Tuesday 22 November 2022

The Turning Point?

 I suspect this last couple of days, the 20th and 21st November 2023, could be noted by future historians as the turning point in which the British establishment abandoned  fantasy and began the slow trudge back to sanity with regard to our relations with the EU.

The one thing the Tories are "world beaters" at is perception management.  For the couple of weeks or so before last Thursday's mini-Budget we had drip drip drips of information about how terrible things were going to be, preparing us for the worst. Then it turned out to be not so bad after all, and then not yet, (though miles away from the good that it could have been, see earlier post.)

Perception management does not happen by accident.  In the Sunday papers the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, just hinted that the government just might be toying with the idea of lining up with the EU in just one or two areas.  I believe this is known in their trade as "Flying a kite," just to "test the waters."   

The reaction from the ERG hard liners, and therefore the Prime Minister who is in their thrall, has been a resounding "No!"

 So not yet. Now is not the time.  But we've received a gentle hint about where the saner parts of the Tory party would like to go. 

And the reaction of the CBI, the major business leaders, has been equally clear, a resounding "YES!" would have been greatly to be preferred.

 This is important.   Those of us who get most of our information and opinions from the Guardian, Observer, and Financial Times,  with the occasional bit of sound expert comment via the BBC, and who know enough to be able to discount the views of the mysteriously-financed  Think Tanks that the BBC wheels on for "balance,"  and who happen to have a little bit of expertise ourselves, have known all along that Brexit is a damaging shot in the foot made possible  in order to try to hold the warring factions of the Tory Party together.

 But his weekend has not been the the whinging of a few disgruntled academics,  administrators and commentators..  Brexit is a flop and business leaders are making it surrounding clear that to avoid further damage we need to change direction.

 So far sir Keir Starmer's reaction has not been too helpful. He feels he needs to tread carefully in order not to upset the so-called Red Wall  voters who have traditionally supported Labour but have been seduced by the sovereignty myth and the alleged need to "take back control" (of our borders?)   Oh for leaders  who would dare to confront them with the truth.

One suggestion floating around is that if we are not yet ready to join the "single market"  we might join some of the "markets."  (Note the plural). Science, education,agriculture perhaps?  The EU may not be too keen on this, It sounds like "cherry-picking."

 But the manoeuvring in the right direction has started, and we shall  see more of it in the coming months in efforts to resolve the Northern Ireland pickle.

 Like the English  and Welsh football teams, we're on our way.

Saturday 19 November 2022

World Toilet Day

 Once again it's the 19th November and "World Toilet Day".

For details of the fundamental (adjective chosen deliberately) importance of having access to a private and secured space in which urinate and defecate with dignity, without fear of interruptions, with a string to pull (in happier days), a lever to twist or button to push that will magically flush away your waste for scientific disposal,* and the facility to  wash your hands  and remove any bugs you might pass on, please see these two earlier posts.



posted on previous World Toilet Days .

 Still over 600 000 0000 people in the world (nearly ten times the UK population) don't have this basic necessity, and it is one of the main functions of "Water Aid"  to make it universally available.  Were you to consider a contribution to this charity it would be welcome.  See here.

The 2021 post linked above was made about the time the government was contemplating  breaking  our promise to devote 0.7% of our GDP to the Global South to aid their development, which included the provision of sustainable toilets, in which Water Aid plays a key roll.  Shamefully that decision to cut down on our aid, one of the few remaining areas in which the UK really is still a World Leader, has been implemented and, worse, half of what's left is now spent on caring for refugees within the UK itself. 

I hope that one of the questions which will be asked of candidates in the next General Election, whenever it comes, is their attitude to the urgent reversal of this cut, with perhaps a little bit extra to make up for what has been lost.

Another question which could be asked of candidates, and it's nothing to do with charity or philanthropy, is what are they going to do about the lack of public toilets in this country?  

 This is very much a personal plea.  Like many in my age group, the mid 80s, I am plagued by what is euphemistically called "urgency and frequency."  In other words calls of nature come increasingly often and brook no delays.  In many of our towns and cities the facilities for this relief (much thanks: Macbeth) no longer exist.  A partial  solution, proposed some time ago but as far as I know hardly acted upon, was to allow shops and similar  businesses a discount on their business rates if they permitted the public to use their lavatories and displayed the offer by a sticker in their window.  That would be a help during business hours but not much use outside them.

Something should be done.  If you're a member of a political party please persuade it to put this fundamental issue (an appropriate phrase) in its next manifesto, both for local and national elections.

* Unless it has been raining , in which case you local water supplier might very well discharge it untreated into a river

Friday 18 November 2022

Only one cheer for a not-all-that bad budget.

 In spite of two weeks of carefully  primed leaks intended to give the impression of a brave government wanting to be caring but forced by circumstances (wholly beyond their control!) forced to do the right and responsible thing,yesterday's mini-budget has received a bad press.

The Tories will have  expected the scathing headlines  from the Mirror ("Carnage") and the Guardian ("From Bad to Worse"), but their normally sycophantic supporters were similarly critical: the Daily Mail ("Tories  Soak the Strivers") and The Times ("Years of Tax Pain Ahead.)   Only the Daily Express sounded a positive note: "Victory" (apparanly for its campaign to save the pensioners' Triple Lock.)

The headline  which will cause Jeremy  Hunt to wince most is the Telegraph's "The Rhetoric of Osborne . . . with the policies of Brown. "  Lovely.

The Tories have done what, by their lights, is the "right thing": raise taxes, protect the poor and not cut services (or at least, not yet) and they are getting the opprobrium normally dished out to Labour governments.

Astonishingly, I've heard several Labour spokesperson complaining that taxes are now at a level not seen since the 1940s.  Surly they should be welcoming the fact that an increase in the total tax take is a long overdue step in the right  direction.

As is spelled out in an earlier post , the proportion of national income taken in tax in the UK is 33.3%.(the figure for 2020, the latest I could find).  Hunt's modest tax increases are estimated to cause that proportion to increase to 37.5%m in five year's time, the proportion in  Germany in 2020 (and France's was 46.2%.)  

So we've playing "catch up", are a long way behind, and progressing slowly.

The opposition parties should be shouting this loudly and clearly, praising the Tories for this modest step, suggesting better activities ( and non Activities) to tax and asking for more.

 Cuts have, for the most part, been postponed until after the next election, assumed to be in 2025, perhaps in recognition of the fact that cutting public services as we enter a recession is unwise, or maybe  as a trap to see if Labour will do a Blair/Brown type pledge and agree to stick to them should they become the government.  They, and the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Nationalists, should declare a very firm "No."


Our public services are already, after 12 years of unnecessary  but  ideologically motivated "austerity", pared to the bone, will all (even the allegedly protested NHS and Education) suffer real term cuts in the next two years as a result of inflation.  We need to move towards the French  level of taxation in order to put things right and make our public services fit for all the  population of a rich and advanced country. 



Friday 11 November 2022

Remembrance Day

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary: 

I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.”

 Thanks to Christian Art:


 for spotting this. 

 We must hope that, in addition to the politicians' belligerent posturings, somebody somewhere, for the sake of today's private soldiers (and Ukrainian civilians) somebody somewhere is trying to broker a peace.









Tuesday 8 November 2022

Easy choice

The Conservative Government's PR machine is working overtime to prepare us tor the Chancellor's mini-budget on the 17th November.  One day the "leaks," "rumours," or whatever you want to call them emphasise tax rises, on another there is speculation about cuts in spending.  The purpose of all this "kite flying" is to try to assess the public reaction to the various alternatives: more about what will go down well politically rather than what is best for the economy and our well being.

More sinisterly  we are bombarded day by day with phrases such as "difficult decisions," hard choices," "essential efficiencies" to fill the "black hole" in the public finances.  These try to give the impressions that we now have a brave, grown-up government, prepared to made the tough but inevitable choices for the UK to survive and hold our own in a harsh and cruel world.

It is nonsense

There is only one, very easy, choice.

This should be based on two incontrovertible facts.

Fact 1.  The UK's entire range of public services (NHS, social care, social security safety nett, local government services, legal system  and prison services, education system. . .) is on its knees, underfunded  understaffed and physically dilapidated.

Fact 2.  The UK is a relatively moderately taxed country.  Most similar countries pay a bigger share of their national income in tax than we do, as  this table shows:


Here are some comparable examples:

France:          46.2% of GDP collected in tax

Germany:      37.5%

UK:                33.3%

USA:              27.1%

The UK's 33.3% comes just below the OECD average.

 Hence there is plenty of scope for tax increases to bring us up to the average or, better,  slightly above it.

The figures are for 2020 and will have changed  slightly becasue of expenditure on the pandemic and as a result of rising fuel prices, but the relative positions are unlikely to have changed significantly

Some "trickle-downers" make much of the fact that the US is, or appears to be. a low tax country and a very enterprising one.  However. if we examine our position relative to the US we see the we in the UK spend 10.15% of or GDP on health care.  Most of that is included in government expenditure financed by taxation.  The US spends 16.7% of its GDP on health care and most of that is privately funded and not included in government expenditure.  Simple arithmetic shows that the US could be sending a greater proportion of its national income on government expenditure plus health care than does the UK.

So the choice facing the Chancellor as he prepares for the 17th November, is easy.  

Raise taxes in order adequately to fund our dilapidated public realm.

As emphasised  repeatedly in this blog, the fun is to chose those taxes which make least impact on current economic activity (known in the trade as the "circular flow of income." ) There are  plenty to chose from: profits taxes (not just windfalls windfalls), property taxes, land taxes, capital gains, financial transactions, ,  pollution taxes, tackle the use of tax havens . . ..

I'd love to be part of a team advising the Chancellor on the pros and cons of these options.  Enjoy!  The choices will  be intriguing but cause no hardship.

Thursday 3 November 2022

Rushi and the Nasties.*

Rivers of Blood: Enoch Powell

Swamped: Margaret Thatcher

Hostile environment: Theresa May

Invasion: Suella Braverman.

 The Tories never let the facts get in the way of what they hope will be a vote-wining slogan.  They truly are the "nasty party,"  despite vicar's daughter, Theresa May's warning  earlier this century. Sadly she didn't put her "belief  into action" as the mission statement over our Salvation Army  shop pithily advertises..

 Regarding M/s Braverman's inflammatory description,   a Madeleine Sumption, director of the Oxford migration Observatory points out , "This is not an invasion - it's not an army.. .  But if  instead she is referring to the number of people coming . . .  [they] are relatively manageable."

Here;s a small selection of the numbers of people seeking asylum in some  European countries (per 10 000 people in that country:

UK               8 per 10 000 of our population

France:     18 per  10 000 of their population

Germany:  23 per 10 000 of their  population 

Cyprus:   153 per 10 000 of their population.

Frankly, as in spite of everything I still feel  the UK is  a fabulous place to live - a "green and pleasant land" with a tolerant and friendly people. great creative arts,  and the opportunity for a creative and fulfilling lifestyle - I feel a bit miffed that we're so low down the list of choices and most foreigners seem to  want to go elsewhere.

There is much muttering that  many would-be incomers are not really fleeing horrible conditions, but are simply economic migrants looking for a better life.

So that? 

 If young people want to come here, pick our fruit and vegetables and fill all those other job vacancies, thus helping to pay my pension, that's great.  Some, like Michael Marks of  Marks and Spencer,  and Montague Burton of "Let Burton dress you," may be entrepreneurial innovators who may also add greatly  to the prosperity of Leeds and then beyond.

In fact most of the nationalities entering by  small boat are actually fleeing terrible conditions.  The top five nationalities for the  first quarter of this year  were: Afghan, Eritrean, Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian.

If the government really wants of curb the numbers fleeing terror, destitution and adverse climate change, then it needs to give priority to Overseas Aid and reverse the cuts  from 0.7% of GDP to O.5% (and effectively 0.3% as much intended for overseas development is now spent on asylum seekers here) and show more enthusiasm for COP 27 and measure to halt the climate disaster.  If the places where people  live are safe,  peaceful and prosperous fewer will want to move to other countries.

Given that that is a long-run solution, in the short run we need to build the necessary reception facilities, staff them with  sufficient people to feed and house them comfortably and enough civil servants to "process" the applicants and send them off to wherever they want to go (say with a £500 grant to help them settle in.)

 Make no mistake, the desire to migrate, either to escape dangerous conditions or simply for a better life, is not going to go away. 

 We in the West take it for granted that we have a God-given right to make use of modern travel facilities to go wherever we like either to work, for holidays, have adventures or simply have a look.  I am happy to  have visited all five continents and worked in three of them. With modern communications those what in for want of a better word I'll still call the "Third World" know what is avoidable elsewhere, see what the likes of Suella Braverman (whose parents emigrated from Africa) have achieved and want to come here and do likewise.

And good luck to them

*  The title echoes a chapter in Richmel Compton's "William the Detective" published in1935.  William, leader of The Outlaws, had discovered the Nazis and decided to emulate them. However, he thought the title    "Her " Hitler sounded effeminate so designated himself "Him" Hitler.