Sunday, 23 November 2014

Time to move parliament out of London

Bradford's Goitside - where better for a relocated Parliament Building!

I've said before that one way to rebalance the nation is to move the politicians (and their assorted hangers on) out of London. Ideally - and there is no bias here at all - to Bradford.

We now have that opportunity:

The historic Palace of Westminster is in such poor condition that MPs and peers may have to move out for five years while works are carried out.

The Parliament building is falling down. Time to make that radical choice and move MPs somewhere else - away from the expensive world of London. Instead of spending £3 billion tarting up an old building that doesn't meet modern needs, sell that building and use the cash to build a new one in the North of England.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

We have Mr Potter's "discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class" - and the left don't like it!

There was a time when the mass of the population – you can call this the ‘working class’ if you like – looked like the crowd at one of those football games from the 1930s. Packed shoulder to shoulder, dressed the same, thin, pinched and unhealthy. Back in those days and through into the 1950s, those ordinary people stayed in the narrow confines of their regular lives – most worked in manual jobs, skilled or unskilled, and their pleasures were limited by the narrowness of their income. Football (as today’s fans keeps telling us) was cheap and the men topped this up with thin beer and stodgy food.

And during this time those men were uncomplaining – we had few if any riots, public drunkenness was rare and levels of crime were low. But looking at those men and women in old photographs, we see that their lives were hard and, by today’s standards, short. Most working class men didn’t live long past retirement age and there were plenty of premature deaths from disease, illness and injury. Despite this hard life, most ordinary men were accepting of their lot. Yes they voted Labour, electing one of their own sort into parliament, but that Labour Party – for all the radicalism of the Attlee government – didn’t want to change the structure of the economy other than to replace private ownership with state ownership.

Then something happened. The success of the economy plus the effectiveness of union campaigns saw wages rise. Those ordinary men – and increasingly the women too – began to cast off the cheap drab and to make a cultural contribution. Some of this – the music of the early sixties, for example – is overplayed as working class culture. The big bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were management not workers but, along with other changes, this music gave the ordinary population a justification to party. And from that time in the sixties right through to the millennium that’s just what we did – we went on a great binge.

We drank more alcohol trying out new drinks like wines and lagers, we ate out more as we embraced the burger, the pizza and lumps of chicken daubed in a secret mix of spices and breadcrumbs. And while we did this, the elite – those who had run everything and liked the old supine working class – grumbled about taste and the bad choices of other people (by which they meant those workers eating burgers and drinking lager). This was the change cursed by Mr. Potter, the scheming old banker in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life” when he said:

A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class.

We still see echoes of this when – just as that old rentier Potter did – left wing writers like Michael Rosen rail against debt. Borrowing money is fine for the likes of us, say folks like Rosen, but the ordinary people should be stopped from taking on debt because it’s bad for them:

Debt - one of the features of modern capitalism is the level of personal debt - whether through mortgages or loans. To my mind, this is the system's police force. Once we have debt, we have a legal system to terrify us with threats of non-payment. At any given moment in which we might feel that we have to (or want to) challenge the system, there is a voice in our head which says, 'But will this endanger my chances of paying my debts - my mortgage payments and my loan payments…?' This used to be a 'middle class' anxiety and was thought to only affect (or create) the attachment of the middle classes to the system.

The working class must be thrifty, must live within its means and mustn’t take on the trappings of their betters let alone put anything at risk in aspiring for a better future.

So we binged. And while we binged we all carrying on getting richer and piling up wealth. The wealth once held by landlords – state and private - and wealthy capitalists began to spread through society. We bought houses and saved money in pension schemes while enjoying cars, foreign holidays, meals out and central heating. Our lives were immeasurably better that the lives of those men shuffling to work a ten-hour shift and those women spending  80 hours a week feeding him and stopping the house filling up with soot.

From out of this change – this great binge – came a real working class culture. Not the make-believe one idolised by wealthy writers, that sort of Mike Leigh homage to a crap life so typical of how those who have present the culture of those who haven’t. And bits of that culture came as something of a shock to the left – they discovered that the working class is patriotic and that it will display that patriotism with enthusiasm. 

After years of sneering at the idea of loving one’s country, the left couldn’t somehow understand how ‘their people’ still sang the songs and flew the flags, celebrating Britain and, worst of all, England. These left wing folk still struggle – I listened to a Guardian journalist on the radio talking about singing by England fans. This man wanted us to stop singing ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘The Great Escape’ because he was uncomfortable with ‘what they symbolised’.

The cultural elite don’t like this – not just because of the nationalism but because, like draping your house in flags, it all seems just a bit tacky. When we visit my parents at Christmas, we have a little drive round to look at the Christmas decorations – not the state-sponsored and approved ones on the high street but the fantastic displays of kitsch plastic reindeer, flashing lights, gnomes and Santa people put on their homes. North Kent is great for this sort of display and the Isle of Sheppey – as a sort of distillation of everything North Kent – is best. But that cultural elite doesn’t like this sort of display and reserves sort of its best sneering to describe brash Christmas decoration:

“And what can I see from my office in Carnaby Street? I can see a giant, pneumatic, puce-coloured reindeer with white spots suspended from tension wires in space.”

This is from Stephen Bayley described as “…one of Britain's best known cultural commentators.” For which you can read arrogant snob. It is a short step from this to a very wealthy Islington MP tweeting, slightly sneeringly, a photograph of a house draped in England flags. A tweet that got that MP into trouble (although, for the record, her resigning was one of the dafter – if admirable – decisions in recent UK politics). It has though brought out the worst is the left as they set about defending Emily Thornberry:

“I thought that hanging flags with a red cross on a white background out of you house windows was telling the world that you aspired to be a right-wing thug who hated everything from abroad (except lager and curry) and wished that a bunch of ex-National Front neo-Nazis ran the government of Little England.”

This, as much as Ed Miliband’s laboured efforts to look cool and trendy, is Labour’s problem. The people who run the Labour Party – at every level – simply don’t relate to the bloke who flies a big England flag on his house or indeed to that man's neighbour who, as we speak, is putting up Christmas lights, an inflatable snowman and a great big sleigh. The same is true for my party but we’ve an excuse – for much of our recent history, we simply haven’t tried to represent the ordinary worker. I think this needs to change because it’s absolutely plain that the left with its patronising, snobbish and judgemental attitude to people who fly the flag, eat burgers, give their kids a bar of chocolate and like X-Factor has nothing to offer those people. Right now the void – a voice for people with kitsch Christmas displays, great big England flags, white vans, tattoos – is being filled by UKIP, a bunch of people who think the modern world is crap and wish to return to some mythical Elysian past.

This view is the very opposite of aspiration, of the thing that George Bailey offered the ordinary folk of Bedford Falls. Rather than offer people opportunity, choice and a better tomorrow – the things that allowed us to change from a supine, shuffling working class to a brash, in-your-face flag-waving populace – what people are being sold is a comfort blanket, a message of ‘hold onto this and it will all be fine’. Instead of a world of new exciting things to do, see and play with we’re promised safety, security and the oversight of our behaviour by our betters. I don’t think this is what people want and I’m absolutely sure that, whatever people do want, it isn’t snobbish, patronising judgement of their lives, choices and pleasures.


Friday, 21 November 2014

What are schools for? Nannying fussbucketry it seems!


You and I (like I guess most people) take the view that schools are there to educate children. And by this we mean things like teach them to read, read write and add up, give them a grasp of geography and history, and generally provide them with the tools to get on in the world. It seems that this now extends to 'healthy-eating' and the suppression of enterprise:

A 15 year old schoolboy has been threatened with suspension making £14,000 selling sweets to pals in the playground.

Budding businessman Tommie Rose, has made a fortune by selling chocolate, crisps and fizzy drinks to pupils at Buile Hill High School, Salford. He buys them in bulk and sells them at competitive prices, even employing two mates to help run his business, paying them £5.50 a day. He says the money will go towards his University tuition fees.
Nobody is hurt by Tommie's initiative - the school decided it wouldn't sell sweets, fizzy drinks or crisps and he stepped into the gap left by this decision. Tommie's fellow pupils get a service, he makes some money and everyone's happy. Except for Tommie's po-faced headteacher:
"We admire this pupil’s entrepreneurship but school is not the place to set-up a black market of fizzy drinks, sweets and chocolates. We have extremely high standards and with our healthy eating policy we don’t allow isotonic drinks, fizzy drinks and large amounts of sweets for the good of our children. Our high standards are set out to pupils and their parents at the start of the school year."
Firstly it's not a 'black market' and secondly when did schools take it upon themselves to acts as dietary policemen? This phrase "for the good of our children" is so typical of the self-serving indulgence of the nannying fussbucket. It's fine if the school wants to stop selling such good itself (although it's clearly missing a trick) but utterly wrong of them to then police the provision made by individual initiative to fill the demand for those products.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

West Yorkshire's political leaders don't want to tell you about their plans for devolution


I'm a member of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority's Overview & Scrutiny Committee and this morning (through the post rather than by electronic means) I received a document that you good folk don't even know exists. It's entitled:

Northern Devolution: West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership Joint Response

You don't know about this document or the proposals it contains because, for reasons that entirely escape me, the covering letter accompanying the report is headed:

Private and Confidential - Not for Public Circulation

I'm assuming that the proposals are marked as confidential because of the words 'negotiating document'. This is the pitch from our politicians up here in Yorkshire to those politicians down there in London. Now it's true that Calderdale Council at least had a debate about devolution but other than this there has been no public discussion of the issues involved - what the geography should be, what powers might be devolved, what it means for the broader issue of England's democratic deficit and how any devolved arrangements should be governed.

What we have here is a summation of the problems we face with politics and why so many people are so fed up with us politicians. These are proposals for a very substantial change to government in West Yorkshire yet it hasn't be subject to consultation, let alone any recognisable process to secure a democratic mandate. The proposals are significant but have been agreed by a small group of Councillors meeting in secret plus a few select business folk who have been appointed (by those same councillors) to the board of the local economic partnership.

You the public are not to be trusted with any role or say in this matter. These leaders want to determine the governance themselves (in which case it will be a cosy secondary body that isn't directly elected or noticeably accountable) and through this to secure control of several billion pounds a year of public funding in West Yorkshire. All done in secret.


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Stopping men from debating abortion is an act of oppression not liberation...


So abortion is a contested area. But do people really think they can shut down debate because:

The idea that in a free society absolutely everything should be open to debate has a detrimental effect on marginalised groups. Debating abortion as if its a topic to be mulled over and hypothesised on ignores the fact that this is not an abstract, academic issue.

Nobody, not a single soul, thinks abortion isn't intensely real for women faced with the choice. But to prevent half the population from discussing the subject because they don't have a uterus is an act of oppression not liberation. Yet this is precisely what Niamh McIntyre and her friends did - they shut down a debate because the protagonists, for and against abortion were both men.

The truth was that the debate wasn't about Niamh's uterus - it is utterly selfish of her to believe it was. And, if she didn't want to hear two men debate abortion, she could have read a book, gone to the pub, had a swim, played chess or a myriad of other choices. What she chose - preventing others from speaking - was the act of suppression, the very thing feminists are supposed to contest.


Health fascists - unelected, unaccountable, interfering and after the food on your plate


A great long list of 'experts' has written to the World Health Organisation (you know the folk who hold their meetings in secret in Moscow and talk more about e-cigs than epidemics) urging them to adopt the tobacco template for food:

The governance of food production and distribution cannot be left to economic interests alone. To achieve the necessary dietary improvements and to secure good population health, a set of policy options for healthy diets are required. This includes governments taking regulatory approaches to the operation of the market through, for example, restrictions on marketing to children, health claims, compositional limits on the saturated fat, added sugar and sodium content of food, removal of artificial trans fats, interpretative front-of-pack labelling, restaurant calorie labelling, fiscal measures and financial incentives, and public health impact assessments in trade and investment policies.

The authors of this letter - adherents to the church of public health in its fundamentalist form - believe that you and I cannot make the right choice. Or rather that the world is filled with gormless sheep who respond thoughtlessly to advertising - you dear reader are one of these, a victim of Big Food.

We'll leave aside that there is little or no evidence showing these actions will actually make a difference or indeed the fact that levels of obesity (in the UK at least) are falling not rising. Instead we'll are about the moral justification for such control. The argument is that better health requires those "necessary dietary improvements" and that people will not eat a good diet unless the government forces such a diet on them by force. And don't think that just because you're some sort of trendy foodie grazing on organic beefburgers and awesome street food - those things are just a loaded with fats, salt and sugar as McDonalds, Dominos and Mr Kipling's cakes.

Wrapped up as protecting our health, these people are proposing a controlled, licensed diet for us to eat. This would be regulated by government and dictated by the priests of the Church of Public Health. Restaurants will be closed, businesses will be broken, web sites will be blocked and children will be brainwashed with half-truths about nutrition. Self-righteous folk will imply that being slightly overweight is a waste of food and campaigners will start to define giving your child a chocolate bar or crisps as a treat as some sort of abuse.

And you know there's a much bigger problem.  There are still some 400 million or more people in the world who don't have enough to eat. It's that problem the WHO should be concerned with rather than the fast less significant issue of people in the UK, Europe and North America being a bit chubbier than they used to be. But the Church of Public Health isn't interested in third world starvation, malnutrition and disease but in controlling the lives of people in the developed world, in attacking 'consumerism' and in pretending that marketing is the problem when it isn't.

This health fascism has to end. Not because there aren't problems with obesity, diabetes and such but because it really is a matter of personal choice. Inform and educate by all means but stop with this idea that Big Food is somehow manipulating us into a diet that makes us fat. It isn't - we choose to eat that stuff because we like it. And the food industry makes that stuff because we like to eat it. We are consumers with real choice not hapless victims of Big Food's evil marketing wiles.


A familiar description - for Democrat read Labour...


From Joel Kotkin:

As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don’t address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party’s true believers.

Indeed, for a time these were the obsessions of my party too. We do seem to be shifting slowly back to core economic issues though and not before time. There are still some such as those fussing about with pseudo-devolution to new urban constructions in Manchester, Merseyside or West Yorkshire who have yet to get the message. And it is a reminder that while the Conservatives remain strong in rural Britain, we have neglected suburbia and those places that were always reliably Tory up to Labour's 1997 landslide. These places aren't interested in those metropolitan obsessions and don't get how imposing a super-mayor (even if you call him a 'Manchester Boris') will improve their lot one iota.