UK General Election

The advertising techniques of politics – spin, polling, soundbites, focus groups – leave so little room for serious discussion of what is wrong and how to put it right that everyone is feeling very cynical about politics. So I am surprised and pleased that the question of rich people and big companies not paying their taxes has become a big issue. And the question of growing inequality, which is an issue across the world, is also surfacing more and more. It reminds you of the value of one person one vote!

All the evidence seems to be that neither of the big parties will get a majority, so we will see complicated coalition or party-understanding talks following the election. The biggest possibility is a Labour government supported by an understanding with the Scottish Nationalist party. This may not happen, but I think it’s the best possibility on offer. (I think Milliband is a radical and decent man and that if he becomes prime minister, people will be surprised that he is much more impressive than they think given the constant jibing against him. I hope I am right!) A Labour/SNP Government would be far more radical and equitable than the existing government. It would be even better if there also had to be an understanding with the Green party.

But it is early days and it may look very different on 7 May.


The situation in eastern Ukraine is dreadful and the tension between the West and Russia very dangerous. Putin’s Russia is not a lovely place but the stand he is taking on Ukraine is very popular in Russia because both Putin and most Russian people see Ukraine as part of the historical hinterland of Russia. As I have said before, the EU should not have held out the possibility of Ukraine joining the EU, and even worse NATO should not have suggested that Ukraine should join NATO. This made Russia feel surrounded and threatened so that whatever the price they are paying because of sanctions, they will continue with their resistance. Gorbachev was promised that NATO would not expand up to the Russian borders and that promise has been broken. Ukraine should be free to trade with Europe and Russia. Its people who include both Ukrainian and Russian speakers should be able to speak their language and relate to their neighbours. Membership of the EU and NATO should be ruled out. I very much hope that the Merkel/Hollande peace initiative works out but the American neocons want it to fail and the Russians are feeling paranoid, so the dangers remain.

Charlie Hebdo

I have not seen this magazine, but I have seen reproductions of some of its cartoons and found them profoundly distasteful and unfunny. Of course it is terrible and wrong that so many of their staff were killed, but I certainly wouldn’t have marched under a banner saying “I am Charlie”. It is worth remembering that 52 people died and 700 were injured in the London tube bombing in 2005. The leaders of the world did not come to London to march in opposition to this ugly bombing. The UK had I think learned in response to the provisional IRA bombing campaigns that a massive reaction somehow plays into the hands of the bombers. It is also notable that France allowed no demonstrations against the recent bombardment of Gaza; and that France has prosecuted people for calling for support for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the apartheid system in Israel. I’m afraid this demonstrates total bias in French public life.

It was notable also how the leaders scuttled to Saudi Arabia after the death of the king. This is the country that spreads the hate-filled, distorted version of Islam that inspires Al Qaeda and IS. It also beheads large numbers of people every month. But it is rich with oil money and pro-Western and thus the hypocrisy continues.

Greek elections

‘One person one vote’ has produced a revolution in Greek voting behaviour. A totally new party has won the election. It calls for the ditching of the austerity program imposed by the EU and IMF, which has caused great suffering and and an increase in Greek debt. The party also says very clearly that the Greek oligarchs have to be reined in and made to pay their taxes. So far the EU, and Germany in particular, have said they will not compromise with Greek democracy. This is very shocking. Most economists agree that the Greek austerity program is a disaster and is preventing economic development in Greece which would enable the country to pay off its debts. And as Martin Wolf said in the Financial Times, the EU is an alliance of nation states not an Empire. I think and hope there will be a compromise, and then quite likely a similar party will make a big advances in Spain. Again it reminds us why our ancestors struggled so hard for ‘one person one vote’.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

3,400 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Europe in 2014 according to UNHCR. And still the people-smugglers control this movement and people pay large sums of money to criminals to try to get into countries that will give them the chance to build a better life. Isn’t it shocking that we don’t sit down together and think of a better way of managing this problem? If the UN Convention on refugees was renegotiated it could lay down that anyone fleeing their country for asylum must be accommodated by UNHCR as near as possible to their country of origin. All such movements of people should immediately be reported to the Security Council to try to remedy the cause of the displacement. And OECD countries should agree to accommodate reasonable numbers of asylum-seekers with their families in a proper organised way. If some such agreement was put in place, people who tried to enter illegally could be sent back to the camps and then the whole movement controlled by people-smugglers would come to a halt. It is very surprising that we don’t have a debate about how to manage this problem better, and instead spend billions trying to prevent asylum-seekers getting into our countries.

Guantánamo Bay

I have just read the book Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi. There are lots of redactions, but it is very readable and a personalised reminder that there are many completely innocent people who have been put through hellish torture still in Guantánamo Bay.

Interesting facts

  • The US has exercised its veto 42 times to protect Israel from condemnation for its actions, mostly in the Palestinian occupied territories (FT editorial 1/11/14 calling for US to cease to always protect Israel in the Security Council).
  • Between 1514 and 1886 as many as 12.5 million Africans was sent to the Americas; almost half were shipped after 1776, the year of the US Revolution (FT 1/11/14, review of The Empire of Necessity).
  • By 2020 three out of four Africans will be under 20 (FT Javier Blas 3/11/14); by 2030 40% of the children in the world will live in Africa (UNICEF Generation 2030).
  • The Black Death arrived in England in 1348 and wiped out half the population. But England fared better than its neighbours in the aftermath because of the scarcity of labour and the accumulated legal rights of peasants; serfdom was brought to an end 400 years earlier than in most European countries (Christopher Silver reviewing Robert Tombs, The English and their history, FT 22/11/14).
  • Buildings are the third largest contributor to Britain’s carbon-dioxide emissions after power generation and transport, amounting to 18% of all emissions according to the Carbon Trust (FT 25/11/14).
  • The UK has the second highest proportion of low-skilled jobs in the industrialised world, beaten only by Spain according to the OECD (FT 25/11/14).
  • In 1950 private credit in advanced economies was 50% of GDP. By 2007 it was 170%. Debt owed by the public and private sector has actually increased as a percentage of GDP from 170% five years ago to 200% today… Government deficits should be financed with new money created by the central bank and added permanently to the money supply (Adair Turner FT 11/11/14).
  • The history of paganism in Britain spans more than 30,000 years, almost the whole time humans have inhabited these islands, compared with a few State-enforced Christian centuries in the mediaeval and early modern period (Tom Shippey LRB 6/11/14).
  • Estimates by the OECD of foreign-born populations of its member states in 2011 was 11–13% for US, UK, Germany and France. Switzerland was 27.3%. And the flow of global migration doubled between 2000– 2010 compared to the previous decade(Gideon Rachman FT 2/12/12).
  • China has 200 million more urban residents than it did a decade ago. China is urbanising at a rate of 1.8 million a month according to the World Bank (FT 2/12/14).
  • According to the World Meteorological Office 2014 is likely to be the warmest year on record. The UK is on course for the warmest year in a record stretching back to 1656, as well as its fourth wettest since 1910 (Pilita Clark FT 4/12/14).
  • Government spending per head in 2009/10 was £5,650 (Martin Wolf FT 4/12/14).
  • “Still more unorthodox is outright monetary financing of fiscal deficits, as Adair Turner, former chairman of the UK’s Financial Services Authority, has recommended. This means nationalising the creation of money now delegated to often irresponsible banks. This is a more direct (and probably more effective) way of using central banks’ power to create money in order to expand demand than employing it indirectly via manipulation of asset prices” (Martin Wolfe FT 26/11/14).
  • There are already 2 billion people living in countries with absolute water scarcity according to the World Bank which estimates that numbers will rise to 4.6 billion by 2080… The dilemma which is particularly acute in India, China and other large emerging countries… is that these countries are also home to many of the 780 million people who still lack readily available clean and safe drinking water (Pilita Clark FT 9/12/14).
  • House prices give birth to generational inequality. In both Britain and France more than half the value physical assets is represented by residential property. The ability of young people today to benefit from house price appreciation depends in large part on the ability of their parents to pass on the value of past house price appreciation( John Kay FT 10/12/14).
  • The Afghan war from 2001 to 2014 lasted 13 years and was the longest US war in history. There were 3,484 allied desaths (2,356 US, 453 UK) it cost $1 trillion. There were 21,000 Afghan civilian deaths (Browns University estimate). GDP per capita in 2002 was $200 and in 2014 $694 according to the IMF.
  • Hidden water usage is huge, because of the vast quantities used to produce everything we eat – 4 litres to grow one almond, 20 per head of broccoli, 17,000 for a beefburger once you take account of the water used to hydrate the cattle and the crops that feed them ( Rose George reviewing books on water LRB 18/12/14).
  • India today has a higher life-expectancy than Scotland in 1945 in spite of a per-capita income that Britain had achieved as early as 1860 (Martin Wolf FT 24/12/14 quoting The Great Escape: health, wealth and the origins of inequality by Angus Deaton)

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