Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Pre-election final thoughts

First, two  gems I've heard in the past few days:

1.  From the joint leader of the Greens, Jonathan Bartley,  on a radio "Question Time" last night: "If the environment were a bank it would have been rescued already."

Yes indeed: the powers that be rushed to rescue the financial system - and don't forget it was Gordon Brown who led the world in this in 2008, though the Tories aren't too keen on acknowledging this.  One at least is still peddling the lie that  the UK Labour Party were responsible for causing the world financial crisis.  Be that as it may, the climate crisis has until now received no such urgent action.  Welcome to XR and Greta Thunberg: they have so far proved the only game changers in this election.

2. Words to the effect that: "The Labour Party have been unveiling goodies like some sort of political Advent calendar."

I think this has been a major mistake by Labour. 

I suspect most Liberal Democrats, are happy to go along with most of their policies, though we might express them differently -  for example taking back into "public Ownership" rather than  top down  "Nationalisation" such as the energy suppliers and railways, and putting more emphasis on consumer and employee participation.
But does it all need to be free, and does it all need to be done at once? 

For example, does super- duper broadband need to be free from the start? The earlier form of distance communication, the postal service, had to be paid for, and a 1d (that's a penny, hence Penny Post)  was quite a whack in those days.  And, as I've argued in earlier pasts, not every pensioner needs a free TV Licence.  Nor do many WASPI  women whose pensions have been delayed need compensation, or every primary school child need a free breakfast provided by the state.  

Yes, I know the arguments for universality, but it doesn't all have to be done at once, which is the impression the Labour (panic?) announcements give.

One economic commentator has said that although all political parties now seem to have rediscovered the benefits of Keynesianism, much of the electorate has still to catch up.  "Where's the money coming from?" is a common reaction,  and Labour's promises are not seen to be credible.

Talking of Advent: the readings in mainstream Christian Churches last Sunday, the Second in Advent (year A) were  from Psalm 72, and St Matthew 3vv 1-12

Psalm 72 asks God to bless the ruler (the king in the psalm: for today read "political leaders") with "justice" and "righteousness."  He is (they are) to "judge the people according to right and to defend the poor."  

For good measure rulers are to  "defend the children of the poor" as well, and "bring peace."

Oh, and "punish the wrong doer. " 

  I  suppose the Tories would go along with he last bit (provided it's not a banker, or, indeed, a philanderer and  deceiver )

In the passage from St Matthew's  Gospel John the Baptist exhorts both rulers and the rest of us to be like trees that "bring forth good fruit." He  warns that that trees that don't "bring forth good fruit" will be  "hewn down and cast into the fire."

Ye that that hath  ears to hear, let him (or her) hear.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Election: a game changer?

When the news of the killing of two young people by a terrorist near London Bridge last Friday was first broadcast my heart sank.  This was partly, of course, in sorrow  at yet another violent attack in our otherwase relatively peaceful society, but also that this incident could boost yet further the Tory lead.

Past elections have sometimes  been knocked off course by unexpected incidents.  In the first one in which I stood, as he Liberal candidate in my home patch, the then Batley and Morley constituency in 1970, from the outset the main question was how big Harold Wilson's Labour majority would be.  However, a few days before the election international trade figures were released showing that our overseas trade (the difference between the value of exported and imported goods) was in deficit.  I think it was by about £60m, peanuts* by today's standards, but it was enough to shatter confidence in Labour's economic competence and the Conservatives under Ted Heath won a majority.

A similar "game changer" occurred in 2017, when the Tories published their manifesto.  It contained reasonably sensible measures for financing social care but Labour dubbed them a "Dementia Tax" and Theresa May, who had been on course to win, lost whatever momentum she had and, in the result, her majority.

It may well be, however, that these murders may turn out to be the game changer in this election.  The Tories can't lose their majority because they haven't got one, but as information about the killing leaks out,  Johnson's initial and predicable reaction, the traditional Tory "Lora Norder" response of "lock'em up and throw away he key, " which probably did resonate with many if not most of the electors, may come to be seen as a crass "knee jerk" reaction.

In the past few days incident has brought to light more reasoned approaches.  The two young people killed, Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, were former students of law and criminology, and were working with an organisation, "Learning Together" designed to explore ways of effectively rehabilitating former criminals.  

Jack's father, Dave Merritt, has publicly declared that "Jack would be livid his death has been used to further an agenda of hate."  A pity he didn't write  it in the Sun or the Daily Mail rather than for the (mostly I presume) already converted readers of  the Guardian.

We also now know that one of the members of the conference at which Jack and Saskia were helping to lead, who risked his own life  by rushing forward to restrain the killer, was an ex-offender, Marc Conway.  For good measure, another person who put his own life at risk was a Polish kitchen porter named Lukasz, presumably the sort of person who would not be welcome in a Tory "points based immigration system."

Equally telling has been publicity given to the impact of recent cuts in the staffing and funding of the judicial system and police, prison and probation services. The Ministry of Justice budget has been cut in real terms by 40%, resulting in a 20% cut in police funding, several thousand fewer prison officers leading to prisoners spending up to 23 hours a day in their cells, and the disastrous part-privatisation of the probation service engineered by Chris Grayling

These details give the lie to the fatuous business-speak mantra that government departments can "do more with less."  This applies equably our NHS, local government. education, social security provision, consumer protection and health and safety monitoring.

The ideologically driven government austerity regime of the past decade has had consequences and will have more.

Of course there is no guarantee that the best provisions in the world would absolutely rule out to possibility of a maverick individual surviving the system unreformed.  But a rich country such as ours should be aiming at the best provision for the vulnerable, rather than cheeseparing to benefit the rich.

Locking people up and throwing away the key is not now and never was a civilised approach to criminal behaviour.  It was Douglas Hurd, one of the better Tories of past generations, who when Home Secretary told the party conference that  "prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse."

Sadly so far there is no sign of a more reasoned approach to tackling the problems of our society is affecting public opinion.  The polls remain static.

But there's still time. The best memorial for Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones would be a substantial dent in the Tory lead.

* It was in fact about 0.2% of the then GDP, compared with today's 7%. The 0.2% was largely the result of one-off payments for two Boeing jet aircraft, and was more than balanced by a 0.7% surplus on trade in services.  But his information didn't "trickle down" to the electorate.  On such misconceptions do the fates of general elections rest.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Migration: the view from Canada

I have a second cousine  living in Canada who seems to be more clued up on UK affairs than most of us here.  i think she gets it from "The Economist," - harly a raveing left-wing source.  She writes:

Cousin Peter, Hello

I think another blog issue. Net Migration to the UK

NET in-migration from EU countries ONLY 48,000 !!! Down from 200,000.
[And even that wasn't many.]  So the fear of "those dreadful Romanians" which prompted people to vote LEAVE, is no longer an issue.  48,000 in a country of 70 MILLION !!! A well-attended Football game perhaps.

Reasons. (Which you already know)

Eastern EU countries (recently joined the  EU) are now economically
"getting on" themselves (with massive EU subsidies - eg to Poland,
Lithuania  -I might add)

The low Pound - they say - "Hey why bother cleaning hospital floors in
Tooting Bec, when the pound isn't worth anything to "send home", and
living 4 to a room in London". They go back to their families.  Low
skilled low wage people, that is.

"Stable" high paid EU people in long term jobs in the UK are getting fed up with Brexit and moving back to Continental Europe - "I can be an Italian Chef in Marseilles or Lyons, just as easily: and a better
climate", says Giovanni.

The British Business Community/Federation are panicking saying they NEED EU skilled tradesmen like plumbers and electricians, everyday
wheelbarrow pushers and diggers, especially in the Building industry
-not just "the Brightest and the Best" architects and engineers. (As per
some Party "new" proposed immigration rules)


And then (also today) is the Report from the IFS (Institute of Fiscal
Studies) saying "every" Party's Manifesto figures are misleading.  I
think I recall them saying something like: Labour's long term spending
to "get things fair and efficient" might be 60 billion over many many
years.  The IFS said a Conservative"No Deal" would plunge the UK into a deficit of a similar amount !! 60 billion loss, in no time at all

I hope you're keeping your nerve.


Cousine M.

I received the above yesterday from M's Canadian outpost.  She's way ahead of the Guardian, who only today report the fall to 48 000 of EU migrant numbers.  You can see the details here.  What the Guardian's graph  doesn't show is that the fall in migration from the EU 27 is more or less made up for by increasing numbers from the rest of the worlds, over whom we do have control( and many of whom have skin colours other than pink. )

Funny old world in which yo have to be careful what you wish for.

Personally I'm jolly glad to have been born and live in a country that people want to come to rather than escape from, and to have had the privilege of living and working in three other different cultures where I hope I've  made a small contribution akin to  the sort of positive contribution  immigrants from other countries and cultures make here.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Our Liberal Democrat do-able manifesto

Someone on the radio this morning said that the Liberal Democrats had highlighted five vital points of our manifesto, which made it easy to grasp.

I haven't noticed these five defined on any official manifesto I've seen, but I think he mentioned:

  1. Stop Brexit.
  2. Action on the climate emergency.
  3. The health service.
  4. Education.
  5. Housing.
1.  Stopping Brexit is rightly at the top of the list.  As the other parties are trying, and I suspect succeeding, in hiving off Brexit as a boring issue we've all heard quite enough about, we need to continue to emphasise that hardly anything anyone wants to do for our society - about the climate crisis, housing, education, the NHS, crime or whatever - is made any easier by leaving the EU, and most things become much more difficult.

 "Just get it done because we're bored by it" is a fatuous argument when  the reputation of our country  and well-being of our own and future generations will be gravely damaged by a wrong decision.

2.  We are right  to give the next priority to the climate emergency: a "climate fund" of £100bn over five years, an ambitious target of  80% of our energy needs to  be met from clean renewable resources by 2030 and the taxation of frequent flyers.

3.  We are right to advocate an extra 1p on income tax to more properly fund the health service and bring mental health services into line with physical services.

4.  Although the manifesto highlights an extra 20 000 teachers I'm curious from know from where we'll find them.  Scrapping STATS and OFSTED would be my favourite bits, and I suspect those of most practising teachers.  Set the teachers free to teach

5.  A target of an 300,000 houses a year, along with penal levies on homes left empty for more than six months, will help alleviate a major distortion in our quality of life.

As far as I can see we have left proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, second chamber reform, devolution of power to the nations and regions, land value taxation, employee representation, profit sharing and other Liberal shibboleths on the back-burner for the time being (though legalisation of cannabis has somehow squeezed in).

Politics is, after all the art of the possible.

By contrast dedicated Labour  supporters must feel that all their birthdays and Christmases have come at once.  Their manifesto claims to be "the most radical for decades."  Indeed it is and, in an ideal world I would go along with most of it.

In the 2017 election Labour's fortunes improved when they launched their slightly less comprehensive manifesto, and they presumably hope this even more radical one will have a similar effect.  I hope they are right.

However, I suspect they misinterpret the public mood. 

Yes, back in 1945, when Britain had emerged from a devastating war as part of a victorious coalition, memories of the miseries of the 1930s depression were still very vivid and national self-confidence as at a maximum, the country was ready for a complete and adventurous change of direction.

Labour is right to highlight the miseries and unfairness of the post crash decade, of the damage to civic society, the crumbling of our infrastructure, and, above all the sheer unsuitability of the lying and disingenuous clique who have taken over our government.

To me the biggest puzzle is why the public are not seething with anger.

But we  aren't - maybe because 80% of us have survived austerity reasonably comfortably.

So while the Labour manifesto is to be admired, and chunks of it could well be at home in a Liberal Democrat manifesto, the public is not ready for it. 

And the successful media demonisation of Mr Corbyn means that they are not ready for him either.

Most serious of all, it really is not credible that the major contender for replacing the present shambles of a government should continue to sit on the fence regarding the major issue facing us: Brexit.

Step for award the Liberal Democrats with our more modest but do-able proposals - a sort of Fabian Liberalism

Monday, 18 November 2019

Your clothing and the climate crisis.

Most of us are familiar with the idea that all forms of transport and travel powered by carbon based fuels are damaging to the environment and that we need to cut buck on their use if global heating is to be kept within bounds.

It came as a surprise to me that the world textile industry is one of the major causes of environmental desegregation.  The facts detailed below are taken form an article by  Sandra Laville, the Guardian's environment correspondent, published  last June.

1.  The textile industry creates 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 per year, more than international aviation and shipping combined.*
2.  It consumes and pollutes "lake sized" volumes of water.
3.  It creates chemical and plastic pollution: up to 35% of microplastics in the ocean come from synthetic clothing. When we wash clothes containing synthetic fibres, each cycle releases hundreds  of thousands of tiny fragments of plastic into the waterways.
4.  Neither nationally or internationally is inspection of working conditions sufficiently robust  to ensure that adequate health  and safety standards are maintained and at least minimum legal wages paid.
5.  In the UK discarded textiles generate 1.3m tonnes of waste each year, of which 350 000 tonnes are incinerated of put into landfill.

This does not mean that to save the planet we should all go around naked, but it does mean that we should avoid  the fast-fashion industry, buy clothing made to last and wash it only when necessary.  What we need to do is follow the practices of our grandparents: buy quality clothing and wear it until it wears out.

 The fast fashion industry has expanded enormously in the past 25 years.and its younger customers.  In the UK we buy more clothes per person than any other European country, and five times what we bought it the1980s.  On average such clothing is discarded by its consumers after five weeks. 

An adjoining article recommends that we commit to wearing every piece of clothing at least 30 times.  I'm happy to say that my generation will have no problem with that, and counting.

*  When I put this to an expert at Leeds University he suspected there could be some double counting: the CO2 emissions of creating and transporting  the textiles could be included in the "Textile" figure, and again in the "Transport" figure.  Let's hope he'll sort it out in his PhD.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Some truths about the Climate Crisis

Last month I attended a day conference on the Climate Crisis run by the Leeds Trades Council, largely a Trades Union organisation and Labour Party front. (The session of "Working with others" never even mentioned the Liberal Democrats.  I'm not sure they even mentioned the Greens)

Reassuringly the emphasis was not so much on preserving jobs in existing industries as the urgency of action to  avoid a climate catastrophe, even if that means contracting some existing industries.  Rather there was considerable emphasis on  the opportunities to be created in the expanding Green industries.

I picked up the following "facts" which sound sensible to me.

1.  It is a nonsense to think that so-called "carbon capture and storage" techniques (CCS) will enable us to carry on extracting and  burning fossil fuels and capture and bury the carbon to keep it out of harms way.  CCS has never yet been achieved on a large industrial scale, even though several billions have already been spent on pilot schemes.  Even if it is achievable, great lumps of carbon (frozen CO2?) in the ground and ready to leak out at any moment are hardly a friendly legacy to leave for future generations to deal with.

2.  Cutting carbon emissions by 2050 , the current government policy, will be too late. "Experts" (of whom some Tories have had enough) say we need to achieve the target in 12 years at the most (ie by 2031).

3. Gas is a fossil fuel and any achieved from fracking will pump huge amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2) into the air.  Even if we discover how to stop the resulting earthquakes and poisoning of water supplies which presently result from the procedure there is not now and never will be a case for fracking.

4.  Hydrogen for use as a fuel does not exist in nature but has to be created, usually from water by electrolysis (I remember doing this at school).  This requires more energy than is contained in the resultant hydrogen fuel.*

5.  Much time was spent in discussing the proposed expansion of the Leeds and Bradford airport.  Our conclusion was that LBA should be contracted rather than expanded, and the same goes for London Airport. We look for ward to seeing Boris Johnson, PM or not, lying in the road to stop the bulldozers if anyone is daft enough to go ahead with their third runway.

So far these issues have not featured al that prominently in the election campaign.  The should come second only to Brexit

*  On this it depends how the electricity is generated.  If we can generate all the electricity  we need from wind, tidal and solar power, than that alters the situation.  For the present even electric cars are not super-virtuous  if some of the electricity they consume is from fossil fuels.  Nor from bio-fuels: the production of these takes up valuable farming lands and their use pours  noxious gasses into the air.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Grenfell; who or what is responsible?

Earlier this week leading Brexiteer and still a cabinet minister  Jacob Rees Mogg gave it has his opinion that the residents of the Grenfell Tower Block who obeyed the Fire Service's instructions to stay  in their apartments during the fire,  "lacked common sense."  This has caused outrage and it is understood the Tory campaign managers hope to keep Mr Rees Mogg out of the limelight for the rest of the election period.

The following information is culled from a letter from a Sasha Simic published in the Guardian on7th November.

  • When he was Prime Minister David Cameron promised to abolish the "albatross" of "overregulation " in the building industry and claimed that his Conservative government would "kill off the health and safety culture for good."
  • In 2015 Sajid Javid, then Business Secretary and now Chancellor of the Exchequer,  launched a government initiative called "Cutting Red Tape" which, among other things, claimed that "Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections  reduced from six hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job."
  • When he was Mayor of London Boris Johnson closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fire engines out of service and slashed over 500 firefighter jobs to  "save money."
  • It was the Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea council that "saved" £293 000 by draping Grenfell Tower with flammable cladding rather than fire-resistant cladding.
 I have not checked all these facts, but have no reason to believe that any are incorrect or exaggerated.  

They should be printed and published in every non-Tory election communication
M/s Simic  concludes with the view  that "[i]t was the Tory doctrine of the unfettered free-market perusing profit above all other considerations that paved the way  to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people."

It's hard to disagree.

Out of the EU and in cohorts with the US as a quasi 51st state we can expect more of the same.  

When anyone mentions "the nanny sate" or  "red tape" it is essential to remember that one person's red tap is another's health and safety and better prospects of decent and safer working and living conditions.