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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Bankers, Bonuses & Why Obama Is A Liberal Democrat...

Over the last few days, President Obama has surprised the world’s press, the political movers and shakers, and indeed the press department of the Liberal Democrats by stealing a key Lib Dem policy, when he announced two major new strategies in the global efforts to ensure that there is no repeat of the financial crisis that has swept world markets, and deprived so many of their jobs.

Firstly, he announced that it was the intention of his administration to levy upon the banking organisations a tax on their financial transactions. Secondly, and much more boldly, he declared war on the culture of the mega bank, assuring the American public that never again will banks become too big to fail. This is all very laudable in terms of being seen to take action against the institutions that were the harbinger of the global financial meltdown, but it also gives light to other, more intriguing ramifications, both in terms of the effect on international banks, and indeed the effect that these actions will have on influencing British government policy.

I have to say that both of these policies do not leave the British government looking particular competent, or indeed effective in tackling the root cause of the recession.

Labour’s response to the ambivalence of the banking sector to the hue and cry over bonuses was to grasp at the headlines by applying a one off windfall tax on bonuses over £25,000. Of course, the blood hungry media lapped this up, and at least for a few moments, danced around the fires which they hoped would roast the burning carcasses of the banking fat cats.

This policy however is deeply flawed, and is indicative of the government’s desperate desire for any kind of positive media coverage. It is flawed in that it fails to tackle the underlying problems that still exist at the heart of our banking system.

The fact that the government are prepared to cream off £25,000 from a banker’s bonus will not lead to an end to the bonus system, and the way in which it disfigures the judgements of the bankers who chase it. More importantly though, it will not lead to the type of cultural change that is needed in order to move away from the backdrop of avarice, before which our banking system rots our economy to its very core by way of the ‘casino with impunity’ mentality.

If I were a banker receiving a bonus worth hundreds of thousands, or indeed millions of pounds, a windfall tax of this kind would not even make me bat an eyelid. Policy lurches of this type only serve to underline the fact that the government are when it comes to fiscal policy, akin to a ship with a jammed rudder; going haplessly round in circles with no relief, redirection, or dry land in sight.

The second of the Obama proposals on banking reform concentrates, as I have mentioned above, on the intention to ensure that the banks are ‘sectorised’ in order to ensure that they do not in future have the ability to so adversely affect the world’s finance markets. This is in my opinion, one of the first instances of truly far sighted and innovative measures being taken by any government in response to this crisis.

For far too long, the multi-national institutions within which we place our money, have taken that hard earned cash and gambled with it on the international markets, seeking short term fortunes in bonds, derivatives, hedging and the like. Meanwhile, these same institutions have hit the ordinary hard working men, women and businesses of this, and other countries with penalty charge after penalty charge for going a few pounds, or even a few pence overdrawn, all while they have been losing millions.

As an aside to all of this, we have recently seen the conservatives sounding the alarm bells over the post Lisbon treaty appointments within the EU. The conservatives maintain that Britain has been out manoeuvred by our European neighbours in these negotiations in that, they allowed the selection of Baroness Ashton for the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs in order to facilitate the filling of the financial services commissioner by a Frenchman who has since gone on to make noises within the French and European press about how he will seek to tame the City of London. I for one believe that this new French commissioner for financial affairs is only making what noises he believes will keep the domestic audience happy. (And what British politician could ever be accused of that?????)

In any case, this is an interesting, yet irrelevant side show, at least in the short term, and I find it breathtaking that the conservatives have so badly misread the situation that presents itself.

The simple fact of the matter is that the biggest influence in terms of change in the City of London will not be coming from across the English Channel. It will come from across the Atlantic.

On the TV shows, and at political talking shops, the tories are bleating on about how it is that the French will end up having the controlling hand over the actions of the square mile. Yet they fail to realise that the actions of a building full of outdated and disgruntled republicans over in Washington DC will have far more control over what goes on in terms of fiscal policy, and this will happen for the following reasons;

• The current Labour government are, as I have intimated, desperate to be seen by the general public, and indeed the media as doing something to try and put right what has gone so horribly wrong within the nation’s finances. The simple truth of the matter is that they are quite simply bereft of ideas, therefore they will, in the fullness of time jump on the ideas that have been vaunted by Obama regarding financial regulation. We have seen a cautious reaction from the government to what President Obama has said on this subject, and I would wager that this is simply the government playing for time whilst they observe the reaction of the British electorate to the actions of the American president. If the public react positively to these measures (and I for one cannot see anybody outside of the banking sector reacting in any way other than positively) then they will set their army of spin doctors to work on a plan that can be presented to the media and the public as the government not riding on the coat tails of the US, yet you can bet your over priced house on the fact that whatever plan is presented will read very similarly in terms of content to that which President Obama has in mind for Wall Street.

• The US political landscape is not one of happiness and light right now. The Democrats have lost their majority in the Senate, and Washington is only a few steps short of all out war between the two parties, such is the residual bitterness of the Republicans at the loss of the presidency, and indeed the political impetus. The Republican party has gone on record as stating that it has no intention of voting to pass any measure that Obama puts before them, and you can bet that his proposals to reform the US banking sector will be no different. US Politics is one of self interest, lobbying, and money doing the talking, all to extents that Westminster could only dream about (and I’m sure that some there do frequently) The Banking sector is similar to the oil industries, in that it has much of the Republican movement eating out of its hand, and I can imagine that the highly paid, highly trained and zealous lobbyist movement is descending upon capitol hill as you read this, desperate to avoid any law being passed that will actually make the bankers responsible for the damage that they do!!!

It doesn’t take a political psychic to determine that any proposed legislation is going to be stuck in the cycles of Senate and House of Representatives for a long time to come, with the Republicans blocking the democratic proposals, and the Democrats becoming increasingly outraged, and engaging in the same tactics, blocking legislation concerning other issues.

Back in Westminster however, things are not that much better;

The Labour government looks on cluelessly, their noses turned windward in order to catch the prevailing breeze, and legislate in accordance with all that it brings.

The Conservative party maintain their positions; occupying the optimum seats for throwing disdainful looks across at the Labour ministers as they sniff the wind, the tories casting their collective gazes across the channel to the European parliament, banging their saucepans and pointing at the European Commissioners that they believe will bring the downfall of the City of London, and plunge the UK into a future of brown Lada’s and socialism.

The most intriguing thing that occurs to me whilst looking at all of this, is the striking fact that the leader of the richest and most powerful nation on earth is a liberal Democrat!!

For quite a long time now, Vince Cable MP has been pushing for the breakup of the banks, and for measures to ensure that the City of London is never again able to sabotage our whole economy (even the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King agrees that this must happen in the interests of economic stability in the future)

Time and again, the other two parties have rubbished the Liberal Democrat proposals, each claiming that they are the only ones who have the one definitive strategy that will prevent this whole sorry affair from being repeated.

Now it looks as though these very measures are going to be what President Obama attempts to implement in order to bring the banks in line, and quite right too.

What we need here in the UK is somebody in Number 11 Downing Street who has the bottle, the foresight, and the economic competence to do what is needed and instigate real and radical reform of our banking industries.

Labour have shown, time and again that they have nobody. Alistair Darling does not have the vision, Ed Balls cannot see past the next poll of his leadership chances, and David Milliband would not know where to start, largely due to the fact that he is a serial bottler. (If you don’t believe me, look at the last failed attempt at a Leadership coup. If Milliband can’t even take on a lame duck Prime Minister, how on earth will he face down the self interest and abject greed of the big banks?)

If Vince Cable were Chancellor, these tough decisions and radical measures would be put into practice.

What we need is a clear system of regulation whereby the Bank of England has the power to intervene in problem institutions, and has the teeth to police the banking sector properly.

We need a clear separation of the investment and retail banking operations of the multi-national organisations. It is no longer acceptable that your life savings should finance the purchase of a hedge fund in some far flung tax haven.

We need a Chancellor, and a government with courage, strategy, vision, and the best interest of Britain and its people at heart.
All of this aside though, the events and actions that are centred around these developments have laid bare the true natures of the main political parties, and highlights the true choice at the next election;

The Labour Party will, as they have seemed to do for a while now, continue to scamper around the political landscape like an excited puppy, lurching and jumping at whatever idea or proposal that looks like having even a modicum of popularity, snapping and barking insults at the other political parties as the situation becomes ever more desperate.

The Conservatives will continue to growl and holler at mainland Europe, their preoccupation with the inception of a French financial commissioner, whilst the domestic quarrelling over in America between democrats and republicans continued unnoticed demonstrating the fact that they are far too obsessed with playing to the gallery of red top papers, rather than judging the political landscape correctly and formulating a policy that will actually provide the British electorate with a true choice.

I still passionately believe that the Liberal Democrats are the only party that is offering any sort of tangible policy that can truly have the effects that we all desperately wish to see; a tighter rein on the City of London, fairer and more progressive taxation that prevents the richest few from paying less tax than those who clean their mansions, and a clear strategy aimed at getting the country back on its feet again, both financially and industrially, both through the sustenance and development of existing industry and commerce, as well as the burgeoning green industries that the UK so desperately needs to succeed if we are to build ourselves a more stable financial future that will enable the kind of political and social changes that we all wish to see, and wish to benefit from.

I take comfort from the fact that the Conservative party are still clunking around, banging the table about the same old subjects, filled to the brim with outdated ideas, perceptions, and graduates from the old boy’s networks. They have shown nothing to the electorate other than poor judgement, the same elitist preconceptions of those who they seek to represent, and a preoccupation with Europe. The really great thing is that they miss the point time and time again. Long may it continue!!

So if you really want to know where the real influence will come from in terms of regulation of the City of London, don’t look across the English Channel to the European Parliament. Undoubtedly, the EU will play a role in the medium to long term.

But the real influence will come from the domestic wranglings between Democrats, and embittered Republicans that will be taking place in the coming months within the Senate, and the House of Representatives.

If you really want to know where you can find fair and progressive policies that will make your life better, and make Britain great again, don’t look across to Labour..or the Tories..have a look at the Liberal Democrats..

I can also take comfort from the fact that, if Obama were a British voter, I’m pretty sure that he’d be with the Liberal Democrats on this one!!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Jack Straw, The Iraq Inquiry & The Emperor's New Clothes..

Thinking back to a cold crisp morning back in 2003, I remember standing on the platform at Hull’s Paragon station preparing to board the train to London Kings Cross, my stomach full of nerves, and my mind brimming with hope. I had managed to get the day off from work, and I, along with a group of colleagues from ASLEF, and other trade unions were making our way to the capital to take our place among the more than one million citizens who took to the streets of London in order to voice our opposition to the impending possibility that our brave troops would be sent to Iraq in order to participate in the planned invasion.

I remember vividly the journey, the heated political debate that flowed back and forth as the beautiful English countryside rolled from left to right past the carriage window, the sound of train wheel on track drowned out by the raised voices, arguing over the niceties of foreign policies, and the possibility that people power could actually win through, and prevent an international legal disaster, some even predicting the advent of a 21st century Vietnam.

I remember the feeling of pride, community, and real determination that our collective voices would be heard by the powers that be that day, and I have fantastic memories of the march, and the rally afterwards that I will remember for life. To a large extent I surrendered myself to idealism and naivety that day, daring myself to believe that we really could unclench the fist of governments.

Alas, it was not to be.

Jump forward nearly 7 years, with the near decimation of Iraq’s administrative services, destruction of several key religious sites, scores of brave British service personnel, thousands of Iraqi civilians, and hundreds of US troops killed, and a country teetering for so long on the brink of civil war, and we have the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw MP, member for Blackburn, currently Justice Secretary, and at the time of the invasion of Iraq, Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, the latest in a string of senior ministerial, military, and civil service personnel who have been called before the inquiry of Sir John Chilcott, and I have to say that the more information that is revealed inside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, the more haphazard and frankly absurd the whole sorry process appears to be.

For some time now we have had what has amounted to ‘parade of shame’ whereby expert after expert, and diplomat after military attaché have sat before the committee, and slowly and steadily revealed the sheer lunacy and dogma soaked incompetence that underpinned the entire operation.

We have had the former ambassador to the US, the former ambassador to the US, a military commander seconded to the white house in order to co-ordinate preparations for the invasion, as well as numerous civil service employees all bearing witness to the fact that this invasion was a manifestation of a concerted attempt to dupe the international community into allowing the United States to fit the situation in Iraq to the pre-existing policy of regime change that they so desperately clung to, despite the best advice of the UK government, and indeed the main body of opinion within the UN.

We had the military commander speaking of how the Bush administration froze him out of virtually all discussions on the issue of Iraq, and how he basically had to glean scraps of information by calling in discreet favours from friends, and rely on water cooler gossip in order to keep abreast of what Washington were planning. We have the senior civil service personnel who have told of how their repeated assertions that the plan to invade Iraq lacked the level of planning required in order to ensure that the aftermath of the conflict was managed properly.

We have looked on as Alistair Campbell defended his role in the preparation of the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ contradicting himself effortlessly, as he denied being involved in the policy of the Iraq conflict, yet he admitted that he was indeed responsible for the management of the policies. Mr Campbell also spoke of the notes that were passed back and forth between the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, and President Bush.

We have listened as those on the inside of what unfolded have told the inquiry how Britain’s policy was to push the US down the United Nations route. Indeed, it was obligated by the international laws that President Bush believed should only be obeyed by other countries, to do exactly that.

Today we had Jack Straw telling us that he himself, the then Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary, held the opinion that to invade Iraq in order to initiate regime change was wholly wrong, and illegal. He revealed that he wrote to the Prime Minister in order to tell him as such, as well as to inform him that there was no majority in favour of military action within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

We have had a phalanx of civil servants, military advisors and commanders, as well as diplomats who have all stated that they were frank and open in their advice to the Prime Minister that they believed that regime change in Iraq was indeed unjustified and illegal. Mr Straw also revealed that prior to 2003, the policy of the British Government was not one of regime change in Iraq.

Indeed, it seems that as time passes, and people’s lips become slightly looser, the story that appears is one of there really only being one major player within the UK Government who actually believed that invading Iraq was the right thing to do; the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

It is, I believe, plainly obvious that Mr Blair had, for whatever reasons, made his support for the crusading policies of the Bush administration explicit, and unconditional. Whether this was for reasons of furthering the British profile on the world stage, courting the favour of George Bush, furthering his own celebrity as an international statesman and his subsequent earning potential in his retirement, or indeed a combination of them all we currently do not know. Maybe we never will.

Whatever the actual logic that underpins the reasoning behind Tony Blair’s unconditional support for the hawks of republican Washington as it was, we cannot escape from the biggest irony that has been thrown up by the processes of the Chilcott inquiry; the pure and simple fact that, regardless of what the policy of the British Government was regarding Iraq, it was only ever the policy of Tony Blair that would be implemented.

It is well known that the United Nations inspectors were making real progress in gaining access to Iraq’s military and weapon facilities. It is also well known that Colin Powell’s infamous ‘lecture’ at the UN security council was nothing more than a stage managed street diversion in an attempt to justify the real sting.

Our own governmental advisors stated that the threat from Iraq was no greater than that posed by Iran or North Korea, and yet both Tony Blair, and George Bush turned strangely silent when pushed on the possible extension of their policy of intervention based on the flouting of UN mandates. Indeed, on that basis, surely they should also be setting their sights on Tel Aviv??

But looking back at all of these events, the vociferous opposition to the proposed actions of Bush and Blair, and all of the ramifications that have affected the people of Iraq, the people of our military forces, the standing and perception of the UK in the international and European communities, the ramifications for our domestic security and so on, and I only seem to be able to manage the comparison between Tony Blair and the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Here we have the folly that was the policy on regime change in Iraq. We have layer upon layer of advice from eminent and experienced people, from parliamentary and cabinet level colleagues, from military commanders and diplomats who all told the Prime Minister repeatedly that he was doing the wrong thing, that the policy was flawed, that the proposed action had no basis in international law.

Yet despite all of this, Tony Blair insisted on mounting his horse and parading through the hitherto democratic landscape, flinging off these layers of protective advice, and revealing to all his nakedness in his single minded ambition for self promotion on the world stage, and his unconditional support of a deeply flawed and problematic US foreign policy, perpetuated by a hawkish, cynical and dogmatic President.

Cheering loyally from the sidelines, we have the morally outraged yet sycophantic aides and cabinet members who knew that the invasion was wrong, yet still they failed to speak up, and instead went out before the mass media and defended the actions of a Prime Minister who took us to war on a stack of lies.

We have an endless stream of faceless, soulless, New Labour politicians being wheeled out in front of the camera in order to defend the actions of a former Prime Minister who thought it perfectly acceptable to marginalise the UN, to lie to his own electorate and parliament, to pressurise the intelligence services into presenting the intelligence garnered on the long defunct WMD programme in Iraq to fit in with the proposed action by the Bush administration, to invade a country, disarm its military and police, send them home, and then leave them to the ravages of civil chaos, and infiltration by fundamentalists that was inevitable given the fact that George Bush was so fixated on removing Saddam Hussein that he had completely failed to formulate any plan for the rebuilding, reorganisation and democratisation of the country after the military campaign was completed.

Obviously, we will not get the full picture of everything that transpired in terms of what was said by whom, and when, and we probably never will. At least not in our lifetimes. But I will continue to follow the developments closely in order to glean, at least for my own sense of outrage and curiosity, why it was that the weight of informed and considered opinion was deliberately and cynically ignored by the very man who was meant to safeguard the UK interest.

Meanwhile, from the very beginning, in the background we have the man who signed the cheques that paid for the new clothes that were purchased for the ‘emperor’ one Gordon Brown.

The current Prime Minister has been skilful in retaining his silence, maintaining a discreet distance from all of the furore that has continued to haunt his predecessor, who had once so famously hoped that his legacy would be peace in Northern Ireland, but instead, it is claimed by some, built for himself a memory in history that paints him as a self publicist, war monger and outright liar to the British people.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP stood up in parliament and asked the Prime Minister why it was that he was not to be interviewed by the Chilcott inquiry until after the election. This, I believe is a fair question, especially considering that Mr Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time that Blair led us to war in Iraq. Brown signed the cheques. He was closely involved in much of the planning. He simply had to be. His personality, and his modus operandi would not allow for any other way.

Now it seems that Gordon Brown will indeed be summoned by Sir John Chilcott before the General Election takes place.

I think that it is safe to say, at least to some extent that it was the persistence of Nick Clegg in pursuing this issue that has contributed to yielding a great result. It will be interesting of course, to see who it was who made the first move in terms of bringing forward Gordon Brown’s summons to the committee’s hearing. Was it the Prime Minister? Or was it Sir John? I know who my money would be on, were I to be a gambling man!

The truth is that Iraq was and is in many ways a watershed in the psyche of the British public. Largely as a result of the actions of Tony Blair et al, we now have a situation whereby the default response of the electorate is to disbelieve. This may have been a creeping condition, but the constant massaging of data, dossiers and downright lies have ensured that every major governmental decision for years, if not decades to come will be questioned, derided, and ridiculed without scrutiny. Mr Blair and Mr Bush may well say that hey wanted to improve Iraq, and save the world from a crazy despot, but at least in the case of the UK, the net result has been to erode further the gravity of the parliamentary word.

Still, at least we have our sitting Prime Minister being summoned before the inquiry into what went on in those cabinet meetings, and in those cosy weekends at George Bush’s ranch, or at least in the frosty offices of the treasury!

This is a good victory for democracy, some scant consolation against the backdrop of my hopes upon boarding that train to Kings Cross some 7 or so years ago.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Why Hull Really Is A Diamond In The Rough..And Why The City Council Must Lead The Way..

It was with much depression that I read the latest statistics that tell the true story of the decline that is taking place in my home city of Hull.

According to these statistics, around 5000 more applicants have claimed job seekers allowance over the past year.

A staggering 1 in 12 residents are now in receipt of benefit due to joblessness...

Hull has borne some of the largest industrial hits of this recession, with the caravan industry, food processing and the like all taking massive losses, with some businesses closing down almost to the point of extinction in the city..

It never has been easy for Hull to attract inward investment. It has a geographical location that does not lend itself easily to many industries, it has a transport infrastructure that simply is not fit for purpose, and it is still suffering from the twin legacies of industrial decimation as overseen by the Thatcher government, and also of suffering from being seen as a safe haven for failed labour politicians who quite happily milk the expenses and wages of westminster dry whilst failing spectacularly to serve the very people who elevated them to their privileged position.

But look below the surface of neglected industrial buildings, clogged roads, and sprawling graffiti ridden housing estates, and it becomes apparent that Hull has so much to offer..

The city has over 700 years of rich religious, cultural, industrial, and political history...

It is the home of William Wilberforce MP, the man who fought successfully to end slavery, it is the port where the ship The Bethune (later to be renamed The Bounty and to play host to the most infamous maritime mutiny in history) was built,it is home to the largest parish church in England, and the smallest window, for many years it was the hub of the world's deep sea fishing industry, in one of the many city centre taverns of yore, there is the very room where the gunpowder plot was discussed, it's old city walls played host to one of the key constitutional stand offs in history when the King was refused entry and sanctuary during the civil war...the list goes on....

Our city truly has so much to offer..yet time and again we are bogged down in failure, in decline, and in hopelessness...

What we should be doing is extolling the virtues of our rich history and heritage upon the world..there are, I am sure, many many people who would stay in Hull and explore this heritage, rather than simply drive on or off the ferries, and ignore what is right here, if we only took more pride in what we had, and pushed it with more conviction and confidence..

Hull could have a viable, if not thriving tourism industry, with more museums, tourism experiences, tours etc, which would in turn advertise the city to a whole new audience as well as bringing in much needed revenues...

We have what could also be a thriving city centre. Over recent years we have seen Prices Quay, and more recently St Stephens being built in the city, offering modern shops under one roof..

Yet still we fail to fill all of these shops. Multi million pound developments stand half empty, mainly due to a mixture of the effects of the recession, and unfeasibly high rents and rate charges..many businesses have abandoned their existing premises within the more traditional high street areas in favour of these new developments, which has only served to make the problems worse...

As well as these brand new empty shops, the city centre landscape is blighted by the increasing number of older shops, some of which have traded busily for years, gradually emptying, the city streets being turned from ones filled with the bustle of shoppers, and the sounds of business being done, and money earned, to the uneasy quiet of desolate bankruptcy...

For Hull to pull itself up from the precipice, the people need to believe in themselves, and in the city's ability to really steal a march on its regional competitors, but that will never happen if the people of Hull do not experience the tangible change for the better that is needed for them to believe once more..

The key to this is the City Council...

There has been european funding allocated to the city for the regeneration of the Newington and Hawthorn Avenue areas, and these projects could indeed spark new life into the local jobs market..

The building trade has been particularly badly hit in this recession, and if the council were to kick start these projects after all of the stagnating and delays, they could offer opportunities to local businesses and craftsmen, promoting the appointment of apprentices within these disciplines, and expanding the horizons and aspirations of an otherwise forlorn and abandoned city youth..

We should also be looking at reducing the rents on these many city centre shops that have stood idle for months, and sometimes years..

Surely, it is better to have a business occupying a property, paying slightly less rent, and contributing to the urban regenesis, rather than not yielding ANY money from the property, and allowing the local area to soak in its own slow, painful death..??

What we should be doing is taking action to fill these properties, to get business interested in Hull, to promote our entrepeneurs from within..

Our ailing transport infrastructure needs urgent attention..why would any business invest in Hull if its vehicles and employees are at in traffic for large percentages of the day?

We have major congestion in the city that could be eased through projects, funded by local authorities to improve the internal road network, recalibrating traffic light timings, remodelling junctions, and improving the bus network through greater scrutiny and leadership on the part of the transport department of the city council..

Also, we have what could almost be described as an orbital railway within Hull..currently it is only used by freight trains, but imagine the difference it would make to traffic if people could travel on these lines by tram or train..

I grant you that these proposals are not cheap, but the jobs that their construction, execution, and administration would create would bring untold benefit to our city...

Time has shown again and again that Hull cannot rely on happenstance to provide opportunities for either the city, or indeed its long suffering citizens..

Neither can it rely on the Labour Party, who see the city as nothing more than a safe seat to be used, abused, and tossed on the scrap heap until election time, when some poor unfortunate resident of an estate, or dedicated members of a community centre or the like can be posed with for purposes of political propaganda...

If Hull is to be changed for the better, then it has to go out and make those changes in a radical and decisive fashion..

We NEED the city council to provide its own 'stimulus'..

* Cut Price Rent to encourage business to occupy empty shops and units.

* Rates relief so as to ease the burden on new and transferring business.

* Restarting of large public projects, such as the Newington regeneration.

* Promotion of apprentice positions to try and build a new legacy of craft and skills within the young people of the city.

* Remodelling and improvement of the internal road network so as to make the city as efficient as possible, and as attractive to inward investment..

* Orbital rail or tram network so as to improve congestion and create jobs..

I'm not claiming that any of this would be easy to achieve, but what I am saying is that is eminently possible and achievable..

All we need is the vision, the confidence, and the nerve to do what is right for the future of our great city...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Train Drivers, Fatalities, 'One Unders' and Where ASLEF & The Railway Companies Keep Getting It Wrong..

So here we are in January, often referred to in railway parlance as ‘the silly season’

It is called this, because January tends to be somewhat of a hotbed for fatalities and attempted fatalities, also known as ‘one unders’ in some areas, especially on London Underground. For the majority of commuters, the net result of a fatality is a lengthy delay, a delayed, cancelled or overcrowded train, and a brief period of unpleasant reflection as to the circumstance of the poor soul involved. This is something about which, I feel passionate, not only because of my personal experience, but also because of my concern for others within my profession, and those allied to that of train drivers.

Many who have never been faced with the extreme trauma of witnessing, or being involved in a suicide fail to really appreciate just what a complex and delicate, not to mention frustrating, the whole subject of fatalities on the railway can be. For a long time now, it has been clear that much is needed to be done in terms of improving the way in which train crew are dealt with in the aftermath of such incidents. This is a subject about which, I feel passionate, owing to my own experiences in this area, in addition to my concern for others within mine, and allied professions.

On the evening of October 13th 2002, whilst driving a Hull Paragon – Sheffield service for my previous employer, I too suffered the extreme trauma and stress of a suicide. Other than to agree with at least two correspondents who say that the most harrowing aspect of a fatality is usually the sound of the impact between train and person (something that lives with me even now, some 6 and a half years later as I write this) I have elected not to delve into the detail of my particular experience, other than to say that it had a profound effect on me, my close friends, and my loved ones. It still does to this day, and will, in all probability continue to do so for the remainder of my years on this mortal coil.

Talk to any within my profession, and listen to them speak of fatalities and how they effect us as Train Drivers, as well as how they have ramifications for our relatives, and you will begin to fully understand the sheer scale of impact that this can have. Many drivers will speak movingly, and with poise, clarity, and a gravity which I hope, underlines for those drivers who are fortunate enough not to have suffered a fatality, just how harrowing and terrifying an ordeal it can be.

Many drivers approach this issue with a bravado or machismo that would suggest that they do not understand the sheer magnitude of just how profoundly this kind of incident can affect them. A good proportion of this of course is simple messroom banter. It could be said that to ‘front out’ such hypothetical situations, or ‘take the mickey’ albeit lightheartedly, out of colleagues who have suffered fatalities, is in our DNA as Train Drivers! It is precisely this kind of gallows humour, a feature of railway work, that helps many drivers through the dark days following such incidents, and I know that, at least in my case, being the recipient of some good natured messroom ribbing helped me greatly in just feeling normal, and like ‘one of the lads’ again following my return to work after my fatality.

We as Train Drivers have been, and continue to be consistent and compassionate with regard to our concern for fellow colleagues. The same cannot be said for many of the TOCs and FOCs out there, and it is this issue that prompted me to focus on the large disparities between the procedures that are in place to provide post incident care for ASLEF members.

Whilst working for my previous employer, Arriva Trains Northern, I have to say that the chain of care policy was, in my opinion, woeful. The sentiment of all aspects of the policy were put across by an overly aggressive and unapproachable local management team, together with an ineffectual and intrusive ‘Employee Welfare Manager’ as the company believing that the driver was ‘swinging the lead’ and the entire process was slanted towards getting the driver back on track, regardless of his/her needs or issues post incident. I was constantly harassed, made to feel like a liar and malingerer, and my movements questioned under the guise of the chain of care policy by local managers, and the true severity of my post incident symptoms were questioned by the Employee Welfare Manager, who at best was accusatory in her approach, and at worst downright argumentative, to the point that I refused to participate in further communications with her, and was referred to an independent counselling practitioner. Needless to say that all this served to do was exacerbate my suffering in the aftermath of what was a tragic event.

My experiences from within this system were particularly negative. Although whether this was in some way due to my being an activist and representative of ASLEF, I shall leave the reader to consider!

Acting as a bulwark against this needlessly aggressive and combative approach were the representatives of ASLEF. I have to say that the concern and care shown by the local reps, company councillors, executive committee member and the full time official were second to none, and their support, representation, and knowledge were quite simply invaluable during the difficult period that followed the incident. Stories detailing such abuses of ASLEF members following fatalities and near misses are by no means rare, and are repeated far too often the length and breadth of our industry, and I firmly believe that it is our duty as a modern, professional, and responsive specialist trade union to effect change.

As I have already said, the support, care, and sometimes the ‘gallows humour’ of fellow drivers are essential for the recovery of the vast majority of us. Sometimes all it takes is to speak to someone who has ‘been there’ and who has returned to the cab to drive again. Sharing our common experiences and coping strategies is sometimes the best counselling available. I believe that is long past the time when this trade union should be taking the lead in striving to provide the very kind of targeted, accessible and effective post incident care for Train Drivers that we have a right to expect.

Obviously, this can only realistically be achieved by working in conjunction with the TOCs and FOCs, and would have to involve the bargaining machinery at company council and full time official level. I recall that some years ago, the long defunct Northern Spirit were considering trialling a scheme whereby drivers could receive training to act as ‘incident de-briefers’ This idea sank without a trace however, and sadly, was not considered further.

Personally, I have always been fairly mistrustful of schemes and enterprises that are solely defined, administered, and monitored by the TOCs and FOCs. In the climate of stocks, shareholders, and profit margins, and especially in the context of the current financial difficulties that are plaguing the so called ‘white knight’ that is the private railway company, it is always inevitable that profit will come before people, that sentiment for shareholder dividends and directors bonuses will come a long way before sentiment for driver welfare, or indeed the safety of fellow colleagues and the travelling public at large, and that the financial ‘bottom line’ will always be put before the needs of any driver, who may well have hit rock bottom as a result of such terrible incidents.

I believe firmly that we in ASLEF have the ideal framework already, within which we can formulate the kind of post incident support that ASLEF members need; The Branch.

In the majority of braches across this union there are a network of dedicated and hard working representatives and activists, who donate countless hours to the welfare and prosperity of their fellow ASLEF members. Who better to respond to such incidents and provide essential and relevant post incident care? The union, through the auspices of the TUC and relevant legislation already manages to maintain a network of local level and health and safety reps in addition to learner reps. The training requirements of these reps are met adequately in a number of locations, admittedly with varying levels of success across the TOCs and FOCs.

The point and proposal that I make is twofold. Firstly, ASLEF should engage in discussion and negotiations with the TOCs and FOCs with a view to developing a protocol for ASLEF representatives to receive training, and equally as importantly, recognition within the company structures, in order that they can respond to incidents such as fatalities and the like, in a way that is of real comfort and benefit to fellow drivers. ASLEF, like the TOCs and FOCs, are in the business of enabling their members to get out there and drive trains. The main difference is however, that ASLEF will always put the needs of the driver ahead of the needs of the profiteer. A committed ASLEF rep or activist is the natural, if not exclusive choice, for such a post, as they have already demonstrated a commitment and willingness to work for the good of their colleagues within ASLEF. In addition to this, consider the most important factor; they are Drivers. Often, an incident that only a driver can suffer, is an incident that only a driver can truly understand.

Secondly, a clear cut and consistent policy needs to be put in place within the procedures of every TOC and FOC with whom ASLEF has negotiating agreements, spanning from the minute that the wheels of the train come to a stand, to the moment the driver leaves the coroner’s court, and beyond. I have found that, in the event of a member suffering a fatality or similar incident, often I was simply not informed during my time as a Branch Secretary, unless I either heard about it through messroom gossip, or the member concerned, or another colleague contacted me themselves. On a number of occasions I have represented ASLEF members at coroner’s court inquests where the company have not bothered to send a manager to accompany the driver at all. Indeed, in the case of my fatality, it was only because I bumped into a manager on the station concourse at Hull that the company were even aware that the inquest had been scheduled to take place! It is high time that ASLEF, in association with the companies, and maybe even Her Majesty’s Court Service ensure that when drivers suffer incidents of this kind, the full and complete support of the branch is made available to them as a matter of right, and not just a matter of fortune.

I would propose that this be done by agreements being negotiated to ensure that the Branch Secretary and Local Reps are informed within 24 hours of an incident in order that the necessary paperwork may be started, and the member contacted, and contact subsequently maintained, in order to ensure their needs are met and welfare considered. Maybe these aims could be incorporated into the ASLEF charter.

Establishing such an agreement would also act as a monitoring system for any such process involving ASLEF reps and activists in the role of de-briefing as detailed above, as once the Branch Secretary and Local reps are informed, they can ensure that protocols are adhered to, and the needs of the driver are met.

Chain of care systems as they stand are, by and large, administered by local managers, who as we all know, vary greatly in their approachability, outlook, skill, and common sense. Admittedly, there are a number of very good managers out there. All too often though, a driver will fall foul of managers who are classified into categories of the inept, the aggressive, the completely incompetent, and the sometimes downright callous.

What we need as professional Train Drivers is consistency, responsiveness, accountability, transparency, and effectiveness in the post incident care systems that are supposedly put in place to pick up the pieces when the worst kind of incidents occur. All too often this is not what we get. Far too many ASLEF members suffer unnecessarily as a result of the inconsistencies and apathies that exist within the current ‘hotch-potch’ of post incident care standards and the manner in which they are applied. It is my fervent desire that ASLEF works to correct that.

My proposals are, I accept, in need of greater detail and work, and could only come to fruition via the auspices of the AAD and EC. However, I passionately believe that we are the ones who are in the best position to help each other, and to ensure that the rights, needs, and dignity of our fellow ASLEF members are met and respected post incident. What I really want to do is to kick start a debate at all levels of our union as to how best to achieve these aims.

It is, after all, our responsibility as the guardians of our profession, to ensure that when a life is cut short in such horrific circumstances, the career of the driver does not suffer the same gruesome, and not to mention needless outcome.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Why The UK Really Should Respect It's Elders..

I spent the morning today sitting in a Train Crew Messroom in Brighton, dividing my time between staring aimlessly out of the window, watching the snowflakes meander earthward from the dull sky and settling on the expansive glass panes in the grand victorian roof of the railway station, and the meterological hysteria, political maneuvers, and idle gossip of todays newspapers.

I spied a very interesting article in the Guardian about the work of Sir Michael Parkinson, who has spent the last year working for the government, looking at the standard of care received by elderly patients.

Sir Michael's interest in this area was piqued by the poor treatment that his mother received in her final years as she suffered with dementia.

Today, Sir Michael released a report that he has been preparing on this issue, and I have to say that it does not make very encouraging, or indeed very surprising reading.

Over the last year, Sir Michael has seen and received evidence and written accounts of poor treatment, patients not being fed, poor quality food, elderly men and women being left to lie in their own mess, denegrating treatment at the hands of carers, and much worse.

He says that when his own mother was in residential care, she was dressed in other people's clothes, used as a figure of fun and disrespected routinely.

In the past, I have worked as a carer, and a Nursing Assistant in the private sector, and in the NHS.

My own experiences completely back up everything that this report says....

I have witnessed elderly and frail patients being mishandled during lifting, causing abrasions to their necks and arms, I have seen staff shout at demanding residents and patients, and I have also encountered patients sitting on commodes for so long that they suffered pressure sores on their bottoms, as well as patients who have messed their bed, through no fault of their own, and who have asked for help, only to be left to develop skin infections, sores, and secondary illnesses as a result of being forced to lie in urine and excrement for hours, in some cases...

Health & Social Care is by no means an easy career, and is by no means for everybody. It is a very, very hard job, constantly demanding, both physically and emotionally. The pay is nothing short of woeful, and this may in itself go some way to explain the poor training, performance and monitoring within many care homes and hospitals...

Whilst it is certainly true that there are many care homes that work to exemplary standards, many others are no more than 'death farms' whereby elderly people are placed in them and essentially left to die. There are a number of care home operators and owners who are so eager to wring every last possible drop of profit from the misery that is the life of many of their residents, that they will not allow anything to get in the way of the financial returns to be had, including a resident's dignity....

In the NHS there seems to be an unspoken policy that equates to an age limit in terms of healthcare resourcing. I have spoken to a 72 year old man who has a muscular shoulder injury who has been sent home with painkillers, despite being debilitated with pain for large portions of the day. If he were 30 years younger, he would have had an operation by now, and would be free to continue living in comfort. Instead he is condemned to a future of pain, immobility, and full and explicit knowledge of the fact that he is well and truly on the healthcare scrapheap..

A friend of mine's mother is still awaiting supposed 'urgent' treatment for aggressive cancer, yet still she waits, knowing that with the passage of time, her condition worsens. She has been waiting a week or so for an x-ray on a potential broken arm...yet again, she is forgotten and disrespected..

Another friend of mine had to literally fight tooth and nail to secure residential nursing care for his mother after she was diagnosed with progressive dementia, only for her to be abused physically by staff, and to add insult to injury, the response of the care home owners was to try and hush the whole episode up..

The list of examples is so long that it could never encompass all of what has been done so badly in our healthcare industries, yet still relatives and loved ones are expected to assume the role of advocates and auditors of the care that patients receive, when what they should be doing is treasuring the time that they have left with these people, safe in the knowledge that they are safe when the visitor's room door closes...

So why is that we are so dismissive of our older citizens..?

Why do we carry the unofficial perception that their needs are somehow less important than those of people who were born decades later..?

In my own opinion, I believe that senior citizens are victims of the 'here and now' action driven disposable commodity culture that underpins much of society..

These people are a reminder of a different time, when things generally took longer to make, to buy, to receive, and to give, and in modern society that is seen as irrelevant..

We see something, we want it now..We buy something, we want to take it with us..We send something, we want it there yesterday..

These are all traits of an image and materialistically obsessed society that projects disdain upon the older generation, because we do not like the idea of growing old, and they remind us, simply by way of their presence, that the lucky ones among us will do just that...

I think that you only really start to treasure and appreciate the worth of the older generation when you begin to get a little bit older yourself..

It amazes me to hear about the stories, experiences, and trials and tribulations of people who have lived through things that I will never see, nor in many cases would I want to..

These people are not a simply a reminder of mortality, they are a gateway to the past, to wisdom and experience that cannot be bought..nor can it be utilised once these people are gone...

Talk to any war veteran, and you will see in them all that is great about Britain. In the darkest hours of our history, these men and women stepped up to the plate, and sacrificed so that we didn't have to.

Talk to your parents and grandparents, and you will see that, for the most part, they spent large chunks of their time on this mortal coil working, and sacrificing so that we could have a better life than they could imagine at our age..

The eyes are the window to the soul some say, and the senior citizens amongst us are a window to history, and to a different world and culture..

Next time you are sitting on the bus or the train, look around for an elderly passenger, and try and imagine the things that they have seen and experienced; War, Famine, Disease, Triumph, History, Loss, Sadness, Joy, Death, Birth, the list goes on, and on and on...It is these very people who made our nation great, and they deserve our respect, understanding, and appreciation..

These are the very same people who are lying, urine soaked and bereft of dignity in our care homes and hospitals..these are the same people who are left to live in pain and discomfort, and these are the people who are forgotten, neglected, and left to die..

It doesn't cost an awful lot to improve the standard of elderly care in the UK. Simply acknowledging the existence of an elderly patient can make all the difference.

Investment in expensive equipment is unnecessary, when a world of change can be brought about by responding to calls for assistance, not treating patients and residents as if they are deaf, or as if they have a learning disability, making sure that residents are clean, presentable, and dressed in a dignified fashion, and giving the elderly the best possible chance of a long and fruitful life by ensuring that they are fed properly, with a nutritious diet..

These people are not commodities..they are funny, kind, engaging and captivating human beings that deserve to be treated as respectfully, and as mercifully as you and I..they should not be farmed in great houses for maximum profit, they should be stimulated, entertained, and above all recognised...

People should not have to wait a week for an x-ray, or months for urgent cancer treatment simply as a consequence of their date of birth, and the NHS is guilty of discrimination in continuing this grave disservice..

One of the founding principles of the NHS is the provision of care based on clinical need..this, along with the older generations, is something that makes our country great....

I fully intend to grow old one day..maybe fate will decree that I too will end up relying on residential and NHS care..if it does, I would hope for just a little respect, and a glimmer of recognition..it isn't alot to ask for, is it?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

There Is A Real Alternative To Punch & Judy....

Think of the cheery and hopeful yellow of the Liberal Democrats, and it is hardly a thought that naturally lends itself to association with risk. But over the last few days, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP has steered the Liberal Democrats onto what the party’s detractors may see as a risky course indeed.

Over the last fortnight or so, we have been forced to endure an endless media deluge of interviews with the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown MP, and the Conservative leader, David Cameron MP where the two have dragged each other into a passionate and energetic race to the bottom, both desperately trying to outdo the other by making statement after statement, empty promise after empty promise, vague soundbite after vague soundbite. Both claim to have the best interests of the country at heart. Both claim to be the best person to lead this country out of the economic doldrums. Both claim to be the great panacea that our rotten parliament needs.

Neither though, is prepared to commit fully to the change that our failing politics are desperately crying out for, if we are to avoid our democracy, and our most integral institutions becoming irrelevant.

When pressed on the subject of parliamentary reform, both of these political leaders have shied away from really grasping the nettle, instead choosing to bow to pressure from their own self interested and recalcitrant back benchers. Gordon Brown, and David Cameron have bottled out of the greatest and most important issue facing the regulation of parliament in living memory. On the one occasion when the country looks in hope toward those who are granted extensive privilege by being elevated to the higher echelons of our political system, they turn their backs on the path of real and true radical reform, and instead they dither and tinker, their actions being slowed by fear of upsetting their fellow members of the disembodied political elite.

In reaction to the global economic crisis, the subject of which I have explored in an earlier blog, both leaders waste time, energy, and public money and ailing confidence throwing insults at each other, and seem too preoccupied with picking holes in the word of their opponent rather than focussing on being open and honest with their paymasters, the electorate, with regard to what their policies clearly are.

Both leaders have claimed that cuts will have to be made in the planned spending programmes of the various governmental departments. Both have claimed that the other is not prepared to either go far enough, or to do what is necessary to safeguard our fiscal viability as a major player on the international political scene. Curiously though, both have failed spectacularly to be frank and honest about where it is that they expect the financial axe to fall in relation to the proposed policies which will feature in the forthcoming general election campaigns.

Contrast the confusing and mathematically implausible approach of both Labour and the Conservative parties respectively, with the recent announcements made by the Liberal Democrats.

Over the last few days, there has been much media interest over the fact that the Liberal Democrats have changed some of their existing election pledges in the face of the financial circumstances within which the United Kingdom finds itself.

Nick Clegg stood before the assembled media yesterday and detailed the changes in party policy. Gone is the commitment to a ‘citizen’s pension’ gone is the commitment to eradicate tuition fees, gone is the commitment to introduce free personal care for the elderly.

‘Deferred’ maybe is a better term, but either way, the policy of the party has been modified decisively in reaction to the state of the nation’s finances.

Of course, the tories and labour immediately seized on this as being supposed proof that the Liberal Democrats are indecisive and cannot be trusted. However, this courageous and somewhat risky move by the Liberal Democrats truly is the first time that any of the main political leaders have attempted to treat the electorate as anything like adults.

I contend that Nick Clegg has done something that is not only quite remarkable, it is quite courageous, and if handled correctly by the party’s election team, this could be a move that could earn the party extra respect, and much extra support come polling day.

The fact that the Liberal Democrats have made alterations to their commitments is not proof of indecisiveness, or of the party being untrustworthy. It is quite the opposite.

What has happened here is that we, as a nation have encountered the most severe financial crisis since the 1930s. This has had, and will continue to have a profound effect on the public purse for years to come. Both Labour, and the Conservatives still refuse to detail how this effect will impact upon their central election pledges. Both refuse to treat the electorate like responsible citizens, capable of making a rational decision based upon the stark and unambiguous facts.

The electorate need to be paid due respect by the political classes, especially given the extent to which these very same people have been caught with their hands well and truly stuffed in the cookie jar.

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to abolish tuition fees. We are still committed to the principle, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to introduce free personal care for the elderly. It is still a long term objective of ours, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

The Liberal Democrats are the only political party that have had the guts and the integrity to come out and say;

“We would love to maintain our pledge of a ‘Citizen’s pension, it is still a policy that we intend to implement in the medium to long term, but right now, the country simply cannot afford it”

(For the record, the commitment to restore the link between pension payments and average earnings remains Liberal Democrat policy. It is in my opinion, nothing short of a travesty that this link was not restored years ago when the Labour government took power)

This is not ‘dilly dallying’. This is not flakiness on the part of the party’s leadership. This is the demonstration of qualities that have not been apparent in British politics for a long time;
Honesty and Frankness.

How can a political party be trusted if they do not have the ability to modify that which they believe to be achievable in the face of a change in the financial situation within which they would be expected to work?

How can they be trusted if they are not prepared to be honest about their true intentions with the electorate?

(Ask yourself; If you applied for a job, and attended the interview, would you expect to get the position if you refused to answer the questions of your would-be employer?)

The Liberal Democrats have shown that when it comes to honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness, they truly are a real alternative to the same old corrupt, ‘punch and judy’ style politics of Labour and Conservative.

One of the things that require immediate and fundamental change is the electoral system within which we operate. There are far too many seats across the UK that are considered ‘safe’

In most cases, the incumbent MPs in these constituencies have the freedom to operate with impunity, as they know only too well that there is basically no possibility that they will be voted out, owing to the archaic method by which votes are counted, and seats won.

They also know that there is no way in which the local constituents can ‘sack’ or ‘recall’ an MP who falls short of what is expected of them. This is also something which the Liberal Democrats propose to change, and it is something that I support enthusiastically.

As a result of the lack of accountability that currently reigns, constituents get short changed, important issues get ignored, and democracy slowly keeps on dying.

Yes, electoral change would bring challenges and potential problems, but it would definitely reflect the demographic of those who make up the constituencies far more accurately than the current system.

In this system, the only winners are the occupants of safe, almost hereditary parliamentary seats.

In a fairer electoral system, not only would we as constituents and consumers receive a better level of representation, democracy would thrive, and enthusiasm for politics would once again start to grow.

One of the things that drew me to the Liberal Democrats was the frankness and sensibility that runs through, and underpins the main policies of the party.

We have real, progressive, equitable and fair policies that would transform the United Kingdom, cutting class sizes, improving accountability and efficiency of the NHS, improving the chaotic and failed privatised railway network, revitalising a creaking law and order system, and restoring our confidence in the ability of our legislators and MPs to do the job that they are paid very handsomely to do, on our behalf.

All of these policies have been carefully costed, and the true effects of those costs will be laid down before those who would have to foot the bill – the electorate.

We have a broad church of perspectives, personal history and backgrounds, not just in terms of our candidates, but also in terms of ordinary working men and women across the UK who have realised that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is not a vote gone to waste.

A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for fairness, equity, true and radical democratic reform, openness, and a financially stable, confident, more vibrant United Kingdom, secure in its national sovereignty, playing a leading role as a true democratic, financial and industrial powerhouse in Europe.

The Nation's Finances At A Crossroads - Which Path Should We Take?

I couldn’t help but appreciate a certain amount of irony yesterday as I watched the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg MP standing, smack bang in the centre of the City Of London, the very epicentre of Britain’s monetary engine room, and a place that has been very much central to the destructive ripples that have spread through the world’s financial markets of late, as he told the assembled journalists, and members of the electorate of the need to wean the British economy away from the casino culture of the financial markets.

On a personal level, and as a member of the Liberal Democrats, I very much welcome these comments.
The economy of the United Kingdom is, and has been for far too long, incredibly over reliant on the excesses of the ‘square mile’. Sure, the country has benefitted through elevated tax revenues during the times when the economy was booming, and even now, the levels of tax paid by bankers within the city far outstrip those paid by the vast majority of other professions (premiership footballers excluded possibly)

But this fact does not, and should not grant the banking sector some kind of ‘carte blanche’ to simply gamble away the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and futures of those who invest in the organisations who employ them, many of whom could only dream of earning the kinds of salaries and bonuses that are enjoyed by investment bankers and executives.

I have absolutely no problem with people earning high salaries. I have already pointed out after all, that when people do earn huge salaries, the state benefits from that, in so much as the level of tax that is taken from such salaries is at a vastly higher level than that based on the salaries of you or I.

The problem with the over reliance on the financial services sector is not essentially with the amount that these people earn. It goes much deeper than that. The problem lies with the fact that the prosperity of this great nation seems to rely almost entirely on glass clad, air conditioned computerised casinos that masquerade as banks, and on the decisions that the staff of these institutions take with impunity, and with no penalties for failure, or indeed consideration of the consequences of their actions.

This country was, at one time, an engineering powerhouse, a hotbed of innovation, a nation that was influential in so many different disciplines, industries, and inventions, that we could never have been rendered as vulnerable to global financial collapses as we are right now.

Britain was a world leader in Steel, Coal, Railways, Automotive Design, Aviation, Construction, Architecture, Research & Development, the list goes on!

Many things have contributed to the downfall of the UK as a manufacturing powerhouse; The advancement of the emerging nations of India, Brazil, Poland and the Eastern European nations, The rise of China as a superpower, the dogmatic actions of previous Conservative administrations, and the subsequent inaction of three Labour administrations, but to name a few.

All of these things though, have essentially led us into a financial mess that has been created by two main issues;

• The Government of the United Kingdom has, for many years now, ignored the long term financial problems faced by our economy which have been made worse by the culture of high borrowing instead of paying down public debts, and bolstering reserves, instead gorging itself on the proceeds of the ‘Betting Bonanza’ that has been going on for far too long in the City Of London, utilising the tax revenues garnished from these bankers and executives to bankroll political projects, which although may be laudable in terms of objectives, are now suffering, or being closed altogether, as a direct result of the over reliance on the financial sector, and the tax income it provides.

• Everything that I have just accused successive governments of has been done at the direct expense of our manufacturing and industrial capability. In the case of the Conservative administrations of the past, this has been done for largely dogmatic, and self serving reasons; Namely the reduction of the perceived power of the trade union movement, and the alleged financial betterment of several key ministers, MPs, and associates who happened to do very nicely out of the privatisation and dismantling of British Rail, British Coal, British Telecom, British Steel and the other industrial and revenue stream of the state, including the multi billion pound energy and utility industry that is now feathering the nests of foreign conglomerates, investors, and indeed governments.

The cancerous crisis that we have seen eating away at the economy of the UK was started years ago by a Conservative government that was obsessed with dogma, self interest, and with the breaking up of the trades union movement, and the instruments of the nation, diluting the state’s abilities to earn revenues and consolidate reserves, at the expense of one off ‘windfalls’ which were used to fund short term tax cuts that were instigated for the purposes of electioneering, and nothing more. As a result of these actions, the government of the UK was increasingly unable to fund its own social policies, and action its political aspirations through the activities of the utilities, the railways, the telecommunications markets, the mining and steel production industries etc.

This situation was exacerbated by the Labour administration who, upon taking office, found itself sitting on piles of revenues which were resultant of a ‘false prosperity’ fuelled by artificially, and ridiculously inflated house prices, and through the proceeds of the City Of London.

Not only did they base their entire fiscal policy on the outcome of what was essentially betting on an inflated game of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ they failed to take any action to install within the British economy any alternative means of powering our national prosperity, they failed to consolidate our national reserves and pay down the national debt, and they also failed to reverse the damage done by Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives to the ability of the working classes to contribute toward the industrial policy and direction of the UK through organised, progressive, and engaged trade unions.

In fact, the former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has been overheard boasting to other heads of state that the UK’s Labour laws are amongst the ‘most flexible in the western world’

Not a bad thing in itself, but when you consider that our own Labour Laws are actually in breach of the conventions of the International Labour Organisation (of which we are a signatory) the shine is somewhat removed from what could be simply taken as a banally ‘pro-business’ statement.

Whereas the Conservatives were obsessed with dogma, self interests, and the dismantling of the state so as to fund headline grabbing tax cuts, Labour were, and are obsessed with playing to the centre ground at any and all costs, spinning headlines and saying whatever it takes, and doing whatever it takes to make those words more believable, without ever actually bringing about real change.

As all of this is consigned to the political dustbin marked ‘History’ we must look at what is required to relight the engines of the UK economy, and to protect it from such catastrophic exposure to the peaks and troughs of the global financial market in the future.

It is clear that we are in a global economy whereby it is highly improbable that we can be truly competitive with the conventional manufacturing costs of the emerging nations. The very fact that they have such low costs of living, and scant regard for the conditions within which their workers live and toil means that the cost of goods is simply not comparable with manufacturing costs here. Wages are much higher, Health & Safety laws more stringent, and environmental obligations more demanding than those elsewhere. Quite right too. We are a civilised country, and it is only right and proper that we expect people to be paid a wage on which they can exist. It is also right that we expect workers to be able to enjoy a reasonable level of safety in the workplace, and for companies to contribute towards the management of the environmental effects that their business brings to bear on the ecosystem, the workforce, and the wider community.

So what we need to do is build new industries. We need to ensure that the economy is never again addicted to the alluring drug of financial sector revenues. Of course, the revenues generated from these sectors are important, and would be to any economy, but we should not be so dependent upon them.

We need to build our green industries. British car companies should be leading the race to develop environmentally friendly engines for the mass market. I see nothing wrong in owning a Jaguar, 4x4 or people mover (SUV) if the engine is environmentally friendly.

We should be leading the world in the race to develop truly environmentally friendly buses and commercial vehicles. Real job opportunities lie in the development, installation, and maintenance of infrastructure that could support larger numbers of LPG, Electric and other alternative fuel vehicles. The search to meet our energy needs for the next generations to come will bring with them thousands of fresh job opportunities, lifting people out of unemployment or under employment, and providing career aspirations for thousands where currently there is only despair, and a struggle to make ends meet.

British Rail once led the world in Research & development within the railway sector, running electric trains in the 1930s, building the Intercity 125, and pioneering the APT project, which produced a train, powered by gas turbine capable of speeds nearing 160mph - in the 1970s!! They developed early magnetic levitation technology which is now in use in places across the globe, and developed fleets of rolling stock that are still in service and outperforming more modern trains in many ways.

We should be once more at the cutting edge of driving the world’s transportation and green agendas. Our transport infrastructure, despite being staffed by some of the most skilled, qualified, and dedicated men and women, is the laughing stock of the developed world, where once it was the envy. This is due in part to the failed privatisation that I have described above, and years of hands off supervision on the part of the Labour government who are not interested in long term projects, because they simply do not generate enough media coverage.

Our energy industries gave us financial and political stability in the past, because we had control over our own ‘fuel destiny’ We are now becoming more and more reliant on fossil fuels piped and shipped in from other countries, whose administrations are somewhat more ‘hawkish’ in their use of natural resources as a bargaining tool. We worked in partnership with the French government in order to bring into being the world’s first supersonic passenger plane. Only our own lack of ambition, and conviction prevented it from being rolled out across the globe.

What we need desperately is a root and branch reform of the way in which our nation generates its revenues. We need government policies that encourage the development of new technologies, we need an emphasis placing on the industries of the future, with Britain investing in them so that we can not only repair the mess that are our public finances, we can ensure that we are at the zenith of international innovation, industry and commerce for years to come without leaving ourselves vulnerable to the whims of the financial elite.

Yes it may well be costly in the short term, but there are ways in which we can start to generate the means to do this, the means to lift ourselves from the abyss in which we currently find ourselves, the means to ensure that the tax revenues that are generated are done so fairly and justly, with the very richest not being able to sidestep their obligations to the society that has contributed to their wealth, and the means to rescue, to stabilise, and to consolidate our ailing economy so as to build for a fairer, stronger, and more self believing, and self ambitious society in the future.

One thing I am certain of, is that if we carry on as we have been doing to date, we will all pay the price..

Sunday, 10 January 2010

The Perils Of A Snow Day...and Blogging

I seriously cannot believe that it is early evening already..

I don't know about you, but I woke up this morning full of vim and vigour, (which makes a change from phlegm and aching joints) and I had serious plans for today..

The clutter in the spare room was going to be sorted out, the carpets were going to be hoovered, the kitchen sorted, I was going to write some more of my book, and the dog was going to be walked until he qualified for incapacity benefit...

Instead, it is now 2030 and I have managed to make the bed, cook myself a bacon sandwich, feed the dog, load the dishwasher and have a bath (..and don't get me started on the two and a half men re-runs..I am sweating just thinking about it..)

I have discovered that I am the sufferer of a complicated and pronounced medical condition..It is called snowitis...

Here in the UK it's been snowing pretty much constantly for the last few days, and everything is cloaked in a blanket of white.

It is indeed beautiful, but at the same time, it is guilty of sucking from me all of my drive and motivation..(it probably used it as some form of bleaching agent to stop itself turning brown and slushy)

As a result, the kitchen is a mess, my book is still no further on than it was a week ago, the carpet is nowhere near as cream looking as it should be, the dog has taken to doing circuits of the landing and stairs, and the spare room still looks like an overflow locker from the local postal sorting depot..

What makes it worse, is that my wife has been visiting family this weekend, and is back in an hour and a half!!

I do wonder whether anyone in the medical profession has conducted any form of research on this phenomenon. Personally, I would be more than happy to submit myself for any testing which may be required (..anything for a fiver and a biscuit)

Mind you, despite all of the lethargy that has soaked itself into my very being and stained my snow weary bones over the course of this 'cold snap' I have still found time in my day to update the blog..

Bearing this in mind, maybe I have misdiagnosed myself..

Maybe I am not suffering from Snowitis at all..maybe I am suffering from Blogitis..

Either way, the offer to submit myself for medical testing still stands (..for the commensurate fee, of course!)

All of this contemplation though, is throwing out more questions than its processes manage to provide answers for..

Maybe the creative effort required to keep blogging is draining the energy from my body, and from the other areas of my life, thus reducing this normally dynamic man to a poor imitation of the domestic habits of your average student...

Then again, maybe I should quit mulling over this point, get off my demotivated bottom, and start cleaning the kitchen..

Then again..maybe I'm just lazy...

Labour's Winter Grows Even Colder..

Well well well...

Another day dawns, and the reigning forces are ones of chaos, many routes seemingly at an impasse, plunging temperatures, panic, self serving, and a deep seated loss of all rationality..

Meanwhile, away from the Labour Party leadership, the nation wakes to find itself once more in the grip of the 'big freeze'

Peter Watt, the party's former General Secretary, has been quoted as labelling Gordon Brown as "Lacking emotional intelligence" and of "Reducing Number 10 to a shambles"

Regardless of whether these comments turn out to be true or not, I cannot help but watch open mouthed as the Labour party pitches and yaws into what looks like a terminal dive, falling from the stellar heights of its historic thrid term, ripping itself dramatically apart as it hurtles towards the empty desert plains of electoral oblivion..

I honestly cannot believe that Peter Watt, or for that matter, any Labour Party General Secretary, would think it even remotely a good idea to publish such damaging comments about a Labour Prime Minister so close to an election, especially when the Prime Minister in question is already throwing himself on the mercy of gathered spectators, much like a defeated gladiator in roman times, even if he himself does not realise it.

The longer this goes on, the higher the chance that the signal will come to deliver the long overdue kill shot.

But which of Browns's cabinet members are eyeing up the emperor's robes?

Which of them is positioning themselves to give the 'thumbs down' signal that will end Brown's suffering?

I suppose that one question that hangs over this whole sorry situation is who would the press have reported as having phones installed in their offices in order to orchestrate this seemingly endless, and perpetratorless bloody coup, had we not have had the advent of the mobile phone?

(Any would be challenger to GB needs to learn the lessons of Michael Portillo)

The stark truth is, that any move to unseat a political leader this close to election time is nothing short of insanity.

Labour are a political party that are tired, cynical, navel gazing, and as remote to the needs of the people as the royal family.

Of course, there are many good people within the organisation, but the party as a whole is simply running out of steam, direction, discipline, and ideas..

They are no longer in the business of representing the needs of the working people of this great country, they are in the business of retaining power..Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman et al have all proved that emphatically over recent times, and when that happens to any political party, it has to be somewhat of a watershed, in political terms..

How on earth can anybody take the government seriously if they can't even keep their swords sheathed for longer than a few days..?

It is not the vulnerability of Gordon Brown that bothers me, it is the fact that either the party has a predeliction for employing imbeciles, or that they have a predeliction for employing secret tories!!!

What was Peter Watt thinking????

If you keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, all I can say is that Peter Watt must be staying in Gordon's spare room!!!!

Still, this latest episode of self destruction and posturing for the poison chalice that will, at this rate, be the post of Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, has shed light on the fact that Labour cannot be taken seriously, because they do not take the job of governing the country, and changing it for the better, seriously anymore.

If Labour were to be truly serious about continuing the fight for change within the UK, they would bring an end to this constant stream of centralisation of just about every facet of civic management.

They would grow back the spine that their predecessors had, and action real and true change in the House of Commons..they would step back from the brink of a seemingly endless tide of political correctness that has been force fed to the people of this country to the extent that many people are afraid to engage in even everyday conversation for fear of 'offending' somebody who isn't even there..

They would bring an end to the hereditary house of lords, and replace it with a 'senate' style upper chamber, fully elected, fully accountable, and able to complete a full session without falling asleep!!

They would tighten the border controls, and give the UK Border Agency the power of arrest. They would enable the UKBA to actually go out and detain peole staying here illegally, and return them to their country of origin much more promptly, at a far lesser cost to the tax payer..

They would stand by their soundbite commitment to railways and public transport by committing to re-open closed lines and further expand the High Speed network, linking London with the north and scotland within reasonable journey times that could rival the performance of domestic air travel, they would help the environment further by promoting the shift of freight to rail, removing thousands of unnecessary lorry miles from our congested road network every year, and they would commit to getting our great nation moving once more..

They would make bus companies more accountable to local people, especially in the setting of fares, and work with operators in order to improve rural services, and therefore lessen people's dependency on the car..

They would end the preferential treatment of the aviation industry in terms of emission targets, and they would reverse the idiotic decision to expand Heathrow still further, as well as firmly and decisively ruling out Boris Johnson's pipedream that is a new airport on the thames estuary. as well as committing not to expand Gatwick & Standstead and other South East airports too..

They would cut the ID cards system, freeing up funding for around 10,000 extra police officers, and they would commit to reducing crime, rather than playing to the gallery of a hostile media..they would refrain from further expanding the near 4000 new criminal offences that have been statutised since 1997...

They would end the centrist approach to education..nanny does not always know best..(especially when she's plotting to have Head Teacher Brown expelled!)

They would allow local people to hold a stake in the control of local health services, and they would allow Doctors, Nurses and allid professionals the power to control the healthcare that changes, improves, and ultimately extends our lives...

The list goes on and on, but when it comes down to it, Labour won't do that..

If they did, they'd be Liberal Democrats....

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Panic Buying - Have they all gone mad??

Well, I have just returned from a fruitless visit to the local shop...

Upon walking in, I was struck by the scene with which I was greeted. Naked shelves, spent packaging strewn across the floor, no foodstuffs left of any sort other than pickled onions...and prunes..

But what is it that makes people react to the slightest problem or abnormality in weather by stuffing their cars full of perishable food until they can't shut the boot?

The shopkeeper told me that she had taken a delivery in this morning, and within 90 minutes, it was all gone!

One woman apparently bought 15 loaves of bread, a dozen bags of sugar, 34 bottles of milk, and a bag for life..

(I may have made up the bit about the bag for life, come to think about it...)

Obviously I am exaggerating, but it strikes me as ludicrous, that someone's reaction to a cold snap is to go and buy a month's supply of soya milk and 46 crunch corners.

Surely the money would be better spent on things like blankets and winter socks..or anti freeze for your car...

All I wanted was ONE bag of carrots and some dog food. Alas, these commodities too fell foul of the mad rush to stave off extinction.

So as well as wondering what exactly one can do with a mammoth supply of fresh carrots during a cold snap that you can't do when the diesel in your car doesn't have lumps of atlantic ice in it, I wonder how people lose all sense of proportion and rationality in the face of what is, effectively, a cold snap, a meteorological anomaly?

Surely there comes a point in someone's cognitive processes whereby they look down at the goods they have placed in their trolley, and they realise that, unless they have a freezer that is as big as Northamptonshire, there really is no point in buying those 3 dozen loaves of bread, or indeed the 37 litres of semi skimmed milk..

I'll let you into a secret..it'll go off before you ever get near to using it!!

I do not understand what goes on in the mind of the panic buyer. But for those panic buyers out there who maybe reading this, I'll do you a deal..

Next time I go into the local shop to buy the food that I need, I'll leave enough bread, milk, cheese, yogurt, dog food and other supplies so that you and your family can stock up too..I'll even leave some common sense next to the digestives so that you can pick it up on your way in.

In return, whenever it is that you plan to go in and hijack the food delivery, just make sure you leave enough for me, and the rest of the civilised world who have managed to keep our heads, when shoppers all around us seem to have lost theirs...

A little bit about me - and an introduction to my personal politic.

First of all, I'd like to offer a very warm welcome, and thank you for joining me for my very first blog!!!

My name is Karl Davis. I'm 30 years old, married, and I live on the south coast of the UK.

I am a train driver by profession, and a member of the Liberal Democrats. I am also a proud member of the train driver's union ASLEF.

I support Hull Kingston Rovers Rugby League team (expect to see mention of them here!)

This isn't just a political blog. I am somewhat new at this, so I will learn how I go along in terms of sorting through posts and generally keeping the place tidy etc...

I will be blogging on anything and everything really. I promise to keep it as clean as I can (the writing, not the page!) and to be completely honest. I will try (and often fail) to be funny and engaging, but that is, I am told, all the fun of the fair...

I have to say though, that politics does play a major role in my life, alongside Rugby, Music, Writing, and most importantly of all, my beautiful wife and our dog!!!!

Over the last few years though, my political allegiances have slowly shifted from what they once were.

I have in the past, been a member of the Labour party.
Unfortunately, I like many others, have become frustrated and disaffected with the way in which the party has closed in on itself, staring into the mirror, when it should have been looking out of the window.

Time after time, I tried to connect with the party, to try and engineer opportunities to discuss the inherent problems with Labour, not just with national figures, but also on a local level.
These attempts came to no avail.

The Labour party is, unfortunately, made up of a network of local parties, full of good people who are, in my humble opinion, let down by the party they devote their time and effort to, whereby these local activists and committed trade union officials are routinely sacrificed in terms of parliamentary candidature in favour of London centric members of the 'chatterati' who are more familiar with the bistros of Hampstead, and the Coffee Shops of Kensington etc, than the problems facing ordinary hard working men and women up and down this great nation.

Don't get me wrong. I would not go so far as to say that these people are 'bad' What they do represent though, is a subtle shift that has been allowed to happen over years whereby politics has ceased to be a vocation, and has now become a mere step on a lawyer's, or a political science graduate's career ladder.

Gone are the days of true ideological difference, that once drove the respective members of the 'mother of parliaments'

Now we have a parliament that is populated by, at least in the case of the Labour party, middle and upper middle class public school graduates who have no sense of what life is truly like for those very people whom they claim to represent. The saddest thing of all, is that the minority of Labour MPs who are truly committed to the cause of local representation and parliamentary democracy are labelled by their own whips and political bosses as 'extremists' 'trouble causers' and 'the usual suspects'

In the case of the Conservatives, we have a party made up of tax exiles, eton graduates, predatory business types and toffs, who have even less of an idea of what life truly is like than the failed Lawyers over on the Labour benches!

Again, not wanting to be misunderstood, I have no problem with graduates from eton and the like. They have just as much right to stand for parliament as anybody else. We do have to bear in mind though, that these people are incapable of legislating in the best interests of the poor and vulnerable, largely because they have never come into any meaningful contact with them!

The Conservative party, I am afraid (or pleased) to say, are falling for the same mistake that Labour did in the 90's. They were desperate to be elected, and were so hungry for victory, that they were ready to do or say anything, and they engaged the media in a commensurately 'proactive' way.
Cast an eye over the latest advertising campaign from Conservative Central Office, and you will see that the Conservatives are doing the very same thing. Hollow words, in order to win the keys to the increasingly hollow and irrelevant corridors of power

David Cameron is just as obsessed with style and spin as Tony Blair ever was.
The man comes from a marketing background. It is in his blood, it is his modus operandi.
It is what he knows.

Depressingly, the next election will be fought on soundbites, airbrushing, purile insults, and suit comparisons.

What we should be discussing is;
Health, Education, Transport, The future of our financial services sector, true and meaningful political reform, the conduct of bankers, the issue of bonuses, the badly needed green economy, jobs and how capital projects can provide them, fiscal policy, pensions, etc etc etc..

What we need is a real, proactive, responsive and robust plan to turn the country around, cut the defecit, reform parliament and local government in order to make it relevent once more, revive democracy, promote business development, promote and expand public transport and improvements to the transport infrastructure, provide equity in the taxation system, deliver fairness and equality in the workplace, grow job opportunities by shifting the economic emphasis away from the over reliance on financial services, and install a new balance of fairness, justice, pride, and a sense of right and wrong.

I cannot see Labour, or the Conservatives offering anything that is going to do achieve these things.

I am, as I have said, a Liberal Democrat. I can see the need to put things right, by offering real reform, and by having the courage to take some unpopular decisions in the short to medium term that will benefit us all in the years to come.

I will be talking about Liberal Democrat policies in my blog. I will praise and publicise them when I agree, and I will constructively comment and criticise them when I don't.

We have a broad church of views with the party, and that is the healthiest way for any political party to formulate policy. Freedom from big money backers of all backgrounds provides freedom to think, away from commercial interests, and allows the formulation of policies that are in everyone's best interest...

We have the power to effect some real change on the democratic workings of this country. I just hope that by the time the election comes, people will have the appetite to exercise that power...