subtitle

...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 5098: You Can Prove Anything With Statistics Un More Temps

Tuesday:

Ho ho ho Merry Christmas, and here’s Pollyanna Toytown in the Grauniad telling us that the Conservatories want to eat babies.

Polly’s clearly getting worried that Mr Ed won’t be delivering her cushy peerage a victory for social democracy anytime soon, as her language gets less believable by the day.

Today she’s claiming that “Only one in forty new jobs is full time”, citing the Workers Revolutionary Party(!) rather than the press release from TUC who came up with this statistic, presumably because the TUC use the word “Net” rather than “New”, a small difference but a significant one.


The TUC have arrived at their figure by taking the Office for National Statistics numbers for the amount of people in employment in summer 2014 and comparing them with the numbers from the start of 2008, before Mr Frown’s Government ran face first into the biggest crash in history.

The Coalition government like to do this too, because it shows that a million more people have jobs now than before the economy was wiped out under Labour.

And the figures do show that twenty-five thousand more people are in full time employment now than in 2008, which is indeed 25,000/1,000,000 or 1/40 of the total increase.

Think about it for a moment and see if you spot the flaw in the reasoning before I tell you.

Yes, that’s 1/40 is of the extra new jobs, not all new jobs.

This makes the TUC’s headline somewhat hyperbolic, but at least with a figleaf of honesty in that, pardon me, “safety Net”.

To switch the “net” for “new” makes the headline say a whole other thing.

So the question becomes, is Polly stupid or lying? I have to say that citing the Workers Revolutionary Party – when she is neither worker nor particularly revolutionary, and not much of a party animal either; despite her aspirations to influence, the defector to and then from the SDP usually ends up in a party of one – suggests that she was looking for the headline to match her prejudice.

For Pollyanna’s claim to apply to “one in forty new jobs” she would have to be saying that not one single full time job has been lost under the Coalition.

It seems unlikely that Ms Toytown’s message is that the Coalition are paragons of preservation when it comes to employment.

In fact, Polly – and the Labour Party – put it about rather a lot that the Coalition have caused the loss of a great many full time jobs (by implication “proper” jobs) and replaced them with part-time zero-hour (substandard) serfdom. And that is what this “one in forty” claim is trying to back up, to make you think.

But the figures actually show that just as many people (actually slightly more) have full time jobs now than before the Credit Crunch.

And there are a lot more people in part-time and self-employed jobs, who were previously without work at all.

Of course it’s not that simple. Some people who were in full-time jobs have lost them and not got new ones are now in part time work or unemployed. There’s genuine hardship and suffering about. And the real value – after inflation – of the wages from those full-time jobs may not be as much as they used to be in 2008 because we’ve been sharing the pain so that fewer people lose their jobs. We mustn’t forget that.

But Hard Labour cynically seek to capitalize on this politically by calling it their “Cost of Living Crisis”.

The recent cross-party report on hunger in the UK was remarkably fair and non-partisan. But again, almost immediately Hard Labour went for the self-interested spin and started crying crocodile tears over the “shame” of Britain’s Food Banks. (Germany, in fact, has more people using food banks.)

This point-scoring for their own ends undermines efforts to help end hunger. Labour don’t just put their own interests ahead of fixing things; they actually make things worse.

Polly Toynbee no doubt justifies her mendacity with the thought that Labour are “good” and so anything to get them into power, no matter how dishonest or harmful, must be “good”.

No doubt David Milipede justified British complicity in CIA torture with much the same reasoning.


Previously, Statistics Part Un

and Part Deux

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Day 5092: What Price Justice?

Wednesday:


When members of Maggie Thatcher’s Cabinet are telling you “whoa, that’s a bit right wing”, you might just want to rethink your plans for Judicial Review.

Of course, since Mr Christopher Greything usually responds to people who disagree with him by trying to abolish them, we might finally see some Lords Reform.

But the Coalition, particularly its Lib Dem ministers, are supposed to be a listening government. Let our Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians take this opportunity to say they have listened to the concerns of their Lordships and of our own membership and thought again and drop this dangerous bill.


I was ashamed – once again – at the long list of Liberal Democrat MPs voting to strike down the Lords’ amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill. People ask me to justify that. I can’t.

Was there some deal? Was it part of an arrangement to get Liberal Democrat priorities like infrastructure investment, apprenticeships or anti-tax-evasion measures through the Autumn Statement? Whatever it was, the deal’s clearly off now that past-master of the political attack George Osborn has “declared war” on the Lib Dems, saying taxes would rise if we’re in government (clue: this is not a secret, Master Gideon).

Heroically, the Lords – for shame, the House of Lords! – have once again ridden to the rescue. To lose one vote in the Lords may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose one hundred smacks of absolute bloody-minded stupidity.

But there is no shame in listening. We’ve been here before with the Snoopers’ Charter. (And look to be here again with the Snooper’s Charter II, but that’s another gripe.) Take on board that there are serious and well-founded concerns with the Bill and accept the changes. It’s not in the Coalition agreement. If you can’t bring yourselves to vote against it after you’ve voted for it, all that is necessary is to say Liberal Democrats will abstain.


This isn’t about defending our traditions of justice. Magna Carta, did she die in vain etc etc. People who insist on calling Judicial Review a “foundation stone” of our democracy are both overstating and undervaluing its position. Far from defending our traditional systems this is about enshrining necessary new ones. Our system is woefully short of checks and balances and far from being an ancient right, long taken for granted, this is a much-needed modern addition to our unwritten constitution, and not one to be tossed aside.

You might like to trace it back to the King’s Writ, but that’s a fig-leaf for a legal system that places much store on precedent. Really it is a judge-made development, taking off in the Nineteen Eighties, when somebody had to stand up to a government that was unrestrained by Parliament by dint of a huge majority, with much of its force added by way of the Human Rights Act, granting the courts the power, indeed the duty, to oversee the government’s compliance with our basic human rights.

In fact it’s not really compatible with Parliamentary Sovereignty – which is why Parliament keeps writing new and sillier laws to grant itself permission to ignore one judgment or another – but incorporating independent third-party review of legislation is a vital step towards properly holding the executive and legislature to account.

But that’s not the point.

And it’s not about humiliating the Secretary of State, Mr Christopher Greything, a Tory too dull to be described as a Sinister Minister of Justice, but who just won’t be told when he’s in the wrong.

It’s not that I don’t have any sympathy for a Department of Justice facing the austerity squeeze, that’s already cut legal aid to the bone. The numbers of Judicial Review cases have tripled since 2000; they’re very expensive; and, given the large percentage that the government wins, you can see how someone might think they are often vexatious or at least time-wasting.

There’s certainly a case for arguing that justice is already far too expensive: the courts are a rich man’s playground (and I do generally mean “man”), because taking any kind of action is prohibitively expensive for anyone without thousands – if not millions, just ask former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell – to toss around. Most people cannot even think of going to court unless forced to by the most horrible of circumstances. Changing it from unthinkably expensive to impossibly expensive is surely address the problem in dramatically the wrong direction, though.

But that’s not the point either.

We came into the Coalition with a huge mandate for reform of Civil Liberties after years of Hard Labour eroding them. Detention without trial. Fingerprinting children. Almost the first thing we did, even before that Rose Garden Press Conference was nuke the idea of I.D. Cards.

Since then it’s been one rear-guard action after another, usually against Tin-Pot Theresa of the Home Office.

But Civil Liberties are not just some abstract legal discussion. Today’s revelations about the CIA only underline that unchecked power leads directly to abuse, and even torture.

So, the point is this:

Access to justice, standing up for the citizen against the bullies, protection against “The Man”: these are the things that my Party is supposed to be for!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Day 5053: DOCTOR WHO: Damp Water

Saturday:


That which is dead cannot die…

(Yes, we were in New England for the first broadcast of “Dark Water”.)



Re-watching the two-part season finale has helped me to appreciate it. My first viewing, I realised, had been overshadowed by expectations and inferences drawn from the previous week’s teaser. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was, for the first time, spoiled by a “next time” trail. Not “spoilers” in the River Song sense, but spoiled in that the trailer constructed a story in my head that was better than the one we ended up with.

(I fear it’s not the first time – or the last – that I’ve thought of a better story– I remember doing it for a ‘Mr the Supreme Dalek’ back in Russell’s day, but I think it’s the first time I’ve done in in advance!)

Just to warn you, I’m going to range freely over plot points from both episodes, though I’ll generally focus on the Cybermen for this review and more on the Master in what I write about “Death in Heaven”. But maybe not in my titles!

I would have liked to say that “Dark Water”/“Army of Ghosts” (whatever) is the very definition of a Curate’s Egg, except that I recently learned, via comments on Mr Hickey, that this would actually mean it’s properly rotten but I’m finding good things to say in order to crawl to Steven Moffat.

So instead I’ll stick to saying that it’s “good in parts”, and mean it.

And I’ll start with the good parts, because that’s pretty much what “Dark Water” does. Because clearly, the best of the episode is the first ten minutes, up to Clara’s desperate face-off with the Doctor on the Star Wars volcano planet. That turns out to be a dream. Or (in context of this series’ themes) a lie that the Doctor is telling her.

And everyone knows the best line of the whole year was: “Do you think I care so little for you that betraying me would make a difference?” Probably best we didn’t use that in our wedding, though.

After that it descends into more ordinary larks with Cybermen. But larks that are very much informed by where we’ve just come from.

“Dark Water”, you see, is going quite a long way towards exploring just why people might turn themselves into Cybermen: it touches on Clara’s grief and anger and denial; it explores Danny’s guilt and regret; it glances at the possibility of life continuing after death and the fear of what that means for bodily decay and violation.

The death of Danny Pink, in an ordinary, boring car accident, is an incredibly powerful and brave way to open this story.

Whatever you think of Danny’s complex character, whether you think he was the abusive controller or the abused victim of Clara’s lies, he was a real, complicated, normal person trying to do what he thought was right. And the awful suddenness of his death is both terrible and true. He’s there and he’s gone. There’s more of a lesson about death in that silence at the end of the phone than any number of disintegrations or Daleks can teach.

Funnily enough, I’d been saying just that day that no one had really done a Cybermen story properly.

The Cybermen are the fear of death. They are people so afraid of dying that they replaced everything that makes life worth living just to carry on existing and then buried themselves in Tombs so that they would not pass on. It’s a well-established horror trope that the modern zombie is a death-metaphor: gruesome, shambling and inescapable. And, particularly in Steven Moffat’s interpretations – from “The Pandorica Opens”, but re-stated with a vengeance here – that is exactly what the Cybermen are: corpses in shiny armour; hi-tech zombies.

The first Cyberman story, “The Tenth Planet”, hints at this through techno-mummies wrapped in plastic bandages, but is tied up in fears of the machine, the intrusive penetrating replacement-part surgery taking away that which makes us human. After that they are quickly relegated to robo-commies – the faceless army of infiltrators who want to take away our freedoms and take over – as substitutes for the tin-pot fascists the Daleks for face offs against the second Doctor’s “destroy all monsters” crusade. Later Eric Saward will fetishize them as machismo incarnate, all “Man” and no “Cyber”. And Russell Davies’s scoop-and-serve brain-in-a-can versions seem to recognise the iconography without getting the idea behind it. To be fair to Moffat, at least he seems to “get it”.

And yet “Dark Water” still doesn’t tell that story. For some unknowable reason, it just skips the punchline, straight past it (well, straight-ish now she’s genderqueer, I suppose) to hilarious shenanigans with the Master…

(Not that they aren’t really good shenanigans – that reading the scrolling text is an hilarious reference to the opening of “The Deadly Assassin”; Missy pretending to be a robot is surely an insane in-joke about the robot Master played by Derick Jacobi in “Scream of the Shalka” – but even so…)

We almost have to infer that that story, that better story takes place. Sure, the Doctor gabbles something during “Death in Heaven” about the Master preying on the fears of the rich to set up the 3W tombs, but we’ve just missed all of that story entirely.

And that’s a shame because surely that was the whole point. If the Cybermen taking us unwilling from the grave is the zombie form of the Undead, surely the flip side is the vampire making the devil’s bargain: foreswear love (emotions) for eternal life. That is the deal that Danny is offered but it feels… unconnected to the 3W plot even though it’s central to their operating procedures.

It’s typical of why I feel I am ambivalent about these episodes. While they are pretty good, occasionally brilliant, they leave me with the nagging feeling they could, indeed should have been better.

And, of course, it’s typical of Moffat’s writing, to expect the viewer to fill in the blanks for him, whether that’s a sign of how much confidence he has in his audience or just an example of his flighty jumping from idea to idea without ever developing them to their potential. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The entire plot seems to hang on a kind of “voodoo”. (Maybe it’s Faction Paradox technology.)

Why bother with all the bones and the graves at all if you can just put any mind in any tin can? It’s clear that the minds of the dead have some genuine connection to their mortal remains through which they are able to animate their cyber-converted body.

Which means that Missy really has harvested the minds of millions of dead people.

The BBC were – for very good reasons – quick to come out and say that it was all a big fib by the Master, that this really isn’t what happens to people after they die…

…except, that’s really not what the episode is saying at all. We are presented by the Doctor with the possibility that the Danny that Clara is talking to is a fake, a projection from her own mind psychically scanned by 3W… but to the audience, Danny is clearly real: he’s been having an independent story of his own. Likewise, the boy who Danny is revealed to have killed while soldiering could similarly be a fake from reading Danny’s mind. But why bother when it seems that the dead can be found in the Nethersphere for real. And really, if you need a load of minds for your Cyber-army, what would be the point of faking them?

It seems very clear that whether there is a real afterlife or not, Missy has interposed her Matrix data slice between this life and the whatever or nothing that comes hereafter. And is torturing everyone she brings there with real or simulated post-death agonies to get them to agree to deleting their emotions.

Which brings us back to Danny.

Of course death is not the end. Not in a Moffat story, anyway. Thought if death was the end, there wouldn’t be a story. And while it may turn into yet another lurve-conquers-all schmaltz in “Death in Heaven”, at least the ending of “Dark Water” suggests a more interesting ambiguity that Danny’s guilt over the boy he killed is simultaneously pushing him towards deleting those emotions and keeping him from doing it, because to do so would be a betrayal of the very feelings that are driving him.

A better story – and I’ll look more at the better stories not told next time – a better story would have explored that ambiguity more. Because that’s the line that separated human from Cyberman.

When the White Guardian (aka God) threatened the Doctor with existing without changing I said that that was death: the icy, frozen death of cold logical perfection. And put like that, it’s obvious that that is what the Cybermen are. They bury their emotions and carry their own tombs with them in the form of that armour.

Of course, the Cybermen get thrown under the bus yet again, as they are turned into an army of boring robots once Missy comes out in all her bananas glory.

Next Time: “Death in Paradise” starring Ben Miller. No hang on, wasn’t he in a different one?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Day 5085: Master Gideon’s Mission to Mars – Some Thoughts on the Autumn Statement

Wednesday:


Do we really want another stimulus for the housing bubble? Really?

Raising some taxes is good (bankers and Starbucks, though… well, how amazing brave to pick those targets).

But hasn’t Chancellor Osborn sworn he wasn’t going to raise any more taxes? I dectect the hand of Danny Alexander; it’s of a piece with his efforts to tackle tax evasion and reduce opportunities for tax avoidance.

The extra funding for the NHS appears to have come from… underspedning in the NHS. Master Gideon as Baron Munchausen will thus clear the deficit by pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.

And there’s a distinctly Janus-faced feel to some of the Conservative’s pronouncements, crowing over our outpacing of other European economies while simultaneously whining about how this makes us too attractive to those waves and waves of immigrants, coming over here fixing our plumbing and so on.

Equally it seems very off to boast that our GDP is going up but our contributions to the European Union are going down in the same statement where you complain that Amazon’s profits go up but the tax they’re paying go down. Sauce for the Christmas Goose, you would have thought.


Ed Balls has some good questions, but no answers.


Why is it that the tax receipts have fallen short of expectations? Ignore the flashy rabbit-from-hat Stamp Duty give-away; this is the central question of the Autumn Statement. The Chancellor boasted that he’d be reducing the deficit in spite of falling revenue, but that’s not the same as having an explanation. Could it be that Mr Balls is finally right about something, and below inflation wage increases have hammered the Treasury’s income too?

I remain convinced that having more people in work but with lower wages across the board is a fairer way of sharing the pain of economic disaster than the ‘Eighties approach of dumping the bottom three million on the dole; nevertheless, it does point to Balls having a point, and it plays well to crosslink Labour’s “cost of living crisis” narative to the Tories failure on their own terms to cut the deficit.

And while it might be fairer, it might not be good politics to give everyone a resentment against the government instead of just a minority who you can marginalise. Labour have clearly been trying a number of formulae – “squeezed middle”, “one nation Labour” whatever it was Mr Milipede forgot to say this year – to try and saddle this resentment to their political cause.

(It’s ironic that the non-Labour left have largely undermined this by shreiking and carrying on that marginalising a minority is exactly what the government is doing – helped, it must be said, by the Tories’s rhetoric and Iain Drunken Swerve being allowed to continue to exist.)

But low wage inflation isn’t the whole story. The dramatic fall in the oil price – generally welcomed by the Chancellor as a good thing, not least because falling energy prices makes Labour’s energy price freeze policy look rather silly – has a knock-on effect in terms of treasury income as it reduces the fuel duty, VAT, petroleum tax, supplementary charge to corporation tax and even the climate change levy.

(And while we’re at it: building a whole load of new roads is hardly in line with the “greenest government ever” line, and rather more school of Mr Balloon’s “drop the green carp”. And, as Jennie reminded us, probably counter-productive – if you want to improve travelling by road… spend the money on public transport. The number of road users is a function of price and convenience versus the alternative, so you would reduce congestion by making it preferable for people to tavel by train. The government appears to be doing the opposite. I suppose it might drive receipts from petrol taxes back up.)

Plus the UK’s economic growth has not yet translated into a boom in consumer spending, again forestalling a surge in VAT receipts at HMRC. In fact, largely the growth seems to be being directed into the housing bubble, which brings us back to point one.

Even so, granted Mr Balls has some grasp of some of the cause of the government’s income not coming up to scratch, it’s still a bit of a leap from there to “and Labour will fix this by…[insert policy when we think of it]”.

George Osborn has some answers that need questioning


Which leaves us clinging to nurse in fear of something worse. Though what could be worse than nurse being revealed as Master Osborn in a pinafore?

The Chancellor’s promise to clear the deficit by 2018 – although more realistic than Labour’s “sometime” in the next Parliament aspiration – is undermined not so much by his already having failed at this once (seriously, giving the finite nature of British Parliament’s you have to start out with a plan for one term at a time; given the slow reveal of the scale of the problem, the Coalition’s cautious approach balancing cuts with stimulus – again at Danny Alexander’s urging – has trod a fine line that has ended up closer to the Liberal Democrats timescale for cutting the deficit than the Tory’s and seems to be paying off, at least at the moment), but much more by the frankly fantastical idea that almost all the remaining cuts can come from the benefits, largely in-work benefits, paid to working age people.

Employment is already at record high levels. (This is a good thing!) But without some unforeseen huge increases in wages – again, see Mr Balls point – it is difficult to see any substantial ability to cut the support we need to give to keep these jobs viable.

On Sunday, on the Andy Marr show, the Chancellor was challenged on the way that spending cuts have fallen largely on not merely “welfare” but specifically on working age benefits. Pensioners have largely weathered the economic storm protected by the Coalition’s triple lock. The Tory Treasury team have clearly war-gamed this one, as Master Gideon came out with a very convincing-seeming answer: “Oh but I have hit the pensioners – I’ve taken half a trillion out of pensions by raising the retirement age”. Well, that’s quite an impressive hit against your core vote, isn’t it?

But take a moment to think about it: raising the retirement age does not affect existing pensioners; it’s actually another blow to those of us in work saving money by putting off the day when we will be able to claim back some of the fortune we are currently paying in.

And of course these cuts depend largely on the Tories being in power after the next election. Vince Cable – who has been quietly getting on with the business of being business secretary: increasing investment to manufacturing and boosting apprenticeships (notice the National Insurance cut to help more there) – has written to the Office for Budget Responsibility to ask them to point out how the Tories’ “no tax please were the British Tea Party” approach is wildly at odds with the Liberal Democrats’ fairer, balance tax and cut policies.

Overall, this was a typically theatrical financial moment from a Chancellor who has learned all his lessons from Gordon Brown. The splash of largess to catch the headlines; the smoke and mirrors over where the money comes from; some nasty medicine in the details; the hidden hand of the Liberal Chief Secretary trying to steer us a little away from full-throated Thatcherism and a little towards more social justice.

This is the course we are committed to now: from here on it’s full tilt towards the General Election and (subject to Nigel Farage and the Tory suicide-squads on the back benches derailing them onto Europe again) this is the ground that the Chancellor has laid out. It is, as President Clinton used to say, the economy, stupid.

And believe me, George Osborn is the economy… and stupid.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 5079: The Image over Rochester

Thursday:


This time last month, we were on our way to New England, setting for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by (unspeakably racist) HP Lovecraft, wherein it turns out the locals have been (spoilers) interbreeding with immigrants.

This time last week, the locals of Rochester and Strood were cheerily chucking out their incumbent Tory MP and re-electing him as a Kipper. This despite him revealing that his new Party’s policies are entirely as anti-immigrant as we suspected.

This time in July, Ed Milipede was giving one of his relaunch speeches claiming he “didn’t do image”. And on Thursday, he proved it.


Mr Milipede’s preposterously over-the-top faux-outrage firing of Emily Thornberry for her “Image from Rochester” tweet put the (probably tin-foil) cap on the whole ridiculous affair of a by-election win for “A Plague on All Your Houses”.

The tweet itself was a relatively innocuous picture of house decked in flags and white van, with neutral comment. It was only possible to interpret it as a passive-aggressive attack of snobbish contempt because of the febrile atmosphere that economic post-Armageddon has brewed, one to which Labour have contributed more than a little, encouraging the “us v them”, “Westminster bubble”, “plebgate” contempt for all things elected and establishment. As in Scotland, Labour’s taking for granted of the people they are supposed to most represent comes back to haunt them. As they reap so they sow.

Am I snobbish about the man the Sun has dubbed “White Van Dan”?

No.

I’m repulsed by the policies he espouses and profoundly depressed by the ignorance that informs them.

Bash the benefits; block the immigrants; spend more; tax less; and bring back the cane. If these things worked we’d have solved all of society’s problems by now. And why the reactionary paranoia about burning the poppy when no one is even doing it?

But “point and laugh” tactics particularly from a Metropolitan Liberal Elite Minority like me, never mind Ms Thornberry, is not the way to engage with this kind of thinking. In fact, it’s massively counter-productive, lending “Dan” the fake credence of being “against The Man”, when in fact he’s expressing exactly the sort of white cis straight male privileged oppression that generations of genuine outsiders have been struggling to get out from under.

But while Ms Thornberry’s tweet may have been revealing, the response by Labour’s spin team was nothing short of astonishing. The suggestion that the Labour Leader was “more furious than he’d ever been” was beyond ludicrous.

More furious than over phone hacking, Ed? More outraged than by tuition fees? More angry than at the bedroom tax?

The sad thing is he probably was more furious over an incident that did damage to Labour’s image than by any of those things. There’s a reason why Miliband’s leadership is not seen as “genuine”. It’s because it’s not.

Maybe it was a typo: “The Labour leader is more fatuous than he’s ever been”?

And yet, in one way, he was actually right. The sacking of a shadow cabinet member over a photograph was a massive distraction from the appalling reactionary lurch of British politics.

It’s what the Tories used to call a “Double Whammy”, with on the one fluffy foot more ludicrous Security Theatre and on the other more Anti-immigration nonsense.

It is surely a co-incidence that the Metropolitan police are warning commuters to “Run, Hide, and Tell” and trying to convince the City that saw off the Luftwaffe that it’s facing its “worst threat ever” just as the Home Secretary is trying to sex up her TPIMS, exclude British citizens who’ve been to fight in Syria, and raise her Snoopers' Charter from the dead.

Only this week we’ve heard evidence that the Security Services had information on the killers of Lee Rigby and still failed to stop them. It’s no good trying to pin the blame on Facebook; demanding access and retention of even more data only makes a bigger haystack to lose the needles in.

And as for cancelling the passports of British terrorists who’ve gone to fight in Syria and Iraq: washing your hands of a problem is a shockingly weak abrogation of responsibility, not a strong stance against terror.

And the Liberal Democrats’ principled opposition has… melted away.


Meanwhile, the Tories received a well-deserved humiliation for their failure to deliver on an in-so-many-ways stupid pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands.

And yet we hear Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary – surely that’s Michael Howard in drag not Yvette Cooper – saying: “It isn't racist to be worried about immigration or to call for immigration reform,” before announcing more guards on the frontiers.

While her counterpart Rachel Reeves at the Department of Work is saying she will deny benefits to EU migrants.

Only to receive support from Nick Clegg, for goodness’ sake!

It isn’t racist to be worried about immigration… UNLESS YOU GO ON TO BLAME THE IMMIGRANTS!

Please, I urge you, particularly if you happen to be Deputy Prime Minister, go read the inestimable Mr Hickey on why it’s both morally and tactically suicide to follow the other Parties down the road to UKIP-ised xenophobic populism.



People who think that UKIP are popular because of their policies are frankly morons, who make “White Van Dan” look like Aristotle.

UKIP’s popularity is entirely independent of any policy they may have from moment to moment, as amply demonstrated by the way Farage simply re-writes their manifesto every single time he finds himself on a sticky wicket without any apparent impact on people’s opinion or his Party’ poll ratings.

“Privatise the NHS? No, I meant preserve the NHS! Lower business taxes? No, I meant higher business taxes! Transitional arrangements? No, I meant concentration camps…er, is this on the record?”

No one seems to care that he’s winging it, contradicting himself, saying anything he thinks the voters want to hear, because after all he’s Nige, the bloke with the pint, and he’s sticking it to the Westminster elite, isn’ee.

There used to be a sense that the Westminster Parties were there to make things better for people, for you!

Labour would give you better public services; Tories would lower your taxes; Liberals would stand up for your rights and freedoms. What happened to all that?

In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – and it’s well worth a read if you can get over the flagrant fears of miscegenation – the protagonist finds, to his existential horror, that (spoilers) he himself is of “questionable” heritage and is turning into one of the monsters.

Here’s the irony. In Britain we are all immigrants somewhere up our family tree. Unless you’re descended from a Woolly Mammoth! (I’m saying nothing!)

And yet, we have the choice: are we capable of being brave enough not to turn into Monsters?



PS:

For clarity:
“Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils”
is Lovecraft’s description of one of the Deep Ones, and not, as you might think, of Nigel Farage. Who, if anything, is one of the Shallow Ones.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Day 5076: When is 1% not 1%? When it’s 4%, apparently

Monday:


Today the NHS has suffered the indignity of a strike by thousands of nurses and midwives protesting that their pay has been frozen for years and all they are asking for is the 1% that was recommended by the independent review body and that the Government has reneged upon.

Except that’s not really true, is it.

The Government offered 1% to everyone who wasn’t already getting an automatic pay rise.

So if you’ve not had a rise in four years, it’s not the Government blocking the 1% on offer; it’s those people who want 5% rather than “just” 4%.

Nursing is a tough job. And a necessary one. Especially as we’re all getting older and more reliant than ever on the Health Service. And this year, we’ve been personally especially grateful to some good nurses, I can tell you. So who wouldn’t want to reward them well?

But it begins to look like their representation is, well, misrepresenting them.

Quite rightly, our nurses have the sympathy and support of the public, but they risk losing that if the public – many of whom have genuinely seen 0% increases, that’s a real terms (i.e. after inflation) decrease – discover that the NHS Unions insist on using such mendacious tactics as claiming that nurses have not had a pay rise when in fact nurses’ pay comes with a built-in increase every year.

More than a million NHS staff – except for doctors, dentists and some senior managers who are on a different scheme – are paid according to a system called Agenda for Change (you can tell it came in under Tony Blair, can’t you).

Under this arrangement, you are assigned to a “Band” based on your job and seniority level: nurses and midwives, for example, start from Band 5; sisters and senior radiographers are in Band 6; and so on. You then have “points” on the payscale and in the normal course of things you would expect to go up one point each year.

Here, from the Royal College of Nursing, are the current (agreed in 2013) pay bands.

So for a nurse in Band 5, you begin at point 16, which is a salary of £21,388 on the 2013 agreed rates.

Then in your second year you advance to point 17, and receive a salary of £22,016, an automatic increase of 2.9%.

In your third year this goes up to point 18 for £22,903, a 4.0% increase and so on up to your seventh year when you reach top of your Band. In fact it’s 4% increase all the way up to the top of the scale for Band 5 when a nurse can earn £27,901.

Similarly for Bands 6 and 7, the salary increase between different points varies from point to point but on average is 3.5% per year, to a top salary of £40,558.

(Bands 1-4, incidentally, who are assistants, secretaries and porters earning between £14,094 and £22,016, have average rises of 2.5%.)

The review body’s proposals, then, were to increase all of these pay points by 1%.

So the effect for a nurse going into their second year would be an increase from £21,388 (on the 2013 rates) to £22,436 (on the new 2014 rates) which is a pay rise of 4.0%. And pay increases of 5% for nurses in their second through seventh years.

The people who wouldn’t be getting an automatic pay rise are the people at the tops of the scales… to whom the Government is offering the 1% that they say they are striking for.

(So actually, the people affected by this are new NHS staff, coming in at the old starting rate rather than the new proposed one.)

There are 380,000 nurses in the NHS in the UK, earning at least £21,388 each or a total wage bill somewhere north of eight billion quid. That 1% increase will cost the NHS, will cost you because you pay for the NHS, at least eighty million pounds.

Or, in the emotive terms that people like to pitch this debate, 4000 nurses.

Not that nurses are paid brilliantly, but the £28,180 on offer (after 1% increase) to an ordinary ward nurse at the top of the Band 5 pay scale is above the median average national wage, and quite a lot more than quite a lot of people get, particularly people on sickness benefits who get hardest hit by NHS strike action, or people on minimum wage or zero hours contracts who lose money when they have to refuse work in order to turn up on time for their NHS appointments, and only get told when they get there that they’ll have to miss more work without compensation because their appointment’s been cancelled through NHS strike action.

Everyone is fed up with austerity. Everyone is tired of tightening belts. And it’s true that to get through the worst of the recession that they inherited, the Coalition did freeze all those pay rates that were over £21,000. The rates were kept the same for the first three years: 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Although rates were increased for those lower paid NHS workers, on Bands 1 to 4, but not the nurses who were already better off than that. And, of course, you would still get an increase by progressing up the rates each year.

But, something I’ve just noticed from the RCN website: all pay rates were increased by 1% for last year (2012/13).

So that “not had a pay rise in four years” just cannot be true.

A nurse starting in 2010 on £21,176 would expect to be earning £24,799 in 2014, an increase of 17% or an average increase of 4% a year. Better than inflation in every year except 2010 when Alistair Darling’s devaluation and George Osborne’s VAT rise both hit.

In real terms, then, nurses are barely any better off. But try telling that to people who really haven’t had a pay rise in four years.

It’s said that the NHS is what the British have instead of religion these days. It’s an article of faith that we must preserve it, as much as it’s a standard mantra that the NHS is in crisis. Labour in particular have made a fetish of “their” NHS – “don’t let the Tories ruin it”, they cry when all other rational reasons to vote Labour fail them; any attempt to empower local people to vary provision to suit their needs is greeted with cries of “post code lottery” and results in power being snatched back to the Secretary of State; at the last gasp, any reform at all is answered with the desperate war cry of “privatisation”.

But locked-in inflation-busting salary increases are another reason, along with Labour’s privatization through the PFI door, why the “best health service in the world” is going to go bust in spite of having ring-fenced, real terms cash increases no matter what the damage that does to other spending commitments.

The NHS has been made a sacred cow by at least five major Parties (and UKIP) including, sadly, my own. And as with most cows, the debate seems to come with a quantity of bull.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 5075: Happy Endings and other Wedding Stories...

Sunday of the Doctor (one year on):


In celebration of my Daddies' four week anniversary, (and some little TV show being 51 today), by gracious permission of Uncle Barry, we bring you

"Alex and Richard in an Exciting Adventure with Doctor Who"

by Daddy Alex,

with some assistance from Terrance Versatile Dicks, Robert Holmes, David Whittaker, Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaranovich, Simon Guerrier, Andy Lane, Paul Cornell and many many more.

and additional dialogue by William Shakespeare.



starring Mr Simon and Mr Nick. And the Daddies' Wedding Chorus.

Thank you all, so very, very much.

PS:

Full text and quote-o-matic guessing game to be found at: "Maius Intra Qua Extra"