Saturday, 24 December 2011

Season of discomfort and exclusion

I will return to the political offensive at some point in the future, once the Christmas break has disappeared into the memory banks.  The inanities of what laughably passes for debate are probably best ignored for the next few days, at least while prayers for the Duke of Edinburgh are recited along with the great myths of David Cameron's recent decision that the Church of England might offer him a few votes and a moral fig-leaf while his cronies dismantle what's left of social cohesion.

The UK must be unique in believing that the only people entitled to freedom at Christmas are motorists.  Therefore the near-collapse of the Hammersmith flyover yesterday seems entirely symbolic - if your highways are built on sand and concrete then they will wither away in the face of storms and disruption.  If you live outside a few, select cities, the country shuts down at around eight o'clock on the evening of the 24th and resumes, tentatively blinkiing in the hungover light, late morning on the 27th - which, being a Bank Holiday, means that again there will be very little public transport outside the railways and large towns.

This is exclusionary, as it assumes that the motorist supreme and the rights of the Clarkson-wannabe trump those sections of the community that might not either be able to, or wish to, drive around - despite this being the season of alcohol-fuelled bonhomie that makes the wise pedestrian suspicious of even the slowest-moving vehicle.  Rather than reflecting diversity and sustainability, the myth of the Christian solidarity evinced by closing down the country is appealed to - even the most secular trade unionist discovers their inner Jesuit when it is suggested that public service is a year-round obligation.

There is no reason why urban transport should not work all through the holiday period (after all they do at Easter, which is the central Christian festival), and that by Boxing Day we should be entitled to a level of mobility similar to that of other public holidays - the traffic congestion and the number of major events planned suggests that there should be demand for travel (indeed Southern are running twelve-coach trains to Brighton and Gatwick Airport).  Perhaps this could be one of the small ideas that go into making a more palatable political manifesto, rather than the moral high ground, which might encompass a liberation the population and doing something for social interaction - rather than the current justification for closing down the country. 

Humbug, bile and righteous anger to (both) my readers.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Cameron the traitor

It is difficult to contemplate with equanimity the final unravelling of Britain's involvement in Europe. Cameron has unwound fifty years of hard work and the prospects for an isolated nation are depressing. Snivelling vermin that he is, the refusal to participate within the European framework will deny industry and economic growth, while ensuring that the Conservatives are never taken aeriously by European governments.

On this basis, one just has to ask what is the point of the Liberal Democrats staying in coalition. Providing them with human shields and conduits for bad announcements is not sufficient when virtually everything that a modern, progressive party should stand for is being destroyed to assuage the neanderthals of the Tory right. A realistic view of Britain as a middle-ranking power, with a need to trade and modernise, is one that puts it at the heart of Europe, not pretending to be the special friend of America and living off a past that was a myth almost a century ago.

Cameron has been craven to his friends in the City, who are treacherous to anything other than their own abili to rape, pillage and destroy those less affluent than them. This makes him a traitor by association. Deregulated bankers and financial services got the world into its present state, and European governments are trying to address these excesses. No wonder that the pillock was so craven as to allow their agenda to destroy the prospects for European progress.

Positively, this could be a defining, realigning moment. If Miliband can articulate the European agenda, along with regenerating progressive politics then he can reach out to the Liberal heartland. Cameron has done nothing to deserve trust or support, and therefore he has everything to lose. A revised, mainstream, European centre-left force could capture much more support than party politics suggests - big enough to face down the media and the City.

Cameron has sold out the country and the coalition. He should reap the consequences, and if he has promised Clegg something behind closed doors that cannot and should not satisfy anyone who believes that Britain is a European nation, with its own identity and a destiny linked with our friends and neighbours across the Channel.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Shoot Clarkson, not strikers

Jeremy Clarkson only takes home half as much from the BBC as the Director-General, which I suppose is a blessing.  The odious right-wing self-publicist's latest outbursts about public sector workers and people who commit suicide under trains are the tip of an iceberg that raises the fundamental question not of free speech but of whether funding such cretinous delusion out of the licence fee is a good use of scarce resources, let alone oxygen.

It's interesting that Jezza's defenders are resorting to free speech as the prime defence of their hero's crassness.  As a liberal, I believe that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, but one that carries the consequences of acting upon it.  You can go to jail for four years for inciting rioting on Facebook, but advocating (however jocosely) the summary murder of public workers in front of their families on television is apparently only enough for an apology and for your mate the Prime Minister to describe it as "silly".  If the BBC had sacked him immediately it would have been proportionate, and probably paid for several journalists to keep their jobs rather than a menopausal rent-a-gob.

The problem is that Clarkson represents a demographic that the rightists want to be promoted in the media, the saloon-bar ignoramus whose manufactured contrariness (along with the equally-odious Rod Liddle) provides validation that a particularly noxious brand of Poujadism is to be promoted - playing to the same demographic as Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson, the people who think that Enoch Powell should have been Prime Minister and that the real problem with the world is that there are foreigners in it.  Clarkson's infantile fixation with environment-destroying cars has deep-rooted psychological reasons, but is it really enough to justify paying him the equivalent of six senior civil servants' salaries each year?

If his remarks were made about ethnic minorities, he would be prosecuted for incitement - or if he dared to step out of line on Israel the Zionist thought police would be out in force.  Instead he continues the Tories' denegration of the public sector, a group of people who are clearly fair game now that they are standing up for their viewpoint.  As a regime mouthpiece, he has the charm of Comical Ali with the PR skills of George W Bush, but he is part of the Chipping Norton mafia.

And if anyone declared open season on Clarksons, he would doubtless be the first looking for protection from public-sector police.  So let loose the scum-hounds to remove him from parisitism at the expense of the public purse - as well as improving the quality of the media.

Pensions, the parasites and the swine

To declare an interest at the outset, I have both private- and public-sector pension provision - so my views may be slightly coloured by personal prejudice and knowledge of the protagonists.  It also makes me qualified to have an opinion.  The sight of coalition Ministers vying for the all-comers Uriah Heep lookalike prize while berating public sector workers for being hacked off with a pay freeze and large increases in the contributions that they are expected to make invites the usual Pavlovian reaction.

Where the pensions are not funded (for example the civil service) and the ongoing payments are made from general taxation revenue, there is a correct sense of betrayal, as there is no guarantee of future payment beyond the best intentions of the state - not backed by the proceeds of either current or future savings - so all that the pension contribution increase looks like is a penal rise in income tax for those in the public sector (so far, so Osborne).  In other cases, such as local government, the pension pots are fully funded, and there was a relatively recent process of actuarial projection to ensure that they were sustainable in the longer-term.  So this again looks like a raid by the current government. 

What is cowardly about the government, including the craven Chief Secretary to the Treasury (bearing an increasing resemblance to Beaker in attack-dog mode), is that it does not even acknowledge that the union side has been prepared both to recognise the issues and negotiate around them.  We're all living longer, and therefore retirement in most professions should be delayed - providing that there's enough work to go round to allow people to enter the workforce beforehand - and that is the sole real issue.

However, the clowns in charge believe that the real opportunity is to stir up class envy.  The public sector does have better pension provision, and therefore these parasites who have sucked the blood out of the economy must be punished.  The profligacy of New Labour in mushrooming bureaucracy and increasing employment numbers has created an increasing liability, although it could be argued that this is merely diverting welfare payments from benefits to pensions (analagous to the Thatcher-inspired expansion of higher education to keep unemployment numbers down), but this is a slanderous caricature of most public sector workers, who may have been better at protecting terms and conditions during the neo-con ascendency.  To hear the Tories using the rhetoric of 1970s Trotskyites against often low-paid workers is surreal to the point where Duchamp would be chewing the carpet.

Labour undermined decent private-sector pensions with Gordon Brown's ill-timed raid on pension funds in 1998, which makes the current approach look even more vindictive.  What is not being given much airtime at the moment is the fact that much of the problems with pensions are caused by the performance of the crony capitalists - much of people's provision is tied up in financial instruments and the stock market - both of which have been under such fine stewardship for the last decade.  So the rhetoric that it's all the bankers' fault is correct in its diagnosis, but incorrect in its analysis - the truth is that everyone's retirement is being blighted by the deregulation, greed and selfishness that Osborne and his clique personify.

Were I a conspiracy theorist, I would imagine that the timing of the PBR, either the pre-budget report or panic-beridden rhetoric to taste, was designed to fan the flames yet further.  Continued pay freezes in the public sector and further job losses, against a background of the collapse of any growth agenda and a few bones tossed out towards our decrepit infrastructure, do not indicate any desire to propitiate the public sector that drives the services that Dave believes are so fundamental.  His slimy front-man act does not fool those of us who can see that the New Labour client state of outsourcing and unaccountability bubbles profitably away out of general scrutiny.

The only way this circle can be squared would be through growth, that will reduce the National Debt and provide more wealth to the wider economy.  The Tories have no idea about how to achieve this - and so they demonise the public sector workforce and anyone who stands in the way of their "reform", whilst spouting infantile slogans about the common interest in being in this together.  They're aware that this is failing and are now attacking the Liberals and marginalisng them, which suggests that Clegg and Cable should go on the offensive as the right-wing seeks to propitiate its natural constituency - demonstrating both that coalition politics is about compromise, and honouring the genuine issues of social cohesion and fairness that are currently submerged under slimy double-speak.