Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cabinet Reshuffle

The member of cabinet most representative of the collective failure of contemporary politicians must be Matthew Hancock. This is an individual who grew up in Chester, went to an independent school, up to Oxford to read PPE and then Cambridge to do MPhil in Economics. Following graduation he worked briefly in his family company before landing a role as an economist for the Bank of England. After less than 5 years work experience he becomes an advisor to George Osborne and then 5 years later lands a safe seat in West Suffolk. After 3 years carrying Osborne's bags he finds himself as Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, where he stays for a year before becoming Minister of State for Energy, Minister of State for Business, Minister of State for Portsmouth and a seat at Cabinet.

I am sure that Mr Hancock is good with numbers, however if you can't relate that to how people think, act and behave then what use are you as a legislator? His industrial experience is purely academic and his most recent experience entirely based in the Westminster bubble. I don't doubt he is a capable and intelligent person, but if he is the best person to lead on Business - zero experience - and Energy - zero experience - then I am a monkey's uncle. Leadership is no just about having the skills to manage a team or a budget but deciding on the direction of travel and getting the most out of your team and the people who feed in to your team. He has two briefs that are integral to the industrial future of our nation and yet he has limited exposure to how the world works outside central London.

Labour also has this problem and I for one find it very disconcerting. I really think that the evolution of the SPAD gravy train will be a bad thing for British governments.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wall Street (Martha Tilston) - where does the money go to?

“We know too much
About having too much
To ever go under again”

“Where does the money flow from?
Where does it go?
And who’s going without today”

The most poignant line in this is surely the last one. The rise of food banks in the UK and across the developed world is a stain on our so-caleld civilised society.

The only true futures market is our children, and the planet they live on. We urgently need to invest in a green new deal to secure a sustainable future

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose

The nature of electoral politics is that towards the end of an electoral cycle all thoughts turn towards the next opportunity for victory or defeat. This is particularly true now that we have a fixed term for parliamentary elections. It was upon this line of thought that I decided to investigate whether my twitter friend @DorsetRachel had been selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for West Dorset. Rachelcurrently serves as a councillor for part of Weymouth, which is in the neighbouring constituency of South Dorset. I was pleased to find out that she has been selected, but then rather dismayed to find out that West Dorset has never even come close to having a Labour MP. In fact West Dorset has had only 6 different MPs since 1885 and all of them Conservative.
This may not be situation peculiar to this part of England, but causes me more sorrow in the knowledge that this constituency contains the village of Tolpuddle.  The village made famous for the 6 martyrs who, 180 years ago this March, were sentenced to transportation for the crime of making an oath. Their real crime, in the eyes of the landowners, was in forming a union to organise agricultural labourers.
Life in southern England was harsh then, the Enclosure Acts meant that rural people no longer had access to fields to grow their own food and instead had to buy food on the open market. An economic depression in the 1830s led to rural unemployment and more pressure on the Poor Law System. Technological innovation meant that the labourers had just had their pay reduced for a third time, from 10s a week down to 6s a week, but prices for food began to rise as London and the industrial north prospered. The labourers were starving as costs outstripped their income.
Poverty data for 2012 shows that there are still many people in Dorset who rely on the support of their community to survive.  One fifth of people in Weymouth and Portland live in houses that receive housing benefit, a figure that rises to 28.6% when you consider only those under the age 20. The adjacent West Dorset has seen the biggest proportional increase since 2011 and now almost one in five people aged under 20 live in households reliant on benefit.
Dorset, like many other parts of Great Britain, is grossly unequal. Pockets of mass deprivation reside cheek by jowl with the second-homes of affluent city-dwellers and the estates of the land-owning elite. The balance of income and opportunity is barely indiscernible from the days of Thomas Hardy.  Bridport, Weymouth, Portland and Somerford are among the 20% most deprived areas in the UK and appear like islands on the map of multiple deprivations with seas of affluence around them. The maps for income, employment, education and skills, health and disability, IDACI and crime all follow a similar pattern. There are two maps, however, that paint a different picture. 
These are the Living Environment Domain and Barriers to Housing and Services Domain.  Both of these are related to the quality of and access to housing and local services.

The reasons that these barriers exist are many. One explanation is the presence of second homes in the county that artificially increases the notional value of housing (a problem shared with Devon, Cornwall and Cumbria, among others). The main barrier to service provision is the geography of the county, a problem very different from those faced by cities. The relatively large proportion of retired people in both West and East Dorset also provides a different challenge. A problem that is shared with many other areas is the relative low pay received by peoples working within Dorset. The relative proportion of socio-economic groups within the county is broadly similar to the national average, however the median pay of a worker in Weymouth is less than 82% that of the national figure. Furthermore although the median pay of a worker in West Dorset is 31% higher than those in, for example, West Yorkshire, the price of housing is approximately 74% greater. I think it is also interesting to note the large disparity between the median pay of those living in East Dorset, a largely affluent area, and those who only work in East Dorset. An issue that those who live in larger urban areas will recognise, particularly London where the workers are being forced to travel greater distances to get to their place of work from places where they can afford to live.
In both 1834 and 2014 the population of rural counties have faced recession and falling wages; they have had limited opportunity to improve their own lot and are instead reliant on other agencies or relocation to provide subsistence.  It is important to note that these deprivation figures are from 2010. They were therefore recorded after 13 years of a Labour government that did much to help many, but did not do enough for some. I would hope, however, that were the electorate to return a Labour government in 2015 that next time around they would pay far more attention to solving the problems that have afflicted counties like Dorset and Lincolnshire for centuries.
Politics within Dorset, and much of the south of England, has been dominated by the Conservative Party or its forebears for centuries, a dominance that has resulted in the maintenance of the status quo. A county run by and for the interests of the wealthy and ignoring the interests of the young and disadvantaged. I hope that the next Labour government can deliver on their ambitious housing and infrastructure programme but the real leveller would be a land value tax. To make a difference to the quality of living environments and to remove barriers to housing and services we need to find a more progressive way of raising tax. The ownership of land within Dorset is emblematic of land ownership within the UK. A small minority of people own vast swathes of the countryside, some of them have even been Conservative ministers and some of them still are.  For people living in these villages they are trapped in a feudal lifestyle, unchanged for centuries, they work on the land, are paid a pittance and rely on the land-owner for accommodation. This inequality is not as visible as in the major cities, but it is just as important.
If Labour is to win a majority in the next election then I think they will have to win some seats in southern England (that are outside London). Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, has written that Labour cannot simply rely on the Conservatives losing the election, we need to win it. Jim Knight recognises this and has written about the need to deliver on the politics of the periphery and the need for Labour to gain seats in the coast and countryside. The key to this will be policies that improve access to housing and local services. This could be rural bus services, rural GPs and dentists and more and better housing.
Over the last 180 years the power of trade unions has ebbed and flowed but one thing remains certain, the power of capital over labour has never been truly challenged. To win the next election Labour will have to win seats in the countryside. Winning in South Dorset, the constituency that Jim Knight represented until 2010, would be a severe blow to the Conservatives. I would also like Labour to embrace the history of the union link and try to win what would be a significant victory in West Dorset, the home of the Tolpuddle martyrs and the seat of Oliver Letwin MP.
When the six men of Tolpuddle were sentenced to transportation there was a mass outcry and a campaign for their release was organised by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. A march was held in April 1834 with over 100,000 people attending and over the next few months petitions were sent to parliament with over 800,000 signatures. In 1835 all six of the men were granted a conditional pardon, although they turned it down and continued the fight. The next year, on 14th March 1836, the government agreed that all the men should have a full and free pardon. Trade unions had won and survived their first big challenge. The six farm workers from Tolpuddle were on their way home as free men. This is proof, were it needed that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. By creating a coalition of coast, country and city we can create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few.

This article was amended on the 10th July to state that Weymouth and Portland are in the South Dorset Constituency, not West Dorset, as the original wording stated. 


Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat -nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love's gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow another reaps;
The wealth ye find another keeps;
The robes ye weave another wears;
The arms ye forge another bears.

Sow seed, -but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth, -let no imposter heap;
Weave robes, -let not the idle wear;
Forge arms, in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells;
In halls ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought?
Ye see The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom,
Trace your grave, and build your tomb,
And weave your winding-sheet, till fair
England be your sepulchre!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Cry of the Unemployed - Chartist Poetry


Tis' hard! tis' hard! to wander on through this bright world of ours,—
Beneath a sky of smiling blue,—on velvet paths of flowers:
With music in the woods, as there were nought but pleasure known,
Or angels walked earth's solitudes:—and yet with want to groan!
To see no beauty in the stars, nor in the sun's glad smile;
To wail and wander misery-cursed! willing, but cannot toil!
There's burning sickness at my heart: I sink down famished:
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Heaven droppeth down with manna still in many a golden shower,
And feeds the leaves with fragrant breath, with silver dew, the
There's honeyed fruit for bee and bird, with bloom laughs out the
There's food for all God's happy things; but none gives food to me!
Earth decked with Plenty's garland-crown, smiles on my aching eye;
The purse-proud, swathed in luxury, disdainful pass me by:
I've eager hands—I've earnest heart—but may not work for bread;
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Gold art thou not a blessed thing?   A charm above all other,
To shut up hearts to nature's cry, when brother pleads with brother!
Hast thou a music sweeter than the loving voice of kindness?
No, curse thee, thou'rt a mist twixt God and men in outer blindness!
"Father, come back!"   My children cry!   Their voices once so sweet,
Now quiver-lance-like, in my bleeding heart!   I cannot meet!
The looks that make the brain go mad, of dear ones asking bread!
God of the wretched hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Lord, what right have the poor to wed?   Love's for the gilded great!
Are they not formed of nobler clay who dine off golden plate?
'Tis the worst curse of poverty to have a feeling heart:
Why can I not, with iron grasp, thrust out the tender part?
I cannot slave in yon Bastile!   Ah, no! 'twere bitterer pain—
I'd wear the pauper's iron within, than clank the convict's chain!
To work but cannot—starve, I may—but will not beg for bread:
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Gerald Massey wrote this 165 years ago, yet it still remains heart-breakingly true. 

The voice of the people - Chartist poetry

'The Voice of the People' - Chartist Poem