Monday, 31 October 2011

Are Durham County Council CONSCIOUSLY insulting the Town and Parish Councils?

On Wednesday, at the request of the Town Council, a man came from Durham County Council to keep us up to date about the local economy. One of the things he told us was that the County Council was working with the Area Action Partnership (AAP) to develop the local economy. Unfortunately, when asked, he was unsure how DCC might work with the Town Council to develop the local economy.
On Saturday, I went to the AGM of the County Durham Association of Local Councils (CDALC). Proceedings were opened by Cllr Linda Marshall, Vice-Chair of DCC, who, in a brief speech, praised the ‘spectacular success’ of DCC’s cooperation … with the AAPs.
I wonder whether either of these two people realised just how tactless it was to stress to Town and Parish Councils (TPCs) their good relations with the AAPs!

I can appreciate why the County Council might prefer to work through the AAPs; the AAPs are unelected local quangos, run by County Council officers. Great Aycliffe Town Council has 30 elected members and a budget approaching £3million a year – it is outspoken, assertive and knows its own mind.

But IS DCC sidelining the local TPCs in favour of the AAPs? I have always dismissed such conspiracy theories as ridiculous.

However, on Saturday there was a stall advertising a DCC consultation on Community Buildings.
I was slightly surprised, since I have always been kept in touch with the DCC consultation portal, which emailed me to inform me of any new consultation documents.
On investigation, however, it seems for all the world as though DCC have closed down their consultation portal without telling me, stopped sending me emails, and opened instead a new ‘Consultation page’ on their website here.

Did YOU know about this?

If you visit this Consultations webpage, you will see that at the time of writing there are three important consultations in progress (Community Buildings, Household Waste and CCTV – the CCTV consultation, particularly, is vital for TPCs since it is a double-taxation issue).

Did YOU know about them?

Have I been watching too much Smiley’s People, or do DCC need to democratise their consultations procedures?

Friday, 28 October 2011

Occupy St Paul's - where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts

It’s always easy to poke fun at people, especially when they’re intense. The media have been doing a great job on the St Paul’s protestors, who apparently go home at night, don’t know what they’re protesting about, have jobs, don’t have jobs etc. etc.
I’m sure there will be many protestors who are awful, or silly people … but there are times when the whole is greater than simply the sum of the parts.

The telling point for me is the official hostility. Cameron denouncing them in Australia … the hatred of the St Paul’s hierarchy … the eviction threats.
When you get the forces of establishment lining up to deliver studiedly-moderate denouncements, you smell a rat.
These people have touched a nerve.
‘You’re embarrassing us, please shut up and go away.’


An indefinite threat elicits an undefined response
Politicians like to think in terms of defined factors. Elections and majorities and coalitions. The ayes and nays in a debate. Lobbyists. Campaigns.
They like the issues defined … encompassable … limited.
And they respond (nowadays) with soundbites – ‘Broken Britain’, ‘Big Society’ etc.
(We tend to despise these as trite and ineffective, but we need to be careful … in the olden days they used to send in the yeomanry, so perhaps soundbites are not such a bad response after all.)

Anyway, the St Paul’s protest is not defined. It is inchoate and amorphous.
And the politicians don’t like it. I am sure it is incomprehensible to them. But to us out here, for us, it touches an insecurity. WE understand why they are there.

I would relate it to the popularity of ‘armageddon’ films at the moment. Filtering through society at a subconscious level is a feeling that something terrible could happen … that the pack of cards could collapse at any moment.


Capitalism is an unsustainable lifestyle
We live in a society where capitalism is triumphant – 1989 confirmed that.
THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. When that most-perceptive-of-political commentators Sandi Toskvig recently suggested Baltic socialism on so-analytical-a-programme as the News Quiz she was mocked off the stage. The ‘alternatives’ have been reduced to a joke.

But, underneath the official pronouncements – there is a growing feeling that capitalism is unsustainable. Why do you think capitalism feels the need nowadays to stress at EVERY possible juncture that what is happening is ‘sustainable’!

And it’s not just the euro crisis and the recession – those are the tips of the icebergs beneath.
It is Global Capitalism itself which is ultimately unsustainable.
There are 7 billion people in the world today, and the only reason that capitalism can deliver to me the lifestyle I enjoy is because a huge number of those people live in poverty.
I hesitate to come out with some trite aphorism like ‘capitalism only succeeds where it has populations to oppress’, but it’s true enough.
There is a growing realisation that the world simply does not have sufficient resources for all 7 billion of us to live at the level – and with the profligacy – that I do today.

And there’s this feeling that the west’s period of economic dominance – which was based, first on slavery, then on colony-imperialism, and then on economic-imperialism – is coming to an end.


The Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship

When the protestors at St Paul’s seek ‘a new and better way’ OF COURSE they don’t know how it will work itself out!

But don’t think for a moment that the capitalists who are ridiculing them don’t believe that there is a storm coming. They are busy pulling up the drawbridge as fast as they can, dismantling the Welfare State, privatising its constituent parts, cutting future obligations (pensions), maxing-out their salaries – taking what they can while they can take it.


And that’s why they are so annoyed by the St Paul’s protestors.
They know as well as the rest of us that the quickest way to go bankrupt is to announce to your creditors that you are about to go bankrupt.


The Switch
Capitalism has survived crises in ages past, but the problem is that it has done so simply by expanding its operational scope. Now we are in a whole-global economy, it has nowhere more to go.
And the fear is that it will collapse.

My son has dimmer switches all over his house. You gradually turn the lights up and down. I have no such sophistications. I have switches. I press the switch – more and more – and for a long time nothing happens; then there is a click and the light goes off all of a sudden.
The problem with the capitalist economy is that it has a switch mechanism, not a dimmer knob.
When things change, the danger is that they will happen suddenly, like some disaser movie.

The protestors may not know what is going to happen, but I can suggest some possibilities – that we become the economically-oppressed of the world, or a world Depression where everyone is needy, or war as nations try to make sure that others suffer not them.

Years and years ago, we lived in real fear of nuclear war. We made our plans – my father had found a cave on Ilkley Moor which he reckoned would shelter him and his family. Thousands went to CND rallies, not because they had any solutions personally, but because they were aware of a terminal threat to our existence.

The St Paul’s campers are the 21st century equivalent of the Aldermaston marches.
Time to suss out that cave, I reckon…

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Our Human Rights (we need to watch this space)

Yesterday, Monday 24 October, Dominic Grieve, Conservative Attorney General, gave a speech at Lincoln’s Inn. Legalweek.com hails it as ‘a refreshingly grown-up speech on human rights reform’ (as opposed to the Home Secretary’s ‘laughable’ and ‘childlike’ comments at the Conservative Party Conference).

I’m not so sure. A wolf is still a wolf even if it’s dressed in sheep’s clothing.
Mr Grieve’s speech was designed to reassure, but in doing so it delivered a conscious oxymoron -- the Bill of Rights will be a change which won't change anything.
The term ‘sleight of hand’ comes to mind.


Reform, not replacement
First of all, Mr Grieve assured us that the government did not intend in any way to undermine the European Convention on Human Rights. Britain was proud of its role in the creation of the Convention.
Explicit statement:

‘There is no question of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the Convention’,

and again:

‘The Government is not intending to limit or erode the application any of the rights and freedoms in the Convention including the right to respect for private and family life…’


The government DOES, shared Mr Grieve, have reservations about whether the European Court of Human Rights is ‘sustainable’ (there’s that word again!) But the actual reforms he suggested we ought to seek turned out in the end to be very minor:
• A screening mechanism to weed out vexatious cases
• A way to reconsider the calculation of damages
• The selection of judges.
So, apparently, nothing to worry about there!

And as for the working of the European Court, the government does not want to overthrow the Court, but merely to revisit the concept of ‘subsidiarity’ – the principle whereby member states have a latitude in interpreting to their own situation the general statements of the Court (particularly where those statements are unclear or contradictory, as for example in the matter of prisoner voting).
So, apparently, nothing to worry about here, too!


Preserving our Human Rights
Even in the matter of abolishing the Human Rights Act, Mr Grieve was assiduous to set our minds at rest. The Human Rights Act, he assured us, was not the source of human rights in this country – the European Convention – the Convention he had promised never to abrogate – was the primary embodiment of our human rights.
No, said Mr Grieve, the Human Rights Act was merely the mechanism which applied the principles of the European Convention into British law.
Thus, as long as the European Convention of Human Rights remained, suggested Mr Grieve, we do not need to worry about our human rights – which will be protected by the new Bill of Rights as they are now protected by the existing Human Rights Act.
So, apparently, nothing to worry about here, too!

Indeed, Mr Grieve was concerned to assure us that the Bill of Rights will be every bit as good as the Human Rights Act.
Here is what he said about how the government is making sure that this is the case:

‘As a part of this process every department is required to produce a memorandum containing a full and frank legal analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the human rights issues raised in the Bill and an indication whether the Minister in charge of the Bill can make a statement that in his or her view the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention rights as required by section 19 of the Human Rights Act.’

So, apparently, DEFINITELY nothing to worry about here as well!


So everything is hunky-dory … isn’t it?


My Problem
I just have one question:
• IF… we are committed to full human rights as enshrined in the European Convention.
• IF… we are not renouncing the European Court’s authority but merely seeking a few minor reforms.
• IF… we are not addressing our concerns about the Convention by withdrawing from its rules, but merely under the existing principle of subsidiarity.
• And IF… the Bill of Rights will enshrine all our rights unscathed in British Law…

Why do we need to abolish the Human Rights Act, which achieves all this already?

If the government does not intend to change our rights in the Human Rights Act, why are we changing it?
What is the point of changing the Human Rights Act if you don’t intend to change anything?

Mr Grieve must think we were born yesterday.
Mr Grieve is a very clever man; he must know that what he is saying doesn’t add up.
All those lawyers who were listening to him make their living by debating the exact meaning of obscure terms; they must have known that what he was saying didn’t add up.
It was one of those situations where we, the people, are being stared in the eye and hard-balled out of it.

My fear – my guess – is that, when it appears, the Bill of Rights will replace the few simple statements which currently enshrine our human rights with a mountain of verbiage with enough loopholes to drive a coach-and-horses through.
My fear – my guess – is that people like you and me won’t be clever enough to catch the tricks, and that we’ll find out over the next 20 years how the apparently simple principles of our human rights don’t actually amount in the detail to what we thought they did.

I hope I am wrong. But even so, according to Mr Grieve, the Bill of Rights Commission is due to report at the end of the year, and I think it would be wise to keep a keen watch-out for it.

Monday, 24 October 2011

A Local Matter with National Implications

Enterprise Inns Ltd have applied for outline planning permission to build three houses on the plot of green open space next to the Huntsman Car Park at the bottom of Pemberton Road in Woodham.

I don’t know what you think about this, but as far as I am concerned it is yet another attempt to fill up the green open spaces in our town with buildings. Most readers will know that I have no objection to an outward expansion on the outskirts of town, provided it is surrounded by a green buffer zone, but I’m against this constant infilling, which threatens the ‘green’ nature of our garden town.

However, this was not what worried me most about this application, but the fact that the company’s agents had submitted an 18-page document in support of the application – citing, no less, the Draft National Planning Policy Framework (DNPPF). The document cited the Framework’s presumption in favour of sustainable development, and stated the benefit to the community of providing housing. It even noted that Durham County Council had not yet produced its Local Plan, and quoted the DNPPF’s provision that planning authorities should look to grant permission ‘where the Local Plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or out of date’!

Now – apart from the outrage that the application is citing a document which was still under consultation, never mind not yet law – does this not worry you? Did I not warn that if the DNPPF became law we would see a rush to build on every green space, citing this ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’? I fear it is impossible to underestimate the danger that the DNPPF poses to our green town environment, and we must continue to lobby the government to see sense. I for a start will be writing to the government to point out this misuse of the DNPPF and its implications.

In the meantime - if you are local - if you, as I, oppose this infill housing on the green field land next to the Huntsman car park, email planningspennymoor@durham.gov.uk, quoting case number 7/2011/0380/DM (DL5 4UE), giving your name address and telephone number, and saying simply that you object to the loss of green field amenity open space. Your objection will have more impact if you add why you value and wish to retain this open space.

If you want to see the objection I am sending, it is here.
If you want to see the whole application, it is publicly available here.

You have until 3rd November, when the consultation period ends.

My idea for the Labour Party - An open letter to the leadership

Hi!

Thanks for letting me write to you.

I’m going to finish this letter with my IDEA, but you’ll have to read to the end of the letter to find out what it is, because I’m going to start off by first telling you who I am, and why I came by my idea.
It’s a good idea, which could have a galvanising effect on the Labour Party; although I expect that nobody will listen.
Will you even read to the end of the letter?

I am a Branch member of the Labour Party
I am not famous or influential – I have all of 40 followers on twitter. I am Deputy Leader of the local Town Council. I am an active Labour supporter at Branch level.
I wonder if people at your level have ever heard of ‘Branches’. They are meetings of local party members at grassroots membership level. About 15-20 of us attend my local Branch, which makes us relatively successful. Most of us are older (50+) but we are the local campaign workforce which posts your manifestos, knocks doors, fills your envelopes, mans the phonelines etc.

What do we Branch Members Feel about our Labour Party?
Generally, we are really a bit disappointed in you.
It’s not that we don’t SUPPORT Ed Milliband – we’re Labour so we’ll do our bit – but what POLICIES does he have?

Under Tony Blair, we all had a little credit-card sized bit of plastic with ‘5 things Labour was fighting for’. We knew that was what we were campaigning for, and we could leave the plastic card with everyone we talked to.
Nowadays I’d be hard put to tell you a single Labour policy on anything, apart from maybe that it would be exactly the same as the Tories only not as fast.
Which isn’t going to get anyone elected.

And whilst I watch the Labour leadership failing to lead, I cannot help seeing that much of the crusading campaigning against the Tories (which LABOUR ought to be leading) is in fact being organised by different bodies – 38 Degrees, Occupy Wall Street etc. – or arising spontaneously as student marches or mindless rioting.

At my own local level, I have basically been left to my own devices trying to organise campaigns against the Draft Planning Framework, the Renewable Energy Strategy and the Boundaries Commission reorganisation. I would have thought that the Labour Party would surely have been campaigning vigorously against this last measure, which threatens to eliminate it altogether, but, No! The online petition against it only has 400-some signatures, and the messages which seem to be coming out of the Labour leadership are that they would do the same as the Tories, only not quite as brutally.

The Labour Party is Ignoring its Roots
Recently, I read an article on the different coloured books which were being produced in the Labour Party – blue, purple, red.
Apparently, the Labour Party was considering its future direction.

I wish they’d told me when they were doing all this reconsidering.
Apparently, the blue and the purple books were discussed and absorbed without me ever getting to see anything that was in either of them or even know that a discussion was taking place.
I tried to get a bit more involved following the ‘red book’, and even joined their facebook page, but I hadn’t made more than a couple of posts there before I was well and truly blocked and ignored. If there is a discussion of ‘red book’ ideas going on anywhere, it isn’t for the likes of me!

It is symptomatic that, when I wrote to the Labour campaign team asking for the name of the person I should speak to about my idea, I was initially fobbed off and referred to my Regional Office.

Nobody wants to know what we feel at Branch rank-and-file level.
Nobody gives a damn.

A Depressed and Disillusioned Membership
Recently, I was involved CLP membership review, which gave me the opportunity to go round a number of other Branches and talk to the Branch members there – people who were ‘Branch members’ like me.

What struck me most forcefully was the complete lack of involvement they felt.
They felt utterly removed from any decision-making … at CLP level, never mind regional or national level!

Everybody ‘further up’ the food chain cannot wait to slag off the Branches. They are boring. They are moribund. They are consumed with ‘reports’ and trivia…

But when do they ever get asked to do any more?
How do they know what to do more?
Who asked them what they think about the purple book, or the DNPPF, or the EU, or the war in Libya, or the NHS reforms etc.?
Who briefed them so that – if they discussed these things – their discussions and opinions could be informed?
And – most to the point – who gave a damn WHAT they thought?

An Opportunity to Contribute
I suppose there are some members out there who just cannot wait to follow blindly and worship unquestioningly, but we don’t have many of those in my branch.
Most of us got involved in political activism because we cared about what was happening in the world, because we wanted to make a difference, and because we wanted our voice to be heard.

After two decades of New Labour, we are rarely asked for anything other than money. We are not even told what to believe any more – we are just ignored.

And thus we have a Labour leadership which has lost all contact with its rank-and-file membership, and a rank-and-file membership which has lost hope of ever affecting anything meaningful in any meaningful way.

But ‘yous lot up there’ in London – you Labour campaign leaders at national level – could so easily change this around with almost zero cost.
You could so easily create a motivated and enthusiastic grassroots membership which was committed to the Party.
And you could so easily find out what your rank-and-file wanted you to be saying.

My Idea
Here’s the way you do it.
YOU USE THE BRANCHES.

Most branches meet once a month.
So, every month, you publish a consultation paper.
You’d only need a dozen – 10, actually, since many branches don’t meet in August and the December meeting is a Christmas Party – and you’d be providing a discussion topic for every Branch for every meeting.

Topics for that consultation paper might be an aspect of Labour policy, or a topical issue (e.g. the EU referendum), or a government green paper.
YOU know what is coming up in a way that the poor Branch Secretary doesn’t – by the time your average Branch Secretary has found out what is going on, it’s usually done and dusted!
But YOU can get out stuff for discussion which will mean that Branch members will be considering things before they read it in the Guardian!

Of course, you’d have to put out a briefing paper, with some questions for discussion/response
two sides of A4 would be more than enough (one side would be better).
But this would be SO useful for your Branch Secretary, who might be able to do it himself, but probably has a family, a job, Council meetings and a role in some voluntary organisation to cope with as well.

And then you’d need to identify a place to send the responses to – Labour head office, the relevant Secretary of State etc.
So those Branch members can not only have a good discussion about a topic that matters, based on a summary of information which means that their discussions are informed opinion, but they can actually propose a motion, agree a response, and then post it off AND HELP TO CHANGE SOMETHING … which is why they got involved in politics in the first place.

You will not need to spend huge amounts on paper and postage. Most Branch Secretaries will be able to get it by email, but perhaps you could offer a print-and-post service at a cost to Branches who weren’t so digital?

This is not rocket science. All it needs is someone with their ear to the ground in high places, and the ability to knock up a discussion document.
And then you just email it out to all the Branch Secretaries every month for inclusion on their next agenda.
And you give the Branches the opportunity – the challenge – to spearhead a revival of energy at grassroots level.

Gaddafi prophesied his own death

In September 2009, Gaddafi went to the United Nations.

It was 100 minutes of pure theatre.

According to the Guardian, he "tore up a copy of the UN charter in front of startled delegates, accused the security council of being an al-Qaida like terrorist body, called for George Bush and Tony Blair to be put on trial for the Iraq war, demanded $7.7tn in compensation for the ravages of colonialism on Africa, and wondered whether swine flu was a biological weapon created in a military laboratory. At one point, he even demanded to know who was behind the killing of JFK. All in all, a pretty ordinary 100 minutes in the life of the colonel."


However, in amongst the harangue, he commented on the unreliability of the West as an ally:

[In Iraq] an entire Arab leadership was executed by hanging, but we sit on the sidelines. Why? Any one of you may be next.

America fought alongside Saddam Hussein. He was their friend… Ultimately they sold him out and hanged him. You are friends of America – let’s say that ‘we’ are, not ‘you’ – but one of these days, America may hang us.


At the time, Gaddafi was being wooed by the West - his visit to the UN was part of that.

Gaddafi is presented as a clown by the Western media; but he was proven right in the end...


It is the implications for our opportunistic, inconsistent, ill-thought-out foreign policy in the Middle East that concern me.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Idiocy of our Energy Strategy

I can remember when I was a young-married, with a young family, how very hard we found it to make ends meet.
It was the hire purchase payments which crippled us. The TV, the cooker, the washing machine, the drier, the car … because we had no money, we had to get them all on the never-never, and the repayments were crippling.
The red-letter day – the turning point in our finances as a family – was when we finally managed to get a little behind us so that we could borrow from ourselves. Just not having to pay interest to all those finance companies made us a richer family.

Another annoyance I remember was rent. Paying what was for us a large sum every week – straight into someone else’s pocket! It annoyed the hell out of me. But eventually we managed to buy our own house … and now I have retired I find that I own my house, and I live in it rent-free.

These are the money-matters that exercise ordinary people like you and me!


Britain’s energy needs
According to the internet, over the next 20 years, Britain needs to invest £200 billion into new generating infrastructure.

I am sure that, when he tells you this, Chris Huhne is relying on the ‘oh-my-God’ factor.

Actually, before we start, £200 billion is not a lot.
It’s £10 billion a year.
That’s:
- what we’re paying for the two new aircraft carriers.
- what the government promised to cut this summer from its procurement (‘stationery’) budget.
- less than we wasted (£12 billion) on the NHS computer bungle.

It’s £333 per household per year for 20 years.

According to the government, this sum is beyond the country’s ability to pay.
Apparently, the only way we as a country can afford this humongous sum is to do what is essentially a hire purchase deal with the electricity companies – they will make the capital investment, and then they will charge it to us, the consumers, through increased electricity bills.

Of course, at the end of the 20 years, we will not OWN the generating infrastructure. The electricity companies will own it, and we the public will go on paying for it – like a rented house – year after year after year.

And, of course, the most ridiculous thing is that, even though the investment will be made by the energy companies, at the end of the day IT IS STILL US WHO ARE GOING TO BE BUYING IT, though our electricity bills!


A matter of political dogma
So here is the nub of the matter.
The government is essentially buying our power stations on the never-never, and committing us to pay the money back, with interest, for ever, out of our electricity bills.
When we could, by putting up taxes by £6 a week, pay for it ourselves, and end up owning it ourselves.

Madness!
They are doing this of course because every politician nowadays is committed to reducing taxes – especially the Tories – because it upsets their rich sponsors to put up taxes.

They are doing it because not one of them has ever had to struggle to meet HP payments, or lived in hock to the money lender ... and because not one of these rich boys has ever had to understand money.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Response to Eon's 'the Isles' Application

I do not ‘prefer’ ANY of your options.

I am totally hostile to the entire application, at every level.

- I do not agree that wind power is a solution to the energy problem – it is and always will be unreliable and is unviable without support.

- I do not agree with wind farms – the system of subsidies is merely a rapacious burden on customers which is driving many of them into unnecessary fuel poverty.

- I do not agree with ‘the Isles’ proposal:

1. because this area already has more than its fair share of wind farms.

2. because its visual, environmental and (arguably) health impact will trash an area which, economically more than ever, we need to be attractive to others.

Please record my unmitigated hostility to every aspect of your application.

The PIGS are not the problem – it’s China!

Democracy needs a scapegoat.

During the Cold War it was the Russians; now it’s the PIGS.

They, we are regularly assured, are the cause of the problem, and we come down on them harder and harder.

Fairness, reason, play no part in it.

It’s THEM!

The news again this morning is full of ‘them’.

Italy has had its credit rating downgraded. Greece is failing to meet its deflationary targets. Even Belgium (always good for a bit of scorn) is having problems with one of its banks.

Boo, boo (ya boo)?

It’s all bullshit. We’re shouting at the wrong horse.


Debt is not a problem in a capitalist economy.

To start, let’s get the first hurdle cleared: debt is NOT a problem in a capitalist economy.

Nobody ever maintains a sense of proportion in this kind of situation – they always merely retweet the propaganda. Today, we’re supposed to be aghast because Greece has a debt 170% of its GDP.

Horror?

There are many people in this country who have a mortgage five, six, seven times their annual income, but they’re all waking up this morning and smiling at the sunshine!

As long as you’re earning enough to make the repayments, debt is no problem at all.

Debt only becomes a problem when you lose your job; and even then, it’s usually possible to go to your bank, restructure your debt … survive until you get another job.

Another solution, of course, is to get a rich parent to pay off the mortgage – or, at least, take over the payments until you can afford them again.

Even assuming that Greece and Italy have done the international equivalent of losing their job, the current ‘solutions’ they are being forced to take are NOT the answer:

IF the problem is too much debt, WHY are we forcing these PIGS nations to take more huge loans from us (at quite a high rate of interest)?
IF the problem is making their payments, why are we down-grading their credit rating so that they have to pay MORE for their debt?

‘The only way out of a debt crisis is for governments to pay off their debts’ is the message I am told that David Cameron is going to give today at the Tory Conference.

But IF we want the PIGS nations to pay off their debt, why are we forcing them to impose viciously deflationary measures which will put their economy, and their taxpayers, out of work?

That really IS the international equivalent of ‘losing your job’.


How the world economy works

NONE of it makes sense.

I have a strange vision of myself as a David Icke character, ‘the only person in the world who knows the truth’.

:)

But it seems so simple that I cannot believe that no one else out there is saying it.

There is no mystery to the economy. The economy may be difficult to control, but it is easy enough to understand.

The key to wealth is trade.

Trade makes the economy go round. Trade makes wealth.

I have explained in a previous blog a simulation which demonstrates this.

Another analogy would be blood.

Trade, like blood, pumps round the world economy.

When it’s going fast – like an athlete’s heart-beat – the economy is active, achieving, breaking world records.

The USA buys Greek olives. The Greeks use the money to buy French wine. The French buy a fighter jet from Lockheed.

Round and round the money goes, and the greater the velocity of transactions, the more we all accumulate wealth and possessions, the outcome of our trading.

But when the circulation slows, the economy becomes a metaphorical couch potato, sluggish, ‘ticking over’, atrophying.

That is why the western world has spent the last century inventing different clever ways to buy without spending – Hire Purchase, credit cards, buy-now-pay-later etc.

Because – in order to trade – I do not need you to pay for the goods or services I have provided you with! All I need is for funds to be credited to my account from somewhere so I can go out and buy something from someone else!

I suppose the archetypal example was the Marshall Plan. After the Second World War, with the world economy languishing, the USA pumped billions of dollars into Europe, more-or-less on a ‘pay-it-back-when/if-you-can’ basis.

Shelling out that money did not ruin the Americans … far from it – those European countries promptly gave it straight back to American businessmen for weapons, food and machinery! And the Americans bought things from Europe, and the Europeans bought things from each other, and the world ‘got going’ again.


China and the demise of the western economy

So what has gone wrong?

If the problem is not the Greek debt, what IS the problem?

I think there’s a strong argument that – on an international scale – it’s China.

We allowed China onto the international trading scene, but the Chinese aren’t playing the game by the capitalist rules.

(Remember what those rules are – I buy something from you, you use the money to buy something from me, and the faster we do it the wealthier we are.)

The Chinese are selling, but they’re not buying.

They’re just selling, and ponding up their profits in HUGE foreign currency reserves.

The most recent figure I have is $2.85 trillion.

And that unreciprocated $2.85 trillion is the reason Greece cannot pay back its loans – China not spending that money buying Greek olives is the international equivalent of Greece ‘losing its job’.

Using my analogy of trade as human blood, it is as though the world’s body has developed a HUGE haematoma, which is just growing uncontrollably, stealing blood from the rest of the vascular system.

So Cameron is wrong. The WORST way out of a debt crisis is for governments to pay off their debts. In a capitalist economy, the only way out of a debt crisis is to trade your way out of it.

And to do that, China needs to play its part.

Persuading them to donate the Chinese equivalent of a Marshall Plan, or to buy $2.85 trillion-worth of European goods, is another matter, of course, even if they aren’t doing all this knowingly on purpose to try to destroy the West.

But at least let’s put blame where blame is due.

And the thing is the Chinese don’t need to begrudge pumping that money back into the system, because the FIRST thing we’ll do with it is to buy more goods from China.

And we’ll all get wealthier.

Because that is how the world economy works.


Osborne at the home situation

And just to finish with a brief comparison with the home system.

Because what Cameron and Osborne are doing with the world economy, they’re doing to the home economy.

This country has its own debt crisis – unsecured debt of £1.4 trillion

Cameron today will tell the country to pay off its credit cards!

But just like China is ponding up international funds, the gap between rich and poor has been growing in this country for the last 15 years. Wealth in this country is ponding up in the bank accounts of the rich.

Osborne’s solution is to make the poor poorer, and to make the rich (the ‘wealth creators’) richer.

But (again) that is the WORST solution.

The way to pay off Britain’s debt is to get the economy going, buying from and selling to each other and the rest of the world.

Borrowing more money to pump-prime the economy, of course, is NOT the answer – that just makes the problem worse.

Incidentally, getting people to pay off their credit cards (essentially, saving) is ALSO just about the most disastrous thing you could tell people to do. In fact, domestic debt is already falling quickly, and this is adding to deflationary pressure. Because when people are paying off their debts, they are not spending it buying things from (giving money-for-trade to) others, and they are deflating the economy.

No. What we need is the domestic equivalent of the Marshall Plan.

By gift or by taxes or by simply spending what they have, we need the rich to pour their accumulated money into the economy, employing people, buying stuff from them.

And the thing is the rich businessmen don’t need to begrudge pumping that money back into the system, because the FIRST thing the poor people will do with it is to buy more goods from the rich businessmen.

And we’ll all get wealthier.

Because that’s how the domestic economy works.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Charles Hendry Tells Lies (in Public)!

On Sunday, 2 October 2011, Energy Minister Charles Hendry spoke to the Conservative Party conference. He committed himself to nuclear power and offshore energy, and to creating jobs. He repeated the prime minister’s (empty, but there we go) promise ‘to ensure that those communities which do host [renewable energy power stations] receive much more direct benefit’.

He also acknowledged that: ‘we hear very clearly the concerns expressed across the country about the balance between energy security and the impact on our countryside’ … but went on to re-affirm the government’s commitment to onshore wind power:

In the cold blustery days of much of the winter, wind energy can make a real contribution … The subsidy system, based on how much electricity is actually generated, will help to ensure that wind developments go where the wind resource is strongest.

And then he told a lie.

… and our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go.

Up to that point his speech had been disappointing, but fair comment.

But when he claimed that ‘our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go’ he was telling a direct and provable lie.

The Draft National Planning Policy Framework is currently out for consultation, and it has a number of things to say about renewable energy.

The ‘golden thread’ running through entire Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development – i.e. that the answer to every planning application will be ‘yes’, except where the proposed development is not ‘sustainable’ development.

Now, wind farms are, by definition, sustainable development.

Let’s take the Framework's statement on Green Belt land.At first it seems quite hopeful:

146. When located in the Green Belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development. In such cases developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances if projects are to proceed.

Not bad, eh?

But then you need to remember that wind farms are, by definition, sustainable development.

So paragraph 146 goes on:

Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.

Thus paragraph 146 is not a bar to building wind farms on green belt land, but an endorsement of it!

In fact, given the explicit acknowledgement that ‘the wider environmental benefits associated with ... energy from renewable sources’ are ‘very special circumstances’, it is hard to see on what basis a Planning Authority could refuse an application to build a wind farm on the Green Belt.

Even more damningly, read the second half of paragraph 153:

Once opportunity areas for renewable and low-carbon energy have been mapped in plans, local planning authorities should also expect subsequent applications for commercial scale projects outside these areas to demonstrate that the proposed location meets the criteria used in identifying opportunity areas.

What does this mean? It means, quite bluntly, that – once a Planning Authority has identified an area as suitable for renewable energy projects, it must EXPECT applications for outside that area and that – in such cases – such applications will also have a presumption in favour of sustainable development ... provided the company can show that the agreed criteria apply in the new area.

Thus, paragraph 153 does not allow a Planning Authority to determine opportunity areas for renewable energy – rather it allows energy companies to make applications, with a presumption for ‘yes’, in ANY places suitable for a wind farm.

But what did Minister Hendry say? 'Our planning reforms will give more powers to communities to decide where such developments go’.

Do YOU think he was telling the truth?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Is this the end of our 'green and pleasant land'?

When someone mentions the ‘Draft National Planning Policy Framework Consultation’, the average person’s response will be to go glassy-eyed and reach for the Rennies.

Please will you allow me a thousand words to try to convince you that this is something where you need to pick up a pen - before the consultation period runs out in 17 October?


The Framework is the outcome of a basic Tory feeling that planning rules – the ‘centralist diktats of Whitehall’ – are restricting much-needed economic growth and development. The primary aim of the Framework, therefore, is to replace the existing 1,300 pages of rules with 52 pages of general principles.

What do you reckon to this? My fear is that, in what is essentially a quasi-judicial matter, the 1,300 pages were there because they covered every situation; I fear that ‘general principles’ will not be enough to stop all those situations where a development can ruin an area.


The underlying principle of the Framework is to free up planning so that it does not restrict development. To this end it includes (paragraph 13, but repeated endlessly) ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – basically, that where planning permission is sought for infrastructure, industry, housing, or local services, ‘the default answer to development proposals is “yes”’, as long as the development is ‘sustainable’. Some developments – such as wind farms – will be ‘sustainable’ by definition, since they provide low-carbon renewable energy.

What do you reckon to this? My personal feeling is that it would leave our precious places desperately vulnerable to ‘predator’ developments.


The Framework states that it is deliberately making its stipulations as minimal as possible (paragraph 5). It requires Local Authorities to prepare a ‘Local Plan’, including the presumption in favour of sustainable development; but, further, requires them also to avoid duplicating planning processes in the Neighbourhood Plans. And ‘Neighbourhood Plans’? Well, the Framework states that they ‘will be able to relax controls for particular development … where this will boost enterprise and growth’.

Are to beginning to get scared? Amidst all these requirements to allow more and more flexibility and freedom, what I am wanting to know is where would this Framework define and prohibit UNacceptable development?


In this respect, paragraph 14 contains an even more terrifying provision – that a Planning Authority must grant permission ‘where the plan is absent, silent, indeterminate or out of date’.

So here was have a Framework which has abolished 1,300 pages of planning rules, has itself remained explicitly vague, has instructed Local Plans not to impinge on areas addressed by Neighbourhood Plans, has instructed the Neighbourhood Plans to concentrate on development opportunities … and then tells developers that if they find a loophole in all this, planning permission must be granted. Worrying.

Above all, this convinces me that – if the Framework becomes law – the Town Council MUST develop a comprehensive Neighbourhood Plan, taking advantage of its proposed power to define WHERE development will take place, and also the ‘Local Green Space’ where our community might wish to rule out development.


Paragraph 19 contains a controversial idea. At the moment, developers must use brown field sites first, before they are allowed to develop green field sites. Paragraph 19, by contrast, would require planners to consider applications on land ‘regardless of its previous or existing use’. Bodies like the National Trust are opposing this because they see it as carte blanche to build on Green Belt land. Here in Newton Aycliffe we might be less hostile, because there are a number of brown field sites, long unused, which we now see as valuable green space within our communities, and we would prefer to see ‘islands’ of development beyond the current boundaries of the town, rather than ‘infilling’ on brown field sites which will ‘fill up’ and overcrowd our community.


There are lots of things in the Framework that you might want to support. Paragraphs 76-80 set out principles for the development of town centres which make generally hopeful reading.

Also, paragraphs 107-113 set out principles for the provision of housing, many of which you will probably agree with – not least, the right to ‘set housing density to reflect local circumstances’. This is what we have been trying to get for ages; why should we in the north-east (where land is plentiful) be forced to build housing estates at the high densities required down south (where land is scare) – why can’t we build spacious estates which will attract residents who don’t want to be crowded like sardines in a tin?


On the other hand, I personally am going to challenge paragraph 113, which would prohibit building isolated homes in rural areas, and paragraph 119, which states that – when it comes to architecture – ‘high quality and inclusive design goes beyond aesthetic considerations’ (i.e. that it doesn’t matter what a building looks like as long as it is doing its job). Paragraph 151, similarly, prevents planning authorities refusing permission on the grounds that a new building does not fit within an existing townscape as long as it has a wider social, economic or environmental benefit.


And I think we all need to oppose paragraph 146, which will make it virtually impossible to stop renewable energy development on green belt land. (Similarly paragraph 153 allows energy companies – after an authority has set criteria to define where it will accept renewable energy – to build wind farms ANYWHERE those criteria apply.)


Finally, paragraph 172 instructs planning authorities that, where pollution is an issue, they must assume that pollution control regimes will operate effectively, and judge the application only on whether the development is an acceptable use for the land, and not on what would happen if things went wrong. This, too, I find alarming.


If I was being negative, I would be saying that this Framework delivers us into the hands of the developers. The fear is that we will end up having to allow predator development on our most beautiful and precious sites because the Framework has taken away all our powers and rights to say no. On the other hand, there is a lot in the Framework with which you may want to agree.

You can access the Framework online, and you can send in your comments by email or by post (to Alan C Scott, NPPF, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU). If you reply online, you can simply fill in a survey-monkey of 18 ‘ticky-box’ questions with space to comment.


Consultation ends 17 October.

I urge readers to respond.