The summer is over, the trees are turning golden, the weather is cold and it starts to get dark before 7 p.m. Some people find this depressing because it means winter is coming; I love the autumn, the change in the light and the colours in the trees and the promise of cosy fires.

My summer is over and I am about to go travelling again. From early October to 8th of November, I will visit Tokyo and Ulan Bator: then a week in Iceland with a very good friend hoping to see the Northern lights; and then Addis Ababa Lusaka, Hanoi and Seoul. It is a bit mad but I am really looking forward to going to Ulan Bator and I’m getting better and better at pacing myself as I travel.

Oslo and Silver Mines

I went to Oslo for the annual reflection of the EITI secretariat. We had good meetings but we also visited an old and massive silver mine. Silver was contained within granite and must have been very difficult to extract. It made me think how hard life of miners have been in the now wealthier countries just as mining is causing trouble now in developing countries. In Britain, the miners saw terrible suffering and created an enormously radical political energy. I hope and expect that miners in developing countries, where new mining and oil and gas exploration are proliferating, will be another radical force to help create greater fairness and better use of these resources for the benefit of the people in their countries.

The other point about Oslo is that prices are terribly high. Dutch disease – the appreciation of the currency because of mining, oil or gas riches – which in turn squeezes down the rest of the economy, is a problem in Norway and Australia just as it is in developing countries. Natural resource riches are very difficult to manage well. Botswana, Chile and Norway are examples of good management, so it is not impossible, but it is a challenge everywhere.

Manchester, Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute

I went to Manchester on 26 September to give the inaugural annual public lecture on humanitarianism. The text that I used as the basis of my talk is on this Web site. I argued that, after the terrible failure in the Balkans and Rwanda, in the period between the end of the Cold War and the declaration of the war on terror, there had been an advance in humanitarianism in the international system. I think we can learn from the forces that created that opportunity and that those that closed it down.

It was an enjoyable evening and there was sparky discussion. One of the trends I have noticed in such meetings, is that progressive people, and often African voices, argue that aid is patronising, controlling and undesirable. It can of course be all those things but if you look at the UK, we spend about £40 billion on the military and £8 billion on development. 10% and more is spent on famines, disasters and emergencies and the rest on supporting UN agencies, international development banks and programmes in some of the poorest countries that support universal education, healthcare etc. If this is well done, it strengthens local systems and speeds up development. It is strange that progressive people are starting to attack development aid rather than military spending!

Page 3 and The Joy of Sex

There has been a new surge in young women objecting to the page 3 phenomenon. I am pleased that a new generation has taken up the issue. But last Sunday I agreed to participate in the press review for Broadcasting House on Radio 4. One of the articles was on 40 years of the book The Joy of Sex.

This gave me the opportunity to suggest that it is completely natural for young men to want to understand sexual relationships and to look at pictures of women’s bodies; but from page 3, on to the ever-growing quantity of pornography that shapes their attitude is to these questions, our society is creating a very ugly and degraded concept of sexual relationships between men and women.

The Joys of Sex is a much healthier book and if only we had more of that and less pornography, the happiness and dignity of our sexual relationships would be in a much better place.


I watched Stephanie Flanders programme on Karl Marx. It is very interesting that serious economists are looking back at Marx’s writing on capitalism, to help to explain the present crisis. The brutality of the Soviet Union, for which Karl Marx had no responsibility whatsoever, brought him into considerable disrepute. Clearly he wrote before Keynes had developed ideas that helped to civilise capitalism but there are still lessons in his analysis that are relevant to us today.

Quantitative Easing

I’ve been thinking about who gets the benefit from the hundreds of billions that are being pumped into the American, European and British economies to try to prevent depression. I’m not sure I think the major benefit goes to the banks. How much better it would be if we had programs of public works that generated lots of jobs and real economic activity as in President Roosevelt’s New Deal. My favourite proposal for the UK is a programme of house insulation, ground-source heat-pump installation and solar panel attachment to roofs; this would generate very large numbers of jobs, and help reduce global warming and fuel poverty.

Who attends party conferences?

For more than thirty years, I attended the Labour Party Conference and loved the intense discussion and excitement about political ideas. But that has all changed and this extract from Brian Groom’s diary in the FT explains what has happened:

The party conference season is upon us and with every year it becomes more detached from real life. As Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, points out, about 30,000 delegates attended the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Tory conferences last year, but less than a quarter were card-carrying members. The rest were journalists, lobbyists, campaign groups and others with a working interest. The main parties have mostly moved their conferences from the seaside to Manchester and Birmingham, where the restaurants are better for expense-account holders, but which is more expensive for delegates. The fringe is entirely taken over by lobbying interests. The dreary ritual will continue because party leaders love the publicity and the parties make money out of their conferences. But short of a new wave of popular political ideas, it is an empty one.

Interesting facts

  • UK GDP per capita 1960 – $10,479: 2008 – $29,000 (World Bank).
  • Child mortality has halved in 9 years in Afghanistan (FT editorial 26/9/12).
  • According to the OECD the UK and US came 1st and 3rd in social immobility in 2010; and US with 24.8% and UK with 20.6% have the highest share of low-paid employees in the OECD. (Philip Blond FT 26/9/12).
  • At the beginning of the twentieth century,when my father was born, life expectancy for men in the UK was 48 (BBC documentary on healthcare before the NHS). In 1829 in Liverpool life expectancy was 29 (Flanders programme on Marx).
  • The average Briton now has 26 on-line accounts, and those aged 25-40 have about 40 (FT M. Palmer 2/10/12).

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