Wednesday, 20 February 2019

The Day Of The Jackal

It was in the late 70's and we were taking a long straight D Road up to the ports in northern France with a large trailer bouncing around behind full of kit. Suddenly a couple of motor cycle police appeared and ordered us to pull over.

Wondering what gestures exactly the young ones had been making as we passed through the previous town I felt it best to get out and start apologising first. They were quite apologetic in return, having noticed my old divisional symbol on the rear, and asked me to wait.

Then I realised why when a cavalcade of other police motor cyclists, black Citroen DS cars and sleek vans came past. It was President Giscard D'Estaing on his way north. As they moved off the police beckoned me to follow.

So not far behind we belted along roads that had been cleared.  I realised that my heap and swinging trailer made a good road block to prevent anything else passing. Eventually we swung off at our turn getting a cheery wave from one of the police.

Watching the film "The Day Of The Jackal" brought back memories of time and places. The border point at Ventimiglia was as bad on film as in real life. How was it that when we were supposed to be so much poorer so many people looked a lot smarter and healthier?

The film is an example of how good film making could be especially when free of the compulsory clatter, big noise, crashing, in your face, blindingly obvious and posturing of so many productions both on film and on stage. In some ways it is a piece of history.

It was a story and fiction but the film has the feel of some reality and ordinary life of the time and deals with it straight and without exaggeration. It was a different world inhabited by different people in their behaviour, reactions and what they did and why.

The parts that did jerk the memory was the banging away on typewriters and communications. It looks almost primitive and closer to the Middle Ages compared to what is available now.

Of course, if our leaders get their energy and some other policies wrong in the next decade, then the film may be more like an advanced civilisation that had peaked.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Going Potty

Education has not been the same since the decline and fall of the Ink Monitors. At one time in an Elementary School (5-14 then leave school) each class might have one. Mostly “he’s”, they would be a trusted pupil and if they proved reliable, polite and diligent they might earn a reference to be a shop assistant or even a clerk.

They learned to check the ink pot at each desk, judge the quantity necessary and pour in the right amount of ink from a jar. To do this they would have to be entrusted with access to the classroom cupboard and would both obtain and return the jar properly and without supervision.

This was integral to a whole culture of steel pen nibs and scarce paper when writing was a form of calligraphy and care needed in the shaping of each letter, the accuracy of each word and the whole structure of a sentence and paragraph. It is a world long since lost.

But think of what might have happened in our modern age had ink still been in use. It is certain that persons of 15-17 or any younger age could never be allowed to undertake such onerous duties.

Nor could teachers or cleaning staff, it would be outside their conditions of service. There would have to be Writing Materials Replenishment Assistants with negotiated salaries and comparable conditions of service.

This would take management and to avoid the post code lottery of differences a staff at local authority level to co-ordinate, manage and supply the needed staff and materials. Clearly high level consultancy would need to be brought in to satisfy the auditors and others that it was all to be done as it should be.

But could local authorities actually be entirely trusted with matters of this kind? It would cry out for central direction and thinking. Possibly, it would begin as part of one government department or another.

Then in recent years an Ink Procurement and Inspection Agency would have been established with fully staffed at salary levels to compete with senior management in the financial sector to ensure that all the angles were covered, the targets set and statistics and supervision ensured.

There would be research budgets. A new department would be funded at the University of East Dunwich or somewhere to ensure only inks of the highest quality, specifications and safety standards were in use and to develop new inks.

The standardisation of ink procurement would mean major contracts with all that this entailed. No doubt agreements would be reached in some foreign place for out sourcing all the production for transport by container ships. This would help the UK carbon footprint and rid the nation of all the nasty inky manufacturing pollutants.

By some miracle of accounting and with all the consultancy, financing and layers of management and control the filling of ink pots would become critical to keeping up the GDP and stimulation of the velocity of circulation of public sector funding.

The big question is given the need to increase the consumption of ink during a time of economic difficulty whether the use of ink pellets (wodges of paper dripping with ink used as a missile fired by the skilled use of rubber bands) by alienated victims of oppression in the classroom should be subject to reduced or no regulation.

Perhaps the Lords and Commons should be equipped with rubber bands and pellets to chase each other round instead of just standing there yapping.

Even better in The Commons they could all chase Bercow, the tiresome Speaker.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Striking A Pose McDonnell

The war on Churchill continues, this time John McDonnell, Deputy etc. of the Labour Party revisits the 1910 miners strike in Wales, notably Tonypandy when troops were sent in to maintain law and order. I wish that John and his friends, just now and again, would look at the detail.

Churchill was Home Secretary at the time in a Liberal cabinet, repeat Liberal. Law and order was one of his briefs. Troops, however, were under the War Office. Does John realise that the Army was run by the War Office?

This meant any decision to deploy troops was a Cabinet decision who would decide whether the Home Office was handling it, or the War Office. As this was not a war and the armed forces came in from nearby it was left to the Home Office.

The Churchill Project tells the fuller story. What also needs care is that policing was quite different then, much more localised and much more vulnerable when confronted with larger and the more organised groups of the revolutionary movements of the time.

It is a pity that John ignores another occasion when troops were sent in by Prime Minister Attlee. It was the summer of 1945 not long after the General Election had filled the House of Commons with "The Red Flag" singing MP's of the Labour Party.

The trouble for them was that there was a lot to be done in a country in a state of ruin, very little time and less money. One of the major challenges was very basic food supplies. I know, I was there and eating anything that could be chewed, including the neighbours prize rabbits.

Food rationing gave only the bare essentials at best. So what did the dockers of Liverpool do? They went on strike to prevent mechanised handling and modern facilities being introduced as well as for wages and conditions. If the stoppage continued very many people would starve to death as was happening across Europe.

Was Robert McDonnell, John's grandfather, a Leftist Trade Union Official (his 1939 listing, I was around the corner just out of nappies) one of those who were prepared to see that happen in the first weeks of the new Labour Government of 1945?

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Tax Gathering

In the debate about what the problems are and what is to be done it is clear that much of the media and many of the politicians simply have not realised the degree of change that has occurred since the 1980’s.

So when faced with practical problems of key importance now and for the immediate future the debate is couched in arguments and policy platforms that are disengaged from what is actually out there.

A feature of the debate on taxation is the lack of understanding of the realities.  We have a government claiming to be attacking tax evasion and criminality yet depending for its work and key support on people who pay comparatively little tax.

But this is tax avoidance which is applauded by many as a worthwhile feature of the economy to advance growth etc.. Cutting through the complications this means that we have an economy part of which is The Taxable Economy and the rest The Alternative Economy.

The Taxable Economy is not large enough to fund the government’s needs for revenue and to some degree real lending. Nor in present conditions can it be made large enough in the foreseeable future to cover the spending and associated plans. Also, year on year it is declining in real terms.

The Alternative Economy has three parts.  One is the legal activities by which tax is less than it might be for those who might pay.  This is broader than people assume given the many and varied nature of the tax breaks handed out to all sorts of people and activities. This includes tax avoidance as we know it.

The second is the range of activities that escape tax. This covers activities such as Barter, DIY, helping out the family or the neighbours, voluntary work, “community” work etc. This is normal unrecorded activity that has been part of life.  In the past for many, especially in the poorer sections of the population, this was a part of their personal economy.

The third is the illegal sector. Tax evasion, bootlegging, knock-offs, petty thieving (M.P.’s expenses come to mind), pilfering, drugs, trafficking of one kind or another and money laundering and all the full range activity outside the law to yield income and profit with little or no tax being paid.

If my wife cuts my hair without charge, this is Alternative 2. If I claim hair cutting on my expenses, this changes it to Alternative 3. If we set up a charity to cut the hair of the poor at low cost and this allows tax breaks then it is Alternative 1.

If we set up a company registered in Jersey, cut hair as a job and ensure that the revenues go there and avoid tax again this is Alternative 1. If you think that this is unlikely we have a jobbing builder along the street who does just that.

To make matters worse for the imbalance between realisable tax revenue and obligations in the spending commitments of government there is a range of payments that worsen the situation.

One is the discouragement of employment by over regulation and haphazard rules and another is all the obligations to give money to people from whom little or no tax can be realised other than on their spending.

In short the government’s own spending in many areas exacerbates the problem and adds to the tax breaks that have been handed round to win friends and votes.

Government now has to increase the burden severely on those who have to operate within The Taxable Economy, now largely middling and lower income people. It might be tempting to tax property, but as the USA is finding out, having such a tax is great when the values are rising, but a disaster when they crash.

Taxing the rich will catch comparatively few because many are already in The Alternative Economy and so much of UK economic activity is run by people in other countries. Moreover, as many countries are engaged in a race to the bottom in taxation it will be hard to accomplish.

My fear is that there is no way out of the maze and worse still neither the media nor the politicians have the faintest idea of what has happened under their noses.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Singing Songs

The contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, 1912-1953, who died tragically young, left a legacy only of recorded music and little film for us to judge her. Those who do remember her in live performance had no doubt about the quality of her voice and performance.

She is regarded as almost the quintessential English voice of the period in its tone and inflections. Known as an ordinary girl from an ordinary family in Blackburn, Lancashire she represented the wonderful choral tradition of that area at the time.

However, it may not be as simple as that. One favourite song is “I have a bonnet trimmed with blue”, sung sweetly and with feeling, here at one minute:

The poignancy of the song is that her grandmother, born Elizabeth Gorton and a Lancashire lass, was a bonnet maker who grew up in the hard farming life of high country Lancashire, near Accrington. Like many farmers in such country in the 1840’s, her family had to move on to the town to find a living at whatever level was available.

Many of the strands of her family history are Lancashire, but there is more to it than that. Her father was a Ferrier but her mother was a Murray, both of whose male ancestors turned up in Lancashire and married local girls.

As the textile and related industries boomed in the later 19th Century there were large inflows of people from across the Atlantic Isles to help meet the demand for basic levels of labour.

They brought with them their own music and ideas. In many parts of England where numbers of Scots arrived it was common to organize a pipe band, nearly all gone. There is one that still exists, The Accrington Pipe Band, formed in 1885.

Quite how Scottish Kathleen’s great grandfather Murray may have been is an interesting question, the contradictory birthplaces suggest a military issue. One likely candidate is the William Murray born in Manchester to a soldier of the 1st Kings Dragoon Guards, whose regimental depot then was at Dunbar.

For the Ferrier’s again there is a military connection, this time a great grandfather who was a regular soldier and whose birthplace is given as St. Florence, near Tenby in Wales. His regiment served in Ireland, so grandfather may have been born there.

So there we have a Lancashire English Rose with Wales, Ireland and Scotland probably in her family background. It would be unusual if it were not so typical.

It is worse, however, her father, William Ferrier was born at Aintree by Liverpool which makes him a Scouser.

Blow the wind southerly.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Supremacy For All

A media story has been about the racism of Winston Churchill, 1874 to1965, and that he should be put in the dustbin of history. He began as a cavalry officer in the 4th Hussars in 1895 and at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 took part with the 21st Lancers in a real battle for supremacy against a major Islamic army. Had Britain lost the Middle East may have been lost and a different world emerge.

My only connection with him was that having played rugby against the 4th Hussars, when he was Honorary Colonel, I was told in the mess that the result would be on his desk as soon as possible, he liked to keep in touch. It had been, let us say, an untidy game. Was my career and future doomed, I wondered?

He liked to mark Empire Day which was introduced in 1902 by Lord Salisbury, Tory Prime Minister and one of the Cecil family. It had to be celebrated by schools for a long while after. My Elementary School Head was ticked off for ignoring it and concentrating on divinity and God first and ordered to put on a good show or else by the local Inspector.

This meant a senior girl being a Britannia flanked by the big boys of the senior class with most of the pupils blacked up to be the grateful recipients of British rule in one place or another. We were not sure where, the school being short of maps. The Inspector was delighted. My parents were not and there was an almighty row.

Stage makeup was expensive, but the caretaker had come up with a mix of coal dust and greases. Effective, but not washable. Best shirts were spoiled and the skin stayed black for some time, causing our school derision from others. Empire Day continued but without the stage effects. We stayed white.

In a sense therefore, everyone alive at the time and who attended a school, state or private, had the Empire thing and be by definition a party to White Supremacy. Whatever Churchill may or may not have thought, when he went into politics he had to preach the virtues of Empire and British Rule to win his majority.

What few 21st Century witch hunters do not realise, is that it had many faces and was rooted in the science and history theories of the period and on the Left as well as the Right. One field was the Eugenicists and their ideas of race. A key figure was Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders who retired as Director of LSE in 1957 not long after the Suez Crisis told us that the Great Game was lost. His successor was Sir Sydney Caine who was expert in the field of demographic statistics and population size.

Lord Beveridge was one of them, another LSE man and a Son Of The Raj, whose famous Report on which the Welfare State was based owed a great deal to the idea of stratified descent and class. The upper class had to take care of the lesser lower classes or else. Attlee had been a tutor at LSE and also derived his ideas from them.

The Eugenics School had gone into retreat by the 1960's and the march of science, DNA, the study of the long past and demographics tells us it is all a lot more complicated than we thought and there is a long way to go and a lot of research to be done.

As for Churchill, his mother was American, one of the wealthy Jerome family who brought much needed loot to the high spend Duke of Marlborough, his father, and whose money helped in launching his career not least his claim to American antecedents. This came in very useful in World War 2.

There is no documentary evidence only a family story that one of the Jerome ancestors was an Iroquois warrior, that is First Nation. But the Jerome's were happy with it as a claimed part of their American heritage and so was Churchill.

One way or another until well into the 20th Century the concept of supremacy was embedded in most political and social thinking. It is ironic to pick on Churchill who was one of the rare people claiming descent from a subject population.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Theoretically Speaking

There are a lot of theories to explain what is and it is time to develop new thinking on issues of political economy. In the 1950’s the hot money was on Keynes ideas versus Marxism-Leninism.

Keynsian ideas were convincing. The trouble was the real world and especially politicians.  To operate his ideas you needed to make the right decisions; however politically difficult, and at the right time. You also needed reliable statistics, and we know that politicians  hate the statistics  to be reliable or to be unwelcome.

Here is my Flying Pig theory of economic history.  It suggests that is in each generation or historical period a government has it most cherished prestige, aggressive, or politically popular ideas that it sells hard, builds its policies and structures around, and  are intended to last forever. We have had our share, one being the British Empire.

In Europe Napoleon did his best but ran out of men. In Germany the Third Reich was supposed to be good for a thousand years. There was a Holy Roman Empire, and an Ottoman Empire, all gone. More recently there used to be The American Dream.

In financial terms the UK started off in 1945 with a fixed exchange rate, based on the 1926 figures, in order to maintain its position as a world power (using American money). That failed almost within months, so the fixed rate went to a lower figure. This lasted until 1966 doing untold economic damage until we crashed out to an even lower figure.

That  held until the mid 1970’s when that Flying Pig was grounded, and in the 1980’s Mrs. Thatcher managed to persuade people that another Flying Pig, subsidising defunct 19th Century industries at the expense of everything else was no longer feasible.

Unluckily the cure with similar ideas in the United States of America, launched a flock of Flying Pigs. Among these flights of fancy in the UK, was the notion of trusting money merchants, who as non-tax paying “Non Doms” and High Net Worth Individuals with their wealth, in tax havens, linked to the UK created a huge financial services sector that was the equivalent of taking in each other's washing.

This propped up a London property market which has deformed the economy and created a national bubble, exported world wide. But the government were never in control of this. There was debt creation, churning the Gross Domestic Product figures higher and higher with government and personal debt.

To keep the employment figures respectable public expenditure was vastly expanded beyond income. Another Flying Pig is the pension entitlements of public sector workers that can only be maintained if the other Flying Pigs remain airborne.

To return to the 1950’s there were other branches of economic theory on offer.  One was a disregarded attachment to classical economics that morphed in America to monetarism. There was the Austrian school and another was corporatism, a hangover from the early communitarian and temperance movements, and another was Welfare Economics.

This was not as its name may suggest. It required a hard analysis of what exactly we were doing and what it was supposed to be for in real terms rather than money or other terms. It relied less on mathematics than a real appreciation of what was happening on the ground. But the idea of trying to establish what living in the real world involved and how to stay stable was anathema to the politicians and the media.

If you want to try  some Welfare Economics try Shopping Trolley analysis when idling your time away at the check-outs. How many of the goods in peoples trolleys do they actually ”need”, not want, not marketed, nor the rest, but need in the strictest sense of the word?

Another is the motorway test. If you want to increase economic growth simply persuade people to make lots of unnecessary journeys around motorways rather than saving, and build huge centres for them to visit that are full of useless tat for them to spend money that has been borrowed to buy it, so creating additional monetary flows in interest payments.

Such an idea would be absolutely crazy wouldn’t it?  But it is one of the Flying Pigs we have been worshiping and  the only solution the Government can think of is to try to resuscitate it, and try to catapult it airborne before the next election.