Monthly Archives: July 2014

Conflict or consensus in UK politics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

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

Votes: 8 in favour: 0 against.

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

Votes: 7 in favour: 1 against.

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

Votes: 9 in favour: 0 against.

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

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

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

Votes: 8 in favour: 1 against.

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

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

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

Votes: 9 in favour: 1 against.

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

Votes: 10 in favour: 1 against.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education, Economy and Society

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

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My wish list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you have on your wish list?