Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

Why politics matters

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It has been quite a couple of weeks. Francois Hollande is elected President of France on a less Austerity ticket. The Greeks don’t elect anyone to run the country but open the door to some of Europe’s most agressive fascists. And the fickle English electorate finally shows that it realises that the Conservatives rule in their own interests. It may be too late on that one, however, if healh service ‘reforms’ and educational ‘reforms’ go unchecked.

This all challenges the ‘fix’ agreed by the previous generation of European leaders regarding the Euro and sovereign debt. Yesterday morning we learned that Spanish government bailed out the country’s fouth largest bank, Bankia. Today they are shoring up the rest of the banking sector against the backdrop of no growth, high unemployment and investor withdrawal of funds.

It is clear, however, that electors are unlikely to be swayed by policies that continue to support those who have brought on the misery by their own greed, self-belief and inability to manage their own financial instrument creations. (This morning we find JP Morgen Chase have reported an embarrassing $2bn loss generated by a trader in derivatives that were designed to hedge against risks elsewhere in the bank.)

I’m hopeful about the French. The Greeks, however, have resorted to a fascist response. I suspect a contagion is not likely across Europe, the Greeks will need to manage them robustly. They are not democrats.

Flag courtesy of Stlemur

Privatising schools

I have written many times about Michael Gove; but whilst most have been preocuppied by NHS reforms, Gove has continued his assuault on comprehensive education. The march of the Academies has carried on relentless with over half of the country’s high schools converted on the promise of higher budgets, albeit independent of the local education authority that often brings economies of scale to works and procurement.

The motivation is, of course, selection – a return to grammar schools. Elitism. But there is a light in all of this. Local education authorities may be a thing of the past, but schools may still need to organise themselves co-operatively, as there are genuine benefits to be achieved by collective provision. Let us see how it develops.

Privatising roads

Not content with the National Health Service, now the Conservatives want to privatise the roads on the grounds that we do not have enough money to build or repair the network. Some thoughts.

First, governments, even indebted ones, can raise money for infrastructure cheaper than the the private sector (as the Private Finance Initiative demonstrates only too well). Second, tapping into sovereign wealth funds means ceding infrastructure to the Gulf States? Third, we know it is not about raising money, rather it is about paying big business well to run services that we can manage better – cheaper – inside. The railways are a case in point, nomatter how the Transport Secretary thinks she can reorganise the railways, the private sector has milked and will continue to milk the public coffers because they can. Because we let them. And every time the Government offers more assets, not surprisingly they accept them and get fatter.

Privatisation of the NHS

Why do the Conservatives hate public provision of services so much? The Guardian reported this week the privatisation of NHS Devon and Devon county council’s frontline services for children including some child protection services, treatment for mentally ill children and adolescents, therapy and respite care for those with disabilities, health visiting, and palliative nursing for dying children.

Who are the two front runners in this £130m contract? Serco and Virgin. Seemingly fallen by the wayside is a joint bid between Devon Partnership NHS trust, bidding along with Barnardo’s and other local charities.

I’m no fan of poor NHS management and care. But it does matter who runs the NHS. It does matter that those running it are not subject to shareholder pressure. Money is tight enough as it is, adding another shareholder dimension is unhelpful or even unethical. Virgin branded healthcare is in bad taste.

The special relationship

So David Cameron is now in The USA shoring up the special relationship. The speeches yesterday on the Whitehouse lawn were somewhat over-the-top with respect to how fabulous the Camerons and the Obamas are. The description of beacons of liberty, freedom, justice, etc. from both sides seemed to have a certain other worldliness quality. Where does constant regime change, interference in other countries’ affairs, Guantanamo Bay, assassination squads, privatisation, bank bailouts….fit into all of this.

Nice clothes.

Bank bonuses

So, Stephen Hester has declined his £1m bonus. Well done.

This morning’s radio comments on the issue have been revealing and need a more robust response. Though I give credit to Evan Davis again for challenging one interviewee who suggested that firms need to be able to pay on the basis of desert. Davis came back very quickly and said that the logic of capitalism was that firms try to get labour as cheaply as possible. Only senior managers seem to think that they deserve high salaries.

Stephen Hestor, noted Robert Peston on the Today programme, is a ‘determined man’ who may find himself with job offers to go to other banks where he could claim his bonus without political interference. Here are the things to say to all of those senior bankers – and anyone else who thinks that they deserve more.

Go. If you can find a better place to live than London, go. Second, having got us into this mess, you might feel that you have some responsibility to help clean up the mess. The banking sector owes the taxpayer a lot of money and gratitude. There wouldn’t be a banking sector without us. Go to Beijing, Singapore, Dubai. We really need a reformed banking sector – one that serves the citizens rather than exploits them. We want small businesses to be able to function and develop. Banks, as they are currently manifested, are a hindrance.

Finally, I have heard the argument that we need Stephen Hestor so that we can return the bank to the private sector and retrieve the £45bn or so that we have invested. At the moment it is ‘worth’ half of that. The experience from Northern Rock is that we will not get our money back with or without Stephen Hestor with or without his bonus.

A New Royal Yacht

A tear was in Her Majesty’s eye when the Britannia was decomissioned back in 1997. Prince Charles clearly likes the idea of a new Royal Yacht for himself his mother. And being apolitical as he is, he’s been lobying the government for it. Thank goodness for Michael Gove and David Willets supported by the Daily Mail to put this vital issue on the agenda. The Diamond Jubilee – only the second one in world history – should be remembered more than the Olympic Games in 2012. A new royal yacht is clearly the best way to do this.

Today, 22 January 2012, the Observer is running the story about how this bid for a new yacht was orchestrated. No co-incidence, it seems, that this was raised at this time. There are many issues. Even if there are no tax receipts used to fund this ship, the list of backers suggests that we should have a little concern. The focus on the educational value, is a case in point. Primarily, goes the argument, the ship will be a training vessel for underprivileged young people to learn a seafaring and develop teamworking skills. That is why, no doubt, Pearson Education, owners of Edexcel, the skilled company that sets impossible exam questions for 16 year old students and briefs teachers on exam content, is a big supporter. (Why have public qualifications been privatised?)  The Queen’s representative in Hampshire [does she need a representative in Hampshire?] Rear Admiral David Bawtree, also a director of Visor Consultants, a private security firm, is the man behind the project called FSB21. Not forgetting also that Tony Blair, the man who decommissioned Britannia, now regrets the decision. He’s got a bob or two, these days.

Notwithstanding all of that, fine, if they want another Royal Yacht, go ahead. Amongst that lot, there is enough money for sure. But why not just be honest, it is a floating hotel for the elite. The spin is nauseating. And please make sure that you have enough to maintain it. So often, taxpayers are left with the bill.

Mike Weatherley MP – not representing Hove and Portslade

Weatherley celebrating criminalisation

My Conservative MP, Mike Weatherley (pictured), is quite a self-publicist. He ‘sends’ me his monthly newsletter in his quest to inform and influence. Increasingly this newletter is used to express his uninformed prejudices which I am increasingly offended by. I am sure that I am not the only one he offends in his constituency. I want to use my blog to make clear to him and others that he rarely represents my interests and I do not want to be associated with his intolerence.

For example from his recent newsletter:

Victoria Gardens campsite

 Having recently been successful with my campaign to criminalise squatting, I have also taken the campers on Victoria Gardens in Brighton to task. Long-term camping in public spaces as a form of protest is unacceptable. The point of the protest was made long ago and it’s now just about a group of lazy campers hanging around for a fun time in front of our Royal Pavilion. This is not something that the public should have to pay for or put up with. Hard working taxpayers have had enough of these freeloaders. After publicly condemning the camp, I popped down to put my concerns to them in person. They claim to represent “the 99%”, so I informed them of the views of the REAL 99% – and told them to tidy up and go home.

Readers of this blog will know that I have posted on the subject of squatting before. Mr Weatherley is quite clearly a fan of the housing Minister, Grant Shapps, who ineptly equates squatting and murder. Mr Weatherley, some of us owe our homes and wellbeing to squatters. The country as a whole owes much to the squatting ‘movement’ such that it is. Moreover, there are not too many bulwarks against the property owning class that Mr Weatherley’s elitist party celebrates. Squatting is one of them in its demonstration of the inequity associated with housing that is a malaise in our society. And I suspect that Mr Weatherley, like the housing minister, Grant Shapps, thinks that he is protecting people who find their houses squatted after they have been away on holiday or business. I do not condone this, but this is rare. Most squatting is targeted at criminally empty properties that can and should be brought into habitation, preferably under some collective ownership and/or management. I would have thought that was a better use of his time, criminalising empty property. Mr Weatherley seeks to criminalise expressions of liberty and freedom in the name of protecting it.

There is more to say about Mr Weatherley.


It is that season again, the New Year’s Honours List. What is it really all about? Okay it is about honouring people who have achieved distinction in the arts, learning, science and public service. I know. But even then, golf: Rory McIlroy MBE aged 22 and Darren Clarke. Come on! Sport more generally. Then call me a cynic, we honour Gerald Ronson, former felon turned good guy (for subsequent charity work). Then there is Peter Bazalgette for bringing Big Brother to our screens – is notoriety on the list of qualifications? Hedge fund manager and Tory donor Paul Ruddock. Well done!

26 to 1 – auf wiedersehen Grossbritannien!

Notwithstanding my own thoughts about Cameron’s folly, the view of Europe’s media is very interesting indeed. Today I have scanned the German media and found, without exception, that the UK is isolated, will continue to be so, and is the butt of many jokes. ZDF is never shy of inserting amusing graphics into its reports. Last night the map of Europe had the UK sprouting sails and heading west. The broadcaster was also keen to utilise those very useful statues by Anthony Gormley (right) that are gradually submerged by the oncoming tide to make some obscure point! Images of Victoria and allusions to empire also accompany harsh commentary.

Incredulity, is perhaps, the word that sums up much of the thinking in Germany. The Suedeutsche Zeitung broadsheet newspaper this morning dedicated a whole page to Cameron. He was thoroughly caricatured and that British sense of ‘fog cuts off the continent’ mentality was again exploited.

How interesting, moreover, that it is that a few weeks and months ago we were discussing which country will be leaving the Eurozone. Now the talk is about the ‘inevitable’ exit of the UK from the EU. What an image, also, of Cameron travelling back to Chequers, his country retreat, and inviting 30 or so fellow sceptics for dinner and a toast to a crazy and inept decision and negotiating position. Would it not have been better to have invited 30 ‘wise’ people to discuss how to move forward, how to retrieve the situation? This is not a time for backslapping, surely?

Then on the Today programme, this morning, George Osborne defended Cameron and the decision. John Humphrys expressed that European incredulity. And Osborne failed to explain how the decision was in the UK’s interest. Does it protect the City? Not according to the Editor of the Financial Times, Lionel Barber, also interviewed by Humphrys immediately prior to Osborne’s interview. Again, I have recorded these two interviews and uploaded here. The financial institutions will trade where it is in their best interests. Suddenly Frankfurt looks attractive.

What about the Coalition? The German media say little about it; it is incidental. In the UK, what should we expect? One would think that Clegg would call time and force a General Election. He surely senses, though, that that would be the end of his party. They would no longer be in coalition. The ‘power’ and privilege will have gone. For the German TV, Miliband is also a marginal figure. It is all about Cameron.

Osborne seems to think that the UK is going to be able to stop the 26 from using the institutions of the EU to establish a political and fiscal union. The UK is going to tell the other members that they cannot have their discussions over the Eurozone in EU buildings – I think not!

It is clear from the reporting in Germany that the UK is on its way out of the Union. I sense not only is it that the UK is on the way out, but it is also a case of good-riddance!

I was anxious going across the border last night. The border guard scrutinised my passport closer than normal. I suspect, when I depart tomorrow evening, they will not even look at it. Good riddance, Englander.

Michael Heseltine was also on Today – his interview is worth listening to (0810); he does his best not to criticise, but clearly he was not at the Chequers dinner last night.