Archives for November 2010

Wikileaks – Everything is Going to be Different From Now On

When politicians over use a word then you can be sure they’re trying to convince you something’s happening when it isn’t. Let’s take the word ‘transparency’ as an example. Practically every utterance that rattles past a politician’s tonsils contains a reference to transparency, and because it’s used so frequently we somehow believe everything is as they say…transparent. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is a cunning trick.

Our political class are full of tricks, they are the masters of ‘opaqueness’. The last thing they want is for you to know too much or let you get too close to the facts. They even speak a language we don’t understand to confuse and mislead us. Transparency is anathema to them. Remember how ugly things got when the expenses scandal broke? How Heather Brooke had to go to the High Court to get transparency?

But it’s not only politicians who want to keep things hidden from your gaze. Bankers scheme and plot their next scam to bugger up your life behind closed doors, ‘lightly’ regulated and out of sight. Speculators increase the cost of your weekly shop by placing bets in commodity casinos hidden away in far off office blocks in the City of London. Diplomats obfuscate, pontificate and posture while people in places like Gaza suffer.

The greatest casualty of this lack of transparency is trust. If we cannot trust bankers to behave honestly, brokers to be responsible and our politicians and diplomats to act selflessly and transparently, then eventually tensions will rise to such a degree that there is every likelihood that something very unpleasant will result. When trust is betrayed, problems multiply.  They need to change their ways before it is too late. Why? Because reform delayed is revolution begun.

Politicians’ reaction to the Wikileaks revelations this week shows all too clearly that they have yet to grasp that society is undergoing a radical transformation. The world is awash with information that can be discovered and duplicated at no cost. No government or organisation can hope to keep control. Perhaps after this week politicians, diplomats, bankers, brokers and heads of large organisations will take time to reflect that there is no longer any hiding place. Their lives are never going to be the same again. Whether they like it or not, transparency is being forced upon them. We should be thankful to Mr Asange for alerting them to the fact that they are living in a new world. It’s a world which requires them to change their behaviour. The consequences of them not doing so will not be pleasant for them – or us.

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Gove! My study….now!

“An Ignorant, destructive, contradictory and self-defeating decision: it is entirely unjustified educationally, professionally, logistically and in terms of personal health and community well-being”. Gove gulps and then starts to pout.   “C’mon boy, lost your tongue, have you?  Speak up!  What on earth do you think you’re doing scrapping the School Sports Partnerships? Don’t you realise that they’re universal, long-term and community-centred?  Hasn’t it dawned on you that they’re your bloody ‘big  society’ in action?” Gove’s eyes widen. He hadn’t thought of that. Oh shit, he thought. He’d come a cropper not doing his homework properly before. The thought of being humiliated in front of everybody again was almost too much for him to contemplate.                                                                                                   

“To lose the SSP’s would be disastrous both locally and nationally, can’t you see that? What have I got to do to get it into your thick skull?”  The headmaster picked up a letter from his desk, his hand shaking with anger.      

“Let me read you this letter…’The SSP has literally changed our lives in our school over the last six years…we have never had the resources or expertise to offer our children the quality and diverse sporting opportunities both in school and in the local community that the SSP has brought.’  Now what have you got to say to that?” Gove remained silent, his eyes flicking from side. There was no way he was going to make the situation worse by defending his decision. He was going to have to tough this one out. Give it a few weeks and maybe it will have disappeared from the radar. He smirked defiantly.                           

“Don’t smirk at me, boy! Dave put you up to this, didn’t he?” There was no way he was going to drop Dave in it. It would be more that his life’s worth.                         

“Okay Gove”, the headmaster said looking him straight in the eye, “I’ve had enough of your incompetence, enough is enough. Go away and sort this out or I’ll have to see what I can do to have you removed. Now get out!”

(Compiled using extracts from the statement issued by sixty head teachers who yesterday launched a revolt against Gove’s proposal to end funding for SSP’s)

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A Special Relationship – Equally Unequal

The one thing about a special relationship is that you always have someone you can count on when you’re in a bit of a jam. So it was a couple of weeks ago when the Arizona Department of Corrections had a bit of a crisis.

They discovered that they could no longer source sodium thiopental in the US. Sodium thiopental happens to be one of the three drugs they use in their lethal injection cocktail. An anaesthetic, it’s the first shot the poor unfortunate strapped to the gurney gets before they are paralysed and then poisoned.

As the disassembly line came to a grinding halt at the ADC in Florence, AZ, the executioner – or more accurately the prison officer who had attended a day release course in death management – began to have nightmares about having to cope with dozens of prisoners stacking up in an ever increasing death row holding pattern.

He needn’t have worried. A quick call to those special friends across the pond and a fresh batch of C11H17NaO2S was on the next FedEx plane out of Heathrow. Jeffrey Landrigan met his end courtesy of the UK. The disassembly line in Florence AZ was back in business.

The fact that we were unquestioning about the unusual request for sodium thiopental may have been an unfortunate error, but that we have not subsequently made it clear that we would no longer be prepared to supply this cocktail additive in the future is inexcusable.

An article by Clive Stafford-Smith alerted me to these events. Clive is someone I have admired for a long time. Before founding Reprieve, an organisation that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay, he spent 25 years battling to save death row inmates in the States. If you haven’t watched the BBC documentary ’Fourteen Days in May’, I recommend you do.

It’s easy to forget, until prompted by something as bizarre as Arizona running out of sodium thiopental, that in ‘the land of the free’ they lock up more of their citizens than any other country in the world, 751 per 100,000 to be exact, and  37 states still have the death penalty. This year sixty will have their time on this mortal coil brought to a (semi) abrupt end, with the Lone Star State ‘topping’ the list. Over 3,200 are currently sweating it out on death row.

At a time when there is much talk of ‘fairness’ and ‘inequality’, and very little understanding of the meaning of either, it is perhaps timely to take a good look at the US. Why? Because unless Britain is prepared to make fundamental changes it risks becoming like its special relation, equally unequal – it’s heading that way fast.

It all starts with income inequality. The US is top of the list by far, closely followed by Britain. The fact of the matter is that wider the spread between the wealthy few and the impoverished many, the worse social problems become. A veneer of affluence disguises the reality and fools too many of us. It’s not affluence that is important in a society, but how unequal it is.

The more unequal a society the higher the crime rate: the higher the level of obesity, mental illness and the lower the life expectancy of its poorer citizens: it’s expensive too. As we are about to discover, welfare and health costs eventually become unsustainable. Those that have to pay for it start to resent doing so. The divide widens. A prejudice towards the less fortunate grows in intensity and attitudes harden. It has happened in the US and it’s happening here. It’s not pretty and it has to be changed.

I don’t believe the scale of the changes Britain has to make have been properly understood.  They are massive. We are starting form a position where too many people believe that the less well off are a ‘natural condition’ about which little can be done: that their ‘condition’ is of their own making. It is a corruption of moral sentiments, and a corrosion that is deep rooted.

I do not know of any politician or political party that has the vision, the courage or the ‘big ideas’ that will drive the change that this country so desperately needs. But to be as equally unequal as our ‘special relations’ is a curse we have to banish. It can be done, and the more equal we become, the more equal we will want to be. We have to make a start.

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Politicos by Roz

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Cleggonomics…or Something More Imaginative?

“The question is not how much money the state is spending, it is how it spends it. The real progressive test for any state intervention is whether it liberates and empowers people.” Nick Clegg.

Oh dear! Methinks young Clegg has lost the plot. You cannot mitigate inequality by investing in public services no matter how well you spend the money. Public spending doesn’t liberate or empower people it does completely the opposite.

Politicians have failed to grasp that they cannot create wealth or make the economy grow. Only people can do that, but they need politicians to create the right environment to allow them to make it happen. The current – and proposed – level of public spending means it ain’t going to happen. Politicians have completely the wrong focus.

The question is very much how much the state is spending. It needs to be drastically reduced, halved even. The emphasis needs to be on investing in the private sector and creating the right environment for it to be able to survive and prosper. Britain has to start making ‘things’ again – and quickly. And the way forward? Reduce the cost of labour .

Income tax and National Insurance are a tax on labour. We need to liberate our economy from these restrictive taxes. Why have we made it so expensive to employ people? It’s daft. We even tax people into poverty by having ridiculously low tax thresholds which then means that we have to have a ludicrously expensive welfare system to look after them.

Nick Clegg has been trumpeting tax reform, but is he talking about tax tinkering or real reform? Are we going to be fobbed off with populist initiatives that deliver noting worthwhile, or is he prepared to push for something more dramatic that will make a real difference? I’m not over optimistic…I think I had better go and buy my pet pig a microlite

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Politicos by Roz

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Ed Moribund or A Star In The Making?

Ed is back – at last. He had every right to take paternity leave, but I’m not sure he was right to disappear completely for two weeks. It seems a little ill advised at such a crucial time. He must be aware that new leaders have a very short time in which to make their mark. It’s usually not more than three months. Having made a slow, stuttering start, he’s got his work cut out to convince us, and his party, that he’s the man for the job.

The General Election was in May. This is now November and Her Majesty’s Opposition has yet to find its voice. It has been either leaderless, or its leader has been absent, for too long. The faces on the opposition benches look lost, disinterested even: a sure sign of lack of leadership.

Ed Miliband has to show tough, strong leadership very quickly indeed or he will find himself presiding over a very unhappy party. He has to restore a sense of purpose. If he doesn’t, he risks igniting endless feuds and squabbles. He needs to move and move quickly or he will be the leader of a party nobody wants to vote for.

This morning’s talk of ‘profound changes’ is a good sign. The Labour Party needs new fresh ideas – preferably big ideas that grab people’s attention. A raft of ‘new policies’ is not enough. The electorate are sick and tired of politicians shuffling ‘policies’ which mean little and deliver less. He has to have a positive, ambitious agenda. He has to fire people’s enthusiasm and imagination.

So far the coalition has delivered nothing but bad news, which gives him the most amazing opportunity to lift people’s heads and give them hope. Does he realise this? Has he got it in him to make things happen?  Does he have the big ideas that will make a big difference? His profound changes need to be almost revolutionary, but they need to be about us, not the party. He has  to break out of the political cocoon and reconnect with the electorate. The clock is ticking and we’re all watching and waiting. Let’s hope we’re not disappointed.

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Not Another Gove Tuesday Michael?

Oh Michael, Michael, Michael! For heaven’s sake, what have you done now? You’re going to slash £162 million sports funding from schools. Oh, I see. Have you thought this one through? Remember what happened last time you opened your trap before putting your brain in gear! Are we going to see you at the despatch box on Tuesday confessing your sins – again?

Michael Gove is meant to be a very clever chap, but is he stupid? I think he may have to convince us. In all his wisdom [sic], he has decided that £162 million is too much to pay for supporting sport in our schools. A stroke of genius just before the 2012 Olympics, when we’re trying to encourage children to get involved in sport, but also a mind-numbingly idiotic decision because of the effect it will have on children’s health. There is already a huge problem with childhood obesity. This decision is unhelpful, and will prove to be a very costly one too.

Sports funding has rekindled children’s enthusiasm for sport and competition. There are now 450 sports partnerships that run schools’ sports in local communities. The money goes towards training staff and organising sports events. It has been a hugely successful enterprise. Don’t forget that a dozen years ago the Major government was selling off school sports fields to property developers. A huge amount has been achieved since then.

Sport, exercise and competition are so important for our children. It is starting to thrive in our schools. It must be allowed to continue to do so. Michael Gove should think again.

Let’s hope for a penitent Gove at the despatch box on Tuesday. This is a crass decision and needs to be reversed as quickly as possible.

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Politicos by Roz

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Lord Young of Gaffham

Back in the days of the Thatcher government when Lord Young was Secretary for Trade and Industry, they really knew how to have a proper recession. Four million unemployed and double-digit inflation, they didn’t do things by halves in those days. So, in the eyes of the noble Lord, this last recession was a bit of a pussy cat.

What is interesting about Lord Young’s intemperate remarks is that they illustrate how detached the political establishment has become. The busyness of their lives within the political cocoon they all inhabit has had the effect of desensitising them: it has distanced them from the reality of the real world.

Remarks like “the forecast of 100,000 public sector job losses a year was within the margin of error in the context of the 30 million-strong job sector” and “of course, there will be people who complain, but these are people who think they have a right for the state to support them.” is as insensitive as it is revealing about the way politicians think. Doesn’t it illustrate that the divide in public life is not between political parties, but between the political class and the rest of us? Between elections we are unimportant, a nuisance even, a statistic.

This may be a little cynical, but aren’t we are being failed by our politics and our politicians? They have proved themselves incapable of providing a proper architecture for our society to grow and prosper. They have failed to regulate institutions properly, to manage the economy, to provide an equal society and to have the imagination and the creativity to generate the ‘big ideas’ that will underpin our future prosperity and well-being.

We need urgent political reform. We have to bring to an end the self-serving culture of our political class. We need our politics to be honest, efficient and to answer the needs of the whole nation. How? Well, as Upton Sinclair once said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it”. It’s going to be a real battle, but we need to start the conversation now.

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