Monday, 27 September 2010

Ed Miliband: A New Hope?

With all the gloom happening in my life at present, another job rejection on Friday; further steps in disposing of my house before it is repossessed and simply having a cold, I actually got quite excited this weekend when it was announced that Ed Miliband has been elected leader of the Labour Party.  I have labelled myself a democratic Socialist and certainly adhered to Labour Party policies in the 1980s, but was very much turned off by New Labour and have not voted for the party since 1992.  Of course, to the 'mainstream' of British society with a centre ground in politics far to the right of anything I (like most people) would have considered acceptable in the 1970s, I must appear like some revolutionary.  Though I have lost my faith in the particular electoral system the UK uses I certainly support democracy and in fact feel in all its aspects it was damaged by both Thatcher and Blair.  Ed Miliband was an unexpected winner.  Since Tony Blair succeeded so well at the 1997 election it seems that no political party can accept a leader who does not look incredibly like him.  David Cameron, Nick Clegg and David Miliband look like clones created from cells of Blair with a little different input.  Ed Miliband, in contrast, reminds me of the US actor, Ray Romano, though more cheerful in demeanour.  David Miliband seemed to adhered to the politics of what Labour was in 1994-2008, the Blairite Party.  Blair and Mandelson are hovering in the wings trying to keep Labour as the Blairite Party and not go back to anything resembling the Labour Party before 1994 or, in fact, anything more modern.  Blair was very much a Thatcherite and was unwilling to at all address the immense power the wealthy were continuing to accrue through his terms of office.  This left a basis on which Cameron could come in with the smokescreen of the national debt, to implement a harsh New Right monetarist policy of a severity which would have even made Margaret Thatcher hesitate if it had been proposed in 1979 or even 1983.

The Conservatives believed that they could not have won against a Labour Party led by David Miliband and to some degree are probably a little relieved by the unexpected outcome of Ed coming to the role.  However, if David had been chosen, then the Labour Party would have received another nail in the coffin and the Blairite Party would have been reinvigorated after the brief interlude of Brown.  Of course, the Conservatives and their allies in the media will present Ed as a tool of the trade unions and as dangerously 'red'.  However, as he has noted very vigorously in his first interview as leader, wanting social justice and for the bulk of the population not being compelled to serve the interests of the ultra-wealthy is not left-wing policy.  So many commentators forget that the current Labour Party including Ed Miliband is far less Socialist in its outlook than the Conservative governments of Winston Churchill or Harold Macmillan; they oversaw and economy which was 20% nationalised, had a large, robust and growing welfare state and civil service, oversaw social house building and limited the removal of capital from the UK, all things that would seem radical if proposed these days.

What gave me some hope seeing Ed Miliband being interviewed yesterday is that he is willing to challenge the inequalities of British society.  Of course, he is going to emphasise that he is his own man, every party leader does that, but I think no matter what support he got, he can bring not only the Labour Party but its broader support in the country together.  He seemed far less unafraid than either his brother and certainly Blair, of saying things which sound hard.  We know he would take on the banks.  I thought it was utterly disgraceful of Baroness Warsi to come on the BBC and say that Ed Miliband had been disgraceful in not using his first speech to apologise to the nation for the economic mess that she believed Labour had got the country into when in office.  Would any political leader have started their career that way?  It shows how much contempt she holds for the Opposition that she patronises then that way as if they are not fit to be considered a proper political party.  The other thing, of course, is would the Conservatives have done anything different if they had been in office?  Would they have allowed banks to have collapsed?  No.  It would have caused immense hardship to millions of ordinary voters.  The fact is that Blair, adhering to the Thatcherite creed of deregulation, had allowed merchant banks and speculators to gamble with the UK's money.  They knew that if they lost the state would be compelled to bail them out or risk a wider crisis.  They take such aid for granted and have won triply: they had their banks saved, they now have a government following the monetarist line they love and they are back to paying obscene bonuses and salaries backed once more by the state.

Ed Miliband certainly seems to be a leader for which policy is more important than how it is represented in the media.  For Blair the portrayal of things was always more important than the policies themselves.  This is why so much of his time in office saw the government paralysed, not only concerned about how the policy would work, but even more focused on how it would appear; hence the terribly slow progress on constitutional reform.  Of course, he is shifting more to the 'centre' as to win the next election Labour must not only secure the votes of the unemployed, but also of the 'squeezed' middle class.  Reference to housing and tuition fees plays well to this set of society who thought, from the vague policy statements that Cameron put out before and during the election they were going to get another Blair, but have found instead someone who makes Sir Keith Joseph appear to have been caring.  Unlike the ultra-wealthy, the middle classes, however, they may struggle against it, are in fact dependent on a robust state, and, in fact, because they statistically engage more with things like higher education and will live longer than working class people, they often need its support in a wider variety of aspects in their lives.  Miliband is personable, but from the outset, what has won me over to him, is that he has presented simple messages that are about making the UK a more fair society, not classless, but reducing what we have seen in the past two years, people being rewarded for being reckless out of the pockets of hardworking people.  Even the daily headlines about 'dole cheats' will not convince most of us, that the bulk of the people around us, are like us, wanting to simply house themselves, feed their families and work in a reasonable job.

I suppose I like Ed Miliband because from the start he is talking about things that I get upset about on this blog, primarily the inequality, in terms of opportunity in particular, which is being sharpened in our society.  While I would probably still be considered middle class, as I lose my house and I return to the rental sector and the income in my house is now so low the child living in it is entitled to free school meals, I am sliding into not even the working class, but the bottom end of that.  Of course, I have thrown away the aspirations of a couple of years ago and know I will now never get promoted; never will own property again and, may be jobless for years to come, but, it would be nice if I could still believe the boy in my house does not face the same fate, and, perhaps, even go to university one day.  Naturally, if the destruction of the UK economy continues at the pace it is at the present, then he will not even get the opportunities currently available to teenagers and most likely will be in classes of 45+ pupils before he gets to leave school.  His only hope would be to emigrate, but given how education is to be slashed in the coming years, he would be so much less skilled than foreign rivals, assuming he has not died of some illness hospitals cannot afford to treat or through contracting a superbug in unhygenic health facilities.

One thing the Conservatives have won on is to get everyone obsessed over the deficit as if this was evil and has to be eliminated immediately.  Of course, any Conservative MP of the Churchill and Macmillan years would see it differently, knowing that in crisis the state borrows, this is basic Keynesianism, the economic policy followed from 1941/8-1972/6.  However, monetarism has been so engrained in UK thinking as the only, 'rational' way of viewing the economy that no-one yet can challenge it.  However, even in this context Miliband can refer to Alastair Darling's plan for halving it in four years with cuts in public spending but not to the severity the current government is adopting.  The illusion that Cameron has created is that his economic policies are necessary for tackling the debt.  In fact, he would have pursued them even if he had come to power before the banking crisis.  The debt is a smokescreen for the harsh monetarist policies it is clear he always dreamed of implementing.  The only use of the Liberal Democrats in the coalition is actually, finally, someone is making a fuss about tax avoidance by the wealthy, seventeen times more damaging to the economy than the estimated level of benefit fraud, but something Blair and even Brown did not tackle.

Commentators are right.  Labour is already as popular as the Conservatives and once the cuts really hit, they will become immensely popular.  At the time, I disagreed with Polly Toynbee that Brown should have stepped down before the election, but now hold the opposite opinion.  If a Miliband had come to lead the party, then the outcome would clearly have been different.  Sensibly he is drawing a line under the New Labour era, which he cleverly portrays as being old fashioned.  In fact it allows him to recapture good elements from the history of the Labour Party.  Doing this in 2009 could have spared the UK from the horrific experience it is now going into.  People talk of a 'double dip' recession.  This analogy is wrong.  To have a second dip, means you have to have had a peak of some recovery in the middle.  As yet we have had no such recovery. We are on the 'downward staircase' recession, depression in fact, with some plateaus of things not worsening, and then a further fall as the next batch of government cuts kick in.  Labour is the party of hope and I think it is ironic that Ed Balls referred recently to the Attlee Labour governments of 1945-51, because if Labour return to power in 2015 (hopefully it will be sooner), then they will be facing an economy dealing with many of the same difficulties as when the Second World War finished.  Hope will be like gold dust in those days and strong policies to revive the country will be necessary.

I know many years of hardship, for me personally, and the bulk of my friends and relations lie ahead, but this week at least I feel there might be someone who understands and is seeking to bring forward policies which will at least ameliorate the worst of it.  I know I am putting a lot of store by the new Leader of the Opposition, he may fail, he may be marginalised, but for a small moment, I do feel at least a little ember of hope.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Steady Path to Repossession of Our House

Early on with me posting to this blog, way back in 2007, I wrote a lot about the agonies of being booted out of one house by a landlord and then buying another house quickly.  Now, almost three years on, I am in a position to see how much of a mistake that rapid house purchase was.  December 2007 was the worst time to move, with house prices and interest rates seeming to be going to rise inexorably, we felt lucky to get a fixed-rate mortgage at 6% and a 3-bedroomed house at less than £240,000 (€283,800; US$372,400).  Now, of course, with interest rates at almost zero for 18 months, such a high rate of mortgage seems insane, and the house, well, that is worth somewhere around £205-£210,000.  Saying that though, even with a £900 per month (€1,060; US$1,390) mortgage repayment, it was already below the rent for a house of the same size in my town and now, three years later, renting the same type of property locally would cost £1200 per month, so there were savings.  In addition, I was fortunate that after Newham Council had taken its £14,000 cut from the sale of my flat in their borough; HM Revenue and Customs £16,000 for capital gains tax as I had been unable to find work near my flat and so had been compelled to rent it out, and the estate agents sold the 2-bedroomed flat to a friend of theirs at a price you could have got a 1-bedroomed flat in the same area for, I had quite a bit of money to put into the house.  I reckon I will come away with around £30,000 of that, which means I have lost £20,000 (€23,600; US$31,000) in house purchasing since 2001 and am unlikely ever to be able to afford to buy any kind of house or flat again.

The main problem for me at the moment is selling the house before I run out of money to pay the mortgage repayments.  Having applied for 40 jobs in 16 weeks and attended 11 interviews without success, it looks like I am going to be unemployed for a pretty long time; structural unemployment, 1980s-style is back.  I have enough saved from my last redundancy package to pay two more months repayments.  Where money for deposit on a flat and rental payments will come from, I have no idea.  Knowing that I will soon default on the mortgage repayments I have contacted my lender twice in the past four months, first when I was made redundant and again now.  However, both times I have been told they can do nothing, I am not yet desperate enough.  I need to have only one month's repayment money left before they can even begin considering any options such as moving me to an interest-only payment scheme.  I have noticed that at the job centre (even though many of the staff at my local branch are in line for redundancy themselves come December), the building society and the estate agent's, people are still thinking that we are only experiencing frictional unemployment, i.e. people being out of work for three months or less as they move from position to position.  In fact, at a Back-To-Work session run by the job centre they said as much.  People need to wake up to the fact that certainly in public sector work and, I feel, more widely, we are now facing a pretty quick progression to mass, structural unemployment as seen in the 1980s.  The principles of the late 1990s and 2000s do not apply in such circumstances.

I applied for mortgage interest benefit.  I was advised by my job centre that, given that I have been unemployed for more than three months, I should apply for such help.  I did.  I was then told that because the woman in my house works more than 24 hours per week, I was not entitled to it.  To make matters worse I was also told that my jobseeker's allowance, which currently is paid to me on the basis of my contributions, will stop in December because the 'household income' must be too high because the woman in my house works more than 24 hours per week.  Given the current economic climate and the fact that she is self-employed she is working more than 40 hours per week to try to make more money.  She is angry that her business which usually turns a profit of £12,000 per year, i.e. little more than the £8,400 needed to pay just the mortgage (let alone utility bills and food costs) if she was paying it alone, impacts on what I can claim.  To make matters worse, she has been told that whilst she is a single parent, because I am part of the household, even though I have no income apart from my jobseeker's allowance (and even that will stop in less than three months). she is entitled to only £15 ( €17.70; US$23.27) per week in 'in-work' tax credits, i.e. payments for people working but on a low income who have children.  If I leave the house, this would apparently rise to £200 per week.  I have spoken before about the hazards of inadvertently becoming a family if you live with someone of the opposite sex:  Despite that, it is clear that it is much better to be living alone or just with a child if you want to claim benefits.

My efforts then to reduce the steady drain of my savings and the inevitable default on the mortgage has only one possible redemption, one which the building society keeps on talking about, which is to beg from your family.  This assumes that your family is richer than you and willing to bail you out.  I am estranged from my brother who lives abroad and the bulk of the family of the woman who lives in my house live overseas, the rest are in the same situation as her.  I persuaded my parents to pay the mortgage three months from now so the house is not repossessed before it can be sold and they would get that money back immediately from the sale price of the house.  However, they cannot do this indefinitely, and six months seems the maximum.  I am very grateful that I have that, most people would not.  Given how slow the market is, however, it seems very possible that come next summer, especially with more people having to sell up the way we are, the house will remain unsold and the building society will take it over.

Whether I lose the house to repossession or manage to sell it first, the experiment of being a property owner will be at an end and I will be back at the mercies of the unregulated rental sector, which under the current government is likely to be freed even further of its restrictions.  Given how I was kicked out of two houses at the whim of the landlord and had one intimidating myself and the woman and child that lived there, with no notice paid to that behaviour by the police, I have a very bleak view of my future in terms of finding a place to live.  In many ways I have been lucky and I am sure we are all going to hear more stories of people pushed from pillar to post as unemployment rises to new records and landlords/ladies exploit those people who have no choice but to come to them.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Getting Through to Blair?

Having seen that Tony Blair has been compelled to cancel signings of his autobiography due to anti-war protests not just in Britain but also in Eire, I began to wonder what it will take to shake his self-view that he was God's gift to this country?  I remember back to the time of the Bernie Ecclestone scandal of 1997 when the leading promoter of Formula One racing had given £1 million to the Labour Party and then his sport was was exempted from the ban on tobacco advertising.  Of course, being immune to scandal this did not compel Blair to step down, not even to apologise.  The perceptive impersonator and satirist Rory Bremner did an excellent impression of Blair at the time being forgiving to us, the public.  He said that he accepted that we made mistakes about what was right and wrong, but this time he was willing to understand that we were fallible and to forgive us and move on.  That sketch was incredibly perceptive of Blair's character.

I suppose you have to have utter self-confidence to succeed in politics and those prime ministers, like Major and Brown have suffered for it.  However, Blair's attitude seems completely untempered by any recognition that he is fallible and has made grave mistakes that have led to the death of thousands.  It seems ironic that he moved from a Church of England stance, which though not really fully Protestant has some truck with those elements of Christianity which believe in predestination such as Calvinism, more prevalent in Scotland than in England.  Under such a creed Blair could believe that his greatness was all part of God's great plan.  One would expect such an attitude from George W. Bush in a USA which still adheres to the myth of its 'manifest destiny', i.e. that it was always going to be the size and as powerful as it has turned out, hence their dislike of counter-factuals.  However, Blair is now a Roman Catholic and that brand of Christianity is one which is very aware of fallibility (if not always of the Pope) and allows more regularly for contrition and foregiveness.  Unlike Protestantism which has only grace by belief, i.e. you will get into Heaven if you believe in God; Roman Catholicism needs you to have both belief and to do good works if you are to get into Heaven.  However, as Graham Greene noted in much of his writing the ability in Catholicism to confess and be absolved regularly, can lead people to do bad things in the confidence that if they pay up quickly on Earth it will not affect their entrance to Heaven.

Blair did lots of things wrong in his premiership but the one that continues to haunt him is his compliance with George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq simply to control the fifth largest oil reserve in the World.  There were spurious claims about what a threat Saddam Hussein was to the planet, or more particularly the USA, but it was forgotten that a large part of his weaponry was sold to him by western powers when fighting Iran.  In many ways removing him was like the Americans removing General Noriega, he was one of their tools that they had tired of or for political reasons no longer needed.  It is certain that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 actually increased terrorist activity across the World and whilst it freed the Iraqis from one dictator it simply plunged them into a different kind of violence and depridation.  As I noted at the start of this blog, Blair has never waivered from his self-belief that everything he has done is right.  He was very fortunate that he was able to mutate the Labour Party into the Blairite Party.  His dislike of Brown was because he was of that previous party rather than being a Blairite.  On that basis he could never have reconciled with him.  No wonder Blair found Brown 'maddening' as he says in his autobiography, he would simply not accept that Blair was the best thing ever to happen in British politics and be a true believer in the Blairite cult.  It seems like that David Miliband will be the next leader of the 'Labour' Party and so the Brown phase will be seen in retrospect as an aberration from the growth of the Blairite Party.  I have regularly given examples of this, Gaullism and Peronism being two that always come to mind; Blair with his Christian Democrat approach is very much in that mould.  It is interesing that we are so concerned with 'fundamentalists' but forget that with Bush and to a great extent Blair, we had them already in power.

Right-wing commentators have argued that the protests against Blair have been orchestrated by political groupings.  They, like Blair, still do not understand how unpopular the Iraq war was and that it has lost supporters every month.  They forget the huge and the persistent protests against it.  Blair was the favourite Labour leader of the right-wing press and wealthy because he was so like them.  He did nothing to shake the Thatcherite legacy and avoided policies which actually helped what should have been the natural constituency of the Labour Party.  The cutting out of the ordinary people has continued under Cameron, in fact, as I will analyse next month, has sharpened and accelerated.  Again, looking back from fifty years in the future I am sure we will put Blair in the same category as Major and Cameron, Thatcherites who gave some superficial elements to the policy but continuing with what Thatcher established in the 1980s and not repairing any of the damage she inflicted.  Brown tried to reverse that trend, but the hostility to his attempt is apparent in the still virulent attacks in the media on him even now he has left office.  Their fear, of course, is that with Ed Balls or even Ed Miliband will come to lead Labour, so they keep trying to scare Labour supporters and the general public so that the Thatcherite-Blair trend can continue.  In many ways Thatcher has achieved in her legacy what she set out to do as part of her mission in the 1980s, was to move to a situation where the two main political parties would be close together in policy the way the Republicans and Democrats were in the USA, though these days many Americans might dispute their proximity.

Tony Blair's self-confidence is unnerving.  It is the kind of self-confidence generally found in dictators rather than rulers of democratic countries.  I suppose winning repeatedly in elections and seeing his successor just about fall has added to Blair's ego.  However, I also believe it is a real flaw within him and the fact that he was able to run Britain and believe constantly that only his view was the correct one, shows how vulnerable the UK is to dictatorship.  I kept hoping that he would see one day that he could be wrong.  However, it does not seem to be the case, and I am coming to conclusion that only when he is turned away from Heaven will he finally realise what he did.  Then, he will probably blame someone else.  I would certainly use Blair as a model for children warning them of the dangers of such arrogance.  As yet, he may not have paid the price (though interestingly on the 'Daily Telegraph' blog there is someone threatening to assassinate him), but I hope that these protests which stop him lording around bookshops, squeezing out just that little more adoration which he clearly needs like a drug, may begin to penetrate.  I hope in time that he will be disgraced and ignored, because the danger of Blair is not only what he wreaked on people, but the fact that he has become too much of a model for other politicians and the UK and the rest of the World cannot live safely when we have politicians who believe that their personal decisions are the work of God and thus beyond even questioning, let alone challenging.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Making the English Language More Logical

The use of the English language is something I have reflected on before, see:  However, my thoughts have been stirred again adding new aspects to some of the comments I made last year.  The new input came from me recently reading a surprisingly good collection of science fiction stories, first published in 1952.  In it I came across what is really an article, slightly humorous in tone, rather than a short story.  It is entitled 'Meihem in ce Klasrum' [pronounced as 'Mayhem in the Classroom'], was written by Dolton Edwards and was first published in 1946.  It is available all over the internet but I have included it in full here as it makes it a lot easier to comment on than sending you back and forth to other websites.  My comments follow the article:

Meihem In Ce Klasrum
by Dolton Edwards

Because we are still bearing some of the scars of our brief skirmish with II-B English, it is natural that we should be enchanted by Mr. George Bernard Shaw's current campaign for a simplified alphabet.

Obviously, as Mr. Shaw points out, English spelling is in much need of a general overhauling and streamlining. However, our own resistance to any changes requiring a large expenditure of mental effort in the near future would cause us to view with some apprehension the possibility of some day receiving a morning paper printed in-to us-Greek.

Our own plan would achieve the same end as the legislation proposed by Mr. Shaw, but in a less shocking manner, as it consists merely of an acceleration of the normal processes by which the language is continually modernized.

As a catalytic agent, we would suggest that a National Easy Language Week be proclaimed, which the President would inaugurate, outlining some short cut to concentrate on during the week, and to be adopted during the ensuing year. All school children would be given a holiday, the lost time being the equivalent of that gained by the spelling short cut.

In 1946, for example, we would urge the elimination of the soft c, for which we would substitute "s." Sertainly, such an improvement would be selebrated in all sivic-minded sircles as being suffisiently worth the trouble, and students in all sities in the land would be reseptive to- ward any change eliminating the nesessity of learning the differense be- tween the two letters.

In 1947, sinse only the hard "c" would be left, it would be possible to substitute "k" for it, both letters being pronounsed identikally. Imagine how greatly only two years of this prosess would klarify the konfusion in the minds of students. Already we would have eliminated an entire letter from the alphabet. Typewriters and linotypes, kould all be built with one less letter, and a11 the manpower and materials previously devoted to making "c's" kould be turned toward raising the national standard of living.

In the fase of so many notable improvements, it is easy to foresee that by 1948, "National Easy Language Week" would be a pronounsed sukses. All skhool tshildren would be looking forward with konsiderable exsitement to the holiday, and in a blaze of national publisity it would be announsed that the double konsonant "ph" no longer existed, and that the sound would henseforth be written "f" in all words, This would make sutsh words as "fonograf" twenty persent shorter in print.

By 1949, public interest in a fonetik alfabet kan be expekted to have inkreased to the point where a more radikal step forward kan be taken without fear of undue kritisism. We would therefore urge the elimination, at that time of al unesesary double leters, whitsh, although quite harmles, have always ben a nuisanse in the language and a desided deterent to akurate speling. Try it yourself in the next leter you write, and se if both writing and reading are not fasilitated.

With so mutsh progres already made, it might be posible in 1950 to delve further into the posibilities of fonetik speling. After due konsideration of the reseption aforded the previous steps, it should be expedient by this time to spel al difthongs fonetikaly. Most students do not realize that the long "i" and "y," as in "time" and "by," are aktualy the difthong "ai," as it is writen in "aisle" and that the long "a" in "fate," is in reality the difthong "ei" as in "rein." Although perhaps not imediately aparent, the saving in taime and efort wil be tremendous when we leiter elimineite the sailent "e," as meide posible bai this last tsheinge.

For, as is wel known, the horible mes of "e's' apearing in our writen language is kaused prinsipaly bai the present nesesity of indikeiting whether a vowel is long or short. Therefore, in 1951 we kould simply elimineit al sailent "e's," and kontinu to read and wrait merily along as though we wer in an atomik ag of edukation.

In 1951 we would urg a greit step forward. Sins bai this taim it would have ben four years sins anywun had usd the leter "c," we would sugest that the "National Easy Languag Wek" for 1951 be devoted to substitution of "c" for "Th." To be sur it would be som taim befor peopl would bekom akustomd to reading ceir newspapers and buks wic sutsh sentenses in cem as "Ceodor caught he had cre cousand cistls crust crough ce cik of his cumb.''

In ce seim maner, bai meiking eatsh leter hav its own sound and cat sound only, we kould shorten ce language stil mor. In 1952 we would elimineit ce "y"; cen in 1953 we kould us ce leter to indikeit ce "sh" sound, cerbai klarifaiing words laik yugar and yur, as wel as redusing bai wun mor leter al words laik "yut," "yore" and so forc. Cink, cen, of al ce benefits to be geind bai ce distinktion whitsh wil cen be meid between words laik:

ocean now writen oyean
machine "     "      mayin
racial     "     "      reiyial

Al sutsh divers weis of wraiting wun sound would no longer exist. and whenever wun kaim akros a "y" sound he would know exaktli what to wrait.
Kontinuing cis proses, year after year, we would eventuali hav a reali sensibl writen langug. By 1975, wi ventyur tu sei, cer wud bi no mor uv ces teribli trublsum difikultis, wic no tu leters usd to indikeit ce seim nois, and laikwais no tu noises riten wic ce seim leter. Even Mr. Yaw, wi beliv, wud be hapi in ce noleg cat his drims fainili keim tru.

The key problem for English is that it is such a mish-mash of different families of languages.  The problem really came with the Norman Conquest of 1066 which brought far more Latin-based words into English which up until that stage after absorbing Roman words in previous centuries and having this maintained by the Church's use of Latin, had been evolving into a Scandinavian language which by now would probably have been like Danish or Dutch; as it is, much is close to the Freisian language.  Having the Normans who, ironically, three generations earlier had been Scandinavians, invade brought Romance-based French words into the language.  As the Normans were the rulers and the Anglo-Saxon-British population the ruled, the application of these words was uneven, the classic case being that for livestock Scandinavian style words are used, e.g. cow, like ko in Danish or ku in Norwegian and kuh German, whereas when the meat is cooked it becomes French in style, e.g. beef like the French word boeuf.  Consequently English has a mixture of ways of writing the same sounds because some come from the Romance base and some from the Scandinavian.  In addition, being a colonial power, Britain drew in words from across its empire and notably words such as bungalow and jodphur come from Hindi.  We also have anomalies such as the regular use of 'ph' from Greek pronunciation when other northern European states would use 'f'. 

One of the issues that Edwards touches on is the common use of 'th' in English which is a legacy of the Scandinavian input.  There are already a symbol for that:of ð and more commonly from King Alfred's time: þ which appear when you look at Viking or some Old English names or failing that, the Greek symbol: θ which was actually used in Old English writing before the other two symbols came along.  Of course, the re-introduction of that would need modification of keyboards and using 'c' instead saves that.  One thing Edwards neglects to explain is the sudden move to 'tsh' for 'ch'.  I know he has to end the soft c, but the adoption of 'ts' is not detailed.  Unfortunately the Greek letter for that looks too much like 'X' especially when in capital; 'ts' is a rendering of 'tʃ' using a phonetic symbol.  It works but does not decrease the use of letters as Edwards is aiming for. The symbol 'ʃ' actually is for 'sh', but its use would again mean introducing a new symbol on English keyboards hence Edwards recommending using the redundant 'y'.  This would make 'ch' rendered as 'ty' and 'church' would become 'tyurty' almost looking Welsh.  This assumes no replacement of 'ur' with another combination such as 'er' which is the more familiar rendering of that sound in English spelling, so 'tyerty' maybe more accurate.

Edwards does address one key difficulty in English which marks it out from modern neighbouring European languages.  One is how different pairs of vowels are sounded in different contexts.  In German 'ie' and 'ei' always sound the same no matter the word, and they sound different from each other.  However, in English the words 'pier' and 'weir' are pronounced the same, as are 'seer', 'near' and 'kir'.  However, 'near' and 'bear' are pronounced differently but 'bare' and 'bear' are pronounced the same.  As for 'though', 'cough' and 'bough' each is pronounced differently, and to add confusion you have 'ugh' to give you the 'f' sound.  Spelling is poor in Britain anyway, but it is not helped when children are told to 'look for and use common spelling patterns', there is no such thing in English, as Edwards article points out.

The use of what used to be called in my school days 'fairy e' to change a vowel to its long version is sensibly tackled by Edwards.  Why is it bar/bare, car/care, far/fare, star/stare, par/pare (the latter pronounced the same as pair), war/ware, fir/fire, bit/bite, quit/quite, cur/cure, cut/cute and so on.  It would make it far clearer as Edwards does to write bit/beit, quit/queit, bar/baer (though 'bear' would be written the same way) and far/faer (and again 'fair' would be written that way, showing once more the problem with words that sound the same but are very different in meaning in English).  Some spellings just seem unnecessarily complex, why 'to', 'too' and 'two'?  I can accept different spellings to show the different meanings, but why then pronounce them all the same?  Why does 'u' have to accompany 'q'.  Though Edwards does not say it, with a little imagination, 'kw' and 'k' can stand in: 'kween' for 'queen'; 'enkwiere' for 'enquiry' and 'chek' for 'cheque' and so on.  I think 'ia' should be used for sounds like 'fear', 'beer' and so on which almost have 'y' sound in them.  It is not one Edwards suggests.

One challenge in Britain which I guess would be the same with regional dialects in the USA is around the length of vowels.  In Britain this is most apparent with words like 'bath' and 'path'.  In southern England we pronounce  them with a long 'a' almost as if they were 'barth' and 'parth'; in conrast in northern England is it far shorter almost like 'ba'th' or 'pa'th'.  Some southern English even take this as far as 'orf' for 'off'.  I guess in Edwards world, 'of' would become 'ov' allowing the elimination of the double 'f' so current 'off' would simply become 'of' as many people write it anyway.

The greatest revolution in English of the past twenty years has come from the public.  Of course there is text speak which in itself takes some steps down Edwards path such as 'luv' for 'love', but others are just about speeding up the typing of words, as in 'w8' for 'wait', '2' for 'to', '4' for 'for' and 'soz' for 'sorry'.  The use of 'u' for 'you' makes it identical to Dutch; 'ur' for 'your' is not in fact a phonetic rendering simply an extension from 'u'.  Another common step is eliminating all capital letters, though this does seem to inadvertently denigrate yourself when you use 'i' constantly instead of 'I'; apparently the submissive partner in a dominant/submissive sexual relationship would describe themselves this way, but now it is the general populus who sees themselves so, though simply for convenience.

Beyond the use of mobile phones, the misuse of the apostrophe has made the greatest changes, and has often been commented on.  However, it does not seem to add anything to clarity.  When I was a boy we would write "Those are my friend's dogs."  Nowadays it would be more typically rendered as "Those are my friends dog's."  The apostrophe (and I have even seen this on a government document) now designates the plural most as in "orange's", even "car's" rather than the possessive which is generally shown by simply adding an 's' as in "peoples job's", "brothers house's" and so on.  Of course, this causes real problem when you are looking at plural possessive.  I cannot be clear if "the girls work" refers to the work produced by one girl or a group of them, whereas, thirty years ago, "the girl's work" and "the girls' work" would be clearly distinguished.  The greatest switch has been with "its" and "it's".  Of course, "its" was the possessive of "it" as in "the dog brought its leash" but now like all contractions like "cudnt" for "couldn't" (the replacement of 'oul' with 'u' I imagine Edwards would favour) and "cant" for "can't" mean that if you read "its" you have to assume it means "it's" i.e. it is.  In the meantime the use of apostrophes for plurals seems to have got confused as "it's" now means "its", which in some way you can see makes sense to people who are told that "John's" means it belongs to John even if they no longer write it that way.

So, British English is evolving in a way which makes it even less accessible not only to foreigners but older people and comprehension between the different generations is becoming harder.  People who try to keep the traditional approaches are criticised as being pedantic.  British English never seems to be reviewed in the way that certainly French, German and Portuguese have been in recent decades.  It is only done for humorous purposes, usually to suggest that English would end up looking pretty much like German which is something it is assumed no Briton would accept, though if it had not been for the result at the Battle of Hastings, it is likely the two languages would be very similar by now, though hopefully without having to move the verb all over the place as in German.  Linguistic authorities do meet to discuss German language and I remember discussion over the possibility of 'sss' in the middle of a German word and the extent to which 'ß' for 'ss' should be used.  Portugal reduced the number of letters in Portuguese in 1990, eliminating many accented ones.  In France, the government often gives direction on what things should be called in French to avoid over Anglicisation.  The USA has looked at spelling in its form of English with Noah Webster in 1828 in 'An American Dictionary of the English Language', for example the elimination of 'u' from words like harbour and colour; the use of more Anglo-phonetic approaches rather than French influenced spelling in centre/center, metre/meter (though meter is also a word in British English it means something different), manoeuvre/maneuver.

One thing which is interesting is that Edwards in 1946 was pushing for the elimination of double consonants in words, though in fact in American English that already often seems to be the case.  The British write of a 'traveller'; the Americans of a 'traveler'; the British have 'channelling', the Americans 'channeling' (though I image Edwards would want ''chaneling'); 'skillful' and 'skilful' and so on.  The grammatical differences are very varied and there seems to be no greater simplicity in the American approach than in the British.

I think that the challenge for English in becoming a global language is that it makes it very hard for both its own children and learners from overseas to grasp.  If there was one pair of letters for each sound in the middle of words and the double-use of 'c' was removed people could engage with English with more confidence far more quickly.  I think the persistence of tough spelling in English is somewhat an elitist approach, something like the testing of people by how they pronounce Beauchamp ('Beecham') or Mainwaring ('Mannering') to show that they have appropriate social standing to admitted to the circles that you are in.  In the same way insisting they know four or five ways to make words rhyming with 'ear' is similarly a way to shut them out.  However, in doing that, for the bulk of the people using English it reduces their ability to have people understand them clearly.  Accuracy of spelling would increase immediately if there was a greater, and vitally, a consistent match, between how a word is said and how it is written.  British is rare among European languages in not permitting that.  There is no need for us to move to Esperanto, just to have a committee of the kind that the German language has had, to reduce the unnecessary complexity of English, which despite its so widespread usage, is a nightmare language to use, or, should I say: 'a naitmeir langwij to yews' or would you prefer 'mare lang 2 use'?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Managing Time at Work: The Challenge of Presentations

As regular readers will know, I have recently been applying for jobs.  Having been made redundant twice in a year, I have been able to consider how the economy has deteriorated in the 12 months of Summer 2009 to Summer 2010.  One thing that is immediately apparent is that the job situation has worsened.  It is not only that the number of unemployed people has continued to rise steadily, but also that the return of the 'whip' of unemployment seems to be encouraging employers to depress pay and demand longer working hours.  I noted back in July 2008 how employers were feeling that the workforce was becoming lazy because it was not fearful enough of losing jobs.  See: In my last job I encountered a manager who loved to respond to any request from the workers that they were lucky to have a job and encouraged all the managers around and below her to do the same. 

Compared to a year ago almost every managerial position I have seen advertised is paying below the national average UK annual salary of £31,300 (€37,663; US$45,547) though it varies across the country from £21,550 in South Wales to £46,462 in London.  The bulk of these managerial jobs are offering £18,000-£23,000 per year  (€21,659-€27,675; US$26,193-US$33,469) despite being located in the South-East England region where the average salary is £32,819.  In addition, in contrast to last year there seems to be a sudden upswing in jobs demanding 'unsocial' hours or evening and weekend working.  This implies that the companies are short staffed or that the bosses somehow want to squeeze more out of their managers (and Heaven help the non-managerial staff) effectively reducing the hourly pay rate by simply imposing longer working hours.  Of course, all of this smacks of the 1980s.  The employers have got back the 'whip' and are cracking it with force. 

Saying all this, I guess readers from across the USA may be wondering what I am complaining about.  There unemployment is nationally 20% meaning around 60 million people are without work, almost the same number as the entire population (including children) of the UK.  Of these two-thirds have no unemployment insurance and ironically in the land supposedly of entrepreneurialism and the small business person it is often the self-employed who are most vulnerable.  I must say that throughout my life I have been a strong advocate of democracy, but have come to believe now, that there is no democracy in the UK or the USA.  Even when politicians want to combat the greed of the ultra-rich they find they are unable to do so.  Then under President Bush in the USA and now under David Cameron in the UK, we have policy makers who strive to further benefit the wealthy at the expense of the ordinary person.  I always looked on those who sought the overthrow of the state as foolhardy but as I age and see how the ordinary person is not even allowed to keep the meagre gains made in recent years, there seems no other solution that will give a chance to more than a small elite, however capable you might be.  It was interesting to read that the Walton family behind the Wal-Mart chain in the USA (they own Asda in the UK) alone has as much wealth as the poorest 40% of the US population, i.e., around 120 million people.  It shows you how petty your own savings and even the funds of governments are compared to those of the ultra-rich on this planet.

Anyway, my despair at the smashing of the UK economy driven by pigheaded, discriminatory economics, is distracting me from the focus on today's posting.  I am glad to note, that whilst job specifications seem to have reduced the number of requirements they set out, dropping in many cases below 15-18 requirements (compared to the 20-36 range I had last year; the peak being 36 essential and 10 desirable requirements for one post), they still seem to include many of the same sort of things.  Perhaps the detail has decreased, for one job I applied for recently the final essential requirement was summed up by a single word 'Flexibility' ('yes, I can touch my toes!').  However, new, pretty discriminatory, stuff seems to be slipping in: 'Must have the health to be able to cope with the rigours of this job'; it was not a vacancy as a mountaineering trainer simply an office manager, which does raise questions about working conditions in the company.  A perennial is 'time management' and that is the one I am going to focus on today.

Time management constantly seems to be something that bosses demand but seem incapable of doing themselves.  In many ways it is another coded signal that their company is under-staffed and they will be expecting you to work beyond the stipulated working hours.  I must say I have noticed that all reference to 'family friendly' employers has evaporated entirely.  Of course, employers want people who do not prevaricate and complete by the deadlines, but there is something more in British working culture which contrasts, say, with that of Scandinavian countries.  It is the assumption that if you are not working long hours you are not working hard enough.  I was warned once that in Sweden it is seen differently, that someone who is working after normal hours is inefficient because they cannot get their work done in the allotted time.  As a manager I see it this way.  I accept that there may be occasions of special demand when people need to work longer, but if I see them doing this day-after-day then I am concerned either that they have been allocated too much work or that they are out of their depth with the work and may need to be substituted, have more training or be allocated stuff that is within their capabilities.  I know from my previous job that such views are heresy and instead as a manager I am expected to see workers as inherently lazy, always trying to get out of working and having no pride in their work.

Of course, with social networking sites, email and even online poker, it is easy to while away your time appearing to work and yet not doing anything constructive.  Yet, all managers are alert to these things and any with an gramme of experience knows what to look out for.  My last two teams were so utterly terrified of appearing not to be working hard enough they dared not even speak to their colleagues and their relief when I encouraged them to talk to one another was visible.  In fact it quickly revealed duplications and different methodologies which could be standardised which had not come to light because the workers had been afraid of talking with each other for fear of seeming to slack.  There are lazy workers but they are not hard to spot.  Workers who are working in fear do not work well, but that is not from laziness, it is because a well-trained worker who has clear instructions and the ability to raise questions is always going to be more confident and in fact far more productive. 

When I talk of Aesop's Fable of the Wind and the Sun, no-one seems to understand it.  Aesop lived around 620-564 BCE and if he could get a handle on principles that are still applicable to today's workplace then managers of today can.  In the analoguos story the Wind bets the Sun that he can make a traveller remove his coat.  The Wind blows and blows but the traveller hugs his cloak ever more tightly to his body.  Then the Sun takes his turn and shines brightly on the traveller who immediately removes his cloak, so the Sun wins.  Having had enough management books based on the works of Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' (probably written at the same time as Aesop was working, perhaps some decades later) maybe it is time to produce one based on the work of Aesop.

Of course, time management does not simply apply to day-to-day work and it is in connection with presentations that I have seen it fail the worst.  I seemed to go through a spate of colleagues in the early 2000s who seemed to have no control over their timing when making presentations.  In that era, Powerpoint was at its zenith (released in 1987, certainly in the UK it do really rise to its height of usage until the mid-1990s), though despite it having been in popular usage in business for many years few people seemed to know how to use it conceptually though they could so technically.  Perhaps I will do a posting on the worst Powerpoint presentations I have ever seen, but for now will refer to it as an element of poor time management in presentations. 

I had a manager who had no idea of how long anything took.  Unfortunately she was responsible for scheduling a number of conferences in a year.  In her scheduling there was no room for anything to go wrong.  There was no slack for technical faults or a person over-running with what they said (which, of course, happened regularly, because like her, they were poor at managing their time).  Every year the schedule would be sliding after the first speaker and by the mid-morning break it could already be 30 minutes off target.  Such a slide leads to things being dropped from the programme and from questions (usually the most useful part of any business presentation) being suppressed. 

One problem was that this manager had no idea how long her own presentation was going to take and generally as she opened the conferences, this meant that they were already behind schedule after she had made her introductory speech.  Usually she scheduled 10 minutes for herself and speak for 20 minutes.  Having sat on interview panels with this woman, I know that she believed that a question about time management was to ask specifically what piece of software the candidate used to manage their time.  She asked this obsessively, providing no benefit to the interviewing process.  Software dates quickly and just because a person uses a piece of software does not mean they are using it correctly or in fact has engaged with the mental principles behind more than just superficial use of it.  She never made any efforts to find out how much she could say in the time she allocated herself.  I know that I speak 5000 words in 60 minutes at a steady but not rushed pace, with time to point to things on the screen.  So, if I am allocated 20 minutes, I know I can say 1600 words and probably need to be looking at 1200 if I want a couple of questions asked.

Very few people in business, despite the fact that most of us have sat through tens, possibly hundreds of presentations in our careers, seems to remember that the change over between speakers is never lie a baton exchange in a relay race.  There has to be applause for the previous speaker, they have to move at least aside if not off stage and their successor needs to step up.  Even if their presentation is ready to go the moment they reach the lecturn (something I have never witnessed in my entire career) they need some time to get their head in gear.  Many times they or the assistants will struggle to get the presentation going.  This is why there seems no point in allocating anyone a 10-minute slot, easily a third of that time can be eaten up with just the human things of getting in place to speak and getting the graphics we seem to insist on, running.  (Saying this, the era of Powerpoint seems to be passing and I have had two interviews this year which have insisted that it was not used; in contrast to 2004 when I failed to get one job purely on the grounds that I had not used Powerpoint in the interview).

Another classic example was from a colleague of mine.  She worked in a department which had a very poor concept of time management on a day-to-day basis.  Deadlines would be set which had no bearing on reality.  This colleague would regularly fly from Luton airport to Edinburgh airport, returning the same day.  The time in the air was 1 hour each way, plus an additional 1 hour at each end for check-in, security check, boarding, etc.  So even if the travel went smoothly she would be travelling for 4 hours out of the day.  In addition she lived 40 minutes' drive from the airport, adding 1 hour 20 minutes to the journey.  Whilst in Edinburgh she would be in meetings all day, usually 09.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m., so almost a working day.  Thus, in total, even if everything went smoothly, she would 'work' 11 hours 20 minutes (assuming she took 1 hour for lunch; often it was just 30 minutes or a 'working' lunch instead).  Any time away from the office is seen as a 'junket' and a treat whereas of course it can be tiring and I certainly witnessed her not breaking from work on the aeroplane or in the terminals.  Part of the reason for this soon became apparent because she was expected to deliver a report and make a presentation at 11 a.m. on the morning after each visit.

This rule even applied the day that the flight out of Edinburgh was delayed by 4 hours due to a fault in the aeroplane's rudder (or whatever the technical name is).  It was a noticeable incident because the aircraft had taxied out only to find it could not turn and had to be hauled back tail first.  In addition, we came back through Arrivals despite not having been any further than on to part of the runway.  A young man who complained, not particularly loudly was dragged off by security staff and we did not see him again.  Another interesting thing was that having got back into Arrivals having spent an hour on the runway loads of people's mobile phones went off, they were being called by irate taxi drivers at Luton booked to collect them, demanding why they were not there.  The passengers had to explain that they had not been permitted to use their mobiles while on the aircraft and it was clear that no-one at Luton had informed anyone about the delay. Anyway, we reached Luton sometime after 10 p.m. and my colleague drove home and managed to finish her report at 2 a.m. for presenting at 11 a.m. Of course, for some reason one of her managers could not make it in so it was postponed.  The detachment between the working norms and what happens in reality, plus the amount of sleep people needed, fostered an environment that was going to lead to disgruntled, exhausted employees and probably a far less good quality report than if the travelling colleague had been given, say 48 hours, to produce the report.

Anyway, despite  working for this very time demanding department, my colleague seemed to have little inkling of the implications of not paying attention to what can be realistically covered in the time scheduled.  She and I were asked to do a presentation about our project.  We were given 20 minutes between us and agreed to split this equally.  Very foolishly, I went second.  My colleague put up 38 slides which she would had to have covered in less than 16 seconds each if she had wanted to fit them in and, even then, that would not allow any time for questions.  Through rushing and skipping over some she managed to get through 19 slides in 19 minutes, leaving me a single minute for my section.  I had prepared 5 slides but did not even bother pulling these up.  I walked on and said simply 'the project worked well; people liked the software it created' which had been the nub of my section of the presentation, then stepped down.  The disconnection between the amount of data to be covered and the time needed to cover it, is astoundingly common.  Years later a senior colleague who even trained people in making presentations argued that more than a slide per minute was fine, even then not allowing any time for questions, which she generally expected.

I have run training on making presentations and right since I started my career I have been complimented on my ability to speak to time.  I am not smug about this and go back to first principles each time I prepare something.  However, with practice you get to know yourself and your material well enough to change pacing and content 'on the hoof', for example, if you realise people are not comprehending what you are saying or know less about it than you believed.  However, being good at these things can often work against you.  At one presentation I had 10 minutes to speak.  I produced 4 slides.  The first was the title of my talk and the fourth were my contact details.  This meant that I had 2 slides with the meat of the presentation each with 4 items on, allowing me about 1 minute per item (not per slide as is usually the case).  I delivered it in 8 minutes allowing some time for questions, but the audience simply sat there, seemingly stunned.  They had expected the spinning images and sound effects that had filled the presentations and clearly had not expected me to finish on time.  The half-embarrassed over-run with an excessive amount of data and slides has become such the norm that audiences now do not seem to be able to cope with anything actually done to time.  The same applies to audiences who want slides on the screen and also to have them replicated on paper in front of them.  The lecture worked for at least 3000 years before the invention of Powerpoint but it seems that business people have been seduced into requiring overload which actually communicates only a fraction of the message the presenter is seeking to deliver and often in a confused and harrassed manner.

Time mangement is a vital skill for business.  However, what is termed time management is really overworking and in fact real management of the time spent on tasks, and, in particular, the proper matching up of the time scheduled for an activity and the work which is to be done in it, is very poorly understood right across British business.  Pointing this out, though, is not going to win you any fans and, in fact, you will be looked upon as being peculiar.  Instead you will be compelled to adhere to the norms that expect over-running and incomplete presentation of the information.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rooksmoor's Manifesto

Recently, an anonymous commentator said that when discussing political issues I only criticise and never put forward positive suggestions.  See:  The person asked where the 'The Rooksmoor Manifesto' was.  In fact I put forward lots of suggestions for making Britain a better place, but I recognise that these are spread across numerous postings and it would take even regular readers time to root all of them out from the different postings which include them.  I have eschewed the title 'The Rooksmoor Manifesto' despite the wonderfully 17th century feel to it, mainly because it seems too much like the title of a Robert Ludlum novel.

My politics are very simple.  I am a democratic Socialist who favours European integration.  I know people say Socialism is dead and certainly there is no political party that I can find in the UK at present that embraces the kinds of policies I favour.  While I feel that British democracy is ailing, because of the ever-growing resurgence of the ultra-wealthy and the privileged, as yet I have not gone far enough to begin advocating revolution; I believe democracy can work well in the UK it just needs attention.

I take a lot of my lead from former MP and minister, Tony Benn.  I never held the anti-EEC/EU views that he did.  However, I believe that certainly since the era of the Social Chapter as part of EU's legislation, even he has moved to see the benefits of European states working together and that the EU can be far more of a benefit to ordinary people than the 'capitalists' club' that its predecessor the EEC was seen simply as.

I accept that, since 1974, it has been highly unlikely that any candidate standing on the manifesto I outline below would be elected.  The central ground of British politics has moved so far to the right since the advent of the New Right ideas in the mid-1970s.  However, I see myself as being in the position right-wing British Conservatives must have felt themselves to be in, in the period, say 1945-72, in perceiving the 'mainstream' of politics as ignoring their concerns.  Yet, their time came again, and such views have been in the ascendant in the UK certainly since 1976.  There was a brief period 2008-10, when, as regular readers of this blog will know, I had a feeling that the financial crises were bringing politics a little more back to the kind of Attlee Consenus policies that I favour.  The UK, the USA and other states seemed to be embracing Keynesianism once again.  Under Obama, the USA is likely to stay with such an approach, whereas Britain has rushed headlong into even more virulent New Right/monetarist policies than even Margaret Thatcher was able to pull off.  Some commentators have noted that this was aided by the fact that Tony Blair's impetus came very much from the Thatcher Consensus and his support for policies such as private intervention in hospitals and schooling, with increasingly selectivity in education, formed a solid foundation for David Cameron's government's far harsher policies.

Before going into an outline of the policies I would pursue if elected Prime Minister, I would draw your attention to the fact, that, whilst they may appear to be embedded in 'Old' Labour attitudes, many of the policies I outline have actually been put into place in neighbouring European states, quite often under conservative governments.  Much of this stuff is not radical, it simply stems from a rational approach to making a country not only function more effectively, but, vitally, having a fair society with opportunities for all, not simply those who are already very wealthy or are privileged.  My prime motivation behind all my policies is to create a Britain which is safe for all of its citizens no matter what their background; has a firm economy which all benefit from not just the richest and that is not classless but allows all people to rise by ability rather than by connections.  I do not see any political grouping in the UK working to such an agenda.  I have no expectations that they will in my lifetime, but I remain an optimist.

The Manifesto
Fiscal and Economic Policies
1) The outline of income tax is presently (using the rates for the 2010/11 tax year, our current one) no tax until you earn £6,475 then you pay 20% on earnings up to £37,400; then 40% on £37,401 to £150,000 and then 50% on everything over £150,000.  On dividends you pay 10%/32.5%/42.5%.  These rates are a legacy of the Brown government's approach and have not been tweaked by the coalition.  From this year on your personal allowance, the part you can earn tax free, will fall by £1 for every £2 you earn over £100,000.  So, once you earn above £112,950, you will pay tax on everything you earn.  My approach would maintain many of these ideas.  I would have a personal tax allowance of £10,000 as proposed by the Liberal Democrats, then a 25% rate on £10,001-£20,000; 28% on £20,001-£30,000 (80% of the population earn below £31,000 per year);  33% on £30,001-£50,000; 43% on £50,001 to £150,000; 53% on 150,001 to £500,000; 63% on anything above £500,000.  The personal allowance would be reduced as currently once you earn beyond £50,000 per year.  These rates will apply to dividends of these levels too.  Given the plans outlined below, the government will need more revenue.  These figures are low compared to historic ones.  In 1979 the basic rate of tax was 33% and the highest rate was 83% (yet business prospered); in the mid-1960s it rose from 38% to 41%.  Rather than hammering people on benefit, greater efforts would be put into chasing down the £17 billion in unpaid tax.

2) Value added tax (VAT) would be at a basic rate of 15%, but higher for specific goods, notably petrol and cigarettes with a graduated extra VAT on alcoholic drinks dependent on their alcoholic content.

3) No boss of a company would be permitted to earn more than 20 times the salary of the lowest paid worker in that company or contracted by that company.  If the company has staff on the minimum wage, £5.93 per hour from October 2010, then the highest a boss could earn in that company would be £240,600, still a pretty decent salary.  Those bosses who did not feel that such pay was sufficient to keep their 'talents' in the UK could leave, though there would be restrictions on how much capital they could extract from the UK at one time.  If this means many ultra-wealthy leaving the UK, then it will be better for the long-term health of the British economy no longer blackmailed by their capriciousness.

4) Bosses would benefit from the fact that the minimum wage would rise to become that defined by the Council of Europe Decency Threshold which is 60% of average net earnings.  In the UK the current national average salary is £31,000 (though far less in some regions), giving a minimum salary, on this basis, for full-time work, of £18,600 per year (compared to £12,300 on the current rate) allowing bosses to earn up to £361,200 on the '20 times' rule.

5) In Belgium employees receive 14 pay cheques per year, even in South Africa they get 13.  I would make it compulsory that all employees earning less than £40,000 per year would receive 14 pay cheques per year, with doubling up in June and December as in Belgium.  This would apply to part-time workers too.  This would help in many ways by stimulating consumption, increasing savings and reducing the risk of house repossessions as employees will have been able to put more money aside, compared to now when many individuals and families spend all their monthly income in a month due to high rent, food and utility prices.  Of course, for some people having 2 extra pay cheques will lift them above £40,000.  This would be permitted for a year and after that period their salary would have to have risen to at least £40,000 and then the extra payments would stop.  If their pay is cut then they would again become eligible for the 14 payments per year.

6) Companies will be barred from having more than 10% of their employees on temporary contracts.  Temporary employees will receive the same rights as full-time employees after working for the company for 3 months rather than 1 year as at present.  Companies would not be permitted to lay off a temporary worker and then put someone else into the same position unless a period of 9 months has passed.  This would stop companies simply laying workers off after their initial period so as to avoid having to grant them full employment rights.  This happens too often and leads to too much instability for individuals and the economy.  In addition, despite what companies think, this constant 'churn' of staff actually damages the efficiency of their business, due to constant training and enculturation of new staff.

7) All companies with more than 5 employees would be compelled to have representatives of the workforce on the company Board or the equivalent in smaller companies.  This policy has been in place for fifty years in Germany and has benefited the country's economic growth.

8) There would be a charge on all financial transactions with a rising scale dependent on how risky the activity was.  This would be combined with far more stringent regulation of merchant banking.

9) Banks would be compelled to hold the coverage of reserves that they have to in Spain, the success of this has been seen in the prosperity of Santander.

10) The government will have control of the percentage of their bill that credit card users have to repay each month.  Since the abolition of hire purchase regulations has the government really had any control over consumption, certainly beyond high-value items as large as houses.  Regulation abilities of this kind could have been very useful in the 1990s to slow down consumption and reduce pressure on inflation, let alone heading off personal credit difficulties.

11) The government would not only set the base rate, but also the upper limit of interest charges.  Anyone exceeding such charges, such as 'pay-day loan' companies would be treated as loan sharks and face criminal prosecution.  Financial support would be given to the establishment of more mutual building societies and credit unions across the whole country, though often on a very local basis.  Nationalisation of a bank would occur far sooner than has been the case in the 2000s, for example, Northern Rock would have been nationalised two years earlier than it was in reality.

12) National insurance of 10% would be payable from earnings of £5000 upwards and would have no upper limit on payment.

13) The UK would join the euro immediately and the bulk of the British population will be able to see immediately more easily how much more they pay for food and other essentials compared to citizens of neighbouring countries.

14) Nationalised banks would, in particular, be encouraged to provide low-interest loans to start-up and expanding businesses.

15) Capital Gains Tax would be 10% up to £2,500; 20% £2,501-£10,000; 30% £10,001-£30,000; 40% £30,001-£100,000; 50% £100,001-£500,000 and 60% on £500,001 and above.  There would be no 'allowance', so the rate would be imposed on all the money which brought the total above that sum.  For example, if you gained £20,000 then you would pay 30% on the entire £20,000 not just on the last £10,000 above £10,000.

16) For UK citizens who keep large sums of money abroad, I would introduce the US system, i.e., if you have above a certain sum, I would say £50,000 (in the USA it is around US$87,000), in a bank in a country where the tax rate is lower than in the UK, then you must pay the difference between that tax rate and the rates prevailing in the UK, to the British Treasury.  If your money is in a country with the same or higher tax rate then you pay nothing to the UK.  If you do not comply with this rule, then you will be stripped of UK citizenship within 3 years of your money going abroad.  This is no different to US policies even under George W. Bush, so cannot be considered to be a radical policy.  However, it is estimated that by using tax havens, wealthy British citizens save paying £10 billion in tax.  Stripping a person of nationality and making them stateless is usually forbidden but would be permitted for people penalised in this way.  Given their wealth they would have no difficulty in getting a new nationality somewhere else.

Housing Policy
1) Stamp duty would be banded in an attempt to slow the apparently inexorable rise in house prices.

2) Limits on rents would be introduced on the basis of the council tax rating of the house.  Tenants would be granted greater rights, for example, to be given at least 3 months' notice of the repossession of a property when the owner has defaulted on the morgage.  Fixed-term tenancy contracts would be banned, with either the tenant being able to leave or the owner to ask them to leave with 2 months' notice.  These policies and the limits on rent rises will help people move more easily to where work is available.

3) All tenants would be permitted to have repair work done to the property themselves, having taken at least 3 quotes, and charge this to the owner, who would be compelled to pay for it.

4) No owner would be permitted to leave a property for longer than 3 months without seeking tenants for it.  Empty properties must be kept in a decent state, along the lines of regulations in New York, otherwise the owner will be fined.

5) Like other property owners, banks and building societies will be compelled to rent out or sell repossessed properties within 3 months of taking them back rather than leaving them empty until the local price reaches a set level as they currently often do.

6) Councils and housing authorities would be assisted in building a mix of social/affordable housing, both for direct renting and for shared equity purchase.  This would particularly be supported in areas facing depopulation due to high house prices.  Access to this housing would be on the basis of economic standing not on age or ethnic grounds.

7) All private housing developments above a certain size, will be compelled to build social housing.  The neglect of this often causes problems for those in the more expensive properties anyway, as seen in Milton Keynes where due to local resident opposition to social housing, the supermarkets have to bus in staff from 30Km away.  There would be a ratio such as 1 social house per 10 expensive houses built.

8) Companies abandoning a site, will be compelled to demolish any unused retail/industrial buildings and return the site to a standard suitable for housing to be built on it.

9) There would be a nationwide scheme to insulate every house currently with insufficient insulation.  Once this was complete, solar panels would be installed on every suitable property, not only residential but also industrial.  There would be incentives to assist with this and it would create jobs at this time of employment need.

Social Policy
1) There would be free childcare for all working parents until the child is 16.  Those with the money would be free to opt out and use private provision.  All childcare would continue to be monitored by OFSTED.  Such a policy would free up many parents to work.

2) As currently is the case in Scotland, everyone would be entitled to free residential care once they pass the retirement age, again people are free to opt out and buy private provision if they choose.

3) The retirement age would rise immediately to 70 and stringent anti-ageism policies would be enacted.  The SERPS pension approach would be re-introduced and pensions would rise (or fall) with the cost of living.

4) All health care will be free at point of usage.  Again, people are free to opt for private care.  However, all doctors practising in the UK would be obliged to work for the National Health Service to the number of hours currently required by Belgian health authorities for their doctors.

5) All municipal sports facilities, especially swimming pools, would be free to users.  Private sports facilities charging a fee and requiring membership would be permitted.  All museums and public galleries will have free entry, though visitors could give donations if they wished.

Constitutional Policy
1) All elections across the UK would be run on the basis of proportional representation as they already are in Northern Ireland.  Parties would have to receive at least 5% of the vote to be represented in the Westminster Parliament, the level they have to achieve in Germany.

2) The monarchy will be abolished immediately.  Instead, a directly-elected President, accountable to parliament, would be introduced, able to be elected twice for 4-year terms.  The powers of the President will be the same as those of the President of Germany.

3) The House of Lords would be abolished and be replaced by a Senate elected by the regional assemblies every five years.  Noble titles will remain but grant no powers, they would simply be courtesy titles and rewards, as at present.

4) The Supreme Court recently introduced will remain.  It will have the power to prosecute members of parliament, the Senate or the President, if necessary.

5) British regional assemblies would be re-introduced.  They would be elected, not appointed as they were before, and their regions would be far smaller than those of the regional assemblies that existed in the UK until 2010.  All large cities would have their own assemblies and directly-elected mayor because (despite Boris Johnson) this approach has worked well in London.  Taking large cities out of the assemblies of the surrounding countryside would also secure a voice for more rural regions of Britain and those with particular local interests, for example, Cornwall.  Any border town that wished to join Scotland or Wales would be permitted to do so following a local referendum.

6) Anyone who wishes to be elected to parliament, the Senate, as President or to the Supreme Court or is to work as an advisor to the government for more than 6 months, must be resident in the UK and pay at least 90% of their total tax bill in the UK.  You may say governments need foreign advisors and they will still be able to use them for specific projects or advice, but the bulk of people in all branches of government will be UK domiciled and taxpayers.

7) Local councillors will receive a set salary the way MPs do.  This would mean that ordinary people could become councillors in a way in which they cannot do now and this would end the domination of local politics by prosperous business people who have vested interests which are often not beneficial to the local population more broadly.

1) The railways and all utility companies will be immediately nationalised.  State control will not be on the model of previous UK control but like that of France.  The fact that the French state-run electricity company, EDF, was until recently, a very successful company in the UK is a good indicator of the benefits.

2) Second or Standard class travel will be abolished, everyone will have the chance to travel first class in so-called Harry Perkins carriages.

3) All freight being carried over 100 Km must be carried by railway.  This policy was in place in Germany in the 1980s and enable greater profitability.  Heavy goods vehicles could be filled at special depots near the ports to enable this freight to be driven in countries still permitting long distance road haulage.

4) Britain was the leading country for wind power in the 1970s a position it foolishly gave up.  To rectify this we must increase wind power to the level seen in Germany if not in Denmark.  Brownfield sites, such as along motorways should be used and attention paid to the environment when constructing wind farms elsewhere but it must be recognised that wind farms are far less intrusive than a nuclear, oil or coal-fired power station.  As is happening in Scotland now, wave power must be adopted with all vigour.

5) Incentives will be given to increase the use of hybrid and electric vehicles, and new compressed air vehicles with charging/refilling points all over towns.

6) 4x4 vehicles will be banned except for people working in agriculture or specific industries and living in particular areas, certainly not towns and suburbs.  The maximum permitted capacity of motorcycles on British roads would be 750cc and of cars, 2 litres.  More powerful vehicles would be permitted on race tracks and private land.

7) All drivers must be re-tested every 5 years.  HGV drivers have medical tests every 5 years after they pass 45.  I am talking about an entire test to ensure they still have the abilities to drive safely.  Many car drivers seem to have quickly forgotten the basic requirements of driving and a large part of the Highway Code.  The 'P' sticker would be introduced as in other European countries, and drivers would have to have it on their vehicle for the first year after they have passed their first test. Being awarded any penalty points while carrying the P would mean having your licence removed and you wouldhave to sit the test again and start again with your P year from the date you passed that second test. Drivers under the age of 21 would be limited to vehicles of 1 litre capacity or less.  No-one under the age of 21 would be permitted to ride a motorcycle of more than 50cc and no-one under the age of 25 would be allowed to ride a motorcycle of more than 125cc. 

8) Anyone wishing to drive a rental box van, even for a few minutes, would have to have already passed the CPC test that commercial van drivers have to pass for vehicles of 3.5 tonnes and above.  The reason for this is that there are few drivers more hazardous than people who have hired a van for a day and then proceed to drive it as badly as they drive their car and yet with all the added weight and visibility issues.

9) Sat navs already alert drivers to the fact they are exceeding the speed limit for the road they are travelling down.  Such systems will be installed in all vehicles in the UK and would remain on at all times when the car is being driven, even if the driver is not using a sat nav to find their way.  Cars from overseas coming to the UK would have to install such a device on entry to the UK at the entrance port.  Speed limiters are already installed in certain commercial vehicles.  These would be compulsory on all road vehicles of any kind driven in the UK.  The maximum speed any vehicle could be driven on a UK road would be the same limit that you can drive on a UK motorway, i.e. up to 10% above the 70mph speed limit, that is 77mph.  In time, I trust that these two systems could combine so vehicles' speeds would be limited to adjust to the road they are on, i.e. that they could not exceed 33mph in a residential area or 22mph where the 20mph limit is already in force, as in most of Portsmouth.  Of course, speeds would now be measure in metric, giving 123 kph, 52 kph and 35 kph as the maximum speed in these three examples.

10) As in parts of Belgium, lorries would not be allowed to overtake other vehicles.  I would make an exception if the vehicle was going slower than 10 mph below the speed limit for on A roads or smaller road and 20 mph less than the speed limit of motorways.  This would stop the ridiculous 'races' between lorries moving just 1 mph different, which so congest much of the UK's motorways.  Of course, with increased rail freighting the numbers of lorries on motorways would be reduced.  Vehicles pulling caravans would be restricted to 50mph as they were in the 1970s.  Coaches would face the same restrictions as lorries and so would not be permitted to charge along at 70mph and disrupt motorway traffic by regularly overtaking.

11) Anyone charged with using a mobile phone while driving will have the phone seized and destroyed and would be banned from driving for 1 year.  Cyclists, skateboarders, roller- and inlineskaters would be barred from wearing headphones of any kind while travelling on the pavement or road, at the risk of an on-the-spot-fine and seizure and destruction of their electrical equipment.

12) The Post Office will remain in/be returned to state control.  There will be subsidies for post offices in small villages in which even in this internet age they serve a vital role.  Ultimately BT will be renationalised and provide reasonably priced telephone, television and internet connections.  Private companies will be permitted to compete with it in all of these areas.

13) There will be state provision of internet connections of the highest speed feasible across the UK.  Some regions such as Cornwall, as yet, have very poor broadband provision, just at the stage when other regions are moving to fibre optic provision.  Rural regions need excellent internet connections to prevent isolation and allow the development of a range of employment in those locations.

Defence and Foreign Policy
1) All trade, especially arms trade, will cease with dictatorships.  This includes China.  I accept that this will damage the UK economy, but despite the wishful thinking of the 1990s, China has made no steps towards democracy and still has an appalling human rights record.  It has become a neo-imperial power and is supporting unsavoury regimes across the world.

2) The UK would scrap all its nuclear weapons immediately.  There has never been any point in having them and they have been an immense drain on the British economy for far too long.

3) The UK will never again be involved in military action which is not sanctioned by the United Nations, except in the case of direct threat to the UK and its dependent territories.  The UK military, like that of countries such as Eire and Norway, will be predominantly focused on UN peace-keeping activities and the nature of its forces and equipment will be focused on such work rather than as a nuclear 'Power'.  Unless NATO similarly changes, the UK will either leave the organisation dealing with its members on a bilateral basis on defence issues if these should arise.

The Law
1) The permitted level of alcohol or narcotics in the blood while driving will be reduced to 0.

2) There would be no change to the categorisation of drugs.  'Legal' highs would be made illegal if this had not already been done.

3) Anyone killing or injuring someone while driving will face the same terms of imprisonment as a person killing or injuring someone with a blunt instrument.

4) No-one who assists someone in dying who has made a living will requesting such assistance, will be prosecuted.

5) Facilities for the support of rape victims will be increased rather than cut back, as at present.  The identity of those accused of rape or physical or sexual harrassment, especially when that person is a teacher, social worker or in a medical/caring profession would be kept strictly secret until the time when they are convicted, if that is the case, and indefinitely if found not guilty.

6) The constabulary system of policing will remain.  Watch committees formed from members of the local council will be re-introduced to oversee local policing.  Regional assemblies will scrutinise regional police activities.  Chief Constables, however, will be appointed by the Minister of Justice.

7) In the case of the death of anyone at the hands of the police or through being run over by a police car, an immediate criminal investigation will be launched.  Hopefully such cases will be less common than in recent years, but if not, a specific national Internal Affairs unit will be created.

8) A prison building programme will be launched to provide places for 100,000 prisoners with a limit of one prisoner per cell.  Prisons will be constructed, as in the USA, in areas of high unemployment to create jobs.  Brownfield sites would be favoured as will the demolition, in stages, of any prison built more than fifty years ago and the construction of a modern prison on that site.  All prison services will be taken back from private contractors.  Detention camps for asylum seekers will be closed immediately and used instead as low security prisons for criminals.

9) Legislation incompatible with the spirit of human rights legislation, notably introduced supposedly to combat terrorism, would be repealed, in particular the RIPA which has been terribly abused by local authorities.  The UK would not extradite anyone to a country with a bad human rights record or the death penalty (including the USA).  No evidence acquired by torture is permissible in a UK court and no official from the UK must have any involvement in torture anywhere.  Any UK citizen committing torture or being involved in the carrying out of torture anywhere in the world, is liable to be prosecuted by the British legal system.

10) The import, let alone the planting and growth of GM crops or livestock, or the products of these, would be banned in the UK.

11) Steps will be taken to criminalise tobacco.  In time, as with other harmful narcotics, it will only be available to addicts in restricted quantities on prescription.

12) The approach to the restriction of alcohol through price rises and limits in terms of availability along the lines of the policy adopted in Sweden will be introduced.  Both this and the tobacco measures will not stamp out use of these substances but will reduce the human and financial costs of them.

Education and Society
1) Given that anyone who has attended state school since the mid-1970s, over 22 million people, has learnt metric measurement, we will finally eliminate all imperial measurement from British society.

2) As announced by the previous government, all children are expected to remain in full-time education or training until they 18.

3) The school day will be lengthened, so reducing parental dependence on childcare.  The curriculum is already crowded, so additional time at school will permit the extension of sports activities to reduce obesity and greater engagement with cultural activities such as art, music and drama.  Despite the longer school day, teachers will have the amount of preparation time within the school day increased, initially back to the level of 1975.  With better funding for schools and more teachers trained this will allow a better rotation of teaching staff and more specialist teachers, for example, in modern languages, to be available at all levels of education.

4) SATS tests will be abolished in England as they have been effectively in Scotland and Wales.  Pupils are far too heavily examined in Britain especially aged 16-18.  The AS qualifications would be scrapped.  A levels would be replaced by the International Baccalaureate, which is already popular in parts of the UK, notably Oxfordshire.  GSCEs would be adjusted to allow a better feed into the Baccalaureate. The new curriculum being introduced in Scotland would be reviewed with the possibility of it being introduced across the UK as a whole.

5) Fee-paying schools, notably the so-called 'public' schools, will be abolished; their facilities will be turned over to local education authorities to use for the benefit of the community.  Selective education on any basis bar religion, will be scrapped.  Grammar schools and academies will be compelled to return to being comprehensive schools.  All faith schools will have to adopt a liberal selection policy and will be compelled to follow the national curriculum in all aspects outside specific religious practice, notably in terms of PSHE lessons.

6) Universities will be funded by graduates paying a supplementary tax of 1% above the standard rate for their earnings category for the rest of their lives, including if they are on taxable benefits; i.e. paying 26% for earnings £10,001-20,000; 29% for earnings of £20,001-30,000 and so on.  Whilst at university, students will have all fees and a subsistence payment, paid by the government.  Students wishing to take postgraduate courses will also receive such funding but will incur additional increments of 1% supplementary tax up to a maximum of +5%, for each course they take.  Fees will be set by the government on institutional and course basis.  Courses in teaching of scarcity areas, in nursing and social work will be free to students, with no tax repayment.  Along the lines of policies in the USA, students taking medical degrees can have these funded by the state in return for working where they are needed for five years following graduation.

7) Between 150-180,000 pupils have been turned away from university places for 2010/11, many with very good grades.  I am aware that many commentators want a return to more elitist higher education and question the need for jobs such as nursing and police roles to require a degree but the UK has to be aware that it is competing in a global market where degrees are the norm.  I would authorise the construction of 6 universities in parts of the UK currently without one.  There would be control over who was permitted to run these universities so that we did not see the problems that occurred with academies.

8) A key problem in the UK has been the snobbery against vocational qualifications.  It is impossible to legislate against such snobbery and there is a sense that certain professions should not be graduate professions.  However, for the benefit of the country we need to raise standards and introducing degree level requirements is an aspect of this.  I would advise the revival of BEd. and BA QTS degrees to allow people to go direct into teaching.  I would advise the creation of other specialist degrees such as those for nursing.  Rather than having all universities chasing after classic subject areas, we should laud the fact that 50 of the staff animating 'Avatar', including the lead animator, were graduates of Bournemouth University, the largest number drawn from any UK or US university.  Combined with having technical and working representatives on company boards, slowly we might be able to reduce this unhealthy snobbery against vocational qualifications.  It must be noted that they should not become simply training courses for specific companies but allow students who take them to be flexible.

9) No-one would be permitted to own more than one media resource, for example, only 1 newspaper or 1 national radio channel or set of combined radio channels covering Britain or 1 set of television channels if there are 5 or less channels in the set. News International could either own the Sky television channels or one of the newspapers they currently own.  Virgin Media, for example, would not be permitted to buy any newspapers.  Owners of media resources would preferably be a consortium rather than an individual.  Anyone in the consortium could be a foreigner, but they must be resident in the UK and being paying UK tax or have to give up their control of the media resource. 

10) The licence fee for the BBC services would continue to rise as it has done over the past decade.

I expect many of these policies will be unpopular with commentators, but they are as legitimate in their conception as the policies being driven through by the current government, which, in my view will harm the UK for decades to come and bring so much suffering to the British people now and in the future.  My policies seek a re-balance back towards the rights of ordinary people to live their lives and be judged on their abilities and how they behave not on the basis of what bed they were born in.  In addition, I feel, that whilst retaining the identity of Britain, these policies would help it get out of being fixed in the past and instead become a modern country suited to tackling the challenges of the future, rather than constantly harping on peculiarities of the past as if they were glories of today.