CategoriesThought of The Day

Marxists and Capitalists

Marxists and Capitalists make the same mistake: both describe our current system as capitalist. Sure, it is capitalist, but missing is the sub-category.

As Yanis Varoufakis skilfully explains here, when Adam Smith wrote Wealth of Nations in 1776, he was of course writing about that time. At that point in history, a butcher, baker and brewer in a village would produce the best products they could, sold at the cheapest prices. They did so not for the benefit of society, but for their own benefit. And in so doing, society benefits.

Today, Yanis argues, we are living in monopolistic capitalism, a substrata of capitalism. By way of simple example, even if my business (circa 20 people) grew by 10,000 times, we couldn’t take on some of the monopolies: Google, Amazon and Facebook are untouchable and unstoppable. Only if there is an international restructure of these monopolies, Yanis argues, will capitalism return to helping the totality of society, as Smith had observed capitalism can do. There is something in this analysis.

CategoriesPolitics

PMQs on 3 June 2020

In PMQs today, Reckless Boris (RB) was in defensive mood, despatching Starmer’s attacks with consummate ease. The PM – king of winging it – knew what was coming because Starmer’s attack-piece in The Guardian was published the previous evening. Poor politicking from Starmer. Starmer must familiarise himself with The Art of War: attack your enemy when he is unprepared, not when he’s had 18 hours of prep time.

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Again at PMQs, startingly for an ethics-obsessed lawyer, Starmer appeared to breach any confidence that he had built with Reckless Boris (RB) by referring to a letter (below) which he sent to the PM on 18 May. Starmer complained that RB hadn’t had the courtesy to write back. Incensed, RB retorted something like: “But I called you and we discussed it on the phone”. Contrary to RB’s penchant for untruths, I have heard nothing to suggest that RB misled us on this. If so, naughty, naughty Mr Starmer. Apologise!

letter

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Avid readers of my blog might recall my suggestion that RB would attempt to bring Starmer into the General’s Tent – a move designed to share collective blame when the economy plummets into a depression. Sure, Starmer made the first move and, sure, RB telephoned. But who knows if RB’s emissaries had been previously sounded Starmer out, probably via a deniable back-channel. Await the autobiographies!

Regardless, with trust in the Government understandably evaporating, Starmer wouldn’t want to tether himself to this disaster. RB knows that. Tory knives are already out for RB and they know how to terminate a loser. Let RB own this one, backbench Tories are thinking.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Good Days, Bad Days

After a bad day – as today has been – as a sufferer of a chronic pain-type illness, I now sympathise with those who have had the good day-bad day, seesaw. Such health erraticism is mostly unfathomable to non-sufferers.

Equal with the bad days – and the bad days can be grim – is knowing the sheer boredom it elicits in the listener when they ask you: “How are you.” When you reply on the phone, you can usually hear the listener reach for their device, for anything – and they’re right to be bored: it’s is boring. Acute symptoms garner all the sympathy. Those of us with chronic conditions are often regarded as malingerers, misleaders, wimps. We are not.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Don’t Look Back in Anger

Don’t Look Back in Anger by Oasis captured the spirit of the mid-90s. At 15, I remember that time as one of optimism; we knew that something better was en route. Find me someone who doesn’t appreciate the magnificence of this song and I’ll show you someone who is anti my city: Manchester.

Just over three years ago, on 22 May 2017, terrorists hit my city. The bomb at Manchester Arena – a venue I had visited many times – targeted children and parents at a pop concert. 23 people were slaughtered, half of whom were kids. Hundreds more were injured. The horror is unimaginable. Targeting kids.

Yet this recent barbarism is rarely spoken about. But why?

Awaking to this news on 23 May 2017, as a Mancunian living here in Harrogate, I felt compelled to act. I just had to do something, but what. Assisted by social media, I organised a vigil at The Cenotaph. Around 30 people showed up. I handed out the words to Don’t Look Back in Anger. Led by the tour de force that is Michelle Beckett, we sang. It was beautiful, moving, cathartic. Kindly, staff from Bettys provided us with free teas and biscuits.

harrogate photo

When I consider acts of terrorism in my lifetime, I think of 9/11, 7/7, the first Manchester bomb in 1996, Dunblane of the same year and the Warrington bomb of 1993 which killed two boys. One of those poor boy’s names is burned into my memory: Tim Parry. But I’m afraid to say that I cannot tell you the names of anyone who died in the Manchester Arena, just three years ago. I should know some of their names.

Pondering this puzzle this evening, my conclusion is that the people of Manchester didn’t let this event define them. Internecine conflagrations did not commence. Months later, the Arena was used again for a concert. Manchester did not look back in anger.

CategoriesThought of The Day

Lockdown Weather and Pascal’s Wager

At the high risk of being ridiculed, I’ll write it regardless. The best weather in my lifetime, coincided with the only lockdown in my lifetime. During this weird period, like many people, I have never spent more time outside. And I love it.

Quoting the devout atheist Christopher Hitchens: “Coincidence is no accident.”

I don’t believe that God (if such a thing exists) has punished humanity with floods because, say, of gay marriage, but I don’t know why it feels (how unlawyerly, how unscientific) that this Great Pause has something otherworldly about it. The coincidence that we are compelled to spend more time outside whilst the weather is spectacular blows my little mind.

For me, never has nature seemed so bouncy, so effervescent, confident. I feel as if nature is saying: Look at us! Yes, us. Take care of this planet. We all rely upon each other. This is a warning. Humankind, make changes, now.

A few weeks ago, I walked around The Stray in Harrogate, taking routes that I wouldn’t normally use. I found myself down an empty road – a road which is usually a de facto carpark, hence in normal times it wouldn’t be a route to take. I may sound like an oddball, but at one point I had to stop and admire the majesty of the trees. They stood, well, proudly, perkily, commandingly. The photograph below will not win awards, nor does it capture the energy – the fizz – of the moment. It is my recording of that instant, for me.

photo of harrogate

Some of you will be familiar with Pascal’s Wager – that humans should believe in God because if they are wrong, then they lose very little, but if they are right, then they stand to gain a great deal. Deploying similar logic, regarding our environment I would say: if you take the view that humans aren’t causing climate change, or take the position that our activities have only a negligible impact on global heating, on the basis that you may be wrong, given that we are stuck here for the foreseeable future, wouldn’t it be optimal if we proceeded as if we are destroying earth? If you are right and I am wrong, we have lost little. If I am right and you are wrong, we have all gained immeasurably.

We must make changes as to how we coexist with nature. The planet cannot withstand our pursuit of perpetual growth in GDP. We know this.

CategoriesPolitics

Blairism and Borism

Saddo political anorak that I am, on what was a yet another gorgeous day (has the weather ever been better?), I cantered through – in awe – A Journey by Tony Blair. Never a fan of his, I want to know what made him tick; how did he get to the top; what were his routines, his secrets of success; and did he have a moral compass. Living through the Reckless Boris (RB) and Dominic Cummings age, what parallels could I draw from the Blair and Campbell time?

Slaloming through his early years, his ascendency and of course the 1997 win, nothing caused me greater dismay than how he managed his time whilst PM. Candidly, Blair explained that he would tell people what they wanted to hear – that he would meet them – when he knew that this was a lie. Blair’s words must be read:

“We used to have a phrase in the office called, in mock severity, ‘SO’, which stood for ‘sackable offence’. It applied to scheduling a meeting with people who were never to cross the threshold. It applied even if I had agreed to the meeting. It applied – I am a little ashamed to say – even if I had expressed to the individual concerned my deep frustration with my own office for defying my wishes and not scheduling the meeting.”

Dissecting these words, there are three elements to the lie. First, that he would meet this or that politician, usually a Labour backbencher. Second, when the thwarted MP asks when the meeting would take place, Blair would blame his office. And third, Blair must have briefed his office about the lies that he had told, preparing them to thwart the MP once more. Feigning anger to a Member of Parliament is stomach-churning stuff; deception of an advanced level.

Whilst unsurprised that this was Blair’s modus operandi, for someone so smart, it’s puzzling that he declared his innumerous deceptions in his book. And he wasn’t lying to the likes of you and me, oh no, he routinely lied to elected politicians, who just wanted to provide wise counsel. Blair could have omitted the anecdote. Perhaps writing his memoirs was cathartic, expunging the stains on his conscience.

Like any muscle, the “lie muscle”, if there is such a collection of cells, becomes stronger with repetition – just a little one here and another one there, the mind is readied to deceive. After a while, truth and fiction become inextricably entangled. President Jefferson nailed it when he wrote in 1785:

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.”

The origins of our participation in the Iraq War can be traced to his routine use of the white lie. Today, we are experiencing Reckless Boris at his worst. Sacked by The Daily Telegraph for making up a source, sacked by Michael Howard for lying to him about an affair, we knew what we were getting: a charlatan who would mislead on the big stuff. His former boss, Max Hasting, wrote of RB before his coronation: “Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.”

But must politicians lie to get to the top? And does the end justify the means? I don’t know. But what I do know is that Quakerism, like most religions, abhors a lie, and I’m a Quaker.

CategoriesPolitics

Action

I’m a relatively new member of the Liberal Democrats. I was a Tory at school, because my parents were Tories. University broadened my mind: as Jordan Peterson states, conservatism is more of a state of mind than a philosophical belief. Working as a classroom assistant in one of the most deprived parts of the country nudged me on my way to joining the Labour Party, even though at the time it was led by Tony Blair.

I spent 15 years in the Labour Party, serving as chair of the CLP for a time. Erroneously, I supported Jeremy Corbyn first time round. His leadership was so evidently shambolic and the media response to him so acerbic that he had no chance. My mistake – and I have made many – was assuming that Jeremy Corbyn would realise, once he had rejuvenated the party, that he was the wrong leader, stepping aside. Corbyn did love his personality cult – who’d have thought it?

Once Corbyn defeated Owen Smith for Labour Party leader, I was off. In part, I wanted the space to be free from as much ideological interference as I could muster. In addition, even though I have always thought that Labour’s analysis of the flaws of capitalism reigned supreme, I struggled with Labour’s approach to small businesses. Most of Labour Party bigwigs regarded business owners as, essentially, thieves. Furthermore, during Labour Party meetings rarely did anybody speak on environmental matters. Class politics dominated most discussions.

I recommend a break from a political party. You can always return. Political parties are not football teams: you should never change your football team. As Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” In politics and economics, facts – if there are any – are always changing and therefore a wise person would frequently be forced to volte-face.

Changing parties may well lead to mistrust in the new party, but playing the game is not my game. Speaking truth is much more fun and frankly much more useful to those who hear it.

Tonight, I came face-to-face with a leader (at least a co-leader) of the Liberal Democrats, Dr Mark Pack. Infinitely brighter, more eloquent and more experienced in politics and I am, I suspect that he impressed our local party. In so many ways, I was very impressed too.

As the meeting was recorded, and is already available online, I can explain to my readers what it was that I asked him. I quoted Ed Davey’s interview in the New European which I blogged about here. I said that it was likely to be folly to await the outcome of a public inquiry into the Tory-caused Covid tragedy which we are living through, given that public inquiries, like the one in relation to the Iraq war, take many years. I suggested that the narrative needs to be defined now; that we are just lucky that we have Piers Morgan to do the work which opposition politicians should be doing.

He disagrees. He cannot see a General Election occurring outside of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – i.e. over four years away. Mark takes the view that because we only have 11 MPs, even though we have millions of voters and many millions more who do not despise us, that we must simply act accordingly – that whatever we do we will not be able to make any political headway.

I could not disagree more. This Government is a threat to public health, a threat to each and every one of us and to each organisation that we are involved with. It is our duty to our fellow countrymen and women to terminate the tenure of this Government forthwith. The Liberal Democrats should, in a few months’ time, demand a General Election. During this period, Liberal Democrats must find their Keynes, their North Star.

In times like these, what we do and what we don’t do, will be remembered always. The neighbours who helped you, you won’t forget. Opposition politicians who show character, show leadership, who speak truth to power, will be remembered and thanked, always.

Now is not the time for timidity; now is the time for action.

CategoriesThought of The Day

We can move mountains

Until yesterday, my dealings with business banking has been the low point in my business life. The average length of a call to my high street business bank was around 45 minutes. Despite our size, we have no business banker. Nobody to email. Credit has been virtually impossible to obtain.

And then Covid strikes and – hey presto – I obtained a chunky business loan, paid within 36 hours, just by filling in an online form. Bingo.

Thanks to Covid, the homeless are now (mostly) housed. The railways have been nationalised. Hospitals have been built in a week. The Government is paying the wages of 8m people. Even business banking has been transformed.

When this time passes, we must remember that we can do almost anything; we always could. We just need the will.

CategoriesLegal

Never been prouder…

One of the reasons that I set up what I hope is an ethical law firm is to make a difference. Running such a law firm I can tell you that there are so many ups and downs. We don’t always succeed. 

 

Today is a definitely a good day. See:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/19/home-office-grants-man-leave-to-remain-after-28-year-battle?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

And the earlier story:  

 

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/may/14/home-office-lost-passport-osman-bash-taqi-battling-to-remain-in-country?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

 

 

CategoriesPolitics

“Oven-ready” Fit-for-Covid Household Analogy

For as long as I can remember the Tories have argued, to huge effect, that a country’s economy is akin to a household budget. Simple, understandable, brilliant. Also, untrue.

The narrative – which the Tories usually command – goes like this: a household must balance its budget. If a household is in debt, then the household should cut spending. Debt must be repaid. Who could disagree with that?

Applying the same logic – with the economy like a household – the Tories argue that, particular in times of a recession, the Government must cut public expenditure in order to “balance the books”. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

To coral public opinion in order to lay waste to public spending, beggaring millions of people, the Tories routinely trot-out this simple household analogy. As very few people have a grasp of economics, this simple argument becomes the narrative: the sun, around which all other policies submissively encircle.

This explains the Tory’s cruel policy of austerity which caused a double-dip recession i.e. a recession that, when the economy eventually improves, then falls into a second recession. This article from 2012 neatly sums up what was happening at that time: the Tories took over a recovering economy, which then plummeted into a second policy-caused recession.

The fact that most of the welfare state, in particular the NHS, was formed in the rubble of World War Two, escapes most people’s consciousness. Austerity would have been an anathema to our greatest economist: Keynes. If only we had a Keynes today.

But why write about this deceit in the midst of the pandemic? Because, in order to defend the Government from the allegations that they failed to prepare, the Government reminds us that this pandemic is “unprecedented”. As most people’s lenses do not see far back into history, most people would concur that the pandemic is – duh – unprecedented.

Even a cursory knowledge of history would reveal the numerous plagues to have struck all parts of the world. The bible describes seven plagues. Reckless Boris’ (RB) hero is the Greek statesman Pericles. RB even has a bust of Pericles, not Churchill, on his desk. As RB will know, Pericles had to steer Athens through a plague which killed up to 100,00 Athenians, including Pericles himself. By the skin of his teeth, RB nearly followed in his hero’s footsteps.

Even in my lifetime we have contended with SARS, Ebola, MERS, Swine Flu and, for animals, foot and mouth. With the world more interconnected than ever, a pandemic would spread faster than before. Bill Gates foresaw it all, as mentioned in my blog on 31 March 2020 here.

RB’s poll rating remains absurdly high, even though our people have been slaughtered, because most people assume that an event which caught them unawares, of course caught the Government unaware too. Therefore, the Government can be forgiven for its lack of preparedness.

I have spoken to and witnessed on social media people use this argument: it’s fair enough that Government didn’t prepare for an unprecedented event, because we weren’t prepared as a household; my family didn’t foresee this. Burned into most people’s consciousness is that the household is a microcosm of a country.

But the primary role of Government is to protect its people. Our Government wastes billions on Trident, all in the name of self-defence. But with the Cold War over, with people criss-crossing the planet more than at any time in the history of humans, a pandemic was inevitable. The greatest threat to us in the short-term was never terrorism, it was a pandemic. This isn’t hindsight-thinking: our world-leading epidemiologists knew this.

In 2014, Public Health England (PHE) released its report into a likely pandemic found here. PHE’s Chief Executive stated: “The prospect of a flu pandemic is one of the highest risks faced by the UK. Ensuring the country is fully prepared and able to respond quickly and effectively is a top priority for PHE and, of course, for the government.”

The report also states (my underlining):

“With unpredictable frequency, novel influenza viruses emerge or re-emerge to cause an influenza pandemic. When this happens, it is likely that global spread will ensue rapidly, affecting large numbers of the population because there will be little or no immunity to this strain. However, until such an event occurs, the impact, expressed as the severity of the illness and proportion of the population that will be most severely affected, will be unknown. As a guide, the impact could range from a 1918-type pandemic, where severe disease was mainly in young adults, to a 2009 pandemic, where the illness was mild in most groups of the population.”

Two years after the report, in 2016, the Government war-gamed a flu-like pandemic, codenamed Exercise Cygnus. The Government never published the findings. However, the Chief Medical Officer at the time, Sally Davies, said: “We’ve just had in the UK a three-day exercise on flu, on a pandemic that killed a lot of people.” Davies highlighted that we needed more ventilators. As I blogged here, only in mid-March 2020 did the Government beg the private sector to immediately produce ventilators. “If you build them, we will buy them,” said a desperate Hancock.

Post-simulated apocalypse, the Government did nothing to prepare us. If anything, our defences weakened as PPE stockpiles deteriorated and our NHS and social care continued to decline.

Undeniably, the Government was on notice that a pandemic was coming. In the greatest derogation of duty, they didn’t protect us. So far, politically, this Government has been saved thanks to people’s learnt logic. What is needed, now, is intense, forensic decimation of the Tories as a political force. Tory Governments are a threat to us all, rich and poor.