Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

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


Avoiding tax avoiders

Stefano_PessinaThe UK Labour Party is under pressure, apparently, because big business is not endorsing tax policies. The most recent criticism has come from Stefano Pessina (left) the boss of Boots, the iconic British pharmacy-cum-drug store. Boots was founded in Nottingham, England, in 1849. It is now privately owned and has its headquarters is in Zug, Switzerland, to avoid UK corporation tax.

Now out of the woodwork are the fickle Simon Woodroffe, he of Yo! Sushi fame, who has funded both Labour and the Conservatives simultaneously just to hedge his bets, and Charles Dunstone, founder of Carphone Warehouse, now part of the Dixons empire. Both of these supported Labour under Blair. Arguably, Labour under Blair was conservative, and hence not a risk. Actually it would have been a risk not to support them in the run up to the 1997 election. Even Murdoch did that.

Labour under Miliband has targeted inequality as a key economic factor much to the chagrin of so-called ‘business leaders’ who took us in to recession and are unwilling to contribute to the state infrastructure that enables them to trade in the country safely and predictably.PricewaterhouseCoopers_Logo

Enter Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) the accountancy firm has been chastised by the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, Chaired by Margaret Hodge, for its speciality in advising firms on tax avoidance strategies on an ‘industrial scale’. Denied, of course.

Which other firms offend? We know well about Starbucks, Facebook, Top Shop, Amazon, Google, Apple and Virgin. That said, it is ok for Richard Branson because he is a philanthropist. Maybe we can define a philanthropist as someone who gives away part of their fortune to rectify the ills caused by their own business practices?

Other tax avoiding firms include: Dyson and Wolseley UK, owners of Plumb, Pipe,  etc, Centers.

Celebrities have always moaned about tax. Michael Caine went off to the US, albeit when tax rates were somewhat higher than they are today (but even then, the high rate was a marginal rate).  Unfortunately, Paul Daniels did not go when he threatened to back in the 1990s, let us hope that the likes of Griff Rhys Jones and Ray Winstone do leave as they threaten. Gary Barlow, Anne Robinson, the Arctic Monkeys, Katie Melula, George Michael and comedian, Jimmy Carr (I could go on) have all been exposed as intentional tax avoiders.

Picture: Stefano Pessina – Alliance Boots, available through Wikipedia


Industrial action, Quarks and Gravity

Yogeshwar_Ranga2I’ve just been watching an edition of Quarks and Co., a German-language science magazine programme on WDR with the ever-compelling musician turned astro physicist, Ranga Yogeshwar ( Yogeswar (left) is a true polymath with considerable charm. I watch this when I can as part of my German learning programme. The Edition on 3 September was all about time. Why does it feel different, depending on what we are doing? And what do we do with time saved as a result of taking a fast train, plane, etc.? The answer to the latter question it seems is that we work more. However, being on strike, as I have today over the erosion of pay in the higher education sector in the UK, frees up time – after first doing the picket line duties – to go to the cinema for the first time in what may be two years.

Spoiler alert!

Was it worth it? No.

Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, according to the Guardian’s three reviewers, Xan Brooks, the ever unreliable Peter Bradshaw and Catherine Shoad, is amazing. Sandra Bullock stars as the sole survivor of a disastrous US mission on the space shuttle after the Russians detonate a satellite that generates considerable debris that destroys the shuttle, the International Space Station and a mysterious Chinese craft that we did not know existed. All are in the same unfortunate orbit around the Earth.

George Clooney’s character makes an unexpected – though not real – return to the capsule in order to stop Gravityher suffocating herself out of sheer desperation. There is a lot going wrong and the Earth seems a long long way away. Bullock’s character comes back to life after a word with God – seemingly never needed before – and memories of her lost child.

I could go on. Others intelligently have:

At least I did not squeeze this film into my normal free time. Had I done, I would have felt cheated. And lunch beforehand was most agreeable. Such is the nature of industrial action.

David Cameron’s speech on Europe

Flag_of_Europe.svgLong anticipated and it did not disappoint. It takes a lot to be criticised by former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, but Cameron has elicited a damning response.

“I think it’s a huge worry in circumstances where you put on the agenda the prospect of Britain leaving. Why would we do that? We don’t yet know what we are proposing, or what we can get negotiated. We don’t yet know what the rest of Europe is going to propose. This referendum will happen in four or five years time, if the Conservatives were re-elected. Why not wait and see what we actually get out of this, play our part in shaping the new Europe, but why be in the situation where now you are putting on the table the prospect, four or five years time, of Britain leaving so that we can no longer answer the question, when we are negotiating, is Britain going to stay a member of the European Union or not? We can’t answer that question any more.” (drawn from Andrew Sparrow’s Guardian blog).

Let us unpick that. We – and anyone who trades with us or invests in the country – no longer know if the UK will stay in the European Union. Should the Conservatives win the next election, that will represent at least 5 years or so of uncertainty. It will precipitate the end of the Union between England and Scotland, putting back on track the campaign north of the border to break free, even though an independent Scotland would need to reapply for membership to the EU (until now a disincentive to break free).

Why is David Cameron such a poor strategist? Even though many in his party – and many outside – loathe the EU, the EU remains the largest trading bloc for the UK. That is strategically significant.It is also the case, that a lot of what these people dislike are good things like the working time directive; 48 hours per day is long enough for anyone to work per week. There is a lot that is wrong, but Cameron has now dug in even deeper and diminished the UK’s influence over what is wrong. Not only will the UK not support efforts in Europe to support the Euro (see post:, but now we are effectively leaving. On that basis, why negotiate with the UK? Moreover, as Blair said in his response, threaten to leave and someone will say “go on then”.

I had to laugh (though it was a painful speech to listen to) when he said that transport metaphors should be dispensed with – cast into some waste bin, only to serve up a platter full of them himself as he ‘progressed’. Astonishing.

You’ve been Trumped

I’ve just watched this documentary in amazement. The corruption story is contemptible. Trump is building a golf resort on the East Coast of Scotland south of Aberdeen. Planning permission was originally rejected by the council – not least because the plan involved the destruction of a unique habitat with SSI (site of special scientific interest) status. The decision was called in by the Scottish Government, led by Alex Salmond, and overturned.

However, there are good people in Trump’s way. Local people whose houses, for Trump, are unwelcome features in the landscape. It is the story of how they have resisted and how the forces of the state have facilitated Trump against the locals. There is an extraordinary scene where the police manhandle the amiable journalist, handcuff him, and bundle him off to the police station in Aberdeen. But that is nothing against the despicable acts being perpetrated against the locals. Their water was cut off and not restored. There is footage of the electricity supply being cut by a digger; and the locals being billed for fences that they did not ask for or need.

Please watch.

Bigot of the year

Stonewall, the gay rights campaigning group, it seems, risks losing valuable sponsorship from Barclays and Coutts banks. The two banks have threated to withdraw support if Stonewall runs its bigot of the year award again in 2013. Both banks are concerned about being associated with the award after it was given to Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland at its annual ceremony last week. A deserved winner. Notwithstanding the bigotry, any award that two ethically-challenged banks struggle with must be hitting the mark.

O’Brien won decisively, reported the Guardian newspaper, “after describing gay marriage as a ‘grotesque subversion’ of the traditions of marriage and likened it to slavery. The cardinal called it an ‘aberration’ and claimed it might clear the way for polygamous marriages and would cause ‘further degeneration of society into immorality’.

That strikes me as being spoken by a true bigot. Pure folly as well.

Using the B word

Bigots. Nick Clegg nearly used the word – but pulled back when he was challenged by the former Arch Bishop of Canterbury, George Carey, amongst others. Now I use it in connection with the case of Michael Black and John Morgan who won their case against the bigotted Christian Bed and Breakfast owner, Susanne Wilkinson, who refused them a room.

Backed by the Christian Legal Centre, Susanne Wilkinson spuriously defended her bigotry. But now we learn that it was not their homosexuality that was the issue, but rather that they were not married. Jonathan Overrend on Radio 5 Live on Thursday evening (18 October) failed to follow through on that. It is laughable to suggest that any hotel – even her unwelcoming microbusiness – would contemplate turning away a heterosexual couple in a similar situation. And what’s more, if such is true and Susanne Wilkinson’s wish, she really does have to ask if she is in the right business.

I trust she has a reservation taken for Nick Griffin?

G4S – Nick Buckles on the BBC’s Bottom Line

It was a weekend of undertaking a few dull jobs. On these occasions, I usually catch up with a backlog of BBC podcasts. I can recommend In Our Time discussing Camus. But I had not realised that Nick Buckles of G4S notoriety was a bit of a radio personality. On 7 June he appeared not for the first time on The Bottom Line with Evan Davis to discuss the theme of employment. And what a treat – untarnished by the recent Olympics failure with respect to the failure to recruit – here he is talking about the Olympic contract and the contracts of employees. Buckles_1_TBL_17Jun2012; Buckles_2_TBL_17Jun2012

G4S song

The spectacle of G4S gets worse by the day. Nick Buckles, G4S’s embattled CEO, was mauled yesterday before the Home Affairs Select Committee. He committed his company to considerable additional expenditure putting up the army and police in hotels and paying them bonuses on a par with London Bus drivers. All this to make up for the company’s failure to provide the necessary security staff for the forthcoming Olympics. Even though Mr Buckles has made himself rich by expanding this firm, one wonders whether the company’s success is because of him or despite him.

Adding insult to injury is the discovery of the G4S song that just makes one wonder and marvel at this firm even more. Whilst the tune has been unexpectedly removed from youtube, the song is out there! The BBC played it this morning, and I, courtesy of the New Statesman courtesy of someone on Soundcloud keeps the tune accessible to us all. I provide a link at the bottom of this page; however, here are the lyrics:

You love your job and the people too; Making a difference is what you do; But consider all you have at stake; The time is now don’t make a mistake; Because the enemy prowls, wanting to attack; But we’re on the wall, we’ve got your back;  So get out front and take the lead; And be the winner you were born to be. G4S! protecting the world; G4S! so dreams can unfurl; 24/7 every night and day; A warrior stands ready so don’t be afraid; G4S! secure in your world G4S! let your dreams unfurl; We’re guarding you with all our might; Keeping watch throughout the night.

A Eurovision song contest winner, for sure.