Archive for the 'current events' Category

On the rudeness of March To Leave

The word ‘demagogue’

refers to someone who may be charismatic and often bombastic, and is able to use his oratorical skills to appeal to the baser, more negative side of people’s feelings

It’s an apt word for the right-wingest of the Brexiteers who are marching to leave. The way they speak about the European negotiators is simply rude: “You must live in Narnia, Michel Barnier!” and “Get back in your bunker, Jean-Claude Juncker!”, both on the march to leave home page.

Silly people.

Reading List

Web Stuff

Other stuff

Winston Churchill and Tommy Robinson

LOL, the far right. They’re spreading a photo of a £5 on which someone’s drawn a speech bubble to show Winston Churchill saying “Free Tommy Robinson”. Churchill would never have approved of Mr “Robinson” Yaxley-Lennon’s contempt of court, jeopardising a free and fair trial. I made and sent them this to show them what Churchill said on July 20, 1910 in the House of Commons:

The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. A calm dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused … These are the symbols, which, in the treatment of crime and criminal, mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are sign and proof of the living virtue in it.

Winston Churchill

It’s almost as if they have no real knowledge of, or respect for, British traditions such as rule of law, religious tolerance, freedom of speech etc, and mendaciously hijack national symbols (Union Jack flag, Churchill) in order to apply a veneer of “patriotism” over what’s simply racism.

On #StopFundingHate and Center Parcs

I’m very glad to read the news that Center Parcs pulls Daily Mail ads over Tom Daley article — of its advertisement next to a homophobic Richard Littlejohn article, the holiday organisation said “We felt this placement was completely unacceptable and therefore ceased advertising with the Daily Mail with immediate effect”. London Southbank Centre also said, “We monitor the environment in which our advertising appears, to ensure the values of a publication are compatible with our own. We have no future plans to advertise within the Daily Mail”.

Predictably, there has been a little faux-anguish about “free speech”, which is mis-placed. I’m a great believer that anyone should be able to say what they want to say (even “hate speech” as long as they’re not inciting violence). My position is “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it. But that doesn’t mean I want to waste my time listening to you”.

Similarly, I have a choice whether to fund your free speech. In our democratic capitalist society, I have a once-every-four-years opportunity to vote between largely-indistinguishable political parties in a General Election. But the true power I have is in my choice of goods and service that I consume.

So it’s a game of “follow the money”: Centre Parcs wants my money (that’s why they advertise); the Daily Mail wants some of Centre Parc’s money; Richard Littlejohn wants some of the Daily Mail’s money. (He’s perfectly free to set up a blog to publish his views, after all. He has every right to air them, and everyone has the right to read them, or not, as they choose.)

So if I tell a company that I won’t buy their products because they indirectly fund Littlejohn, or Breitbart, that is my right and my (only) leverage as a consumer. The key is to tell organisations why you consume their products or not. That’s why my tweeting “Good” to Centre Parcs is not “virtue signalling”; it’s letting them know that I will continue to purchase their products, and why. (The last good time I had with my dad — who was gay — three months before he died was a family holiday in Centre Parcs, which he paid for. We had a great time.)

Am I trying to close the Daily Mail down? Not at all. But right now, money I give to Co-op, Hertz, Visa etc indirectly subsidises the Daily Mail’s cover price. If those companies pull their advertising, then avid Richard Littlejohn fans can continue to pay to read it, they’ll just pay more. If they don’t want to pay more, and they stop buying it, that’s up to them. It’s called “the free market”.

There are many things to dislike about consumerism and capitalism. But the fact I can tweet to organisations and exercise financial influence is a power that I cherish, and will continue to use.

On yesterday’s High Court ruling

The right-wing newspapers today have hit a new low in their attempts to mislead and whip up anger. “Enemies of the people” the Daily Mail headlines, saying that the high court judges “defied 17.4 million Brexit voters”.

Let’s be clear what happened. From the first paragraph of the judges’ summary of their ruling: “The court is not concerned with and does not express any view about the merits of leaving the European Union: that is a political issue.”

A member of the public, Gina Miller, asked the court to review whether the UK government could remove her rights without going to Parliament first. Any citizen can ask for a judicial review; this is because we live under the rule of law. This is a Good Thing, but the right-wing press are trying to undermine this.

The ruling goes on to state (paragraph 2) “It is accepted by all sides that this legal question is properly before the court and justiciable; under the UK constitution, it is for the court to decide”. (Note “all sides” accepted the legitimacy of putting the question before the court.)

The judges decided that triggering Article 50 would fundamentally change UK people’s rights – and that the government cannot change or do away with rights under UK law unless Parliament gives it authority to do so.

Whether or not you approve of this ruling (and, for the record: I do) it is dangerous nonsense to say that the judges are “blocking Brexit” or “enemies of the people”. On the contrary, they are champions of the people: they are upholding British law, upholding the British Constitution, protecting Parliamentary democracy and restoring sovereignty to the people’s representatives.

Addendum: Some rushed and barely coherent thoughts on today’s Article 50 judgment by Matthew, a barrister.

I want to take my country back!

I’ve been wondering why I feel so personally affronted by the recent UK referendum result that means we’ll leave the EU. Of course, it’ll make my job harder; by the end of this year, I will have had easy, visa-free access to France, Germany, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Netherlands, Spain, Greece and Norway. That could end. (Or not — who knows? There is no plan, just uncertainty).

I’m unhappy that the pressing matters of government will take a backseat to rewriting laws, treaties and standards that we’ll abandon. I’m angry that friends of mine who live and work here now find their status uncertain: the front-runner for Tory PM, Theresa May, refused to guarantee the right to remain for EU people who came before the vote. I’m furious that my daughter’s plans to go to an overseas university are now thwarted.

But mostly, I want to take my country back. I believed that I lived in a country that was a bit weird, detached geographically from continental Europe and therefore a little aloof, but by-and-large liberal and tolerant; a nation of sea-farers who, almost by definition, tended to think internationally; a nation of pragmatists who wouldn’t shoot their own economy down in flames for a dogma of immigrantphobia (the babysteps of the dogma that our grandparents fought against).

It seems I don’t live in that country.

If the vote had been more overwhelmingly in favour of exit, I’d conclude that the country I thought I lived in was a fiction, mutually constructed by the liberal, border-hopping people I call colleagues and friends. But the vote was so close (48% to 52%) that I realise the country I believed in was shared by almost half the population of the UK. It really feels that we live in a divided nation.

Soon, it will really divide. Scotland will leave; why would they stay? The Scots overwhelmingly rejected Westminster Tories and Brexit. To “save the UK”, the Brexiters are breaking it up, and leaving a rump state with a faltering economy and a great schism in the population. I want to take my country back, and I see no way to do it.

Proud to be British; voted ‘Remain’

There’s been lots of weird nationalist stuff circulating around the media about “Proud to be British. Vote Leave”, as if wanting to remain in Europe is somehow unpatriotic.

So I’ll clearly say: I’m proud to be British, and thus sent in my postal vote to Remain. I don’t want the economic turmoil that an exit would cause, especially as we’re teetering on the edge of another recession. I’d probably be OK, but I fear for the livelihoods of friends of mine.

Sure, the stockbrokers and millionaires and directors who are leading the exit campaign tell you that it’s all about sovereignty and “controlling our borders” (whatever either of those mean). But really, they want to abolish the workers protection that we get from EU. They’d like us to leave European Court of Human Rights (which was the only way the ordinary families in Liverpool got any justice for Hillsborough).

Sure, the Brexit leaders tell you that “not paying the EU levy would free up resources to put into the NHS”, but many of them have had years in Parliament, quietly demolishing the NHS instead of protecting it.

They want to leave the EU so they can be more aggressively right-wing, make workers’ lives harder instead of better, and use the economic problems that would inevitably ensue as an excuse to implement even more ideologically-driven “austerity”.

I don’t want that; I love my country. So I voted ‘Remain’.

On labelling NHS prescriptions with their real cost

Jeremy Hunt announced that all medicines costing over £20 will be marked “funded by the UK tax payer”. Fair enough. I’m happy to pay my taxes to help those who are sick. I call this idea “civilisation”. But it’s right that people understand where the money comes from.

Similarly, I trust that every sleeping member of the House of Lords wear a sign around their necks saying “My attendance today cost 7.5 medicines”; every ministerial breakfast be costed in terms of the number of life-saving drugs that could have been supplied but weren’t, because croissants were more important; every MP’s hotel room that isn’t the cheapest one on laterooms.com have a similar advisory notice on the wall and the receipt. GCHQ should have a sign outside saying “spying on you today cost 1 million prescriptions”.

That would be fair, because we’re all in it together. Aren’t we?

Want my vote? Give me evidence-based policies

This year’s general election is going to be a close one, and a bitter one. For the first time ever, I’ve had representatives of political parties knocking on my door and, although none of the current crop of parties appeals to me, I told the last gang (Labour) that I’m sick of politicians (in this case, Ed Milliband) who react to the moral panic du jour with ill-thought out policies that appease the slack-jawed but actually cause long-term damage.

I’d vote for whoever had the courage to make policies based on evidence and long-term thinking rather than short-term headline grabbing, religious attachment to dogma, or the selfish interests of its core supporters. I doubt such a politician exists, but if any do, here’s my wish-list.

Immigration

We need to politicians with courage to say we need immigration. We are an ageing population: A Survey of the UK Benefit System by Institute for Fiscal Studies, November 2012) points out that a colossal 42.3% of the benefits spend in the Uk goes to “elderly people” (figure 2.1).

To support more older people, it’s obvious that we need more young people to work and pay tax. However, the birthrate in the UK seems to be falling:

The number of live births and the total fertility rate (TFR) fluctuated throughout the twentieth century with a sharp peak at the end of World War II. Live births peaked again in 1964 (875,972 births), but since then lower numbers have been recorded. The lowest annual number of births in the twentieth century was 569,259 in 1977. The number of births is dependent on both fertility rates and the size and age structure of the female population.The total fertility rate for England and Wales decreased in 2013 to an average of 1.85 children per woman from 1.94 in 2012.

Women are having children later. Tellingly, Coalition austerity policies – a prime example of dogma over evidence-based policymaking – are likely to be contributing to the lower birth rate. The UK government’s Office of National Statistics writes:

Other factors which could have had an impact on fertility levels in 2013 include:

  • uncertainty about employment and lower career and promotion opportunities (such as temporary, part-time, or zero-hours contracts), which can significantly reduce women’s demand for children (Del Bono E, et al.,2014; Lanzieri G, 2013)
  • reforms by the Government to simplify the welfare system, which have resulted in some significant changes to benefits that may have influenced decisions around childbearing. The changes were announced in 2011 and 2012 and included; reduced housing benefit from April 2013 for those living in property deemed to be larger than they need. Children under 10 are expected to share a room, as are children under 16 of the same gender; removal of child benefit where one parent earns over £50,000 from January 2013 and a 3-year freeze on payments for those eligible from April 2011; and a cap on the total amount of benefits that working age people can receive from April 2013, so that households on working age benefits can no longer receive more in benefits than the average wage for working families.

Therefore, the current austerity policies will have a long-term effect of reducing the workforce so making more elderly people dependant on fewer working people. Without immigrants working here, this will result in cuts to the services the elderly receive, or a higher tax burden on those in work, neither of which are desirable – particularly to the successors of the current Conservative government for whom elderly people are more likely to vote, and for which tax reduction is an article of absolute faith.

Immigration also brings us skilled workers. A good friend of mine works recruiting nurses from overseas for a big, nationally-known UK hospital. She doesn’t do this because she is part of a dastardly plot to flood Britain with highly-trained, hard-working Filipinos whose English language is better than that of many “indigenous” residents (to get a visa, non-EU applicants are required to achieve a higher score in their English language tests than EU applicants for some odd reason). No, she does this because hospitals need nurses, and there aren’t enough British nurses.

According to the Daily Telegraph, last year

5,778 nurses were recruited from overseas in the 12 months to September… This compares with a figure of just 1,360 reported by 40 trusts in the previous year. Experts said a lack of trained British nurses meant hospitals were forced to hunt abroad for trained staff, with the costs of global trawls vastly inflating the cost of recruitment. Hospitals pay managers and recruitment agencies to go abroad to seek out staff, while offering bonuses to nurses who come here. In total, 91,470 nurses – around one in seven of those now registered to work here – trained overseas, official figures show.

Why? The Telegraph – a highly conservative newspaper – reports

The surge follows cuts to NHS programmes to train nurses in this country, with 10,000 training places cut since 2010.

Anecdotally (from my friend who does the recruitment), many British people don’t want to become nurses. The Royal College of Nursing (the profession’s representative body) notes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said in his 2011 autumn statement

all public sector wage rises should be capped at an average of one per cent for two years from April 2013. This comes after a two year policy which saw all NHS staff earning more than £21,000 facing a pay freeze, while those earning up to £21,000 received an award of £250 in both years.

The RCN continues:

the supply of nursing staff is being seriously threatened as NHS organisations attempt to save money by cutting posts and by the reduction in commissioned training places for nurses. Commissioned places for pre-registration nursing has fallen by nearly nine per cent from 2010/11 to 2011/12. This is particularly worrying at a time when 12 per cent of the nursing workforce is aged 55 or over and a quarter is aged 50 or over.

Both the RCN evidence and the staff side evidence draw on results from a joint trade union survey of members which found that almost two thirds of nurses said they had seriously thought about leaving their job, and a third would leave for a post outside the NHS. The top two reasons for considering leaving the NHS are stress/workload and staff shortages. Two thirds of respondents said morale had declined in the last 12 months, while 71 per cent said staff shortages have frequently occurred in their workplace over the past year.

The starting salary for graduate nurses is £21,338 (with an additional £4076 for inner London, as if the extra £78 week before tax makes up for living costs there), but it’s a 3 or 4 year degree course to get there. The current government raised the cap on university tuition fees, so the tuition alone for a 4 year nursing course could come to £36,000 – for a £21,000 pre-tax salary. If the government were genuinely concerned to reduce reliance on overseas nurses, it would either raise salaries, or subsidise tuition fees for socially vital jobs, such as nurses. But it won’t, because it’s unable to make sensible policies that might have the desired outcome due to its dogma of not interfering in markets, and its antipathy to the public sector.

Rent Caps

In 2012, the UK benefits spend was £159bn (up by 1.1% on the previous year). The single largest part of that was state pensions to the elderly – £74.22bn, or 47% of the total spend. The next largest item in the budget is housing benefit £16.94bn. That was up 5.2% on the previous year, and will reach a new high of £25bn a year by 2017, according to new government estimates. Housing Benefit is money paid by the government – sourced, of course, from me and my fellow taxpayers – to people on incomes too low to allow them to meet the cost of their housing themselves.

Incomes are low because of austerity policies, and housing is preposterously expensive in the UK because there’s an inadequate supply. It’s my belief that the main reason for this under-supply is the ideologically-driven “Right to Buy” sell-off of social housing by the Thatcher government – councils who owned social housing were required by law to sell it at deep discount to tenants (and weren’t allowed to use the funds raised to replenish the housing stock).

The stated goal was to make Britain a nation of home-owners; the actual result is that a third of ex-council homes are now owned by landlords. One inner-London council now pays £500,000 a year to rent back properties that it was forced to sell, a situation described as “utterly ludicrous” by its housing chief; it’s hard to disagree with this assessment. (Note that David Cameron proposed re-invigorating Right to Buy in 2011.)

Whatever the reason for the under-supply of housing, though, if the government really wanted to reduce the housing benefit spend, it would simply cap rents. Housing Benefit is nothing more than a government subsidy to landlords, who charge high prices because they know the government will pay them. If rents were controlled, the housing benefit spend would reduce. But it wouldn’t dream of doing so because that would be regulation in the free market (it’s religious dogma that the invisible hand is always right, whether it pickpockets your neighbour and hands her purse to you, or pokes you in the eye). It’s also the case that landlords tend to be Conservative voters. Upsetting loads of nurses and public sector workers is one thing – they mostly don’t vote for the Tories anyway – but landlords are part of the clan who rule us. After all, Charles Gow, the son of Mrs Thatcher’s Housing Minister during the council house sell-off, owns at least 40 ex-council flats on one South London estate.

Politicians of all political hues seem happy to talk tough on immigration, as if it were a bad thing rather than an economic necessity. They all seem to agree that austerity is required, while pumping billions into the City under the cloak of “Quantitative Easing” (which has failed, according to its inventor). This nutrient-free flatulent miasma of stupidity appeases the Daily Mail and Express readers, yet it damages the country.

Give me some joined-up, evidence-based thinking, and you’ll get my kiss on election day.

Update Sun 4 Jan: It seems that fewer than 10% of British people are against mandatory legal limits on housing rents.

Update 7 Jan: Great minds think alike. From the Daily Telegraph (of all places!) on 5 Jan, Ten ways we could fix broken Britain suggests paying people to do degrees we need, more tenants rights, more housing (and using the tax system to punish those who sit on land reserves, like supermarkets or volume builders), and other sensible policies like tripling the congestion charge and legalising drugs.

On sex education for 7 year olds in UK schools

The BBC reports that Sex education should start at seven, Lib Dems say.

Of course 7 year old kids should get sex education at school; puberty is from 8 years old for girls, 9 for boys.

The whole point of education is to prepare kids for life, so you have to tell them about stuff first (hint: that’s what “prepare” means.)

Sex education results in fewer sexually transmitted diseases and fewer unwanted pregnancies. This is not only good for the people involved, but is better for the whole nation – which makes it excellent public policy.

However, “parents will retain the right to pull children under 15 out of sex education lessons” according to the Daily Mail. Why? Do we let them take kids out of Maths or Geography classes?

There should be no opt-out from parents trying to foist their religion or sexual hangups onto their children. Education > indoctrination.