Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The worst thing about GPs being given their own cash to manage, it seems to me, is that we have seen a resurrection of the term ‘postcode lottery’. Apparently one of the evils of taking control away from central bureaucrats is that we might not all get exactly the save quality of care.

Who cares? What sort of snivelling, petty, mean spirited ingrate would worry that they might not get quite as much as everyone else? Surely the only thing to matter is that there is a general improvement in service, no matter that some of us might get fantastic improvement and some of us only slight or no improvement? The whole concept of whingeing about postcode lotteries is just pure jealousy, indulged by idiots who have never grown out of playground squabbles over who has the best lunch.

Life is not fair: we were born into inequality and we will die there. Trying to force the in-between bits into a wholly unnatural state of fairness will cost huge amounts of money and achieve nothing, except perhaps giving people false expectations & creating dissatisfaction. Let’s just be honest and admit that shit happens. This will let us focus our limited resources on creating achievable benefits, improving life as much as possible for as many as possible. We should concentrate on absolute benefits (most people in the UK happy with their medical care) rather than relative equality (nobody has to wait more than 6 days to see their GP).

Pragmatism in politics would be a great thing.


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Save our forests!

 The government appears to want to sell our public woodland to raise some cash and get rid of the administrative burden of looking after them. This should not be allowed to happen.

On the other hand, they are not fantastically well managed at the moment by the Forestry Commission or other bodies that look after them. We can use many of them, but often in a restricted way and with little imaginative organisation of events.

A pragmatic solution to all this is for communities to take control of their local woods and to use them as best fits local needs. Everyone would win with this: the government make and save money, the woods are preserved and people get better enjoyment from local countryside. The woods could also be put to use, if wanted, to generate income for the community or help improve welfare (such as youth schemes). The cost to communities would not be great; giving help in raising the cash would be perfect Corporate Social Responsibility for companies.

There are many example of this model across Europe, so it would not be difficult for community groups to work out the best ways to manage their woodland once they own it – just follow examples that already work well.

But proposing this will take a little political backbone, which is likely to be conspicuous by its absence unless there is enough pressure to force the issue. What will help is for as many of us as possible to send an e-mail asking for the forests to be saved for us all. To this end, just copy the wording below into your e-mail system and send to Caroline Spelman (address below). Add your name at the bottom or leave blank, as you like.



To: Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Dear Ms Spelman,

RE: DEFRA consultation on forestry sale.

I consider the British woodland to be one of the greatest treasures that the nation owns, regardless of its market value. I wish to have access to this woodland in the future, to see it properly managed for the good of all people and not sold off to the highest bidder. I wish to see our forests safe for future generations, forever.

I am also pragmatic. I understand that the nation needs to raise capital and that some of the loudest voices decrying these changes have previously berated the Forestry Commission just as loudly. I therefore ask you to consider the following proposal.

Sell the forests of Britain to its people. Let community organisations or charities be the only bodies able to bid for this land. The money can be raised by many means, including subscription, adopt-a-tree, corporate sponsorship, grants and many other ways that the ingenuity of the people can invent. We can raise the money, we just need you to sell us our forests.

Our woodland will not be valuable on the open market if sold with sufficient safeguards to ensure they remain accessible to everyone and are conserved for the future. Conversely, this will be their greatest attraction if sold to community organisations; the potential for generating revenue for those communities would simply be an added bonus.

Once owned by the people, their woodlands could become so much more than somewhere to walk the dog: they could become a serious asset of the people. There are many ways that our woodlands can enrich our lives. When communities own their own forests, people will have the power to decide how best to use them and they will continue to have this power as their communities change. Camping for our children, biomass for heating, forest craft or larders: we might all have different aspirations for our woodland, but none of us wish to lose it.

I ask simply that if the ownership of our woodland changes, let it change for the better.

Yours in hope,

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One of the opening speeches of the coalition government said something along the lines of:

“blah blah blah blah rhubarb blah of course we want a fair society wiffle ping zip.”

I still do not know what made me worry about those few simple words. Their truth sounded so unquestionably simple and self-evident. It is only in the passing of the days that I have realised that they gloss over a vast and tangled subject. Because ‘fair’ is a tricksey word, full of traps and chimeras.

The first problem is working out what being fair actually means. For instance, is it fair that key workers such as teachers should be helped to buy houses? If so, is it not also fair that the highly-qualified engineers who design schools but earn less than teachers should also be helped? Who else? Is it fair that the taxes of the school dinner lady should pay for all this largess, while she benefits from none of it?

To carry on the schooling theme, is it fair that private schools exist? Should the best teachers and pupils be forced into the state system so that everyone has fair opportunity? Or is it only fair to let the successful spend their hard-earned (and hard-taxed) money on their children? If not, surely to be fair we must extend that ban to all aspects of life that could give recipient children an advantage: sports, diet, housing, holidays and on ad infinitum.

Which brings us to another question: is ‘fair’ and same as ‘equal’? This may sound like a flippant question, but it is not. These two terms have been consistently confused and interchanged in our political system throughout the last 15 years or so. Equality has been touted as fair, but is it?

Think of an extreme: should the innocent child of violent, illiterate parents have an equal chance at success as a child from high-achieving parents? This at first seems to be unarguably ‘Yes’, but let’s explore it a little further. The ‘achiever’ child will have an intrinsically better chance at success due to her social status and parental assistance: money, knowledge, attitude, contacts and environment. The ‘illiterate’ child will be disadvantaged before she learns to speak; which, incidentally, in our enlightened society will also disadvantage her due to class assumptions over accent. To have an equal chance at success she will have to be given far more assistance from the state than the achiever child, being given every opportunity that the state can offer whilst the achiever child is overlooked.

Now, how far should the state discriminate between the children if they share the same mindset and conduct as their parents? If the illiterate child actually harms the achiever child? What if the children come from similar backgrounds, other than the attitude of their parents? What if they come from identical backgrounds, but one excels and the other is disruptive? How far should it be taken before equality is unfair?

Resources are finite, so is it fair to give the least productive in society more than those who are instrumental in making society viable? Perhaps it is only fair to us all if we do, as otherwise we might foment an underclass that will disrupt the whole of society. But even if it is fair, is it really wise? Will supporting the lower achievers over the higher achievers tend to make us all more equal? Will the former achieve more while the latter achieve less? In other words, will it tend to make us all mediocre and is that something on which our society can thrive?

In evolutionary terms the answer is emphatically ‘No’. Natural selection rewards the achievers and takes away from the losers. Eventually the genetic material of the losers is lost and the species moves on. On the global scale the same may happen within societies, where those that reward achievement become the overlords of those that promote equality.

We have seen through the communist experiment that equal and fair societies are not possible, an observation reinforced by our recent Labour government. They spent a lot of money and effort trying to equalise society, but ended up with a greater divide at the end than they started with at the beginning. But does this matter? I would suggest not. Worrying about comparative equality is just a form of jealousy. What does it matter if there are trillionaires in the world if you have enough for a comfortable life? As a society we should try to ensure that nobody goes without food, shelter, health and education; we should not try to make those at the bottom of the pile feel parity with those in Hello! magazine. Poverty should not be defined in terms of average wages or percentage of population, it should be defined by hunger.

We should also celebrate the differences in society, understand that society needs structure and value everyone within that structure as essential. Trying to make everyone equal is to suggest that the outer reaches of society are wrong. There is an inherent, unspoken assumption that the middle of society is the right place to be, that the working classes need to be elevated and the upper classes subdued. This is reprehensible snobbery; going to university and becoming a good, solid professional is not the ultimate achievement in life.

What society needs is balance. Liberating the able from the social mire must be balanced by assisting those that are already achieving. The only way to do this is at grass-roots level, letting those involved with individual communities decide where resources are best placed. This will undoubtedly lead to some patches of poor delivery, the unfair ‘postcode lottery’ of services, but the alternative is homogeneity through central government dictate. This may result in a more equal system, but to ensure a few do not miss-out the majority would be made to suffer less efficient and less suitable provision. There is also a problem with risk: if central government gets the dictate wrong, everyone suffers; if local providers get it wrong, only a few suffer.

The localised approach is both pragmatic and wise. Many systems that were designed to make society fair ended up causing some of the worst suffering in history. Communism is a great example and, surprisingly, so was Apartheid. There are no absolutes of good and evil, it is all down to cultural norms. After all, the Romans believed that parents had complete power over their children, even unto death.

Something as simple as being fair needs to be questioned: it is not a universal paradigm.  We have to be very careful that our cultural norms do not slip into dangerous, damaging waters without us even noticing it. We need to realise that every policy has winners and losers, so we should choose with open eyes where we draw the boundary between them. We should actively decide whether we want a Fair and Equal society, not unwittingly end up with one due to our political Circus.

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We have just had a rather interesting budget from the LibCons, so I thought I would indulge myself with a little lucubration on economics.

Not long ago, the fiasco at Copenhagen highlighted a few cracks in the global community. All is not accord and conviviality amongst nations. The main problems appear to be distrust and vested interests, which have lead to a ‘them and us’ attitude for both individual nations and blocks of nations. No nation wants to give away too much without reaping at least as much benefit from it as everyone else, because otherwise their people might slip down the global wealth rankings and not be best pleased with their leaders.

This is sadly resonant of the Tragedy of the Commons, as are the recent attitudes of Canada et al regarding the arctic. Without a system of rewards and punishments, there is very little incentive for nations to conserve resources for the future. Indeed, the only incentives are to exploit now or hoard for later, depending on which will give the greatest economic advantage for the particular circumstances of the nation. Conservation and fair distribution are just not politically sensible in a world dominated by consumer-capitalist economic systems.

The budget today nodded towards a green economy, but no more than that. I think it is safe to say that the ensuing period of austerity and deficit reduction will banish any attempts at wholesale economic overhaul. So consumer-capitalists we will stay for the forseeable future.

Stuck with the current global economic system, we need rewards and punishments to tip the balance towards acting responsibly for the world as a whole, which means we need global environmental treaties. Such treaties appear to be focusing on emissions at the moment – caps of CO2 per country and technology transfer to allow this to happen – but this is treating the symptom rather than the cause. Emissions treaties are highly desirable in controlling climate change, with the fairest system possibly being a per capita global cap with sliding-scale reductions for wealth, but they will not be successful in addressing the tragedy of the commons. For this we need wider controls on consumption of resources.

It is very difficult to control consumption without changing the consumer-capitalist system we operate, or becoming unacceptably draconian. However, what can be done is to make rampant consumption unattractive. The easiest way to do this is to make it desirable to use renewable energy, to recycle waste and conserve natural habitats. There are many mechanisms for achieving this, but they ultimately boil down to economic necessity: keep your forests to make money, use fossil fuel to lose money.  

This will work very well if all the nations sign up to the necessary treaties, which is unlikely to happen without a lot more trust and cooperation. This leaves the option of unilateral action, such as border taxation. Is the EU strong enough to impose its vision of necessary action on the rest of the world? Can we tax carbon-intensive goods as they enter the EU? Probably not, but it is probably immaterial as the resulting conflict could be more damaging to the world than inaction. The climate is becoming less stable and resources dwindling, so any action that heightens international tension is probably a bad idea.

Is it possible to overcome the political impasse by private means? Can corporations lead where politicians fear to tread? Well, there is already the technical capability to convert the world to use 100% renewable energy, which is a start. This capability is also improving all the time due to scientific advances, but is it practicably possible or economically viable?

Some recent rough calculations suggest that wind energy is cheaper than nuclear power for the UK and that 2500km2 of solar panels could supply the UK with all its energy needs. The latter would be rather ridiculous as there are much more efficient ways to generate transport fuels and electricity in the UK, which brings us to the idea of a supergrid. This could distribute renewable energy across Europe and beyond, making the most of local power sources and evening out local gaps in production.  This makes renewable energy very attractive with incentives such as FIT or ROC, but without subsidies renewables cannot currently compete with fossil energy. Partially this is due to various subsidies (largely indirect) that fossil energy enjoys and partially due to the infrastructure, but as with all finite resources this will change.

The supply of oil and many important minerals is rapidly diminishing. The simple economics of supply and demand mean that these commodities will become more expensive. There will therefore become a time when it is cheaper to use renewable energy and recyclate than virgin minerals. The only problem with this is that resource consumption will probably increase as a proportion of reserves, so that volumes of sales remain high and revenue streams are maintained. This will keep sustainable practices on the fringes or requiring subsidies until the mineral resources become extremely scarce, at which point there will be insufficient time to build the necessary infrastructure to avoid production loss. This is turn will probably lead to civil dissatisfaction and international tension.

The nations or trading blocks that have promoted renewable energy, recycling and conservation will at that time be better able to continue production as they will have the infrastructure and social practice already in place. They will have far greater energy security and civil stability than those nations that build economic growth on mineral exploitation and do not invest in a sustainable society.

The greatest aim currently should be for international treaties to reduce resource exploitation, minimise climate changes and ready the world community for a sustainable future. However, this is currently unlikely to happen sufficiently robustly or soon enough to avoid damaging resource depletion. The private sector within the EU will not be able to change the block into a sustainable community without economic advantage or subsidies implemented by government. It may not be possible for the EU to impose tax burdens or other trade tariffs on resource-intensive imports, but this should not deter us from pursuing a sustainable European community within 50 years or so. This may reduce our competitive advantage in the short term, but it will lead to safe, equitable and comparatively comfortable future for all within our community. It can be done, but only with political will from our national and EU parliaments.

Unfortunately, that puts the burden back onto you and I. Only if we push our politicians to act, show them that we are brave enough to take some pain now so we can build a viable future, will they be able to lead us through such difficult changes.

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