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.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Some "facts" which might get in the way of feelings. (1)

 First to explain the commas around "Facts" in the title.  Ther are in fact no facts about the future,* just predictions with a varying likelihood of being correct.  So this post is really about some perditions in the election campaign which in my view are highly likely to be correct, and which  the BBC's  "news reality check has deemed to be reasonable.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn has claimed that, if the NHS is opened up  to the US "Big Pharma" in a free trade deal this could cost the NHS an extra £500m a week.

This, it is true, is a "worst case scenario" and I hope Corbyn said " could" rather than "will."   But the argument is that medicinal drugs in the US are priced on average at  two and a half times more then NHS currently  pays for the equivalent.  So if we become dependent on US drugs, and the US pharmaceutical  companies manage to push up our prices to the US level, this will indeed  raise costs by about £500 a week.

 News Reality Check thinks this is a reasonable estimation.  It depends, of course, on our actually leaving the EU and accepting a free trade deal on US terms, which, as argued in an earlier post, is highly likely to be the case if we do leave.

 A rise in costs of £500m a week is in  sharp contrast to the flaky claim of £350m a week saved for the NHS by Brexit.

Another  claim is from Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, that if we remain in the EU the economy will grow at a faster rate than if we leave, and that the extra growth will generate an additional £50bn in tax revenues over the first five years.  The fact checkers say that is credible but, in terms of total government expenditure, it's not all that much!

Well, perhaps not, but it's better than nothing.

These figures for a million pounds here and a billion there are bandied around and, given that the overwhelming majority of us don't even a significant fraction of  £1m, (in fact , the TUC claims that the average family is £14 000 in debt, or) they perhaps don't convey much.

 However, most of us know what a second is.

It takes just over eleven and a half days to run up a million seconds.
(Stick 1 000 000 in your calculator, divide by 60 to get minutes, then 60 again to get hours, then 24 to get days.  Or, if you can remember how, do it even more convincingly by long division.)

It takes nearly  31 and  3/4 years to run up a billion seconds.

If you don't believe it repeat the above starting with 1 000 000 000  or see.

So £50bn, even spread over five years, adds up to quite a lot of decent social security payments, affordable houses built, , schools and  hospitals modernised and properly staffed,  potholes in the roads repaired, or whatever your priorities are.)

Not to be sniffed at.

Brexit supporters please note.

*  some people argue there are no facts about the past either, just different interpretations.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

ASDA's new "contract"

ASDA used to be Associated Dairies and employed the friendly chap (they were usually chaps) who delivered your daily milk and, if the bottles lined up out side uncollected, realised something was wrong and did something about it.

Now ASDA is a supermarket and after a period of continued British ownership, is now part of the US Walmart empire.

Last Saturday ASDA staff were forced to accept new contacts or lose their jobs.  I am neither an employee, shareholder nor a customer of ASDA, so have no personal axe to grind, but am appalled at the apparent conditions implied by the new contracts.  (The word itself is misleading.  "Contract" implies an agreement voluntarily made between equals, not something forced on another on a "take it or leave it" basis.)

I am ashamed to live in a country which imposed, without choice, the following conditions:

1.  Shifts can be changed without agreement with four week's notice.
2.  Staff may be forced  to work Bank Holidays (and probably weekends) without extra pay.
3.  There is no payment for breaks.

The first condition obviously affects  parents with young children  and those with caring responsibilities, who may have organised their working hours and days to accommodate those responsibilities (or even leisure activities -   why not?)

The second demonstrates how businesses have gradually eroded cultural norms, or hard-won rights, to their own benefit and to the detriment of their employees.   When Sunday trading was permitted on a wider scale in this country in 1994 employees were assured (indeed I think it was guaranteed in the Act) that no-one would be compelled to work on a Sunday.  It was also the norm to pay "time and a quarter" for the first two hour or so of overtime, time and a half for more, and double time for Sundays and Bank Holidays.  These little compensations have now gone out of the window (even with my own main grocery, the Co-op, whom you would  think would be a model employer)

Do they really mean the third infraction: time spent on tea breaks will be unpaid?  Although the most minor in potential inconvenience it is surely the most petty.  A fifteen minute break for a cup of tea and a chat with colleagues every morning and afternoon is, sadly , the high point of many workers' day.  (I so well remember the first factory I worked in during my holidays while still at school.  Morning tea-break was at "Five to Ten" when the morning service came on the BBC Light Programme with its theme tune "Dear Lord and Father of mankind."  I think of it every time we sing that hymn.)   If they rally do mean it, even on the minimum wage, that amounts to a pay-cut of over £20 a week.
For further and better particulars of the absolute hell produced by these management practices  read "Hired" by James Bloodworth.  You'll never buy anything from Amazon again.

Remaining in the European Union will not necessary defend us from such outrages, But if we do leave, and the social democratic influence of the EU wanes and the neo-con policies of the US become even more dominate, outrages such as this will become more common.

Friday 1 November 2019

A not-so-special relationship.

President Trump's two handed intervention into our general election is ambiguous in its effect.

On the one hand Trump  has somewhat torpedoed Prime Minister Johnson's oft-repeated claim that a "free  trade deal with the US" is more or less in the bag by announcing that  the the deal Johnson has negotiated with Europe will make the negotiation of a free trade deal with the US more difficult. 

If we take Trump at his word, he has exposed Johnson's boast as groundless.

On the other had he has helpfully, for Johnson, advised  Nigel Farage to make pacts with the Tories to ensure that our Leave vote is not split, and opined that Jeremy Corbyn would lead the UK  to a "bad place."

 I wonder how this advice resonates with Farage's mantra of "taking back control."?  

OK, it is advice and not an instruction, but it does illustrate that any relationship between the US and the UK is one of our subservience  rather than equality, and special only in the sense that the US President has graciously taken note of our little domestic squabble.

Another issue illustrates that Johnson has nowhere  near the influence with Trump that he likes to pretend.  

Last month Johnson intervened in the campaign to have Anne Sacoolas, who allegedly killed Harry Dunn in a road accident and then claimed diplomatic immunity,  return to the UK to face trial.  

Johnson announced that, if the two Foreign Offices could not resolve the matter then he would personally contact  President Trump.  I believe he did so. but apparently to no avail.  Mrs Sacoolas is still in the US.  

For some reason our media have failed to give much, even any, publicity to this failure.

What is clear is the President Trump is keeping his campaign promise  to "put America first." Any expectation that the UK will receive special treatment, in trade deals, diplomacy, or anything else, is pure delusion.

Trump would like to add the UK market of 66 million or so  to his domestic market of some 330  million.  But it will be on his terms - we shall have no favours.

So far Jeremy Corbyn has the best line on this: "Our NHS is not for sale."