Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Gone Missing

I have submitted this story to Newsthump:

The Metropolitan Police are launching a missing persons enquiry after reports from concerned politicians that a man has gone missing from the Downing Street area.

A man identified as George Osborne, who sometimes responds to the name 'Gideon', has not been seen for many days now and police are growing increasingly concerned for his mental health.

He was expected to appear in the House of Commons or thereabouts on Monday 20th March. He was last seen presenting a Budget and listening to immediate reaction before going missing.

Psychological profilers think he could be very depressed. The Budget began to unravel almost immediately as its main money grab against the disabled was exposed as unacceptable even to mad Tories and the rest of it was analysed as an accounting swindle.

Then one of George Osborne's long standing friends, a Mr Iain Duncan Smith, who sometimes responds to the name 'Bastard', came out and said some very rude words about George without actually saying any rude words about him. Police are keen to interview Mr Duncan Smith, who first appeared all across the TV screens and then, in his own way, vanished for some hours. He is expected to reappear in public, however, as he is always keen to be noticed.

Police issued a late statement about their investigation, that concludes: "With any luck he will be in the Thames, because that way, with the cuts to policing, it won't take long to drag him out and arrange his political funeral."

Sunday, 20 March 2016

IDS: Reading the Lines

Look, I have a sociological background, and I don't just 'not forget it' but embrace it. And one of the dictums of sociological research is to listen and take people at face value before any analysis. It is a very important point: you can talk about motives but the expressed motive must be given its place. The more hidden motives may not be personal but institutional and systemic.

So I listened to Andrew Marr interviewing Iain Duncan Smith and also a bit of Faisal Islam. IDS is clear that his entire motive for action is around his particular interest put into this job.

He is on the side of the angels, although he leaves "morality" to "churchmen". He wants the Conservatives to have a method and means of social justice, to support the poor. But he has to make compromises. Against analyses like mine he says he has no motivation regarding his known Eurosceptic views.

What he does is gives us a view inside government, that since the coalition forced cabinet government, government now is - well Marr put it as "Ant and Dec" in charge. There is a chaos to policy formation because things get proposed and then withdrawn somewhat without best communication to the department with direct responsibility. Second, he wants to reform a system to help those who even would not vote Tory, to have the Tories as properly a one-nation party, whereas it comes under the Treasury cash-cow extraction approach, one that takes away the welfare to work incentive in IDS's proposals.

So I listen, and think well, maybe, just maybe, I have been too sophisticated in my political analysis. He really is approaching this from his narrow oh-so-inclusive view.

And then I have problems, and not just with his "compromises" and collective cabinet responsibility. For example, how does he justify the Bedroom Tax, which penalises the poorest on a failed analysis of forcing people into non-existent one-bedroomed properties? How does he justify the sanctions targets, by which DWP "Work Coaches" (but no work, no coaching) had to select out people who failed to turn up on time for an interview or didn't make the arbitrary demands for job seeking numbers? How does he justify the Universal Jobshite website that turns agency adverts into repetition (now even the same agency on the same day, never mind different agencies and one job, and repetition day after day) and therefore a deluge of pointless applications thrown away by agencies? Why did he argue for privatised overseeing of applications where people who would have got jobs anyway got preferential treatment and the difficult cases were 'parked'?

But, more than this, the DWP having to face cuts to its projects is no different from the Home Office facing cuts to the police forces, so that they have been rendered more and more ineffective.

So, devoid of sophistication, the other charge is naivity. He has proven that the Conservative Party and its chosen agenda of cuts is no vehicle for the necessities of social justice. The shell cannot contain that egg. Even under Liberal Democrat vetoes to the elitist agenda, the actions against the poorest were vicious.

And is he really that naive? Does he not realise that timed like this, the effect on the Chancellor is very damaging. He did refer to the Chancellor but his general praise for performance was for Cameron the Prime Minister. I think in his comments he 'overcame; his policy feud to include the Chancellor, probably realising that he had mentioned the PM exclusively rather too often.

It may well be that IDS has his project, as he sees it. But he is also a politician, even if not a very good one. He surely understands politics to the extent that it has another reality to it alongside simple policy mechanisms. There is support, and there is undermining. There is timing. Politics is an art as well as a process. And so I am back reading between the lines.

It is perfectly possible - I have done it myself - to argue purely on the issue at hand and yet know precisely the wider impact of the argument. Will it weaken that person and what they stand for, will it sink the ship, and does the ship sail in a direction that, therefore, one is in the wrong ship.

If he made arguments about supply side economics in the Labour market, this might make sense, but it is not the only sense. The fact is that this Tory party has long abandoned the inclusiveness of Heath and Walker and even (to a more limited extent, and another part-performer) Major. It is an elitist party with that agenda. I accuse Iain Duncan Smith of naivity, and also if he cannot see the European dimension of what he has done (the Eurosceptic nutjobs certainly can, and why they have called him 'principled' etc.) then he really is a crap politician.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

IDS: Read Between the Lines

Let's be clear: Iain Duncan Smith's resignation has little to do with benefits inequality. There may be Treasury and Department for Work and Pensions tensions, but no more than say with police cuts between the Treasury and the Home Office. The Bedroom Tax and the inadequacy of the one room Local Housing Allowance (for others) plus the 20% Council Tax, plus all other cuts, are all approved by this man. There is evidence that he asked Nadine Dorries MP not to rebel over the proposed benefit cuts (unless, of course, she wants to undermine him for the benefit of the Government).

He pre-informed The Times and sister newspapers. He timed his resignation for the 10 pm News. His explanatory letter was held by The Times. His use of "all in it together" was a deliberately phrased knife at Osborne and Cameron.

We know that Osborne is the Chief Executive of all the Government and Cameron is its Chair. Cameron does the PR, with his 'give it a left, give it a right' presentation to waiting microphones before racing off oh so decisively for his fake negotiations, or his 'surrounded by factory workers' shirt-sleeves speeches. He does it better than Osborne surrounded by puzzled and bored children. But it is these two who have led the pro-Europe campaign. Alan Johnson (Labour) has been invisible in comparison.

First of all weeks back IDS complained that he and antis were being denied government papers; the government responded that it is not neutral. So he had the freedom to oppose, but wouldn't get government papers beyond his own department's necessities.

But now he has realised that the best way to skittle the government's pro-Europe campaign is by skittling those in charge, specifically Cameron and Osborne. The more incredible they look, the less they can 'lead' regarding the in campaign.

And so his departure had to be like a Howe or a Lawson, to have impact on the night and impact on the party.

Perhaps the reason the government machine sounded uncertain on the Benefit cuts was because they knew that close politics was bubbling. The argument for the IDS defence is that his department had to uphold a policy of benefit cuts and tax benefits, including to MPs (Nadine Dorries included), while the government wobbled. The government bigwigs wanted to take away the basis for IDS's and others' complaints, yet at the same time did not want to back down. So it was a question of timing for IDS - go before the government backs down.

Corbyn and company are right to ask for the Chancellor's resignation, as here is another Budget shambles. As I blogged just after the Budget, Osborne has run out of road space evidenced by his creative accounting, never mind the despicable cuts while giving the rich a treat. The ideas are sour and competence utterly lacking. Productivity and investment are stuck. But the IDS target is Osborne and Labour needs purchase fast and here is a gift. Nothing will benefit Labour more than the incompetence of the government and shaking it to its foundations. After all it might lead to what  many have considered impossible: a compassionate and yet productivity-seeking Labour government.

However, let's be clear. It isn't Labour that is causing this. It is Cameron's miscalculation. A referendum should follow a party in government decision that needs confirmation by the wider public, not a situation where the public vote is to sort out a fundamental disagreement in the party. So Cameron is a gambler, to finally put paid to the Eurosceptics. Instead, the tension of the vote either or is proving too much for the Tory Party, and it is more likely to split. Indeed, a number of Tories so-minded can vote against the Budget and do for Osborne and his campaigning for Europe now.

If Cameron/ Osborne wins the referendum, the Eurosceptic nutjobs (including IDS) will never forgive him or them and make government impossible, and if Cameron/ Osborne loses there will be a clear-out at the top. Iain Duncan Smith will be back and under Boris Johnson or someone similar. The gamble is greater than this institution can bear.

So this is a good example of that. By timing, the skids are put on the Budget and on the leadership itself, and its competence to discuss Europe at all. But as regards this resignation: read between the lines, because they are the only lines worth reading.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Time for Osborne to Call it a Day

No one has said it, but there is a sense in which this is George (Gideon) Osborne's last budget. He is a failure. He has not achieved any of his financial objectives (at considerable pain to the many) and he is now resorting to creative accounting regarding years 2019-2020.

At the same time this posh boy Chancellor shows the despicable side of this government, paying for his failure by taking from the needy like the disabled in order to afford tax cuts. On top of other cuts in benefits, the Bedroom tax, Council Tax at 20%, sanctions and sheer uncertainty, he is removing chunks of money that keep people cabable and keep them mobile. This man borders on the evil with his ignorance about how tough some people find it to live.

Gideon talks codswallop about the 'Northern Powerhouse' - a phrase created for the media - while the need for revival at a time of cheap money is to spend and spend and invest.

There is no economic policy of use that lowers interest rates to near zero and then is forced to 'create money' that then sits in financial centres or leaks into a wealth economy of Central London property and finance, and once again boosts property elsewhere. No use to anyone - except the already well off.

Keynes would be spinning in his grave. You have to distribute money to the poorer, who are more likely to spend it. It is called the Multiplier effect. When money costs next to nothing, you make it to invest it in productive assets. You get firms to make things and generate jobs that are worthwhile jobs. It is a joke to cut benefits and then encourage people to save what they do not possess.

Osborne's cheap labour economy mitigates against capital investment. This so-called Living Wage is feeble, plus investment comes about through participatory industry - everyone involved. Firms that can employ cheap labour to do its tasks, the ever reliance on the service sector, do not improve productivity. This takes capital, capital investment that allows labour to be used elsewhere and in producing more. There is never a demand ceiling: if we are more efficient, innovation will increase what we can do. And, in any case, with greater efficiency comes greater value and surely more of the leisure the prophets of automation once promised. When you have cheap underemployed supposedly flexible labour markets to rule the roost, you descend to the floor of trying to scrape together basics and doing so longer rather than enjoying retirement.

The economy is made for us, not us for the economy. This is how it should be. Osborne has run out of road.

Well, let's hope the European Referendum either clears him out with an out result or forces Cameron out as his internal opposition become bitter about the remain result. However, Osborne in power as PM would be nastiness writ large, especially if they repeal the Parliament Act and go for an election. I know the alternative is another Eton boy. Nevertheless he has come to the end, there is nothing more he can offer: he has been oin the job too long and, like all politicians, he has finished this with failure.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Municipalisation of London's Railways

There is talk at present of adding competition within route franchises on Britain's railways. It is a recipe for chaos. What is required is simplification and co-ordination under one brand and one ticketing system. Even if there is some private provision of rail rolling stock and running, it should come under the one plan and one identity. Pay such a fee for a job done. Otherwise hail the now lost successful State-run East Coast Service.

If it is good enough for Transport for London, then it is good enough for - let's hear it - British Rail. The present arrangement on the railways is a disaster: lots of spending, and far too much to overcome fractious operating and a kind of internal blame-game and fining for when things go wrong.

In 2021 all franchises that commute into London, beyond national rail used for such purpose, will come under Transport for London planning and branding. Quite sensible. It is noted that when bus privatisation wrecked provision up and down the country, the integrity of London buses was maintained. No one cares who provides the bus service because they are all red and all come under the same ticketing.

Those of us who play trains have had to adjust their maps to take account of this huge expansion of TfL responsibility. My suggestion of better routes has had to catch up with the news. And what is emerging is not simply an expansion of London Overground alongside London Underground, but a new concept of London Metro. London Metro may absorb services like Thameslink. I think it still makes sense to talk of Thameslink, Riverlink, Citylink as routes, but bring them, along with what I call Long Commutes, under the London Metro label. London Overground brands generally shorter or more compact if weaving routes, and these are not all 'Chords' (routes that do not pass through the centre but stay out) but include 'Spokes' as well. The London Underground consists of 'lines' (TfL stipulates the use of lower case 'L' in its grammar and use directive). This is why the recent renaming of Crossrail 1 into the Elizabeth line is confusing, because it clearly is not an Underground line. It cannot be, as it is full size but also starts out in Reading and ends in Shenfield, as well as Heathrow and Abbey Wood. It also allows other national rail services to use its tunnels - and this will not be the Elizabeth line as such. So it should have been called the Elizabeth Link or Elizabeth Rail.

So it has taken some thought and drawing to add in routes that are sensible and perhaps optimal as suggestions. One can still see problems, particularly that as the connections are increased between Overground and Underground routes, with new stations, and as routes are suggested as efficient, enormous pressure is placed on stations. This is why some must have through routes even though they could be terminii for a number - for example Lewisham and St. John's nearby. Ealing Broadway is another station desperate for more platforms. Old lines need bring back, and it is possible to re-establish much of the old Northern Heights route (I call it Mill Chord). Bromley wants the Tramlink and once into its streets it can take over right to Grove Park - more connecting - and Tramlink can elsewhere extend to London Biggin Hill Airport. It could handle a little of airport expansion, as can and must Stansted and Luton expand using the rail connections.

So a bit of a diversion and a bit of fun but then we are interested in the future of railways including in the capital city. I am less interested in the diagrammatic challenge (e.g. look up Max Roberts) and will follow geography, but there are plenty of people searching for the structure that Harry Beck found. Sameboat's tilted bottle works well, but (in my opinion) needs stretching to the north and west a little further out and he needs to add in many more routes and not as faint lines. He does make changes, but the 2021 intention demands many more.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

This Lousy Referendum

How many referendums has the United States initiated to make a political decision? None. How many will it have? None. They have no place in representative democracy and nor should they.

The idea of having a referendum is that the issue at stake is so profound that it isn't enough to have a strong majority in favour among the representatives in a parliament, but that it also goes to the people to endorse. This was so with the Scottish Referendum: the Scottish Nationalists achieved a majority in Scotland but it needed that extra endorsement in order to end the Union. It didn't happen.

This is not the case with the European Union referendum in the United Kingdom. We do not have a government that has been elected to take us out, for which that extra referendum is needed.

Instead we have a government that cannot quite make up its mind, indeed a problem of the Conservative Party. To make up its mind, a choreography of negotiations took place by which small changes will happen to apparently keep the UK in the slow lane regarding further integrating measures. On that basis the government isn't neutral but says we should stay in, and then there is remain and exit campaigning.

In other words, Cameron is gambling the future of this country in order so solve a political problem within his own party. This gamble is especially mad given how it is more necessary than ever that Europe keeps meeting to discuss the considerable crises that are ongoing, set against an aggressive Russian leader and a candidate for President of the USA who'd like to get on with Putin and whose foreign policy seems to be to exclude Muslim immigrants and build a wall against Mexico at Mexico's expense. In fact Trump could be anything from a crypto-fascist to a centrist who hasn't a clue and leaves it to advisors. He represents the rise of ignorance. The last thing Europe should be doing is gambling with the rupture of a major member leaving its structures.

I've not seen in any of the campaigning the notion that sharing sovereignty is a good thing; I've seen no explanations of how Europe makes its decisions. The Remain people employ economic arguments that are only part of the issue, rather than core political arguments about how the Council of Ministers works, how the Commission is limited in its role, and how the European Parliament is a corrective but little else. The whole drift has been UK-centric, and this is entirely negative.

I am confident that voters will, in sufficient numbers, realise the dangerous nature of the world at present. Europe needs more effective decision taking, with Britain contributing. It needs to reaffirm the value and place of liberal democracy.

Cameron needs punishing for this gamble to the world, just to solve a party problem.
Well, it seems it is coming along. If he loses the referendum, if the rupture begins, he will have to stand down. Populists and chancers, like Boris Johnson, will rise to the surface. I do give him more intelligence and with policy content than a Donald Trump, but the phenomenon has parallels.

However, should Cameron win and he defeats the persistent nut jobs on the right, the bad feeling from the defeated will be immense. They will have lost their prize except via a UKIP type build-up. Cameron will have no choice to manage the country other than to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act (assuming he can) and then go to the country, which will (on his own word) be with a new leader like Osborne or May or some such. Even having people like Ian Duncan Smith in the cabinet will be problematic (at the least) because he seems to have misunderstood that the government isn't neutral. He always was an incapable minister, way above his pay grade and has been in his job too long. He will have to go if we remain in the European Union. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The Tories will gamble on an election because they will perceive that Labour is weak itself. They will have to do it on the old constituencies and not the new ones that will benefit the Tories (it's not at all clear than even that reform will go through as many Tories will find their own seats disappearing). Labour needs to articulate an imaginative and radical manifesto to tackle a low wage low productivity economy, by extending the incentive for capital investment through denying cheap labour and getting people involved in firms. Paul Mason has some relevant ideas here, the chap who was at Channel 4 News for a short while. Corbyn might actually prove to be attractive and ethical, and sensible for sure when it comes to the European Union. His idea of its progress is itself both positive and attractive.

We should not be having this referendum; the risk is too great for the problem in a political party. Nevertheless, it will take more than the referendum to solve that problem: the gamble is not the solution. It will take an election as well, and lots of people moving here and there politically afterwards. We are where we are, and the camp to vote yes to stay in ought to be making a much better case than so far. It is not about Cameron's pathetic reforms for UK sidelining, but about being in and making Europe work as an entity in a time when global politics is highly unstable.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Website Updates

I always seem to have difficulty finishing off the magazine, or create some sort of error that delays matters. I made a mistake with it, assuming that generous margins also allowed for backgrounds to go into them and be cut fine by a professional printer. Not so, the bleed area (that I knew about) means the page size must be greater than A5. Rather than faff about trying to achieve that consistently, I altered the pages with coloured backgrounds into the margins to white margins like most pages. It should now be all right. Difficulties with CYMK colours seem inevitable, but I can check that. I can't check other than physically how deep and dark or light they end up printing the copies.

Anyway the magazine as altered is online. I have my own impression software, which means it can be printed on A4 pages side by side back facing and then front facing in book order. This is why there are three links and sometimes four (they send a double sided impression).




I always like to add to archives. So a newspaper cutting from 1995 was about Barry Cundill's hymn A Unitarian Faith. This cutting was creased so that it would not OCR. I had to type it out. But it did get an image scan from the monotone dots of the newspaper photo. I scanned that and have thrown everything at it except actually drawing over it (and I've done that before) to produce a fairly decent image. His hymn is my No Book 004 in the Spiritual area - Hymns section of my website.


A while ago a request went out for a tune to accompany God of the Granite, a hymn not in Unitarian hymn books. I found London Kettering (Extended), and a tune resource for it. I made it into No Book 017 in the Spiritual area - Hymns section of my website. However, the tune was very elaborate and I have since cut it down to the verses only (and a bit at the end) in composing software and then a little audio editing (amplification) for the MP3 result.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28120070/Pluralist/spiritual/londonkettering.mid - Basic computer tune

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28120070/Pluralist/spiritual/londonkettering.mp3 - Full sound tune

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28120070/Pluralist/spiritual/londonkettering.pdf Sheet music - still rather a lot of it.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28120070/Pluralist/spiritual/londonkettering.xml Transfer between composing software

NB 017 (London Kettering (Extended))
[God of the Granite]

God of the granite and the rose,
Soul of the sparrow and the bee,
The mighty tide of Being runs
Through countless channels, Lord, from Thee.
It leaps to life in grass and flowers,
Through every grade of being runs,
Till from creation's radiant towers
Its glory flames in stars and suns –
Its glory flames in stars and suns!

O, ye who sit and gaze on Life,
With folded hands and fettered will,
Who only see, amid the strife,
The dark supremacy of ill;
Know that, like birds and streams and flowers,
The life that moves you is Divine,
Nor time nor space, nor human powers,
Your godlike spirit can confine –
Your godlike spirit can confine!

God of the granite and the rose,
Soul of the sparrow and the bee,
The mighty tide of Being flows
Through all thy creatures back to thee.
Thus round and round the circle runs –
A mighty tide without a shore –
While humans, angels, stars and suns
Unite to praise thee evermore –
Unite to praise thee evermore!

[Words by Lizzie Doten, made inclusive, published 1911]