Walking in the middle of the road

I do enjoy twitter. You end up discussing and arguing points with complete strangers. Sometimes you or they are enlightened. Sometimes you realise people do not want their thoughts to be challenged, however much the evidence says otherwise.

This weekend I had an interesting conversation with someone who said that you need an ideological standpoint to be able to drive through policy in government. I disagreed. He also stated that ‘no ideology is to sit between whatever parameters the mainstream considers permissible and this is neither free, diverse or soulful’. Now this was impossible to unpick, on twitter on a Sunday afternoon, when I was out for lunch with my wife. She did not appreciate me trying either. But it is an interesting thought process that is worth exploring.

The basis being that unless you are ideologically driven, then you cannot affect change. That if you have an ideological aim, this will drive you forward when times get difficult. This was in the context of both left and right, although I felt that the respondent was on the right. This thought I find interesting because it is the antithesis of what personally drives me. I reject fundamental ideology because in the end it I feel it blinds you to the errors and inadequacies of that ideology. Religion is the obvious candidate of this, but in British politics, Margaret Thatcher is a case in point. She revolutionised the economy in the eighties and after winning in 1987, seemed unbeatable. Yet the arrogance in her belief of her ideology stopped her and her party from seeing potential problems, leading to recession and the decision to implement the poll tax. She was eventually removed and a moderate, more liberal PM put in her place.

The socialism (and communism abroad) of the 70’s showed how purity of one system leads to poverty and economic ruin of the UK and the eventual fall of the communist economy. Now with both examples you will find exponents of these ideas blaming people, external influences or any other excuse for why their system did not work. But for me it is that fundamental belief that they are right, that always leads to their downfall. The thought process goes that if they just do one more policy, if they go that one step further, then everything will be proved right. This road to Damascus really just leads them nearer the edge of the oblivion. It is also interesting that the sudden surge in popularity in Corbyn’s socialism seems to forget the hardships of the 70’s and the rejection of these ideas thereafter.

So, what is a centrist? First of all, I don’t think I like that term; one term that I was given was political triangulation. A new one for me, but the labour triangulation of Tony Blair, John Smith and Gordon Brown essentially took the view of supporting the public services, while trying to encourage business. Could we argue that the decade 97-07 was one of the most prosperous for the country? I am not intentionally ignoring the crash that happened afterwards, but that happened to all systems globally and so could not be pinned on one political movement.

In the two-party system the liberals are seen as centrists who don’t seem to stand for anything. Further harmed by apparently leaving their core aims once they helped formed a coalition. Maybe this is what the correspondent meant. They don’t own a piece of the political pie and are neither one thing or the other. Their former leader got stuck on the gay sex commentary meaning their message was lost. They have struggled to find a clear identity and liberals are seen to be woolly and nice, but not really effective to lead the country. This means, with the current first past the post system, they are not seen as credible and lose votes. Again, not helped when their leader said they did not want to win, just to be the effective opposition. A bit pathetic for me.

Personally, I think the centrist view is the ideal location. We should be a pro-business country as the entrepreneurial system drives change and is a true meritocracy. The successful can thrive on that success. We should also be there when people fail. This is the social side where government should be there so that when times turn difficult, people are able to live, get back on their feet and start again. This egalitarian approach does not mean we are jealous of people who work hard and earn money. More often than not they deserve it. We should neither look down on people who are poorer and who may only survive on benefits. The divisive politics that we are currently in is driving a wedge between many groups in this country and it is only getting worse. Pro EU v Brexiteers. Rich v poor. Right v left. Farage v decency and humanity. The last thing we need is the right-wing of the country taking us down the hard Brexit route, any more than the left-wing socialism of Corbyn, creating more debt. Both sides create walls which mean you are either with them or against them, which is utterly ridiculous and not what we need from our politicians.

There has to be a different choice. On the right, we have a Tory party, dying of the cancer of Brexit, and unable to see past austerity for any solution to the debt problem, because they refuse to increase tax. On the left, we have our socialist party, who would spend their way out of austerity, but our debt is £1.56 trillion. The interest alone is £43 billion, which is approximately 40% of our NHS spending. The dogmas of each party need re-assessing so that the country can move forward and prosper. Neither though is willing to blink first and so moves further away each day from the very position that the country needs.

This is where a new way needs to be found. I agree that something needs to drive you in terms of ideas in politics, where ever you find yourself on the political spectrum. Your driving principles. Yet when this inhibits your decision-making process because it is your way or the wrong way then that is where ideology has indoctrinated your thought process. This is where politics needs to learn from science. A politician’s ideas can be put forward, but they should then be tested. Parameters of success should be stated before the policy is enacted and a time period given for that success. It should be periodically reviewed, by the select committees, and improvements made to the policy. The problem we have had is the swings from one position to another mean we neither know whether it works as a policy and it wastes billions in the process. The prime example of this is the NHS and is the very reason why it struggles to do its job. The enlightened have already suggested that the politics should be taken out of the NHS and a cross party group should be there to run it and make the incremental changes over time to ensure it does its job, efficiently and cost effectively. The boom and bust regime changes over the last 20 years have not worked, left the NHS bankrupt and on its knees.

Have we evidence that this different approach works? Look at the conservative policy after the 1992 election(once we left the ERM), of aiming for low inflation and trying to provide stability for the economy to thrive. Labour, gained power in 1997 promising to keep this policy and extending it by giving the bank of England independence. This time period to the 2008 recession was the longest period of growth this country had seen. Stable centrist politics, giving continuity to business and so to the people in the country.

No dogma, no ideology, no extremism, no Brexit and no great divides opening up in the country. I challenge you to look at the division of the socialist era of the 70’s, the right-wing 80’s and compare that to the unifying time when Blair first came to power and the hope this brought(whether you agree with him or not). That is what will drive this country forward and putting in the safeguards so that parliament can stop the corrupt deviating from this (Iraq war). I also challenge you, whether you are with him or against him(!!), whether Donald Trump is a unifying force for the US or the world? Is this the politics that will breed success and bring unity?

The liberals have an opportunity to drive this change by reinventing themselves, as Labour did into New Labour. By giving the people what they want. Stability, a government for the people, a tax system that is seen to be fair and an end to the divisive politics which has dogged our system for the last few years. If they cannot do it then I fear for the future of our country, because both sides are currently more interested in fighting for themselves, rather than for the people of this country.

Newspaper morals go up in smoke

It is one of my most vivid memories of the day. My mum turned to me in the queue and said she was sorry we could not afford to go in the main stand, so we went into the Kop, a standing terrace. I remember getting a drink when the first smoke appeared. Everyone cheered thinking a smoke bomb had been let off in celebration of winning the league. The only other emotion after that was fear. I remember my mum climbing over the eight foot barriers penning supporters in. Turning back and feeling the intense heat, sixty metres away and it felt you were right next to the fire. I have no memory of getting home, or much of the next few days. Numbness and shock. It was the 11th May 1985 and I had witnessed the horrific Bradford City fire.

Those same feelings of numbness and shock came back watching the fire at the Grenfell tower block. The way it inexplicably took hold and devastated the whole building. Something like this should not happen. None of these tragedies should happen. The key is to make sure they don’t happen again. It took Juventus fans dying at the Heysel stadium and 96 Liverpool supporters dying at Hillsborough before people really took notice about the appalling standards at football grounds. In the way they were treated and the way they were housed in the ground and outside. It is immeasurably better now and tragedies happening in stadia elsewhere in the world show how far we have come in this country.

We need to learn quickly with this disaster and the people in Grenfell need support and re-housing immediately. They are currently in shock and desperate for support, as well mourning for lost family and friends. Unfortunately, they are now being taking advantage off by the heartless press. I remember no anger after the Bradford fire, just numbness and how an accident can be so devastating. Yet a word banded around immediately by the press was anger. I have seen emotions fanned in newspaper columns, without evidence, ‘finding’ the person whose fridge started the fire; blaming the EU for the cladding, even though they are banned in Germany and throwing dirt at anyone they think it might stick to. This is not about fighting for justice, it is about selling newspapers and they feel no guilt with the callous nature they do it in.

What is needed now is a time to reflect on what has happened. This will allow the people to come forward with information without a climate of fear. It will allow the experts to assess and make judgements about what happened with this particular fire, without feeling they need to rush and possibly misdiagnose the cause of its devastating nature.

This means the truth will be easier to find. The truth being in all likelihood, that this was an accident made by a series of small, in themselves, insignificant errors that led to this catastrophe. No one person is likely to be ultimately to blame, no one aspect will have caused this. But with everything already written the residents are likely to feel that there has been a cover up, that the establishment is against them and again the papers will fan this hatred.

It is irresponsible to play with the emotions of people who are at their most vulnerable. They do not need to used when they are at their weakest. We need calmness and leadership both locally and nationally. There will be people going to sleep in fear, because they think, or have, this cladding on their building. It will be weeks before everyone is identified and with this void needs clear instructions and guidance from public bodies to the people affected. They need housing and compensating and everything that can happen to get their lives back to where they were. We need a transparent and open enquiry that is quick and concise and provides clear answers and directions. It also needs to identify any blame to bodies or people and hold them to account. I will repeat though it is unlikely to be one thing that caused the fire, but a multitude of issues that confounded each other to create this tragedy.

30 years after the fire, a book was published showing how the then Bradford chairman seemed to lose lots of business’s to fires and the book brought this together to say that the chairman must be to blame. The author lost several relatives in the fire and I have every sympathy for his feelings, but the police found the man whose cigarette started the fire and caused the deaths of 56 Bradford and Lincoln fans that day.

It is far easier to speculate the blame immediately, to sell newspapers, than it is to be patient and wait for answers. The tragedy has shown a detachment of officials in government and the council to show empathy, which has led to an increase in anger. This has been inexcusable and at least Sadiq Khan fronted up to talk the residents and dealt with the anger face on. When the counsel and Theresa May failed to meet the residents, although they were doing everything they could physically, the perpetuated the feeling of being ignored and filed to empathise and show their humanity to the victims. The truth will come out in the coming weeks and months, but the people in that tower will need support for a lot longer, for the lives that disappeared on that night.

Anyone but you?

No, this is not my dating reactions! This is  heard more and more though, as the days are counted down to the election. The eternal question of who to vote for. This may be why 34% of the country did not vote in 2015. This, to me at any rate, is a shocking statistic. The vote that led to Brexit was ignored by 1 in 3 voters.

So, before worrying about who to vote for, we should persuade more people to vote. In my opinion voting should be on a Bank holiday or weekend and everyone should vote. Also the voting registration needs to change. The younger members of society are more transient and this makes it harder for them to register. We also need to make everyone’s vote count. This means PR, in whatever form parliament decides. I ask only one question on this. Why do opposition parties argue for change outside of government, but fail to change our voting system or the Lords when in power? Is this where self-serving appearances are formed from the cynical public? Sorry that was two questions!

So, if we can change the view of voting and we can get people to vote, who do they vote for? We have the Conservatives who historically are stable in government and pro business, but tend to run down the public services and since the Eighties, want to privatise anything that moves with public money. At this point I have to admit that I always voted Conservative. I was brought up in a working class area and disliked the control and influence Unions had on the area. This being said, the way they imploded about Europe in the 90’s and have since damaged the country with the Brexit vote, it will take a long time for me to go back to them. This has only been further enhanced by the callous opportunism of the May government calling an election because they see it works for them, because of the perceived weakness of Jeremy Corbyn. This is not what the country needs, if I could quote May, and she was right in that aspect. It only reinforced that they are there for power and not for the country. The way she has then had to U-turn on several issues shows she is not right for the country and the push for hard Brexit guarantees she will not get my vote.

Corbyn on the other hand is starting to be a Messiah. Rising from the dead, after being given no chance of winning. He is actually looking a credible challenger. Is this more to do with May or Corbyn? I am still undecided on this. We would get an injection of funds into the state sector which is desperately needed, but to say £70,000 is rich alienates people. Also £70,000 in Bradford is a lot of money, whereas £70,000 in the southeast will probably get you a flat on a big mortgage. It is all relative and it is unfair to pick on groups and having a situation of an US and Them. The rich are not the enemy, they just need to pay the same proportion as everyone else and they will pay more. This, us against them mentality is why I could not vote labour.

I would also pick one example about the railways that I think highlights the naivety of Labour in business. The railways in the UK are by no means perfect. But under a nationalised body, the railways lacked investment, they were a national joke and they needed investment. This was not coming from the government, espcially as the government had none at the time. They are now run privately and make a profit, even though they still get subsidies. Labour think that money would be put back into the railways because if a private company can make money, so will the public sector. This has been proven many times to be incorrect. The public body runs the railways for the people and so spends money for comfort rather than convenience. They put guards and drivers on every train and try to service every station. This makes it inefficient and eventually uneconomical. The private company wants to make a profit and so run it with the fine line of getting it right at the cheapest cost and giving an effective service. This is why they make a profit. I am not saying which is the best method, but to claim a public body would make the same profit is ridiculous. This is where labour fall down in my eyes.

Then we have the smaller parties. UKIP in the last election gained 4 million votes and so should at this point get airtime. Thankfully they do, because unless you ideologically support UKIP, you would probably not find anything worthwhile in their policies. The Greens are run superbly by Carolyn Lucas, but like UKIP are seen as a one trip pony. The liberals are still recovering from the 2015 election and Tim Farron’s homosexual sex questions, although improvements have been seen. I also think having another vote on Brexit is vital so we are not railroaded into having a hard Brexit. We did not vote for that, we voted to leave the EU, not the conditions of exit.

Now I have previously written about the inadequacies of our leaders at this moment in time, both in dealing with the issues here and abroad. Yet how do we say this to them. You have 2 choices in my opinion.

The first is to vote tactically. In my own area, the conservative MP has a large majority of the people who vote, gaining 61% of the vote. But if everyone voted this would equate to only 43% of the vote. The other candidates shared the rest, but could unify, in my area, around the liberal MP to remove the incumbent. This could be done up and down the country to stop a possible party winning the election, especially if you want a social agenda and the nearly every party other than Conservatives and UKIP (one and the same) are the only right-wing options.

The other is far more radical. The conservative won 51% of the seats in parliament with only 24% of the national vote. Yet have starved the NHS and education and brought about the dire Brexit vote. They did not earn this mandate. No one feels that there is a standout party or leader in the current election. Could you imagine if we had 80-90% of people voting, but 40% spoiled their paper. The message this would send to our politicians we are not happy with the status quo. We are not happy with them denigrating groups and industries for their own political gain. We are not happy that we have moved to the extremes of left and right to make themselves different, when what we want is to occupy the centre ground and be a liberal, forward thinking country. We are not happy with how our relations have soured with Europe, finding our only Allie is with the maniac who is Trump. We are not happy with the parties fighting for themselves and stopping looking after the people they represent. The key is to vote. The key is to send a message that what we have at the moment is not the best for this country and we need change.

Leaderless UK

Who is the stronger leader? President Trump, with his dictatorial style, happy to barge in front of world leaders to get to the front of a photo and sack anyone who stands in his way? President Obama, who took 6 years to get his health care bill through, who dithered on Syria and seems to have picked the losing side in the US and Brexit elections.

President Trump is definitely a fighter and has a managerial style that shows he has always got his way. When you are handed $100 million dollars to start your own business, and can make a success of many of those businesses, this will breed a certain arrogance that you are always right. In business this can work, as he has shown, and he deserves credit for this. Yet this style also brings the narcissist where he treats women appallingly, where he bullies the people around him and where he gets what he wants at any cost, generally to the detriment of others. He is finding the mechanisms of a democratic government do not allow for this style, to stop the dictatorships that he would bring. Imagine if at the start of his four years in charge he was banning Muslims from entering the country, where would he be by the end of the 4 years. Expelling? Or just building enough resentment so that local thugs would do the job for him and run them (anyone who opposed him) out of town like the lawless west.

What about Obama then? For me his biggest failure was Syria and his fear of a military build-up was not needed. A no-fly zone would have helped the rebels, without soldiers on the ground, then a consensus in the UN would have allowed peace keepers in to keep control and protect the civilians. It is always easy with hindsight though.

If you look at the Healthcare bill he introduced and ask why did it take so long to get through. The simple answer is he wanted consensus. He tried to work with Democrats and Republicans so that what was achieved would stand and benefit the poorest people in America. So, it took longer, but less enemies were made doing it. The fact that right wing zealots fought this every step of the way, says more about them. Racist or genuinely uncaring about the poorer society in the US?

So, which is the better leader? Calm, assured and an ability to work across the spectrum of political thought as Obama did. Someone who was happy to look weak, because democracy and functions of government were more important to him than his perception to the wider public? Or the ego driven, domineering, self-publicising narcissist that is Donald Trump. For me, 6 months in his presidency, most people are clear that Trump is no President of any worth and brings uncertainty and instability with every minute, to all parts of the globe.

So, does this help us with our own election? It highlights the obvious question that Labour do not want to ask. Is Jeremy Corbyn a domineering leader? The answer is obviously no. But is that what we want at this moment in time. There is a trust issue with politicians at the moment and an ever-increasing apathy towards what they say and the process itself. This is bad for democracy and the one thing I would say about Corbyn is that he will try and do what he says. Whether this causes more debt for the country is another matter, but he will hold to his principles. This is why he looks comfortable in the campaign. He is not trying to be someone different for the public and people are starting to respect that. If this is what you want from your politicians then you should vote labour.

Theresa May on the other hand is strong and stable. Strong and stable. Strong and stable. No policies and the ones she announces will be rescinded in a week, but strong and stable. She will not call a snap election, but here we are all snapped and opportunistic to take advantage of a perceived Corbyn weakness. Of course, the argument goes that if you have to say it so often it can’t be true. It is just a political game to try and embarrass Corbyn. But it is starting to backfire on her and she is looking anything from strong at the moment.

Which answers the question why so many people are undecided about the election? It is because not one of the leaders who could run the country, stand out as a leader. Corbyn has been sold as the loony left, which no one wanted 30 years ago, never mind now. May says she is the best person to help us in our Brexit negotiations, but let’s be quite frank, it was the Tories who got us into that mess with no plan of what to do afterward. Even after a year there is no clear plan.

What the country is desperate for is a centrist leader, who stands up for liberal values and works hard for the country. The likes of David Miliband and Nick Clegg. Some may baulk at Nick Clegg, but he tried to bring in PR and tried to remove tuition fees. He failed to do this for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the Lib Dems were the minor party in the coalition. He paid the price though for the poor political decision of separating themselves from the Tories at the election. They should have stuck closely to them, however bad they thought the smell was. So, I am waiting for this person to come forward and deliver us to the centre of British politics. With Brexit, the economy and Trump, they may well have a mess to clear up in 5 years.

The Revival of Vinyl

Now I have to say that I was never ‘into’ music. I like listening to it. I have a very eclectic taste but never really bothered about who sung it or bought their album. I never really understood why the Beatles were loved so much, which I know makes me unusual. So in some ways the vinyl revival was always going to pass over me, but while listening to Chris Evans on the radio telling me that nothing sounds quite like vinyl, it did make me wonder, how?

I went back to my memories of vinyl. The scratches that ruined the sound. The difference in the players and speakers making the sound inconsistent. How could this experience of my own be so different to this revival group. The answer is of course that it wasn’t. They all heard the same sound that I did, but my experience of listening to music is just to have it in the background, while I did other things, like make my model fighter planes or reading Roy of the Rovers. I imagine Chris Evans and the vinyl revival posse have similar experiences to each other. Buying a record when it first came out. Reading NME(or other music magazines?) and discussing the latest bands and travelling to gigs to hear their bands live. The experience and therefore that pleasure, is what they are recapturing, not the sound that comes from the plastic disc. This is why they enjoy looking for the albums in the shops, taking the record home and listening to that record with friends or a drink. The sound though will be no better than downloading and playing on the latest speaker system in your house.

So can we use this vinyl comeback to explain our sentimentality to others things in the past? Do we remember our local communities where everyone was employed by one big employer and the men would meet in the pub for drinks after work and the evening. Where they would take their wives out on Saturday night, and their ‘tea’ would be on the table when they got home. Where education was not valued as highly, because there were always jobs around. You always went on the same holidays, because why would you go anywhere else when you always have a good time, at the same place, with the same people. For us it was Bridlington and Butlins that was alternated each year. We have this sentimentality and nostalgia that means we have fond memories of a time we were a community, where we looked out for each other and where families lived on the same street. Jobs were secure and people were outwardly happy. They felt happy because they were part of a group and they felt safe with this.

This is not how it was though. We were poor and had very little disposable income. One breakage of anything expensive could cause severe problems with debt. You didn’t own cars because you could not afford a car. Most did not own a house and judging by the photos, curtains were made and floorboards were a necessity, not a designer feature. Attitudes were openly sexist, racist and homophobic. Yet we hark back to these times because of the safety within our group, something that has become difficult to find recently.

We now tend to live away from our families. Different types of people live within our community, people we might not immediately connect with or understand. We travel further for work and change jobs more often. This leads to greater mobility in our local communities, which makes it more difficult to make ties and build relationships. Facebook was supposed to help this, but seems to have made us more insular within our area and more unwilling to accept the people around us. They are not who we grew up with; they do not identify with our experiences, as we do not with theirs. The isolation grows.

We find that we make or ‘like’ comments that agree with our own thoughts and so reinforce our views, even if there is no evidence to support it and because it has been read it is seen as true. If we say immigration is bad, enough times, people will believe it! No evidence, just enough people to say it and ‘like’ it, then it starts to become the truth.

It can be different though. I am part of a group. I have my work group, where we talk education. My sport group, where we talk how to get better at cycling and running. I follow my political twitter accounts, as well as the atheists, and see their comments. With all these groups I like to mix the talk with politics and religion and sport and life and I enjoy the mix of opinions and views and beliefs that come from that. I don’t always agree with people, but I like a good discussion and challenge about my views and theirs. Yet fundamentally, I listen and learn from a different perspective and try to understand why people think the way they do. I get out of ones groups mindset and think from another’s.

This is what we failed to do with Brexit, we built walls and we sat behind them and ignored evidence and fact and just went with what we heard anecdotally. This is dangerous and with the coming election we have to look at all the options, see opinions from others points of views and not become entrenched in a dogma because that is it what the group thinks. We should challenge our own group to have evidence and answers, and call them out if they do not.

Our politicians who would rather have a bad policy from themselves than welcome a good policy from the opposition, are not a party of government. It is bad for the parties, bad for democracy and bad for the country. We need to ensure whether we are digital or vinyl supporter, we listen to each others viewpoints and decide by the facts, not just what our group says. Then we can make the right choices for all.

Intolerant Britain?

 

It is always interesting how stressful events bring out people’s true nature. A friend of my wife was walking down the street with her children and accidentally bumped into a man and apologised. The obvious reaction is to accept the apology and move on. Yet what happened next unfortunately does not shock me, as it appeared she had managed to randomly bump into a bigot and a racist. This is relevant because she is a British Asian. He first aggressively told her to watch what she was doing, which was an overreaction in itself. But when she asked him not to swear in front of her children, he responded by telling her not to tell him what to do in his country and that he thought ‘we had sorted immigration out’.

It is a revolting story, but unfortunately with BREXIT, it seems to be starting to be a common one. So, are there more racists in the country and why is immigration seen as bad for this country?

Let’s start off with removing the excuses. Immigration is not bad for this country. It has never been bad for this country. I have a couple of graphs that show GDP and immigration in the country over the last 60 years.

GDP

GB GDP 1960-present

 

immigration
GB Immigration 1950-present

Source: World Bank

Now correlation does not mean causation, but the one thing that stands out is that immigration does not affect the economy in a negative way. When immigration is increasing, so does the nation’s wealth, its GDP. Statistics can be used to show many arguments, but the large rise in immigration over the last 20 ways seems to be having a direct impact on the large rise in our GDP. There are obviously more factors than just the number of immigrants, but it would appear it helps. In a recent report*, just before the BREXIT vote, it was shown that immigrants have a net contribution of around $2 billion a year. That only 15% claim tax credits, showing the other 85% earn a good wage, so they are not ALL on low incomes. The report showed this was because nearly half the immigrants have a degree. I remember seeing this report, but it was not highlighted in our mainly pro BREXIT press. It should also be noted that while we had this mass immigration, we also had unprecedented levels of employment as well and the statistical zero unemployment (below 5%). Yet the common misconception is that ‘they’ are taking ‘our’ jobs. This ludicrous suggestion falls flat when evidence shows ‘they’ tend to do the jobs ‘we’ don’t want to do.

Some people like to claim that the public services are put under greater stress because of immigration. Yet industry, the NHS and universities have openly acknowledged that without this immigrant population, we would struggle to even offer basic services or have any growth. So, if there is a failing it is the politicians who have failed to resource the areas that have been impacted by an increase in numbers, such as funding extra doctors, hospital and school places. It is not the immigrants, who are supporting our economy, fault.

Does this mean that I think immigration control in the EU does not need to change? No is the simple answer, but not for the reasons so often reported. Free borders is the desired scenario. When this was conceived, we had 12 stable economies within the EU and so you would never have mass migration. When the eastern bloc countries joined, it should have been expected that people would want to improve their worth and get jobs that paid a decent wage and where they could enjoy that wage. Something we aspire to. For me though this ignores the impact in the departed country. There are now villages in Poland where the demographics show very few young people and the villages are dying. It is also causing issues with their infrastructure with a lack of nurses, doctors and teachers. This is holding the growth of these countries back because the very people who go out and are entrepreneurial are the very people who are likely to leave to follow their dream. This is the only reason we need balance of immigration, with some controls for both countries, and once the economies are balanced, we can then have open borders again.

So, what about this open racism. Are we more racist or at the very least less tolerant of immigration. Who are these people who can attack verbally, or physically, British citizens in the street? They will be white. Male. Likely to be poorly educated on a low wage. They will feel it is someone’s else’s fault that they don’t have much and look for someone to blame. Preferable a female in the street or a lone male when they are with a group. I don’t think there are more of these racists in this country but with the likes of UKIP they have become emboldened and feel justified in their thoughts. An example is the ‘ban the burka’ from the bigoted UKIP Party. Now like all believable lies there is always a small truth to the comments. The first is that with a burka we cannot use our surveillance on individuals who wear them. This is true. Yet if that thought process is continued, we should ban the hoody (the desired clothing for the criminal fraternity who are predominantly English and white), scarves, a variety of hats and even the comedy glasses with fake nose and pop out eyes. Yet these have not been mentioned because the root of the ban is a racist, bigoted thought process. They also throw in that it would help integration. How does attacking a community help integration? How does forcing individuals into doing something, make them integrate and happy in that country? What is needed is dialogue as to why women should feel they are not forced to wear the burka from their own community. That it should be a matter of their choice.

So, the racists are emboldened and the consequences are there to be seen. That is why UKIP is Fascist and should be fought at every turn. We cannot change these people’s minds in the short-term, but they should be too embarrassed to openly abuse anyone whether immigrant or not.

The intolerance though is my biggest concern. When I see twitter and Facebook repeat the lies of the Daily Mail headlines and then follow it with some offensive bile or excuse why they have not got something, I despair. When all the evidence shows that immigration is hugely positive to the economy and culture, why have we been fed lies over the years with the newspapers negative headlines? This again is a failure of our politicians. Complacency from the liberals thinking no one would believe such rubbish. They did. Failure, because it allowed cheap excuses for their and individuals failings. Failure by the regulator for not stamping out the blatant lies printed time and again in the headlines, which is proven for people to just read and make their own presumptions.

Finally, as with any of this, it takes away from what we are actually talking about. It is our humanity. The people who come over here are people. Not immigrants, but people wanting a better life. When I described my wife’s friend as British Asian this was wrong. She and I would describe her as British. She has lived here all her life, been part of the community and is now bringing her children up in this country. She is as British as the rest of us. By putting people in groups without the word human, we do in fact dehumanise them.

We need to remove the cloaks of what we think it is to be British. These people who want to go back to the 1960’s, for whatever delusional reason, forget that we had just fought 2 world wars, not for the white English-speaking population, but for the common values, freedom, equality and democracy. That is the only test of Britishness, not the accent, the colour of their skin or the denomination of their church.

 

*The research report – written by Professor Christian Dustmann and Dr Tommaso Frattini from CReAM – provides an in-depth analysis of the net fiscal contribution of EEA immigrants in each fiscal year since 1995 – See more at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/news-articles/1113/05112013-ucl-migration-research-salt-dustmann/#sthash.ggiIueGv.dpuf

A Taxing lack of Questions

As ever in this coming election,  I wonder whether the right questions will be asked. We have a very traditional voting public that see politics in two dimensions. Blue or red. Low tax or high tax. Hard or soft on crime. The parties as well as the public struggle to shift the shackles from their party and from the voting consciousness. So we have already had Theresa Mays opening gambit that the Conservatives are the party of low taxes. This is historically and philosophically true. But is this statement we want to hear or what we need to hear?

Surely the correct question is how much tax should we paying? What is the correct level and what do we want from that tax system? The British public seem to want their public services like their clothes and food. At a discount and ignoring the cost for the future. The NHS and education are seen as priorities to the public, but they don’t seem to want to invest their money into them. Then we have the indignation when death rates in Children and baby wards in our hospitals are shown to be high. Do we think this would occur with such regularity if the NHS was well-funded? Would the poor elderly be put in homes with abusers, if the NHS was fully funded? Our fake outrage stops when asked for additional money through taxes. This is because the media try to show public servants, including politicians, wasting money and if only we could stop the waste, we would not need to invest more. Simple solutions rarely solve complex problems, but are great for headlines or TV shows.

So again, what is the right amount of tax to pay? Does anyone know this? Whenever investment issues come up in education, health, prison service a spokesperson arrives with a handy quote that funding has never been higher. Of course funding has never been higher, because inflation means that for funding to stay at the same value, it has to increase. This is a ridiculous retort from the ministries that needs to be challenged, or at least ignored.

Should we look internationally to compare our figures. All these values came from the internet for 2015, so I would be happy to have them corrected, but our tax system collected around 35% of our GDP. France, very socialist and unionised collects around 48%. The EU average is 36%. So we are a little below average and at the lower end of our main competitors(DE 41%;IT 44%; IR 31%). But what do those figures mean. 1% of our GDP is approximately 22 billion pounds. This is 1/7 of the current NHS spending or the equivalent of the lloyds shares sold by the government recently. This shows the difficulty in understanding the numbers when the GDP is in trillions and £1 million is 0.0001% of this. ( That is equivalent to 1p from £10,000).

If the numbers are too difficult to truly comprehend, could the tax system become more transparent, so we know what we are paying for. How much of the education budget goes directly to the students? What is that amount for primary, secondary and tertiary? How is this broken down so that we know the true cost of educating students, in terms of teachers and buildings? What is the cost of running a hospital each year or an individual ward? What is the cost of each treatment? These are the questions that need answering and when we break down the cost and we decide on what is needed, whether it is less or more nurses per ward or LSA’s in the classroom or police on the street, then this can be equated to a number that is shown to the public. Then when a hospital, school or police force go into the red, we know it is their mismanagement and as a public body we can deal with it. It is not the big numbers that we need to make the decision, but the small numbers and the transparency this gives everyone in the system that will allow us to see how much tax we should pay. It will also give stakeholders the chance to prioritise for their area, to ensure that local needs are met. This means a fundamental change to how we view our tax system.

When we look for transparency we can then look at which taxes pay for which services. What do we get for our council tax? As the system currently mixes health, education and other local services, it is truly impossible to hold any specific person or body to account, when the system fails. Is this intentional?

Do we really need National insurance and income tax when the majority of this just goes into one pot?

At least with VAT, Excise duties and stamp duty you know when you are going to pay the tax and how much it will be. Again transparency would help if road tax went on development of transport infrastructure, with increases and decrease linked to national and local needs.

The question of how much tax we should pay is impossible to answer, until we know what we want to spend the money on. This is where the parties get it wrong, but where the public fail to hold them to account. Theresa May will tell us that Jeremy Corbyn will send too much and raise taxes. This may be true, but after years of neglect will the next government need to spend more anyway? Also, should we as a nation be deciding whether we need to spend more, if we want the public services that deliver our expectations?

This means the right question is whether we can have transparency in our tax system, so we know who pays what, how much is paid to each service and we can then decide whether we want to increase or reduce our tax contributions. If we decide to increase our contributions through our democratic process then that is binding for five years and we can then make our decision next time whether it was money worth spending. Until that point we will continue to be blinded by numbers, rhetoric and sound bites and our own delusion that we can get outstanding services on the cheap.

An Opportunist Election Call

So we have a date for another election. Even though we were not meant to have one until 2020. Even though we needed stability through the Brexit negotiations. Theresa May looked at a small majority and weak opposition and decided that she would take advantage of this. Strong leadership. Possibly. Opportunistic and a focus on her retention of power, rather than what the country needs. Certainly. But it is here and so we need to ensure that we do not allow a line of lies to be given and no challenge to the key points. Will we get the right questions asked and will we actually get the politicians to give an answer that they believe, rather than rhetoric and convolution?

So what is it that really affects the people of this country and will these questions be asked? What will each party do that will genuinely change people’s lives.

  1. Health: By severely underfunding the NHS, the conservatives seem to be allowing the NHS to fail, so that privatisation is the only option. We need to remember that most western economies,( USA the exception), fund and run good national healthcare systems. It is possible, but funding is required and we put in less percentage of GDP than those other western economies. Within this are many other issues; the poor service for mental health patients, our ageing population, an obesity epidemic and the postcode lottery of service for the country. Who do we trust to fix this and create long-term solutions?
  2. Inequality: There is a growing sense of injustice in the country, whether rightly or wrongly, that there are the haves and have-nots. A sense that it has become more difficult to move up the ladder in life, with evidence that this is the case. Real  earnings have not changed for many in the last 10 years, meaning that decisions about homes, children, savings and pensions, University are about money rather than about what is the right thing to do. The South East/everyone else divide is creating tension within the country and quite often there is a perception ‘those in London’ or ‘the south’ do not understand what is happening in the north, south-west, Scotland, Wales. We have seen this grow into the Scotish referendum recently and a 54%-46% decision on independence is not a big difference to turn around. Who can unify the country and bring balance to the economy and equality of life chances equally to everyone?
  3. Housing Crisis: Fewer people can afford to get on the housing ladder and there are many issues with housing that needs addressing. One that the Conservatives initiated is reforming the buy to let market, which has caused high rents and high house prices in many areas. The other is a lack of house building, which has been endemic for the last 30 years. All parties have failed to rebalance this problem. Finally the amount of brownfield sites that are being ignored so that green belts can be developed, needs to be addressed. I would personally also ask why big companies need to complete these developments and why more land is not sold individually, so that families can build their own houses? Which party can build aspirations for families and give opportunities to them?
  4. Democracy: Over the last 20 years we have been promised reform in the house of lords and at a local level. Nothing has really changed. Why not? Layers of bureaucracy have been placed in local areas when they should be stripped out, easing decision-making processes. If we have mayors, then this should be reducing the bureaucracy not increasing it and it should then engage local communities. What we have seen is police commissioners that no one wanted or needed, and an endless wait for the mayors, when London has its own for over a decade. The house of lords needs modernising yet no incumbent party wants to change it, just increase its numbers in that house. This lack of democracy only fuels the negativity towards the politicians and increases the apathy towards the democratic process.

I could go on about education, the prison service, our relationship with the EU and the negotiations which will be in turmoil if the Tories do not win a majority and i will try and look at these over the next seven weeks to election day.

I would suggest most people though are not interested in the big picture, but look at what affects themselves first. Have they got a job, are they paid enough, if they work hard are they rewarded. It is only when they have had to wait 5 hours in A&E or they can’t get their children into a local school, do most start to think about the wider picture. This, I feel, is because of the apathy of being promised the world and getting non of it from our politicians. The hyperbole that we had during the Brexit campaign of exaggerated apocalypse or Nirvana should hopefully be fresh in our minds.

Will we actually listen to what they say and think through its effect on us and our community or will we just vote like sheep for who we always voted for? Will we stop looking to the personality and hear the consequences of the promises made to us and our community before we make our decision to vote? The answer is probably not and that is why we have the crop of politicians we currently have, who can lie through a campaign (£350 million a week to the NHS), and the next day say it is impossible? Why should they change until we make them?

The Evil Gary Lineker

I love sport and I love football. The atmosphere, the singing of the crowds, the camaraderie and humour. The football is sometimes good too. I have no issue with them earning money for the skills they have, the money is there and they are the ones who entertain us. They are not though, the most intellectual group of people and their interviews show little oratory skills. So, should we listen to them?

We currently have a former footballer who is causing consternation by actually commenting on social issues. Now Gary Lineker has always been a different English footballer than the rest. Not only successful over a long period of his career with many clubs, but also successful abroad with one of the greatest clubs, Barcelona. He learnt the language, fitted in with the culture and from the reports I have read, had a great work ethic that helped prolonged his career at the highest level. He has also had other life experiences with the illness of his son and the marriages he has had.

Yet he has the temerity to speak up for the Syrian refuges. This on its own would not be an issue, if he hadn’t been so outspoken about Brexit. This has meant he has riled the Alt right who now see him as the enemy.

The most common response to his emails is that he should ‘stick to football’, because they don’t agree with what he is saying. He is ‘rich’ so what does he know about the ‘ordinary person’. He wants these refugees over here and yet he does not have any living with him, therefore he is a hypocrite.

I am curious at what point empathy left some of these people and whether they understand the core principles of free speech. I also wonder what would be said if he replied that ordinary people should not have a say because what experiences do they have of the political world, when they rarely leave their town and the only culture they see is on the beaches of Ibiza.

When Ewan McGregor refused to go the Morning Show because Piers Morgan was on the show, Morgan’s response was to say he was just an actor. McGregor again someone who is the face of refugee support is an actor and is almost certainly very rich, felt on principles that with the comments Morgan had made, he did not want to meet him. Morgan a staunch friend of Trump, feels he can increase his time in the light by being as controversial as possible with little evidence for the comments he makes. We all know Trumps response is that anything he doesn’t agree with is fake news and only his diatribe is correct.

So, this is the world we live in. The Alt right berate anyone they disagree with and hound them until they stop. Yet are we to stick to our specialism and only comment on those particular issues. I should stick to only teaching and Morgan should stick to mindless TV and we should let the experts tell us about what we need to know. Except we don’t trust the experts anymore. The Alt right have again told us that they are wrong and not to trust them. The classic case of this is Global warming.  These experts are part of the establishment and sell global warming to get more funding. Yet these scientists from every country could earn more individually by showing global warming to be wrong. Has any scientist even come close to showing this? No! The facts are irrefutable, but science gives warnings about their numbers rather than showing certainty and our politicians argue against this by being certain. Even without an ounce of knowledge about the subject.

 

So, we cannot not comment if we are not involved and we cannot comment if we are experts. So, who should we listen to? The Alt right and left of course and their supporters, which are predominantly in the media. Yet the media is no longer a news reporter, but a news commentator and this difference needs to be highlighted. This is what Lineker does. He highlights the hypocrisy of their content, he shows empathy towards fellow humans who are not British and he looks for social cohesion and unity rather than spreading division and hatred. He truly is the enemy of the Alt right and the lies they like to spin. He is their true enemy and they will continue to attack him but, and he would not like this, but he and others like him, are true heroes in our time, standing up to these bullies and continues to comment and speak their mind. Long may it continue.

A Sledgehammer to crack a nut

A Dad this week lost his case about whether he should take his children out of school in term time. During the report I listened to, we heard parents who have to work at peak times, the school holidays, and so cannot take holiday time with their children. We heard how parents lie to the school, with the children laughing in the background. We finally heard from Sir Michel Wilshaw, the establishment, who berated these parents as irresponsible and that holidays should never be taken at holiday time.

So how big is the nut that needs cracking? It is a big issue in certain areas and non-existent in others. Absence does correlate to poor results but is it causation. I know parents who have taken their children out of school for a holiday but they have collected work from the school, ensuring it is completed and have always supported the school with homework and behaviour. Their children otherwise would have a 100% attendance, yet the school has to send a letter guilting and berating the parents and building barriers between them. The holiday could have been taken in the school holidays but with 2 children this would have increased costs by over £500.

We do though have an issue with parents and students who see it as OK to lie to the schools as mentioned before. Some who are outright defiant against the school. I have to wonder what is said about school in these homes. The excuses when homework is not completed. The excuse when a detention is set and they don’t have to complete it. The extra days when the child just can’t be bothered to go in. The parents probably had a poor school experience when they were at school and are passing that experience onto their children. In my experience, I see it all the time. As a maths teacher, the number of parents who shrug their shoulder and say they were no good at maths and so their children will struggle. No, No, NO.

The school system has changed fundamentally from when we were at school and the experiences the children have is significantly different. The home life of these children continually undermines the school system at home and so performance is poor. The fact that absence is one manifestation of this does not mean that all parents should be punished because of this significant minority of parents. When we have a system of one sizes fits all, but when the system is wrong should we punish the people in the system.

Absence needs to start with headteachers discretion. When the headteacher feels the attitude at home is causing issues with school, the state should then be ready to intervene and support parents and student s to ensure progress is not affected and ensure that attendance increase’s. While it is with the headteacher who have to answer to OFSTED then they will just follow process and not correct behaviour, mainly covering their back. When headteachers can look at attendance and progress and support as part of an overall picture then discretion and common sense lead the decisions that happen. If a headteacher can show this is happening then relationships are built between the parents and school and the dialogue of support and encouragement can be maintained. When the families continue to fight this, this is when the local authority should be involved. This does though mean that society gets more involved with these families that need the support and leaves others alone who can take responsibility.