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Televised Debates for the 2015 General Election: Shouldn’t we hear from all those who could have power after 7th May, rather than just those who have won an Election before?

January 12, 2015 Leave a comment

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Just a week ago, the odds on Ofcom giving David Cameron an excuse not to enter the pre-General Election TV debates may well have looked pretty remote. Seven days on; one pull of the Green flush in the rules-room of the communications regulator and to some people, that is exactly what seems to have happened.

But however hard the PM might argue the moral justification of his apparent support for the Greens, few are buying into the apparent magnanimity of this gesture, even if for other reasons, he may unwittingly have a significant point.

The reasoning behind the decision to preclude the Greens and the smaller Parties has been based upon polling and previous electoral performance. It is a decision that would work favourably well if we were all looking to maintain the status quo, and only concentrate on the ‘establishment’, which itself now apparently includes UKIP, a Party that will arguably be assisted in fighting this Parliamentary Election on the basis of their electoral successes in Europe alone.

Polling does indeed seem to have become a science and dismissing this branch of statistics and the benefits of its use would be foolish however you might feel about it. However, polling is based upon people’s responses to questions regarding information that those people have about a situation, circumstances or what they are experiencing at that exact moment in time. It is little more than a snapshot and not one which can accurately predict how those same people would behave or react if they are given what they genuinely consider to be different options, or they find themselves having had an experience following the poll which would change their mind about the choices that they have.

All well and good if you are a ‘national-election-winning’ political party. But we are reaching the end of a 5 year Coalition Government, which came into being simply because none of the Parties running in 2010 with a chance of winning offered a platform which gained a decisive response from the public.

So when polling itself suggests that we are on course for the same, or perhaps an even greater dispersal of Parliamentary Seats amongst Parties, should it only be those same Parties, that by default then become the predominant members of the planned political telethon which could well influence the outcomes for our future?

The elephant in the room that political expedience fails to recognise was that in 2010, people didn’t feel convinced by the choices that they had. Voters didn’t anticipate a ‘hung parliament’ and very few would have been hoping for the final outcome, even if those who follow politics more closely will have seriously considered its probability as an outcome.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats paint this as being a choice, the unintended selection of indecisive Government burdened by compromise, arguably just because it suits the interests of the Political Parties who have most to gain, doesn’t really reflect upon putting the best interests of the Voting Electorate first.

Further compounding the ineptness and arguably self-serving nature of the decision by then introducing minimum 5 year Parliamentary Terms has not exactly given anybody else the feeling of legitimacy that was obviously intended either.

People want change. Voters want choice. The Electorate wants to see and understand the differences between ALL of the choices that are on offer.

With this in mind, it would perhaps be the case that the fairest way to select candidates for a televised debate would be to wait and see how many candidates have been accepted to represent each Party within Constituencies, and then in turn whether the number seeking election could form a majority Government if they were all elected.

In 1992, the Natural Law Party gained national exposure by fielding enough candidates across the Country to trigger access to Election Broadcasts. Yogic Flying may well have added an element of intrigue for some and outright comedy for others. But it certainly gave a televised forum to a Party that at the time could have painted a very different picture of Nineties Britain if they had collectively been elected to a position where they either held, or could influence power.

It’s a bit of a stretch in terms of what we might consider a likely outcome to view small Parties as contenders to form a majority Government on May 8th. But on the other side of this two-edged electoral sword, UKIP were of course never supposed to have won 2 Seats last Autumn, and the numerical requirement to get David Cameron or Labour‘s Ed Milliband in to No. 10 could turn out to be a lot less than the 57 Seats that the Lib Dems added to the Conservatives biggest-party-with minority-status last time around.

The truth of the peculiar political reality which may follow this General Election is more likely to rest in the hands of Nigel Farage (UKIP), Alex Salmond (SNP), Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru), Natalie Bennett (The Greens) or perhaps even them all, than it is with the existing mainstream Parties who are not even trying to sound different in the way that some of their smaller competitors certainly are.

On this basis alone, and knowing the havoc that could be inflicted by the trade-offs that might include a black and white, in-out referendum on Europe; greater steps towards the independence of Scotland, or even the scrapping of the Nuclear Deterrent at a time when World stability is far from secure, should we not really have the opportunity to listen to what the potential kingmakers really have to say?

image: theguardian.com

 

Explaining the Deficit: Let’s call it the Overspend instead…

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Red-HerringYou are probably feeling quite fed up with politics, politicians and all the talk of May 2015. If not, the chances are you may be one of those planning to run in the General Election.

Wherever you look, the Parties are sounding off in what they are calling the ‘long campaign’ which runs from now until April, and the Deficit is something we are already hearing a lot about.

But when a Westminster politician starts talking about Deficit reduction, or making statements that indicate they ‘plan’ to reduce the Deficit to zero by the year XYZ, you may be one of the many people left wondering what they are actually talking about and what it really means.

You might not be sure what the Deficit is. You may not understand the difference between the Deficit and the National Debt. But whatever question you may have, don’t worry. Even MP’s have struggled to explain the difference when they have been asked to do so.

Giving new names to existing products, services or methods of working isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s not just Westminster politicians who use new names to sell their ideas and many of the new products you buy will just be a re-hash of an old idea using new words to describe something differently; just so it sounds like something better.

Selling is one thing. Misleading us another. The term Deficit is perhaps one of the biggest red herrings that Westminster has created, and especially so when they use it to draw attention away from the spiraling National Debt.

So what is the Deficit?

Perhaps the easiest way to picture the Deficit is to think about the Government as a person. A person who earns money and then spends that money on house-keeping and all the things that it might need.

Where we might run a home, the Government’s house is the whole of the UK.

Where we might spend our money on food, the mortgage or rent, clothes, transport, paying back loans and maybe going out, the Government’s housekeeping bill is public services such as the NHS, the Police, Armed Forces, Education, Transport and Local Government.

Whereas we would do a ‘job’ to earn a salary or perhaps an hourly rate of pay, the Government ‘earns’ its money through Income Tax (PAYE), National Insurance, VAT and all the other types of Taxation which we all pay.

Whilst most of us can only earn what our employer agrees to pay us, every year, the Government sets itself a Budget for all the money it will spend on public services. The Budget should ideally not be more that what the Government has ‘earned’ or will ‘earn’ from Taxes during the year that the money will be spent.

When a Government decides that it wants to spend more in a Budget for a year than it will ‘earn’, it has two choices. The Government can raise Taxes so that it has more income than it did before, or it can borrow on top of what it has earned and ‘overspend’ – even though we are normally told that they are spending within Budget.

The difference, value or balance between what the Government ‘earns’ and what it has planned or does actually spend in its Budget, is what Westminster politicians call the Deficit.

Each Budget Deficit – or the Deficit for that year, is what we would call a loan*.

The Government pays interest on that loan*, and this interest – and the money which has to be paid back each year is then added to the housekeeping bill for the term or lifetime of the loan.

When the outstanding balance of the loan* and interest for the year isn’t paid off, it becomes the National Debt and every unpaid Deficit or overspend for each year is added to this.

Surplus

Another term you may hear used by Westminster politicians in the coming months as one of their ‘aims’ is ‘Budget surplus’ or just ‘surplus’.

A surplus in this sense would be the sum of money left over if the Government did not use all of the money it ‘earned’ from Taxes in a year and then had some left over.

Reaching a surplus would be the only point that the Government could then begin reducing the National Debt.

The Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne is suggesting that this will be achieved by 2020 if the Conservative Party are elected with the majority of seats in Parliament in May. Being in Government with a majority and not as part of a Coalition as they have been since 2010, will allow them to make even more cuts to public services than they have so far and this is how the Conservatives plan to reach a point where they have a surplus.

Whether you support the plans that any of the Political Parties have or not, the fact is that this Coalition Government and the Labour Government before it have both had an annual Deficit or have overspent each and every year for a long time.

We wouldn’t be able or allowed to spend money like this ourselves unless we had savings to fall back on, and neither would the Westminster politicians if they were dealing with their own finances.

 

* The way that the Government ‘borrows’ money is not normally the same as going to a bank and asking for a loan. To borrow money or ‘raise funds’, the Government usually sells bonds, which banks, other financial organizations and sometimes even other Countries buy on the basis that they will get the value of the bond returned to them at the end of the lifetime of the bond – probably 3 or 4 years, and that they will receive a fee or fixed amount of interest on top of that for the period too.

When a bond comes to the end of its lifetime and the Government is unable to pay off the balance or value of that bond and its interest because there is not a Budget surplus, the Government then sells more bonds to cover the cost of doing so.

 Image: Source unknown

 

Politicians and Political Parties should never automatically assume the respect of the people, nor that when they do, it equates to silence…

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

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Getting a true glimpse of the true nature of the respect that our politicians have for us isn’t an everyday event by any means. Yet recently, we have been treated to a series of insights in to the way we are all viewed by the people who either do, or soon hope to govern us. It doesn’t make particularly happy reading.

The fairytale halving of the £1.7 Billion bill from the EU and the Parliamentary vote on the European Arrest Warrant that never was, were both perhaps very telling of the way the current Coalition Government does its business. But it was the comments from the Labour Party following Ed Milliband’s workout with Myleene Klass on the ITV’s ‘The Agenda’ on Monday night which may have represented the lifting of a much bigger stone.

Watching the programme made good viewing. We rarely get the opportunity to see the kind of challenge which Myleene made, telling Ed why Labour’s Mansion Tax Policy isn’t going to work and effectively showing the whole idea up for the hollow, headline-grabbing and socially-divisive-pigeon-holing stunt that it is.

Apparently unable to deal with the broadside at the time, Tuesday morning not only saw a belated attempt by Ed to try and turn it around with a parody relating to Ms Klass’s time in the Band Hear’Say; it also brought comments from the Party suggesting that she had failed to show Mr Milliband respect, and also tweets from a Labour MP apparently suggesting that she should leave the Country.

All well and good to demand respect if you have actually earned it. But these guys all seem to think that being an MP is qualification in itself. Isn’t it right that we should have the right to question what they do?

The fact is that the UK is in the perilous state that it is right now, in no small part because of the inability of Party-affiliated MP’s to safely ask the kinds of questions or make points of this nature without fear of reprisal from their Political Parties.

Ed Milliband may well walk in to 10 Downing Street as the next Prime Minister in less than six months time. But if Labour will not accept the legitimacy of questions which show the lack of thought and consideration which has obviously gone into their policies now, what hope will there be for us all when they start to enact them?

image: itv.com

Britain’s Political Crisis: Politicians should remember that glory is little more than a temporary illusion which benefits no-one in the long term. It should be just the happy consequence that it is, rather than the reason for being and doing itself…

November 7, 2014 Leave a comment

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If you could speak to any of today’s MP’s, back before they entered politics, and asked them why they got involved, would most of them honestly tell you that it was because they wanted to be an MP, or because they wanted to make a difference?

Sadly, we all probably know the answer to this question very well. In it lies much of the truth behind not only the problems that this Country now faces, but also the uncomfortable reality that sits behind Westminster’s façade. The British political establishment is morally inept, and there is nobody offering anything even remotely like the leadership that the Country needs in order to bring balance and to deliver a system of Government which genuinely is fair and fitting for all.

People are awakening to the complexities of our political system, albeit for many, they are simply on the receiving end or rather the effects of a comprehensive range of policies that have usually been cobbled together for no better reason than that of political expedience, usually because their precursor was failing to work just the same.

It was once said that the simplest solutions are the most intelligent. Indeed one of the most pertinent and indeed relevant quotes which relates to the way that Government operates would be Albert Einstein, when he said ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’.

Some may question the validity of quotations from a world renowned scientist. But Government is and has been run by generations of politicians who are doing little more than testing out theories and face-saving solutions on an electorate that they have arguably treated little better than lab rats or guinea pigs.

People across the demographical boundaries of British society feel that this is exactly how they have and are being treated, and the reality is that political philosophy and the other tools used to progress the interests of one group of people over another, continually fails to deliver anything balanced, or which does not have negative implications for somebody, somewhere else.

We live in times when the disparity between the lifestyles of those on low incomes and those who might be considered to be financially rich, are almost permanently in the media spotlight, encouraging feelings of distance and difference which would probably best be summed up in the sense of the ‘them and us’ cultures you often find present between the tiers of managers and staff within different organisations.

But rather than seek and use the many opportunities available to work with the reality that perception is everything, a seemingly continual flow of politicians gain elevation to their seats and immediately forget that they were elected to be the channels of communication and influence on behalf of the areas they represent.

Often by default, they then become the slaves and ‘yes men’ to someone else’s set of political ideals – all of which usually represent very little that we would recognise as being akin to a way of working and the delivery of solutions which consider the implications and impact upon us all.

Those who have direct experience of operating within the political world will know only too well that democracy today only works for those who are in charge.

Hearing other politicians agree with what you say when you speak out and say something is wrong, is often followed by the contrary and white flagged acknowledgement that ‘you can’t change it as this is just the way things are’. This kind of statement certainly shouldn’t resonate with anyone who entered politics because they genuinely believe in delivering something better for all. However, the fact that so many MP’s are still seen to be sticking with the status quo says much about their motivations for being there.

Whilst change has to start somewhere and many will admire Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless for the steps they have taken, UKIP is so far untested beyond its ability to win by-elections for Westminster and seats within a European Institution which other than being little more than the glorified committee stage of a bureaucratic law making machine, would itself fail to exist for them if they were to ultimately achieve their publicised aims.

At a time when the UK is effectively bankrupt, cuts and economies are being ineptly focused upon the bottom line of expenditure, rather than the transformation and institutional change which would help us ensure the future of services such as the NHS, those provided by local government and many not-for-profit organisations, rather than on the continually increasing risk which will come to us all as a result of their destruction. We desperately need a new start in politics which reflects the responsibility to the public that politicians have, rather than the retention of their seats at the next election which they want.

Cynical as it may sound, we are now experiencing a form of government which begins its next election campaign the very next day after the votes were counted from the last, and you may well wonder what would have happened to us all since May 2010 if the modus operandi of having a whole 5 years to get reelected had been replaced with the battle cry ‘we have only 5 years to get something done’.

The argument and justification for change becomes flawed when personalities are brought into the mix, and however we might feel about the personal ideologies or backgrounds of David Cameron, Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage or anyone else who is in the political sphere, to simply concentrate on ‘playing the man, rather than the ball’ just takes us straight back into the problem that all of them – together – are continuing to create and maintain.

Likewise, jumping on the bandwagon of anarchy, propagated by probably well-meaning public figures like Russell Brand, will also yield very little long-term fruit for a population which is desperate for wholesale change for the better.

Change of the kind that will serve us all well can only come from transformation of the system that we already have.

Destruction of that system – however unfair it might seem to be right now – would lead to a level of uncertainty which would leave people grappling for any alternative which would quickly answer the many questions that widespread lawlessness would almost certainly bring.

If you need to gain some kind of perspective on this, it might be worth considering the situation in Syria and North Iraq which precipitated the arrival of Islamic State – the true impact of which we still as yet do not know.

Everything we do is now based upon mitigating the existence of fear. The most public and consequential proponents of this are the political classes themselves and until they all – as individuals – begin to acknowledge the personal fears that they have, and then rise above them and embrace the level of responsibility they have to us all; work with the risks, and then make decisions that are truly in the best interests of all, nothing is going to change.

Political parties offer a refuge for those who feel they have no choice but to work with others just to get things done. But political parties are now one of the biggest elements of the problem itself and political philosophies are little more than a trap for those who do not have faith in anyone’s ideas, other than their own.

Whoever you vote for in 2015, without change on the level that politicians all now need to embrace, we are simply heading for a lot more of the same, and probably in way which will be far worse and more painful than anything we have witnessed or experienced before.

Thinking about others and how our actions will impact upon them isn’t just some kind of selfless sport or charitable notion for those who have spare time and money on their hands. By considering others, we ultimately consider ourselves.

Politicians on all sides and at all levels would do well to bear this in mind and remember that by concentrating on the real issues that face them today, the electoral results for tomorrow will in turn take care of themselves.

Glory is little more than a temporary illusion which benefits no-one in the long term. It should be just the happy consequence that it is, rather than the reason for being and doing itself.

 

image: wonderfulengineering.com

Annuities: Has another election winning time-bomb been lit that will devastate the futures of normal people just so a Political Party can get back into power?

March 23, 2014 Leave a comment

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Read the latest opinion polls and it is easy to conclude that George Osborne’s 2014 Budget has had the result that he was looking for.

With both next year’s General Election and perhaps more importantly, this year’s European Elections firmly affixed in his mind, it was certain that polices would materialise which were likely to incentivise voters in the short term and once again take attention away from what will happen as a result in the long.

However, the steps to remove an obligation to invest at least some of a pension pay-outs on annuities may take this quick fix and opiate-like vote winner into an entirely different league when it comes to rolling over the problems facing the current Government in to the difficulties which will almost certainly be faced by normal and everyday people in the future.

Pensions are a hateful topic for most people simply because the funds within them are untouchable. To struggling wage earners, reading an annual statement from their provider and seeing how funds can be growing at a healthy rate, can certainly be a torment. It often gives that siren-esque gremlin on their shoulder the perfect opportunity to preach a tale of how much better that sum of money would serve them if it were in their own hands right now.

As many already know, the realities of long-term money management requires a lifetime without financial challenges at best, not to mention the most exquisite forms of discipline at a very personal level . This is why pensions – and until this week annuities, have been safely kept out of reach. Temptation and therefore all the basic requirements and influences that come with living a life today are or have been safely kept at bay, without any of those threats being responsible for the potential hells that may without them come from many of our own tomorrows.

Removing the obligation upon retirees to ‘buy’ an annuity will naturally – and very understandably – be perceived as a massive gain for many. The caricatures of OAPS in Ferraris may in practice turn out to be anything but unreal once the Policy comes into effect.

But when people have experienced a lifetime of financial prudence and responsibility, exchanging this and the future they have banked on for what is arguably little more than a lottery win situation could turn out to be very costly indeed.

Windfalls are by their very nature difficult for almost everyone to deal with in a reasoned way because they are naturally habit-breaking in the extreme. Having large ‘disposable’ sums of cash suddenly available can seriously skew a person’s view of the world on what might actually be a very temporary basis indeed and a study of the effects of sizable cash wins on real-world people may have served the people behind this plan very well.

This really doesn’t seem like a policy which has the best interests of the retirees in mind and especially so when you consider the state of the Country’s finances and the most recent comments suggesting that the State Retirement Age with have moved to 70 by the year 2040. Hardly comforting news if you have no annuity to top up an insufficient State Pension and therefore are left with the glaring possibility that you will have to continue working until you literally drop.

With life expectancy rates going up all the time, what sort of desperate circumstances are people reaching pensionable age from next year now going to have to face, long after the Coalition Government knows the result of the 2015 General Election or Mr Osborne’s tenure in No. 11 Downing Street has well and truly ended?

Annuities may indeed have become yet another product or service which serves the interests of those making profit before it ever will the customer. This however, doesn’t mean that an approach to savings and income of this kind still doesn’t have its place. In fact, you might argue that similar products have a much bigger role to play with the State’s ability to support even our existing OAP’s dwindling almost by the hour.

Hardly a prudent or considered form of policy making on behalf of those who are falling over themselves to look after their own elect-ability today at the expense of everyone else’s tomorrows, is it?

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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