Search This Blog

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Is the Labour Party Finished?

I didn't vote in the UKs recent General Election and have no thoughts of changing my mind for the next one. The bookmakers are offering odds of 5 / 2 on Labour having an overall majority next time round. I think that's very optimistic. 500 / 1 and I might place a small bet.

No sooner were the 2015 results announced than Labour leader Ed Miliband committed ritual suicide - or maybe just walked away in a sulk. Sulking runs in the family: brother David "Banana" Miliband has kept one up for years and has been encouraged by his brother's defeat to start lobbing damp squibs again. Various Labour grandees from Lord Mandelson downwards have joined in as Party poopers.

Anyway, Miliband's suicide promptly opened the hen house door to a gaggle of headless chickens, running around and wanting to be the new Labour leader. Some have already fallen over but the others are still managing all kinds of wild and random statements, clearly indicative of people who never expect to enter Number Ten Downing Street, Even The Guardian which provides them with the oxygen of publicity has editorialised that it is a farce and ought to be called off. The party needs to re-assess itself properly.

The party does not know how to. There's not much of it left - who would want to belong? - and what's left isn't very talented. Or very decisive: they clung on to Miliband, despite the fact that he was a clear loser, just as they clung on to Gordon Brown.

My advice: the Labour and Unionist Party should dissolve itself and re-create itself as a more modest and mainly English organisation willing to work with the Greens, Liberals, Plaid Cymru and  the evil-because-successful SNP to create a Progressive bloc whose candidates would seek to keep the Tories out next time using the very simple method of putting up just one Progressive bloc candidate per constituency. It's the only way. Any other way and - on the back of an ageing electorate of limited vision - the Tories are there for a generation to make England a land of gated communities and food banks.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Sex and Gender (Basics)

For most of my life, Forms to be Filled asked me for my Sex and I always ticked Male, which was truthful, not that any bureaucrat ever checked up by getting me to pull down my pants. Occasionally they did check on you: at the Olympic Games, for instance.

I can see that the system was a bit unfair: the binary choice of M and F creates a problem for the maybe 1% of people who are hermaphrodite to a greater or lesser degree. No one ever offered them a third box to tick. It was always just Male and Female, with many consequences entailed like liability to military service. 

In the UK, it determined whether you could stop work and collect your pension at 65 (if you ticked M) or 60 (if you ticked F), though if you ticked F it would then be predicted that you would live longer than someone who ticked M.

Nonetheless, very few people ever lied about their Sex. In John Berger's book A Fortunate Man, about the work of a country doctor, there is a charming story about an elderly couple who had spent their lives doing so. But it is rare.

Nowadays, I am no longer asked for my Sex. I am asked for my Gender, though I am still offered the binary choice of M and F. I suspect that the word “Gender” is no more than an American euphemism for the word “Sex”. Americans don’t like to be reminded that sexual organs exist. Remember that there was once an organisation in the US which campaigned to make animals wear nappies.

The new word irritates me because I have always understood by “Gender” something which is a multi-dimensional spectrum  - and a spectrum on which an individual may have difficulty in locating themselves in any kind of fixed and final way. Somedays I feel more Masculine than on others; my Feminine side comes and goes. It depends a lot on where I am and who I am with.

 If you ask for my “Gender” I want to write an essay, not tick a box. I don’t think of myself as very M when it comes to gender. As someone sexed M I seek out sexually those who are sexed F, but after that I don’t have many interests which are supposed to go with being sexed M and I almost completely lack some  character traits normally fostered by parents and schools in those sexed M, or so it seems to me (I may be wrong about myself).

I collect stamps (which is very, very M in the UK at least) but I never go to pubs (which for most of my life were very M places in the UK) or hang out in all-M groups or attend M-sports fixtures. I don’t read magazines designed for M and there was a time when I pointedly read Vogue instead. I don’t cook or clean (which makes me very M) but I am quite a good listener (which makes me F). And so on. You can see how an extremely long and irritating essay could develop.

The conflation of Sex and Gender is unhelpful. For example, we still have lots of campaigns to increase the proportion of people sexed F in jobs mainly occupied by people sexed M (though we don’t have any campaigns for the reverse situation). But we don’t have campaigns to increase the proportion of people with Feminine gender characteristics in jobs mainly occupied now by people gendered predominantly Masculine.  But it is this which might make more of a difference to the way things like corporations are run or politics conducted. The trouble is, it's probably easier for people to fake their Gendering at interview than it is for them to fake their Sex.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

An Introduction to Deflation

For the first time in fifty years, the UK has just recorded a quarterly fall in prices. The global average figure is the result of price falls in just a few sectors, notably food and air travel. Nonetheless, even a hint of Deflation is significant. It affects behaviour.

If you are sitting on cash, you may be tempted to hold on to it because prices may fall further. So you postpone the planned replacement of your car or sofa.

If you are sitting on stock, especially if you haven’t yet paid for it, then you get a bit nervous and want to sell it soon before prices fall. In fact, you are tempted to cut prices a bit to encourage buyers. But buyers , when they see your prices fall, have their beliefs confirmed that prices are going to fall and may hold out a bit longer. So your stock remains in the warehouse and you cut back on new orders.

In addition, if you are in the UK, you can see the £ getting stronger against the €uro, and you know that means that the price of imports is going to fall and many  imported goods are going to start getting cheaper in the shops.

As a combined result, UK manufacturers find themselves with falling orders and put some workers onto short time working, reducing the incomes they have available to spend. Now those workers decide they can’t afford that new sofa, even though sofas are cheaper than they were three months ago.

The most ruthless players in the market, whether consumers or traders, will generalise their experience and decide: Hold on to cash, sell out stock, don’t buy anything except maybe houses (the supply of which is fixed and unaffected by falling import prices)  – just Wait.

This is how a deflationary spiral begins, a spiral which reduces the overall level of economic activity, reduces spending power and increases unemployment. In contrast, when there is a bit of inflation around, it helps keep the economy moving – people don’t delay spending, sellers get a bit of extra profit out of the fact that prices go up between the time they buy and the time they sell – and they place new orders with suppliers, confident that all is well.

The Bank of England should be thinking hard how it can put a bit of inflation back into the economy.

Monday, 25 May 2015

EU Referendum? It's a No Brainer ...

Back in December 2010, my guess was that UK voters would say No to the offer of Electoral Reform in the Referendum scheduled for May 2011. And they did - now, of course, they are complaining again about the Unfairness of the system they so recently voted to keep.

On 3 May 2015 I reckoned, against all the Opinion Polls, that the General Election would return Mr Cameron as Prime Minister.

British voters - or, at least, the English ones who matter most: the home owners and the elderly - are cautious and lacking in self-confidence. They don't like political change, pretty much for the same reason that they insure the contents of their homes. They are afraid of a world they don't understand. Only when times are already good will they contemplate change. When the economic winds, or the winds from Russia, are chilly they will sit tight.

So when it comes to the Referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, these shy voters will vote to stay In. Better the Devil you know. And since there are many millions of these voters:

My Prediction is that the UKs Referendum on whether the country should stay in the EU will result in a Yes vote to remaining a member. This despite the exclusion of 16 - 17 years olds whose future is much more at stake than mine or literally anyone who reads The Daily Express.

(Having failed to place what would have been a lucrative bet on Mr Cameron, I thought I might place an early bet on the Referendum - but I discover that the bookies have already reached the same conclusion as me)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Beware the Cashless Economy

I keep reading newspaper articles telling me that the Cashless Economy is about to arrive. But this is really commercial advertising disguised as news. Beware.

Credit cards used to be a great cash cow for those who issued them; credit card users were milked of their money – and still are, to some extent, but not enough. So those who want to make money out of money have to think of new ideas. The cashless economy is one of them.

There are several reasons to resist and go on using cash.

First, you will save money on transaction costs. For spenders, cash purchases are -  for all practical purposes - cost  free.

Second, your cashless transactions will be tracked. They will use cookies – and then you won’t be able to browse a website without annoying advertisements popping up inviting you to buy again what you have just already bought. (Internet cookie-led advertising is no more sophisticated than that, is it?)

Third, think of the children. At what age will they be allowed into the cashless economy? Until then, they will need their pocket money.

Of course, cash has its drawbacks. Shop keepers have to heave bags of small change to the bank and pay for the privilege of banking it. Give them a helping hand. Write to your MP and the Bank of England telling them to withdraw all those virtually worthless 1p, 2p and 5p coins. Why should the charity boxes settle for less than 10p a throw? In the current UK economic climate, every little bit of inflation helps.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Bank of England's New £20 Note

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has just invited public nominations of a visual artist to be featured in the design of the next £20 bank note, scheduled for issue in 2017. The requirements are that the person nominated should be a visual artist and dead. I have just made my Nomination (which you can do on the Bank of England website)

I picked Thomas Gainsborough and I additionally suggested that the bank note should feature one of the twin portraits of his daughters, Mary and Margaret - specifically, the one which is held in the Victoria and Albert Museum and just happens to be in bank note format:

Click on Image to Magnify

Not only do you get a visual artist but you get two girls and you get childhood. You also get a story of what looks like the desire for ownership trumping the demands of art.

You will notice that a vertical line runs down the middle of the painting. The work was painted around 1758 and inherited by Margaret Gainsborough, on the right (the younger of Gainsborough's two daughters). It then passed to John Jackson RA and when next transferred was cut in half, one half going to W C Macready, an actor, and the other to John Forster, Dickens biographer. Forster eventually re-united the two halves of the painting and bequeathed it to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 1876.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Ed Miliband, without the benefit of hindsight ...

From my Blog 25 September 2011:

My interest in British politics is at an all-time low. The fate of the eurozone, the Middle East and Afghanistan seems much more important, as does the prospect of a scary Republican US President.

Into this world steps Ed Miliband like some blundering would-be comic who mumbles last year's jokes

We will raise something. We will cut something. This is what he thinks politics is about. That's what he's been told. He's been told that the thing to cut is student fees. His joke-writers think this will raise a laugh - I mean, a Hoorah - in Middle England. They have also whispered in his ear that it will snooker the Lib Dem leadership and play well with their Party base. It is the politics of the smoke-filled room, just without the smoke.

Miliband is unlikely to get the chance to cut student fees and in the unlikely event that he does, well, by 2015 we will live in a different world and the Pledge will be forgotten. Did we say that? Oh no, we meant ...

It's not only grim up North London. It's pretty clueless too.

From my Blog 23 December 2011:

I just read a puff in The Guardian for the new Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Johann Lamont - who you have never heard of before. "Scottish Labour leader's mission ... to save the union" is the way The Guardian headlines its interview with her.

There you have it. A Labour and Unionist Party which will die in the last ditch to Save the Union since that happens to be Labour's only chance of ever re-gaining a majority in the United Kingdom parliament. Even now, there are 42 Labour MPs from Scottish constituencies. Johann Lamont's prime task is to keep it that way.

That means opposing Scottish Independence and that means lining up behind Scotland's hereditary landowners and the Union Flag. In Scotland, Labour is a party of reaction. You probably couldn't pass a cigarette paper between Johann Lamont and Michael Martin, the former Scottish Labour MP, disgraced Speaker of the House of Commons and voice of reaction.

Scottish voters will realise what it's all about: Vote Labour to Save the Westminster Parliament: Save Ed Miliband, Save MPs expenses, and Save Michael Martin in the House of Lords.

And realising what it is all about, Scottish voters will turn ever more sympathetically towards Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and a politician whose skill at the job will make Johann Lamont and Ed Miliband look like inept and merely self-interested opponents of the SNP-led Scottish revivial

Good Luck in 2012, Mr Salmond. By the end of the year, you will be even more popular and quite possibly more popular than Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Moribund combined.

From my Blog 29 December 2011:

I am one of the handful of people in possession of a letter from TV Licensing confirming that I do not need a licence because I don't have a TV.

I have a home cinema system but it isn't tuned to receive TV broadcasts; to me, this is simply part of mental hygiene.

So that is one reason why it is only today that browsing The Daily Telegraph website I came across a 2011 video clip which shows Mr Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, replying to a range of different questions from a TV interviewer with the same answer - almost word for word.

I obviously don't know what you can get away with on TV these days but I have to say Mr Miliband's behaviour in this clip strikes me as very odd. He seems to be suffering from some cognitive impairment.

Surely you cannot lead a political party which claims it could form a government (and with Mr Miliband as Prime Minister) if your Leader has got some kind of mental block which prevents him answering questions from an interviewer.

Have I missed something?

Boardroom Shake-Up in the Labour Party?

They really are headless chickens. The Leader commits ritual suicide and immediately the media is full of photographs of those who want to be next up for the guillotine, preferably this week. The godfather figures - Lord Mandelson at their head - indicate who they want to see fronting the organisation. Most of the wannabes no one has really heard of before now. It's all rather absurd. It's got nothing to do with democratic politics, nothing to do with policy though a lot to do with brand image (rather spoilt by dalliance with Brand), and nothing to do with the long-term - even a week in politics is too long for these people.

My advice: Work out what you stand for, take your time about it, consider federating with the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru and the SNP, choose your leader accordingly and put him or her in place sometime in 2016. Let Harriet Harman chair things until then.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Opposite of "Conservative" is not "Labour"

The semantics of the word "conservative" pairs it with "progressive" or "radical" as opposites. It does not pair with "labour". It is a historical accident that the United Kingdom has a "Conservative and Unionist Party" and, as its main opponent, a "Labour and Unionist Party" - though it doesn't include the Unionist bit in its name.

Time to change. England - London and maybe a few other cities excepted - will be dominated for the foreseeable future by an ageing electorate which doesn't think much beyond house prices, free bus passes and royal babies. The Daily Mail will shepherd them into the polling booths to Vote Conservative, not that they will need much shepherding.

To oppose the Conservatives, you need just one broad-based Progressive Party. But it should be a party committed to a Federal Britain. In that way, it could accommodate - until such time as they had support for full independence - the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, both of which espouse Progressive policies. For both a Federal Parliament and devolved parliaments, the SNP and Plaid would not be opposed in the constituencies where they had candidates. There is no reason in principle why those two parties should not be paralleled by an English National Party, also running candidates under a Progressive umbrella. But this might not be necessary. If a Progressive Party was created out of the ruins of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, then it might be better if it ran candidates for both devolved and federal parliaments in its own name. But a Progressive Party would not oppose the candidates of the SNP and Plaid in Scotland and Wales.

Northern Ireland cannot be accommodated in this scheme. There are no Progressives there and the statelet should be encouraged to federate with the Republic of Ireland, thus re-unifying the island. If it's desirable for Cyprus, it's desirable for Ireland.

A Federal Parliament on a US or Australian or Canadian model would concern itself with foreign affairs, defence, borders, currency and banking and seek to achieve some consistency in major policies across the devolved administrations. The Federal Parliament would be small and might not be based in London. Alternatively, the English Parliament might not be based in London.

Even without federalism, a Progressive Party of England could decide not to field candidates in Wales and Scotland simply as a means of trying to ensure the largest possible Progressive bloc in Parliament.

You can work out the details and problems in your own head. The important starting point, however, is the recognition that it is not just the UK electoral system which is unacceptable to anyone with the slightest democratic inclination; it is the field of failed and failing English political parties with which the voter is confronted.

Friday, 8 May 2015

How Democracy Works

In the United Kingdom, there are  46 425 386 registered voters (and there are a lot of other people who could  register to vote but don't bother)

Yesterday, 66.1% of registered voters cast ballots in the General Election

Some 36.9% of those who voted, voted for Mr Cameron's Conservative Party, equivalent to 24.37% of the total electorate - easiest to think of that as 1 in 4 voters.

As a result - and as predicted on this Blog on 3rd May - Mr Cameron remains as Prime Minister and this time he doesn't have to go into a Coalition with anyone since the 36.9% of the votes converted into 331  seats in the 650 seat House of Commons, which in case you haven't realised is a Majority (51% of the seats).

And on that basis, the leaders of three of the unsuccessful parties have already committed the ritual suicide expected of them.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The UK General Election: Never Take a Leaf Out of Your Neighbour's Book

As a non-voter, I have taken only a limited interest in the UKs current General Election campaign in which politicians bribe the electorate with promises they haven't yet collected in taxes.

My information sources are limited: I don't watch TV or listen to radio but I buy The Financial Times and get the awful Guardian free in my supermarket (the alternative freebie, The Daily Mail is considerably worse). And I browse the Internet - I have Al Jazeera on my Favourites bar (I deleted the BBC News some time ago).

Anyway, it means I may be wrong, but I get the impression that British political parties and voters are completely lacking in curiosity about how other countries manage things, even  in those countries nearest us. True, we all know that the French have much better railways and the Germans better roads - but that's about it.

How do they manage refuse collection in the Netherlands? What is Accident and Emergency like in the Czech Republic? And what about these Scandinavian countries which are rumoured not to have school uniform - surely their children must be completely undisciplined?

How come Norway didn't splash out its oil wealth on electoral bribes, as did Mrs Thatcher with ours, but instead created a long-term investment fund (a sovereign wealth fund, as they are now called)? What was it about the way they do things that allowed this constructive strategy to be put in place?

Does Russia do anything well? Maybe like us and the USA, it's good at putting people in prison.

How does Belgium - pretty much a non-country, as some British politician once remarked - cope with the fact that half the country doesn't want to be joined up with the other half? (Maybe the answer, judging by the state of Belgium's roads, is: very badly). Perhaps they need a Northern Ireland Peace Process.

And Switzerland. Everyone keeps very quiet about how the Swiss do things. They are supposed to have Referenda all the time. The truth is, they do - all the time. And you really can vote Yes or No in them. And their Federal government, such as it is, is always a coalition and the Chair of it is endlessly rotated, just as if it was some kind of loser Green Party. Does this bizarre way of going on help ensure the Swiss stay rich or is it a liability?

Talking of rich, we do of course all know that the Channel Islands stay rich and without VAT or Trident missiles by syphoning off money which would otherwise go to the UK Treasury. They cover themselves by putting the Queen Mother and Royal Babies all over their postage stamps. So far, it's only the Germans who have sent in the troops; but it should be the Brits.

Well, maybe someone has written a book about Other People's Success Stories which we could try to imitate. Policies which are imaginative, effective and cost-efficient. Constitutional arrangements which facilitate long-term strategic thinking. Political cultures which allow you to get from less to more desirable states without having to wait decades. And so on. If there is such a book, I'd like to read it.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

It's the Royal Baby Wot Won It

The UK has a General Election on 7 May .... here is my prediction:

The well-timed birth of The Royal Baby will turn things around for David Cameron's Conservative Party; it will give them a Feelgood-all's-well-with-the-world two or three percent increase in their vote, which is enough

And still to come - the second instalment -  is the Daily Mail's Zinoviev Letter - the Labour-kicking story they are holding until the strategic last moment ....

So: my Prediction (against the betting odds) is for a Conservative victory; David Cameron will once again be Prime Minister