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 ( 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 (  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.



Truth in Politics: an encounter

Rodney Willett:

Well said Cass – and it needs to be said. There is a link to the YouVoteOrgUK site to the right of this blog.

Originally posted on YOU VOTE ORG UK:

As usual, when I see someone who from the available information looks as though they might be interested in what YouVoteOrgUK is up to, I invite them to become one of my friends on Facebook. That’s all – no coercion. It is to to them to decide and I have never asked the same person twice (as far as I know).

If they do accept, I put a post on their timeline which says something like: Thanks for accepting. I am hoping you will take a look at and that you will want to join the YouVoteOrgUK group.

Again no coercion. Some people do – some people don’t. That’s great. Sometimes, however, matters go off the rails. Here is what I mean. This between myself (CS) and a District Councillor (DC). I won’t mention any names – this is not intended to be nasty or to be a rant…

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A Referendum on the EU

In The Times this morning there is (as on all Saturdays) an opinion column written by Matthew Parris. I have huge respect for Mr Parris (although I do not always agree with him) so I do not want the following to be interpreted as a criticism of him. Anyway, I felt moved to put up a comment and then to share it with you. Here is what I said:-

Mr Parris, you said, “Even though it is not true that we were voting then only on membership of a common trading area the stakes did seem more modest.”

Well, as one of those sufficiently stupid and ill informed as to believe that what we were signing up to was not an organisation that was a step towards a federal Europe but something far more modest – stupid enough so that when asked to organise the “Yes” campaign in the constituency in which I then lived I agreed so to do– I find the complete lack of any reference to the democratic process in your piece astonishing. Indeed much of my time in recent weeks seems to be devoted to trying to atone for what I now see was a monumental error on my part.

That is the bit that fusses me. Do we or don’t we live in a democracy? If we do, then the people deserve the right to determine our future relationship with Europe – and that has been denied them because neither the Tories nor Labour have been sufficiently united to fight an election on this issue (and that would be almost impossible with our political system).

I am not, perhaps surprisingly, convinced as to whether we should or should not leave the EU. I am, however, not only convinced but doing all I can to ensure that the people of the UK are given the opportunity to take that decision.

Some say that the electorate are too ill informed to take such a decision. To them I say two things.

First, nobody is sufficiently well informed to take that decision (all the “facts” available are no more than informed – and at times well informed – opinions for who can “know” what the world will look like in five, ten or twenty years?) and certainly not Parliament.

Second, is you deny the people the right to speak can you continue to call yourself a democrat? I think not.

A coin has two sides

Every coin has two sides and I am beginning to wonder whether or not that is the most important political statement that can be made. On the face of it, that is a ridiculous idea but I will try to demonstrate that it could be the key to the political problems that we face here, in the UK, today.

Personal freedoms are important to many of us – the freedom freely to express an opinion with fear being pretty well at the top of the list. But that freedom creates problems unless it is exercised with great care. I don’t think the idea of one person’s freedom being almost always at the expense of others occurred to me until I stayed with a cousin of mine in the delightful village of Bottmingen just outside Basel. (In passing, I haven’t been there for over thirty-five years and I expect it is now just another suburb of the city so, if you know that to be true, please don’t tell me – I want to remember how it was then).

My Canadian cousin and her Swiss husband had very different ideas when it came to personal freedom. One of the laws (whether local or national I am not sure) stated that at weekends it was forbidden to have a record player or radio on in the garden. As Max pointed out this meant that everyone could be in their gardens at the week ends knowing they would have peace and quiet. Joan, on the other hand, considered this to be as near as maybe an infringement of her personal liberty. That coin had two sides and both side could claim the moral high ground if they wanted to. It is, actually, a political coin.

So who was right, Max or Joan? As a libertarian who, by definition, considers most regulations to be a response to a human failing of one sort or another I find myself siding with Joan. I feel we should be able to rely on the good manners of those with whom we live and that cultural pressures should be sufficient to ensure people respect their neighbours. Yes, I know that is hoping for more than can be expected but regulations reduce the sense of community responsibility within the population generally and I do not believe that to be a good thing.

This all started, I suppose, because I and others became antagonists on Twitter in the matter of the so-called bedroom tax. I explained all this on a previous post (Capping Housing Benefits). For the record, as a result I have now discovered one person who has been adversely effected by that cap and I shall be meeting her soon to hear her side of the story. Why we got ourselves into a muddle was that we did not think of it as being a coin with two sides – which is exactly what it is.

On the one side you have all the people who, often through no fault of their own, are living in housing the cost of which is being borne by the state and on the other side you have all the people who are giving up a part of their earnings in order to meet those costs. In a properly grown-up democracy, we would look at both sides of that coin and seek a modus operandi that removes the present conflicts that are causing so much fear and hostility.

That is a big ask.

Any move to alleviate some of these costs is seen as a personal attack by those to whom the state says, “you are taking more than your fair share of the available resources”. I am pretty certain that if I were to be in that position I would feel the same.

Meanwhile any move to suggest that it is reasonable to increase taxation to meet what could so easily become a bottomless pit (as has the NHS) is seen as an attack on people who would describe themselves as decent, hard-working and responsible members of society who put in far more than they take out.

Both view are, of course, wrong. Both views are, of course, extremely human – as are the people provided for by the state and the people fortunate enough to be able to not only support themselves but to be able to make a contribution to the well-being of others. But we humans are by no means perfect: some are selfish, some are greedy, some are lazy. You will find them on both sides of the coin. Also on both sides of the coin are people who are unselfish, generous and hard working.

So it is that some of those who have been told to find smaller accommodation have (if it is available) said, “Fair enough” and they got on and done it. Some feel the same but can find nowhere suitable without moving away from those who support them or make life worth living: friends and family. There needs to be provision for these since moving them could well increase the overall cost to the state despite a reduction in housing benefit. However, there are also those who seem to seize the opportunity to become victims.

Likewise among those who pay taxes you will find those who say, “There but for the grace of God go I” and are happy to pay higher taxes but there are also those who feel very differently.

Do I have an answer to that big ask? Not really but I have the hint of a suggestion.

During my lifetime I have seen that the people who suffer most when the nation’s “cake” becomes smaller are the poorest and most dependent.

When the national coffers dry up, there is no possibility of increasing welfare benefits and existing benefits tend to be eroded by inflation. Furthermore, reduction in activity in the private field and the need to economise in the public field both add to unemployment – and the unemployed pay very little in tax and need a good deal in benefits. Thus the existing poor become poorer and they are joined by more of their fellow citizens.

When the country is really open for business and doing well, however, welfare benefits can be increased in line with (and possibly above) inflation and more and more people will find gainful employment or self-employment. The existing poor may not be better off but are no worse off and their number drop as more and more people find work.

Thus I want to see a regime that does all it can to increase the size of the national wealth to provide the resources required to support those in need. This can be achieved only be reducing the regulations that strangle the growth of businesses and that will mean that some employees would have to lose some of the protections they presently enjoy. It will also mean accepting that the wealth generates will become wealthier and that the gap between the poorest 5% and the richest 5% will widen.

I do not have a problem with either. This country has been built in large part by people putting themselves on the line and starting their own businesses which means no guarantee of income and no guarantee of the business remaining viable. Compare their situation with those in employment (and especially those in the public sector) and I find myself thinking that it is time these people shared some of the pain. As to the gap between the rich and the poor: I do not mind how rich the rich get but I do want to live in a country where none are suffering from poverty. If the price of lifting everyone above a certain level is a an increase in the wealth gulf, so be it.

However, I want to add another burden on whomever is running the country: yes, get the wealth generating machine running properly but always ensure that you have the compassion to use that wealth for good.

I do not expect my left-wing friends to agree with this.