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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Cameron's Roma future

Roma gypsies are tough. You really have to take your hat off. Never welcome in western Europe, we used to hang any who made a nuisance of themselves. The French shaved their heads and branded them, and the Czechs cut their ears off. They are one of the few races that sought refuge in Russia as a place of tolerance. The Nazis consigned several hundreds of thousands to the death camps but they found no respite in the post-war communist world. The Czechs had given up on cutting their ears off and removed their wombs and testes instead, in a programme of compulsory sterilisation. Yet they survived, stronger than ever, and now there are well over a million of them in Romania and Bulgaria all set to desert their villages and head for Dover and a life on British benefits. 

As I've written many times before, you can't blame immigrants for immigration. It's not their fault. It's the fault of either treasonous and poisonous governments such as Labour's last administration, which used immigration as a tool to destroy domestic opposition, or of spineless and pusillanimous governments such as Cameron's, whose brave words aren't matched by his vacillating and ineffectual actions. But the Roma as the Press describes them are lawless; they're thieves, scavengers, squatters, polluters and destroyers, and will deface and despoil all they touch. The Mail chronicles the effect on a German town of the arrival of just 400 Roma gypsies. 

There are difficulties. Roma form a minority of Romanians and Bulgarians, the majority of whom are no better or worse than any other east European migrant workers. Their originating nations don't want them and would be glad to see them depart for other European countries. And we can't make laws that target only Roma. They do apparently have some peculiar taboos - hens' eggs and frogs are both anathema to them - but staffing the benefits offices with amphibians is simply not practical. 

However, this what politicians are elected to office to do - find ways through the difficulties. And when the results of both the Euro elections in 2014 and the general election the following year may well be conditioned by voters' experiences of the depredations of the Roma in their own neighbourhoods, if Cameron does nothing he will have only himself to blame for an unprecedented electoral drubbing.

Friday, 8 March 2013

A tribute to Danish School

To: The Editor, The Guardian. Dear Sir; should you require the services of a freelance caption checker ... 
There are few artists remaining of the calibre of Danish School (1740 - 1798) who remain unknown and un-honoured by a blockbuster exhibition, but School's work remains the provenance of specialist art historians and the occasional doctoral candidate at the Courtauld. Perhaps it is time to raise his profile a little.

Danish School - another howler from the Guardian

Danish was born the son of a Portsmouth fishwife, Ada School, and with his brother Hamish received a rudimentary eduction from the church school. His proficiency at 'limning' or drawing swiftly drew him to the attention of a wealthy local landowner, Sir Jeremiah Wart, who commissioned from the young School a series of portraits of members of his prized herd of pedigree Manx goats. This led rapidly to commissions from Wart's neighbours for portraits of their daughters and families, and it was a delicate and fresh piece, a head and shoulders rendering of Miss Ephah Bunion nibbling a washing line, seen in the London home of the earl of Liphook, that advanced School to the rank of Court Painter at the age of nineteen.....

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Waste of effort

As previously noted on this blog, the only true beneficiaries of 'recycling' domestic waste are those companies with a stake in waste collection and processing. The EU directive concerned only sets targets for the percentage of recyclable waste collected, not the percentage actually recycled. As a consequence, as long as waste collection authorities collect recyclables separately, they are then free to dispose of the arisings as they wish - as fuel for a CHP plant, to landfill, or for sale. Further, as the High Court in Cardiff has now ruled,  there is no requirement to split the collection of recyclables. All recyclable waste can go in a single bin. 

A consortium of green do-gooders and minor waste industry players had sought judicial review to enforce the separate collection of five different recyclable waste streams. They failed. What's notable, however, is that all the big waste players were absent from the joint action; the international manufacturers and patent-holders of wheely bins, the constructors and operators of massive and expensive automated waste sorting plants (MRFs), the makers of waste collection vehicle bodies and gear, the manufacturers of anaerobic digestion plants were nowhere to be seen. Indeed, they will find the High Court's ruling most unwelcome, and the attempted action ill-advised. 

The big boys prefer to operate through the industry bodies, through Whitehall and by lobbying Mr Pickles. They cultivate waste management contacts with local councils, and they seek to persuade all concerned that the Waste Directive requires massive public investment to satisfy.  Some councils and administrations are more gullible than others. My own, Lewisham, has only ever required the separation of two waste streams. Other councils have jumped the gun and already issue a plethora of bags, boxes and containers. The recent High Court ruling now leaves such eager gold-platers with the prospect of explaining to voters why they're spending so much money when there's no need to. Even DEFRA admits that much of the recyclable waste collected is unusable, unsaleable or there's no market for it.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Shifting alignments

Three interesting commentaries of the past couple of days have raised more questions than answers. All try to analyse shifts in political support, with no clear direction except perhaps an indication that the hallowed centre ground is shifting about like a possessed planchette beneath the feet of the parties.

First, Ambrose in the Telegraph, ostensibly on Ireland but with a verdict on EMU that should make the Eurozone an enemy of the left everywhere; "An internal devaluation is achieved (under EMU) by forcing unemployment to such excruciating levels that it breaks the back of labour resistance to pay cuts. It is the polar opposite of a currency devaluation that spreads the pain". So paradoxically the European labour movement should support the UK's devaluation of the £ that has kept unemployment low and condemn the effect of EMU on nations such as Greece, Ireland and Spain that has driven unemployment to unprecedented levels. Ambrose ends with a prediction; "Europe’s labour movement is the dog that has not barked in this long crisis. Bark it will."

Secondly, Seamus Milne in the Grauniad, ostensibly on the shift to the left of women voters in the UK but with a lesson on the effects of austerity politics on the sexes. "Crucial to the shift has been the growth of women's employment (often segregated in low-wage and public sector work), and the decline of the traditional family and churches in Europe – but also the rise of the women's movement and the influence of feminism. The importance of paid work in changing women's politics is one reason why there hasn't been a parallel shift in much of the developing world. In Britain women now make up half the trade union movement and have played a central role in recent industrial action, from the mass pensions strike of 2011 to cleaners' walkouts on the London Underground." Adding this to the observation above, it becomes clearer that within the EMU women are bearing the brunt of the economic adjustment - far more than than they are doing in the UK. Opposition to the Euro project should therefore be strongest and fastest growing amongst women voters. 

Thirdly, the Speccie's take on Beppe Grillo as a new Mussolini. "Like fascism, Grillo’s movement is essentially left-wing and in favour of the state sorting things out — the Italian state. But it is against the euro and Europe — and Germany in particular" writes Nicholas Farrell. Other commentaries - particularly de Spiegel - dismiss as simplistic the classification of the Grillini as left wing. They're rather on the other axis of the scale. libertarianism vs authoritarianism. And they're young.

If Cameron characterises the typical opponents of the Euro project as middle aged men in polyester blazers he ignores an emerging powerful constituency of educated young women who are facing more than men insecure and poorly rewarded employment, non-existent pensions, the setting back of a century of women's struggle for independence and who are fed up with Cameron's sleek lounge-lizard clique of privileged wealthy metropolitan men. If Farage is not to disappear in the 2015 election, he needs their votes.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Corporatism taking hits

One of the differences between a capitalist enterprise and a Corporate is the division of power between owners and managers. In the case of the big Corporates, a significant proportion of whose shareholders are other big Corporates, the executives are supreme. The normal rules of free enterprise capitalism just don't apply; true capitalist enterprises always put profit before turnover, whilst big Corporates for whom market share is measured in whole percentages are obsessed with size. The world of big Corporates is a world of acquisitions, mergers and takeovers in which the managers alone are the winners. So don't be misled into believing that either the Swiss referendum result on executive pay or the EU noises on bankers bonuses are a fundamental assault on capitalism; they aren't. Not only does Corporatism strangle free-market capitalism, it stifles innovation and economic growth. 

The proposed legislation isn't directed at owners or shareholders of capitalist enterprises, who may continue to make as much money as they like without restriction. No, it's specifically directed at greedy employees who currently hold too much power over their own rewards. 

Of course the threatened executives have lost no time in whining that such moves will damage national competitiveness in nations taking such moves; on behalf of the City's big money boys Boris writes in the Telegraph that "Some will say that banking is indispensable to a global economy, and we will simply lose talent to cities outside the EU – Zurich, New York, Singapore" (presumably penned before news of the Swiss referendum came in). It's rubbish. What they're actually suggesting is that over-powerful executives will make corporate domicile decisions on the basis of the magnitude of their own rewards rather than shareholder interests - QED the need for such measures.

The next necessary step will be to democratise decisions taken by fund manager on behalf of real shareholders - anyone with a pension fund. Otherwise Tarquin from Global Investments plc will just vote in support of Global Pharma plc's Rupert and his proposal to pay himself the GDP of a small developing nation. 

Economists may argue quite correctly that such sanctions against a tiny fraction of top earners will make bugger all difference to either shareholder returns or national competitiveness and whilst true misses the point. It's really not about the money - it's about killing a cancerous culture that's simply not in the common interest.