Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Brexit watch – w/c 18 July 2016

David DavisWell, the Brexit Minister, David Davis (left) has been on overdrive this weekend. Whilst most of us have been overwhelmed by events in Turkey and Nice, Mr Davis has been busy making trade deals. Or at least feeding the Daily Express – that paragon of truth – some guff about the irrelevance of the EU single market.

I am also reassured that Mr Davis is the right man for the job. Having spent many years and much effort trying to get out of the EU, it is curious how little he understands about negotiating trade deals. He seemingly is of the opinion that it is possible to negotiate individual trade deals with EU members. He does really need to be briefed better before he starts negotiating.

What’s more, it is not even clear if it is his job. He’s minister for Brexit, that is not the same as Minister for Trade (and presumably agreements). That job goes to Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade.

Oh, and then there is ARM, described correctly by ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston, as Britain’s ONLY world-leading electronic company (sic). Mrs. May, in her Birmingham launch speech on 12 July, said that she would protect firms in strategic industries from foreign takeover. It did not take long for that pledge to be converted into Treasury orthodoxy; namely, that all firms have a price, strategic or otherwise.

The Founder does not think it is such a good thing!

And looking at this graphic above, it really is not good for the UK.

Brexit watch

OnoraO'NeillThe BBC is currently running a series of short talks by leading thinkers – real thinkers – on Brexit. I listened to two this morning as I traveled in to work. The Philosopher and Reith lecturer, Onora O’Neill (left), talks about the responsibility of media in a democracy and how the referendum debate was poorly served by the media. This was followed by John Gray (right), political philosopher, on the nature of opportunity arising from Brexit (however distant that may seem) and the legacyJohnGray of the European project. This one almost made me feel human for the first time since the referendum result. Worth a listen (click on name below).

Onora O’Neill

John Gray

Since writing this initial entry, three more speakers have made a point. Least tenable, as expected, was Roger Scruton; I have a lot of time for the constitution scholar, Peter Hennessy (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times); and the excellent Cambridge classicist, Mary Beard, who summarises the whole episode so well. If only we had listened to these experts, Mr Gove!


Pictures: BBC

Brexit watch

Euro_flag_yellow_lowOk, there is a lot happening at the moment. Today has been quite significant in terms of economic impacts of Brexit.

The Governor of the Bank of England, who seems to be our de facto Prime Minister running the country in the absence of anyone else, has reported that the economy has started to respond to Brexit.

The low value of the Pound Sterling – the UK currency – makes imports expensive. Prices will go up and hence inflation. Inflation coupled with low growth = stagflation. Not good.

Whilst the FTSE 100 index has increased in value, this can be explained by the fact that most of these firms are international and trade globally. The more pertinent 250 index, which tracks the value of more domestic-focused firms, is much less healthy.

Three property funds have suspended trading on UK property – basically, too many investors wanting to redeeem investments in anticipation of a property crash (see above link).


Euro_flag_yellow_lowI apologise to my readers for not posting too much in recent days. My country is currently in political and economic meldown and it is very difficult to make sense of events. Being able to articulate what is happening to a wider – often international – readership is almost beyond my skills.

In a nutshell: the people of the UK have voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. However, no one had a plan on how to do it. The Prime Minister resigned. Those who advocated leaving have all been found to be lying, self-seeking sociopaths (I am being generous with this description) and have largely absented themselves from responsibility. The next Prime Minister is being chosen by a small cabal of neo-liberal members of Parliament and around 150K grassroots members of the Conservative Party. The economy is in freefall and xenophobia/hate crime is on the rise.

I found the linked Buzzfeed take on events to be enlightening

If readers are interested in the legal dimensions around Article 50, the bit of the Lisbon Treaty that describes the leaving process, can be seen here. And here.

Here is a Twitter thread that details, in a straightforward way, the complications and consequences of Brexit.

I’m also impressed by Frankie Boyle, a terse Scottish comedian, who writes often incisive stuff on politics.


Euro_flag_yellow_lowThis is my letter of 26 June 2016 to my Member of Parliament, Amber Rudd.



26 June 2016

Dear Ms Rudd,

My reading of the referendum result is that the country is now experiencing a constitutional crisis. It is clear that there was no contingency on either side of the debate – though I dispute that it was ever binary – as to what would happen afterwards. Indeed, it was remiss of me not ask this question of anyone prior to the vote. Maybe that reflects our collective complacency regarding the result.

We are told this is the will of the people. First of all, it is an advisory referendum. The people have spoken, for sure, but it is evidently clear that they have not spoken about the EU, rather the liberal elite’s many years of neglect. It is not surprising when, given a “meaningful” vote, it is used to give that very same elite a kicking. I can understand that.

Second, this was all about party management, not British interests. It should never have been called. And it should never have been decided on a simple majority. On this I want to know how this was ever allowed. For example, what was the input from the civil service and state lawyers? Why was it a only a simple majority? What is the Monarch’s role in this? What risk assessment was done? And is the sovereign Parliament going to talk about this before the nuclear button is pressed? Are there any lessons from Democrats in the USA trying to get gun control debated?

Third, there is a vacuum now at a time when leadership is required. Just looking at the newspapers this morning the issues do not seem to be about what we are going to do. Rather Conservative and Labour Party politics. So, who will succeed Mr Cameron (we cannot wait until October!)? And Mr Benn’s challenge to Mr Corbyn. These are side shows.

Please tell me who the “states-people” are. Is there anyone I can trust in the political class? Who are the people who are going to lead us? What are the Parliamentary options? Which street should I protest on?

Most disturbingly, the campaign has legitimised racism, xenophobia and no doubt other phobias – gender, sexuality, etc. History tells us that this is dangerous for the country and the continent. This is no longer a party matter. How can I help you stop this madness?

Kind regards,

Dr Andrew Grantham


Will the EU let the destruction happen?

For reasons that I cannot explain, I have been affected by the so-called Islamic State’s destruction of UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Palmyra in Syria (below right). The destruction of ancient artefacts for religious reasons somehow seems personal, and that is not diminishing IS’s penchant for killing that seems part of their ideology. But why should the destruction of ancient temples which I have not visited bother me?


Yesterday the Guardian newspaper ran a story about the impending destruction of another World Heritage Site, this time in Europe and by a member state of the EU. The site in question is the Białowieża forest (left). It covers an area of 150,000 hectares in Poland. It straddles the border with Belarus, where it is entirely protected as a nature park. It is home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and 62 species of mammals – among them Europe’s largest, the bison (left).

The government has passed a law allowing 188,000 cubic metres of trees to be felled by 2021. It is argued that some of the trees – maybe even 1 million spruce trees – are infested with bark beetle and are dying. The felling, however, seems to go way beyond what is necessary to contain the infestation – assuming it needs dealing with at all. Nature is pretty good at regeneration.

The Polish government seems to have put a price on the forest. The logging in Białowieża is expected to raise about 700m złotys (£124m); however, some see it as the thin edge of the wedge. Undermine the viability and diversity of the forest and that might pave the way for extensive and lucrative tree clearances (as if what is proposed is not damaging enough).

So, what is the link to the so-called Islamic State? Well IS was not a member of the EU, or even the UN, so negotiation over the Palmyra site wereTemple_of_Bel,_Palmyra_02 difficult to arrange. There was not much sanction at that point in time. They willingly filmed the destruction for posterity, keen as they are to share their violence with us. Poland is an EU member state. Sanction is there if it chooses to exercise it. We shall see.

But the story did help me with the question of why it might bother me. Both sites are ancient. The trees or the relics – if they could speak to us – could tell us much about ourselves, our history and origins. I know they cannot. Both are irreplaceable. Take them away and they cannot be replaced. With forest, the whole eco-system is lost. The flora and fauna will die. That is also an issue. With the ancient relics, we erase our link to history, ancestors and the humbling that often comes with huge ancient buildings erected without, at the very least, lifting technology. Wonderment, that is the connection.

In the comments accompanying the article in the Guardian newspaper (link above), one comment suggested that countries with elected governments can do what they like with their land. And there lies the problem. Human beings believe the land and its content to be theirs. They are resources to be exploited. They are very rarely viewed as there to be protected, even though protecting the forest sustains the environment on which we depend. Humanity often struggles to see itself as made up of organic life forms. Rather humanity locates itself as some superior entity removed from its place in nature.

Will the EU act?


Bison in forest: Herr stahlhoefer, Wikipedia

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, Bernard Gagnon, Wikipedia



What is to be done?

Donald_Trump_August_19,_2015_(cropped)What a depressing day this is, despite the sunshine. I have been trying to hide from the reality of Donald Trump being on the ballot for the US presidential election in November. But last night’s victory in Indiana and the withdrawal of the two remaining opponents from the Republican nomination guarantees his candidacy. And with it, the very real prospect of power.

Back in the UK, the punitive Trade Union legislation entered the statute book. It is a bare-faced attempt to outlaw strikes (in the public sector) by forcing a minimum of a 50 per cent turnout for strike ballots and a 40 per cent positive vote amongst those eligible to vote. Let me get my head around that. 40 per cent of the eligible voters have to be in favour even if they choose not to vote. Basically, choosing not to vote counts as a “no” in a strike ballot. Put another way, very few of our Members of Parliament meet those criteria for their own election.

What else? Ah yes, another unsavoury character, John Whittingdale (right), the inappropriately appointed Culture Minister, isWhittingdale desperate to abolish the BBC. Now I’m no lover of the BBC – with the exception of its factual output, essentially BBC4 – but abolition leaves us to the mercy of commercial media and commercial agendas. Whittingdale has already been kite flying arguing that the BBC should not be able to go head-to-head with commercial rivals; for example, Strictly Come Dancing against the X-Factor on a Saturday evening. He wants to top-slice the BBC licence fee to give to commercial broadcasters in the interests of fairness. The BBC has already had to subsidise pensioners with the free licence and take on the World Service, traditionally the responsibility of the Foreign Office. But last week during a Cambridge Conservative Association speech he described the demise of the BBC as a “tempting prospect”.

Pictures: Donald Trump By Michael Vadon (Wikipedia)

John Whittingdale –


On the plus side…a rant

LeicesterLeicester City today or next week will win the English Premier League. Good for them. The league does not lie and it is so refreshing to see a real team challenge and win. On the downside, my team, Hull City, trying to get back into the Premier League (having been dumped out of the league by Leicester’s failure to be relegated last year) cannot even beat an already relegated side in the run-off to the play-offs in the second league. For non-English readers, worry not, this is all irrelevant to life in general. However, it is clear that my team’s coach cannot motivate his squad of players like Claudio Ranieri can his. Lessons there.

Good also for the mis-named junior doctors striking in the UK. The amount of vile verbiageJeremy_Hunt_Official coming from the British Government at the moment against doctors is par for the course, but good on the doctors for standing up for principles – their’s and our’s. The British Government is dismantling the National Health Service and handing it over to private sector cherry-picking businesses. Jeremy Hunt (right), the egregious English health minister accused the doctors of making the strike political. If I am not mistaken, his government has outlawed political strikes, so by virtue of it happening at all it cannot be political. Equally if anyone has made it political it is Mr Hunt. This is turning out to be a battle of wills between right and wrong. Next thing we’ll find armed police trying to break through pickets just like Thatcher did in the 1980s against another class of workers fighting for their rights and livelihoods.

southernTalking about strikes, last week those of us in the south of England had our journeys to work disrupted by a strike by conductors on the trains. A 24 hour strike straddling two days caused chaos and major inconvenience. Just like strikes are supposed to do. Good for the conductors trying to block attempts by the train company to change their terms and conditions and turn them into revenue protection officers rather than train managers – responsible for safety and customer service on board. As a season ticket holder on Southern, I favour the conductors absolutely. This is a company that treats its customers with utter contempt. By that measure, employees must be utterly despised.

There is a new phrase going around at the moment like a bad smell. I’ve heard it from my own employer and people involved in the junior doctors’ strike. To paraphrase: “This is a democratically elected government, so…”. To translate, this Government led by a bunch of thieving, self-seeking, lying white men, can do whatever they want because they secured 37 per cent of the national vote a year ago. Please, democracy is not just a vote every 5 years. Democracy is a process. A manifesto commitment is not law. We have two chambers of Parliament, scrutiny committees and courts to test the robustness and fit-for-purposeness of proposed laws. Bad law is untested law and comes from Parliamentarians who do not understand process or those who are self-serving. Or both. It is a duty to oppose poor law whether it was in a manifesto or not.

More on privatising schools by stealth

NickyH&SJan10A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the UK government’s assault on schools in forcibly converting them into Academies and then, by default, passing them, their assets and their curricula over to the private sector. Seemingly, there has been a lot of opposition to this, not least from local authorities whose schools they are. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary (left) for England told the UK Parliament on Monday that she is listening. So the new idea is to force schools to be academies, but for local authorities to manage chains of academies. Best of both worlds, it seems?

Hang on a minute. One of the objections was cost. Conversion costs money. So far, £32.5m has been spent on conversion. Another £100m is required to finish the job. So no. Second, conversion is the precursor to privatisation. Schools cannot easily be privatised without conversion because, presumably, ‘academisation’ is just converting the school into a bundle of assets and contracts. The kind of stuff that private companies understand. So, even if in the short-term, local authorities run academies, it is the conversion that is critical. We must ask ourselves why this is a suitable compromise for an ideological government. Because it is the academisation that they want. Eventually they will be sold/passed on to their friends to make risk-free money from.

Picture: Wikipedia

Privatising schools by stealth

GeorgeOsborne2015Here we go again. George Osborne (left), the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer – otherwise known as the finance minister – took it upon himself to announce in his budget last week that all Schools will be forced to become academies. This is to rid them of fiendish local bureaucracy and hand them over to private-sector “trusts” where no such bureaucracy can get in the way of delivering first class education to children across the country.

First of all, I was a little confused as to why the finance minister rather than the education minister would make the announcement. Even the Prime Minister is a more likely bearer of such policy news. Who is making policy here? Oh, and while we are at it, let us abolish the right of parents to be governors on school boards. They seem to be part of that unnecessary bureaucracy that gets in the way…

Let us look at the rationale. First, Osborne links local bureaucracy and poor global performance of schools (on very limited instrumental metrics). Simply not demonstrated. Not only are local authority-run schools high performers in some cases but academies also fail – take AET, as just one example. Second, centralisation is an attempt to micromanage education. The national curriculum does not hold in academies, but the testing regimes do. And less-than-exemplar exam companies such as EdExcel (a subsidiary of Pearson) run the show. A far cry from my own secondary education certificate from the Joint Matriculation Board, a lofty university accredited outfit.

The local authority monitoring – sorry, bureaucracy – will be replaced by a highly efficient and non-bureaucratic schools commission. Conveniently accountable to some oblique central authority, not locally-elected representatives or accountable local civil servants.

More pertinent, it seems, is money. There is money to be made for academies not possible under local authority control. So, Knight of the Realm Sir Greg Martin – boss of Durand academy chain, apparently notched up a tidy salary of £390k and management fees of £508k while also running a dating website, a health club and an accommodation business (as if running schools was a part-time business opportunity).

Then there is the land. Oh yes, now we are getting to the nub of the matter. Local authority schools occupy public land. Academy schools’ assets are handed over to a “trust” (if ever the word trust was misused it is here, surely?). Wait and see the terms of use of land held in “trust” change.

Then there are the children who have learning difficulties or behavioural problems. Academies have to be target driven and non-conforming children are removed and ultimately become the responsibility of local authorities, those democratically-controlled entities that bureaucratically hinder educational achievement.

And then there are the teachers. Academies are not bound by national terms and conditions. The current Education Secretary’s predecessor, Michael Gove, already freed up academies to employ non-qualified staff and to replace them with software programs. Really. Now there will be no national negotiations over pay. That is another attack on organised labour and another good reason for conversion.

Talking of which, The BBC reported recently that to date conversion has cost local taxpayers £32.5m. According to Michael Rosen writing in the Guardian, 2,075 out of 3,381 secondary schools and 2,440 out of 16,766 primary schools are academies. That is a lot of conversion money still to be found.


The rationale now makes sense!