Being different

6 Dec

I used to go around the country tailoring commercial software to fit with the processes of firms. It is a much cheaper option to buy systems ‘off the shelf’ than to develop them in house. Why reinvent the wheel? And there are differences between firms in the way they are organised. But the requirements of Companies House and the HMRC are the same for all companies, and data entered must conform to those requirements. Essentially the process is the same for all.

Some of the organisations I worked with were charities, and every one of these came up with the same excuse for not conforming to a model of accountancy, which was, ‘We are different’. I ran through the processes with them and often found that their processes were labyrinthine and inefficient. One had the same set of data signed off by the same manager three times, in different formats. When I suggested that they might wish to consider streamlining these processes I was told to mind my own business and make the necessary changes to the software. That is an example of exceptionalism.

This from Wikipedia:
Exceptionalism is the perception that a species, country, society, institution, movement, individual, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way. Although the idea appears to have developed with respect to an era, today the term is particularly applied to national or regional exceptionalism. Other uses are rarer in the present day.

The negotiating strategy of the government over Brexit is another example of exceptionalism.  In large part the referendum vote was cast because of exceptionalism. But this demand to be treated differently from everyone else needs justification, and I have so far failed to see what that justification is.

There are, of course, those who believe that Britain is the exception to the rule, the best in the world, de blah, de blah. Well, I have travelled widely and worked in various countries and I can tell you that there is very little which is special about Britain. Those things which used to be special, such as common decency, tolerance and openness have disappeared. The single factor which persuaded Leavers to vote for Brexit was a desire to keep foreigners out and to pull up the drawbridge. Most won’t admit that and try to justify it with bullshit answers about regaining sovereignty, (which we never lost!).

The offer to Ireland / Northern Ireland was to remain in the Customs Union and Single Market. That is a Soft Brexit. The reason the DUP will not accept that is that it treats NI differently to the rest of the UK. The Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament have not been slow to recognise the absurdity of the situation and demand that such an offer be UK wide. But only the hardest of Brexits, and the cliff face of No Deal is acceptable to the Brextremists who are the main force within the Conservative Party.

Why not just admit that Britain is not exceptional and maintain the benefits and influence of remaining within the EU rather than having the costs but no influence or jump off the no deal cliff?

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Taking your eye off the ball

4 Dec

To start with a typical British piece of understatement, we have some problems here. The NHS is chronically underfunded and we are about to go into the coldest and darkest part of winter. Mental Health services are in crisis as is care for the elderly.

Then there is education, Police, Fire Services, Ambulance Service, Probation Service, Prisons, Social Services, libraries and just about every area where public money is spent. All are suffering cutbacks

Social housing is at its lowest point since the 1930’s, and homelessness is getting out of hand. Childhood poverty is rising fast, as is the use of food banks.

Many of the much acclaimed jobs created by the government are fake self employment, a small fraction of a full job or on the minimum wage. Millions who should be on the lower threshold of paying tax are receiving tax credits as they do not earn enough to live.

Years of austerity have resulted in wages falling behind inflation. The majority of people in this country are worse off than they were ten years ago. And yet the very rich are getting very much richer, and hide their wealth in legal tax loopholes, taking money out of circulation.

As discontent and despair increase right wing populism is on the rise, exploiting the discontent with only the very worst of motives.

The Social Mobility Commission resigned en masse at the weekend citing the lack of progress made. Theresa May promised a society that would work for everyone, but the divisions are just getting wider at an ever increasing pace.

The economy has stalled and growth is lower than any of our competitors. What was supposed to be project fear is becoming reality.

What does the government do about all of this? My answer is they are doing almost nothing. There is only one issue which is taking all the time and effort, and that is Brexit. And the government is totally failing to make a decent fist of that. The messages are contradictory and inadequate.

Even if the government does get a ‘good deal’ on trade there may not be a country left to fix. The government has taken its eye off the ball, so obsessed it is with Brexit. It is time that they started governing. If they cannot do that it is time for them to go.

A few tweaks here and there

18 Sep

I have been reading The Communist Manifesto recently, which I should have done four decades ago. It is only 48 pages long, so not at all daunting to read. Marx was a journalist and even if his style is a little florid for modern taste it is still thoroughly readable.

The analysis of the situation of a modern industrialised society is uncannily accurate. If you substitute neoliberal for bourgeoisie it is completely modern. Here is one passage:

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, callous “cash payment.” It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom–Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.

I have a problem with the predictions which follow the analysis. Marx and Engels failed to see the endless reinvention of capitalism and the appeal of consumer durables or the American Dream. In other words, the wannabe society. With fewer and fewer reaping the financial rewards of global capitalism there will come a tipping point. I make no predictions as to when it will happen or what the outcome will be.

An appeal to authority over reason

14 Aug

In my conversations with Leave voters I have found one theme constantly recurring, that the EU is anti-British, undemocratic, bureaucratic and evil. It is supposed to want to become a United States of Europe, have its own army and to totally dominate our lives in every way.

These views are delusional and paranoid. And yet, if challenged with the facts, the Leavers will refuse to see that they are spouting nonsense. They have a belief that their views are merely common sense and are supported by the majority. It is easy to see why they feel this way. The vast majority of the press have been publishing black propaganda about the EU for decades. Boris Johnson’s reports in The Telegraph opened up a largely untapped resource of misinformation, distortion and lies. There seemed to be unending appetite for anti-EU stories. As Rothermere understood when setting up The Daily Mail, if you raise anger among your audience they will come back for more.

And so the lies have become the established truth for many people. This is from Schopenhauer – in translation.

“There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally adopted. Example affects their thought, just as it affects their action. They are like sheep following the bell-wether wherever he leads them. They would sooner die than think.”

In conversations with Leavers they cannot understand that their view of the EU is illogical and untrue. They are simply unable to believe any opinion contrary to that which they hold. And the reaction that I have received when suggesting that the immigration rules need to be relaxed is met with stunned silence, like a true believer being told that there is no god.

Something in the air

28 Jun

There are conjunctions of events which change public perception. There was the Manchester Arena attack, and in its aftermath the video clips where an award winning community based Police Officer from Manchester warning Home Secretary Theresa May of the dangers of cutting this area of policing. His warnings were specific and were concerned with lack of community contact, the loss of intelligence and the dangers of terrorism. May’s answers were not just a flat denial but a direct insult to the professionalism of that officer.

Then came the London Bridge attack, which was dealt with brilliantly and swiftly by an armed response unit. If the terrorist cell had been able to obtain guns rather than use knives the death toll would have been truly horrific. It was a damn close run thing.

The fire at Grenfell Tower showed the penny-pinching policies of Kensington Counsel and the blatant disregard for the most basic of fire safety standards. This happened despite warnings from residents of the borough and the instructions of the manufacturers of the cladding panels. For seven years the very idea of regulation has been anathema to the government. Health and Safety has been cut beyond the bone. Administration of regulation has been handed to private companies whose sole reason to exist is profit, and their bottom line does not count the cost to human life.

Government austerity measures have led to cuts in all areas of health and safety, whether it be the NHS, social care, the Police, the Fire Services, ambulance services, education and regulatory bodies. At the same time the checking that regulations are enforced at local level has been relaxed to a point of ineffectiveness. And now the least empowered reap the whirlwind.

If there can be said to be such a thing as a public mood, then this mood has changed. There may still be an appetite for poverty pornography, like Benefits Street, but the attention has been focussed more on the actions and inaction of the government and connections have been made between austerity and public safety. The mood is angry. This is a deep resentment of the elite, the ruling classes and the mega rich.

I have not known such a deep dislike of a government in my lifetime, not even to Margret Thatcher. The British are slow to develop such resentment, but the fire at Grenfell Tower has set a revolutionary fire in the bellies of many citizens. If there are no major changes there will be a popular uprising against our current rulers. And no distractions by the gutter press or weasel words from government will lessen the deep sense of injustice and the perceived lack of representation.

Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade

6 Jun

Liam Fox, one of three ministers responsible for Brexit is, by public record, the most corrupt politician in Britain. In March 2010 he over claimed for mortgage interest payments of £22,476.

Fox claimed expenses of more than £19,000 for his mobile phone for the four years between 2005 and 2009. Fox claimed the high bill was due to regular trips overseas. He tried to excuse this by saying that he was looking for a cheaper tariff.

In October 2012, the Commons Speaker blocked the release of data showing which MPs were renting their homes to other MPs for financial gain. However, a study of parliamentary records was published in The Daily Telegraph showed that Liam Fox receives rental income from his London home while simultaneously claiming rental income from the taxpayer to live at another residence.

In October 2013, amongst other claims, Fox  claimed 3p for a 100 metre car trip a year earlier. He also made an additional 15 claims of under £1 for car travel approved in 2012–13, two of which were for 24p and 44p. 

Fox has been found guilty of breaking Parliamentary rules, most spectacularly by accepting five paid trips to Sri Lanka paid for by the Sri Lankan government or the Sri Lankan Development Trust. Fox failed to declare his interest when asking ministers how much UK aid had been given to Sri Lanka.

Then there is his relationship with Adam Werrity, a relationship which was exposed in the media and led to Fox’s resignation. Werrity is 17 years younger than Fox and was best man at his wedding. Werrity lived rent-free in Fox’s flat, and been involved with him in business and in the UK/US ultra conservative think-tank The Atlantic Bridge. While Fox was Defence Minister, Werrity was a regular visitor at the Ministry of Defence and accompanied Fox on numerous official trips, including meetings with foreign dignitaries. Werrity used official-looking business cards which said he was an “advisor” to Fox despite having no government post or security clearance. The media is unclear as to  the source of Werrity’s income. Between 20 May 2010 to 8 October 2011 Werrity was present at 40 of Fox’s 70 engagements as Minister of Defense. In 2005–6, Fox used public money, from his expense claims as an MP, to pay Adam Werritty.

Fox is anti abortion, against gay marriage, (strangely), and wants to fully privatise the NHS. Apart from that I am assured that he is quite charming.

The question is, should he be in government at all, let alone be one of the chief architects of Brexit?

if you have any doubts about the veracity of this blog, look up this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liam_Fox

The dog that didn’t bark

19 May

What was interesting about the Conservative manifesto announced yesterday was what it did not say rather than what it said. I was expecting just some tiny thing to make some peoples lives better, some little bribe to vote Conservative, and it wasn’t there. The dog didn’t bark.

  • There is no promise not to raise income tax
  • There is no promise not to raise VAT
  • There is no promise not to raise National Insurance

On the thorny subject of immigration there was an intention to reduce immigration to tens of thousands, but no date to achieve this was given and no costings were made. And a Tory minister was on Today this morning saying that the benefits of immigration had not been measured.

The triple lock on pensions is being unlocked. Pensioners beware.

Cash-strapped councils are to be encouraged to build social housing, but no cash is being provided and these houses have to be sold off after after ten years, thus removing the collateral of the councils if they wish to build more.

Carers will be able to take up to a year off work to take care of sick relatives. Only this is unpaid and the employers don’t have to take them back afterwards AND, they do not appear as unemployed and so cannot obtain any benefits whatsoever.

If you get dementia your house will be old after you die to pay for your care.

The only positive aspects were in the words of the speech. The details seem to be entirely negative.

This is an election manifesto meant to help them win the General Election of June 8th. Was it brave to be so realistic about the prospects for the country? Unfortunately ‘brave’ in politics equates to suicidal. The best that can be said of the package is that it will give us more of the same, and that is not good.

Parliament was informed a month ago by Brexit Minister David Davis that the promise that things would be as good after Brexit as before was not really a promise but an aspiration. This suggests to me that the prospects of a ‘successful’ Brexit are just about zero, and he knows it. That is the direction in which we are headed.

To have a manifesto which leaves out all the promises normally expected shows a certain degree of pragmatism which is welcome in this febrile atmosphere. But it also points out that the costs of leaving the EU will impact the UK very hard. Tax rises are to be expected. Pensions and benefits are in greater doubt. The NHS is decidedly unsafe in Conservative hands. That is only being realistic.