Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A Very Serious Chink in the UK's Foreign Policy...

Today's i (a derivative of The Independent - http://www.independent.co.uk/i/) tells us how Cameron has ConDem'd us to a deep trading involvement with China. "Good", we say, "that must be good for business!"

But a Chinese company has already bought up the black cab manufacturing company (a British icon, I thought - how come there was no European buyer at least?), announcements had already been made about China's part in the development of nuclear power in the UK, and now they want to participate in HS2 (the biggest red herring that ever existed. No pun intended!).

Now apart from the downside of the general lack of wisdom of selling off so much interest to China (whose values are in a smog), we are dealing with a country that is involved in:

  • the slaughter of tigers and elephants
  • the domination of Tibet

I say that by developing our ties with China we are also demeaning ourselves by so-closely aligning with a power that is thus involved in questionable activities. China's tentacles have long crept into Africa, and they now stretch to Europe - and the UK.

How we got to this juncture is symptomatic of our "More, More!" culture - we think we need China to economically survive.

In reality, what is needed is for us to look again at our personal and social values. Please keep checking on my website (here) for imminent publication details of my book, The Greatest Goal. It fundamentally addresses the issues at hand.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Is it the Government that is disabled in its logic?

Back in May, 2012 the Disability Rights UK (DR UK) report, Impact Assessing the Abolition of Working Age DLA, accused the government of ignoring the effects on disabled people’s lives of cutting working-age DLA spending by 20 per cent, or £1.4 billion a year by 2015/16.

The report analysed the likely impact on disabled people’s ability to work, and their extra need for NHS services and local authority support. It said that the government’s claim that there will be no such knock-on effects is a “falsehood” and describes its failure to carry out a proper analysis as “irresponsible”.

DR UK estimated that the extra costs could wipe out any planned savings, and even its lowest estimates add up to more than a third of the government’s intended savings. The report’s estimates range from about £600 million a year to as much as £3 billion.

Today, 15 months later, it is reported that Atos, the privately-run organisation conducting disability tests since 2005 (and who have been granted other lucrative government contracts) has been paid a total of £754m for running the tests (let's say £300m since the current government took over in the 3 years since 2010) - last year the cost was £114.3m. These figures come from the National Audit Office (NAO). In addition, in June it transpired that the total worth of contracts awarded to Atos has been £1.6bn.

A crossbench peer, Lord Alton, raised the question that generated a reply from the NAO, and Lord Alton now says that the Atos contract "has become like a licence to print money".

It was only recently that the government suddenly found extra money to help the disabled remain in extra bedroomed social housing by way of additional discretionary housing benefits - to save the face of the government. Earlier this week the High Court found that the disabled were not being discriminated against by the government (as the government were now providing extra support money) in a state of affairs where insufficient smaller homes are available to house those that are forced to move because of the 'bedroom tax'.

In other words, was it financially worthwhile - let alone morally worthwhile - that this government should impose such torment on the sick and disabled, 40% of whom appealed against the findings of Atos, 38% of whom succeeded in their appeal.

If we add together:
  • the cost of these legal appeals 
  • the cost of running Atos 
  • the extra discretionary housing benefits
  • the findings of DR UK
then the saving to the government's purse must be diminishing rapidly, and may even be wiped out by the target date of 2015/16.

Whatever we may say about the Labour Party, they have a bit more commonsense at least. They have said before that the cost of trying to find the true benefits cheats would outweigh any savings. In trying to find the cheats, this government have only imposed an inhumane regime on those who are weakest.

It is about time we remembered that we are one people. What the government has done has only brought about a sense of 'we and they', not unity. Fie on you, you ConDems!

Friday, 3 May 2013

We are sleep-walking towards... ?

The results are in and we can see that Nigel Farage has the spotlight on him as the party spoiler. UKIP has shown itself as a danger to the main two parties and to the Liberal-Democrats. If the next general election (in 2015) produces the same kind of share of votes, then it could result in a national government as no two parties would be able to sustain a 2-way coalition.

It would be nice to say that UKIP would be a refreshing change to the three parties that have controlled this country's affairs for several generations. Unfortunately, however, no matter how eloquently Farage speaks, the crux of their policies is about destruction rather than the construction of a sustainable alternative. Their policies speak about what they consider is wrong (and which is easy to get support for) rather than the more difficult task of setting out a stall with constructive plans. And they have no experience of government.

The best thing you can say is that their success in these local elections is a cause for the big parties to re-think.

However, the times that we are in are extremely challenging to the mentality that we have been studiously developing since World War Two - that our (and the world's) economy can keep on growing and that we can go on increasing our standard of living, interrupted by the occasional recession. But this notion is a fallacy. It is old hat. There are matters developing on the Earth, within the earth and its biosphere that should demand our priority attention. We need, in fact, to lower our expectations and our consumption, and also concentrate on how we can make ourselves more useful and how to co-exist more peaceably.

We need to spiritually and mentally adjust. In fact the effect of being asleep to our reality as we are will - all too soon - come to haunt us. YOU-KIP at your peril.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

We should think about burying Thatcherism...

In my view it's time to bury Thatcherism, despite Cameron and his belief that we are now all Thatcherites. Such a short-sighted comment can only stem from a person who (like the real Thatcher) is isolated from the realities of life. But we must learn from the mistakes of all the political factions and evolve management principles that are sustainable - and fair.

I don't suggest that the country goes to war within itself, but that a new and humane doctrine based on limited growth is found.

It is clear to my mind that Margaret Thatcher grew up in a quiet part of the country that had little to do with the main thrust of industry such as existed in the West Midlands and the north and other areas, and in a time when TV had still not made an impact. It is little wonder, therefore, that her simple homely and thrifty ways would seem (in 1979) to be the panacea for the governing of the country and why her Tory friends were captivated by her simple and direct logic. Domination of the working people was their desire and Maggie seemed to have the tools to accomplish that.

The Liberal Party's Ming Campbell recently declared that something did need doing in 1979 to put the country back on its tracks: the main two political leaders of the 70s - Heath and Callaghan - behaved too much like gentlemen to  be the type of leader to make a difference. In came Thatcher and made the decisions that were uncomfortable but in many ways necessary. The trouble was that her actions were such an utter surprise given the Tory notion of 'One Nation' that had existed for 30 years. She gave no quarter to ordinary people in the industrial areas who where already in difficulty in keeping afloat as a result of the sprialling cost of living. Yet she had income from the newly-piped North Sea oil and gas that could have been - partly at least - used to develop new industries.

What she seemed to forget was that not only did the people need to have a livelihood but that Britain itself needed to have a strong manufacturing base - as it had for 200 years. A strong country needs to make things to provide the basis of a sustainable economy. She favoured the banks and other financial institutions and we have since seen the legacy of that tendency. She believed we should all become entrepreneurs. All sellers and no buyers.

Looking at matters from a positive viewpoint, we have since learnt that having a leaner approach to running industry we can make a better product more effectively. Quality had been a problem until the 1980s, but since then the country has managed to considerably improve on quality. But one of the main  drawbacks is that such improvements have been accompanied by the steady acquisition of national business institutions by overseas developers. The British were encouraged to sell off their crown jewels (with the fruits of such sales probably lying in obscure off-shore accounts) and we now have few well-known names that remain British-owned.

She encouraged the sale of council houses (social housing) without initiating a re-building programme. Today we badly need social housing. She got rid of matrons in hospitals. And along came MRA.

The 30-plus years since 1979 have only served to increase the notion of greed, and we have seen even Labour politicans succumb to the temptations of the honey pot. The country is divided.

So, in 2013, we have inherited yet another Thatcher sympathiser as prime minister and - as leader of a minority party - presided over the hurtful reduction of benefits to those genuinely in need and yet (on the demise of Mrs. Thatcher) decided that £10m. can be spent on a funeral. It was not to be a state funeral, we were told, but in fact it showed every similarity of being one. George Osborne (the man with the purse-strings) cried at the funeral; was it because of the thought of its cost?

And umenployment continues to rise as we are told that we should work to avoid going onto benefits.

Commonsense has (temporarily, we hope) gone out of the window. I would hope that the nation will re-find its Bulldog attitude and ConDem the current government in no uncertain terms in 2015. They should be buried - along with Thatcherism.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Rewriting of History

The point that Glenda Jackson made as the motive behind her description of the Thatcher reign was that she felt a need to ensure that history was not being re-written - i.e. that the Tories would not get their wish to have a spotless description of her reign recorded for posterity.

On thinking about it, I find that we English tend to have a wonderful ability to exaggerate our history - particularly in the notion that we gave things to the world that the world didn't have before. Though that may be true in respect of things mechanical and the ability to divide and rule, the notion that our sense of civilisation was any better than what existed in all the lands that we occupied is often a completely flawed notion. This was particularly true in India, which - I am sure - will come back and show us to be the repository of true civilisation in not many years from now.

Many even think that the sciences stemmed from Isaac Newton and other European greats, until a study of history reveals that in the medieval period it was the world of Islam that provided the basis of later European knowledge. And the Muslim world derived most of their knowledge from Greece who in turn worked on knowledge from ... India. And Muslims also did quite a bit of work in developing scientific knowledge on their own bat. Spain still boasts remnants of the glory that was Islam while we think of the Crusades as that wonderful time of adventure embarked upon by marvellous knights of the garter - or some such thing. The story of the massacre of the inhabitants of Jerusalem is often conveniently forgotten or glossed over.

Coming back to Britain, the attempt to hide the truth of the Thatcher reign and the brutality of that period is brutal in itself, and, combined with earlier events, is the real cause of the north-south divide. On top of that, there are many who are also too ready to deride the period of the Labour administration after World War Two, when in fact it should be regarded as a remarkable piece of reconstruction in extremely difficult times.

I was very amused to hear the other evening a remark made by the Tory Ken Clark (who I normally have some time for) who gave an example of the situation in 1979 of a nationalised company called British Road Services that controlled two-thirds of the road distribution service and was losing a lot of money. It had to be privatised, he said. Well, all very good, except that British Road Services was created by the Attlee government as part of a nationalised rail and road distribution service, designed to provide seamless delivery for the nation. Well, with the return of the Tories from 1951 onwards - and particularly with the application of Beeching cuts - that philosophy of service was progressively dismantled.

It's interesting that a number of the rail services cut by Beeching are now coming back into operation. But that is by-the-by.

But what is true is that there are some in this (once) fair isle of ours that consider that Britain was so Great that they have the right to shoot and hunt like the old Norman conquerors as masters of the land ... and also put down those blackguards that disturb the peace of that reverie - the descendants of those that provided the labour to build the Great Britain the toffs remember. How dare they (they say) protest against the Poll Tax and other niceties put in front of the plebs for their dilectation. "Come and join us at Eton and Harrow and know what being a gentleman is", is the example set by the current government front bench while the disabled scramble to survive.

A classless, caring, society? Phooey. Yet another attempt at the re-writing of history.

Our (British) devotion to sport is really our way of desensitising life's reality.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Needed: More Inspiration, less Aspiration.

The death of Lady Thatcher this week has aroused (again) considerable emotion about what she did and did not do during her term of office from 1979 to 1990. It is, however, agreed by virtually everyone that in certain ways she changed the face of British politics and has left subsequent party leaders (of left and right persuasion) eager to emulate her in certain ways.

And to the British public at large she infused a sense of what we have come to term 'aspiration'. However, what does that term really mean ... and does it really take us in the direction we should be aiming for?

In fact, by bringing in this aspirational concept, Mrs. (as she was then) Thatcher had the affect of nearly burying some trends that were beginning to be popularised in the 1970s towards green concepts ... the notion that was developing among certain groups of people that Mother Earth was being hard done by, that we were steaming ahead in extracting fossil fuels and creating much dangerous waste. Greenpeace was born and the western world was beginning to realise that we had reached the post-industrial age and that we had to nurture what remaining resources the earth possessed. A report by an intellectual panel called 'The Club of Rome' (1971) enforced that view and their overall perspective has been found (in more recent years) to be correct.

It could be said that in her own way Mrs. Thatcher took the country towards a greener philosophy in her stand against the coalminers, but I doubt that any analysis of those times would reveal that Mrs. Thatcher took that line on the basis of green issues. Nor did green issues play much of a part in the government's general policies of the time.

But what her terms of office did infuse in the working populations of the north was a sense of both hate and fear and a survival lifestyle. They did not have the luxury of considering the green issues and what was spiritually or materially a good philosophy ... they became perpetually concerned in how to feed their children and put shoes on their feet.

The message put out from Number 10 was to get on yer bike, and for those who were prepared to give up their place of upbringing and community it could be said that material improvement could be found elsewhere. But the north had been maltreated by the Tories in decades still in living memory, and there was not too much willingness to obey Number 10's advice. The northerners felt that yet again they had been betrayed - and independent observers could understand why.

The south - given the stimulus of a changed financial sector enterprise culture - took on the challenge of aspiration, and largely discarded the concerns of environment. Making money was the issue of the day, and it led to the creation of pyramid businesses and other scams of a dubious nature. And an attitude in the banking sector that ultimately led to the collapse of 2008. A detailed history of the enterprise culture from 1983 to 2008 would make interesting (and, perhaps, appalling) reading.

What is it that aspiration has brought us to (in the main, I add)? Essentially greed and the want of more than the person next door, and a government that has been willing to move a disabled person to smaller accommodation even though the third bedroom is used for the storage of essential equipment for the disabled person. Other disabled people have been told that they are elligible to work - even though they are clearly not, while Remploy was dismantled. And the notion is being put out that it is perfectly OK in this aspiration-led deficit era to treat the innocent in such a way.

The Tories blame the previous government for the deficit, yet it was the Tory notion of aspiration that started the trend towards a predictable end.

The following of 'aspiration' has done what kind of good for civilisation? Precious little. It has reduced us closer to the level of animals in our perception of life and it has taken away dignity. The numbers seeking help for stress seem to increase by the dozens every day. Increasingly it would seem, the rich seek which country to live in to pay the least amount of tax.

Perhaps we should have taken the Club of Rome's report more seriously and properly thought through what was to be done to develop in a sustainable way. But it is not too late to change and perhaps change has to start with each of us - individually - towards a worthwhile sense of what is really important: towards an intelligent all-for-one-and-one-for-all philosophy of sustainability.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Passing of a Notable Prime Minister

The upshot of Maggie's era (having misquoted St. Francis' prayer to start off the process!) is to leave us with professional politicians whose leaders have hardly ever experienced another line of work and an attitude that has left behind those days when at least there was a semblance of genuine experience in public life. And the morals of business - which were always suspect - have been let loose big style.

And - yes - Tony Blair capitalised on the era he inherited.

It's not to say that everyone's 'at it', but what has been uncovered these last few years makes us realise that the era in which us oldies were brought up (for me the late 40s and the 50s) was the best era in terms of decency, when a TV with 2 b & w channels and 2 weeks' holiday was perfectly all right thanks. And also when most of us ate decent wholesome food.

No, of course the society of the 50s couldn't stay where it was, but our leaders (in politics and of trades unions) of the 1960s and 1970s just didn't have the wisdom to know how to deal with the wave of social and economic issues that were by then developing, and it had to be left to a woman to sort something out - the men got bogged down! Well, sort it out she mostly did ... and we all have to be blamed for the manner in which she acted, creating the framework for today's debacle.

The real political answer to the country's needs is via the middle ground. But I couldn't trust the Liberals to fry an egg. When it comes down to it, the answer really lies with ourselves - individually. If we were to make a better effort at being really responsible for ourselves and behave in accord with the teachings of Jesus and all the great spiritual masters, then the world might just change for the better. That idea smacks of idealism - but what's a real alternative?

So - in a nutshell - no form of politics is anywhere near ideal. And democracy is showing its weakness. I suppose that Maggie thought she was doing the best for the country, and for her honesty and integrity I respect her and mourn her parting.

At least she had guts.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

We're all in it together? (Part 2)

It's been some months since I've felt the energy to write another article. I also thought that perhaps it would be worthwhile seeing just how our ConDem coalition government is working ... just how it is fairing as it hits its mid-way point in their government term. And I say that remembering that they were very clever in getting the government term fixed at 5 years; I doubt whether the coalition would otherwise have survived quite so long as it has.

The confident "We're all in it together" speeches from the government when they arrived in power were supposed to pep us all up ... make us believe that such a thing could possible be true. I would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth, and, what is worse, the situation is getting worse ... for the needy, the bottom 10% of society in income and opportunity terms.

This very week I read a startling account of how a teenage underclass is rapidly developing in London. While the Shard rises high and other accommodation for the wealthy stretches into the skies, there are problems that are not talked of and which threaten to create a huge divide in our previously fair society. It has been revealed that there are teenagers - not just a few - who ride the buses at night. The article (in the I newspaper, January 17) says: "For these boys, it is not really a means of transportation. Tonight it's a bed, a shelter, a home, a refuge." The article describes these boys as "too scared to go home very often". 'The system' does not take these hundreds of cases into account ... 'the system' can't deal with this.

For us - in Birmingham - we are well aware of the need for voluntary food banks for the poorest in society and, yes, the Christian element in society has responded to this need; these facilities are there. And it is just as well they are there as the ConDems have condemned so many to have to resort to this source of help. Even we, I as a basic pensioner and my wife virtually crippled with arthritic conditions but without getting additional financial help, feel conscience-stricken to supply what we can to the food banks from time to time. I don't like to boast about that (if it is such) but I want to emphasise how serious the problem is.

We're also getting to be aware of how those who were previously getting a disability allowance are having to fight their cases to an extraordinary extent to retain their allowance, and what sort of stringent and unfair tests they have to go through to keep them, very often having to go through an appeal procedure.

Yes, we know there have been shirkers and hangers-on who milk these benefits, but we also should know that they form a small percentage of such claimants. The real claimants are suffering... badly.

There is more. The council tax system is changing ... and again it will mainly affect the less well off. Council charges will rise, and yet the debt management problem of councils is also escalating. They cannot collect what they are owed already, so how will they be able to collect much of the extra charges?

The Bishop of Liverpool says that cities such as Liverpool risk succumbing to what he termed "urban diabetes". "Urban diabetes is where the blood pumps around the heart but fails to reach all parts of the body", he said. "The challenge we face is to ensure that the wealth is shared in such a way that it flows around the whole body. If in social terms it fails to do so then we face the danger of parts of the body atrophying and dying." (my italics)

It is patently obvious that services in certain areas of the country (mainly the midlands and the north) are being stretched too far. Liverpool is being asked to share the equivalent of £252 per person while affluent areas of north Dorset are losing just £2 per inhabitant.

If matters continue as they are ... and they will because no-one is responding to the issues to correct them ... this time next year could see the beginnings of massive unrest.

The situation is not fair! While MPs refuse to drop their salaries (and are even thinking of going for an increase, I hear) they reduce the start pay of policemen and also expect the most vulnerable to pay more than their fair share.

Can we sit at home and be comfortable doing so? What would Jesus think of what is going on here ... and in the rest of the world for that matter.