Friday 30 March 2018

Two (and a half?) dirty tricks.

A few days ago a young man, Shahmir Sanni, who had worked as a volunteer for a pro-Brexit youth orgainisation called BeLeave, claimed that  the official Vote Leave campaign has cheated because their own spending was almost at  the limit, so they had funnelled £625, 000 to the youth organisation, but kept control of it.

Since BeLeave  worked from the same office as Vote Leave, and the money never went into the youth organisation's bank account, but straight to Aggregate IQ, used by Vote Leave to garner digital information  which they hoped would swing the referendum on EU membership their way, Sanni seems to have a pretty good case.

However someone from Downing Street has said there was no possible connection - the two organisations worked entirely independently. Vote Leave's activities were entirely above board, and, in any case Mr Sanni was gay.  So there you are.

In the same period  two leading Jewish organisations suddenly alerted us to the fact that, way back in 2012 Jeremy Corbyn had been less critical than they would have liked over a mural which appeared to show  bankers who were Jewish acting less than honourably.  Since then the media have  been full of reports and discussions of antisemitism in the Labour Party.

On the Guardian's letters page (27th March) David Rosenberg and Julia Bard pointed out that “[T]hese accusations [of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and Labour]  have come from the unrepresentative Board of Deputies  and the unelected self proclaimed ‘Jewish Leadership Council,’ two bodies dominated by supporters of the Tory party.” .

 I am neither Jewish not a supporter  of the Labour Party, but it seems to me that  this revelation of an incident now six years old cannot be other than an attempt  to  smear Corbyn and  Labour conveniently before the May council elections.  It also helps distract attention from the shambles of the Brexit negotiations.

I'm not sure whether a third incident of the week can properly be described as a dirty trick, as I believe it is standard and publicly acknowledged practice.  But "Buy, Imp;rove, Sell" financial whiz-kids Melrose have swung the shareholders' vote  in favour of their take-over bid for GKN by first buying shares themselves (one source claims 25%).

Surely there should be rule to require that shares be held for a minimum period (three years?) before voting rights  are acquired.  Otherwise the true purpose of investment, for long-term development and benefit, is frustrated.

All three incidents are  a long way from the paramount British value of my younger days - fair play.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Britain's deregulated Labour market.

James Bloodworth's book "Hired: six months under cover in low-wage Britain"  is a vivid description, along with some revealing interviews, of his experiences working briefly in an Amazon warehouse, as a care-worker in Blackpool, in an Admiral (insurance company) call centre in Wales and as an Uber driver in London.

 If you want some real  information about the reality of Britain's "lowest unemployment rate for decades" please read this book.

The consequences of "zero hours" contracts, unpredictability of income, late payments,   underpayments, capricious dismissal, hostility to trade unions, electronic surveillance, bullying and squalid accommodation and rip-offs by unscrupulous landlords are all vividly described, with the anecdotal evidence supported by statistical references.

 If you have any decency in you you will never buy anything from Amazon again. Yet paradoxically Amazon  is the first name that comes up when you Google the book.  (The link above is for Waterstones:  I usually buy books from Foyles.  Both are acts of faith as I've no idea whether or not their working conditions are any better).

Bloodworth sees the purpose of his book as to "draw attention to certain issues and perhaps alter the common perceptions of them."  He has "no intention of rounding of this experiment with a long manifesto , or a list of wonkish policy proposals  dictating what must be done." (his emphasis.)

Neither will Brexit produce any solutions

Pity that our politicians are so preoccupied with an issue which is most likely to make working conditions   worse.  This is an academic matter for we comfortably cushioned middle classes, but while we obsess we ignore the system we have created which causes  several millions of our fellows, workers, not skivers, to suffer  real hardship and indignities which  should not be tolerated in a society which claims to be civilised.

Friday 23 March 2018

UK v Russia: diplomatic ping-pong continues

No doubt to the government's continued relief the alleged attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter allegedly by or with the connivance of the Russian state continues to hog the headlines.
The otherwise beleaguered Theresa May has even gained some kudos by garnering support from most of the EU members, though some of it is qualified.

The tabloids and Tory supporting press have poured scorn on the more  measured  response of Jeremy Corbyn, who, quite reasonably  in my view, has pointed out that it would be wiser not to jump to conclusions before we have firmer evidence of official  Russian involvement, and that, whatever that  evidence may turn out to be, we have to continue working with the Russians and their  government in the future.

Poor Mr Corbyn (of whom I am not a political supporter - I am a died in the wool Liberal) must have the worst job in British politics: reviled by the press who grasp every opportunity to paint him as a dangerous "red under the bed" and subject to back-stabbing by MPs of his own party - notably Stephen Kinnock and Yvette Cooper.

By contrast the idiocies of Boris Johnson, sadly the Foreign Secretary and so our chief diplomat, who has likened Putin the Hitler, and the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson , who contributed the playground jibe, "Putin should go away and shut up," pass for measured and mature contributions.

It would be demeaning to describe the attempted murder of anyone anywhere as a "storm in a teacup" but it is worth remembering that Sergei Skripal is a former spy and so it may have been lacking in prudence on his part to be living openly under his own name rather than secretly under a pseudonym.  The stories of James Bond, licensed to kill on anybody's sovereign territory, remind us that the possibility of assassination is par for the course in the spying industry.  Or maybe that's just fiction:  I've no idea.

What is undoubted fact is that the US assign to themselves the right to kill, without any trial or other due process of law, anyone anywhere whom  they believe to be a danger to them via bombs dropped from drones, and regardless of the lives of anyone else, however innocent, who happens to be in the vicinity.

I'm not sure whether we  British also do this, or connive at it, or just stand by and nod tacit approval.  Whatever, there seems to be one law for the West and another for the rest.

If we want to inject read diplomacy into the process we need to remember that Russia is a proud nation.  Its contribution to the victory over Nazism, certainly in terms of lives lost, was immense.(estimates vary but, according to this site upwards of  25 000 000 compared with 567 000 French, 450 700 British and
418 500 from the US) .

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia has, like Britain in an earlier period, "lost an empire and not yet found a role."  Sadly the reaction of the West has been to rub Russia's nose in its self-perceived humiliation but inviting former satellite states, some would say prematurely, into the EU, and, worse, inviting some to join the former enemy NATO.

I am not arguing that these overtures should never have been made, but they could have been  offered at a more measured pace and with more consideration for Russian sensitivity.  That.s what diplomacy should be about.

No wonder Russia votes for a "strong" leader who is perceived to do the pushing rather than be pushed around. That the American electorate has stepped in the same direction adds to the international danger.

Rather than helping, Britain's present tantrums are adding fuel to the flames.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

UK's negotiating technique: cave in and declare victory

Our government has declared Phase Two of the negotiations for our leaving the EU a success and we now move  on to Phase Three.

This "success" has been achieved only be the government's giving way on  its so called "red lines."  (I wonder why we call them that - Brewer's Dictionary is no help.)  "Non-negotiable positions" would be more informative.

  • EU nationals who come here during the transitional period will, after all, be able to  claim rights of permanent residence if they wish;
  • Fishing-boats from other EU countries will continue to be allowed to fish in "our" waters;
  • several matters will remain subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ ;
  • Northern Ireland's remaining in the single market and customs union continues to be on the table as the most likely  option for avoiding a hard border.
And, although it wasn't exactly "non-negotiable,"  the transitional period is reduced to  21 months rather than the two yeas Britain wanted, with no option for the period to be extended for "as long as it takes."

Sadly the Brexit-supporting press report this as a victory rather than the humiliating climb-down that it is.

I must make it clear that I myslef have no problem with these climb-downs: they are common sense.  But they are not what the Brexiteers promised..

I believe that it is quite right that fishing in "our," and indeed, the rest of the world's, waters should be subject to quotas in order to maintain sustainable supplies. If we feel that British fishermen have had a bad deal then the mature way forward is to re-negotiate, not leave in a huff.

I welcome nationals from other EU countries and fully support their existing rights.  As long as they come they should have them (and so should UK nationals in other EU countries.)

 I have no objection whatsoever to the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and can' honestly see why it is a problem, even for the Brexiteers.I'm sure it wasn't at the top of the list as a motivation for Brexit voters.

And of course nothing should be done to destabilise the hard won "almost peace" in Ireland.  If the price is that all the UK should effectively stay in the single market and customs union, well and good.  So why leave the EU in the first place?

The message is that it is not just on the "£350m per month for the NHS" that  the Brexiteers are not delivering what they promised, but on much else besides.   This is what should be reported, and could help persuade Brexit voters that continuing with this folly simply isn't worth it.

Friday 16 March 2018

Spring economic statement: continue to stew in the mire.

The government must be relieved that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Spring Statement on the economy (which now replaces all the flummery of what used to be Budget Day) was squeezed off the headlines by the apparent attempt to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter, and Donald Trump's sacking of his Secretary of State.

Mr Hammond claims to be able to see "light at the end of the tunnel" when, by the end of the year,  there may just be a surplus on current tax receipts over expenditure.  When that is achieved any excess may be split three ways between paying off more of the National Debt (actually a high but perfectly manageable 86% of GDP), a little bit of additional government spending, and, would you believe, some tax cuts for the comfortable

In other words, in spite of Mr Hammond's relatively favourable image  compared to his neo-liberal predecessor and current colleagues, we have the misguided "mixture as before": continued austerity whcih stopped in its tracks the recovery created by Alistair Darling and Labour before they were forced from office in 2010.

The respected Oxford Economist Professor Simon Wren Lewis calculates that the mistaken and unnecessary austerity policy has cost the average family some £10 000 each.  You can study his methodology here and see for yourself

There is virtually nothing in Mr Hammond's projection to tackle the ills which have been exacerbated by the mistaken and wholly unnecessary austerity policy which include, from the top of my head:

  • our NHS creaking on its knees;
  • a crisis in the supply of housing;
  • embarrassing homelessness;
  • around a third of our children living in poverty; 
  • cruel cuts in welfare payments, especially for the disabled;
  • schools starved of funds and teachers leaving in droves;
  • subhuman conditions in prisons, bringing inmates  to the verge of riot;
  • a contained  and massive deficit on international trade;
  • funds squandered on vanity projects such as HS2 rather than than more prosaic projects such as the upgrade of the Northern Railway network;
  • local government forced to abandon civilised amenities such as parks and libraries;
  • an economy kept going by debt-fuelled consumption rather than investment, exports and innovation;
  • creaking provision for the care of the elderly (full disclosure, could include me soon.)
Just one more illustration of the daftness of our government: special funds are to be made available to places like Bradford and Burnley where there are racial tensions.  The provision include additional money for ESOL (English Lessons for Speakers of Other languages).

No mention that ESOL provision was cut by 60% as a result of George Osborne's austerity measures following 2010.  The relevant department at Bradford Technical College was dissipated, in spite of strong protests and all the warnings. It  will take some time to rebuild. In the meantime many valuable opportunities have been missed

Thursday 8 March 2018

Leeds Yellow Book 2018

 Here's a review of a further Leeds Yellow Book (an earlier one was for 2015) edited by Michael Meadowcroft and others.  You don't have to live in Leeds, or even be a Liberal, to find it valuable.

The Leeds Yellow Book 2018
Essays on a Liberal future for Leeds.
 138pp  £7

This volume of 11 essays is a powerful and informed plea to rebuild Liberalism in Leeds from the bottom up.  (There really is no other way.) Inspired by the famous Liberal Yellow Book of 1928 the ten authors dedicate themselves to the analyses of the present condition of Leeds, with suggestions on how  can be improved by the application of Liberal principles and policies.  That the analyses are in the main of more general application than specific to Leeds is a strength rather than a weakness since the book therefore  becomes required reading   for all, not just Liberals, to understand the deprivations of their own areas and points to suggestions as to how to create societies in which all individuals are enabled to achieve more fulfilling lives in more co-operative, confident  and civilised surroundings.

Co-editor Ian MacFadyen contributes a thoroughly-researched account of the present economic condition of Leeds and the likely, and damaging, effects of Brexit.  He points out that seven of the EU states are smaller than the Leeds City Region and two of them are smaller than Leeds itself.  He advocates devolution to a “smart” (?) Leeds City Region with a Metro Mayor and a Metro railway. 

By contrast his fellow co-editor, Michael Meadowcroft, discussing the Northern Powerhouse, scorns the  City Region and opts for devolution to One Yorkshire for which he believes there is the identity, population size (equal to that of Scotland, 60% greater than Wales and three times that of Northern Ireland), financial and economic capacity, and political will (even the Yorkshire Post is in favour.)  He is equally scornful of Metro Mayors. .We naturally expect, of course, a variety of views in any Liberal publication. I go for the Meadowcroft options on both counts.

Jeremy Pearlman waxes enthusiastically about devolution to parish council level. of which he provides a fascinating history. (I had never before heard of Courts of Sewers, and wonder what is the function of a Lengthsman. which Alwoodley still has.) Although clearly devoted to the council he describes, Pearlman  fails to acknowledge the weakness that, although the council ‘s constitution provides for 11 councillors, there are recent nominations for only eight.

Mark Stephens, a professor of public policy, gives a fascinating historical survey of the development of our housing stock.  (I was interested to discover that I was brought up in Type II housing – relatively superior back-to-backs without windowless inner rooms.)  His view is that all public interventions into housing market have been regarded as temporary – until the market returns to normal – and that it never will return to normal. 

Retired solicitor Jane McBennett charts the deprivations and injustices resulting from the recent cuts to legal aid; journalist Adam Christie describes the decline of the local press throughout Yorkshire and points out the resulting danger to our democracy; Carmel Harrison has a thought-provoking chapter on social care and Jon Hannah an interesting discussion on Liberalism –Wellness and Happiness.

My favouring chapter is by Stephen Sadler, long term resident of Bermantofts, a deprived part of Leeds, in which he sensitively analyses why the electors of this area voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.  His work has a touch of the Richard Hoggarts in it – a pity Stephen took to writing on social analysis so late in life.  The most refreshing chapter comes from student Liv Powell, who describes what is needed to make Leeds a youth-friendly city.  Among other things it’s the provision of charging facilities  for phones and laptops.  Well, I’d never have thought of that.

Tellingly, there is no chapter on education.  Sic transit Gloria mundi of the massive contribution made to the development of public education by both Leeds City council and the glorious  West Riding.

Meadowcroft and MacFadyen get together to write a final chapter suffused with repetitions of  what  “a Liberal Leeds will” look like. It’s positive, optimistic and upbeat  - an inspiration amid the encircling gloom.

Copies can be obtained from:

Beecroft Publications,

72 Waterloo Lane,

Bramley Leeds, LS13  2JF

and further information from www.beecroftpublications