which is very much on their most-wanted list anyway - the recession is just a very handy excuse to do it.

Labour do not want to be seen as the anti-city party. Ed Milliband and Ed Balls have talked about bonuses but felt that they couldn't turn the discussion from 'strivers vs scroungers' into 'how to get our money back and stop the banks from failing again' because the city is too powerful and influential to mess with and would not want to have to change their ways. Labour's talk of a tax on bankers bonuses is probably safe enough; they know that the banks will either find clever ways of avoiding paying the tax or just increase salaries and reduce bonuses accordingly.

The labour party could keep quiet about fixing the banks until they get into power. Then, bring in tighter regulations, bonus caps (on top of the bonus tax they've already mentioned) and perhaps even dissolve the corporation of the city of London. Surely the public would be pleased with the new government acting to fix the cause of the recession and and helping to fix the leaks in our economy. And provided there are no more Iraqs or other major mistakes, vote to keep them in for a second term, thus allowing enough time to see some of the benefits of gaining control of the capital.

I do this sometimes: I get these ideas and hopes that labour might do the right thing but then I come to my senses. They won't.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Yes, London is great. But this can't go on.

Last night I watched the BBC programme Mind the gap: London vs the rest. This was part one and I'm itching to see part two.

Part one came across mostly as an international sales video, putting a positive spin on the over-crowding and barely mentioning the poverty that exists in the capital, or the poor living conditions, cut-throat culture, short-termism and any number of other negatives.

Perhaps part two will be more sensible. Maybe it will pose the issue of how long this can last and ask the following questions:

1) Where will people live? Already people on good salaries can't afford to buy homes or even rent within a reasonable commute of their place of work.
2) What about health? The stress, the daily crush onto public transport, the air quality, the hours spent in offices, underground or in carriages is not good for mental or physical health. Trying to cram in exercise to busy schedules exacerbates and is exacerbated by points 1) and 2).
3) What about the environment? The air quality around London is already a major concern. Water is also a worry. Over-crowding of this level is not compatible with green values, particularly when profit is the sole reason for London's growth and success: companies and corporations seeking to maximise profit will not invest in green solutions.
4) How do we expect low-paid workers to exist there? The cleaners, nurses, care workers, shop assistants etc need to be able to live close enough to serve the city's ever-growing population. But if well paid people struggle to afford it and traditional lower-end estates are being torn down and replaced with high-end penthouses and super-modern living spaces for overseas investors, what chance have those on low incomes got?
5) What about children? People already work long hours to compete and impress - or just to survive. For many people, the commute to an area they can afford to live means they're spending hardly any time with their children. Perhaps the rest of the UK will be the breeders and send their children to board at corporate training centres just outside the M25 where they will compete for graduate jobs. Although surely the "excellence" and "talent" drain to London will end up meaning that those not already in London will not be of the appropriate quality to result in good enough off-spring to keep London great? (I'm being facetious of course but the question needs answering).

Now one glaring omission from all of this - is 'the rest'. Perhaps the second part will focus on all of the areas outside of London that are ignored.

London receives UK tax payers' money to fund the sort of infrastructure projects that the rest can only dream of. Meanwhile, other regions have high unemployment and even if they had many opportunities, people from nearby towns would struggle to get there because of the lack of investment in public transport. The government and Boris Johnson claim that the whole UK benefits from London's success. But how? In what way are people in other regions benefiting from being ignored? How much of that profit finds its way beyond the M25 or the ever-expanding commuter belt? We can be sure of one thing: the rest have not recouped the money ploughed into saving those oh-so-precious banks. Will we ever? I'd like that answered before I'd be willing to consider the benefit the rest of the UK gets from being London PLC.

The whole UK bailed out the banks because they had screwed up on a catastrophic scale. The same assistance was never even considered for the manufacturing industry, which apparently wasn't worth saving. I can understand the idea that cheaper labour overseas meant we could no longer compete but that doesn't explain the motor industry in Germany. How can BMW, Audi and Volkswagen do it in what is a more affluent nation than our own? The British motor industry went into a rapid decline and the government cut it loose. What if we'd done that to the banks? At least the decline of the motor industry - unlike the cock-up that lead to the financial crisis - wasn't likely to cause a massive recession that affected everyone living in the UK (and of course when it did collapse, those responsible would have felt it too - unlike in our financial sector).

I realise some of my arguments may be over-simplified. But this programme ignored or glossed-over the most pressing questions. When will the realisation hit that tipping point is either just around the corner or has already arrived? And when will people realise that London will suffer too when the rest of the country is left ill-equipped to ease the strain?