Tuesday, July 12, 2016

1968 - 1973

In the aftermath of the referendum I have been told by more than one person that they have an advantage over younger voters in that they can "Remember a time before the EU".  Well it only occurred to me the other day that I too can remember a time before the EU (or us joining the EEC to be technically correct).  So just for the record here is the pre-EEC (and early EEC) Britain that I remember.

Despite being exceptionally well educated (6 A-Levels, degree & PhD) my dad had to travel to the north of England, away from his family (who all still live in Bournemouth) and my mum's family (still mostly in Kent) in the south to find work.  This is the reason why in the twilight of 1968 I was born in Cheshire, many miles away from the rest of our clan, and spent a big chunk of my childhood there or in Liverpool.  This is something that has dogged me for my whole life and makes it very hard to answer the random question "Where are you from?"  My brother was also born in Cheshire, but to add even further symbolism he was born IN A BLACKOUT!

We were relatively poor (compared with today) through most of my childhood, many early Christmases we had homemade toys rather than shop bought gifts.  Now don't get me wrong, we were very happy kids and a bit of homemade creativity goes a very long way.  But how lucky are we now that we can choose to make a homemade gift for our children rather than having no option?  Those that know me well will be aware that the lack of a Millennium Falcon plastic toy has haunted me my whole life.  Of course that was a little bit later on by which time our joining the EEC had begun to pick up Britain's sagging economy that was struggling to move on from it's industrial roots.  Britain was a country with many economic migrants, but they were mostly British people with no choice but to move around the country (or, after we joined the EEC, abroad to the resurgent economies of Germany and Spain) to find work and support their families.  I've mentioned Auf Wiedersehen Pet before, so will refrain from banging on, but there seems to be a collective failure of memory that this was the situation, and how the EEC helped improve it.

Eventually the recovering economy brought relocation after relocation for us as first dad and then mum moved to get work closer to the capital.  My own friends were left far behind in a world where no email or social media meant it was harder than now to stay in touch.  I did used to write long letters to my best friend in Liverpool, but then he moved also for work and we began to drift apart.  Those of you lucky enough to have stayed in one area your whole life should remember that these days we can choose to move if we wish but, recently anyway, low unemployment has meant it's possible to find jobs without forced relocation.  Being close to your family and friends is something to be treasured.

So the pre-EU Britain that I remember is one of economic migration, (relative) poverty, strikes and blackouts.  A time when the scapegoats for much of this was the Irish and the blacks rather than eastern europeans and muslims, plus ça change as they probably don't say that much on the continent.  Not sure which bit of this is supposed to make me look forward to post EU life, but there you go.  Perhaps I'm missing the point and they are thinking fondly of the austerity of the 1950s and 1960s or the joyous time that was Europe in the 1930s and 1940s?!

It's my honest opinion that it is successive UK government's fault that the economic benefits of EEC membership where not shared more fairly around the country.  We are now a post-Industrial nation, and there seems to be precious little plan as to how we adapt to this changing world.  I'm sure there are people with some great ideas, but (and feel free to tell me I'm a numpty) a return to the 1970s surely isn't one of them.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Who's Listening?

One vote - no voice
I learnt something very interesting about the UK from the referendum this week.  I learnt that there are areas of the UK (in the northeast and Wales to name but 2) that are so poor that they qualify for EU grants and subsidies on this basis.  I also learnt that these areas voted most solidly to leave the EU?  So how did this happen?  How have successive UK governments failed these regions so completely that the EU had to intervene at all?  This is a damning inditement for those we have elected to lead us - the people that we voted for.

There are many reasons for why the poorest parts of the UK voted to leave, but the single biggest one of these is that they don't feel they have a voice in politics.  Due to our archaic 1st past the post system, this is the first time in 3 generations that a vote in Sunderland has counted the same as a vote in the City Of London.  Finally they had a voice that carried equal weight and we all need to listen.

We need change now in the UK before it is too late, voices must be heard equally whichever part of the UK they were born in.

We need proportional representation now!

We need a fully elected second legislative chamber now!

We need some real democracy so that the stranglehold of vested interests is broken forever and all the regions have a say in how we move forward.

When 1.9 million people (4% of the electorate - they should have had about 26 MPs) who voted Ukip only have one MP - something is badly wrong.

I also think that the environment has been sadly omitted from all politics for some bizarre reason, but PR would help with that too (1 million votes for the Greens = 1 MP, should be more like 12).

This is what the EU Referendum screams at me, the question is...

...is anyone listening?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

So About This Democracy Thing

Gotta love Brighton :)
I've heard some very interesting ideas about what the UK will be like if we vote to leave the EU tomorrow.  These seem to include pretty much everything that is on people's wish-list for a fairer society including: nationalisation and a super tax on the rich.  Folk who are on the left of the political spectrum seem to think that this referendum is a kind of super general election, that will make us all happier, less "restricted: and better off.  I'm really struggling to get my head around why people think this, so perhaps it's worth just going over a bit about how democracy works in this country.

Post EU we will continue to elect the UK government with our first-past-the-post system - which appoints the Members of Parliament to The House Of Commons.  This system (as I've mentioned before, and I've not been contradicted on this yet) favours the incumbent government, since they can change boundaries as they see fit.  This means currently we are looking at a majority Conservative government or a coalition of some sort.  I favour coalition, but it means trading off manifesto issues and tends to end up with lowest common denominator politics rather than great social strides, so I'll leave that to someone better qualified to explain.

Don't forget that our second legislative chamber is The House Of Lords, which is entirely unelected, so again favours the incumbent government since it appoints them.  That's right folks, we can't name them, didn't elect them and can't kick them out!

I think it's most likely that Cameron will resign following a Brexit, emboldened by their win the right wing of the Conservatives and Ukip members (who will go back to being Conservative) will demand a pro-Brexit leader to take them through the negotiations, stating that it's "the will of the British people".  This is likely to be Boris Johnson and please don't let anyone underestimate him, he's a very popular politician who will say pretty much anything to be PM - so he has the best chance (The irony that he will then be an UNELECTED leader of our country, hasn't escaped me).  There are still four years left on the term of the current government so that will cover the EU exit negotiations with a bit to spare.  Since nothing much will change in that time and anything that goes wrong Boris can handily blame on the pesky "faceless bureaucrats" (thank you Ukip for that lazy and derogatory term) in the EU I believe he will get another term of 5 years (that's up until 2025).

So how do we know what a post-EU Conservative government will do in the next ten or so years?  That's very easy, you look at their manifesto.  They will carry on with their own ideas, with renewed vigour since we are now free from "pesky EU interference".  In essence this will mean, for the time being, austerity.  This is basically cuts to services, including schools, policing, benefits and healthcare.  When possible they will endeavour to cut taxes for the rich and the middle classes, in the false belief that this benefits everyone - it doesn't, it benefits those who pay most tax, i.e. the rich and the upper middle classes.

The earliest that the Conservatives can make any changes to their manifesto will be in 2020, roughly the time that EU subsidies run out (the promise to keep them until 2020 is EU policy, they are promising what will happen anyway!).  Will increased subsidies for the poorer parts of the UK (notably Wales and the North-East) be added to their manifesto?  Perhaps, but I don't think so, I think that in the unlikely event that there is spare money it will go in tax cuts.  Austerity is likely to still be running (it's currently due to run until at least 2018) or, perhaps, being reduced (it could also increase if the economy sinks, but let's not get too depressed here), but this won't help the poorest regions quickly.   The same goes for farming subsidies: the EU is one of the few organisations in the world rich enough to pay farmers to manage their land as countryside even if they can't make a profit from it through farming.  I don't recall seeing set-aside subsidies on the Conservative party manifesto, but perhaps they'll add it in my 2020?  In the meantime once these subsidies are withdrawn farmers will have no choice but to sell off unprofitable parts of their farms.  What happens to it after then is up to whoever buys it.

I could go on here, but actually I will just re-iterate that in order to understand what post-Brexit UK will look like you need to read the major party manifestos.  This is NOT a General Election, you are NOT choosing who is in power tomorrow (it's the Conservative party) - you are only voting to remove what the EU gives us and for that I hope you will take a few minutes to read my previous Blog on this very subject.

A vote for real democracy is a vote FOR our continued membership of the EU - if you don't believe me, then please research how democracy really works in the European Union.  Oh, and if you don't know the name of your MEP - then effing well find out!  You can vote for them and you can lobby them for change.

PS For more about how EU subsidies are decided and who in the UK receives them, then this is worth a couple of minutes of your time.

PPS Dorian Lynskey has expressed this even more eloquently here.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Tales Of New Albion: High Cliffs Tea Rooms

Steampunk Dog enjoying tea
Here is a sneak preview of the third story in my New Albion series.  This time we find out a bit about the back history of Ellen Hall, whilst also getting to explore a bit of the mad, sprawling restaurant complex that is the High Cliffs Tea Rooms.  Enjoy, and if you would like to read the rest then drop me a line.

 ‘Oh flipper-de-jig I am completely lost,’ exspluttered Reggie Peabody to no one in particular since, indeed, no one was paying him the slightest attention.  Somewhere between the overpriced air taxi and the over heated Mongolian Barbeque he had taken a seriously wrong fork in the corridor and was now unlikely to make his dinner reservation. ‘Oh flipper-de-jig,’ he muttered again, turning about face and wondering if retracing his steps to the Polish delicatessen might help in any way.  Mind you the somewhat partially well named High Cliffs Tea Room was, quite frankly, a very easy place to get lost in.  Set over some 20 or so stories on the outside, and much more besides on the inside, of an imposing white cliff at the very end of the homeland it was very much the place to dine. Assuming naturally you had the money, desire and sense of direction required to reach the restaurant of your choice.  ‘This really is too much,’ he sighed, regretting now his decision not to ask for directions at Bellisima Italiana when a kindly maître d’ had offered to assist. ‘They really should have guides or something in this place…’ Barely had these words escaped his lips when a head popped out of a previously hidden serving hatch and asked,
‘Are you in need of assistance sir?’ The voice, and head, belonged to what gave every appearance of being a teenaged girl wearing a rather natty fur trimmed porter’s jacket and matching pillbox hat.  Before Reggie could so much as gather his thoughts the face continued, ‘I am at your service.’  The hatch in question turned out to be merely the top half of a cunningly concealed door, wallpapered in the same peculiar flock design as the rest of the corridor, which now swung fully open to reveal the young lady in her entirety.  The girl sported cropped boyish blonde hair beneath the hat, which rounded off not at all unpleasant, if a little over eager, features including a particularly fine chin.  Smart, but obviously homemade, black trousers and highly polished but clearly second hand shoes, completed the look. ‘Ellen’s the name, Ellen Hall. Are you lost?’ She pointed an accusatory finger, ‘I can certainly help you, oh please do let me…’ This last plaintive exclamation caused Reggie to furrow one eyebrow,
‘Now see here, are you an official guide?’ The girl squirmed slightly and shifted on her heels.
‘Well not official as such, but I know this place better than anyone. Oh do let me help, I’ve even memorised the guidebook.’   She smiled as convincingly as anyone had ever smiled and Reggie felt himself soften to her a little.  To buy a little time before replying he reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out his brass pocket watch. Nonchalantly flicking open the cover he glanced askance at the time, the revelation of which caused him to jerk alarmingly upright and turn slightly pale.
‘Do you know Pierre’s?’ he gulped through gritted teeth, barely able to get the words out.
‘Brasserie or bistro,’ chirped Ellen, determined to be of maximum usefulness.
‘Brasserie,’ swallowed Reggie feeling suddenly rather faint.
“Yep, certainly do,’ grinned Ellen, ‘you’re about 10 floors away and on completely the wrong side, but I certainly know it, yes siree, that’s not a problem.  Tell me though, when exactly is your reservation?’
‘Oh dear god,’ inhaled Reggie, ‘ barely twenty minutes’.
With this Ellen’s face lost a little of it’s rosy ebullience also, but without a moment’s hesitation she reached back through the door, grabbed a ragged over-stuffed leather bag, flung it over her shoulder, took his hand and headed off down the corridor with a somewhat bemused Reggie in tow.

‘We’ll talk on the move.’

Saturday, June 18, 2016

I'm In

Somewhere in Europe, nice isn't it?
I promised to write something on the EU Referendum, so here goes.  Firstly, this is one of the biggest decisions that we have ever had to make in this country, certainly since 1975 anyway.  So it is vitally important that everyone that can does vote.  I think, deep down, that we can probably survive with any decision, but I would prefer the decision to be emphatic and the turnout to be very high.  Failing that the repercussions might last a lifetime, and I'm not excited by that thought.  If you are not sure which way you are going to vote then I hope you will take the time to research and come to some decision.  I will attempt to lay out some of my own thoughts below, not necessarily to influence your thoughts, but because I really have to get them off my chest!

I know some people have concerns about the political and geo-political situation in the UK, and some of that is aimed at the EU and some is aimed at foreigners, but I believe both of these miss the mark.  Many of the things we are concerned about (austerity, the housing shortage, tax dodging, the NHS, war in Iraq and Syria etc) are the fault of the UK government and the blame should lie with them.  For my part personally I cannot think of a single reason why we would want to leave the EU, not one.  Some have said that the remain case lacks passion, but I disagree, I feel extremely passionately that the EU has produced a net benefit for the UK and rather than look at negatives I'm going to try and put the positive case.

Peace and Stability

We have enjoyed 70 years of stability in Europe without internal wars and, barring the global recession, pretty much uninterrupted economic growth.  We are very much stronger together as part of a large single market.  We can compete with any other market in the world together and we can take action against aggression if we need to.

Our membership of the EU is also one of the reasons why the United Kingdom is still united.  And since this is a positive Blog I won't even consider what might happen in Ireland if we have to re-instate border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  If you don't know what I'm talking about you need to research the Good Friday Agreement more.

The Economy

We are something like the 5th biggest economy in the world and this is whilst we are in the EU.  When we first joined the Common Market our economy was in the doldrums and it was British workers who had to travel to Europe to find work, don't believe me?  Just watch a few episodes of Auf Wiedersehen Pet and you'll see what I mean.   It could be that way again in the future (especially if we do leave and our economy shrinks) but if we remain in I cannot see that happening any time soon.  We should also support EU efforts in helping the Eurozone recover as once it does that will go a long way to re-routing the economic migrants from poorer parts of Europe to these areas and perhaps reduce the number coming here.  I know this is something that bugs some people.

Btw, if you are concerned about the future of the NHS you should remember this: the NHS costs a lot of money, a strong economy is vital for the NHS to survive.  If we leave the likelihood is that the economy will shrink, this will mean less money for everything, so the choice is service cuts or tax rises - take your pick.

Also, just so you know, China don't really care about whether they trade with us or not.  But they do care about EU single market, and that includes us.


My brain works differently from other people's I know.  To my mind the EU is more democratic than the UK.  EU members of parliament are elected by proportional representation and the cabinet is made up of the leaders of the member countries, including our PM.  Apparently most people don't know the name of the EU representative, so what?  In most cities people don't even know the names of the people who live next door.  One of mine is Nigel Farage, there you've heard of him haven't you!

By contrast our first legislative house - The Commons - is elected by first past the post, a system that favours the incumbent government since they can set the ward boundaries to benefit themselves.  This means currently we are likely to have either a Conservative government or a coalition for the foreseeable future.

For the record our second legislative chamber - The Lords - is, erm, ENTIRELY UNELECTED!

Home of democracy us, oh yeah.

A Level Playing Field

Did you know that marine creatures don't recognise country borders?  They really don't.  This is why having level playing fields and centralised control over things like fishing quotas is vital.  If any one country over-fishes (is that a phrase?) then the fish go and we have no fishing industry anywhere.  Oh and for the record it's up to our UK government to decide how our fishing quotas are divided up amongst our own fishermen.

The single market is something that doesn't really turn people on unless they are economists, but it's vital to ensure that one country isn't favouring their own pet industries or services over those of a neighbour.   As things stand though an industry in France has to abide by the same rules as us and Poland and Germany and Italy and so on.  This is a good thing.

Another point is that there is currently one body that approves medicines across the whole of the EU - this can give us confidence that should we need medical treatment whilst abroad we are getting the same quality of medicines that we expect here.  Oh, and naturally we have reciprocal arrangements for healthcare across the EU, so we can also be confident of being treated equally wherever we might get ill or have an accident.

Why not also consider food labelling (including E numbers - go on guess what the E stands for), energy efficiency ratings , subsidies for our farmers and grants for the poorer parts of the UK and the arts?  I know I have.

Open Horizons

Recently I drove with Charlie to do a gig in Germany.  We got in our car and drove there and showed our passport just once on the way out and once on the way back.  Being a citizen of the EU is a really cool thing that we shouldn't chuck away willy-nilly... there are chances for our kids and their kids to work, holiday, move, fall in love and marry with others from all over the EU (and I know plenty of people personally that have done all that, and I've done a few myself).  Hopefully this thought is a bit more exciting than the economic reasons to stay in, right?  Hell even my MEP Mr. Farage married a German, so they can't all be bad?

A united Europe is also a bastion against the far right.  It's no co-incidence that ALL far right parties (including some from outside Europe that have no business getting involved) want us to split from the EU.

Bugger them!

I refuse to be afraid of poorer people in Europe, I refuse to brand them all as rapists or terrorists.  The Polish neighbours we used to live next to in Croydon were amongst the most lovely people I ever met.  They would have put themselves out to look after us, and did on a couple of occasions.  They even put up with us practicing our music in the house and told us they enjoyed listening to it!  Nutty europeans!

Migration has been good for this country in many ways and, indeed, all of us are descended from migrants.  There is also pretty good evidence that they work harder and claim less benefits than their UK equivalents - I can believe that.  We need their taxes to support, amongst many things, the blessed NHS and our pension funds.

There are some that say the EU needs reform and they are probably right.  There are some that say immigration levels need to be controlled and, perhaps, they are right too.  There are many that say there are pressures on the NHS, and they are also right, but leaving the EU will not help us with any of these issues.

Once we are out, we will be out.  We will no longer need to remember the name of our MEP, we won't have one.  We won't have a say, we won't have a veto and we won't have all the benefits I've outlined above.

If we end up like Norway or Switzerland then chances are that for our businesses to get access to the single market we will need to a) pay a fee and b) allow freedom of movement.  WITHOUT ANY SAY OVER HOW THIS IS RUN!

You know what, I'm not going to get negative on this.  I love my country and I love that we are a powerful player in the EU and because of this in the world.

I love what we have right now, I want it for my kids too.

So I'm in!

PS If you would like further reading then please check out my previous post and here is a guide to voting written by Martin Lewis that is also worth a read.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Wot He Said

Well I was going to write a piece about the EU Referendum (Ooh er, a bit of politics) - but then someone shared this excellent piece of work, which is basically exactly what I was going to say.   Thank you Dr Andy Williamson and Helen Percy for pointing me in the right direction.  I will also write something too, promise.

PS Still haven't got around to writing down my own thoughts, but this is a very well researched and referenced post from the LSE's Nicolas Barr that is well worth perusing also.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Long Way Around

Mt. Snowdon in the Mist 2012
This isn’t going to be an easy Blog post to write, not because it’s going to involve big words or complicated ideas, but rather because it involves my emotions.  After stumbling across the tail end of the Brighton marathon on Sunday, I had an increasingly persistent feeling that I really wanted to sign up and be a part of it.  And so I did.  Next year I will take my place amongst the runners on the 9th April 2017 and have a go at running the most iconic length of race there is.  It’s a daunting thought, the longest I have every run is about 10km and the marathon is over 40km long. 

I started to think about the reasons why I really had to do the race.  I wanted to raise money for charity – sure, and the choice of charity was easy this time.   I’ve opted to run for Cancer Research, and you are very welcome to support my effort by making a small donation.  I’ve chosen Cancer Research this time in memory of my mum, who died from lung cancer over ten years ago (December 9th 2005) and for my many friends and family who have been lost prematurely to cancer or a related condition.  I’ve listed a few below, so their names might be recorded, but there were others whose names don’t spring to mind.  So that part of my decision was clear, but there are many other ways to raise money, or simply donate, to charity.  Why was I so keen to set a difficult target for myself and push myself to achieve it?

Part of the answer lay in something that happened a little while back in 2012.  For my wife’s friend Sophie’s 30th birthday celebration, a group of us set out to climb Snowdon.  It was a long and tiring day, some parts easier than others, and when we approached the summit the view was shrouded in fog.  But all the same, I realised I was feeling an emotion that I hadn’t felt in a long time, happiness!  It took me by surprise, I hadn’t even realised that the feeling had been missing, but it had been for a long time.

From roughly 2000 onwards I had suffered the loses of close relatives and friends, more even that just those taken by tumours there were even a couple of suicides (one friend, one client).  I had started the period sadly, but as it wore on and another death was announced, I found myself increasingly numb.  I guess it’s a kind of defence mechanism, you can’t mourn everyone - you’ll bury yourself in an overwhelming weight of emotion.  So I shut down.  By the time my mum died and my long-term girlfriend left me, I had nothing left to give.  I felt sad, sure, but I didn’t cry, and I didn’t laugh anymore.  I found it hard to feel anything about anything.  The long walk up Snowdon reminded me of what I’d lost.  But those kinds of achievements are hard to come by, you can’t climb Snowdon every day, and if you did it would probably start to lose its inspiration.  So I continued to live in my cocoon, but I'd been reminded that the feeling was possible and that I would never forget.

And that is what came into my mind when I considered running the marathon.  The thought that I might chip away at the stone wall and get another glimpse of the sunlit uploads.  Not just happiness though, but a real sense of achievement.  Being part of a group, pushing themselves and trying to do some wider good at the same time.

Oh that, and if I’m ever going to do it, I need to crack on before my knees give up. 
It’s a cliché to say that life is about the journey but, for me, it's always better when you take the long way around.

In loving memory of Margaret Callow, Andy Hewitt, Stevie ‘Normal’ Simmons, Auntie Pearl, Tim O’Brien, Auntie Jill, Auntie Mary and many others.  Safe journey.

PS Feel free to mention your own friend or family member in a Comment if you wish.  My thoughts are with you all.