Wednesday 29 September 2021

Sir Keir Starmer's speech.

 Having not much else to do I listened to Sir Keir Starmer's speech to the Labour Party Conference this lunchtime.  In my view it did what I assume the Party would hope: establish him as a competent, confident, capable leader with a credible background to enable  him relate to ordinary people.  It was short on oratorical skills, with wooden and repetitive gestures and little uncontrived humour, but a stark contrast to the buffoonery we now expect from the prime minister.

Bons mots

The government's routine method neatly summed up as:

Ignore a problem:

Blame someone else;

Come up with a half-baked solution.

His background in the CPS.

Far too much emphasis, in my  view, on punishing criminals rather than just catching and reforming them,  but I suppose he has to use his experience to enable Labour to reclaim the ownership of Lora Norda from the Tories.

However, a nice side swipe at Mr Johnson when he highlighted "service" as " a reminder that the job is bigger than your own career."


Labour under his leadership is going to give this a high priority (along with gentle   allusion to Tony Blair).  Our young are to be equipped for  - "work."  

I find this disturbing. Yes the parent's want their kids to get qualifications which will enable them to earn high salaries, and  that is probably the chief motivation of most children as well. But we educators have wider aims, for our pupils to learn to enjoy learning, to discover a passion, to learn how  how to relate to others and be happy, to want to serve and to achieve their potential. . 

 True, he included the opportunity for every child to learn a musical instrument.  I wish that had been available in my time.  Sadly, he also insisted  everyone should participate in a competitive sport.  That was available in my time and I could well have done without it.


He is proud to be the leader of  "a party whose name is Labour, the  party for working people."  I suppose that was included to please the Conference, and indeed it did, but I think it is a mistake.  Surely he also wants to be the representative of those who don't "work": the children and students, the retired, and those who for one reason or another can't.   

And I suspect most of those who do "work" no longer all define themselves a "labourers".  It's very unlikely that the directors , proprietors, managers and "rentiers" do.  Probably not eve Deliveroo cyclists, van  drivers and burger flippers.

Poor old Labour, representing only one section of society, that only in the economic dimension, and an outdated conception of it.

Twice if not three times he summed up his philosophy as: 

"Work, care, equality, security"  

No mention of Liberty: freedom to do and be whatever you like provide it does not interfere with   the freedom of others.

So he's not a Liberal, but we could work with him

Monday 27 September 2021

Tory nakedness exposed

Apart from an ingrained belief that "our sort" are born to rule and thus have the right to rule, and that periods of rule by anyone else are a aberration, the Tory Party are traditionally "policy lite." Polices current at any given time are easily abandoned if the then state of democracy (these days via  Focus groups?) signals that their right to rule may be endangered.

The circumstances generated by Brexit and the COVID pandemic have brutally exposed the inadequacies of the beliefs that have dominated the Tories since the Thatcher days, namely:

  • the activities of the state in the economy should be as small as possible.  Ideally the state should limit itself to defence, foreign policy, domestic law and order (especially in relation to contracts) and the maintenance  of a stable currency . . .;
  •  . . . so that  taxation levels will  be at the lowest possible level;
  • market forces will, left to themselves  allocate economic resource to the optimum distribution Hence regulation should be kept to the minimum.  If an enterprise is inefficient (possibly because it is producing something the market no longer wants, or is using an outdated technique ) it will go bankrupt and will be replaced by a more efficient  and relevant enterprise;
  • the private sector is inherently more efficient that the public sector, however well intentioned the latter sector might be.  Profit is the ultimate measure of efficiency.

In the campaign to achieve Brexit, an additional  principle has been adopted, that of British Exceptionalism: a belief that our history, and particularly victory in two World Wars, demonstrates that  we are a very special people and, released from entanglements with others, and especially  our neighbours on the continent,  our future can be as independent and glorious as was our past (as taught to us in history lessons and emphasised by the popular press.)

Since  Brexit and the onset of the pandemic the flaws in these beliefs have  been brutally exposed..  

Measures to counteract the pandemic, especially the provision of furlough payments to those employed in business ordered to stop operating, are expensive and have to be paid for.  Since the Thatcher days the  proportion  of GDP taken in tax has been squeezed down to 33% and it is not enough. Tax rises are inevitable.  Tory apologists will try to argue that this is the result of exceptional, even "unprecedented" circumstances.  But what the pandemic has exposed is that our health service already had insufficient spare capacity to deal with it.  That is why our number of deaths per million (currently 2 028) is one of the highest in Europe, almost double that of Germany (1 119)

We are in a similar situation regarding gas reserves: these too are among the lowest in Europe, so we shall  probably suffer the highest price rises..

Somewhat to the surprise of most of us, we rely on a fertilizer plant to provide enough CO2 to kill the Christmas turkeys and put the fizz in the kids' pop   The market has not provided for this either and the government has had to subsidise and American owned fertilizer plant and persuade it to resume operations  to remedy this situation.  (if you don't understand the connection neither do I.  Nor can I see why it should be regarded as a national emergency: let the kids drink water and prolong the active life of the turkeys for another year.)

The government's latest embarrassing turnround, allowing visas for foreign HGV drivers and poultry workers after weeks of saying it wouldn't, is just the latest example of the private sector not having prepared, and that soar-away Global Britain, all alone and capable of anything without the help of anyone, is just a silly fantasy.

Sadly instead of taking the opportunity to kick several balls into this open goal the Labour Party is devoting its conference to a bitter battle over its internal rules. 

Wednesday 15 September 2021

The joy of tax

 Since the government announced last week that it would fund its (alleged) reform of social care with an increase of 1.25% on National Insurance Contributions, (NICs) there has been much discussion in the media as to whether or not this is the most appropriate tax. 

The informed consensus seems to be that it isn't.  Today's Guardian cartoon by Ben Jennings puts it neatly: "Tax the workers to help the asset rich."

However, having got that pretty well right, why do the Guardian, and other "left-of-centre" sources persist in using the negative term "burden" when describing taxation? Recent culprits have included both Polly Toynbee (on-line 10th September) and Phillip Inman  (print edition, same day.)

Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for my own preferred description, "privilege,"  but I am jolly glad that, even in retirement, my income is sufficient to be taxed.  I'd have been overjoyed  had my income as a teacher ever been high enough to make me liable to the higher rates (though the standard rate throughout most of my working life was around 33%, something  we're persuaded to believe is beyond  the realms of possibility today)

When I lived in France for the best part of a year as part of my attempts to brush up on their language I was impressed by the quality of their public realm: beautifully-maintained  roads, lovely parks, village gardens with working fountains, a health service with spare capacity, were all very evident advantages).  Of course, they pay more in tax than we in the UK, but they get good value for money.

For current (2019) comparisons the percentages of GDP taken in tax   from selected countries are as follows:

France:        45%

Germany:    39%

OECD ave    34%

UK:                33%

US:                24%


You get what you pay for.

An oft-quoted dictum of Ralph Waldo Emerson, himself quoting a committee appointed by the governor of Vermont in the US in 1852, goes:

Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force.

 I believe we British are hoodwinked by the Tory-dominated press to view taxation as something bad, unpleasant and wasteful (much as they hoodwinked over a third of us us into regarding the EU in much the same way.)  In fact, I think that without such distorting propaganda most people are not all that worried about taxation, one way or the other.  We regard it as just one of the things that is there, like pimples in adolescence and arthritis in old age.

 I can't say I worked any less hard as a teacher becasue of taxation, and I suspect the same can be said of most other jobs.  In fact I probably worked harder, or at least longer, buy supplementing my "take home pay" with classes at night school and some examination marking.

 So why does the (moderately) left wing press do the Tories work for them and lazily adopt this negative terminology?  It they can't stomach "privilege " of "joy" surely they can adopt a more neutral terms:  just "incidence", or "tax take," would do nicely.

Sunday 12 September 2021


New York Twin Towers 11th November, 2001:  2977 deaths.

Resulting War on Terror (2001 to 2121)

Afghanistan:     7 000 US servicemen

                         8 000 contractors

                    100 000 civilians.

Iraq:             151 000 "violent" deaths.

Annual road deaths  in US:  38 000

 London Blitz: 43 000 civilian deaths

Korean War:   54 000 US Military 

                      227 000 Korean Military

                   Uncountable civilian deaths

Vietnam War: 282 000 US and allies military deaths

                       415 000 civilian deaths.

European  colonisation of the area of the US;  

(aka the Indigenous Holocaust, 1492 - 1992)

                      at least 100m deaths of Native Americans by military and "cowboy" action and disease.

The Harrying of the North: (Yorkshire and the neighbouring shires) ordered by William the Conqueror:  150 000 deaths (about three quarters of the then population).

Reports claim that the "the World changed" on September 11th 2001.

It seems  to me it is carrying on much as usual.

 Disclaimer: even in these information-rich days it is difficult to get systematic and comparable figures for these atrocities.  All the above figures come from what appear to be reliable sources via Google.  Some may be wildly out and I apologise for that, but the possibility does not, in my view, alter the conclusion.  I shall, of course, be happy to receive corrections.


Thursday 9 September 2021

A black week in September

If ever there is research to determine which was the most dismal week in British political history this first week in September 2021 will be hard to beat.

In it the government has announced it will break its manifesto pledge to raise the state pension by at least the rate of price inflation, wage inflation or 2.5%, whichever is the greater.  The defining  rate of wage inflation is 8%, so out goes the pledge and we're to get 2.5% instead.  

The problem is not so much the breaking of a manifesto pledge: the Doctrine of the Manifesto has always been rather dodgy.  Governments  huff and puff about it when it suites them (and rebel backbenchers and  the House of Lords must not dare to interfere with  this sacred commitment to the sovereign electorate) but are happy to ignore it, as in his case, when it is inconvenient . 

The real problem is that the UK's state pension, £179.60 per week,  is no enough to live on.  it would be interesting to see Jacob Rees Mogg and the like try. It does not bear international scrutiny.  It is only 29% of average UK earnings, compared with 49% in the US, 50% in Germany, 74% in France (Vive la Revolution) and an OECD average of 58%.   

 A caring government, genuinely  interested in "levelling up," would have been happy to use these admittedly freak circumstances to give our state pension a much need boost.

Secondly the Commons approved an Electoral Reform Bill which makes it harder for people to vote by requiring us to produce photographic ID, which apparently about 2 million people,  largely ones less likely to vote Conservative, don't routinely  have, and makes the Electoral Commission which looks into alleged  election irregularities  subject to the whims of the government in power. 

The existing Reform Bills, starting in 1832,  are the jewellery in our limping progress towards greater democracy. This is the first to  reduce rather than increase the quality of our democracy.    

Had a marginaly left-of-centre government  attempted something similar there would be outrage.

But the big news of the week has been the announcement of new provisions to pay for and improve Social Care. 

The means of paying for it are to be an increase in National Insurance Contributions (NICs) by 1.25%  -  incidentally the breaking of yet another manifesto pledge.  

NICs are generally  agreed to be the least fair tax  in the quiver.  They are regressive. Effectively the taxes on the lowest earners  are being increased to enable the well-heeled to bequeath their houses to their (already well-heeled?) offspring.  "Fairness"  is claimed because the increase also applies to capital gains and other forms unearned income.  What is not mentioned is that these are taxed at  between 10% to 28% whereas income for wage earners is taxed at 20%, 40% and 45%.

Taxing  unearned income at the same rate as earned income would have been one possibility to finance Social Care provision.  There are many others (land taxes, wealth taxes, pollution taxes, to name but some).

 Although the Social Care reforms were claimed to be "ready, once and for all" two years ago, there are in fact few details on how they are to be achieved.  For the first three years most of the money is going to the NHS to finance the "unprecedented" backlog created by the pandemic.  That provision could easily become permanent, and then where would we be for Social Care?

Just to clinch the awfulness of the week, permission has been given of the water companies to discharge  inadequately treated sewage into our rivers becasue the supply chain of an essential chemical, ferric sulphate, has been disrupted by Brexit.  And Lord Fox has unilaterally decided to ignore for a further but now unspecified period parts of the Irish Protocol to which he agreed and parliament approved less than a year ago.

So much for the levelling-up government of world beating sovereign Britain. 


PS. Not on this topic, but no-one seems to find any irony in the solemn sermons we are aiming at  the Taliban that they will be judged by their deeds not their words.  Johnson, heal thyself.

Friday 3 September 2021

Remaking other countries.

In his speech on the 31st August justifying the American withdrawal from Afghanistan President Biden used these crucial sentences:

“This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”   

 Let us hope so.

 Let us hope other countries follow suit.

 There have been many terrible things which have happened in the World since the end of the Second World War in 1945 to "remake" other countries or force them to revert to a former status quo.  The victorious Western Powers have not been responsible for all of them, but we have done our share:

  • the British attempt to continue our mandate in Palestine (1945-7)
  • ...and the Malayan "emergency"  (1950 - 59) 
  • the US and allies in Korea (1950 - 53 )
  • the French attempt to continue colonial rule in Vietnam (1946 -54) 
  •  . . . and   in Algeria ( 1954 - 62)
  • the US attempt to halt the spread of communism in Vietnam (1955 - 75)
  • Iraq (2003 - 11 but continuing in chaos)
  • Afghanistan 2001-21 (and seemingly about to continue in chaos)


Not one of the above has ended in anything like complete success.  Korea may have been a partial success, in that South Korea is a prosperous and reasonably stable area.

  Most, however,  have been abject failures  and many have involved acts of criminal brutality and  indiscriminate killing and maiming of civilians (now sanitised in the reports as "collateral damage") which do little credit to the alleged principles of the "liberal" democracies perpetrating them.

The above is not meant to be a complete list, and I'm well aware of interventions by other than the Western democracies  (for example the Russians in Afghanistan and currently Ukraine) which have been equally destructive of human happiness.

The lessons we all must learn if life of the planet is to become sustainable and tolerable for all are:

  • the Liberal democracies do not have a monopoly of virtue
  • civilised standards cannot be imposed from above: they need to grow from below
  • as any successful teacher will tell you, they cannot be achieved by bullying, which is what military intervention amounts to.

And yet we cannot stand aside  and let other so called "sovereign countries" treat some of the people living within their boundaries  inhumanely.  The Urquhars in China are a good example, because even the mighty US (and they are mighty) dare not  use force to try to change the behaviour of the almost as mighty  Chinese government.

So what are we left with?

  • stop selling them arms
  • cultural exchanges: literature and drama are powerful game- changers
  • trading links
  • economic sanctions
  • recognition of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by ourselves
  • diplomacy
  • tackling abuses of decency in (remaking?) our own countries
  • international policing (armed if necessary) exclusively authorised and carried out by the United nations.
  • reform of the United Nations and other international bodies to reflect current international interests.

Yes, very messy, uncertain, sometimes counterproductive (eg economic sanctions) but all we've got.

And even Prime Minister Johnson's hero, the allegedly belligerent Winston Churchill, recognised that "jaw jaw jaw is better than war war war."

Mr Johnson with his childish fantasy of "Global Britain" personified by his big gunboat in the South China Seas and his unusable nuclear submarines have no part to play in this.  We need a change of direction.