Small things to do as a means of resistance to regressive Conservative policies

I write this while “Stand down Margaret” by the Beat, plays on my turntable. Contemporaries will understand the significance.

ICW_shopt is time to be a shade more discerning with whom I transact. First on my list, Carphone Warehouse. I’ve been customer of CW for 15 years or so. The customer service was always good. The largely male sales assistants were always knowledgeable and had solutions. Sorry, the boss, Charles Dunstone is a signatory to one of those deceitful letters in support of the Conservatives in the election campaign. End of business. That goes for Dixons as well.

Second, Charles Tyrwhitt, great shirts. I’ve written about this company before because of its use of Hermes couriers. Now itTyrwhitt turns out that its boss, Nick Wheeler is also a Conservative signatory. Never again will they get my business.

Anyone interested in a comprehensive list, please follow this link: http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/telegraph-bosses-list-of-shame

Those pesky railway workers

Network_railThe strike by UK rail infrastructure workers scheduled for next week has been called off, but the train operators (private companies using the rail infrastructure) had their plans for dealing with the lack of infrastructure. Obviously, not run trains. But it was worse than that. This was going to be a 24 hour strike straddling two days. Never helpful, but this is industrial action, it is supposed to be disruptive. Starting at 1700 on Monday and finishing 1700 Tuesday. Presumably then, trains will run on or near to 1700 on Tuesday? Er…no. Not worth it, it seems. Trains would have restarted the next full day.

PrintMaybe someone can correct me on this, but it seems on the face of it that the costs associated with restarting train services at 1700 are too high and the key passengers – season ticket holders – were unlikely to have travelled in to London or other principal cities in the UK earlier in the day and would, therefore, be unlikely to need the train home. So the rest of us who might want to use a train for non-work travel can go stuff ourselves.

It is easy to say that pre-privatisation (1994) it would have been inconceivable that the trains would not recommence after the ending of strike action. This really does seem to be a case of profit coming first.

Incidentally, I will arrive at Gatwick Airport at 1800 on Tuesday with a view to getting back home on the South Coast. I checked nearby hotels and airport parking. Extortionate. £140 pounds to park at Gatwick. These organisations seem to have had a service bypass!

The one unexpected good business was National Express which planned to put on extra coaches to cater for the stranded passengers at not-inflated prices from what I could see. Top marks. I’ll remember that.

When comedy comes into its own

Still reeling from the election result, I turned again to comedy to try to manage the situation. I have not been a great fan of Frankie Boyle (below left) in the past. I have found his comedy a bit close to the bone and unnecessarily Frankie Boyle's Tramadol Nights - C4 promo imageoffensive. Until last night.

His latest show, Election Autopsy, helped me understand why offence is necessary. It was not a belly laugh, but it was funny. And there is one scene where a Conservative voter, in the audience, shows herself to be crass and is only mildly embarrassed. If at all. Rather like the Tory leadership, I thought.

However, this was not just about the Conservatives. Boyle’s position is one of non-voter advocacy because, ultimately, the system is broken. To vote would be to endorse, or at the very least, patronise the system. His audience and guests did not wholly agree with him, but it was as informative as any of the leaders’ debates I witnessed in the campaign.

The best ‘joke’. “Some of my best friends are racist. First of all they are black…and they have got a point.”

For readers in the UK, the show is for a short while available to stream on the BBC website. I recommend it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02qs82x/frankie-boyles-election-autopsy

The exceptional contribution of Akala on structural racism in the UK is embedded in the Guardian newspaper’s review of this show: http://tinyurl.com/off94bx

By contrast, I started watching Rory Bremner’s equivalent, Election Report. Everyone loves an impersonator. He’s not bad.Bremner Some of his observations were also cutting. And in the spirit of BBC balance, aimed at all parties. However, unlike Boyle, Bremner accepts the system and makes fun of it on its own terms. So, whilst one may chuckle along with it, one is left feeling underwhelmed. With Boyle, I felt emboldened.

Bremner’s programme is also available on the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05vjft9/rory-bremners-election-report

Pics: Channel 4 through Wikipedia

BBC screen grab

Charles Windsor’s letters

prince-of-wales-correspondence-with-secretary-of-p2-normalThe ‘black spider memos’ were finally released yesterday. Successive governments have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to stop their release over ten years. Mr Windsor seemingly makes a habit of writing to ministers – including the Prime Minister – giving advice on anything from architecture, quack medicine to the mass slaughter of badgers. The ministers write back in fawning deference, ‘your most humble servant’ etc.

Well, it will not happen again. Seemingly. The Government has already changed the law to guarantee the secrecy surrounding Mr Windsor’s (and no doubt his family’s) communication with what he probably thinks are his mother’s ministers. His communications are now, therefore, exempt from Freedom of Information requests, however banal they may be. On the other hand, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is going to prioritise the return of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – legislation to enable the security services to monitor all of our electronic communication. Nice.

5 Years

The result of the UK General Election was deflating (to put it mildly). Managing the feeling of deflation is not easy and sometimes a distraction can help. Football often works for me. Distraction this time came from some cabaret at the Brighton Fringe Festival (Spiegeltent).

B&M_credit_GutoSo, we tried the show by Bourgeois and Maurice (left), a self-declared neo-cabaret act, whatever that is. They are flamboyant, camp, funny and entertaining. Clearly they did not have too much time to put this show together after the election, so naturally they incorporated material from their repertoire as well as new songs and sketches. They started with what seemed to be a new and funny song called ‘move to the right’ capturing the dynamic of the election – people who look to keep what they have ‘move to the right’ and those who swallow the anti-immigration bile ‘move to the right’. We were treated to their ‘depressing poem’. Oddly funny. It was just what was needed.

The conclusion of the show was genius. They did a rendition of David Bowie’s apocalyptic vision of the future, 5 Years. As we inappropriately say, never has a song seemed more appropriate.

The Government’s priorities say it all

The sense of deja vu associated with early reporting of the UK election results early on Friday morning was surreal. Back in 1992 when Labour under Neil Kinnock was expected to oust John Major’s Conservative government, assembled friends reeled as the results came in. Clear that it was not going to be a good night. Sleep does not come easily, either.

Major’s great contribution to human welfare was to privatise the railways; a legacy that stays with those of us who rely on the railway and know something about how it works. This new Tory Government will prioritise the abolition of the Human Rights Act and withdrawal from the European Convention on Human European_Court_of_Human_RightsRights (ECHR). What kind of people abolish an act written, albeit imperfectly, to protect the interests of vulnerable citizens? And withdrawal from the ECHR has many implications, not least being in breach of one or more European treaties, the foundation of the UK’s very membership of the EU. It is also written into the Good Friday agreement with the Irish Government. Any change would need to be ratified by the Scottish Parliament. That might be challenging.

David Cameron announces that his party in government will be the true party of working people. So muchSajid_Javid_(cropped) so that the new Business Secretary, Sajid Javid (right), will look to make it very difficult for employees to withdraw their labour by raising the threshold of participation in ballots. Therefore, for some classes of employees, for example, public sector workers, it is proposed that 50 per cent of members will have to participate for it to be valid. However reasonable that may seem, ballots already have to be postal and cannot be held in the workplace. Postal ballots are well known to have lower response rates than workplace ballots. Getting 50 per cent participation is unrealistic and constitutes an effective banning of strikes. The new party of working people seeks to give employers absolute power over employees.

Picture: European Court of Human Rights: CherryX –  Wikipedia

Picture: Sajid Javid Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeCreative Britain through Wikipedia

 

JSP and those beautiful people

20150504_143351John Player Special is back on the streets in Germany with this oh-so-cool image of man and woman in a vintage convertible. The spirit of freedom comes through the tagline ‘always free, never pointless’. No, there is a real point to smoking. Never pointless, addictive and lethal. 20150504_144809

Meanwhile, Lucky Strike continues the case for tobacco as coffee (right). This time the strike-out of the text changes the meaning from being unapologetic or maybe audacious about the different taste to three (packets) that taste different (because of where the tobacco was grown). Get me the ad agency’s number!

The Economist would say that, wouldn’t it?

Economist_election_coverRegular readers will know that I recently ended my long-standing subscription to the New Statesman on the grounds of poor writing, bigotry (relating to transgender discrimination) and all-round listnessness and lack of progressiveness. I have maintained my subscription to the Economist on the grounds that one needs to know what the enemy is thinking. Its endorsement of David Cameron and the Conservatives for the election on Thursday 7 May (left) justifies this decision.

Here are some of the arguments presented in favour of a Conservative-led government after 7 May with some easy responses:

1. The Economist says: reducing the deficit is the priority. At 5 per cent of GDP that has to be reduced and public sector cuts are necessary in order to achieve it.

Strassenbahn13 says: the deficit is not the issue. It is a finance question, not an economics question. The economics question says, is the deficit manageable? What economic policies are necessary to ensure growth such that social utility can be maximised across all constituencies? If the deficit is the priority, economics goes out of the window. We have austerity for the sake of it, or to meet the neo-conservative objective of the limited state; that is limited public provision of services ranging from the NHS (ongoing privatisation) and housing (forcing housing associations to sell their assets) to public transport and street cleaning. The deficit does not make us poor. An under-productive, non-inclusive economy that does not make tangible and socially useful products makes us poor. That is the one the Conservatives are promoting.

2. The Economist says: the Conservative’s record in public services is good. People are more satisfied with services such as the NHS than they were before the cuts from the first term in government.

Strassenbahn13 says: essentially, the Conservatives argue that we can have cuts to services without quality being affected, or at least the sense that the quality is diminishing. This is nonsense. The good ratings have been achieved by proud and loyal public-service workers working harder. I am one. I see it every day. The tipping point will come. Just look at Accident and Emergency in hospitals.

3. The Economist says: the UK has a higher proportion of people in work than ‘ever before’.

Strassenbahn13 says: whatever is meant by ‘ever before’, the economy is dependent on low-paid immigrants, zero-hours and temporary employment contracts, insecurity and exploitation.

Here are the arguments against a Labour-led Government made by the Economist with some even easier responses:

1. The Economist says: It is harder to believe Labour will be successful with the deficit. The numbers are ‘vaguer’.

Strassenbahn13 says: As noted above, the deficit is a red-herring. But vaguer than the Tories £8bn savings from some undisclosed source proposed by the Conservatives?

2. The Economist says: tax the entrepreneurs and wealth creators and they will go somewhere else.

Strassenbahn13 says: is that the best argument there is? There is no evidence of this because people come to London in particular not because of the tax rates, rather it is a modern, liberal, tolerant, multi-cultural and global city. Some of them, I would very much welcome to leave. But often their threats are empty. I’m still waiting for that great entrepreneur Paul Daniels to leave after Blair claimed power.

3. The Economist says: Labour believes that living standards are being squeezed because markets are rigged and that the Government can fix them. Markets such as energy (dominated by six big oligopolistic players); zero-hour contracts and housing (private-sector landlords in the ownership of a basic of life and in limited supply).

Strassenbahn13 says: Miliband might just be right by this. Markets are rigged. They are imperfect. They work for some, but most of us are usually fleeced. Regulation is inadequate. And that deficit is caused by market failure, not public-sector workers. Where the Economist wants more markets – particularly in the NHS – most of us want fairness.

4. The Economist says: Labour would have to be in coalition with the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) ‘which leans strongly to the left’. This leads to ‘the certainty of economic damage’ arising from a Labour-led government.

Strassenbahn13 says: I would have thought the certainty was on a future Conservative-led government. Their economics are hugely damaging and the social unrest that these policies may unleash is real. And with less money for the police, that is going to be yet another management challenge (though, presumably, that is why Boris Johnson has bought the water cannon for London?). Actually, a coalition with the SNP seems like a very exciting and progressive option.

For all politicians and commentators – where is climate change?

There’s more, Cameron will push for the legalisation of fox hunting. If ever there was an indicator of a de-civilising policy, that is it. How we treat animals matters in itself. But to openly advocate cruelty to animals as an election promise is positively sickening, if not sick.

And let us not forget that the Conservatives are pathological liars. They have published two ‘independently written’ letters from business people endorsing the Conservatives to have been shown to be dishonest. And then Grant Shapps lying about his business interests and having an unusual relationship with  his own Wikipedia page. What can one say about him, other than he is the Co-chair of the party?

Oh, and, the Conservatives cut the budget for helping refugees crossing the deadly Mediterranean Sea. They have this and other blood on their hands.

I could go on.

How to make the housing situation worse – basic finance

Labour-Party-Manifesto-2015On listening to Ed Miliband launch the Labour Party’s election manifesto on 13 April, I despaired. Like in the time of Blair in 1997, Miliband is committing the Party to an austerity programme that is false. It is a construct of the Conservative neo-liberals who want to roll back the state and are using the deficit as a justification.

So when it came to David Cameron, the following day, launching the his party’s manifesto, I  had noConservative-Party-Manifesto-2015 real expectations. But they were met, nonetheless. Back in the 1980s, Thatcher forced local authorities to sell their public housing at a discount to tenants under a programme called Right to Buy. Gradually, but surely, this policy reduced and denuded the public housing stock and made a lot of people wealthy. And they were not the people who bought them, necessarily.

We’ve since had help-to-buy, a dangerous incentive to people unable to buy because of the inflated price of property relative to incomes and the deposit levied by lenders. The Government will now subsidise the deposit for applicants. This further inflates house prices and subverts the whole point of deposit guarantees. And largely because of the Conservative Party’s policies and dogma associated with ownership.

And now what might we have? A Conservative Government would force Housing Associations, the privately-owned successors to local authorities charged with building and managing housing for eligible people largely disenfranchised from market housing provision, to sell, at a discount, these dwellings.

It seems that austerity does not apply when the Conservative Party is building its own constituency (or making war). Essentially the policy represents a money transfer to its own supporters (or anticipated supporters). Notwithstanding the immorality and legality of this, the policy is finance madness. Let me get this right, Housing Associations take out loans to build dwellings. Having built them, they sell/part sell a few and rent out the rest. They then go back to the banks and borrow more money with these dwellings as security. Take away this security and the banks will not lend, or certainly not cheaply. The whole model collapses. Genius.

These Conservatives are vile.

Culpability for the desperation of migrants crossing the Mediterranean

It has finally made it to the top of the political agenda; though the discussions amongst EU ‘leaders’ yesterday (including David Cameron) comes up with a sticking plaster rather than a solution. The suggestion that we should use bombs yet again, this time to destroy the vessels used by the human traffikers, is quite shocking in its stupidity. No doubt it suits arms manufacturers.

Ed_Miliband_2This morning, the Labour Leader, Ed Miliband (left), effectively put his hands up and said that the Western Powers – particularly the UK and France – failed the people of Libya by having “inadequate postwar planning”. He noted that “In Libya, Labour supported military action to avoid the slaughter Gaddafi threatened in Benghazi. But since the action, the failure of post-conflict planning has become obvious. David Cameron was wrong to assume that Libya’s political culture and institutions could be left to evolve and transform on their own.”

I’m not sure that was the ultimate reason for bombing Libya. In response, David Cameron, the Conservative Leader, presented himself as a statesman (and great military strategist) and suggested that the electorate will decide what to make of such criticism in the face of so much death on the seas. Perhaps we need to remind Mr Cameron that it was his Government that withdrew the funding from the EU rescue mission on the grounds that it only made refugees more likely to attempt the crossing.

Okay, if it is post-(post)war planning that we are after, then these so-called leaders should be sat around a table working out how to facilitate the integration of migrants into Europe. Not finding ways of preventing them from coming (some hope on the part of politicians) or repatriating them after weeks or months in internment camps.

Oh, and Mr Farage, your advocacy of some sort of egalitarian Australian quotas approach needs some careful Nauru_regional_processing_facility_(7983319037)consideration. There are plenty of refugees trying to enter Australia. They are held in camps run by our good friends Serco (and previously G4S). A number of these camps have witnessed serious human rights abuses,  Amnesty International described the extremely offshore Nauru detention centre (right) as “a human rights catastrophe … a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions”. Meeting that challenge is a test for civilising politicians and a civilised society.

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