Thursday 15 September 2022

Is "outrage" enough?

 The outrageous actions of the last three Tory governments have come so thick and fast that the Opposition parties are running out of words with which to describe them.  From the blatant lie of £350m weekly for the NHS if we left the EU through the illegal proroguing of parliament and threats to break international law to the denials of "Partygate"  we've thought again and again that we had reached the nadir and things could not possibly get any worse.

But the Truss government keeps up the tradition, and they do.  With less than a fortnight gone here are already four examples.

 1.  The decision to cap gas and electricity prices but still to pay the  energy companies  the full price in order to allow their shareholders to continue to receive excessive dividends,  and to finance it by borrowing (which the "public" are going to have to pay back in some so far unspecified way)

My benchmark is to try to imagine what the reaction of the media, and in particular the "Mail" and the "Express," would have been if a Jeremy Corbyn Government had proposed something similar.  Say, simply increasing social security payments to maintain the standards of living  of the poorest and making no plans whatsoever as to how this would be financed.  

Outrage: an end to our AAA rating (I think actually we've already lost it) provoking a run on United Kingdom  "paper," and national insolvency?

2.  The decision to sack the permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Tom Scholar, who is presumed to question the viability of M/s Truss's determination to cut taxes at the very time that the NHS, Care Service, Local Governmental services and much else are on their beam ends.  

Sir Tom might very well have argued that this was based on a discredited  theory and that tax cuts alone would probably not  prove the magic wand which would l regenerate the stagnant British economy.  He would have hoped that his boss, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would listen, but in the end he would have implemented whatever the government instructed.  That is the tradition of the British Civil Service.

Again applying the Corbyn test, what  would have been the reaction if he had sacked the key officials who challenged his views?

3. It is a proposed to remove the cap  on bonuses for bankers.  This was originally imposed by the EU, with UK agreement, in order to discourage the reckless behaviour which led to the Financial Crash of 2008.  The insensitiveness of suggesting that those who already receive  shedloads should be allowed to receive even more while nurses, railway workers, teachers and even barristers  are urged to exercise restraint is beyond belief. *

4. This could be a threat to distract us from  the above matters, but  we are told that the government is planning to scrap the Johnson government's"anti-obesity strategy,"  The strategy incudes such things as the ban on sugary products being displayed at checkouts,  and "buy one get one free" deals which encourage the over-consumption "bads" which make us unhealthy.  

One can see the logic: it is an example of the "nanny state" which interferes with the freedom of businesses to exploit our weaknesses (and those of our children.).  Much the same was said about  speed limits,  compulsory set-belt wearing, measures to discourage smoking, and somebody probably complained  abut being forced to derive on one side of the road only.  

But two-thirds of adult Britons are overweight or obese and the treatment of their resulting health problems cost the NHS about £6.1b a year.

* Post script, added 17/09/22

A friend has passed on to me an article by Phillip Inman in last month's Observer (14/08/22) which contains information which adds flesh and bones to this outrage:

In this year up to May total pay including bonuses in finance and insurance was up 13.6%.  The bottom 20 per cent [in all sectors]received just 1% extra.

Pay and bonuses in the finance sector have exaggerated  average earnings data [making it look as though the majority are doing rather better than we really are.]

In February the Governor of the Bank of England urged  workers to show "quite clear restraint" and in May that they (we) should "think and reflect."  [Presumably in an effort to set an example,]  he capped his own salary at  £575 000.

 There's probably more to come.  Without seeming to turn these issues into a linguistic joke, here are a few descriptive synonyms culled from Roget's Thesaurus:

 Arrant; arrogant; despicable; flagrant; monstrous; preposterous; scandalous.

Wednesday 7 September 2022

What to do

 In the comments to the previous post my "Anonymous" interlocutor challenges my dismissal  of M/s Truss's two-fold plan for Britain (tax cuts and deregulation) and demands to know what I would do.

Well, had I kissed hands with HM the Queen yesterday and been about to launch a programme to restore our civic harmony, political respectability and economy prosperity, this, off the top of my head, is the 22 Point Plan I would put to parliament.  I'm sure I will have missed something, so further suggestions are welcome.

Preamble; there is no magic lever that can be pulled that will transform the British economy before the end of this parliament, or even a complete parliament.  Any progress will be gradual and probably take at least ten years to become effective.

 These are, in no particular order (other than the first)  the steps I suggest.

1.     1. Urgently, protect the poorest from the effects of the coming inflation and energy crisis.  Help should be generous and targeted, probably at those whose incomes do not reach the threshold for paying tax, and paid for by taxing those forms of income and wealth that have least impact on current production and expenditure. (See earlier post)

2.     2. In the longer term we must take steps to make Britain fairer.  We can not expect the lower and moderately paid to restrain their income demands while those at the top reward themselves with shedloads. 

3.     3.  Re-join the EU single market and customs union. This can be done quickly and will immediately stimulate economic activity.

4.    4. Revise employment law to reduce zero-hours contracts to very limited time periods and circumstances, and bring more security to other forms of employment (eg university lecturers)

5.    5. Revise company law to include employee and community representation on boards and for their interests to be considered.

6.    6. Revise the taxation system to make it more progressive and skew it towards the taxation of “bads”  such as pollution rather than “goods” such as employment.

7.    7. Welcome immigrants.  Most are young, energetic and may provide the entrepreneurial zest we need.

8.    8. Restore  overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP and recreate the Overseas Development Department  as a separate department with a cabinet minister at its head.

9.   9.  Scrap the limit on foreign students in our universities.  Higher Education is one of Britain’s export strengths.

1110. Stop harassing the BBC, Channel 4 and similar creative organisations. The arts are another of Britain’s strengths and should be encouraged.

1111. Fund our health, care, education and legal systems, including the probation and prison services systems, adequately.

1112. Scrap the charitable status of private schools.

1113. Scrap vanity projects such as HS2 and large, dangerous and vulnerable nuclear power stations.

1114. Instead invest in regional transport projects such as the northern rail network, and smaller scale nuclear generating plants.

1115. Set up a commission to examine the ownership of the media …

1116. .…and another one to examine the UK’s role in money laundering and tax  havens.

1117.  Encourage public and private investment in sustainable energy generation, including on-shore wind power (potentially the lowest cost, I believe) and, long overdue, tidal and wave power.

1118.  Either gradually take privatised services and utilities back into public ownership, (eg railways as the contracts expire) or regulate them effectively to stop exploitation of their monopoly positions.

1119.  Have a house building drive concentrating on social housing and affordable private housing, along with an insulation programme for existing houses.

17 20. Devolve serious powers, including tax raising powers, to the representative bodies of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the regions of England  (ie not to elected mayors).  Local people know best what the local economy and society need.

1 221.  Call a constitutional convention to consider plans to overhaul Britain’s democratic institutions (including but not exclusively House of Commons, Second Chamber, regional and local government, electoral system(s), legal system.)   We cannot expect the country to thrive if the leadership from the top is unrepresentative and malfunctional.

1 22.  Create a Heritage Department with the responsibility for funding the maintenance of cathedrals, historic churches and other buildings and features of interest.  



Monday 5 September 2022

Truss: it may turn out for the best.

 Like many I have been quietly hoping that the opinion polls were wrong and that Rishi Sunak would emerge as Tory leader and our next prime minister. His record as Chancellor was deeply flawed but he does at least look and sound respectable.  M/s Truss has campaigned in slogans rather than policies, and, of  the two policies with which she has hectored party members, one is nonsense and the other positively dangerous

The nonsense is that tax cuts will release entrepreneurial vigour and stimulate growth, (though not necessarily sustainable grown).  But Britain is not a high tax country,  (though the tax take could be more equitable distributed).  So the problem must lie elsewhere.

 The dangerous one is that our entrepreneurs are hampered by over-regulation. 

 The recent and continuing  "sewage in the  rivers " scandal illustrates the disaster which can ensue through light regulation and ineffective machinery to enforce what there is.  Recently George Monbiot expressed more succinctly  than I can precisely remember, something on the lines that : "Regulations exist to protect us from liars, chancers, and bullies."

The good news is that there is a precedent for what happens to a party whose leader  is elected by the party members but who is not the choice of most of the party's MPs.  That was the situation when Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader and  led the  party to two defeats.

M/s Truss is in that situation.  In he first round of the election process only 64 Tory MPs voted for her.  Rishi Sunak received 101.  In the final round of MP voting Sunak received 137 votes, Truss 113,  and Penny Mordant was eliminated  with 105.  Even after the "also-rans" were eliminated Truss has the support of less than a third of her parliamentary party.

Rightly or wrongly MPs probably have a better idea than do run-of-the mill party members of who makes a competent leader

So Truss should be the easier one to beat.

Let's hope history repeats itself.

It's unfortunate that our economy, repartition and quality of life are likely to go further down the pan, with  many of our people suffering unnecessary, before the process takes effect.

Saturday 3 September 2022

Risible x 3

 My somewhat  dated Pocket Oxford Dictionary (bought when I started teaching in 1959) defines "risible" as: "laughable, ludicrous."

1. Almost everyone in the "Wester World" will regard  Russia's claim that the Nord Stream 1  gas pipeline to Europe is closed solely for "urgent repairs" as risible.  Anyone who thinks otherwise must be wrong in the head (or just lying).

2.   Prime Minister Johnson's,claims that "no COVID rules were broken" a the Downing Street parties, and, in any case, he wasn't there, and if he was he didn't realise they were parties, are  risible.  Any one who believes them must be wrong in the head or want to preserve a political system where anything goes, provided that your lot can benefit from it. Or they're just lying.

3.  Strangely the most difficult to believe is the argument by David Pannick QC that if the Commons Committee on Privileges and Standards were to go ahead and sanction Johnson for misleading MPs that would "have a chilling effect on [future] ministerial comments in the House."  That too is risible.  Any minister who does "inadvertently" mislead the House can get herself/himself off the hook by merely going back to it, fessing up and apologising.  Johnson has had every opportunity and done no such thing.

I hope the Committee goes ahead, tells the truth, sanctions Johnson, preferably causing him to be expelled so that his continued political ambitions hit the buffers.

 Then what would truly be what a "New European " headline has called "The End of an Error"

Sadly, that may not be the end of Britain's political shame.  If Liz Truss is elected, as is widely predicted, then, as the Chief Priests and Pharisees explained to Pilate, "the last error shall be worse than the first. "  (Matthew 27 v 64). 

Something we thought impossible.