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Do no harm

3 May

I remember a radio play by Peter Tinniswood about a long serving but largely inactive Tory MP who was about to be deselected in his dotage. What struck me about the first person narrative was the character explaining his philosophy, which was, ‘Do no harm’. This should be the default or fall-back motto for politicians of every shade of opinion.

The worst kind of political philosophy is the one that includes a version of, ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs’. When politicians have big ideas you can bet that they will think the end justifies the means, and the eggs getting broken will be elements of society which can safely be picked on.

What we have with the Windrush generation is an idea about reducing illegal immigration, and setting targets to measure how well the policy was working. The real problem with this idea came when the idea about what an illegal immigrant was extended to include people who had been living in this country, being educated, working, paying taxes and contributing to society for fifty or sixty years. Having made this change, the numbers of people who fell into the illegal immigrant category expanded greatly. And these people had pensions, houses and National Insurance numbers. They were easy targets.

The harm done was and remains immense. As far as I am aware there are many cases involving injustice on truly epic proportions. People have lost their jobs, been refused housing and healthcare. Some have been refused passports or not been allowed back into the country after visiting relatives. The Kafkaesque nightmare these people have been put through is inhumanity approaching the very worst examples.

When a politician has a bad idea, and has the power to put this idea into place without reference to common decency and humanity they end up doing immense harm.

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Boris’ Tinkerbell Brexit

15 Feb

Poor old Boris, even his charm offensive has failed to get approval. Reaching out to Remainers in order to get their approval requires more than weasel words from a proven liar. All he gave us was a load of meaningless waffle, with absolutely no detail. Twenty months on from the referendum and we still have no idea what is going to happen. And the clock is ticking.

But at least we now know the figures the Department for Exiting the EU, (DExEU), was working with. Of course all the cheerleaders for Brexit have been falling over themselves to rubbish these figures. For all I know these figures could be rubbish. The problem I have is that there are no alternative figures. There are two possibilities:

  • Firstly, that they have no figures and are basing policy on pure guesswork
  • Secondly that the figures they have are so damaging to the economy and jobs that to publish them would mean electoral oblivion.

So they are either utterly incompetent or are in playing games with people’s lives. If they had any economic good news it would be splashed over the red-tops and in the Daily Mail. The silence of the cheerleaders speaks volumes.

During the referendum campaign all the leading Leavers declared that there was no possibility of leaving the Single Market. The Remain campaign said that leaving the Single Market would be inevitable if Leave won. The Leavers said this was part of project fear, and to ignore the experts. Now that the Leave cheerleaders realise that in order to fulfil the promises made during the campaign we would have to leave the Single Market they have changed the point of attack. After all, didn’t David Cameron tell you we would have to leave the Single Market? The reply to this breathtaking act of hypocrisy is to shout, ‘Liar, liar, pants on fire!’

Ever since narrowly winning the referendum the Brextards* have been whingeing about how the Remainers are trying to obstruct “the will of the people”. They know that they got lucky and could not win another referendum. They seem to believe that any critical thinking about Brexit will damage their precious dream. It is so fragile that merely saying that you don’t believe their claims is a form of treason. It is a Tinkerbell Brexit. You do believe in Brexit, don’t you, boys and girls? It seems Boris is aiming for this type of Brexit.

*Brextard is a conflation of Brexit, bastard and retard.

Taking some responsibility

21 Dec

The NHS is in a terrible mess, with services at breaking point and a critical shortage of GPs. I don’t think that is in any way inaccurate or controversial. In fact all the public services are woefully underfunded. You could blame all that on austerity, but I think it is more to do with the attitude of the government. For the Tories, the market is the only arbiter. There is a complete lack of direction or any sense that this government wishes to improve the lives of the vast majority. They simply don’t care enough to do anything about it.

What they care deeply about is staying in power at any cost. That cost is to the country in general and to the less well off in particular. The country is going down the pan and this lot squabble among themselves about something which is going to damage our frail economy further. By the most optimistic measure Brexit is going to set new challenges, and the country will soar upwards like an eagle after a few years of hardship.

In reality we have poor people on the very edge of destitution, and a government that doesn’t give a shit for them. There is no leeway here, no room for error. Other than the utter junk pumped out by a couple of agencies funded by corporate vultures, such as the Legatum Institute, all parties agree that Brexit is going to be bad for the economy. Estimates vary between quite bad and catastrophic, but none of that is any bloody use to those people on the edge.

Now, if you voted Leave and are still convinced that Brexit is a good thing because of returning some kind of freedom and independence, think of what has happened. The clarion calls for freedom for the UK Parliament and Judiciary have included attacking Judges as ‘Enemies of the People’ and of MPs wishing to do their job of scrutinising legislation, by calling them ‘Traitors’. Do you not understand what irony is?

You wish to proceed with a reckless gamble with other people’s lives and livelihoods. This is genuinely a matter of life and death, no exaggeration. How dare you! Take some responsibility for what is about to happen, without using jingoism as an excuse or wishful thinking in place of wisdom. Brexit will be a disaster for many people, and will increase hardship for many. It will set the country back for decades and affect the lives of our children and grandchildren in a negative way.

More than that it is a distraction from our real problems, it is an excuse for not doing what is needed. It is a waste of time and effort and money. It offers no solutions because Brexit was an exercise in choosing the wrong target to blame for our problems. It is a fantasy based on nostalgia. Stop it now; just forget about it.

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?

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.