Archive for December, 2009

Copenhagen, savage correspondence and soundbites.

December 29, 2009

How many of us are surprised that the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference failed to deliver all that was expected of it? It was encouraging that the event took place at all but, in truth, too much was expected of it.
Concerning the spat between Obama and Jiaboa, I was reminded of the telling retort from a senior nurse when asked how the consultants were behaving in operating theatre that day – ‘How old are they behaving today?’ Stiff necked chauvinism seems to be a depressingly frequent style for the key international political players – I suspect it is largely a defensive posture and not a calculated front. Or is it, in the case of the Chinese, a cultural phenomenon to do with ‘face’ – a facet of interpersonal exchange that is both qualitatively and quantitatively different for Westerners.
By contrast, consider the outcome of the strictly private exchanges between Reagan and Gorbachev in Reykjavik.
Consider the plight of any major political figure. Whenever they open their mouths they have to consider many potential audiences – domestic, international, hostile, friendly, media, markets… No wonder the resulting words are so Delphic.
Perhaps, rather than simply belabouring the hapless wretches who represent us, we should be considering ways of improving the exchanges between them. Reducing expectations would be a good start. If ground has to be given to permit progress, the conceding party ought to be praised not have to fear vilification.
The issues under consideration at Copenhagen were of the highest priority and remain largely unresolved. Next time we must do better. People, media, commentariat and representatives all bear responsibility and must play their part enthusiastically, collaboratively and constructively.
As Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said: “There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about!” With that in mind, I was overjoyed to be on the receiving end of some savage correspondence in The Courant before Christmas – obviously the treatment is working, the Conservatives are on the run and they have decided to scrape the barrel.
Privately, I had been reasonably certain that one or more of the candidates would turn up to the Question Time on a bike. That it was the Conservative candidate spoke volumes.
Can a deep green environmentalist run a 4×4 and retain any sort of credibility? Let me know when you have read my rationalisation.
As a family, we have had a 4×4 throughout my time as a rural general medical practitioner – since the late 70s. I have photos and video of some of the more memorable visits to patients down clarty, rutted tracks, across fields and brooks and along unploughed, ungritted roads in deep drifting snow. Not a few patients have been grateful that I had access to a 4×4.
My current everyday car is a Smart but, even buttered, I could not insert four adults into it for the journey to the Question Time. Hence the use of our Volvo.
All our car ownership details have been on the website, under ‘Personal Environmental Statement’, for months. There are no secrets.
The other withering ‘mastershalum’ being cast in The Courant was: “archetypal parochially introverted MP promoting a socially and politically detrimental cloth cap left wing image”.
Concern for the constituency – and all the other topics covered on the website – seems a reasonably balanced position to take for any candidate, I feel. In the end, the only thing that counts is votes. What do the people want and what are they prepared to vote for?
My reading of current popular sentiment is that the social atomisation and centralising dogma that has prevailed since Thatcher is now wholly rejected by all thinking people. The socially destructive, divisive grinding materialism and consumerism, promoted by the neo-liberal unregulated free-market dogmatists is top of the list for reversal. We must restore our social capital urgently.
Talk of left or right wing is now passé – politics is vastly more nuanced than that.
If you want to assess your own political position against that of the current parties, try taking the quiz on a website called ‘Political Compass’. I’ll reveal my position later.
Never wore a cloth cap either but I have got a lurcher.
On the news today I hear that Nick Clegg (LibDem) is suggesting that soundbites should be avoided in this election. This has been an aim of mine from the outset. Reducing politics to soundbites is actively injurious to our democracy. It will be interesting to see how the conventional parties respond.
Politics is difficult and complicated – if you are serious about it.
Our adversarial system of politics is an unwholesome spectacle, even when functioning normally. It needs to be replaced with a system that requires and rewards constructive collaboration from all elected members. The two and half party system that we currently endure, has become a contest to seize and retain power, for as long as possible, by a process of manipulative populism. That is, the politicians say what their closely managed focus groups tell them you want to hear. Your true opinions are far less valued and no proper consideration is given to the issues.
In my lifetime, our form of democracy has come to stress freedom for lobbying activities (in practice, by businesses) and a form of polity that avoids interfering with a capitalist economy. It has little interest in widespread citizen involvement or for organisations outside business.
While elections exist and can change governments, under this model, public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals. These professionals are expert in the techniques of persuasion, and in considering a small range of issues which they select. The mass of citizens plays a passive, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them. Politics is really shaped by private interactions between the political class and elites that overwhelmingly represent business interests.
This process has gone so far, that we now find ourselves in a Post-Democratic era. Contributing to the resuscitation of our Democracy will be a key role for an Independent MP.


Season’s Greetings!

December 24, 2009

A Merry Christmas and a Happy and Independent New Year to you all.

Your support is very greatly valued. I look forward to 2010 with great optimism.

Steve Ford

A Bit Rich

December 20, 2009

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has recently produced a fascinating document entitled ‘A Bit Rich’: Calculating the real value to society of different professions.
These are some highlights from the report:
This report sets out to shatter some myths about pay and value. Chief among them – and the point of the research – is to show that there is not a straightforward relationship between high financial rewards and good societal outcomes. This isn’t just an intellectual exercise – it has big implications for the way in which our society and economy are structured. Financial incentives are very powerful, and we tend to shower them on some of the professions that are the most socially and environmentally costly. This promotes undesirable behaviour, while positive activities are discouraged.
In the UK we live in a society of extremes. The incomes of the very rich and the very poor continue to pull away from each other. This is influenced by many factors but wage inequality is at the heart of them. It is a corrosive, destabilising issue that is linked to a range of social problems. It disproportionately affects some groups – particularly women, who predominate in low paid (and unpaid) work. The least well paid jobs are often those that are among the most socially valuable – jobs that keep our communities and families together. The market does not reward this kind of work well, and such jobs are consequently undervalued or overlooked.
Because social and environmental costs are not properly accounted for, the market tends to oversupply products that may have a significantly negative environmental or social impact – such as cheap consumer goods and complex financial products. In the same way we underpay work that has a high social value, creating high vacancy rates in our most important public services such as nursing and social work. By making social value creation an important societal goal we could set the right incentives to maximise net social benefits, ensure a greater return to labour rather than capital, and a more equal distribution of economic resources between workers.
While collecting salaries of between £500,000 and £10 million, leading City bankers to destroy £7 of social value for every pound in value they generate.
For every £1 they are paid, childcare workers generate between £7 and £9.50 worth of benefits to society.
For a salary of between £50,000 and £12 million, top advertising executives destroy £11 of value for every pound in value they generate.
For every £1 that hospital cleaners are paid, over £10 in social value is generated.
For a salary of between £75,000 and £200,000 tax accountants destroy £47 of value for every pound in value they generate.
Our model projects that for every £1 of value spent on wages for recycling workers, £12 of value will be generated.
The executive summary alone is well worth a read and here are the key recommendations:
• End the policy silence on high pay.
• Learn from the successes of anti-discrimination legislation.
• Build social and environmental value into prices
• Introduce more progressive taxation.
• Launch a green industrial policy.
• Encourage new forms of ownership.
• Radically reform the role of the City.
• Invest in universal child care and paid parental leave.
These are the progressive green and social policies that will benefit us most. I see no evidence that any of the conventional parties are heading in that direction.

London Dods meeting, IPPR latest and a Texas long-horn steer.

December 13, 2009

On Friday I attended a meeting in London at IMechE at No.1 Birdcage Walk in sight of The Houses of Parliament. This was set up by Dods – the leading political information, public affairs and policy communication specialist in the UK and EU.
The meeting was for PPCs from all over the UK. About 130 people attended and almost all of them were independent of main stream parties.
The day was divided into presentations, discussions and networking opportunities. Sir Robert Worcester of Ipsos/Mori held the ring in most of the meetings and was a fund of information and stories from his long association with British politics. He was able to recall statistics from almost any period on any subject, including the figures for class division in the population extending back over one thousand years – by inference from documents of the time, of course.
Michael Portillo, Hugh Morgan Williams, Chris Mullin and Jonathan Aitken were amongst the speakers. Every one of them was well worth listening to.
Presentations were made on the deficit crisis and the environment. Hugh Morgan Williams from The Northern Way was very positive indeed about the prospects for the economy in the North East – if the right policies are followed.
Meeting so many other Independents was very encouraging.
The IPPR has just produced an excellent new report: Opportunities in an Age of Austerity:
Smart ways of dealing with the UK’s fiscal deficit.

Now that politicians are facing up to the reality of the fiscal situation, it is a good time to examine opportunities for progressive reform in the tough financial environment – the ‘age of austerity’ – that is likely to dominate in the public sector for much of the next decade.

This report does just that: ippr commissioned experts from different fields each to look at one aspect of the problem or one area of public spending. Each contributor was asked to look at one aspect of the problem or one area of public spending and to identify opportunities for contributions to reducing the deficit that would not damage progressive aims. The idea was to see if common themes would emerge that could help frame the deficit reduction process, rather than to come up with a ‘top ten’ list of spending cuts, or to comprehensively examine every aspect of public spending in the search for savings.
The report makes very interesting reading and has a definite North East perspective.
One of the nice titbits from the Dods meeting was a story from Michael Portillo; describing an opponent’s manifesto as being like a Texas long-horn steer – a point here, a point there and a lot of bull in between.

QEHS Question Time, Copenhagen and setting up meetings around the constituency.

December 8, 2009

On Saturday there was a Question Time type meeting in The Queen Elizabeth High School in Hexham. At a guess there were two hundred people there. The format was 2 minutes each on nine questions submitted by members of the public.
The questions included: Climate change, Afghanistan, farming, education, the role of MPs, NHS, Trident, international law and the countryside. The biggest positive audience response, I thought, was to my having planning permission for my own wind turbine.
With such large subjects, two hours each would scarcely have sufficed but all four candidates have now appeared in public for the first time and the election ball has started to roll in Hexham. There was plenty of opportunity for chats with people afterwards and much positive reaction.
A big thank you to Caroline Westgate and the Hexham Debates Steering Group for setting the meeting up so well.
Copenhagen is now underway and, as could be expected, the sceptics have been in evidence in force. They appear to have recruited the FBS (successor to the KGB) to do their dirty work for them, hence the appearance of the leaked emails from climate academics. At this stage it is impossible to predict the outcome; in fact a final outcome is unlikely even if things go well.
The scale of the changes that are needed is potentially daunting but, as a nation, we have faced grave problems in the past and found the necessary response. It is noteworthy that the majority of the sceptics seem to come from the right of the political spectrum.
An essential part of any election campaign is meeting people around the constituency. I am very happy to travel to any part of the constituency to meet individuals or groups, at times convenient to them and to discuss anything and everything.
If you are able or willing to set up a meeting, please be in touch through the website. Thanks.

Queen Elizabeth High School Question Time

December 1, 2009

This coming Saturday 5th December at 11.00 am there is going to be a Question Time at QEHS in Hexham. All the candidates will be responding to spread of nine questions generated by the public and edited by Caroline Westgate and her team.
Do come along if you can. It’s going to be the first major event of this election campaign.