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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

Saffiyah Khan versus Ian Crossland

There are huge dangers in these images which Say It All and which desperate newspapers like The Guardian cling on to. As often as not, they involve cute children or pretty young women hijacked to the media's purposes and then to everyone else's interpretation. Here's mine, for what it's worth.

There are many reasons why the image of Saffiyah Khan face-to-face with Ian Crossland went viral. They include the fact that she is drop dead gorgeous and as well as hate mail, she will undoubtedly receive a very big pile of romantic approaches from people of both sexes and a variety of genders, most of them no doubt claiming always to have been fans of The Specials. She has a very good sense of style, quite a lot of attitude – how many of us would keep a hand in our pocket confronted by Mr Crossland? – and, of course, a terrific smile. She’s also on the right side but that’s not the reason why her image went viral.

Mr Crossland and his team would be hard put to front someone as  appealing as Ms Khan. I looked at the long video of the confrontation and what you see when you see the EDL is people who are, in general, unattractive in the way that the English underclass is generally unattractive – bad clothes, bad hair, overweight, bad complexions. These are people who are too busy being angry to take care of themselves or who are angry because they were never taken care of and it shows now in the way they present themselves.

Of course, the English underclass is much bigger than the tiny EDL and those who attend EDL demonstrations are probably beyond reason. But those (including, as the video seems to show but I can't be sure, Saffiyah Khan) who shout “Off our streets, Nazi Scum!” at them aren’t doing much to help matters. It might be better just to quarantine the EDL, silently, or even (though it's risky) try that bemused smile. But, really, that’s very risky if it leads to you getting your face everywhere. 

What Ian Crossland has posted on line about the encounter with Ms Khan is absolutely appalling - venomous and threatening in the way you would only expect from a very nasty drunk late at night but posted online as if it was the most normal thing in the world. 

The worst thing is indeed that the photographic viral image makes Saffiyah Khan less safe to go about her daily life. I trust there is already some kind of police protection in place. Somewhere, someone full of a life-time’s resentment will be imagining how to take revenge for that smile. 


But, since I always look on the serious side of things, I should record that trawling again, I do actually find -  on a website where the rights and wrongs are being argued by people who aren't trying to be politically correct  -       "She likes The Specials, that's good enough for me". Such is the superior kind of identity politics. 

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.