Jul 052016
 

Who would have thought that the modern Conservative Party would have become so radical and ideological? The referendum decision to leave the European Union has sent shock-waves through our national psyche and is proving difficult to understand because it is the result of some problematic political cross-dressing.

It seems that the advocates of Creative Destruction that is gleefully being embraced and pursued by potential leaders in the Tory Party has caught many by surprise, and leaving many unable to respond or to come up with a suitable counter-argument.

The question I have, however, is doesn’t this go against the foundations of conservatism? I thought that the Conservative Party had a historic role in the British constitution to preserve and endure, whereas the path that is being advocated by the anti-EU head-bangers in the Brexit camp is the opposite of that, and suggest that the Conservative Party has fully abandoned its historic role in British life.

My simplistic understanding of the conservative tradition suggests that conservative principle number one, is to sustain and conserve for future generations. Decisions that we take should be rooted in a pragmatic forms of practicality, focussed on the need to get out of situations if they are not in our interests in the future.

We’ve just spent the last forty years building a sustainable future inside the European Union, only for the second principle of conservativism to be annihilated. A stable society is built on stable institutions, i.e. the Crown, the Courts, the BBC and NHS. Conservatives are concerned that the institutions that we hold dear will endure past the mid-term priorities and perspectives of the people involved.

Stable institutions give us a predictable framework around which we can plan our future decisions. In this sense conservatives are boring, and they certainly don’t promote extreme measures based on ego or an ideological whim for fear of the unknown consequences.

In this regard, however, conservatives are pragmatic and run with what is known to work. Conservatives don’t like to experiment for the sake of experimentation. Change is an evolutionary process that is agreed and built on consensus, rather than being hurled at people who don’t know what they are getting.

Conservatives therefore have a disdain for popular expressions of the public mood, so they don’t use referendums very often. Instead conservatives work within the framework of representative and liberal democracy that protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority through deliberation, expertise and wisdom. Parliament is supposed to debate and discuss issues of national importance and come to a consensual view that suits all parties.

Outside of the political realm conservatives put the family at the core of their ideas. The stable family unit around which the rest of society is based is the central premise of the conservative mind-set, associated with values of self-reliance and merit in which people are able to climb the ladder of life with the minimum of interference from the state or from government.

Likewise, conservatives are stewards of the environment and the natural world. They seek to sustain the world around us so that it is pleasant, free from pollution and works best to provide us with resources for other forms of social life and industry. Conservatives argue for balance between those things that sustain and nourish us and those things that we can exploit for more materialistic ends.

Conservatives, therefore, are patriots and nationalists, with a strong sense of duty to one’s country, King and Queen.  It is this nationalism and patriotism that gives conservatives the space to put strong local identities high on the agenda of our national lives.

The idea of the nation is built on the idea of the strong community with an engaged sense of civic participation. Civic leaders are drawn from the worlds of commerce and social association which is empowered by the stake that people feel in their local community and the benefits in status that are derived from playing an active part in community life.

According to conservatives participating in local politics and decision making is something to be proud about and it relates to your social standing. Conservatives therefor prioritise local decisions and local issues above other needs.

The market isn’t the only factor that conservatives take into account when they are enacting decisions on behalf of their communities. The social impact and the potential detrimental effects of any race for commercial exploitation. This might imply a rigid structure that is slow to change, but it is one that is based on longer-term ideas of the social good and not just an ability to get rich quick.

But there is an ideological mix-up. The Tory Party is now overwhelmed by free-market, neo-liberal ideologues. A process that started over forty-years ago with Margaret Thatcher is now bulldozing all before it.

This ideological fervour is based on the dominant belief that the free-market will provide solutions to social problems. It is the belief that so-called free-markets go hand-in-hand with the power of Creative Destruction, ripping up the rules, changing the game, and if some things get broken in the process, so what!

For more than forty years it’s been said that there is no moral or ethical dimension to the free-market, only economic instrumentalism and utility. That there are no moral equivalences between different services and goods offered in the marketplace. That everything can be reduced to a consumer exchange and the supply and demand of desires and wants.

This neo-liberal mind-set says that there is no need to offer a guiding hand or to mitigate the excesses of the market, as markets are inherently good at what they do, and will auto-correct when things go wrong.

However, when I take a look around me all I see is that the free-market has only delivered a zombie economy based around endless brands, chains and franchises. Don’t bother travelling around the United Kingdom, every town is the same, every place has a Starbucks, a Costa Coffee, Boots, WH Smiths, all in endless and soulless duplication.

If a local community wants to deny planning permission for Tesco to open another supermarket in their area, then there is very little that they can do about it. Local decisions are usually over-written by centralised managers in London who only care about the numbers and not the impact.

Local democracy has been devalued in the United Kingdom for decades. The assault started with Thatcher who disbanded the metropolitan authorities who wanted to invest locally and manage change more socially democratically that the free market ideologies would allow.

This has resulted in the dominance of instrumental thinking in political and civic life, as the mono-logic of economic utility pushes all public and civic life to the so-called free market place. This is a logic that treats everything like cornflakes. Designed, manufactured and distributed from a centralised management, but containing no nourishment or health benefits despite the claims.

The neo-liberal ideologue can’t recognise that measures of sustainability and environmental protection are prudent, so they find ways to derided and belittle the process of ecological stewardship. They become climate change deniers because nothing can interfere with the free-market, not even the mounting evidence of environmental catastrophe.

So expertise is undermined. Universities are reduced to being factories for employability. The idea of the university as a space for independent and divergent thinking is subsumed under the logic that says that students are consumers and that they must be facilitated in their employability needs, rather than being independent thinkers with a liberal conscience.

Our politics has become a giant marketing exercise. The buzz-phrase is the ‘conversation’ which reduces everything to surveys and opinion polls. The fact that politics is the manifestation of competing interests is hidden and made opaque. Who did the Brexit campaign actually represent beyond themselves?

So, the question I’ve been thinking about is why I am a conservative? What makes me want to see a resurgence in conservative thinking that will challenge the destruction of the free-marketers?

I want to see strong, local communities in which local people determine their own priorities on tax, planning, education, health and welfare. This will only come about if local people have a democratic stake, so we need Proportional Representation for all of our elections. With a decentralised model of education we can look to the best practice that allows our young people to become creative, independent and resilient, ending the factory and hot-house model that is failing to engage enough people in life-long learning.

In a globalised world we can only build local identities by promoting local products and producers, by promoting local arts, media and participation in a strong and vibrant cultural life. Too much of our social interactions are founded on shopping and not on shared creative endeavours.

There is a clear role for Trade Unions as long as they are looking to provide stability when planning for change. Ironically the Thatcherite zeal for union-bashing is partly responsible for high-levels of immigration in service sector work. If people are paid poverty wages then jobs don’t look attractive and employers will seek cheaper labour elsewhere.

I want to make it easier for people to access a local market by promoting civic market places that are paid for by taxing parking on supermarkets. How do new traders enter the marketplace when the competitive environment is skewed towards the national and international conglomerates all fighting for a slide of the pie but with no care for the local community?

This means devolving responsibility for competition in our communities to the local level and allowing local communities to accept or reject the presence of corporate brands in their area. Local people should decide if they want to leave space for local people like themselves to trade and build businesses in their areas. Anyhow, we have far too many shops in the United Kingdom. It’s time we started to restrict out of town developments, and endless shopping centre car parks.

I also want to see a shift away from the car economy, so that urban areas can become the focus of family life. British streets have been chocked and blocked by cars. They have become dangerous and anti-social. Children are absent from our streets and communities, and live like prisoners. No wonder so many of them are unhappy.

It is essential, therefore, that we build integrated transport networks based around trams in our cities. Trams are socially democratic, giving all classes of people confidence to use an integrated system. They are clean and they are predictable. The privatisation of the buses is an experiment in free-market ideology that has cursed our cities.

Another priority has to be that we stop building endless homes and businesses in rural areas. Instead we need to protect and invest in agricultural and recreational traditions, and open the country to a different set of priorities that aren’t based on endless urban-sprawl.

When communities face change, though, they need to be given support and help so that they can adjust to the changes that technology, rather than blaming people. Don’t turn your back on people in need and put in place robust safety nets so people aren’t destitute and can plan their lives around stability. The shame of the Bedroom Tax is deeply felt by many.

I don’t understand why successive governments have had such a problem with local democracy. Local services that are accountable through the local ballet-box are better than some technocratic and centralised ministry can offer. Devolve health, education, welfare and competition management to local authorities while also pulling back defence expenditure.

I’m afraid it’s time to give-up Trident because we can’t afford it, which means giving up our seat on the UN Security Council. Our aim should be to leave a smaller footprint that is better suited to our resources, thereby cutting our cloth to fit our reduced circumstances.

Al this said, once I’ve got over the shock of Brexit and the opportunities start to become clear, I’ve no doubt that the future is going to be internationalist, collaborative, co-operative, welcoming and principled. So who knows, we might come out of this muddle with a form of EU+. Something that is built on strong local communities, in which people are empowered and feel that they can reject the technocratic management and monoculture forces of the global finance industry.

I suspect that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party will be dead and buried in five years’ time. The question is, what kind of political leadership will take their place and how will people square the conservative with the social democratic?

Jul 032016
 

The Brexit crisis has turned out to be a rather impressive psychodrama. A drama that has polarised opinion on each side of the debate. Unpicking the consequences of the Brexit decision is going to take some time, and it won’t be easy to make sense of things for a while.

What was once up is now down, what was once certain is now unknown, and what was once predictable has become chaotic. The political polarities have shifted for sure. Finding out what this means in practice is going to take some time and some creative thinking.

Understanding what the emerging principles of this shift in our assumed reality is going to be much more difficult than the first batch of comment and analysis in the newspapers suggests. But understanding this shift will be key to successful political representation and debate in the United Kingdom for years to come.

Which side are you on, the fifty-two or the forty-eight? This is going to be the defining polarity in British politics and economics for some time to come.

If we are pragmatic in our approach to understanding what has gone on, we might find it useful to think of the debate as a set of interlocking translation issues. Two groups of people had assumed that they had been talking the same language and describing the same things.

It turns out that they had different things in mind, and had been using different frameworks of meaning that couldn’t be comprehended by the other side.

On the one hand there is a tendency for the Brexit result to be boiled down to an easy and straight forward sense of either spite or optimism. Or that the decision can be played out as a battle of inter-generational conflict, in which one generation pulls-up the ladder on a following generation.

There is a lot of evidence to support the view of the selfish generation making it harder for the next generation in practice, just look at the levels of inequality in the United Kingdom. But this is more of a consequence than a direct intent on the part of the Brexit supporters.

Likewise, the result can be broken down into a tension between the nostalgic or the optimistic. Those people who have no memory of the past afflictions of de-industrialisation, or the class war wrought by successive governments, or the shift and change in technology and the global economy, have been shunted sideways by a generation that can only think about how badly they have been treated. Is this a forty year grudge.

There was a telling interview on BBC Radio Four’s Today Program earlier this week. Two women were interviewed, one who regretted her decision, and one who was confirmed in her decision. The woman who regretted voting leave said that she realised she had been holding a grudge for forty years, but that it was now too late to change her mind as her vote had been cast.

The other woman was clear, she had researched and read about the issue of the European Union and felt confident about her decision. She told the interviewer that she was against globalisation, but that the decision to support Brexit would make it easier for the United Kingdom to trade internationally.

This made me choke. The kind of choke and splutter that good radio can achieve on occasions. Quite what does she thinks globalisation is? Has she not understood that trading internationally is globalisation? How can she keep these two contradictory positions in her mind and resolve them?

How does she cope with the cognitive dissonance that she is grappling with?

This faulty logic is where we will find the answer to these issues. This will take some perceptive listening, some creative thinking, and some alternative methods of analysis to come up with a working solution that helps people to make sense of their predicament.

The on-going question, indeed the only question that will dominate British politics, is concerned with how we go about building strong local identities, how we empower people locally, while accommodating international trade and global identity?

Where I think a useful place to look for an answer is somewhat counter-intuitive. Is the Brexit decision better thought of as a failure of nerve and resolve, rather than an embrace of the future and confidence in collective international action and national identity? Saying lets make Britain great again is an admission of defeat.

Clearly the Brexit result is a symptom and not the cause of a bigger problem. Is Brexit the result of one generation getting spooked because life felt like it was moving forward and getting too easy, when they felt that it should be hard?

People have said this is like a divorce, but actually the divorce happened a long time ago. This is one partner realising that their former partner has no need for them, so they are perplexed because their former lover seem to be getting on with their lives, meeting new people and generally having a nice time.

The disdainful ex-partner finds this difficult to deal with, and therefore wants to spite their former partner so that they feel as bad as they do about life. Why should they be out and about meeting people when we are sat at home staring out of the window?

There is a strong underlying current in British life that can’t believe that things can ever be so good. Because life should never be good, according to the puritan mind-set of struggle and toil. You have to work hard to get what you want. You have to be prudent and cut your cloth. Life shouldn’t feel this easy?

The ethic of the British mind-set is very often driven by a puritan impulse that seeks suffering and graft as virtues in themselves, regardless of how useful they turn out to be in practice, or the alternative, smarter ways of doing things that exist.

This mind-set is based on the misconception that the pleasures that life brings should be denied, for a greater virtue is awaited elsewhere, and is a reward for deferred gratification and ease now. John Maynard Keynes called this the Electromagnetic Problem – forcing your family to walk everywhere because the battery in the car is faulty, and so you scrap the whole car rather than just replacing the battery.

Puritans will tell you that learning, knowledge, information, association and participation shouldn’t feel easy. Surely they are difficult and challenging. Surely they are things that we have to work hard for? Surely those people who have the rewards in life got them because they earned them, and not because they where in the right place at the right time, just being lucky?

Our politicians and the news media have promoted the view that life is about tough decisions and that if dealing with things is easy then it is wrong. This is because the best way to keep what you have is to normalise the luck that brought it about, and promote the myth that you got it through hard work and industry, when it was the result of the lottery of life.

Keep in mind that the lottery of life in the United Kingdom as been eschewed and knocked out of kilter for generations now. There is less opportunity for social mobility than ever before, and wealth never seems to trickle down the ladder as was promised.

The Brexit vote, then, is a turning point in people’s sense of imaginative possibility – between the seemingly difficult and the seemingly easy. This is a turning point in which the older generation, by-and-large, bottled it.

They bottled it because they haven’t been able to adapt to the mind-set that internationalism and globalisation brings. What, we need to put a framework in place for cooperation and collaboration? What, we have to engage in international politics and win people over to our ideas? Sorry, our splendid isolation seems enough. Why worry about the rest of the world when we can just look after ourselves?

They bottled it because they don’t understand how communication technology is stripping away national barriers, and allowing people to associate more freely.

Google Translate

Google Translate

Look at Google Translate and think about the power of technology to change our worldview. The Google Translate app on the iPhone has a live camera function, allowing the user to read the text in a sign as the words are translated in-situ.

They bottled it because they can’t understand that they had to turn-up and play a role in creating their own destinies, building their own communities, and enhancing their own sense of civic participation through which they could gain a sense of self-actualised identity.

There is an assumption that we need strong leadership in the United Kingdom to get things done. But this is simply people passing-off responsibility for their actions onto someone else. It’s not my problem guv, but I blame the local council, David Cameron or the EU!

If you want to live in a world in which learning feels hard and a chore, then you might want to invest in barriers, tariffs and vaults to protect your investments. If you think that learning is fun, creative and social, then you will want to break those barriers down.

The greatest question of our lifetimes shows that one generation has bottled-it in the face of these changes.

What is essential, though, is that TINA (There is no alternative) is now dead as a political maxim.

There is an alternative and people can choose it now if they want.

So be careful what you wish for if you thought that by voting for Brexit you would be getting something back that you had been familiar with but estranged from.

The 48%

The 48%

Brexit empowers both ways, and your former partner is now well aware that all bets are off, and that alternatives are now open for discussion.

We in the forty-eight percent are free to choose what we want, without any feelings of responsibility for the people they are leaving behind. Bon Voyage!

 

 

 

Jun 272016
 

In the Post-Brexit political landscape it’s going to be interesting to see what changes in practice, and how people will adapt to the reality that the whole economic and fiscal order of the United Kingdom has to change. This was a vote that I disagreed should be held, and I’m deeply disturbed by the result because it fails to engage with the practical consequences of the decision.

So, here’s some suggestions, a couple of things that are going to have to change over the short-term in order to pay for and adjust to the new reality of Post-Brexit Britain.

Proportional Representation: First, it looks like we got into this mess because we don’t have a fit-for-purpose electoral system. The present system polarises people, and it ensure that parties are embedded in traditional areas without any challenge. This is both Labour areas and Tory areas. Look at Leicester and Leicestershire? Each are rock-solid holds on thirty-five percent of the vote. The priority has to be a proportional election system at all levels of government. We pay our taxes but we don’t get fair representation.

Congestion/Pollution Charge to Pay for Integrated Trams: Leicester is a car-based city, but the damage this does is immense, both to people’s health and to their well-being. The roads in Leicester are constantly clogged and the side-streets where people live are unusable by anything that doesn’t travel with an internal combustion engine. Families and children are cut off from one another because the roads aren’t safe.

Many of the people who drive into Leicester are getting a cheap deal. They pass through and don’t have to live with the consequences. This has left us with a devalued urban environment, and the heavy pollution that an over-reliance on cars causes.

Many other cities in the United Kingdom are successfully building integrated tram networks to change the culture and the feel of the spaces we share. Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, Edinburgh, are all building tram systems as a viable and preferred alternative to congestion.

Let’s bring in a congestion and pollution charge so that the money raised from excessive road use can be invested into a modern tram network. Leicester is the perfect type of city for a tram, indeed until the 1950s Leicester was mainly served by trams and buses. So it can be done here.

Property Tax – Rates Based on Market Value: The United Kingdom economy has been based for the last forty years around a number of financial imperatives, the main one being home ownership. Since the 1980s, and the Thatcher revolution for a home-owning democracy, the whole focus of housebuilding has been about property speculation. Some people have done very well out of this gamble and have accrued substantial resources as a nest egg for their retirement.

The problem is that the taxes that are raised locally are regressive, so those people who live in poorer areas and who have not benefited from the gains in property prices that other areas have seen, are paying more than their fair share.

The answer is to return to a rating system similar to that used prior to the Poll Tax. Those who have the greatest wealth and the strongest assets should be taxed fairly, and those who are working their way-up in life, and who generally live in cheaper property areas, should be taxed fairly but less. If a pensioner is living in a mansion by themselves then they should think about downsizing.

The suburbs would suddenly become a less desirable option for people to live in, and the inner-cities would become more attractive. This would reverse the wastelands that typify British urban planning, and the lack of integration of social activities, essential services and amenities. The city would be the place to retire, and we could focus on the quality of people lives.

Business rates stay in Leicester: If businesses are successful in Leicester the money that is raised from their local taxes should stay in Leicester. There is plenty of work that needs doing in Leicester. Walk along any high-street out of the city centre and you will see a picture of decay and a lack of maintenance. Local business taxes will provide money that can be used to invigorate local communities, rather than being syphoned-off to a distant market town or shire county to be spent maintaining the generous lifestyles of rural communities.

Local taxes staying in Leicester would also reinvigorate local civic engagement, as there is no stronger impetus to get involved in local politics and community life than the feeling that you are guiding the resources and the assets that are raised locally.

End to pensioner discounts and benefits: Young people need to be invested in if they are going to have confidence to learn, work hard and achieve in the future. Our economic prosperity depends on how we treat our young people. And yet there has been an asset grab on recent years that has seen resources taken from the young and from working families, and used to secure the prosperity of the older generations.

The referendum indicates that we have to make a choice, we can either have one or the other, but we can’t keep milking young people in order to pay for the leisure pursuits of the generation that has pulled-up the ladder. I’m sorry, but free television licences and bus passes will have to go.

Support University Internationalist work: Supporting younger people means supporting local schools, colleges and universities. I would like to see schools and colleges brought back under the control of local councils, and hence local democracy. So that they can be managed and funded for the long-term, with an international agenda that suits the aspirations of the of the tech-enabled young people of Leicester who aren’t afraid of globalisation and don’t see national barriers in the way that the older generations fear.

Support for Language Communities: One of the things that got cut as a sop to the anti-integrationists was the support given by local councils for language classes and translation services. This act of self-harm just made it more difficult to deal with the changes we have seen in our communities, as the transitional support that people might have benefited from was cut on the basis of irrational prejudice. Every school, college and workplace should have language clubs that help people to improve their non-English speaking skills, as well as help and support for people to learn English so that they can be integrated much more quickly.

Scale-up of infrastructure work to modernize urban areas: Walk around Leicester and take-stock of how much work needs doing to deal with the decades of neglect. Simple things like painting railings, fixing traffic junctions, clearing road signs, repairing and improving pavements. Austerity and the cuts that George Osborne imposed on local councils have taken a heavy toll on the infrastructure of Leicester’s urban environment.

The City Council has to be able to gear-up as many projects as it can quickly to deal with the blight of the urban environment. Leicester’s Mayor has made some progress with the Cathedral, Jubilee Square, the Haymarket Bus Station, and so on, but there is so much more to do. And it is money well spent as it goes back into the local economy, thus generating more taxes.

Scale-up of social services teams to deal with anti-social begging: Anyone who visits Leicester and travels along Granby Street should be able to attest to the problem of street drinking, begging and people who are damaged by drugs. An immediate and practical action plan needs to be put in place so that people who have dropped through the safety-net can be helped and supported.

The scourge of Leicester being used as a dumping ground for other local councils who export their problems needs to end, and the police need to be much more visible in ensuring that forms of anti-social behaviour are discouraged.

Clampdown on noise pollution and anti-social behaviour from bars: I firmly believe that Leicester can be one of the best family friendly cities there is. The problem at the moment is that it is being run on the basis of the so-called night-time economy alone. This is a world of cheap bars that encourage people to crowd in the streets and often ends in violence.

Who would want to live in a city and raise a family in this environment? I’m quite happy with liberal opening hours, but a culture shift has to take place that see the licensing regime changed. Yes, people should be able to go for a drink whenever they want, but there should be zero-tolerance of noise pollution and anti-social behaviour from bars and clubs.

There should also be a dispersal of venues away from the centre so that there is less concentration on large numbers of people gathering in one place. Meals and water have to be available at all times, and everyone has to sit down, just to take the concentration and density of a venue down. The free-market and commercial exploitation can’t be the only deciding factor for permission to open and run a business.

Anyway, these are just a couple of thoughts that I’d want to put forward as practical, local issues that can be dealt with quite quickly, and none of them are the responsibility of the European Union, but can be enacted and dealt with locally.

 

 

Jun 262016
 

Come the hour, comes the man – or woman, but it’s not as snappy a proverb. The fallout from the Brexit vote to leave the European Union looks like it is only just starting to gather strength. The latest overnight news is that Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, has sacked the shadow foreign secretary, Hillary Benn, because he was plotting to revolt against his leadership.

With Boris Johnson aiming to lead the Conservative Party, and become the next Prime Minister, after David Cameron’s resignation, the other proverb that comes to mind, but perhaps one that is less welcome, is: ‘may you be blessed to live in interesting times.’

There are underlying fault-lines that have become apparent in this maelstrom of claim and counter-claim. And while those on the right would frame this as a debate about personal liberty or national pride, and those on the left might frame this as a debate about capitalism’s time running out, there are other forces at hand that also need to be considered.

I’ve discussed in a previous post how this is a debate about the old and the young. There is a clear rift in the expectations of those over forty and those under forty. Those that remember life before Thatcherism, and those that have only ever lived with the European outlook.

20160624_083423000_iOS

Geographic Divisions of Brexit

There is also the divide between the so-called ‘heartlands’ and the urban areas. The vote to remain was embedded in Scotland obviously, but also in the cities of England. While the vote to leave was founded in the shires and counties, the smaller towns of England that are furthest away from the urban lifestyles of the emerging urban economies.

The Observer’s editorial today’s asks:

So what about globalisation? How have free markets benefited the steel worker put out of work by the EU-sanctioned dumping of cheap Chinese products? Seen from Wearside or the Welsh valleys, booming London and the south-east, with its Monopoly money property prices and £70 a head restaurants, resembles Goldrush City, a foreign and hostile land.”

The last time I was in central London I hated it – to use a phrase I thought it was full of arrogant and self-entitled chancers. So these anxieties are being felt elsewhere and have been deeply engrained as form of indignation and resentment for some time.

I wonder, perhaps, if there is another divide, one that is less visible, but one that has shaped and formed these outlooks? Is this a divide between those who use traditional media to keep themselves informed of what’s happening in the world, and those who use social and emerging media to find out what is happening in the world?

The tradition of mass media has not disappeared, despite what Facebook, YouTube and Twitter might want us to think. Newspapers, television, and to a much lesser extent radio, still play an essential role in framing the debates and conversations that we have about our national identity and our place in the world. Often framed by the bias of the newspaper proprietors who are themselves pursuing an agenda of their own interest.

Alternatively, the users of social media have a more flexible approach to information, with sources and feeds being exchanged and shared from many different media organisations as well as individuals. The downside is the jam-jar approach, in which the hornets of opinion furiously echo each-others views and don’t interact with those of different mind-sets.

This is counter-balanced, however, by the ability to look wider afield and to interact with people who are not geographically defined in our localities, or set within our networks of social class, gender and sexual identity, views on faith or otherwise. Social media allows people to spread their network wider than the fixed world of mass mediated politics allows.

Perhaps a good example of the hollowing out of local identities is the way that radio in the United Kingdom has become a centralised, national set of brands and formats that reflect a narrow commercial interest, but which don’t give a flavour to local lives and circumstances. It’s no surprise that BBC Local Radio is designed to appeal to the over fifty-fives. Has this played through into people’s perceptions of a hollowed-out sense of community?

Likewise, we’ve seen a massive decline in local newspapers, local reporting about politics, local information and discussion about civic and local government issues in the press, because the press has been decimated by speculation and commercial interests.

So in a way, the Brexit debate is an argument about changing local identities and emerging social identities. Our collective and social identities are now being formed in different ways, and how we cope with that and respond to it is very important.

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 08.14.39On the one-hand people are strongly patriotic and have a clear need for a locally defined image of themselves. While on the other hand there is a great source of energy that comes from rejecting these more traditional forms of identity and instead seeking common cause with people who are of a like-mind globally. Look at the response to the Orlando shootings for a sense of common-cause between LGBT people.

This is patriotism and localism versus freedom of movement and social association. Who you have most in common with is no longer set by where you live, but increasingly by who you link with on social media. This might account in some way for the generational divide that became evident in the outcome of the referendum vote. Do people under forty embrace the globalised social identity afforded through social media more easily than those who are over forty?

This is not clear cut and set in stone. My mum is an avid remain supporter and uses social media to follow the debates and to talk to other people about it. She is seventy-three years old and doesn’t regard herself as nostalgic about the past. Whereas many of her peers feel that they have ‘got their country back’, as if they are reclaiming the glory of Britain in the 1950s, prior to the Windrush.

The challenge, then, is to choose the political side that you think best represents the future? Should we embrace independence because it makes us feel that we are getting something back that was lost? A sense of local identity that was ripped apart by deindustrialisation, the rise of the consumer economy and the Thatcherite experiment in speculative capitalism?

Or should we focus on the requirements of the future economy that is based on knowledge, information, social networks and progressive civic freedoms that enable people to work internationally, absorbing and sharing different cultural traditions and practices?

The Labour Party is in the most difficult position of all parties in this debate, as it tries to figure out if this should be a process of managed decline and localism, or if this reflects ideas that are more relevant to the ongoing process of globalisation and integration?

Labour MP Yvette Cooper is arguing that Labour needs to adopt an approach that listens to the concerns of the heartlands, and takes on board the concerns that people have about immigration and globalisation. This is a widespread, and on the surface a sensible view, but it is also a mistaken view that fails in terms of political leadership.

Political parties can be very effective sounding boards for grievances and complaints. As social change makes people uncomfortable there is an inevitable role for the politics of indignation. However, this doesn’t move people on, and it doesn’t set out the realities that the world has changed and will continue to change.

Political leadership is about challenging the expectations of your supporters and taking them on a journey to a more promising future. In the United Kingdom this promise was high-jacked in what I can only describe as a right-wing coup, organised by about eighty members of the Conservative party and the backers of UKIP.

The economic and social realities haven’t changed, however, so the need to manage people’s expectations about what kind of future is possible needs to be urgent and blunt if it is to be achieved fairly and in a progressive and socially democratic manner.

Everything that we know about social and economic life in the United Kingdom is about to be torn up. If the Brexit supporters think that this will result in form of ‘glorious isolation’ then they are mistaken. The world is still going to change around them and they run the risk of being left behind. Fine, choose that if you wish, but understand the consequences.

This is why we need a broad alliance of the 48% to make the positive case for a progressive and socially responsible future, that incorporates and builds on globalisation, the challenge of technology, and the promise of diverse, mixed and integrated communities.

Britain’s cities hold the key for the future prosperity of the United Kingdom because they are forward looking, multi-ethnic, creative, young. They are finally breaking free from the autocratic control of national government and are being recognised as ‘powerhouses’ of future prosperity.

If the swathes of the country outside of the urban areas can’t grasp that, then they must remain content to work for managed decline and diminished incomes. Economic gains from future technologies are going to slip away from what’s left of the United Kingdom, as technology and digital companies relocate to more welcoming countries.

I don’t think the Brexit voters realise the lasting damage that scratching the itch of indignation is going to cause.

Jun 252016
 

It’s really interesting, do a search on Google Images for ‘UK Managed Decline’ and the search page is filled with images from the 1980s of social unrest and the cabinet of the Thatcher government. Perhaps there is something wrong with the Google algorithm because none of these images suggest that the transition of the 1980s that was brought about by the Thatcher revolution was particularly well managed. If anything decline was unmanaged and extreme social responses where provoked.

The 1980s where a period when Britain was forced to deindustrialise, with whole industries being closed or privatised, and the resulting impact on communities and families hitting them in a way that it was difficult to cope with and respond to.

Many of these communities have never recovered and still show the scars and the resentment of this period of destruction to this day. This has clearly fed into the anger that has been expressed in the referendum decision to leave the European Union.

As I’ve indicated in previous blogs, I’m a supporter of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union, however, I am also a democrat so I respect the decision that has been made by a majority of the active British electorate.

There are, however, some questions that I think are fair to put to the Brexit camp that will explain how the United Kingdom, or what’s left after the second Scottish independence referendum, will move forward. I don’t believe in jingoistic phrases like ‘Making Britain Great Again,’ I need more meat on the bone and some plausible, practical answers.

So, how will Britain manage its decline following the decision to leave the European Union? How will the new government under Johnson, Gove, Smith and Farage restructure our economy and our society in order to better suit our diminished position? Here are some proposals to do this:

First, cancel Trident. Obviously we can no longer afford to replace this ‘independent’ nuclear weapons system. It’s a debt that will hang around our necks and stop us from investing in the needs of the British people at home. The United Kingdom no longer needs to be an active nation in world peace keeping, as this can be undertaken by the Americans on our behalf, and for a much smaller fee.

This means we can give up our permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council so that we can concentrate on matters closer to home. We can sign non-aggression pacts with Russia and China, so that in the event of any war in the future we can guarantee that no British soldiers, sailors or airmen will be put at risk for the protection of countries that are well out of our domain of influence.

As a member of NATO we can provide defensive services to our allies only, and we can commit ourselves to peace keeping operations only once they have been agreed by the full NATO Council and the United Nations. This should save us many billions of pounds each year, as we will no longer need a nuclear deterrent or expensive submarines and aircraft carriers.

If we are going to withdraw from the United Nations Security Council, this gives us the opportunity to hand back Falklands and Gibraltar to the Argentine and Spanish governments respectively. This will mean that we won’t have to constantly posture with these countries and we can move on to think about making things work at home.

Our managed decline must have the objective to have a smaller footprint in the world and to worry less about the United Kingdom punching above its weight.

Our special relationship with America can be downgraded in the process, as we become more objective and independent we will be able to strike trade deals with new partners that better suit our interests, rather than opting for American investment to the same extent that we do at present.

We can strike a preferential deal with the Chinese to use Weibo instead of the American Twitter. We can buy our movies from India – Bollywood rather than Hollywood, and K-Pop is much more popular than Hip-Hop as a form of creative and artistic expression.

At home, we can further our managed decline by aiming to limit the ambitions of our universities. So we can be content that Oxford and Cambridge are in the top fifty world research universities, rather than the top five that they are at present. Maintaining this position in the international university league tables is expensive, and we would be better deploying the money we save to support home communities and home education services that provide valuable vocational skills for industry.

Obviously the financial services industry that is based in London will have to be given special status and freed from the rules and regulations that the European Union are trying to impose on them. I’d suggest that we use the Isle of Mann, or Guernsey as a model for the City of London, as it becomes a quasi-independent city-state free from national regulation and responsibilities.

At a stroke we can also get rid of HS2, the controversial high-speed rail service proposed for London to Birmingham. It’s not going to be important to move business people around at high-speed, so we can spend the money on more practical local options like buses and trams in our towns and cities. The third runway at Heathrow is also a non-starter, as there will be plenty of capacity at all the other United Kingdom airports once the agreements for cheap air travel in Europe have come to an end.

We might have to spend some money sorting out the railways again, however, as when the franchises for the exiting train services run out it is likely that bidders to take these services on will be harder to find as the focus of British transport shifts back to the roads and to regional transport schemes.

There will be changes to the NHS as well. We won’t be able to afford the universal service that we take for granted now, so it’s sensible to start to plan for both rationing, charging and privatisation of the health service. This will mean shifting the provision of healthcare to cities and the urban centres because with more limited options and expertise, specialists will need to be clustered and centralised. The limits on immigration will mean that we can’t recruit internationally for doctors, so there will be a transition period while we train new medical professionals.

We will also need to rationalise our schools. The somewhat outdated and unaffordable village school will become a thing of the past. Instead children will have to be transported to larger towns and cities for their schooling, at which they will receive a rationalised and simplified curriculum.

These are just a couple of ideas. I’m sure the process of managed decline will suit this country well. We will be able to run things properly without all the ambition of being a world-player, and without having to moralise or preach to other nations about human rights, international aid, social protection and future innovation in the economy, as we will be holding our own quite nicely.

If any of the Brexit supporters can show me where their plans for government and administration of this decline have been published, I would very much like to read them. Being honest about decline and how we manage our reduced influence and status in the world carries no shame. Being dishonest by claiming that we can somehow magically recreate the glories of a bygone age is, however, entirely shameful.

Jun 252016
 

If there’s one thing that people didn’t need following the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, it is turbulence and instability. Those of us who voted to remain probably feel dejected and isolated at the present time. I know my anxiety levels are all over the place.

The financial markets are going to be uncertain for some time. We have seen a run one the pound in all but name. Thomas Cook has suspended selling Euros to Brits online. In the past we would have seen queues outside banks, and the effects would have felt much more immediate. It’s online, so it seems hidden.

There is now going to be a battle over the type of Britain that emerges from this calamitous decision, and every chancer and charlatan is going to be jockeying for a slice of the action, and to set the framework of how we get along. The Brexit camp have been clear, they want to rip-up the rule books on Human Rights, Workers Rights, Social Protection, Freedom of Movement and Trade.

This is going to be one almighty bear-pit not seen in the United Kingdom since the 1970s. No wonder Scotland wants its independence.

However, in the political and social turmoil that is going to follow in the United Kingdom, there are some practical steps that we can all take to help us feel less alone and less subject to the storm that has hit us.

First, join a Pro-EU political party – this will be either the Greens, the Liberal Democrats or Labour (on a good day). To declare an interest, I’m a member of the Leicester Green Party, though progressive parties are going to have to form an alliance and work together to challenge the neo-liberal and right-wing agenda that is being set in the post-Brexit shakeout.

It’s impossible to set and secure the agenda on environmental protection or climate change without cooperation and collaboration with our neighbours and partners. A collective approach is the only solution to the practical problems we face in a global and interconnected world. Being part of a party that recognises that is the only way to advance these ideas.

This is why proportional representation is now so important. If the UKIP wing of opinion had been fairly represented in parliament, then perhaps these issues wouldn’t have spilt over. They would have been discussed and debated. The two-party politics of the past is dead, but our system of representation is inadequate to deal with the differences of opinion. It can’t be right that fifty-two out of fifty-four council seats in Leicester are held by Labour councillors, when nearly a two-thirds of the city voted for other parties.

Second, join a trade union. Worker’s rights are at the front of the queue to be thrown on the bonfire by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Johnson’s record as Mayor of London shows that he was more interested in billionaire property speculators than working people. Your working rights will not defend themselves. Unscrupulous employers will want maximum flexibility and will try to drive down costs by slashing wages and work-place protection.

Third, educate yourself. One of the complaints of the referendum debate was that there was not enough facts and information given to people. I’m sorry, but this is a democracy, you have a responsibility to find out for yourself the information you need. If you end up trusting biased newspapers, then you get what you deserve.

Educating yourself works on another level as well. Without skills, knowledge and aptitude to get ahead in the global world, with the knowledge-based jobs that will create the future wealth, then you will be left behind.

I’m in favour of a building and securing a robust and accessible social ladder so people can get on, with help for people who need help. But each of us as individuals have to take responsibility for starting our journey up that ladder.

It’s no longer any use to blame someone else for our problems. We are now frozen out of the European Union. In practical terms we are on our own. It’s also no use holding on to the past and feeling aggrieved about the damage done by former governments, which was a large part of what this referendum was about. It’s also no use thinking that this isn’t real, or that some great saviour is going to come and charismatically hand us the solution.

The solution will be made by people coming together and taking small steps. A good friend of mine has a great turn of phrase which I think is useful at this moment: ‘I don’t know what I should do, I only know what I can do.’ Focus on the simple steps first, and the bigger change will happen in time.

Jun 242016
 

Okay, so the United Kingdom has voted for Brexit and will be leaving the European Union. I didn’t want this to happen, but I suppose getting used to the new reality as quickly as possible will be the best thing to do. I’ll mourn and grieve for a short while, and then I’ll figure out what happens next after a few days thinking.

There are a few observations that are worth making in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote that I think are worth sharing, as they will frame the wider debates that are going to happen as choices and realities start to hit home.

It’s fascinating to see that there are very clear divides in the United Kingdom based on age, where we live, and expectations about the globalised world. The Guardian’s editorial today is a good digest of the immediate issues that’s well worth looking at for a more considered and less jingoistic view point.

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EU Referendum by Area

Along with Scotland, the majority of the remain areas are clustered in English cities, including London, Manchester, Liverpool and Leicester (by a small margin), while the leave votes are in the rural areas and the shire counties, as well as some of the smaller towns.

Likewise, there is a clear divide between generations, with people over forty predominantly voting to leave, and those under forty voting to stay. Quite how these divides can be reconciled will have to be thought through carefully. As one generation pulls-up the ladder from the next, there will inevitably be consequences.

EU Referendum By Age

EU Referendum By Age

So, questions that will inform our political reality, beyond our relationship with the rest of the world, need to be asked. These are going to be internal questions, and they will form around the fault-lines brought to the fore in the shake-out from the decision to leave the European Union.

Broadly speaking it will boil down to this: should the young continue to subsidise the old? Should those people living in the cities and urban areas of the United Kingdom, who generate the wealth, continue to subsidise the lifestyles of the people living in the suburbs and the counties?

Should the young continue to shoulder the burden of the old when they get so little for their contribution to society? Remember it is highly unlikely that people under forty can afford to buy their own home without assistance.

It is highly unlikely that young people will experience the job security that many older people have taken for granted that will enable them to plan families? Young people already have to pay for their higher education, so why should they continue to pay for the services that the older generation – that has frozen them out – take for granted?

It’s likely that we will now see calls for the end of the universal services and state provision that we have been accustomed to in the past. A key sign for this will be the universal postal service. Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise people living in rural areas for their postal fees? Why should people living in urban areas pay to subsidise the telephone, data and utility services of people living in rural areas?

The cost of supporting small village schools is massively expensive. This cost has been shared in the past because it was part of the process of social re-distribution between the well-connected and the not so well-connected. Surely cities will now say that if there are cuts to pay for Brexit then they should land on the hidden subsidies that are enjoyed by those in the shires?

The same applies to healthcare. It is much cheaper to run a health system in urban areas, and more expensive to run a health system in rural areas. So if we have to make choices about where to invest in public services, the cuts are likely to result in a post-code lottery of health provision, with a clear divide between urban and rural.

The cities will want autonomy to invest the wealth they create into their services for local people. Local taxes for local people will be the slogan. But this means that the subsidies for rural areas will rightly be slashed. The powerhouses that George Osborne wants will push for more autonomy, setting their own taxes, and keeping the money they raise to reinvest in their own infrastructure.

Roads will be high on the agenda for cutting. I want to see a comprehensive and integrated transport system in the city that I live in. I don’t want to pay for people to commute from the market towns into the city. They can pay for their pollution themselves, and they can pay for their roads as well. So let’s get rid of fuel duty and replace it with a combination of pollution taxes and road charges. It won’t affect me as I walk and cycle.

What next? Oh, yes, how about scrapping free Television Licences for the over-seventy-fives? How about scrapping free prescriptions for the over sixty-fives? How about introducing charges to visit your GP for everyone, regardless of age? Surely those who use the service most should pay for it?

I don’t see why my taxes should go to subsidise pensioners travel passes, or discounts for rail travel, or discounts for entry to museums or leisure centres? I’m not sure that any younger person would want to spend their hard-earned money on the leisure pursuits of pensioners?

Of course, the agricultural subsidies that are enjoyed by farmers and landowners from the European Union at present are all going to have to stop. What’s going to take their place? All bets are now off when it comes to subsidies. It’s everyone for themselves or get to the back of the queue. Lobby groups are going to enjoy a boom. I might start a lobby company as a get-rich-quick scheme.

Scotland will be an independent nation in two years, as a member of the European Union, and eventually adopting the Euro. In the short term the Brexiteer’s might look at them as foolish, but in the longer-term Scottish independence makes a lot of sense.

As the pound tumbles, one of the stabilisers that the United Kingdom has benefited from with our membership of the European Union has gone. The Governor of the Bank of England has put £250 Billion away to pay for Brexit. That is money that will go to supporting the banks, not supporting the British people.

All of this could have been avoided if David Cameron and George Osborne had not gone around spooking people in 2009, telling the voters that the United Kingdom would end up like Greece if we did not reject the polices of Gordon Brown.

Cameron and Osbourne have now been hung by their own petard. Because the United Kingdom went along with German austerity in Europe, we are now in the position where Cameron and Osbourne had no credibility when it came to making an alternative case for our own economic role and purpose.

The Labour Party, likewise, has been riven by indecision over austerity. Labour lost the argument and the general election because it couldn’t muster the unity and the grit to offer an alternative to the pernicious moralism of the Euro head-bangers and their form of austerity, which got high-jacked by the Brexiteers as a warning to Labour voters.

So, we are where we are. As a nation we are about to enter a more tumultuous period of introspection and soul-searching like never before. Some good will come of it, and some bad. It is a shame that the bad will be self-inflicted.

Wishing for a recession in order to realign our economy is crazy. Thatcher did this in the 1980s and Britain is still paying the price. The next generation are about to pay a very heavy price for the selfishness and forgetfulness of the older generation.

Watch out because the waters are going to get choppy.

 

 

Jun 202016
 

I’ve been discussing the European Union question with friends over the last few weeks, and the level of emotion and division that the referendum campaign has brought to the fore is palpable. While for some people the choice to remain or leave the European Union has become a vexed issue, with strong feelings emerging on either side, I’m not one for searching for the correct theoretical or ideological answer to the problems of globalisation and Britain’s changed place in the world. I would rather look for practical solutions than resort to easy slogans.

It strikes me, however, that it’s easy to blame other people for our own failings, so the European Union debate needs a certain amount of careful unpicking. What I’m certain of, though, is that dividing people and making them feel unwelcome is no solution. It’s one thing to say that we want to assert our national identity, it’s another thing to blame people who want to come to this country to work, and to settle and raise families here, for problems that are created in other ways.

I am wholly in favour of immigration to the United Kingdom because it means that our culture and sense of community can be refreshed, and some of the more entrenched and recalcitrant attitudes and practices in society can be challenged. The world has changed since my formative years, and we no longer have the stable and embedded communities that we once had. So being nostalgic for them doesn’t help. Instead, embracing diversity and being flexible is our main advantage. After all, English is rapidly becoming the world language. Why would we want to give up the advantage that affords future generations the chance to be global citizens because at this time we choose to adopt a parochial attitude to globalisation?

I do accept, however, that people need help when coping with these changes. Austerity is the real culprit here, as it’s taken away many of the support mechanisms that people once had, and is destroying lives for want of a different approach to the banking crisis. Let’s deal with the fifty per-cent youth unemployment in Spain first, creating jobs across Europe where they are needed, before we blame hard working people for moving to the United Kingdom for the chance of a better life. Isn’t it something to be proud of that people want to live and work here?

Britain should therefore be challenging the German-led austerity agenda from within the European Union. Nothing can be achieved from outside. The Labour Party should have turned this debate into a referendum on austerity, but there is too much caution. Imagine the support the United Kingdom would have if we had been arguing against the pernicious economic policies that have cast Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy into penury?

Likewise, just who do the Brexiters think that we can trade with if we leave? It’s a fantasy that Britain can trade on its own in a global market. We have very little power against American corporations, and yet they seem to dominate our economy more than European businesses do. Little is said about businesses like Apple, Microsoft, Google and MacDonald’s when it comes to issues of sovereignty.

One thing in my mind is certain, however, and that is if the vote is to leave the European Union, then we will quickly see the break-up of the United Kingdom. Scotland will be justified in asserting its independence if the Scots vote to remain and the English vote to leave. Who can blame the Scots for wanting an alternative to the politics of the English South East.

Not only will the United Kingdom break apart, but there will be a brain-drain, as highly qualified people, myself included, decide that life in an increasingly isolated and selfish Britain just isn’t worth it. So rather than moaning about other people taking jobs, we have to redouble our efforts to improve our skills and capabilities so that we are ready to attract jobs.

I want the freedom of movement and thinking that the EU represents. The open borders, the free travel, the mix of cultures and the exchange of ideas. My life is richer because of these things. This decision should not be a nostalgic hankering for the past, but a confident view of the future, and so I will be voting to remain in the European Union.

 

 

May 102015
 

In June 2014 I spent some time in Loughborough on election day for the European Election with the Labour Candidates Rory Palmer, Khalid Hadadi and Matthew O’Callaghan, who was standing in the Westminster seat. I was able to get some photos as I went around with them.

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May 082015
 

This is a post I’ve held back from writing because I didn’t want it to sound tetchy and add a siren voice to the election campaign. But now that the result of the general election is history, I can say what I think more openly. Like that’s ever really bothered me you might rightly add!

I left the Labour Party last year and joined the Greens because I didn’t have any hope that the policy ideas being offered by Ed Miliband where adding up to a winning platform for Labour for the election.

While I hoped that Labour would come-up with the goods, I continually felt I wasn’t going to be satisfied. Instead, every time I looked at statements being made by the Green Party I found myself agreeing not only with the sentiment and the way it was expressed, but also the practical reality of what was being put forward. There was no prevarication, no coded messages, no empty aspirational gestures.

Instead, the policies of the Green Party were clear and forthright. I kept asking myself when would a policy I agreed with come out of the Labour Party? When would I see a distinctive campaign be launched that I could get behind and know that it would make a difference?

It never came.

What confirmed my decision to leave Labour was hearing Ed Miliband welcoming delegates at the Labour Party Conference and Manchester, by declaring the city a ‘Tory and Lib-Dem free zone.’ It was at that point that I knew that Ed Miliband was only going to try to appeal to the core vote of the Labour Party and wouldn’t bother to try to reach out to Conservative or Liberal Democrat voters.

I’d been disillusioned with Ed Balls for some time also, and for two reasons. Firstly he spent more time learning to play the piano and running marathons while he was shadow chancellor than he did crusading against the evils of inequality and for social justice; and secondly, as William Keegan in the Observer noted, Ed Balls u-turn on attacking austerity was a huge error.

As Keegan wrote in June 2013 “We now seem to be witnessing a collective failure of nerve. At just the moment when even the International Monetary Fund is owning up to having got it wrong, Labour, fearful of entering the next election campaign being pilloried as the spending party, gives the impression of being trapped in the headlights. And just for good measure, those highly respected independent thinktanks, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute for Government, have lamely accepted that it is going to be a case of “austerity, austerity, austerity” for the remainder of the decade.”

What was perfect ground for a coherent and clear economic policy, against austerity, instead got crowded out by an over-projection of personality and spin. As the result, as yesterday’s election proves, people saw right through Labour’s lack of policy.

There’s no point in opting for austerity-lite under Labour when you have George Osborne on hand to offer you a full-strength glug of masochistic austerity-max!

The Green Party is clear. Austerity sucks.

I’ve been a bystander in this election, the first time in twenty years of being politically active, as I need to finish off my PhD thesis, but once that is out of the way I’ll be stepping-up my support for Greens in Leicester and their rejection of this stupid form of economic flagellation.

By the way, when I was in the Labour Party I voted for the other Miliband – I bet a lot of people are now wishing they had as well.