Category Archives: POLITICS

Social Cleansing: Yet again government policy not living up to their rhetoric

Today we have a new scandal on the front pages, “social cleansing” and the movement of masses of people to other areas of the country.

This type of action is only something previously heard of in war torn countries or extreme right wing (even fascist) regimes.  Yet today, Grant Shapps, Conservative Housing minister is trying to explain why the actions of Newham Council are happening when he specifically told the country that this would NOT be the result of government policy.

Newham Council, in London, the Olympic capital for 2012, is in discussions with Stoke on Trent, one of the most deprived areas of the country, to take up to 500 residents from their area because they can no longer afford to provide social housing for people due to the caps on Housing benefit.

We were assured by ministers that the idea of “social cleansing” and the fear of wholesale movement of poorer people out of the well off areas of London was simply hysterical, is now looking a little hollow.

We were assured by Grant Shapps in interviews:

Housing minister rebuts opposition critics: “We are not being unfair”
and
Concerns over Housing Benefit reforms “complete nonsense” says Grant Shapps.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/oct/28/housing-benefit-cuts-defended

Now the very concern dismissed by the government is now becoming fact.  Whether by design or simply government incompetence (it is difficult to tell the difference at the moment) their policy is having the exact result that they stated would not happen.

The BBC reports:

Newham Council says it can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation.

The gap between market rents and the housing allowance is too big, it says.

It has written to the Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke, offering it the “opportunity” to lease homes to it.

The letter says the local private rental sector is beginning to “overheat” because of the “onset of the Olympic Games and the buoyant young professionals market”.

It says the council can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation as the gap between market rents and the local housing allowance has become too great.

The council has been “forced to look further afield for alternative supply”, it adds.

And unbelievably this is a “Labour” council.

But along with so much this government says like “no top down re-organisation of the NHS” ; “We are all in this together”; “No Banker will have a bonus of more than £2,000; and that they had no plans to raise VAT, all become hollow in the face of reality.

As with the NHS reforms that will have changed the service for ever, we will not know the full effects of the reforms until several years later, when the damage will have been done and most probably irreversible.

In respect of moving 500 people to Stoke On Trent, I understand that the “people” concerned have neither been consulted or their concerns heard.

This is policy could have some of the most vial consequences our country has ever seen, but we will sleep walk on regardless.

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FRED GOODWIN no longer “Sir”

It is amazing what happens and who crawls from the undergrowth when the “establishment” is attacked.

In order to gain the favour of the public, the very people who were courting the Bankers, the city and large corporations, are now falling over themselves to nail a banker to the wall and then take the plaudits.

It is all very amusing.  However, we now have the “backlash”, saying politicians and the general public are using “Fred the Shred” as a scapegoat.

Even, the ultra left wing 80’s politician turned new labour “Darling”, Alistair Darling, (seriously no pun intended), is now voicing concern that people who manage to obtain an honour bestowed on them by the state may refuse their honour, because the “people” may wish to hold them to account for their behaviour following their receipt of this honour.

God forbid you may say.  For then we may ask Lord Archer to leave the House of Lords and not allow proven liars, nay, even a perjurer, to make laws in this land.  A ridiculous constitutional arrangement where no matter what a Lord does, we cannot get rid of them.

Or if we give a Knighthood to a dedicated member of the community, who is then found to be a paedophile, should we not take away the honour?

The very argument that we should not take away an honour because some may think twice about accepting it; or that this will just open the flood gates to taking back honours from others that have fallen from grace, is pathetic in the extreme.

I say, let the flood gates open, and let the great and the good and yes the “not so good”, think twice before taking an honour.  They should know full well that if they behave in such a disgraceful manner that society deems it necessary to take back that honour, that this is exactly what we should do.  Not to gain a percentage point in the polls, but on principle and because it is right.

NEWS – HOW ABOUT A POSITIVE HALF HOUR?

So what have we learnt this week.  The wonderful festive season, Christmas; the season of good will and festive cheer. Whether we are looking forward or looking back surely this is a good time of year?

Well so far this week we have endured the commercial greed of the high streets with cries of – Recession what recession??  , fighting on Christmas eve as Marks and Spencer’s slash  their prices on food; a stabbing in the boxing day sales on Oxford Street; and someone shot in Salford along with the inevitable cries of “Did you not know a Dog is for life and not just for Christmas?”.

However, despite the inevitable doom and gloom a lot of good things have been going on.  Despite one person being shot in Salford, many in the community managed to get around without being shot and even see their families along the way.

Many people up and down the country have been, well enjoying themselves.  Seeing friends and family; giving to charity; and even partaking in community activities, making sure those living alone do not become isolated at Christmas and the homeless have a place to stay.

There IS a positive AND a negative, yet looking at the way we portray the world in our news bulletins as they come into our homes, the world is not always such a dark place.

This is why I propose something quite radical.

A POSITIVE HALF HOUR

Yes yes I know – only negative news sells, but all I am asking is half an hour.

We have wall to wall 24 hour news, yet we hardly let ourselves catch breath before we have to “drop the dead donkey” for news of the Euro or some other calamity.

Balance in reporting come in many guises.  Not just between differing view points but between positive and the negative.  I propose that now and again, not even every day, but periodically the 24 hour news channels give up half an hour for positive news.

How about it?  Is it really that hard?

DAVID CAMERON USES VETO AND EUROPE CARRIES ON REGARDLESS

David Cameron used the diplomatic equivalent of the nuclear deterrent in his negotiations with the Euro zone nations, yet the results were less than impressive.

There has been a lot of hot air floating around the commons and else where over the last few days, however, as usual Ed Miliband is failing to make any headway over the issue.  His beloved brother however hit the nail on the head.

“This is the first veto in history not to stop something. The plans are going right ahead. It was a phantom veto against a phantom threat”

What has been revealed over the last few days is just how naive, inadequate and unbelievable has been the stance by David Cameron over the Euro zone issue.

It now transpires that there was little if any networking or laying the groundwork before the summit took place.  Indeed even up until the final moments before David Cameron had his fateful meeting, his European “partners” knew very little about the demands he was about to make.

The UK, it turns out were isolated and out of the loop before the summit even started.  There is little wonder, that the other European member states were not in a listening mood.

It appears either David Cameron and his advisers were completely incompetent, or a decision had already been made that a deal could not be brought back to the House of Commons no matter what.

What David Miliband got exactly right, is that you do not “use” your veto unless you will gain an advantage in doing so.  You can “threaten” a veto, but it is something you should not use, if you want it’s effect to benefit you.

In this case we can see exactly why the veto was so badly used.  The other 26 countries will do exactly what they like in any case.  The UK now has fewer friends or allies and very little influence on the way ahead.

IS SUICIDE SELFISH?

After the carefully thought out philosophical comments by Jeremy Clarkson this week, it made me think further about the stigma in society that we face about  suicide and those in mental distress.

The common preconceptions that suicide is “selfish” appears to still pervade society’s public houses and homes throughout the UK.  After all this time, can mental illness ever lose it’s stigma, or will it remain the acceptable butt of people’s jokes and prejudices.

Something in the region of 1 in 4 people suffer mental distress each year and suicidal thoughts can be a regular occurrence for those in extreme distress.  Suicide is the biggest killer in the “world” of all young people (under 25), while each year more people die in the UK from suicide than they do from road traffic deaths and homicides combined.    Yet despite this, people are loath to talk about this subject or to acknowledge it’s significance.

This cultural attitude is exemplified by the ignorant and over bearing like Jeremy Clarkson who are happy to comment on subjects he knows little about in order to garner more kudos from his “fans” and of course gain himself a “little earner” – (did you know he had a new dvd out? )  – I’m sure being racist would be on his radar if he thought he could get away with it.

Unlike many, I have to say I am not a Clarkson hater.  I find his pithy vaguely funny remarks in a sometimes overbearingly politically correct world sometimes entertaining. However, what many episodes along the way have shown is that his ignorance and willingness to offend for monetary gain, gives his game away.

Suicide is selfish

An interesting statement, and many believe it.  The cognitive thought process that goes into this statement

Suicide is selfish

Is easy to understand.  We see the individual.  We see the consequences.  We see the son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, lover, family, home – left behind, seemingly to pick up the pieces.  To carry on, with the cloud that suicide leaves in it’s wake darkening the lives of those left behind.

I hear the call that it is an “individual choice”, surely we all have a choice.  People who commit suicide have a choice to commit the act of suicide or not to.

All of this makes sense to many people.  It’s obvious isn’t it?

Over the past year, I have volunteered for a charity called CHANGES BRISTOL which provides support groups for those in mental distress.  The subject of suicide comes up all too frequently.

Many who have suicidal thoughts are never allowed to articulate these thoughts in society, due to the stigma and taboo surrounding the subject.  Yet in a safe and non judgemental environment people can and do open up.  Sometimes, to ask someone if they feel suicidal, or if they have ever thought that suicide was an option, the relief they experience is tangible to see.

Suicide is real.  It is committed by the old and young; black and white; male and female.  It cuts across boundaries and those suffering from mental distress can be found in every corner of our society.

For those who attempt suicide, it is often a transient feeling at the depths of despair.  For those who fail in their attempt at suicide, most when asked 12 months later are happy they failed.  Their life has moved on and things change – they are now in a better place.

The more we can help those with suicidal thoughts get past this moment of despair, the more chance we have of saving lives.  Not just the lives of those who commit the act, but of their families and friends.

The truth is hard for many to come to terms with, but for most who attempt suicide, their cognitive functions are diminished. That is at the moment of attempting suicide, they are in so much pain, that they cannot think through their actions or what it would mean to their families.  Indeed many reach the     cul-de-sac of thought where there is no other option – their family would be better off without them.

This is not a thought process that could be described under the heading of “selfish”.

There are others, who have been so ill and in so much pain for so long (decades in some cases), that they do come to a decision that to end their lives is the only option for them.  In these minority of cases, who are we to judge their “selfishness”.

“Every year, around 200 people decide the best way to go is by hurling themselves in front of a speeding train.”

“In some ways they are right. This method has a 90 per cent success rate and it’s quick.”

“But it is a very selfish way to go. The disruption it causes is immense – and think what it’s like for the poor driver”

“Change the driver, pick up the big bits of what’s left of the victim, get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away or hard to find.’

Jeremy Clarkson

It appears the “gooey” bits that he should be concerned about are that which is not functioning to it’s full capacity between his ears.  Or maybe the problem is that it is functioning to it’s full capacity.

In truth the only way society can move forward is when we can have a sensible and level headed debate about suicide in this country.  To reveal the inadequacies of our mental health services and to be honest about the extent of the problems we face.   Suicide must no longer be the taboo that we should never discuss, but a reality.  The less stigma and prejudice we have in society against mental illness the more people will get help for their problems and the fewer suicides we will have.

This new attitude and the end to the stigma of mental illness should please Mr Clarkson, after all, this would mean for him – fewer delays on the trains, and less of his precious time “wasted” .

EURO ZONE DEBT – are we looking at this from the wrong perspective?

The Eurozone has many problems which appear to be further highlighted with every day that passes.  The markets are getting themselves into a tizzy at every rumour or politician’s sweaty brow, while the car crash which is the Euro zone crisis continues to play out.

The problems are familiar now.  We have:

  1. Countries who should never have been allowed to join the Euro in the first place
  2. A lack of a decision making framework that would encourage financial stability
  3. 17 different economic policies
  4. 17 central banks
  5. 17 finance ministers
  6. 17 heads of government, many of which lead and have to satisfy an array of coalition partners
  7. A bureaucratic and long winded European decision making process
  8. One interest rate set for 17 different economic regions
  9. No convergence of economic indicators
  10. Fiscal divergence
  11. Different tax regimes
  12. Cultural differences regarding the role of the state
The list could go on, but really it doesn’t need to.
My opinion on the outcome of the Euro is based on all of these factors and there are 3 main options
  • Jettison the weaker economies often referred to as the “southern economies”, leaving a core Euro zone of a few northern European countries and continue tightening fiscal and political union.
  • Split the Euro into 2 currencies – a northern Euro and a Southern Euro if you like
  • Quick decision making bringing rapid convergence of fiscal, tax and political union, taking economic decisions away from the peripheral economic zones and a larger role for the President of Europe and the European Central Bank (ECB) – ensuring the knowledge that there will always be enough money to keep the Euro going
The first option appears to be by far the most likely at the moment, but is still unthinkable although the rumour went round earlier this week that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy were considering just that.
However, maybe we have all got it wrong.
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ARE WE LOOKING AT ALL OF THIS FROM THE WRONG PERSPECTIVE? 
The Euro is meant to be one currency with the benefits and flaws that this entails.  When we look at the USA, we never really look at the micro economic factors of each state, only the USA as a whole, over 300 million people making a whole.
The Euro zone has 317 million people and 17 countries.  Our fixation has been on the debts of particular nation states, but is this the way we should be looking at it?
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If we take deficit levels, they are rising out of control in Greece and Spain, but as a whole, the Euro zone has almost half the deficit that the UK  has. The UK has a deficit of 10.4% of GDP, while Greece  has a deficit of  10.5% and Spain 9.2%.  But  the Eurozone has a deficit as a whole at 6% of GDP.
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If we look around the world we can see that the USA has a deficit of around 1.3 trillion $ which is about 8.6% of GDP.
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Debt is the next problem which contributes to the instability of the economy. Japan has an enormous debt at over 220% of GDP. The USA has 94.3% debt, Greece 142% and Italy 119%.
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Crucially the Euro zone has a debt of  85.1%. (source)
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If we were looking at the Euro zone as a whole entity rather than it’s individual parts, a bit like looking at the USA as a whole rather than it’s states, or the UK rather than it’s regions, would we be so worried?
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This perhaps indicates just how important it is to show the markets and onlookers that the Euro zone is one economic and political entity, and if people had confidence in the model of governance, then the crisis would never have got this far.
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Maybe for the sake of our sanity, we have to look at the Euro zone as a whole rather than at it’s constituent parts, or face the economic Armageddon that is surely to follow.

EURO ZONE CRISIS – GREEK DEBT, SYSTEMIC FAILURE AND POLITICAL PROCRASTINATION

Today is D Day for the Euro.  The deadline all in Europe are talking about. Yet denial is still at the forefront of European politics.

The other evening I listened in to a radio interview between commentators from Germany, France and the UK.  It was interesting in the mentality that was on show.  The French and German contributers were accusing the UK of having a “Daily Mail mentality” and saying this Wednesday is not really a deadline and everything will be fine.  They further stated that there was no way Greece would leave the Euro and the Euro will go from strength to strength even predicting that the UK would join within the next 50 years.

"I don't have a clue either Angela"

The UK contributers however, predictably had a rather different view.  Admittedly one of which was Norman Tebbit so we can guess his general view point.

However, what was quite clear from the exchange was the way the Europeans see the crisis and how “deadlines” and the word “crisis” has not really computed.

Having been through the crisis of October 2008 and the rapid re capitalisation that took place, the UK, the markets and the IMF seem to take the view that rapid action will be needed.  The European leaders within the Euro zone however, seem to see their antiquated way of long drawn out discussions eventually leading to some sort of a policy that will be ratified at some time in the future as perfectly adequate.

History however tells us something quite different.

Every time the Euro zone heads of state announce a new strategy, or policy it is quickly superseded by another crisis, or the markets take against it.  Even policies that they actually agree on take 18 months to implement like the recent 440 billion Euro bail out fund which when it was agreed was thought to be inadequate and was only passed recently into law and is out of date as a solution to an ever growing debt crisis.

It does not help that even when an agreement has been made, each finance minister for each country says something slightly different causing confusion and causing concerns in the markets.

The type of solutions now being talked about is a 2 trillion Euro bail out fund to replace the woefully inadequate  previous 440 billion Euro fund.  In addition a writing down of Greek debt, with banks taking a significant amount of the hit; re-capitalisation of the banking sector and yet more austerity for Greece.

The problem as ever will be IF this is agreed, how long will it take to pass into law and for the funds to be available.  The funds are needed NOW, but it will take a significant time to sort out.

In addition, this is just another, rather large, sticking plaster.  Systemically the Euro is failing.

The Euro needs restructuring with a much more streamlined way of taking decisions.  The simple way would be much more political union, one finance minister, and one economic policy with integrated tax and fiscal arrangements.  The chances of this happening are pretty slim, and if it was on the cards would anyone in Europe really have the appetite to do it?

The prospect of a German dominated Euro zone where everyone will have to play by their tune, fiscally, and politically will not go down well especially with the southern nations.

It is either systemic change or the splitting away of the weaker members who are debt ridden so that they can default, devalue and restructure.  This would surely help the Greeks who have no prospect of growth in their economy for a decade or more.  They do not have stagnation to worry about like the UK, but a continual downward spiral of negative growth that shows no sign of abating.

Even if this were to happen then a more streamlined system will be inevitable for the Euro zone if the Euro is to continue.

Would more pain now be better than prolonged pain for the next 10 years?  Greeks needs hope and a way forward.  The prospect of Austerity programmes on top of austerity programmes will not provide a future for new generations.

I seriously doubt that the Euro leaders can pull this one off, and the chances of the Euro zone staying in the form it is now are ridiculously slim.

What no one seems to understand is that with the debt in Europe and elsewhere that someone needs to be allowed to fail, but no one seems to get it.  Passing debt from one place to another will eventually catch up with us, and rather than sinking a few small boats we are determined to take down the entire fleet.

Passing the buck from financial institutions to states – from states to overseeing financial bodies (IMF) or larger political bodies (Euro zone) and then where?

The further problems of economic orthodoxy have also not been addressed which means that even if we do get through this crisis it will almost certainly happen again – the prospects for the Euro are . . . . bleak.