Monday, 31 October 2011

In which the NHS begins to learn about targeting...

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In a previous life (so to speak) we proposed this to Bradford Health Authority some 21 years ago. Back then targeting was a no-no. It seems the NHS is learning - for example about the impact of alcohol:

Targeting 'risky' male drinkers could save NHS £120m - report

Note that, rather than the usual target,alcohol itself, the proposal is to target the actual problem - the alcohol abuser. And with sensible intervention too:


A 10-minute advisory session with a doctor or nurse can reduce alcohol consumption by up to five units a week.

So much better, fairer and more effective than minimum pricing, bans of advertising and sending out hyperbolic press releases to the Daily Mail!

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Guess where this is...

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The country has no national minimum wage, no inheritance tax, capital and certainly corporate taxes are lower than in the US, in fact, the tax system as a whole is less progressive than that of the US or UK.

You'll be surprised!

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They say Caesar was ambitious...but did the state fund his party?

It has been a bad week for my love of politics and all who sail in her. Not for the usual, “what on earth are they on about now” stuff but for two other reasons:

  1. A “draft” report proposes the state funding of political parties
  2. I went to the cinema - with anticipation – to watch “Ides of March”

The first of these two things makes me angry and the second depressed. And it all comes back to the perennial cynicism about the process of politics – the seeming inevitability that everyone is there for personal advancement, that no one is honourable and that only the state can be relied on.


The cash, worth up to £100 million over a five-year parliament, would be used to compensate parties for a loss of income as a result of a £50,000 cap on individual donations, it was reportedly proposed.

The Conservatives are expected to lose out from the cap, arguing that it will result in the party losing up to a third of its income from donors.

But the Liberal Democrats have much to gain from the new arrangements as they have less independent income than the other two parties.

Note here the automatic attention to winners and losers under such a system. There isn’t any discussion as to whether the taxpayer should be paying for the running of political parties. Which brings us to the justification for the state taking over – that political parties can be bought and sold by wealthy individuals.  After all, the Labour Party isn’t really any bigger than, say, Manchester City or Chelsea and very rich folk bought them up!

This rather brings me to the “Ides of March” (in which Caesar is corrupted and compromised rather than simply stabbed a few times) and the manner of American politics. We are used to the characterisation of American politics as dominated by the money – much larger sums than we see in Britain – and take the cynicism of films like “Ides of March” as given even when we don’t fully understand the actual processes of Yankee politics.

The problem is that the bureaucrats employed by the political elite to look at the funding of the political elite are not going to ask the big question. So I will:

In a country where we elect an individual to represent us (we call that person an MP, in the USA it’s a congressman, senator or president) why is it felt necessary to institutionalise party politics?

That is what state funding brings you – a rigid, unchanging and sterile system controlled by faceless party apparatchiks. Nobody is likely to propose a system whereby – for example – national, party-focused campaigns are forbidden during election times and all the money is constrained within the limits set by the Electoral Commission for spending in a local constituency.

Such an approach has two advantages – firstly the campaign is conducted locally rather than on the back of a sloganised, sound bite ridden, national campaign; and secondly the possibility for party capture by the wealthy is reduced since campaigning is affordable locally. However, this rather hobbles the central party machines – which explains why it’s never proposed by those given their paid job by the political elite.

It seems depressingly inevitable that the party bosses will get their state funding:

Near the top of the tottering pile in the government's too-difficult tray lurks the question of paying for politics. From time to time another committee is sent off, like Noah's dove, to search for a solution that will be both acceptable to the public and reasonably equitable to the parties. In the next few weeks the latest attempt at an answer will be revealed. As we report today, some degree of state funding will be part of the mix. 

And as a result the corrupting Westminster bubble will no longer be a force of nature but will be an institution of the state.

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Saturday, 29 October 2011

So what exactly is a charity? A lesson in bad lawmaking.

Recently, the courts arrived at a conclusion to the matter of public benefit and charities that charge fees (the consequence of the 2006 Act where the Labour government tried to shaft private schools without being seen to do so directly). In simple terms the Labour Party wanted to stop schools for wealthy parents receiving the "benefits" of being a charity, chief among which is tax relief.

The judgment - although it appeared to get the schools off the hook - left us with the consequence of Labour politically-motivated approach to charity. We should recall that not only did the party pass the 2006 Act but they made sure that the leadership of the charity commission was on their side in the mission to shaft private schools.

Then it started doing public benefit guidance on high risk (ie possible low-public-benefit charities).  For some this was akin to Thomas Cromwell going round dissolving the monasteries in 1536.  In 2009 the Commission failed two prep schools on their public benefit assessment – this was because the schools were giving inadequate provision to poor people. 

These schools, like most private schools, were long-established and operated exclusively to the benefit of their users rather than in the search of profit. As such they had met the idea of charity that existed prior to Labour's tinkering - the provision of education had been assumed to be a purpose worthy of being deemed charitable.

More to the point, the new "public benefit" requirements raised concerns for other charities that charged fees:

...‘where a charity charges high fees that many people could not afford, the trustees must ensure that the benefits are not unreasonably restricted by a person’s ability to pay and the people in poverty are not excluded from the opportunity to benefit’.

Lots of facilities run by charitable trusts - places such a swimming pools, clinics, sports clubs and theatres (how much does a ticket at the Royal Opera House cost these days?) - were caught in the headlights of this definition. A definition introduced purely from political spite.

Nobody loses from a public school - or the Royal Opera House - enjoying tax relief. Except a very marginal loss to the government. And many thousands gain - Britain retains the examples that are the world's best schools as we also have the pleasure of knowing that the high arts retain a significance and importance in our culture.

Had it not been for Tony Blair's desire to appease the bigoted left of his party, none of this would have happened. The 2006 Charities Act was bad law and this judgement reminds of of the fact.

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Defining 'social enterprise' - the next pointless challenge for our lawmakers!

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Our masters, having set about trying to define "sustainable development" and now being urged - by Hazel Blears no less - to set out a legal definition of that tricksy term, "social enterprise":

Former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears MP has called for a legal definition for social enterprises, while minister for civil society Nick Hurd has conceded that such a definition may be required. 

Hazel Blears went on to refer to the "social enterprise sector" - showing just how much momentum there is behind this need for definition.

It seems that Hazel is concerned that wicked and evil capitalists will sneak in by calling themselves "social enterprises" thereby tarnishing the principle that the tern enshrines (or something like that).

I stick firmly to the view that all businesses - indeed every enterprise whether constituted or not - has to be 'social'. What should concern us isn't to try and separate the enterprise sheep from the enterprise goats through some form of legal definition but to focus instead on ethics - on whether the enterprise behaves ethically.

And the core elements of ethical business have nothing to do with the chunterings of "fair trade" - these are essentially political considerations - but concern the way in which the business operates. Does it comply with the law? How well does it treat those who work for it? Does it 'exploit' - through deception or dissembling - its customers, shareholders or investors (and this group would include donors)?

Such matters relate to the moral standing of the business - its managers, its directors and its owners - rather than to the precise legal structure adopted. It is nonsense to suggest that defining an operation as a "social enterprise" suddenly waves a magical wand over its affairs thereby making it a paragon of ethical virtues.

There are some enterprises where the operation of the business delivers a wider social purpose - Remploy, Jamie Oliver's, Fifteen restaurants and Bradford Councils-owned, ISG are examples - but whether these are established as for-profit businesses owned by shareholders, charities or some other legal structure is of no consequence.

The point and purpose of Hazel Blears call is to allow government to create a set of favoured organisations - "social enterprises" - that can be granted preference in bidding for contracts within, for example, the NHS.

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Thursday, 27 October 2011

The only way to achieve this would be to scrap it...

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...surely?

The Government attempted to quell concern that the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) could effectively become a ‘development tax’ this week, during a Lords debate on the Localism Bill.

Since it is a government impost on development, it is surely a tax? After all, if the developer thought that "community infrastructure" necessary it would build it and cost it within the proposed development?

The only way to stop it being a development tax would be to scrap it or make it voluntary.

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It's not democratic to stop other people going about their business...

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Apparently Anne Minton thinks this is terrible (although I’m not sure the ordinary member of the public would think so):

A defining characteristic of privately owned "public" squares and spaces is conditional access. Members of the public are only allowed in if the company controlling the place is agreeable. This is private property in the same way that someone's house is private property, which means that the owner can decide who is or is not allowed to enter and what they are allowed to do there.

These are not democratic spaces. Instead rules and regulations are enforced by uniformed private security and round-the-clock surveillance. A host of seemingly innocuous activities such as cycling, rollerblading and even eating in some places are forbidden. So is filming, taking photographs and political protest.

I struggle to see how this differs markedly from those “democratic” spaces?

Conditional access? Most public spaces these days are subject to conditional access – think of the parks locked after 7 pm, the ‘keep off the grass’ signs, the strictures on busking, begging and drinking. And yes the banning of those “seemingly innocuous activities such as cycling, rollerblading and even eating”. All these are features of the most public of public spaces. Places now policed by a bewildering variety of uniformed officials – street wardens, parking enforcement officers, PCSOs and the occasional really copper all with powers to move you on, fine you and stop you from doing ordinary everyday things like taking photos, having a fag or resting tired feet.

The truth about all this is that privately owned “public” spaces are not a new invention, nor are they the “privatisation” of previously public land – it suits the owner to ensure that the place is managed in the interests of users and, if that means stopping people from “occupying” the space with a load of mostly empty tents then so be it.

The truth is that these “occupations” are intended to prevent other people from engaging in lawful activity, from going about their daily business. It seems reasonable that private owners should seek to prevent this infringement of the liberty of those who wish to use the spaces they own.

Ms Minton says this is undemocratic but does not ask how those people who wish, for example, to attend St Pauls Cathedral can exercise this right when the “occupiers” prevent them from doing so. Indeed, it is profoundly undemocratic for protesters – a few in number – to try and prevent thousands from going about their daily business simply for the sake of a political “protest”.

Of course people have the right to protest, to march and to gather (although I’m willing to bet that Ms Minton will be near the front of the crowd calling for the EDL, BNP or other unpleasant fascist group to be prevented from protesting). But those protesters, marchers and occupiers have no right to prevent others from doing their business or to “occupy” private places without the agreement of the owners.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

More on those interests (just for the lawyers among you)

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Following Bradford's recent debate on what have been dubbed 'pilgrims', I commented on the somewhat odd advice regarding interests:

I found it exceedingly odd how the City Solicitor deemed that receiving a declared donation to an election campaign or other political activity isn’t a prejudicial interest. I’m pretty sure that the same answer wouldn’t apply to me if the matter concerned say, Cullingworth Conservative Club (I sort of asked but got something of an equivocal answer from the City Solicitor).

So we asked for a definitive answer and here's an excerpt from the City Solicitor's response:

I stated at the meeting that I felt the creation of a prejudicial interest was ‘borderline’.  There are two reasons for my view.  Firstly the Code of Conduct states that a Member does not have a prejudicial interest in any business of the Authority where that business does not affect their financial position or the financial position of a person or Body described in paragraph 8 (the trade union).  It is debatable whether the withdrawal of facility time would automatically have a financial impact on the trade union.  It is not payments made directly to the trade union, but rather the provision of facility time for trade union officials.  Whilst I appreciate this represents a cost to the tax payer, it is by no means certain that that would automatically be reflected in a cost to the trade unions. 

Secondly, I considered the significance test in terms of whether the interest created (the payment towards election expenses) is sufficiently significant that it is likely to prejudice the judgement of what is in the wider public interest.  Standards for England have considered this significance test and their advice is that almost any degree of personal involvement or knowledge of a particular circumstance is likely to affect a Member’s judgement.  However, they recognise that a Member may well have been elected precisely because of his or her local knowledge or position/opinions on particular matters.  For an interest to be prejudicial it must be ‘likely to prejudice’ the Member’s judgement.  In other words the interest must be likely to harm or impair the Member’s ability to judge the public interest.  Standards for England are clear that the mere existence of local knowledge or connections with the local community will not normally be sufficient to meet the test.  There must be some factor that will positively harm the Member’s ability to judge the public interest objectively.  Further, Standards Board for England consider that if a Member shares a personal interest with a large number of people, it is less likely that a prejudicial interest will exist.

All very lawyerly but still pretty odd. But this little paragraph did make my eyebrows twitch a little:


Having regard to this guidance in the context of the matter under debate, although I agree it is borderline, my opinion is that the payment of election expenses is not sufficiently significant to create a prejudicial interest.

Bear in mind that we made a distinction between mere membership of a trade union (where I guess the individual gives the trade union money) from having your election expenses paid by the union.

As I said, I bet this wouldn't apply if Cullingworth Conservative Club were to pay mine!
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In case you wondered what the Leeds City Region Local Economic Partnership was for...

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I received an "on the day" briefing (how I love these snappily trendy titles PR folk use) from Bradford's Department of Regeneration about this:

Government policy is aimed at achieving a rapid transition to a low carbon economy in the UK. To assist with this the Leeds City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has recommended the creation of a Green Economy Panel, a new advisory body tasked with working across the city region partnership to support the development of a low carbon economy.

My heart skipped with joy. I could see the planet's temperature easing at this momentous decision. The organisation charged with driving (how the public sector and quangocracy love that word) forward the "City Region's" economic development has set up a panel. That's right folks - a whole panel:

The Panel will work closely with the LEP to embed low carbon activity within the LEP’s activity and will be responsible for delivering the low carbon priorities identified within the LEP plan and the city region’s Green Infrastructure Strategy. It will also provide the LEP, other city region panels and partners with information and advice on how best to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This is all wonderful news. We all know - those who have studied and suffered at the coalface of regeneration - that the best way to drive economic growth, indeed "green" economic growth, is to set up a Panel!

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Quote of the day....

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This from the Man in the Shed is definitely the case:

I'm disgusted with Nick Clegg's actions to try to cripple the UK for his Euro masters. This is one of the many reasons the hatred for the Lib Dems in many Conservative circles goes far beyond that for Labour.

At every local branch, every party executive meeting and at every event, I hear the cry that we must stop "the tail wagging the dog". Personally, I still hate the Labour Party far more but 'The Man' has a point.

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...and how much is down to state funding then?

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The NCVO are reporting a 40% increase in the number of people employed by "charities" over the past decade:

The number of people employed by charities rose by 40 per cent in the past decade, according to the NCVO Workforce Almanac, which is published today.

The almanac, compiled in partnership with Skills – Third Sector and the Third Sector Research Centre, shows that at the end of 2010, the total voluntary sector workforce was 765,000, compared with 547,000 in 2001.

The sector employed 2.7 per cent of the UK workforce in 2010, compared with 2 per cent in 2001.

 These are figures up to 2010 - the numbers have fallen since then (and include yours truly). The question is really whether that increased number of employees is the consequence of:

  1. Higher levels of government grants, tenders and sub-contracts for "third sector" organisations
  2. The pushing aside of volunteers and their replacement with "workers"

Of course, it may be that charities have been raising ever so much more money from our generosity meaning that they can do more good stuff. But my money's on it being taxes!

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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A moment of rage at public procurement...

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The Arts Council. Tender for a freelance contract asks for:

Three years of accounts
Bank reference
Equal Opportunities Policy
Diversity Policy
Health & Safety Policy
Environment & Sustainability Policy
Three different types of insurance

...and they say this is 'accessible' tendering!

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In which George shoots the messenger (and misses)

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Back in 1957 an unemployed market researcher called Vance Packard published “The Hidden Persuaders”, a work purporting to expose the evils of advertising and, in particular, the application of psychological techniques in what he called “subliminal advertising”. Packard’s ideas are still popular even though there is almost no evidence that the methods he describes work.

However, we still see of advertising depicted as a sinister, occult science dedicated to using psychological techniques to dull the consumer’s mind and manipulate her into almost robotic purchasing behaviour. Here’s George Monbiot:

Advertising claims to enhance our choice, but it offers us little choice about whether we see and hear it, and ever less choice about whether we respond to it. Since Edward Bernays began to apply the findings of his uncle Sigmund Freud, advertisers have been developing sophisticated means of overcoming our defences. In public they insist that if we become informed consumers and school our children in media literacy we have nothing to fear from their attempts at persuasion. In private they employ neurobiologists to find ingenious methods of bypassing the conscious mind.

The idea of subliminal manipulation remains despite this:

The notion that subliminal directives can influence motives or actions is contradicted by a large body of research evidence and is incompatible with theoretical conceptions of perception and motivation

Or this:

Conducted a meta-analysis to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of subliminal advertising in influencing the consumer's decision between alternatives. A review of narrative reviews is provided to illustrate that sample size and effect size are seldom used as the basis for evaluating whether subliminal marketing stimuli are an effective means for influencing consumer choice behavior. The results of the meta-analysis of 23 studies indicate that there is very little effect.

In simple terms Monbiot is talking nonsense. However, it is a seemingly persuasive nonsense since he goes on to conflate subliminal methodologies (the “bypassing of the conscious mind” bit) with the concept of brand equity:

The first time we see an advertisement, we are likely to be aware of what it's telling us and what it is encouraging us to buy. From then on, we process it passively, absorbing its imagery and messages without contesting them, as we are no longer fully switched on. Brands and memes then become linked in ways our conscious minds fail to detect.

Now it’s true that brands – like many other things – are heuristics and employ the idea of mnemonics to achieve (or rather try to achieve) the situation where, when faced with a decision about a given purchase, the consumer recalls the brand. Most likely this is within a choice set rather than solus – we are likely to recall both Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola when considering purchasing a fizzy soft drink.

However, brand heuristics do not sit in isolation from other non-advertising heuristics such as personal taste, socialisation and preference.

The essence of the ‘advertising is evil’ argument cannot rest on subliminal manipulation (it doesn’t work) or the misrepresentation of brand equity leaving just the argument that advertising makes us buy more stuff:

People who watch a lot of advertisements appear to save less, spend more and use more of their time working to meet their rising material aspirations. All three outcomes can have terrible impacts on family life. They also change the character of the nation. Burdened by debt, without savings, we are less free, less resilient, less able to stand up to those who bully us.

I’m sure George Monbiot watches the BBC so isn’t in this category and fails to present a source for his contention. However, it’s pretty difficult – if you think about it for a second – to understand how you set a control group for the sort of study Monbiot refers to – there is a good longitudinal analysis by researchers at Warwick University linking advertising effects and longer working hours in the USA but this shows a general correlation between rising advertising expenditure and longer working hours which isn’t quite what George is arguing.

If there is a problem – and I’m not entirely sure that there is one – its cause does not lie with advertising but, as Monbiot spots, with values. And I do not think – actually I know – that advertising is a mirror to our values not the creator of those values. If we are to seek salvation from the sinful consumerist world, which I guess is Monbiot’s objective, the answer doesn’t lie in half-baked psychology or misplaces and misdirected attacks on the messenger.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

Quote of the day...

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Indeed, the cancer risk of ETS to a non-smoker appears to be roughly equal to the risk of becoming addicted to heroin from eating poppy seed bagels.

Interesting report here 

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Trying to apply Occam's Razor to regeneration - the idea of 'busy-ness'

Many years ago William of Occam set out his little idea:

"Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate"

OK, so some folk say William didn’t come up with the idea but the principle remains very important – and so often ignored. In its clearest modern description Occam’s Razor says:

"...when you have two competing theories which make exactly the same predictions, the one that is simpler is the better."

It doesn’t quite say that the simplest explanation of something is the one most likely to be the right one but its close enough for that to be a working definition of the rule.

Let us apply it to regeneration.

Most of the debate around regeneration revolves around the dichotomy between the physical (what I term “shiny regeneration”) and the social (which we might call “right-on regeneration”). The private sector part of the regeneration industry focuses, more or less exclusively, on “shiny” – after all these are offshoots from property, real estate and development business so physical intervention is what they do. In the public sector – and its acolytes within the “third sector” – the emphasis is much more on the social aspects of regeneration with much talk of ‘community’, ‘social capital’ and empowerment.

In all this debate there is little discussion of why some places are successful and others are not. This is odd since the whole purpose of regeneration is to facilitate less successful places becoming more successful.  While this begs the question as to what we mean by success, the core element of success is economic – I’m pretty sure that people in poor communities aspire to a better, more comfortable life which can only come through economic advancement.

So what are the features of successful places? For me there are just two:

  1. They are busy – not busy in the sense of subsistence but busy in the sense of economic activity
  2. They are places that attract immigrants – people want to move there

And to identify less successful places we can take the reverse:

  1. They are quiet – in the sense that economic activity is limited
  2. They are places of emigration – people wish to move from them

So if we are to apply Occam’s Razor then we should be looking at ways to raise levels of economic activity – private, self-interested activity that is – and to make the place somewhere that firstly people no longer wish to leave and subsequently to which people want to move.

And the evidence from 40 years of regeneration investment in the UK suggests that our approach has failed – the successful places then are, in the main, the successful places now and the unsuccessful places then are still mostly unsuccessful. And these approaches have mirrored the two regeneration strategies – ‘shiny’ and ‘right-on’. Clearly we need a third strategy.

Given that we can’t make successful (or rather relatively successful) people stay in a place – the immigration/emigration issue is a function of free movement – we are left with the matter of private, self-interested economic activity. What we sometimes call business - or should it be 'busy-ness'.

Successful regeneration therefore must be about economic activity – everything else follows from that activity. And just as importantly the economic activity has to be within the place, conducted by the people living there – we can’t import economic activity. We must also remember that economic activity involves a buyer and a seller – dormitory towns in Buckinghamshire are successful and populated by consumers (or rather by people who produce elsewhere and bring that money to the place they live).

In the end regeneration is a matter of economics. And that should be the basis of our third strategy - an idea of 'busy-ness'.

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Sunday, 23 October 2011

How it works...

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When we speak of how Brussels lacks democracy, we point to the opaqueness of its decision-making, its secrecy and the manner in which directives are spawned on the back of private meetings between ministers. We rightly – assuming we are wise – cry foul at the imperious, almost imperialistic, nature of the European Union’s project of centralisation.

But we don’t realise that this system, this thing we condemn so loudly (and rightly), merely reflects on a trans-national scale the system under which we live already? Let me tell you a little story to illustrate.

There is an organisation called the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities (AWYA) – it doesn’t even have a web site:

The AWYA is an association of the five West Yorkshire metropolitan local authorities – Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield.  It was established in 1993 to provide a forum for the discussion and co-ordination of matters of mutual concern and interest.
 
The AWYA acts as the local government voice of West Yorkshire, promoting and lobbying for its interests and identity. It provides a means for the five Councils to reach joint views on proposed legislation and other matters of concern to West Yorkshire, and to express these views to organisations such as the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly (YHA), Local Government Yorkshire and the Humber (LGYH), central government and other appropriate bodies.

All rather grand! But the truth should be more worrying to those who believe that transparency is essential to effective democracy. The AWYA meets periodically – attended by the Leaders and Chief Executives of the five West Yorkshire local councils. It is currently chaired by Ian Greenwood, leader of Bradford Council. It meets in secret and its minutes are not published. And it makes major decisions without reference to the processes in the five local councils (hiding behind words like ‘subject to ratification’ or some such). And these are big decisions:

The Association of West Yorkshire Authorities, with Bradford Council leader Ian Greenwood as chairman, met last month to discuss setting up the West Yorkshire Transport Fund.

Documents obtained by the T&A show a £1bn fund could have a “transformational impact” equivalent to 33km of light rail network, a 60km network of high quality bus rapid transit, or 43km of new roads.

The aim of the fund would be to address the region’s key economic barriers and drivers and, if investment is well targeted, it could add £1bn a year to the region’s economic potential as well as creating 20,000 jobs in the medium term.

It may well be that setting up such a fund is a stonking idea but the way in which the AWYA has arrived at the decision to progress its creation isn’t remotely democratic nor is there any evidence that public scrutiny is possible or of a train of accountability back to the voter. It is, to be blunt, a stitch up promoted by vested interest without reference to the real transport needs of the “sub-region” let alone the specific interests of local communities that actually elect the councillors who are supposed to take these decisions.

And the AWYA is just one such body – we have others in West Yorkshire: the Police Authority, the Local Economic Partnership, something called the Joint Services Board and assorted “City-Region” panels and boards. And below that – at the district level – there’s a further set of such boards, panels and partnerships, all distant from the voter and all designed allow decisions to be made with the minimum of examination by voters.

So next time you rail about Brussels, take a look at your local area and remember that the system there merely reflects the way in which government operates under social democracy and the corporate state.

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Saturday, 22 October 2011

Why we are the 1%...

We are the “one percent” it seems.  We look up from the mess on the floor, point at the most likely culprit, and say; “them, there, they did it – it’s their fault, they made us.”

As we sit in our warm homes with HD TVs, computers, walk-in fridges and other wonders of modern living no-one remembers how the terrible things the bank did helped us to have those things – how we got a slice of the pie too.

And next time we leave the house – sliding into plush, fast motor cars with in-car music systems to visit exotic restaurants or shining picture palaces – we won’t consider that that bubble created these things.

And gave us better health services, improved school facilities, new roads and subsidised care for old folk. Not to mention a gold-plated welfare system and a seemingly endless production line of government jobs and grants.

As these marvels of modern consumer living arose, we didn’t ask; “excuse me sirs, where does all the money come from to make these things, to buy these things?” No, we got out our credit cards, took out the equity release loans and went on a binge. A binge fuelled by governments entirely to serve a political end – the justification of two things.

The first was the consumer society – not the caricature painted by Naomi Klein and others but the real one. The idea that government, through the maintenance of low interest rates by fiat, could ensure the permanence of economic growth. The pseudo-Keynesian canard that it is demand that drives that growth – so forget savings and spend, spend, spend!

Secondly, we saw the absolute triumph of the so-called “mixed economy”. With Blair’s “third way” and Brown’s end to boom and bust, we were present with the culmination of social democracy’s dominant idea – that the heights of the economy can be directed by the state. And that the profits of that direction could be directed to wider social benefit.

We voted for this. Not just once – never to do so again. But repeatedly – we allowed politicians to promise us the moon and stars without asking where those celestial baubles were to come from or how we would pay for them. Mostly, our reaction was something like: “he’s got loads, you can take more off him”; or else, “take money off those doing bad things – we don’t like fags let’s tax that more.” And when we got stuck, hey we could borrow a little more. It wouldn't notice.

The deal failed. It failed because governments got ever greedier for power and cash and bankers exacted a bigger price for the Faustian bargain with financiers.

Today we see protestors unsure whether they should call for some nihilistic endgame, the destruction of the state and its agents, or for the restoration of what was, for the rebuilding of social democracy through borrowing and printing money.

Not one of these protestors seems to point at the Emperor’s nakedness – to point out that the mixed economy failed, that we all tried to borrow ourselves to prosperity.

Maybe it’s because we're the Emperor. It's us that have the new clothes. 

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