Friday, 31 December 2010

I told you so

Well, it's been an interesting year in politics and social policy. There would have been few prizes on offer for the prediction that Cameron would be PM, but as head of a Con-Dem coalition??

Before writing this I re-visited the predictions I offered last year to see if I could produce a scorecard. Unfortunately I seem to have been far too vauge and long-term - more personalisation was one of my conclusions this time a year ago. Well, yes probably and being a long-term trend it will probably continue. So I award myself null points for that one.

I'm hoping to do better with my 2011 predictions, or rather one prediction. In a sense I'm cheating because it has already happened. The stories are finally beginning to appear linking cuts with their less than desierable outcomes.

So far we have had the ideological sell. Cuts need to have been made we have been told and we seem for the most part to have bought it. For the Government this was the easy part as time is needed reveal the consequences of these decisions. This is now beginning with the Guardian reporting that a £609 000 saving from scrapping a flu awareness campaign has now been reversed as it has been decided in the midst of a flu ourtbreak that it was probably not the best idea.

Another piece in the paper carries a warning from a campaigner, Lucy Cope of Mothers Against Guns, that public spending cuts may result in an "era of terror". Rather a chilling prediction, but one which firmly holds the Government to account. Like the Health Secretary is finding out to his cost now; if individual ministerial decisions to cut funding can be linked to a negative event or set of outcomes the result is highly politically damaging.

The government is sure to be seeing many more 'I told you so' moments in 2011

Monday, 27 December 2010

Ragged trousers

Back in my council employee days days we received a monthly e-mailed newsletter. A cynic like me generally regarded this as mere propaganda, back-slapping by senior managers on hitting a target which meant nothing to anyone remotely near the frontline, but one feature I loved was where another member of staff would pick their top ten books. Most interesting was the senior managers picks. The Executive Director tellingly plumping for Machiavelli's The Prince among his ten, recommending it as an excellent manual for any manager.

The Prince did not appear on anyone elses list, but one title seemed to be almost de riguer: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Spotting it for £3 in a branch of HMV it has lain on my bookshelf for several months just waiting patientley for the right mood to take me. That mood would come folowing this particularly vacuous read (even by the standard of football books) by Colin Murray which left me gasping for something a bit more heavyweight.

My initial reluctance to read the book was inspired in part by the fact that I felt that it would, at over 100 years old, have little relevance to today.

How wrong could I be. The book shows how little has changed in 100 years. I am only a third of the way through and it has already dealt with how people in poverty are blamed for their own predicament rather than any blame being placed on the system. Perhaps if anything the book is more relavant today than ever as it shows how (despite the protestations of current and previous governments) work alone is not necessarily a route out of poverty. It also shows how the system leads to a grossly uneven distribution of wealth, again a lesson becoming more and more relavant as workers earn minimum wages whilst company directors protect their already huge profits by tax avoidance.

The book also reminds us us why we need a welfare state. Its all very well to knock it and to say that 'hand-outs' result in dependency and reduce the incentive to work, but do we really want the alternative?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas shopping

Whilst we are all busy with our Christmas shopping; please spare a thought for the workers who produce the goods we are buying.

I will not write much on the subject; it is all explained much better in this article

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Grim statistics

It's been impossible to get away from the news content generated from the fees demonstration. It left me wondering today why as my younger self would have headed to central London, or at least marched round campus, my older self is happy just to watch it all on TV. I tell myself that it's because I haven't the time, work, family and university meaning free time is now a rare luxury.

Besides, the forces I am currently doing battle with are statistics; more specifically assignment number two and all its logistic regression analysis.

Statistics has never been my strong point and having just finished a book about the Tour de France I can't help but draw comparisons between myself and the riders as they approach the Pyranees.

It feels as if my degree is the race. I've had some good results on the flat stages of Northern France, but as I look at Mt Logistical Regression towering above me I know I'll be spending the next few stages in the autobus; the group of riders at the back straining just to stay inside the race cut off time whilst dreaming of the finish on the Champs-Elysees

Thursday, 9 December 2010


There's something I'm deeply ashamed of.... for as long as I can remember I've voted Lib Dem. Still, I can be confident that I will never again repeat this mistake.

Sentiments which I'm sure would be shared among the small throng of protesters gathering on campus as I walked home from my early morning lecture today.

As I passed by I recalled a conversation I had with some of my colleagues at the call-centre yesterday. We'd all felt short changed, even depressed, by the fact that our first degrees had led several years on to a low-wage call centre job. We're not isolated cases either. Research has suggested as much as one-third of the call-centre workforce are graduates

The answer we all concluded is either returning to university to do a more vocational degree giving entry to a profession, or like me to go down the postgraduate route, but higher fees closes this door as older students and post-graduates also have debt, family committments and opportunity costs from giving up what employment they do have.

Students are being asked to pay ever more for their education, yet at the same time the rewards for that education are becoming more uncertain and dare I say unevenly distributed...

Saturday, 4 December 2010


From the look of all the pictures on facebook (the most original being a re-creation of the ice world Hoth in a back garden) I'm guessing there has been a bit of snow in the past few days. I also beleive this to be the case as I heard a couple of snow related features on radio two yesterday.

One feature consisted of a lady attempting to name and shame her local authourity. The issue was a request for a grit bin. The lady in question seemed rather well to do and in line with the stereotype had it seemed harried her local councillor into making an over-rash promise that yes a grit-bin will be provided. Unfortunately when the lady called to "remind" said councillor of their promise two weeks ago she was told that no, due to the cutbacks, there was now no money for a grit bin.

The lady talked about how last year she lost two weeks holiday as she couldn't get out of her home for the snow and ice. The presenter then put it to her, why don't the residents club together and purchase a grit bin - cost £1000? Oh no, she said, we pay enough council tax, at a high rate, and see very little in return anyway. It was she argued clearly the councils responsibility.

It struck me as interesting logic. For well to do residents (unless we're talking the squeezed middle here) a £1000 grit bin between them, lets say there are 10, thats £100 each; probably not a huge stretch. A price worth paying for less disruption?

What really gets me though is that government is now asking more of preople in general; students are asked to 'make a contribution' to their education (in fact now a fairly sizeable contribution) and by the same philosophy the disabled are also asked to 'make a contribution' to their care.... in the future it seems more and more people will be asked to 'make a contribution.'

This is because the idea of a big state where we all pull together, where we pool risk and share responsibility, is in retreat to the neo-liberal vision of the small state; a state which asks us to 'make a contribution'.

Therin lies the contradiction in the ladies argument, on one hand she is critical of the level of taxation she in particular is on the receiving end of; no doubt she is at least receptive to the neo-liberal vision of a small state with low levels of personal taxation

Yet when it is suggested she personally 'makes a contribution' she suddenly seems to find the idea repugnant.

I wonder where she stands on tuition fees?