Search This Blog

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Parliament: Misconduct and a Spreadsheet

One of the many problems with that spreadsheet  is that it trashes the distinction between real harm and imaginary offence. From the standpoint of any head of personnel, misconduct in the workplace is one thing and private activities which, if found out, excite prurient imagination and salacious gossip is something else. The spreadsheeter is having none of such liberal or secular distinctions and has used a format which suggests moral equivalence between very different things. In this they mimic both religious extremism and populist resentment and I guess that is a large part of the explanation for the spreadsheeter's current success. We live in a world of  zeal and grievance. 

I would prefer to see the government fall because its policies and incompetence are threats to the country's future, but I suppose that is too much to hope for. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Now, Mr Churchill, Would You Declare War On Germany in any Fresh Vote?

What I did last time around was I looked at everything and came to a judgment and I’d do exactly the same this time around.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

The End of The Guardian, deleted from my Favourites Bar

The Guardian was on my Favourites Bar together with The Financial Times (to which I have a subscription) and Al Jazeera. But, really, I  have wanted to delete it as I did some while back delete the absurd Huffington Post. I left it there partly because it does give me some headlines, though not always things which turn out to be important. Occasionally, there are important investigative stories.

There is something deeply wrong with The Guardian. It seems without intellectual or moral compass, floundering and even desperate – at the moment, desperate for Good News. Not so long ago, when  a beautiful young woman with style and attitude came along (and I admit, I was happy to heart it for Saffiyah Khan confronting Ian Crossland), the sense of The Guardian falling over itself was palpable. It was just over the top and often is.

It’s  priorities are bizarre. There is, for example, an obsession with Hollywood and the Oscars which seems quite misplaced. Why would anyone care about Hollywood to this degree? Why not just take pleasure in good films?

Then there are the writers of the very many Opinion pieces. I hesitate to name names. Very rarely does anyone in the large cast of writers manage to say anything which isn’t self-serving, puffing up my grievance to be bigger than your grievance. Worse, there is what reads like competitive grievance invention. The rhetoric is tired, like that of a superficial undergraduate essay written in haste. The range of positions is of course predictable, even with some of the contributors designated to take a “Different View” but always the same different view (the ones who are there to speak up for Russia or Brexit or whatever). When I read the Opinion writers in the FT, I feel I am much more likely to be surprised and challenged. And informed.

All the Guardian Opinion pieces are routinely shot to bits in the Comments below. For a long time, I thought these Comments the poor taste and poorly argued work of nerds and trolls. Increasingly, I think that they are actually on target. They are appropriate attacks on rubbish writing. I treat the ridiculous respectfully when I treat is as ridiculous, said the young Karl Marx. I have joined in myself but I don't feel comfortable in the role, which is another reason for deleting from the favourites bar.

If The Guardian folded, those who don't want to line up behind the programme and fantasy vision of the National Conservatives would have to start again somewhere else and I think that would be a good thing provided it was a genuinely fresh start and not the wheeling out of tired leftist hacks. The Guardian is going nowhere and it’s not helping in these difficult times.

It's true, it's also the case that Opposition politics in England is headed up by intellectual flyweights, including  Mr Corbyn,  who struggle to articulate a clear position even when the National Conservatives are also fielding flyweights - Johnson, Leadsom, Fallon, Grayling and winning by a mile, May herself - with the difference that those flyweights know how to be nasty in a way that Mr Corbyn doesn't.

Maybe if there was a new Editor at The Guardian with some intellectual sharpness and  global vision,and a clean sweep made of all the  hanger-on Opinion writers of whom there are simply far too many anyway, then it could survive. But not in its present Sunday School,  awful, cluttered, scatter-shot form.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sex and Gender: Binaries and Continuums

I think of sex as mostly binary and gender as pretty much a continuum. There are intersex individuals but not many, and to treat sex as binary has always been a fairly good approximation for practical purposes, Women and Children first when the lifeboats are lowered and it's not a time for argument. But gender characteristics are distributed along a continuum rather than distributed into a binary of trans and cis. Most boys, by whatever are the accidents of their upbringing, acquire some feminine characteristics and most girls some masculine ones. Some children end up more thoroughly transgendered than this but manage to find niches in life which suit them.

There are a very small number of people who feel strongly that their gender character is misaligned with their body and who want  to change their body, and some do so using whatever chemical and surgical methods are on offer from the current medical profession. But I doubt that those who change sex in this way end up completely cisgendered in relation to their new body. They will still have gender characteristics left over from the sex they are leaving. It can get very complicated and that’s fine, though complicated does not mean heroic.

That gender is a continuum has  always had some recognition. The terms cissy and tomboy indicate very obviously that there was long ago a recognition that some boys had more than their average share of feminine characteristics and girls ditto for masculine. Cissies had a bad press, but tomboys usually a more indulgent one. The differences sometimes had obvious explanations in accidents of parenting and the sex distribution of siblings. An isolated boy growing up with six sisters would probably end up playing their games; a girl growing up on a farm often got handy at doing things that we might think of as very masculine, like killing. And, living on a lighthouse, Grace Darling knew how to row a boat in a storm.

Parents very often try to ensure that their children get gendered in as binary fashion as possible and schools to their shame often co-operate in things like school uniform and separate classes for this or that, swimming or cookery. But children are not docile in these matters and may resist. They are very alert to other forms of fun than the ones they are being channelled towards.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Monumental Sculpture

"I would find myself in a desert of the past, filled with nothing but monuments" - Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War.

All things change and what goes up must come down. I can’t think that monumental sculpture was ever a good idea, bigging up things in order to magnify, glorify and fix the memory of mostly bit players in history. It was basically a job for skilled technicians who rarely had any more sense of form or style than those, lower down the market, who mass produced angels to droop over graves. The angels should be bulldozed (nowadays - shortage of space - they often are) and so too should the equestrian statues of generals, the politicians puffed up on plinths, the liberators who should be content with a popular memory that once upon a time they liberated.

I’m only familiar with near to my home, Europe’s capital city centres littered with statues to individuals, both statues and individuals generally meritless and now of interest only to dogs and pigeons. The money, often raised by grateful public subscription and, if not, paid for from the taxes of the poor – well, the money could have been much better spent. There were, from time to time, people who got the message and spent instead on useful buildings. Andrew Carnegie did that, giving away a fortune worth in modern terms about $80 billion which, among many other things, funded the building of three thousand libraries. I double checked. Three thousand. True, he put his name on them - and if you were mean-minded, you could take that off and still have the building. With a monumental sculpture, you don’t have that sort of choice and my choice would be to take them all down.

That’s one reason I could both sympathise with Oxford University students who wanted to topple Cecil Rhodes from his perch on Oriel College but also feel that they had mis-diagnosed the problem. The problem is all these sculptures, even the ones to the Goodies of history whose goodness is, in my eyes, always diminished by a stonemason’s assertion of that goodness.

I made myself go and look at Cecil Rhodes last time I was in Oxford. There’s not much to look at and, I suspect, until his presence was highlighted, nothing about his bird-shit spattered statue which would have attracted anyone’s attention. In contrast, the anonymous heads of thirteen men with beards which provide a boundary for the Sheldonian Theatre do attract attention, even though they are the modern (1972) replacement copies of Victorian replacements of the 1669 originals. These heads are anonymous and so feature neither the virtuous or the wicked except insofar as they are all men with beards. I can’t find any trace of a suggestion that seven should be removed and replaced to create a gender balance and I’m not sure how I would feel if someone did make the suggestion. But their anonymity is one reason why I would be inclined to leave them all in place.

That opens the way for someone to say that it’s valuable to be reminded of our history, even if we would not repeat it the same way today. The statues and sculptures provide incidental prompts to think about our history as we go about our work and play. Nelson atop his column in London, Peter the Great riding his horse in St Petersburg - don’t these things give us at least some sense that the history of a country, the history of a city, is layered and not merely spatial? Aren’t they, if you like, part of a city’s archaeology?

Quite a good argument and so I’ll offer a compromise. Let each city draw up an inventory of the public monuments dedicated just to named individuals. Then let the public vote for a handful they would like to keep. In London, they would surely keep Nelson on his column. But those chaps on the three surrounding plinths? Not even a reasonable General Knowledge contest question: George IV, General Sir Charles James Napier, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock. All of them Baddies, as it happens, but that is really incidental. How many Londoners who walk through the Square on the way to work could sketch the statues from memory? But they could all sketch the Column.

I don’t mind what happens to the monuments which come down. They could go to some open air museum or simply go to recycling. The main thing is that our cityscapes would look and feel so much better – so much more decent is the word that comes to mind - without them. The worst thing that could happen is that we topple one lot only to replace them with another lot. 

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Andrea Leadsom

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel or, more accurately in this case, a person with a dodgy CV
[Google "Andrea Leadsom" + CV]

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

External Cladding? Yes, we offer a range ...

Click on image to enlarge

Should Politicians Try to Share People's Grief?

At the moment, here in the UK, we are looking for people to blame. I blame the voters. First, because they still vote Conservative which means putting into power those who only think of themselves and the interests of their sponsors. Second, and perhaps more important, because voters want so many irrelevant things from politicians that the politicians end up with little time for running the country.

A non-executive head of state is supposed to respond to national moods, whether of joy or grief. You expect the head of state to turn up at major sporting events and major disasters. Queen Elizabeth the Second has learnt the lesson of her mistakes in not turning up in Aberfan and not lowering the flag for Diana and, aged ninety, has turned up in Manchester and at Grenfell Tower. Unfortunately, partly because of her age and her strange clothing, it is all a bit awkward. But she has tried. Good for her.

The Queen’s awkwardness may be one reason why voters want their Prime Ministers and party leaders to act like symbolic heads of state too. They are also expected to turn out when the mood is joyful or grieving. Theresa May is no good at it and that’s enough to have sealed her fate. Jeremy Corbyn is much better and it’s improving his popularity no end.

But what is the threshold of joy or grief which requires a leader’s appearance on the scene? True, sometimes they may learn something which won’t be in the reports landing on their desk. Those at the top are often isolated by the butt-covering bureaucrats around them. So they have no choice but to go out and meet and greet and hopefully learn something. But most of the time, it would probably be a better use of their time if they stayed at their desk, reading the reports and working the phones. It’s not clear that their job is to make an appearance for no other reason than to show that they care. If we had more confidence in them, we would accept that caring would often mean that they remained hidden from our view as they got on with their job on our behalf. Our leaders are now as visible as that chap in North Korea, who is photographed everywhere, day in and day out, but who doesn’t care a fig for anyone.

Likewise, we have developed this idea that a politician must appear daily on the steps of Downing Street or on a TV chat show. What are we hoping for? Why can’t we leave them alone for five minutes to get on with running the country? Stalin got through World War Two with just one radio broadcast. He was a very hard worker. Curiously, when he wanted to show that something – the death of Roosevelt – mattered, he walked across Red Square to the US Embassy to sign the book of condolences.  I don't think anyone had seen Stalin walk anywhere before.

Politics has become so ridiculously short term (a day in politics is a long time) that we don’t see that this is one reason why our country has no long term future. We are like goldfish and simply cannot grasp that serious executive leaders will need to be left alone to get on with things and that those things include long-term strategic planning and long-term oversight of major policies. They are not cheer-leaders or professional mourners.

Things are unlikely to change because now we are in a competitive situation where each leader has to prove that they have more empathy than the others at times of tragedy. They are unlikely to sit down together and agree a threshold for scrapping their regular work and turning out on the street. Nor are they going to delegate and let a deputy go, or someone with relevant expertise. That would be passing up a photo opportunity to a potential rival.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

The Guardian and the multiplication of identities

The more you multiply identities, the more difficult it is to satisfy everybody. The Guardian now exists because of the dissatisfaction it creates by needlessly multiplying identities.

Last week, when the UKs General Election results were in, The Guardian produced a photo gallery of selected new MPs, selected because they visibly represented identities which are (or are supposed to be) under-represented in the House of Commons. Forget about political values, what matters to The Guardian is identities. What I found exasperating were two things.

First, that The Guardian is interested in photogenic identities. Being a Sikh male is terribly helpful in this context. But does The Guardian really suppose that identities are always visible to the camera? 

Atheists, agnostics, humanists and many other identities do not yield to the camera and so they do not appear worthy of representation. I suppose that the camera is one reason why The Guardian comes across as a religious newspaper, defender of the faiths.

Second, it made it appear that all those new MPs who don’t take the right picture somehow don’t count. The Guardian clearly has a tick box list of identities which are cool and identities which aren’t. But maybe lurking among those unseen, boring new MPs there are interesting identities yet to be discovered and, perhaps more importantly, people committed to political values worth having represented in the House of Commons. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Beware over-confidence, Mr Corbyn

Rasputin (Nick Timothy) is dead, killed off by the aristocracy of the National Conservatives. Tsaritsa Theresa is, in the words of another Tory aristocrat, a dead woman walking. 

But the Bolsheviks should not get too cocky. True, they should seize their advantage and seek to ensure that Mrs May goes sooner rather than later. But the best – and really the only - way to do this is to bring on side as many MPs as possible and that could include Mensheviks, Social  Revolutionaries and even dissident Kadets. It only needs two or three Tories to break ranks over a deal with the reactionary Democratic Unionist Party and Mrs May is finished anyway.  Think Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston.

Mr Corbyn understands this. But there are almost certainly others who do not, imagining that one can seize power anyway, majority in Parliament or no majority. They understand correctly that there has to be a shove, a will to win, but probably underestimate how hard it is to come out on top in the British political system. Very few have ever managed it.

British voters are fickle (they have shown that repeatedly; who would want to be a politician?) though it is true that a completely dysfunctional electoral system amplifies that in a Tory-favouring way. One constant is a dislike of cockiness, over-confidence, hubris – call it what you will. And they have a perennial soft spot for underdogs and they don’t like to see a man (or woman) kicked when they are down. So Mr Corbyn has to navigate carefully. 

Not least, he needs to strengthen his team, and if that means putting Yvette Cooper in as Shadow Home Secretary then he should do it and sort things out later with the hapless Diane Abbott. And if it means putting out feelers in all directions, he should.

Nicola Sturgeon is currently paying the price for over-playing her own hand. By trying to turn the pro-EU vote in Scotland into a pro-Independence vote she has ended up reducing what was a genuine and enthusiastic popular base of support.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Can You Identify Who This Is?

Click On Image to Magnify

Star of Stage or Screen? Comedian or Dancer? Music Hall Entertainer? Best Man? Royal Ascot owner of a string of horses? 

Study carefully  ... note the top pocket handkerchief, the button hole, the cuffs, the watch, the pinky-ring ...

No, it's not Prince Charles. It's a different Prince of Wales, photographed ninety years ago:

Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, born 1894, a man close enough to National Socialism to be interned at the safe distance of  the Bahamas for the duration of World War Two.

The photograph is on a Tucks'picture postcard, designed for popular purchase.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Attractions of the Church of England

I am one of those secularists who think that the Church of England should be disestablished but minus most of its assets which should remain in public hands for use, for renting out and for disposal. This would free up the Church of England to become a religious organisation.

But I can see the attractions when I visit a town like Chichester. There is a cathedral and next to it a Bishop’s Palace and then, clustered all around, some very desirable residences right in the centre of town but away from the traffic. You can’t buy them but I bet you can get a better deal than an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. There will be a pecking order, of course, and - for example - there is a very impressive Deanery which not everyone will qualify for.

The Palace Gardens are now public property or, at least, open to the public and maintained by the local authoirty and they are, indeed, a very pleasant place to sit and relax.

I think its properties are one of the few remaining attractions of the Church of England. How else can one explain the pull it has on those towards whom it has shown centuries of animosity? In heaven’s name, no woman or gay person would want to be a high up in this unpleasant organisation; but for purely material reasons, why on earth not? Those cottages in the Cathedral Close would cost a few hundred thousand each on the open market. If all you have to do is put on a collar to baptise, marry and bury – well, it’s a no brainer. People who work for high-paying corporations may have private doubts about the ethics; why should anyone worry too much about the ethics of a church which will give you a nice house in exchange  for some modest public duties?

Henry VIII isn’t looked down upon because he looted the monasteries. He counts as one of our more effective kings – I don’t think any of them count as virtuous so it’s as close as it gets. A government which decided to dispossess the Church of England could go a long way to solving many social problems. Who could possibly object?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Re-leavers? It's social psychology, innit?

Pollsters in the UK have discovered that in the forthcoming vote to elect a new Duma, many voters who were Remainers in last year's EU Referendum are now Re-leavers. They accept the Referendum verdict, and are willing to Move On and accept whatever the  Tsaritsa delivers. Many will vote for her. They don't feel they have much choice. Who wants the Liberal Democrats, fronted by an evangelical Christian also changing his mind about what he believes?

'Twas ever thus and a great many social psychology experiments are all about showing how people succumb to peer pressure, how they don't like to be the odd one out, and how in any case, opposition is just too emotionally tiring. Like the Vicar of Bray, they are falling into line, though in this case there is a great deal at stake and one might have expected some of them to last out in opposition for more than fifteen minutes. Such is the power of the Daily Mail and American money pouring into Vote Leave campaigns.

Part of the dynamic is that we try to persuade ourselves that we won't be personally affected by whatever happens or that we will be able to take steps to mitigate effects which will weight more heavily on those less intelligent or simply less affluent. The Re-leavers include people who are making quiet adjustments to their asset holdings, their health insurance policies, their purchases of things which can be kept for the future, like French wines. When the Referendum result was announced, the first thing I did was renew my passport ahead of its expiry date in order to have a maroon EU passport for the next ten years. It may lose the visa-free access to 27 countries which it currently provides, I know that, but I renewed it anyway as a sort of talisman against the worst which the National Conservatives can inflict.

Anyway, Remoaners are boring so I won't bore you any longer. The main thing is that the social psychologists for once have something to prove that they got it right first time - the time when they tried to explain the success of Fascism and Nazism.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

After the local government elections ....

In England, the National Conservatives have taken control of local government in several parts of what were once “Labour Party heartlands”. You might say, They are welcome to them. After all, what can the NCs  deliver that Labour can't?

The NCs are being rewarded in those Heartlands for the fact that they triggered Article 50 to take the UK out of the European Union. They have also benefited from the perceived disintegration of the Labour Party as a serious opposition force. But now comes the difficult bit: What can these new NC-dominated local governments offer?

They can’t ride on rising standards of living since those are off the agenda, thanks to Brexit. Output is going to fall, prices are going to go up, taxes likewise. So they will be serving populations in ever greater need of support of one kind or another. Younger people will be looking for jobs, housing and food banks and older ones looking for health and social care. But local authorities will not be in a position to help. Their budgets will not increase and nor will their powers. They can’t by themselves do very much to get rid of the Romanians or the Remoaners: that is in the hands of the national government.

In all likelihood, the NC councils and mayors will be driven to flag-waving of one kind or another: the Union Jack everywhere, lots of prayers before council meetings, crackdowns on things ( rough sleepers, street drinking) which irritate but don’t cost much to crack down on (at least, for long enough to get a headline).

The expectations of voters in the Labour heartlands aren’t very high and are probably falling. Whether they will fall fast enough to keep pace with the National Conservatives’ likely inability to deliver any kind of regeneration is another question. In fairness, one should add that local government in the UK has for a long time been a weak and ineffectual thing. That has been central government policy - and I don't see that changing very much under the authoritarian regime of our Tsaritsa Theresa.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why Wales Should Vote Conservative

All the forecasts I have read suggest that the Welsh economy will be hit badly by Brexit, largely because it relies on the single market for exports. However, the good people of Wales voted for Brexit, despite the warnings. If they now continue to vote Labour, they can expect no favours from a National Conservative government when the Welsh economy goes over the cliff. But if they vote Conservative, then subsidies will no doubt be forthcoming. One of the great things about Brexit is that it will allow British governments to discriminate as they wish. So a Conservative vote makes good sense if you expect in the near future to become a Welsh pauper overseen by a National Conservative government. Hat makers take note: I am sure Mrs May would appreciate it if the poor of Wales doffed their caps when granted their subsidies and handed their food packages. Now is the time to design a cap that fits.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Jeremy Corbyn wants to inflict on us FOUR new Bank Holiday Washouts

Jeremy Corbyn has today proposed new Bank Holidays on 1 March, 17 March, 23 April and 30 November: St David's Day, St Patrick's Day, St George's Day and St Andrew's Day. This is such a really deadbeat idea it makes you want to cry. This is what I wrote here back in April 2012:

Every year, the British government's Department of Business publishes a bizarre list of dates on which employers are advised to shut up shop and lock out their workers. These are what we call Public Holidays. It is not compulsory to close down on any of these days and, apparently, workers have no entitlement to demand the day off.

These arrangements are unfair, enormously costly and deny many workers the satisfaction of fixing their holiday times to suit their own needs.

The public sector is only too willing to shut up shop for public holidays. It doesn't much like being open anyway and, well, any excuse. Some public sector workers have a financial stake in the shut downs: refuse workers who can't work on the shut-down Monday can demand double or treble time to"catch up" the following Saturday. GP surgeries can close knowing that there is a lot of money to be made moonlighting for "Out of Hours" services: a recent investigation found that doctors are paid around £175 per hour for such work. That's a pretty good reason to shut your Surgery. When it comes to public sector scams, the UK is definitely up there with Greece.

So it is not the prospect of a day on the beach which lines up dustmen and doctors behind the present arrangements. This is fortunate: most of our public holiday dates are selected in anticipation that it will be cold or wet or both. Enter the phrase "Bank Holiday Washout" into Google and it returns a downpour of results.

The public sector shuts but much of the private sector stays open - retail and leisure - precisely in order to provide something to do for the lost souls who have been locked out.

The relationship is never reversed: there is never a day when Tesco is closed and the Town Hall open.Not one. It would be a nightmare! All those dreadful people who might try to access public services and all at once!

Of the actual days selected for public holidays only two hit dates when most workers would like a day off anyway: Christmas Day and New Year's Day. But few employers want to open on these days. First, they have read their Christmas Carol. Second, they don't want to pay staff to turn up with a hangover. In other words, an official public holiday is unnecessary to secure closures on these two popular dates. (That the official closures are designed by a public-sector Trades Union Committee is well demonstrated by the fact that when New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, Monday is a public holiday. This is not true in any other European country).

If it wasn't for public holidays, nothing would close on Good Friday or Easter Monday. Nor do any of the other dates have popular appeal, except perhaps August Bank Holiday - the annual opportunity to sit in traffic jams, have car accidents and - if you escape those - turn yourself into a sardine on Brighton beach.

Most genuinely popular celebrations proceed without benefit of Government endorsement. This is true of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night and the Cup Final.

If Trafalgar Day or whatever isn't already a day of popular celebration, that isn't going to change because some Tory geek has a wheeze that it should become one. It would become just another public sector shut down. Period.

The fair and efficient way forward is to abolish ALL these advisory public holidays and return to workers the dignity of negotiating their holidays with their employers. That is the only way to respect people's family needs, cultural preferences and personal tastes.

Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has pointed out that the UK lost production in 2011 because of the Royal Wedding Day Orff and will lose it again for the Jubilee Days Orff.

The efficiency gains from abolishing public holidays would certainly justify adding a couple of days to every workers minimum holiday entitlement. Those who work five days a week should expect a minimum of thirty days holiday, which would provide a conventional week at Christmas, week at Easter and month in the summer. But some people don't want that and will keep the wheels of industry turning during those periods. Instead, they might take off thirty Fridays and enjoy thirty long weekends.

Sinn Fein Should Drop Its Boycott of Parliament for 2017 - 2022

I don’t usually vote in United Kingdom General Elections, mainly because the voting system is unfair and leaves most voters in the situation where they will never be on a winning side – for me, a lifetime experience. It's worse than the Lottery. I did vote in the 2016 Yes-No Referendum and I might vote this time just to contribute to the national pile of votes for  anti-Brexit candidates – it would be nice if across the UK, we could do a Hillary Clinton and out-perform the Big Winner.

My local Conservative MP is a decent, Christian chap and strong Remainer who turned out to be like all the other decent Christian chaps and found it very easy when push came to shove to betray his conscience and follow the Vicar of Bray’s daughter into the Brexit lobbies.

I will be more inclined to vote if my local Liberal Democrats and Greens agree that only one of them will stand. Even if the Labour candidate is a Remainer, I see little point in voting Labour which has proved itself so supine on the only thing which has really mattered for the past 12 months. I really do hope some noisy Remainer defeats that Old Labour hack in North Islington who has sat on his safe seat for 34 years.

I hope that the SNP wins every seat in Scotland and I think someone should try to persuade anti-Brexit Sinn Fein to drop its historic boycott of Westminster and allow its elected MPs to take their seats even if only for one Parliament only 2017 -2022. That would provide some counter-balance to the Tory side-kicks of the DUP/ UUP

So that’s my contribution to the Focus Group discussion.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A Crisis of Falling Expectations

When nations go into decline, people don’t expect very much. Indeed, they rather expect things to get worse. The spasms which coalesced into a 52% Leave vote were triggered largely by hopelessness rather than hope. Since in Scotland they still had hope, they voted to Remain. In Wales, there was no hope and they voted to Leave reality.

Tsaritsa May will get her Mandate and her National Conservative majority in the new Duma simply because enough voters will accept that it is right things should get worse for them rather than better. You may say that is remarkably perverse. Maybe. But I think that’s the way things sometimes go, just as my mother living on £5 a week National Assistance thought it right to vote Conservative because, as she put it,  “You’ve got to have  the people with money”.

Mr Corbyn's idea that people will pile in to vote for Free School Dinners and £10 an hour is a pitiful delusion.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Islington North: The Only Constituency Which Matters in 2017

Islington North is the most important constituency in the forthcoming UK General Election. Back in June 2016, 78% of those who voted in the Brexit referendum voted to Remain. Since then, their Member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, has done one thing and failed to do two others:

- failed to insist on the sovereignty of Parliament when Mrs May sought to by-pass it in triggering Article 50. It was left to Gina Miller and the Courts to remind Parliament of its duties

-marched his party into the Tory lobbies in support of triggering Article 50

- failed to secure a single amendment to the bill triggering Brexit

In these circumstances, the electors of Islington North deserve a better candidate than Mr Corbyn. In the last General Election, the Conservative came second, the Green candidate third, and the Liberal Democrat candidate fourth.

The Green candidate intends to stand again and has a good case for being regarded as the pro-Europe alternative to Mr Corbyn.  Ideally, the Liberal Democrats should stand down or, if it seems they have a better chance this time, the Greens should stand down. It would be a tragedy  if they failed to agree a pact.

Alternatively, a high profile, combative, progressive and ideally young, pro-European should be sought to stand as a Popular Front candidate with the noisy  intention of dislodging Mr Corbyn and thus helping to create one condition for establishing  a strong Parliamentary opposition to Mrs May’s National Conservatives. This can only be achieved by knocking Mr Corbyn out of Parliament.

And just to keep the focus where it should be, the Popular Front candidate might ponder the fact that in the recent past Lock Her Up! has been a potent rough house campaign slogan. Looking at Daily Mail headlines, maybe we need a variant of that slogan here. Democracy is sometimes about fighting back.

The rest does not matter. Here is one quote from immediate coverage of Mrs May's decision to call an Election. The Financial Times thinks that to date "resistance [ to the Government] has been lame to the point of culpability" . They mean Mr Corbyn. The Daily Mail today would have to lump the FT among its "Saboteurs".

Monday, 17 April 2017

Blue Passports and Seasonal Work Permits

Click on Image to Magnify

Oh, those were the days and we are going back to them.Hip, hip hooray!  God Save the Queen!

Here is my first passport, acquired at the age of 16 back in 1964 with a view to travelling to Sweden after my "A" levels. You will see that I am missing a Wife, but never mind.

But only two stamps in my passport prove that I travelled at all:

I sailed from Harwich and got an entry stamp at Esbjerg on the 25 July 1964, a few days after my 17th birthday. Then I travelled to Sweden by train, but returned by a different route, leaving Denmark on 29 September 1964. No evidence at all as to when or where I left the United Kingdom or re-entered it. In those days, it seems, Passport Control cut corners by not officiously stamping on every one. But I could have re-entered by swimming the channel for all that the official record shows.We will correct such slackness this time around!

And what was I going to do in Sweden? I was going to work as a Diversarbetare - an Odd Job Worker - and I had a Visa giving me permission to do that from 27 July to 30 September. The Visa cost me nine shillings (see top right) and to get it I had to prove that I had a job to go to, as indeed I did. I probably spent another nine shillings travelling to the Consulate, my proof of a job in hand.

Surprisingly. on this occasion I seem not to have needed to have my foreign currency purchases recorded in my Passport. Perhaps I simply travelled with sandwiches and a thermos flask. But it looks very dodgy to me. This time around, there will be no such slackness! Show us your money before you travel!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Like Lambs to the Slaughter

I forget where I read it and how long ago I read it, but what I read was this: There were occasions during the First World War when young men crammed into trains on their way to be killed in the trenches, responded to their situation by baa baa-ing like sheep. Indeed, they were going to their slaughter and this was the nearest they came to objecting to their fate -  though surely near enough for unnerved officers to tell them to stop.

In England, Parliament led the way in showing us that we are doomed to Brexit whether we like it or not. English and Welsh members of Parliament didn’t baa like sheep but some of them ( at least, I hope some of them) lowered their gaze in shame as they followed orders and marched into the division lobbies, knowing that they were condemning their country to a far worse future than it could have enjoyed had it  Remained. The Welsh MPs would have known that their action endangers the future of Welsh lamb as one of that country’s major exports : 93% of exported lamb currently goes, tariff and hassle free, to the EU.

Voters have followed the lead of MPs. They are lowering their gaze and accepting that they will wait longer for hospital appointments, wait longer in Accident and Emergency, go uncared for. They will quietly accept that their nurses and carers are going back where they came from and that there are no replacements. Life expectancy in the UK has already begun to fall because of the “crisis in social care” and it will fall further. Many of those elderly fools who voted for Brexit will not now, mercifully, live to see its fruits. In a state of abjection, voters will also accept that their real incomes are falling and their life prospects, as we like to call them, are deteriorating.

Even younger voters will accept that many of their opportunities for working and studying abroad will probably disappear and that their chances of owning their own homes will certainly do so. No young people are rioting, but instead they are going quietly, the first lambs to the slaughter. Some, fortunately, have the option of going back where they came from. Others don't and have to watch as their Prime Minister throws herself at Donald Trump and their arms salesman Mr Fox embraces President Duterte 

Monday, 10 April 2017

The Deep Culture of Public Monuments,

People are often aware of things which make their culture distinctive, sometimes simply because outsiders pick it out for comment and sometimes because it becomes a site of conflict. But probably most aspects of cultures go on, even for centuries, without much scrutiny. They simply continue as habits or conventions or unreflected reactions. They are part of what I want to call our Deep Culture.

For centuries or more now, in European cultures with well-defined elites, those elites often react to the death of one of their leaders by proceeding to the erection of a statue of that person in a public place, the statue either paid by the state or funded by what is called “public subscription”. The resulting statue will certainly cost a lot of money, will almost certainly be without any aesthetic merit, and in a short space of time will remain of interest only to dogs and pigeons. Those who pass by on the street or in the park where it is located will barely notice it, simply treating it as part of the street clutter which city authorities specialise in proliferating. City authorities abhor a vacuum and certainly an uncluttered open space – that too is the habit of their own neurotic culture.

Sometimes, these monumental sculptures supposedly dedicated to the memory of dead people become objects of controversy and sometimes they are even removed when it is reckoned that the person, on reflection, was one of the Wicked and not one of the Virtuous. But these spats never shift the ingrained reaction which recreates a dead person in an awful monument and which even leads to supposed radicals and revolutionaries wanting to put up monuments to their own heroes. How might one change this whole way of thinking?

In some cultures, graven images are proscribed and there are sometimes even more specific prohibitions and requirements. In Wahabbi Islam, for example, there is a rule which says that rulers must be buried in unmarked graves thus blocking any possibility that the burial site should become a place of pilgrimage. This seems to me an excellent idea, and should easily be acceptable to those in broadly Christian-Protestant cultures who will choose to have their own ashes scattered to the winds. They may wish to be remembered, but not through occupation of a burial plot.

But how more actively to bring it about that people think that public monuments – and certainly figurative monuments which recreate the image of the dead person - are not an appropriate way to memorialise the dead?

I suppose one way might be to focus on the choice mechanisms which decide who gets a monument and who doesn’t. Look at the monuments in any European city and it is almost blindingly obvious that the monuments do not represent popular choices. They are elite choices but choices which lay claim to public space. No popular vote would ever have put those chaps on horseback onto three of the four plinths which mark out the perimeter of Trafalgar Square, and it is a challenge which at least ninety nine percent of the living population of London will fail if you ask, What are the names of those men on horseback?

When the underdogs of history manage to get a monument up to one of their own, it doesn’t alter the general tone and the dogs and the pigeons are indifferent to the differences. And when the underdogs become the overdogs, well, then we can end up with monuments which are even worse than those which went before. There is no accounting for bad taste,

Look at it another way. Imagine cities cleared of all these dreary monuments, these plinths and busts and equestrian statues making way for open spaces or works of art or even fountains and trees.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Dear Sir or Madam, Will You Read My Book ....

Three out; one at the printer and due in May 2017. Two general works of autobiography and criticism; two academic works. Published by degree zero. All available on Amazon, new and used, or by order at your local bookshop (Waterstones included). Take your pick:

Click on Image to Magnify

The Best I Can Do. 176 pages. Paperback. Published May 2016. £8.95 but yours for £0.01 at Amazon

Materials and Medium: An Aesthetics. 160 pages. Hardback. 
Published October 2016. £17.95 but lower priced copies appearing on Amazon

Silence Is So Accurate. 224 pages. Hardback. Published February 2017. £20 but lower priced copies already appearing on Amazon

Studies in Pragmatics. 240 pages. Hardback. Due May 2017. £30
This academic book is one for the university library!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Sauve Qui Peut

When the euro was introduced, I decided to dual-price my stock. I still occasionally come across an old label reading £10 / 16 €. Today the second figure would be 11.4 € and already Brexit has undermined part of my business model: I bought in euroland and sold in the UK which was profitable when the rate was 1.4 even 1.3. But now it’s not. Right now I am trying to buy in the UK and sell in euroland, mostly through European auctions since I am not so keen now on long-distance travelling to stamp shows and so on.

At the age of 69, my thinking cannot exactly be long term but it has now become decidedly short-term. Enjoy the Single Market while you can! is my guiding thought. That basically means trying to sell up in the next two years ending March 2019 so that I am not stuck with stock which is a nightmare to export, whether by post or by physical travel to mainland Europe from my base on England’s south coast where France is much nearer than Wales or Scotland, let alone Northern Ireland.

There is a major international stamp show coming up LONDON 2020 which may turn into a catastrophe for the organisers if the UK has fallen off the cliff into some nightmare of red-tape bureaucracy, the UK a country hard to get into and hard to get out of. I was going to allow my stock to drift up specifically for that show, but now my thinking is to sell everything by 2019 and if LONDON 2020 turns out to be viable, then to re-stock rapidly in 2019 – 2020. Any other course of action effectively assumes there are not huge risks to small businesses coming up. Some small businesses will fail well before 2019. EU staff are quitting London, for example, making some companies non-viable; and British will become a brand to avoid when you cannot guarantee the robustness of the supply chain.

Well, it was good while it lasted. In my twenty-odd years as a single market dealer, I have stood behind tables selling my wares in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Slovakia. Sometimes only once, it’s true. But I drove a lot of miles in my Skodas. One or two more trips hopefully still to come before the curtain comes down and the lights go out. Less money for Her Majesty's Revenues and Customs then, I'm afraid.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

When We Were Idiots

On an afternoon sometime in 1969, I took part in a march down Piccadilly in support of some cause I have now forgotten. But I have not forgotten that one of our chants was directed at those on the pavements:

Hey, Hey, Bourgeoisie, Hurry Home It’s Time For Tea

It did not occur to me that this might be the dream chant of an agent provocateur, aiming to deprive us of as much public support or sympathy as possible. No doubt there were bourgeois on the pavements of Piccadilly, but there were also – as there always are – shop and office workers, bar and restaurant staff, shoppers who had come into town, tourists, off-duty nurses and doctors … the list can go on. But we were sufficiently blinkered not to realise that the pavements were crowded with people no more privileged than ourselves and, in many cases, no doubt less so.

I did soon enough begin to have my doubts about demonstrations. Most of them came to seem to me pointless or perverse. Ineffective in achieving their objectives, even modest ones, and a waste of time for those who participated. Clearly, demonstrations make some people feel good. The same is true for nights in crowded nightclubs where you can’t hear anyone speak.

I am impressed  by imaginative, alternative forms of protest, occasions when - for example -Greenpeace hangs splendid banners off high cranes. But marching up and down busy streets, causing general annoyance to people -  except to the police who are counting their overtime payments – no, that’s strictly for idiots.

Image result for greenpeace protest white house

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Doctor Will See You Now

As a young child, I already had a considerable knowledge of Britain’s health system, the new National Health Service introduced in 1948, a year after my birth. I spent a lot of time in the company of ageing aunts and uncles for whom ailments and visits to the doctor were routines of life. The basic picture was this. If you were ill, you went to the Doctor who gave you medicine which was either white or pink but in both cases supplied in glass bottles. Sometimes the Doctor gave you Pills, but I wasn’t so sure about those since they were less visible on bathroom shelves. And occasionally the Doctor would give you a Letter to the Hospital (you would sometimes personally carry it there), and in this case you would have cause to be Worried. Hospitals were only interested in you if there was something seriously wrong. In contrast, you could go to the doctor in a normal frame of mind.

What my world view missed was a fact fully visible. Doctors all the time deal with things which are wrong, sometimes seriously and, indeed, so seriously that it would be irresponsible not to respond on the spot. The thing might not be immediately life threatening but would become so if you left it for 48 hours or a week. Take out life-threatening, and there are a large number of acute debilitating conditions which patients walk into the surgery and from the pain or frustration of which, they quite reasonably want relief. If you have an acute ear and throat infection which mean that you basically can’t swallow or sleep, you would not be impressed if the Doctor said to you, “Hmm. This is so serious that I must refer you immediately to hospital”. You want medicine (pink or white, that’s the Doctor’s job to decide) and you want it now. You want to be pointed onto the right path of treatment and cure, now. That’s what you have come for.

In thinking about alternative to the ten minutes with the front line triage of the GPs surgery, it’s important not to lose sight of the core need which generated the system in the first place: an immediate, practical response to a problem which is subjectively distressing and may also be objectively threatening. This includes nowadays, the possibility of a response which is based on the doctor’s judgement prior to confirmation by a test of its correctness. If a man walks in the surgery and says he is pissing blood, the doctor asks for accompanying signs of infection but even in the absence of signs will in all probability prescribe antibiotics since infections should not be left to go out of control. There is a Protocol which tells GPs to behave like this.

So alternative systems need to be able to mimic such protocols. Either the person at the end of a phone line must have authority to prescribe prior to test results or else the patient must have authority to take that decision. Indeed, already GPs quite often pass authority on to the patient as when they pre-prescribe medications for patients travelling abroad just in case. At one time, I used to keep quite a medicine chest acquired in this way and used it mainly as insurance against the vagaries of Opening and Closing times.

Of course, people walk into GP surgeries with pre-planned problems rather than emergencies. Their arthritis is getting worse and they wonder what they can do about it. It’s true, such pre-planned problems should be scheduled in ways which does not mean that they take away valuable,finite slots of time from people who are ill now. One weakness of free-at-the point-of-use appointments is that there is only a weak internal self-regulation mechanism available to us to decide whether we have an acute problem which really needs to be addressed now or whether it's a nice day and convenient  to go to the doctor to talk about that arthritis which has been bothering us. The same problem applies to Accident and Emergency. What is perhaps most remarkable is that only in very recent years does the NHS seemed to have developed a Public Education model designed to nudge people towards better (and more socially-responsible) decision-making about when to go where.