Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Time to move to West Lothian?

The West Lothian Question is well known, it refers to the fact that MPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to vote on matters that only affect people living in England. It was named so because in 1977, Tom Dalyell - MP for West Lothian at the time, asked this question in the House of Commons:

"For how long will English constituencies and English Honourable members tolerate ... at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?"

At the time this was an important question, but significantly more so now that these areas of the UK have their own legislative bodies. However, the suggestion that the English move to West Lothian is not to gain superior representation, but because of the astonishing difference in the treatment of the homeless there, and in Scotland generally, compared to those in England.

Now many readers will be inclined to lose interest in this subject in the certainty that they will never be homeless and incline to the view that anyone who becomes homeless only have themselves to blame - sleeping rough is their just deserts. However, recent moves in the housing market might make many feel far less secure.

Based on a Halifax survey, the BBC reports that two thirds of young people without their own home, believe they have no prospect of ever owning one. With deposits of 40% being required for first-time buyers most are not able to save the, around, £50k required in most areas - just to buy a singled bedroom flat.

Clearly as the austerity measures bite, those that might be able to save the necessary deposit will reduce and those that can will continue to be reluctant to lower their standard of living for such a lengthy time, to amass the deposit. The belief is that we are moving towards the practice most common within the EU nations, where it is usual to rent and a far fewer ever own their home.

On the face of it this might not seem too bad, but considering it is estimated that there are around 4m too few homes at present and the singular lack of security of tenure. Most private tenants are guaranteed only six months tenancy, under the present rules governing the private rental market, unlike on the Continent - where long leases are the norm. It seems that the majority will be facing continuing uncertainty over having somewhere to live in the future, in a market where demand far outstrips supply.

Cynics may conclude that the Government is deliberately creating these conditions and are acting in the interests of the private sector, as they have been accused of with their NHS proposals. The private sector has no difficulties in raising deposits and are increasingly out bidding those wishing to buy for their own use.

The Telegraph also reports a significant increase in those who have switched to interest only mortgages, which implies many are having difficulty in paying their existing repayments. The assumption must be that many of these homes will come onto the market in the not too distant future because of mortgage debt - no doubt to be bought by the private sector. This might explain the anticipated rise in house prices, also reported in the Telegraph, which in theory should fall, if it were not for the private sector's distortion of the market.

Most will believe that should they lose their job as a result of the global market for jobs, or for some other reason, and they can no longer afford their rent, they will be kept off the streets by their local council. However, according to ‘Crisis’ - this is a responsibility that most council’s do their best to avoid. This is in stark contrast to those who are homeless in Scotland where much greater concern for the homeless is demonstrated by this ‘Crisis’ report.

Once again we have a clear case of how the English have been seriously disadvantaged by devolution in the fundamental issue of having somewhere to live. What will it take for the English to say 'enough' and stop squabbling amongst themselves and rally around a party that vows to give them equal rights with the Scots?

The answer to your question, Mr Dalyell, seems to be ‘indefinitely’. The ‘Dunkirk’ spirit which once typified the English seems to be gone and has been replaced by one of ‘give up at the first sign of difficulty’ - one that would shame their forefathers.

You may be interested to learn of the considerate treatment that you will receive in West Lothian - largely paid for, of course, by English taxpayers.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Rich get Richer

Although once an avid watcher, I seldom see Newsnight these days – I find Jeremy Paxman’s style unsuited to our new circumstances under the Coalition government. As a result I missed last night’s ‘Rich Night’.

The summary of the program explains how the limited recovery in the global economy has benefitted the large banks and large corporations whereas, in Alan Greenspan’s words ‘the rest of the economy, small business, small banks, and a very significant amount of the labour force, which is in tragic unemployment, long-term unemployment - that is pulling the economy apart’.

Whereas the UK, and the West generally, has suffered from this global change, China, India and other Asian nations have benefitted lifting ‘hundreds of millions out of absolute poverty and into the middle class’.

The grossly disproportionate share of riches is demonstrated by the fact that in the US ‘between 2002 and 2007, 65% of all income growth went to the top 1% of the population’, this ‘divide has also widened in Britain, Canada, Germany and Scandinavia’. The net result being that there are now a very few super rich and the rest of us - the ‘non-rich’.

Unlike in previous times, ‘John Stuart Mill's complaint about the super-elite of his era - that, like the Duke of Bedford, they grew rich in their sleep' - does not much apply to today's nerdy, workaholic, perpetually jet-lagged plutocrats – apparently in 1916 ‘the richest 1% of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work’ - whereas this has now risen to three-fifths.

The program summary goes on to explain that ‘even the WEF, the premier convener of the global super-elite, is worried that income inequality has grown too extreme’:

'Economic disparity and global governance failures both influence the evolution of many other global risks and inhibit our capacity to respond effectively to them,' the forum's Global Risks report for this year's conference notes.

'In this way, the global risk context in 2011 is defined by a 21 Century paradox: as the world grows together, it is also growing apart.'

The program, presented by Chrystia Freeland, concludes:

'So, here lies the dilemma. In today's hyper competitive global economy we need our super rich and the innovative companies they create more than ever. But they need us too - as consumers, as employees, as fellow citizens.

But here is the lesson of history. In the long run super elites can only survive in one of two ways - by suppressing dissent, or by sharing the wealth.

I know which one I prefer.'

My own view is that the powerful seldom give up this heady drug willingly - it usually has to be prised from their grip by force, as we are seeing in Egypt and other north African nations today - we are lucky to live in a democracy where this can be achieved through the ballot box.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Troubling documentary by Aaron Russo

AMERICA — From Freedom To Fascism (Full Length Documentary)

Is there a law which requires you to pay the Federal Income Tax? Is the Federal Reserve a part of the United States Government, or is it a private bank owned and operated by multinational corporate interests? Do they have our nation's best interests at heart? Unless something changes, what does the future of the United States look like?

The answer to all these questions and more in this incredible documentary by legendary filmmaker Aaron Russo (February 14, 1943 - August 24, 2007).