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Public Funding of Political Parties: Yet another nail in the coffin of British Democracy and a giant leap away from listening to the voices that must now be heard?

September 6, 2013 2 comments

Political Party funding has once again become a regular topic of discussion in the media and many will today find themselves asking why the Public may now be required to pay to promote an exclusive list of what are membership-based organisations, when many more worthy causes that bring much better value to our communities could never even dream of securing this kind of help.

Following Ed Milliband’s now seemingly disastrous attempt to re-package a few multi-million Pound Union donations into many more smaller and politically expedient ones from union members who should apparently have been just as willing to choose to ‘opt-in’ as pay through the historical non-voluntary default, it seems that we are again faced with the dubious meanderings of a few politicians who will do anything that they can to make the system work just for them and for the parties that they represent.

Talk of a £5000 cap on donations to political parties would have worked extremely well for Labour if they had managed to manipulate 2 or 3 donations to qualify as the same sum given by a sudden deluge of fee-paying Labour supporters. It is after all rather unlikely that the Conservatives could find a way to do the same.

But Ed missed one vital calculation in this plan and one that no considerate and fully cognizant politician should ever miss – that people will only voluntarily pay for things that they actually want.

The penny of impending political disaster having now dropped almost as far as the current Labour Leader’s jaw, we now find ourselves looking public funding for political parties in the eye as the Westminster set again swans around under the misguided belief that the existence and perpetuity of their ideals and their impractical application should be assured by right and statute, rather than by the will and best interests of the majority of people – which isn’t after all what politics is actually supposed to be all about?

Just this week within the Council where I am an Elected Member, a whole Borough has witnessed the down side of party politics when a bad decision which may have profound effects on many lives for years to come is compounded and enforced by the use of the Party Whip to guarantee that the aspirations and agendas of the few will overcome the needs and potential benefits from alternative and better paths for the many.

De facto funding for Political Parties that even their Members no longer want to financially support will make such outcomes even more likely than they are right now and those politicians who are already awake to these perils will be well aware of the potential cost of this approach to us all.

With the common ground between Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour being that the Leadership of all 3 have lost sight that doing what’s right for all, rather than what’s right for the Party or the idea’s that they specifically hold dear; all of the main Parties now fail to gain the lifeblood funding and support that they need from everyday voters, simply because they aren’t considering the realities and practicalities of what it takes to live, work and survive in our everyday world.

The message should therefore be simple. Large donors will always want to influence decisions and processes for their own benefit and adequate membership level financial support will only ever be assured when those members feel that they are likely to benefit – ultimately just the same.

If any political party is unable to secure that support, its leadership and executive should surely ask the question why it cannot do so and then be thinking about changing the way that it operates so that it can – if it can do so.

Those of us outside the Westminster ‘bubble’ should perhaps be asking ourselves whether the funding crisis that Political Parties are now facing is the best illustration yet that Politicians are out of touch and failing to connect with the critical mass of the population.

If their approach to governing our lives cannot be sustained or promoted without State intervention within a democracy, do political parties really have the right to say that they represent anyone but themselves?

The Cost of Living crisis: – It’s those money men, stupid

August 15, 2013 Leave a comment

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Hypocrisy has become an artform for many of today’s Political class, and talking up politically expedient issues, spinning away inconvenient truths or criticising others for doing no more than they would do themselves has become the apparent norm.

After a media splurge targeting their inactivity in the sun whilst Cameron has been busy making hay under his, Labour have returned to the stage this week focussing their less than lacklustre performance on the ‘cost of living crisis’, giving every indication that this is the ‘issue’ that will steward their return to majority Government in 2015.

If tackling every issue were seen to be as simple as giving it its own branding or strap-line like this and waiting for it to go viral, we would have a marketing man in Number 10 already – which of course we actually do.

Sadly, the ‘cost of living crisis’ is probably the most dangerous issue that any of our Politicians could ‘play’ with, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, and we should perhaps all be concerned by its apparent adoption by the political left in order for it to be manipulated as a vote-winner. After all, the future of most of us is tied up with it, and its genesis reaches far deeper into the fabric of our society than any of our leading Politicians seem willing to contemplate or have the moral capacity and determination to deal with – even if they have apparently now acknowledged it for their own political ends.

The reality for most of us outside Westminster is that we don’t need posturing Politicians and media hype to remind us of the fact that wages are effectively standing still whilst the cost of paying our bills just seems to keep on going up and up, month after month, year after year without any sign that it will ever relent. Many hard working people simply struggle to keep themselves afloat even before they start to consider some of the luxuries that those very same politicians and newsmen probably take for granted.

Real people living in the real world already know firsthand what it is they are experiencing when the letters hit the mat; the e-mails arrive, the phone rings and when they go and shop. When the pay rises, tax breaks and bonuses that they desperately need aren’t coming to middle England and those hovering either above or below Britains poverty line– simply because the Government’s Pot is already exhausted and the Nation simply cannot afford it – these same people need politicians to drop talking up the effects of the problem and start tackling the cause head on.

This task is not one that will lend great comfort to any politician who values their place in history more than they do the lives of the people who elected them and this is problem enough with British Politics today in itself.

Facing the reality that the free market has surpassed its point of balance and therefore the good for which it was intended is not a thought that many in power will want even to contemplate. Therefore accepting that increasing freedom within the markets to pursue infinite profit, whilst that very same action is effectively enslaving great swathes of the normal population within fiscal misery is not a pill that many of today’s Politicians will swallow willingly. But it is there in front of all of them just the same.

Through the creation of the virtual monopolies which are the utility and energy companies; private businessmen, shareholders and pension funds have been given seemingly insurmountable power over the lives of everyone by being able to dictate their own paydays, whilst they go unhindered by Government and Regulators – who have nothing really but the interests of their Industry at heart.

Likewise, ever growing convoluted supply chains, often reaching the length and breadth of the Country or even across Continents allow many different traders, dealers and agents to add their cut to the margins which you would normally expect to see only from producers and retailers, then inflating prices way beyond what they should realistically be.

Further still, those businesses without control or a sizable share of their markets are also having their margins forcefully squeezed by the companies and organisations who do and many of these businesses are the same ones that cannot afford to recruit or pay more than negligible wage rises to the very same people who are now being affected financially from almost every angle you could imagine.

Whilst no reasonable person would argue that businesses exist to make a profit, it is simply beyond logic to add layer after layer of profit onto the most basic and essential of items or services and then expect end users to keep picking up and meeting these overinflated bills without any real additional income of their own to cover these exponential and wholly unrealistic rises.

Companies, traders, financiers and all manner of individuals and entities are in effect ‘vacuum profiteering’, making money ex nihilo or basically creating something from nothing in a manner which could be akin to having the midas touch, were it not for the misery that it is increasingly inflicting upon those who are wrongly being expected to pay for it.

Without those who hold this power over our economy taking steps to regulate and restrict the way that they make profit, they are through their very actions writing an agenda for Government over many years to come – whatever its Political make-up may be, that has the potential to create social and financial problems of a size and scale across our Nation that Government itself won’t be able to afford to put right – simply because the Taxpayer has no money left to fund it.

Such levels of responsibility over the health and wealth of a Nation should never have been placed in the hands of money men in the first place without sufficient safeguards in place to protect the many who could be affected by the unscrupulous profiteering of a few. But it has.

No Political Party should be seeking to take the moral or politically philosophical high ground on this issue as it is a problem which can only be tackled one way. That is by Government stepping back into the free market and taking an actively pro-market or even interventionist approach to regulating market behaviour – should it be so required. The UK needs to retain capitalism but it must also maintain it in a responsible and considerate way that doesn’t destroy the ability of consumers to consume in the process.

By taking just the key players such as the utility, energy and finance companies to task, Government could go a considerable way to putting safeguards in place that would ensure a basic standard of living can be maintained against the minimum wage, and that the minimum wage would then itself reflect a living wage and one that should keep many more people safe from harm and therefore from being a potential burden to the State.

Regrettably, action of this kind does not reflect the creed of contemporary Politicians and the point continues to be missed that wealth creation only works effectively when there are benefits – in whatever form they may be – for all.

Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour don’t want to embrace the answer and neither does UKIP, which is riding high on the tide of discontentment and disenfranchisement that the lack of connection with reality amongst the other Political monoliths has created within the Electorate itself.

It’s time for Politicians to wake up and smell our overpriced coffee before it’s all too late.

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

Press Regulation: Another exercise in smoke and mirrors as the underlying issue of the growing ethical drought in this Country goes untackled by thirsty Government yet again

Rupert Murdoch at LevesonI will not be alone in wondering just how wasteful the whole Leveson Inquiry and the blustering about press regulation will turn out to be when the dust has finally settled.

With news coverage alerting us to the invitation for Rupert Murdoch to return to face MP’s over the phone hacking scandal and Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson still months from their Trial, it’s a fair bet that this will all roll on for some time yet.

But with the cost at great risk of extending itself well beyond money and into the realms of press freedom and the free flow of information itself, it seems rather strange that nobody is talking about anything other than placing restrictions upon the media, when the issues at the heart of all this are far more universal and basically touch us all.

Phone hacking, listening to private messages or conversation, bribery and any other form of intrusive behaviour are not essential journalistic skills in either a professional or academic sense and it’s fairly certain that such behaviour is not restricted to the activities of a few over-eager hacks wishing to make their mark in the National press.

Like most industries today, newspaper companies exist with one purpose in mind and that is ultimately to make money. Whether that is through increased circulation of existing titles or through expansion, the purchase or launch of others, or the diversification into other income streams, it basically doesn’t matter.

Whether this makes comfortable reading or not, few businesses actually exist today to be the best at doing what they do. They don’t look at the long term benefit of best service, or consider the smiles on the faces of customers who feel they have been well looked after; they look at the bottom line and how to make it that much bigger.

Making money for any business relies on motivating staff and in a world which worships money as its master, financial incentives can very quickly push employees to blur the edges between what most would consider to be wrong and right if the end result is worth it. So the hacking scandal is unlikely to be anything other than consequence or the result of cause and effect in basic terms.

Love him or hate him, its extremely unlikely that Rupert Murdock would have ever consciously encouraged or even condoned the questionable behaviour of his staff and what they have allegedly done, however much some would like to imagine so.

However, a company culture that might be considered to indirectly, unintentionally or inadvertently encourage illegal behaviour on the part of individuals in the pursuit of bigger headlines or pay would however be a different thing. But even then, that would not in itself be a matter for Legal intervention or regulation, as it has nothing to do with journalism itself. It might however have everything to do with people and the decisions that they make when they have no respect for barriers.

The bigger picture here is that British society today is on a slippery slope when it comes to basic politeness, manners, doing the right thing or what some of us would agree as having ethics.

People of all kinds are now regularly failing to consider the simple consequences for others as a result of their actions, or in extreme cases ceasing to even register that consequences other than a big pay day might even exist. This is a problem which is beginning to affect us all.

Sadly, we are in the position where leadership at National level is woefully lacking when it comes to dealing with the question of ethics for us as members of the wider community which makes up our Nation. Whereas Rupert Murdoch has already demonstrated his propensity to be ruthlessly efficient in the application of change where it is needed in closing the News of the World, the people with the real ability to influence change in the way that we all think and look at the world we live in appear to have no such gumption.

Those guilty of phone hacking should receive their just deserts, much as we are right to expect with any breach of Criminal Law. But press regulation is little more than another exercise of smoke and mirrors covering the incompetence and inaction of Government in addressing the underlying issue of ethics which runs through so many of our problems and gagging the media will never be an answer.

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

Tax avoidance, foreign companies and the real influence of Utility providers on our cost of living

Utility companies are in the news again and this time for exploiting the foreign ownership loopholes that are allowing an increasing number of monopolistic companies to avoid paying sizeable sums in tax.

Were it not for the near exponential rises that we seem to experience from energy and water companies alike on regular basis, you might be forgiven for having a little sympathy with a company which is struggling to make money.

But these are companies which are not only achieving great success in securing stratospheric profit margins from the services they provide using what appears to be increasing levels of media-friendly scaremongering; they are arguably doing so without making any real contribution to the wider society that pays them whilst customers also seem to pay for all their upgrade work as well.

This situation has of course been in the making for a considerable time and whilst it would serve the political interests of some groups to blame the problem on the process of privatisation in its basic sense, it is pretty certain that the sale of shares to everyday taxpayers was never intended as a direction of travel which would result in foreign ownership, or to the cartel like behaviour which has contributed to the creation of rip-off Britain.

Coalition Government or hung Parliaments don’t lend themselves well to dealing with issues of any real importance when they are in power as we all continue to witness each and every day. But that of course is when they face issues that we as a public are openly aware of because Politicians have chosen to acknowledge them for whatever politically expedient purpose that it might serve.

The real travesty with the issues regarding utility companies and the influence that they are having on the true cost of inflation to us all – which has this week been suggested to be as high as 25% – is that there is not even the will to talk about the true impact of their actions upon us all in Westminster.

With the economic fall-out of credit-card government and the continuation of spending with money that the UK simply doesn’t have, reality suggests that negligible or zero percent rises in wages for the workforces operating within the commercial and public sectors alike are here to stay. That benefit and service cuts will remain the uninventive and ill-considered weapon of choice used by a political elite which seems bereft of any consideration for the mechanics of life outside their own societal bubble.

However, there are choices for our leaders and within the constraints of Coalition Government or not, Politicians taking their responsibility to the Electorate seriously would and should all be using them.

Before anything else, acknowledgement that companies providing what are in fact essential services are profiteering and are misusing the opportunities that they have would be a significant step in itself. People would at least begin to feel that leaders are identifying with what real life is really like.

This would by its very nature have to been done with clarity and purpose and with much more than a mere suggestion of what action lies ahead. Another mealy-mouthed effort like that on the part of Politicians when it has come to addressing the previous actions and future behaviour of bankers simply will not do.

It has become clear that self-regulation in such key industries isn’t working for anybody but the companies themselves, and this is where those with Government responsibility should really be taking a lead.

The next step would be to regulate pricing to allow the true cost of service provision to be reflected in the prices that we pay and dictate the formula under which such Companies can raise funds for new and improved infrastructure which in most other industries would rightly come from the bottom line.

Because the services that these Companies provide are essential to everyone, profit should be capped and systems put in place through vigorous auditing processes  to ensure that clever accounting methods cannot provide a conduit through which different cost centres or budgetary areas can be manipulated to provide an enhanced dividend.

Company owners wouldn’t like this approach, but the fact remains that with services that customers have no alternative to use, profiteering before doing what is right has created a cash-cow for the few, whilst inflicting financial misery on the many in circumstances where people cannot even earn more just to compensate. That’s why foreign owners have been so happy to throw cash in the direction of companies in the UK that governments most other Countries would at least keep very close to State control and why our Politicians must now recognise the power and influence that these industries actually have in our everyday lives.

Finally, the time has long since passed when simplification of the Tax system was required on a comprehensive basis to stem the flow of revenue from leaving the Country that we desperately need and to which we are entitled.

Tax should be applied at the point of sale; not at the location where the account managers and owners  are based. This one simple and realistic change could find tax raised from the tills where coffees are physically bought; from the sale on the actual computer and screen where products are purchased; and from the meters where our power, gas and water are measured and supplied inside the houses in which we live.

Scary as the prospect of taking on the industrial and financial monoliths might seem, it is for reasons just like these that Politicians are Elected and why Governments are given power. It might not be easy, but if those who seek our votes at Elections take the trust we have given them seriously, it necessarily follows that they will use it for our benefit too.

Isn’t it time that they started living the mantra ‘action speaks louder than words’, rather than simply just paying lip service to it?

image thanks to source unknown

Spending Review & Local Authorities: We need change and a resurgence of ethics, not coercive micromanagement by stealth and an even greater distance between people and Government

images (51)With £11.5 Billion in further cuts set to be outlined in the Coalition’s Spending Review later today, I will probably not be alone in asking myself if this is really going to make the difference that the UK really needs.

Of course, many of us have got far too used to asking such questions only of ourselves as we wonder if there is simply any point in asking the same of anyone else and particularly those Politicians who would actually be in the position to give an honest answer if they so desired.

Many of the Politicians we see on TV are spending increasing amounts of airtime telling us that they are listening. But are they really hearing?

Listening to the news in recent days, you may have heard the suggestion that cutting budgets has not been a failure of the Coalition and that it is in fact the continuing problems with the economy and its inability to deliver the income expected at the time of the 2010 Spending Review that is the real issue. An issue which now of course sees George Osborne scratching away at what he appears to see as the tried and tested…

Of course, those like me who currently inhabit the local government political pool will be looking on in horror at the prospect of a further 10% Central Government funding cut from 2015/16.

Cuts in just in this area alone since 2010 have placed a massive strain on service delivery and are quietly playing out in the loss of arguably vital community resources which were once taken for granted and even affecting the speed and quality of pothole repairs on roads which most of us probably feel should be resurfaced when a hole appears rather than undergo repetitive re-patching for the umpteenth time, bearing in mind the amount we seem to keep paying for them.

Played out across all tiers of Government, the Quangos and Non-Government Organisations, the open secret in all this is that efficiencies have to be found. But the elephant in the room sadly remains missed and the rise of shared services, business services outsourcing and privatisation of services forced on us by budget cuts and imposed ceilings on Council Tax rises will never resolve the biggest issue of all which is the need for comprehensive reform across Government at a fundamental and cultural level.

Change is essential to move inefficient and unproductive ways of working which have developed over many decades of protectionist management; Change which will lead into the delivery of services which once again have their focus upon the benefit to the end user and when selflessly applied, targeted and managed as they should be, are likely to deliver savings all the same.

Ethical working based on doing what is right for all, rather than what works best for those making the decision, has to once again become the norm rather than the exception. For it is this institutionalised and subsequently conditioned practice which has created many of the problems not only in finance, but also in the quality and efficiency within all parts of Government which the Coalition now faces, manifested in services ranging from traffic management to the NHS.

Making savings of the level that have faced George Osborne was never going to be an easy task. But simply addressing the problem by imposing cuts that are ultimately doing nothing less than changing the systems which support everyday people to live real lives and takes Government further away from the public who pay for it is never going to be right. Worse still; it won’t solve the problem.

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

Without Legalising Assisted Suicide & the Right to Die, it is an uncomfortable truth that in terms of our approach to ease of suffering, we are selfishly kinder to our animals than we are to other human beings

April 18, 2013 Leave a comment

The debate on Assisted Suicide

Without realising that we even do so, it is quite normal for us to look upon any situation or perhaps even the content of a conversation in terms of how its content could or does affect us personally at some level.

Fear permeates the decisions that people make at a very deep level indeed and whilst this can unwittingly prove to be a very self-destructive trait, it can also lead to what are arguably selfish acts in the extreme when considering the distant impact that these decisions have upon others.

Because most of us grow up conditioned to think this way, it is possible to become quite blasé about the way we talk about issues which may not seem to affect us directly, but nonetheless have the effect of pushing a deeply buried emotional ‘button’ which twangs our personalities just the same.

Death is of course one such issue and one that provokes all kinds of responses from people, probably because of the unknown issues which surround it and the very definite nature of its existence for us all as part of our human experience.

When I myself suffered the acute stages of a serious illness which nearly killed me and I was forced to look my own mortality in the face, I quickly became aware of just how self-focussed and personal the issues surrounding death can be for those who are close by who are not actually in the process of going through it themselves.

This experience perhaps gave me an invaluable insight on the whole issue when dealing with the terminal illness and decline of my own father, whom I like to think may have been at some advantage by having such nearby support.

Sadly, others do not receive that same level of understanding and selflessness that they need from us all in times that we may ourselves never personally have to experience, or at a time of their life when their perspective on mortality may be dramatically different from what it may be right now.

The deeply ingrained fear of death and our lack of control over it does mean that for many the issue of Assisted Suicide or Right to Die is actually a personal one, rather than a matter of ethics as many in the world would prefer that we were to actually believe.

Very few people are likely to covet death at any time; even those who commit suicide without any form of premeditated suggestion that they are readying themselves to do so. It is a matter of escape and release at a very personal level and it is unlikely that any other person will ever understand the complexity of issues, emotions and pain that such a person is experiencing at that time.

It is the same for those contemplating the need for Assisted Suicide or their Right to Die and we as a society now not only need to recognise this; we must put personal feelings and perceptions aside and provide help to those who need it, without any threat of recourse or stigma being attached to those who have provided or would willingly facilitate that help.

Our fear of Legalising Assisted Suicide and the taboo of the subject are borne from the concern that through illness or debilitation, we could find ourselves or loved-ones unable to communicate with or have influence with the outside world as we now know it, and that subsequently, the decision will be made to end our own or their life in that situation whether we like it or not.

Such perceptions have been helped very little by Health Authority Policies such as The Liverpool Pathway. But this should not prevent us from dealing with the subject as we now should and if anything is evidence enough that everything must now be done to get this difficult subject dealt with right.

Government and the Medical Profession could and should with Legislation put the necessary stop-guards in place which will provide assurance against abuses of a Right to Die, such as consultation with 3 independent Doctors and/or Psychologists who will quickly know if such a solution is best if they are genuinely allowed and are able to selflessly put the interests of the patient in question first without any other influences coming in to play.

There is no doubt that those suffering with horrific and terrifying conditions such as Locked-in Syndrome or those who have such low quality of life because of their physical conditions should have the right to end their lives with help if they so choose. We must all now be big enough to put our own fears aside and make it as easy as it can be for them to do so.

Without Legalising the Right to Die, it is an uncomfortable truth that in terms of our approach to ease of suffering, we are selfishly kinder to our animals than we are to other human beings.

image thanks to http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca

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