Thursday 18 April 2024

Some progressive steps for a Labour government



By boxing themselves in with the adoption of “fiscal rules” contrived to enable them, they believe, to win the election, Labour seem to have locked themselves out of most of the policies desperately needed to repair our public realm.  However, in an article in last Sunday’s “Observer” (14th April) Andrew Rawnsley has helpfully listed a number of progressive measures that  would make very little, if any, demands on the public purse.  In summary they are:

1.    Eject the remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords.

2.    Modernise the school curriculum. (See note *)

3.    Reform the planning laws to encourage house building.

4.    More effectively regulate the water industry and other utilities.

5.    Ban “no fault” evictions.

6.    Enhance the rights of workers.

7.    Ban “zero hours” contracts.

8.    End the practice of “fire and re-hire.”

9.    Strengthen relationships with the EU.

1   Ban the sale of “zombie knives.”

To make it a “round dozen” I would add:

11Restore the “Fixed Term Parliament” Act

1 Set up “citizens’ Assemblies” to examine the case for electoral reform.

So, no excuses, Labour, if you want to be seen as a genuinely “progressive” party.


·        *Personally I’d like to see the National Curriculum abolished and go back to the days when, apart from an “Agreed syllabus for Religious Instruction” determined locally, and compulsory PE,** teachers and governors were trusted to determine between them what education was appropriate for the children in their area.

·       **That’s what operated for most of my career.  I’d like to see those two requirements abolished as well.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Iran - why no sauce for the gander?

 President Biden  has condemned  Iran’s attack on Israel “in the strongest possible terms.”  The British Prime Minister has described it as “reckless.”  Yet both these leaders, and their governments have, consistently over a period of six months, strenuously  insisted on Israel’s right to “defend itself “ (ie respond) to the Hamas attack on their citizens on 7th  October.

 Surely “what is sauce for the goose [should be] sauce for the gander.”

Israel’s attack on the Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus, which killed two of Iran’s senior generals and several others, took place  on 1st April.  Both the US and British governments seem to have been curiously silent on any “right” of Iran  to respond to this attack on what is technically their territory.

 I freely admit I have not read all the newspapers or heard every news bulletin, but t was not until yesterday 15th April (that is, two weeks later) that I read any hint of criticism, when an article in the Guardian* claimed that “analysts [have] pointed out that Israel bulldozed through every red line to attack a location that Tehran maintains was tantamount to attacking Iranian soil.”

I write this not to indicate support for Iran’s action, or approval of its illiberal and fanatical government, but to point out that to be credible the West’s response to infractions of international law or common decency, or belligerent behaviour,  should be even-handed.

 I and most of my generation have been brought up to see the “political” West as the “Good Guys.”  The governments and citizens of the non-aligned nations, (and emerging “Great Powers” of which India and Brazil are good examples,) look at events from a different standpoint.

 For what it is worth I join with the West’s calls for restraint. 

 It is significant that, if we are to believe the reports, Iran has declared its attack on Israel as a success  (in spite of all the evidence that it was almost totally thwarted,) and is content to leave the matter there.  It is Netanyahu and his government who are threatening vengeance.

 At least, if I understand things correctly, neither the US nor the UK governments will provide  forces to any military retaliation.  Refusing to supply further arms would be a welcome next step.


Post Script: added 08h20, 18th April.  I've just listened to a lengthy interview with Grant Shaps, our Defence Secretary, on Radio 4.  Shaps was being pressed  as to why he and the US were urging "restraint" on Israel, rather than going all out for retaliation against Iran's attack.  No mention that Israel provoked the attack by bombing the Iranian  diplomatic compound in Damascus.

*Strategic Failure:  Peter Beaumont and Emma Graham-Harrison, 15th April

Saturday 6 April 2024



I wonder what future historians will make of the fact that in the first quarter  of the 21st century the world’s Civilised Powers/Western Powers/ authors of a Rule-based World Order, for six whole months (and counting) provided weapons and ammunition to one side in an armed conflict whilst at the same time urging them to stop the devastation they were   causing and attempting to provided aid and succour to the other.

The Israeli aggression is justified as retaliation in response to the murderous attack by the organisation Hamas on innocent Israeli civilians.

But one of the principles of Just War Theory is that any armed response should be proportionate to the offence given: in Hebrew Bible terms, no more than “an eye for an eye.” (Exodus 21 verse24). 

This level of retaliation for the murder of 1100 innocents and the taking of a 240 hostages was probably reached within a few days, if not hours,  of the October 7th atrocity.  That the “war” has continued for six months and taken 32 000 lives, mostly innocent, is, as the Guardian put it,  “unconscionable.” (Leader,  3rd April).

 That we should find it acceptable to continue to supply Israel with arms to enable them to continue with these atrocities "beggars belief"  (that phrase again.)

Part of the problem is the loose way in which we use term “war.”  My dictionary defines it as “armed conflict, ‘usually’ between sovereign states.”

  Yet we now talk glibly about “wars” on obesity, crime, drugs, illiteracy  . . .  It sounds “macho” and appeals to politicians wanting to appear tough and be taking effective action. The effective solutions such as regulation of the food industry, employing more police and probation officers, rehabilitation fiscalities for offenders, recruiting effective teachers and paying them generously, don’t quite have the same ring.

These wars on concepts do not have a good record of success. 

George W Bush’s “War on Terror” has been totally counter-productive.  Its 20 years of armed action has resulted in 70 000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan and the Taliban, who may or may not have had a hand in the atrocity of 11th September 2001, are in firmer control than ever.

I suggest that the proper response to the Twin Towers slaughter should have been a police action, and a similar approach should be taken to bringing the perpetrators of the 7th October massacre to justice.  It would need, of course, armed police, preferably international,  and to be evidence lead.  It would be messy, and probably still involve unmerited violence and death.  But preferable to the wholesale slaughter and starvation of the civilian population.

 Of course, Just War theory assumes that retaliation is a justifiable response.  Maybe so, but it is more likely to perpetuate the problem than to solve it. 

What is needed, is, if not forgiveness, at least willingness by both sides to accept the terrible wrongs done to them, agree to put them behind them and live, albeit initially uneasily, together. 

Nelson Mandela showed it could be done in South Africa.  We need a couple of politicians with Mandela-like realism and forbearance to emerge in Palestine.


Tuesday 2 April 2024

Brexit Burdens


Jonty bloom is a former Business Correspondent for the BBC and now a freelance journalist who, presumably among many other things, writes a regular column in "The New European." 

In last week’s column he quotes from reports from  the think-tanks “The  Institute of Government” and “UK in a Changing Europe” that “[t]here are now 100 000 more civil servants [in the UK] than there were pre-Brexit.”

Bloom claims that, although some of these extra personnel are because of Covid, “most are due to Brexit.”

 This seems astonishing.  After all, the much maligned Brussels bureaucracy we heard so much about from the Leave Campaign in the referendum has only about 32  000 “Eurocrats” to service the 27, so why should be need the bulk of 200 000 UKcrats to replicate what they used to do for us?

Bloom explains that before Brexit the UK had only about 40 or so civil servants who were part of the overseas trade negotiating team.  Now we do the job on our own it takes about 2 000.  That makes sense: it takes just as much expertise to cover all products and partners  when negotiating for a relatively small economy of 66m as it does for a bloc of 448m.

In addition there are the many other jobs – regulations for business, border officials, animal welfare, agricultural support, regional policy and so on – which used to be done collectively but we now need to do for ourselves.  The border controls for trade between ourselves and the EU, which have still not been implemented  but are now finally scheduled to start this year, are required to do a job that didn’t exist before Brexit.

The bulk of the additional staff will be not lowly-paid pen pushers but highly qualified – and expensive – lawyers, accountants, auditors, trade experts and and similar highly-trained professionals.

 The Leave campaign was suffused with the claim that when we “ got our country back” there would be less red tape, less bureaucracy and from the savings even a spare £350m a week for the NHS.

We were duped.

I agree with the political  leaders of the “rejoiners” that it is still too soon for our electorate to be prepared to admit it. 

For the time being all we can do is ensure that the drip, drip drip of truths such as the above are fed into the media to hasten the day when  we come to our senses and re-align with the body  to which we belong.

Monday 25 March 2024

What to do about Housing


What to do about housing.


Back in the 1930s the Urban District Council where I live decided to convert a few fields on the edge of our little mill-town into a “Garden Village.”  I believe the councillors went on a few (freebie?) trips to southern “Garden Cities” to gain ideas, and the result was a substantial “Housing Scheme.”

A local historian tells me that  the citizenry were very proud to have “Garden Village,”* even if they couldn’t afford to live in it, as the rents, at around £1 a week, were beyond their means,  with average workers’ pay at the time  about £3 per week.

  My parents must have taken the plunge because I was born in one of the houses, but by the time I was a month old they realised they could no longer afford the rent and moved to a “back to back” which, I think, was about 7/6d a week - just over a third of a £, or about 1/8th of my father's  wage, assuming he earned about the average.  As was pretty normal at the time, my mother didn’t work outside the home, but was a “housewife.”

Fortunately for me, and my sister, our parents managed eventually to scrape together the funds for a mortgage, which I think was borrowed not from a building society, but from the local council,  bought a house, and my sister and I  benefitted from the proceeds of their struggle in due course.

Unfortunately, for many young people today, and especially offspring of renters, the housing market has been so badly mismanaged that prices have exploded, the  mortgages are unaffordable  and rents so high that they can take up to half of take-home pay, even for very substandard accommodation, which can be occupied without security and subject to “no fault” eviction by the landlords.

Given that security and shelter are two of our basic needs, this is surely unacceptable

An article in the Guardian last October by a Phineas Harper, director of “Open Cities,”

 outlines the following six proposals to the next government to  begin to solve the crisis.


1.    End the “right to buy” social housing.

2.    Permit and enable local councils to invest heavily in building social house building.

3.    Revise the VAT rules. (Apparently it is more profitable to knock down a defective  house and build another that it is to repair  the defects.)

4.    Regulate rents and end no-fault evictions.

5.    Tax empty homes.

6.    Revise the planning rules to give local authorities the powers to ensure that builders actually stick to the percentages of ”affordable” housing they promised in their planning applications.

To these I would add four further suggestions:

1.    Encourage local authorities to make brownfield sites “building ready” so that they are as attractive to builders as greenfield sites.

2.    Tax land, especially that already approved for house building but, one suspects, kept unused in anticipation of higher prices in the future.

3.    Ensure that the increase in value which land accrues when it is re-scheduled for “building purposes” goes to the local authority, and not to the land-owner.

4.    Remove the exemption of the “principal primary residence” from capital gains tax.

Clearly the above will be difficult to achieve in one parliament, or even two, but whoever forms the next government should make a start and, as far as possible set a pathway from which it will be difficult to deviate.  It is high time that houses and flats became “machines in which to live” rather than cash cows to support a luxurious retirement or feather the nests of offspring.


·      * The term “Garden Village “ didn’t stick and the development became known as the “Housing Scheme” or just “the  Scheme“ and as far as I know, at least to my generation, it still is.


P PS (added 26th March)   By a happy coincidence there's another article by Phineas Harper in today's Guardian.  Read it here:

B Briefly, he explains that under the present rules councils are dissuaded from building social housing becasue  after a few years the "right to buy" means that they may be forced to flog them off at a discount.*  In their past two manifestos Labour have promised to abolish the "right to buy" but appear to be going to drop this commitment now.

*A *A tenant qualifies for a discount after only three years of secured tenancy. The discount may be from 35% to 70%.  The tenant may then sell the house at true market value, maybe to a "buy to let" landlord.