Wednesday, 25 March 2015

My Guess Is As Bad As Yours

In the next six weeks the electorate of the UK will be circling the Bermuda Triangle that is British politics while their present leaders and other potential ones attempt to navigate despite all their compasses and other equipment going wild or dead.

The three sides to the triangle are climate change and energy implications, soil degradation and land use and then matters arising from demographics, population and migrations.  The whirlpool in the middle is economic turbulence.

Deep beneath the waters are the great trenches of property, inhabited by voracious beasts and the other connected one of debt, with much the same beasts and other creatures unknown or thought to be long extinct, like our aristocracy.

Further into the deep are many caves, tunnels, holes and the rest that are the places where all our political myths and fantasies let alone dogmas have their slimy origins.  It is a world of taxation, benefits, subsidies and channels for funds going who knows where.

Down at the very bottom lost forever is the wreckage of so many ships of state and airy policies, manifestos, promises, commitments and theories that disappeared without trace often in a puff of mist or a glitch in the magnetic field of events.

We shall never know really what happened and why only what ancient legends, folk tales and fairy tales might claim together with the scraps of rhetoric that learned people who know little allege is political philosophy.

The result will not be what most people would want it to be.  The government that is the consequence is unlikely to be either competent or able properly to function and the agencies of state will be largely obeying the instructions and directives of foreign entities.

To add to this is the problem of what is truth and what it means.  On the LSE site in an article referring to the Hillsborough Disaster Nick Turnbull and Dave Richards say:


It might be that in some cases, the long-run lie has paid off for public officials and their institutions.

The time lag provides its own inertia, because it seems too late to redress the failings. But more importantly, we must ask the question can the deep culture of secrecy within the British state ever change?

Secrecy is a tradition that is relied upon by decision makers of all stripes, to give them a measure of autonomy and distance from potential criticism, regardless of the quality of their decisions.

In such a culture, any given individual who wishes to lie can likely count on his or her colleagues to actively participate in the deception, not just for self-interest but because it is a way of governing, a grounding idea embedded in our institutions.


If what little we know or are told is untrue or only adjacent to the truth and at the same time there is a lot we do not know and are not going to be told, some of which may emerge in a distant future or it may not then we are all playing guessing games.

So we do not have  three guesses or any at all in reality.  The answers may never really emerge but if they do only in the long run.

What did John Maynard Keynes say in "Tract on Monetary Reform" in 1923?

"The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again."

But not perhaps in the Bermuda Triangle.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Grave Issues

When the coffin with the remains of King Richard III was borne out of the front door of the University of Leicester old building today en route for the ceremonies for his reburial, I wondered if Sir David Attenborough was there.

He was certainly doing a kind of ancestry over the weekend in the Midlands, visiting the Attenborough Borough Nature Centre in Nottinghamshire up the road.

He is very familiar with the front door in question in that as a youngster his father was Principal of the then University College of Leicester and living on the job.  The back door of the building led directly into the school he attended, Wyggeston Boys Grammar where he did Science and rugger among other things.

There would have been a little history done although what period is not known.  Whether or not he visited the Greyfriars car park in which the remains of King Richard III were found is not certain.  This was then County Council property and not City; as I knew when I parked my Vespa Scooter on the King's grave over fifty years ago.

If David was anything of a cyclist he may well have biked out to Market Bosworth and the field of battle.  It was an easy ride in the days when cars were rare, lorries even more so and when white van drivers were simply a nightmare of the future.

David is a naturalist, a scientist and a formidable thinker in terms of what is happening to the earth and its beings and the dangers we are creating for ourselves.  In the days of the pious King Richard III if "natural philosophers" and "alchemists" came up with ideas that the high clergy did not like or were inconvenient to them such men might well be burned at stakes.

In this period the March of Science was less a triumphal event than a furtive scribbling and secret meetings among men for whom discretion was necessary and fear a reality.  Going into print was a high risk and major challenge to not just the present but the eternal future.  The sun and universe went round the earth and you had better believe it.

But were it not for the most advanced techniques in the science of genetics and ground breaking work that is changing the basis of science, medicinal knowledge and our thinking about the past we would not know that the bones that were found were those of King Richard III or able to judge the collateral evidence.  It is all about the DNA.

By one of those twists in the story, my connection to this business is not simply where I parked my scooter but the same people did my own DNA which was volunteered for a research project a little time ago.  This did not work out as well as they hoped.  But it led them to improve the science and ability to identify.

As we go back through the generations we have more and more ancestors in each generation.  The result is not only wider and wider direct lines but connections as well.  A consequence will be that among the UK population will be very large numbers who descend from cousins  of King Richard III.  Estimates can vary but the numbers are still big.

David currently is under something of a cloud in that he is one of those who believes that one of the major problems facing Earth is humanity.  The extraordinary growth in our population he thinks is doing a lot of damage.  Given, for example the amount of damage that the Plantagenet's did to each other, this is not surprising.

What is intriguing here is not so long ago these views were part of the general debate about world population.  Yet suddenly this has been pushed out of the public arena.  Instead of population limits it is now driving up population figures that is the aim of major parties.  The issue of sustainability is out, rapid population increase to drive economic growth is in.

The awkward question about whether the economic growth will be more than or a lot less than population growth is ignored.  This has been buried and left to a later generation to discover.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


The phone rang; it was someone I knew in Sheffield.  It was a tip off, there were some returned tickets for the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough going on sale, the Sheffield Wednesday ground,  but you had to be quick.

Doing a Nicki Lauda type run I made it in time to get a couple.  This was 1974 when Newcastle United, with MacDonald wearing the number 9 and scoring twice beat Burnley.  During the 70's and 80's, I was at Hillsborough a handful of times, as well as Bramall Lane, the other Sheffield United ground.

When the Hillsborough Disaster occurred in 1989, I had over forty years of attending soccer and rugby matches, sometimes in the stands, especially if with our youngsters, sometimes on the terraces.

A couple of times I made into Director's Boxes and on one occasion the Royal Box at Wembley with HRH Princess Anne there and the benefit of a good long lunch to prepare me for the rigours of being quiet and correct, unlike at times on the terraces.

In the late 1940's there was one mid week game, rare then before floodlights, when Liverpool, where I was staying, were at Bolton.  The station was just across the park so it was an easy trip.  Also, being mid week then the crowd would have been thin.  This was a couple of years after the Bolton Wanderers Burnden Park Disaster with loss of life and I was on the same terrace.  It was easy to see how it happened.

In those forty odd years, because of moving around, being here and there, being in places and looking for something to do going to a game that happened to be on, there was a lot of experience in many grounds to draw on when I was looking at the TV footage of the Hillsborough Disaster in 1989.

In particular I knew the Leppings Lane end from being in the West Stand behind the goal.  A feature of the way in to this West Stand and the terrace in front of it was that it was relatively small and therefore much easier to police and control.

As Sheffield had two what were then major teams almost every Saturday during the season one or other team would be playing at home and with sizeable crowds.  At Hillsborough one area of major concern would certainly have been the East Bank behind the other goal, wholly standing, very large and steep as was the Burnden Park in Bolton.

The Sheffield soccer fans were no less attached to avoiding thirst as any others and no less lively in their conduct.  The old Sheffield County Borough Police would have been familiar with this and were known to have a let us say rigorous approach to crowd control.  Part of the game, it might be said.

But this police force in 1974 was merged into the new South Yorkshire Police Force on local government reorganisation.  At that time a good many senior police officers took early retirement to make way for younger men; some who as well as wearing uniform could talk the management speak then coming into fashion.

You had a new organisation with a new philosophy with a much wider area in which Sheffield was only a part.  The basics of traffic and crowd control were of lesser standing.  By 1989 the managers were the top men.

My personal view, purely as an outsider with no interest beyond my own experience of crowds and stadia, was that when the Disaster occurred something had gone very badly wrong.

And it had gone wrong in the policing and crowd management, crucially in first managing the flows into the streets around Leppings Lane and then in the relatively small shared area behind the West Stand and the Leppings Lane Terrace.

It may have been that the police in that area were too few or did not have relevant experience.  It might have been a sudden communications and chain of command breakdown at the time when inflows were at their greatest.

But it might have been a failure of command and planning, in which case  senior management and their political affiliates would have been those responsible.

Given that only a year before there had been problems and by the late 1980's it must have been apparent from a great deal of crowd history what might happen it was a major failure and at a senior level.

Now we know and what I would like to know is who exactly was instrumental in the way the investigations and enquiries were handled to tell the lies and to defame the dead.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Eclipse Of Jeremy Clarkson

Staring hard at the TV screen this morning, I learned two things.

One is that as well as not looking at the sun directly during today's eclipse, it is also better for the health not to stare at the BBC News Channels.  Another was that as the screen was between my feet on such occasions the toenails are best covered from clear sight.

For those in foreign parts unused to state broadcasting systems or under the sway of Murdoch Media the story of the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson, who fronts the BBC motor mania programme "Top Gear" will be a strange story.

Even stranger is that near on a million people have mailed the BBC to plead his reinstatement, grown men weep in the streets and grown women will be telling each other it is just another bloody man thing.

He is alleged by himself to have biffed his boss on the bonk in a dispute about culinary matters.  Being alpha males of course, it had to be steak.  Red in tooth and claw and all that.

As someone averse to bossy loud presenters of any kind and who has done his own car thing in the past, "Top Gear" has been very low down on the watch list, low enough never to be watched.

But Jeremy Clarkson did appear in one BBC programme rather higher on the list, one of the "Who Do You Think You Are" family history series, confirming to all those with ancient prejudices their ideas on the nature of Yorkshiremen.

One key family in his personal history was the descent from the Kilner glass making family famed for its preserving jars which grace the kitchens of so many ladies who cook for real and natural.

There is only one conclusion to be drawn from all this.

The BBC bottled it.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Then And Now

Sixty years ago to the month in 1955 a radical change was under way in British politics.  Churchill was standing down at the age of 80 to make way for Anthony Eden, who then cleared the decks to seek an election in the hope of securing a clear majority moving on from the hiatus since 1950 of governments needing to compromise with lesser parties.

Eden was 57, an age when Prime Ministers now look to retire early to spend more time with their financial advisers.  He had been a long time as Conservative Leader In Waiting and wanted to make a mark that was entirely his and not just as a key member of a Cabinet.

That election lasted 34 days, not weeks.  Eye and ear battered electors today can only dream of such a short period.  Even more than then there was some attention to key issues and fairly free of stunts, trivia, idiot ploys and such stupidities.

In 1955, for those that had it, there was just one channel of TV screening, the BBC, for limited hours and keeping politics to minimum reporting.  The radio was also careful about how much and what was said.  One of the chief political luminaries allowed on screen was Lord Boothby who also featured on the Radio "Any Questions".

Boothby was in theory a Conservative, but not as we know it.  Today he would be at home well to the Left.  See Wikipedia for his career in full and colourful private life.  As at the time much of this was known in the "right" quarters it says a lot about both the BBC and others.

But there were meetings which were often well attended.  I recall that in 1950 and 1951 the party leaders could command mass audiences and often in local meetings there could be a decent turn out to see and hear who was on offer.  I believe it was the same in 1955 and I know it was in 1959.

I was detached from this being abroad; over the hills and far away as the old song has it.  Now and again a newspaper would turn up days late and there was always faint jumbled BBC radio if the atmospherics were willing and the set was good enough.

Blighty was a dream world where there were pubs, an ordinary social life and you could sleep in.  Politics was off the agenda for most of us, a distant arcane ritual for adults who really ought to know better.

It is arguable how much real interest most of the population took in the campaign efforts that penetrated the average home.  If you were doing fifty plus hours a week there wasn't much time left after the basics of life.

My memory is the theory that most votes cast were those of habit, class or identity etc. So the race was on for any new voters, what was thought of as the marginal floating vote and that meant effort in constituencies that might be won or lost, the "marginals".

What mattered for most, given the history of the previous twenty five years was jobs, a feeling of security, housing, pensions and the basis of the welfare state.  We had been promised a new and better world during the War and the voters wanted it. to keep it and to keep the jobs they had.  They were never told a new age was on the way.

For many Defence still mattered a great deal and for some the dream of Empire still existed while for others the dream was of a family of nations living and working together in harmony.  For some it was a harmony led by the Soviets, for others the USA.  For most ordinary people the colour and output of Hollywood led the way.

At "the pictures", the newsreels did not tell us much only to remind us noisily of how limited and easily persuaded most of us were.  For many in the cinema it was the chance to go to relieve oneself or get an ice cream.

In the election itself Clement Attlee, then 72 with his lungs beginning to go, still led the Labour Party, trying to steer an uneven course between Bevan and sundry left wingers and the youngster Gaitskell, 49, and his Hampstead intellectual coterie of relative centrist socialism.

For many electors Bevan was too bossy and strident and Gaitskell rather detached from the masses and dangerously young.  Eden romped home in the end and the electorate hoped for a settled period of progress for a while, thinking he was a steady steersman at the helm.

Wrong again, just over a year later he had plunged Britain into a major foreign crisis, The Suez Affair, which brought on a fuel crisis in turn.  This had been done out of arrogance and the attempt to prove that he was leader of a major power and still a big player.

So sixty years ago we had an election in which we had well known leaders, all with some experience.  The election result gave a government with a clear mandate and fair prospects.  Yet it all went very bad very soon and it was international events as much as any which plagued it.

It was another world far away from the present.  But are the prospects any better?

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Budget 2015

It is difficult to know what to say about this Budget, even more so than most.  Is it a triumph or a turkey? 

My nine bob note says that by Autumn we will have another one.  Whichever way the election goes blame will be the game.

This three minute dance band fox trot and voice item from the early 1930's, perhaps a signal date, seems to be the best comment at the moment.

Common in recordings of that period is a longish intro' before the voice comes in with the ditty.

They don't make them like that any more.

I never could do the fox trot.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Nicola Knocks On London Doors?

In some parts of the media there has been crabby comment about Nicola Sturgeon's lecture at the LSE on 16 March.  This is tiresome and discourteous and likely to cause more resentment than progress.  There is no need for this.

The lecture is here and runs to 55 minutes, 28 from Nicola and the rest questions and is clear, if often detailed listening.  Make up your own mind.   Click on the Audio button and on my machine at least it comes up loud and clear.

Whether or not I might agree or disagree with anything that is being said, as a lecture there is little wrong with it structurally or the way it is argued.

She is the Leader of the SNP and came down to London at a venue convenient for our media and others giving a better chance of getting these views and policies over at a crucial time in the general election campaign.  She is a persuasive and intelligent speaker mercifully different from one who shall be nameless.

The LSE hosts lectures and events of this kind for many and various political leaders from across the world.  In this case the LSE strap line is that she aims to connect with the Reformist Left which is probably as good a description as any.

When she suggests that what is and what goes on at Westminster is far from good in many ways and needs radical change you do not need to be SNP to agree with this.  My problem is with the Reformist Left and a number of basic assumptions about the future.

One matter is the airy references to long term plans.  When I was young and optimistic and believed government might govern there was a time when long term plans seemed a good idea. Bitter experience has told me that they are a swirling fantasy of the mind doomed to disappoint.

It would take thousands of words to explain but what I would assert that the pace of change and events now means that there is no long term and unlikely even to be a medium term.  So if the financial players are short term they are simply brutally practical.

Moreover to win power the political brokers in our present set up have to win over many of the lower earning groups to the point where they will vote for them.  This means promises about jobs, housing and earnings that possibly can only be fulfilled by what is called the redistribution of income.

But when that involves disincentives for savings, creating money on the basis of debt, spending programmes that will never have any return on investment and handing out money for anything and everything that is demanded and lastly claiming that things will be free when they are not free, necessarily there may be adverse economic effects.

Couple this with a need to keep the big money men and players onside and supporting them and you have economies that are distorted, little real governance and possibly monolithic state run economies and facilities that are effectively controlled by their employees.

An added issue of what kind of population do you think you are governing.  Clearly the reformist Left with its policy of open borders does not like most of the existing legacy population and is anxious to replace enough of it with one that will offer loyal support and tip the balance forever to the Left.

Also there is the financial system that will exist.  At present many places in the world have placed their trust in the money flows generated by major money players.

But like any state that depends on a limited sphere of activity this makes it highly vulnerable.  We know now that the resource curse equally applies to finance as a curse.

The SNP vision of the future is a lost world of the recent past.  Only this sleeping beauty will not be wakened with a kiss.