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.