Tuesday, 25 April 2017

What About The Workers?

There are many and various matters  which will receive scant attention or discussion in the General Election. Or, if any, what is claimed will be removed from either the realities or what might be done.

We hear a lot about skills and how we are short of them and need to import them. What is not said is that one reason is that in the last couple of decades at least, maybe more, politics and government have relegated training and apprenticeships to a back number, bodged and fiddled.

There are many reasons for this. One is that schools are judged more on how many bodies can be packed off to a university than on how many actually finish up in the jobs being created and are trained in the basic requirements.

Given the way we are governed when it has become clear that we have a problem in apprenticeships and training, a posse of media advisers, PR men, senior civil servants and the usual suspects are asked to come up with some answers, preferably cheap that do ot impinge on any other interest.

In short the effect is to deal with a mess by creating a bigger brighter mess. The ones worst affected luckily are people with little or no say or are among the groups we do not bother with these days. The ones running the show are low down in the political and government pecking order.

This brief article says what should have happened.

This later brief article tells us what is, or rather is not happening.

What has happened is that the whole process was made very complex for firms and companies and others who need simplicity and clarity. Add to that is that to complete and qualify, often added steps and requirements are built in to an extent which guarantees high rates of failure.

When we have a skills shortage the shortage is increased as the net is widened. So then we import the skills from abroad. Because they are foreign they are recognised despite being nowhere near or equivalent to the UK requirements.

A little like replacing the undertakers, because they are not up to speed with environmental issues, with dustbin men from wherever.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Bending The Knees

There are reports that around half the Church of England Cathedrals in England are experiencing financial difficulties. Not only have many of their costs risen due to recent legislation and the rest, but time and air pollution have taken their toll over the last century.

But the congregations have fallen in number and they are no longer centres for the rich and wealthy to display their wealth or their attachment to that Church. They depend now to an extent on tourism, use as arenas for performances and other activities.

These were buildings that often took generations to complete. Now in structural etc. decay it does not make many decades for the situation to become critical for many and this is what has happened. Nor is it Satan, only the human failing of not allowing for maintenance and running costs in doing their calculations.

At one time, the Church of England could call readily on the governments, national and local, for some funding and often hidden subsidy. Now we have different communities and there is a real issue if monies are directed to one particular faith.

Then there are the people who do not help. They suggest the buildings can be taken over, in part or whole, and used for varied community purposes by such as local authorities or other agencies. Then the argument is that this makes them "free".

But they are not free from all the costs of keeping them standing and in a condition for use,  never mind the preservation of ancient art and sculpture. This at a time when all governments and agencies are facing severe pressure on taxing and spending because of all the commitments promised and undertaken.

In the Middle Ages not only did we have the Cathedrals and all the churches, great and small, but we had the monasteries that rivalled them is size and costs.

Whatever happened to them?

Friday, 21 April 2017

A Matter Of Taste

Long ago my mother was told by a her doctor to take a swig of Lucozade now and again because it would be good for her. He had qualified before the First World War at an Irish University, and kept up more with the horses than medical science.

At times I might take a secret swig of this elixir and liked the strong sweet taste. In the days of sugar rationing this was a rare treat. But as time wore on the delights of mild and bitter became more desirable.

Then along with the Yanks and dietary freedom came the fizzy soft drinks, in bottles and then in cans. When family shopping became a part of life it was very tempting to take one or two, OK perhaps half a dozen to put into the fridge.

The advert's constantly on TV and in the other media told us how good they were for us giving us the sprightly energy we needed to do our work, whether it was moving paper from one side of the desk to the other or more physically demanding.

It took some time before the realisation that a refreshing cold drink actually packed in more sugar than was good for the system, never mind the waist measurement. The health warriors declared war on it. But it was not long before the makers came up with the sweet taste wanted.

I ought to have known that it was not as simple as that. In this article from Science Daily, lifted by the Daily Mail and others, the artificial sweeteners derived largely from chemical synthetics are said to be doing us no good at all. From bottom to brain they are doing their worst.

Now where did I put the newspaper?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Election Fever

It is Wednesday, 14th June and the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn looks round the Cabinet table at the members of his coalition government. He has done the difficult bit, accepting the job from an elderly lady who has no place in his plans for the future, but HM was as courteous as ever, even offering him corgi pups to cheer up Downing Street.

He did not expect this. Quite why Rupert Murdoch had decided to offer free Sky Sports and adult channels to the under 30's if JC won may never be known. Perhaps the decision by Russia to allow SkyTV may have had some bearing on it. The gods of the media move in mysterious ways.

Some compromises had been necessary, notably those that allowed the SNP to claim full independence, which he had announced over the weekend, yet retain places at Westminster and in the Cabinet, purely for advisory and co-ordination purposes.

JC had granted them the pound as a currency and control over interest rates and bond issues, related to the promise to meet any budget deficits they might have. Defence matters had been agreed with Russia and even now their naval vessels were being cheered as they entered the River Forth.

The Lib Dem's had been reluctant to join the coalition and still were coming to terms with the fact they had any MP's at all. But the absence of any coherent policies gave them a freedom of purpose to take the jobs they were offered to supplement their incomes. They were happy to agree.

Although Sinn Fein were numerically small, they did have a role to play and had suggested, if only privately, that if certain concessions were made to The Republic, if only financial, then added persons from the South and Republic might join the Cabinet, again to assist co-ordination. Whether the Roman Catholic Church, however, would welcome Orthodox Missionaries from Russia was still an open question.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives were arguing bitterly about why they lost. Some said the lack of celebrities and weepie human interest stories in their campaign was the cause. Others felt that promising President Trump as many golf courses as he liked was an error. But Theresa May's coming out as an Arsenal supporter was perhaps the clincher.

One could forgive her many things, but that was too much.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

And Now The Bad News

So there is to be a General Election and weeks of even more stupidity that we have been enduring.

But it is the beginning of the cricket season, so all I can say is:


There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke
The gatlings jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"


Not a chance.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Picturing Past And Present

The connection between the two pictures above will not be obvious. The 2017 cartoon has the text as "I was the first in my family to get into student debt". The picture is from 1948 of Friedrich Hayek, Professor of Economics at the LSE giving a lecture to undergraduate students.

If this near all male group looks older than modern students this is because many will have done time in the armed services first and some will have worked for a year or two to save, most grants then being as the discretion of local authorities and this was an age of austerity.

The 2017 cartoon reminds us that very many students face high levels of debt. It is said that some will never be able to repay them. Then there are the debts entailed in buying or even renting property now commonplace. To add to these burdens the latest are the debts arising from car ownership for essential travel.

Behind all these lies the hand of government. Firstly making university education almost obligatory and offering loan facilities to allow this to happen. For property centrally controlled rates of interest, held down for political reasons has triggered the boom in property prices. For car ownership, lax regulation and low rates of interest again have added to this.

Hayek would have had none of this. A man for free markets as opposed to nominally free but "guided" or "supported", and any kind of central control, such as tariffs or restrictions, in the world of the late 1940's Britain he was out of place. His views were held to be those of the past and economic history not reality.

So in 1950 he went off to Chicago to join a very different school of economics and it would be thirty years before grudging governments found it necessary to relax their grip. What we do not realise is that the grip was still there, only moderated and as ever with government ruled by short term thinking and the next poll predictions.

The students in the 1948 picture would have been looking to work eventually in particular areas. Only a few might become academics. The cost of post graduate study was high and at that time jobs in universities or colleges limited. Some might teach but most I think would be looking to work in government, central and local and for a few trainee management jobs in either select corporations or more so the new headquarters of nationalised industries.

For all Hayek's work he was not talking to the converted, he was talking to students who could not be converted as their futures lay in a society and polity that was centrally controlled, planned and administered. His economics, as I have said was of the past and in Britain there was then no possible future for it.

Half a dozen years after he left the economics staff etc. were mostly Keynesians of one sort or other, none pure or who Keynes would have recognised, with some Marxists and a handful of Welfare Economists, now lost and forgotten. Also there was a group of the wild men of mathematical economics and the surreal world of Games Theory.

Which brings us to the present day and the trillions of debt owed not just by governments or banks, but the couple next door, their student children and the cars in the garage and on the drive.

I wonder what Hayek might say?

I told you so?

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Toilet Training

The keen eyed click people among you have seen the picture above on the web so I will skip the jokes about Mr. Corbyn's trip to Doncaster. Assuming that he shunned the delights of the A1 road, the sweet smell of nitrous oxide that he was so happy to use to avoid global warming and the groups of kindred travel peoples in the lay byes and service stations, he might have risked all in going by train.

Yes, there is life for Londoners beyond Potter's Bar. I hope that on passing through Hatfield he might have stood out of respect to the Gascoyne-Cecil family who have shaped so much of our History. It was Lord Salisbury in 1896 who brought in pensions for teachers, which helps so many of his Labour workers.

Also in 1899, he provided for education for the handicapped, shunned by the eugenicists of the Left and Liberal of the time. Not least, his nephew, Lord Balfour in 1902 brought in the Education Act for secondary education, a cause that Lord Salisbury promoted. Mr. Corbyn is a direct beneficiary of that Act, albeit a little later.

At Huntingdon he would have been up again. It might be as it is the birthplace of Oliver Cromwell and M.P. for that town. On the other hand King Charles I used the George Hotel as an HQ. Then there might be allowing a respect for another former London local councillor MP for the town, who made it to be Prime Minister, John Major, a hard act for Mr. Corbyn to follow.

At Peterborough, as well as the London Road football stadium he should reflect on the Cathedral with the mortal remains of Queen Catherine of Aragon, who kept her head but not her marriage as the first wife of King Henry VIII. Unable to deliver the heir (or policies) required she was shunted off to a quiet life in the country.

Then on to Grantham, passing Burghley, those Cecil's again, where he might detrain for a moment to bow his head to the memory of Alderman Alfred and Beatrice Roberts whose gift to the nation (Margaret, later Thatcher), prevented the UK from becoming communist under the heel of Cromwellian gentry such as the Foot's and Benn's in time for the collapse of communism.

Newark passes in a flash so no time for the toilet and was a town of many sieges during the Civil War so he might take his pick as to who to choose. Then it is time to gather the wits as well as the luggage that still remains in his possession, especially if it is an Edinburgh bound train.

Doncaster was a major industrial town, now less so, but has retained part of the tradition of railway works. Its' first were those of the Great Northern Railway, after 1923 LNER, and one the locomotives built there was the "Flying Scotsman". This is a loco' known to many of us through TV and media, for most it is the steam age.

But not all is as it seems. In 1949, I was one of a party that visited the loco' works, when it was thought sensible that we should learn about the basics of the economy. In general ordinary servicing and minor repairs were done in local loco' sheds but major overhauls and repairs at the specialist works.

The bosses were as much concerned with throughput as those of today, the system could not do with too many loco's out of service, the timetables were hard enough to keep as it was. So at Doncaster when a loco' came in it was stripped down and dismantled.

But the loco' that emerged was made up of parts from stores and prepared major items. By the late 1940's the "Flying Scotsman" was wearing out and downgraded from the then LNER mail line to the secondary Great Central line and based at Leicester Great Central. Around 1950/51 it went to Doncaster for major overhaul.

Some basic framework was retained but the boiler and other major parts were taken from stock. Either unused or in most cases items which had been repaired etc. from other earlier dismantled loco's. So the loco' you see now is not the 1923 version nor a good deal of the 1950's version.

Mr. Corbyn might reflect that there is a lesson to be learned here. Meanwhile Doncaster works is now about carriages, seats and toilets.

Which might be another lesson.