Archive for British politics

Ten weeks to go

This year was probably my last White Good Friday, and I won’t be sorry if I never experience another White Christmas either.  My heart’s desire is never to see another snowflake for as long as I live.

Swapping continents involves keeping a lot of balls in the air at once, and between now and the end of June I will have constant anxiety about dropping one of them.

Planning our relocation, I’ve found the British Ex-Pat forums invaluable. With the help of the forum I’ve managed to keep the cost to under £10,000, which is remarkable given that we spend nearly £13,000 in ’06, though then we were spending a generous relocation allowance from Ian’s employer.

The biggest expense is for a 20′ container, which will transport our books and household goods. The cost of transporting our two cats is the next most expensive item, more than our own airfares; they travel on the same aircraft as us, but as cargo. The remainder of the expense is made up of car and van hire and a hotel for our last few days in Canada after our house has been emptied.

The whole of my time in Alberta has been overshadowed by the fact that our life here is subsidized by an industry, the tar sands, that I think should be closed down. There isn’t any way the industry can be made sustainable.  Being here has meant living a contradiction and it has made me unhappy.  It was a huge relief to me last year when the sale of our house meant that I no longer had a significant financial investment in the economy. But I’ve also made friends here, and how genuine can my friendship be when I wish their economy, and with it their careers and financial security, to blazes?

I think the outlook for Alberta is grim whatever the future holds. If the world is going to deal with climate change then Alberta is going to become known as the province of stranded assets.  If the world doesn’t deal with climate change then the outlook is grim for all of us including Alberta. While I’ve been here, I’ve been very disappointed by the British government’s backing for Canada on the EU Fuel Quality Directive. A true friend to Canada would not give it a helping hand on the path to perdition.

 

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Race Plan by Jeremy Browne.

A  brief review.

I was delighted to discover that I could download this book from Amazon.ca the day it was published in the UK.  This was quite an achievement for a UK publisher.  Normally I have to wait several months for British books to appear on the Canadian site.

Jeremy Browne has interesting things to say about foreign affairs. The chapter on foreign policy is both informed and trenchant; for example his contention that our diplomacy in Asian countries is often inept. His overall message is that we have a lot of soft power, and we must use it to promote liberal values in China’s century, both for our own good, and for the preservation of those values in a world in which the dominant world power is a dictatorship.

The rest of the book, however, too often reads as a formulaic setting out of problems and solutions by an ideologically inflexible economic liberal.  Sometimes Browne gives the impression that he hasn’t been prepared to think about the issues he is writing about, other than to place them within the parameters of his ideology.  For example, does it really matter that a minimum price on alcohol would interfere with the free market?  Surely the only important criteria is whether or not it would work to reduce alcohol abuse? Blind adherence to any creed kills common sense.

What I found most disappointing was the almost complete absence of any consideration of the environmental implications of policy:

“The comforting truth is that, just because one country gets richer, it does not follow that one country gets poorer.  Global economic growth is not a zero-sum game: we can all get richer” (my emphasis).

True for Adam Smith perhaps, but not in the world of finite resources we live in now. For some resources it is in fact a zero-sum game: there isn’t enough pasture land for us all to eat red meat, and so if China is going to eat more, we may have to eat less, for example.

Browne’s blind spot on the environment is most apparent when he is talking about Britain’s infrastructure needs. He supports a new airport hub for London, new roads, rail and housing on green belt land — and they’d get it all built so much more quickly in China.  But you can’t possibly understand the complex issues of infrastructure on our crowded island unless you also consider greenhouse gas emissions, smog, preservation of landscape and biodiversity.  If, as a nation, we spend time considering the options and sometimes prefer infrastructure solutions which are not optimal for the economy, but less damaging for the environment, surely that is just our nation practising the same liberal values that he thinks are our strength?

I found parts of the book  just plain irritating.  There is  a section where Browne comes over all Niall Ferguson about our past and tries to out-jingo Michael Gove.  If he did some more reading, he would discover that there are other factors to explain the Industrial Revolution, than our intangible ‘national disposition’, and personally I’m not swelling with pride at being part of a nation that built the largest empire ever known.

The reason that supermarkets ran out of products in the nineteen seventies was because high inflation led to hoarding and runs on food. So  if that does not happen now, it is not an example of how commercial institutions improve their performance; though bread, which he mentions specifically, used to be a morning product, having been baked overnight.  But maybe an ambassador’s wife didn’t do her own shopping often enough to know that?  I remember because I was a grown-up in the seventies, not a schoolboy shopping with his mum.

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The pensioner’s top-up

I’m one of the people who could take advantage of the pensioners’ top-up just announced.  It looks very generous, offering an index linked annuity of 5.84%, compared with the 3.5% offered commercially.

But, the question that is puzzling me is this:  Why would I take advantage of this offer, when the government offers a much better deal through pension deferral, since every year of deferral increases my pension by 10.4%?

I reach pension age on 6th March 2015.  I am entitled to the full pension of £110.15 p.w. So, if I put off claiming my state pension for two years, until 6th March 2017, I will have foregone £11,455.60. But, I will have gained a pension increase of 20.8%; that is £22.91 per week.

Alternatively, if I use the pension top-up scheme to gain an additional £23 a week, the premium I’ll have to pay on 6th March 2017 will be £20,470, more than £9,000 extra for the same result.

So why would I do that? Will someone (Mr Webb?) explain?

It occurs to me I should add some links:

Deferring the State Pension

State Pension Top Up Calculator

 

 

 

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Is Nigel Farage in the pay of Moscow?

OK, it is one of those questions to which the answer is no, but after last night it wouldn’t be one of the wilder conspiracy theories out there either.

Moscow’s elite are reputedly influenced by Eurasianism, or more correctly Neo-Eurasianism, a political ideology developed by political scientist Alexander Dugin who is the son of a KGB officer. Dugin’s  book, The Foundations of Geopolitics, The Geopolitical Future of Russia, posits a future for Russia as Europe’s hegemon, sees America as Russia’s enemy, and Russia as leading a revolution against liberal values.

As part of this strategy to defeat ‘Atlanticism’, Dugin proposes that Britain should be isolated from Europe.  So, does Farage know how pleasing his politics must be to Moscow’s hard men?  And, how does he feel about being their useful idiot?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/23/ukraine-crimea-what-putin-thinking-russia

http://www.4pt.su/en/content/aleksandr-dugin%E2%80%99s-foundations-geopolitics

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundations_of_Geopolitics

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Scottish Independence

My husband Ian and I disagree on Scottish Independence.  He is a Canadian of Scottish descent and I am English, but our ethnicity has nothing to do with it.  He is an historian who has spent his career examining the question of nationalism and the harm it causes.  He’d vote for the union.  Like him I’m wary of all nationalisms, but I know full well that if I were a Scot, then I’d be voting yes in September. My heart would rule my head, and the chance to make sure I was never ruled by a Conservative government again would trump any other consideration.

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Goodbye to 2013 Part 2

5.30 pm, -18°C with windchill, snow.

We try to make sure that we give at least 1% of our net income to charity.  That is not overly generous, but in our defence, we do normally give more. My policy with regards to charitable giving has been fixed for several decades: With some exceptions for local and environmental charities, I try to make sure my donations go to the developing world.  But, I was made to think about my charitable giving for two reasons this year.

The first was the issue of executive pay as reported in the Telegraph in August. The fifteen leading foreign-aid charities pay six figure salaries to their chief executives, and these are the charities which receive the bulk of my donations.

My problem with this is the same as with politicians pay: Both I and my husband are educated to post-graduate level.  Neither of us has ever had a salary even approaching that of an MP.  Yet, we don’t feel poor or badly paid.  On the contrary, we have a good lifestyle and feel very fortunate to be so well off.  We still have incomes and savings well above the average in either Canada or the UK.  So, it is very difficult for me to understand when I’m  told that six figure salaries are necessary for charity executives. Nevertheless, for the time being I haven’t changed my pattern of giving, but I will be looking out for the report of the Public Administration Select Committee’s.

Secondly — Food Banks.  I’ve blogged on this before, so I’ll keep it short.  When I visited the UK before Xmas, I saw that the Food Bank industry has taken another step forward in the march to the domination of most pernicious, inefficient and wasteful means of poverty relief to ever undermine the welfare state. In Tesco’s I was mugged by staff handing out food bank vouchers.  The supermarkets love these in Canada too – always less than enough to buy a substantial item of food, so you will add to it with your own money. The next step is to pile excess stock on the counter, so if you haven’t used your voucher, you can spend it on almost time-expired tinned tuna, or something similar. Outside Waitrose a woman volunteer had set out a table and asked me to remember to buy something to donate. Yes, that is such a good idea, paying over the odds for Waitrose tinned tomatoes to be given to someone on benefits, who could have bought two tins for the same money in Poundland. I told the Waitrose woman that I didn’t think the upmarket supermarket needed charitable help.  I don’t think she understood me. I resent being made to feel like Scrooge by Christians with more good intentions than common-sense.

My politician of the year is George Osborne, though I say it with an embarrassed wince. He seems to be loathed equally by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, which suggests he is doing something right. While I take the opinions of the CEBR with a pinch of salt, the fact is that the UK economy is doing OK, unemployment figures ain’t too bad, and appointing Carney to the Bank of England was inspired.  It looks as if Labour will get  landslide in 2015, and that is a pity if it means Balls takes over.

Happy New Year everyone.

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Goodbye 2013 Part 1

Edmonton Alberta, 5.30 pm,  -26°C with windchill, snow.

2013 has been a good year for me personally, though it hasn’t felt like that all of the time. The big event was selling our house in Edmo and buying a coastguard’s cottage in Devon.  I thought it was the right time to sell and move our capital back to Blighty, and for once my financial judgement seems to have been correct.  And we have avoided a lot of the stress of repatriation by selling well in advance of our move next June. I’ve also had a couple of articles published this year, and I’ve got a credit in a book; although my real ambition is to finish my novel and get it published, these small achievements boost my confidence.

As far as politics is concerned, I end the year a far less enthusiastic Lib Dem than I was at the beginning.

There were a couple of things this year that really got to me emotionally.  The first was Thatcher’s funeral.  I loathed Thatcher.  So did a half the population during the time she was in power. There was no way she was entitled to a state ‘ceremonial’ funeral.  It was an insult to great leaders like Wellington and Churchill who had state funerals, and it was an insult too, to great Prime Ministers like Attlee or Lloyd George who didn’t. The funeral was divisive, and reflected badly on the politicians of all parties who attended it, showing them up as shallow opportunists.

Shallow opportunism was also in evidence after the death of Mandela.  It was unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the same MPs who’d fallen over backwards to praise the supporter of apartheid, and bosom friend of torturer General Pinochet, were a few months later wanting to remind the world they’d once shaken hands with Mandela, or if not, knew someone who did.  Mandela’s long march to freedom would have been significantly shorter without the Iron Lady.

Overall, the intellectually vapid and histrionic performance by MPs of all parties in 2013 left a bad smell, and will have done nothing to counter the general cynicism with which politicians are viewed nowadays.

Secondly, I still feel upset about the prejudice being whipped up towards the Roma people. I’m not able to view this issue with emotional detachment.  I’m not sure why: I am not Roma, and my connections with the Roma community are historical and tenuous.  But, I find the hatred being expressed to the Roma both appalling and quite frightening. At the very best, it takes our society back to the levels of prejudice shown against the Afro-Caribbean population in the 1960s.  At worst we are part of a European trend that will end in ethnic cleansing, 1930s style.

And that brings me on to the subject of Nick Clegg. I’ve come to the conclusion that Clegg is just not an instinctive liberal.  Time and time again, when he has to think on his feet, his pronouncements are illiberal, and then have to be corrected at a later stage, if at all.  He had been described as a Europhile Tory, and that is probably correct. His comment about the Roma, quoted by Tanya Gold in her excellent Guardian article this week, was the last straw. It is really shameful that the comment of a Liberal leader gets quoted as an example of racism. I don’t like him as leader of the party.  If we are to continue in coalition, then we need a leader who is liberal to the core.  Until he is replaced, I’m going to be picky about what campaign work I involve myself with.

I end the year despondent about environmental issues. When we get to Devon, we will be retrofitting our cottage to reduce our carbon footprint as much as is practicable, or we can afford; but, it seems a futile gesture; no more than a means of reducing our fuel bills and placating our consciences. With no international agreement in sight that will result in significant reductions in emissions, anything we do as individuals, or as a country, is just pissing in the wind.  In that context the coalition’s failure to live up to its green promise seems almost irrelevant.

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Why we should remember Waterloo.

Here are a few reasons why the 200th anniversary of Waterloo, on 18th June 2015 should be marked:

  • Its importance. Because it was the last battle of the Napoleonic Wars which had been going on since 1804, and Britain had been at war with France intermittently since 1793. Some would argue about its significance: for the  British, the Battle of Trafalgar had been more important militarily, and it is true that if Napoleon had not been defeated at Waterloo he would have been defeated by the Allies at one of the battles that followed.  But, putting hypothetical history aside, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, leaving Britain the pre-eminent world power, making the nineteenth century “Britain’s century”.
  • The casualties. More than six thousand British soldiers were killed or wounded. In the Napoleonic wars as a whole  (1804-15). British dead or missing totalled more than three hundred thousand. The total dead for all nations was around two and a half million military personnel and one million civilians.  Proportionate to Britain’s population at the time, the losses were greater than  in World War One. After Waterloo, Britain and Europe were not going to endure that scale of casualties again for nearly a century.
  • The impact on the civilian population. Jane Austen’s novels give a false impression that the civilian population was barely affected by the war.  If a soldier was sent overseas his family were left to fend for themselves. Bereaved women received no widow’s pension. Sick troops returning from Spain spread disease among the civilian population. Some women followed their men overseas as camp-followers and into battle and died.  Hundreds of British women and children died in Spain in 1808, on the retreat to Corunna. These casualties remain uncounted.
  • The war had been a popular patriotic war. Napoleon had planned to invade Britain. His prospects of success were actually slim, but prior to 1804, he’d had an invasion fleet preparing at Boulogne.  Patriotic anti-French sentiment was whipped up by propaganda, but it is also true that the peasant class had good reason to fear a looting invasion army. From 1808 the British army fought its way north through occupied Spain, welcomed by Spaniards of all classes who, even if the British also looted and raped, regarded them as liberators from a hated occupying force.
  • National pride in defeating a dictator. The Napoleonic Wars were the first of three occasions on which Britain has played a prime role in ensuring that a militaristic expansionist dictatorship does not get to determine Europe’s destiny.
  • Commemorating the dead. Strangely, there is still no memorial to the British dead on the battlefield.

So thank you for the donation Mr Osborne.

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Bob Lambert police spy.

Reading the latest article on this appalling  man, I was struck by the words “Lambert who now works as a university academic”.  He holds posts at St Andrews and Exeter, according to his Wikipedia page.

Why doesn’t this read “Lambert, currently suspended from his work as an academic” ?

In view of the allegations, if I was an undergraduate I would be very unhappy about taking courses taught by Lambert. If I had a daughter at Exeter or St Andrews I’d be very unhappy about his presence on campus.  Surely, in view of the ongoing police investigation which may lead to prosecution, it is inappropriate for him to remain in his post?

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The Green Deal Boosts Property Prices by how much?

I am puzzled by the DECC  commissioned study that reported a significant increase in property prices for making energy saving improvements to homes. The report makes the claim that, on average, a home which has been upgraded from category D to B, or from G to E, will sell for more than £16,000 more.

Now I have spent the last few years house-hunting and I’ve downloaded dozens and dozens of EPC reports for houses I’m interested in.  I am someone who takes notice of the EPC report and I would certainly be prepared to pay a little more for a house that had been improved.  But £16,000?

Most of the houses I’ve looked at, all in a price range a little above the average, have had a rating of D.  To upgrade them to B generally requires work costing in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 for estimated fuel savings per annum of between £200 and £250.  So why would anyone, except a complete idiot, pay £16,000 extra for a house that already had cavity wall and loft insulation rather than one that didn’t?  It defies common sense.

 

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