Tuesday, 16 January 2018

My fears for the future as Great Britain descends into Spivocracy

I am by nature an optimist. I am also a workaholic, which you could probably figure out by the number of blogs I write, along with the other interests I have. If I read something I don't understand, I do research. If I can't find the information that makes sense of what is happening, as an engineer, I assume that I simply don't have all the information I need to form a sensible opinion. If I have to write a blog about such a scenario, then I state upfront that I don't have the information I need to form an opinion and I ask the readers of this blog whether they can make sense of what is going on.

I awake this morning feeling more worried, confused and fearful for the future than I have ever felt in my adult life. Maybe you, dear reader, can allay my fears. Maybe you can make sense of what we are seeing happening to our country? It appears to me that we are at the most dangerous point in our recent history.  Ten years ago, I wasn't writing blogs. Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, David Cameron was Leader of the Opposition, I was still a member (just about) of The Labour Party and Manchester City hadn't won a trophy for 32 years. Out of curiosity, I thought I'd check the "On this day" website for 16th January 2008. To my great surprised, it says nothing happened at all - https://www.onthisday.com/date/2008/january/16 - Wikipedia also lists nothing, although a couple of notable stories were in the news on the 17th and 18thhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_in_the_United_Kingdom#January

17 January – The number of people affected by norovirus stomach bug in the UK reached an estimated 3 million.
18 January – Last working of Tower Colliery, the last deep mine in the South Wales Valleys (official closure: 25 January)

By mid February, Northern Rock Building Society had been Nationalised as the financial services sector went into meltdown. In May that year, Boris Johnson was elected as Mayor of London. I didn't realise this at the time, but these two events are absolutely pivotal events in the UK. They were the start of a decline and a sea change in politics and our national psyche. Northern Rock was the victim of a global financial meltdown, caused by over liberalisation of financial markets. Prior to 2008, no one, least of all the UK Conservatives were calling for more rigorous policing of our financial services. The prevailing view at the time was that the less rules and regulations, the better "the market works". The global financial meltdown plunged us all into austerity and taught a generation that if banks are not properly run, then capitalism does not work. Only it didn't did it? Why do I say that? Because in May, London elected Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson previously had been seen as a bit of a joke figure, best known for bumbling appearances on "Have I Got News for You". He had no experience of running anything, except an extra marital affairs, which he'd been sacked for not telling the truth about. In 2004, Johnson had supported pro EU Kenneth Clarke as Tory leader in the leadership elections. Clearly he was not virulently EU then.

Johnsons election saw the start of the Tory recovery at the ballot box. Somehow by 2010, the Tories had managed to stick all the blame for a global financial meltdown, caused by governments following the conservative ideology of light touch regulation, on Labour. The public were not wholly convinced and made sure that in 2010, the Tories had to rely on the Lib Dems to keep an eye on their shenanigans. The Coalition between 2010 and 2015, persuaded the electorate that The Tories had learned the lessons of the past. David Cameron sold himself as a new type of Tory. He hugged hoodies and got dragged around the North pole by a team of huskies, that somehow persuaded us he was an environmentalist. In 2015, electors felt comfortable enough with the Tories to sack the Lib Dems en masse and give Cameron a working majority.  Labour reacted to this by deciding that there was a sea change in the national mood. It was clear that the attempts to be a "Tory light" party had failed. They elected Jeremy Corbyn, a full blown, no nonsense socialist, to be leader. The right wing press bayed that the party had decided to write it's own suicide note.

Then the whole of British politics imploded. Cameron's attempt to skewer the Tory right with the EU referendum backfired spectacularly. Theresa May became PM and Boris Johnson switched from being Mayor, to being an MP.  The general perception was that Boris had not done too bad a job as Mayor. This was largeley based on the success of the Boris bikes and the fact that London had still continued to function. We overlooked badly managed vanity schemes, such as The Boris Bus, the Cable Car and the rising levels of pollution and congestion. Theresa May decided that Boris was the best man for the job of Foreign Secretary. She'd clearly been impressed with his dealings with foreign dignitaries as Mayor (why, I am not really too sure). She appointed Philip Hammond to be chancellor. A man with demeanour of a hung over undertaker. As Home Secretary, we got Amber Rudd. I was trying to think of something interesting to say about Amber Rudd. The only thing I can really think of is that her name is an anagram of "Red Bum Rad" which is the sort of headline The Sun would put over a picture of Jeremy Corbyn. She really is one of the most invisible politicians ever to hold a major post.

As we know, last year May decided that she could put Labour to the sword, with an election she didn't need and the country didn't want. She thought Corbyn was so unpopular that it would be a shoe in. The only question was how many digits would her majority consist of. It didn't occur to her that the first digit would be a minus character.

Having plunged the UK into a wholly unnecessary political crisis, undermining her own authority, just as we needed strong leadership in the EU negotiations, she then set the sordid tone for her new administration. She had various options, when faced with a minority regime. She picked the worst. She gave the DUP a huge bung in return for votes. The DUP are the most divisive organisation that sits in Parliament (Sinn Fein do not take their seats). They now hold the whip hand, as we saw when they vetoed Theresa May's first attempt at a deal with The EU. The EU negotiations have now become a game of poker, where the UK has a team of innocents playing the world champions. Whatever you may or may not know about the EU, you must surely be aware that the one thing that EU bureaucrats are masters at is defending the interests of EU bureaurats (I say this a staunch remainer). The concept that they will give an inch to any proposal that doesn't suit them is nonsensical. Those who argue for a hard Brexit and no trade deal state that "German car makers will not tolerate a trade deal that harms their sales".  This ignores two major factors, that these economically illiterate dunderheads fail to realise. Brexit has already had a major effect on the costs of buying these cars. German cars are priced in Euro's. The £ is 20% lower than it was when we voted to quit the EU. There has already been a far greater hit to the cost than a reversion to WTO rules would bring. German car manufacturers well understand that the best thing for their sales would be a reversal of Brexit. The second is that by and large, German cars are luxury items. People who want a brand new Mercedes are well off. If you want a Merc or an Audi, you won't buy a KIA because it is cheaper. If you want to see Van Morrison and it's £130 for a ticket, you don't go and see Steps instead because they are only £15. Even if you wanted  a Jaguar, many of the components are priced in Euro's. Ultimately, it will be the UK consumer who will pay.

The bottom line, is that the UK will lose this game of poker. If Tory MP's decide that they can't live on an MP's salary, they will simply vote themselves a pay rise. It really is a great job.

Then we have public finances. The Tory party berated the Labour Party for not managing public finances properly. Let's go back to Boris Johnson. Do you think he managed the Garden Bridge project effectively. We spent £50 million for absolutely nothing. Would you appoint a man who can waste £50 million of your money on a whim? If you think the answer is no, think again. You already have.

Then we have Carillion. Why on earth would the state sector appoint a contractor who is insolvent? They are running two of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe, with HS2 and Crossrail, not to mention a plethora of other schemes. It is simply unthinkable to me that they could have been appointed, when they were issuing major profit warning and their accounts were clearly littered with warning flags. How can a company go from paying handsome dividends to being liquidated in a year? The answer can only be that a huge number of people in government have not done their job.

In short, the government is in a state of semi collapse. Last week, we saw that the Prime Minister is too weak to reshuffle her own cabinet. She has a team negotiating Brexit that is clearly incompetent. She has a team doling out billion pouind public sector contracts that are clearly incompetent. Then there is our rail network. This is run by a bunch of private companies, that receive huge subsidies and pay huge dividends to their (often foreign) shareholders. These franchises are effectively monopolies. They are also licenses to print money. If they don't work out, the operators simply hand them back to the government, as we've seen with the East Coast mainline.

Passengers suffer sub standard services. In Mill Hill, where I live, we have Thameslink, which has been panned for not delivering a decent service or value for money. Don't believe me? See what the National Audit Office.

I am not anti outsourcing at all. It may shock readers to know that my business has provided outsourced services to both Harrow and Barnet Councils in the past. We were selected, because both councils did not have the expertise or the facilities to do what we do. In both cases we had to jump through all manner of hoops, to earn trivial amounts of money (approx 1% of our turnover). In the case of Barnet Council, the last dealings we had with them, they ended up not paying us for services provided, as they had "lost all of the paperwork". We ended up providing drum tuition to a disabled man, free of charge for six months. At the time I had a dilemma. The choice was to tell a disabled person, who clearly loved the experience to go away, or to simply take the hit and let him carry on. I took the hit. I was told, in my final conversation with Barnet Council finance team "It is taxpayers money. Just because we've lost the paperwork, doesn't man we can pay you. It is taxpayers money". The key person in the adult social care team had left, so there was no one to confirm arrangements. The council seemed to be in chaos. I must say that Harrow Council were completely different and have always paid promptly. It did alert me to the dangers of dealing with the public sector.

As I listen to the radio today, I hear that small businesses that supply Carillion are losing all support in 48 hours. This is totally immoral. If I am supplying a company working on a government project, then I would expect the government to have done due diligence. Whilst I have no sympathy at all for shareholders or management of Carillion who created this mess, the small businesses, supplying on the basis that the government was underwriting projects, must be helped. It is simply immoral that such companies could go out of business in these circumstances. How has Great Britain descended into this Spivocracy, where the government are incompetent, the risk always ends up with the taxpayer and the small businesses, that are clearly blameless take the hit, whilst the people who create the mess walk away scot free?

After the banking crisis, no bankers went to prison, despite the whole economy being trashed for a decade. What am I missing? Why does none of this make any sense at all?


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