Living in interesting times, means testing times for policy makers

The apocryphal Chinese proverb says, ‘may you live in interesting times’. Well, that’s certainly true of our current times, don’t you agree.

Here are five tough issues for policy makers. Crikey, there are many more, but these five will do. How is it possible for Britain, a small island nation, to succeed in a globalised commercial world? How do we find employment for uneducated and unskilled youth? How do we manage the impacts of migration trends on our country and elsewhere in the world. How can small Britain make a contribution to climate change? How can we find a semblance of balance in acceptable behaviour when writing, commenting, and arguing online.

I could try to answer these here, though think it’s preferable to point to some recent articles with whom I’m in general agreement. Some of them are positive in outlook, others realistic, and one bleak.

I don’t believe that there are single perfect solutions to any of these issues. Solutions come only through a combination of multiple small, yet meaningful, initiatives delivered with grit, determination, and intelligence under overarching principles communicated to, and accepted by the majority of the population.

Remembering the Great War through The Spectator’s daily extracts

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with information about the First World War. One way to avoid that, and still to keep up with the centenary of remembrances of the war is to read The Spectator at war, and its daily extracts from The Spectator during WW1.

It’s one of the benefits of being a continuously published magazine since 1828 that The Spectator is able to say of it’s Spectator at war series,

The aim is not to tell the full story of the conflict, or even to provide a full assessment of our coverage of it — that requires deeper expertise and a wider view. …..  Instead, we’ll seek to give an impression, week by week and page by page, of the atmosphere of the time, with a minimum of commentary and hindsight.”

It’s a thoroughly good way to understand the mood of the times. I’ve already noted how Bagshot and Surrey heathland have been mentioned in the daily extracts from articles and dispatches.

UPDATE: Thanks to David Jones, have removed unnecessary link.

Bagshot and Surrey heathland mentioned this day in the Spectator in 1914

The Spectator weekly magazine is running a series of articles called The Spectator at war, in which it reprints articles from the magazine of 100 years ago.

Field bakeryThis week’s issue of the magazine has The Spectator at war: The war on Surrey, from The Spectator of 7th November 1914. The article bemoans the changes to quiet Surrey countryside, beginning,

“By far the largest addition to or alteration in the scenery of Surrey and its commons has been the building of the hutments which are to form the winter quarters of the new Army. This is a change which is visible near and far. Go up Hindhead on a clear day, and from that sunlit and windy plateau look out east and north towards the chalk downs and the heights beyond Bagshot.”

The odious sense of entitlement of the quangocracy

Like many I’ve long held a sceptical view of the politicisation of quangos [quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation].

Quangos are established by government as an executive agencies, though sharing goals, they’re independent of each other. In principle they are free from direct government control, and free from party politics. Well, that’s the aim. In practice an appointment to a quango has been a political reward.

Yes, yes, get to the point please.

Well, the bleating of Baroness Morgan – the head of OFSTED – about not being reappointed exhibits two things; an odious sense of entitlement that it’s my right to carry on, and exhibiting the base party politics that she apparently so deplores.

Here are some facts for your consideration,

  • Ofsted was set up by John Major’s government in 1992. It says about itself, “Ofsted is the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. We report directly to Parliament and we are independent and impartial”. Note impartial.
  • On 8th Feb 2011 Education Secretary Michael Gove appoints Baroness Morgan of Huyton to post of Ofsted chairman.
  • Wikipedia entry for Baroness Morgan, recording a lifetime of political activism for the Labour Party.
  • Baroness Morgan was Director of Government Relations working in Tony Blair’s office at No.10.
  • On Friday 31st January 2014 Michael Gove announces that Baroness Morgan will not be reappointed OFSTED chair when her term ends in February 2014. So that’s simply she’s not being renewed as chair, that’s not the same as being sacked.

Baroness Morgan is displaying politics that she so disparages. “There is an absolutely determined effort from Number 10 that Conservative supporters will be appointed to public bodies,” said Baroness Morgan. Completely forgetting that she was appointed by the Coalition government.

She complains about the politicisation of quango appointments by Conservatives, conveniently ignoring that facts, as Fraser Nelson in The Spectator neatly discounts. It strikes me that there’s politics in play here from Baroness Morgan, if I can’t keep my job, I’ll be like Elizabeth Bolt in the Just William stories, “I’ll scream and scream until I’m sick”.

UPDATE: Excellent chart in Peter Hoskin’s article, again completely disproving her argument.

Motivated to give something back to the community or home town

chris-ingram-219x300Sometimes, in answer to the question as to why people freely volunteer, work to improve their community, and such, the reply is often “I’m keen to give something back to my home town or the community where I live.”

An article on the 28th September in The SpectatorChris Ingram: from messenger boy to museum benefactor, prompted this blog post. My point is that Chris Ingram is proof that that people are motivated to give something back to their home town or community. Chris Ingram is a Woking boy made good, a major benefactor to the town through his loan of items from his substantial modern art collection to Woking’s The Lightbox, and the saving of Woking Football Club from impending bankruptcy.

This is from an article in the Daily Telegraph on his importance to establishing The Lightbox,

“None of this would have been possible had Chris Ingram not agreed to lend us his collection at the outset,” says Lightbox curator Peter Hall. “It was the keystone to borrowing displays from institutions that wouldn’t have known us otherwise.” As a measure of the cultural value of The Lightbox to the local community in terms of education and tourism, it has attracted between 70,000 to 100,000 people a year, says Hall.

This is particularly heart-warming for Ingram, whose ties with Woking date back nearly 60 years to when he arrived at the local grammar school at the age of 10. At 16 he left school to become a messenger boy in an advertising agency, a business he quickly mastered, becoming a board member at the age of 26 before setting up his own media agency for campaign planning, CIA, in 1970. In 2001, he sold the business for £435 million.

The windfall allowed him to buy his local football club, Woking Town, rescuing it from impending bankruptcy; it also nudged him from being a part-time art enthusiast into a full-time collector.

I’ve visited The Lightbox to see items from The Ingram Collection. I must go again, it’s hugely rewarding to see items from his collection of modern British art. Has Chris Ingram made a difference? I’d say so. The motivation to give something back is something I share, as do many others,

Hattip: The Spectator & The Daily Telegraph.

We’ve had this weather many times before

Rod Liddle in The Spectator is right in saying, “What’s strange about this weather? Nothing at all“.

Many of us will remember winters where we had snow in March, and at Easter too. One particularly vivid one for me was an Easter Hockey Festival in Scarborough, where the volume of snow was such that we were forced to play on the beach. I also think that central heating has sapped our ability to handle the cold weather, and that includes me.

Here are two pictures taken today. One showing a squirrel munching his way through a whole camellia flower, which I haven’t seen before, and another of the freezing water from a roadside puddle in Chobham.


Fraser Nelson’s ‘must read’ articles on welfare reform

Fraser Nelson’s article in Sunday’s News of the World and his much more detailed article on welfare dependency in the Spectator are both a ‘must read’. The NOTW article shouldn’t take too long to read, but the Spectator article might take a while. If you can’t read them today, then make a note to read them at some point this week. [I’ll give you a reminder in the week].

Fraser’s key argument is,

“The problem is that British welfare pays people not to work.”

In The Spectator he explains in detail why this is, and the problem in confronting it.

“This basic failure lies behind so many social problems we have today. Why do we have so many immigrants? Because welfare makes it not worth the while of millions of British people to work. Why did Britain never have fewer than a scandalous five million on the dole in the Labour years? Same reason. What’s the common thread running through our social horror stories like Karen Matthews and most instances of knife-crime? The key players tend to live in welfare ghettoes, walking the road to dependency paved by the welfare system. Beveridge chose the words “giant evil” advisedly. To fight this evil, ensure that work actually pays – for everyone. What Iain Duncan-Smith is proposing is amazingly simple, and has transformative potential.”

Continuing his analysis, Fraser highlights the blight of the number of people out of work in some of our cities. Surrey Heath gets a mention because of our low numbers.

“We have 5.9 million people claiming out-of-work benefits right now …. A quarter of Liverpool, Glasgow, Blackpool are on the dole…. Look at the chart: a quarter of our great cities, on the dole.”

More on promoting trade thru our embassies

As an update to my earlier post on promoting overseas trade thru our embassies, wiser heads than mine have also commented on this new role for our embassies. Two such are:

I’m sure that David Blackburn’s account of opinion in the Foreign Office is more accurate. Heck, they’ve got William Hague as Foreign Secretary and not a Miliband, which must boost their morale.

It wouldn’t have escaped those in the Foreign Office that they now have a central role in delivering our future prosperity. Influence and intelligent observation is what diplomats can deliver. Being respected for that, and being relied on for it must surely be what the FO wants.

Government debt destroys jobs

Obviously, this isn’t what Gordon Brown has been saying. He’s been saying, government debt is good when it’s spent [so-called investment] on public sector jobs.

It’s true that government spending supports employment. But, and it’s a big but, there’s the flip side to our debt-financed economy, which is wonderfully exposed by Fraser Nelson. That is that taxes extracted from the public and business to service the debt actually destroys jobs. Removing wealth from the economy through taxes removes money that would have been spent through free choice. It thus distorts economic activity by tieing up wealth today at the expense of future employment.

Arguments on this have become more sharply defined since Labour announced two increases in National Insurance taxes. Stating in the pre-budget report of 2008 that they would rise by 0.5% from April 2011, and then in the pre-budget report of December 2009 by a further 0.5% in December 2009, again to be effective from April 2011. These tax rises are to pay for the debt. But as business leaders, business organisations, economists, and the media say, they provide a disincentive to employment. Here’s what these sources say:

Fraser Nelson’s article prompted this for me, and is the source of the links. I recommend you read Fraser on The true cost of Brown’s debt binge.