Brexit Re-imagined

So we emerge helplessly into a scenario that many dismissed, and few believed could happen.

The UK voted to leave the EU, and Mrs May has turned it into the coldest hardest brexit that anyone could have foretold.

But there was clearly a plan for this all along.
Consider the package of Govt policies since 2009, and it’s clear the contingency plans have long been in the works.

We had the massive govt investment in education, making sure all our most able can take advantage of the best facilities, the best tutoring, all without reference to their relative financial capabilities, key here being the big student debt write offs that freed a generation to pursue their dreams, at least for a while.

The new Itec technical qualifications have proved popular and the enlightened approach of pairing up the innovative colleges with council investment funds and business and marketing students has meant the UK has registered more new patents in 2016 than in the previous 10 years. Even better, as Cooperatives these new start ups have given so many young British kids a stake in their future that’s proving more inspiring than any previous employee share scheme. Moreover getting the pension companies to pitch in 5% of their charges has enabled the icoops to plan ahead, as the brilliant facilities in Lincoln and Livingston have demonstrated.

The NHS is now starting to be envied again around the globe, with the increased numbers of (UK trained) junior doctors and nurses allowing GPs to open longer hours, and all treatments seeing lower waiting times.

We invested in housing stock, ensuring that those starting on the housing ladder had modern, efficient and ecologically sound homes, whilst the increases in inheritance tax, tight landlord controls and the restrictions in place to eliminate avoidance have meant that existing stocks have ceased to inflate endlessly and remain affordable.

The govt have tirelessly sought to rebalance the regions of Britain, focussing help, expertise, and investment on impressive start ups and our manufacturing base, ensuring exports continue to rise year on year despite expectations from the naysayers. Scotland is no longer looking for an out, and theres confidence that regional assemblies like Yorkshire’s will be rolled out, with Cornwall next in line.

The UKs successes in reducing co2 emissions, and the revolutions in energy storage have yielded much cheaper electricity costs and the need to import Russian gas seems like a distant nightmare.

The Natonal Insurance breaks given to firms offering additional leave entitlement have seen the tourism, arts and service sectors buoyant with the regional museums now seeing record footfall season on season.

Equality has benefitted from these measures, helped also by the reduction of VAT back to 17.5%, with youth unemployment under 4% in most areas. Without the neo-liberal restrictions of Europe there’s real hope that VAT will fall to 15%.

Further, the introduction of Carers Income covering all parents working less than 35 hours, with the extension to grandparents, and those with adult dependents have improved the quality of life for the forgotten heroes of Britain.

There’s still work to do… The press continues to be dominated by the right wing, although the removal of non-Dom status did lead to new owners across the board. The House of Lords remains an anachronism. And the farming lobby has successfully campaigned for no funding changes until 2020, but the newly energised rural left are starting to make inroads.

The Brexit vote was a shock, and I’m not alone in being surprised seeing the govt pushing so hard for a quick-and-dirty version. And I know many would like it to fail just to prove the Farage/Gove types wrong, but thanks to our govt, since the crisis of 2009 we’ve actually taken amazing steps to rebalance the economic and emotional wellbeing of the nation, which should ensure we’re more successful than many predicted.

I mean,  just imagine if we’d done this without the imagination represented above. Thank goodness the false idols of small government and austerity combined with corporate welfare haven’t for years been reducing our national coping mechanisms.

Just imagine the govts only plan was to negotiate trade agreements and there was no inclination to look at the fitness of our structures.

Then this wouldn’t seem like a smart idea. 

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Dave’s Legacy Pitch

It’s long been known that David Cameron isn’t entirely comfortable with some of the elements of his party.
He’s pretty liberal socially in his beliefs, and I’m saying that fully aware that the full range of policies under his regime haven’t been particularly liberal but then policy is generally a collective event and involves many trade offs.

From his speech today I did detect a series of messages Dave wanted to get across that might have been missed.

The first one is that he clearly tried to make the folk who voted Conservative glad they did so. The jingoistic bollocks about weapons, leaving none behind etc was always going to be there, but it was at the heart of his speech, and many a casual political follower will get the impression that they picked the right guy. Mocking Labour will help confirm that. This is stage one of the Dave legacy pitch – reinforce the messages of the last 8 years about what a great leader you are, and with obedient press and vacuous tv/ radio coverage it might stick. Dave wants to be remembered – he still thinks he’s good at this.

Message two was a bit more subtle and I think a little bit of the other Dave. If he leaves before this parliament is out, his party could pick from several obvious candidates, all of whom pitched to a different audience this conference. In all the liberal messaging from Dave, he’s trying to set the field of play for that battle. Emphasis on multi-culturalism is I think an honest thing for Dave, and it emphasises the bits of his party he’s never liked. With Theresa May playing the right-wing cards, this was Dave’s attempt to establish a different tone, and basically persuade the party that this is how they ought to be, even if it’s not their first instinct. Dave’s other legacy is intended to be a more socially liberal Conservative party.

Expectations of Youth

Aaargh, go on then.

The wonderful @julijuxtaposed told me to write a blog piece (about something else); but it got me thinking. You may have gathered from previous blogs that my pieces tend to be quickly drafted comment pieces rather than being particularly detailed and carefully written.

That’s because someone else does those, and I have a demanding full time job, a family life, and blogging is kind of a release valve.

Anyway, since I was provoked, a few unrelated tweets / articles crossed my path recently and I thought I’d briefly like to link them together.

The latest TNS-BMRB poll shows 18-24yr olds give Labour a lead of 23%, with Greens at 14%.

I’d hope that a small number of the people in that age bracket are reading the work of Charles Hugh Smith, here…

It’s a US story, but the same thing applies over here.

Then you have the situations in Sweden & Turkey. And the increasingly warm weather. Traditionally, young people tend to be more politically noticeable in the summer, when school’s out. So what’s the situation for young people in the UK, and why might that make them more politicized?

Well, they’ve been schooled to pass tests, and they know how important this is to make them more employable. They’ve been conditioned to expect to have to go to University, in order to learn stuff they’ll never use and to further demonstrate their employability. They’re prepared to fight (against each other) to be recognised by their elders and get the jobs.

That’s their part of the bargain – they’re wholly indoctrinated into the idea of personal responsibility for their employment.

And in return they get:

Massive debts for accepting the bargain and going to university, (on the basis that the older generations don’t want to pay for it anymore). These debts are only likely to increase as our academic institutions follow the US model of charging more for less.

A load of qualifications that make them no more useful in a workplace than anyone else.

A “career” of occasional steady work, mixed with spells of unemployment, temping, contract working and freelancing, which pays for their time, but expects them to commit 60 hours for every 40 contracted. All this in a climate where public investment is deliberately limited, and there’s a permanantly high level of unemployment.

Zero chance of purchasing any property of their own until they’re in their 30’s and they’ve paired up with a similarly hard working partner. (On the basis that the older generations refused to support any policies that would stem the growth in house prices).

And they can’t start a family of their own because they’re paying high rents (to the older generations, natch) and working 60 hours a week in order not to endure another spell on the temp register.

And they can’t afford to invest in a pension like they feel they should, and when they do try, their job inevitably gets rationalised, in order to please the “markets”, even though they don’t know anyone who has anything invested in the markets, and the very senior management keep getting massive pay awards.

And they can’t even think of how they’ll cope when they’re older, other than to keep doing the same things, and hoping they win the lottery, or maybe they can just afford a house, or maybe granny leaves them something in her will. And they feel bad for even thinking that.

So maybe, they realise this is a path to unhappiness. Yes they can enjoy themselves, and try and do great things, but they start to see the false bargain they were forced to make, and realise that re-negotiating that is the great thing they can do.

Or maybe, they haven’t worked out that great sweep of events, but they feel the flow and the pull of tides, and see what they’ll never have, and bond together.

I hope they find the way out. I hope we can help them to do so.

How the Neo-liberal crisis hasn’t yet begun

The neo-liberal response to the post war settlement took it’s time to take shape amongst the masses. Thatcherism  brought the power of individualism, privatisation, and the knee-capping of the unions. Following on the pressure has been for governments to do away with regulation, and let markets “decide freely”; firstly in terms of corporations against each other, and then in terms of corporations vs the employee and the consumer. As a result, the nature of employment has shifted considerably,  with the jobs for life of 30 years ago replaced with short term contracts,  zero-hours deals, temping, uncertainty, assisted by the increase in under-employment.

Most of the coverage of this relates, rightly, to the impact on our living standards, in the here and now, and the impact on corporate efficiency. But it’s only part of the big lifetime picture.
Almost unremarked in this context at the same time there has been a shift in the nature of savings for the post-working age period of life. From the old staple – an employer provided defined benefit pension scheme,  where the employer took on all the risks,  to the modern approach of defined contribution schemes and stakeholder pensions.

Oh, and in the same period, the level of corporation tax has fallen from 52% to 23%.

So, in the 70’s your employer would (in many cases) provide a permanent, life long job, with a very good pension, and at the same time was paying a decent whack to the state to cover your other costs, and those for your family, and the infrastructure of society. When you retire, you’d also get your state pension, which should mean you could actually still function in society. Effectively the employer was saying – we buy your contribution for 45 years, and spread the pay over your whole life.

And now – if you’re under 50 the picture is somewhat different – well your job isn’t quite so permanent, your wages have dropped 15% in real terms in 5 years, and your defined contribution pension will be lucky to payout £4-£8k a year. At the same time, the state “hasn’t got the money” to pay you and everyone else a decent pension.

Meanwhile, small employers have (relatively) disappeared, increasingly replaced by large mega-corporations, who have dramatically increased the rewards to (very) senior managers; and at the same time taken umbrage at the corporation tax rules and channelled all their profits through complex relationships with Luxembourg and Ireland and Malta, leaving the amount even liable to the paltry 23% corporation tax to be much lower. So there’s less going into your own pension pot, and the promise isn’t there to pay any extra once you’ve done your last shift; and at the same time they’re saying, you know, we don’t owe you & the nation at large anything to cover the rest of your life.

Wow – stand back and consider that shift in thinking for a bit. That’s a huge change. What’s the impact? What’s the government planning? Because the effects will only be starting to trickle in now.

So far we’ve already seen that inequality is increasing. We’ve seen that infrastructure hasn’t been improved significantly – we’re still reliant on coal burning power stations, Victorian sewers, roads are full of pot-holes. There’s a dearth of affordable housing, causing increased poverty and uncertainty for the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society. In short, we’ve relied upon the forward planning of our predecessors, and done very little of our own. In terms of the new challenges we’ve faced – increasing populations, ageing populations, CLIMATE CHANGE, we’ve not really done anything big, societal, and forward thinking.

And let’s fast forward 10-15 years, when the generation who missed out on decent employer pensions (in the private sector) get too old to work, and then 10 years more to when the public sector staff who’ll miss out on decent employer pensions get too old to work – what’s it going to look like? They won’t actually be able to afford to fully retire. They’ll have to keep taking contracts, and trying to squirrel as much away as possible. Will the government tell them it’s their fault, and that they’re scroungers? I don’t know to what degree we’ll be hardened as a society by then to even look at the problem as a societal one. But the life choices for those individuals (Me! Me!) will be greatly reduced – they won’t have what their parents had in terms of regular income, unless things change fast.

I genuinely don’t think there’s nearly enough worrying about this going on. It’s going to hit, and hit large.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that everything should be as it was – lots of people don’t mind not having a job for life, and defined benefit pension schemes only work if the organisation paying them never shrinks over time – many companies have hit the wall just from trying to keep paying  the people who retired 25 years ago – so it’s not right for everyone. But we do need solutions. And our governments don’t seem to know what a real long-term solution looks like.

That’s perhaps because the analysis of everything in economics and politics is so stupidly short-sighted. A successful economic system should be able to prove itself from birth to death and over again, many times. But the “winning post” for neo-liberal capitalism was set at the equivalent of about 5 years, measured enthusiastically every quarter. That’s not how to measure something as bloody important as the system that defines our opportunities, our lifestyles, and shapes what we do between the really important stuff. That’s madness.

Things we need to change

Ok – just a quick post I hope, which is boiled down from a series of half-written drafts and uncoordinated thinking, so please bear with me.

Any sane person ought to be aware by now that the model of capitalism / governance in the Western world is a bit broken. (You can read elsewhere for examples – I’m trying to be quick, but essentially we’re talking about tax avoidance, money-laundering, bribery, policy buying, …).

So what needs fixing? (This is UK based, but probably applies everywhere).

1) The beneficial structure of the Company is a privilege that is being abused. So many shell companies that have no employees and no trade exist, and have become the conduit for tax avoidance, money-laundering and other activities that serve no honest purpose. So let’s change that – a Company must have a defined purpose, real actual activity, and real people, residing in the UK as it’s Directors, who are legally responsible for their organisation.

2) The accountancy profession has sat on it’s hands since the onset of the financial crisis, and through sensible, prudent, lazy, incompetence, they have left us with a muddier picture of rules. We need to separate the predatory “advice” side from the regulatory audit side. This mostly refers to the Big 4 as they are known. Auditors can then be free to provide the service to the public that they were set up for. The accounting bodies then need to review and make fit for purpose the various standard setting bodies, who need to actually set some standards. (Follow @secret_ledger on twitter for some of the fun of that fair). Oh, and the auditors need to be properly policed and reviewed – all of the banking scandals of recent times should have been spotted by an auditor – so why weren’t they?

3) Banks / Money – essentially we need banks that serve the people, not serve themselves. My personal preference is to go down the route of removing from banks the ability to create money.


Their proposed reforms in 6 steps:

1. Remove the banks’ power to create money
2. Return that power to a transparent and democratically accountable process
3. Create money free of debt
4. Create money in line with a democratically mandated target (such as a flexible inflation target, as is the case today)
5. Make sure that new money enters first into the real economy instead of through financial markets
6. Give individuals control and transparency over how their money is invested )

What’s left of the banking system after that should be lots of useful, regional service providers, just doing transactional stuff. They might then be able to get their IT up-to-date, instead of spending their brass on their croupiers.

4) Property – let’s restrict the “ownership” of property to UK resident individuals.

5) Politics – with a heavy heart I have to say that we must end the funding of political parties via donations from individuals and companies. Essentially, this system will always favour the wealthy. So the state will have to contribute. This contribution will be based on a £ per member basis; with a weighting – ie £10,000 max for start-ups. I don’t really like party politics, so I see this fix as purely temporary.

6) Governance – we need strictly enforced conflict-of-interest rules. It’s wrong that private sector organisations can write policies which will benefit themselves – but this is a bloody tricky one to enforce. Let’s start with “think-tanks” which must display their funding sources on all documents, and before all media appearances (in a racing-driver style). The rules regarding public and private interests for public officials are inadequate, so let’s put a bar on people voting on policies for which they have a vested financial interest.

Oh, and let’s scrap the House of Lords, and have an upper house based in part on the jury system (terms up to 13 weeks); with a small and restricted number of appointees by each political party (of any size), who will serve 2 year terms; and the remainder being regional representatives selected on a vote. Can’t be any worse than what we have already.

Ok there’s your starter – yes I realise it’s an imperfect list, but I can’t do it all on my own. Not in one go anyway. Please let me know what you think. What I’ve tried to do is go back to base principles, and say, hey, what we need is more folk taking responsibility for stuff. The rest of it – neo-liberalism vs socialism ; red vs blue; left vs right – it’s just window dressing – if we don’t fix the basic structures, we’re doomed to carry on this nonsense.

UK Budget 2013

With the budget set for tomorrow, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes to get my twopenneth in.

George Osborne will deliver his budget tomorrow, and the analysts, journalists and pub pundits will be looking to see if he’s been a success or failure. Before you all fall in line and look at the detailed figures, who wins who loses, let me make one thing absolutely clear.

George Osborne cares about George Osborne, and his friends. Everything about his tenancy at the heart of govt policy and No 11 tells us that he doesn’t give a damn about the impact on the average folk in the UK.

His objectives are to rip up the post-war agreement, privatise as much as possible on favourable deals for his cronies, and keep the banks happy. His objectives do not include growth, happiness, and making Marjorie in Margate happy. His only constraint is that he must be seen to be not doing those things, and give the perception that he’s not done a terrible job.

He’s a politician of the most ruthless and unpleasant kind, driven by the approval of his peers, and the prospects of his own success. And based on the goals outlined above, he is indeed a success. He will be able to leave the coalface of politics at the next election and mop up the directorships and goodwill from his favoured corporations. Job done. Without a mandate and against the will of the switched on members of the public he will have completed the project set in motion in 1979. Civilisation, equality, fairness and opportunity for all have all been eroded, and it will be a long ugly road to get them back, as we will have to fight not one government, but many governments, many plutocrats, many legal systems, trade agreements amid media indifference.

So when you’re looking at the details of tax breaks here, and tweaks there, take a step back, look at what has been done, not what has been spun, and resolve to start putting it right in whatever way you can.

The fundamental flaw of the conservative ethos

What ever did happen to Mrs Thatcher’s dream of home ownership for all?

The dream stretches back to the 1920’s, but became core Conservative policy in the 80’s.

Ok, maybe a part of that was to weaken the power of local councils, but when many people got the opportunity to buy their own council home, it seemed possible then that the dream would come true. Everyone could be a home owner, and have the security and status that went with it. It matched the conservative concepts of individual responsibility; getting on in life and providing the best you can for the next generation.

But home ownership is falling again, and as quickly as these things can, with only the wealthy or parental-backed young getting on the ladder.

The cause of this is the other conservative philosophy of “free-markets”; neo-liberal capitalism. Where worker power is subsumed to the power of the corporation; where jobs are flexible, vulnerable and under-paid; where the tax regime works in favour of corporate profits vs incomes; these policies work to promote corporate home ownership and a short term letting system, all the time eroding the freedoms espoused in the individualism philosophy.

It comes in other ways too, with the corporatist side of the modern Conservative party looking to take away human rights, in order to remove the voices of those who may protest about corporatist conflicts in foreign lands.

The same conflict is at the heart of the ridiculous strivers and skivers conflict – it’s the liberal employment rights and worship at the doormat of the massive oligopolistic companies, desperate to kick their own workforce, that means last weeks strivers are next weeks skivers.

And so you can’t have it all ways.

So whilst David Cameron tries to plough the furrow up the middle, keeping the individualistic voters and the corporatist donors happy, he’d do well to remember that the policies each side want are mutually incompatible, and he ought to decide which side he’s on.


(Inspired by this )