CategoriesPolitics

The Return of the State, and The State Strikes Back

All hail the State! All hail the State.

Those of you who claimed that the only way to recover from the International Banking Crisis of 2008 was to cut, cut and then cut some more, have now been exposed as the phoniest of phoneys – all thanks to this Tory – yes, Tory! – Government’s recent double budget. Theresa May’s Magic Money Tree has been found! And it isn’t just one, miserable tree – oh, no, no – rather it’s a whole forest of Magic Money Trees, prepared to bail us out.

Austerity, meted-out by the Tories for a decade, was a political choice, cloaked in a dishonest narrative, regurgitated by our right-wing press and lapped up by far too many of our citizens. Throughout the last decade, George Osbourne’s project to rewire the country, to penalise those who relied on the State, was proved intellectually and morally bankrupt by all key life indices, yet still too few people took the time – nor had the curiosity – to appraise themselves of the facts. In light of recent events, I dare you to argue with me that austerity wasn’t a choice.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending bonanza – “to do whatever it takes” – to get us through the Corona Depression has killed, once and for all, the Tory lie that the principle which should guide a family’s finances (that you shouldn’t spend more than you have, with some tucked away for rainy day) is the same principle by which a country’s finances should be managed. It isn’t, and never has been. Name a family that can print money, nationalise a bank, create a bond, build HS2. Managed correctly, the State can create confidence, stimulating demand, increasing the tax-take.

Out of the ashes of World War Two came the NHS, Legal Aid and the modern welfare state, even though the world’s economy was on its knees. But what will arise from this Corona Depression? Like World War Two, this virus is no respecter of class. At rapid speed, more people realise that we are all interdependent; that we all rely upon the other. If one of us is destitute, we are collectively all worse for it.

For example (should an example be required), if someone is too impoverished to isolate then spreads the virus, we are all impacted. If someone doesn’t wash their hands, then we all suffer. If one business lays off staff, we all pay to support those unfortunate people.

For those who previously doubted it, know now that we rely on most of our public sector services, as well as our key private sector employees, such as delivery drivers and supermarket personnel. We must all do our bit. Private sector no longer trumps public sector: we need both. And now, surely, we can all accept that if we don’t adequately fund our NHS – just as people have chosen not to do this last decade – we will all catch the cold?

CategoriesPolitics

The gutsiest of decisions

As Premier League football is cancelled today – as well nearly every other large gathering – the Government has surprised us all by not electing to instruct the populace to self-isolate. With every other country implementing social distancing, it begs the question: do the Brits know best? Is this another example of supposed British exceptionalism?

I hope so.

But I doubt it.

My analysis of the state of play is that the Chief Medial Advisors et al have advised the government that:

  • COV-19 has spread far and wide already;
  • The NHS and social care will not be able to cope (after years of under-funding);
  • That social modelling prepared over the years reveals that Brits, with a penchant for anti- authoritarianism – will not take instruction, unlike the Chinese (though I am sure that not all
    Chinese people did as they were commanded to do). I.e. Brits couldn’t tolerate being
    forcefully housebound for more than two weeks.
  • That so many businesses will fail, with pre-COV-19 so many people surviving with little
    financial buffer, that economic collapse is inevitable, exacerbating an already parlous
    situation.

Nobody can envy the Prime Minister. Whichever way he decides – to social distance now or not to – people will die. And die in the thousands (present estimate is half a million).

Understandably, anger is mounting that the draconian – and probable – successful methods employed by the Chinese and other countries have not been employed here.

When this pandemic passes, and it will, Brits will compare how we did against other countries. If more people have suffered here than elsewhere, the Prime Minister will be toast, and so will the Tories be for a generation, even if they have followed the scientific advice.

CategoriesThought of The Day

My answers, to those questions

With permission from the Head Teacher, today I took the kids out of school in order to spend the day filming a documentary about one company’s efforts to tackle manmade climate change (for The Daily Telegraph). That company is Make it Wild.

We were up in Nidderdale, near Summerbridge. It’s gorgeous up there. Had Wainwright written about Nidderdale, then the world would know Nidderdale. Perhaps this is a good thing. Tourism is like a spark: if used correctly it can heat your home and cook your dinner. Used incorrectly, it can burn your house down.

Having volunteered with Make it Wild before – planting dozens of trees – and having secured a sponsorship deal with them for 1,500 trees for Truth Legal to offset my firm’s environmental impact.

I know and like this family firm: the Neaves. The world needs more Neaves. Bold, caring philanthropists – people who don’t wait for governments to take action: they lead. Whilst the rain beat down on me and the kids, with the camera crew filming as we planted more trees, I answered the director’s questions.

  • Why are you concerned about biodiversity?
  • How can planting trees reduce climate change?
  • Why do you volunteer with Make it Wild?
  • What do your children make of it all? Etc, etc

Without preparation, I candidly answered, with everyone listening to my every utterance. The director asked me those questions several times. Each time he did, for reasons unknown, I gave a different answer, and of different lengths. With some of my rambling answers, I had to stop myself – so incoherent were they. Sometimes what I said – even though I was being as precise as I could – was incredibly inaccurate. Many times, I had to start my answer again. Even trying my best, in a relaxed, delightful environment, my answers to the same question, were erratic. Odd.

Lesson learned: in future, when some politician or celeb is supposed to have said this or that and got into hot water for it, even if that’s what they said, I’m going to extend them some latitude. They probably didn’t choose the rights words and only had one shot at it. Let’s extend some grace to people who may have misspoke.

In contrast, when judging someone by their measured writing, such latitude need not be extended.

CategoriesPolitics

The end of party politics?

Possibly. Today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Chancellor announced so many billions – or was it was trillions – of pounds of infrastructure projects that one would have that it was John McDonnell who was delivering the budget. The world has turned on its axis.

Non-Tories haven’t grasped what is going on here. In the pursuit of his legacy, Boris Johnson is gobbling-up the centre of British politics. Such policies are straight out of the Labour textbook. The former Red Wall constituencies are going to love it. Nobody is asking: where is the money tree?

How will the other parties react? Slowly, I imagine.

For non-Tory parties, their potential areas for policy/brand differentiation are:

  1. Brexit – it will rear its head when the inevitable shock happens of our true departure. It will be an omnishambles, so any party which was anti-Brexit will be regarded as Mystic Meg.
  2. Social care – which needs fundamental rethink. My view is that families will start to live closer together, with more families sharing large properties. Just watch this develop.
  3. Constitutional reform – few people – on all sides of the Brexit debacle – believe that our unwritten constitution has worked well over the last few years, and therefore crave voting reform. With their stonking majority, the Tories won’t want to change anything, but they will be on their own.
  4. Prison – we all know that it rarely works as a deterrent, and mainly serves as a school to produce ever-hardened criminals. A liberal, progressive party can steal a march here. Thanks to the Tories, the justice system is on life support. We are all impacted from high crime levels.
  5. Public ownership of utilities – still popular most of the electorate, though an anathema to the Tories, even though the Tories have now taken a rail franchise back under public control.
  6. Environment – as the climate gets crazier, and climate change-deniers dwindle, the climate crisis will become of an election issue. The Tories haven’t taken it seriously: it simply isn’t in their DNA. As we approach the key date of 2030, the environment will come to the fore.

Justifiably, non-Tories will crow that the spending bonanza announced by our school prefect-like Chancellor is akin to Tony Blair’s decimation of Clause Four in the mid-90s – i.e. the true Tory colours will come through in due course, as they did when Corbyn re-took Labour. Let’s not forget that it took two decades for Labour to revert to type. How long will it take the Tories to revert to type? And will they? Will the Tories govern as One Nation Tories?

And what will opposition parties do to differentiate themselves? If the Tory strategy on COV-19 leads to more deaths than in other countries, party politics will not be dead as the Tories will be out of power for a generation.

CategoriesPolitics

The politics of coronavirus: are right-wingers coronavirus sceptics?

(For context, I’m writing on the day that the international stock markets collapsed, at a similar level to the 2008 decimation, all because of COVID-19. Italy has just quarantined the whole country.)

Like most, I have taken a keen interest in the spread of COVID-19, for countless reasons: I’m a parent; I have elderly parents; my firm looks after hundreds of clients, many of whom may pass; and as a business owner, 1/5 of my colleagues are likely to be off sick. It would, therefore, be grossly negligent not to be appraised of the facts.

Quite simply, the spread of COVID-19 has the potential to be as dramatic, as impactful, as a world war. It could be our generation’s worst hour. To write that – that which is clear to me and many – is likely to get me lampooned as some sort of fool; someone who has drunk the COVID-19 hysteria kool aid. I haven’t.

What has become clear to me – from the news, from social media and from my social circles – is that, generally, people with right-wing politics tend to take a different position on what precautions to take, than someone who would describe themselves as not right-wing. I’m careful not to describe this second group as “left-wing” – they are just not right-wing. It’s fascinating! And I don’t think that right-wingers are purposely being objectionable.

Some common right-wingery responses:

1. COVID-19 is no worse than flu – something with Trump has today tweeted, even though the death rate from flu was previously unknown to him.
2. I’m not washing my hands: how dare you tell me what to do.
3. It’s all fake news.
4. Experts – what do they know?

But why? Why do right-wingers – though not all – take such views? And is it deliberate – i.e. are right-wingers asking themselves – “I am right-wing, so this is my position?”

CategoriesBusiness

My business journey

A wonderful lawyer business coach – Ann Page – helped me in my early years of my law firm. Ann interviewed me for her new book Business Skills? Don’t be daft I am a lawyer. Due to illness, I was unable to attend the book launch. What follows is my speech, which was kindly read out by my colleague.

Since Ann conducted her interviews, I have tried some psychotherapy. Everyone should. Trawling through my past, it’s easy to see where TL came from.

My parents ran businesses, in fact, my dad at 77 still runs a business. They discussed business at the table. These things just soak in. I guess what soaked in most of all was that it was “normal” to work for yourself.

My first business was aged 9, selling coke cans at school. I would go to the wholesalers with my folks. Borrow the money for a crate of cans, then sell the cans at school during the summer.

The second business was washing cars, which was much harder work.

I didn’t much enjoy school, and despised law school so much so that I asked for my money back. I don’t go out of the way to break the rules, but I really didn’t like following others’ rules.

My interest in politics, particularly left-wing politics, developed on my degree, killed my business instinct. Left-wingers simply didn’t discuss business, even ethical business.

Fast forward to 2007, I qualified and took a job at Ford and Warren, now Weightmans. I hated it. Before I was 1 year PQE, I got my dream job at Thompsons – which was very left-wing trade union law firm. So left-wing was I that I was the elected as the trade union rep for the lawyers – and I organised a strike!

After a few years, I became incredibly disillusioned, because the firm which was meant to look after the working person became hypocritical. The nail in the coffin was when my second child was born, my firm wouldn’t let me take the two weeks of paternity leave over two periods! I’m still narked about that.

So with two kids under two, my wife on mat leave, I resigned. It was a toss-up between being a stay-at-home dad, or setting up my firm. I’m glad I set-up, as my children wouldn’t have made it their second birthdays!

My business plan was on one page, and like any business plans, they don’t survive their first meeting with a customer. I costed that the firm would cost 30k in year. Doing predominantly No Win, No Fee personal injury work, I knew that cashflow was going to be my biggest headache.

A funny story is that, when costing our family’s outgoings for year one, I came to the conclusion that if we made some savings, that we could get by. I genuinely broke down in tears – and I’m not a crier – when I realised that I forgot to take the mortgage payments into account.

I borrowed 30k from my folks. I still owe 10k!

In terms of bringing work in, although I am not “techy” I realised that there was very little content online about “assaults at work” – an area of personal injury law that I had specialised in.

My first day at work was 30 April 2012, but I wasn’t allowed by the SRA to practice until 15 August 2012. It’s weird starting a firm, because you start with no legal work! But I was busy – very busy – writing content, policies, etc. During this time, I went on Ann’s management course.

Work came from all sorts of areas. Other lawyers. People in the virtual office. A friend of a friend. The very odd thing about running a law firm is that, before you went solo, friends and family wouldn’t ask you a question or send you a case. When I was alone – without any structure or supervision – then people send you all sorts.

A wonderful lawyer and person, Angela Davies, invited me a BNI networking event. I remember that 6am start more than any other event over the years. The penny dropped for me. I felt like Neo in the Matrix. Harrogate is full of networks – and that’s how most of the work is won.

Networking taught me business: learning and listening to others. Watching businesses succeed and fail. Teaching you how to spot a charlatan. Teaching you how to give an elevator pitch.

Year one I made a loss, and of course was down the 40k salary I was on in Leeds. Year two, Georgina Parkin came along as our first trainee solicitor, because I was rammed with work and she had had the good sense to send lots of letters demanding a training contract. Georgina earned more than I did for the first few years. That’s something they don’t tell you. You borrow money to put in, then make a loss, but pay your staff AND lose the salary that you would have had in your old job.

My ingrained, innate plan was always to hire staff and to hire brilliant staff. I was always worried about going under a bus and leaving my clients high and dry. As I had rough health as a kid, I also knew that I needed a decent-sized team because I was going to be ill at some point – and sure enough that has happened.

Podcasts have honed by business acumen, particularly podcasts emanating from the US. I now run three podcasts. Our brand and website was inspired by a US marketing legend called Seth Godin. He came up with the Purple Cow theory of marketing. Truth Legal was a purple cow. It had to stand out online, particularly in a world of some dodgy “have you had a claim in the last three years” cowboys.

As a Quaker, I was inspired by some of the Quaker business legends of the past: Rowntrees, Cadburys, Lloyds, Barclays, Waterhouse, Clarks etc etc. Studying what they did, they treated their people well, their customers trusted them, and as a result their businesses flourished. Those Quakers were, I would argue, some of the first ethical business leaders. I’ve tried to follow their principles.

I would finish with a few points I’d like to make:

  1. Luck is a massive factor in any success. For me, the largest PI firm in the area was shut down by the SRA into our second year..
  2. As you grow, give people the work that they thrive at. We now have people who are far superior at their jobs than I now am at those jobs. I think a business owner should do themselves out of a job.
  3. Law firms have historically had massive profit margins and law firm owners have been historically super greedy. It doesn’t need to be that way. Businesses like Aldi survive on a 1% profit margin.
  4. Do we need business skills? Yes, as most of us don’t have any, but the good news is that we lawyers are good at learning and so we can learn new skills. The challenge is to de-programme ourselves from our business ignorance that our educational establishments, particularly law school, have bequeathed us with.
  5. A hard part for a lawyer business person is having to make decisions with imperfect information, quite the opposite as to how we advise our clients.
  6. Finally, lawyers have been under attack for a decade now. Legal Aid has been all but killed. Advice centres have been hammered. Miscarriages of justice are rife. Employment Tribunal fees were adjudged to be unlawful, just like the prorogation. The changes to the personal injury world, coming soon, are an affront to the rule of law, and just wait for the politicisation of the judiciary. Us lawyers need to stick together. We have huge constitutional importance and we should never forget that.
CategoriesThought of The Day

4 things that I’ve learned from a few nights’ stay, courtesy of Harrogate Hospital Urology Department

  • Men can – yes we can! – talk about delicate health matters, but we shouldn’t have to wait for hospitalisation until we do so.
  • It’s possible to lose a needle phobia.
  • I love the NHS more than I did, and I already adored it. We need to protect it and enhance it.
  • My wife was so stressed when packing my things that she put a pair of socks – rather than a flannel – in my wash bag to wash my face! The chaps in here laughed so loudly that their stitches nearly fell out.

I’m fine. Will be fine. No need to comment.

CategoriesPolitics

Corbyn, Trump and the Cult

Politically, Corbyn and Trump are of course diametrically opposite. (I backed Corbyn in the leadership election of 2015: I was swayed by his political history and the inevitable avalanche of support which would make the Labour Party a social movement again, financially strong, with hundreds of thousand of leaflet-deliverers and Facebook warriors.) But there is an unfortunate similarity between the two groups of followers, which requires discussion.

Until this recent leadership election, no labour leadership campaign in my lifetime was so personality-driven, so…. cultish. Like the relationship between Trump and his cult, who refuse to see his many flaws, for Corbyn’s arch-followers, he can do no wrong.

Sure, there are many Labour Party members who run logical arguments as to why Corbyn is the right person to lead the Labour Party – and I respect that, though I forcefully disagree. Alarmingly, however, there is a cohort of Corbyn followers who will support him like disciples – many of whom are new to politics, hanging onto to his every word. “If Jeremy loses the leadership, I shall leave the party”, they say. No great loss there. Corbyn has politicised these (misguided) people – and they will climb over broken glass to attend his rallies. These people will decide the fate of this country, and it makes me sad/mad.

Not only are there newbies to the Labour Party – who have never knocked on a door(but please do stay for the long-haul, if this is you) – who follow Corbyn in a lemmings-like way, but there are the armchair Ches, politically educated/brainwashed by radical communists, who spell the deepest trouble. I have evidence that many of these members would rather the Labour Party was pure in its pursuit of a socialist/communist utopia and lose the next general election, than have more moderate (and electable!) Labour Party and win the next general election because, they say, it is all part of a greater plan to convert the Labour Party into a revolution-leading vehicle. Ergo, some members would rather have the Tories in power than Labour. This is intellectually, morally and politically bankrupt thinking. Please leave. Now. You know who you are.

And what many of the Corbyn cult have missed is that Corbyn has won, even if Corybn loses to Smith. As compelling evidence, to woo the Labour electorate, Smith is trying to out-Corbyn, Corbyn. The Labour Party has, therefore, irrevocably changed for the better, in terms of its political direction and its membership: all Labour Party policy for the next decade will have a socialist tint for the first time in a generation.

The only question for the Labour Party membership is this: which potential leader is most likely to be the next Labour PM. The answer is not JC.

My money – if I gambled – is on Corbyn, because of his cult. As one member quipped: “The only hundreds and thousands at a Smith rally are on the ice creams.”

Andrew Gray is the owner of www.TruthLegal.com and www.tl-prawnik.co.uk and www.TheRichLawyer.life is writing in his personal capacity.

CategoriesPolitics

The Genius that is Capitalism

Like it or not, capitalism is genius. And all geniuses are flawed. In my favourite – though rarely-referenced – tranche of Marxism, Marx declares that, “Crime produces locks, jails, police, locksmiths, judges, lawyers, and jail keepers.” And, he goes on to say, crime produces the teachers to train the jailors, and the police, locksmiths, judges, and lawyers and so on. And, he says, crime creates those who produce the books for the jailors, police, locksmiths judges and lawyers. And so on.

Of course, KM’s point is that capitalism is always developing; and that even crime – the scourge of all societies – has value in a capitalist society.

To prove his point, in each disaster, in each war, people find a way to profit. Because, I think, the urge to compete with our neighbour is deep-rooted, forever part of our collective DNA.

Brash Boris Johnson put it succinctly in his Thatcher lecture in 2013 when he said: “I stress – I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.”

I hate this sentence to my core, and crave significant income redistribution, but I fear that Boris is right.

I am reminded of the current San Francisco thinking: To be successful we should surround ourselves with people more successful than we are; but to be happy, we should surround ourselves with people who are less successful.

In some ways, I marvel at humankind’s uncontrollable pursuit of money. It seems, well, human. But so is humankind’s lust for violence, and we can – and must – be better than that.

CategoriesThought of The Day

The Good Old Days

It seems to me that many folks hunger for the good old days, when life was – so some people argue – better, in every conceivable way.

Leaving aside the Brexit issues of xenophobia, economic illiteracy and the rejection of all expert opinion, we must challenge the notion that British life was better in the good old days: because in no strand of British life has the country deteriorated.

Take morality, for instance. During my lifetime, casual racism has gone from being pretty normal behaviour, to something only seen on the fringes. And take celebrities: today celebs – just like all of us – do some pretty stupid things, but the behaviour of today’s celebs has nothing on the likes of (Sir) Jimmy Saville and his ilk. Operation Yew Tree does not target newbie celebs, rather, its focus is on celebs from the good old days because so many of those celebs acted with impunity. In part, this is because people today are less deferential, ready to report on bad behaviour. This is progress.

Take graffiti: it has nearly been eradicated. Take littering: it has reduced immeasurably. Take violent crime: it is on the decrease. Take schools: no longer do teachers beat their pupils. Take stately homes: today many are owned by the National Trust, available to millions.

Societies progress each generation. This is because people spend much of their early lives ironing out their own flaws caused, to a large part, by their parents (“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad” wrote Larkin). And when these people become parents, they make a special effort not to make the mistakes that they and their parents made. As a result, each generation is an improvement on the one before.

In addition, today, nearly half of all students go to university, mixing with kids from all backgrounds, often studying for the sake of intellectual development. With degree subjects for most walks of life, it is inevitable that the people of today are smarter than the people of yesterday, as society’s collective knowledge improves everyday. To aid this progress, the teachers of today have been taught to a more advanced stage than the teachers of yesterday; in turn, they use more advanced teaching methods on their pupils. Society is better at paragraph two of this blog, than it was at paragraph one. And the pace of improvement is accelerating.

Thanks to the internet, today information is democratically devoured: it isn’t the preserve of the rich, and the children of the rich. Physically, the people of today are stronger, healthier and more aware of their health. No footballer from 1966 could get into today’s England team. Smokers are now regarded as weird, not cool.

In yesteryear, doctors could make grave mistakes (“never-ever events”) – like removing the wrong kidney – and could get away with it. Not today, so much. Back then, lawyers were often in the pub most of Friday, and most law firm partners were men. Not today, so much. Back then, men didn’t spend much time with their kids: not so today. Back then, men didn’t cook or clean. Not so much today.

It is true that life was simpler “back then”, but life was pretty crap, too. Next time you speak to someone who wants to turn back the clock, confront their lazy, pernicious thinking with facts. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Andrew Gray is the owner of www.TruthLegal.com and www.tl-prawnik.co.uk and www.TheRichLawyer.life is writing in his personal capacity.