The Politics of ...

The Politics of ...

Friday, 27 February 2015

Frightening Realities

When John Laurie used to say, "We're doomed; all doomed," it usually got one of the biggest laughs in an episode of Dad's Army. Private Frazer had a way with being pessimistic that tends to have become a staple in sitcoms. The glass isn't half empty, it's been drained and then thrown - Greek style - into the fireplace smashed into smithereens.

We are all doomed.

I have a friend; he's poor, he lives in the deep south of the USA. He's a carer; his opportunities to succeed have pretty much been taken away from him by the general scant disregard the USA has for the disenfranchised and yet to 'listen' to him you'd think he was a multimillionaire on Palm Beach or Beverley Hills. When you get him onto the subject of politics he's as right wing a Republican as you can possibly imagine. His hatred of Democrats and them being almost commies belies the fact he is an incredibly intelligent person; yet that intelligence has not seeped into his ability to differentiate between a party that has his best intentions at heart - even if they fail to deliver because of the fubar that is American government - and a party that pretty much prey on all of his fears and then do nothing to solve the problems and only make his life worse.

But saying that, I know a few British people whose politics does not sit with their stature or social position. I presume a lot of people's voting intentions are forged not by the now but by the then...

People think of Labour as the weak, lily-livered bunch of idiots that allowed the unions to dictate ridiculous demands in the 1970s; yet people forget it was Heath - a Conservative - that presided over the 3-day week and was responsible for a lot of the things that meant Labour were going to struggle once they were in office. Harold Wilson claims he was always going to retire at 60; but if you look at the mess Heath and his cronies left the country in you have to wonder if his retiring was more to do with his desire to be seen as a good British PM and not the man in charge when it all fell apart.

History, because it is largely written by those who want you to see some of the past but not all of it, doesn't make any references to the rubbish Heath government; the cronyism, the backhanders, the 'jobs-for-the-boys' - in fact, like many Tory governments most of their most horrendous decisions were never reported on because most of the media then was run by people who donated to Tory fundraisers - very much like today.

Why do you think the press is making more of the Savile case than the HSBC tax evasion. The press will argue that people are more interested in historic sex abuse cases involving former DJs than the fact that HSBC alone contributed to aiding and abetting more tax evasion than the National debt. The poor and disabled are paying for the banks fleecing of the country and yet all we hear about from all the parties is how public spending needs to still be cut... Why? Aside from the fact that most independent economists will tell you that more needs to be spent on public spending to invest in the future and produce people who earn enough to spend enough to generate prosperity. Apparently, it's not rocket science, but Sky and the BBC seem to think it is. The press in general seem to think picking on a woman who had a bad day and making it front page news is more important than the fact that the banks have been walking roughshod over every rule and regulation in the book.

I know someone who isn't on any benefits; who wants to work but has an injury that prevents him from doing much at all. He's been waiting over 6 months to get a referral to see the second level in the new NHS merry-go-round system that basically throws as many obstacles in the path of someone needing something that costs more than a fiver. Essentially, if it isn't cancer, let them wait, seems to be the new NHS motto. This person is involved in a vicious circle that could be solved by simply not punishing the people who aren't responsible for the mess.

And then we get to the really frightening part. Walking the dogs the other day, I sometimes bump into a bunch of fellow canine ramblers who I have given the highly imaginative noms-de-guerre of 'The Old People'. A couple of my dogs have soft spots for them and vice versa and usually our conversations are about their health; the dogs and general stuff; however, this particular day their wives weren't there, so the subject matter changed, the language became bluer and my heart died a little...

Two of them, John and Ernie, I have (or maybe that should read 'had') a soft spot for them. Ernie, like me, suffers with his back and has struggled to get anything sorted by the NHS over the last five years and tends to be one of those 'mustn't grumble' people you kind of wish you could be. John has been struggling with retirement - he worked in the shoe industry for 40 years and was made redundant at 56. He struggled to find work elsewhere from that point, and now 11 years later, he only worked two of those 9 years before he had retirement foisted on him by the DWP. I'm sure their stories are echoed all over the country.

The way Ernie talks I've always been under the impression that he's probably left of centre politically; John has never really voiced a political opinion. In the two or so years I've been talking with them, he tends to avoid the subjects that I like the most. The other day; the day the immigration figures made bad reading for the Tories - who tried to bury it under the latest Savile revelation - which incidentally implicates Thatcher's Tory government so much but without a hint of condemnation from anyone. Ed Milliband's father was a Marxist and managed to garner pages of hate filled vitriol from the Daily Mail, yet Thatcher's government can bend the rules because a high profile paedophile and sex pest might save them a few quid and that is dropped in as casually as an 'And finally...' news story and dwelt on for as long as you hover over the Like button on social media.

Anyhow, we were discussing Ernie's NHS woes and the bad immigration figures when John says (and I apologise for the language), "It's that cunt Cameron's fault. The man's a spineless idiot." Lots of nods of agreement and finally I knew it, John, the working class local had nailed his political leaning on the mast. "What we need is Nigel to come in a sort it all out." I stopped in my tracks, a mixture of horror and hilarity - was he joking?
"The problem with Nigel is he only has one policy - get rid of the immigrants."
"And that would solve all our problems. I never hear an English voice now. Polish shops; Albanians running places; all those people in hospitals and barely any can speak English."
John chimed in with, "Yes, but all of our doctors and nurses are leaving the UK to go and work in countries where they are appreciated more; we have to employ these people." Ah... some sanity at last and I didn't have to open my mouth. "But, if you got rid of all of them it would mean there would be more jobs for us." Egads!
"Yes, but, you just said it, all of our nurses and doctors are going off to the States or Germany to work. We need to employ these immigrants or our hospitals would collapse under the pressure."
"Yes, but if we paid them enough money they'd stay. Nigel is just the man to do this. If we pulled out of Europe it would save us so much money, it could be spent on all the things this lot are cutting back on. Nigel has the working man at his heart." My new-found respect for Ernie disappeared instantly.
"You do know that if we pull out of Europe everything will cost more, don't you? Food, fuel, higher taxes to subsidize our farmers and industry, which the EU currently does."
"If farmers can't make a living then fuck them," says John.
"But John, if we pull out of Europe we'll have to depend on our own farmers more because we won't be able to afford to buy fruit and veg from Europe because we wouldn't be part of the EU." But he wasn't listening, he has it in his head that the way of solving all of the countries woes is by shipping out all the immigrants. That's the solution and he doesn't want to hear why that wouldn't work. He doesn't want to know it'll cost us money. He doesn't want to know that while UKIP go around telling people that's how they'd save the country; they don't ever acknowledge the huge impact pulling out of Europe will have on the wage packets, human rights and general living standards of those who wouldn't benefit from pulling out of Europe. The 1% (of which Nigel is obviously on their payroll).

What followed belied belief. John, who had likened David Cameron to female genitalia seconds earlier was saying the best thing that could happen would be a Conservative/UKIP coalition, because Nigel wouldn't let Cameron get away with the shit that Clegg has let him get away with. I tried once more to tell him that Farage was an ex-Tory who wouldn't know a working class man if he bit him on the arse; but these people were convinced that UKIP was the only way forward and every negative thing you say about them is twisted around and used as a weapon or a conspiracy against them because they represent real people. Well, my final gambit was to tell these people, I was rapidly losing respect for, that Nigel and UKIP are essentially a media friendly wing of the BNP and a vote for them was a declaration that you're a racist. John countered with, "If we got rid of all the fucking Poles and eastern Europeans and all the Indians and coons then perhaps we'd be happy; this country has gone to the dogs once it started letting fucking Muslims in..."

Aha... We have a fully-fledged racist here. We have a man who given enough rope made sure you knew firmly where his flag was flying. A man that Adolf Eichmann would have been proud of. A man who does not have an opinion, he has a belief that foreigners are the root of all evil and you can supply him with all the evidence you can muster, but it won't stop the fact he is just a worthless racist and a worthless racist who will make sure he votes in May. Like people who vote for political parties that couldn't give a toss about them; he was driven by his own deluded belief that Party A would save his soul.

In a week when we discovered that IDS's latest abomination was saving the government £80 a week by withdrawing DLA to an 8-year-old deaf, dumb, blind and disabled child because the assessment decided that a) she was fit to work and b) her DLA should be paid by the Germans as the child's father is seconded there by his British firm. This alone should make people realise that the Tories really don't care about those that need help the most. Can you imagine what kind of life this kid will have if UKIP do have a say in government and they persuade people to pull out of Europe and therefore allow the UK to opt out of the Human Rights Act? It might sound far-fetched and histrionic to suggest that the disabled child's mother could, in the future, be prosecuted, because her anti-government rhetoric would be regarded as sedition and inciting terrorism. Seriously, I'm not joking or scaremongering.

How this country has got to the stage where it is more concerned about the Brit Awards than it is about how unfair and cruel society is becoming can only be attributed to whoever has been in power making people believe that greed is good and those worse off than us deserve no better. When people become more concerned with someone 'stealing' £5 worth of benefits than they are about organisations embezzling literally billions of pounds - the billions that would propel us from being in debt to being the wealthiest country in terms of cash on the planet - then you know that Thatcher probably would be happy with Dave's Britain. Job done; now all the poor have to do is die before their pensions are due to be paid...

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Some basic truths about leaving the EU

I just happened to stumble across something on Radio 4 the other day. It was in the wake of the CBI conference in Westminster, where some business leaders called for the referendum on Europe to be held as quickly as possible to stop all the upheaval caused by uncertainty.

People who know me will know that I consider myself European and I am quite passionate about us staying in the EU. Apart from UKIP, who must have some kind of agenda otherwise they really are just a bunch of racist ignoramuses, the only people who wouldn't mind us 'going it alone' are the heads of major businesses, because they'd be the only people who would benefit from us being outside of the EU.

Eurosceptics - answer this - you don't want us to be in Europe, that's fine, but how is us being in Europe directly affecting your life? This isn't a question to business leaders, because as I stated they would only benefit from us not being in the EU; this is a question to people who casually say, 'We should pull out of Europe; all that cost, all those bloody immigrants, all that child support flooding into Romania...' The sad truth is most people simply don't understand what the EU is for and because our right wing press and our infotainment providers do not wish to educate us, the myth is perpetuated and grows and becomes 'law'.

Walking round Sainsbury's last week, the first thing I noticed was the amount of fruit and veg that comes from non-EU countries. A little bit of research allowed me to discover that Egypt has a trade agreement with the EU; the UK doesn't, it benefits from the EU agreement and as a result you can buy 500g of green beans for £1.50, even if the food miles alone make that fact abhorrent. A little bit more research discovers that the EU has a trade agreement with Peru, that means we can have asparagus all year round for £2 a bundle rather than just May and June. The crazy thing about asparagus is that the stuff that has been flown halfway around the world is cheaper than the stuff grown down the road from you. To cost conscious hipsters and ignorant airheads (the kind who spout off about things they have little or no understanding of) this is great, they can have their asparagus and not bankrupt themselves in the process.

You can argue that being in the EU costs too much money, but the money it costs doesn't directly affect you, does it? If the UK pulled out of Europe then we'd have to renegotiate the trade deals with Egypt, Peru and every other non-EU country and do you really think that we're going to be able to negotiate a better price than we already have? No. As I've pointed out before, Norway buys capsicums from The Netherlands, the average cost of a pack of three multi-coloured peppers is about £5 as opposed to the £1.50 we pay over here. I dread to think what the cost of green beans from Egypt or asparagus from Peru costs in Oslo, or Tromso, or Svalbard...

The withdrawal of the UK from Europe - should a referendum vote that way - wouldn't just mean more expensive imports from the rest of the world; it would also mean more expensive imports from the EU. The Norway example would become the UK example - fruit and veg that is not sourced in this country would go through the roof (and there would be a quality issue - Norwegians are convinced Holland treats them worse than other importing EU countries). The same fruit and veg we buy from the EU would also be more expensive because we would no longer be part of that negotiated trade deal so would have to go it alone - without the collective bargaining power. it's not going to be cheaper is it? The Spanish are not going to say, "Oh it's the British, we'll do a better deal for them."

So, the cost of food will go up, but the cost of fuel might come down, especially if we align ourselves to Putin's Russia - so that's not going to happen. You could argue that pulling out of the EU will be good for our farmers, but as I mentioned in the opening sentence, I was listening to Radio 4 and it was a farmer who made the point that while he was a Tory voting agriculture specialist, pulling out of the EU would require a lot of things from those further up the food chain. Farms would lose the subsidies they get, but there would be extra pressure from supermarkets and punters for food prices to stay relatively stable - the supermarkets aren't going to want their shareholders to have less, so the onus would be placed squarely on the farmer and they simply wouldn't be able to afford it.

The farmer talking on R4 said as many as 30% of all farmers would go to the wall if the government didn't match the subsidies the EU gave them and we all know we live in a time when the last thing the government wants to do is subsidise anything. The coalition farming and fisheries representative said that farmers would have to diversify and produce more affordable seasonal crops - which sounded to me like Cameron telling them to stop whining.

The upshot is that the retailers would have to go back to Europe to import basics such as eggs and milk because these can be produced much cheaper in Europe - cheaper for them, not for us. So, while pulling out of Europe should at least create an environment where we're educated to be reliant on seasonal and locally produced goods, the consumer doesn't want this. The consumer doesn't want unusual shaped British apples, they want anodyne South African apples with no taste, but all the same size. The consumer doesn't want deformed British grown beans, they want uniform Egyptian ones, because...

The Tories (and UKIP to a certain degree) want to be in Europe but they want to be in charge and set the rules and pick and choose what suits us (them) best. Altruistically this is an admirable thing if they were doing it for the betterment of us, but they do it to line their own pockets and to ensure they get away with things they shouldn't. Pulling out of Europe would allow the right wing to abolish the human rights act and make it impossible to protect yourself from the system. They claim this is down to the growing threat of terrorism, but it is just a gagging ploy because the Internet has allowed people to see things that no government wants us to see, even if most people dismiss the memes and propaganda as scaremongering lies created by people with vested interests.

Pulling out of Europe will vastly change the average person's life. The cost of living would, for at least the first five years, be disproportionately higher than ever before. It would plunge an estimated 5 million more people into food and energy poverty - that's almost 7% of the population would be drastically worse off and something like 70% of the population would simply be worse off than they were the day before they opted to pull out.

Obviously, it would allow us to close our borders and not spend all of that time and money in Strasbourg so that would suit all the xenophobes and racists out there. Except, it wouldn't.

When interviewed about not being in the EU, a Norwegian trade minister said that while they had no say in Europe, they still spent as much time in negotiations and meetings as their EU counterparts and they spend almost as much money just being there as they would have if they were full members.

Norway also has one of the worst poverty to rich ratios in Europe. A country that is oil and gas rich but does not use that money to subsidise the country in reduced taxes or costs. The owners of these companies do not pay enough back into the country to stop its poor from being desperately poor in a country with the highest standard of living costs (apart from Finland) in all of Europe.

Norway also has approx 1 million immigrants or 15% of their overall population - these are mainly from Eastern European countries or children born of foreign parents - and because Norway is part of the European Economic Area (which allows them some discounts on trade deals), all EU member residents have free access to move in and out of Norway. The Norwegian government is quite happy about this because immigrants do the jobs no Norwegian wants to do and for considerably less money. So pulling out of Europe won't necessarily spell the end to a flow of immigrants, we'd probably end up with more from outside of the EU, because that has been Norway's biggest issue with foreigners.

As an amusing aside - the UK features much higher than Norway on the occasionally spurious chart that measures a country's overall happiness. Speak to a Norwegian and he'll tell you that £10 for a pint of beer is not unheard of and while they earn considerably more than we do, everything there is mega expensive apart from fish. The main issue among your average Norwegian isn't the immigration problem, it isn't banks and tax evasion, it's simply the cost of living.

If there is a cost of living crisis in the UK, which there obviously is taking into consideration the amount of people using food banks, imagine what it would be like if you had to take a loan out to buy a bag of food?

There is also another important factor that people are completely ignorant of. If we closed our borders to 'foreigners' we'd end up with even higher priced trade deals, or none at all because countries would class us as xenophobic and racist and wouldn't want to do business with us - maybe not all, but many. Plus, if we kicked out anyone who wasn't British born and bred how would we deal with the kids born here of immigrant families, or who would we get to clean the shit up or do all the jobs that the Brits don't want to do? And don't say force them to do these jobs if they're unemployed because that is just ignorance and idiotic thinking - simply put, you give a job to someone who doesn't want to do it and they'll do a substandard job. If you start penalising them for being unhappy then you start getting into totalitarian government and we all know how happy these are.

The simple truth of pulling out of Europe is it will cost us all a lot of money and considerable hardship (and all the immigrants would still be here).

What we need is for the infotainment channels to educate us about the harsh realities not just shove Farage on screen with a pint and a fag while bemoaning about us losing our Britishness. That just enhances the xenophobia at a time when we really need to be seen as an inclusive and caring country.