Thursday, 19 October 2017

Destitution: Britain's shame

Poverty is easy to describe - not having  enough resources to live a decent lifestyle - but difficult to be precise about.

In Britain today Winstanley's " poorest he*" has access to clean water, adequate sanitation, free schooling for his children and a first-rate health service - services that most of even  the comfortably-off in the Third World would give their eye teeth for. 

Clearly poverty is relative to the "norm"  in the society in which you live.  In Britain we define the acceptable minimum as having a household income of at least two thirds of the median.

The nature of the  "acceptable minimum" changes over time.  Today it probably incudes some sort of mobile phone for each child over 11, whereas in my youth it was perfectly acceptable, actually normal , for the household to have no kind of phone at all  -  nor fridge, nor washing machine nor, for many of us,  bathroom and indoor lavatory.  Maybe some children try to bully their parents into believing that "acceptable" today incudes broadband access, designer clothes and a foreign holiday.

Last week the Guardian's tabloid section gave a run-down on the current status of the "Five Giants" that tthe famous (and Liberal) Beveridge Report of precisely 75 years ago  set out to conquer.  Prominent on Beveridge's list was poverty, which he called "Want" (with a capital "W")

Today's figures are disturbing, to say the least.  Seventy-five years after the conquest was announced, and in what some proudly boast of as "the fifth largest economy in the world" four million of our children, some 15%, are now living in poverty as defined above.  This figure is predicted to rise to more than 18% by 2020/21 as a result of the government's current policies

If we are tempted to shrug our shoulders and say that's all relative, then the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has coined an new category - destitution.  The definition is frightening, and incudes anyone  who has faced two or more of the following in one month:

  • been sleeping rough;
  • had only one or no meals for two days or more;
  • been unable to light  or heat  their home  for five or more days;
  • been without weather-appropriate clothing or basic toiletries.
Across 2015 over one and a quarter million people, or 2% of our population experienced destitution as so define.  The figure included 312 000 children.

In an economy in which the GDP per capita (shared equally between each man, woman and child) is $42,500 (2016 est.) which, even at the present miserable exchange rate amounts to over £32 000 a head, it is difficult to find a word strong enough to express our shame.

* as defined in the 17th Century, but would now include the more numerous "she'"

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Labour and the Single Market: facing both ways.

My MP  Tracy Brabin (Labour) states in her election literature (I kept a copy) that she would "fight for . . .full  access  to the single market."  (I quote her exactly).

Consequently, when she failed to vote vote for  Chuka Umunna's single market amendment to the Queen's Speech to achieve just that, and failed to sign an open letter from 40+ Labour stalwarts also demanding the policy she said she would fight for, I asked why?

 I now have a response, (addressed to "Dear Peter," though I've never met her.)

As our trading relationship with the EU changes it is vital that we retain unrestricted access for our goods and services. However remaining in the single market and the customs union once we have left the European union would not be advantageous for us.

This is "double-think" worthy of Orwell's 1984.

Most traders will have access to the single market, but we shall only  retain "unrestricted " access if we  remain a member of it.

Yesterday on the BBC's "Today" programme a manufacturer argued that the EU's  Common External Tariff (CET) would not be  a significant barrier  because the 15% depreciation of the £ as a result of the Referendum more than compensated for it. (So much for the scorn that the Tories used to heap on Labour as "the party of devaluation.")  

But in international trade today tariffs are relatively minor impediment compared with non-tariff  barriers (NTBs) that is that goods and services must comply with certain standards regarding origin,  contents, labelling (remember the fuss about weighing things  in grammes and kgs  rather than lbs and ozs?) safety , environmental impact etc. 

If Brexit is not stopped the Briexiteers will doubtless hail a trade deal with the US.  This will almost certainly  be on US terms and allow access to the UK market  for  items such as chlorine washed chicken and   beef products raised with excessive use of hormones.  These are the ones there's been publicity  about: there will be many more that Europeans. find unacceptable.

The EU is not going to allow "unrestricted " access to these products.

Labour's current stance is therefore  completely illusory, and no different from the the Government's "have your cake and eat it" delusion .

It is shameful that, with a government living in a "land of let's pretend" the official Opposition occupies identical ground.  Their duty is to propose a viable alternative.  

There are Labour MPs who recognise thisAnd there's a Labour Campaign for the Single Market.  All power to their elbows, and I urge Mrs Brabin to stand by her election promise and join them.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Tories clearing up the mess left by - the Tories.

The Conservatives have  achieved an amazing PR success with  their lie* that they have been engaged for   the past seven years in  "clearing up the mess left by Labour."  Now they are embarked on clearing up several other messes, but without acknowledging that is it they and their policies which caused the mess in the first place.

Take, for example, housing.  Mrs May has just realised that there is a national shortage of affordable housing and so has announced in her conference speech that the government will sanction an additional  £2b of expenditure to alleviate it.  It is not awfully clear from where the £2b is to come (central government subsidy, local authority borrowing?) but the intention is good, though the funding is probably inadequate.

There's no mention in the speech, however, as to why there is a shortage of such housing.  It originates in Margaret Thatcher's policy of "right to buy", introduced in 1980. This  forced (not allowed, but forced) local authorities to sell off their council houses to  tenants, who were tempted to buy by massive discounts.  The local authorities were not permitted to use the receipts to build replacement council houses, so the supply of affordable rented accommodation diminished.

The Tory aim was to create a "property owning democracy" which, Mrs Thatcher hoped, would convert more people into Tory voters.  Maybe some have obliged, but many of the discount- bought houses have been sold on and today some 40% of the former council houses are now owed by private buy-to let landlords, who, of course, charge "economic rents," so have acquired a "nice little earner."

Bizarrely the "right to buy" continues and has now been extended to housing association tenants.  Maybe the right will not apply to any new social housing built, but, so far,  joined up thinking this is not.

The second area now recognised as a "mess" is the energy companies who over-charge for gas and electricity. Again the problem is caused by Conservative doctrine which required the privatisation of the publicly owned and regionally organised suppliers (in my area they were  the Yorkshire Electricity Board, YEB, and the North Eastern Gas Board, NEGB.  They both ran separate and friendly showrooms where you could pay your bills, buy appliances, and, if you wanted, complain. ).

The gas suppliers were privatised in  1986 (those with funds enough to buy the shares in response to the "Tell Sid" campaign made a comfortable profit) and electricity suppliers  in 1990.  The idea was that the "discipline of the market" would lead to more efficient supplies, higher investment and lower prices.  Ed Miliband's policy in the 2015 that the prices were unreasonably high and should be capped was treated with scorn by the Tories, but now Mrs May has adopted the policy, naturally with no explanation or apology.

Although the "strong and stable " Tory campaign theme  of the 2017 election  did not have the effect they desired we are still repeatedly told  that we need a strong and determined government in " these very difficult times."  Well, of course the times are of unprecedented difficulty - because David Cameron recklessly tried to solve an internal party problem by calling a referendum on membership of the EU, failing to legislate for the necessary safeguards and being too complacent to campaign effectively for continued membership.

So there we are: "Another fine mess. . . " as Oliver Hardy used to say to Stan Laurel in the films of my childhood.

Just to illustrate what good government can be like  a friend whose sister takes the Daily Mail has passed to me a cutting that tells me:

  • The government of Norway set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund in the 1990s to invest the country's oil riches;
  • the fund is now worth more than $1tn;
  • that's about £140 000 per Norwegian;
  • the fund is invested all round the world and owns 1.4% of all global equities;
  • it does not invest in companies that produce tobacco, nuclear weapons or land mines.
Our oil bonanza was squandered in tax cuts and the need to fund an increase in unemployed  people  to above 3 million  in order to tame the working classes.

I'm not arguing that without the Tories life in the UK would be all sweetness and light - even a Liberal government would find that a tough call. But I am sure that history will show that the Tories have been responsible for much (or should that be many?) of the dire straights we find ourselves in today.

*  For readers not up to speed on this one, the "mess" was actually caused by the near collapse of the world's banking systems in the financial crisis of 2007/8. Incredibly, Conservative PR managed to place the blame on Labour overspending.  The Conservatives were, of course (and still are!) chief proponents of the deregulation which lead to the irresponsible lending by the banks which caused the crisis.  Sadly and inexplicably the Labour Party were very timid about defending their record. so history was, and to some extent still is, rewritten. 

**Post script (added  7th October). Just to show that this lie is "par for the course" rather than a blip, here is a  letter from a Neville Westerman in yesterday's Guardian.

" It is a matter of historical record that the Conservatives voted against universal health in 1948, as they voted against universal dole and universal pensions in 1909, and universal education in 1870.  I remember the vicious and dishonest hostility  against the NHS by the Troy party in 1948 , which was very similar to the present attitude of the US Republicans..  But Jeremy Hunt declared to conference that the Conservatives have always supported the NHS.   The success of the Tory party to gain power has largely been based on its eagerness to tell blatant lies.  Tory policy for 150 years has been largely inhumane, devoid of compassion  and opposed to the welfare state, but defended by lying, their "not so secret" weapon . . . ."

Sadly, the Tories' other "not so secret " weapon is a biassed press which gives credence, publicity and reinforcement  to their distortions (to put it more politely)

Monday, 2 October 2017

Stop Brexit march - was it worth it?

Yesterday I attended a Pro-EU demonstration in Manchester to coincide with the first day of the Conservative  Party conference.  It was great fun.  There were some 30 000 of us (according to one of the meagre pieces of press reporting); lots of EU flags along with some Union Jacks; plenty of balloon, horns and whistles;  and loads of bonhomie and enthusiasm.

 It was an all-and-none-party affair with some fantastic speakers: a former Conservative who used to serve on the same council as Theresa May; Bonnie Greer, whose father celebrated his 21st birthday in Britain as a member of the US racially-segregated D-Day forces; and our own Vince Cable.

The most effective speech by far was by Alistair Campbell.  Among other things he pointed out that the Brexiteers implied that, the day after the Referendum (23rd June 2016) soar-away Britain would be out there fixing  global trade deals with an eager "rest of the world."  However, if you happened to have had sex on that day and conceived a child it would now be cutting its teeth, but trade dealing has yet to begin.

Your can see why Tony Blair chose him as Director of Communications.

After returning home I listened to several radio news bulletins and watched a couple of TV news programmes, but there were no mentions of our march.  There was a little bit about a trade union march against austerity, presumably more newsworthy because they had a minor clash with the police (who were out in considerable force.)  I doubt very much if many in the Tory conference even noticed us, and there didn't seem to be many Mancunians around.  There's just one paragraph about us in today's Guardian, which also gives more coverage to the austerity march and their clash than to us.

The most detailed account I've found is here

So was it worth it?  As a pro-EU compaigner I certainly feel emboldened and enthused.

I learnt a chant:

Whatever happened to "Strong and stable?"
Exit Brexit with Vince Cable.

Not really logical, but catchy.

But that seems a lot of effort for very little. Maybe there's lots of stuff on social media that I haven't yet learned to access.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Getting "on yer bike" can be dangerous too

I write as an occasional cyclist who has been bounced off my bike by a careless pedestrian as I was coasting modestly downhill.  In this case nothing really serious resulted.  I hit the tarmac and suffered some nasty grazes (I was wearing shorts) but didn't break anything, and luckily there was no traffic immediately behind to run me over.  The pedestrian admitted she had stepped into the road without looking, apologised profusely, and presumably soon recovered from any bruises she'd received (she was well-upholstered.)

It is perhaps presumptuous to comment  on the case of Charlie Alliston without having actually witnessed the accident or heard the evidence at his trial, but I think a few  non-judgemental comments are in order.

In 2016 Alliston, riding in London, hit a pedestrian, Mrs Kim Briggs.who died as a result of the accident. I believe Mrs Briggs was talking on her  mobile phone at the time of the accident and had stepped into the road.   I've no idea whether Alliston was thrown off his bike or  injured in any way or not.

There is no doubt about the seriousness of the outcome but it does seem to me that the legal case on which Alliston was prosecuted is somewhat contrived.  Apparently the bicycle he was riding had no front brake and that is illegal.  I wonder how many people knew that?  I well remember the days when the only way to stop some bikes was to pedal backwards.  Then apparently there is no offence of "dangerous cycling" so someone unearthed the crime of "wanton and dangerous driving" which, as it is contained in an act of 1861 ,five years before even the Penny Farthing was invented, was presumably meant to apply to horses and carriages.

Alliston has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, (of which he will presumably served 9 months if he behaves himself)  This seems to me totally disproportionate.  Apart from the cost to the public (about £40 000 per head per year)  if he were barred from riding a bike Alliston would be no danger to the public, and if he were ordered to do some form of community service, that could do both him and the community some good.

Predictably the tabloids are crying out for new laws to punish reckless cyclists, and it is quite possible the government will oblige, (as the Major government did with their Dangerous Dogs Act, in 1991)  in order to distract us from the Brexit shambles, (or, in Major's case, from "the Bastards" of that ilk).

Cyclist organisations point out that the government has as yet done nothing on a promise made in 2014 to consider "a wider examination of road laws and their application" which would apply to all road users, including pedestrians.  They also point out that of the 400 or so pedestrians killed on Britain's roads each year fewer than half a per cent  are struck by cyclists.

Just to be even handed, on my few visits to London I have noted the appalling behaviour of many cyclists, and acknowledge that this is beginning to creep in here, out in the sticks.  I believe cyclists should obey the rules of the road, not jump traffic lights, show their own lights when it's dark, and have bells to warn of their approach (especially on bridle-ways, canal tow-paths and footpaths where I go walking.)

Friday, 22 September 2017

Liberals have no defining philosophy? Woah!

A few days ago former Troy MP Matthew Parris wrote and article in The Times in which he argued that now there is a good opportunity for a Liberal Democrat revival because, whereas  both Conservatives and Labour are weighed down by ideological baggage, we Liberal Democrats, along with the bulk of the electorate, aren't. 

This provoked indignation from the faithful, best expressed by my friend Michael Meadowcroft, who wrote directly to Parris:

  Dear Matthew
There was much to take note of and to act on in your Times article last Saturday, “This is the moment for a Lib Dem revival”, but there was one sentence in the penultimate paragraph that astonished me, given your broad political experience and awareness:

And the defining defect of the Lib Dems? That they have no bold and simple ideology, no defining philosophy; that they’re stuck in the middle; neither one thing nor the other.

I am conscious that you then go on to suggest that this may well be an electoral advantage but the alternative is a more powerful case: that to develop a political party, and to recruit committed activists who have a determination to  go out and persuade others, one has to have a “defining philosophy”. Moreover, to create and promote policy a party has to have a “defining philosophy” on which to base it. For instance, the Liberal Democrats were the only party to have a 100% attendance of its MPs to vote against the Iraq invasion, not because of any pragmatic opinion on weapons of mass destruction but because the party rightly believed that it was against international law, and that was enough; we have been in favour of an united Europe since 1955 because the party is internationalist and sceptical about the relevance of borders; we are in favour of devolution because we are aware of the dangers of centralism and its predilection towards authoritarian government; we are in favour of land value taxation because we believe that it is immoral to exploit land ownership rather than looking towards the common good; and we favour co-operatives in industry because we believe that to set management against labour is counterproductive and deleterious to productivity and is unnecessarily divisive. One could go on but these will do for examples of issues on which the party has a distinctive position stemming from its philosophy.

As for being “stuck in the middle”, that is an entirely illusory geographical point! Left and Right come down to us from the French Revolution and are predicated on the level of economic determinism or laissez faire, whereas Liberals see the spectrum as being between diffusion and centralisation - on which we are extremists!

I am always delighted to have the philosophy analysed, criticised and even attacked but at note that it exists. In recent decades we have prepared and published:

“Our Aim and Purpose”, 1962

“Liberals look ahead”, 1971

            “Liberal Values for a New Decade”, 1980

“2002 Agenda” published as “Freedom, Liberty and Fairness”, 2002 and 2011

“Agenda 2020" currently in preparation.

These are all philosophical statements rather than detailed policy. I enclose a copy of the most recent publication for your delectation!

Best regards

And so say all of us.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Boris's bid for Brexit (or the Tory Leaadership)

I don't buy the Telegraph so have not actually read Boris Johnson's 4 000 word article on the joys to come if the UK  leaves the EU.

Most commentators seem to regard the article as either encouraging gung-ho optimism to cheer the  troops, or gung-ho nonsense, high on enthusiasm and light on facts.

Two phrases which to me stand out, and I assume they are in the original, are that the post-Brexit UK that Johnson envisages will be "low tax" and "low regulation."

I find it frankly amazing, and deeply distressing, that any serious politician can offer these as a future for Britain so recently after the Grenfell fire, which has so tragically illustrated the dangers of both.

Of course, we must wait until the official enquiry issues its findings to gain a reasoned account of all  the failings that led to the disaster.  But it would be naive indeed to suppose that both penny-pinching to keep taxes low and insufficient, or inadequately enforced, regulation, did not play some part.

Grenfell is, sadly, only one, though most recent and most serious,  of the many  consequences  of  the misguided neo-liberal  agenda and its emphasis on deregulation and low taxation which has done so much to lower the quality of our environment and reduce our protection as workers and citizens

I have no idea whether the former Grenfell residents voted  to Leave or Remain, or whether many of them were even allowed, or even registered, to vote, but it is the poorest and weakest in our community who are most reliant on public expenditure financed by taxes to to provided decent public services, including social housing, and adequate and strictly enforced regulations to protect  their welfare and safety as workers and citizens.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The shameles Right

One of the problems of being on the side of the angels and supporting truth, justice and traditional British values (modesty, understated patriotism, level playing-fields, a penchant for the underdog," my word is my bond, "etc) is that we have a sense of proportion and a sense of shame.  Therefore, since the case for disregarding the Brexit referendum vote has been made  by umpteen of us, from the great and good Professor A C Grayling down to this humble blog, we're embarrassed about going on about it.

The case has been made, those concerned have presumably noted it, and the argument must move on.

Unfortunately the right in general and Brexiteers in particular, have no such reservations.  Remember how the Tories managed, by constant repetition, to convince too many of the electorate that the financial crash of 2007/8 was al the fault of Labour's overspending and it was George Osborne's sad but necessary duty to clear up the mess they'd left behind?  Or the constant banging-on about the Tory "long-term economic plan" which was neither long term ( it seemed to change every six months) - nor successful  (the internal deficit which it promised to eradicate by the end of that parliaments is still there and not now  due to be achieved until the end of this one.)

So in reference to Monday's great debate on the EU Withdrawal Bill  (the chutzpah of calling it the Great Repeal Bill seems to have been abandoned) we were told again and again that "the people had spoken,"  that the purpose of the bill was to implement the "will of the people," and those who voted against it were defying democracy.

Therefore, without apology, once again let me rehearse that:

 In the actual referendum 

  • just over a third voted to leave;
  • another third voted to remain;
  •  and just a bit less than a third didn’t vote.  
  •  This is nowhere near the two-thirds majority which the humblest club or society would require for a change in its constitution.
  •  Add to that the fact the that 16 and 17-year-olds, thought to be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU, and the citizens most affected, in terms of years, by the result, were not allowed to vote.    
It is therefore nonsense for MPs or anybody else to claim that the referendum result is the will of the people: just the view of a good third or so of us on a particular day,  No self-respecting democrat in a representative democracy need feel bound by it.

It is shameful that so few MPs, elected to use their judgement on our behalf,  have the guts to do what they know is "best for Britain," and put a stop to this nonsense. Instead  the majority  continue to vote for national self harm on the basis of a falsity.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Tories favour the police - again!

When Margaret Thatcher's government came to power in 1979 one of the first things it did was approve a 45%  pay rise for the police.  As a consequence, as the police marched in to quell the miners' strike, the Wapping printers' dispute and the poll-tax riots, many felt that the propose of this Tory  generosity was to ensure that the police were on their side to oppose what Thatcher regarded as " the enemy within."  The left dubbed the police "Mrs Thatcher's boot boys."

The release  of the police and prison offices from the  public elector pay cap with an extra 1% is small beer by comparison. but it does show us where the Tories' priorities still lie:  teachers, nurses, care workers (if there are any left in the public sector) all remain behind in the queue.

Maybe government is gearing up for public reaction in the streets as a result of the continued failure of their policies.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Immigrants: Canada-style or UK-style?

In a pungent post Ian Dent describes the UK government's apparent plans to control immigration once we've left the EU as "a programme for comprehensive economic self-harm in order to satisfy the most mean-spirited elements of the national personality."

That  "another world is possible" is revealed in an article on the Canadian approach to immigration in the September issue of Prospect.

According to the article, by a Steve Bloomfield, Canada's policy of welcoming immigrants goes back a long way.  Novelist John Ralston Saul is quoted as saying that when his family first arrived in the 1840s "they were given 100 acres each, some horses, cows, seed for two years and some cash."  They had the"advantage" of being white as did most of the 50 000 Loyalists who had fled from the American Revolution.  Canada's welcome was, like Australia's, racist until the 1960s, when a Conservative (!) government introduced a more liberal approach and accepted, even promoted, a multicultural Canada.

Canada now takes in a target of 300 000 immigrants per year, just short of 1% of the existing population, and a proportion similar to the 588 000 who arrived in Britain last year.  All parties in Canada, and, crucially, the press, support this level of immigration; provinces and cities compete to host them; overseas diplomatic missions actually help would-be citizens to apply; a government minister even visited China last August to persuade more people to come.  A committee set up by the finance ministry has recommended that the annual total should be increased to 450 000.

The rationale behind this recommendation is that, even with 300 000 migrants annually, Canada's population growth will stall.  The committee estimates that, without the increase, Canada will slip from being the 11th largest economy in the world to the 29th,  more or less equivalent in world influence to Romania today.

The most obvious objection to Britain's adopting a similarly welcoming policy to immigrants is that we are a "crowded little island" whereas Canada, with a geographical area 40 times the UK's , has plenty of vast open spaces.  The objection does not, however, hold water.  Most of Canada is uninhabitable, most Canadians, including the immigrants,  live in the large cities  along the southern border with the US.  Toronto has a higher population per square kilometre than Birmingham, Montreal's density is more or less equal to Manchester's and, at 5 492 per, Vancouver has just 1 more than London's 5 491.

Nor is Britain's culture more in danger of being "crowded out."  About one in five  people living in Canada were born elsewhere: one in seven in the UK.  These proportions rise to around 50% in  in Toronto and Vancouver, compared with 41 % in inner London.

The key difference between our two countries is not one of size or economics, but of acceptance of multiculturalism, which both the political parties and press support in Canada, but which is  vilified by much of Britain's press, to which the right wing of the Tories is vigorously opposed and to which the Labour Party, which at one time promoted the international brotherhood of man, is at best ambivalent.

It's the politics which make us the "nasty country," not the economic limitations.


After sheer xenophobia, much of the popular opposition to immigration in Britain, and particularly that of many Labour supporters, is justified  the idea that immigration has a depressing effect on the wages of the native workers.  Vince Cable claims that, while he was Business Secretary,  no fewer than nine studies crossed his desk,  all of which found that the impact was "very little" and that "overseas workers have been complementary rather than competitive to British workers."    According to Sir Vince, the publication of these studies was suppressed by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, because she was not happy with the message they would send out.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Britain's ailing economy: the truth.

The think tank Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) has produced a damning report on the present state of the British economy.  It must be true because the Archbishop of Canterbury is a member, but just to balance any wishy-washy "do-goodery" the Institute also contains hard-headed businessmen as well.  Actually His Grace, before changing careers, was a pretty hard-headed and successful businessman himself.

The report points out among other things, that:

  • Britain  has the most geographically unbalanced economy in Europe, with 40% of our output now from London and the South East, and average incomes 30% lower in much of the rest of the country:
  • jobs are increasingly casualised with 3% of workers now on zero hours contracts:
  • over half of those of us defined as poor actually live in working households, and nearly a third of our children are living in poverty:
  • our productivity is 13% below the average for the G7, and 20% below that of Germany and, France (ouch!):
  • our investment (on which future growth and prosperity depend) is 5% below the OECD average:
  • our current account balance of overseas payments deficit (the one that really matters and really will be a burden on future generations) continues to be massive.
In response a Treasury spokesman, on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, says that employment is at a record high, the public finances are in better shape and the Gini coefficient is at a 30 year low.

You pays your many and you takes your choice.

To remedy our  predicament the IPPR suggests:

  • a simpler tax system, taxing "bads," such as pollution rather than "goods," such as employment:
  • a better distribution of wealth through new taxes (wealth taxes?)
  • more devolution to the nations and regions:
  • stronger trade unions to protect workers in the gig economy:
  • better regulation and taxation of monopoly digital companies.
Well, we Liberal Democrats would go along with most of that, and we've been banging on about it for years,  though we might have said "effective employee representation and profit sharing" along with stronger trade unions.

Sadly, instead discussing these, and other, solutions to our predicament,  our politicians are wasting  time  squabbling over the arrangements for making  the UK an even less comfortable place to live in by leaving the EU.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

The case for disregarding the Brexit vote

"Anonymous," who comment regularly on this blog, concludes his contribution to the previous post  with:

What if  [the Leave voters] did understand? What if they aren't stupid, or brainwashed? What if they just disagree with you on a fundamental level?

This is a serious, and politically delicate, point which deserves more than a comment in reply.
Here it is.

Unlike Michael Gove, and I suspect most of the public when they pause to think seriously about it, I have not "had enough of experts."  Indeed, I tend to trust them in many aspects of my daily life.  In many cases there's not a lot of option:  who else can drill your teeth but a dentist?  So an expert  hand surgeon operates on my fingers to straighten them   ( this needs to be done about every ten years as I have Dupuytren's Contracture), expert mechanics service my car, an expert musician conducts the choral society, an expert and astonishingly talented pianist accompanies us at rehearsals: etc etc etc.  Sometimes experts let you down  - I've not had good experiences of lawyers - but on the whole they do a better job than the untrained and uninitiated.

So when the overwhelming majority of economists  and trade experts say that leaving the EU will  have a damaging effect on our economy (and this happens to coincide with my view as a humble teacher of economics) then I'm inclined to believe them.  I agree that the views are not 100%, but they rarely are, not just in economics but in many other fields (eg climate change.)  But when the main "expert" wheeled out to refute the majority and put  the case for fabulous  prosperity following Brexit is Patrick Minford, whom I believe to have been misguided  on most things during my career, my faith in the majority is not shaken.

The political effect of Brexit  is admittedly more difficult to quantify.  I believe that, although Britain's contribution to civilisation ever that past 400 years or so has not been as perfect and flawless as the history I was taught tended to indicate,  I do feel we have made a considerable, and positive, contribution to the world -  in science, art, literature, music, philosophy and, yes, politics. We have been one of the leading powers in creating the world as it is today.

Whilst not adopting the Whig view of history, that things irresistibly get better, I do believe we have been on the side of progress and operated in the "big league."  We have developed out own democracy (a work still in progress) and helped others to do so.  We have fought against tyranny and for the rule of law and human rights.  We have tried to introduce the rule of law into international affairs and been key founder members of both the League of Nations and the United Nations.  We have worked  for international co-operation in trade, the search for stable foreign exchange systems and economic development.

I freely admit that if we leave the EU some  Britons  will still write good books and decent plays and tunes.  (I'm quite sure our "pop" culture will continue to flourish under any circumstances).  But if we leave the EU we shall be turning our backs on much of the progress we have helped to make.  Our voice will not be silenced but its effect will be diminished. Boris Johnson-type boastings about a "global Britain" released from the shackles of a restrictive EU and triumphantly engaging with the rest of the world do not convince me.  I accpt that this is hard to prove, but Johnson gives every appearance of being a showman rather than a statesman

So politically I believe our influence, which by and large is for the good, will be greater and more effective working co-operatively with our European partners than as an off-shore island with diminishing significance in an ever changing (and, for the moment, increasingly dangerous) world.

Given that we are a representative democracy it is the duty of our MPs to take these matters into consideration and do what they genuinely think is right and best for the people they were elected to represent, and for the country and, indeed, the world.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Labour shuffles towards sanity

The big political news of the weekend is that Labour has realised it would be a good idea for the UK to remain in the EU single market for a transition period after Brexit until trade deals with others have been sorted out.

That this should be big  news, hitting the front pages and leading the bulletins, illustrates the pathetic lack of backbone in our politicians.  Note what policy has actually changed.  Not what surely is now obvious, that we should stay in the EU, but just stay in the single market.  And not in the single market permanently, but just for a traditional period..

So effectively, if this Labour idea wins the day, we are lumbered with the Norway option, of obeying all EU rules but having no part in making them, and then just for  while until we plunge out into the commercial cold.

Politicians with any guts would have had the courage to state, immediately after the advisory referendum, thanks for your advice but, on such a small majority after a flawed referendum and fraudulent campaign, we won't take it: we'll stay where we are but give urgent priority to those issues which we think motivated you, quite rightly, to give us a metaphorical kick in the teeth.

Either that or the rather less courageous Liberal Democrat option: we will waste time  in carrying out negotiations to leave, and then have another referendum on whatever  deal we achieve.

Some time ago a leading Labour politician, I forget which,  admitted that, if public opinion changes Labour's policy could change too. This is spineless populism: tell us what your principles are and we'll adopt them.  The late Tony Benn delighted in pointing out that he regarded his function in politics to be a signpost and not a weathervane.  Our political parties should have the courage to lead and not be blind followers of a superficial public emotion whipped up by well-financed agitators and a biassed press.

In fairness it may be that Labour are playing a long, or "softly-softly" game in which,  to curry favour with their Brexit voters they have initially adopted a policy identical to that of the Tories.  Now they have shifted a bit.  Maybe, in some sort of Fabian gradualism,  there are more shifts in the pipeline.  I  hope so.

This is certainly a step in the right direction, but, as the overwhelming evidence of the folly of Brexit is revealed day buy day, it is both timid and time-wasting.  

Friday, 25 August 2017

An administration unfit for purpose.

No, not the US, but here, the UK.

All these illustrations are taken from reports in yesterday's papers.

Since the phrase "unfit for purpose" first came to our attention in relation to the Home Office, we'll start with them.

1.  Amber Rudd, our Home Secretary, failed to comply with an order of the High Court  that a detainee be released on the 11th August.  The victim is an asylum seeker, originally from Chad, who was initially ordered to be released on the 26th July.  When the authorities failed to comply the case went to the High Court and the 11th August date was given.  The Home Office applied for two extension to the order, for the 18th and 25th August.  When the case again came to court M/s Rudd failed to send a barrister to present the Home Office  case.

Readers of the previous post will know that the rule of law is an essential element of a democracy, and that the government of a democracy  is subject to the law as much as anyone else.  Our government seems to be prepared to ignore  the law, I hope not with impunity.  But if the victim receives the damages he clearly deserves, the money won't come out of M/s  Rudd;'s pocket, but ours.

2.  Still with the Home Office,  they have apparently sent letters to 100 EU nationals telling them to leave the country within a month or risk deportation.  Now this is recognised as an "unfortunate error."  The error came to light when one of the recipients of the letter, a Finnish academic who has lived  here with her British husband for 10 years,  challenged the letter in court.  She is to be compensated for her costs of
£3 800, again out of our pockets, not M/s Rudd's.  There can be no compensation for the distress caused to her or the other 99 letter recipients, or the spin-off of uncertainty felt by other non-British EU citizens living here.

3.  The people at Manchester Airport who search us for penknives, nail-files and other potentially dangerous "weapons" before we can get on an aircraft (are they public employees or have they been outsourced to the private sector?) failed to notice that the Heath-Robinson triggering device in the zip lining of a man's suitcase actually contained explosives, so they let him continue  his journey, though they kept the device.  Later they realised it contained nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose, so they arrested the man on his return, but admit that they really should have arrested him in the first place.

4.  The examination Boards have published the GCSE results for this years 16-year-olds.  On government instructions they have "improved" the grading system by replacing the old alphabetical  A to G  nomenclature with a numerical 9 to 1, with 9 at the top and 1 at the bottom.  For much of much teaching career the grading was  numerical, but 1 was at the top and 9 (if it went that low, I can't rememberer) at the bottom. By comparison, changing the deckchairs on the Titanic may not have helped, but it didn't add to the confusion.

While these and similar idiocies continue (while MPs are on holiday so less likely to notice the government continues to issue Brexit papers assuming we can still have our cake and eat it) prominent politicians occupy themselves by claiming that the world as we know it has come to an end because Big Ben will be silenced for four years in order to protect the hearing of workers repairing its tower.

Banana Republics seem sophisticated  by comparison.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Sense from Trump: well, welll well!

To me the most significant sentence from President Trump's "Afghanistan" speech yesterday is this:

"...we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands  or try to rebuild other countries in our own image."

Here here.

British imperialist (and there are still many around) please noteAnd they're not all Tories: I think Tony Blair called it "Liberal Interventionism."

The mistake has been to think you can dump yourself on another country, institute "free elections" and walk away thinking you have created a democracy.

Any text-book will tell you that there are many ingredients which together form a democracy.  These include: freedom of speech and assembly (including the rights of organised labour); respect for human rights; a free press; a measure of equality; an independent judiciary;  the rule of law, to which the government is subject; separation of powers; several tiers of government with defined responsibilities; and yes, a peaceful means of changing the government, normally by regular elections with a universal franchise.

Which of these ingredients comes first will vary from country to country.  In the UK the universal franchise came quite late in the day, and, given that it still excludes sixteen and seventeen year olds some (though not me) would argue that it is still not quite universal enough. Even in relatively mature democracies such as the UK and the US, there is still much room for improvement.  In the US, for example, Mrs Clinton received three  million more votes than Mr Trump, and some states still execute people. In the UK  the duties and independence of local government are not entrenched but subject to the whims of Westminster.

And regular readers will not be surprised to know that I believe  the type of electoral system is crucial.  First-past-the-post (FPTP) is a recipe for disaster in those countries where there are several ethnic groups and one is dominant (as several African countries have discovered.)  Even where the population is relatively homogeneous, as in the UK, FPTP leads to woefully inefficient government.

So the conclusion must be that neither the US system, nor the Westminster system which the UK has proudly imposed on umpteen former colonies, fits the bill for each and every situation.  Some countries may welcome a little help from their friends, but each must find their own ways.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

"What did the EU ever do for us?"

Yesterday the editor of the Guardian's   "letters page" published an article explaining the characteristics of  those readers' letters most likely to be published.  Since it seems to me that   I follow most of the rules (be short and to the point, relevant, accurate, avoiding abuse, and referring to the Guardian article to which you are responding) I can't think why more of mine aren't printed, but there you are.

To illustrate what constitutes a "good " letter the editor reprints one from a Dr Simon Sweeney of York University in 2013.  Here it is, using the Monty Python lead-in (see title)

Not much, apart from:  providing 57% of our trade; structural funding  to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead-free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved  consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing  quality improvements and better  industrial performance. . ."etc.

I'm not sure whether the "etc" was part of the original letter  or whether there was actually more.

Be that as it may, we Europhiles could well  print the letter off  (perhaps as bullet points)  and learn to recite it to the doubters - surely a dwindling species..

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A break in the Brexit front.

Three tweets:

"Past time  for sensible MPs in all parties to admit Brexit is a catastrophe, come together in a new party if need be, and reverse it."

"Let's be honest, if we had an effective electoral law leading Brexiteers would now be in jail."

"[The main parities are] paralysed and they are terrified of being called saboteurs, wreckers and people defying the will of the people."

(As reported here.)

These very apt  comments on our present political scene come not from an enthusiastic and bewildered Europhile such as myself, but from the very heart of the Brexit team.  Their author, a James Chapman, is a former political editor of the Daily Mail, (gasp); special advisor to George Osborne, (gasp gasp); and has spent a whole year as chief of staff  for the Brexit Secretary David Davis in the clumsily-named Department for Exiting the European Union (it beggars belief).

It would be kind to suppose that Mr Chapman has now seen the light, but rather, I suspect, he has decided to "come clean."  This is clear evidence that the Brexiteers know all along that Brexit will not be the raging economic success they proclaim, and  that they achieved their narrow lead in the referendum by peddling a catalogue of gross exaggerations if not downright lies (of which the extra £350m a week for the NHS was the most blatant and influential). Their real motive remains  open to speculation.

The question is, when will "sensible MPs"  (and I like to think most are sensible) recognise that in their supine pretence that they are implementing the "will of the people" they are doing a grave disservice to the people they are supposed to represent, put their judgement before their job-security, and put a stop to this folly before any more time is wasted?

Then they can concentrate on our real problems: housing, health service, social care, climate change, a prison service which shames a country which claims to be civilised, the north-south divide. . .  All of these, and more, are being put on the back burner  as the present self-harming nonsense fills the agenda..

Monday, 7 August 2017


 Yesterday I went to our multi-plex cinema to see this well-reviewed film.

Although I've been several times before I still haven't quite got the hang of modern cinema going - quite different from the good old days of "going to the pictures."  The booking counter has now started designating seats and I spent quite a lot of time in the semi-darkness looking for 12A.  Failing to find it I sat where I could, and eventually realised that 12A was not the number of my seat but the classification of the film.

Happily no-one claimed the seat I was in but this is another case of dispensing with useful employees - usherettes with shaded torches - in order to cut costs and  boost profits whilst making life harder for the customers.

In a further complication the cinema now has reclining seats with a leg-rest attachment which enables you to stretch out.  A tried every possible location for the lever to work it with.  A girl in a neighbouring set  kindly pointed out the operating button.

Most of the soundtrack was much too loud - we are approaching the "feelies" depicted in Huxley's "Brave New World" - but even so much of the dialogue was hard to catch.

The film is, I take it, an accurate description of the horrors of war.  Deaths are not sanitised, and not every "warrior" is a selfless hero.

I cannot imagine anyone seeing this film wanting to leave the European Union.

Sadly, I suspect the more buccaneering Brexiteers will draw the opposite conclusion.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The observances for the centenary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele have brought  some of the Commonwealth War Grave Cemeteries on to our television screens.

The first one I visited was in Papua New Guinea in the 1970s, and in the last few years, especially while helping to write accounts of the Old Boys of the school I attended who were killed  in the First World War, have visited several in Northern France and Belgium.

I count these visits as among the most moving and humbling experiences of my life: the astonishing numbers, the youth of so many who died, the immaculate care and attention given to each cemetery and each grave.  And in addition to these  the hundreds, maybe thousands, of square meters of walls with the names of the missing whose bodies were never found.

I have no idea how the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is organised, and the websites aren't very informative on this aspect.  But I suspect its directors, if it has any, are not on massive salaries, with out-of this-world bonuses just for doing what's expected of them, it is not encumbered with fancily-phrased mission statements, targets, OFSTED-style inspections or any other of the management-speak paraphernalia which today  is deemed necessary to motivate even the humblest of organisations.

And yet it does a near-prefect job.  No one would dare suggest privatising it: or would they?

Friday, 28 July 2017

How the Irish see us, and other things.

I've just returned from a fascinating week doing "touristy" things based on Galway in the West of Ireland.  I do not claim on the basis of a one week visit to have cracked the Irish perspective on everything, but here are four interesting pointers.

1.  Brexit I.  A leader in the Irish Times (does Murdoch own that one too?), on, I think, Friday 21st July, said something like

 "We are sorry to lose our friend and close ally [from the EU], but that will not preclude us from picking at the carcass"  (or maybe it was 'cadaver').

 This struck me as being surprisingly friendly, in view of the bitter history between our two nations, but, in seeking to attract those financial services, and perhaps other industries fleeing from a UK no longer in the EU, essentially practical.

And good luck to them.  Ireland shares one of the great "pull factors" which attract foreign firms to settle in the UK:  the English language.  And they speak it in a way I find absolutely charming.

2.  Brexit II. Here's a letter published  in the Irish Times on Thursday 27th July:

With the prospect of a UK-US trade deal likely to result  in the flooding of the UK with US-produced GM food products, chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-laden beef, surely any "Ireland-UK friendly" Brexit deal  will mean that we are also  vulnerable to exposure  to these products? I can think of a multitude of UK-based food outlets in Ireland where such exposure is not only a risk  but a likelihood  and wonder what the Government  is doing to safeguard  such a prospect.?  
Yours etc, Kevin Nolan.

Mr Nolan may genuinely wonder what his government will do. I don't wonder at all  about ours. . It will almost certainly be "Nothing " - a complete cave in to any demands that the  US is likely to make in order to secure any sort of trade deal.

3.The Famine. By far and away the most moving experience was to see the National Famine Monument, a Coffin Ship at the base of Croagh Patrick in Murrusk, County Mayo. This depicts skeletons intertwined with the rigging of one of the ships which took the desperately starving migrants to a better world across the Atlantic - if they survived.  For details see here.

In 1997, the 150th anniversary of the end of the Famine, Tony Blair "apologised" for it as follows:

"That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest  and most powerful nation in the world  is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today.  Those who governed in London at the time failed their people"

Sadly the collective leadership of Europe, with the UK as one of the most culpable, will need to make a similar apology  at some time in the future for our indifference to the sufferings of migrants and asylum seekers desperately, and across the Mediterranean dangerously, fleeing similar poverty today. 

4. Equality. Opposite the splendidly modern but imposting cathedral in Galway is a sculpture by John Behan depicting Emerging Equality.  In the inscription below is the definition:

Equality is but difference - respected and celebrated.

I'll try to remember that next time someone taunts those of us who believe in equality  that we want everybody to be the same.  Not at all: different, yes  please, but still equal.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A cost-free improvement for the NHS

I have not actually seen the film "The Sense of an Ending" but was sufficiently intrigued by the adverts to buy Julian Barnes's book.  There I was delighted to read, put in the mouth of the first person narrator, Tony Webster, sentiments that coincide exactly with my own:

Do you know something I dread?  Being an old person in hospital  and having nurses I've never met calling me Anthony, or worse, Tony.  Let me just pop this in your arm Tony.  Have some more of this gruel, Tony.  Have you done a motion, Tony?*  Of course, by the time this happens,  over-familiarity  from the nursing staff  may be well down  my list of anxieties, but even so. (Page 69)

Change "Peter" and "Pete" and that's exactly how I feel, not just in the context of old age and physical incapability, but in all contexts when discussing matters with people I neither know nor am likely to know. (eg buying insurance over the telephone, receiving letters from my Party's leader).

However, Barnes is right (presuming he is airing his own views.) that the situation is most acute in the medical context, when we feel at the most vulnerable.  In that situation the last thing we need is to addressed  by authority figures in a manner which takes us back to our days in the mixed infants.

So the free improvement for the NHS is that all staff should  address people by their honorific (Mr. Mrs, M/s or something posher) and family name  and that should be the default position.   If patients then prefer their first name, nickname or something more familiar that's fine, but the initiative should come from the patient, not the practitioner.

I am not and never have member of BUPA or any other private medical scheme, but I'm pretty sure  that in those places patients are" Mistered" and "Missised" routinely.

More generally, the English language, which is so prolific is most other areas (we have half a million words and counting, compared with a mere 100 000 in French) we have no equivalent of the French Monsieur,
Madame or |Mademoiselle, which can be used indiscriminately without any sense of status difference or servility.  The French also get around the difficulty of distinguishing between Missises and Misses by addressing every woman who appears to be over 30 as Madame. (though that may be an unwelcome rite of passage)

In English, outside school, the army, police  and high-end department stores , "Sir" and "Madame" sound deferential, and outside Buckingham Palace and detective stories featuring senior female officers I suspect no-one uses the abbreviation  "Ma'am" (to rhyme with "jam," not "psalm").

I have no suggested alternatives to make but should be pleased if someone could come up with one to replace "Pall", "Mate" "Squire " (ugh) or nothing at all.

Of course, here in Yorkshire the unisex "Luv" covers all cases

*Barnes himself has dispensed with quotation marks

Monday, 10 July 2017

Great Britons

I spent last week walking on the Western edge of the Chilterns with an Anglo-French  group.  As is our custom we took a day off from walking midweek and did touristy things.  In this location the obvious choice was Cambridge, where we took a ride on a punt on the river, which was very good value, and a walking tour round the colleges, which had the cheek to charge £20 per head  ( though as "concessions" we got it for £18)   which included all " entry fees to colleges,"  but as we didn't actually enter any, or King's College Chapel, was a bit of a rip off.

When we were told of the original of Newton's Principia Mathematica in the Wren  Library (along with the drafts and sketches for Winnie-the-Pooh), the college to which Professor  Stephen Hawkins belongs,   and pointed to the pub where Watson and Crick relaxed whilst uncovering the structure of DNA, my British bosom swelled with pride.

A quick search on the internet will tell you that Cambridge University has, at 61, more Nobel Laureates than any other university in the world (Harvard is next with 48), and there are lots of other distinguished literary alumni (E M Forster, C S lewis and Bradford's very own J B Priestley) in addition to A A  Milne.

I do not subscribe to the view fostered by our school history courses that  Britain  has been "top nation" for most of the time since the reign of Henry VIII until the Americans took over, but the Cambridge experience is a reminder  that for the past few centuries we have been among the leading nations for science, medicine, exploration, literature, politics, philosophy, engineering, economics and culture.

Britons have made serious and significant contributions to making the world a more civilised, stimulating and comfortable place.

Nor do I suggest that, post-Brexit, no one from these islands is ever gong to write another decent book or make another scientific discovery.  But if we go ahead with Brexit not only shall we be economically poorer - that seems now to be almost universally accepted - but we are deliberately dropping out of the big league.  The implications, especially for  science, are particularly severe.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Corbyn, Labour and the Single Market

In her pre-election literature my Labour MP, Mrs Tracy Brabin, who was re-elected, made an explicit promise that she would fight for "full access to the single market, vital for jobs in our community."  I quote her words exactly.

Yesterday, 29th June, a senior Labour MP, Chuka Umunna, moved an amendment to the Queen's Speech calling for the government to try to obtain exactly that, full access to the single market.  Mrs Brabin did not vote for  the motion.  Some fighter.

Well, I suppose she's not the first MP to break an explicit promise, and in any case (I'll get this in first) who are we Liberal Democrats to cast stones?

But I am genuinely puzzled by Labour's attitude on this issue.  On this blog I have consistently praised Mr Corbyn for his honesty, consistency , integrity and ability to enthuse others, and especially the young.   I've welcomed his manifesto as "a  breath of fresh air" and rejoiced at the progress he made in the General Election.  I am still hoping that the tectonic shift he has achieved in our politics will lead to some form of progressive alliance and an end to the damaging Tory misrule.

The curious thing is that both Corbyn and the Labour hierarchy, including their responsible shadow minister , Sir Kier Starmer, have consistently argued that we should make  the economy and jobs in the UK a priority in the Brexit negotiations, and clearly full access to the single market would be a considerable help.

 Some Labour big-wigs could be anxious that some of their support could be disgruntled if access to the market involved a bit of a trade-off on immigration, but Corbyn himself has been refreshingly and , in my view admirably, relaxed on immigration, stressing the enormous benefits that past immigrants have brought to our economy, culture and society, and being reluctant to follow the Tories in their quest for draconian and unsustainable reductions.

It may be that the Labour establishment are timid about being seen to go against the so-called "will of the people"  as expressed by by a narrow majority in a seriously flawed referendum.  But even senior Brexiteer Boris Johnson assured us during the referendum campaign that voting to leave the EU did not imply leaving the single market.

So Labour don't have that excuse.

Yet Labour MPs were officially instructed to abstain on the Umunna amendment.  49 of them defied the whip and voted for it,  along with all our gallant band of Liberal Democrat, the one Green and I think most if not all of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. But not the doughty Mrs Brabin.

I am saddened but not surprised by Mrs Brabin's lack of fight, but genuinely puzzled by Labour's stance.  It is becoming increasingly clear that public opinion is moving against a hard Brexit.  Here was a golden opportunity to run the government close if not actually defeat them and Labour just didn't take it.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Spoiling the ship for a ha'p'orth of tar

We shall learn  in due course whether the Grenfell Tower conflagration was the result of saving £1.5m by using a less expensive cladding material, or turning down the preferred bidder because someone else was cheaper, maybe both or maybe something else entirely.

However, there can be little doubt that any savings will already have been far outweighed  by the enormous expense of paying for alternative accommodation for the displaced families, and the £5 500 per family grant to enable them to survive in the short run and re-equip in the long run.

Add to this  the further cost of finding and paying for temporary alternative accommodation for the thousands of families forced to leave other tower blocks because they are now discovered to be unsafe.  Doubtless the same firms that  put up the inadequate cladding in the first place are receiving premium rates for removing it and will in due course be the preferred bidders for putting up the right stuff.

The message is that the combination of deregulation, (the "bonfire of red tape" is a grimly appropriate metaphor), cuts in council inspection services and the penny-pinching temptation to save "public money" by going for the lowest bidder, (in fact I think, though an not sure, that in some cases councils are forced to accept the lowest tender),leads both to false economies and public danger.

The financial costs are, of course petty compared with  the horror of the deaths and injuries, and the massive anxiety and  inconvenience caused to the families affected, both at Grenfell and elsewhere.

This terrible tragedy merely helps us to highlight how other attempts to cut public expenditure to the bone have actually boomeranged. An article by  Frances Ryan, published in the Guardian back in April, lists the costs of various examples of Tory ineptitude.

  • two private firms have been paid £700m  to conduct Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments on disabled  people.  Four out of five of their rejections are overturned on appeal:
  • the flagship Universal Credit system has been delayed seven times,  is now five  years behind schedule and has so far cost £16bn (sic)  In the areas where it has been implemented the six-week waiting period has led to the need for mass emergency food parcels, and to rent arrears and evictions:
  • councils have had to spend more than £3.5bn on temporary accommodation for homeless families in the last five years (that is, even before the tower block cladding scandal) 
The conclusion must be that, on top of the misery they cause, and the increased shabbiness of our environment, the cheeseparing approach to public expenditure, the lie that "savings can always be made through cutting waste" can often lead to more rather than less public expenditure.

A contributory factor must be running down of both local and national government personnel through he outsourcing of services.  This leads to the public sector being left without expertise and enables the well-resourced  private sector to run rings round them in the drawing-up of contracts.