Score Draw

Firstly, congratulations to France for winning the World Cup 2018. In our parochial, patriotic fervour to heap praise upon England’s young team, British commentators seem to have overlooked the fact that France’s footballers were even younger.

french team winners
France Winners

Congratulations too to Croatia for being runners-up: a great achievement for a country of only four and a half million people.

And congratulations to Gareth Southgate and the England squad for making it through to the final four.  I must admit to getting rather swept up in all the World Cup excitement.

Sport and Politics

It’s been a very long time since the old adage “Don’t mix sport and politics” was discredited. Sport and politics are inextricably linked, to misquote Carl von Clausewitz. Particularly when it comes to FIFA, organisers of the football World Cup, throw in a shedload of corruption and backhanders and you can begin to understand their decision to award the World Cup to Russia and, above all, to Qatar in 2022. Putin and his mates come out of this with nearly all commentators singing the praises of the Russians for a well-organised set of games.

Briefly, the British (or at least the English) forgot that we had torn ourselves apart over leaving the EU and got behind our team. Let’s hope the French can do the same and disavow the fact that Marine Le Pen made it through to the last two in the Presidential Election.

paris celebrates
Paris celebrates

Fantasies

Straddling the world of football and politics, look at these three heads of state:

two presidents and a queen
Two Presidents and a Queen

The two on the left, Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, were democratically elected; the one on the right was foisted on us 66 years ago: we had no say in the matter. The pro-Leave fantasists speak of “global Britain”, open to trade with the world. Which of the above three would you want to be the public face of your country? For my money, certainly not the one on the right wearing a stupid blue hat. Little Betty has her standard bored face – she’s got the Trumps either side of her in this cropped picture – but she could be anywhere.

I think it’s needlessly cruel to drag a 92 year-old woman out from one of her cosy palaces to meet a thug and his moll, and the whole monarchy idea is positively feudal. But Trump got his tea and his photo-op.

Pomp and Principled

Trump got his pomp too. May’s government, whilst failing to actually govern the country, found time to lay it on thick, and at vast expense.

Blenheim, Sandhurst, Windsor, Chequers
Blenheim, Sandhurst, Windsor, Chequers

Trump was whisked in his own little bubble of self-delusion: Blenheim, Sandhurst, Windsor and Chequers.

And, at Chequers, Trump got his hands on Theresa May again, just to show who’s boss.

trump and may
This way, woman

The Daily Mail did its hate-filled best to spin the story:

Anti Trump protests in Trafalgar Square
Anti Trump protests in Trafalgar Square

In the real world, 250,000 in London alone, plus other centres turned out to make it clear Trump wasn’t welcome here. The Twittersphere was awash with comments from people about the Mail’s pathetic “rent-a-leftie” barb. Most were bemused or wondering, ironically, when Corbyn was going to send them their payment for turning up to protest. We’ve got another four months before hater-in-chief Dacre finally retires. Fuck off now, I say.

The protesters obviously occupy the moral high ground here. But, in the longer term, Trump, in his bubble, will still have his photo-ops to show. So probably a score draw in the end.

High and Dry

But there’s one picture from the football final which may come back to haunt Vladimir Putin: it’s this one:

putin aloof
Putin aloof

Look at the body language here. Macron and Grabar-Kitarovic are standing in the pouring rain, getting wet and enjoying every moment. Hard man Putin has ensured he’s the only one under an umbrella: dry, if not exactly high: he’s quite short. In the long term, even hard men need friends, not just people who are nice to him out of fear. Right now, Putin has Trump as his only true friend. So, another score draw, at best.

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Burger Off

Burger, anyone?

Why would any sane person want a trade deal with Donald Trump’s USA?

Chlorinated Chicken

chicken factory farm
Chicken factory farm

Everyone seems to have heard about US chlorinated chicken. Basically, it’s OK in the States for chickens to spend their whole lives covered in their own and other chickens’ shit. After slaughter, they’re given a quick wash down in chlorinated water and put out for sale to the public. Food poisoning is three to five times higher in the USA than in Europe. That’s almost certainly an underestimate, given that, with no NHS equivalent, 20 million Americans have no health insurance cover. So incidents of food poisoning are almost certainly under-reported in the USA – by the poorest people. And the reason for the high levels of US food poisoning? Washing in chlorinated water doesn’t kill all the bugs.

EU food standards, which Theresa May and Michael Gove have stated they’ll keep, require chickens to live their lives in a clean, healthy – and shit-free – environment. US chicken, anyone?

Pig Farms and the Environment

aerial view of pig farm
Pig “Farm”

Let’s turn from chicken to pork. Pig farms in the USA are an environmental disaster. Here’s an (admittedly disputed) Wikipedia account. On long walks with our dog, we’ve seen some pretty disgustingly smelly, industrial-scale pig farms in this country. They were certainly not the romanticised picture of little piggies running free you see in children’s books. We need fewer, not more, of such monstrosities.

Despite the controversy, there seems little doubt about the effect on water quality through contamination of the water table. These effects cover an enormous area around the offending farms. US pork farm practices here? No thanks.

Beef Growth Agents

Beef production

The most worrying of all is not chickens, or pork. It’s beef. Do you want to live in a world before antibiotics? A world of incurable superbugs? Just welcome American beef and you’ll get it before long. Scaremongering? I don’t think so.

An American report (publication date unclear: probably less than 5 years old) entitled The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals Threatens Public Health spells it out. A deeply troubling statistic in the report states that 80% of antibiotics sold in the USA is used in meat and poultry production, mostly beef I understand. And it’s just used as a growth enhancer. In other words, to improve the farmers’ profits. US food standards say this is all just fine: nasty government mustn’t interfere in businesses’ interests.

Superbugs are found in 80% of US supermarket meat. Superbugs: you know, the ones that are resistant to nearly all (or all) known antibiotics. The true-blue Daily Telegraph is worried. Even Jeremy Hunt, when Health Secretary, was in on the act in February.

I read somewhere that scientists had analysed faecal traces in US ground beef, i.e. what the Americans call the minced beef used in burgers. They could identify faeces from over 3000 different cows. This is as a result of the industrial scale of US beef production. This US Consumer Reports report gives an idea of the problem. I feel rather queasy about that level of mixing. We generally shop at our local butcher on a farm where all meat is traceable to individual animals. It just feels safer that way – and yes, we can afford to pay a bit more.

But the antibiotics issue is the real show-stopper.

EU standards

Both May and Gove, as I said earlier, have said they will stick to EU food standards. Although whether anything the duplicitous Gove says can be trusted is a moot point. But it should be blisteringly obvious that it’s either EU or USA standards. The two approaches are fundamentally incompatible.

Trump Always “Wins”

Trump, with his “America First” policy, is temperamentally hard-wired to be on the winning side every time. He doesn’t do “losers” and holds all those he sees as such in contempt. There is zero chance that Little Britain could “negotiate” a trade deal with the USA which is fair to both sides. And we all know who would lose.

Shit on Your Plate

shit on plate
What’s this?

Leavers wanted to “take back control”. Well, they’d better have plenty of toilet rolls handy. Just in case.

And surviving a simple, routine operation just might get a whole lot more (C) Difficile, as the French might say.

US trade deal, anyone?

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A Song for Europe

With an uneasy truce in the Cabinet and David Cameron reappearing in the shadows last week, perhaps it’s time for a little reflection on the UK’s 45-year semi-detached relationship with the EU.

45 Years

EU building brussels
EU Building, Brussels

Edward Heath was arguably our only instinctively pro-EU Prime Minister. Thatcher was a key player in pushing for the single market, motivated by her extremist free market fundamentalist ideas. She pushed the whole EU in this direction: a legacy which still prevents many in the Labour Party – not least Jeremy Corbyn – from giving the EU their full-throated support. Major had his “bastards”: some, like Bill Cash, are still there. Blair, Brown and Cameron were more calculating and found a bit of EU-bashing came in handy at times for domestic consumption.

Referendum Campaigns

The referendum campaigns were a disgrace, as was the BBC’s attempt at balance. Leavers simply told a pack of lies: an argument I won’t repeat here. But the Remain campaign, although not lies,  was pretty awful too. Labour was nowhere to be seen, leaving the debate to the two warring factions of the Tory Party. (The Lib Dems and SNP barely got a word in, at least outside Scotland for the latter.)

Cameron’s argument was aimed squarely at the “haves”; nobody spoke for the “have nots.” Project Fear was a fair accusation. With a scent of Russian influence and the breaking of electoral law by both Leave campaigns, the whole business was extremely tawdry, to say the least. How Cameron, who had been slagging the EU tactically for many years, thought, in four months, he could be convincingly a champion for the EU is beyond me.

A Song

So, a lament for could-have beens: some of the words may be familiar:

Maybe I didn’t treat EU
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn’t like you
Quite as often as I could have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

You were rarely on my mind
You were rarely on my mind

Maybe I didn’t notice
That we had our cake and ate it
With our opt-outs and our refunds
But the Dunces didn’t get it
If I made you feel like enemies
Maybe now I think I’m blind

You were rarely on my mind
You were rarely on my mind
 

And the papers, all they ever did for us was lies
Forgive me, there’s just one last chance
To keep you satisfied, satisfied
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time

You were rarely on my mind
You were rarely on my mind

(with acknowledgements to Willie Nelson)

 

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A Convenient Lie

Pardon me if I haven’t been paying attention.

Cabinet Collective Responsibility

David Cameron, that worthless piece of shit who, unbelievably, was once our Prime Minister, started it. He suspended collective cabinet responsibility for the duration of the formal EU Referendum Campaign. May asserted after the Chequers meeting that she was reimposing this again. Excuse me, but it’s two years since the referendum. Surely collective responsibility was reimposed then. Implying it was not so is a rewriting of history – or am I missing something? This seems nothing more than a convenient lie to cover up May’s extremely weak position within her own Cabinet.

Blink

chequers aerial view
Chequers

So what do we know so far?

The Leave extremists – the Dunces – blinked first. That’s basically because they have no plan.

Attention seems to be now focussed on how long Boris Johnson can remain as Foreign Secretary. Basically this means how long until his next undiplomatic outburst and whether May meant it when she said “no more dissenting leaks”. We’ll see soon enough.

How Rees-Mogg and the backbench Dunces will react is anyone’s guess. They’re all impervious to reasoned argument.

The EU’s Position

The day-long squabble was for the cabinet to agree on a compromise between two positions already rejected by the EU. Why they should agree to what was cobbled together at Chequers is anybody’s guess, but Michel Barnier at least used warmer language in his initial response.

Don’t Mention the War

May seems to have failed in her attempt to peel off Germany from the EU and EU27 by her trip to Berlin before the Chequers “summit”.

There will be more compromises to come once the EU has had a chance to see – and reject  sections of – the White Paper. Chequers was just a preliminary skirmish. The real war within the Tory Party hasn’t started yet.

Wasted Years

The real tragedy is the fact that two years have been squandered by internal Tory Party squabbling, while we – business especially – stood by open-mouthed and helpless. Strong? Stable? In the National Interest? Pull the other one.

Labour’s Position

Iain Dale, LBC journalist, on Newsnight, asserted that many Tory Party members will be tearing up their membership cards. Good! Anyway, they’ll be dead soon. More importantly, he asserted many people will simply stop voting. Apart from the big question mark over the health of our democracy – no small issue – that’s also good, as it will ensure the Tories are out of power for a long time. But it does open up the window for a new populist, neo-fascist party on the extreme right. Some of those “non-voters” will be attracted to its siren calls.

The Labour Party must get clear its message to secure “traditional” Labour supporters by redoubling its message. It’s convenient that it also happens to be true. The EU has never been the problem for rising inequality, crumbling services, the housing crisis and job insecurity. Blame all that on Free Market Fundamentalism. Started by Thatcher, pushed by Osborne, continued by Hamilton, austerity is a political choice, not a necessity. I think the message is slowly getting through. It’s imperative Labour seizes the moment and also uses the Remain majority in Parliament cleverly and tactically.

Is Corbyn the right man to do that? We’ll see.

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Spivs or Citizens?

The black market flourished during World War Two. Some of that approach spilled over into the 1950s and beyond. This was best betrayed by the figure of Flash Harry, played by George Cole in the old black and white Ealing comedies of the time. Some of this spirit was still apparent in the TV series Minder, co-starring Dennis Waterman, twenty years later.

George Cole as Flash Harry
Flash Harry

Spivs do deals. Citizens negotiate. So who are we, we Brits? Spivs or Citizens?

Spivs

OK, the Americans elected, by a flawed electoral system*, a spiv. (*Reminder: Clinton won the popular vote.) But one with an American flavour, more Tony Soprano than Arthur Daley. But then, of course, the defining moment for the USA was Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s instead of the war for us.

There’s more than a little of the spiv in David Davies, our, don’t laugh, Chief Negotiator. But Theresa May left the EU summit threatening the EU27 about security cooperation. It came from the “they need us more than we need them” way of thinking we hear from time to time. As Marina Hyde says in Saturday’s Guardian: “Of the many roles in which May has been cruelly miscast herself, that of crap blackmailer is the most excruciating”. Blackmail: classic spiv behaviour.

Britain has never taken the time over the past 45 years of membership to really understand how the EU works. Media coverage of the routine work (where decisions actually get made) is virtually non-existent. The lies about straight bananas and the rest, dreamed up years ago by a bored Boris Johnson in his role as Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, hold a resonance to this day. It’s clear May has never bothered to educate herself either. It’s that or she has been bullied into taking a spiv-like stance by the Exit extremists in her cabinet, or, more likely, by the right-wing press. She continues to mistake these extremist views for public opinion.

At a time of real existential crisis for this country, she has failed to act in the public interest. Yes – I’m sorry – I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve said that already in earlier posts.

Citizens

I thought, wrongly as it turns out, that we were more “European” than we actually are. Half of us are, but not quite enough to win a simple 50:50 vote. European values – but not the EU – gave us the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU provides the foundation for much of the anti-discrimination and workers’ rights protections that many take for granted and other continue to use in their fights in the courts against patently unfair treatment. There are many in the Tory Party, not just Leavers, who would much prefer to see the whole Rights legislative framework dismantled. They see Responsibilities, not Rights, and see privileges as handed down on high from those entitled to run the country to the undeserving rest of us. For which, of course, we are supposed to be grateful.

European values, upon which the very values of the EU are built, start from the other end of the argument. During the course of the last few days, key European Leaders, in particular Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Leo Varadkar have all spoken of European “values” when discussing issues debated at the summit. Varadkar, in particular, has been the most outspoken, at least as reported in print. He cites these values as fundamentally incompatible with any proposals likely to emerge from the Chequers away day next Friday. In other words, May will spend a whole day debating amongst the warring factions of her own Cabinet to come up with a White Paper that will be rejected out of hand by the EU27. Other key EU leaders have supported Varadkar. So the old British strategy of “divide and rule”, so successful in the days of the British Empire, won’t work this time.

That doesn’t stop May going on a futile round of meetings at various EU capitals this week. And, anyway, isn’t it the job of the Foreign Office to give May impartial advice in this area, Oh no, wait a minute, I see a problem here… who was it May appointed as Foreign Secretary?

Nevertheless, by temperament, I’m an optimist. I mean that in the general sense that, on average, tomorrow will be better than today. One way we achieve that is by listening to each other with mutual respect and learning from this. Right now, we seem beleaguered and voiceless.

Teflon Spivs

Delboy and baby
Delboy and baby

Arthur Daley and Flash Harry are easy to identify as spivs. A more lovable type would be Delboy Trotter, of Only Fools and Horses fame. John Sullivan’s excellent script allowed all the main characters – and some minor ones too – to be developed into fully-fleshed, rounded characters. I, like many others I suspect, shed a tear or two at the “this time next year, we’ll be millionaires” moment just after the birth of the baby. But I digress.

In Britain, we have a very subtle, and very British, way of disguising our worst spivs as respectable members of society. I use the term “Teflon Spivs” here to describe them. Sometimes, all it takes is a little Latin: I speak of our Foreign Secretary again. A posh voice works: when coupled with a total disconnect from modern, everyday life, it’s irresistible to some. Yes, of course I mean Jacob Rees-Mogg. We simply build on our good old English class system. It still does the trick for a significant minority. Together with our undemocratic “first-past-the-post” voting system, it’s usually enough to keep the Tories in power on a minority of the votes cast for non-progressive parties.

house of lords
House of Lords

Teflon spivs abound in all areas of the Establishment. The House of Lords and the honours system are both inherently designed to promote Teflon Spivs. The Big Four accountancy firms are made up of them. The revolving door between the arms dealers and the MoD (the most corrupt Department in Whitehall) accommodates them. And some – I stress some – company directors fit this description. Oligarchs – who seem usually to be foreign, mainly Russian for reasons of geopolitics – are a significant subset of these characters.

Class War

The Labour Party has made itself largely irrelevant to this debate. There aren’t really any spivs – of either Teflon or non-Teflon variety – in the Labour Party. It is engaged in its own internal debates between the “Blairites”, who essentially said the Teflon Spivs, like the poor, will always be with us and we must accommodate them somehow, and those, including Momentum, who want to confront this position. Single-issue groups, on gender equality – think Me Too and similar movements – or the self-help groups following the Grenfell Tower disaster – offer room for hope.

Me? I think we’re overdue a proper class war. With social media and smartphones, this one will look different from the old days. I’m of the wrong generation to say what it will look like. But something is needed.

Spivs or Citizens?

That last paragraph means that I think more like a European than a traditional English person. There are a lot of us, but, sadly, not enough to set the terms of the debate. With the Rees-Mogg wing of the Tories impervious to facts and rational ideas, injecting liberal rationality into the ring is futile. So I guess things will get a whole lot worse before public opinion changes enough.

Right now, we are two countries, split down the middle. Danny Dyer was right when he blamed this on David Cameron. It may be a turning point – it may not.

But in the end, it will all boil down to what sort of country we want to be: spivs or citizens?

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Respect

I’ve changed my mind about what my next blog post will be about. I hope you see why.

Respect for Bus Passengers

Those who have read my earlier blog post, Stop Breaking Down, will know that I believe Stagecoach treats its passengers with contempt. You will also not be surprised to learn that, once again, I was let down today by the non-arrival of the X5 bus. On this occasion, the Stagecoach App on my mobile, which purports to show real-time running information, lied. There is absolutely no point in having an app if the information it gives is wrong. Add that to the list of failures within Stagecoach’s control.

Respect for the Poor

Grenfell on iPlayer
Grenfell

But then I watched (on catch-up) the 90-minute film Grenfell broadcast on BBC1 on Monday night. It captures the lives of those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire starting on the night of the fire through to recent days. I found it harrowing to watch. I cried at least three times. Watch it! But it clearly makes my problems with the bus service pale into insignificant trivia.

The personal accounts were the most moving. But the most powerful message for me was the lack of respect shown by the Kensington and Chelsea Council (overwhelmingly Tory and rich) and central government, Theresa May in particular, was the underlying cause of the fire. If residents’ concerns had been listened to – and acted upon – the fire would never have occurred in the first place. 72 people’s lives were a price worth paying to keep council tax low for the rich folk in the borough.

Respect for Our Constitution

Returning to a well-worn theme of my blog posts, it’s apparent that there are a lot of people Theresa May doesn’t respect. The walkout by SNP MPs today shows May’s lack of respect for the devolved governments of the UK. The failure to plan for the UK’s exit from the EU by means of an all-party committee and her attempts to railroad legislation shows a disrespect for Parliament. It is the ultimate irony of those pressing for the most destructive form of exit that their “take back control” seems to exclude the very Parliament that our constitution says is sovereign.

It seems that May’s respect is only to try to avoid the inevitable split in the Tory Party. She respects the exit extremists and, of course, Paul Dacre. We have to wait until November before he fucks off – too late, the damage of the poison from the Daily Mail is done already.

Respect for Democracy

The farce of the Donald Trump / Kim Jong-Un “summit” yesterday further reinforces Trump’s lack of fitness to be President of the USA. His childish attitude to the G6+1 meeting in Canada has exposed the truth about whom Trump actually respects. It’s the “hard men”, the dictators and human rights abusers around the world. Trump has no time for the niceties of democracy. It’s as if the USA were being run by the mafia, but I may be doing the mafia a disservice. As a fan of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano (albeit fictional) came across as a much more rounded human being than the narcissistic blob we call Trump.

So Trump is a real threat to western democracy.

Respect for the Underclass

I’m sorry to have started with such a trivial example (Stagecoach and their crap, expensive bus “service”). But there is a common theme linking all four of the above. It’s lack of respect – lack of respect for all those who are not one of “us”. The USA has spent more than 40 years developing an underclass whose views are always ignored: the non-white (Black Lives Matter), the poor, those who want stricter gun control laws – I could go on. Tragically, here in the UK, we have been doing very “nicely” developing our own underclass and this can only continue unless we kick out this government.

For me, being a member of the EU implies some small bastion of resistance to the present order, some hope of retaining some civilised values. “Global Britain” is a smokescreen for making things worse – a whole lot worse – for all but the richest few.

We’re all human beings worthy of respect: Grenfell, Windrush generation, women, black, brown, Scottish, immigrants with skills we need: I could go on. But you get the idea. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Aretha said it 50 years ago, and she’s still right.

Gimme some Respect.

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Barking

Our dog very rarely barks. So when he does, it comes as a bit of a shock. I found my wife in the garden this morning laughing at our barking dog. The reason that she was laughing was because he was barking at his own reflection in one of the house windows.

yellow labrador
Dog very like our own!

Barking. Own reflection. That reminds me of something.

Reflection

It reminds me of the current state of what laughably passes for our government. Theresa May’s indecision is like being in a hall of mirrors. She is torn in indecision between the sensible majority of her party and the barking mad: the Dunces as I have described them in an earlier blog. She takes more notice of the dunces and the barking DUP, who exemplify the worst of 17th century bigotry and hatred – not least over their attitudes to the rights of women. When it comes to representing public opinion in Northern Ireland, the DUP is certainly barking up the wrong tree.

Hall of mirrors
Hall of mirrors

Whichever way she turns, she sees just the Dunces, the DUP and Paul Dacre. What she will do after November when Geordie Greig takes over at the Daily Mail, we shall have to wait and see. Inside her hall of mirrors, she takes no notice of the 48% who, like me, voted Remain. Businesses, specifically the CBI, have reduced UK growth forecasts because of the uncertainty caused by the dithering and disagreements within the Cabinet. As Prime Minister, therefore, she pays no regard to the National Interest. That’s the behaviour of someone who is either scared or barking mad. Probably the former.

Up Shit Creek

May has wasted two whole years engaged in futile debates between the wings of her party. These arguments are usually between two options, both of which have already been rejected by the EU27. Every deadline has been missed. She has now announced that the government’s White Paper will be delayed until after the crucial European Council meeting on June 28-29. That’s barking.

So where does that leave the country? Up Barking Creek without a paddle.

up shit creek
Up Shit Creek

Barking. Woof!

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Making Things and Knowing Things

I’m old enough to remember when Britain made things. Thousands of people worked in factories. In my childhood, I lived within 10 miles of the massive Dagenham car factory and for much of my adult life within 25 miles of the Luton car factory. In their prime, they employed thousands of workers and dominated their local economy. Thatcher killed off much of Britain’s manufacturing industry with the ill-conceived free market fundamentalism, now finally recognised by many as the cause of rampant inequality and slow economic growth for the past 35 years.

1960s factory
1960s factory

There has been much hype about the new economy: the so-called “knowledge economy”. I contend that this shift has been reinforced by the marketization of thought. In its death throes, arch-defenders of FMF have simply lost the vocabulary to discuss moral, ethical and social issues other than in market terms. This is uncomfortably close to George Orwells’s Newspeak.

Making Things

In the days when we made things and no companies were larger than national economies, the traditional mode of thinking about markets worked quite well. Some craftsperson or manufacturing company would make something. A prospective buyer would want something. Via intermediaries (the supply chain), a retailer would offer the item at a (hopefully reasonable) price.

Let’s use a washing machine for our example. It would be fiendishly difficult for the average citizen to build one from scratch. It probably wouldn’t work: making all the parts requires tools of some kind. If it did work, it would probably leak all over the floor. So the obvious thing was to go to a shop, browse, seek advice and buy a machine that met the buyer’s requirements. Both parties gain from this. The buyer gets the washing machine (s)he wants and the seller gets paid and some profit for future investment.

This may sound very simplistic, but my point is that there was a mutual interest of some sort between buyer and seller. The opportunity to haggle over price, in UK culture, is limited to very few areas, but otherwise there is a measure of balance between the parties involved.

Knowing Things

In the modern Knowledge Economy, a tiny number of all-powerful (American mostly) companies hoover up information about all of us connected to their social media and online services. Technically, we gave our consent, but in all probability, not an informed consent. (Hence GDPR.) These companies then analyse and process mountains of data and sell it to companies to target advertising at us. All this you know already.

But my point is this: the business model used by the data-gatherers goes like this. “We know a lot of stuff about you. We’re going to make money out of that knowledge”. That reduces all of us who use their services to mere pawns in a bigger game where wealth in concentrated in very few hands. In extreme cases of negligence on Facebook’s part about Cambridge Analytica, the rule of democracy is subverted. There is a complete absence of balance between the de facto power of the Googles, Facebooks, etc. and the users of their services.

Capitalism Is What Capitalism Does

The directors of limited companies still act in a way which maximizes short-term profit and dividends for shareholders. Nearly everybody seems to disregard the requirements of section 172 of the Companies Act 2006, which states:

In carrying out their duty to act in the way he or she considers, in good faith, would promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole directors must have regard (among other matters) to the following factors:

  • the likely consequences of any decision in the long-term;
  • the interests of the company’s employees;
  • the need to foster the company’s business relationships with suppliers, customers and others;
  • the impact of the company’s operations on the community and the environment;
  • the desirability of the company maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct; and
  • the need to act fairly as between members of the company.

In practice, we get company directors who pay themselves vast sums of money for being, at best, barely competent and a focus on dividend returns and not on long-term investment in the future (and stability) of their companies. The result is the collapse of Carillion, with the public sector picking up the pieces. We also get the likes of Serco and Capita offering very poor services which have been ill-advisedly outsourced from the public sector. There is a clear disconnect between the short-termism and profit-maximisation mind set of those at the top and the poorly paid, if dedicated, staff at the sharp end. Public services like social care, probation, benefit assessment and the like should never have been privatised for this reason. Utilities like gas, electricity, railways and water are natural monopolies and should not have been privatised for that reason.

The government and local authorities now find themselves dependent on a private sector offering poor value for money and deteriorating services. The companies themselves are poorly scrutinised by civil servants overseeing their contracts. The whole thing is an appalling mess.

Win-Lose and Win-Win

The essence of Trumpism – if such an idea can be contemplated, given Trump’s excessive narcissism and inconsistency – is that of the deal. For every deal, there is a winner and a loser. Trump, naturally, wants the accolade and adrenalin rush of being the winner every time. It’s “I win, you lose”.

The new Knowledge Economy lends itself naturally to a win-lose mind set. Yet the win-win approach is still far more in tune with how we, as humans, think about our relationships and the kind of society in which we want to live. All of this takes us right back to the very early days of this blog. Three years ago, I wrote Being Human II: The Four Cs which attempted to summarise what it means to be human in four words, arranged in two contrasting pairs: Competition and Curiosity balanced by Compassion and Conscience. Subsequent posts demonstrate how the latter two have been neglected for 35 years by the false god of Free Market Fundamentalism. It’s time we all got back into a win-win frame of mind and started being wholly human again.

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Fed Up

Are you fed up with the way this country is being run? I know I am. Or rather, how it’s not being run. It’s certainly not being run by any government worthy of the name and, in my eyes, Theresa May has quickly overtaken David Cameron as the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime.

Here’s a random selection from recent new stories.

  • Theresa May refuses to do the right thing, morally and in accordance with international law, to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland following the overwhelming 2 to 1 vote in the Irish Republic. The UN has already declared this a violation of Human Rights, to be tested in the UK Supreme Court later this year. The wholly unrepresentative DUP, led by arch-bigot Arlene Foster is needed to prop up her minority government. There’s a clear majority in the Commons for reform, in line with recent Northern Irish public opinion polls. Let’s hope Parliament is sufficiently embarrassed and fed up to force a vote.
  • May refuses to sack Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary – too many gaffes to find a suitable web link for Johnson! We’re fed up with having such a clown as our chief diplomat and the UK’S official spokesman for Foreign Affairs.
  • Michel Barnier’s frustration is beginning to show. He’s clearly fed up with the UK government wasting two years and still not knowing what it wants out of the EU exit negotiations. His reference to Britain playing “hide and seek” is most telling.
  • Why is the arch-Dunce J Rees-Mogg given so much airtime? Here’s a post from January. Things haven’t improved since then. He was on Andrew Marr’s show on Sunday. Surely we’re all fed up to the back teeth of the sight of him.
  • I note that David Davis took time out from whatever he does instead of being our chief EU negotiator to visit the Hay Festival. He was in the front row to hear Margaret Atwood, author of the novel The Handmaid’s Tale, at the weekend. She famously writes dystopian novels, and was dubbed the “prophet of dystopia”. Perhaps he was fed up with trying to do the impossible and simply tried to imagine Britain after it had left the EU?

Laugh at the Idiot

This is really in the same mould, but worthy of special attention. I’ve always thought  that Gavin Williamson is a trumped-up little shit. Here’s more evidence of the “Spiderman”, chosen by May as our Defence Secretary, being a complete prat. Richard Madeley was clearly fed up with Williamson not answering his question and did a sort of Paxman on him today. Lie back and enjoy!

Here’s a link to the video

And this man is in charge of our military? Does that make you feel safe? No, me neither.

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Excluded by Policy

This post is dedicated to the memory of Tessa Jowell, who died on Friday. She has been lauded as the Minister who drove forward the UK’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics. But arguably, her greatest legacy was the introduction of the Sure Start programme. This was a valued and evidence-based programme to help disadvantaged children in their early years development. Sadly, this programme had been decimated by Osborne’s ill-conceived austerity policy.

Tessa Jowell
Tessa Jowell

I was speaking to a head teacher I know well recently. He told me that, sadly, he has had to make the first exclusions from his school this year, after previously succeeding for many years to avoid this. He made a direct link between curriculum changes and exclusions – a link I had not previously made myself.

I understand that exclusions are up considerably in other local schools, too.

School Budgets

As a Chair of Governors myself, I am only too aware of the effects of cuts to school budgets: difficult decisions have to be made. With the lion’s share of the budget going in salaries, this inevitably means fewer staff. With statutory requirements around class sizes, it is the support staff who tend to get reduced in number. This makes it more difficult to keep “hard to handle” pupils in mainstream school provision.

The vicious 40% cuts to Local Government budgets from central government have also severely reduced the capacity of second-line support to these vulnerable pupils. A double whammy.

Sure Start

The head reminded me – it’s a secondary school – that they are now seeing children who were unable to take up Sure Start schemes owing to the squeeze on LA budgets, when much of the Sure Start programme was cut back. Much of what Sure Start was about was to enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up in their development with their middle-class peers, so they didn’t have to play catch-up during their school years. Prevention is always better – and cheaper – than cure.

Youth Services

One obvious effect of swingeing LA budget cuts is the decimation of Youth Services. It does not take a genius to work out that, if there is less for kids to do out of school, the temptation to get into trouble is correspondingly greater. Obvious, really.

Curriculum Changes

The one bit I hadn’t twigged was the connection between Gove’s curriculum changes and the rise in exclusions. It all stems from the higher status afforded to academic subjects by the English. The pressure on all 16 year olds to take subjects from the EBacc list narrows the curriculum choices – in particular, away from vocational subjects. These academic subjects are often less suited to children with learning and behaviour issues and further reduces their self-esteem. This, in turn, encourages poor behaviour and the risk of exclusion.

So, in summary, higher exclusion rates follow directly from a toxic cocktail of Tory policy changes (i.e. curriculum changes and budget cuts).

Grammar Schools

Meanwhile, the Government announces it will waste £50m on “expanding” grammar schools – an evidence-free Theresa May vanity project which solves nothing, a subject I first raised back in 2015.

Ho hum.

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