Another attack on public housing

Pay to StDSCF1131ay seems to be the latest attack on tenants of public housing in the UK. Proposals by David Cameron (left) and his Conservative Government to force tenants who earn more than £30K to pay market rents is the latest attack on ordinary people. The effect is thought to result in many more people being priced out of accommodation, particularly in London and other increasingly expensive urban centres. This comes on top of the forced sale of the most valuable council houses, right to buy against housing associations, and the end of permanent tenancies.

Let us unpick the argument. According to advocates of this proposal, people earning over £30K are being subsidised by the poorer tenants. The Department for Communities and Local Government has argued that in some cases these so-called high earners are being subsidised to the tune of £3,500 per year (the difference between what they pay in social housing vis-a-vis private-sector rents). Essentially those under the threshold have nothing to fear.

£30K can rarely be seen as high earning. For example, the sum may be a household aggregate. Two people  may be working full-time togoogle make the £30K. If they are additionally parents, I suspect, £30K does not go far. To have the ‘aspiration’ (a word we heard a lot of from David Cameron and his campaign guru, Lynton Crosby) during the election campaign) to earn more than £30K may be punished by homelessness. People paying different sums depending on their incomes is fairer, goes the Government argument. Fairer to the extent that these people will then end up subsidising Google.

Model of David Cameron: Holly MacDonald

More explicit street advertising in Germany

20160206_192103Street advertisers are currently obsessed with selling online dating sites. The most in-your-face is c.date (left). It is clear enough without the strapline “sensual encounters make you  happy”. What’s more, it is award winning (Testsieger, top left of poster). The awarding body is, of course, that fearsome tester, ‘singles comparisons market’. 5 Stars, no less. c.date has gone for the blanket approach. This example was found on a main route into the centre of Munich with smaller versions positioned every 50 metres, or so, next to the entrance to supermarkets, fuel stations and pharmacies!

Another dating site has taken a different visual approach, but equally blanketing in terms of positioning the posters (right). Parsh20160206_192021ip.de posts pictures of handsome people informing commuters that every 11 minutes a single falls in love through Parship! That is quite a claim if true. It does not seem to be award winning. But maybe the stat speaks for itself? If you are a man without perfect bone structures, straight teeth and a bit of facial hair, the stat goes down to every 11 years. Probably.

Yet another fatalist Pall Mall couple

20160206_191109The couples Pall Mall campaign persists across one of only two European  tobacco-friendly advertising countries, Germany (the other being Bulgaria, it seems). The latest example is compelling (left). Bearded man holding cigarette, woman with an eye partially closed tugging his hair with the tagline translating as ‘good moments savoured for longer’ (because the sticks themselves are longer than normal). She is really saying, I sense, “stop smoking and shave otherwise…” Before you know it, he’s in the cancer clinic.

A bit rich coming from Lynton Crosby

Lynton_Crosby_Political_Strategist

So, according to Lynton Crosby, the architect of the Conservative’s 2015 election campaign, the Labour Party demonstrates an arrogance in the Beckett Report into the causes of the election defeat. Let us get this straight, Crosby said at a rare lecture for the Centre for Opposition Studies last week: “They [the voters] weren’t saying that Labour overspending caused the failure of the global financial system. What they were saying is that Labour overspending meant Britain wasn’t well equipped when the financial crisis hit.” In addition he said, “[t]he point is, the voters have spoken and they have made their judgment – not once but twice – and in a democracy their view is the most important”.

First of all, the Conservatives did not win the election in 2010. They governed in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Second – and I am no apologist for a reprehensible Labour Government – when the financial crisis hit, the Labour Government bailed out a series of rotten banks that deposited a huge “debt” on the country’s balance sheet. It was the Labour Party that had the gumption to rescue these banks (and probWrecking ballably the British banking system more generally) from collapse. The head of the Government at that time was the long-serving former Chancellor, Gordon Brown, regarded even by Conservatives as competent. The Cancellor was Alistair Darling. That took quite a bit of courage and the state of the public finances before the crash which – let us be reminded, no one predicted – is seemingly irrelevant. Moreover, even if his statement is correct, it is a myth that the public finances are in such a parlous state. The debt is manageable, it does not in itself warrant wholesale budget slashing and the contraction of the state. That is the ideological response – an opportunity to privatise the public sector.

PocketFinally, the Labour Party does not need lessons from a man who mis-informed and lied his party to victory.  Crosby’s character assassination of the Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, represented a new low in negative politics. Readers may recall, Michael Fallon, the Conservative Defence Secretary is quoted as saying 10 days before the election “Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader. Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become prime minister.” That was Crosby at his mendacious worst. And maybe we may not see a Labour government in the foreseeable future because decent and honourable politicians do not stoop that low. Näive, I know.

Lucky Strike for every bag

20160121_194708One for the women, maybe? So you are going out all dressed up and fit for an evening of gossip (Tratsch) only to find that your cigarettes will not fit into your clutch bag. What do you do? Thank goodness for Lucky Strike. Those wonderfully innovative people who work there have found a way of making them smaller – or ‘resized’ – perfect for your clutch bag. With added flow filter, of course. Death does not get better than this.

L&M advise on home contents disposal

20160118_073103Well here is the latest L&M advertising masterpiece. Couple sat on the floor in a room with no furniture. An open fire and mantlepiece with a couple of glasses of wine on it have been sketched in using some insipid brown colour for some reason.

It looks to me that the couple have sold all of their possessions in order either to feed their nicotine habit or, as is more likely, they have some terminal illness which means possessions are superfluous. They fondly think about the good times before L&M.

Should I admire Jacob Rees-Mogg?

Mhairi_BlackLast week I was driving to work listening to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Jenny Murray, the programme’s avuncular anchor, was interviewing the 21 year old Scottish MP, Mhairi Black (left). It was a general discussion about policy, life, MPing, etc. She made her maiden speech in parliament on 14 July 2015 and was roundly lauded for it, despite having broken the protocol that maiden speeches should be largely apolitical.

It transpires, however, that Ms Black is an admirer of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset. This is not someone that is at the top of one’s list for admiration. I find him extremely divisive and not a little annoying. But listening to the interview a seed of doubt was implanted in my brain. Ms Black said that although she fundamentally disagreed with him he was a) very polite to her and b) articulate such that he would always give a reason for his position (something which I would have thought was true of all MPs, but seemingly not).

Oh dear! Should I now reconsider my feelings towards Mr Rees-Mogg (below right)? Fortunately, to the rescue, came today’s edition of the Radio 4 Sunday morning magazine programme, Broadcasting House, for which he was a guest newspaper reviewer (along with former Business Secretary, Vince Cable and Hon_Jacob_Rees-Mogg_MPShelagh Fogerty, a radio presenter in London). They were discussing privatisation, and in particular the privatisation of Channel 4 Television. Cable argued that privatisation would undermine its public service ethos, particularly its flagship news programme, Channel 4 News.

And so Mr Rees-Mogg did what he does best, plausibly lie. First, he said that there are many private-sector news outlets that have high journalistic integrity. Hence Cable’s argument was not valid. He must have been thinking about Sky News and the integrity of Rupert Murdoch’s unimpeachable global news empire. He then went on to say that there should be a management buy-out; seemingly the best of both worlds, a privatised broadcaster with the existing management’s public service broadcasting ethos.

Now I have spent a good part of my life studying privatisation (UK bus and rail industry). In both of these cases, management buy-outs were seen as good options. Many of the former national bus company regional operators were transferred to the private sector by means of management buy-outs. The same is true of railway franchises. But where are they now? The bus and rail industries in the UK are dominated by large – increasingly international – conglomerates. One of the exemplar management buy-outs in the rail industry, Chiltern Railways (operating trains out of London’s Marylebone Station) held out for 6 years before finally succumbing to corporate ownership. It is currently owned by Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway operator. A few bus companies still hold out. In my home town of Hull, East Yorkshire Motor Services remains stubbornly independent. I cannot think of many more.

The point is Mr Rees-Mogg, management buy-outs are simply a means for corporations to access strategic assets at probably a little more than they were originally purchased by incumbent managements. The best way to protect strategic assets from corporations – if this is a desirable objective – is to keep them publicly owned. In this I include housing (wholesale transfer of public housing and right to buy). Mr Rees-Mogg is deliberately specious. He needed to be challenged on his plausibility. He was unfortunately deemed to be presenting a plausible argument. Speciousness is a deeply unadmirable trait.

Pics: Mhairi Black – SNP (through Wikipedia)

Jacob Rees-Mogg – LadyGeekTVFlickr

Pessimism: not my usual state of mind

220px-Hilary_BennI’ve noted the names of all of the Labour MPs who voted to bomb Syria in the recent vote. Hilary Benn (left) in particular is a disgrace and clearly short of rhetorical intelligence. As Simon Jenkins, the Guardian columnist noted after the debate, those who invoke Hitler (as Benn did) to argue for war need to think through their nonsense. ISIS, notes Jenkins, is not a threat to UK sovereign territory, unlike the UK in 1939. Moreover, we are in “dodgy dossier” territory here. The dodgy dossier was used by Tony Blair to make the “case” for war in Iraq in 2003 claiming weapons of mass destruction.

Human folly knows no bounds. The discovery of Penicillin in 1928 by Alexander Fleming heralded the era of antibiotics and the ability to treat many serious diseases such as Tuberculosis and syphilis. This is humanity at its most creative. But their effectiveness always depended on their irregular use. Essentially, show the micro-organisms antibiotics too often and they will find a way to be resistant. Humans, however, cannot seem to use finite resources appropriately. Doctors seem to over-prescribe; patients seem not to take a necessary whole course of treatment. But most stupidly, they are given to animals not to protect them against disease; i.e. for their welfare, rather to enable intensive farming to be possible. Seemingly the antibiotic of last resort, Colistin, has now been found to be ineffective against Enterobacteriaceae, a nasty little microbe that causes pneumonia, amongst other things. This might be a  high price to pay for cheap meat. The challenges are, however, even greater.

Some of the public figures I most admire are those that have eschewed gongs – honours bestowed upon subjects ofLynton_Crosby_Political_Strategist the Queen for good work. Musician, David Bowie, playwright Alan Bennett, artist L.S. Lowry (won award for the most times rejected) and scientist Michael Farraday are notable declinees. But the list is impressive and honourable. This year’s list of gongees, as I might call them, include Lynton Crosby (right), the architect of the Conservative Party’s “victory” in the General Election in May 2015. Crosby’s campaign was an abomination. One in which blatant lies were used against the opposition and David Cameron’s refusal to debate head-to-head with David Miliband. These are not services worthy of a Knighthood, even if I believed in them.

Enough. Happy new year to my readers. Thank you.

Pics:

Hilary Benn – http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/website/copyright/

Lynton Crosby – Cobber27 Wikipedia

Filtered French chic

20151220_183240It’s all in the filters at the moment. The delivery of carcinogens to willing humans takes great scientific endeavour. The current JSP campaign in Germany leads on this and takes on Lucky Strike and Marlboro whose new filter, Advance, is advertised to build anticipation as if it was a Star Wars film (“Are you ready for Advance?).

I apologise for the poor quality of this picture – it was taken at night across a railway platform. However, “Qualität die sich lassen kann” loosely translates as “allow yourself quality” coupled with “Jetzt mit festerem Filter” earns the ad agency its fee. And the smoker cancer.

Thank goodness, then, for the creativity of Gauloises’ ad agency. Vive le 20151205_230107Moment has the obligatory bearded man in a tuxedo, stylishly arriving at some gig with his bicycle slung over his shoulder (easier to ride, I would have thought). “Enzigartiger Stil, grossartiger geschmack. Meine Wahl” reads as “Unique style, great taste. My choice”. How clever is that; I mean, what a fantastic play on the concept of style? So cool.

By the way, just behind the door is the Grim Reaper.

Everything Everything, Strom, Munich, 5 December 2015

Get_to_Heaven_Everything_EverythingI am a recent convert to the music of Everything Everything, a 4/5-piece based in Manchester, formed in 2007. This tour co-incides with the release of their 3rd album, Get to Heaven (left). We were first exposed to them on Jools Holland’s BBC music show, Later. I distinctly recall noting that they were rubbish. The lead singer, Jonathan Higgs, had a ridiculous hairstyle and sang in falsetto (too much Bee Gees imagery for me). Alas, my partner put me right. I bought the album and then booked us two tickets for this gig. And what a gig it was.

The set was a near complete rendition of the album, plus a few oldies, Kemosabe, for example, which was nominated as Best Contemporary Song at the 2014 Ivor Novello Awards, amongst others. The first thing to say is that the band have an extraordinary presence to which their TV performance did not do justice. Higgs engages with the audience and genuinely seems to be enjoying himself.

The second thing to say is that the band’s music is curious. I would call it20151205_214133 Post-modern, a collage of styles, genres and techniques that, generally, work together. That is perhaps the skill. But lyrically – and certainly the songs on Get to Heaven – render this album worthy of attention. It is an acutely contemporary political statement/observation set to music. They are on the right side of the political spectrum. It does feel rather uncomfortable actually enjoying it when its subject matter includes Islamic State, the 2015 UK general election and mass shootings.

20151205_220524But even with the knowledge about what the album is about, it is still rather esoteric. Take, for example, Reptiles, where the lyric “Oh baby it’s alright, it’s alright to feel like a fat child in a pushchair old enough to run. Old enough to fire a gun” is chillingly surreal if nothing else. The opening track, To the Blade, is seemingly about the beheading of captives by IS. It starts with “So you think there’s no meaning in anything that we do?” Distant Past kicks off the theme of time – “Take me to the distant past, I want to go back”. But why? The printed lyrics are not much help. “Saw off my stinking limbs, blood dripping down my sunken monkey chin”. Maybe. “Did you ever watch your life slide out of your hands?” (Regrets) and then the mild relief of “Spring, Summer, Winter, Dread, I don’t want to get older”. This is a beguiling apocalypse.

 

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