July- December

Apparently I wrote too much in 2016, and the resulting fatal error” memory crash, means a second page in necessary.

July

BooHoo

In true Machiavellian mode, Michael Gove, Brexit campaigner has just stabbed his co-conspirator Boris Johnson (BoJo) and has announced his own candidacy for Prime Minister of the UK.

1434

As BoJo’s campaign manager, Michaell Gove’s suggestion that Boris simply wasn’t good enough and could not be trusted to lead the country was a devastating blow.

And all of this was used to explain why he had to be the candidate instead of BoJo (Gove’s thunderbolt and Boris’s breaking point: a shocking Tory morning). The TV series “House of Cards” seems sensible in comparison.

At the same time the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn is under siege and refusing to stand aside. In order to challenger him, an MP needs the backing of 20% of Labour MPs and MEPs. Currently, there are 229 Labour MPs and 20 MEPs. Party officials are still debating whether a candidate needs 50 or 51 signed-up supporters but there are definitely people able to command that level of support. Angela Eagle, ex-shadow business secretary, was expected to declare that she was going to run as a “unity candidate” at a 3pm press conference yesterday but has put it off waiting for the Conservative furore to pass.

It is also unclear whether Jeremy Corbyn’s name would automatically be on the ballot paper – which is crucial because Corbyn would struggle to gain 50-51 names willing to re-elect him as leader.

He claims to have the support of Labour Party members, all 200,000 of them. Nine months ago he received 59% of the party vote. However the most recent YouGov poll for the Times, carried out entirely after the Brexit vote last Thursday, shows that opinions are shifting fast – his net job approval is reduced to +3, down from +45 just last month.

Amongst those who voted for an “Anyone but Corbyn” candidate last year (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall) eight in ten think he should step down as leader straight away. Amongst the 59% who supported Mr. Corbyn, six in ten think he should stay on and fight the next general election.

As things currently stand, were Mr. Corbyn was on the ballot paper again, 36% say they would definitely vote for him (down from 50% in May) and 36% say they definitely wouldn’t vote for him (up from 22%).

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup between him and Angela Eagle, he currently holds a 10 point lead at 50% to 40%, with 5% saying they would not vote and 7% saying they don’t know. The poll was solely made up of full party members. Like last year, it is possible for any member of the public to get a vote in a leadership election if they pay a £3 fee. Members of affiliated trade unions can also opt in to voting.

In an email, the Parliamentary Labour Party’s director of political services, Sarah Mulholland, writes: “It is clear that some of our MPs are currently experiencing abuse and threats. As per the security briefings, this information should be passed to the police immediately.”

Vicky Foxcroft, the MP for Lewisham Deptford, revealed that she had been threatened with violence if she refused to back Corbyn; Lisa Nandy said that colleagues had been bullied and harassed; while John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor and staunch Corbyn ally, responded to complaints by urging supporters not to protest outside MPs’ offices.

So I’m beginning to re-think my views on Corbyn as a gentle, decent man. How kindly can he be if he’s willing to send out the bully-boys to MPs who disagree with him? How hard is his team working to keep his cult followers under control?

Corbyn’s supporters argue that, as the incumbent, he would automatically be on the ballot paper in the event of a challenge, with the prospect he could again mobilise the grassroots activists who propelled him to the leadership last year.

If he resigned, however, allies such as McDonnell might struggle to get the nominations they need to enter the leadership race.

There were further calls for Corbyn to quit, with a letter signed by 540 Labour councillors posted on the LabourList website saying he was “unable to command the confidence of the whole party, nor of many traditional Labour supporters we speak with on the doorstep”.

Useful

Often when I’m visiting my friend W and his wife, we are interrupted by a young man who arrives for his piano lesson. W’s wife makes her excuses and off they go.

This young man is an exceptional person in many ways. He comes from an Armenian family, speaks three or four languages fluently, is academically very successful and seems to have negotiated his parent’s divorce and remarriages with grace. He volunteers with the St John’s Ambulance, a service that offers paramedic support at public events.

When asked what his ambitions are for the future, he talks about pursuing a career as a paramedic, a first responder. When asked about his mother’s ambitions for him, he looks wry. As any good mother, she wants her son to do as well as he can. She’s ambitious for him and wants him to train to be a doctor.

Obviously both paramedics and doctors help people. They are professions where, at their best, one serves and saves other people.

Both professions now require a university degree. The academic requirements for a paramedic course are lower, but since he’s an academic kid that’s not a concern. The salary of a doctor is likely to be higher than that of a paramedic but the latter are not badly paid.

The career of a paramedic used to be quite limited to in-house ambulance Trust training or management roles.  In recent years however, many paramedics have developed their clinical practice into specialist and advanced roles in areas such as primary and critical care.  Increasingly paramedics are to be found working for institutions other than ambulance Trusts, such as Out of Hours GP providers, Minor Injuries Units, Walk-In Centres, and various private health providers, both in the UK and abroad.

The reasons he enjoys his work as a volunteer paramedic are the reasons he wants to pursue it as a career. He enjoys helping people. He enjoys the immediacy, the direct interaction with people in need, the immediate validation that successful outcomes bring him. He enjoys the adrenaline spike that arrives when dealing with emergencies.

And whilst all of these things can be found in certain roles for doctors (A&E is the most obvious) he also enjoys the idea of being a generalist rather than being asked to specialise as early as doctors must. He expects the life of a paramedic to be exciting and fulfilling. When he gets “old” and the role becomes too stressful, he sees himself stepping back and moving into managing teams of paramedics.

Whatever he ends up doing with his life, this young man will be a credit to his mother.

With my two girls heading off into the world of higher education, neither with any clue what they’ll end up doing with their lives, it makes me wonder. There is  ted talk that asks: What’s the most satisfying job in the world? You’d be surprised.

It turns out that the lesson from the various people and occupations discussed is that virtually any job has the potential to offer people satisfaction. Jobs can be organized to include the variety, complexity, skill development, and growth that we all look for in our lives. They can be organized to provide the people who do them with a measure of autonomy.

But perhaps most importantly, they can be made meaningful by connecting them to the welfare of others.

Cancer

For most countries, the general health development pattern is one of reducing deaths due to child mortality, reducing deaths due to communicable diseases and reducing gender imbalances in health outcomes and mortality. But this has been accompanied by a shift towards a larger share of the remaining deaths caused by non-communicable disease and injuries (NCD) such as cancer.

As people live longer, the pattern of mortality changes and NCDs become more significant. As we age, cancer rates increase, heart disease increases etc. Improvements in treatment have not kept pace with the risks associated with our longer lives.

This is not just an issue for the developed world.

At a highly successful meeting to discuss the future of maternal health, held in January, 2013, in Arusha, Tanzania, one doctor from Zimbabwe pointed out that although it was completely correct to place the highest possible priority on health outcomes for women during pregnancy and childbirth, she was horrified at the neglect still shown towards other causes of women’s ill-health — eg, hypertension, stroke, cancer, and asthma.

She saw women daily in primary care clinics with these conditions, yet she also saw no serious commitment by donors or countries to create programmes to address these diseases and their risk factors.

In her opening address to this same conference, the Minister of Health for Rwanda, Agnes Binagwaho, noted that cervical cancer now kills more women in the world than pregnancy and childbirth. Last year, The Lancet published work from 27 sub-Saharan African countries showing that maternal obesity had become a significant risk for early neonatal death.

So where are the global conferences on NCDs, the research meetings, the task forces, the grand challenges initiated by funders and foundations? They don’t exist. The global health community, understands that chronic diseases are a present danger to the health of our societies, yet are apparently unable to translate that understanding into real political action.

It seems politically difficult to put heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, or mental ill-health, together with their associated risk factors, on an equal footing with childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea, preventable maternal death, or epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The disconnect between the reality of people’s lives in countries and the concerns of professional and political leaders has rarely been greater.

We are stuck with a Victorian world-view of death and disease.

Globally deaths from cancer rose from 5·7 million in 1990 to 8·2 million in 2013, according to the latest data from the Global Burden of Disease Study. This 46% increase—one in seven deaths worldwide from cancer-related causes—explains why cancer has risen quickly to the top of the global health agenda.

The underlying rising incidence of cancer is outpacing the improved cancer survival seen over the past 5 years, and recent data from CONCORD-2 shows the large inequalities and differences that exist between countries. On Jan 1, 2016, the Sustainable Development Goals were announced. Addressing the cancer epidemic will be a key part of achieving these goals.

There is already an ambitious target for the international community to meet: a 25% reduction in premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by 2025.

Cancer is a critical part of this commitment—expressed, for example, as a 30% reduction in tobacco use and an 80% availability to essential medicines.

Unfortunately, the obstacles to dealing with the increase in NCDs are great and largely undiscussed, thanks to their deep political sensitivity. It remains a truth today that, despite global rhetoric and resolutions, chronic NCDs remain the least recognised group of conditions that threaten the future of human health and wellbeing.

Union

There’s an interesting blog by the LSE looking at how a compromise might allow the United Kingdom to survive whilst allowing for Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar to remain within the European Union.

England and Wales have voted to leave the European Union, but Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Gibraltar have voted to remain. These differing outcomes have to be the central focus of political attention while we wait for the debris of broken expectations to settle.

Those who insist that a 52-48 vote is good enough to take the entire UK out of the EU would trigger a serious crisis of legitimacy.

Is there is a constitutional compromise that would avoid the genuine prospect that a referendum on Scottish independence – promoted by the SNP and the Green Party – will lead to the break-up of the union of Great Britain. The Scots have every right to hold such a referendum, because the terms specified in the SNP’s election manifesto have been met: a major material change in circumstances has occurred.

The same compromise would need to diminish turbulence spilling into Northern Ireland. The same day that Nicola Sturgeon publicly indicated preparations for a second Scottish referendum, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness (Sinn Féin), demanded that a poll be held to enable Irish reunification.

Sinn Féin has a point. Many in Northern Ireland fear that a UK-wide exit would restore a border across Ireland, and strip away core components of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Does the narrow outcome of a UK-wide referendum automatically over-ride the terms of the Ireland-wide referendums of 1998, and a majority within Northern Ireland?

It would be perfectly proper to call for a border poll to give people the option of remaining within the EU through Irish re-unification – especially if there is no alternative that respects the clear local majority preference to remain within the EU.

The very same compromise may also weaken the pressure from the Spanish government for the UK to cede sovereignty over Gibraltar.

The compromise would have to be that the bulk of the UK would be outside -‘externally associated’ perhaps – and some of it inside the EU.

Is this possible?

Many UK dependencies – including three members of the British-Irish Council, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man – are currently not part of the EU. It’s already the case that sovereign states, including the UK, have parts of their territories within the EU, and parts of them outside.

The terms of the foundational treaty, the Treaty of Rome, also envisioned associate status: they were designed for the UK. Also, consider past precedent. Greenland, part of Denmark, seceded from the EEC, but Denmark remained within the EEC.

Of course, the components of the UK that remain within the EU would not be entitled to the same rights that currently are held by the UK as a whole.

Negotiating a UK-wide exit is not going to be easy for the next Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The consensual solution would be to negotiate for the secession of England and Wales from the EU, but to allow Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain – with MEPs, but without representation on the Council of Ministers, though with the right to have a single shared commissioner.

To work, this compromise requires part of the UK to remain within the EU and for those to require representation inside the EU’s institutions. Retaining MEPs in Scotland and Northern Ireland would be easy. They would be numbered as proportional to population and this would have no major implications for the big states. The now vacated UK Commissioner’s role could be kept, but the appointment could be rotated between Scotland and Northern Ireland, in a 3:1 ratio over time, reflecting Scotland’s greater population.

The Commissioner would be nominated by the relevant government and appointed by the UK government. (A judge to serve in the European Court of Justice could be nominated in the same way.) The retention of one Commissioner and their MEPs would give Scotland and Northern Ireland a say in agenda-setting and law-making. And it would remove any UK ministerial veto over EU decision-making.

The future role of Westminster would be to process EU law that applies to Northern Ireland and Scotland – strictly as an input-output machine – thereby ensuring that Scotland and Northern Ireland have the same EU law, and that the Union is retained.  It would be up to Westminster to decide which components of EU law will apply to England and Wales – a convenience that may be helpful in dealing with the repercussions of what has just occurred.

The currency is a reserved Crown power, and the proposed compromise would not lock Scotland and Northern Ireland into the Eurozone. Rather as part of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland should inherit the entire UK’s position under the Maastricht treaty (stay with sterling unless the UK let them adopt the Euro).

All of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales would be an internal passport free-zone but there would need to be a hard customs border in the Irish Sea. That would have to be better than one across the land-mass of Ireland.

Another effect would be a hard customs border between Scotland and England. If all of Ireland and Scotland remain in the EU there cannot be a single market in the UK, as defined by the EU, and therefore a customs barrier will have to exist. But a hard customs border will materialize in any case if a Scottish referendum led to independence.

Ireland, North and South, and Scotland could not join the Schengen agreement because that would mean that England and Wales would lose the control over immigration which was emphasized by the leave side in the referendum. But then, they are not part of Schengen at present, and there is no evidence that a majority in any of the three countries wants to be.

Would there be any other benefits to this idea, aside from keeping the UK together? UK enterprises could re-locate to EU zones within the UK, which would soften the negative consequences of an entire UK exit. These arrangements would leave England and Wales to experiment with whatever policy freedoms they preferred.

Citizenship and migration-law would have to be reconsidered, but the ensuing difficulties could be negotiated. These matters will be on the table anyway.

Going forward, the collective ingratitude and contradictions of nations and states should never be underestimated. Consider, for instance, the vote in Wales, which has been undeniably a net beneficiary of the EU, while its devolved leadership has already said that it will want to renegotiate the Barnett formula.

Some constitutional reconstruction of the UK is therefore necessary. The starting question to be posed to Conservative and Labour leaders, and to the UK Parliament, is whether the Welsh and the English believe that the first cost of taking back control of their own affairs should be the imposition of control over Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The interests of states in making bargains and treaties are rarely based on profound generosity. The divorce agreement that the Leave side will seek to negotiate has to be acceptable to the existing member-states of the EU, or else there will be a chaotic UK departure without agreement.

And so the new Cabinet that will negotiate with its European counterparts will soon realize that the Irish and Spanish states have a veto power over the divorce agreement – and any subsequent ones. Spain and Ireland are not alone. There will be many states with an interest in protecting their stranded ‘diasporas’, not just the flow of capital, goods and services.

And don’t forget about the United States. Anyone who imagines that a UK-US trade agreement will get easily get through the American Senate has limited knowledge of US treaty-making. It will not matter whether Clinton or Trump is in the White House: as Obama has warned, the UK will be “in the back of the queue”. The constitutional compromise suggested here will calm the UK’s domestic politics, and give the EU a continuing stake in some of the UK.

Health

The Lancet magazine recently published a table showing the expected change in health spending per country in 2040 and it predicts that all countries will be obliged to spend considerably more than now as might be expected from an ageing population.

It also highlighted the large difference in cost across wealthy countries in the past, now and in the future.

gr1.sml

In the UK, we spend relatively little on healthcare (2013 figures) at just 9.1% GDP compared to similar European countries such as France (11.7%) or Germany (11.3%). Certainly we spend considerably less than the US at 17.1%.

The cost of healthcare in the UK is predicted to rise to 11.1% in 2040, France (14.7%)  Germany (14.2%).

It predicts that the cost of healthcare in the States will rise to 23.4% by 2040 ie. costing almost $1 out of every $4 earned.

Given that the mortality rates across these developed countries is much the same, UK (80.4) France (81.7) Germany (80.7) USA (78.9) one has to wonder what on earth the Americans are spending their money on. (World Mortality Report 2013)

A friend’s son has recently developed Type 1 diabetes despite having no family history of the disease.

He’s not unusual.

Over the last 30 years there has been aincrease in the disease, one that cannot possibly be explained by genetics alone. According to a recent report in the Lancet, and subject to considerable controversy, environmental factors may contribute towards developing the disease.

Read the full Lancet Risk factors for type 1 diabetes series:
The Lancet: Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

 

Shame

Sometimes rich liberal countries, even liberal well-intentioned ones have things they’d rather not talk about.

A recent article in the Lancet focused on suicide in Canada, specifically suicide amongst the indigenous community, the Innuit.

Speaking at a conference on Indigenous health issues in Toronto in late May, Natan Obed, leader of the 60 000 Inuit who lay claim to a third of Canada’s vast landmass, reprised his people’s plight:

  • shortened life expectancies;
  • a high infant mortality rate;
  • high rates of tuberculosis;
  • widespread food insecurity;
  • dangerously inadequate housing; and,
  • shockingly deficient local health care.

According to the Canadian Government, suicide rates in the four Inuit regions are more than six times higher than the rate in non-Indigenous regions. Among Inuit youth, suicide is responsible for 40% of deaths, compared with 8% in the rest of Canada.

But as Obed noted, these figures—which are drawn from Canadian Government data that include non-Indigenous as well as Inuit people living in Canada’s far north—substantially misrepresent and understate the problem.

The true suicide rates of the indigenous population are likely to be much worse.

According to a 2015 report commissioned by the Inuit, 27% of the deaths deemed in coroners’ reports to have been suicides by Inuit people between 2005 and 2011 are missing from the figures relied on by the Canadian Government. According to study author Jack Hicks, this means that the Inuit suicide rate is 11 times the Canadian average—or 55% higher than the Canadian Government acknowledges. And in one lightly-populated Inuit region, the suicide rate is roughly 25 times the Canadian average, Hicks says.

At the very least, all this statistical confusion reveals a lack of government concern.

As Isadore Day, head of the health committee of the Assembly of First Nations, the national political group that represents 900 000 Indigenous Canadians, told the Toronto gathering, suicide—both threatened and completed—has become a tragic marker for a broader array of health crises among Indigenous Canadians.

“There’s a temptation to want to focus on the suicide issue”, Day told The Lancet. “But we have to look at the root causes. And those all have to do with the social and economic conditions in Indigenous communities with high suicide rates.”

For Obed, the suicide crisis is rooted in a group of risk factors including:

  • Inuit people are eight times more likely than other Canadians to live in overcrowded homes.
  • “Many of our households do not have enough to eat”, he added, “and that has a huge impact on mental and physical health.”
  • The Inuit also lack access to basic health-care facilities and addiction treatment programmes, Obed said.
  • Add to that very high rates of mental trauma rooted in forced resettlements, forced residential schooling, and high rates of sexual abuse and childhood adversity, Obed noted, and, “if you are Inuit, chances are you are growing up in a community with high risk factors for suicide”.

Canada’s federal and provincial politicians have pledged their concern and promised to help with emergency programmes targeting youth at risk for suicide. But short-term stopgap measures are unlikely to make a lasting difference, given the underlying causes identified says Perry Bellegarde, national chief for the Assembly of First Nations. Bellegarde has called for a national strategy similar to that crafted by the Inuit.

Manosphere

From the outside looking in, it would seem to me that men and boys generally have a much greater and better range of choices than their mothers, sisters and daughters. Do we really think that boys should be given a 5% head start in every exam, to even the grades?

Reproductive choices seems to be interpreted rather narrowly as the choice to avoid financially supporting their kids, even of forcing an abortion on a woman to avoid having kids.

Wouldn’t it be easier to wear a condom or get a vasectomy than force major surgery on someone?

Observers of the manosphere disagree over exactly what fuels it. Barbara Risman, the head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, attributes its rise to a fear that as women become more liberated, men are struggling with feeling dispensable. “Previous men’s movements dealt with an expansion of the idea of what men could be. This is different. This is about men feeling as though they’ve lost dominance.”

RA 2016 Summer Show
RA 2016 Summer Show

After finding the manosphere I started to look around for the femosphere, a feminist space on the internet. The best I could come up with was a rag-tag collection of the “best sites for women” which were in no way comparable to the manosphere.

There are magazines with a varying mix of lifestyle and political articles, most of which are US focused. These might include: Blogger, Jezebel, FeministingMic.comRewireEveryday FeminismThink ProgressMs. Magazine

And then there are the practical sites that connect people or issues together: The Women’s Room, Lean In, The Fementalists, Women Like Us

Looking through these and others, I didn’t find anything like the anger of the manosphere. In general, the women’s sites seemed to quite like men, seemed to value their fathers, partners and sons. There was lots of intersectionality, support for LBGT communities. In general they were happy or at least constructive places.

It seems perverse that the 48% of the population that enjoys such privilege should be so upset about it.

Rise and Fall

 

BLACKPOOL in its heyday was everything a mill worker or clerk could wish for in a holiday resort. There were piers and beaches, the outdoor dancing stages and the music halls, ludicrously extravagant Moorish and Indian follies where entertainers from Laurel and Hardy to Frank Sinatra delighted the crowds. And there was the Tower, modelled on Eiffel’s in Paris, with its lights, ballroom and mighty Wurlitzer organ.

One in five Britons holidayed in the town. So the memories of those years lived on long after the dawn of mass foreign tourism in the 1960s. The recent success of “Strictly Come Dancing”, a televised ballroom-dancing contest, is testament to a lingering national soft-spot for its old blend of sequined razzmatazz and Victorian politesse.

Today the memories are almost all Blackpool has left.

Abandoned for the Spanish Costas, Blackpool failed to find a new role, became one of the ten most deprived towns in Britain and is now almost cinematically bleak: Coney Island meets Detroit.

The town centre is a smelly (urine and fried food, with notes of cannabis) patchwork of charity shops, nightclubs with fading playbills and unloved tourist emporia flogging boiled sweets in saucy shapes. In the back streets scrawny men loiter outside terraces of peeling boarding houses, swigging from cans and glaring at the seagulls. “People aren’t usually in Blackpool if they have somewhere to go,” says Brian, an unemployed waiter outside the job centre.

George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer has abandoned   struggling places like this. Where previous governments, to varying degrees, tried to prop them up, his (tacit) message to their residents is: get on your bike. Move to those places with the connections, industries and profile needed to make it in a globalised economy. Places like nearby Manchester, today a creative- and financial-services boomtown and the crane-dotted pivot of the “Northern Powerhouse”, his grand plan to integrate the big northern cities.

The chancellor wanted the state to concentrate less on solving problems and more on creating the conditions in which places and people succeed as shown by his increases to the minimum wage, his infrastructure spending, his sugar tax and his wave of devolution to cities (none more than Manchester, which he announced would gain new control over its policing).

The corollary of all this is that failing places will be given more latitude to fail.

Blackpool is the local authority which has lost most per person under austerity, because it is so reliant on public spending. Its private economy is weak and seasonal and its people are relatively poor, unhealthy and troubled: one in four claims welfare benefits, life expectancy is five years below the national average and the town has acute crime, drug-abuse and alcoholism problems. Blackpool’s economy shrank by 8% over the five years from 2010.

All of which is making a grim situation worse. The council has trimmed street-cleaning, business and social-care services. New cuts from Whitehall mean some leisure centres and libraries may have to close, warns Simon Blackburn, the Labour council leader.

And Britain’s geographical polarisation is self-perpetuating: as Blackpool slides, its most mobile citizens leave for the big cities (254 well-educated youngsters left between 2009 and 2012, one-third for London) while down-and-outs attracted by low house prices move in (bedsits rent for £70, or $100, per week). The result is a downward spiral towards a future as, in Mr Blackburn’s words, “a refuge for the dispossessed and the never-possessed”.

The people left behind tend to older and less qualified. These are not towns that attract immigrants who typically follow work so they tend also to be predominantly White British.

Mr Osborne’s metropolitan revolution responds to the harsh realities of the modern economy and it is a wise use of public money to extend the success of places that have what it takes to grow and be prosperous, and help people elsewhere relocate to where the good jobs are. But one can hold these views and simultaneously regret Blackpool’s fate.

Voters in Blackpool and similar cities and towns around the UK feel left behind and are turning to populist political outlets: last year the UK Independence Party’s share of the vote more than tripled to 15% and 17% in the town’s two constituencies. The people left behind had relatively little to risk in the referendum, having benefitted very little in the first place.

How much will the EU referendum be a referendum about failing Tory policies rather than our membership of the European Union?

Now we know the answer. Failing towns and cities have uniformly voted to leave the EU either because they (mistakenly) blame the EU for UK government decisions or because they simply don’t care that it benefits other areas, if it fails to benefit them. “Let’s drag everyone down to our level of poverty and misery. Let’s fuck them all”

Alzheimer’s

Every time that I forget something, I worry not just that I am getting old but that I’m getting Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s the paranoia of our age. So of course when someone tweeted that there were positive results in a (very) small study in UCLA I took a look.

The study came jointly from the UCLA Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and is the first to suggest that memory loss in patients may be reversed, and improvement sustained. It uses a complex, 36-point therapeutic program that involves comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins, and multiple additional steps that affect brain chemistry.

The findings, published in the current online edition of the journal Aging, “are very encouraging. However, at the current time the results are anecdotal, and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is warranted,” said Dale Bredesen, the Augustus Rose Professor of Neurology and Director of the Easton Center at UCLA, a professor at the Buck Institute, and the author of the paper.

Bredesen’s therapeutic program for one patient included:

  • eliminating all simple carbohydrates (i.e.. sugar) leading to a weight loss of 20 pounds;
  • eliminating gluten and processed food from her diet, with increased vegetables, fruits, and non-farmed fish;
  • to reduce stress, she began yoga;
  • as a second measure to reduce the stress of her job, she began to meditate for 20 minutes twice per day;
  • she took melatonin each night, a hormone used in synchronising sleep patterns, and also as an antioxidant, protecting nuclear and mitochondrial DNA;
  • she increased her sleep from 4-5 hours per night to 7-8 hours per night;
  • she took methylcobalamin (a form of Vitamin B12) each day;
  • she took vitamin D3 each day;
  • fish oil each day which contains omega3 fatty acids and precursors of certain eicosanoids that are known to reduce inflamation in the body;
  • CoQ10 each day, which is also known as ubiquinone and is a component of the electron transport chain,  participates in aerobic cellular respiration which generates energy in the form of  ATP;
  • she optimized her oral hygiene using an electric flosser and electric toothbrush;
  • following discussion with her primary care provider, she reinstated hormone replacement therapy that had been discontinued;
  • she fasted for a minimum of 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, and for a minimum of three hours between dinner and bedtime; and,
  • she exercised for a minimum of 30 minutes, 4-6 days per week.

The results for nine of the 10 patients reported in the paper suggest that memory loss may be reversed, and improvement sustained with this therapeutic program, said Bredesen. “This is the first successful demonstration,” he noted, but he cautioned that the results are anecdotal, and therefore a more extensive, controlled clinical trial is needed.

It is a sign of just how little we really know about the human brain function, that Bredesen, the head of this successful trial can hold a view almost directly opposite to prevailing wisdom. His model of multiple targets and an imbalance in singling in the brain runs contrary to the popular dogma that Alzheimer’s is a disease of toxicity.

The most common belief in scientific circles is that Alzheimer’s is caused by the accumulation of sticky plaques in the brain. Bredesen believes the amyloid beta peptide, the source of the plaques, has a normal function in the brain – as part of a larger set of molecules that promotes signals that cause nerve connections to lapse. Thus the increase in the peptide that occurs in Alzheimer’s disease shifts the memory-making vs. memory-breaking balance in favor of memory loss.

The downside to this program is its complexity. It is not easy to follow, with the burden falling on the patients and caregivers, and none of the patients were able to stick to the entire protocol.

The significant diet and lifestyle changes, and multiple pills required each day, were the two most common complaints. The good news, though, said Bredesen, are the side effects: “It is noteworthy that the major side effect of this therapeutic system is improved health and an optimal body mass index, a stark contrast to the side effects of many drugs.”

It’s also noteworthy that the main parts of the programme seem to consist of good diet and good dental hygiene, maintaining a lean body weight, significant exercise and lowering stress.

We’ve all heard this before – why is it so difficult for us to follow through?

Orlando

From the Scientific American:

America has experienced yet another mass shooting. This time at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.The Conversation

#1: MORE GUNS DON’T MAKE YOU SAFER

A study conducted on mass shootings indicated that this phenomenon is not limited to the United States.

Mass shootings also took place in 25 other wealthy nations between 1983 and 2013, but the number of mass shootings in the United States far surpasses that of any other country included in the study during the same period of time.

The US had 78 mass shootings during that 30-year period.

The highest number of mass shootings experienced outside the United States was in Germany – where seven shootings occurred.

In the other 24 industrialized countries taken together, 41 mass shootings took place.

In other words, the US had nearly double the number of mass shootings than all other 24 countries combined in the same 30-year period.

Another significant finding is that mass shootings and gun ownership rates are highly correlated. The higher the gun ownership rate, the more a country is susceptible to experiencing mass shooting incidents. This association remains high even when the number of incidents from the United States is withdrawn from the analysis.

Similar results have been found by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, which states that countries with higher levels of firearm ownership also have higher firearm homicide rates.

The study also shows a strong correlation between mass shooting casualties and overall death by firearms rates. However, in this last analysis, the relation seems to be mainly driven by the very high number of deaths by firearms in the United States. The relation disappears when the United States is withdrawn from the analysis.

#2: SHOOTINGS ARE MORE FREQUENT

recent study published by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center shows that the frequency of mass shooting is increasing over time. The researchers measured the increase by calculating the time between the occurrence of mass shootings. According to the research, the days separating mass shooting occurrence went from on average 200 days during the period of 1983 to 2011 to 64 days since 2011.

What is most alarming with mass shootings is the fact that this increasing trend is moving in the opposite direction of overall intentional homicide rates in the US, which decreased by almost 50% since 1993 and in Europe where intentional homicides decreased by 40% between 2003 and 2013.

#3: RESTRICTING SALES WORKS

Due to the Second Amendment, the United States has permissive gun licensing laws. This is in contrast to most developed countries, which have restrictive laws.

According to a seminal work by criminologists George Newton and Franklin Zimring, permissive gun licensing laws refer to a system in which all but specially prohibited groups of persons can purchase a firearm. In such a system, an individual does not have to justify purchasing a weapon; rather, the licensing authority has the burden of proof to deny gun acquisition.

By contrast, restrictive gun licensing laws refer to a system in which individuals who want to purchase firearms must demonstrate to a licensing authority that they have valid reasons to get a gun – like using it on a shooting range or going hunting – and that they demonstrate “good character.”

The type of gun law adopted has important impacts. Countries with more restrictive gun licensing laws show fewer deaths by firearms and a lower gun ownership rate.

#4: HISTORICAL COMPARISONS MAY BE FLAWED

Beginning in 2008, the FBI used a narrow definition of mass shootings. They limited mass shootings to incidents where an individual – or in rare circumstances, more than one – “kills four or more people in a single incident (not including the shooter), typically in a single location.”

In 2013, the FBI changed its definition, moving away from “mass shootings” toward identifying an “active shooter” as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” This change means the agency now includes incidents in which fewer than four people die, but in which several are injured, like this 2014 shooting in New Orleans.

This change in definition impacted directly the number of cases included in studies and affected the comparability of studies conducted before and after 2013.

Even more troubling, some researchers on mass shooting, like Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, have incorporated in their studies several types of multiple homicides that cannot be defined as mass shooting: for instance, familicide (a form of domestic violence) and gang murders.

In the case of familicide, victims are exclusively family members and not random bystanders.

Gang murders are usually crime for profit or a punishment for rival gangs or a member of the gang who is an informer. Such homicides don’t belong in the analysis of mass shootings.

#5: NOT ALL MASS SHOOTINGS ARE TERRORISM

Journalists sometimes describe mass shooting as a form of domestic terrorism. This connection may be misleading.

There is no doubt that mass shootings are “terrifying” and “terrorize” the community where they have happened. However, not all active shooters involved in mass shooting have a political message or cause.

For example, the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015 was a hate crime but was not judged by the federal government to be a terrorist act.

The majority of active shooters are linked to mental health issues, bullying and disgruntled employees. Active shooters may be motivated by a variety of personal or political motivations, usually not aimed at weakening government legitimacy. Frequent motivations are revenge or a quest for power.

#6: BACKGROUND CHECKS WORK

In most restrictive background checks performed in developed countries, citizens are required to train for gun handling, obtain a license for hunting or provide proof of membership to a shooting range.

Individuals must prove that they do not belong to any “prohibited group,” such as the mentally ill, criminals, children or those at high risk of committing violent crime, such as individuals with a police record of threatening the life of another.

Here’s the bottom line. With these provisions, most US active shooters would have been denied the purchase of a firearm.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read theoriginal article.

“IMMIGRATION, immigration, immigration,” shouted a headline in the Sun, a right-wing tabloid newspaper, the week that Britain voted to leave the European Union. It followed weeks of campaigning from the Leave side assuring voters that they would “take back control” and restrict EU migration if Britain left the club. Now that the referendum has just been won in favour of Brexit, what will happen to the EU migrants currently in Britain—and to British nationals living in the EU?

Some 3m EU nationals live in Britain, compared with 1.2m Britons who live on the continent. The volume of EU migrants coming to Britain has increased since the club was expanded in 2004. Last year net migration from the EU was at a historic high, mostly because fewer Brits were moving abroad. Many consider this a boon: according to research from the Centre for Economic Performance, a think-tank, EU migrants are more likely to be university-educated, less likely to claim benefits and more likely to be in a job than the native-born population.

The fate of both groups depends on the deal Britain strikes with the EU. Nothing will happen until (or, indeed, if) Article 50, which formally triggers the process of leaving the Union, is invoked by the British government. If the deal includes free movement of people, as in Norway, both sets of migrants would be left broadly as before. If not, the situation is far more complicated. According to Steve Peers, a law professor at the University of Essex, under EU law British citizens who have been resident in another EU country for five years or longer will be able to apply for long-term resident status, but this often means that the migrant has to learn the language. Moreover, older British migrants will probably no longer enjoy the protection to their pensions that comes with being part of the single market—pensions may be frozen rather than pegged to inflation.

Although it may come as a surprise to many who watched the campaign, the Leave side stated before the referendum that EU citizens who were “lawfully resident” in the UK would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain”.

According to Sarah O’Connor at the Financial Times, 71% of EU migrants have been living in Britain for more than five years, which makes them eligible for permanent residence under existing laws.

Depending on the deal Britain extracts from the EU, it is more likely that future migrants would be subject to tougher laws, or that family members of current EU migrants would not be allowed in to Britain. Yet although many EU migrants may be able to stay, some may decide not to. On June 27th David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, condemned the daubing of graffiti on a Polish community centre in London and the verbal abuse of people from ethnic minorities.

Even without new rules, Britain is already becoming a less welcoming place.

Mortal

In the past few years, there has been something of a panic amongst politicians and the relating to the risks involved in being admitted to hospital at weekends.

Although higher neonatal mortality has been reported for babies born at weekends than for those born during the week in the USA, the UK and Australia since the 1970s, the first investigation of a weekend effect in other areas of hospital care was not reported until 2001.

In England, in 2010, Aylin and colleagues showed that the odds of death for emergency admissions were 10% higher at weekends than during the week and, in 2012, Freemantle and colleagues reported that mortality for all admissions (emergency and elective) was 11% higher on Saturdays and 16% higher on Sundays than on other days during the week.

Widespread interest in England about the possible dangers of being admitted to hospital at weekends has prompted several studies into why this might be, three of which have been published this week.

In The Lancet, Cassie Aldridge and colleagues provide initial results from an ambitious cross-sectional study evaluating the effect offered by the roll-out of 7 day services in acute hospitals in England. With a focus on the effect of medical specialist (consultant) staffing levels, the investigators surveyed more than 15 000 specialists in 115 acute hospital trusts to obtain data for the time they each spent caring for emergency admissions on a Wednesday and on a Sunday.

The estimated weekend effect showed a 10% increase in mortality for weekend admissions. Patients received only half as much specialist attention at weekends as on weekdays yet there was no significant association between intensity of specialist staffing and mortality.

In view of the response rate to the staff survey (45%), the limitations of basing adjusted mortality on hospital administrative data (which do not provide any indication of how sick patients are on admission), and the fact that the study did not consider availability of other staff (eg, junior doctors, nurses), the implications of these results should be interpreted with caution.

Although Aldridge and colleagues’ findings challenge one of the most widely held views of the cause of higher weekend mortality, establishing whether increasing specialist staffing levels is a beneficial approach must await their secular analyses over the next few years.

Meanwhile, also in The Lancet, Benjamin Bray and colleagues’ interest is in the level of compliance with evidence-based clinical guidelines.

With a focus on stroke care, the investigators overcome some of the limitations of administrative data by using a specialist clinical database that allows them to adjust mortality for differences in the severity of admissions on weekdays and at weekends. Whereas a study of stroke admissions based on administrative data in 2009–10 reported a 26% higher mortality for weekend admissions than for weekday admissions,  Bray and colleagues’ study finds no difference in 30 day mortality in 2013–14; this might reflect an improvement in weekend care or could be due to insufficient casemix adjustment in the earlier study.

Instead of worrying about weekends, the investigators suggest we should be more concerned about patients admitted at night, in whom mortality was 10% higher than in those admitted during the day. As for adherence to clinical guidelines, such as door-to-needle time and a timely brain scan, patients admitted at night were less likely to receive eight of 12 recommended interventions, which, they suggest, might contribute to heightened mortality.

However, before drawing conclusions about the association between adherence to guidelines and outcomes, Bray and colleagues note that although patients admitted at the weekend were also less likely than weekend admissions to receive good quality care, this was not associated with higher mortality.

In a third approach to investigating the cause of increased weekend mortality, Meacock and colleagues looked beyond the hospital to see the effect of primary care.

To do this, the investigators compared the two routes of emergency admissions: direct referrals (mostly from general practitioners) and patients admitted from accident and emergency departments. Whereas the daily number of admissions via accident and emergency departments at weekends was similar to that on weekdays, the number of direct admissions was 61% lower.

While mortality for admissions via accident and emergency was only 5% higher at weekends, for direct admissions it was 21% higher.

Given that, apart from initial treatment in accident and emergency, both sets of patients receive the same inpatient care, this finding provides circumstantial evidence that mortality differences are more likely to be attributable to how sick patients are on admission, rather than the quality of hospital care.

In view of these new, albeit inconsistent, insights into the possible dangers of weekend admissions, what conclusions can be drawn and what further research is needed?

First, caution should be taken in estimating the effect on mortality.

Previous studies based on routine administrative data did their best to use inventive and sophisticated methods to take casemix difference between weekends and weekdays into account, but had little information about how sick patients were on admission.

Studies using specialist clinical databases for specific diseases or clinical departments, which include clinical and physiological data, have found little or no significant difference by day of admission.

Although more such studies are needed to identify which patients might be at risk of weekend admission, what is really needed is a study in which accurate measures of severity are available on all admissions, so that meaningful comparisons of weekends and weekdays for the whole hospital can be made. The increasingly wide use of electronic national early warning scores provides a means of doing that.

Second, even if higher mortality at weekends is accounted for by patients being sicker than during the week, there is a widely held view plus anecdotal evidence that the quality of care is poorer at weekends.

The reason this might not be manifest when investigators consider mortality is because death is not a particularly sensitive measure of quality given that only about 4% deaths are thought to be avoidable whenever admitted.

Attention should therefore be turned to other measures, such as health outcomes (morbidity, quality of life), safety (falls, hospital-acquired infections), aspects of patients’ experience (delays in diagnosis, not receiving sufficient information), operational efficiency (extended lengths of stay, delayed discharges), and educational quality (training of junior doctors at weekends).

Third, perhaps the wrong determinants of poor outcome are being investigated. Maybe nurse staffing levels or the availability of diagnostic staff should be assessed rather than medical staffing.Or perhaps combinations of different professions.

But even that approach might not be sufficient because research on inputs, such as staffing levels, risks missing the processes of care, known to be the key determinants of poor quality care.

For example, avoidable deaths in hospital happen when a patient’s deterioration remains undetected, when staff fail to communicate well with one another, and when the underlying culture of the organisation does not encourage and reward attitudes and behaviours that enhance quality. The importance of such organisational aspects was recognised in 2013 by National Health Service (NHS) England when they recommended ten national clinical standards for emergency admissions, including factors such as access to diagnostics and timely consultant review.

Despite many claims about the quality of care at weekends and strong beliefs about the reasons for this, we need to remain open to the true extent and nature of any such deficit and to the possible causes. Jumping to policy conclusions without a clear diagnosis of the problem should be avoided because the wrong decision might be detrimental to patient confidence, staff morale, and outcomes.

As Bray and colleagues warn, “Because solutions are likely to come at substantial financial and opportunity cost, policy makers, health-care managers, and funders need to ensure that the reasons for temporal variation in quality are properly understood and that resources are targeted appropriately.”

Europe

Here we are, having brought our ball home unwilling to share and play on with our neighbours.

Without a doubt, the chances of the EU failing are now greater than ever and perhaps some Brexiters will celebrate.

There is no doubt that the EU is in desperate need of reform: Schengen doesn’t work, the Eurozone doesn’t work, the situation for the Greeks is dire, Brussels’ public relations and communication are rubbish, many communities have been left behind by the EU, the immediate and longer term humanitarian aspects of the migrant crisis need a coordinated European initiative, and so on.

These are the issues that should have been addressed.

The chances that these issue will be successfully addressed or so much lessened by the absence of the UK from the table.

And that’s 42% of our economy put at risk.

Witch

Every woman born knows that puberty and menopause are inevitable. There is a surprising amount of information around about puberty these days, less so about menopause.

In fact menopause seems to be much more of a non-event. It’s simply the time, two years after your last period that marks the transition. It’s the five or so years beforehand that cause the problem, the perimenopause.

At midlife, women transition from their reproductive years to the natural end of monthly menstrual cycles. This transition — called perimenopause — usually begins in the 40s and ends by the early 50s, although any age from the late 30s to 60 can be normal. It can be difficult to know whether you’ve entered perimenopause, because the hormonal fluctuations begin while menstrual periods are still regular.

Perimenopause can last anywhere from one to 10 years. During this time, the ovaries function erratically and hormonal fluctuations may bring about a range of changes, including hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, and heavy menstrual bleeding. Other signs of perimenopause can include memory changes, urinary changes, vaginal changes, and shifts in sexual desire and satisfaction.

Some women breeze through the transition.

For many others, the hormonal changes create a range of mild discomforts. And for about 20% of women, the hormones fluctuate wildly and unpredictably, and spiking and falling estrogen and declining progesterone cause one or more years of nausea, migraines, weight gain, sore breasts, severe night sweats, and/or sleep trouble.

For some women, perimenopause can be enormously disruptive both physically and emotionally.

One common menstrual change in early perimenopause is shorter cycles, usually averaging two or three days less than usual but sometimes lasting only two or three weeks. It can feel as though you’re starting a period when the last one has barely ended. In later perimenopause, you may skip a period entirely, only to have it followed by an especially heavy one. Occasionally, menstrual periods will be skipped for several months, then return as regular as clockwork.

The hormonal ups and downs of perimenopause can be the cause of almost any imaginable bleeding pattern. When estrogen is lower, the uterine lining gets thinner, causing the flow to be lighter or to last fewer days. And when estrogen is high in relation to progesterone (sometimes connected with irregular ovulation), bleeding can be heavier and periods may last longer.

Menstrual irregularities are a normal part of this stage. If you and your health care provider decide that efforts should be made to regulate your cycles at this time, be aware that while oral contraceptives are sometimes prescribed for menstrual irregularities, the use of progesterone alone can be a milder intervention.

Progesterone can be used to manage the imbalance of estrogen and progesterone. A clinician can prescribe progesterone or its synthetic cousins, progestins, to be taken the last 14 days of the cycle. This replaces the progesterone that would normally be secreted in an ovulatory cycle and helps to create a more regular bleeding pattern.

There is an especially descriptive phrase “flooding” that just about describes the sudden and unexpected downpouring of menstrual blood that can happen.

About 25% of women have heavy bleeding (sometimes called hypermenorrhea, menorrhagia, or flooding) during perimenopause. Some women’s menstrual flow during perimenopause is so heavy that even supersized tampons or pads cannot contain it. If you are repeatedly bleeding heavily, you may become anemic from blood loss.

During a heavy flow you may feel faint when sitting or standing. This means your blood volume is decreased; try drinking salty liquids such as tomato or V8 juice or soup. Taking an over-the-counter NSAID such as ibuprofen every four to six hours during heavy flow will decrease the period blood loss by 25 to 45 percent.

Don’t ignore heavy or prolonged bleeding — see your health care provider if it persists. Your provider can monitor your blood count and iron levels. Iron pills can replace losses and help avoid or treat anemia.

Other medical treatment may include progesterone therapy or the progestin-releasing Mirena IUD, which is known to reduce menstrual bleeding. If your health care provider suggests hysterectomy as a solution to very heavy bleeding during perimenopause, you may want to try other less invasive approaches first. Removal of the uterus is an irreversible step with many effects.

Heavy bleeding during perimenopause may be due to the estrogen-progesterone imbalance. Also, polyps (small, noncancerous tissue growths that can occur in the lining of the uterus) can increase during perimenopause and can cause bleeding. Fibroid growth during perimenopause can sometimes cause heavy bleeding, especially when the fibroid grows into the uterine cavity.

If very heavy bleeding persists despite treatment, your provider should test for possible causes of abnormal bleeding.

Hot flashes are legendary signs of perimenopause and for some women can continue well into postmenopause, though 20 to 30 percent of women never have them at all. A woman experiencing a hot flash will suddenly feel warm, then very hot and sweaty, and sometimes experience a cold chill afterward.

Many women in both perimenopause and postmenopause experience sleep disturbances. Most commonly, a woman will fall asleep without a problem, then wake up in the early-morning hours and have difficulty getting back to sleep.

As estrogen and progesterone levels decline in late perimenopause and postmenopause, vaginal walls frequently become thinner, drier, and less flexible and more prone to tears and cracks. This can lead to irritation and difficulties with penetration.

In many ways I’m convinced that the whole process just gets so mucked up in order to make the lack of periods a blessing.

Home

There are many wonderful things about going on a summer holiday. The planning beforehand is always key, choosing places to visit, hotels and apartments and trying to balance the needs of very different members of the family. There is that wonderful feeling of heading out that first day, with all of the excitement and expectation of a break, of time together reconnecting. And usually there’s so much to do, moving from place to place, a balance of activities and space to chill.

But almost the best bit, is the feeling of coming home.

The excitement of bening a new place fades. The beds are never quite right, There is never quite the feeling of comfort in a place that isn’t yours. The excitement stops being exciting and starts to be tiring instead.

And then you come home. The cats are waiting. Not all of the plants in the garden have died. Suddenly life is sweeter.

Youth

As I write, my oldest girl is heading out of the house in search of Pokemon.

For the first time, this year’s holiday came with wall-to-wall wifi in both hotels and apartments. Since my provider gave me a good deal on data etc, we didn’t even have to restrict ourselves to the places we were staying. We had data roaming switched on and used it almost everywhere to find recommended restaurants and sites to visit (thank you on-line TripAdvisor). This was probably our first tech-enabled holiday, but…

Pokemon Go was not released in Spain along with the UK. Every time she logged on to chat with her friends (apparently you don’t leave anyone behind on holiday any more) she was confronted with chat about some Pokemon they had collected or hatched, some gym they were plotting to take over.

So as soon as we were home, in the airport we landed at, she was logged in and looking for mythical, ether based life forms. She has woken up and been out of the house before 8am, unheard of in the life of a teenager in the Summer holiday. She has come back home bouncing with energy after completing the 5km walks to hatch something that can only be described as a pony with it’s butt on fire. Why?

This seems to be a craze she’s sharing with all of her girlfriends, and to a lesser extent her younger sister (a little more attached to her bed it seems) but apart from the grief on our holiday, it seems to be only a good thing. At least while it lasts.

Predator

The problem with three young cats is mainly to do with their enthusiasm. They do what cats are clearly meant to do, eat, sleep, hunt and then sleep some more.

The trip to Spain was punctuated by whatsapp messages. “Mouse” would arrive mid-morning Monday. Maybe it would be “Frog” on Tuesday or “Bird”. Almost every other day there would be some poor dead creature listed, or more ominously “Feathers. Still looking”.

But this morning we had two for one, both very much alive, a frog sitting still and keeping herself alive by being boring and a tiny mouse cowering underneath the curtains.

Both had to be caught in a glass and transferred elsewhere. Turns out the trick with a frog is to lower the glass head first so that if it jumps, it jumps into the glass and not your face. With a mouse you need a second person to guard the cats while you approach the mouse.

You can’t just lock the cats out of the room in case you have a runner mouse. If it runs, you want a cat to catch the thing rather than have it live en-suite underneath the floorboards. Having three cats stare it down makes the mouse ignore the huge galumpy human approaching with glass in hand until suddenly it’s stuck in the glass.Well, most of it. The tails can be a bit tricky but worrying too much about the tail can give Mr Mouse a escape opportunity.

Either way, both a frog and a mouse have been safely relocated alive and well.

Back to sleep.

 

  • August

Precipice

I have voted labour all of my life. Brought up in a mining town, living through the destruction of entire communities, I can’t imagine ever voting Tory. But I honestly don’t think I can bringt myself to vote for Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.

Owen Jones has written an article that articulates far better than I ever could, the questions that need to be answered, the questions that Jeremy Corbyn will fail to answer.

  1. How can the disastrous polling be turned around?

Labour’s current polling is dreadful. No party has ever won an election with such poor polling, or even come close. Historically any party with such terrible polling goes on to suffer a bad defeat.

According to ICM in mid-July, “on the team better able to manage the economy,” 53% of Britons opted for Theresa May and Philip Hammond, while just 15% opted for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Labour’s polling has deteriorated badly ever since Brexit and the botched coup. But it was always bad and far below what a party with aspirations for power should expect.

Corbyn started his leadership with a net negative rating. (Ed Miliband — who went on to lose — started with a net 19% positive approval rating); it has since slumped to minus 41%. At this stage in the electoral cycle, Ed Miliband’s Labour had a clear lead over the Tories — and then went on to lose. But Labour have barely ever had a lead over the Tories since the last general election.

Numerous polls show that most Labour supporters are dissatisfied with his leadership, even if they show little faith in any alternative. One poll showed that one in three Labour voters think Theresa May would make a better Prime Minister than their own party leader and — most heartbreakingly of all — 18 to 24 year olds preferred May.

The response to this normally involves citing the size of rallies and the surge in Labour’s membership. There is no question that Jeremy Corbyn has inspired and enthused hundreds of thousands of people all over Britain. But Michael Foot attracted huge rallies across the country in the build-up to Labour’s 1983 general election disaster.

The enthusiasm of a minority is not evidence that the polls are wrong. There are 65 million people in Britain. If a total of 300,000 turn up to supportive rallies, that means, 99.5% of the population have not done so.

Yes, it’s true that Labour has won all its by-elections since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, and increased majorities. But in his first year, the picture was the same with Ed Miliband. Neither did Corbyn do as badly in the local elections as was predicted. But Labour still lost seats — unprecedented for an the main opposition party for decades — and as Jeremy Corbyn said at the time: “the results were mixed. We are not yet doing enough to win in 2020.”

So the question is: how is this polling to be turned around? There is no precedent for a turnaround for such negative figures, so it needs a dramatic strategy. What is it? How will the weaknesses that existed before the coup be addressed, and how will confidence be built in him and his leadership?

2. Where is the clear vision?

Labour under Ed Miliband jumped around from vision to vision. The ‘squeezed middle’, ‘One Nation Labour’, ‘the British promise’, ‘predistribution’ (catchy). All of them were abstract. There was a lack of message discipline. Random policies were thrown into the ether but nothing brought them together with a clear overall vision.

On the other hand, it was very easy to sum up the Cameron and Osborne’s Tories’ vision. Clearing up Labour’s mess. Long-term economic plan. Balancing the nation’s books.

Reforming welfare. Taking the low-paid out of tax. Reducing immigration. Giving freedom to schools. All sentiments and slogans repeated ad infinitum. Labour canvassers would literally find voters repeating Tory attack lines back at them almost word for word on the doorstep.

What’s Labour’s current vision succinctly summed up? Is it “anti-austerity”? That’s too abstract for most people. During the leaders’ debates at the last general election, the most googled phrase in Britain was ‘what is austerity?’ — after five years of it. ‘Anti-austerity’ just defines you by what you are against.

What’s the positive Labour vision, that can be understood clearly on a doorstep, that will resonate with people who aren’t particularly political?

When Jeremy Corbyn was asked what Labour’s vision under his leadership is, here was his response:

“An economy that doesn’t cut public expenditure as a principle, that instead is prepared to invest and participate in the widest economy in order to give opportunities and decency for everyone. A welfare system that doesn’t punish those with disabilities but instead supports people with disabilities. A health service that is there for all, for all time, without any charges and without any privatisation within that NHS. And a foreign policy that’s based on human rights, the promotion of democracy around the world.”

Will this is vision resonate with the majority of people? Compare and contrast to the Tories’ messaging: constant, consistent, repetitive.

Where is a clear vision for Labour that will resonate beyond those who, on social media and in rallies, show their enthusiasm for Corbyn now?

3. How are the policies significantly different from the last general election?

The Labour leadership effectively has the same fiscal rule as Ed Balls et al in the last election: balance the nation’s books, not to borrow for day-to-day spending, but do borrow in order to invest. The leadership proposes a British investment bank: again, in the last manifesto. The key policy at the launch of Corbyn’s leadership campaign were equal pay audits. That was also in the last manifesto.

The Labour leadership now says it’s anti-austerity: Corbyn has said that they weren’t pledging cuts, unlike Ed Balls. But their fiscal rule is effectively the same, including a focus on deficit reduction “Deficit denial is a non-starter for anyone to have economic credibility with the electorate,” wrote John McDonnell.

Labour would renationalise the railways, he says: but this, again, beefs up Labour’s pledge under Miliband’s leadership. Labour would reverse NHS privatisation: again, Labour at the last election committed to repealing the Health and Social Care Act and regretted the extent of NHS private sector involvement under New Labour. Corbyn opposed the Iraq war: so did Miliband. The Labour leadership’s policy was to vote against the bombing of Syria, as it was under Miliband.

Owen Jones is someone who campaigned for Corbyn. He’s a left-wing journalist. But remains genuinely unclear on the policies being offered. It seems as though Ed Miliband presented his policies as less left-wing than they actually were, and now the current leadership presents them as more left-wing than they actually are.

It’s presentation, style and sentiment that seem to differ most.

These policies have been rejected once. The danger is similar policies are being offered by a leadership regarded as less competent, more “extreme” and less popular.

It’s less than a year in to Corbyn’s already embattled leadership: perhaps there hasn’t been the time to develop clear new policies but surely there needs to be a clear idea of what sort of policies will be offered, not least given what is at stake?

4. What’s the media strategy?

The mainstream media are always going to demonise a left-wing leader. But the public are not simple minded robots who can be programmed what to think, then we might as well all give up.

Sadiq Khan was not standing on a radical left programme in his London Mayoral bid. Nonetheless he was remorselessly portrayed as the puppet of extremists by his opponent and the capital’s only mass newspaper, as well as several national newspapers. He managed to counteract it, and won. His ratings are extremely favourable. The press lost.

Yet for the labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn there doesn’t seem to be any clear media strategy.

John McDonnell has actually made regular appearances at critical moments, and proved a solid performer. But Corbyn often seems entirely missing in action, particularly at critical moments: Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister, the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, the collapse of the Government’s economic strategy, the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, soaring hate crimes after Brexit, and so on.

Where have been the key media interventions here?

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, Labour’s initial response (via a press release from a Shadow Cabinet member) was to call for a snap general election, which (to be generous) seems politically suicidal. As Andrew Grice in the Independent points out, press releases are often sent out so late that they become useless.

Many of Corbyn’s key supporters will not recognise this picture, because they follow his social media accounts. The polling last year showed a huge gap between Corbyn supporters and the rest of the public when it comes to getting news off social media but social media is no substitute — at all — for a coherent media strategy.

Only a relatively tiny proportion of the population use Twitter, for example, to talk about or access political news: disproportionately those who are already signed up believers. Take Facebook. At the last general election the Tories used targeted Facebook ads very effectively.

The Tories paid money to work out who they need to target, and with clear messages tailored for specific audiences, repeated ad infinitum. Labour had lots of different messages, didn’t target them at the right people, had a more diffuse audience, and many of the people targeted would only have seen a Labour post once.

You end up with huge engagement amongst people who are already engaged — and you end up repeating messages that get the most engagement, because those are the ones that get your most dedicated supporters most enthused. You energise your core supporters (and end up sticking to the messages that energise them most), but fail to reach out .

The serious point about the Tories’ social media strategy is that it was not a substitute, but just a complement to a wide-ranging overall package. They weren’t relying on social media at the expense of the mainstream media — where their message dominated; they had a clear overall message they repeated over and over and over again.

There are around 65 million people in Britain. Most people do not spend their times discussing politics (or seeking out political content) on social media. That’s just an obvious fact. Millions of people do get their information about what’s going on in politics, say, from watching a bit of the 10 O’Clock News, or listening to news on radio. Radio 2, for example, has 15 million listeners, four million more than voted Conservative at the last general election.

A study in 2013 found that 78% of adults used television for news; just 10% opted for Twitter. Things have not changed dramatically since then (indeed Twitter has been stagnating). The study found that people had poor trust in Twitter as a news source. Most people hear a bit of news about politics on the TV or radio.

An effective media strategy means appearing on TV and radio at every possible opportunity, and lobbying for appearances when they are not offered; reacting swiftly to momentous events like a change in Prime Minister; having message discipline underpinning a coherent vision; planning ahead, so that you are always one step ahead; sending press releases in good time so they can be reported on, and so on.

Such a strategy does not seem to be in place within the current Labour Party.

So what could a coherent media strategy look like? How would it genuinely reach out to the millions of people who aren’t trawling through Facebook for political content with an appealing coherent vision?

5. What’s the strategy to win over the over-44s?

Britain has an ageing population. Not only are older Britons the most likely to turn out to vote, but they are increasingly likely to vote Conservative. At the last general election, the Tories only had a lead among people aged over 44. Labour had a huge lead among 18 to 24 year olds, but only 43% voted; but nearly eight out of ten over the age of 65 voted, and decisively for the Tories. Labour’s poll rating among older Britain is currently catastrophic, particularly the leadership’s own ratings.

Unless Labour can win a higher proportion of older voters, the party will never govern again.

When Jones asked Jeremy Corbyn in a recent interview what his strategy was, he came up with some sensible starting points: respect for older people (this needs fleshing out in policy terms), dealing with pensioner poverty, and social care.

The problem is — that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Where’s the strategy to relentlessly appeal to older Britons who are so critical in deciding elections? There’s no point having a vision unless it is repeated ad infinitum, rather than being offered after being prompted: it will go over everyone’s head.

6. What’s the strategy to win over Scotland?

This was identified as a key priority during Corbyn’s last leadership campaign. It is difficult, currently, to see how Labour can win a general election without winning a considerable number of seats North of the Border. At the last Holyrood elections, Scottish Labour came a disastrous third. Here was the manifestation of problems that long predate Corbyn’s  leadership.

But polling in Scotland really is beyond awful. Just 19% of people who voted Labour in 2015 think Corbyn is doing well: and while Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has a +58 net rating among Scottish Labour voters, Jeremy Corbyn languishes on -47% among Scottish Labour voters. It no longer seems as though Scotland is any kind of priority. Where is the strategy to win back Scotland?

7. What’s the strategy to win over Conservative voters?

The evidence strongly suggests that — to have a chance of forming a government — Labour needs to make some inroads into the Conservative vote.

When Jones asked Corbyn about how he’d win over Tory voters, he spoke of dealing with the housing crisis, decreasing student debt, promoting new industries like solar panels, and asking them if they were comfortable with rising inequalities not least the declining share of income going to wages compared to dividends and executive pay.

Is this a convincing strategy for persuading Conservative voters who didn’t want to plump for Labour under Ed Miliband. It does not seem like much thought has been put into this. So what strategy could be developed to win over Conservatives?

8. How would we deal with people’s concerns about immigration?

Britain just voted to leave the European Union in what, above all else, was a vote on immigration. Some of the communities who most strongly voted Leave were working-class Labour constituencies in the North.

Labour has to at least engage with where people are at. In Jones’ proposed strategy blog last year, he suggested Labour offer an ‘immigration dividend’: ringfencing the extra money EU immigrants put into the economy and using it to invest in communities with higher levels of immigration.

To his credit, Corbyn has occasionally spoken about reinstating the Migrant Impacts Fund, abolished by Cameron’s government — but only intermittently, to the extent where I doubt the vast majority of the electorate are even aware of this position. So how could the leadership devise a strategy to respond on immigration?

9. How can Labour’s mass membership be mobilised?

Owen Jones wrote about this in his recent Guardian column. Having a mass membership is a real achievement, and one that should be lauded. But unless it can be mobilised in the wider community to reach those who are not already convinced, then its role in winning over the wider public will be limited. There are other dangers, too.

Because the leadership is so vilified and attacked by the media, it is easy to become defensive. But that defensiveness can turn into intolerance towards any criticism.

Jones has spent his entire adult life in socialist politics, trying to popularise it as best as possible. He campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn, yet is now being attacked as a Blairite, crypto-Tory and Establishment stooge.

The gap in values, outlooks and priorities between members and the wider public becomes ever harder to bridge.

A movement becomes united by a total loyalty to the leadership, rather than over policies and beliefs. But a movement will only win over people by being inclusive, optimistic, cheerful even, love-bombing the rest of the population. A belief that even differences of opinion on the left can’t be tolerated — well, that cannot bode well.

So how can the enthusiasm of the mass membership be mobilised, to reach the tens of millions of people who don’t turn up to political rallies? What kind of optimistic, inclusive message can it have to win over the majority?

Conclusion

Labour faces an existential crisis. There will be those who prefer to just to say: all the problems that exist are the fault of the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Labour Party, and to be whipped up with the passions generated by mass rallies across the country. But these questions that have to be answered.

There are some who seem to believe seeking power is somehow wrong or corrupt. Yet to make changes we need to win power. As things stand, all the evidence suggests that Labour — and the left as a whole — is on the cusp of a total disaster.

Hum

Sitting on the kitchen floor at 11pm, looking at my washing machine lying flat on it’s side and realising that it might well be impossible to lift it back upright.

It all started with an error message, E004, or similar, suggesting that my pump filter might be blocked. So being rather obsessive I looked up the fault in the user manual that had been sitting in the relevant box.

The diagrams made it look so easy. Drain the pump, unscrew the cap and give it a quick wash. The pump drained easily enough but the cap would not unscrew beyond around 45degrees.

A couple of youtube videos later and I have a plan. It turns out that the bit i’m looking at is a simple trap designed to catch all of the coins and other bits and bobs that we should take out of our pockets before washing but don’t. Unfortunately the bits and bobs have a tendency to jam in the cap making it difficult to unscrew. The answer it seemed was to turn the machine on it’s side and give it a couple of taps to try and dislodge whatever was caught in the cap. It also suggested turning the cap backwards and forwards gently loosening the blockage in the process.

Hum.

The washing machine is quite big. I’m not that big at all and with no upper body strength to speak boast about.

Feeling clever I lay a blanket down so the washing was likely to fall and break my tiles (or itself). I sprayed the cap with WD40 to hopefully force out a bit of water and maybe make it easier to turn. And then, I carefully (up until the last few inches) tipped the machine onto it’s side and lowered it down to the floor. I tapped the side of the machine near the pump cap and something did seem to rattle about. The cap would now turn 180degrees but then just stuck again.

So sat on the floor looking at a huge heavy washing machine, still broken it all seemed a bit impossible.

I could have just waited for their dad to help me.

Bugger that.

It took a couple of goes, and the blanket turned out to be a bit of a slippy disaster, but eventually the I managed to lever the machine upright. Cue a second rattle from the pump filter.

With a huge pair of pliers (the pump cover cap is remarkably slippy and flimsy, difficult to grab hold of) I started to turn the cap to and fro, to and fro.

Eventually, the cap turned. Three coins, one colour catcher and a bundle of hair that I really don’t want to think about too much and the machine seems to be working fine again.

The last helpful hint from the you-tube video: “Vaseline the threads on your cap. For the next time….”

Advice

I use trip advisor when deciding where to go on holiday, where to stay and what to do. I find the reviews useful, especially the negative reports. “Too expensive” might make me pause but “Dirty” or “bedbugs” is going to make me run a mile.

For the first time, and thanks to a great data roaming deal, my phone had full access to the web, wandering around cities and towns in Spain. It meant, that we could walk down a street and see the reviews of restaurants along the way. We could filter to check for vegetarian options which happened to be very rare or just to look for an Italian pizzeria, a life save at the end of the trip.

Given the 4-5 hour siesta (40-45C) mid-day, when we all had to retire to the air conditioning, access to wifi saved the holiday whilst also putting it under considerable strain (Pokemon Go was released in the UK but not Spain). A long list of virtual beasties obtained by her friends was given, day by day, to laments from my oldest.

It was a compromise holiday, neither long haul nor third world, including a bit of driving around and some cultural sites to visit. As a result whilst it satisfied everyones requirements, it pleased no one entirely.

It was probably the last holiday all four of us will take together, which is mostly sad but also just a little bit liberating. Next year is a big birthday, so I was planning to revisit one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been, Bhutan, but if we’re only three travelling (i.e. one hotel room) then it will be relatively cheap and long-haul becomes and option. Maybe I should check the bucket list and focus on any big destinations.

Peru and Bolivia, specifically Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca and the Salt Flats of Bolivia (Uyuni) are definitely on my to-do list.

So that gives me another reason to be looking through trip advisor and maybe thinking about contacting a couple of agents. I can’t see the exact combination of places that I want, most trips involving some kind of trip to the Galapagos or Chile etc.

In the meantime I’m busy filling in reviews of places, hotels, apartments etc on the site – if I use it, then I feel that I should contribute. And since photos are quite useful, that means I’m pushing ahead checking out the holiday pics and trying to put together and album as well as drag some out for the reviews.

It’s always amazing how much better places look in photographs, probably without the 40-45C.

Difficult

We are living in difficult, almost unbelievable times.

Opposition

The UK is governed by a system of parliamentary democracy. The country votes for a Member of Parliament (MP) in their local constituency who declares himself to be a member of a political party. People vote (or don’t) for all sorts of reasons, including the stated policy objectives of the MP’s party, or indeed despite them for a local MP who has worked hard for the people they represent.

The party members elect a party leader from amongst existing MPs and this party leader becomes the head of government, the Prime Minister, if their party wins the most seats (elects the most MPs). Because the UK operates a winner takes all system (first past the post) we tend to favour the two largest parties in the UK, Conservatives (Tories) or Labour.

At the last election, the Tories were elected with a tiny majority of just 12 MPs and following through with a party pledge, held a very divisive referendum that voted to leave the EU. Technically, the referendum is only advisory for parliament but it would be a brave politician who decided to ignore the vote to leave.

At the same time, because the vote was tight 52:48% it would be very foolish to rush ahead without care for the concerns of those voting remain. No one really knows what life outside of the EU will look like, what the trade-off might be between trade and immigration.

And at this very dangerous time politically, the major opposition party has decided to implode. Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the leadership of the Labour party with a striking majority after the rules were changed to allow a flood of new enthusiastic members at a cut-price fee. He is currently embroiled in a leadership battle, that he is likely to win, though probably with a smaller vote, and claim his right to continue as leader of the opposition in parliament.

What is the job of the opposition in parliament?

In a way,  leader of the opposition party is something of a quasi-governmental office. Bearers of the title are not just responsible to members of their own party—whether grassroots activists, affiliated organisations, or parliamentary colleagues—but they are also subject to certain logics because of their constitutional role, whether in government or opposition.

It is well understood, that prime ministers are not just accountable to their party members: they also need to retain the formal confidence of the House of Commons (and, for practical purposes, their cabinet colleagues).  Without such parliamentary support, no prime minister could do her or his job; they would have to resign—no matter how popular they might be with their party’s grassroots.

Similar dynamics govern who can and cannot survive as Leader of the Opposition. That is, in order to lead a functioning government-in-waiting, a party leader simply must have the confidence of the parliamentary party that he or she heads.  Support from parliamentary colleagues is not merely desirable, but should be considered essential to a leader’s ability to discharge their role.

After all, leaders of the opposition are not supposed to hold the government to account on their own: they are expected to appoint a Shadow Cabinet and dozens of shadow ministers, all of whom collectively are charged with contributing to the important constitutional task of holding to account the government of the day. 

Without the backing of a sufficient number of colleagues, no such shadow government can be put in place, thereby gutting Parliament of its most important democratic function.

Moreover, no leader of the opposition can be considered a viable candidate for the office of Prime Minister if they lack the support of their own MPs.  Even if he were miraculously to win a General Election at the next opportunity, how could Corbyn, the current leader of the Labour Party,  credibly claim to be able to command the confidence of the House of Commons given that 172 of his own MPs are on record as not supporting his leadership?  

Prime ministers need a lot more than 39 loyal MPs to be able to govern the country.  But the whole country now knows that this is all that Jeremy Corbyn has.

And so either he is swapped out for another leader, one capable of uniting the parliamentary party, or else over 80% of Labour MPs must be replaced by Corbyn loyalists at the next election—an impracticable solution to say the least—and all future Labour MPs must also be drawn from the ranks of the Corbynistas. 

Only then will Corbyn be in a political position to carry out the role he was elected by the party membership to perform.

All of this means that, whatever his personal mandate to lead the Labour Party, Corbyn is now unable to function as Leader of the Opposition.  The membership’s enthusiasm for Corbyn’s leadership—even if it has persisted from last year, as looks likely—does nothing to change the fact that he simply cannot carry out the essential constitutional functions that are required of him.  He does not head a government-in-waiting and nor is it possible for him to do so.

Of course, it is Corbyn’s technical legal right to cling onto power as Leader of the Labour Party for as long as he is defeated in a leadership contest.  But it is out of his hands whether he can serve as an effective Leader of the Opposition or entertain realistic hopes of becoming Prime Minister.  

Labour MPs’ consent to be led by Corbyn is theirs to withhold—and nothing can be done to change that.

In democracies—and especially in parliamentary democracies—power and authority are rightly diffuse.  There are proper limits to how far a person’s mandate can take them.  Jeremy Corbyn has run up against the limits of his mandate. 

Sadly he fails to recognise that fact.

Process

Britain has voted to leave the EU but what does that mean in terms of practical terms and conditions. The process to leave can be viewed in terms of five separate negotiations.

One negotiation will cover Britain’s exit from the EU, the second a free trade agreement (FTA) on future economic ties, the third interim cover for the British economy before the FTA enters into force, the fourth accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the fifth a set of deals to replace the 53 FTAs that bind the EU and other countries, and the sixth an agreement on co-operation in foreign, defence and security policies.

The first deal will have to tackle the UK’s separation from the EU, as prescribed by Article 50. This “divorce settlement” will divide up the properties, institutions and pension rights, deal with budget payments, and decide on the rights of UK citizens in the EU and vice versa. the EU budget, which the UK has approved stretches out into the future and the amount of money the UK will have to contribute for the next 20-30 years towards that budget will have to be agreed. This will include funding works in member countries even though the UK will no longer be a member.

DSC_0083

Article 50 sets out a two year period for this negotiation, extendable by unanimity. However, the other 27 want Britain out before the June 2019 European elections and the imminent cycle of EU budget talks so will not want to extend the deadline.

The second negotiation will cover future economic ties with the EU. Theresa May will have to reject the “Norwegian model,” although it would offer access to the single market, since the price—payments into the EU budget and free movement of labour—would be unacceptable to the British public who voted out in order to establish control of immigration.

She will most likely go for a free trade agreement, along the lines of the recent EU-Canada deal. The FTA may eliminate tariffs on manufactured goods but is unlikely to scrap many non-tariff barriers. Britain would gain only limited access to the single market for services. UK-based financial firms would lose the “passporting” that enables them to do business across the EU, while other service industries—such as shipping, airlines and the law— would also suffer.

Service industries dominate the UK’s GDP comprising 78% total revenue. The financial services industry of the United Kingdom contributed a gross value of £86,145 million to the economy in 2004.The industry employed around 1.2 million people in the third quarter of 2012 (around 4% of the British workforce). The estimated amount of total taxes paid by the Financial Services Sector in the year to 31 March 2012 is £63bn, 11.6% of the total UK government tax receipts.

The European Commission has taken a hard line by saying that work on the FTA should not start until the UK has left the EU. This would extend the period of uncertainty afflicting the UK economy. But Germany and several member-states suggest that the UK be allowed to work on the FTA concurrently with the divorce settlement. This softer line will probably prevail, but the FTA would still take many more years to negotiate and ratify than the Article 50 deal.

That gap requires a third negotiation for an interim deal to provide temporary cover to the British economy. Anand Menon and Damian Chalmers suggest that Britain should be able to repeal EU laws and shun European Court of Justice rulings, but face the prospect of countermeasures from the EU.

The UK government will want to limit free movement only to those with job offers, excluding families of EU migrants unless the wage-earner’s income passes a certain level. Britain would choose to stop paying into the EU budget but make direct payments to poorer member-states. However some of the 27 would find such an interim deal too soft—they don’t want the exit process to be seen as painless—and there will be much haggling over the details.

The fourth deal would be to attain full WTO membership, since Britain is currently only a member via the EU. The UK would have to deposit its own schedules of tariffs, quotas and subsidies with the WTO. First it must reach agreement with the other EU countries on the schedules, and then all 162 WTO members must agree. One country—say Russia or Argentina (mindful of the dispute over the Falkland Islands) —could, if it wished, block the UK becoming a full member.

The fifth set of negotiations that Britain must undertake is with the 53 countries that have FTAs with the EU. On the day that Britain leaves the EU, it loses the benefits of these deals. The UK will need to hurry to cut its own bilateral trade agreements with these countries, before it exits the EU.

Conservative ministers talk of striking trade deals with dozens of states that don’t currently have them with the EU, such as the US, China, India and Australia. But while the UK is an EU member it cannot legally complete an FTA with another country.

It can talk about talks.

But there is also the practical problem that these countries will not want to negotiate an FTA with the UK until they know what the EU-UK relationship looks like. Nor will they want to enter into talks with Britain until it has sorted out its WTO membership.

The sixth deal will cover UK-EU ties in foreign and defence policy, police and judicial co-operation and counter-terrorism. The UK has more bargaining power in these areas than on trade, since its diplomatic, intelligence and military assets are useful to its partners. The UK may succeed in gaining mechanisms that allow it to feed its expertise into EU deliberations—though it will have less influence on EU policy-making than it has today.

In order to reach outcomes that suit British interests, Theresa May’s government needs to earn the goodwill of its 27 EU partners and the EU institutions—including the European Parliament, which will vote on both the Article 50 divorce settlement and the British FTA.

But it also needs to charm other governments across the world, so that the WTO talks and the FTA negotiations with non-EU countries run smoothly. The longer British ministers take to complete these negotiations, the worse the uncertainty for the British economy.

Reality will encourage the government to seek compromises, mindful of the need to sell those compromises to the UK population if they wish to retain power.

Pregnant Pause

Teenage pregnancy is considered a key indicator of adolescent health for good reason. The associations between teenage births and mortality, morbidity, and social and economic hardship for the mother and child are very well established.

Research over many decades has provided a good understanding of the underlying factors for the complex issue of teenage pregnancy and reasonable evidence for what strategies work to limit it. In The Lancet, Kaye Wellings and colleagues presented a report on the impact of the UK Teenage Pregnancy Strategy on rates of teenage abortions and births in England over the 13 years after its introduction in 2000.

It’s good news. This is the first time we have seen a teenage pregnancy prevention programme reduce objectively measured teenage conceptions, and improve outcomes for teenage mothers over a sustained period of time and at the national level.

The Teenage Pregnancy Strategy was a complex, intersectoral, and multicomponent intervention. There were three main components of the strategy:

  • a whole-government approach to administration;
  • improved prevention efforts, including: high quality education about sex and relationships in schools; better access to effective contraception; enhanced efforts targeting the most at-risk groups, and young males; a media campaign with separate components for young people and parents; and a print and broadcast media campaign;and,
  • better support for pregnant teenagers and teenage parents to ensure completion of education and access to secure housing with in-home support for mothers and their children.

At the mid-course review in 2005, the UK’s national conception rate had dropped 11% for those younger than 18 years and 15% for those younger than 16 years, but with variability, including reductions as substantial as 43% in one local authority.

At this time, the improvement was considered modest given the amount of resources dedicated. rather than abandon the strategy, a more intensive approach to lower-performing authorities was adopted.

As a result, the maternity rate of individuals younger than 18 years in England has decreased slowly but steadily from its peak in 1996–98, but much more rapidly from 2007 to 2013, along with a decline in the abortion rate, halving the conception rate overall.

The most substantial reductions were in the most deprived areas, where rates were originally highest. Participation in work, education, or training by young women who became mothers before age 18 years doubled over the period of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

The authors also estimated an absolute decrease in conception rate of between 8·2 and 11·5 conceptions per 1000 women aged 15–17 years for every £100 Teenage Pregnancy Strategy spend per head. This translates to between about £8,700 and £12,200 per conception prevention, which might seem expensive, but is less than a quarter the cost of child support for a teenage mother and her child.

As reported in the mid-course review, the net estimated welfare payment per teenage birth, over the 16 years for which the family would be eligible for child-contingent benefits, was £44,566 in 2005 (£61 947 in today’s terms).

The authors present a convincing case that much of the reduction in teenage conception can be attributed to the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.

The strategy needed a full decade of implementation to show its capacity to effect change on this complex issue. At the mid-course review, rather than withdrawing funding in response to a modest 11% reduction in conceptions, the task force accelerated efforts.  However,despite excellent results and a proven financial benefit,  as happens often, a change in government in 2010 coincided with discontinuation of funding of the UK Teenage Pregnancy Strategy.
In 2011, an investigation by The Guardian reported that over a third of teenage pregnancy coordinator positions had been eliminated, and a parliamentary inquiry yielded no further information about disposition of coordination positions nationally.

The UK Teenage Pregnancy Strategy is an impressive example of how a sustained, multilevel, and multicomponent intervention, such as that advocated by the recent Lancet Commission on adolescent health, can impact a complex health and social issue, with high cost-effectiveness.

By way of comparison, the UK human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme is another example of a complex health intervention programme, which has achieved similarly impressive success.

Would the UK Government seriously consider defunding and devolving all responsibility for HPV vaccination programme implementation to local authorities and their budgets?

As a minimum, ongoing monitoring and support should be provided to local authorities to ensure that the key elements of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and low rates of teenage pregnancy remain a core goal for the UK. Teenage pregnancy is no longer a problem too hard to be solved: a country’s teenage pregnancy rates can be lowered and, further, the association between intergenerational poverty and teenage pregnancy can be broken, long term.

Poor

My children are unlikely to be poor. Not because of their skills or hard work, not because of their good nature, kindness or beauty, though of course I see all of these things in my children.

My children are unlikely to be poor because I am not poor.

 

At every stage of their lives so far they have been advantaged. They have been brought up in a safe environment. They have been well fed and cared for, brought up with a balanced diet and good middle class manners. They are neither too skinny nor too stout, which is unsurprisingly important for female children even the wealthy ones.

If they have fallen ill, they have immediately received medical care.

They have lived in a house full of books, with people willing and able to make time to sit and read with them when they were younger. As they’ve grown they’ve had enough money and time to pursue their own interests. We value education. They have been encouraged to succeed.

They have been taught in good schools, with good teachers and facilities. And all of this has been set against a background of interest and enthusiasm for education. They have been brought up with the expectation of success, mitigated by enough money to cushion failure. They can afford to take risks but have been brought up to focus on success.

They live firmly in the grasp of the middle-class straight jacket.

Part of me is quite sad about the limits we have placed around them, unknowing, the result of many small decisions over the years.

But part of me looks at the choices that they are afforded as a result their privilege and realises that I’d make the same decisions all over again. Their cousins have fewer choices at every stage of life.

Their parents, our brothers and sisters, didn’t value education so they were less likely to go to university. Their schools gave poorer advice on subjects to study so they had less choice of university courses and of university.

Their cousins work in bars and admin. jobs and whilst clearly there is nothing wrong with that, they have less money and far fewer choices, not because they weren’t smart or capable, but because they weren’t privileged.

We are not lead by the “best of the best”. We do not live in any true sort of meritocracy. Our leaders are chosen from a very, very small sub-set of the population. For my generation, there was a huge expansion of the middle classes, an expansion that looks to be heading into reverse. I want my kids to belong to the safe middle classes, not the super-wealthy, but certainly not the precariat.

Politically I will always vote for more redistribution of resources and opportunities, but on a personal level my children have benefitted from the opposite, the in-built advantages of wealth. I look at my nieces and nephews and I don’t see any greater happiness, any reduced stress levels.

Being poor and disadvantaged brings more not less angst and anxiety.

Crap socialist. Good-enough mother.

Laboured

What would a labour government look like?

I was reading an article that talked about how the UK political system acts, how it requires a strong effective opposition partly because all government needs to be challenged.

Good policy is a combination of good ideas, refined and polished through questioning and challenge. Bad policy is often discarded after fierce questioning and challenge. So the role of an opposition party and party leader has to be to question and challenge government policy, to provide an alternative voice and viewpoint.

It also needs to offer the electorate an alternative, a government in waiting. And at that point, I tried asking myself “what would a Corbyn government look like?” And I failed. I’ve voted labour all of my life, and I just couldn’t imagine what on earth a Corbyn government would look like. If I can’t imagine it, how can the vast majority of people, not that interested in politics (less than 1% of the population are a member of any party) imagine and vote for a Corbyn government?

In the post-Brexit referendum vote of no confidence, where 172-40 labour MPS voted, followed resignations from the shadow cabinet and called on Mr Corbyn to quit. Mr Corbyn responded by saying the ballot had “no constitutional legitimacy” and said he would not “betray” the party members who voted for him by resigning.

To run a cabinet in government, the deciding body of the governing party requires around 21 MPs plus the Prime Minister.

The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive  within the Westminster system of government in traditional constitutional theory. The political and decision-making authority of the cabinet has been gradually reduced over the last several decades, with some claiming its role has been usurped by a “prime ministerial” (i.e. more “presidential”) government. This is significant in UK politics because of course, the electorate do not separately vote for the Prime Minister, unlike say the US President.

Only party members select the party leaders in the UK system

The Cabinet is the executive committee of Her Majesty’s  Privy Council, a body which has legislative, judicial and executive functions, and whose large membership includes members of the Opposition. Its decisions are generally implemented either under the existing powers of individual government departments, or by Orders in Council.

Maybe with only 40 supporters, Corbyn could probably muster some kind of cabinet assuming of course that they could get enough MPs elected overall.  It is the belief that Corbyn greatly reduces the chances of Labour MPs being re-elected that drove the no-confidence vote in the first place. He has the worst popularity ratings of any party leader, ever.

Under the UK’s system of government, political parties strive to win as many constituency elections as possible. If one party is able win more than half the seats in the House of Commons (326) then its leader gets to become prime minister and form a government. All other parties become the ‘opposition’.

But aside from the bare bones of cabinet, the work of parliament is carried out by committees. These committees consider policy issues, scrutinise the work and expenditure of the government, and examine proposals for primary and secondary legislation. Select committees  operate largely by an investigative process, while legislative committees operate mainly by debate.

Each committee requires 10 – 50 MPs taken from the various political parties.

There is a Commons Select Committee for each of the 25 government departments, examining three aspects: spending, policies and administration.

These departmental committees each have a minimum of 11 members, who decide upon the line of inquiry and then gather written and oral evidence. Findings are reported to the Commons, printed, and published on the Parliament website. The government then usually has 60 days to reply to the committee’s recommendations.

There are also Joint Committees three of which meet on a regular basis:

  • Human Rights
  • National Security Strategy
  • Statutory Instruments

And also two cases in which bills are committed to a Joint Committee:

  • consolidation bills (& related)
  • tax rewrite bills

Both categories comprise long and potentially complicated bills, which seek not to change the law but to consolidate existing statutes and, in the case of tax law rewrite bills, to simplify the language of the statute book.

That’s a lot of work for just 40 Corbyn supportive MPs to carry out.

Brexit means ….

There’s an excellent post on Facebook from Robert Peston.

In the  seven weeks since the UK voted to leave the EU, we have learned remarkably little about the choice we’ve made.

The new Prime Minister, Theresa May’s resonant and opaque “Brexit means Brexit” says very little. “Lunch means lunch” but does that mean a three course slap-up luxury affair or a couple of sandwiches at your desk?

Peston reports that Brexit, for Theresa May (and therefore for us), equals:

1. discretionary control over immigration policy;

2. discretionary control over lawmaking;

3. no compulsory contributions to the EU budget.

Why those three pillars of our new relationship with the EU? “It’s what the people voted for”, a senior government member told him – with a certainty that suggests it would be pointless to raise doubts.

These three essentials carry a weighty consequence.

They imply that we cannot possibly be a full member of the European Union’s single market, or of the European Economic Area, like Norway. Nor could we have a Swiss-style status of quasi single-market membership.

In those three instances of de facto single-market membership we would not have full discretion over who could live and work here, we would be subject to some EU lawmaking and we would probably have to make some billions of pounds of contributions to the EU’s budget.

At this point, if you are a British exporter you may well be profoundly anxious that the prospect of retaining relatively frictionless and costless access to the EU’s consumers and business customers is looking remote. This would be painful because it would mean that a significant portion of the 40% of our trade that goes to the EU would be at risk of withering away, at the cost of making it even harder for us to repay our big debts.

So is it time to blame Brexit and the Brexiteers for not just the short-term economic slowdown that is upon us, but a longer-lasting brake on our growth (which, as it happens, was built into the Bank of England’s latest forecast)? It depends on the quantum of additional cost we would bear when trading the EU – and the magnitude of that cost can yet be limited.

It is not yet inevitable that our access to the EU will be on the basis of the World Trade Organisation’s tariff structure – which would add, for example, a 10% tax on car trade.

There is an alternative model for our new economic arrangement with the EU. This model is being developed by the newly created Department for Exiting the European Union, under David Davis, and it consists of a British reworking of Canada’s EU free-trade deal, with – and this is the trickiest part – a bespoke add-on for our service sector.

The service sector addendum would be, for us, the dog not the tail – since services constitute a full 80% of all our economic output, and we would be rather closer to bust if our banks, lawyers and architects, inter alia, are more constrained in taking money from EU clients.

What are the core elements of this trade deal? Well the big thing the Brexit Dept is doing now is research into what parts of our current access to the EU are most valuable. Its sensible initial presumption is that what matters most are the non-tariff barriers that can discriminate against non-members of the single market – or rules and regulations about how things are made, what kind of checks they undergo when they cross borders, how services are sold and who is allowed to sell what.

The famous passport for banks wanting to operate across the EU is one example, of vital importance to the City of London.

Now what on earth could go wrong with trying to turn us Canadian in our European connection?

Almost everything.

Apart from anything else, Canada’s own deal is not yet in effect – because it is bogged down in wrangling not on the terms of the deal, but on the procedure in the EU for formally approving it. One huge challenge for Davis and his team therefore is to persuade Brussels and EU government leaders to allow any UK trade deal to be ratified by majority voting of government heads, and not the unanimous approval of EU national and regional parliaments.

If the deal requires that kind of parliamentary ratification, it will never happen.

And finally, when will there be a transition from this assessment of what we may reasonably be expected to win from our estranged EU partners, to a triggering of so-called Article 50 and the two year process of actually negotiating the departure.

The preparations will take months. There is now only a modest prospect of the Article 50 two-year countdown being initiated by the end of the year, but a fair probability it’ll start by March. If that deadline isn’t hit, then we may not give formal notice of departure till the closing days of 2017, because in the spring and summer EU government leaders will be distracted by important national elections, in France and Germany.

So deciding to divorce from the EU was the relatively quick and easy bit.

Actually working out what Brexit will look like, and then starting the journey will take years (and I haven’t even touched on the complexities of future security arrangements, the grandfathering of important EU law into British law, and the need for Liam Fox as international trade secretary to replicate the EU’s trade deals with the likes of South Africa, Singapore, Switzerland and South Korea, among a raft of other challenges).

PRePared

The recent landmark decision by the UK High Court on Aug 2, 2016, concerning NHS England and the funding of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is still resonating.

Unless NHS England successfully appeals against the judgment, responsibility for funding an estimated £10–20 million a year HIV prevention programme will land squarely in its court.

Yet any future funding of PrEP within NHS England will have to be considered alongside 18 other recommended new treatment programmes shortlisted for the next round of commissioning, such as funding for prosthetics for lower limb loss, or rituximab for immunoglobulin G4-related disease.

Elsewhere in the NHS, new data released by NHS Digital on Aug 3 highlighted a diabetes treatment bill of just under £1 billion a year, double what it was a decade ago. On July 29, NHS England unveiled a new-look Cancer Drugs Fund, the first version having come under unsustainable financial pressures amid widespread calls for it to be reformed.

Recent austerity measures have seen public health being cut by £200 million out of a £3 billion annual budget, with further cuts of a similar magnitude planned up to 2020; over which time the NHS as a whole, while protected from direct government cuts, is facing a possible deficit of more than £20 billion.

We know from other countries’ experiences that PrEP is an effective weapon in HIV prevention that warrants NHS funding; but it seems that implementing PrEP within NHS England could come at the cost of other clinically proven health programmes. PrEP will save money in the longer term, but comes at the cost of other medical treatments today.

A fundamental question needs to be asked of any publicly funded health system, especially when it is increasingly being asked to do more with less: if the available cake is being sliced too thinly, then the case needs to be made for a larger cake, along with a national conversation about how it should be paid for.

Grades

My oldest daughter has safely negotiated her A levels and is planning her move to Exeter University. She needed A*AA and that’s exactly what she got, though rather surprisingly the A* arrived in the subject she scored least in last year.

Also, the D in one paper was a bit of a shock – thankfully her other papers were all A*s so it only pulled the overall grade down to an A. Moving into full overanxious mother-mode, I encouraged her to call back the paper and see what happened to drop my baby’s grades 30% on a single paper.

For some call-backs, you get a paper marked with ticks, crosses, comments etc. Unfortunately this isn’t one of those types. We have two essays (in her handwriting) with a basic typed note of her marks, two numbers for each essay representing evidence referenced and quality of answer.

She’s sent it on to her teacher who hopefully can explain what happened. Did she mis-read the question, reference the wrong period in terms of evidence or whatever? Last year, she was told that the reason for her lowest graded paper was that she has failed to state the obvious but rather assumed the reader (examiner) understood too much. The feedback was useful and she’s gone on to get an A* in that subject.

In the unlikely event that her teacher comes back and can’t see why it’s not been marked to the same standard as her other three papers (A*s) maybe we’ll have to think about getting a re-mark. But we don’t need one.  Since her place at university has now been made unconditional, we don’t need a re-mark, but it would be useful to understand the reasons for the D grade before moving forwards.

It shouldnt be stressful but clearly I need to be more careful with my language. Yesterday I made my baby cry by talking about her “bad” result. Apparently just the idea that she’s performed “badly” sent her into a tailspin anxiety attack. She seems fundamentally threatened by the thought of failure which is more than a bit worrying.

Eventually we all fail. The measure of a person, is not whether they fail or succeed but how they deal with the inevitable failures that come their way. We all screw things up. It is most important to be able to understand our screw ups and use it the information learned to move forwards.

Clearly my children are hugely advantaged, privileged, by the wealth that their parents have accumulated. We made it out of the working classes safely into the middle class and they seem on track to retain their advantage into the next generation.

It seems increasingly unlikely that their cousins will be able to join them.Their cousin’s life chances are lowered not through any innate quality, skill, talent or lack thereof, but rather just because they born to working class parents in a time of economic contraction.

A big part of the social mobility of my generation, was education.

The curve in the graphic above shows that children from poor families are less likely to improve their economic status as adults in countries where income inequality was higher – meaning wealth was concentrated in fewer hands – around the time those children were growing up.

It shows very clearly the way in which the wealthy are advantaged by the system.

The new conservative government may have settled in, but the detail of future education policy remains unclear. There have been mutterings about the reintroduction of grammar schools.

The current educational system is a mish-mash of different types of school.

This week marks the sixth anniversary of the UK Academies Act, which provided a fast track conversion process for state schools. The first wave of the equally contentious free schools celebrate their fifth birthday in September. The former education secretary claimed these changes would offer parents more choice and improve the chances of the poorest children. But how far has this promise been realised? There are now 5,302 academies and 304 free schools – and the Cameron government’s pledge that all non-academy schools should eventually convert has not been retracted.

Evidence that academies and free schools don’t necessarily improve results, or narrow attainment gaps, comes thick and fast. Research published three weeks ago by the new Education Policy Institute, whose executive chair, David Laws, was schools minister in the coalition government, reinforced this message.

A new analysis of the intakes of all schools suggests that, far from widening access for poorer children, the changes that May and Greening must contemplate accelerating have reinforced existing patterns of social segregation and in some cases exacerbated them.

In practice the English school system has always been diverse and includes many schools that are much more – or much less – inclusive of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Timo Hannay, a former research scientist and founder of education data analysis company SchoolDash, says these have typically been grammar schools, some faith schools, Roman Catholic schools, single sex secondary schools and schools rated “outstanding” by Ofsted.

But SchoolDash has crunched the most up-to-date DfE figures to compare the percentage of children in each school eligible for free school meals (FSM) with the government’s measurement of local deprivation, known as IDACI – income deprivation affecting children index.

The results suggest converter academies and primary free schools also tend to have a lower proportion of disadvantaged pupils than their communities.

Only sponsored academies (more likely to have been schools previously in difficulty) tend to have a higher proportion, while secondary free schools are more in line with the local populations.

“Our analysis looks at the extent to which schools disproportionately exclude poorer pupils after taking into account the level of poverty in their areas,” says Hannay. “In certain types of schools there seems to be a tension between choice and social cohesion. Living close to a school doesn’t always translate into being able to send your child there. Some outlier schools have intakes that are wildly different from the local population mix. We need to ask why that is.”

SchoolDash scatter graphs, marking every school in the country using DfE data, provide hints to the possible reason. All academies and free schools have control of their own admissions policies. Among those are the Langdale free school in Blackpool, where 2.4% of pupils are eligible for FSM compared with a local IDACI index of 41.5%. Its admissions criteria include selecting some pupils according to their aptitude for music and drama and state that candidates (rising five years old) will be required to provide evidence of “qualifications already gained or to attend an aptitude test”.

Music lessons cost money that poorer families probably won’t be able to afford.

Canary Wharf college, in Tower Hamlets, London, has only 5.4% eligible for FSM compared with 30% deprivation in its community. Its admissions criteria run to six pages and include proof of church association or baptism for 50% of its admissions.

Nishkam primary school in Birmingham has only 8.6% FSM compared with 45.5% poor children locally. It also has 50% faith-based criteria, including proof that children don’t cut their hair, are vegetarian and intend to be initiated into the Sikh religion. None of these schools was available to comment on the SchoolDash findings.

According to Prof Stephen Gorard, of Durham University, who has been looking at school segregation since the 1988 Education Act, “there has always been a degree of social segregation in the English school system and there are marked differences in particular local authority areas”. He says: “Where there is more diversity there tends to be more segregation. Where there are different kinds of schools, such as free schools and academies, they may become an ‘escape route’ of choice.

My oldest girl is safely through the educational mill. Her younger sister is just two years behind. They benefit from a system that works to their advantage and every year their extended family falls further behind economically.

Gap

Looking through the newspapers and there’s yet another article talking about the gender gap in wages.

There are a couple of comments that keep coming back that are so depressing.

“Don’t have children” This could only be justified if the wages of parents as a whole were held down but clearly being a parent is pretty much an essential characteristic of leaders the world over as long as they’re men. Mothers are penalised for having kids not fathers, who seem to be positively rewarded.

“It’s a matter of choice” This is frustrating because it’s effectively saying women just don’t want to be financially independent, that they choose to be financially disadvantaged because… well, is this because the people writing assume women are just thick or what? No one chooses to earn 20% less than their brothers, no one. But then maybe it isn’t so much about the career choice as (yet again) the choice to have children is assumed to be a female choice, virgin births and miracles being apparently a “thing”

“Women work less” This is almost true – women work less paid hours but are responsible for the vast majority of the unpaid hours of childcare, elder care and house admin. Because women take up responsibility for family caring, they are also more likely to work part-time than men (ONS Statistics) and hour for hour, part-time jobs are paid less than full time jobs which is clearly unfair.
It’s also perhaps worth thinking about whether long rather than effective hours are what we want to measure. Other countries have more efficient workforces – they get the same or better results whilst working less.

The whole assumption that men are paid more because they work longer and make better choices, or that fathers are in some way more reliable employees, is all based on the fact that they have a partner who is willing to sacrifice their financial independence to look after the family, to pick up the slack. It’s based on the assumption that men don’t want to spend time with their kids and family, that they enjoy being on the treadmill.

If work (paid and unpaid) and financial rewards were split fairly then perhaps men and women could make decisions that worked better for both.

And worse still so much of the guff commenting on the gender gap assumes that women are the only gender losing out here. I know lots of men who would love a real choice, to feel they could take paternity leave, spend more time with their kids as they grow up, to spend time with their dying dad, and not feel continually pushed and prodded into working all hours at the cost of their family relationships.

No one dies thinking they should have spent more hours at the office. It’s just sad.

bcsqud79edzj72ptpvq1

Waiting

All my oldest child had to do to get her GCSE or A level results was log onto the school website using her unique user id. The results which arrive at the school on the previous day, are made available from around 6 am on the results day. Couldn’t be simpler.

My youngest girl goes to a different school with an entirely different process. Well, maybe “process” is overstating it somewhat.

You can choose to go into school and pick up your results from the school library any time from 9.30am, a skip back in time to when her parents had to walk into school past happy and devastated school mates hoping that after reading the list on the wall we’d be part of the former not latter group. It was brutal.

Or you can choose to wait for an email from the school which will arrive in the morning. Not at a specific time in the morning, just sometime before 12.

Maybe I could understand not wanting to set up a portal to a student’s database just for this purpose though it’s very useful at the other school in my life right now. But why can’t they at least set up an automatic mail to send out all of the results first thing in the morning, say 8am. More than an hour ago.

I am sat here waiting for a mail to arrive, weighing up the risks of serious trauma if we bottle it and head into the school. This could be the day my child reminds me of every time disaster strikes as either the best or worst of her school experiences.

And all I can do is wait.

Results

My eldest girl achieved the requisite grades and will be off the Exeter University in a couple of weeks. My youngest received (eventually) her GCSE results yesterday.

The morning  newspapers were full of doom and gloom about the 16+ exams, the first falling results forever as comment sections filled up with bile and “told you so”. One by one, friends called or sent texts to confirm that their kids were safely through to the next stage. sometimes scraping along the bottom of possibilities but still through.

After an age, the email from school arrived.

My baby has 11 GCSEs, 8A*s and 3As.

And we’re all a bit gob-smacked.

It’s great result, not just because of the absolute scores, but because it is essentially identical to her elder sister’s grades two years earlier.  The As are in slightly different subjects (English Lit, Latin and Art) and the youngest sat one extra because her school insisted on Further Maths for the top set but basically everyone is happy.

The youngest can claim (quietly because – good manners) that she got an extra GCSE. Her sister can dismiss the extra one because, well essentially it’s just Maths II. Everyone is happy. No one is upset. All is well with the world.

Both of my girls sat the 11+ exams for selective private schools. We did this in part because the closest state school is a selective grammar school anyway. We also have a huge number of selective faith schools. If we lived outside of London where the local school was the one everyone went to ( a bit like the local primary which both girls attended) then they’d just have moved through the system  with their friends. Since that wasn’t an option, and we had the money set aside, we decided to look at the local private schools.

My eldest scored high in the tests and was accepted for one of the top schools in the country. My youngest scored less high and was rejected by her sister’s school. She cried.

We accepted a place at the best academic school that accepted her, one that still regularly achieves grades putting it in the top 10% across the country and got on with life. At the same time some of her closest friends scattered through the system, some of whom we’ve kept in touch with. It will be interesting to find out what happened to the kid who went to the local comprehensive, the local grammar and that funny school a couple of miles away that seems to be a bit of both. Then there’s the girl who went to the performing arts school to wonder about and her friend who went to the faith school.

We have a smorgasbord of school which should not be confused with choice. The schools choose. The children are chosen.

Over the years the two very different schools that my girls have attended have felt very different as a parent. One of them assumes a frightening level of competence that has worked well for my oldest daughter. They kids are expected to recognise if (when?) they’re struggling or falling behind and ask for help. It is not a touchy-feely kind environment. A couple of kids have just fallen through the net. We received a report each year with the emphasis on academic results, not so much about anything else.

The other school sends a report every term with equal weight given to effort and academic results. And whilst that might seem more caring as an environment, any slip in the academic marks (apparently) was accompanied by a very detailed follow up with the parents. It is the “less” academic of the two schools that has the lower tolerance for failure. Kids who slipped behind were quickly identified and after a rather short time were “encouraged to leave”.

The grade requirements to sit A levels at the less academic school were considerably higher than at the more academic school. During the school year and certainly at GCSE/A level turnover there will be a lot more “churn”.

But for my girl, at least, they’ve done a really good job. Art department aside, the teaching has been good and the facilities excellent. Money makes a difference when it comes to science and language labs, art and music facilities etc. And having “failed” to match her sister, my baby has worked fiercely hard to bring up her marks on her weaker subjects.Having started in the lower set for Spanish, and with the help of a brilliant but expensive tutor she has battled away and gained an A*.

Now she can focus on the subjects she actually enjoys most, Maths, Physics and Chemistry. Since Maths still has AS levels, some of the all-or-nothing damaging changes to the system are mitigated

My girls wouldn’t have their excellent grades without some smarts and a whole load of effort but let’s be honest, there are plenty of kids out there with the smarts and a willingness to work. who don’t have these results.

My kids are privileged and this is what privilege buys.

Food Facts

People die often because of things they have done, risks they have taken, care they have failed to take, poor choices or no choices.

Much of the global disease burden arises from:

  • smoking, about 6·2 million deaths and 144 million disability-adjusted life-years [DALYs];
  • excessive salt intake, 3·7 million deaths and 74·3 million DALYs;
  • sugar, 0·1 million deaths and 6·2 million DALYs; and,
  • alcohol, 2·8 million deaths and 99·3 million DALYs.

Increasing public awareness of the harms of these risk factors could contribute to improved individual and community-driven self-management of lifestyle behaviours but it also runs the risk of shaming or vilifying those people who are already showing signs of illness because of “preventable” disease.

A series of recent articles in the Guardian discussing the UK government’s watered down attempts to tackle obesity was accompanied by comments suggesting the overweight and obese in the UK should be banned from hospital treatments, have their children removed into care etc.

As well as victim blaming, these comments show a startling lack of self-awareness. 2/3s British men are overweight or obese, and just slightly lower numbers of British women, Most of the people commenting so critically are themselves likely to be overweight or obese, unaware of their culpability. Bizarrely, as the whole country gets fatter, it becomes more difficult to identify yourself as fat because “fat” is the new normal.

Reduction of exposure to health risk factors at a population level (for example, reducing salt and sugar content in processed foods at the manufacturing stage) has been shown to be beneficial for cardiovascular disease and overall health. It makes sense for a government, tasked with the responsibility of looking after it’s citizens, to make rational decisions to benefit the health of the country as whole. The easiest, most effective intervention is with children, with what we allow to be sold to children through advertising, the food we serve to children in schools etc.

Compelling evidence also shows that taxation on hazardous behavioural factors could represent a valuable strategy to improve the health of the population as a whole. Revenue from these taxations could and should be used to fund primary preventive programmes and research on stroke and other major non-communicable diseases. No one thinks twice about high taxes on cigarettes yet the idea of punitive VAT rates on high sugar foodstuffs has proved unpopular in government with cries of “nanny state” etc

It is unlikely that any interventions of this kind would have an immediate effect, but in reality the target of this kind of effort is many years down the line. The easiest targets for the kind of intervention are today’s children who do not have to “lose” weight but just maintain their weight as they grow taller. Pound for pound the savings in terms of personal health and well-being, followed by the savings in healthcare costs for the future are immense.

Sad

Life is incredibly sad right now. For eighteen years I have enjoyed the most glorious love affair with my eldest child. There have been tricky bits, obviously, but overall it has been an intense, loving roller-coaster ride. She has been one of the major focuses  for most of my adult life, and now she’s leaving.

My baby is leaving home. She’s leaving me. And not surprisingly I feel bereft.

It’s a wonderful thing to see your child succeed and thrive. There is a real sense of joy when they laugh out loud, when they smile and triumph, no matter how small or significant a triumph. So of course, I’m happy that she’s leaving for university, happy to see her follow her success and start to carve out her own life independent of mine.

But it’s also incredibly sad.

I love her. Deeply and without reservation. And she’s leaving.

September

Brexit benefits

I voted remain of course and was outvoted, depressed and miserable for all of a couple of days. I believed then, and still today that Brexit is a bad decision for the economy of my country, and a bad social decision for the rights of my children.

No surprises.

Most of the people voting (72% electorate took part in the referendum) are happy with the way they voted whether to leave (17 million) or to remain (16 million). The unhappy ones are the ones who failed to vote, who couldn’t be bothered, or thought that their votes wouldn’t make a difference. It sucks to have been apathetic right now.

But having said all of that, I do not wish for an economic disaster to hit. I am hopeful for a gentle brexit, where we all enjoy a soft landing. I am hopeful that we can make the best out of what was, from my perspective, a pretty crap decision. Since we’ll never know what would have happened had the vote gone the other way, we have to work for the best outcome. We are where we are.

And so far it hasn’t been all doom and gloom.

Two months on from Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the economy has not plunged. The stockmarket has recovered strongly; retail spending remains solid.

It would be foolish to silly the all-clear (see Economist article). There is plenty of evidence that businesses are holding off on investment as they wait for clarity about Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The fall in the pound will soon put a squeeze on real take-home pay. And, on past form, a burst of export-led growth is unlikely to compensate.

Slower growth seems inevitable and the economy could yet fall into recession. The Bank of England has done what it can to prevent this, cutting the base rate of interest to near zero and launching another round of “quantitative easing” (bond-buying) efforts trying to  ensure that lower borrowing costs filter through to firms and individuals. But now the limits of those efforts are here.

It is time for fiscal policy to play a bigger role, for the politicians to step forward.

Philip Hammond, the newish chancellor, will be expected to pull the rabbit out of the hat in the autumn statement, a mini-budget which is usually presented to Parliament at the end of the year. His job is complicated by the different directions in which Brexit pulls Britain’s fiscal arithmetic.

The vote represents a shock to supply, potentially lowering the rate of growth the economy can sustain, and also to demand, as business investment is suspended. Fiscal stimulus cannot help much on the supply front, but it can—and should—fill in for the loss of demand.

The government’s best move would be to undo the most ill-judged bits of the fiscal strategy he inherited. He has already ditched the target set by his predecessor of reaching a budget surplus by 2020. The next step should be to cancel fiscal tightening planned for 2017-18 which calls for a reduction in the budget deficit, adjusted for the economic cycle, of 0.8% of GDP.  That would be tight for a strong economy; with Brexit looming, it looks dumb.

There is a serious case to be made for stimulus, focused on two areas: more public spending on infrastructure and a reversal of the planned cuts to in-work benefits for the low-paid.

Investing in transport, housing and suchlike will boost Britain’s long-term growth potential as well as propping up spending in the short term. And it is badly needed. By global rankings, the quality of British infrastructure has slipped in recent years.

Mr Hammond might be tempted to take advantage of low borrowing costs to splurge on big, shiny projects. Several such schemes are on the horizon: airport expansion in south-east England; a high-speed railway between London and the north; a road tunnel, perhaps the world’s longest, under the Pennines (see Econcomist article). These would all help to get the economy going eventually.

But the priority should be smaller projects that generate fewer headlines but can begin immediately. Mr Hammond could increase rewards for local councils that allow more housebuilding, or raise spending on local buses and roads, which have endured big cuts since 2010.

The second area of focus should be welfare, which under current plans is on the wrong side of the line between tough love and inequity. Tax and benefit changes planned for the next four years will squeeze the incomes of some of the poorest households by as much as 12%.

Tempering those cuts would be good politics, given the acres of political centre-ground vacated by the leftward-rushing Labour Party. But it would also be sound economics: poor households spend a greater proportion than rich ones of any extra income they receive. Mr Hammond should end the cash-terms freeze on working-age benefits, which is supposed to last until 2020. He should also look at reversing the changes to tax credits (top-ups for low-paid folk).

The British economy has some hard years ahead. More drastic action may be needed when the country eventually leaves the EU.

But it is long past time that the government loosened its over-tight spending plans, softened its regressive welfare reform and started investing more in infrastructure. Time to abandon austerity.

Sadness

A year on and we seem to have made no progress whatsoever.

 

Lists

We are surrounded, drowning in lists. We have just one week before my baby heads off to university for Fresher Week, one of the earliest  of the universities to start and everywhere we look there are lists of stuff and of tasks waiting to be completed.

Finances: Check out the best buy student accounts and set one up as soon as possible. Since in practical terms most require evidence that you’ve been accepted onto a university course, this means you have roughly a month mid-August to mid-September to get the thing up and running. Accommodation deposits have to be paid by the end of August and the first term payment by mid-September. If you take out a government loan for tuition fees, that should be paid across directly to the university. We hope.

It should be simplicity itself to set up an account but even once you’ve been accepted, turned up at a branch with proof of ID etc, there is the whole set up of on-line banking to be negotiated, Since most accounts don’t seem to include cheque books, payment is inevitably by on-line transfer. Without a credit card, it’s all subject to debit card transfers which come without the third party help should anything go wrong.

The accommodation in university halls seems to be predominantly self-catering, a serious turn around from my day, but good for vegetarians – institutional vegetarian food is at best uniformly dull (variations on macaroni cheese, every day for a week?) and often just plain disgusting. If it’s any good, the meal will have been taken by any number of non-vegetarian students in the canteen queue ahead of you leaving you with a sad jacket potato, again.

So she will be sharing a flat kitchen with eight other students. The kitchen comes with a couple of ovens, hobs and a fridge freezer. A vacuum cleaner and ironing board are supplied (not sure about the iron). And she will have a small, possibly tiny room allocated to her with a small cupboard sized en-suite shower and toilet.

The most common advice given is to keep the amount of things you take to a minimum but non of the lists are especially minimal.

Bedroom

  • basic bedding (quilt, 1 or 2 pillows, maybe a mattress topper) and 2 sets of covers. Think about flat sheets rather than fitted since some beds are non-standard sizes.
  • doorstop to wedge open your door when you want to be social
  • electronics: laptop, memory stick, mobile phone, chargers
  • kettle
  • study lamp (check whether provided)

Bathroom

  • 2 towels
  • toiletries including make up, pain killers and condoms
  • toilet brush
  • bath mat
  • small hanging clothes dryer

Kitchen

  • a place setting: glass, mug, plate, bowl and cutlery
  • a basic cookery book (and the skill to make at least 1 or 2 basic meals)
  • a saucepan, a frying pan
  • tin opener, bottle opener, wooden spoon or spatula
  • tupperware to store food

Clothes

  • include a pair of flip flops or slippers (shared space will get very manky – you don’t want to walk on it barefoot)
  • rucksack or similar

Other:

  • personal documents: at least a copy of your medical card, passport
  • study stuff: pads, pens, highlighters, course notes if available
  • a pack of cards

Points

The UK Prime Minister has written off the suggestion that the UK should operate a “points based” immigration system because it would fail to give the government sufficient control over immigration. It’s interesting because it throws up a number of conflicts within the government.

The introduction (or rather extension) of a points based system was mentioned many times during the referendum campaign by leave campaigners. What none of them mentioned, is that it’s a system designed to increase immigration, in particular of “skilled” migrants to essentially improve human capital within a country.

The UK already operates a points-based, work permit orientated system for the largest section of immigrants, those coming from outside the EU. However since most EU migrants come to work, for established businesses with a clear and demonstrable need for their labour, any such system might actually result in a increase in immigration rather than a decrease.

So the leave campaigned on the basis of a system which would act to increase the number of immigrants, which is more than a little bizarre even by their standards.

Ms May’s rejection of that system also points to her belief that the referendum was essentially a vote for reducing immigration, above all else. When asked people may talk about not sending their EU born neighbours home, but she doesn’t believe any of it. She wants a system that will reduce the overall number of immigrants.

Writing in the comments sections of a number of articles on the topic, it rapidly becomes clear that people really want to distinguish between types of immigrants, essentially skilled and non-skilled immigrants, but on a not very reasonable basis.

There are some well-established facts that should be taken into account: Low skilled, low paid immigrants are actually less likely to claim benefits than high skilled, high paid immigrants in large part because when the work dries up, they tend to return to their country of origin. They tend to be younger, fitter and less likely to use the NHS and other welfare services. They just don’t have the financial resources to stay and wait for another job to turn up.

Also countless studies have shown that they bring considerable economic benefit to the UK. Both sides of the referendum campaign accepted the economic benefits of immigration for both high and low skilled jobs. The main argument during the referendum was whether the economic benefit they brought could possibly offset the local hit to services which had been subject to significant austerity cuts.

Where new immigrants displace people in work, it is the previous wave of immigrants who end up displaced and tend to head “home”. Obviously with the same low level of skills, and often limited English language skills, they are effectively fishing in the same pool for jobs. The LSE has any number of papers on these topics with references to alternative supporting studies.

There seems to be a great snobbery about immigration, when making a divide between skilled and unskilled immigration which is almost counterintuitive. The skilled jobs are the ones that the UK born should be aspiring to fill. We all want our kids to grow up to belong to the “safe” professions, law, finance, engineering etc. It does seem perverse that people should feel okay with importing competition for these jobs, the ones that we want to do ourselves, yet be so dismissive of the people who come to work here doing the jobs that frankly we don’t want our kids growing up to do.

But it is an entirely defensible and understandable position to suggest that low paid work can be exploitative for both immigrants and local born workers. Obviously, one way of dealing with this would be to establish and enforce a decent minimum wage which could be applied to workers irrespective of origin.

And equally clearly the result of cutting back immigration, will be a rise in costs for the industries impacted, possibly with people going out of business because even if wages rise, it is unlikely to find enough  local born workers to step into the gap. Unemployment is incredibly low in the UK at the moment, at just 4.9% in the three months to June 2016 so there just aren’t enough people available to do the jobs currently done by immigrants.

Some people may believe this is reasonable on the basis that their business models are flawed but there will be direct impacts to peoples’ lives when businesses fail.

One of the most obvious areas impacted will be elderly care. 75% people working in this sector in London are foreign born. Outside of London the numbers are also high. The work is stressful, relatively (and regrettably) low paid with variable hours. Even if the wages rise, the UK born available for work are not going to step in to meet this gap, feeding, washing, clothing their elders, taking them to the loo, wiping their bottoms etc. And maybe this is a cost that some are willing to meet from their taxes or in terms of their own parents, by giving up work to care for them themselves.

Clearly May has decided that the referendum vote was in large part a vote to reduce immigration significantly, since her argument against extending the points based system is that it wouldn’t reduce the numbers.

The difficulty for the government will be in cutting the levels of immigration whilst justifying taking the economic and social hit, watching farms, restaurants, hotels, care homes etc going out of business. Some may be willing, even keen, to see some of these businesses go bust, but there will be plenty of people who voted leave who will lose their home helps, who will find the sheltered housing they rely upon for parents or partners closing down and they have no alternatives available. It will be especially significant for the large proportion of retirees who turned out to vote “leave” in large numbers.

 

Difficult times ahead.

 

Love letters

Beloved, I have always loved you

When you were born, you father handed you to me and I was astonished. You were and still are, astonishing to me. I still cannot believe that I have been so lucky to share my life with you. You are a marvellous gift that I have been given to care for, to love.

You looked around the world, just minutes after being born. I can’t remember any crying, any distress or upset. Your face was tiny, serious but not sad, and you just kept looking at everything and anything happening around. You were so very purposeful. You looked into my eyes, and the world stopped turning.

We have learned to know each other over the years. Never think that you are anyone else’s creation. You arrived fully formed my lovely girl, and have just been growing into your body over the first few years. The most that your father and I have done is to polish the edges, to show you how we find it best and easiest to interact with this strange world.

Never doubt that you are the most precious part of my life. If I could have changed the world to make it fit you more perfectly, I would have tried to do so, sometimes have tried. Failing that, I have tried and sometimes failed to soften the ways for you to be you and get the best out of the wonderful life that I have been lucky enough to share with you.

You owe us nothing. You have brought such incredible joy to my life that anything I could possibly offer, all of my choices made, have been repaid so many times over already.

Beloved, I love you

I take such selfish pleasure in  your quickness, your salt. You are such wonderful company, such a delight to spend time with. My life is better, more fun, more joyful when you are around me.

I am so incredibly proud of you, of how hard you have worked, of your achievements, of the sharp focus and keen interest of your mind. I am so glad that you have found something to be interested in at university, a subject to explore and enjoy. Your mind is a wonderful  thing. It’s important to follow your interest as far and as deep as you possibly can in the short, short time that university allows. It must feel as if it is stretching out in from of you forever, but the time will pass so quickly once you find your feet. I am so very hopeful that this will be a technicolour experience.

It’s okay to be unhappy at first. It’s okay to be daunted. It’s okay to take your time, to look around at the world that you find yourself living in and think about things.  It’s okay to be lonely at first. It takes time to make friends, to understand who people are and whether you can share interests and excitements with them. You don’t need to be the life and soul of the party to enjoy life, even to enjoy the party. There will be plenty of people more interested in a glass of warm milk than drinking and dancing to dawn.

Take your time. Look around the world you find yourself in. Be purposeful and be kind to yourself.

Beloved, I will always love you.

But this is your life not mine. You are yourself and do not need to change. Your job is to become more yourself, more interested, excited, entranced by life. It’s okay to be a little bit unhappy some times. It’s okay to fail sometimes (and I know that this is a scary idea). But you never need to stay unhappy. There is nothing in this world that cannot be altered, no decision that cannot be changed. There is no failure that cannot be forgotten when the next success comes along. And only you get to decide what success means for you. No one else.

We are here. We will always be here for you, always willing to help, always wanting to help make things better where we can. We will always help pick things up. Nothing in the world can be broken beyond repair. If you call us, we will come.

The Purpose of the labour party

What is the Labour Party for? Across the developed world, the political left seems to have lost it’s way. It’s basic ideals of equality, solidarity and a protected public realm should be ageless. But everything on which it once built its strength seems to be either disappearing, or be shrinking fast.

There are three major challenges, which strike at the heart of its historic sense of what it is and who it speaks for:

  • traditional work – and the left’s notion of “the worker” – is fading, as people struggle through a new era of temporary jobs and rising self-employment, which may soon be succeeded by a drastic new age of automation;
  • a new wave of opposition to globalisation, led by forces on the right, which emphasise nostalgia, essentially a sense of place and belonging, and a mistrust of outsiders; and finally,
  • politics rapidly fragmenting, leaving the idea that one single party or ideology cannot possibly represent a majority of people.

Tony Blair has been the most successful Labour leader and Prime Minister, leading the country from 1997 to 2007. Within his own party however, there is a significant faction who have come to detest his politics.

It all started so well.  In May 1997, the Labour Party won a landslide general election victory, the largest in its history. In September 1997, Blair attained early personal popularity, receiving a 93% public approval rating, after his public response to the death of Diana Princess of Wales. The Labour Party went on to win two more elections under his leadership: in 2001, in which it won another landslide victory, and in 2005, with a reduced majority.

In the first years of the New Labour government, Blair’s government introduced the National Minimum Wage Act, Human Rights Act and Freedom of Information Act. Blair’s government also carried out the devolution, the establishing of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly, fulfilling four of the promises in its 1997 Manifesto. In Northern Ireland, Blair was involved in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, resulting in the end of the Troubles.

Blair ardently supported the foreign policy of theAmerican Bush administration including the invasion of Afghanistan and, much more controversially, the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Blair has faced strong criticism for his role in the invasion of Iraq, including calls for having him tried for war crimes. In 2016 the IraqInquiry strongly criticised his actions and described the invasion of Iraq as unjustified and unnecessary.

But aside from foreign policy, during his tenure, UK society changed significantly. Modern capitalism became a byword for insecurity and inequality, whilst Labour’s response increasingly sounded like a  demand for people to accept that change, and do their best to ensure that they kept up. The world was changing and failure to keep up, to adapt was increasingly seen as a personal failure rather than a political or societal failure.

Politicians were increasingly seen as culturally distant from ordinary voters.

In 2010, under Gordon Brown’s lack-lustre leadership, Labour fell to a miserable 29% of the vote – its lowest share since 1983. Five years later, despite opinion polls suggesting a possible Labour win, Ed Miliband could only raise Labour’s vote share by a single percentage point.

Outside of the political party, trade union membership was at an all-time low, heavy industry had disappeared, and traditional class consciousness had waned.

The Labour Party foundations were crumbling, along with the party’s nostrums of nationalisation and redistribution. In their place, Blair and Brown had come up with a thin social democracy based on redistribution from the financial services engine of wealth to spending huge amounts of money on public services.

But then the financial crisis put an end to the party.

As deindustrialisation ripped through 20th-century economies, the instability and fragmentation embodied by the financial and service sectors was taken further by new digital businesses.

The latter have spawned what some now call “platform capitalism”: a model whereby goods, services and labour can be rapidly exchanged between people, companies and multinational corporations – think of Uber, eBay, Airbnb or TaskRabbit, which link up freelance workers with people who need help with such tasks as cleaning, deliveries or moving home – with little need for any intermediate organisations.

This has not only marginalised retailers and wholesalers. It calls into question the traditional role of trade unions, and further reduces the power of the state, which is now locked into a pattern where innovations take rapid flight and it cannot keep up.

A fragmenting, quicksilver economy bypasses government structures, and has fragmented people and places so thoroughly that assembling meaningful political coalitions has begun to appear almost impossible. These are the social and political conditions that define relatively prosperous places such as the commuter towns of Surrey, or Essex, the centres of the knowledge economy to be found around Cambridge, and the gleaming new town of Livingston in Scotland. And in a very different way, these new conditions can be experienced just as powerfully in the tracts of the UK that modernity seems to have left behind.

One in seven Britons is now self-employed. In 2015, the OECD reported that since 1995, “non-standard” jobs – which is to say, temporary, part-time or self-employed positions – accounted for the whole of net jobs growth in the UK since 1995.

Economists and sociologists talk about “the precariat”, a growing part of the population for whom work is not the basis of personal identity, but an on-off part of life from which they often need protection. Some of this, of course, can be attributed to the venality and greed of businesses. But the central momentum behind it is rooted in technology, and what Marxists would call the “mode of production”.

In a world in which businesses can survey their order books on an hourly basis and temporarily hire staff at the touch of a button, why would they base their arrangements on agreements that last for years?

Go to any traditional Labour area, and people will tell you that Labour was once “the party of the working man”. Even now, from its name onwards, this reductive understanding of Labour, its people and its essential mission still runs deep, not least within the party itself.

In place of “the working man”, the New Labour years ushered in a politics pitched at “hard-working families”, a term partly intended to reflect people’s increasing antipathy towards people on benefits. Even when it was advocating enhancements to childcare and pre-school provision, Labour tended to do so in terms of getting new mothers back into paid employment as soon as possible.

Today we seem stuck thin a maze of nostalgia politics from both left and right of the political spectrum, a harking back to the old certainties rather than engaging with the new social reality.

On the left, both Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn have sketched utopian plans to somehow magic the world back to some unspecified time before 1980. Smith wants to revive the Ministry of Labour, done away with by Harold Wilson’s Labour government in 1968. Corbyn’s “10-point plan to rebuild and transform Britain” is all about “full employment and an economy that works for all”, and promises to restore “security to the workplace”.

These visions are either naive or dishonest, but they clearly reflect delusions that run throughout Labour and the left, a fundamental desire to turn back the clock.

In a world in which work is changing radically, modern Conservatism applauds these shifts in the workforce and focuses it’s nostalgia on “little Englander” brexit and grammar school elitism.

Tories, see the changes in the workforce as an opportunity to rebrand as “the workers’ party” – in which the worker is a totem of rugged individualism, not a symbol of solidarity. In this Tory vision – taken to its logical conclusion by Uber – the acceptance of insecurity becomes a matter of heroism, and a new political division arises, a reworking of the “skivers” versus the “strivers” stereotype.

Arguably Blair tried to lead New Labour in the same direction, but his attempts always worked against his party’s ingrained support for the traditional welfare state and its attachment to increasingly old-fashioned ideas of secure employment. In the context of the modern labour market, lionising work for its own sake will never bolster support for a politics built on those values but rather it seems to push people to the right. Because people who work, no longer see themselves as part of a monolithic mass: many increasingly think of themselves as lone agents, competing with others in much the same way that companies and corporations do.

For the left, a solution might begin with the understanding of an epochal shift that pushed politics beyond the workplace and the economy into the sphere of private life – a transition first articulated by feminism, with the assertion that “the personal is political”.

Building this insight into left politics does not entail a move away from the kind of regulation and intervention that might make modern working lives much more bearable, nor from the idea that government might foster more rewarding and useful work, chiefly via investment and education.

Beyond the old gospel of hard graft and the dignity of labour, any modern centre-left politics has to speak powerfully to elements of people’s lives – as citizens, carers, friends and parents – which it has long underplayed, and for which the incessant demands of modern capitalism leave little room.

In Britain and plenty of other places, there is growing interest in the idea of a universal basic income, built on an understanding of accelerating economic changes, and their far-reaching consequences for the left’s almost religious attachment to the glories of paid employment. It is early days.

Proposing that the state should meet some or all of people’s basic living costs would be acknowledgement that work alone cannot possibly deliver the collective security that the left has always seen as its basic mission, and that space has to be created for the other elements of people’s lives. It would require an understanding that work itself is not enough to escape poverty and insecurity.

The left should be thinking about extending maternity and paternity leave and allowing its reprise when children are older; reviving adult education (often for its own sake, not just in terms of “reskilling”); assisting people in the creation of neighbourhood support networks that might belatedly answer the decline of the extended family; and, most obviously, enabling people to shorten their working week – think about a three-day weekend, and you begin to get a flavour of the left politics of the future.

The deep changes created by a rapidly ageing society will clearly begin to increase the numbers of people beyond working age, and accelerate the shift away from paid work towards caring. Working shorter weeks for longer years, would seem to be an obvious maybe inevitable direction of travel if we are to share resources more equitably within our population.

Clearly, the most radical shift will be caused by automation and its effects on employment. If the Bank of England now reckons that as many as 15m British jobs are under threat from technology, and if a third of jobs in the retail sector are predicted to disappear by 2025, does the myopic, often macho rhetoric of work and the worker really have anything meaningful to offer?

The left naturally embraced the mantra of the Occupy movement – the glaring division between the super rich and the rest of us embodied by the slogan “We are the 99%”. Objectively, the idea of a division between a tiny, light-footed international elite and everybody else holds true. But in everyday life, this division finds little expression.

Instead, the rising inequality fostered by globalisation and free-market economics has created a cultural gap that is tearing the left’s traditional constituency in two.

Once, social democracy was built on the support of both the progressive middle class and the parts of the working class who were represented by the unions. Now, a comfortable, culturally confident constituency (of which I would be a part) seems to stare in bafflement at an increasingly resentful part of the traditionally Labour-supporting working class.

The first group has an internationalised culture, a belief in what the modern vernacular calls diversity, and the confidence that comes with education and relative affluence. It can apparently cope with its version of job insecurity (think the freelance software developer, rather than the warehouse worker on a zero-hours contract).

On the other side are people who have a much more negative view of globalisation and modernity – and in particular, the large-scale movement of people. In the UK, they tend to live in the places that have largely voted Labour but supported leaving the EU, and whose loudest response to globalisation is to re-embrace precisely the ideas that modern economies tend to squash: to emphasise place and belonging, and assert an essentially defensive national identity.

In a cultural sense, national identity can offer people at least some prospect of regaining a sense of who they are, and why that represents something important. Even when it comes to resentments around immigration, a nuanced, empathetic understanding should not be beyond anyone’s grasp: people can be disorientated by rapid population change and anxious to assert a sense of place without such feelings turning hateful.

There is also a much nastier side to all this – a surge in racism, which has happened all over Europe, and appears to have been given grim licence by the Brexit vote. Even in its most unpleasant manifestations, most prejudice has a wider context, and it is clear that these modern antipathies are most keenly felt in places that have either been left behind by modernity, or represent its most difficult elements: insecure job markets, scarce housing, overstretched public services.

This new mood is growing partly because of factors tangled up with the decline of the left: the demise of trade unions and the traditional workplace, which have left political vacuums now filled by another form of collective identity. An obvious example is the new politics of England and Englishness, which is as much bound up with class as it is with place, and has so far simmered away without finding a coherent expression.

But the left, in Britain as much as in Europe, remains in denial about why people have taken refuge in such expressions of nationhood.

This is something that applies to both so-called “Blairites”, and Corbyn and his supporters: one is enraptured by globalisation and tends to think of vocal expressions of patriotism as a retrogressive block on progress; the other cleaves to a rose-tinted internationalism that regards such things as a facade for bigotry.

 

If left politics is not to shrink into a metropolitan shadow of itself and abandon hope of gaining national power, it has to change. Indeed, if British politics is not to speed towards the kind of nasty populism taking root all over Europe and calling the shots in such countries as Poland and Hungary, this is a matter of urgency – not least because as automation takes hold, the disorientation on which the new rightwing politics feeds will only increase. Things will get worse not better. The left need an answer.

Scotland is perhaps instructive. The Scottish National party’s essential triumph has been to bond with millions of people via a modern, “civic” kind of nationhood, and thereby recast a social democratic model of government in terms of identity and belonging – rather than standing on the other side of a cultural divide, as Labour now does in England. To some extent, this is a matter of clever branding, and the successive political feats pulled off by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon: the lion’s share of SNP MPs and MSPs are almost as metropolitan and media-savvy as the scions of New Labour were.

But for the time being, it undoubtedly works.

South of the border, by contrast, a key part of Labour’s crisis is that it so clearly fails to speak to swaths of England – and Wales – and leaves these places open to political forces that want to sever their residual links to left politics for good.

 

If the left’s predicament comes down to a single fault, it is this. It is very good at demanding change, but pretty hopeless at understanding it.

Supposedly radical elements too often regard deep technological shifts as the work of greedy capitalists and rightwing politicians, and demand that they are rolled back. Meanwhile, the self-styled moderates tend to advocate large-scale surrender, instead of recognising that technological and economic changes can create new openings for left ideas. A growing estrangement from the left’s traditional supporters makes these problems worse, and one side tends to cancel out the other.

The result: as people experience dramatic change in their everyday lives, they form the impression that half of politics has precious little to say to them.

In a political reality as complex as ours, there are inevitable problems for the political right as well. But modern challenges for the centre-right will always be less difficult than they are for the left. The former, after all, seeks to safeguard and advance modern capitalism rather than substantially change it. Even in the absence of a broad social base, the right is sustained by big business and the conservative press, which give it huge political advantages.

In 1931, the great Labour thinker RH Tawney wrote a short text titled The Choice Before the Labour Party, casting a cold eye over its predicament in terms that ring as true now as they must have done then. Labour, he wrote, “does not achieve what it could, because it does not know what it wants”.

No party can exist forever. If the left is to finally leave the 20th century, the process will have to start with the ideas and convictions that answer the challenges of a modernity it is only just starting to wake up to, let alone understand.

 

Or maybe

In a recent post, I wondered what the political left, the Labour Party in the UK was for?

There are three clear challenges to the party so clearly identified with the “worker”:

  • traditional work – and the left’s notion of “the worker” – is fading, as people struggle through a new era of temporary jobs and rising self-employment, which may soon be succeeded by a drastic new age of automation;
  • a new wave of opposition to globalisation, led by forces on the right, which emphasise nostalgia, essentially a sense of place and belonging, and a mistrust of outsiders; and finally,
  • politics rapidly fragmenting, leaving the idea that one single party or ideology cannot possibly represent a majority of people.

In a recent Guardian article, Jeremy Corbyn sought to address these challenges, which he saw reflected in the UK voting to leave the EU.

Whilst clearly momentous, it’s important to remember that the vote was close and can most clearly be seen as a generational split with older parts of the electorate voting in large numbers to leave the EU.  Drawing any large conclusions from the referendum is difficult. Choosing sides in the referendum automatically excludes those who voted in the opposite direction. This is perhaps one reason why the Conservative government is struggling to fill in the detail of what exactly Brexit means Brexit looks like in real-life.

According to Jeremy Corbyn, the Brexit vote represented people’s rejection of an economic status quo that had failed them,  in a speech calling for a high-investment economy with better wages and job security.

Giving the most comprehensive outline yet of his economic programme if he were re-elected as Labour leader next week, Corbyn said the party should “have a good think” about the concept of a universal basic income

The idea of a universal basic income is based on the idea that work is becoming more precarious, that it is no longer enough to work to avoid poverty and need. Inman ways, the existence of work credits (an in-work welfare benefit) already accepts this basic idea. As traditional working patterns change, with rising temporary contracts and self-employment becoming the new normal, the welfare system will have to change as well.

Speaking alongside the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Corbyn painted the UK’s departure from the EU as a choice between two new economic visions.

Theresa May’s Conservative government seemed set on a Sports Direct-type future of insecure and low-paid jobs, Corbyn suggested, calling it “a mean-spirited vision that will squander talents and skills”. He lambasted the government for its lack of vision for a post-Brexit UK, saying that instead the party was “retreating to a 1950s fantasy world” of new grammar schools.

Asked after his speech about his own vision of a future relationship with the EU, Corbyn said he wanted close trade relations. “Hopefully that will be part of a single market,” he said. But in his own rush towards nostalgia, he also said, however, that any post-Brexit deal should preclude agreements to privatise public services and should not feature current rules on a ban on state aid for industries that not all EU members abided by.

His reaction to globalisation seemed to be primarily a return to protectionism.

He called for a programme of national investment in infrastructure and training, and an emphasis on scientific research and nation-wide high-speed broadband. Whilst improvements to infrastructure are likely to improve the UK’s low productivity, and should be welcomed, there was no mention of where the money would come from to pay for any of this.

He also said the changing global economic situation presented “a deep challenge to the social democratic and socialist tradition of which Labour, new or old, has always been a part”. He added: “It can no longer credibly be argued, for the majority of people, that free trade and free markets alone will deliver increased prosperity. A future Labour government will have to do more than redistribute income and wealth.” So higher taxes then.

Other ideas floated in the speech included giving each new recipient of a national insurance number details on how to join a trade union, and a “Philip Green law” to curb dividends and set rules on adding debt to companies. Corbyn added: “We can and we will rebuild and transform this economy so that no one and no community is left behind.”

There is no suggestion that he is willing to accept a move towards proportional representation as a voting system, yet the days when Labour would be able to gain a stand-alone majority under the current system seem long-gone.

His reaction to the fragmenting political scene, seems largely to ignore it, buoyed by grassroots membership support, ignoring polls that suggest Labour has become unelectable as a government.

Absent

My oldest daughter left home a week ago for university. She’s coping.

She lives in a flat with eight other kids, each with a single bedroom with a closet sized wet room with shower, toilet and sink. They share a kitchen and a sitting area.

And no one other than her appears to be homesick.

Except that can’t really be true can it? Some will be arriving from boarding school or gap years so will be independent and used to living solo. Some may be escaping from families they’re not very happy with. But surely at least half of them must be from straightforward loving, “good-enough” families.

BF2’s daughter was dropped off this weekend. They drove away with her in floods of tears. Her younger brother was also crying and has apparently slept in her bed each night since.

I can’t work out how I feel about that last piece of information.

My girl’s feedback has basically been one of long hours and boredom. She doesn’t drink so the excessive parties have passed her by a bit. She’s been along to a few societies and may join one or two. Her flatmates seem reasonable enough but not really engaging. Her course, just started seems interesting but the numbers 60-80 are daunting enough.

She has yet to see her way clear to making close friends. She misses her home, her family her best friend.

In the flat, people are finding their place: the slob, the OCD cleaner, the one who “borrows” everyone else’s stuff. The boys are living up to their “useless around the house” stereotype which she refuses to make good on, refuses to “mother” or otherwise look after them.

Two out of the three guys have arrived with girlfriends. Despite this, my baby tells me the boys are pretty grim looking. Maybe 1 in a 100 is attractive as opposed to the girls who are all making an effort. Maybe it’s not a bad time to be gay.

She’s been surprised by the academic variation on her course. some kids are obviously well taught to pass the test in the subject but pretty dim, no reading around or understanding or real interest. Some kids are very bright and switched on. Some clearly want to be where they are whilst others seem lost.

Technology means we get to talk each day. As she settles in and makes friends, this will reduce but at the moment it’s a transitional godsend for both of us. I miss my baby.

Milliband (2)

There is an excellent article in the New Statesman by David Milliband, damning the current position of the Labour Left in the UK.

The left needs to renew itself in the same way as during three previous periods in the wilderness – first in the 1930s, then in the 1950s, then in the 1980s/1990s.

Historically three questions have been defining.

  • Does the left put values above doctrine?

Is the left focused more on results (values) or means (doctrine)? The voting public, as opposed to the politically active members of parties, do not believe in dogma. It wants to elect people who can make things happen, who can make the system work for them in a real sense. . When Labour is seen to put values in the driving seat (sometimes called ethical socialism)  then policy imagination is the result. When it is willing to use markets and the voluntary sector as well as the state as agents of change, the left in Britain and around Europe has shown the capacity not only to win the confidence of the public but also to change the country. The Conservative Party’s words about a more equal society show the power of traditionally left values. But the public needs to believe that the left have new and effective ideas to achieve them.

  • Does the left have policies for wealth creation as well as fair distribution?

There is much evidence that aside from the social and personal impact, social inequality is economically inefficient in the developed world. Tackling inequality is necessary, yet not sufficient to grow the economy. Policy development is vitally needed in both supply and demand areas to help avoid the trap of low growth and high inequality. More public spending on its own does not solve this problem – and, in the absence of serious ideas for raising productivity, will not work. How will Labour improve productivity in the UK? How will it help people create wealth?

  • Does the left have an international perspective as well as a national one?

In the 1930s this was about appeasement. In the 1980s it was about Europe. And today Europe is again the fulcrum. The temptation is going to be to chase Euroscepticism, to retreat from the world in a regressive nationalism. Yet clearly now is the time to set clear tests for the government’s negotiations with the European Union, to show how a progressive approach to engagement with the EU can help manage globalisation. Nationalist isolationism of the left (or the right) offers no answers in an age of interdependence. The world has moved on and changed. It may feel comforting to try and turn back the clock to the 1950s but it won’t actually work.

There is a host of contingent and tactical issues that needs to be addressed by those active on the political stage. But the structural and strategic issues listed here are a matter for us all.

Vulva

An astonishing number of women, young and old, could accurately draw a picture of s dick and have no clue what their own genitals look like. The Guardian is making a start.

 

policy

Corbyn has won the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK with an even larger mandate, and an even larger part membership. Clearly something is working for him with any number of people. Whatever it is it escapes me.

Corbin has published ten big pledges or policy ideas which are worth looking through and thinking about in some detail.

There are some omissions. There is nothing obviously here about wealth creation and rather a lot about wealth redistribution or spending.

Traditionally, Labour is seen as a spending party, high taxation and high regulation. It is the party of big government. The omission of wealth creation policy matters because it has become too easy to characterise the Labour Party as the party of benefit “scroungers”, the party that takes money away from hard working people, that sets itself against personal success and progress.

But the ommission is in many ways part of a retro feel to the whole scheme.

  • Full employment and an economy that works for all

Corbyn pledges “We will create a million good quality jobs across our regions and nations and guarantee a decent job for all.

There is no suggestion as to how this will be accomplished or at what cost, or indeed any guarantee that the jobs created could be filled by UK citizens. Do we have good quality workers currently looking for yet not finding jobs that the government could somehow conjure out of nowhere?

The UK has historically low unemployment at just 4.9% yet people do not feel economically safe or secure. The nature of employment is changing due in part to the globalisation of business but also due to technology (think “uber”). It is now entirely possible to set up a tiny web based business in one part of the world that can sell anywhere and everywhere. More and more of the UK workforce are to be found “self-employed” or working on zero-hours contracts.

The rise of the precariat, the working insecure is a phenomena that is not going away any time soon. There is political space here for developing a useful Labour-value based policy but this isn’t it.

By investing £500 billion in infrastructure, manufacturing and new industries backed up by a publicly-owned National Investment Bank and regional banks we will build a high skilled, high tech, low carbon economy that ends austerity and leaves no one and nowhere left behind. We will invest in the high speed broadband, energy, transport and homes that our country needs and allow good businesses to thrive, and support a new generation of co-operative enterprises.”

Investment in infrastructure to improve the lamentable efficiency and productivity of the UK labour force has to be welcomed. Simple stuff like building houses, roads, rail and flight connections could have a big impact on working productivity yet opposition to new build houses, new rail links, new airport runways is rife within the Labour Party.

Investing in green energy sounds great and may have significant long term value but will it gain votes?

And above all how are we to pay for this investment? The UK electorate has been persuaded that the country needs to “live within it’s means” ie. pay down it’s debt and be economically sober. Where does the £500m come from and how do we pay for it?

  • A secure homes guarantee

Corbyn promises: “We will build a million new homes in five years, with at least half a million council homes, through our public investment strategy. We will end insecurity for private renters by introducing rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights, and increase access to affordable home ownership.”

In England we still labour under the Right-to-Buy legislation which allows social housing tenants to buy their property at a discount after a set time. As a result, most councils have stopped building new council homes and have tended to enter into partnerships with charities, housing associations, which are exempt from the legislation. The alternative is to spend the money, build the houses, only to be forced to sell them at a discount and start again. Thanks to the ever increasing price, and shortage of land where it’s needed, and to the discounts they must offer tenants, the council is left with less and less money at each whirl of the merry-go-round. Arguably local government has lost a lot of expertise in the building and management of social housing over the last few decades.

So for every person waiting on the list of their local council who will welcome this promise, there will another family who will be dreading it and the loss of their nest egg as they lose the right to buy (and re-sell at a profit) their house. There will also be an awfully large number of landlords looking at this promise, the introduction of rent controls and increased legislation, that will immediately turn away from the party.

& yet again, we are left wondering where the money will come for this policy. Is it part of the £500m previously mentioned or in addition to that money?

  • Security at work

Corbin: “We will give people stronger employment rights from day one in a job, end exploitative zero hours contracts and create new sectoral collective bargaining rights, including mandatory collective bargaining for companies with 250 or more employees.”

This suggests the reintroduction of closed shops in industry ie. obligatory membership of trade unions (and tithing of a part of someone’s salary to the union). Whilst targeting zero-hours contracts will be popular, it will largely impact women and people at the more vulnerable end of the job market. There will be people who lose out. This will also do nothing for the new self-employment “uber” model

We will create new employment and trade union rights to bring security to the workplace and win better pay and conditions for everyone. We will strengthen working people’s representation at work and the ability of trade unions to organise so that working people have a real voice at work.

Stronger trade unions at a time when membership of unions is falling might well require forcible unionisation of the workforce. Not many people are going to want to see part of their salary siphoned off to a union that they may or may not see as aligned with them and their interests. This will be possible with existing members who are members or affiliates of the trade unions but maybe not the broader population..

And we will put the defence of social and employment rights, as well as action against undercutting of pay and conditions through the exploitation of migrant labour, at the centre of the Brexit negotiations agenda for a new relationship with Europe.”

There is very little in the labour policy pledges that discusses brexit except this suggestion that migration and migrants from the EU should be protected.  Given the referendum result and the electorate’s commonly accepted desire to limit immigration, this seems to be running counter to the will of the people.

  • Secure our NHS and social care

Corbyn pledges: We will end health service privatisation and bring services into a secure, publicly-provided NHS. We will integrate the NHS and social care for older and disabled people, funding dignity across the board and ensure parity for mental health services.

This an expensive sounding generic pledge that says very very little indeed. Clearly some tests are better provided outside of the NHS. Certainly the development of new drugs and treatments has no place within the NHS as opposed to its traditional home within pharmaceutical companies. Doctors have always worked in the private sector once they’ve finished their NHS hours.

Above all though we live in an ageing country, something likely to be exacerbated by a decrease in migration as the UK leaves the EU. Because of the demographics, healthcare will inevitably become significantly more expensive. Social care provision for the elderly was outsourced from local government to the private sector where it has proved hugely expensive and impractical. It is not a sector that makes profits easily and sustainably. So there is a clear opportunity to develop adult care homes within the public sector to relieve much of the pressure upon the NHS, with elderly people effectively blocking up the hospitals because they do not have a safe and secure home environment in which to recover.

When we leave the EU, we will potentially struggle to staff both the NHS and adult care. 75% of people working in adult social care in London are foreign born. The work is hard, low paid, with irregular hours and often poor working conditions. If Labour makes the workforce more secure (see previous pledges) it will also make the NHS and social care much more expensive.

We are currently struggling to fund the NHS, failing to fund adult social care. Where will the money come from to fund even these generic pledges? Where will the people come from to staff the new improved NHS and social care model?

  • A national education service, open to all

Labour pledges: “We will build a new National Education Service, open to all throughout their lives. We will create universal public childcare to give all children a good start in life, allowing greater sharing of caring responsibilities and removing barriers to women participating in the labour market. We will bring about the progressive restoration of free education for all; and guarantee quality apprenticeships and adult skills training.”

This could create huge gains in efficiency in the UK workforce through encouraging and empowering women to stay within the workforce when they have children. Building on the SureStart model, it could help many children to achieve more through education. In a more precarious workforce, with people living longer but requiring new skills throughout, re-invigorating adult education could be a real benefit to the UK in terms of efficiency but also basic lifeskill and enjoyment.

It sounds hideously expensive. Where will the money and the staff come from to pay for universal childcare for all? The average cost of 25 hours day nursery for a child under 2 is £115 per week. Around 6% of the UK’s population comprises pre-school children, say 3.9 million. If only 3 million take up the government’s offer, that would be a cost of 3mx£115x48weeks = £16.6billion, a lot of money.

  • Action to secure our environment

“We will act to protect the future of our planet, with social justice at the heart of our environment policies, and take our fair share of action to meet the Paris climate agreement – starting by getting on track with our Climate Change Act goals. We will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future, using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy. We will deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households – energy for the 60 million, not the big 6 energy companies. We will defend and extend the environmental protections gained from the EU.”

This is difficult to argue against and yet is quite expensive to implement. In the short to medium term, energy bills will rise if we move towards renewables. This pledge says nothing about the use of nuclear power which is obviously deeply divisive. A sizeable number of the new party members have arrived from the Green Party and political movement so this will please existing members – not so sure about the broader populace.

  • Put the public back into our economy and services

We will rebuild public services and expand democratic participation, put the public back into our economy, give people a real say in their local communities, and increase local and regional democracy. We will rebuild our economy with public investment to deliver wealth for all, across our regions and nations in a genuinely mixed economy. We will act to ‘insource’ our public and local council services, increase access to leisure, arts and sports across the country and expand our publicly-controlled bus network. We will bring our railways into public ownership and build democratic social control over our energy.

This includes a clear pledge to re-nationalise the railways and the strong suggestion that energy companies are next on the list.

Certainly nationalising the railways would be popular with many commuters in the south-east but yet again we are left wondering how it will be paid for and who will manage the new companies. Does the government have people with expertise in running railway companies or gas and electricity companies? Is this an expertise that we want to develop as part of our government, local or central?

  • Cut income and wealth inequality

We will build a progressive tax system so that wealth and the highest earners are fairly taxed, act against executive pay excess and shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid – FTSE 100 CEOs are now paid 183 times the wage of the average UK worker, and Britain’s wages are the most unequal in Europe. We will act to create a more equal society, boost the incomes of the poorest and close the gender pay gap.

The UK income tax system is incredibly progressive already and it’s worth understanding who pays what in terms of tax contribution to the government’s revenue.

In  2016 roughly 30m people paid tax in the UK as follows:

  • Basic : 24.7m generating 33% tax revenue
  • Higher – 4.4m generating 37% tax revenue
  • Additional tax rate – 0.3m generating 30% tax revenue

It is obviously possible to tax people paying the additional tax rate at a higher level as the new pledge from labour suggests but history suggests that it would cost more to administer than it will generate. Essentially people change their behaviour to either delay taking bonuses, sacrifice them into pensions or move them overseas and out of the UK tax regime.

So Labour could be punitive to little effect.

Or it could try to tinker around with the basic and higher rate tax bands. But with more than 4 million people able to pay higher tax, it’s a clear vote loser for many people. Traditionally the UK electorate have never voted for a government promising to raise taxes. To boost the income of the poorest as promised, it would be easier (and more expensive) to raise thresholds for national insurance taxation.

  • Action to secure an equal society

We will ensure that the human rights of all citizens are respected and all are protected from discrimination and prejudice. We will take action to tackle violence against women and girls, racism and discrimination on the basis of faith, and secure real equality for LGBT and disabled people. We will defend the Human Rights Act and we will guarantee full rights for EU citizens living and working in Britain – and not allow them to be used as pawns in Brexit negotiations.

This rings incredibly hollow given the bullying tone and language from John McDonell who has recentlyrepeated and refused to apologise for his call to “lynch” a female politician on the other side of the house. Given the obvious and on-going problems with anti-semitism and a clear failure to denounce anti-semitic bullying within the party, it is difficult to understand how this policy squares with Labour reality.

  • Peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy

We will put conflict resolution and human rights at the heart of foreign policy, commit to working through the United Nations, end support for aggressive wars of intervention and back effective action to alleviate the refugee crisis. British foreign policy has long failed to be either truly independent or internationally co-operative, making the country less safe and reducing our diplomatic and moral authority. We will build human rights and social justice into trade policy, honour our international treaty obligations on nuclear disarmament and encourage others to do the same.

This is perhaps the most obviously ominous of the pledges made. It seems to promise a withdrawal from NATO alliances, from any kind of military intervention at all. It seems to cleave towards a unilateral nuclear disarmament. At a time of increasing aggression from Russia, this does not feel safe.

 

Poor

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) is a UK charity that campaigns to alleviate poverty in the UK.

JRF’s definition of poverty is when a person’s resources are well below their minimum needs, including the need to take part in society.

In 2008, JRF published the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) – the benchmark of minimum needs based on what goods and services members of the public think are required for an adequate standard of living. This includes food, clothes and shelter; it also includes what we need in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society. Updated annually, MIS includes the cost of meeting needs including food, clothing, household bills, transport, and social and cultural participation.

JRF uses 75% of MIS as an indicator of poverty. People with incomes below this level face a particularly high risk of deprivation. A household with income below 75% of MIS is typically more than four times as likely to be deprived as someone at 100% of MIS or above. In 2016, a couple with two children (one pre-school and one primary school age) would need £422 per week to achieve what the public considers to be the Minimum Income Standard, after housing and childcare costs. A single working-age person would need £178 per week.

Having an income that is just 75% of these amounts – £317 (around £16,500) for the couple and £134 (just less than £7,000) for the single person – is an indication that a household’s resources are highly likely not to meet their needs. The further their incomes fall, the more harmful their situation is likely to be.

JRF recommends supplementing existing measures of poverty with a measure based on the Minimum Income Standard, to reflect better how costs contribute to poverty. They also recommend the introduction of a measure and monitoring of destitution. Destitution is the most severe form of poverty in the UK and means someone can’t afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean and stay warm and dry. 1.25 million people in the UK experienced destitution at some point during 2015.

While overall levels of poverty have remained fairly static over the last 25 years, risks for particular groups have changed. Income poverty among pensioners fell from 40% to 13%, while child poverty rates remain high at 29%, and poverty among working-age adults without dependent children has risen from 14% to around 20%. Child poverty is projected to rise sharply over the next four years and working-age poverty is likely to rise in the longer term unless action is taken now.

Maybe the JRF poverty bands would be reasonable levels to set as a minimum universal income or wage benefit, around £7,000 for each adult with upto £2500 for children within a family structure.

How much do we actually pay out to people as welfare benefits already?

The major recipients of welfare benefits in the UK are pensioners. The full state pension is set currently at £6,200 pa. It would seem politically impossible to pay out more to the working aged poor than the elderly so maybe we need to lower our universal income to £6,200 pa and accept the poverty until political will (and funds) exist to push up both pensions and working age benefit.

To make this work though, there would have to be a huge change in the taxation system to allow everyone, working or otherwise to receive the basic payment from the State. Essentially everyone working would have to have the first £6,200 deducted from their salary. This amount would just be transferred across to the State from the employer to offset the amount of money the individual receives from the government.

The tax rates of the country would be set on top of this basic income so may still include a tax free (and national insurance free) allowance of say £10,000 which would obviously include the amount attributable to the basic universal income, and the also include a basic rate of tax (currently 20%) and higher rate (currently 40%) etc.

Aside from the maths, the working out whether or not simplifying the system in this fashion would offset the cost of seemingly paying more money to some of the people, one of the major issues would be the need or desire to track people claiming benefit, to validate their claim as UK citizens. Because one of the clearer suggestions from the recent referendum result is that immigration needs to be curbed, number limited, and benefit payments to non-UK citizens should be limited.

At the moment it seems to be incredibly difficult to track who claims what benefits and how much, in large part because  the range of benefits that can be claimed is huge and complicated, including benefits paid to this in and out of work. It seems likely that if we are to establish some kind of control over immigration, in particular the tracking of people on work visas over time, we will need to start using ID tracking of some sort maybe based around national insurance numbers.

Moving forwards

The problem with a left wing Labour Party is one of electability.

The Fabian’s analysis is as floors: Labour needs 104 seats in England and Wales and 40% of the vote to win.

In the marginals, four out every five of the extra votes must come from those who were Tory last time. Even if the young are energised and turnout soars to Scottish referendum heights, it gets nowhere close.

Even if every single Liberal Democrat and Green vote went Labour, that only gives 29 seats. Even if Ukip were crushed, its vote divides equally Labour and Tory. As Labour wins radical votes, it risks losing moderate votes to the Tories: 2% went that way last time.

Corbyn suggested the research approached the issue “from the wrong end of the telescope”. While he conceded Labour will have to “win back people who voted for other parties”, he focused his response on “young people who didn’t register, and didn’t vote”, and “reliable Labour voters who disappeared in to the arms of UKIP or non-voting”. Instead of winning over large numbers of Conservative voters, it seems he wants to chart a path to victory by building a coalition of the left and the disenchanted.

On the surface, this approach seems logical. Only 23.4% of all registered voters voted Conservative in 2015, and the Fabians were among those who argued for this to be part of Labour’s electoral strategy before the last election. But is it plausible in 2020?

First, consider the goal of attracting more non-voters to the polls. This was already part of Labour’s strategy in the run-up to the 2015 election, and was strongly supported by Fabian research.

But what actually happened in May? Despite a brilliant ground game and an impressive tally of five million conversations, turnout went up nationally by 1%, and the average increase in turnout across Labour’s 106 key seats was just 1.2 per cent. If Labour runs a similarly impressive ground operation in 2020, and manages to increase turnout in our projected target seats by another 1.2 per cent, Fabian Society analysis shows that Labour would only win another 11 seats in England and Wales – even if every single one of the new voters backed Labour.

Of course any good ground game should be backed up by a compelling national campaign, and the logic of the Corbyn-surge is surely that a strong anti-austerity, anti-establishment message, can reach parts of the electorate other politics can’t reach. While many are sceptical, Corbyn can point to the centre-left SNP’s success in boosting turnout in Scotland. But even if Labour secured a Scotland-style boost in turnout of 7.3% across the English and Welsh marginals, a maximum of 52 seats could be won, if each new voter backed Labour – still dozens of seats away from a majority.

The Fabian analysis shows that in 2020, just boosting turnout won’t be enough for a Labour victory.

To win the country, Labour needs to win Conservative voters and yet it seems very clear throughout the media that Corbyn supporters not only are not interested, they seem to actively despise this part of the electorate.

Read the research yourself and groan. It hurts.

Missing

I miss my baby.

It has been just three weeks and I miss her still and am resigning myself to always feeling this absence, this lack. I finally understand the idea of heartache. She’s coming home to visit for “reading week” and I am counting down the days and weeks.

Apparently and English Literature degree is quite a solitary endeavour. She has around 6 hours worth of lectures a week (not much for £9,000 per year) plus one or two seminars and a tutorial group. There are about 60-80 kids in the lectures so they are intrinsically anti-social compared with 16-17 in a seminar and 4-6 in a tutorial group.

So far they have covered Genesis 1-9, basically unto Noah and the flood, followed by the Odyssey and now Beowulf with a brief foray into poetry with Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold. It all seems remarkably like hard work, looking at the how and the why of when these pieces of work might be written and how their ideas are seen to be still relevant in their telling and retelling through to modern day. Her current buzzword is critical analyses.

She has no idea how any of this work is to be assessed. Apparently performance in seminars will contribute a part of the assessment so obviously some of the group are doing their best to be loud and noticeable, mainly the boys. This is her return to mixed classes (single sex education 12-18) so she’s having to adjust to the “Look at me” style many boys adopt. She expects there to be a couple of essays to write as well as an exam at the end of the year she has to pass. She is unreasonably pleased with the idea that only a pass is required, that the marks will not contribute to her final degree.

She’s not hugely impressed with loud boys talking loudly with nothing useful to say in seminars.

Her flat is mixed though mainly girls and they seem to be gelling as a group. The girls have had the obligatory bake off (jam tarts at midnight) which was a huge bonding experience and maybe explained why some are less homesick than others.

Apparently, not all families are happy. We’ve done well to escape that sad fact for so long.

It is strange and disorientating to hear from a distance how my love is moving forwards with her life. Obviously I am happy that she is growing and developing, becoming herself on her own terms in the wider world. It is a letting-go that feels inevitable and healthy, still sad for me though.

Technology means that we get to wish her good morning and goodnight each day, to chat during off moments when she’s free. WhatsApp and mobile phones mean that we can still be part of her day, as can her best friend from school.

The world is much much smaller than when I was at college.

October

Why?

Britain’s choice to vote Leave, we are told, is a protest by those left behind by modernisation and globalisation. London versus the regions, poor versus rich. But is it true?

Brexit voters, like Trump supporters, are motivated by identity, not economics. Age, education, national identity and ethnicity are more important than income or occupation. But to get to the basis of the Leave-Remain divide, we need to look at attitudes and personality.

Strikingly, the visible differences between groups voting in the referendum are less important than invisible differences between individuals. These don’t pit one group against another, they slice through groups, communities and even families. It’s easier for us to look at groups than personality differences. It’s easy to imagine a young student or London professional voting Remain; or a working-class man with a northern accent backing Leave.

Open and Closed personalities are harder to reference: yet these invisible differences are the ones that counted most – around two or three times as much as the group differences.

A second problem looking at the referendum result is that many analyses are spatial. Place can be very important, especially for first-past-the-post elections. However, some characteristics vary a lot over space and others don’t.

Figure 1 ranks Local Authorities and England and Wales by the average social grade of their White British residents. The lower the average class position of White British residents, the higher the vote for Brexit. In fact, this working class index explains 58% of the variation in the Leave vote across districts.

But, according to the 2015 British Election Study Internet Panel of over 24,000 respondents, class only explains 1-2 per cent of the variation in Brexit voting intention among individuals. There may have been a slight shift over the past year, but this won’t have altered the results much.

Figure 1.

figure1
Source: Census dataElectoral Commission 

Why the discrepancy? Social characteristics such as class, ethnicity or region are related to where people live, so they vary from place to place. Psychology and personality do vary over space a little because they are affected a bit by social characteristics like age. But they are mainly shaped by birth order, genetics, life experiences and other influences which vary within, not across, districts.

Aggregate analysis distorts individual relationships even when there aren’t problems caused by the ecological fallacy. The sex ratio, for instance, is more or less the same from one place to another, so even if gender really mattered for the vote, maps hide this truth. On the other hand, maps can also exaggerate. If 1% of Cornwall votes for the Cornish nationalists then Cornwall would light up on a map of Cornish nationalist voting with a 100% correlation. But knowing that all Cornish nationalist voters live in Cornwall doesn’t tell us much about why people vote for Cornish nationalists.

As with region in the case of Cornish nationalism, class matters for the vote over space because it affects, or reflects, where we live. This tells us a lot about a little. Notice the range of district average class scores in figure 1 runs only from 1.8 to 2.4 whereas individuals’ class scores range from 1 (AB) to 4 (DE). The average difference from the mean between individuals is ten times as great as that between districts.

Let’s therefore look at individuals: what the survey data tell us about why people voted Brexit. Imagine you have a thousand British voters and must determine which way they voted. Figure 2 shows that if you guess, knowing nothing about them, you’ll get 50 percent right on average. Armed with information on region or their economic situation – income and social grade – your hit rate improves to about 54 percent, not much better than chance.

In other words, the big stories about haves versus have-nots, or London versus the regions, are less important.

Age or education, which are tied more strongly to identity, get you over 60% though one could argue that education is itself only a proxy for age. Ethnicity is important but tricky: minorities are much less likely to have voted Leave, but this tells us nothing about the White British majority so doesn’t improve our overall predictive power much.

Invisible attitudes are more powerful than group categories. If we know whether someone supports UKIP, Labour or some other party, we increase our score to over 70%, although again UKIP voters tend to be older, white British so is this just another age proxy?

The same is true for a person’s immigration attitudes. Knowing whether someone thinks European unification has gone too far takes us close to 80% accuracy. But then, this is pretty much the same as asking about Brexit, minus a bit of risk appetite.

Figure 2.

figure2
Source: British Election Study 2015 Internet Panel, waves 1-3

What really stands out about figure 2 is the importance of support for the death penalty. Nobody has been out campaigning on this issue, yet it strongly correlates with Brexit voting intention. This speaks to a deeper personality dimension which social psychologists like Bob Altemeyer  dub Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). A less judgmental way of thinking about RWA is order versus openness.

The order-openness divide is emerging as the key political cleavage, overshadowing the left-right economic dimension. This was noticed as early as the mid-1970s by Daniel Bell, but has become more pronounced as the aging West’s ethnic transformation has accelerated.

Figure 3 shows that 71% of those most in favour of the death penalty indicated in 2015 that they would vote to leave the EU. This falls to 20% among those most opposed to capital punishment. A similar picture results for other RWA questions such as the importance of disciplining children. RWA is only tangentially related to demographics. Education, class, income, gender and age play a role, but explain less than 10% of the variation in support for the death penalty.

Figure 3.

figure3Source: British Election Study 2015 Internet Panel, waves 1-3.

Karen Stenner, author of the Authoritarian Dynamic, argues that people are divided between those who dislike difference – signifying a disordered identity and environment – and those who embrace it. The former abhor both ethnic and moral diversity. Many see the world as a dangerous place and wish to protect themselves from it.

Pat Dade at Cultural Dynamics has produced a heat map of the kinds of values that correspond to strong Euroscepticism, and to each other. This is shown in figure 4. Disciplining children and whipping sex criminals (circled), keeping the nation safe, protecting social order and skepticism (‘few products live up to the claims of their advertisers…products don’t last as long as they used to’) correlate with Brexit sentiment.

These attitude dimensions cluster within the third of the map known as the ‘Settlers’, for whom belonging, certainty, roots and safety are paramount. This segment is also disproportionately opposed to immigration in virtually every country Dade has sampled. By contrast, people oriented toward success and display (‘Prospectors’), or who prioritise expressive individualism and cultural equality (‘Pioneers’) voted Remain.

Figure 4.

figure4

All told, the Brexit story is mainly about values, not economic inequality. A vote to leave was a fearful vote, a vote to turn back the clock, not necessarily to a better time, but to a more certain past and away from a perceived uncertain future.

Home

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years as the growing gap between earnings and property prices has created a housing crisis that extends beyond London to cities including Manchester.

The struggle to get on the housing ladder is not just a feature of the London property market, according to a new report by the Resolution Foundation thinktank, with Greater Manchester seeing as big a slump in ownership since its peak in the early 2000s as parts of the capital, and cities in Yorkshire and the West Midlands also seeing sharp drops.

Home ownership across England reached a peak in April 2003, when 71% of households owned their home, either outright or with a mortgage, but by February this year the figure had fallen to 64%, the Resolution Foundation said.

The figure is the lowest since 1986, when home ownership levels were on the way up, with a housing market boom fuelled by the deregulation of the mortgage industry and the introduction of the right-to-buy policy for council homes by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government.

I live in London where house prices are extraordinary. I live in a house that, through no virtue of mine, has more than doubled in value since bought. The cash sum attributable to my mom his meaningless to me. I need a place to live I can’t realistically see my house if I want my kids to feel free to come home, to bring their families to stay-over when they want later in life. I like where I live and following in the footsteps of my 98year old neighbour, this is where I’d like to live out my days.

But I also want my kids to live nearby and that will be hard to achieve even with the bucketsful of privilege we share.

House prices are that high.

A quick search shows the cheapest (plug ugly, busy main road) 1 bed flat is currently for sale at £300,000. I have two daughters. The mortgage calculator shows an interest rate of around 4.15% and a minimum deposit of 10% so that would be £60,000 I would have to find in order to help them onto the property ladder, plus possible standing as guarantor to their mortgage debt.

Their grandmother died last year, and the family are going through the process of selling her house. Maybe the proceeds from that sale will be able to pay down deposits for the kids. Maybe we will just feel able to set aside the £27,000 cost of university that the girl’s will take out as government loans for their first home.

It all feels a little bit fragile.

The Resolution Foundation’s analysis highlights the scale of the job faced by the prime minister, Theresa May, who has pledged to tackle the housing deficit. May warned last month that unless the issue was dealt with “young people will find it even harder to afford their own home. The divide between those who inherit wealth, like my girls,  and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing.”

The report, based on analysis of the latest Labour Force Survey, showed that in early 2016 only 58% of households in Greater Manchester were homeowners, compared with a peak of 72% in 2003. In outer London, the peak in ownership came earlier, in 2000, but the fall was also from 72% then to 58% in February. The West Midlands and Yorkshire have also seen double-digit drops, driven by declines in Sheffield and Leeds.

Stephen Clarke, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “London has a well-known and fully blown housing crisis but the struggle to buy a home is just as big a problem in cities across the north of England.”

In the early years of the millennium, homeownership levels rose as buyers able to take out mortgages with no deposit scrambled to get on the ladder before prices became unaffordable. At that point the average cost of a UK property was £122,748 and growing at a rate of 20% a year, according to Nationwide Building Society, and banks and building societies were keen to lend.

But numbers started to drop as properties became less affordable and the downward trend continued as the housing market crashed after the credit crunch in 2008. The return of mortgages for borrowers with small deposits has brought first-time buyers back to the market, but the analysis underlines how great the struggle is to meet today’s new high house prices. According to Nationwide, the UK average had risen to £196,930 in February – a 60% increase in 13 years.

Lindsay Judge, an expert on housing at the thinktank, said the problem was one of affordability. “House prices began to outpace earnings in the early 2000s,” Judge said. “When the market fell so did earnings – house prices began to come down but so did people’s pay, or it was stagnating at best, so few people were able to make the most of falling prices.”

The analysis showed that across England levels of private renting almost doubled from 11% in 2003 to 19% in 2015, while in Greater Manchester the figure more than trebled, from 6% to 20%.

The Resolution Foundation said this shift in tenure could mean problems in the future, as individuals would need to find a way of funding their housing in retirement, or may need to turn to the benefits system for help. Clarke said: “The shift to renting privately can reduce current living standards and future wealth, with implications for individuals and the state. We cannot allow other cities to edge towards the kind of housing crisis that London has been saddled with.”

Anne Baxendale, head of policy and public affairs at the housing charity Shelter, said house prices were now “completely out of step with average wages”.

She added: “Sky-high rents are leaving many families struggling to make ends meet each month, let alone save up enough for the deposit on a home. Far from being the stepping stone it once was, many young people and families are now facing a lifetime stuck in expensive and unstable private renting.

“The new government has a real chance to give hope back to these families by tackling the root cause of the housing crisis and building genuinely affordable homes that people on ordinary incomes can actually afford to rent or buy.”

Dan Wilson-Craw, policy manager at the campaign group Generation Rent, said saving up for a deposit was becoming harder for would-be homeowners, especially those in insecure work. “Renting in the private sector is the only option for many, and 12-month contracts mean their homes are insecure too,” he said. “Everyone needs a stable home, whether or not they can afford to buy, so the government must look at reforming tenancy law.”

Grahame Morris, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for communities, said the research showed the government had failed to deliver on its promise to build homes. “Building more homes is part of the solution that involves increasing the housing mix we need to deal with the chronic housing crisis we face today,” he said. “The report highlights that we have the lowest level of new builds for generations. At the same time more and more people are being forced into the private rented sector, paying higher rents with little protection from unscrupulous landlords.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government said more than 300,000 people had been helped into homeownership through government-backed schemes since 2010.

“On top of this, latest figures show that for the first time in 20 years, first-time buyers have borrowed more than home movers,” a spokesman said. “However, we know there is more to do, which is why we’ve set out the most ambitious vision for housing in a generation, including delivering hundreds of thousands of homes exclusively for first-time buyers.”

Income

The UK Government income is based around tax receipts, typically:

  1. Income tax (main tax rate is 20%)
  2. National Insurance
  3. VAT (20% most goods and services)
  4. Corporation tax (main rate 21-20%)
  5. Council Tax (local government)
  6. Business rates
  7. Excise duties (alcohol, cigarettes)
  8. Other taxes include (stamp duty, carbon tax, airport tax, inheritance tax, capital gains)

Screen-Shot-2011-11-17-at-10.04.06-500x327

Most tax is collected by HM Revenue and Custom.

However, the central government also get revenue from other sources which can be identified through {public sector finances at ONS (less detailed). Total tax revenue was around £90 billion.

Since the UK government has mainlined on balancing the books, and we live in an ever more expensive world where we all want more and more “stuff” including the government, then essentially every UK government is faced with either cutting spending or increasing revenue.

Since taxing more is unpopular, the emphasis has always been on trying to cut spending but we have had quite a few stealth taxes, increases to the lesser know or lesser observed taxes such as national insurance. One other wheeze is to push expenditure off onto local government, whilst limiting them to raise additional taxes through the local Council tax thus making local government the villain of the piece.

So if I was in charge of the government, what would I think about doing?

Honesty. Transparency. Fairness.

Let’s start with openly combining income tax and national insurance. In peoples minds they monitor the former very tightly and the latter barely at all and yet, they are all essentially the same tax, used interchangeably.

tax_3270762b

So although the headlines focused on raising the tax limit for income tax to above £10,000, it totally ignores the NI contributions payable from £8,060. Although the base rate of tax discussed is said to be 20%, taking into account NI means the lower effective rate of tax that most people pay is actually more than 30%.

We should be honest about this.

Honest. Transparent. Fair.

Income tax in the UK is largely taxed at source, deducted from pay packets before people have access to it and therefore for most people entirely unavoidable. It is essentially a progressive tax which takes a bigger % of income from higher earners. It is therefore also a fairly redistributive system.

It seems unreasonable to charge anyone more in tax than they are able to keep. Something feels unreasonable or unfair about the idea of taxing more than 50% of a person’s efforts but looking at the graphic above, it seems clear that aside from some very minor tweaks when child benefit is taxed and allowances lost, the highest effective rate of tax is just over 40%.

So what would happen if we set the basic rate threshold at £10,000 for the new combined all-income tax (income tax + NI) setting the rate at the current effective level of around 32%? This would be with a view to tweaking the rate up or down once people had got used to the combined all-income tax and the effects could be quantified in practice.

More of the poorest people should be taken out of tax entirely by avoiding NI contributions. Most people would pay slightly more at the lower rate (£600×32%- £192) which would hopefully pay for the lost NI income

And then suppose we leave the higher rate threshold unchanged but set the higher rate of combined all-income tax at 50% ie. higher than the current effective rate of 42% but not gouging. We should abandon all the claw-backs for child benefit and lower tax thresholds. The system would be simpler and easier to understand. It feels honest, transparent and fair.

Although the income tax system is progressive, other taxes are more regressive.

At 20% VAT tends to be more regressive. People on low income have a higher marginal propensity to consume. Therefore, the VAT they pay is a higher % of their total income. People on high income will spend more and will pay more VAT, but they will have a lower marginal propensity to consume (People on high incomes can afford to save a higher % of income). Therefore, VAT will be a smaller % of income spent. The regressive nature of VAT is slightly compensated by the fact that in theory, necessities like food (e.g. cold pastries, cabbages) don’t have VAT. VAT is supposed to be targeted at luxury goods. It’s also worth noting that a significant amount of income received by people on low income comes from the state in the form of benefits.

Other taxes like excise duties on cigarettes and taxes on alcohol are much more regressive. Smoking rates tend to be higher amongst people with lower incomes. Also, it will be a much bigger % of income than for rich smokers. We persuade ourselves that these taxes are for the health benefit of the individuals involved.

We could therefore consider intruding a sugar tax, on similar grounds, that high-sugar foods, especially those targeted at children are bad for their health. This is likely to be highly regressive since obesity is more commonplace amongst people on low income but it’s also likely to be popular with the voting public because of it’s health benefit.

Council Tax, a UK tax on domestic properties, can also be quite regressive and arguably unfair. People living in expensive areas end up having high housing costs, but also a higher council tax band. Arguably a fairer method of collecting local tax would be a local income tax but there are sizeable barriers to implementing any change. the minute a widow is forced out of her large (and expensive) house to pay her tax bill, is the minute a government gets into trouble.

Business rates are the property taxes charged on non-domestic problems and have recently been amended to allow local government to retain 50% amount raised rather than paying into a central pot and having money allocated back.

Inheritance tax raises a relatively small amount of money each year, at around £4.6 million a year but obviously this is in part because of significant tax planning for large scale landowners. The new Duke of Westminster will inherit control of an estate (held in trust) worth in excess of £9billion and pay no tax whatsoever.

It is not the business of the government to encourage the build up of inherited wealth within the hands of the privileged few. Any inheritance should be taxed as a receipt by the beneficiaries in the year in which the gain is realised, as part of the combined all-income tax. For people on low income, an inheritance would be subject to the standard tax bands and rates, treated as a top layer of income.

Since of most people the bulk of any inheritance is property, and the capital gains on houses are not the result of any intrinsic hard work or merit, it seems unreasonable to encourage windfalls for the next generation through any tax system.

It also seems unreasonable to ask the state to fund care in old age in order to preserve any such inheritance for the next generation. Treating any inheritance as windfall income should reduce the temptation to preserve wealth at the expense of paying for a decent standard of living, including care costs in old age.

Another much discussed problem with the UK tax system is the scope for having offshore accounts and avoiding paying tax through tax avoidance schemes.  Tax avoidance is often easier by people with high incomes. Unfortunately it is also perhaps the most expensive problem to address since high income people can afford high fees for good advice.

So my no doubt incredibly unpopular suggestions for change on the “income” side of the puzzle include:

  • Combining Income Tax and National Insurance
  • Set the threshold for basic all-income tax at £10,000
  • Set the tax rate for higher rate tax payers for the new all-income tax at 50%
  • Abolish the various tweaks re: child benefit and removing nil bands
  • Introduce a sugar tax
  • Abolish inheritance tax and treat any inheritance as a windfall to be subject to the all-income tax as a top layer of income.

Not going to happen.

 

Expenses

In order to balance the books, the UK government can either raise more money through taxes or cut the amount of money it spends. For the last few decades, the emphasis has all been on cutting costs, in particular the cost of welfare though the emphasis has always been placed on culling “undeserving poor” rather than pensioners.

Screen-Shot-2014-11-25-at-08.34.32-600x326

The overall breakdown of spending lumps a great deal together under the heading “social protection” which needs to be broken down further in order to understand where the money goes.

Other large areas of expenditure are health and education but these are difficult to cut without offending great swathes of the population.

Public-spending-460

Government departments are essentially organised to manage these budgets.

The welfare budget total is temptingly large and yet political sensitivities make it difficult to cut. It’s also important to remember that the UK spends less on welfare relative to other developed countries.

The charts show that about half of welfare goes to pensioners, a very sensitive group since they are sensitive to small changes and tend to vote in significant numbers. The next largest amounts go to families with a disabled person, and support and housing for low income families,the majority of whom are in work.

Less than 1 in 5 households receive any housing benefit. Unemployment benefits make up a very small percentage of all social spending.

Currently UK pensioners are guaranteed a state pension the increases in line with the so-called triple lock, the lower of 2.5%, any increase in living costs or any increase in average wages. The amount paid is not generous at just £6,200 but still, there is no rationale for setting a minimum of 2.5% in times of low inflation and flat salaries unless you believe pensions are too low.

As a demographic group, pensioners are no longer the worst off in UK society so I would look to abandon the triple lock and reduce it to the lowest of either inflation (living costs) or salary increases.

Inflation is currently running at 0.6% whilst salaries are flat. Abandoning the commitment to 2.5% increases would save the government around  £1.3m (1.9% of £70m) in the first year and potentially every year thereafter.

The story of the left ought to be a narrative of hope and progress. The greatest problem with the academic left is that it has become fundamentally aristocratic, writing in bizarre jargon that makes cliches seem abstruse. If you can’t explain your ideal to a fairly intelligent 12-year-old, it’s probably your own fault. We need a narrative that speaks to millions of ordinary people. It all starts with reclaiming the language of progress.

So we are moving into an age where people may or may not work, due neither rhyme nor reason within their own control. Jobs are increasingly temporary, precarious and either multiple or absent. Think of the technology changes that have brought us uber as a working model.

Working poverty is going to be increasing feature of our lives. Rather than rushing to reinforce a rather Calvinist view of all paid work as morally good and uplifting, in and of itself, whilst totally disregarding and undervaluing the unpaid contributions of carers everywhere, let’s reinvent the model.  How? Universal basic income.

Every adult in the UK should be paid the equivalent of the standard pension ie. currently £6,200 with unto £2,000 paid for people also looking after children.

It isn’t a huge sum for an individual to live on. It is set at the amount of pension, just below the JRF estimate of a living wage (about £7,000 per person per annum) for purely political reasons: it would be impossible to justify paying more to the unemployed of working age, than to the unemployed post-retirement, even though the latter should probably be enjoying a life post mortgage with greater disposable income.

No one of working age is going to want to live on such a small amount alone. People will still find plenty of reasons to work. It is no more than a safety net that should work in our brave new precarious world.

To be practical, it’s a benefit that could only realistically be offered to British citizens, the pull factor from poorer countries would just be too big to offer it as an unconditional benefit. Currently everyone in the UK reaching the age of 18 is given a national insurance number, a universal identifier that in theory allows our tax and benefits system to work efficiently and personally. The universal income could therefore only be paid to those people living in the UK with a national insurance number, which would be dependant upon either being British born and turning 18 or living and working in the UK.

Personal taxation would require companies to pay national insurance contributions to cover the universal basic income (say £6,200) for each and every job, probably through 50% deductions of salary. At this rate an individual would have to earn £ 12,400 to cover their welfare cost.

An individual earning the equivalent of today’s average salary £27,000 pa, would more than cover any cost of this benefit for themselves – they would receive £6,200 from the state and £20,800 from their employer directly, subject to income tax rules.

The rates of tax would have to change.

Without change, the new universal credit would be deducted pre-tax, then a £10,000 tax exempt band applied and only then  would the 25% tax rate be applied to  £10,800. They would pay (net) just £2,700 tax rather than the current tax liability of £4,250 which would be unaffordable. If basic rate tax was increased to 40%, the tax paid under the new system would end up being much the same ie. £4,320 after receiving £6,200 from the state directly, plus £10,000 from the employer tax free, plus £6,480 taxed (£22,680).

Although an individual ends up paying very slightly more in tax, they have a lot more certainty in their income thanks to the universal income.

People are no longer able to work themselves out of the poverty they were born into. Reforms? Let’s reinvent the welfare state and eradicate poverty for good – now that’s an investment that will pay for itself.

This could be the basis of a fundamental change to the way we look at work and welfare, possibly the only practical, humane response to the changing work patterns we are seeing in the developed world. It could form the basis of a positive, socialist message, one that could be the basis of an ongoing and constructive engagement with the electorate.

Efficiency, Productivity? That should be the point of centre-left socialist policy.  Every pound invested in a homeless person returns triple or more in savings on care, police and court costs. Let’s imagine what the eradication of child poverty might achieve. Solving these kinds of problems is a lot more efficient than “managing” them.

But first, the underdog socialists will have to stop wallowing in their moral superiority. Everyone who believes themselves progressive should be a beacon of not just energy but ideas, not only indignation but hope, and equal parts ethics and hard sell. Ultimately, what the underdog socialist lacks is the most vital ingredient for political change: the conviction that there truly is a better way.

Sleeping

There is something very restful about a sleeping cat. & then you think back to the two mice that were brought in yesterday and wonder exactly how many were not brought back for show and tell. Maybe he has a stash hidden in the garden somewhere.

dsc_058web6

The only element of machismo is the daftest ginger tom cat in the world is his growly mouse attitude. The girls are only too happy to drop them and let you disposes of them (alive, across the road in a little park where as dead ones go straight in the bin, non-recyclable)

But my ginger boy suddenly develops an incredibly deep growl and sudden spurt of speed.

Most days he’s comatose lying in my bed or his hammock, but give him a mouse and he turns into speedy on steroids. The weather is turning autumnal and suddenly there is an abundance of tiny mice appearing in various cat mouths, generally unhurt and usually terrified. Every so often we get a runner, one that sprints around the living room much to the delight of the cats. The mackerel tabby likes the speedy ones best where as my calico girl likes the climbers. Anyone might imagine they were underfed – until they see the size of them.

Catching a mouse that has climber up your full length curtains is never good. Luckily my youngest daughter has no fear and is content to pick the beggars up in her bare hands ironic since she can’t even look at a money spider.

At least the frogs seem to have learned not to get caught.

dsc_0582

Inverse

If you plot the value of FTSE100 companies in USD over time since the referendum, they fall in value. In fact, these international companies look to be seriously underperforming relative to companies in other countries.

However the shocking weakness of sterling since brexit means that on paper, the FTSE100 is at it’s highest level for a long time.

 

Comment

Why do people write into comments sections on the web? What are they trying to achieve?

Driving along listening to BBC Radio4, I was struck by the “Thought for the Day” speaker. Before speaking or writing, according to Hindu scripture, we obliged to consider:

  • are we being honest?
  • is what we are saying true?
  • is it necessary to say or write?
  • will someone be hurt or offended by what we are saying or writing? and.
  • can we be kinder, more respectful in what we say or write, if this is really something necessary and required?

Mostly when I look through the comments sections, I find comments that are dismissive, sometimes of the article, but often of the author just because…. Comments are often off topic, often abusive and unhelpful. They are very often rude.

Sometimes there seems to be an attempt to show off, to demonstrate a superiority of understanding or knowledge. It often falls apart if challenged and then the so-called “experts” often become rude and obnoxious when the absurdity of what they’re saying becomes clear.

The weirdest ones, are where misogynists start posting comments after a vaguely feminist article. The comments are short and dismissive, consistent and repetitive, building a steady rhythm, to a crescendo. Reading through them, it becomes very clear that they are groups totally committed to stroking each other’s egos more than anything else. It’s like one long mastubatory sequence, short key strokes, pressing each other’s favourite keys and buzzwords.

They need to get a room.

Very, very occasionally comments are positive. Even where people disagree, there are rare occasions where they do so politely and with respect.

Why?

A new survey shows most Britons are not willing to pursue hard Brexit if it will cost them personally. Thus far, the economic indicators post-Brexit don’t look bad. Consumer spending and investment are holding up well, despite a lower pound.

But if the going gets tough, there is a two-thirds majority willing to accept current levels of EU migration to retain access to the single market.

The leading motivation for Leave voters was reducing immigration while Remain voters prioritised the economy. This hasn’t changed. According to my YouGov/Birkbeck/Policy Exchange survey data, two-thirds of British people want less immigration, including 47% of Remainers and over 91% of Leavers.

Hard Brexit is a good way to bring numbers down. However, some suggest that when Theresa May triggers Article 50, the EU will drive a hard bargain, inflicting pain on the British economy. With economists claiming entry to the single market is worth 4% of GDP by 2030, I asked how much the average Briton is willing to sacrifice to reduce European immigration in the event the doomsayers are right. The final deal between Britain and the EU over leaving will hinge on how much economic pain, in the form of reduced market access, Britain is prepared to absorb to restrict European immigration.

The survey, carried out by the polling firm YouGov, asked a sample of over 1500 people the following question: “Roughly 185,000 more people entered Britain last year from the EU than went the other way. Imagine there was a cost to reduce the inflow. How much would you be willing to pay to reduce the number of Europeans entering Britain?” The options ranged from “pay nothing” for no reduction to paying 5% of personal income to reduce numbers to zero. Each percent of income foregone reduced the influx by 35,000. The results are shown in figure 1.

kaufmann_1Source: YouGov survey, August 20, 2016.

Among those surveyed, and excluding those who didn’t know, 62% said they were unwilling to pay anything to reduce numbers, and would accept current levels of European immigration. Given the current headlong rush towards hard brexit, that’s a lot of disappointed people.

kaufmann_2Source: YouGov survey, August 20, 2016.

As figure 2 shows, even among those who said they voted to leave the European Union, 30% reported they would prefer the current inflow of 185,000 to paying any of their income to cut the inflow. In other words, there is a significant ‘soft’ component within the Leave vote.

On the other hand, there is a considerable core of Brexit voters willing to tighten their belts to reduce migration: over a third of Leave voters indicated they would contribute 5% of their income to cut European migration to zero. More than half of Brexiteers are willing to pay at least 3% of their income to reduce European net migration from the current 185,000 to under 80,000. The average person who voted Conservative in the 2015 General Election is willing to stump up 2.5% of their pay packet to reduce European immigration to half its current level.

This means that if the costs of Brexit mount in line with pessimistic predictions, most British people favour a deal that preserves market access even if this results in only limited reductions in European immigration. May’s Conservative voters will put up with more pain, but not if it costs more than 2% of GDP. This suggests a deal between Theresa May and her EU interlocutors based on significant market access in exchange for limited migration controls may be acceptable to the 45% of voters who currently back her party. It certainly will pass muster with a majority of the electorate.

If the economy continues to hold steady, the question is moot and hard Brexit remains a strong option. But if pain is on the way after Article 50, Middle Britain will be inclined to prefer soft over hard Brexit.

Poverty

According to Family Expenditure Survey (FES) data, child poverty rose markedly in Britainfrom 1965 – 1995. By 1995–96, around one in three — or 4.3 million — children were living in poor households. This compares with child poverty rates of one in ten, corresponding to 1.4 million children, in 1968.

The employment position of the household in 1996 is seen to be important, with over half of poor children then living in households with no adults in work.

If an absolute, rather than a relative, poverty line is utilised, child poverty remains stagnant since the late 1970s, following a period of rapid decline from 1968, despite considerable rises in average living standards. This shows that the income position of households with children has been falling relative to that of childless households over time.

Looking at child poverty now, we see a different story emerging.

The research shows 29% of children are still living in poverty after housing costs are taken into account, still almost 1 in 3 children.

In 2014/15, of the 3.9 million children in poverty, 1.3 million were living in workless households. This number is down 40,000 from last year. Meanwhile, the number of children in poverty living in households with at least one adult in work but not all has risen by just under 150,000 over the past year. There are more children living in poverty in working than workless households. People are being pushed into poor, precarious insecure work rather than no work. Their poverty is hidden within the workforce.

Whilst child poverty remains stubbornly high, with an increasing number of working families becoming mired in poverty, pensioner poverty has fallen significantly.

 

Essentially pensioners are seen as the “deserving” poor entitled to welfare benefits and prioritised where as the working poor, even those with children are regarded as “undeserving” and the government feels enabled to cut their benefits.

Climate Change

Climate change is happening. That does not mean that I believe the world should just write a blank cheque to address the issue, without regard to understanding exactly what issue is being addressed, how effectively and at what cost.

A few years back, I read a book by Lomborg which did not deny climate change, but was widely decried as such. He’s not a scientist; he’s a statistician. But the “facts” used to predict climate change at that moment in time, were statistics, very carefully chosen statistics, so he was entirely within his area of expertise and entitled to question why choose those numbers, why not look over a longer period or just a different period? How much does the prediction change if we are differently selective about our “facts”?

And the answer obviously is quite a lot. It is entirely possible to choose facts that suit your own belief system, or in the case of scientists, choose facts which support another few million dollars supporting you research team. So science becomes subject to fashion, to what range of facts prove popular at any given timed not necessarily made more effective as a result.

Some of the most popular groundswell movements arising out of the environmental movement may be the least cost effective. If funds were endless then maybe that wouldn’t matter; maybe we could multi-task. Funds are not endless.

Converting developed worlds energy supplies to renewables, is expensive. Giving every household in sub-saharan Africa and India a closed stove to cook with is less expensive and more effective.

Open fires waste fuel requiring more trees to be cut down, degrading the local environment and escalating global warming. They also kill people, with saris catching fire, air pollution containing carcinogenic particulates etc. Closed cooking stoves might not be glamorous, but they are cost effective.

Similarly one of the most effective policies might well turn out to be educating women in developing countries. Educated women tend to have fewer children (immediately reducing environmental pressures). They tend to feed and care for their kids more effectively (vaccinations, clean water, education as a priority) reducing the societal need to have larger families and use up more resources. The ability to access birth control, including terminations, has clear impact on the number of people using up the world’s resources. Yet donations to these kind of programmes is controversial for many countries.

One of the biggest sources of methane emissions is cattle grown for beef or milk production. The idea that the developed world might turn vegetarian is not going fly any time soon. Turns out we’re all very environmentally concerned right up to the point it starts to impact our dinner (though obviously my family is vegetarian, green points for us).

So it was entertaining and interesting to see an article re-tweeted by Lomborg suggesting that seaweed could hold the key to cutting green house gases.


Cows and sheep produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Livestock produce the equivalent of 5% of human-generated greenhouse gases each year, or five times Australia’s total emissions.

The researchers tested a particular type of seaweed collected from Queensland’s coastal waters, they thought their instruments were broken and ran the tests again. It turns out that Asparagopsis taxiformisreduces methane production by more than 99% in the lab.

And unlike other seaweeds where the effect diminishes at low doses, this species works at doses of less than 2%

So maybe smug vegetarians like myself should hold off, if just a small dose of this seaweed could dramatically reduce the greenhouse gases due to cattle, maybe environmentalists can have their beef and eat it too.

Still

I had both of my babies at home, the first in a small two up two down terraced house, the second in the slightly larger house that we still live in, just a couple of streets away. Both are within 5 minutes drive of a major teaching hospital.

My girls were born safe and healthy, with no problems or complications. I was lucky.

Bad things happen.

In my first delivery, the midwife arrived early, which is to say, she set out after the second phone call because, she’d had a bad experience the night before (the cord caught around the baby’s neck as it was being pushed out, and she had struggled to keep the baby alive). Since it turns out that I’m the kind of woman who has 3 hour labours (the average is closer to 12 hours)  if she’d left it much later she’d have arrived too late.

The second midwife (one attends for the mother, one attends for the baby) failed to arrive in time. Since she’s the one who brings the pain relief (air and gas) it was a short but painful birth, with a first degree tear (not stitched – should have been stitched, never rely on nature to fix a raggedy labial tear).

But in conversation about the Vicky Foxcroft article afterwords, I took exception with one commentator who suggested that planned home births were the reason for the high still birth rate in the UK. It’s just not factually correct.
Babies are classed as stillborn if they die at any point after 28 weeks of pregnancy, up to the birthing process itself which is when half occur. Over 98% of stillbirths happen in low and middle-income countries. Pakistan has a rate of 43.1 for every 1,000 children born – that’s one in every 23 mothers finding out their baby is dead.

But bad things happen everywhere.

For every 1,000 babies born in Britain, 2.9 are stillborn (based on at least 28 weeks of gestation) – more than twice the rate of 1.4 in Iceland. Britain is now 21 out of 35 of the world’s wealthy countries according to the Lancet Stillbirth Series (2016). Croatia, Poland and Czech Republic have better stillbirth rates than the UK.

Equally worrying is the UK’s annual rate of reduction, which is now just 1.4% – placing us 114th globally for progress on stillbirths.

So what aren’t we doing as well as we might?

The Netherlands, which has cut its rates by almost 7%, hasn’t just improved care during the birth, but focused on women’s health while they are pregnant and even before that too. In particular, it has had a huge programme to reduce maternal smoking, as well as structured investment in analysis and understanding of each stillbirth.

Here in the UK, underlying the overall rate of 2.9 per 1000, the survey found mothers in the most deprived areas were up to twice as likely to experience a stillbirth as the country’s most affluent mums – although that research only covered the years up to 2005. Poorer mothers are more likely to smoke and more likely to be either significantly overweight or underweight, all risk factors for stillbirth.

And this is why I think I was so offended by the references to home birth in the context of still birth. In order to reduce the rate of stillbirth in the UK, it’s important to understand the risks, where they arise and what can be done to mitigate them.

Both the UK and Iceland have tiny levels of home births, both around 2% of annual births. Stillbirth, like most birth, is a hospital phenomena in the main (98%) of cases. If we want to improve our rates of stillbirth, we need to tackle the real causes.

  • 10 babies are stillborn every day in the UK.
  • In women with a BMI over 30, the risk rises to 1 in 100 (from 2.9 per thousand). An increasing BMI is associated with an increased incidence of pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, macrosomia, induction of labour and caesarean deliveries.
  • Underweight mothers also have an enhanced risk of stillbirth where being underweight (a BMI of < 19.9 kg / m2) has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of preterm deliveries, low birth weight and anaemia and a decreased risk of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes, obstetric intervention and post-partum haemorrhage
  • Women who smoke have an enhanced risk of stillbirth. In meta-analysis research carried out by BMC Public Health smoking during pregnancy was significantly associated with a 47% increase in the odds of stillbirth.
  • Around half of all stillbirths are linked to placental complications.
  • Other causes include bleeding before or during labour, placental abruption, pre-eclampsia, a problem with the umbilical cord, obstetric cholestasis, a genetic physical defect in the baby, pre-existing diabetes, and infection in the mother that also affects the baby.
  • Reduced fetal movement is a good indicator of stillbirth, with slowing down of movement noticed by the mother in two out of three stillbirths.

Still, Dr David Richmond, consultant gynaecologist and president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, describes the survey as a “wake-up call”.

In the UK, there is still much to be done to ensure our rate of progress is as good as the best in Europe.

Through the Each Baby Counts initiative, we are this year beginning to undertake a structured review of each and every stillbirth that occurs during labour in term pregnancies to help identify common risk factors, learn from what went wrong and apply the lessons in maternity units across the country.

– DR DAVID RICHMOND
A recent report by the NHS Saving Babies’ Lives – NHS England gives recommendations that aim to reduce the rates of stillbirth by half by 2030.

One of the most striking observations is how often poor fetal growth corresponds with stillbirth, consistent with a recent Panorama programme that suggested regular scans could halve the UK rate of still birth by tracking growth and highlighting failure to thrive. The latter can often be addressed by inducing early births.

The four key recommendations are based on extending best practice around the country and include:
  • Reducing smoking in pregnancy
  • Risk assessment and surveillance for fetal growth restriction
  • Raising awareness of reduced fetal movement
  • Effective fetal monitoring during labour

None of these relate to home births. All of the recommendations require joined up, consistent maternal care with time to be spent monitoring, managing, helping women to manage their lives and their pregnancies.

Global

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2015 (GBD 2015) is a landmark event. Building on the earlier GBD studies it provides a detailed snapshot of the state of global health and an analytic approach to tracking this dynamic picture.

The biggest theme of the report revolves around global demography. Our generation is living longer—a full decade longer—than in 1980. The profound demographic shifts associated with increased life expectancy and falling child mortality are generating new challenges for health systems. As we live longer the burden of non-communicable disease is rising, along with the attendant costs of treatment

 The demographic transition now underway in developing countries comes with the transition to a disease burden in which the ailments of ageing—cancers, ischaemic heart disease, cirrhosis, and Alzheimer’s disease—and injuries figure more prominently in years lived with disability (YLD). The paradox of our era, powerfully captured in GBD 2015, is that as health indicators have improved globally, more people are spending more time with functional health loss, and morbidity is increasing in absolute terms. This has far-reaching implications not just for health-system financing and service delivery, but also for economic growth and wellbeing.

GBD 2015 also provides a salutary reminder of the human costs of conflict. In just a decade, the war in Syria has reduced male life expectancy by 11·3 years. What it does not capture is the burden associated with conflict-related trauma.  Children account for a large share of that burden. In 2015 the number of people displaced by armed conflict and disasters, a proxy for exposure to conflict-related traumatic events, reached record levels of over 65 million, more than half of which were children.

There are now some 50 million children living either as refugees or as internally displaced people. More than half of them have fled violence and insecurity. Failure to invest in psychosocial support and opportunities for education is robbing these children of a chance to rebuild their lives, with damaging consequences for their future prospects. The health systems of many conflict-affected countries and neighbouring states receiving refugees are ill equipped to finance and deliver support on the required scale.Yet the international aid system is failing to respond adequately.

Another central theme  is that governments have failed to recognise the scale of the shortfalls from the targets that were set.

Maternal health is a case in point. Only ten countries achieved the target of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters. Disparities between countries are widening. This is reflected in the sharp increase, from about 68% in 1990 to more than 80% in 2015,  in the share of maternal deaths accounted for by haemorrhage—the main cause of maternal death in the poorest countries.

Child survival is another area marked by unfinished business. GBD2015 highlights the good news that child death rates are falling at an accelerating pace since 2000—5·8 million children younger than 5 years died in 2015. The scaling up of multiple health interventions, including insecticide-treated bednets, prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission, introduction of new vaccines, and integrated community-based health interventions on maternal and child health have delivered tangible results in terms of lives saved.

The bad news is that the world fell far short of the target of a two-thirds reduction. Under-5 mortality fell at an annual average rate of 3% between 1990 and 2015, compared with the 4·4% rate required. Another 14 million children would have survived had the target been met.

GBD 2015 turns the spotlight on some of the underlying challenges.

Three major themes stand out. First, neonatal mortality is falling more slowly than child mortality—neonatal deaths fell from 4·6 million in 1990 to 2·6 million in 2015, decreasing by 42·4% (compared with 52% for under-5 deaths). Preterm birth complications and neonatal encephalopathy were the two leading causes of under-5 deaths in 2015. In south Asia, neonatal mortality rates are now more than double post-neonatal mortality rates.  With 45% of all child deaths occurring in the first day, week, and month of life, there is an urgent need to gear the health-system response towards effective provision of antenatal care, obstetric provision, skilled birth attendance, and postnatal care.

Second, GBD 2015 helps to spotlight cause-specific death rates. Lower respiratory infections are the main cause of post-neonatal under-5 deaths and the third leading cause of child deaths overall. These infections account for around 16% of mortality, with diarrhoeal diseases accounting for another 9%.  Pneumococcal pneumonia and rotavirus have been identified as the leading causes of deaths from the two infections in 2015. In both cases, effective vaccines are available.

The development and provision of the pneumococcal vaccine is one of the success stories of the era— and a potential catalyst for accelerated progress to 2030. An important challenge for international cooperation is to increase funding and accelerate programmes to roll out the vaccines now available.

However, vaccines are not a substitute for efficient and equitable health systems. Indeed, their effectiveness and reach depends on the presence of skilled health workers, cold storage chains, and well governed procurement and delivery systems. More generally, sustained progress in combating both the major infectious disease killers like pneumonia and diarrhoea and neonatal deaths will require a strengthened focus on the development of health systems rather than disease-specific and cause-specific interventions.

The third big theme to emerge from GBD 2015 is that policy makers have to climb out of their sector silos. Cause-specific analysis of under-5 deaths can obscure the critical importance of background risk factors, including nutritional status, inadequate access to clean water and sanitation, and poverty. As countries progress towards the targets, disparities in these areas are likely to become more important. For example, undernutrition is implicated in around half of child deaths.

As highlighted in GBD 2015 progress in reducing nutritional deficiencies is slower than in other areas and this represents an obstacle. So, too, does the rapidly increasing share of global poverty accounted for by Africa’s children—a by-product of demography, high levels of inequality, and slow economic growth.

Recent projections suggest that about 148 million African children will be living below the US$1·90 international poverty threshold in 2030, representing 43% of all global poverty.

The poorest and most disadvantaged children and mothers face increased health risks. Yet they are the least likely to be diagnosed, treated, or supported through health services. Some of the greatest health disparities are to be found in precisely those areas—antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, and postnatal care—needed to accelerate progress on child survival and maternal health.

 Building the Walls

We all think that we’re normal and everyone else is not. This is a natural state. because we are a social animal, we become tribal. We find people like ourselves and build ourselves a community of mini-me

web_ted-wallsfinal

There’s a TEDx talk by Robert Waldinger that talks usefully about this topic.

People make artificial divisions everywhere: from the political right and left, black and white, millennials and baby boomers. Even those of us who are against building walls find ourselves pointing accusing fingers at those wall-builders.

Being human means there’s a wall-builder in each of us. Our minds naturally divide the world into me and not-me, us and them. For thousands of years, our sages have taught that we’re all one, yet we still divide wherever we look.

Why are we this way, what are the costs of being like this — and what, if anything, can we do about it?

We evolved this way.Sebastian Junger points out that we evolved as a species to survive in harsh environments. For thousands of years, our ability to band together against a common enemy (weather, wild beasts, other tribes) was life-saving. Those who were most inclined to join forces were more likely to survive and pass along their genes. Facing a common danger makes us feel close and cooperative. In fact, it can be so exhilarating that many soldiers actually miss combat when they come home.

Knowing who we are makes us feel secure. As we grow up, we’re constantly defining ourselves. In my case: Caucasian, male, born in Iowa, live in Boston, Zen Buddhist, good at learning languages. With countless labels, I build up this creation I call my self. Psychologist Erik Erikson wrote, “there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.” It’s easy to ignore things I don’t like about myself and even easier to locate those qualities in others. (“I’m fine, but those people over there are the ones who are weak/lazy/ignorant.”)

(False) certainty about others is reassuring. Putting labels on entire groups of people makes things much simpler. If all New Yorkers are pushy, or all politicians are dishonest, we don’t have to do the hard work of figuring out who’s who. George Orwell, whose book 1984 depicts this with terrifying accuracy, defined nationalism as “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.”‘

Once we slap a label on others, we don’t bother to look more closely, and our fears grow. With social mixers like the military draft long disappeared, and news media like Fox and MSNBC growing ever more partisan, it’s easy to restrict ourselves — without even realizing it — to people like us and to views we agree with. The result is that we’re mystified by the beliefs of those on the other side of social and economic divides: “those Trump supporters”; “those Hillary supporters”; “those Brexit voters.” Our fears about others increase, with no chance to see how much of our basic humanness we share.

We are actually less safe. Labeling entire groups of people as good guys or bad guys is dangerous, because we end up accidentally putting white hats on bad guys and black hats on good guys. If all Muslims are terrorists, we don’t pay attention to exactly who it is who’s heading toward extremism — whether Muslim, Christian, vegan, or carnivore. And calling millions of people terrorists pushes them away just when we need them most.

We waste precious resources. Trying to wall ourselves off from entire groups of people is exhausting and inefficient. We’ve spent a trillion dollars protecting the United States since 9/11, and Steven Brill notes that we are arguably no safer than we were 15 years ago.

What can we do?

Embrace our inner wall-builder. The more we know about our own impulses to find enemies, the sooner we’ll recognize it when people are trying to manipulate us for their selfish ends.

Give our wall-builder a place to play. Whether it’s barricading ourselves off in snow forts or rooting for the Red Sox, we can channel the urge to find heroes and enemies into healthy competition.

Choose our real-life villains wisely. We can target bad actors and real social problems, instead of indulging in the dangerous temptation to paint whole groups of people with the same tarring brush. This means targeting terrorists, not Muslims. Poverty, not poor people. Brutality and racism, not police officers.

Find ways to know the people who seem alien. This may be the hardest task. Immediately following the Brexit vote, Oxford professor Alexander Betts gave a talk in which he showed a map of Britain highlighting all the counties that voted in favor of leaving the European Union. He realized he’d spent less than four days of his life in any of the top 50 of those counties, pointing out how little he knew about the people who were on the other side of a growing social and economic chasm. Robert Putnam writes about a similar class divide in America.

Perhaps we need something like the great social mixer we experienced during WWII — not war, but a kind of universal national service where young women and men from all corners of society work together to fight real common enemies like homelessness, poverty, illiteracy — and in the process get to know the best of our shared humanness.

There is tremendous energy behind our dissatisfaction and desire for change. Energy we can harness in ways that either make us feel more isolated and afraid, or make us feel more connected and engaged. We have the freedom to choose. And our choices could not matter more.

Conversations

I have ended up in countless on-line conversations with people who voted “leave”in the recent referendum, in large part because I genuinely want to understand why they voted the way they did.

This is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is real value in understanding an entirely alien point of view. I never even thought about voting “leave” as for me the benefits of staying within the EU were obvious, yet the majority of people in the country I live in clearly disagreed. I know no one well who voted to leave. We all live within our little enclaves and seemingly have just lost touch with each other. So there is some basic curiosity about how we have ended up where we are.

Secondly unless we understand why people voted to leave then how can we get brexit right, ho can we be sure that we’re addressing their issues?

Most of the conversations with “leavers” have pretty quickly reached the comment “It’s not about the money”. Membership of the EU had a clear and pretty unequivocal financial upside or benefit. This is summarily dismissed by all of the “leavers” I’ve come across as either immaterial, or just missing the point.

Most commonly I’m told it’s all about the damage that immigrants cause to the British born “quality of life” usually from a person living in an area with very very few immigrants. And then I am always struck by the irony of someone living in an area with next to no EU immigrants telling me, a person who lives in a part of the world where >30% people are foreign born, that the quality of my life is rubbish.

So I’m left there weighing up my rather lovely life, with friends and family and workmates from around the world, thinking how on earth could anyone rate Newcastle more highly. And off course some of this has to do with wealth but I’m pretty sure not as much as you’d think. Being poor must be pretty grim up North, just as it it surely is living in poverty in Tower Hamlets. But in an area with really high immigration, lots of competition for jobs, and a serious shortage of housing, the blame was placed squarely on the UK government  rather than immigrants.

The conversations that I’ve had, never really end well and a TEDx talk related to vaccination in America shines some light on the problem of discussing ideas from opposing entrenched positions.

Facts and education don’t help. Firmly held biases and beliefs can be much stronger than our intellectual reasoning, so giving people the facts doesn’t necessarily change their minds. In fact, a recent study by Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College focusing on politics and health, showed that countering a parent’s concerns with information and images about the dangers of preventable disease and the safety of the MMR vaccine did not make parents more likely to vaccinate their children.

Some of the twenty states that currently permit unvaccinated children to attend school based on personal-belief exemptions are trying to make those exemptions less convenient, and in some cases using the opportunity to educate parents. Nyhan’s recent study suggests the approach could backfire. Having parents consult with their doctor, who they report is their most trusted source of vaccine information, would be a more promising approach, he says. Who do people trust when it comes to immigration, to job security and quality of life? Probably not politicians or business men; maybe their doctors, teachers, priests.

Solution: Less vitriol, more empathy. So what’s the solution? “More than anything, confronting vaccine hesitancy requires engagement,” she says. “A person who feels that they’ve been heard will relax, let their guard down. Their cognitive biases are less engaged when the threat of being attacked goes away.” For Haelle, everybody has a role to play, from the individual parent reassuring their peers who are hesitant to vaccinate, to insurance companies increasing coverage for well-child visits so parents can discuss concerns with their doctor. The media can also help by portraying vaccination more accurately -– those images of screaming babies aren’t helpful, and they’re not even accurate (most babies don’t actually scream when getting shots).

Since the print media in the UK campaigned very effectively for “leave” maybe other media needed to address the imbalance rather than seeking to constantly provide “equitable” coverage or debate. In terms of determining the shape of brexit, it would be useful for all and any media to examine a little more robustly what people actually want to happen.

Do people who voted leave want to reduce actual number of immigrants in the UK, to effectively send people back to their country of origin? Since they live in areas of very low immigration themselves (by an large) then how would they know whether immigration is up or down. If their own lives are so underexposed to immigration, will they simply believe the government if they are told immigration is down, or will they disbelieve whatever they’re told.

Does the cost of limiting immigration really not have any impact? Recent research by Eric Kauffman reported in the LSE suggests that most people, whether leave or remain voters, do not want to pay anything at all to leave the EU. Even if we look only at “leavers” only a third are willing to pay even 5% of their take-home pay to control immigration. But from the vehemence of people’s comments, mostly people don’t believe there will be any cost at all, or if there is, it will be paid somewhere else where immigration is more commonplace.

And that brings me to the final irritation with the brexit vote, that people voted against immigrants they didn’t know, for fear of change and in the expectation that someone else would pay the price.

The “fuck-em up in London” vote.

We are watching a government refuse to even discuss basic principles and expectations of brexit with parliament, a government refuse to engage with accountable transparent governance, to subject itself to parliamentary scrutiny, in total mockery of the idea of “taking back control” from the EU.

And the suspicion remains that their reason is one of total disarray or disagreement. They do not know what happens next. They cannot see a way forward that does not cost the UK hugely, or disappoint the leavers tremendously, even assuming there can be some consensus about what people were voting for in the first place.

The referendum result was clear. There was a narrow but decisive vote to leave the EU, and clearly we’re leaving. We don’t know how, and we don’t know where we’ll end up. There are many roads we could take, and all would be improved by a bit of scrutiny, discussion, debate and challenge. Government needs to be accountable. We need transparency and accountability. And if our MPs, our government of the day screws up, or screws us over, we need to be able to see who is to blame and vote for a better replacement at the next election. Parliamentary democracy

Poorest

Why are people poor? When Jesus is reported as saying “The poor are always with you” it was not meant to be directive, yet it seemingly is an inescapable part of human life and society.

Over the past 30 years, globalisation, competition and innovation have pushed down the prices for many consumer goods and services, boosting living standards overall. Yet rises in housing, food and fuel prices have increased the cost of living, particularly for people in poverty. Between 2008 and 2014, the cost of essentials increased three times faster than average wages.

Many of the jobs that previously allowed workers with few qualifications to support their families to a decent standard have now gone. Even before the financial crisis of 2008, social and economic progress left far too many people and places behind. Since then, austerity has meant fewer resources being available to tackle poverty, with those worst off disproportionately affected.

The places where people live and the circumstances they are born into have a fundamental bearing on their life chances. Life events and experiences, such as redundancy or bereavement, can dramatically reduce household or individual income. In a strong and successful society there should be mechanisms in place to ensure such experiences, and their effects on people’s prospects, are short-lived.

While the recession highlighted how many of us may suddenly experience hardship, harsh attitudes towards those experiencing poverty persist, including the notion of the ‘undeserving poor’. But few people, when they think about it, do blame personal choice as the sole cause of poverty. They understand that the quality of local jobs, the cost of housing, and welfare reforms matter too. They do acknowledge that people in poverty are not somehow different.

Poverty is seldom the result of a single factor. In the UK today there are five key causes that need priority action: unemployment, low wages and insecure jobs; lack of skills; family problems; an inadequate benefits system; and high costs. These result from an overlapping and shifting series of influences that include market opportunities, state support and individual decisions.

Markets

People with less money and skills are generally in weaker positions in relation to markets. The result can be low pay and insecurity, unemployment, discrimination and paying more for essentials, like energy and credit. The housing and childcare markets have also failed people in poverty. The consequences are lower earnings and spending power, insecurity for workers, lower productivity and under-used skills.

State

A key role for the state is to remedy market failures and promote public wellbeing. But this can be missed through an ineffective benefits system, poor-quality education and discrimination against certain groups. Governments also have a role in fostering a prosperous economy with opportunities for all. High levels of poverty deprive the state of tax revenues, and of income, so it needs to spend on health, education and other services, and on countering uneven economic growth, civic decline and a lack of democratic engagement.

Individuals

Unemployment and low skills may keep individuals in poverty and can lead to long-term hardship. Trauma, abuse or poor parenting can increase a child’s risks of experiencing poverty in adulthood. High stress is a major outcome of poverty for individuals and can contribute to family breakdown. Poverty affects mental resources and decision-making processes, and the impact of focusing constantly on scarcity has been measured as being more detrimental than going one full night without sleep. Poverty can also result in poor educational outcomes for children, bring shame and stigma, and lead to crime and disorder, health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, child abuse and neglect, and family breakdown. These risks can be passed down through the generations in a vicious cycle. While it is individuals in the end who get themselves out of poverty, they need the state, markets and society to act together to enable them to achieve a decent standard of living.

Too often, people’s experiences of trying to get out of poverty tell a story of barriers and traps, rather than routes out.

Victory

What does victory look like? An extraordinary level of vitriol still exists in the UK relating to the EU referendum, surprisingly large amounts of it from people who “won”, people who voted “leave”.

There is an almost continual refrain that people expressing any doubts about brexit, the “bremoaners” should simply shut up, that they lost and need to get on with “it” with good grace.

Any economic concerns are dismissed instantly as “hysterical” and unfounded, despite most conversations with “leave” voters almost always highlighting the total irrelevance of the economy to the vote they cast.

Put simply, if people were worried about the impact of brexit on the  economy, they voted “remain” and if not, they voted to control immigration. Rather ironically the people voting ‘leave” in order to limit immigration tend to live in areas with very few immigrants.

A correspondent from the north-east of the UK was very clear:

“It’s not about money, it’s about the quality of life. It’s about access to housing. It’s about not wanting to live in a shithole like London”

Having made the mistake of initially trying to persuade this man (it’s almost always a white, middle aged man) that my life in London is actually pretty sweet, I was quickly dismissed. Apparently, it’s because I’m a member of the middle class with no real understanding of the problems of the working man. London is a privileged metropolitan enclave of wealth and totally out of touch.

Unpicking his views is fraught. Clearly brexit is something he feels very emotional about (clearly anger is an emotion) and when every rational reply ramps up his response, then equally clearly his emotional response is a very fragile one. So let’s leave the nonsense of a stranger living in an area with very few immigrants trying to insist that my life in a city full of immigrants is rubbish behind. Let’s ignore the absurd classification of some of the poorest parts of the country like Tower Hamlets or Tottenham as bastions of middle-class privilege. Let’s leave behind the reasons for voting, because we are where we are.

We are leaving the EU. What does that look like?

When we’re out of the EU, what do leave voters expect to change for them, and the rest of the country?

We are leaving the EU and there are many roads to take. We could end up outside the EU but within the EU customs region. We could end up taking a business sector approach, allowing free movement of labour and trade by business sector, say car manufacturing or farming, or finance. Would that end up looking any different to what we have now?

Given that control of our borders, specifically immigration was the primary reason for most people voting leave, what does that look like? When asked in polls, the general consensus was that no one should be sent back to their country of origin, but is that just an answer given because people won’t admit to racism even in an anonymous poll?

Someone living in the north-east, lives with fewer than 5% immigrants, concentrated in the few smallish cities. Even within this tiny number, most of the 5% are from the Indian sub-continent, from India or Pakistan, rather than from Europe. For people voting leave, in these places, do they want people sent home to European countries of origin? If the issues really are about quality of life, about access to social housing and services, then clearly unless numbers are actively cut locally, then nothing changes, nothing gets “better”.

Arguably the quality of life factors people routinely mention won’t change even if numbers of EU immigrants are cut drastically. Social housing in the UK comprises around 4m homes. Up until the 1980s, we were building more than 100,000 new houses each and every year. With the introduction of right-to-buy, the numbers built plummeted. Why build a house that you are obliged to sell at a low after just a few years? We now are lucky to see 2,000 houses built in a year, all the while, selling more and more of the stock at a loss.

With so few European immigrant living in the north-east, even of all of them returned to their country of origin, there would be no real difference to waiting lists for social housing, schools, doctors etc.

Reducing immigration levels would have no  serious impact whatsoever on the lives of people voting leave.

So how will people who voted “leave” actually know if control over immigration has been established? If it can be achieved, it will impact areas a long way away from them in places like London, where most of us quite like our immigrant friends and neighbours. Since “leave” voters won’t see any real fall in the numbers of immigrants living locally, will they just take it on faith, will they believe the politicians, the newspapers etc? Could we just tell them their “problem” has been solved and leave it at that?

It seems unlikely. Because the problems identified by the vote, remain and are unlikely to be addressed by a Conservative government. What happens when brexit is accomplished and life is still rubbish living in the north-east? Will it bring comfort to know that they’ve fucked up life for those of us living in the south-east, that they’ve spread a little bit of economic misery around? Will they finally redirect their anger to where it belongs, austerity and a Conservative government?

November 1st: Too Good?

For a Christmas Fete, there are any number of commitments, starting with jam, moving through to some pickles, dried tomatoes etc, and some cakes for the cake stall.

And hovering in the background is the worry that what is made won’t sell. There are lots of reasons for things not selling, starting with the obvious one that the stuff you make looks rubbish. But mostly my stuff is well-presented so whatever the taste, it’s going to look worth buying.

Some things come in and out of fashion. Apparently marmalade is becoming an acquired taste rather than an everyday staple of people’s breakfast routine. There’s talking of rebranding it as orange “jam”. to make it seem younger, more trendy. Weird.

So I tend to offer fairly sweet mainstream jams for the market: strawberry (trauma to make) raspberry (makes itself) blackberry or bramble jam, and the occasional blueberry jam for our American cohort.

I’ve been told that pickles sold well last year so could I make some, please. The answer is “no”. I don’t really do pickles, if they mean things like pickled onions or piccalilli. But I’m not entirely immune to savoury jars: I’m happy to hand in some semi-dried tomatoes in oil, and some peppers, sweet or spicy, in brine. At a push, I could be persuaded to knock up a batch of sweet-chilli chutney or aubergine caponata.

But then we come to the cake stall. This year, due to lack of numbers (ageing church, sad lack of young volunteers) the jam and cake stall are being combined, and I’m the reserve, the back up go-fer for the two ladies in charge. Cakes which sell well are usually the basic everyday cakes of a generation past. Coffee and Walnut would sell well, as would a proper Victoria Sandwich (buttercream please). Gingerbread, lemon drizzle and other loaf basket always sell, in part because some of the canny older ladies in the congregation will buy them slice and freeze them to keep and eat for months.

So one of the most lovely cake recipes that I’ve tried out this year, a “Saffron Lemon Cake” with middle-eastern overtones looks lovely, but probably is not a good cake for a stall. It’s just too expensive to make (saffron, almonds, lemons) and though it looks beautiful to my eyes, there will be many people who look at it and just shrug their shoulders “meh, too big, too yellow, too…”

Their loss.

Nov 2nd

The weather has just turned. The bulbs have finally arrived. & I’ve hired a pneumatic drill for the weekend.

285

In theory, thirty years ago the people living in our house cleared a pond from the back and planted a couple of conifers. We have long since taken out the trees which were both ugly and dangerous and put in a narrow bed with a lavender border. After many years of agitating for more planting and less grass, I have finally been encouraged to widen the bed and plant roses.

olivia_rose_austin_hedging_2

And then we found the concrete. The gardener had a go with a pick axe but has reached the shaking of head and tutting stage. I would be tempted to just just plant over, because obviously I am the laziest gardener in creation but having been told my rose babies would struggle and die within a couple of years, it’s just too guilt inducing.

olivia_rose_austin_1_2

So I’ve hired a drill and will now have to pick it up on Friday and hope that we don’t kill ourselves with it over the weekend.

olivia_rose_austin_7

We also need to plant the bulbs before the frost sets in and the ground hardens, but I have no idea of what Planned to do with most of them. I’ve bought a whole load of daffs to stick in with, around and under the roses, but I’ve also bought a shedload of tulips, allium and crocus.

I think the crocus were supposed to be planted in the lawn closes to the house, reflecting the fact that we won’t be out in the garden at their flowering time so they’re all about the view.

I am almost certain that the 10 white allium are supposed to be planted in the small frittilaria bed as a bit of a show stopper. There are some mini-narcissus that could go into that bed as well, possibly some leftover crocus.  Though maybe the alliums would be better in amongst the roses, partly to put off pests with their smell, partly to support tall stems.

1705

The tulips are a mix of dark purple and pinks, mostly quite tall. I definitely remember thinking there was a gap in planting under the wisteria so 25 should go there.

1441

That leaves 125 remaining standard bulbs plus 25 novelty tulips called “peppermintstick”

1434

There are two troughs normally filled with 12 bulbs each, plus around 6  plant pots that could each take 6-12 bulbs.m Did I plan on planting some in the front garden?

Any left over will be planted in, around and under the roses which are due this month as 8 bare-root plants. Next April, if I remember, I’ll plant either blue perennial geraniums, salvia, or cat mint underneath them to cover the bare ground, and hopefully they’ll take and it will look absolutely beautiful. Modern roses are so stunning in flower, and they now flower for so long through the year that though expensive, they seem quite good value.

1826

Of course by the time Spring arrives, I will have forgotten the whole plan but then often the best results come from random, redesigned decisions. & there’s always the fun of a pneumatic drill or other boy toy .

1770-1

Trumped

Today is a day for cat gifs if ever there was a day…

bgnio6lvutpgvhelvrwt

It turns out that America really does dislike women that much.

Today is not the day for too much talking or thinking. First brexit and now a world where Trump holds the nuclear codes – I’m going to play some tennis, read an old favourite book and ignore the media for a good 24 hours

A Plan

It’s difficult to get people who voted “leave” in the recent EU referendum to say what they want to happen next. I’ve tried.

Mostly they refuse to answer. Sometimes they just become rude and/or profane really quickly. It’s difficult to work out whether it’s just because they don’t know what they want to happen next, or whether they’re too embarrassed to say.

One outlier was clear that for him it was all about “taking back control” political control, and he was uneasy by the suggestion that   the government might use the Royal Prerogative to force through Article 50, informing the EU that we were leaving. Parliament has to be heard for him to regard brexit as a success… ” it was a vote for the UK to regain its parliamentary sovereignty from the EU and to restore the power of the individual’s franchise within our electoral system. 

In terms of push factors, I disapprove of the EU’s system of law making, in that only the unelected commission, composed of EU political cronies, can propose legislation. The parliament isn’t a proper parliament, with even less power than the House of Lords without a mechanism to repeal legislation. Similarly the ECJ and things like the European arrest warrant terrify me, as continental law is a significant departure to the rights evolved from as far back as Magna Carta within our own legal system. 

We have also been repeatedly overruled and marginalised within each organ of the EU political body, so our influence is marginal. Our only bargaining chip has been the threat to leave, which a remain vote at the referendum would have destroyed and relegated our interests even further down the EU agenda.

For this outlier, immigration was a good thing, not to be worried about at all.

But most “leave” voters are significantly more worried by immigration than by sovereignty, especially when they live in areas with very few immigrants.

My basic questions build down to a simple ticklist”

What does your simple brexit look like and how confident are you that the government agrees with you?

Do you want to stay within the single market, the customs union, the European Arrest Warrant? Do you think we should consider to share security information relating to terrorist threats? What about our membership of shared scientific and educational forums in Europe? Should we be looking to withdraw from other supra national bodies such as NATO?

Do you think we should allow free movement of people, across the board or within certain sectors, say education, research, or business sectors such as car manufacturing or financial services?

If you think we should limit immigration, does that involve cutting real numbers i.e. sending people back to their country of origin, or just cutting the increase in numbers? If you want immigration controls, but live in an area of low immigration, how would you know whether the borders have been controlled? Would you trust the government?

Do you believe that the government knows the answers to any of these questions?

It is outrageous that the management team of Renault-Nissan have a better idea of our government’s brexit strategy than my (Tory) MP. However people voted, and whatever their version of successful brexit looks like, don’t we all want to know where we’re heading?

Some people have just said they want out of the EU at any cost and we should just move straight to WTO rules, as if that were a simple straightforward default option.

But WTO rules is not the straightforward route out of the EU people seem to assume. The UK would have to detach itself from it’s current EU membership and regularise it’s position within WTO. There’s no precedent for such a change in membership.The process would not be easy and would likely take years before the UK’s WTO position was settled, not least because all other member states would have to agree.

Each WTO member has a “schedule” of commitments for each of the agreements — including agriculture, industrial goods and services — setting out the terms on which it trades. Each country has it’s own priorities, it’s own requirements from the UK and each has an effective veto.

While the schedules are being agreed, the UK’s legal status as a trading nation will be undetermined, with all that implies for uncertainty and business decisions.

It took five years to integrate Bulgaria and Romania into the EU services WTO schedule after they joined the bloc. While some trade officials say it may be easier to create a schedule for a leaving member than one arriving, they seem to agree the process can be measured in years rather than months.

The speed of the UK being able to trade on WTO terms in its own right will partly depend on political will. Yet even if other governments co-operate and accept the UK’s proposals, the legal processes and paperwork are likely to take years. And it always seems to go wrong somewhere doesn’t it? Whether Argentina decides to play political games looking for concessions on the Falkland Islands, or might Spain decide it would like to grab back Gibraltar, or maybe Russia, emboldened by the Trump election decides to demonstrate it’s weight, it seems likely that someone will have a delaying game to play.

Many brexiters want to turn the UK into a global trading powerhouse. But until the country has sorted out its legal standing, it could just end up sitting on the sidelines.

What, then, is the UK’s position in future trade negotiations? To evaluate the alternative to any proposed deal, we need to remember that although the UK as a member of the EU is already a member of the World Trade Organization, with all the rights and responsibilities this entails it will need primarily to define it’s own schedule of trade tariffs etc. These will need to be agreed with each WTO member.

Having left the EU, what duties would the UK levy on imports from other WTO members? With little precedent, it probably makes most sense to just adopt the existing tariffs of the EU. Raising tariffs would open the UK to legal challenges in the WTO, and would contradict the government’s stated aims of free trade and deregulation.

The British government could also immediately cut tariffs, but it would have to apply these reduced duties to all WTO members equally – including the EU itself. The essence of WTO membership is that countries are not allowed to discriminate against individual countries, and to only grant better access to partners in the form of a trade agreement. This holds for goods as for services, and establishes a baseline for any proposed negotiation.

All of this implies that the UK is only likely to get better market access than it currently enjoys if it gives up more of its own trade barriers.

Countries like Chile and Singapore can negotiate deals quickly because they demand little from their partners and are largely unencumbered by any barriers of their own. This would be politically difficult for the UK government, so we’re left with following the EU trade negotiations from the outside rather than influencing them from within. So much for taking back control.

Fear and Nostalgia

So Trump has won the presidential election, though narrowly losing the popular vote, and the media is full of stories about the poor, alienated downtrodden white working class. It feels very familiar to the brexit narrative being told.

It isn’t true.

There is an excellent article in the Guardian by Hadley Freeman. Grab ’em by the pussy” was the line that was supposed to have ended Donald Trump’s campaign for presidency. Instead it turned out to be one of the most astonishing and successful strategies for the highest office.

In a campaign based on racism, misogyny and bullying, Trump proved that boasting about sexually assaulting women, far from ruining a man’s career, can boost it; and white women voted for him in droves. Who knew that Americans despised women so very much.

The first black American president will now be succeeded by a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. This, according to Trump and his supporters, male and female, is what the American dream actually looks like.

The narrative being written and probably accepted is about how Trump’s victory represents a backlash of rage from the white working classes. The election of Trump, this narrative goes, proves how these people feel ignored by the elite politicians and metropolitan media. We need to hear more from these people, the argument continues, and how they have suffered because of globalisation, the demise of industry, the opioid crisis, the death of the American dream.

But far from being a “working-class revolt”, 48% of those who earn more than $250,000 (these people only made up 46% of Clinton’s supporters) and 49% of white college graduate voters chose Trump. But to say that no one took notice of the angry white vote in this US election is very reminiscent of British politicians saying “no one talks about immigration”, when actually – you know what? America had that base well and truly covered.

Far from ignoring the white working class during this election, they were written about so extensively by nervously placatory liberal journalists that these articles became a genre unto themselves, satirised perfectly by Benjamin Hart last week(“I couldn’t help but notice that people in Bleaksville are angry … I wanted to hear more but Ed explained that David Brooks had scheduled an interview with him to discuss whether he ate dinner with his family every night, and what it means for America.”)

So here’s an alternative view: we’ve heard enough of white rage now. We need to listen to the grievances of enraged voters but understanding them is different from indulging them, and the media and politicians – in the US and UK – have for too long conflated the two, encouraging the white victim narrative and stoking precisely the kind of nasty, race-baiting campaigns that led to Brexit and Trump (as the voter demographics have proved, the linking factor in Trump voters is not class but race).

Both campaigns promised to turn the clock back to a time when white men were in the ascendence, and both were fronted by privately educated false prophets such as Nigel Farage and Trump, absurdly privileged buccaneers who style themselves as friends of the working classes while pushing policies that work against them. They have bleached language of meaning, boasting that they aren’t “career politicians” (now a negative thing as opposed to someone who has devoted their life to public service), and they scorn “experts” (who are now apparently the biggest threat to democracy).

Trump’s supporters, like Brexit supporters before them, will say that these are merely the bleatings of the sore losers – the Remoaners, the Grimtons, or whatever portmanteau is conceived next. This objection always misses the obvious point that these people aren’t mourning for themselves. Whereas those who voted for Trump and Brexit did so to turn time back for their personal benefit, those who voted for remain or Hillary Clinton did so because they know time only moves forward, and this benefits society. To try to force it back hurts everyone.

To call out voters for falling for such damagingly racist and sexist messages is viewed by politicians as a vote-killer and dangerously snobby, as though working-class people are toddlers who must be humoured and can’t possibly be held responsible for any flawed thinking. There is no doubt the white working classes in the west have suffered in recent decades, yet no other demographic that has endured similarly straitened circumstances is indulged in this way.

For decades, American politicians have demonised the black working classes who suffered far worse structural inequalities and for far longer – and Trump continues to do so today.

And yet, as Stacey Pattoon wrote, only the white working classes are accorded this handwringing and insistent media empathy. No one is telling these voters to pull up their boot straps. The much-discussed American Dream is only considered “broken” when it’s the white working classes who are suffering. When it’s African-Americans, they are simply lazy and morally flawed. But Clinton, according to the politicians and journalists who indulge inverted narratives, was seen as simply too corrupt and establishment by these voters.

“Trump’s election is an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people,” Jeremy Corbyn said, as though the election of a racist property billionaire who inherited his wealth was the class warrior triumph we’ve all been waiting for. But if anyone thinks that, it is because the media promoted false equivalencies throughout this campaign to a degree never before seen.

On Tuesday, the Times headlined its editorial about the election “Tough Choice”, as if the decision between a woman who used the wrong email server and a racist, sexist, tax-dodging bully wasn’t, in fact, the easiest choice in the world. Clinton’s private email server was covered more ferociously than Trump’s misogyny. That Clinton had talked at Goldman Sachs was reported as a financial flaw somehow analogous to his non-payment of tax. However much people want to blame the Democrats, their voters or Clinton herself, the result of this election is due at least as much to anyone who pushed the narrative that Clinton and Trump were equally or even similarly “bad”.

Shame on them. The most qualified candidate in a generation was defeated by the least qualified of all time. That is what misogyny looks like, and, like all bigotries, it will end up dragging us all down.

Partners

Everyone tells me that the secret to a good relationship is to do things together, to grow together rather than apart. Possibly.

The roses are now planted in a row, behind the lavender. It was supposed to be one of those joint enterprises that brought us together, something we could look at over the years as they grew and think well of our shared endeavour. Hmm.

My gardening is a bit slipshod. I’m inclined to buy on a whim, lie the plants out wilily nilly, and once I’m happy with the look of things, dig them in and hope for the best. Knowing that he was going to involved required some compromise on my part. The earth was prepared (with a chiseller, basically a small pneumatic drill, hired from HSS – thanks Mo!). I had soaked the roses overnight. On our way out, I dug out the planting instructions that came along with the bare root roses for him to read carefully, slowly, in the cold. I even brought along a measuring tape for goodness sake. I had done my bit for the compromising part of togetherness. And some.

First we had the discussion about best way forward. Not only were there 8 roses to plant, but there were tonnes of bulbs, daffodils, tulips newly bought and bagged from last year, plus some anemones that had been hanging around forever. The I sat and waited for him to read carefully, twice, the instructions from David Austin roses. Then we talked methods again. And again.

If it was down to me, I’d probably have dug one long trench, chucked everything in and covered it all up with manure.

No chance.

So we agreed that he would dig the holes for the roses and I’d plant the bulbs one by one.

He carefully measured out the holes, laid down the rose bushes and began.

I chucked the bulbs around the new bed, roughly making sure that there were some of each type all the way along, but really not worrying too much about it. My randomness was not well received.

There was a gap in his measurements. I suggested that we plug it with a helpful pink salvia a friend had donated, right at the end, the least favoured position nearest the hedge. This was grumpily accepted as “okay”

Whilst he dug out the first hole, I started planting bulbs under the wisteria. Then I moved onto the fritelaria bed and dug in some allium bulbs.Having finished the first hole, I was able to start with the bulbs around the roses but about half way in, looking for a second trowel, I found a spare rose plant left lying on the lawn. Oh dear!

A quick shimmy and the plants were all moved around 5cm and a space was created. Crisis more or less averted, grumps and groans aside.

Another few roses were planted and the job was almost finished when a ninth plant was discovered lying up against the lavender hedge. Bugger. This time the roses could not be fudged about. The salvia had to be dug back up and slotted in somewhere else, in order to fit in the final (bonus) rose.

I have never spent such grumpy “quality” time in my life, certainly not my relationships yet within the hour the story was being retold with laughter.

The roses will last longer than the Trump presidency and will certainly bring me considerably more joy. They will be beautifully, joyfully pink for a large swather of the year, and I plan on loving them.

 representative

Corbyn supporters, like Luke Savage (writing here in Jacobin), argue that Corbyn’s mass support restores the popular links between Labour’s leadership and a mass base. Labour, Savage argues, has been conquered by a largely middle-class professional elite, which has foreclosed opportunities for representative Labour voters to obtain office, and has made it difficult for Labour voters to see themselves represented in their own party.

“The decline of Labour’s internal democracy, in other words, coincided with a growing severance from a significant chunk of its social base. The party’s increasingly professional composition has had very real consequences for its policy agenda and overall ideological outlook.”

It’s a common theme this idea that politics has somehow been captured by a minority elite and the majority “common man” is now rising up. The irony of having Nigel Farage or Donald Trump, two wealthy, privileged white men at the head of that uprising seems lost. It’s all about fair representation.

It is argued that restoring and reviving internal democracy will only make the Labour party more representative and appealing. The problem with this analysis is that it rests on the supposition that Labour’s base is sufficiently representative of the wider voting public to bridge that gap between “the people” and “the elite”. Savage discounts the idea that “Labour’s increasingly mass membership is essentially narrow and sectarian, representing the parochial flourishing of a minority political view in one of Britain’s two major parties.”

“Narrow and sectarian” may be too harsh a judgment on Labour’s members, but it is clear that they are not especially representative. Surveys done in 2015 and 2016 found that three-quarters of Labour members were upper- or middle-class, compared to 55 per cent of the population, while only 40 per cent of Britons self-identify as middle class. Fifty-seven per cent of Labour members are graduates; according to a 2013 ONS survey, roughly 38 per cent of British working-age adults are (among “women aged between 21 and 59 and men aged between 21 and 64” who were not currently in education).

1044891_1920

Savage’s essay describes Labour’s divorce from “the people” by lamenting how people from working-class backgrounds, like Herbert Morrison or Aneurin Bevan, are no longer represented among Labour’s office-holders, who instead come from a narrow band of middle-class backgrounds. If that is his measure of authenticity, then Corbyn’s Labour cannot meet it; nor, indeed, can most of Europe’s social democratic parties, whose voters are now primarily middle class.

And Labour members are not even particularly representative of the middle classes. More than four-fifths(83.6 per cent) favoured remaining in the European Union; according to Ipsos MORI, 59 per cent of ABvoters  and 52 per cent of C1 voters actually voted Remain. Labour members are strongly pro-immigration, another area where they differ both with the parliamentary party and with voters – the 2014 British Social Attitudes survey found that 47 per cent of respondents considered immigration to have a “negative” impact on the country, including majorities of all classes except “professionals and managers”.

Writing about his law of disparity, May notes that party activists have always been more likely to be middle-class, regardless of party. Furthermore, those “middle-class activists” staffing leftist parties “deviate sharply from the political norms of their class. Indeed, the ‘militant’, ‘radical’ wings of parties rooted in the working class have been populated largely by bourgeois intellectuals” (p. 146-47). Ralph Miliband complained of Labour’s moderation and parliamentary focus, and this was in large part because of the centrism of the working-class trade unions, not the middle classes – Richard Seymour points out that the unions’ support for Corbyn is historically aberrant.

The post-1968 period in Western politics has been marked by growing fragmentation. Old class identities have declined; for example, Lynsey Hanley recounts how council house sales split the working classes in the Thatcher era, as some assimilated to middle-class capitalist values. The middle classes are divided now on economic, environmental, occupational and other grounds. Immigration has made whole societies more diverse and created new cleavages and new constituencies. Labour’s problem may be that neither its parliamentary elite nor its mass membership can easily pick a candidate who represents a broad coalition of “the people.” As Eunice Goes points out elsewhere on this blog, “electoral strategies that focus on the so difficult to pin down ‘centre-ground’ are better suited for two-party systems. It turns out that Britain stopped having a two-party system some time ago.”

So how to solve Labour’s dilemma? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Savage is correct about the elitism and disconnectedness of Labour’s parliamentary classes; the last two leadership elections have also demonstrated their impotence.

Nor is such expertise necessarily a sure-fire road to victory: it was the parliamentary party that picked Michael Foot, not the members.

But open primaries, a la américain (or français) do not necessarily produce less extreme candidates for presidential or prime ministerial office. Whatever the solution, Labour’s feuding institutions and membership must work it out together through some sort of internal constitutional settlement. Members, classes, and Corbyn aside, a party at war with itself cannot fight a war with the Conservatives or anyone else.

 Poor III

JRF research has looked at the causes of – and solutions to – poverty in childhood, working age, later life, and among those with complex needs. It has also covered how the high costs of essential goods and services to low-income consumers – particularly housing and childcare – can be tackled. It came up with some suggested answers.

Poverty in childhood

For most of us, our family provides our most important relationship and defence against material and emotional hardship. Family stability and parental support are the bedrock of children’s lives. Those raised in secure families have more chance to flourish and better future prospects, and very many parents in poverty provide stability and security in spite of the overwhelming challenges they face.

Poverty puts considerable strain on family budgets and relationships. Children who grow up in low-income households have poorer mental and physical health, on average, than those who grow up in better-off families. Families of children with disabilities face additional challenges of both cost and income, and policy and practice does not always account for this. From an early age, children in poverty are more likely to score worse in tests of cognitive, social and behavioural development. At age five, children who have had high-quality childcare for two to three years are nearly eight months ahead in their literacy development than children who have not been in pre-school. Living in a low-income family greatly increases the likelihood of children leaving school with lower educational attainment.

Great progress has been made on improving performance in many schools, but children from more disadvantaged areas are still much less likely to be taught by teachers who are described as ‘outstanding’. High-quality teaching is the most important school-level factor affecting the attainment of children from low income backgrounds, so governments should continue to evaluate and expand successful initiatives to attract high-quality teachers and leaders to schools where they are most needed. Governments should also boost careers advice and quality apprenticeships for young people so that they leave school to start their working life well.

We could solve poverty in childhood by:

  • Supporting people to be good parents, helping parents share care and stay in work, minimising the adverse impacts of separation on children, and supporting children and parents’ mental health;
  • Giving access to high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare to parents on low incomes, allowing them to work and improving children’s pre-school development;
  • Ensuring all children from low-income backgrounds can succeed in school;
  • Ensuring all young people leave school with the support, advice, skills and confidence to move successfully into education, training or the labour market and towards independence; and
  • Raising and protecting family incomes so they an afford essentials, reduce stress and give children the opportunity to participate socially and educationally.

You should be able to go to work and say that I can feed my children. At the moment that isn’t the case.

Man, Manchester, JRF workshop

Poverty during working age

Paid employment, caring responsibilities and the social security system are key determinants of poverty. Work should offer a route out, but a combination of low wages, not enough hours, insecurity, the high cost of housing and childcare, poor health, discrimination and low-level skills all present considerable barriers. The lack of well-paid jobs is a particular problem for those trying to balance working and caring. There has been a significant rise in the number of working households in poverty over the past decade, with many low-paid workers in insecure jobs where they are less likely to receive the training needed to progress on to higher earnings. An estimated five million adults in the UK lack core literacy or numeracy skills; 12.6 million lack basic digital skills.

Our social security system is also failing to adequately support people on low incomes. People are almost always better off in work, but sometimes incentives are weak or wiped out by high housing and childcare costs. The nature of today’s labour market, with more, flexible jobs and rising self-employment – together with extra costs associated with childcare, caring responsibilities or living with a disability – has resulted in a highly complex system which is difficult to navigate. For those with health problems or with caring responsibilities that mean they are unable to work full time, the system is failing to provide an adequate safety net, and spending is poorly targeted. Welfare-to-work services need to be more focused on reducing poverty through high employment and high earnings.

Raising pay, such as through the introduction of the National Living Wage, is crucial to creating an economy with less in-work poverty. But reducing poverty also requires higher skills combined with higher productivity, particularly in the sectors with the largest proportions of low pay, to create more jobs that offer better pay, greater security, more hours, and more opportunities to progress. This is a long-term undertaking, but there are promising policy foundations and initiatives upon which to build. The challenge is for business and industry leaders – above all, in low-wage sectors like retail, care and hospitality – to explore how this might be achieved.

We also need to focus on creating a social security system that meets the challenges of a 21st century labour market, technological change, and a changing and ageing population, along with health and fluctuating conditions. A sustainable approach needs to tackle the underlying causes of poverty.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Supporting people to gain the skills and capabilities to find a job and progress once in work;
  • Creating more jobs offering at least a Living Wage, with greater job security and opportunities for progression; and
  • A social security system that incentivises work and increasing hours, and supports people in and out of work to escape poverty.

I am always open to opportunity… but it is very difficult because the job I am in, there is no training I can do to get any higher up the scale. There is no job there. There was one job that came up but that was a full-time job, the part-timers couldn’t even apply. We just have to accept it… We did feel we missed out because we were part-time.

Woman, Sheffield, Working below potential: Women and part-time work

My partner only knew one skill, labouring, for him to find something when he was made redundant, it was devastating. He wasn’t well educated, he can’t find another job easily. After 23 years with the same company, the struggle since has been hard.

Participant, Walsall, JRF workshop

Poverty in later life

Pensioner income poverty has reduced considerably in recent years, yet a substantial number of pensioners still have a low standard of living, especially if they are disabled or in ill health.

Poor access to public transport restricts some older people from getting around, reducing their autonomy and increasing exclusion from social networks, sometimes leading to loneliness and isolation. Disabled older people face additional challenges, since the extra costs associated with disability are currently not fully taken into account in benefit levels. Furthermore, stigma and lack of awareness mean that take-up of state support is often low. At the other end of the spectrum, the low level of pension savings and National Insurance contributions by some people of working age, especially among the growing number of self-employed, has worrying implications for the security of current younger generations in later life.

As more of us are living longer, targeted action will need to be taken to maintain progress in reducing pensioner poverty. We need a combined approach which increases the cash in the pockets of older people at most risk of poverty, improves the prospects of future generations by bolstering the assets of those of working age, and prevents people from falling into poverty as they grow older. It is also important that policies that have delivered lower pensioner poverty are not undone in the longer term, and are balanced against the needs of younger generations.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Encouraging more older people to take up the financial support for which they are eligible;
  • Ensuring more working-age people contribute to savings schemes and pension funds; and
  • Providing benefits for older disabled people that are tailored to meet additional costs of disability and care needs.

They don’t tell you what you’re entitled to, not unless you ask, they won’t come forward, they’ll keep to themselves. Why don’t they tell you in the first place?

Older man, Hartlepool, JRF workshop

Containing the effects of rising costs

The important impact of high costs on poverty has too often been ignored. Reducing poverty through action on costs involves harnessing market power but also recognising and compensating for its limits. The high cost of housing and childcare in many parts of the UK creates the biggest squeeze on people in poverty. High rents and evictions from private tenancies are a major driver of homelessness in some areas. Increasing the supply of genuinely affordable housing to bring down costs across tenures has become central to solving poverty in much of the UK.

Another important challenge is to end the iniquity of poverty premiums, where people in poverty pay more for the same goods and services. For example, many on low incomes use pre-payment meters for gas and electricity, at greater cost, and are less likely to switch their energy supplier to get a better deal. Households in poverty are four times more likely to be behind with at least one household bill, and they are more exposed when the price of essentials rises rapidly. Many people in debt struggle to get by, choosing what they and their families are going to go without, having to turn to family, friends or charity to help them out.

Businesses providing essential goods and services can play a key role by proactively identifying consumers at risk of debt, offering advice and support. Alongside the voluntary sector, state agencies and regulators, they can help to empower consumers to search for and negotiate better deals.

In some industries, such as energy and water, consumer bills carry part of the burden for additional costs arising from public policy choices or investments in new infrastructure. There is a strong case for firms to design, in conjunction with government, fairer ways of sharing these additional policy costs.

Regulators have an important role in increasing competition and innovation, attending to the impact on vulnerable people and sometimes setting prices. These are all functions within their existing mandates which have a direct impact on the lives and prospects of poorer households.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Ending the poverty premium through responsible business practices, better customer service, regulatory intervention and product innovation;
  • Enabling low-income and at-risk consumers to get the best deals from providers;
  • Boosting the supply of genuinely affordable housing; and
  • Reducing energy demand through efficiency programmes.

Yeah, it gets you down, days that you, you know I’m working for nothing, nothing left, you know but it’s life you know. But I don’t let it get me down, just got to get on with it. To be honest, it’s a case of you have to isn’t it? Nowhere to turn, can’t keep turning to family members all the time for money – have to pay them back you see, so it’s hard. So I just try to avoid it if I can, you know, getting into debt. I try to budget, but it’s not easy.

Mary, ‘Getting By’, A year in the life of 30 working families in Liverpool

People facing additional challenges

Almost anyone can experience poverty, but some groups face higher risks. This is because they face greater barriers to increasing their income, or have higher costs, or both. Racism and discrimination can hold back ethnic minority groups from progressing in work, and illness or fluctuating health conditions can make training and work difficult to manage in the absence of flexibility and good support from employers. Lone parents, and parents of children with disabilities, may struggle to find quality part-time work and affordable childcare. Disabled people often face extra disability-related costs, which are only partly compensated through benefits. They also face barriers in employment. Almost half (48%) of people in poverty in the UK are either themselves disabled or living in a household with a disabled person.

A relatively small group of people in poverty face additional, complex challenges. This includes people with experience of mental health conditions, homelessness, experiences of violence, substance misuse or involvement in the criminal justice system. When these are long-lasting or overlap, they can present significant barriers to escaping poverty.

The prospects for young people leaving local authority care should be an overarching priority for government. Despite positive policy and legal developments, they continue to face unacceptably high risks of destitution and poverty, homelessness, offending and substance misuse.

We need to see flexible and co-ordinated support that builds on people’s assets, strengths and relationships, that roots them in ordinary housing, jobs and communities and is tailored around the ‘whole person’ and the ‘whole family’. These make it easier to improve their long-term prospects.

We could solve poverty by:

  • Enabling young people leaving care to maximise their potential, with proper support around housing, employment and training;
  • Providing good quality holistic approaches to family support services, which address a variety of issues, including material poverty and behaviour;
  • Providing homeless people with secure, long-term homes; and
  • Significantly increasing access to and funding for mental health services.

For women with complex needs, there is a huge lack of appropriate housing. The traditional women’s refuge won’t take women like this. There are very few that will house a woman with substance abuse issues, because they’re also housing children. So she’ll go into a hostel, they’ll go through that pathway and cycle in and out. A Housing First model to break that revolving door, that would be very interesting.

Practitioner, JRF workshop
Deal Maker
Trump has been elected in America. The UK is leaving the European Union. yet this is not the end of the world, the sun still rises and cats still need to be stroked.The essential elements of the world order are unlikely to change because they are a reflection of world realities. The world is now very interconnected such that perhaps the big challenge of the times is for countries to agree some common rules about how they interact together, some general rules of conduct so that individuals cannot simply overthrow the system either through carelessness or deliberate anarchical, possibly terrorist ambitions.Trump may have come to power promising an overthrow of the status quo, and yet in large part the status quo is simply a reflection of reality. The institutions of power remain and are unlikely to be challenged in main part because during a period of great change (UK) and great inexperience (Trump) established institutions will be needed.America as the lynchpin of the security of the world has an obligation to understand other regions, especially where these regions are  arising as the case of China or adjusting to new realities as in the case of Russia.The difference between being a deal maker in business, and making deals within a world political system, is that in politics, especially foreign policy, you meet the same people time and time again. And each time you bring to the table you previous engagement, a reputation for being honest, reliable, trustworthy or otherwise. You cannot be arbitrary or random through years of political negotiation.You cannot do a deal and then move one. Each time, you meet the same people, you need to re-engage. Issues are not resolved. People come together to work on the same issues time and time again, because on the political stage, nothing is ever finished, everything is always a work in progress on a scale far beyond that experienced within business.One of the problems between the east and west of Europe is the very different perceptions that we have in Western Europe and Russia of how we have come to be where we are in fairly recent history. In the West it has been tempting to see the last fifty years as our western success, a defeat of Russia’s imperialist ambitions. In Russia, they see the world rather differently. They see themselves as having contributed hugely to the development of a stable, peaceful Europe.Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine can in part be explained, though clearly not excused, by this disconnect in understanding. Europe pressed ahead with inviting the Ukraine, a country that Russia very much regarded as within it’s own field of influence, into “changing sides”. Faced with this political affront, Russia acted in it’s own interests and to it’s own mind, as an aggrieved party, to protect it’s access to the crimea. The challenge is not now so much the threat of marching Russian armies into Europe but rather how to best accommodate Russia into a modern Europe that it feels that it has shaped.So in dealing with Russia, perhaps the most important aspect is to bring a degree of understanding or empathy for where Russia is coming from, for how Russia sees itself as a world power today, and how it sees it’s history and how it believes it has brought the current world order to pass. This is not the same as seeing diplomacy in terms of the psychology of individuals. Politics is not a love affair. Personal relationships are not and should not be key to foreign policy. We look to understand other countries, not because we love them, but rather because we wish to achieve our own strategic aims and objectives. How do we move towards a reality where Russia can engage constructively, in it’s own interests within Europe, where it can receive the respect it feels it deserves as a major world player on a par with the US, Europe and China?When our allies or indeed our opponents act in a way that we disagree with, it is not a personal affront. Countries will act in a way that they perceive to be in their own interests. We seek to understand them, in order to see where they believe their own interests lie and in an attempt to more easily align them with our own long term strategic interests. We can oppose what other countries do but we cannot be aggrieved when they simply act in their own perceived interests.The different attitudes between countries include not only the general direction, but also the way in which different countries negotiate. China and America both have have a rather exceptionalist view of the world, each believing that they have unique values. America’s excepitonalism has a rather righteous, missionary view of the world and attempts to spread itself sometimes militarily around the world.Chinese exceptionalism believes itself to be unique. There is no way to become Chinese, but your value is determined solely by your own respect for Chinese values. China demonstrates diplomacy through majesty. America shows diplomacy by breaking everything down into a deal.American politics and diplomacy is therefore based on detailed programmes and individual deals but to the Chinese each individual deal will be seen only as a small part of the process. China has survived millennia and has no intention or expectation of changing it’s ways to accommodate America. Whilst Americans will want to push individual deals, one by one, China will want to discuss the end-point, the grand strategy. China interprets the Trump presidency as an opportunity to finally get to discuss the big issues, about where they are going overall rather than the small, on-by-one items along the way.Instability in North Korea could create a situation where all the countries around that country seeking to protect themselves look to grab control of the nuclear arsenal that N Korea has builtt up, maybe not now maybe not for 10 years. Local rulers by their definition seeking to protect themselves could act in such a way to create casualties on a scale not seen for many years.The current world order, even the existence of the UN is a reflection of the existing peaceful world state system based on sovereign states. Islamic extremism is a repudiation of our peaceful world order in the way it rejects all accepted civilised restraints and constraints upon it’s actions. As such, each and every nation state is called upon to reject and appose Islamic State terrorism as it is essentially inimitable to all of our well-being.One should act to restrict access to land and territory by the terrorists, because that denies DAESH respectability or any sense of equivalence with real nation states but one also has to accept that not all allies in that fight against terrorism will not hold the same objectives and may not indeed be sympathetic to our own long term goals. Not all allies will be benevolent which can be clearly seen in the current situation in Mosul. The overall outcome will be determined in part by who comes to power once DAESH has been displaced from the territory that it now controls.Modern technology poses threats to the world order that will be difficult to adjust and deal with. One example might be environmental change, or indeed the development of artificial intelligence, One cannot argue about the existence of these threats, though one could most definitely argue or discuss the degree of threat they might cause. America has been the central plank of world peace, and cannot simply be ejected or indeed voluntarily cut itself free from the world and it’s established place therein without creating huge problems for itself.America can no longer impose it’s own preferences but it remains indispensable to the current world order. America may not be keen itself to play the role of world policeman, yet America must learn to act to define it’s national interest, to align those interests with the world’s own interests.  The art of foreign policy is to develop national policy and relate them to broader world interests.A country may never achieve all that it wants yet it must be engaged in setting the direction rather than allowing itself to be swept along in the wake of other forces, and other countries’ national interests. If you do not choose to be one of the leaders, you are effectively choosing to follow.

Mouse

I live in an area full of cats, not quite more than the people living around, but certainly at least one per house. And some of them are bruisers.

Still, we’re managing to average around 3 or 4 mice a week, mostly alive and kicking. The cats don’t seem very interested in eating or even hurting them very much but they do like watching them run and chasing them. Today we had a runner. It was staked out behind the piano so with cats guarding the borders, I pulled back the piano to try and get at it with a glass. At this stage the mice do one of two things: they climb inside the piano or they run. Today we had a runner.

img_1262

They run fast. Although my brain knows this, somehow it’s still a surprise to have a mouse run across you foot. And then you juts breathe a sigh of relief that it kept running instead of climbing up your leg. Mice climb quite well.

With frogs, which tend to sit still if they want to survive, the trick is to remove the cats from the room but with cats there is no chance of catching a running mouse without cats in attendance.

The cat chases and almost inevitably backs the mouse into a corner and catches it. It’s what they’re designed to do after all. And since my cats are not at all hungry, they tend to catch the mouse in their mouth and then sit it back down. The mouse freezes. It knows that the cat just wants it to start running so it sits still for a while. If I’m lucky, I can then pop a glass over it’s head, much to the puzzlement of both cat and mouse.

DSC_0499

If I’m unlucky, the mouse decides that the big lummock with a glass is more dangerous than the cat with the teeth and claws so makes another run for it. We played chase and catch three times this morning, from the piano, to the curtains, to the cat baskets. If I’m very unlucky the mouse will hole up back behind or inside of the piano or in the fireplace.

Some of the mice are fairy static and let me catch them quickly. If they don’t run, the cats essentially watch and ignore them, trying to provoke them into a run with the occasional (clawless) pat. I’m beginning to wonder whether we’re getting recurring mice ie. ones that know the drill and are just waiting for me to appear glass in hand. All in all, I prefer static mice, dead mice, runners and last of all climbers. There is nothing good about a mouse staring down at you from a curtain pole. They can jump, you know.

img_1263

Responses

The American journalist Masha Gessen, who has spent most of her life living in autocracies, gives her six rules for surviving under one, and they read as a direct accusation of the political response to Trump so far.

First, believe the autocrat: if he says he will deport you, he means to. When you claim he is exaggerating, you reflect nothing but your own desire to rationalise.

Relatedly, don’t be fooled by small signs of normality, the odd moderate placed in this or that position, a peremptory call for peace.

Dispiritingly, rule No 3 is: “Institutions will not save you.” The only meaningful way to marry that and Bernie Sanders’s call to arms is to assume that institutions are only as strong as the people ready to defend them.

Rule No 4 is: “Be outraged.” Wherever you are in the world, however insignificant you think yourself, every time you shrug, caper, look on the bright side or do a Boris Johnson, you do grave injustice to the people in the autocrat’s line of fire.

Rule No 5: “Don’t make compromises.” This is to put aside the grease of the modern political process. Politics cannot be the art of the possible when the impossible has already happened.

No 6 is: “Remember the future.” Trump cannot last for ever.

Perhaps we can add a seventh, which is to remember the past: whether it’s globalisation or those who are left behind, whether it’s economic stagnation or the long, lashing tail of the financial crash, we should, as we climb over each other to be modern in our interpretations, remember there is nothing new about this story.

It is the oldest in the world: nebulous animosities given shape and energy by the rhetoric of unabashed hatred.

Post facts

Today is a day for kittens. Flying kittens.

4800-1 Just as you think you’re coming to terms with this Brave New World,  another example of horrid comes along. I am tired of the people I meet who blame Hilary Clinton for losing, because she wasn’t in some way “good enough”.

4800

Whatever the political argument, being good enough isnt one of them. How could she not be good enough to compete against a self-confessed sexual predator, a man seemingly glorying in assaulting women and grabbing them by their genitals, a man joking about dating a 10 year old child riding up an escalator, whilst facing law suit from a 13 year old girl (now dropped) for assault?

5400-1

You can accuse the democrats of many things, but not being “good enough” isn’t one of them. There is no moral equivalence here.

5400

And then you read that the latest political appointee from Trump is a misogynist, racist anti-semite and cannot be surprised, You here his representative argue that he doesn’t and shouldn’t care whether he offends people because feelings don’t matter only facts.

And within seconds, confronted with an inconvenient fact, he immediately back-tracks because suddenly facts are not enough. Facts must be somehow “dressed up” to entertain, to amuse, to offend.

Oh dear!

It was bound to happen. Coming downstairs one morning, there’s a suspicious looking cat slinking around the downstairs loo, a place with lots of nooks and crannies as the pipes back under the skirting.

Mouse.

We were rushing out of the house on a trip down to see the eldest at Exeter so ended up just hoping for the best ie. death and disaster for the mouse. Arriving back home at the end of the day, we all took a good look around for a mouse corpse but nothing was to be found.

Later that evening, he saw a mouse running across the kitchen floor.

We ordered humane mouse traps. Personally I would have gone for full on death and destruction but the kids objected (not that they plan on setting the damn things or walking the mice across the road). The youngest, smallest, meanest cat sat herself down by the door and waited, presumably having smelt mouse. A couple of hours in, I caved and brought her bed over to make it a bit more comfortable. We all sat down to get on with life (or at least typing).

img_1273

About an hour in, I looked up to see Mr Mouse walking quite calmly out from behind the cat bed. I somehow imagined that the cat would notice. Surely mice would smell if nothing else.

I hissed at the cat to wake up. One groggy eye opened. The mouse froze. The eye closed again and the mouse scuttled across to the other side of the hallway. I stood up and did some more hissing, looked to the cat to see if she’d wake (finally!) and then froze myself.

Where was Mr Mouse?

Could it have snuck under the door into the dining room? I lay down on the floor to check under the piano and bookcases but there was nothing to be found. The cat had still not stirred from her bed. So much for the idea of cats as lean mean hunting machines.

I swished the curtains near the door. There it was, silent and still. The cat was oblivious. I poked towards the mouse, No reaction from either cat or mouse. I swished the curtains brushing the mouse thing all the time “Please don’t climb, don’t climb up the damn curtain”

The mouse made a run for it and finally the cat noticed the damn thing. Apparently, close to cats have relatively poor eyesight for static items but much better eyesight for moving objects.

Both the mouse and the cat were off on the chase into the sitting room. Under the sofa went the mouse. Round and round went the cat. I decided now was a good time to lift up my handbag.

And my shoes.

The cat caught the mouse, looked at me and dropped it at my feet. The mouse ran off again. Three times caught and dropped before I finally managed to get a glass over the damn thing ready to relocate it outside and across the road.

The mouse traps are on order and I’m not planning on cancelling anytime soon.

dsc_0585

When is a facist a facist?

I came across an article talking about words, and how we seem increasingly frustrated by our inability to adequately describe the rise of the populist right. It talks about Umberto Eco’s lost of the characteristics of racism, a system he grew up under in Mussolini’s Italy (Umberto Eco Makes a List of the 14 Common Features of Fascism).

Can we use words like “fascism,” for example, with fidelity to the meaning of that word in world history? The term, after all, devolved decades after World War II into the trite expression fascist pig, writes Umberto Eco in his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism,” “used by American radicals thirty years later to refer to a cop who did not approve of their smoking habits.” In the 1940s, on the other hand, the fight against fascism was a “moral duty for every good American.” (And every good Englishman and French partisan, he might have added.)

Mussolini’s fascist regime “was certainly a dictatorship, but it was not totally totalitarian, not because of its mildness but rather because of the philosophical weakness of its ideology. Contrary to common opinion, fascism in Italy had no special philosophy.” It did, however, have style, “a way of dressing—far more influential, with its black shirts, than Armani, Benetton, or Versace would ever be.” The dark humor of the comment indicates a critical consensus about fascism. As a form of extreme nationalism, it ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national culture produces it.

Italy may have been “the first right-wing dictatorship that took over a European country,” and got to name  the political system. But Eco is perplexed “why the word fascism became a synecdoche, that is, a word that could be used for different totalitarian movements.” For one thing, he writes, fascism was a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions.”

While Eco is firm in claiming “There was only one Nazism,” he says, “the fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change.” Eco reduces the qualities of what he calls “Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism” down to 14 “typical” features.

“These features,” writes the novelist and semiotician, “cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism.

But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

How many of these features can you see in either Trump’s political vision, or that of brexit Britain?

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.” YES
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.” YES
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.” YES
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.” YES
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.” YES
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.” YES
  7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.” YES
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.” YES
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.” YES
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.” YES – CONTEMPT FOR BENEFITS “SCROUNGERS”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.” YES
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.” YES
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.” YES
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.” YES

One detail of Eco’s essay that often goes unremarked is his characterization of the Italian opposition movement’s unlikely coalitions. As for the seeming total lack of common interest between these parties, Eco simply says, “Who cares?… Liberation was a common deed for people of different colors.”

Utopia

Today the debate on social security and anti-poverty strategy is dominated by worries about incentives and disincentives. Over 500 years ago Thomas More wrote about his vision of Utopia

Will people work if they can get an income without having to do so? Do heavily means-tested systems mean that people see little extra gain from doing more so they won’t bother? And do expensive welfare states require such high tax rates that taxpayers will work less, retire early or not bother to take investment risks?

There were no such worries in More’s Utopia. There:

“the head of each household searches out [from central warehouses] whatever he or his household needs and carries away their requirements without any payment or recompense. After all, why should anything be denied him? There is more than enough of everything, and there is no fear that anyone will take more than they really need.” [1]

At the same time – and making this possible – everyone works, taking their turns in agriculture, but also in learning one of the approved crafts – including, it is remarked on, women.

This is a land not just with an unconditional ‘basic income’ in today’ terms, but one where people – or at least the head of household – get to decide themselves what they need. No means-testing, no taxes, no money.

It is a very long way from Adam Smith’s tradesmen who did not feed you out of benevolence but out of their own self-interest in what the invisible hand of the market would deliver to them. It relies on a cultural recognition of the common good, not, apparently, individual incentives. As a result, 90% of modern economics would be alien.

But that culture is clearly reinforced by regulation. Utopia was not particularly freedom-friendly (although still a great deal more so, perhaps, than Henry VIII’s England). There are a lot of rules enforced somehow by local dignitaries that ensure that “no one sits around idle but that everyone works diligently at their craft” for the prescribed six hours a day that, efficiently organised, creates the island’s abundance. A lot of that is achieved by moral pressure and by shaming of selfish behaviour.

As a corollary, in a land without money, much of our academic interest in redistribution and on the effects of public policy is absent. But there are lots of forms of distribution designed to keep everything even. There is no complicated system of central grants to local governments to equalise the resources of different areas. Instead, if the number of people in one of the 54 cities exceeds the optimum number, “the overflow is used to make up the shortfall in underpopulated cities.”

And there would be few worries for analysts concerned with how to compare standards of living between households of different sizes – “care is taken that each household [in the cities] has no fewer than ten or more than sixteen adults. Naturally there is no way to fix the number of young children.  The optimum figure is easily maintained by transferring members from a household with too many to one with too few.”

So in Utopia it is not resources that are redistributed, but rather people. Nor do they have to worry about capital gains or property taxes or the wealth inequalities created by some having the good fortune to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighbourhood or town before the prices rose. Instead, they exchange the actual houses by lot every tenth year (apparently without any need to worry about the disincentives to maintain or repair the properties that today’s housing economists would fret about).

But this does not actually mean that More’s Utopia is free of incentive concerns. Alongside the primitive communism of consumption there are – 500 years on – what sound very strong systems to encourage moral sexual behaviour in particular. They are very keen on happiness, but, “they think that happiness is not to be found in just any kind of pleasure, but only in good and proper pleasure”.

In particular, anyone “found guilty of illicit sexual relations before marriage is severely reprimanded and permanently banned from marriage” and their father and mother “are exposed to public shame for having fallen short in their duties.”

What’s interesting here is that Utopians do see this in terms of weighing up personal advantage and disadvantage: “They punish this offence so severely because they anticipate that unless people are strictly restrained from casual sex, few would undertake marriage, with its lifelong commitment to a single partner and all the other irksome demands which that entails.”

But eventually it becomes clear in the story that in their religion even more drastic punishments are envisaged after life for vices and rewards granted for virtue. Furthermore, people who deny that article of faith are not allowed honours and are looked down on, while others cannot become citizens if they do not believe it because they must be “checked by fear”.

Putting it all together, what’s striking about the Utopians is that they are capable of behaving badly, both economically and morally – but generally they don’t. This is not because of immediate financial or material incentives, but because of a common culture, reinforced by a belief in rewards and punishments after death and by lifetime honours at one end and systematic shaming at the other.

That is not so far from part of the system in countries like the UK today – the use of shame in particular. What perhaps marks us out as less civilised today than More’s imagined Utopians five centuries ago is that we appear to believe that in order to encourage our fellow citizens to work diligently, we should expose them both to hardship and to systems designed to shame and humiliate.

Note: Quotations from Utopia are taken from the 2012 Penguin Classics translation by Dominic Baker-Smith.

Black and White

Britain often claims to possess the finest justice system in the world, with a “colour blind” approach to the law. Unfortunately, this isn’t true: justice is neither colour blind, nor is it equal. People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to be jailed for some crimes than those who are white, according to a government-commissioned report.

Historically, the justice system has been used to legitimise slavery, and then colonialism, from Elizabethan England onwards. In more recent times, judges have enforced the “stop-and-search” laws which still disproportionately affect BME people.

But to what extent is racism present in the system today? A study headed by David Lammy  MP, published recently, makes for very disturbing reading.

The investigation was given a political boost by Theresa May, who pledged to fight injustice and acknowledged, as she entered Downing Street in July: “If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.” The inquiry, supported by the justice secretary, Liz Truss, is to be expanded to include a review of ethnic diversity among judges across tribunals, civil and family courts. It has already begun considering judicial ethnic diversity in crown courts.

David Lammy MP for Tottenham in north London, said: “These emerging findings raise difficult questions about whether ethnic minority communities are getting a fair deal in our justice system. We need to fully understand why, for example, ethnic minority defendants are more likely to receive prison sentences than white defendants. These are complex issues, and I will dig deeper in the coming months to establish whether bias is a factor.”

In 1991, statistics regarding how differently BME and white suspects were dealt with in the criminal justice system helped to trigger race training for all full-time judges over a five-year period. Those statistics have not improved.

Disproportional outcomes were particularly noticeable in certain categories of offences. For every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at crown courts for drug offences, the report found, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, the figure is 141 for every 100 white men.

Among all those found guilty at crown court in 2014, 112 black men were sentenced to custody for every 100 white men. Men from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more than 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody, the study’s statistical analysis revealed. Of those convicted at magistrates courts for sexual offences, 208 black men and 193 Asian men received prison sentences for every 100 white men.

For example, the report found that young black males are 10.5 times more likely than young white males to be arrested for robbery. In general, black men were more than three times more likely to be arrested than white men. The comparative figures raise concerns about equal treatment by police and the courts as well as challenging whether differential outcomes are due to causes outside the control of the justice system.

The interim report notes that “black individuals account for about 3% of the total population of England and Wales yet make up about 9% of defendants prosecuted for indictable offences” at crown court.

If you are an African-Caribbean man you are 16% more likely to be remanded in custody than if you are white; you are also likely to obtain a custodial sentence of 24 months compared to your white counterpart’s 17 months. This is not because African-Caribbean men commit more serious offences than their white counterparts – these are punishments handed down for the same or similar offences. African-Caribbean men are also subject to receiving immediate custodial sentences with fewer previous convictions than their white counterparts.

Our perceptions have become the reality that means 41% of all young people in detention are now from BME communities.

What is critical is that the report highlights, the fundamental racist disparities in the dispensation, administration and dissemination of justice. There is a crisis of both trust and confidence in the British judicial system. There are clear concerns are that it remains arbitrary, inconsistent and discriminatory. This interim report proves them right – despite its diplomatic language.

Of course, poverty, homelessness and drug addiction all play their part, as does the disproportionate influence of an institutionally racist police culture, which means black defendants are stopped and searched seven times more often than their white counterparts. This is despite falling stop-and-search figures, and falling crime generally.

A significant responsibility for this disparity of treatment probably still lies with an overwhelmingly white, middle class and male magistracy and judiciary, resistant to ethnic monitoring, which hides behind the fallacy that justice is “colour blind and impartial” despite evidence to the contrary.

At present, out of 161 members of the high court judiciary, there is not a single African-Caribbean judge, while only two are of Asian origin. Less than 2.5% of Oxford and Cambridge graduates (from whom 86% of high court judges are drawn) are of African-Caribbean origin. The legal pipeline and the outcome are a self-fulfilling prophecy. The race training introduced in 1991, was only introduced on the basis that high court judges were exempt, as they simply did not require it. That rather arrogant intellectual exception must now be questioned.

Even if one achieves a “critical mass” of BME judges and magistrates, the injustice is unlikely to be entirely eradicated if the culture of who is perceived to be the likely recidivist or the most “dangerous” offender persists. One solution resisted by the Ministry of Justice, and by most senior judges would be to monitor each crown court and magistrates centre so that there can be proper scrutiny of individual courts to identify where the problem lies.

Allied to this must be a full acknowledgement by the Sentencing Council that sentencing and bail guidance must set out clearly the levels of disparity for each offence. Simply pretending the problem does not exist is a recipe for unconscious but appalling levels of racial bias to continue unchecked.

The training on race from 1991 to 1995 worked, as it forced judges to engage with BME mentors who challenged subconscious bias and racism as equals in a secure setting. The race awareness training practised in the 20 years since has been discredited as ineffective. It is perhaps too polite, conducted infrequently and by fellow judges who themselves may be part of the problem.

Aside from training the judiciary, one of the most frequent explanations for differential outcomes given is that distrust of the justice system encourages ethnic minority defendants to opt for jury trial rather than pleading guilty at magistrates court, where they might receive a lower sentence.

The report confirmed that BAME defendants are more likely than their white counterparts to be tried at crown court: for every 100 young white defendants opting to have a jury trial, 156 young black men choose to do the same. The report also found 152 BAME men pleaded not guilty at crown court for every 100 white men.

Another of the inquiry’s panel members is Shaun Bailey, a Conservative London assembly member. Asked whether he thought there is bias in the justice system, he said: “The institutional figures would suggest that … If you had gone to the black community in the past they would have given this feeling. But these reports are backed up by statistics. Because they have less trust in the system, black people think they should trust the public [ie the jury]. It shows they still have trust in the British public. [Outcomes in] the rest of the system would suggest there’s bias.”

By opting for a jury trial, Bailey said, black people were trying to redress perceived prejudice. It doesn’t work.

The judiciary is a pillar of our democracy with a historical responsibility for the racism that affects our fundamental freedoms and rights. If that is to change, it must work hard to eradicate disproportionate sentences and bail that remove the freedom and rights of people of colour. Justice cannot be the prerogative of a narrow, white middle-class elite, who believe that racism is a problem for other lesser mortals to confront

December

America Trumped

Although he ran without a detailed policy platform, Donald Trump gave plenty of clues to what he would do once in office.

One of his most consequential acts will be to fill the Supreme Court seat that has been vacant since February. Given some of the judges’ ages, that may not be the only appointment to the court during his term. Replacing one conservative judge, Scalia, with another might not have too radical an impact but of course there are another two elderly, rather more liberal members of the Supreme Court that he may end up replacing during his term. Abortion law, a central concern for millions of evangelicals who voted for Mr Trump, will not change much immediately. But by appointing younger justices he could lock in a conservative majority for years to come.

During the campaign Mr Trump promised to block Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which had already run into trouble in the court. Without the measure, which would have cut carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, America’s efforts to limit global warming will be crimped. The Paris Agreement on climate change will be weakened. We may well reach a situation where China is seen to become the prime mover and shaker, the main motivating or driving force towards environmental protection.

Obamacare, his predecessor’s signature health-care insurance scheme, narrowly survived previous court challenges. It will be attacked in Congress; during the campaign Mr Trump promised to repeal it and replace it with “something terrific”. Though there are now some noises being made of a more piecemeal replacement, it seems likely that many millions will lose their healthcare entitlement.

Domestic demand will get a fillip from Mr Trump’s mooted corporate-tax reforms, which will see multinationals repatriate billions of dollars, and from tax cuts and extra infrastructure spending. The deficit will balloon. His protectionism also threatens the world economy. Though he has proposed re­negotiating NAFTA, America’s trade deal with Canada and Mexico, it should survive. But the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead.

And if Mr Trump starts a trade war by imposing new tariffs on some Chinese goods, a global slump could be the result.

If followed through, Mr Trump’s America First rhetoric, fondness for strongmen and declared willingness to ignore treaty obligations will have profound implications for geopolitics. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will portray Mr Trump’s presidency as a victory for his own view of the world. He will seek a new Yalta agreement granting Russia its own sphere of influence, including Ukraine.

In the Middle East Mr Trump must choose between his isolationist instincts and his promise to “bomb the shit” out of Islamic State. He will probably give the green light to the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian firepower, to act at will against opposition forces in the name of fighting terrorism.

The nuclear deal with Iran is now in question.

China’s ability to shape its region will face fewer checks. President Xi Jinping, another authoritarian of the type Mr Trump admires, will aim to assert China’s primacy in the East and South China Sea, against claims from neighbours backed by American might, and to continue expansionist island-building.   Taiwan’s de facto independence relies on ambiguous American assurances that now look even flimsier. Japan and South Korea will be hoping Mr Trump did not mean it when he seemed to suggest they should get their own nuclear weapons.

Marco Rubio, one of Mr Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination, questioned his suitability to bear the grave responsibility of controlling America’s nuclear arsenal. Mr Trump has said he does not take it lightly. But how might he cope with an escalating confrontation, given his thin skin and macho style?

Post-Brexit, ethnic minorities in Britain have grown used to being asked why they have not yet left the country. Hispanic and Muslim Americans can expect to hear the same question in 2017.

Mr Trump will struggle even to begin to fulfil his pledges to deport 11m undocumented migrants, to keep out Muslims and to build a wall on the Mexican border. But immigration will become harder—and a new life in America less appealing. Not only  racism but misogyny, too, will be more freely voiced.

America will feel like a less welcoming place.

OTT

It’s that time of year when Christmas Markets start to happen. I’ve “volunteered” to help out on the cake and jam stall this year so of course have ended up making tonnes of cakes and jam.
Possibly too much. A bit Over-the-Top.

Certainly a bit to much chocolate on the flapjacks, which I’m waiting to cool down completely and wrap in some Christmassy cellophane.

I’m also a bit undecided about the banana bread as to whether or not it needs some sugar on top, icing or caster. It probably doesn’t need any for taste, but most things look a bit better with a dusting of icing sugar.

But if they don’t sell (the nightmare of everyone donating stuff that they’ve made) then my friend’s Christmas presents are set this year.

Part of me is really hoping that some of the things are leftover because to be honest, I can’t face anymore baking. Ideally the saffron lemon cake would come home as well. Although it’s incredibly simple to make, it’s expensive with saffron, almonds etc.

Honestly?

Honestly, who do I think you are?

You voted “leave” in the recent referendum on EU membership, and once the shock faded, I’m left thinking not so much about why you voted the way you did, but where we go next. The frustration I feel is nothing to do with how the vote went, how I lost and you won, but rather your reluctance to say where you want this journey to end. Because other than the meaningless “brexit means brexit” or “out” usually typed in block capitals and bold typeface, it’s almost impossible to get anyone voting leave to come up with a destination.

You’re old, probably a pensioner and with 12million pensioners in the UK, most voting and almost all voting “leave” that makes up a sizeable proportion of the 17million. You are overwhelmingly White British, though more likely to describe yourself as “English” than anything else. You probably didn’t go to university and you probably voted Tory or UKIP at the least general election. You probably live in an area with low to no immigration, somewhere like East Anglia.

And perhaps most importantly, you are scared.

You are scared of the way the world is changing. You feel left behind. You don’t like even the idea of multi-culturism but you’re more than a bit scared of feminism as well. You’re tired of being told off for making jokes about women, about people’s colour or their sexual orientation. You don’t see what’s so wrong about calling people “poofter” or “paki.”. You think a woman’s place is in the home, not taking a “man’s job”.

You thought about the economic cost of voting “leave” and then released that your defined benefit pension wasn’t going to change much. You thought that maybe your grandchildren might be a bit cross with you, but decided it was worth it after all, because you weren’t the one who was going to have to pay..

And it’s the last bit that I find impossible to forgive. Your children and grandchildren will have fewer rights, fewer opportunities than you did, because of your choices. They will be poorer because of you, economically and socially, and you didn’t care enough to consider changing your vote. You are fundamentally selfish towards even your own family.

And when push comes to shove in the discussions about what happens next, you talk about rising immigration linking it to crime, to social deprivation, a lack of social housing of health services and cuts to education.

You’re not stupid. You know that most of the shortages in your area have been caused by austerity cuts from the Tory government you most likely voted into power. You understand that actually there are very few EU immigrants living in your part of the world relative to those areas that voted “remain”. And when asked what you meant when you suggested that you just wanted some kind of immigration control, you have no answer. When it’s suggested that the overall numbers might fall but numbers of immigrants to your part of the world still increase, you have no comment to make because really it’s nothing to do with EU immigration.

Inevitably some comment is posted denigrating London, comparing it to a cesspit, a place of racial terror and unease, usually referencing Muslim terror incidents or the race riots. These are nothing to do with EU immigration, nothing at all, but they do identify one of your core characteristics.

You are racist.

We could dress it up and call it xenophobia, a fear of the unknown and the different, but when it comes down to it, your arguments conflate all kinds of immigrants and the ones you point to, time and time again, are the people of colour.

You are unhappy, ill-educated and old, all of which could be understood, explained and engaged with.

You are racist. There are no excuses.

Universal

I am increasingly taken with the idea of a Universal Basic Income or benefit scheme  – the payment of a regular and guaranteed income to a country’s citizens as of right – despite the scoffing of many of my friends from both the right and the left

Worldwide, enthusiasm is beginning to gather pace. Trials are being planned in several countries while Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator is to test a scheme in California.

In the UK, the idea is backed by the Green Party and the SNP, is being seriously examined by the Labour Party, and has support from the Royal Society of Arts and the pro-market think-tank, the Adam Smith Institute.

Here in the UK, growing interest is being driven by two deep-seated structural trends: the growing fragility of the jobs market and the inadequacies of the existing, increasingly punitive, intrusive, and patchy benefits system. With its built-in income guarantee, a universal basic income (UBI) would help relieve both problems.

It would bring a more robust safety net in today’s much more precarious working environment while boosting the universal element of income support and reducing dependency on means-testing. A UBI also offers a way of providing income protection as the robotic revolution gathers pace, and could be used to help ensure that the possible productivity gains from accelerated automation are evenly shared rather than being colonised by a small technological elite.

coins

Despite these benefits, the idea remains highly controversial.

Although support spans the political spectrum, the Right and the Left embrace very different visions of a UBI. Left supporters view such a scheme as part of a strong state, and a recognition that all citizens have the right to some minimal claim on national income. Supporters from the libertarian right, and some Silicon Valley enthusiasts, in contrast, favour a basic income as a way of achieving a smaller state.

Some critics view UBI supporters as utopian zealots for a new workless nirvana. Yet one of the central merits of a UBI is that it is non-prescriptive. It offers more choice between work, leisure (not idleness), and education, while providing greater opportunity for caring and community responsibilities. Under a UBI all lifestyle choices would be equally valued. It would value but not over-value work. A UBI would both acknowledge and provide financial support for the mass of unpaid work in childcare, care for the elderly, and voluntary help. By providing basic security it would offer workers more bargaining power in the labour market.

A UBI would, over time, change behaviour, and the results of the national pilots will provide important new evidence of the likely impact. Some might choose to work less, take longer breaks between jobs or be incentivised to start businesses. Some might reject low paid, insecure work leading to a healthy rebalancing of wage structures. Some might retrain or devote more time to personal care or community support, in many cases producing more value, if currently unrecognised, than paid work.

The net effect is more likely to promote than weaken the incentive to work. Indeed, incentives will be stimulated by lowering dependency on means-testing while tackling poverty would become less dependent on the ‘work guarantee’.

But can a UBI be made to work?

Critics claim that a UBI is simply not feasible because it would cost too much. Yet new evidence suggests that it could be made progressive and affordable. One recent report for the think tank, Compass, modelled several different alternatives to see how affordable and feasible such a scheme might be. These simulations show that a full and generous scheme, one that swept away the existing system of income support in one go, would be either too expensive or create too many losers. This is because the current benefits system, partly because of its reliance on means testing, is able to deliver large sums to some groups.

However, our study also found that a ‘modified’ scheme, one that still provided a universal and guaranteed income, albeit at a moderate level, and that initially left much of the existing system intact, would be feasible. Such a scheme –  while not a silver bullet – would offer real and substantial gains: a sharp increase in average income amongst the poorest; a cut in child poverty of 45 per cent; and a modest reduction in inequality, all at a relatively modest cost of £8 billion. This model would also strengthen the universal element of the current benefit system, thus reducing the reliance on means-testing.

This approach is not utopian – it is grounded in reality. It offers a piecemeal approach to reform, not wholescale replacement.  Such an approach reduces the risks of big bang reform, while offering flexibility for gradual improvements over time.  It could, for example, start with a UBI for children. This is evolution, not revolution.

Far from encouraging idleness, a UBI also offers greater flexibility in how to balance work-life commitments in a much more uncertain world and the gradual casualisation of much of the workforce. And far from promoting the end of work, a UBI would aim to tackle the greater risks of a weakened labour market, not aim to replace work. With opportunities likely to become ever more fragile, it is time that policy makers gave much more serious consideration to how a UBI scheme could be made to work.

Missing

My cat has not been seen for 24 hours, the baby the runt of the litter, the home cat. My cat.

At some level, I know that she’s dead.

Cats when hurt badly, crawl away and find a place to die. They sometimes struggle home but mostly they curl up somewhere dry and die.

I’ve never lost a cat before though. She’s not the kind to wander far or cross roads. I’ve never seen a fox take a cat though obviously a dog might injure one badly.

I’ve walked the rounds of the neighbourhood and knocked on doors asking people to check their sheds and garages. Most were sympathetic enough, some essentially indifferent. Last I remember she was snuggling up to me on the sofa and now she’s gone.

God knows where.

Yet every time the cat flap rattles I look to see if it’s her. I woke up this morning and though that maybe, just maybe she’d come home after and adventure.

The other two seem essentially indifferent. just getting on with the day without her. DO cats live so much in the moment that they don’t notice their sibling is now missing, possibly injured somewhere?

My cat is dead or dying. Happy Christmas.

New World, Broken Hearts

There is a whole world of last and found pets out there that I was entirely unaware of before this week.

There is no shortage of very sensible advice starting with: check the house.

Cats love their homes, so there’s every chance that your cat could be closer than you think. Make sure you check every cupboard, even those you hardly use. Check the inside of your washing machine and tumble dryer and look in cosy places such as under beds and in wardrobes. 

We checked the house three or four times, ignoring the fact that the carpet fitters had stripped everything down and would have found her if she was hidden away inside. We checked the loft three times, and then again when my eldest came back from her mates’ house.

Once you’re sure they’re not in the house, start to go a little further afield, starting with the bushes and shrubs in your garden and the surrounding area. Spend at least 15-30 minutes calling your cat by name, circling the location your cat was last seen. Use any of your usual tricks for getting your cat to come in for supper, such as shaking a packet of their favourite treats or dry food. As you walk around stop and listen, and pay particular attention to outside garages or sheds where they may have got stuck or been locked in. 

Think about the last time your cat got spooked. Was there somewhere in particular that they ran away to? You may find them in an adjoining garden, or even a friendly neighbour’s house, for example.

Each of the four of us checked the garage, and then checked it again. We walked the boundary and poked sticked under hedges and bushy plants. All the time accompanied by our other two cats who were singularly useless at helping find their lost sibling.

If they can’t be found, then you need to ask for help.

If you’ve looked everywhere that you can think of and there’s still no sign of them after a couple of hours, it’s time to let others know that your cat is missing. 

  • Before you go out searching, check that your cat flap is open, so that if your missing cat does choose to come home, they’ll have no problems getting in.
  • Let your immediate neighbours know about your cat’s absence and ask their permission to look in their garages, sheds and gardens. If they have windows that face your home, ask if they’d mind keeping an eye out for you. 
  • Call your local vets and animal rescue centres with a description of your cat and their microchip ID. Make sure your details are up to date and ask them if they’d be happy to put up a poster or post something on their website or social media profiles to help to find your cat. 
  • Call your local Cats Protection or animal rescue charities to see if your cat has been found by them or handed in by a kind stranger. 
  • If you have pet insurance, contact your provider as they may provide financial assistance and advice on how to find a missing cat. 
  • Prepare a flyer with relevant information about your cat, including their name, physical description, and a recent photo. Contact information should include your name, telephone number and email address. 
  • Canvas the wider neighbourhood, enlisting any willing volunteers to help you knock on doors or distribute flyers. 
  • Walk or cycle up and down the road near the area your cat was last seen and drive slowly through your neighbourhood. Show passers-by your flyer and ask them to keep an eye out for your lost cat. If they offer, ask them to help you widen your search by looking in surrounding fields or woodlands. 
  • Post and distribute flyers wherever your lost cat was last seen, as well as throughout your home neighbourhood. Drop into places like shops, post offices, doctors’ surgeries, pubs and gyms and ask them if they’d be happy to display your flyer to help you find your missing cat.

At this stage you start to get a bit desperate. You lie down on the pavement to look under parked cars because that’s where some monsters kick the cats that they’ve just run over.

You start walking obsessively around the garden and checking from the windows to see any cats running across the neighbours’ lawns. You cry when you put one too few bowls of food out for the cats and struggle with the fact that your remaining pets seem more than a little blasé about the missing, gaping hole in your family. In fact, they seem rather intensely relaxed at not having the tyrant cat at home to stop them eating or lying where they fancy.

You get a little bit paranoid because when you knocked on no. 34 only a teenager was home and said she’d “stick her head in the garage, sometime”.

And the days and nights come and go, and you convince yourself that your baby is dead, but you don’t quite believe it each and every time the cat flap rattles. So you can’t sleep because whenever you wake up you want to run downstairs and see if she’s there waiting for breakfast.

And she isn’t.

 

Who to contact:

There are a number of places where you can advertise your missing cat:

  • Take advantage of the lost and found ads in your local newspaper. Place a ‘lost cat’ ad as soon as possible, and be sure to check the ‘found pets’ column every day. 
  • Online databases, such as The National Pet RegisterAnimal Search UK and CatAware provide free resources to help reunite you with your missing cat. 
  • Facebook can also be a very useful resource. Both Animal Search UK and CatAware have their own pages and you’ll also be able to search for lost cat pages in your area. If you have your own account it’s worth advertising your lost cat there as your friends will be able to share your post and widen your search. 
  • Twitter can be helpful, particularly if you include your location on the tweet and mention any useful organisations in your message.

Christmas

I am a little bit behind. Two days ago, deeply frustrated and upset at the loss of my cat, I suggested to my partner that we might revisit one of the neighbours, where we’d only talked to the teenage daughter. He thought it was being pushy. I was heading off to a club event that I couldn’t escape so we agreed he wouldn’t visit them but would follow me over when I got back.

Two o’clock and I’m back and we head over. The neighbour was kind. “Ofcourse you can have a look around the garden” “No problem”

They had rabbit hutches in the garden. It’s just three houses away from us so it isn’t really that surprising when our calico girl comes strolling over. Perhaps a bit more surprising to learn that the family have named her Humphrey. She seems very at home.

Upset at not finding my baby, I ask (apparently quite assertively) “Can I just take a look in your garage?” And though there was some suggestion that they were totally and entirely confident that the garage was cat-free, she looked at my face and said “Ofcourse”

The door was opened by the teenager who on the way in was saying “But I’ve already… Oh, there is a cat in here but I don’t think it’s yours!”

How many lost cats do we imagine are holed up in the neighbours garage?

Of course it’s our cat and she’s terrified so immediately hides whilst yowling as loudly as possible. Not content with hiding under the stuff lying everywhere, she runs up the shelves and into the roof. I have found my baby cat and am going to have to deeply traumatise her to get her down. I ask my partner to head home to find some cat treats.

“Don’t worry, we have some here” came the comment, from a cat free house. There is a certain etiquette amongst pet owners that is well-worth following: Don’t feed other people’s pets, ever. & if you’re daft enough to feed them, don’t lock them in your garage and try to kill them.

Eventually we got her down, tucked her under my arm and headed home.

Christmas was back on!

Conversation

My ideal Christmas is a quiet Christmas. Like most people, my immediate friends and family are pretty much monotone when it comes to social-economic groups or allegiances – we basically agree with each other on the “big stuff” – but Christmas is one of those times where you brush up against people from different places, with different viewpoints.

So a trawl through that bastion of middle-class angst, TedxTalks, brings me to a list of how to have awkward conversations.

1. Don’t try to educate anyone or change minds. It’s really hard to change someone’s mind. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult just to change your own mind. We almost never do it. We are all victims of the backfire effect. Multiple studies have shown that if we believe something and someone shows us actual evidence that refutes our belief, that proves it wrong, our belief grows stronger. In other words, seeing evidence and facts that go against what we think backfires. Don’t bother. Just enter the conversation intending to learn something, not to teach.

2. Don’t pre-judge. We are programmed to believe that people are pundits. We think that if someone supports Bernie Sanders, we’re going to agree or disagree with everything they say. People are complicated and nuanced. That’s what makes them so damn interesting. Don’t assume they’re your enemy. You may disagree on nuclear policy, but totally agree on health care. You may disagree on almost everything, but both think dogs rule. Be open to another person’s ideas. As Carl Sagan said in his Baloney Detection Kit, “Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it’s yours.”

3. Show respect. At all times. You think they don’t know what it’s like to be you? Well, you don’t know what it’s like to be them. Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone and while you may not like their solutions, they think they’re doing the best they can. More importantly, they are a living, striving human being. Show them the respect that you demand for yourself.

4. Stick it out. Don’t throw up your hands and say, this is pointless. Don’t walk off in a huff. I can tell you now that it’s not fun to listen to someone say things we disagree with. It’s upsetting. It can get your blood boiling. But take a breath, think before you respond, and stay in there.

So for me this involved staying well away from asking people how they voted in the referendum. Don’t we always, deep-down, know the answer to the most divisive political questions?

Instead I ended up in lots of conversations about where we go next, because ultimately that’s a far more relevant and useful place to start and end a discussion.

Let’s accept the fact that we’re leaving the EU, and start to talk about how we might do that and where we might end up, whether that’s EU lite or EFTA or reverting back to WTO rules and re-setting our WTO trade schedule with the other existing members.

Let’s talk about what immigration control actually means to people, whether they will be happy to control the overall numbers even if that means a local rise in immigration, whether they need to see people being sent home to their country of origin or whether everyone in the UK should automatically acquire the rights and responsibilities of residency

Let’s talk about how much we’re willing to pay in order to achieve what we want, because obviously no where, no how does anyone or any country get something worth having, for nothing.

Unbelievers

As Rowan Williams once put it:

“For the person who resorts to random killing in order to promote the honour of God, it is clear that God is not to be trusted. God is too weak to look after his own honour and we are the strong ones who must step in to help him. Such is the underlying blasphemy at work.”

God is not like a political party that lives or dies on its support or lack of it. Religious terrorists are perhaps the most irreligious amongst us because at some basic level, they fail to trust in God. they doubt.

Consider the conclusion that the American scholar Jessica Stern came to after conducting numerous interviews for her book Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. “The point of religious terrorism is to purify the world of corrupting influences,” she explains. “But what lies beneath these views? Over time, I began to see that these grievances mask a deeper kind of angst and a deeper kind of fear. Fear of a godless universe.”

Religious terrorists feel that God is under threat. And it’s their mission to save him – from unbelief, from false religion etc. That, of course, has things totally backwards. We don’t save him, he saves us. And moreover, he saves us by persuading us that it’s not all about us.

“The great aim of all true religion,” wrote William Temple, “is to transfer the centre of interest from self to God.” Religious terrorists don’t get this because they still think it’s all about them, and what they can achieve. That’s the heresy.

The man who shot the Russian ambassador to Turkey shouted “Allahu Akbar” – that God is great. The thing is, if he really thought that, he wouldn’t have shot the ambassador. His mistake was to think that God was somehow dependent on, and grateful for, his violent assistance.

As Jonathan Swift famously explained: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.” Which is why perhaps the UK Prevent Strategy misses the point. Perhaps religious people should be encouraged to be more extreme in their faith, not less; to put aside their own boiling inadequacy and to trust in God’s greatness and that he knows what he is doing. Maybe we should encourage people to hold themselves closer and tighter to their religious communities, to their families, to protect themselves from those strangers grooming on-line, trying to break people away from those who really love and care for them.

Moses and Jesus and Muhammad were all extremists. They trusted in God over their instincts. And the shorthand for this is Allahu Akbar – a phrase the terrorists will never really understand.

Ethnic

The Casey Report was published yesterday to rather unfortunate acclaim from Nigel Farage. Amongst other things, it calls for ethnic (apparently code for “muslim”) communities to do more to integrate.

Reading through the report today, I’m not at all sure that it says quite what he believes it to, but it’s also surprisingly difficult to get a sense of the scale of the issues in the UK. You might imagine that it would start with the numbers, the actual breakdown of ethnicities within the UK, but it’s difficult to find any real sense of numbers within the report.

Per Wiki, and the now rather out of date 2011 census, the ethnic composition of the United Kingdom was as set out in the table below. 

 

  • White: Total                           55,010,359    87.1%
  • Black or Black British          1,904,684      3.0%
  • Gypsy/Traveller                             63,193      0.1%
  • Asian Total                                 4,373,339      6.9%
  • Mixed or multiple                  1,250,229      2.0%
  • Other                                                 580,374      0.9%

Breaking down the figure for Asian ethnicity further:

  • Asian Indian                                     1,451,862    2.3%
  • Asian Pakistani                               1,174,983   1.9%
  • Asian Bangladeshi                             451,529   0.7%
  • Asian Chinese                                       433,150  0.7%
  • Asian Other                                           861,815   1.4%

There just aren’t that many Muslims living in the UK (less than 3% if we assume Pakistan and Bangladesh as the main source communities) to justify the headlines associated with the Casey Report.

But as the map below shows, the distribution of ethnic minorities within the UK is very uneven, not the surprising since generally people like to live surrounded by the familiar.

non-white_in_the_2011_census

 

So the UK remains an essentially white place to live. Minority groups tend to live in urban areas so vast swathes of the country exist with low to no immigration or non-white communities.

A poll conducted by MORI for the BBC in 2005 found that 62% of respondents agreed that multiculturalism made Britain a better place to live, compared to 32% who saw it as a threat.

However, just three years later IPSOS MORI data from 2008, showed that only 30% saw multiculturalism as making Britain a better place to live, with 38% seeing it as a threat.

41% of respondents to the 2008 poll favoured the development of a shared identity over the celebration of diverse values and cultures, with 27% favouring the latter and 30% undecided.

Other research conducted for the CRE found that white participants felt that there was a threat to Britishness from large-scale immigration, the claims that they perceived ethnic minorities made on the welfare state, a rise in moral pluralism and perceived political correctness. Much of this frustration was vented at Muslims rather than minorities in general. Muslim participants in the study reported feeling victimised and stated that they felt that they were being asked to choose between Muslim and British identities, whereas they saw it possible to be both.

When we look at the recent EU referendum results and the reasons that people voted “leave” we find that attitudes towards immigration and underlying ethnicity were decisive but split along age and faith:

  • White voters voted to leave the EU by 53% to 47%. Two thirds (67%) of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain, as did three quarters (73%) of black voters. Nearly six in ten (58%) of those describing themselves as Christian voted to leave; seven in ten Muslims voted to remain.
  • One third (33%) voting “leave” said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”
  • In England, leave voters (39%) were more than twice as likely as remain voters (18%) to describe themselves either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. Remain voters were twice as likely as leavers to see themselves as more British than English.
  • Two thirds of those who considered themselves more English than British voted to leave; two thirds of those who considered themselves more British than English voted to remain.

Ill vs Good

  • By large majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation and immigration as forces for good voted to remain in the EU; those who saw them as a force for ill voted by even larger majorities to leave.

Now mostly these categories for people voting leave are actually proxies for age. By and large, the white elderly population in the UK has a lower educational attainment and tends to have lower recorded income. The latter may but doesn’t always translate into poverty since obviously most will have paid off mortgages and have lower living costs.

Also in the main, the elderly tend to be more socially conservative on a whole range of issues. They are more likely to approve of hanging and disapprove of gay marriage, or women working, or any other “liberal” step forward.

The elderly are more likely to be fearful, fearful of change of any kind. They are also more likely to have a fixed income and be unmoved by economic arguments unlikely to affect their personal income stream.

There are currently 12m pensioners in the UK, 86% of whom voted, overwhelmingly to leave the EU. Add in some UKIP voters (4m, mostly white older men) and a few Tories, and you basically reach the 17m “leave” voters in the referendum.

What happened between 2005 and 2008 to make people so fearful?

All about me!