Hamas and Israel

Should the UK become involved in the conflict between Israel and Hamas or in the conflict between ISIS and various other groups in the middle east?

It is often said that a government’s prime duty is the defence of the realm. Even that is not as simple as it sounds. As good a place to start is to consider the concept of the ‘just war’.Three such ’causes’ have, since Roman times, been cited as reasons for declaring war: invasion, breaking a treaty and damage to or theft of property.

The UK’s military have been in action continuously since the second world war. In my opinion few of these actions could be described as ‘just’ on that basis. Indeed, only three spring to mind: Korea, Kuwait and the Falklands. Of these only the third involved one of the UK’s possessions. Was there any moral justification for the other interventions?

Many were triggered by human rights atrocities of one sort or another. These always pose a problem for me: such intervention demands that the UK chooses one side over the other and often, with hindsight, it seems that the wrong side was chosen. The classic case of such a decision was the Vietnam War and it is much to Harold Wilson’s credit that he refused to be drawn into that conflict despite huge pressure from the US.

Guilt comes into this too. In places we controlled when we ran an empire, we drew lines on maps that bore little reference to the people living in those areas – especially in Africa. Those who took control in the middle east after the first world war and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (which, of course, included the UK) repeated those mistakes: they also drew lines (almost literally in the sand) which took little account of traditional boundaries. To be fair, in all these cases those boundaries were very fluid and fluidity is something that the so-called developed world finds difficult to accept.

There is also a sense of guilt over the creation of the state of Israel. Any group which retains a religious loyalty which transcends national boundaries can be seen as being a threat to governments (even when they are not) and the Jews have been a convenient target for regimes that wished to divert attention from their own actions. It is perfectly understandable that a significant number of Jews would decide that the only escape from anti-Semitism was to create their own homeland.

Thus the creation of a Jewish state in the middle east came into being. You can argue about the rights and wrongs of the creation of that state but the fact is that it was created and, very importantly, it was recognised as being a bona fide state by the United Nations in 1948. Israel created a focal point for inter-group tensions in that part of the middle east and many were not happy to accept the (democratic?) decision of the UN and vowed to destroy Israel and all the Jews living therein.

This is central to many of the problems in the middle east as I see them – which does not mean that I am right. We, the west, think in terms of democracy. They, the people of the middle east do not. They do not respect the ballot box (although many living there world wish it to be otherwise): they respect power. We have ample evidence of that. Following free and fair elections held in places such as Egypt (usually greeted with joy on all fronts) matters begin to turn sour when the new, democratically elected government proves less powerful than the leaders of some of the ‘parties’ that lost at the election.

It is as if, in May 2015, Red Ed were to win the election and the new leader of the opposition (shall we call him J?) succeeded in persuading enough members of our armed forces and or police to mount a military coup. It is impossible to imagine that happening in the UK, isn’t it? Are we sure? If things weren’t working (remember the three-day week, the piles of rubbish in the streets, unburied bodies?) then there could be enough tension for violence to break out and if Red Ed could not restore order and J could . . . We have ample evidence that this scenario, so alien to us here in the UK, would be the norm in parts of the middle east with the possible exception of Israel.

As an aside: to make matters worse, faction A sees that faction B has broken a treaty or damaged property and so the retaliation becomes a just war. But that retaliation also breaks that treaty or damages property and so now faction A sees this as a just war.

To return to the main argument: we have decided that this time we really do know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Let us assume that in this case it is the Israelis who are the bad guys because the have used dis-proportionate force against the people of Gaza.

What can we do? Well, we could stop selling things to Israel (including arms). Assuming that this so weakens Israel as to make it impossible for them to continue action again Gaza (and there is no point in doing it unless that can be achieved) we have now given Hamas the opportunity for which they have been waiting – an Israel weak enough for the forces of destruction to go in and annihilate or evict the Jews: mission accomplished – no more Israel. Only there are a lot of Jews who do not live in the UK and over whom we have no control. It is inconceivable that they would just stand back and watch this happen. Is that sort of action against Israel really likely to bring peace and stability of the middle east?

If you agree with me that it is not, you would also probably agree that we would not be able to clear the first hurdle (making Israel weaker than Gaza) but there is one thing we would achieve. Our government would no longer be on speaking terms with the Israeli government and any influence we might have had would then be lost. (This point was made by Dr Sarah Woolaston MP on letters to some of her constituents and it is, I think, a very valid point despite the reception it received).

So, as far as I can see, there is nothing we can do to make matters better other than to try to help with any peace proposals should our help be sought.

This is NOT to say that I condone the way in which the Israeli have been used. It is NOT to say that I am unmoved by the appalling sights coming our of Gaza. The amount of force used by Israel is terribly wrong and I cannot see that it can do anything other than harm. Frankly I despair of the situation but I am prepared to accept that if I had as a neighbour a regime that was intent on wiping me and mine off the face of the planet, I might well behave just as badly. Wouldn’t you?

Not That It Matters

For various reasons, we have created a division of Devonwriters (the name of the partnership within which I work) called Dartside Press. This is because the office is pretty close to the river Dart here in Devon and this division is going into publishing. We can afford to do this because of ebooks. To do so with printed books would be far too costly.

Even then there is a lot to learn and I decided that I wanted something simple on which to cut my teeth. The result is a compilation of some of the political stuff I wrote in 2011 and 2012 – suitable edited and embellished as required. It is called “Not That It Matters” for two reasons. The first is that it seems a pretty accurate title. The second is that it was the title of a delightful collection of essays written by A A Milne who, apart from his children’s books, was a brilliant writer in an era when writing styles were at their most elegant (a personal opinion, of course). Anyway, this was to doff my cap at him (and at his son near whom we once lived and who I knew slightly).

The book is priced at a very reasonable £1.83 but I am afraid is available from Amazon alone at the moment. I have another steep learning curve to climb before we publish in other formats but hope get there reasonably soon. Should you care to know more click here.

The economic arguments for and against the UK remaining in the EU

As some of you will know, I have been trying to come to a sensible view as to whether or not there are any economic advantages in remaining in the EU. I have read so many contrary views on the subject that I remain convinced that on this it is too close to call but that we should hear as wide a range of opinions as we can.

So I asked Paul Pizzala to write a blog for me and here it is. He trained as an economist (BA Hons Economics) and read Finance and Investing for his MA. Having worked for an investment bank in the City for a number of years, he decided to return to college (Schumacher College here in Dartington to be precise) and now holds an MSc in Holistic Sciences. He is presently Financial Director of the Totnes Renewable Energy Society.

* * *

First I would like to thank Rodney for sponsoring my thoughts on this subject. To frame them my career background is in investment management with a degree in Economics and masters in finance and ecology.

From a career perspective these sorts of meditations seemed to arise on the brink of change inducing a flurry of economic and strategic analysis, in terms of competitive advantage and free trade, leading to a cost benefit analysis. The politics and economics are interwoven: as are issues of sovereignty, national identity and having a place at the negotiating table where powerful global institutions are deemed to shape the course of events and pecking order. Personally, I don’t have sufficient knowledge to untangle the economic and political framework in terms of the treaties that have been negotiated and what rights, subsidies and taxes they create and how this affects the terms of trade and the functioning of a particular economy in a global market.

For me the root question is: how can competition and collaboration be organised in a way that allows people and markets to promote well being which may result in very different ways of organising markets and free trade? The term free trade actually hides a historical imperative to be able to invest surplus capital internationally and for those countries with surplus capital to grow their economies and this has antecedents in any civil society that produces surplus usually in the expansion of boundaries. Clearly the best current example of this is the US at the vanguard of globalisation and free trade and the question of free trade is who is it actually free for and is it in the best interests of all participants? The historian AJP Taylor discusses the mobilisation of US capital post the second world war as the start of this monetary trend and, irrespective of the political and other motivations, it has created powerful forces that have become institutionalised through trade agreements and flows of international capital, goods, and services.

The typical economic analysis is that freedom of movement creates win-win situations aiding the development of economies and societies through creating new wealth and innovation, however it is wise to question these assumptions and to try and test them objectively in some ways according to other principles. In a a very brief conversation with Marc Faber (a well known investor and market commentator) I asked whether there was something better than the free market to organise wealth and well being and his answer was not socialism. This polarisation of view without testing assumptions and looking openly without conviction at other possibilities, in my experience, puts on the blinkers and generates an intense political charge around one sided ‘isms’, ideologues and fundamental positions that are shades of the same colour. It would be naïve to say that we are operating in a world with vested interests, bargaining positions and short term cycles and this does put strong constraints on the negotiating table.

As a recent student of ecology and organisational change, I believe that there are some objective tests of what a well ordered political economy should be delivering and looking at the data you can see the widening gap between ‘rich and poor’ in the most developed countries as wealth seems to ‘trickle up’ in to more concentrated pockets whilst government balance sheets strain under the cost of welfare. At the global level there is plenty of evidence to suggest that growing economies are not delivering increased levels of welfare. In fact they point to the reverse: after a certain point wealth seem to diminish welfare.

The debate of whether we should be ‘inside or outside’ the EU, in my view. depends on intentions and motivations and whether it is serving a particular group of political interests. I would like it to be more a question of how to open the conversation at all levels. It is not, in my view, healthy for a democratic elite to shape the agenda and the likelihood is that this debate will be just another example of short term and cyclical politics. Personally, I doubt that it will make a real difference to governance and welfare: the risks are skewed to the downside of executing and making it happen with all the potential for unintended consequences, which a fragile system of governance is not well equipped to handle.

Paul Pizzala

You may care to visit Paul’s blog/

Conflict or consensus in UK politics?

As some of you no doubt now know, we have returned to the bone which, as Team UK, we have been gnawing at for some time. In simple terms, having come to the conclusion that the governance of the UK is no longer fit for purpose, what now?

We struggled – and we failed. Then someone pointed out that we were doing the same thing as everyone else: we were trying to find policies to meet what we thought would be the right thing for the UK. That obviously raises a question: who are we to think that we know what is right for the UK? Clearly, we don’t and so we realised that the next step (really a step backwards) should be to see whether or not there could be created a group of people who, regardless of their traditional party loyalties, could agree – by way of a start – on what we should be aiming to achieve.

That led on to the idea that there should be a number of “core aspirations” which were generally not controversial so that most people (or so we thought) would be happy to agree on the aims of those aspirations. Then, having built up a group whose members are prepared to work together to approach the problem of creating policies to match our aspirations (which would, of course, take us from simplistic generalisations to more detailed objectives) we would have a wide range of inputs and, hopefully, gradually come to a consensus on proposed action that was acceptable (as a minimum) by the majority.

Not so. We have started to fall at the first hurdle – agreement on those nine core aspirations. We have received some responses – in part through the poll that we put on Team UK’s blog site, in part with discussions on Facebook and in part from email exchanges.

Let’s start at the beginning. Here are the nine core aspirations with the results of the polls (bearing in mind this is day 4 so do not expect high numbers yet):-

1. To create an educational, training and employment culture in which all have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

2. To create an economic model where stability, sustainability and the mental and emotional well being of the people are as important as growth.

Votes: 8 in favour: 0 against.

3. To create a culture in which small businesses (the key to the provision of employment) can flourish.

Votes: 7 in favour: 1 against.

4. To reduce dependence on imported energy to a minimum.

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

5. To reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs to a minimum.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

6. To create a social culture in which communities thrive on self-help and reduce their reliance on centralised state benefits.

Votes: 8 in favour: 1 against.

7. To reduce the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

8. To ensure that the weak and vulnerable are cared for in a proper and fitting manner.

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

9. To ensure that the nation’s assets (natural and man-made) are properly maintained and improved.

Votes: 10 in favour: 1 against.

What I find interesting is that clearly 10 people have voted so there are a number of abstentions. What is revolting (to me) is that there is 1 out of the 10 (10%) who do not want the wealth gap to close and, even worse, do not want to see the weak and vulnerable properly looked after.

Still, we may be onto something: those in favour are in the clear majority at the moment. We shall see what happens during the coming weeks.

Then there were also two responses to which I want to respond. We have been accused of being too vague in the first aspiration on the basis that young people have a wide range of potential and so the aspiration is meaningless. I would not accept that: it is because young people have such a wide range of potential that we believe there is a need to rethink how we prepare them for adulthood and – although this is somewhat off piste – how we put things right if they reach adulthood without the required preparation.

The other suggests that our society is divided in many ways (agreed) and particularly by class where their differences are irreconcilable. Now, I may have completely misunderstood what lies behind that comment but to me it spells ongoing, never ending conflict. I just have to hope that this is not true.

Sure, we are all people who are better at hating than at loving, better at killing than at healing and generally pretty damn unpleasant (which is how we have come to rule the globe) but surely, after the carnage of the 20th century and the appalling conflicts (that word again) in so many different parts of the world today we, living in one of the best countries in which to live (where even the poorest are far better off than many in other countries), could try to head towards some sort of consensus, couldn’t we?

If the answer is “no” then everything that I have tried to do over the last forty or so years has been a complete and utter waste of time.

Incidentally, if you want to record your vote on the Team UK blog site, please CLICK HERE.

Back to school for some of the NEETS: but for what sort of learning?

Rodney Willett:

This is one of those subjects where some extremely radical thinking is needed – thinking which is usually rejected both by the DoE and the unions. Grrr.

Originally posted on rethinking education, economy and society:

070228_bored_students_02New Government figures (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/lowest-rate-of-young-people-neet-for-20-years) show the number of 16-18 year old NEETS at the lowest level for 20 years with a drop of a fifth over the last year. 81% of the age group were in education or work based training at the end of 2013 (70% in full-time school or college). The reduction in NEETS coincides with the raising of the ‘participation rate’ rather than reflecting an increase in the number working –ONS  statistics for Feb to April 2014 showed only 85 000 of the quarter of a million 16 and 17 year olds who have left full-time education have found work. Apprenticeship participation also continues to be very low,– figures (https://radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/apprenticeships2.pdf)  showing only 71 000 starts by those under 19 and less than 6% of 16-18 year olds in ‘work-based’ learning. In fact , even before the raising of the participation age, as the…

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My wish list

John Lockwood and I have been holding a discussion on Facebook basically about politics and the need for something new to get us out of the present system which we both feel is not really fit for purpose. I think that is all you need to know to make sense of what is, really, a very long (but I hope not too boring or self-indulgent) response to his last comment in that conversation.

The idea of a party of consensus is one that appeals very strongly to me. It was for this reason that we tried to start a new party which we called Team UK which would have a few core beliefs on which to try to build a culture of consensus. As John put it, “. . . a minimum agreed programme of the most central principled demands (and agree to differ on the rest)”.

He lists his minimum demands as being, “anti austerity, opposing racism, sexism and homophobia and for doubling minimum wage” and immediately we hit a problem (“we” being John and I not agreeing on something). I go with all he says (and want to add a few more but I’ll come to that in a moment) but I do not go with anti-austerity. Before John’s sword cuts my head off, I want to embellish that as it is possible that we agree more than it would seem on the surface.

Every family has to live within its means. To me the UK is a big family (with the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly) and if it is to be able to look after those members of the family that need looking after it, too, has to live within its means. That is not because I want the rich to get richer – it is because I want to be able to afford to do the right thing by the people who need our support. However, in order to do that we must stop throwing money down the drain. The old saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” is still a truth. Restrictive practices – be they caused by private sector employers, government or workers – should not be allowed to waste precious resources. So, yes to austerity but not by way of removing support from the infirm or vulnerable.

As to opposing racism, sexism and homophobia – I want nothing to do with any group that does not consider those to be the most basic of core beliefs so there John and I are totally at one.

In a later comment John said, “It strikes me as fundamental to capitalist economics that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production.” Well, yes, it is. No matter whether the production unit is in private or public hands, it remains fundamental that you can’t (sustainably) sell a commodity for less than cost of (re)production. So, where does that lead us? For a start please remember that I did not argue with John’s requirement for a doubling of the minimum wage. It follows that I believe that a part of the cost of anything should include a decent living wage in return for labour (in whatever form that takes). Furthermore I like the phrase “Labour power is a commodity” because it lays it on the line. Hopefully it is rather more than that but I trust we all know what we mean here.

So the problem is not that people are not paid enough but that people are not charged enough for some of the things they buy. This is especially true of dairy farmers (remember I am a very rural animal and I think in rural terms). They are not, of course, “labour” in the sense that John uses the term, However, they are extremely lucky, thanks to the bargaining power of the big supermarkets, to earn a positive rate per hour let alone anything approaching the present minimum wage. But – and this is often forgotten – it is us, the people, who give our business to the supermarkets knowing that they are screwing those supplying milk (and other things) but we don’t care. We don’t make that link.

Another little example. I was writing a report for a medium size company back in the 1990’s and the workers were in dispute with the owners over the annual pay rise. Obviously the workers wanted a bigger increase than the owners were offering and matters were getting rather nasty. People tend to talk to me and the consensus amongst the workers was that the owners were taking far too much out of the business and could easily afford the increases being demanded. Because of the work I was doing I was privy to the company accounts (although I couldn’t talk about them – that would have been most improper). Actually, the offer on the table was calculated on the basis that the profit margin would drop and that the shareholders (it was a family business with the shares owned by five people) were perfectly happy to see their dividends cut for what they thought was a good cause – cut to the extent that had they sold out and put the money in the bank they would have been far better off. Since the company was in some difficulty (they survived, by the way, by introducing austerity measures and so continue to be able to employ a work force of about a hundred and forty) they could not explain this to the workers – would have been a huge commercial risk. This is another case of the coin having two sides which is the title of a blog I wrote not that long ago.

Then John said (well, actually this was a bit earlier but . . . ) “I would question whether the tiny minority who hold virtually all wealth will ever surrender simply on the basis of consensus.” He is probably right. Nobody parts with brass unless they have to unless, of course, they are feeling charitable. There are, however, exceptions. I know the mother of a banker – you know, a rich no-good-for-anything banker. She proudly told me that last year (this was a few months back) he had earned just over £3,500,000. That’s a lot of brass. I did a quick mental calculation, “Hmm. And is he happy to be pay, what, £1,800,000 in income tax?” I asked. “Oh, no. He won’t do that – he wants the money to be spent properly. No, he’s giving just over three million to his favourite charities”. Which, of course, means he would still have about an average annual income each month on which to live. I think more of this happens that we know about. These wealthy buggers are like the rest of, a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. They are not all tarred with the same brush but I agree, some are bad and some are ugly.

Now is the time when I say something very clever and explain how we get out of the mess we are in. Well, you will be disappointed. The very best I can do is to suggest a few aspirations – but turning them into doable, affordable policies that do not result in waste and too many unintended consequences is another matter altogether. Here is my wish list. I want:-

  • the creation of an educational, training and employment culture in which all have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.
  • the creation of an economic model where stability, sustainability and the mental and emotional well being of the people are as important as growth.
  • the creation of a culture in which small businesses (the key to the provision of employment) can flourish.
  • to reduce dependence on imported energy to a minimum.
  • to reduce dependence on imported foodstuffs to a minimum.
  • the creation of a social culture in which communities thrive on self-help and reduce their reliance on state benefits.
  • the gap in living standards between the richest and the poorest to be reduced to reasonable levels.
  • the weak and vulnerable to be cared for in a proper and fitting manner.
  • the nation’s assets (natural and man-made) to be properly maintained and improved.

What do you have on your wish list?




A Labour government in 2015?

Over the years Mil Williams and I have exchanged views on Twitter and on each other’s blogs. Mil thinks that another five years of Tory rule would be a disaster and so we should do all possible to see Labour end up with a majority in 2015. I believe that the last thing the country needs right now is a Labour government.

So, let’s see why I am against a Labour administration – which is not to say tat I am in favour of a Tory administration either )although I shall probably end up by viewing it as the best of a bunch of evils). Mind you, what I think matters not. I live in a safe seat so my vote really won’t make any difference one way or the other.

Whilst it is true that the present government has been unable to achieve all it wanted to achieve – indeed all it said it would achieve – I do not agree that they have done all that badly. A profound truth (assuming I am right) is that governments are really not all that powerful. Whether we like it or many large global corporations can do more things that effect the everyday life of each and all of us than can the government. Then there are other global events.

Probably the most significant increase in the cost of living for many people has been the increase in the cost of power. This was way outside the control of the government as it was caused by one such global event. Mr Milliband has realised that this is having a serious impact on many people and so would like to regulate energy prices. That would, in my view, be a disaster (every time any government of any colour tries to control market forces they face innumerable unintended consequences which usually hit the very people they are trying to help).

This tendency on the part of Labour to look at regulation and more regulation as the answer to our problems is, in my view, totally wrong.

Having said that governments have less power than many global companies, there are two areas where they have great influence over what happens here, in the UK: regulation and taxation.

Like all families, the UK family has to earn its own living. That is not to say that every person in the family will be able to create the income the family needs – some will have to depend on others for a variety of reasons. That is the way in families – they look after their own (or they should, to be more accurate).

But the family has to earn its own living. That means creating wealth. That requires wealth creators. If the UK is a difficult place in which to create wealth, those who have it in them to do just that will find somewhere else in which to do it.

It follows that to encourage the creation of wealth we need to reduce the regulations on the wealth creators and create a tax system which is as benign to business as possible. Everything that the present Labour leadership says demonstrates that they just do not understand how business works.

We should accept that the problem with reducing regulation is that many of them were designed to protect the weak and vulnerable (be they workers or customers). Some, and I am one, would argue that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of protection so that business is hampered in its business of creating wealth and that some corrections are needed.

You cannot create an environment in which nobody is at risk of injury or even death. Far more people are killed or maimed on the roads than are at work – if the risk of death or injury is anathema then all vehicles should be banned forthwith. That will not happen because the people of this country have accepted the risks involved in motorised mobility: a similar “risk assessment” of workplaces is required (and nobody wants to return to the work conditions of Victorian times).

The problem with reducing tax on the wealth creators is that they are already wealthy and there is a reasonable argument that they really should be squeezed until the pips squeak (to quote Dennis Healey). What right have they to have these wonderful lifestyles when millions are far worse off?

There are two answers to that question.

The first is that generally speaking they have earned it. The days of vast inherited wealth are over – we are talking about are people like David and Victoria Beckham, Richard Branson and, of course, those who by some means (not all admirable) have become ultra-rich.

Here we have a problem – these people are so rich that (a) they take very good advice from expensive accountants to ensure that they keep within the law and can afford to risk high legal fees in battles with HMRC (when the legality of their actions is challenged) and (b) they can (and do) go and live elsewhere in order to minimise taxes due in the UK.

I am reminded of something that Jean-Baptiste Colbert said back in the 17th Century: “The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose so as to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing”. Sadly, Labour’s approach has, at times, done the exact opposite. It has been proved that an increase in tax rates above a certain level results in a decrease in the tax take – a pointless exercise.

The second is that these wealthy people employ goods and services – and people. They do not just sit in splendid isolation: they spend their money (which benefits a lot of other people) or they invest it: directly by providing capital for corporations or indirectly to other people (by funding mortgages and bank loans to those businesses).

Thus I see the Labour party diminishing the funds available to spend on the members of the UK family who need support. The Tory approach to welfare strikes me as an example of an attempt to ensure that what money is available is properly targeted. I can see what they are trying to do and have much sympathy with that. Unfortunately it is not working as intended – there is a genuine lack of compassion amongst those tasked with administering such matters as the “bedroom tax”. I am not sure how this can be resolved but I remain convinced that we must somehow live within our means. The era of borrowing (national and personal) on the basis that inflation will gradually eliminate the debt should be consigned to history – apart from anything else it hits hardest those who have lived within their incomes and have saved to look after themselves and their offspring. That is most unfair.

Really, I suppose that what I am saying is that party politics as we have then are no longer fit for purpose.