Sunday, 30 October 2016

Observer letter on reasons for UK changing

Your editorial asked "what has happened to us", and why Britain had changed so much since 2012 (Britain is becoming mean and narrow-minded,23/10/16).There are many reasons, of course, but politicians and the media must bear most responsibility.
     The coalition`s austerity measures, which were aimed mostly at the least fortunate, had the backing of a right-wing media, which convinced millions that those in need of help were, in actual fact, "scroungers". Television programmes which focused on the subject received extra publicity in the tabloids, whilst the callousness of government policies, and the valuable work done by "immigrants" in the economy were ignored.
    Rather than focus on true-to-life drama which might have enlightened viewers, the BBC, frightened by Tory politicians` threats to its very existence, concentrated its dramatic output on inaccurate historical soap operas, which falsified the view of our past. Similarly, politicians refused to make a fuss about the continued manipulation of our history by the 1.2 million files kept secret, and away from the prying eyes of historians, with the inevitable results that people have a rose-tinted perception of the past, and nationalism and racism have grown. Add to this the governments` appalling view of those escaping from wars, torture and extreme poverty, their concentration of investment in the south, the obvious electoral wheeze of Osborne that was the "northern powerhouse", and the policy of selling weapons to dictatorships regardless of  their intended use, and you get a society, where fairness is non-existent, and which looks backwards to a fictitious glorious past. 
    When a politician emerges who promises change based on ethical policies, and who doesn`t treat the voters like mugs, he is not only attacked by the right-wing media, but by the newspapers leaning to the left, which for some reason see him as too different from the Tories to win an election. Is it any wonder not only that the lies of politicians led to Brexit, but that Britain is in danger of being"swept along by a dangerous politics of hate"? 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

May and the "just managing"

Has the abuse of British democracy ever been so obvious, or so significant? We have, currently, a situation where 17m people, most of them duped by eminent politicians into believing Brexit would provide "an extra £350m a week for the NHS and an end to VAT on fuel bills", decided we should leave the European Union (Politics, 21st October,2016). The total number entitled to vote was 46.5million.
 Perhaps worse is the fact that, as George Eaton tells us, the new prime minister is cynically targetting the "just managing", not because they are in need of government assistance, but because they account for "more than half the electorate in marginal seats". The definition of such a group, earning £19-21,000 a year, house owning but "afflicted by job insecurity", is so narrow anyway, it omits millions of people struggling to get by. What about the millions who are being exploited by greedy landlords, and the all too obvious need for strict rent regulation, something that this Tory government, like its predecessor, deems too politically dangerous to be contemplated? Unbelievably, Eaton attempts to prove his point that May is being advised by "aides who grew up in "just managing" families", with just two examples, one of whom "attended a comprehensive school in Huddersfield"! He can`t mean that all who cannot afford private education are "just managing", or, indeed, that private schools are the preferred choice of all parents, can he?

  The additional point that 4million voted for Ukip in the last election, but have no representation in parliament, also illustrates how the British version of democracy serves the people badly. One of our "core-values", according to Cameron, and worth fighting for in other countries, but here it`s simply a device for giving politicians an excuse to treat us like mugs - again!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

HMRC off the hook again

A year ago, the public accounts committee criticised HMRC for its "woefully inadequate number of prosecutions for offshore tax evasion", and the subsequent excuse, that exorbitant court costs prohibited more cases (HMRC`s unanswered helplines impede tax collection, say MPs,04/11/15). The committee, however, allowed itself to be fobbed off with dubious and unfounded claims that the amount of uncollected tax in Britain was "no worse than in many other countries", stating the tax gap to be £34bn., a figure which contradicts this week`s statement by Treasury minister, Jane Ellison, that the tax gap is "down to its lowest ever level" (HMRC "underplaying corporate avoidance",21/10/16).
       Hopefully, the committee, at next Wednesday`s meeting, will give the "top HMRC officials" the grilling they deserve, for misleading the public for so many years; it`s bad enough when the government treats us as mugs! Clearly, HMRC`s underestimation of the tax gap has to be challenged, as the true figure has to be more than double the £36bn claimed. If HMRC`s failure to reduce the tax gap is due to staff shortages, after the "efficiency cuts" under Cameron, why isn`t May`s government recruiting? Won`t the new HMRC "specialist unit", tackling "misuse by companies of agency workers to avoid tax", simply entail transferring staff from one HMRC department to another (HMRC targets exploitation of self-employed,21/10/16)?
        Ending tax avoidance and evasion will require not only legislation with less loopholes, but a change of culture, so that people are disgraced, knighthoods and honours returned, and prison sentences imposed when individuals and companies fail to pay the correct amount of tax. Somehow, I don`t think that is what May has in mind!

PS 65% yesterday`s meeting taken up with telephone delays. Tax gap not likely to be reduced at this rate!

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

2012 letter on Heathrow

I am almost too ashamed to admit it, but I have to agree with Zac Goldsmith on something; a third runway at Heathrow would be a very expensive mistake. (Cameron would pay a high price for a Heathrow U-turn, 08/09/12) More sensible routing of planes and more use of other airports would free up money for more essential infrastructure expenditure. If more money must be spent, yet again, on London,why not improve the public transport access for the disabled,as the brilliant Sophie Christiansen suggests? (London is horrendous, says triple gold medallist, 08/09/12) Why is it necessary, all of a sudden, for extra planes to be required for businessmen to go about their work? Video conferencing and emails have surely diminished the need for business travel, and further technological developments will undoubtedly reduce it further.Fancy a Tory MP suggesting the government has "been seduced by vested interests". Whatever next?

Dylan, or is it Corbyn?

After years of protesting against inequality and the callousness of the "masters of war", always refusing the attempts of critics to "corral him into being something he does not want to be", how apt that he is finally being recognised as the "spokesman for a generation" (Dylan thinks twice about Nobel acknowledgement,22/10/16). Don`t think twice, Jeremy Corbyn, go for it!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Oxbridge interview in need of review

Louise Richardson, Oxford`s vice-chancellor, is right on two counts: her university does need to do more to attract the best, and "the best may not be those who look and sound like" her and her ilk (State school teachers still not pushing best pupils to Oxbridge,13/10/16). All the more reason, then, to scrap, or at least modify, "the notorious Oxford University interview", something which, by the institution`s own admission, is in need of demystification (The lightbulb moment:Oxford University issues questions to demystify interviews,12/10/16).
     How possibly can a mysterious interview do anything to widen Oxford`s attraction or access, or justify state school teachers having to give up yet more of their valuable time to drill their pupils "in Oxbridge interview techniques"?  It contains such "ambiguous", and "fun" questions where the answer is "typically the opposite" of what the interviewee expects, "real examples" are having to be released. The reason for this is clear: they hope it will reduce the candidates` fear of humiliation in the interview.
    Is it any wonder some teachers do not advise their brightest students to apply to Oxbridge? Being made to look and sound foolish in an interview is unlikely to build up either self-confidence prior to taking A-levels, or strengthen the essential faith and trust pupils need to have in their teachers. 


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Good old days of Grammar schools

Interesting to read that in Russia, where "10,000 men and women a year were exiled to Siberia", and undoubtedly forced to endure some absolutely appalling conditions, the flogging of children was forbidden from 1864 onwards(Review,The House of the Dead:Siberian Exile under the Tsars,01/10/16).         Approximately one hundred years later, I and many of my fellow pupils were being flogged in our prestigious grammar school, so much so that the bruises and ridges in our bottoms would still be evident days later. Unlike the "banter between governor and the convicts" at Irkutsk prison, terms like "idiotic imbecile", and "half-witted nincompoop" were screamed in our faces, before being instructed to bend over.
Ah, the good old days of grammar schools!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Manipulation of history continues

It`s not "one particular lesson that has never been intended", as Ian Jack says in his review of Ian Cobain`s book about government secrets, more a history examination syllabus (Review, Book of the week,08/10/16)! With 1.2 million files secreted away from the prying eyes of historians at Hanslope Park, the FO official`s comment that "we are willing to learn from our history" becomes nothing less than a joke; in fact,  as unfunny as the quote by William Hague not mentioned by Jack, that it was his intention "to release every part of every paper of interest, subject to legal exemptions"!
          Such blatant manipulation of history should not be tolerated in a modern democracy. Well done, Ian Cobain, for exposing such hypocrisy, but where is the politician with sufficient bottle to make a fuss about it in parliament?

Chipping Norton`s other secret

Chipping Norton might well be a dump, as Peter Wilby says, but it`s hardly its "best-kept secret" (First Thoughts, 7th 0ctober, 2016). Following the passing of Gladstone`s Criminal Law Amendment Act, which forbade peaceful picketing, 16 Chipping Norton women were sentenced to imprisonment, with hard labour, in May 1873. They had, apparently, prevented two farm labourers getting to work by threatening them with sticks, and according to Hansard, by pushing them into a hedge, and declaring "they would duck them in a pond if they attempted to return to work".
 The severity of the sentence by the magistrates was much discussed, and after winning the 1874 election, with his eye on wooing working class voters, Disraeli was soon to legalise peaceful picketing. Theresa May might have similar ideas about gaining new support, but Disraeli`s "window-dressing" reforms fooled no-one, and in the 1880 election, Tory seats fell from 350 to 214. Treating the electorate like mugs is never a wise policy, whatever the century!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Cameron got off too lightly!

Whilst your editorial was right to say that it wasn`t just Cameron to blame for the 2011 "bombing of Libya into chronic chaos", and that the Commons are "guilty of washing their hands", we must not forget where the blame lies for the current abysmal state of our society (Morning Star,15/09/16).
     Tory historians will want to concentrate on his decision to hold a referendum on the EU, but a less biased verdict will not ignore his overriding aim to shrink the state, at a time when laissez faire policies were the exact opposite of what the country required. Despite his ridiculous claims of us all "being in it together", Cameron`s callous austerity measures fooled no-one, aimed as they were on the poorest and most vulnerable. Lower taxes for the rich, and fancy rhetoric on making the tax avoiders "smell the coffee", accompanied by little action, meant inequality soared, leading to the shocking figures issued by Oxfam this week, that the richest 1% own "more than 20 times the wealth of the poorest fifth".
      It can be argued that Osborne was equally to blame, but Cameron was his boss, and not only could have, but should have, sacked him after calamitous, embarrassing budgets, and after the endless stream of missed economic targets. Selling off state-owned companies, including bank shares and the Royal Mail, at stupidly low prices to benefit friends in the City, could not have happened without the PM`s approval. He did sack Gove, but not until the appalling Secretary of State for Education had done his darndest to destroy the fantastic work done by teachers and educationalists in the previous twenty years. When it comes down to it, who is responsible for the current teacher recruitment crisis? Or the deep discontent felt in very staffroom throughout England?
 The list cannot stop there; privatising and underfunding of the NHS leading to the present predicament, the decision to go for a seven day service when the funding foir a five day one is hugely insufficient, and the failure to remove possibly the most unpopular health secretary ever, all are Cameron`s fault.
         The blame for the continued exploitation of workers, obscene pay for the "socially useless", a vindictive legislative attack on the rights of trade unions, and a lethargic approach to the refugee crisis which embarrasses us all, has to be directed at the same person. Six years of governments led by such an arrogant old-Etonian, who thought he could treat the electorate like mugs one more time and they would still follow his guidance on Europe, have dragged the country backwards.
    This is, of course, before we mention housing shortages, Rachman-like private landlords charging exorbitant rents, huge "corporate grants" to private companies, students leaving universities with £50,000 worth of debt, thousands employed on zero-hours contracts, and a million people relying on food banks to survive.

 I blame Cameron for all of this; he had six years to improve thingsand all he did was to allow equal marriage. It`s no wonder he`s leaving the Commons, ostensibly to write his memoirs, but no doubt, soon to be raking in the cash in the City. He`ll be safe from criticism there, that`s for sure.

Let`s stop the Churchill worshipping

Barely does a month go by without yet another book about Churchill, each one very particular about which evidence to be included, and each one perpetuating the myths leading to his heroic status (Review, Hero of the Empire: The Making of Winston Churchill,24/09/16). He believed in "Britain`s destiny to lead the world" in "moral improvement", but, sadly, this incorporated the use of wars and "brutal colonial conflicts"; these may well have included "fascinating thrills" for Churchill, but the victims of British concentration camps and military massacres probably held a different view.
       Even the reviewer, Kwasi Kwarteng, sees Churchill`s description of the Liberal party, "composed of prigs, prudes and faddists", as an example of his "quick wit", and fails to add that this view did not prevent Churchill soon crossing the floor to join them, albeit on a temporary basis.
       Isn`t it time for this hero-worshipping nonsense to stop, and for Churchill to get the same treatment, from historians prepared to utilise all available evidence, as other politicians?  


Monday, 10 October 2016

Guardian not helping Corbyn`s cause

It is all very well for Rafael Behr to go on about, yet again, Corbyn`s "personal ratings being amongst the worst ever recorded", but is it any wonder (The schism at the heart of Corbynism is now clearly visible,28/09/16)? Even in a left-leaning paper like the Guardian, how rarely does a front page concentrate on the failings of the Tories, rather than Corbyn`s apparent mismanagement, unelectability, poor leadership qualities, or whatever?
      At the bottom of page four, we can read of the absolutely disgraceful statistic that a mere three employers have been prosecuted out of the seven hundred who have broken the law by paying workers below the minimum wage (Under-paying bosses escape prosecution,28/09/16). Not worthy of front-page coverage? Not more important than the greed of a football manager? Then there`s the matter of May`s appalling attitude to the refugee crisis, to the gender pay gap, and to the use of arms sold to the Saudis, all the while claiming to be fighting "burning injustice", and all the while, hidden in the inner recesses of the paper.
     If the Guardian is so focused on its anti-Corbyn campaign as to let this already-appallingly duplicitous government off the hook, imagine what the Tory press are doing!


Plenty of "window-dressing" on the way!

Gaby Hinsliff`s g2 article on May`s "inner circle" surprisingly didn`t mention her chair of policy board (Meet Team May,03/10/16). Mid Norfolk MP, George Freeman, apparently wants May`s administration, in his words, to "do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century". Presumably he means that she should also attempt to win working people`s votes with half-hearted reforms, which , like "window-dressing" looked good, but in reality changed nothing? 
      Treating the voters like mugs didn`t work for Disraeli, as the Tories were thrashed in the 1880 election, the number of Tory MPs reduced from 350 to 214, and such duplicity won`t work for May, either. The "window-dressing" is all too obvious already, from naming and shaming company bosses failing to pay the minimum wage, to, in Hinsliff`s words, "deleting the juiciest bits from the child obesity strategy".

If I were a 21st century British PM, I`m not sure I would want the ambition of my chair of policy board to be for my administration "to do for our generation what Disraeli did in the 19th century" (Politics:George Eaton,30/09/16). Disraeli`s One Nation Conservatism was designed to woo the newly enfranchised working-class voters with apparently wide-ranging reforms, which would receive plenty of Tory praise, but in reality do nothing to change fundamentally the influence and power of the wealthy.
      George Freeman`s advice appears to be influential, with May`s rhetoric clearly attempting to regain the "centre ground of British politics", and her action, such as naming and shaming companies failing to pay the living wage, very similar to Disraeli`s penchant for "window-dressing" reforms, that were mostly permissive, rather than compulsory. At least Disraeli had the sense to pass the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act after Gladstone`s disastrous Criminal Law Amendment Act, and to increase trade unionists` picketing rights; we are unlikely to see May`s government repealing Cameron`s Trade Union Act, whilst its own version of co-determination is unlikely to be similar to the one envisaged by the TUC! 
       Voters will almost certainly see through such political duplicity, just as they did in 1880 when the Tories won only 214 seats, compared with the 350 won in 1874; by 1900 the Labour party was up and running, in part another result of Disraeli`s failed plan, as was the Liberals 1906 landslide victory. Already there has been some "window-dressing", and some improvements to the previous government`s poor legislation. What next? A calamitous election result in 2020? One can only hope!  

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

"Liberal centrism" an oxymoron

The news that a rally took place, the day after Corbyn won his second leadership election, where right-wing Labour MPs "spoke of the need for a fight to regain control" of the party is unsurprising, but, nevertheless, disappointing (Morning Star,26/09/16). How many times does the electorate have to shun their idea of "liberal centrism" for it to sink in that the ideas of New Labour have passed their sell-by date? If it wasn`t 2003, and the lies told by the Blair government to the British people to persuade them to support an unnecessary war, it was the 2008 financial crash, after years of grovelling to the City.
      If any support for centrist politics survived by 2010, it took another almighty hit with the duplicitous Clegg`s support for the Tories` callous austerity policies, notwithstanding his treachery over student fees.  The idea that the Labour electorate has become more leftwing, and will return to "a sensible middle ground"  is mistaken. From Blair to Miliband, it was the Labour party which did the moving, to the right; "intensely relaxed" about the rich amassing wealth on an unheralded scale, failing to regulate the financial services when uncontrolled greed was rampant in the City, and offering scant opposition to coalition austerity policies aimed at the weakest in society, are only a few of many examples of a party which had forgotten it had principles to follow and an electorate to serve. That same electorate abandoned it in droves in the 2010 and 2015 elections, for reasons more akin to justice and fairness than Trotskyism.

 "Liberal centrism", is as much an oxymoron as "compassionate conservatism"; the more Labour moves to the centre the more it is dominated by illiberal conservative values, making it, today, unelectable. The sooner these out-of-touch MPs get it the better!