Sunday, 30 January 2011

What Was Shouted At Aaron Porter?

Aaron Porter, president  of the National Union of Students, is a Jew.  The Financial Times reports:

'Mr Porter told NUS members in an e-mail: “Just before the march started, I was surrounded by a particularly vicious minority of protesters more intent on shouting threatening and racist abuse at me rather than focusing on the issues. Instead of standing together and fighting the cuts, they instead chose to pursue me along Manchester’s Oxford Road and drive me away from the start of the march. As a result, under the strong advice of the police, I had to withdraw myself from the rally.”

What  'racist' abuse could be offered to Mr Porter other than 'Jew'?   The efforts of various blogs and media to assert that the words used were '... Tory too...' fail in the face of Mr Porter's clear statement of  being subjected to racist, as well as threatening abuse.  To call someone a Tory  is not  racist.  And this is not the first time that Jews qua Jews have been attacked by representatives of the Left.  Ken Livingstone's appalling assault upon Oliver Finegold has not been forgotten nor Livingstone's refusal to apologise.

The trades unions and the students might choose to look more carefully at those with whom they have made a common front against the 'cuts'.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Friday, 28 January 2011

Watching the Past Make the Present

John Maynard Keynes portrayed.  If you have an hour or so this is remarkable even for the pictures alone.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

What Should the United Kingdom Contribute to the Defence of the West?

The French companies DCNS and STX and Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation are to build two Mistral helicopter carriers costing 400-450 million euros each. The agreement was signed yesterday and the construction contract is expected to be signed later this year.

Today the Telegraph publishes a letter from Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason, Major-General Patrick Cordingley, Marshal of the RAF Lord Craig, Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, Major-Gen Julian Thompson, and Admiral Sir John Woodward, which protests that:

"Without any explanation, the Security and Defence Review announced that the Nimrod MR4 maritime patrol aircraft would not be brought into service. The decision was fiercely debated within the MoD, but the need for immediate savings and priority for current operations prevailed.
Destruction of the nine airframes has now begun. Machine tools have been destroyed; several million pounds have been saved, but a massive gap in British security has opened.
Britain is committed to the support of the UN, Nato and the EU. The vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft.
Nimrod would have provided long-range maritime and overland reconnaissance, anti-submarine surveillance, air-sea rescue co-ordination and reconnaissance support to the Navy’s Trident submarines.
Some of Nimrod’s roles in home waters can be covered by frigates, short-range Merlin anti-submarine helicopters or even the C130 Hercules. They fall short, however, of replacing the strategic multi-role contribution of Nimrod. Other countries are actually seeking to reinforce their maritime patrol capacity, with the new Boeing 737 P8A a strong contender.
In a week when reports suggest that the Government is seeking to impose even more severe cuts on the defence budget, it is not perverse to suggest that the gap left by broken Nimrods should be readdressed."

There is something completely out of kilter here.  France is signing profitable contracts with Russia for useful-sounding helicopter carriers, meanwhile we are aborting the building of aircraft with a role of 'long-range maritime and overland reconnaissance, anti-submarine surveillance,'... even though '... Britain is committed to the support of the UN, NATO  and the EU...' and '... The vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft.' 

But why are our Forces committed to such a role which clearly belongs to these alliances in common, not just to us?  Why are we landed with a defence role that is too big for our resources and, worse,  militates against our direction of what resources we have to profitable undertakings and the maintenance of our industries?

Is there some terrible, still-destructive hang-over from the vainglorious  Labour  mindset that led us into war repeatedly and so immorally, as a new global role for a 'progressive'-led 'Britain' was conceived and pursued? 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

More Than Ten Are the Best Ever

Best Composers

These are the all time top ten composers according to the survey in the New York Times (cited in today's Guardian)


Clearly there has been some mistake.  The best composers are:

J.S. Bach
Francois Couperin
Domenico Scarlatti
Richard Strauss

Monday, 24 January 2011

Making Travelling Safer

 Domodedovo airport made me so uneasy when I went through a couple of years ago that last year I had only carry-on luggage.  On the previous occasion the arrivals hall was strewn with suitcases and packages of all shapes and sizes that had been man-handled off the luggage carousels and cast aside to be kicked all over the floors as people searched for their cases.  I found mine because it was dropped with particular annoyance by another passenger and I picked the case up to put it out of harms' way from where it lay in the middle of the concourse.  It was looking just like my luggage but then so was everybody else's.  All luggage looks alike, even the cases with a red ribbon tied on, or a special strap, look like other beribboned and strapped cases.   Mr HG had gone off efficiently to make enquiries and had located his case with a frightened-looking official he had rustled up.  (Goodness knows what had been said, I don't think there's a Book of Complaints in these countries any more.)

So the last time we were both  holding our respective, capacious handbags tightly as we nipped hastily through to the car.  Anything could be dumped in that arrivals hall and be there for days.  Anyone could behave oddly in the midst of that confusion, indeed everybody was behaving like people who have lost their luggage in a strange country.  

Perhaps it would be best if travellers  carry only a single bag and keep it with them at all times.  Those who have stuff they want elsewhere must send it freight. 

For Pig and Poppy (and Lilith)

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Banks and Whose Army?

Banks are trying to sue, in London, Italian towns and regions  as the comune  stop making payments on contracts, and others seek to recover hidden fees,  in allegedly fraudulent selling practices on swaps.

The region of Tuscany and the Comune di Firenze are among the targets.  Even if the banks win they would only be able to seize property outside of Italy.  Let's see now, what about the National Gallery? That's outside Italy -  conveniently situated in London.  They could have:

this one

or this one

or this one

or this one

or this one

We could go on for absolutely ages but perhaps the best thing would be for all of these,  even just these, to go back where they came from and then any claims the banks have can be settled in the right place.   Of course then they would need the Italian courts to empower them.  Imagine the bankers trying to remove them from their Tuscan home, once returned.  The people of Monterchi faced the German army with pitchforks for this one:

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Berlusconi's Political Life Now in the Hands of a Bambola

Tu mi fai girar
tu mi fai girar
come fossi una bambola
poi mi butti giu' poi mi butti giu'
come fossi una bambola
Non ti accorgi quando piango
quando sono triste e stanca tu
pensi solo per te

No ragazzo no
No ragazzo no
del mio amore non ridere
non ci gioco piu' quando giochi tu
sai far male da piangere
Da stasera la mia vita
nelle mani di un ragazzo no,
non la mettero piu'

No ragazzo no
tu non mi metterai
tra le dieci bambole
che non ti piacciono piu'
oh no, oh no

Tu mi fai girar,
tu mi fai girar...
poi mi butti giu',
poi mi butti giu'...

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Irrelevance of the United Nations

The United Nations is not an organisation that deserves respect.  It is a left-over of another century's politics, power-relations, wars.  Whether, or whether not, the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom did or did not have the go-ahead of the United Nations to attack Iraq is irrelevant.   The United Nations is part of a Potemkin structure of international rights and wrongs, laws and courts, treaties and agreements, resolutions and condemnations that yield an undesirable obfuscation of responsibility for the use of force.

What Prime Minister Blair needed was our consent.  And he obtained it -  by telling lies: to Parliament, to the Opposition in government briefings, to his own Party,  to the people via the media.   And with that consent, obtained through falsehood, he attacked another country that presented no threat to us whatsoever.

And destroyed Iraq.

There is no World Order, no international justice that can be asked, or expected, or even justifiably bring him to answer, for what he has done.  There are our own laws, our own courts and it is under these laws and in these courts that justice must be done - or left.  Other countries may have offences for which to try him, Iraq certainly, but he is ours to own up to and to judge,  first and always.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Queueing. Pity it Came Too Late for Christmas

A new  board game inspired by  Monopoly is being launched, developed by the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), a Warsaw-based research institute that commemorates the suffering of the Polish people during the Nazi and Communist eras. (Der Spiegel reports).  In  'Queueing' the idea is to obtain the  basics - food, clothing and furniture - under realised socialism.

"... you send your family out to get items on a shopping list and they find that the five shops are sold out or that there hasn't been a delivery that day,"  said the IPN's Karol Madaj.   Some rules allow  players to jump the queue and get the last whatever it is,   others force players to give up their place in the queue.

The game was tested on 100 people during  development  and approved as an authentic  experience  of undertaking mundane chores in Communist times.  The oldest tester  (84) said that,  just as in the game, the longest queues were always at the furniture stores. There is a "colleague in the government" card, the equivalent of   "get out of jail free", enabling players to secretly find out when the next deliveries will arrive in the shops. 

To cheer up a game about queueing for scarce goods  it comes with a book of jokes from the Communist era,  archive photographs of real people queueing, and a booklet providing a historical overview! 

Who's a Naughty Boy Then?

Time for Italy's European Friends to Intervene

Silvio Berlusconi's impunity rests with the Northern Leagues, whose price is the re-conforming of Italian unity.  Yet in the 150th anniversary year of the foundation of the state of Italy the President is not going to sit quietly by while the country is dismembered.  There is dissent and determined opposition from above.

Nor is there quiet below.  The demands of the Northern Leagues are fiercely resisted by the local authorities who embody the European Union ideal of subsidiarity - power to the lowest possible local level at which it can be exercised.  The parliamentary commission on federalism is facing fierce criticism of the confusion and lack of clarity in terms of proposals and outcomes in the projected changes to the state it is considering.

As if that might not be enough, Berlusconi proposes that in return for delivering an obscure, confused and uncertain federalism opposed by regions and communities alike, he may launch a criminal assault upon the judiciary in order to prevent any further opposition to his personal, populist mandate which has been earned from removing inheritance taxes and various other property imposts and the purchase of client votes (to name the  above-the-surface activities; goodness knows what moves elsewhere).

At the meeting last night of Berlusconi and his henchmen and the Northern Leagues' Bossi and his, this outrageous programme seems to have been furthered.  Both Berlusconi and Bossi are old and sick and Berlusconi at least is deeply compromised, surrounded by placemen, courtiers, office-seekers at any cost, pimps, and prostitutes. 

So far the normal face of Italian political, economic, constitutional and community life has held.  But this tearing at the fabric of the state itself, powered by the impossibility of Berlusconi's position, will soon spill over into Italy's debt relations and into any hope of investment in a country already desperately behind much of the rest of Europe in productivity and innovation.  The collapse not just of the economy but of the state itself by the third biggest  member of the eurozone is in no-one's interest.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The parliamentary body that oversees state security and the state security services COPASIR  has called upon Silvio Berlusconi to appear before it.   Presided over by Massimo d'Alema, it can lift state secrecy measures, require sight of all and any judicial or banking papers, and require the presence of those it wishes to question.  It will come as no surprise that Berlusconi is refusing to do so despite the draconian powers the Committee enjoys and his duty as the prime minister to respond to concerns for the  security of the state.  Taken together with his refusal to appear before the Milan magistrates  his performance on tonight's video was a virtuoso performance in denial.

'Shan't'  'Didn't' 'Can't make me' 'Don't care' 'Haven't done anything.',  just about sums it up.

The entire nearly 400pp of the Milan magistrates' case has now been published.  The abuse alleged is horrific, sustained, indefensible.  It is impossible to believe that such a catalogue of offensiveness and offences could possibly have been concocted by the Milan magistracy as a media assault upon the Prime Minister for political ends, as Berlusconi sustains.

The irrelevance of his accusations of subversion of the Constitution, followed by assertions that the magistrates do not have jurisdiction, escape him.  To watch the Prime Minister arguing like a barrack-room lawyer about by whom and where his behaviour can be  judged is to be in a modern Inferno.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dining Out. Pass the Oil

The class will take out its Devoto-Oli.   In our computers we will enter various addresses but begin here .

The angelic President Napolitano has called upon the Italian prime minister to consider the bouleversement caused by his behaviour.  Which particular behaviour you might ask?  All of it always, but particularly the last decade? Couple of decades?

In the meantime, those of you who have been guests at dinners thrown by Silvio Berlusconi might consider your position.  And where were you, Prime Minister Putin, on 25 April last year?  Ruby Rubacuori was at villa San Martino dining with the President of the Council of Ministers.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Vipers Strike or Il Contrappasso

If you were denied the opportunity to study for a GCSE modern language then you have a real grievance against Labour levellers.   Not even your French and a bit of Latin, that many are convinced will get them by in Italian.

Mr Berlusconi is now facing a motion in the House to permit the searching of his residences, including the office of the residence  where access had been barred under the claim that it is part of the the offices of the President of the Council of Ministers.  So much for privacy claims, which have now quietened - after all fourteen women in a gated community in Milan seems to be pretty public. 

The media are headlining that 5 million (no, not liras)  was asked for her silence by the minor (no, not miner , do keep up at the back).  Well, this silence is deadly.

"Be ready for anything, or you might as well get a taxi and leave now"  is quite a noisy remark.

The papers associated with the case have been placed under severe restriction; only 21 people have had access to them in the presence of officials and without means to copy them.  So they are all over the media.  But in Italian.

Bet you wish Labour hadn't deleted modern foreign languages from the curriculum.

Lordy, lordy

Peter Tatchell said:

"It's quite outrageous that the supreme court judges have a title system that discriminates against both women and gay people. The highest court in the land should reflect the principle of universal equality.
"Complicity with this discrimination sends out entirely the wrong message. When inequality is enshrined at the heart of the supreme court, it does not inspire confidence that this institution is committed to non-discrimination."

And why are we supposed to address and refer to high court judges as 'Lord'?  Let alone their wives and significant others as 'Lady'.  

The Vipers of Milan

Dinner has been delayed from eight o'clock to nine.  The news (the news on Italian television!) is too absorbing to be diluted by passing the parmigiano, salt, potatoes, bread or anything else.

Last night Silvio Berlusconi had his video moment -

I wouldn't do this kind of thing. Me? Pay for sex with a woman?  Anyway I've got a steady.  It's all a political attack enabled by the  unbalanced  powers of the judiciary (and an unbalanced judiciary).

We munch on through an unhealthy pile of crisps and an unbalanced consumption of aperitivi.  The Milan prosecutors are declared to have no jurisdiction by Berlusconi's lawyers - Arcore  (where the relevant bunga-bunga was said to be going on in one of B's villas) is in the judicial thrall of Monza, not Milan.  But the major charge, the abuse of office, took place in Milan and lesser charges are subordinated to this.

The Speaker of the Lower House and leader of the break-away faction from Berlusconi's majority party calls upon him to face the magistrates.

"Shan't!" cries Berlusconi who has been given 3 dates next week to turn up; after that he has 5 days from the last date to give himself up.  It is unclear to me though probaly not to Italian lawyers, what happens then.  Bounty hunters?  Shooting on sight? Carabinieri in their spooky leather gloves and impeccable turn out helping him towards enquiries?

Meanwhile, the girl in question has declared she has never had sex with that man.  Which man we chorus, turning our attention to the guest lists at the villa in April when she was know to be a guest there herself.  If not him then who were you there for?  And what exactly is the status of the 14 young women lodged in Berlusconi's Milano 2 gated property development just outside Milan?

Such a novelty after UK political scandal - all this hetero-sexuality.  Some of us were beginning to wonder if we would ever again be able to empathise with current political history and its goings-on.


Sunday, 16 January 2011

Better Than Mauve

The Labour Party should stop calling itself the Labour Party.  Labour is a horrid word.  The dull among us 'labour the point'; the criminal is sentenced with 'hard labour' as well as loss of liberty (or used to be, perhaps should be even now); no-one wants their breathing to be laboured, or yet their argument; or their work to be laborious - even less their patterns of thought.  Doubtless many other unattractive associations can be added, not least 'camp'.

Ed Miliband is in the owning up stage of getting us to forgive the attack on Iraq, and to forgive Gordon Brown in his entirety.  But he's starting from the wrong place.  We won't forgive, or forget, either of those two monstrosities.  It is their association with much that is attractive in the history and thinking of a radical movement of the centre left that must be severed and, in line with  turning a disaster to advantage, at last the very name they disgrace could be abandoned.

There are other words to lose as well while he's at it: struggle, fight; scum; as well as journey, message (we'll have to keep send, it's too useful a verb in other contexts) and even big.  Perhaps it would be best to have a thesaurus drawn up, or something like the pretty book of rhymes for hopeful poets I found here among the severe religious texts (though the forebear who signed his name inside, Ansano, also added Pazzo over and over again which suggests self doubt of his poetic gifts; but I digress).

So what name will gather together all the good and worthwhile values and history and achievements of the Movement?   Mutual, co-operative, people, sharing, community - all these are applicable to some part of what is wanted but unfortunately have had quite a drubbing in the mouths of socialists and communists.   And trying for future, hope, forward, together, serve has decidedly fascistic echoes. Perhaps that's why the newly re-formed Italian parties went for trees and flowers.

I like The Red Party.   It's got everything: complex associations with every shade of leftishness encompassed in a simple word,  sets up wonderful sets of oppositions; declarative; assertive; and a glorious colour.   

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Ciao Bella

The Mirafiori FIAT workers voted almost in their entirety - and split 54% Yes to Marchionne's plans, 46% No.

Which won't do at all.

What industrialist would invest in a 20 billion euro renewal plan, an integral part of an international restructuring project, with almost half the workforce in the main plant refusing the terms and conditions of their engagement?  It was not always so.

FIAT Chrysler is not in business to reform the industrial relations and sociopolitical mindset of the Italian blue collar workforce.   The offer was 'Join us", not 'Assist us in installing correct power relations between capital and labour'.

Perhaps a works outing to Longbridge might have been worthwhile.


It was almost noon before any reaction from Sergio Marchionne to the narrow win for the Yes group of trades unions.  And his response was very low key.  The Mirafiori workers:

'have shown faith in themselves and in their future.' ['hanno dimostrato di avere fiducia in se stessi e nel loro futuro' ].  The word courage also crossed his lips (there has been considerable pressure on the Mirafiori workers to vote No, the last act on the declaration of the results of the ballot was the burning of the flags and banners of the Yes Trades Unions on a pyre before the gates of the Mirafiori works).  It is  others who have been talking up a great victory, a vote for modernity, a vote for investment and jobs. 

With the exception, of course, of the FIOM leaders and the CGIL who have declared a great victory (even if a few votes short of a majority) and a defeat of  authoritarian  industrial relations and the factory as barracks (this last gem from the leader of the CGIL - the confederation of Italian workers).

Marchionne reacted very poorly to an above 60% Yes vote in factories in the South.  This majority is even less adequate. 

Friday, 14 January 2011

Defending Rotten Boroughs are a Rotten Group of Life Peers

Michael Martin, the first Speaker of the House of Commons to be forced out of office for three centuries, was elevated to the House of Lords by Gordon Brown. (How the fingertips cringe at typing those two names in the same sentence).  Few were surprised at such rewards  for the allegiances Martin had displayed.  A seat in the Lords has been a Scottish weakness for  many centuries; lots of Scots let down their countrymen for just that (although they didn't have the opportunity to let down the whole United Kingdom).

Noblesse oblige in downfalls; no need to rub it in.  Or is there?

Martin is creating mischief in that refuge from political defeat or political shame - a life 'peerage'  in the House of Lords.  As Blue Eyes so succinctly puts it "The Labour party is desperately trying to retain its gerrymandered stranglehold on Parliament. It is disgusting."  And a central figures in this cluster of 'Lords' maintaining a fillibuster  is Martin.

Lord Strathclyde (who is the real thing) is threatening a guillotine and has now been accused of Mugabe behaviour by a Labour life 'peer'.  Frankly the Lords has been rendered ridiculous by these temporary adjuncts helicoptered in to save governments of the day or remove bed-blockers from the Commons.  They even wear a version of the uniforms of the various 'pensioners'
It's time to leave them in their picturesque outfits and idiosyncratic behaviour and elect a second chamber.  Then we could keep Lord Strathclyde and kick Martin -  even though he's down, he's asked for it.

Not Old and Sad

Hardly has the Italian Constitutional court struck down yesterday the special pleading of the 'legitimate impediment' law (Berlusconi's government had pushed through a law that prime ministers, among others, are too busy to attend court to answer criminal charges, of which Berlusconi has a few) when the Prosecutor of Milan serves notice on Mr Berlusconi that there is trouble over this

The Prime Minister of Italy is being investigated for the crimes of extortion and the prostitution of minors  [concussione e prostituzione minorile].  His invitation to appear in Milan is furnished with detailed information on the crimes ascribed.   

Labour Hold Depressed Northern Former Textile-Manufacturing Seat

Two thousand Manchester  workers at all grades and in all departments from street cleaners and social workers to administrators, managers and accountants were sacrificed to encourage the Oldham and Saddleworth voters to return a Labour candidate who didn't tell lies about the Liberal Democrat candidate.

The bog standard vote turned in by  Ms Abrahams, who told us that messages have been sent (from Oldham?)  and that journeys have been begun (well who wouldn't leave there, given the chance?) hardly seems to merit the blood-letting at Manchester Town Hall.

The Party discipline displayed by Conservatives in support of the Conservative/Liberal coalition was impressive though.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Social Market Wobbles

With the intervention of Silvio Berlusconi in the FIAT labour conditions stand-off Dr Marchionne's position as industrial rather than political is called into question.  Undoubtedly the opportunism and insouciance of Berlusconi speak for the former; furthermore Berlusconi's statement that FIAT's relocation of its car production (to Serbia or Canada or Poland or Brazil or wherever) outside Italy would be wholly understandable and greeted with no intervention by his governmen, makes the removal of his government urgent.

Equally, if Berlusconi's intervention is welcomed or, worse, programmed, then the view that the promised investment is and always was nugatory, and that Marchionne has constructed an exit strategy from what he considers  to be an undesirable production area riven with leftist confrontational mindsets and bolshie workers, and inappropriate institutions from trades unions right up to the articles of the constitution of the Republic, stands.

The FIAT workers represented by the FIOM, essentially the metal bashers, must vote on accepting a new company as their employer - a new company which is a joint venture between FIAT and Chrysler, outside the collective national contract for metal workers; and like all multi-national companies, the distribution of profits among its component parts can be manipulated at will by arbitrarily fixing transfer prices.  They must accept worsening conditions although they are being offered small pay increases for accepting productivity improvements.  (It doesn't help their cries of pain that the FIOM called a one day strike on the day Italy was playing in the last World Cup.  Not clever at all).

Unlike Germany, trades unions are not represented on the boards of companies in Italy; unlike the Chrysler workers in the United States there is no ownership in the company (even if that ownership came from compensation for pension funds lost, it has since served other purposes).  The Italian FIAT workers stand to lose everything unless the government takes up its constitutional responsibility to come to their aid and, preferably, defence.  Not to mention the defence of a major sector of Italian manufacturing industry.  And the aid of fellow workers from other Unions who have already accepted the new terms and new company.

FIOM is now threatening to call out all metal workers and 'all social movements':  the students,  the anti-privatisation groups, the anti transport- and fuel supply-networks groups, the anti nuclear and environmentalist greenies, the dissident street protest groups.  Their policy seems to be street riots and social disruption as a substitute for years of proper negotiation on the wages and conditions and industry status of those they represent in the car factories.  (Quite a familiar story there).

The dead hand of realised socialism is still reaching out from the 20th century to mar the lives of working people in advanced capitalist societies. Some Union leaderships are as much renegades as was the renegade leadership of the security services  in the anni di piombo; the scenes outside the factories in Turin are distressing in the extreme as workers refuse the demands from FIOM stewards and union officials that they should vote No.

The Democratic Left party has split along the socialist/liberal stress lines.  Did Marchionne mean to do all this?  Not, perhaps.  But never should the social democratic movement have allowed such a scenario to become real because it will not confront and recast the trades unions from which it draws so much of its membership and political validity (and financial resources) into modern institutions representing labour through all the changes globlisation is bringing.

A Denial of Basic Schooling

Five A* to C grades - it's not much to ask after 11 years of full time education; it's still not much to ask that they be in English, mathematics, a foreign language, history or geography, and a science.  It's certainly not enough to deserve to be called the English Baccalaureate.

Yet only one in six achieved at least this standard last year.  Cries of 'we weren't ready' are pathetic; what should have been a baseline already being achieved by most, even when the measure is introduced retrospectively,  has been shown to be a target beyond the range of the majority.  What has been going on for a generation and a half of school students during the Labour years?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Why Social Democracy is Dying

The Last Rites are being spoken and enacted over the body of social democracy and the European Social Model in the Italian peninsula. Fiat's Sergio Marchionne has played a blinder. He has faced the unions and most particularly the communist metal workers' union FIOM , with the truth that labour conditions including wages cannot fail to recognise conditions across the world in an international industry like car manufacturing.

The deal he has offered to the FIAT workers marks the end of collective bargaining – which is, among other things, an integral part of the European Social Model – and marks the resurgence of enterprise-level bargaining: FIAT has had to leave the Confederation of Italian Industries in order to replace the standing collective contract; metalworkers could also be moved to the new contract in other enterprises that follow FIAT’s example.

For those of us who hold the nation state to be the ultimate defence of democracy, this is a bitter moment. The first article of the Italian democratic constitution states that Italy is a republic founded on labour; Article Four declares that all have a right to work. Yet the government can do nothing to protect Italian workers' conditions and wage levels without retreating into a protectionism in which FIAT would take no part.

What is more, Marchionne has appealed directly to the Italian workforce, over the heads of their union leadership, to vote in referendums on acceptance or rejection of the terms he has laid out for the continuation of motor manufacturing by FIAT in Italy: smaller, specialist unions representing skilled workers have voted Yes, preferring work on worse conditions to no work. They subscribe to the view expressed by Marchionne so forcefully during the negotiations over  OPEL, that he is an industrialist and these are industrial not political arguments - (on that occasion he walked away from the talks rather than get caught up in the political games being played by GM, Vauxhall, OPEL, and the German, American and UK governments.)

FIAT, Marchionne has declared, is not an Italian company but an international company with a historic connection to Italy that necessarily will be run on internationalist lines. We can assume that what is true for FIAT is true for FIAT-like companies, particularly in medium-ranged manufacturing skills industries everywhere.

Some may rejoice that trades unions are being recalled to their true purpose - the representation of workers' interests in terms and conditions rather than ideologically-inspired prancing about on a political stage on which they should never have had a place. But the contradiction between the centre-left's internationalism and the maintenance of their people's advantages in work, and the centre-right's claims for the defence of the nation state in the interests of democratic self-determination coupled with economic stances demanding free trade is a bitter irony.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Kaldor not Keynes: Time for an Expenditure Tax

State provision of welfare services takes a very large slice out of pay packets.  Much of the welfare goes to those who do not have pay packets - for whatever reason. Which leads to a great deal of bitter pointy-fingering going on towards that section of welfare-consumers who are of working age but not working.  Yet to reduce welfare expenditures, which go in great part to the young, the old, the sick, the excluded rather than the workshy, is near impossible.  Yes there can be savings, a trimming away of some marginal government provision, an ending of universal benefits (though arguably  that is the route to poor provision for poor people) but it is the funding of government welfare-provision that needs to change.

Progressive taxation  goes hand in hand with the creation of disincentives - one of the many heads of the Gorgon of moral hazard.  We will all act with invention, skill, determination and considerable behaviour modification  to avoid falling into categories that are tax penalised. Not just minor  body swerves but major lifestyle choices and changes that grossly limit the notionally fair advantages of graduated taxes on income.  This applies to all income levels and all types of means.  People attain statuses to avoid tax and people refuse work to avoid tax.  Yet we should all be paying for the welfare services we are all agreed ought to be available in a fair society.

Consumption taxes as the principal means of raising government revenue have been decried and denounced as unfair by the supporters of progressive everything for too long.    Everyone who consumes, whatever their source of income, should be  making a contribution to the tax base, and joining in  universal scrutiny of just how much government welfare provision costs. It's not enough, any longer, to cry wolf about the poorer paying more.  Yes, they would, but with our pay packets intact many  would still be better off relieved of income tax and national insurance burdens.  And the real wolf of moral hazard and universal life-warping avoidance measures would be slain.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Miliband With the Wrong Attitude Again

Oldham East and Saddleworth is becoming a festival of Miliband dishonesty.  Ed Miliband called on voters to   'send a message'  about “the betrayal on tuition fees, show the government what they feel about police cuts both here and across the country and make clear their anger about an unfair VAT rise”.

Why should voters in that  constituency care particularly about any of these issues?  Tuition fees are not cutting edge in former textile towns with large Kashmiri and Pakistani populations; nor are policing matters -  indeed there is quite a reputation enjoyed there for being able to take care of policing issues themselves.

As for the unfairness of the rise in VAT perhaps Mr Miliband should have thought of the damage he was doing to our general well being and the social realisations of fairness when he worked for a decade for the brownian Treasury and its boom and bust economy.

The whole point of our single constituency member, elected by first past the post voting is that it is local, personal and decisive.  The person who had Woolas thrown out as a campaign liar is just that: local, personal, decisive and, as a bonus, ready to carry Oldham's concerns to Parliament not national concerns to Oldham.

The Cuts

The lime trees in the garden were enormous; once they had been severely cut back - pleached is the word I think -  but they had escaped control  in the decades of neglect and no cutting back could return their shape or function.  So this morning the men arrived with hoists and saws and took the last of them out while they were deep in winter sleep.

The garden is flooded with light (and no doubt heat, come May) and all sorts of plants that had been yearning sideways and backwards for a bit of sun will get the shock of their lives in Spring.  So will the migrating birds who used to sit in the limes shrieking their little beaks off, having a rest before heading further north.  And as for the biting insects that thrived in the shadow and the trees themselves, they've been carried off  in the lorry.

The garden needs a rethink and a replant.  It's design was settled long ago and will remain rectangular beds with paths cutting them up like a Roman garrison town; you can go forwards, backwards, left or right in the garden - no meandering.  Some vacuous English planting will have to go  (when will I learn that Italy doesn't do  soft and muted?)  and it's going to be box, rosemary, lavender, irises in serried ranks, with pretty ornamental trees covered in poisonous fruits.  Even my quince, which is a local tree, has caught some kind of blight because it should not be in such a garden.  And the mimosa fought gloriously for years but is now a blackened stump, dead of cold.

This is not a country garden, despite seeing nothing but country (though scarred here and there with factories) from every window.  It is a city garden in miniature as is the village a stone miniature of grander hill tops.  So rigidly formal, sober and severe I must accept.

But I shall have a pretty rococo summer house, or at least a gaudy awning, to shelter me from the heat.

Friday, 7 January 2011

It Takes a Custodial Sentence Before Labour 'Excludes' ?

A Labour Party spokesman said: "David Chaytor had already been suspended from the Labour Party and following his custodial sentence he has now been excluded from the party."

What's the matter with Labour these days?  Why wasn't David Chaytor expelled?  What was he doing in the Labour party  in the first place?  Part of the 'I didn't come into politics not to take what's owed to me' brigade?

How could  the Party that claims (and once held) the moral high ground, have become what it is now?

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Really Measuring the Economy

Shopping at Prada is a no-no unless you are in reasonable shape, both physical and financial.  A que sera sera attitude is useful too, for what is on offer is what the shops sent back, what remained in stock at the manufacturers, and clothes for the mad, the bad, and the tiny.  Usually it's packed to the doors -  with wall to wall Japanese in the bags, shoes and leather jackets sections.

Prada clothes are lovely to wear; they are made of interesting and/or exotic materials, they stretch and fit and do quirky skirty things.  They are also the ultimate 'never buy clothes in a sale' trap.  What looks interestingly louche or daringly girly-patterny inside looks completely unwearable if not certifiable outside.

So there we were yesterday morning, as thin as we could make ourselves given that it was 4 January, out hunting for the rare cashmere, the blue suede boot, the bag big enough for everything and small enough to pass muster at Gatwick, the little velvet slipper gold-embroidered, the dress that while nothing on the hanger was transformed and transforming once engaged with bodily reality.  (Coats were found last year - and after all, what good is a coat that cannot do lots of winters?)

The place was a deserted space - a good thing the walls are mirrored for at least we could see ourselves reflected into quite a crowd.   No other difference though.  That shoe was available in 37 so you could cripple yourself or do without; the skirts and jackets are campionario   so are you feeling  thin,  punk? (or have you a sarta to move the buttons, ease the seams, lower the hemlines? ) It may seem sacrilegious to alter your Prada but many are called and few are chosen to meet the strict standards of Prada-sizing.

Prices were maintained, though didn't feel as high as they usually make anyone feel (ie faint), so they must have fallen in terms of  expectations.  But these were prices with attitude; if there were no customers at these prices then so be it, they certainly weren't coming down.  Which suggests that there's going to be quite a spring as soon as the winter stock is disposed of.  What may happen is that cheap clothes suppliers are going to be hit harder by materials' cost rises than those who supply in expensive materials  from the outset.  It's the mass-supply world that's going to have real price rises - and it's a funny old world when the economic choice is to pay as much as you possibly can for anything you buy.

(Angels are parading round in a duck egg blue, alpaca boucle jumper; and this evening, the eve of the Epiphany, will be laying out a stocking hoping it will be filled with a new handbag in softy-brown calf, and a violet-coloured knitted jacket with thin sleeves that come right down over the hands).

Monday, 3 January 2011

Just Looking

Could we all try and look more like this - 

and less like this -   

                                                 in the new year?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

An Angels' Hero Speaks

The President of Italy gave a heartening address to the nation yesterday.  In a complex speech of interrelated observations that moved between a consideration of what is democracy to the immediate involvement of all citizens in its practice -

"You, my listeners, are not simply spectators, for politics is you as well, you in your capacity to give it life and change with your demands and your actions springing from the way you live now, from the difficulties that press upon you"

that  asserted the importance of the nation state and of our cultural inheritance  -

"The celebration of the 150th anniversary [of the founding of the modern Italian state]... is not a rhetorical gesture.  As a nation we cannot think out  our future without  memory and awareness of the past.  It serves us, it helps us to walk again the way, for all its hardness and dispute, that took us to a united Nation State in 1861 and, equally to retrace the path we then followed though it takes us through blood-soaked tragedy  and dramatic change."   

that acknowledged the attempt to undermine  the European Union via the  attack upon the Euro and offered a sight of the Union as it must be -

"Europe must be able 'to  act as a real Union'.  Europe must be a Union of States and peoples, made rich  by its plurality and strong in its institutions, made ever more capable of acting together, of integrating decisively.  Only like this can we repel the attack on the Euro and an insidious financial crisis in the eurozone and can open new prospects for economic growth and employment in our continent, avoid the risk of its marginalisation or irrelevance in a global world that grows far  from us."

and calling on those of us who are established in life to recognise that we cannot leave the young with nothing and without means to establish their lives, the Head of State noted - 

"If the dream of continuing in growing well-being, at the pace and in the manner of the past can, for those of us in the west, no longer be pursued, this does not mean that we must give up on desire and hope for new and more worthwhile aims to achieve in a world shaped by globalisation".   

It is hard to do justice to the stripped-down elegance of the President's language and content borne by every word so, for those who like to hear beautiful Italian spoken beautifully, here he is in  original   (with a fine rendition of the Anthem and some lovely film of   the Quirinale).