Review and Synopsis of Saving Britain – How we must change to prosper in Europe by Will Hutton and Andrew Adonis

This is not a conventional review. Following the review there is a synopsis of each chapter, intended to tempt you into buying the book, taking action and encouraging others to buy it.

 

Review

This is the most important book I have read in years. It’s about the state of Britain today and how it must be changed. It is full of practical ideas and solutions. It is written with passion and offers much needed hope. It is also shocking. Shocking because it reveals how bad things are, how poor our economy is and how badly we compare with other countries in Northern Europe. Shocking because it reveals the level of dishonesty, deceit and incompetence of many of our political leaders.

 

The book will empower you.

 

It provides an analysis of what has gone wrong over the past fifty years. The authors also put forward inspiring whole system proposals for a new economy and social settlement. Not all the ideas are new – none the worse for that – but they are put together when their time has come. The authors have been backed up by a substantial host of respected researchers.

 

It also reveals how divided our country is: the prosperous London and South East and the rest of the country, which by every measure is poor and deprived. It reveals how people were conned into voting for Brexit by what amounts to lies. How people were misled by sensational headlines in the right wing press such as the Daily Mail, Sun and Express, and were manipulated through social media and the Brexit campaign was illegally funded by a few rich donors.

 

We live at a time of great threats. In particular from Putin, Trump and Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. The EU is a force for good and security. It has set standards that the world is following. Britain, a small country, needs to be constructively playing its part in Europe as a member of a strong EU, as it has done hitherto.

 

The book is a manifesto for a better Britain, Better Europe and a better world.

 

And now we receive this news: The Planet Is Dangerously Close to the Tipping Point for a ‘Hothouse Earth’ from the Stockholm Resilience Centre

The big question is: where is the leadership of the stature needed to make these proposals happen? We need women and men of the calibre of Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Beverage, John Maynard Keynes, Attlee, Nye Bevan and George Marshall. I see no sign of their emerging yet, but they will if we play our part.

 

My only criticism of this book is that there is little mention of climate chaos, our destruction of the ecosystem, the deadly air pollution that is killing millions and the need to live lightly on the Planet Earth. These challenges are arguably the greatest facing humanity. This is a major omission. Addressing them is crucial to our survival. Also there are huge opportunity costs in not doing so. Providing sustainable energy and refurbing Britain’s leaky homes would provide thousands of jobs.

 

Now a summary of each chapter:

 

Chapter 1 Falling to pieces describes just how bad things are in the British economy outside the City and South East. England is two countries: London and the South East and the Rest. “Inequality is grotesque.” By every measure of wellbeing the North, Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland are worse off; worse off than people in many other northern European countries. Nigel Lawson said in the Financial Times, “Brexit gives us the chance to finish the Thatcher revolution.” But what was that revolution? Moral decline – employees seen as costs, vast executive bonuses, the supreme objective of driving share price higher and faster. Austerity leading to cuts that delayed recovery and continue to have disastrous consequences. Productivity is stagnant and companies are underperforming. A third of Britain’ workforce is in persistent poverty. Real wages have fallen by 7% since 2008. Good jobs are increasingly rare, dead end jobs common, education poor, few good apprenticeships, poor career hopes, stagnant wages and virtually no social mobility.

 

The Farage technique was to blame our shortcomings on the EU and migration.

 

The realities of the huge interplay between UK and Europe manufacturing are not understood by Brexiteers. Nor are the advantages of doing business which is relatively near rather than thousands of miles away. Brexiteers fail to appreciate the advantages of the numerous EU trade deals and the difficulties Britain will face in establishing new ones. EU achievements are considerable: creating a greener environment, diminishing the dangers of climate change and promoting good working conditions such as health and safety. The EU made Britain stronger, not weaker. Much of what the Brexiteers offer is pie in the sky. At a time when China, the US and Russia grow ever more threatening, the West must stand together.

 

Chapter 2 How Mr Farage became leader of the Conservative Party I love this chapter. I like to think of Farage as the artful dodger or the pied piper. He has virtually the whole of Parliament at his feet, most MPs not daring to challenge the alleged “will of the people” , and call for an end to Brexit. Of course he’ll keep his MEP pension of 73,000 euros pa.

 

Mrs Thatcher’s policy was to destroy anything she could not control like the GLC. Her ideology was to privatise; hence she created the housing crisis. Her successor is Farage. “Faragism” became the driving philosophy of the Conservative Right. He is described in this chapter as “A brash public school semi-rebel – self-confessed “wind up merchant”, “bloody –minded” and “difficult”.  “Chap about town with a pint and a fag” image. He decided not to go to university but instead to make money in the metals market. He outwitted the Conservatives. He won MEP seats, manipulated the public, blaming their ills on migrants. He used the influence of Sky News, sensational headlines in the Sun and Daily Mail, money used illegally and manipulation of social media to misinform the people.  

 

Democracies can only function if citizens have accurate information. Cameron’s blasé approach to the referendum design did not help. This chapter sets out all the flaws in the referendum. And as said by Rafael Behr, in “This Faragism of the left will leave behind a loathing of all politics . The mood of radical protest is bad for moderates, most of all those making the case for Britain staying in the EU.

 

However underneath it all “Brexit voters were right. ….We need a new deal for a European Britain. We need to transform the way our country works. … Brexiteers dodge these truths.”

 

Chapter 3 The lion without the roar We are ambivalent. While many of us feel intensely European, two thirds do not. Yet Britain has always been deeply involved in Europe. Our history has been interwoven with Europe. Our monarchy is an example, a most European institution: The Georges from the House of Hanover; Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg; Queen Elizabeth 2 is cousin to many European kings or queens. Prince Philip is a prince of Greece and Denmark, son of a German princess, describing himself as a “European mongrel”. Most of us are descended from migrants. The Industrial Revolution arrived first in Britain but was due to an interplay with European Enlightenment. Social unrest associated with industrialisation was a catalyst for demand for democratisation, opening the door for redistribution and extension of social and educational right. William Beveridge, godfather of the NHS and welfare state, studied the social insurance for pensions and sickness introduced by Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, in the 1880s.

 

Winston Churchill, exemplifies the English European. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe”, in his 1946 Zurich speech. I quote from Saving Britain: “The reality is that British strategic thinking has always been – has always had to be – at least as European as global.”

 

Global Britain, branded by the some Brexiteers as “Empire 2.0” is ludicrous. At a time when democracy is under threat in many countries including our own, in a world facing great threats from Putin, Xi Jinping, Trump and not least Hothouse Earth , Britain, on its own, without an empire, is far too small. We need to be whole heartedly in Europe, working to make the EU stronger and more effective.

 

Chapter 4 Get real In today’s world no country can enjoy democracy, global economic integration and untrammelled national sovereignty free from international organisations. Sovereignty, democracy and the benefits of global trade are reconciled through the principle of subsidiarity under which the centre only performs those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level. The EU creates a level playing field for its members and is large enough to stand up for principle. Otherwise there would be a race to the bottom in standards such as those for environment, employment, health, construction, engineering and education. Britain played a major part in fashioning these standards. Because of the EU’s strength, European models of regulation are being studied in the US, India, China and Brazil. The EU is large enough to cut good trade deals. The EU is a global trade hotspot and it is at the global frontiers of technology and productivity.

 

In getting real, this chapter spells out the realities of what will happen if we leave the EU. It also suggests a rational approach to addressing concerns about migration. We need to do more to train the people we need, particularly in the NHS. London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan, makes many suggestions for assimilating migrants including helping them integrate fully. We can also negotiate an “emergency brake”.

                                                                                                                                                 

Chapter 5 Stakeholder capitalism and the new social contract

“Fundamental reform is now urgent. Social justice requires that every citizen in our islands should be confident of decent minimum living standards, comprehensive public services and the opportunity to make the best of their life, wherever they are born and live.”

 

This is the most visionary and inspiring chapter of all. It is refreshing at a time when political dialogue is at a low level. It is full of practical strategic solutions. It is critical of the failure of government over the past sixty years to create a modern British economy. According to neoliberal doctrine, less government is necessarily better government, including withdrawal from the EU. This is social and economic illiteracy. So is Austerity which has done huge damage to our economy and attempts to rebuild it, now compounded by Brexit.

 

In 1942 Beveridge declared war on “five giants” squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. After the war for a time Britain did well. But efforts to continue were broken by bad relations with the unions. Enter Mrs Thatcher. Today there is a “shit life syndrome”: low or no skills, futility of many working lives, loss of hope and a mental health epidemic. Much of British capitalism performs badly, especially compared with Germany. We need a 2020 version of the ideas and practical imagination of Keynes, Beveridge and Attlee.

 

A new tune – a new economy.

Amongst the main features of the proposed strategy are:

  • A banking system that supports enterprises local, regional and national as in Germany.
  • Building stakeholder capitalism in which employees, customers, unions, suppliers have a stake and are represented on the board.
  • Challenging the PLC model and strengthening the law.
  • Company constitutions that state their purpose – such companies out-perform others.
  • Creating nodes of growth encouraging business clusters all over the country. A critical mass of thriving companies in regions that are large enough to work. Nodes of growth and “brain hub” clusters require “the entrepreneurial state”. The state’s role in supporting enterprise and funding important companies such as Rolls Royce and Glaxo Smith Kline is vital. In fact the City is a de facto example of both public and private collaboration.
  • Devolution to regions, cities and local communities is vital.
  • Digitalisation has huge potential but needs to be managed so that everyone benefits.
  • Encouraging innovation centres such as the Big Innovation Centre encouraged by Vince Cable.
  • Ending scandalous executive pay and emphasis on short term gain – what Keynes called “casino economics” through speculation and hedge fund jackals.
  • Fair taxation, fair to the individual and to businesses of different sizes. London is in effect the largest tax haven in the world.
  • Fostering a variety of models such as co-operatives, mutuals, trusts, partnerships, state companies, employee-owned companies and public benefit companies.
  • Mittelstand – the lessons it offers us. Alongside the major, world-famous companies, there is also a whole range of small and medium-sized companies in Germany which provide a large number of jobs and are extremely productive: these small and medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, make up what is known as the Mittelstand
  • Social responsibility: insisting companies are socially responsible especially global companies – Only the EU has successfully challenged Google’s monopoly, fining it 2.4 bn euros and making Facebook and Amazon pay more tax. The EU is now considering breaking up Google.
  • Transforming our education system so that it meets diverse individual and national needs – the right to life long development.
  • Unions need to re-invent themselves as social partners and co-creators of stakeholder capitalism.

As someone said to me at a talk I gave, “we need a change of heart”.

 

A new social contract. Briton has a weak implicit social contract. It needs a strong explicit one. Social policy is essentially “austerity for the poor and welfare for the rich”. Public services squeezed in many areas, especially social care, are threadbare, awful. The NHS in crisis is being privatised by stealth . Constant spending cuts are borne by the public. The consequences are disastrous. Local government spending has fallen by 40% since 2010. Tax evasion is huge. There is an obsession with reducing national debt even when the economy is weak – another case of economic illiteracy, not understanding what it is for. It is ridiculous to say we cannot afford decent public services.  This part of the book offers many proposals including a land value tax . However the book does not include Sovereign Money that would enable much needed public infrastructure investment without borrowing. Nor a Universal Basic Citizen’s Income , which could offer enormous benefits, especially as the 4th Industrial Revolution proceeds.

 

More democracy. “The cure for the ailments of democracy is more democracy.” John Dewey said. A Great Charter for Modern Britain would hand over power from Westminster to the cities, towns and counties of Britain, enabling them to transform their localities, represented in a Senate replacing the House of Lords, located in the north of England. This should be the foundation of a fully-fledged written constitution.

 

Honouring our young. Britain’s neglect of the young is the most shameful consequence of our disintegrating social services. We need a British Statute of Social Rights. Essentially we have an education system geared to produce three hundred thousand eighteen-year olds who each year go to the top twenty four Russell Group universities. The consequences for people and nation are severe. A revolution is needed. We need an excellent system that educates the half million or so teenagers who do not go to university and provides the skilled workers we so badly need. Back in 1884 a royal commission said: “The one point in which Germany is overwhelmingly superior to England is in schools…. The dense ignorance so common among workman in England is unknown in Germany.” We need to follow the examples of Germany, Denmark the Netherlands and Norway. Britain needs a £2.5 billion Education Marshall Plan.  Honouring our young also requires their having the vote from 16 and several suggestion for youth involvement are made.

 

Chapter 6 Taking back control At the eight-hundredth anniversary of the Magna Carta it’s time for a contemporary Great Charter to give real control to the nations, cities and localities of Britain and put an end to democratic feudalism. Living in Berkhamsted I can say “hear hear” to that but it applies far more urgently elsewhere. The authors argue with that “taking back control” is essentially a ruthless power grab to achieve “Thatcherism in one country”. Under the “winner takes all” electoral system, in seven out of ten elections the Tories have been the largest party. Of course it wants to be free from the constraints of the EU. Poet Ben Okri says that a nation’s written constitution is “the best story a people can tell about itself to itself”.  But Britain has no written constitution that tells the story of the rights, values, duties ambitions and institutions of the British people. The Conservatives argue that it is not necessary as liberty is in Britain’s DNA. This is contradicted by “our patchwork of inequality of opportunity, quiet suffering and enfeebled local communities”. Swathes of Britain are chronically poor, disempowered and embittered.  Without adequate financial resources they are unable to tackle social problems like housing and social care. A Statute of Self-Government is needed. We inspired the post-war democratic institutions in Western Europe, yet now the only written constitution of which we are a part of is Europe’s. We need a Great Charter of Modern Britain to entrench devolution in Parliament itself and replace the House of Lords with a Federal Senate of the United Kingdom with a mission to defend the interests of local communities across the UK and declare the social rights and responsibilities of the British people.

 

Chapter 7 Statutes of liberty In the six decades of the EU, no member state has invaded another and no member state has yet disowned democracy, remarkable achievements after the previous six decades was ravaged by two ferocious and destructive wars. We cannot be sure these horrors are over.

 

“There is a clear fault line running from Belgrade to Budapest and Warsaw. The new divisions between those who believe that their best hope for peace and prosperity lies in joining the rules-based European Union and NATO and those who base their hopes on the nationalism and authoritarianism”. Sir Ivor Roberts, British ambassador to Milošević’s Belgrade and Berlusconi’s Rome.

 

Then there is Putin’s gangster nationalism and a contemporary form of fascism. He will do all he can to undermine democracy elsewhere. Counter-revolution is virulent in central and eastern Europe. There are counter-revolutionary parties in virtually every country in Europe and that includes UKIP. As the authors say, “The 21st century is now in danger of belonging to populists branding independent judges ‘ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE’, the headlines in the Daily Mail denouncing the UK Supreme Court who dared to rule that Parliament must have a vote on Brexit.”

The Ukraine has been violated, the first such violation since WW2 (Actually Georgia was occupied first- in 2008.). A semi-detached Britain will not help. Add Trump’s ambivalence. NATO is not enough. We need to be fully involved in Europe’s security system. Ireland, with whom we now have excellent relations, may become the Achilles heel of Brexit and the Brexit right is actually calling for an end to the Good Friday Agreement.

 

Here are concluding proposals:

  • More should be done to connect the EU to European citizens. One way of doing this would be to replace half MEPs with representatives from the parliaments of member states.
  • The EU should give mainstream parties ammunition to fight back.
  • Freedom of movement should be qualified by giving countries to invoke short-term “emergency breaks” if immigration reaches pre-defined upper thresholds.
  • The argument for staying in the EU should be buttressed by a commitment to repurpose our capitalism, reforge our social contract, and recast our democratic institutions so they work for everyone. Done against a background of rising living standards and economic growth. This requires building on our trade relationships with the EU and the dozens of signatories to its trade deals.
  • Country must come before party. The “Brussells bureaucracy” is smaller than London’s Metropolitan Police. Labour’s 217 Manifesto is implementable within the EU. Conservatives prepared to challenge the Brexit right, the best of Labour, Lib Dem, Green and Scottish Nationalist parties must come together to prevent to ensure we stay in the EU.

 

The EU is a crucial part of the power balance that sustains an international order to secure the common good in face of Russia’s, China’s and the US ambitions. Today’s young people and future generations will bitterly reproach us for not being part of it.

 

“A battle is only won by those who are firmly resolved to win it”. Tolstoy in War and Peace.

 

What to do next. At the end of the book, is a list of organisations readers can use to make a difference.

 

Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness. My Blog and occasional newsletter, which you can sign up for on this site, are available to keep you uptodate.

 

 

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Economics by Kate Raworth – Book Review by Paul de Hoest

Doughnut Economics is not just about economics, it’s a wide ranging political book about life itself, the future of our planet and the role that economics plays in shaping our future.  It is a visionary book that portrays a future collaborative possibility in which everyone’s basic human needs are met whilst at the same time not destroying our shared ecological habitat. It is an easy read, you certainly do not need an economics qualification to understand it, although it is a book that deserves to be read by both economists and non-economists alike.

You might think that the implied goal of public policymaking, nationally and globally, to ensure that everyone’s human needs are met whilst not destroying our shared habitat would be uncontentious but I am not aware that it has ever been expressed in that way by any one in office and, as Raworth points out, we are a long way from achieving it.  The two great achievements of Raworth’s book are firstly that she proposes an intuitive framework in which to consider that policy problem (“The Doughnut”) and second, she demonstrates that the current political obsession with “economics first before everything else follows” is wrong-headed and the economy needs to be thought of as embedded within the living world so that the current policy measure of choice, GDP growth, becomes incidental to other policy objectives rather than it having any merit as a goal in itself.Doughnut 1 Jpeg Scan

The essence of the Doughnut is that there is a social foundation floor of well-being that no one should fall below and an ecological Doughnut ceiling of planetary pressure that we cannot safely go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all. These are presented pictorially as two concentric circles – the inner circle represents the social foundation floor and the outer circle represents the planetary ecological limits.  The safe and just space for mankind is represented by the space between the concentric circles.

Raworth comes to the unsurprising conclusion that we are currently operating both inside the inner circle (e.g. billions of people in the world in absolute poverty, lack access to basic education, have no political voice or have no access to clean water) whilst at the same time we are operating outside the outer circle (e.g. climate change, excess resource extraction, land degradation and bio-diversity loss).  The challenge therefore is to manage living standards upwards for millions of people whilst managing downwards the excessive pressures placed on ecological resources. Unsurprisingly therefore much attention is given to how to reduce global inequality and better manage resources.Doughnut 2 Jpeg Scan

The great insight of the book is that the current policy obsession with money GDP ignores the scope to unleash the powers within the un-monetised household and commons sector and the role of the state to support these as well as the market.  The book demonstrates that the economy is not a mechanical model that responds predictably to external stimulus but rather should be thought of as a living organism that behaves more like a complex system than a machine.  Such an organism is self-directed, creative and constantly evolving.

Raworth does not pretend to have all the answers but she presents many examples that have been implemented all over the world that are thriving despite acting within the current self-imposed straightjacket of finance and GDP hegemony.  There are sufficient examples to provide a glimpse of a possible future and demonstrate that there is so much untapped potential to be unleashed through, for example, open source communications and collaboration, that it is entirely credible to believe it is possible to achieve the twin goals of reducing global inequality whilst restoring our impact on the earth.

This is an optimistic book that should be read by anyone interested in understanding why we are failing to tackle inequality, climate change and resource depletion and what can be done to change this.  Raworth says that “we are the first generation to properly understand the damage we have been doing to our planetary household, and probably the last generation with a chance to do something transformative about it.”  Once you have grasped that there really is a choice then this book points towards a more equal, inclusive, happier and more human future without destroying the Earth if only we have the courage to change our current economic mindset and try.  There is not much time left to make that choice!

Buy it from Amazon or better still your local bookshop.

Paul de Hoest

 

 

 

 

Brexit: This is a 1940 moment in history.

It is becoming increasingly clear that exiting the EU is not in our best interests and will do great harm. The Japanese ambassador sums this up clearly in There won’t be a deal better than the single market. We are for Japan a main channel for their export of cars into Europe as he says.

 

Some compromise like remaining in the single market or customs union will not give us the seat at the EU table that is in both our interests and those of the EU. We need to continue to exercise our leadership as we have done for many years. On our own, a small country, we will have less influence in the world. That gives us more power in the world than if we are outside, not less.

 

The repeated mantra “It’s the will of the people” is propaganda, an untruth. Only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. We also need to challenge “when we leave the EU”, as if it were a foregone conclusion, another piece of propaganda.

So 74% did not vote for Brexit. Many parts of the United Kingdom did not want to leave. There were huge differences depending on age. Sixteen and seventeen year olds, amongst those likely to be most adversely affected, had no vote. It is clear that a referendum was inappropriate for such a complex issue. And it was explicitly advisory. Most MPs, about 73%, are in favour of Remain.

 

Furthermore there are grave concerns about whether the referendum was legitimate. Did voters have, could they have had the abundant information we have now about the harm it would do and is already doing to our economy and many other aspects of our society? For example the dire effects on the NHS, skill shortages hampering our industries and many areas that are already emerging. There are also grave concerns about the legitimacy of the referendum- for example funding and the part played by social media manipulation 

 

We know that the Brexit vote was in part a protest about the consequences of an economy that had failed to meet the needs of many people for over a generation. We know that young people will suffer most. We know that our cultural industry and many more will suffer. Polls show a large and increasing majority of young people are against Brexit – the then 16 to17 year olds did not have a say nor do they now.

 

Unlock Democracy believes the EU Withdrawal Bill is a power grab, plain and simple that will trample on our rights, puts more power in the hands of Westminster and threatens hard-won devolution settlements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and it must be resisted. They are asking for funds to continue their campaigns .

 

There is confusion in the Tory government. It is like a nest of vipers. We need an about turn. The situation requires the majority of MPs of whatever party to demand this about turn. And the government to say: sorry, we were wrong. It is now clear that Brexit is a mistake. Where is the courage to do what’s best for the nation?  

What can you do? Urge your MP to speak up, challenge the mantra “It’s the will of the people” and demand an about turn and a new approach to reforming the European Union. And support Unlock Democracy http://www.unlockdemocracy.org/

  Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness

Pothole Britain and the Health of the Nation

IMG_1565     

Potholes in our roads symbolise Britain today. The fifth richest country in the world as measured by GDP but with third world roads. When I drive over a pothole I always think of George Osborne and his illiterate Austerity policy. He is not an economist but an English Lit graduate, now an excellent journalist.

 

We know that filling in potholes is a waste of money because they soon break up again. The most cost effective solution is to resurface the whole road. Short term fix but long term pain. This symbolises the underlying problem with British government: ideology, cuts and short-sightedness. The failure to look forward and tackle fundamental challenges such as creating a new sustainable economy for the whole nation.

 

Economic Consequences

The past twelve years have been a disaster. For most people there has been no improvement in their real income or living standards. The prospects for young people have declined. There is a lot more insecurity in a gig economy. Britain is in the midst of a severe and prolonged household debt crisis. Household debt, not including mortgages, is on the rise again. It has increased 20% in the past 2 years and is now £239bn, higher than just before the crash in 2008. Jubilee Debt Campaign. There’s zero good about Brexit for vulnerable workers. 3.2 m in insecure work, 11% of women in insecure jobs, 810,000 in zero-hours contracts, 75% part-time workers are women. In the North East of England insecure jobs 67% of all new roles.

Austerity has had adverse consequences in almost every sector of our economy and society. For instance, the causes of knife crime are complicated but in part are attributed to cuts in services for young potentially alienated youths and policing. The same is true of the Grenfell disaster – a cost cutting mentality led to fatal flaws in the building.  Also there was an underlying attitude towards the inhabitants some of whom thought they were regarded as less than human. Cuts have contributed to high levels of violence, drug taking, depression, self-harm, suicide and failure to rehabilitate inmates in many prisons.

 

Austerity has resulted in a slower recovery from recession and lower productivity than our main European neighbours. The underlying flaw is a lack of long-term strategic economic planning and a failure to invest. Nor are our banks adequately fulfilling their role in supporting enterprise, as is the case in Germany. We need banks that support enterprise.

We did have a Green Investment Bank designed to create prosperity out of refurbishing our “leaky housing” and support a growing sustainable energy industry. But it was starved of funds and recently sold off. Quantitative easing was pumped into the banks, rather than where investment was needed.

 

Add Brexit, an own goal, predicted to lead to poorer economic performance for ten years. That is apart from all the alienation of enterprising people from other countries who enrich our economy and culture. This has created staffing problems in many public services and other economic sectors including fruit and vegetables. The Home Office has created staff shortages in the NHS by denying entry to trainee Doctors from other countries. Of course we failed to invest in training our own people. The Brexit vote to a significant extent resulted from the failure to address more than a generation of economic decline and deprivation in areas where old industries were not replaced by new.  Government was content with a prosperous south east as opposed to enabling the whole country to prosper. It all adds up to incompetent, not joined up government.

 

As to Brexit, I said in an earlier blog post: We’re allowing ourselves to be ruled by knaves and charlatans, more concerned with their political ambitions than what is best for the nation and democratic decision making.

 

The nation’s health depends on an economy that serves everyone and a political system in which everyone feels represented and engaged. Instead we have a deeply divided nation.

See my article Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy . In particular young people are disadvantaged: difficulties in finding good work, high levels of debt, if they went to university, and difficulty affording to rent or buy a home. There is a link between income levels and mental health.

 

Above all Britain needs a long-term economic strategy. The UK could learn a lot from Germany . As a share of its economy, Germany’s manufacturing sector is twice the size of Britain’s – 23% of national GDP, compared with 11%, according to the World Bank. Unlike Britain, it runs a large surplus on trade in goods.

It has a good banking system and collaborative relationships with trades unions. Mark you, it may be argued that the Euro currency has enabled Germany to extract wealth form other European countries, particularly those in the south. See The problem with Europe is the euro.

Health

 The latest crisis is in the NHS NHS trusts in England have reported a combined financial deficit that was nearly twice the amount planned. There was a deficit of £960m in the last financial year compared with the £496m they had planned for, the regulator NHS Improvement said. The NHS in England has nearly 100,000 jobs unfilled, a situation described as “dangerously” understaffed.

Taxes are going to have to rise to pay for the NHS if the UK is to avoid “a decade of misery” in which the old, sick and vulnerable are let down, say experts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation said the NHS would need an extra 4% a year – or £2,000 per UK household – for the next 15 years. It said the only realistic way this could be paid for was by tax rises.

However I shall argue in this article that taxpayers should not be required to pay considerably more tax.

Prevention is better than Cure

Much of the NHS crisis has been caused by lack of emphasis on prevention. Health education should begin early in a child’s education and would be parents should be offered the same.

The government failed to invest sufficiently in the NHS. They tried surreptitiously to privatise it– see How to Dismantle the NHS 10 Easy Steps. They imposed essentially ideological reorganisations that did not involve the people “on the ground”. They have been doing the same in school education, alienating teachers, causing extra stress and thus losing experienced staff. Mental health until now has been a low priority, particularly for the young, and access to reasonably local services have not been provided. Many local 24 hour A&E emergency services have been closed.

 

UK has relatively low health spend The UK is ranked 6th out of the seven countries that form the G7 (a group of large developed economies) for healthcare expenditure as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Crimes against Humanity?

 The proportion of overweight and obese people is enormous. The WHO report predicted that 74% of men and 64% of women in UK to be overweight by 2030.  Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. Much Ill health can be attributed to lack of health education from an early age, unhealthy life styles including lack of exercise and poor posture.

Child obesity is alarming. A growing number of children are becoming obese as young as four or five years old, is sparking renewed concern about the obesity crisis although this is starting to decline. Almost 60% more children in their last year of primary school are classified as “severely obese” than in their first year, according to Public Health England figures for England and Wales. Childhood obesity at primary school age twice as likely in poor areas. Food producers should reduce fat, salt and sugar content, with taxes levied on junk food, say campaigners.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said this shows children are becoming fatter as they go through school . One in 25 children aged 10 or 11 ‘severely obese’. UK anti-obesity drive are at risk from new US trade deal, doctors warn.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.1 billion smokers and tobacco kills up to half of its users. Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.. A Tobacco tax could lead to ‘a cigarette-free world by 2040’.

In my view this is wholly inadequate and should be introduced rapidly.

Similarly those corporations causing air pollution, responsible for 40,000 deaths per year in UK and much ill-health, should pay. The World Health Organisation estimates that 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.

 

All of this is harmful commerce.  Ultimately causing these harms should be regarded as harmful commerce and crimes against humanity – leading to a new UN Crime against Humanity.

 

Should the burden fall on the taxpayer when we are being ripped off?

Meanwhile, surely the businesses responsible for ill health, premature deaths and rising costs should be held responsible and required to contribute substantially to the NHS. We need to go upstream and charge a hypothecated Corporate Ill Heath Tax specifically for the NHS. This includes the production and promotion of unhealthy food containing excessive sugar, promoting alcohol consumption and tobacco. Ultimately causing these harms should be regarded as crimes against humanity – leading to a new UN Crime against Humanity.

 

The Taxpayer is ripped off by the Pharmaceutical Industry. According to Global Justice Now, the UK spent £2.3 billion on health research and development (R&D) in 2015.1 About a third of new medicines originate in public research institutions and even medicines discovered by drug companies are often built on a large body of scientific work done in the public sector. Some estimate that the public pays for up to two-thirds of all drug R&D. In spite of this, there is no guarantee that these medicines will be accessible to patients in the UK or worldwide. Instead, the commercialisation of these discoveries by pharmaceutical companies has generated huge private profits out of public funds. Pharmaceutical companies claim that high prices are needed to recoup R&D costs. However, evidence suggests that pharmaceutical companies often spend more on either marketing and/or buying back their own shares to artificially boost their shareholder value than on R&D for new drugs. In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first, through investing in R&D, and again, by paying high prices to pharmaceutical companies for the resulting medicines. The NHS spent more than £1 billion last year alone on drugs whose development substantially relied on UK public research funding, while two of the five drugs with the highest costs for the NHS were developed in large part through UK publicly funded research.

It is beginning to be recognised that an independent cross party long-term strategy is needed for the NHS .

 

Resources for Action

 

Bruce Nixon, author, writer and speaker. His latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness

 

Wellbeing and Well Doing

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I have got up and just outside our bathroom window I can see and smell an old crimson climbing rose with rain drops on its leaves. A fragrant Jasminium is starting to climb into the rose.   

 A House with four Rooms

There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person”.  Rumer Godden, author of A House with four Rooms.

 

The Mental Room If we follow this axiom we’ll do better at whatever we do. As a writer, I spend much time in my head, the mental room, thinking about what I am writing and sometimes several other things as well. Like so many people I find the news distressing, for instance the toxic behaviour of many politicians, the mass slaughter of men, women, children and babies in Syria and the denial of human rights. Yet I can’t close my eyes and ears. I need to know and research in order to write. I write to make sense of things and suggest to others what they can do to change things for the better. But to be able to do this, and for my own wellbeing, I need to dwell in or at least visit all the other rooms each day.

 

The Spiritual Room Lying in bed early in the morning at this time of the year I hear the birds singing. When I got up I this morning I opened the bathroom window and saw the red climbing rose with raindrops on it and fragrant Jasminium climbing into it. That raised my spirits. For me, the garden is a spiritual place with all its different fragrances of earth, different leaves, herbs and blossoms. I grow vegetables and fruit amongst the flowers, old roses and shrubs and a vine under our windows at the back of the house. We have fragrant shrubs like Philadelphus, known as mock orange. Cutting our own salad, sowing seeds planting, getting my hands into the earth, putting waste into the compost heap is simple healing work.

 

Eating outside on a warm evening in the midst of it all is healing. Yet I get caught in my mind when I see the multitude of jobs requiring attention – then I feel pressured and tired. I often find myself trying to do several tasks at once and in a hurry. I notice I am carrying several things upstairs to my study, all but one of which need to go somewhere else downstairs! When I am full of angst there is wisdom to hand. Like “just one thing at a time”. And I remember the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Life is not about getting to a certain place. Life is a path. Walking meditation is a way to practice walking without a goal or intention. Everything we are looking for is right here in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

Then, next morning, after sleeping well and having a good dream that I cannot remember, I find I am in the zone and I can write.

 

The Emotional or Heart Room Yesterday, what did me the most good, and gave me a good night’s sleep was visiting my little 22 month old grandson and his mum and dad. He gave me such a smiling welcome. He is just so funny, lively, happy when not teething, constantly learning, strengthening his body, discovering, sometimes falling over, pushing the boundaries, feeling frustrated if not allowed, all his emotions so spontaneous, and quickly recovering by crying and getting a cuddle. What a lesson to us more complicated adults. I have learnt that sometimes I too need a cry and a cuddle. This is where the four rooms get mixed up: being kind and compassionate is heart stuff but it is key for a leader, especially one who believes in servant leadership.

 

Humans are community animals. Not all but most. We are uniquely co-operative animals. That is the basis of civilisation. After four hours in my study I feel lonely. I go off into the town to shop or go to my favourite café to read. I have my head up, eyes looking forward and my lungs open, as I have been taught by my Alexander trainer . I catch myself if I am stooped. I do not have an I-Phone in my hand. Again one thing at a time: when I am walking I am walking. Invariably I get a lot of smiles and “hello” mostly from people I don’t know. In my older age I have grown cheekier, friendlier, kinder, more interested in people who disagree with me and bolder and I laugh a lot more. I’d have been a much better independent management consultant if I had been like that years ago. And not only have I made more friends, I sell a lot of books in the town too. I chat with all kinds of people in a friendly interested way; I am interested. My favourite café is Sicilian and the staff multinational. I feel as if I am in Continental Europe.

 

The Physical or Body Room I try to get exercise every day I can: walking, especially to the woods, going to the fitness room, doing the RCAF Exercise programme which I have done since I was thirty, or gardening.  I do not use machines of any sort and I have always had a human driven Husqvarna lawn mower. The trouble with gardening is stooping – instead kneel on a mat – and digging are not good for the back. I walk at least once a day into the town, rarely using the car. I see stairs or escalators as opportunities for exercise unless I am very tired. Every Monday evening I go to a yoga class. From Yoga I have learned a simple meditation that gets me back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night and panic. Once a month I get a massage and go to a chiropractor. Like gardening, yoga, and walking to the woods are spiritual as well as physical.

 

I reflect that if everyone were offered the advantages of learning to live in these four rooms, there would be far fewer people suffering and requiring treatment for chronic illnesses physical or emotional. It would save an enormous amount of human suffering and cost to the National Health Service.

 

Resources

 

Review of A C Grayling’s book Democracy and Its Crisis

This is one of the most important books I have read in years. The opening words are

“This book is about the failure of the best political system we have: democracy. And how to put it right”.

Our democracy is not working Its shortcomings are the main obstacle to tackling the great challenges facing us early in the 21st century, creating a good society that benefits everyone and playing our part in the world. The nation has been hoodwinked first by the economically illiterate Austerity policy which has done and is still doing enormous harm to every aspect of our society and, especially, to the most vulnerable. The flawed Referendum is doing more harm. If Brexit goes ahead even more damage will be done. There is much anger and distress in a deeply divided United Kingdom.

The book is an exquisite delight to read. It is a passionate, revolutionary, rich in insights and written by an erudite and highly articulate academic. It is an exposé of our now deeply flawed democracy. As I read, I grew angrier. All of us have played a part in this decline: citizens, the media and members of parliament. This book should be read by all MPs. Every citizen needs to this book’s key messages. Otherwise we’ll continue to be victims of chicanery.

Democracy is precious. Men and women fought for it over the centuries, many giving their lives. Many other countries, including so-called People’s Democratic Republics, are dictatorships intolerant of human rights and careless of human life. Unless we are content to be deceived and exploited, all of us need to play our part in protecting our democracy by being well-informed and, when necessary, activists. We need a democracy fit for the 21st Century. Reform has been obstructed by those in power for generations. An essential feature of democracy is that MPs are there to represent us. Yet around half of us are disenfranchised because we are not represented under first past the post. Nevertheless, we need to engage with our MPs – vigorously if need be. All of us need to use our precious vote. That is the foundation of representative democracy.

The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum took place on 23 June 2016 supposedly to gauge support for the country either remaining a member of, or leaving, the European Union. But it was all about Tory party interests. It is a shocking example of how citizens can be misled and exploited by a ruthless and irresponsible faction.

The constantly repeated mantra “Brexit is the will of the people” is clever propaganda designed to mesmerise us! How can we be so gullible? Certainly, 52% of those who voted, voted leave and 48% voted to remain. However only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. So 74% did not vote for Brexit. Did all those wanting to leave do so for the same reasons? Did they have a clear idea, involving practical details, of what would follow? Many parts of the United Kingdom did not want to leave. There were huge differences depending on age. Sixteen and seventeen year olds, amongst those likely to be most adversely affected, had no vote. It is clear that a referendum was inappropriate for such a complex issue. And it was explicitly advisory. Most MPs, about 73%, are in favour of Remain.

Though a relatively short book, just over two hundred pages, it is quite complex. My aim in this review is to summarise its analysis and solutions and add my thoughts on aspects that in my view are not addressed.

PART I is a history of democracy from Plato, Aristotle through to De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill. It describes the dilemmas and difficulties that had to be overcome in establishing a representative democracy and deciding who should be participants in it. It took many centuries to devise a system that would give the mass of people a say, and not descend into chaos or tyranny. The main issues were: who should be qualified to vote and who was competent to vote. It is primarily concerned with the evolution of Britain’s democracy. However some aspects of the history of USA and other countries are relevant. The author suggests that, unless interested in the history of democracy, the reader may choose to go straight to Part II.

PART II chapter headings are: Alternative Democracies and Anti-democracies, Why It Has Gone Wrong, Making Representative Government Work, and The People and the Constitution, followed by Conclusion. There are two appendices: Brexit and The Failure of Democracy Elsewhere.

If you wish to gain a quick understanding of the book, I suggest you read the excellent Introduction, Conclusion and the two appendices.

What Has Gone Wrong and Why

Summary:

  • In a representative democracy parliament, not the public, is sovereign. In the UK it is the House of Commons that is sovereign and the House of Lords the reviewing chamber.
  • De facto the executive has become sovereign. With a single vote majority it can enact or suspend any law whatever, any civil liberty or human right and has absolute power. Ministers can use the ‘Henry VIII clause’ to amend or repeal legislation covertly without the need for parliamentary scrutiny. The absolute authority of the executive has grown greatly through a subservient majority in the House of Commons.
  • For representative democracy to work requires the independence of MPs. With the exception of election manifesto commitments, party discipline, “whipping”, threats, bullying, bribes, blackmail should not be allowed to decrease the independence of MPs.
  • The Tory party has been bedevilled by the far right for years. Labour has similar difficulties.
  • Judicial review by the courts is restricted to those bills which are incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
  • The absence of a written constitution makes it difficult to hold the executive to account.
  • The failure to equip the “demos” or citizens with the civic education makes it harder for representative democracy work.
  • Lack of popular engagement and responsibility and citizens who are uninformed, uncritical and self-interested. Myopia is a danger to sound government.
  • Manipulation by those in power, big business, big money, partisan and vested interests. Failure of the systems because representatives use democracy for their own class or party self- interest. Also interference through social media and cyber-attacks.
  • First past the post regularly produces governments with large majorities in the House of Commons on little more than a third of votes cast. Those who vote for losing candidates are disenfranchised; thus roughly half the electorate is unrepresented.
  • The picture of vigorous democratic debate is idealised. In reality it involves spin, dirty tricks, half-truths, untruths, distortion, propaganda, and attacks on individuals. All aimed at inflating the positives of one party and the credibility of the other. The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express are examples. We need to lower the temperature.
  • The cumulative consequences: anger, hopelessness, cynicism about politics, diminished respect for MPs and fewer able people wanting to become MPs.

 

Making Representative Government the Best it Can Be

 “The failings and frailties of human institutions, like those of individuals are inevitable; but there are many things that have to be done to be the very best they can be….because of what is at stake. Government falls into this category.”

What is required:

  • Parliament should be sovereign and representative. The task of managing competing needs and demands in a complex society is best managed in a representative democracy. Our parliament is not representative.
  • Proportional representation is essential.
  • MPs need to be independent in order to represent their constituents. Thus, except on manifesto commitments, end party discipline and whipping. MPs must be held to account by their constituents.
  • Representative democracy should have no truck with referenda.
  • A bicameral legislature with a more directly elected second chamber that enables proposals to be reviewed – the safeguard of second thoughts.
  • Media reporting and lobbying rigorously kept to standards of probity and accuracy. People should be reliably informed about what is happening in government and politics.
  • Complete transparency about funding involved directly or indirectly in campaigns. Limits on the amount that can be spent on campaigns to create a level the playing field.
  • Compulsory civic education in schools and compulsory voting for all aged 16 and above.
  • A written Constitution, based on consultation, to enable Judicial Review. An unwritten constitution is vulnerable.
  • Smaller government is needed in a more mature political activity.

Further Proposals

A Collaborative Democracy is essential if we are to bring about the changes needed and create a democracy fit to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Progressive parties need to work together if they are to gain power and bring about reform. It is essential that poiliticians learn to find common ground, rather than wasting energy in conflict. Here are my comprehensive proposals based on those of the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and the Green Party with some features added by me. A different kind of Political Leadership is also required, one that unites people, rather than wasting energy in division and conflict.

 How you can use your power to transform our UK Democracy:

 Bruce Nixon is an author, writer, speaker, blogger and activist.

 

 


	

Creating a Prosperous Economy that Works for All

Every time I walk in my town, I see deteriorating infrastructure: rusting railings, damaged pavements and pot holes in the roads. And like many other many other local councils our council is selling off assets and privatising public facilities in order to make ends meet . It is as if we, the fifth richest economy in the world, were a third world country.

Investing in Northern and Midland Rail infrastructure could make an enormous difference.  This is an exceptionally insightful and useful article by Will Hutton. You have heard of the north-south divide. Now how about the west-east one? It says The Social Mobility Commission state of the nation report published last December showed disproportionate disadvantage in the east where the Brexit referendum was won. Birmingham and Manchester England’s next biggest cities after London need to be bigger and governed as regions to capture the agglomeration effects that lead to the prosperity that creates the greatest social mobility effects. This will be helped by HS2 linking Birmingham to London and Europe and to Liverpool and Leeds via HS3. I say the sooner these rail links are built the better it will be. And that can be enabled now with Sovereign Money without any more borrowing or taxes.

In the USA bonds are the normal US way of raising capital for public investments (eg New York Subway). As I understand it, the Government simply guarantees to repay the bond by a fixed date and then gets the capital very cheaply on a triple A security.

Should we be taking back public services into public ownership? Lord Adonis’s recent article Grayling’s rail bailout echoes the grave errors of New Labour makes a strong case for taking the railways back into public ownership. A useful model for transport is London’s TFL. This could be adopted in the regions.

The Carillion collapse suggests that management of the construction of hospitals and schools and management of services should be taken back in house. Capita’s woes cause further concerns about outsourcing . However an equally important issue is how infrastructure is financed. Government and local government need to rethink the use of private finance in the public sector. Its use is often an ideologically based decision, not a rational one.

Public Finance Initiatives In particular the use of Public Finance Initiatives (PFI’s) as a way of funding investments in hospitals and schools have turned out to be hugely expensive and not necessarily effective. There are also problems with secrecy. Both parliament and the public are unable to obtain essential information about these contracts including tax avoidance .

It is shocking that 85% of MPs don’t know where money comes from The commercial banks make money from creating 97% of our money supply . Thus they are incentivised to create debt, hugely increasing the nation personal debt. Instead, our money supply should be created by an independent public body to meet the nation’s needs. The proper role for banks is to provide funds for businesses. Germany has a far better banking system that provides better services that support economic development at local, regional and national levels.

The good news is that there are better ways of financing public investment. There is no justification for arguing that large infrastructure investments are best funded by outsourcing them to the private sector in order to provide the finance without government borrowing. People’s QE or Sovereign Money can be used to finance them without creating debt. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is giving this serious consideration

J M Keynes, Milton Friedman and Martin Wolf have all advocated the idea of sovereign money. Most recently, Lord Adair Turner has proposed similar ideas, highlighting that ‘there are no technical reasons to reject this option’. Like Quantitative Easing (QE), Sovereign Money relies on the Bank of England creating money and putting this money into the economy. But whereas QE relied on flooding financial markets and hoping that some of this money would ‘trickle down’ to the real economy, Sovereign Money works by injecting new money directly into the real economy via government spending.

Funding rail infrastructure, hospitals and schools. Sovereign Money, as argued above, can be used to fund new rail infrastructure in the North to support the Northern Power House without incurring debtincurring debt . It can enable new hospitals and schools to be funded without borrowing. Sovereign money could also enable investment in building affordable homes and refurbing leaky homes , and schools to invest in renewable energy, saving them thousands of pounds, and community or regional power  generation.

Every time I walk in my town, I see deteriorating infrastructure: rusting railings, damaged pavements and pot holes in the roads. And like many other many other local councils our council is selling off assets and privatising public facilities in order to make ends meet . It is as if we, the fifth richest economy in the world, were a third world country.

No longer is there any excuse for Austerity with all its deplorable effects. Brexit is another great folly. It all adds up to incompetent government.

If you want to make all this happen lobby your MP and support ney Positive Money . You can get together with others and form a local group.

More about all these issues and solutions can be found in Chapter 7 An economy that works for all in my recent book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness. and Chapter 2 Understanding the Financial Crisis and Chapter 10 New Money of A Better World is Possible