Tuesday, 13 December 2016

The people have spoken, we need to listen but most of all, understand.

Former leading politicians including Tony Blair and David Cameron have piped up recently about Brexit, Trump and what is going on in Western politics.

I've been left pondering this sizeable question: do these two have any clue of their place in our new, post-truth, post-expert, populist world? My best guess is that, somewhere at the back of their minds - for these are intelligent men, their superegos are saying "and you are partly to blame". But clearly these men have tuned little superego out: if they hadn't done that Britain would look very different right now.

In a way, I'm delighted for the "ordinary working people" who voted for Brexit and for Trump. For too long they have been either lied to or ignored. This time, they've been lied to and then they've been heard. And that's not my way of saying that those people have been mislead and have made the wrong decision (although there are certainly some for whom that is true): many have been lied to but would have voted the same way anyway as their way of telling the establishment that they won't be ignored any more.

So let's go back to Cameron and Blair. Cameron has been saying that victories for Brexit and Trump were part of a "movement of unhappiness" and he's absolutely right, but I wonder whether he realises how much of that (in the UK at least) is his fault?! Meanwhile Blair has been defending the free market against ideas - from the left - that successive governments on both sides of the Atlantic have looked after business rather than people. These two men are an example of precisely where politics has gone wrong. Blair and the people around him switched Labour's focus from the public and onto business. At first, it worked, but in the long-run it left people feeling that none of the main parties looked after their interests. Cameron used Blair as a template and seemed to be taking the Tories to the centre ground in a bid to defeat Labour. But after the economic crash happened, the Tories seized their opportunity to shrink the state and blame benefits claimants, immigrants and union action for the state of the economy. The cuts that have been made since have hit the poorest and most vulnerable hard whilst the richest have become richer.

Blair's government worked hard for business and didn't address the potential for disaster in the financial industry while allowing areas with less opportunities to stagnate. Cameron's cuts fell hardest on those areas and, yes, people are unhappy! With neither Labour nor Tories doing anything to improve things for them, and with local amenities and infrastructure suffering from cuts (when they needed more money not less) and feeling the strain, it was easy for UKIP and the right wing media to convince people in these areas that immigration was the problem. Thus, it was inevitable given these conditions, that people in these former "Labour heartlands" would vote overwhelmingly for Brexit.

I'm guessing that similar scenarios in the US have led to Trump's victory.

Going back to an earlier point: I'm pleased that people finally felt they had something they wanted to vote for, I'm just desperately sad that they wanted Brexit and Trump. We need to understand why they voted this way and work out how to address the real issues behind these results. Blair is dead wrong when he argues against the left's views on neoliberalism and supporting big business: if our financial industry and large corporations are as fantastic as he would have us believe, then the public money poured into those areas isn't needed and can instead be spent on infrastructure in less prosperous areas and trying to bring the poor out of poverty with education, training, opportunities and most of all, HOPE. Then people might be less unhappy. Then they will be less likely to cheer on and vote for opportunists like Trump and the Brexit right. Blair is also wrong to suggest (as he did in October this year) that there should be a second vote on Brexit. As much as I don't want the UK to leave the EU, one of the biggest reasons for this vote was disillusionment with the political system: so imagine what would happen if the political system turned around and ignored the result!

The thing that sickens me most is the amount of money Blair and Cameron (and those who worked with and around them) will be making out sharing their ideas which have proven so out-of-date as to have caused the very issues they're professing to know how to fix.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Singling out one journalist for criticism

In a sea of bad journalism, it seems odd to pick out one person who actually writes well-considered pieces for a good newspaper but Simon Jenkins really gets up my nose. He seems to have a line in contrary commenting: "A total ban on the ivory trade would be disastrous for elephants", "Amber Rudd was right to leave Orgreave in the past", "Stop obsessing about trains and planes and start using roads better."

He probably doesn't write the headlines and for example, the ivory trade article is about how a total ban would drive the value up and that Africans should be allowed to farm elephants. So whilst I don't always disagree with his take on a topic, it is his apparent desire to find the opposing view which makes him appear that rather than seeking to make a good point, he merely wants to stand out from the crowd. Which is annoying.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

"Labour must now unite"

Now Corbyn has won again, with an increased mandate, everyone waits with baited breath to see what the Labour 'moderates' will do next. It turns out most of the MPs who have spent the last 12 months rubbishing their democratically elected leader in the media, undermining him at every turn, conspiring against him and generally turning the party in on itself and letting the Tories off the hook have decided that the party must now unite.

What they clearly mean is "our coup failed; our attempts to get Corbyn off the ballot failed and our leadership challenge failed, so we insist the leadership change their policies to keep us happy." There have been no apologies, no concessions and no humility. 'Moderate' MPs carried on criticising Momentum as "a party within a party" whilst turning up and in some cases, speaking at Progress fringe events, seemingly unaware of the hypocrisy.

(Just as an aside, there are three differences between the two campaign groups: 1) Progress has been around a lot longer than Momentum; 2) Progress has a few very large donors whilst Momentum relies mainly on many small donations; 3) attendance at Momentum events was huge whilst Progress events mainly catered to a few 'Moderate' MPs and their hangers-on).

It seems that the 'moderates' will stick to their 1990s Thatcherite consensus politics. They are willing to try and convince people that more of the same identikit politicians is better than anyone offering a genuine alternative but unwilling to try and convince people that austerity is not necessary and that trickle-down economics doesn't work.

The world is moving on. People don't want Blairy-Camerony leaders anymore and if the UK public has any collective common sense, they'll elect someone from the left quickly before some Faragey-Trumpy character comes along and convinces everyone that hell in a handcart is going to happen without them, before delivering it personally.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Mind the gap (Labour's anti-Corbyn brigade STILL don't get it)

The Labour Party have a lot of building to do, and they're trying to do it on shifting political sands.

Parties in countries with strong economies can continue to cling onto the centre ground, for now at least. In many countries across Europe, under weak economic conditions, electorates are primed for change and unhappy voters look for anyone who they believe is offering it. Political parties often detect but rarely manage to capitalise quickly enough on the desire for fresh ideas and those on the right, whose simple ideas are seemingly accepted without serious consideration or detailed analysis, take advantage. In some countries, the rise of the far right has mobilised a similar movement on the left. Disillusionment with centrist governments and mainstream opposition parties grows due to austerity and falling living standards and with clearly different politics on offer, a chasm begins to appear in the centre ground where once most voters found a viable party to vote for. The Labour 'moderates' want to take that ground but fail to see that the electorate have had enough of one-size-fits-all politics (after losing general elections in 2010 and 2015 and losing the leadership election to a rank outsider you'd think they might have taken the hint).

I am not saying that Labour's 13 years in power were not successful: I have been a member in the past and have voted for them at every general election since I reached voting age. However, I do feel that they lost touch with their priorities: Labour, above all else, should support the interests of the majority of the British public; the Conservatives will always look after the richest first. Anyone wishing to dispute my thoughts on this should consider that whilst the economy on the whole was growing, those at the top took a hugely disproportionate share of the rewards. Under Labour, income inequality grew out of all prior proportion (in the modern era at least). House prices started to become unaffordable for ordinary people. Wages stagnated for everyone except those at the top (the minimum wage was a great thing but did not keep up with the rising cost of living). Long-term unemployment increased. Areas destroyed when industries collapsed under Thatcher are still in long-term decline. The financial industry benefited from the woes of every day people whose lives were not improved by the economic boom. Personal debt via loans and credit cards soared as people sought lifestyles sold to them as achievable. Labour lost touch with its roots. We are constantly hearing how 'traditional labour heartlands' have started voting UKIP and how they overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. Centrist New Labour left millions of people behind.

With the conservatives using our economic woes to sneak quietly yet relentlessly to the right ('Go Home' vans, the EU referendum - pledged to fend of Farage's right-wing UKIP surge, the 'Snoopers' Charter, cutting back of state services across the board, attacking Union rights, the list goes on), Labour's response was to cling desperately to the centre ground and though they failed to bring in David Milliband, the management of the party managed to keep Ed Milliband under control. His own more left-wing ideals were stifled and the 2015 manifesto was a mess of austerity-lite and confusing messages on immigration. Instead of arguing against Tory policies, they legitimised them with their own slightly-less harsh manifesto which was not clear on how they would improve the lives of the majority of British people.

The 2015 election result was a surprise at the time but after getting over the shock of seeing a right-wing Tory party win a majority, it became clear that the centre ground was not a safe position for any of the traditional three major parties.

UKIP's surge created a centre of gravity that has dragged the Tories further to the right - and many in the party are only too willing to shift in that direction. In doing so, the Tories retained support amongst those sold on the ever-more reactionary Daily Mail and Sun newspapers' tales of immigrants and poor people out to steal from them, change their way of life and maybe even blow them up.

Labour actually did surprisingly well in England, with many people (myself included) choosing to vote for them knowing that they still provided the only hope of keeping the Tories out. Not so in Scotland, where there was an alternative. The SNP had failed to convince the country to vote for independence but they had convinced the Scottish people that the Westminster parties did not act in their interests. Their manifesto came across as anti-austerity and progressive while Labour's offered little hope after five years of Tory cuts. Labour were destroyed, losing all but one of their 41 seats.

The Lib Dems, the traditional centre party, were annihilated right across the UK and only managed to retain 8 of their 57 seats.

We live in an age where trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Most people are no longer content to vote for a smartly-dressed career politician, trying to please everyone with well-rehearsed soundbites. The era of the neoliberal consensus, where Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agree to look after the few at the top while letting our climate suffer, our industries die, wages stagnate, homelessness rise, and our public services crumble and fail, is almost over.

Labour members realise this and voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn last year and look set to do the same again. Despite their attacks on him, the anti-Corbyn brigade in the PLP (and associated groups, such as Progress) realise it too. This is why, after failing to force him out, they have decided to promote a hitherto unknown opponent without any awkward political history, such as supporting the Iraq war, for example. And despite a CV that really doesn't sound like that of a socialist, his campaign is all about how he is "just as radical" as Jeremy Corbyn. Members will not be convinced that a Labour party led by him would really push for left-wing policies because they see the people behind his leadership campaign are those who wanted Corbyn out from the start and who don't want Labour to return to the left.

Talk of Trotskyite entryists and other hard-left infiltrators is a distraction. Perhaps there are small numbers of new members who Labour might not want amongst their ranks but there are probably also a few members whose opinions might fit more neatly in the Conservatives or even UKIP but who, perhaps for reasons of family background, chose to become Labour members. Instead of focusing on a tiny fraction of the membership, the 'moderates' should get their own house in order and mount their own credible campaign to excite and appeal to new members and voters. The hard fact is that Corbyn came from nowhere because he offered something fresh and genuine, whilst his leadership opponents - then and now - haven't convinced anyone that their soundbites will translate into actual credible policies which will benefit the ordinary working people of this country.

The idea that Labour need more effective leadership has some truth but those behind the party 'moderates' couldn't organise a fire in a match factory. They lost in 2010. They lost in 2015. Three leadership candidates were trounced by someone who most people had never heard of and who they claim is unelectable. They organised a coup and failed. They tried to keep the incumbent leader off the ballot paper and failed. They appealed and failed. They changed rules to prevent new members getting a vote in the leadership election and had that decision overturned. They have wasted members' money and turned the party into a laughing stock at a time when the opposition should be holding the Tories to account.

The 'moderates' will lose the leadership campaign again and if they break the party apart and head for the centre ground, they could find themselves lost in a political netherworld that they themselves helped to create.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Labour do not need to pull in voters from the right

What is it with this assumption that Labour needs to convert Tory and UKIP voters? It's an idea peddled by pundits on tv, newspaper columnists and seemingly a lot of the public too but it's totally wrong.

In the last general election and in the one before, there were more eligible voters who didn't vote for anybody than there were votes for the Conservatives.

Graphic courtesy of www.votenone.org.uk

The assumption of course, is that non-voters will always be non-voters. But a popular topic over the last few years has been voter apathy, disengagement and disenfranchisement and many people say they would vote if only someone represented them. So that suggests that at least some non-voters could be convinced to turn out and from looking at the figures above, Labour only needs 12% of non-voters to vote for them to wipe out the Tories' advantage entirely.

And while we're dealing with assumptions, I think we can say that some people who formerly voted Labour and now vote Green could be convinced to vote for a more socialist Labour party. And what about UKIP voters? Much talk of voter disenfranchisement has focused on UKIP's ability to capitalise on those who feel left behind by the main parties. Corbyn's Labour could win some of them back too, albeit probably only a small number.

And what about young people? Contrary to false initial stats, the EU referendum got a large section of young people out to vote and the decision to leave the EU will have motivated many to become more engaged with politics. And they are much more likely to vote Labour - especially under Corbyn - than the Tories.

So using assumption-based 'analysis', which is after all what political pundits and columnists do when talking about perceived electability, it's not hard to argue that a turn-around in favour of a Corbyn-led Labour, though difficult, is certainly achievable.

If only the PLP would get behind their leader.

Regardless of the internal Labour mess, the idea that Labour has to try to win over Tory voters is absurd. These voters seem to think that the following policies and failures are ok:

  • Cuts to disability benefits 
  • The bedroom tax 
  • Hounding sick people into work (there are countless cases of people dying just after being declared fit for work) 
  • Big cuts to council budgets (predominantly in poorer areas) 
  • Hidden cuts to the NHS
  • Public money being spent on driving vans around areas with high immigrant populations with the words "GO HOME" in big letters
  • The snoopers charter
  • Reducing the power of trade unions by insisting they need 50% of members to vote for strike action (this coming from a government with 24% of the vote)
  • A doubling of the national debt 
  • Loss of the UK's AAA rating
  • Huge rise in food banks
  • Huge rise in homelessness

It's safe to assume people who vote for these policies will not vote Labour unless Labour themselves introduce similar policies. Perhaps that's what the Labour plotters have in mind.

Since the Tories were last voted into power, the party has reneged on promises over tax credits, ignored all expert advice and forced an unfair contract on junior doctors, performed several policy u-turns, fallen out over the EU and had an almost complete change in personnel. Next time, Tory voters will be expected to vote for a government including the following:

  • A Foreign Secretary who lied to the entire British public in the run up to the EU referendum, stepped out of the race to be PM seemingly on realising he would have to clear up his own mess, and has insulted most of the planet in his newspaper columns over the years. Oh, and he was also previously sacked from the Tory shadow cabinet by Michael Howard for lying about an affair he'd had (one of many, we're led to believe)
  • A Health Secretary who has alienated almost the entire medical profession
  • A Secretary of State for International Trade who had to resign from his post as Defence Secretary after giving a lobbyist far too much access to the department and taking him on trips around the world. He was also one of the worst offenders in the expenses scandal, over-claiming huge sums for mortgage payments amongst other things that he wasn't entitled to claim back
  • A DEFRA Secretary who, as well as having no clue about her role, thinks that men should not be allowed to look after children because they might be paedophiles

The others aren't much better.

Labour need to reach out to those who are sick of the same sort of people in power who don't speak for them. Labour need to have policies that help working people and show that a Labour government would invest in the majority of this country, not just the richest and most influential. They do NOT need to court Tory voters who have allowed the government to help out their rich friends and donors while hitting the most vulnerable people hard.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

There will be no bank of Mum and Dad for the next generation

Housing: a perpetual boom.

A common theme in the news (although perhaps not quite as common as it ought to be) is the issue of the cost of housing and the fact that many young people rely heavily on financial assistance from parents (and sometimes grandparents). A recent study (see article in the Independent here) shows that even renters are borrowing from their parents to meet the soaring costs of housing in the UK.

We also know that people are now earning less than their parents' generation. So how are the next generation going to be able to afford to buy or even rent a home?

Clearly what is currently being protected at all costs is house prices. Baby boomers are, albeit unintentionally, keeping the value of their own homes high by helping their children to buy at those inflated prices.


Later parenthood and postponement of retirement.

Housing is not the only issue. It is well-known that many parents rely on grandparents for childcare, partly because of the rising cost of childcare, partly because of working commitments - which is often as a result of high house prices and mortgage commitments.

We also know that people are having children later in life, again often as a result of lower wages and higher cost of housing. So the next generation will find it harder to call on grandparents for childcare because grandparents will be significantly older. For example: my parents became grandparents for the first time in their late forties and for the final time in their sixties. If my son becomes a parent at the same age I did, I will be in my 70s and my health may hinder my ability to help with childcare. Add in the huge increase in obesity and conditions such as diabetes and future grandparents may be less fit than their own.

On top of this, given the much-discussed state pensions shortfall which almost certainly means retirement age being put further and further back, grandparents who are still fit and healthy enough may be unable to help with childcare because they will still be working.

--

We can't wait for the issues of falling wages and rising cost of housing and childcare to present themselves because then it will be too late to do anything about it.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Referendum rant

On Friday I was dumbstruck. I remain angry, sad, despondent, distressed, worried and fearful. Most of all, I am so angry that lies and dangerously nasty rhetoric have poisoned the British people so successfully that rather than being forced against their will, millions gleefully voted us into oblivion.

Within hours of the result being announced, Farage had dismissed the '£350m per week for the NHS' claim as a mistake. Since then, Daniel Hannan, Conservative MEP and part of the leave campaign has said that they cannot guarantee a reduction in immigration. Claims about being able to trade freely from outside the EU without this costing the UK more than our EU membership have been thoroughly debunked. Other smaller claims are being ticked off as nonsense by the day, and on top of that, Boris Johnson and his leave colleagues have no plan for what happens next. The markets are in freefall, the two leading parties are in turmoil and rather than taking it back, the British people have seemingly very little control over anything since Cameron gave notice of his resignation early on Friday morning. 

Interviews with people who voted leave have found many who thought it would result in less immigration from outside the EU in the belief that was what was on offer. Others believed the extra money for the NHS would appear and some voted leave in the belief that the majority would vote to remain. Whole regions which receive a huge amount of EU funding have said they were told that they would continue to receive the same amount of funding in the event of leaving the EU.

Many voters have said live on TV and radio that they regret their decision. Others have contacted the electoral commission to ask if they can change their vote. Many will be embarrassed that they were taken in by the lies and will not want to admit voting to leave. Some will continue pig-headed in their belief that this will result in Britain becoming "Great" again (have they confused Boris Johnson with Trump and the UK with the US?) but the numbers who appear to have changed their minds or voted for something that wasn't on offer seems staggering. Add to that the lies and promises which will be impossible to fulfil and I feel desperate that this momentous moment will have come about by false means. And I don't think there is any way back. How can this be democratic?

The media of course share a lot of the blame. It would be stating the bleeding obvious to point out the lies constantly printed in the Mail and the Sun but the BBC are to blame too. Their attacks on Jeremy Corbyn tell the public he is not a credible politician. Then the BBC ask a few people or pick out the most suitable poll stats and state that the public don't feel he is electable. They make the story true first and then they report the fact.

While Boris Johnson is busy going to watch the cricket and writing his newspaper article, everyone else at Tory HQ are seemingly sitting back, waiting for someone else to take control and sort out what the hell is going to become of our country. To the media, not least those irrepressibly unbiased souls at the BBC, this is not considered as important as the Blairites' attempted coup over at the Labour camp. A stream of shadow cabinet ministers have resigned following Corbyn's sacking of Hillary Benn. Benn was the first to stick his disruptive head above the parapet and Corbyn had no option but to calmly (we assume) knock it off. Since then an ever increasing number of so called 'moderates' have resigned, each asking/telling Corbyn to stand down. Corbyn has calmly (we assume) responded by saying that the majority of the party members want him to stay and that he is not inclined to go against the democratic method via which he was appointed. 

The timing of this couldn't be much worse. There may well be an election very soon and a Labour in total disarray would be less electable than if the party were lead by Joseph Stalin. The Blairites seem to think it is their right to control the party, despite being far closer to the conservatives than to the traditional position of the Labour movement. It was the Blairites who lost the core working class Labour vote and the Scottish vote by basing their policies on hard, blind neoliberalism, failing to fight back against the absurd idea that Labour caused an international financial crisis, and forgetting that outside the square mile, the majority of the country was (and very much still is) stuck in post-industrial decline.

Racism is creeping back into the mainstream. Generations are at loggerheads (by and large, the young opted in, the old voted out). Scotland seems certain to hold another referendum on independence and this time they'll win.

And England have again proven that they are shit at football.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

We're being robbed and respond with a despondent shrug

Owen Jones has written a great article here basically covering what I'm about to say: but I need a rant, so I will say it anyway.

It seems that the Tories and the shady, wealthy characters with whom they associate have begun to realise that they can pretty much get away with anything. They have most of the media onside (owned, of course, by shady characters who are well-engaged with similar practices that defraud the British public) and the public these days feel powerless to defend themselves against systemic corruption.

In some cases, this now means that instead of flat denials in the face of concrete fact, we are instead offered reasons why despicable behaviour is normal, acceptable and necessary. The top earners keep getting sickening payrises whilst leading their companies to massive losses that mean ordinary workers' pay stagnating - at best - and often redundancies. The wealthiest people keep using tax havens and using various UK-based schemes to hide their vast amounts of money from HMRC whilst the rest of us pay for the public services which keep their staff educated, fit and healthy, their produce/services/staff mobile and their homes and businesses safe.

We're told that competition means mind-boggling salaries are necessary. We're told that tax avoidance schemes are something everyone does and it's all fine.

And there's nothing we can do. Mass demonstrations are barely mentioned in the media, expect for detailed and exaggerated accounts of the minority who get a bit too angry and break something. The Tories seem untouchable and the Labour MPs who most resemble their supposed opponents across the chamber are doing all they can to prevent discredit their leader and in doing so, make it much harder to hold the government to account.

And so it is that 65 million people in Britain simply shrug and haul their dejected carcases through another day.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Tories will get away with this, but if they didn't?

I am certain that the Tories will spend the next couple of weeks lying in parliament and in the media, pretending that tax avoidance schemes which are now under more scrutiny are normal and that no one has done anything wrong. And the furore will die down, with the help of a complicit media (owned, in the main, by very wealthy people who also use offshore accounting to avoid tax) or once the government announce a "quick: look over there" policy that diverts attention away from it.

But what would happen if it continued? If the media picked up their game and did what they should do, which is holding the government to account, and if Corbyn and the SNP keep up the pressure in parliament on Cameron, Osborne and their chums, could Cameron resign? He might want to, but I seriously doubt it, and here's why.

Cameron is of course, the focus of this as the Prime Minister responsible for crippling austerity that is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. Lately, talk has been of only two potential Tory leaders: Osborne and Boris Johnson. Osborne certainly has his hands dirty in this too: his family business, of which he is one of the owners, uses similar tax-dodging schemes and have got away with avoiding huge amounts of tax too. Johnson has made his feelings about tax quite clear over the years (stating in 2015 that "people have a legitimate right to minimise their tax obligations if they can" and also saying that the Boots boss has "a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to minimise their obligations") and I would be astonished if he didn't also have some involvement in one or more tax avoidance schemes.

Teresa May has seemingly come out of this scandal ("what scandal?" -all Tories) squeaky clean - so far at least. I suspect recent narrowing down of the contest to a Johnson Vs Osborne battle is in no small part down to the nature of the right which is permanently clinging to the past. It struggled with gay marriage; it struggles with the idea of opening our borders to people fleeing war zones and it still struggles with women, despite (and in the case of some journalists and commentators possibly partly because of) Thatcher's success. The papers have never talked about May as seriously as the two male contenders. Her popularity may have faltered over the last year with even some conservative supporters feeling her policies on refugees and public data privacy go too far.

Any others? Bookies currently have Michael Gove ahead of Theresa May and of late, he has managed to keep himself out of the limelight in his roles as  Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. If he continues to keep a low profile, he may become a real contender although I feel where Osborne, May and even Boris Johnson have a considerable edge is with their image. Gove has the sort of smug, posh, grin that Armando Iannucci would have deemed too much of a caricature for a 'Thick of It' character. His attempts to impress with language and his fondness for very old-fashioned-sounding policies make him equally as absurd a character as Johnson but without the strangely-popular buffoonery of his scruffy colleague.

Three others are also currently rated by bookies. Sajid Javid has come out of the steel industry crisis ("what crisis?" -all Tories) with less credibility than he had before. And I think some of those closer to the far right might struggle with a candidate whose name doesn't sound "British". Stephen Crabb, hasn't been around front-line English politics (Tories don't really care about Wales) long enough and is currently only really known as the MP involved with a company who apparently think they can "cure" gay people. The image-conscious spin-machine will have trouble with that one, even if they feel the LGBT vote isn't theirs to lose. Finally, there is Priti Patel, who as well as having the same problem Sajid Javid has in appealing to the far right of the party as someone with a non-British family history, also has the ignominy of being one of the most expensive MPs in the country. The increase in her expenses claims has been huge and as one of the loudest small-state, pro-cuts Tories, she would find it hard to come across as anything other than a massive hypocrite. She also has the smaller issue of her family connections to UKIP.

So the Conservatives find themselves in a position where, certainly at the moment, they would much rather have a leader known to be a hypocrite and a liar when it comes to matters of tax avoidance, than possibly any of the contenders.

But as I said at the beginning of this post, with most of the media on-side and Corbyn likely to move on to other important issues, the party will probably ride this out. Sadly, the next general election is so far away the Tories have plenty of time to bombard the voting public with more lies and false promises and after last year and with almost 100% of the media kicking lumps out the Labour leadership all the time, I wouldn't be surprised if they won another majority in 2020. By which point, we'll have nothing left to fight for anyway.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Having morals makes shopping tricky.

Last week I attempted to buy some trousers for work. Being under 50, M&S hasn't got much for me, so I wandered the city shopping centre past Burton (tax avoider Philip Green's Arcadia group), Next (whose Chief Exec Simon Wolfson is a Tory peer who voted for - amongst other things - tax credit cuts which will affect his own poorly-paid retail staff), Topman (Arcadia again) and then New Look (owned by super-invisible Brait SE who own chunks of a number of large companies yet don't even have a Wikipedia page - you can guarantee they're up to no good). There's no point trying H&M because they only do trousers for tall skinny men (sadly I am below-average height and stocky build....or fat, if you prefer). The department stores just sell the brands I don't approve of and other brands for older or wealthier men. And I'm not going near Primark.

I tried again a few days later, this time I did try H&M (there were none in my size) and M&S (their 'slim fit' looked ridiculously baggy on me).

Both times, I came back empty-handed and I still need new trousers for work.

Another issue is supermarkets. I don't like Tesco because of the way they led the land-grabbing, business-closing takeover of UK supermarkets and fiddle their figures to fool who everyone into thinking they were still doing great despite suffering the obvious consequences of opening massive stores too close to existing stores. I don't like Asda because they're part of Walmart and don't seem to care about fair trade or animal welfare (there are NO fair trade coffees in our local Asda and barn eggs are given much more preferential position than free-range, plus there appear to be no higher welfare meat that I've found, let alone free-range options). We used to shop at Morrisons but now they've done a deal with Amazon (tax avoider who treats warehouse staff and presumably other workers like scum) and recently their advertising agency sent out a casting call for actors "...not at all like the characters from Benefits Street....And nobody from Liverpool, please.” Presumably such instructions must have come from the client or be representative of their preferences at least. That just leaves Sainsbury's and that means travelling further and polluting the environment along the way.

I could go on to mention specific food and drink brands I've boycotted for various dirty deeds but I simply don't have the energy.

Why do so many of our retailers have to be such shitbags? And why don't more people care enough to vote with their feet?

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

You're not paid enough (probably)

In this country (and many others), it is widely accepted that we should all work longer hours than we're paid to. I'm not sure where it came from, maybe it's always been around but I know that employers now more than ever take advantage of their workers' commitment or, in some cases, fear.

Most people in full-time employment are contracted to work between 35 and 40 hours but most people I know do more work than that in one way or another and I've done it myself in the past. For example: a friend of mine says he works 50 hours a week. Let's say he's paid for 40: that's 25% extra free he's giving his employers. If another three of his colleagues do the same, that's a whole free member of staff their employers aren't paying for. A whole person not being employed. Extrapolate that out across the working population and that's........a shitload of jobs that should be created but for people working longer hours than they should.

Why do we* do it? Are we so grateful to our employers for using us to make themselves more money? Do we feel a sense of duty to burn ourselves out for the good of the corporation? Or has the idea of the hard-working, striving, successful person become so ingrained in our society that we would feel like we don't deserve a job if we only worked the hours we were paid for?

And then there's 'acting up'. How many of us do work above our paygrade? And how many of us feel that 20 years ago and even 10 years ago (in my case, even 5 years ago), our jobs would have been valued at a higher salary? These days the salary gap between the bottom and the top and even the middle and the top is absurd. The people at the top reward themselves for making everyone below them work harder for less.

Another concern was highlighted by a conversation I had with a junior colleague just this week: she felt that more senior staff could be expected to work more hours. I disagreed: the higher salary is a reward for experience and an acknowledgement of the higher level of responsibility you have. It's not a bonus for doing more hours - yet I know that most people do make that assumption too and I have myself in the past.

We are all in a difficult position. For every worker there is someone unemployed or in a more junior position waiting for their chance. But the fact is that there would be less unemployment if workers refused to do more than they were paid to do. Unemployment and a lack of career progression for many seems to be a good way to make us all work harder: those who want to take the first or next step on their career ladder will work hard to prove themselves and those in their way will work hard to keep their jobs. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but some people would suggest that full employment would not be in the interest of those wealthy people and large corporations that our government serves.

I work very hard: I'm actually doing what is effectively two full-time jobs (if you don't believe me, I have concrete evidence of this fact!) but I, for one, refuse to do more hours than I am paid to. If something cannot be done, then it does not get done. And perhaps eventually my employers will realise this and employ an additional person.

*I don't do it any more. I used to and it didn't stop me being made redundant when my employers were bought out by a larger company who simply wanted their clients. I did it again when I had a whole new different career to get a foot-hold in and continued to do so until I felt I had proven myself. I was then in the situation where I was about to start a new role and had a baby on the way, so I started that new position as I intended to continue: doing my 35 hours and nothing more (unless absolutely necessary and then only the very minimum extra). I wanted to be there for my son and my wife. I don't want to miss important milestones. I don't want to miss his bathtimes and bedtimes or playing new games because I'm on a train back from London or I'm in another room buried in spreadsheets or something. I work to live, not the other way around.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A gentle reminder about our economic woes

We are currently experiencing the longest period of economic stagnation since long before a Tory ever displayed the human trait known to many as compassion.

Thank heaven the brilliant Gideon Osborne has seen us through these tough times. His ingenious austerity measures have made poor people poorer and disabled people destitute, hassled the terminally ill and harassed the mentally ill, and have made the richest in the country much richer, so let's celebrate that. It's odd that he's given a really easy ride by the media because his policies have massively failed: if they had worked, he wouldn't be needing to announce yet more cuts like a disorientated miner digging deeper in an attempt to reach the surface.

But let's remind ourselves why we are in this position in the first place.

The Labour government inherited what the Tories like to call a structural deficit when they came to power in 1997. By the end of 2006, after a little boom in the early 00s, the deficit was back to a similar position, albeit slightly better than the last Tory chancellor had left. At this time the Tories agreed that it was a good position to be in and pledged to match or possibly even increase Labour's spending if they came to power in 2010. Then came the 'credit crunch', as warnings spread of an impending global economic crisis. This gave everyone the jitters and as lending, borrowing and spending stuttered, the economy slowed, meaning that 2007 saw a bit of an increase in the deficit.

Then the crash happened. Huge banks and other financial organisations started hopping frantically from foot to foot like a four-year old who didn't need the toilet half an hour ago. They urgently needed a huge helping hand from the public purse or everyone's money that only existed as the promise of some numbers on a computer screen anyway would end up vanishing into a black hole they'd only just discovered and couldn't have predicted and wasn't their fault whatsoever. Massive bailouts to the tune of around £1 trillion ensued over the next couple of years, creating a budget deficit almost as big as David Cameron's dark blue polo shirt mountain.

This deficit was unheard of, apparently, although most people had forgotten that the second world war left a much worse one which was dealt with by investing in things the country needs to be a nice, modern, productive place people could live healthily and work and spend money in. But never mind that. This terrible situation allowed the Tories to decide that spending money on schools, hospitals, helping people in dire circumstances to live a vaguely dignified sufferance etc was, after all that talk of matching Labour's spending, completely laughable and the opposite of what was needed. This despite being in a great position financially to borrow and invest what with having rock bottom interest rates.

So they started taking money off the disabled, the unemployed, the mentally ill, councils - especially those in poor areas (some have now had their budgets cut by around 60%) - children, pensioners (well, just women and public sector workers) and selling off everything they could think of including the Royal Mail, definitely not the NHS at all, forests and other green spaces, schools, justice (yes, like courts and stuff), prisons and even some police services. And that's just the things they've thought of so far. Just wait til they find out that MPs salaries are paid out of our taxes too. Oh no, hang on, they increased those by 11%. At least we can be safe in the knowledge that most of these things were gobbled up by ghostly island-based ethereal conglomerates and respectable companies like Serco and G4S.

Again, it is a bit surprising that the media just goes along with this. It's taken as read that we can't afford for everyone to exist and that all of this is necessary. People have either forgotten or don't believe that this is private debt, created by greed and dire lack of regulation. The Tories LOVE the City of London. If you believe what they say (and why wouldn't you?) it's the biggest and most important financial hub in the world and we need to protect it like a nursery for supremely gifted, yet horribly vulnerable corporate babies. If the City is as awesome as the government and the media would have you believe, then they are mostly responsible for the global recession and they led us into it, knowing that we would bail them out.

The last three governments (yes, one of them was with the Lib Dems - remember them?!) have made this private debt public and the Tories have taught us we don't deserve to be treated with dignity because of the mess Labour made of the economy. It's probably not relevant that the Tories are bankrolled by the City and that's where most of their friends work and where most of them will end up with cushy jobs once they leave politics. That probably isn't connected in any way.

Oh, and one last thing: we also need to consider the national debt as well as the deficit. It's only with those two things that we get the full picture. According to the Office for National Statistics, when Cameron and Osborne took over our economy in 2010, the national debt was £960 billion and now stands at over £1.5 trillion. That's an increase of more than 50%.

And the public elected the Tories in 2015 because they trusted them with the economy.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Benefits are bad? So pay people more, then (bit of a reprise).

I've gone over this topic before but after recently seeing comments about people 'struggling' to pay the "living wage (ha)" (I will from now on - or until I forget - be calling it that in full, in bold italics) it rattled my inner angry person again.

Sweeping statement alert: employers vote Tory. I know that's not wholly true but big businesses and wealthy individuals who employ lots of people tend to not only vote Tory but also throw money at them. And as we know, the Tory way is to get rid of all benefits, or at least as much as humanly (or inhumanely; they're not fussy) as possible. Their donors want that too, because they want it to be fine to pay very little tax and they don't want poor and disabled people around who might not pay much tax themselves and might even need some support so they can have a roof over their heads and three meals a day. These Tory business folk also want rock-bottom wages for their staff too, and that means big benefits to supplement incomes which aren't enough to live off.

Those two things don't go together.  You can't have an economy in the developed world where everything except a workforce is expensive.

If you're a small business and you're struggling, then that's probably because customers and potential customers haven't got enough spare cash to spend on your products and services.

When you're in big business, you can either pay your staff more, or you pay more tax to pay for benefits to top them up.

And when the Tories are in power, it literally is your choice.