The wisdom of Philip Davies, MP

June 22, 2011

Twitter Philip Davies MP

A couple of nights ago, Twitter was alive with the news that Tory MP for Shipley, Philip Davies had stood up in the House of Commons and said this:

“If an employer is looking at two candidates, one who has got disabilities and one who hasn’t, and they have got to pay them both the same rate, I invite you to guess which one the employer is more likely to take on.

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, cannot be as productive in their work as somebody who has not got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that, given the employer was going to have to pay them both the same, they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk.

“My view is that for some people the national minimum wage may be more of a hindrance than a help.

“If those people who consider it is being a hindrance to them, and in my view that’s some of the most vulnerable people in society, if they feel that for a short period of time, taking a lower rate of pay to help them get on their first rung of the jobs ladder, if they judge that that is a good thing, I don’t see why we should be standing in their way.”

Philip Davies ideal England is one in which sweatshops, full of people with disabilities create cheap goods for the overly privileged Tory benches to feed from, whilst the sweatshop bosses drive up to the gates of Downing Street in their brand new Mercs, accompanied by a lovely big donation for the Tory Party.

Perhaps we could use the £161,300 in expenses he claimed rather dubiously in 2009, on top of his £65,000 a year salary, to pay people a better salary? On the subject of his expense claims, he claimed the most of all Bradford MPs, and claimed £10,000 more on his second home allowance than Bradford North MP Terry Rooney. I am not entirely sure how that’s warranted, or helps him does his job to a greater degree. Incidentally, claimed for more in second home allowances than my dad makes in a year. Unsurprisingly, he clings onto this gravy train by opposing much needed Parliamentary reform. The lobby for Parliamentary reform, Power 10 label Philip Davies as one of the six MPs who will happily block reform of Parliament. This isn’t surprising, given just how much he has financially benefited from the current corrupt nature of Parliament.

Nevertheless, there is an unnerving essence to a member of our national legislature, insinuating that a person’s worth should be based solely on their physical or mental capability, and then using defensive rhetoric, heartfelt sentiment, to sound as if he only wishes to help disabled people, rather than line the pockets of his Party’s donors, and make it easy for employers to exploit without worry. It is equally as unnerving for a politician to tacitly suggest that wage discrimination is not only acceptable, but entirely the fault of those who are being discriminated against. His words sound as if he is suggesting being disabled is a lifestyle choice, that requires a bit of a punishment. That punishment should apparently be an agreement to work for less money that one needs in order to live, along with the added expense that comes with certain disabilities.

It would be right to point out that those with disabilities, who Davies wants to be paid less, did not cause the financial problems we’re now in. Ironically, for Davies, it was the private sector’s excessive greed (of which he clearly has no problem in promoting) that caused the mess, through unproductive excess profit being used – not to pay people better even when it had accumulated enough to easily manage paying more – but on dodgy asset deals. The problem in 2007 wasn’t that there appeared to be a lack of capital caused by the need to pay disabled people, or anybody a national minimum wage, but by the fact that there was an abundance of concentrated excess capital that wasn’t being put to good and productive use. Wages were stagnating for the majority of people, whilst wages at the very top climbed higher and higher. That, is entirely the fault of the private sector. Is Davies saying that if we dropped the minimum wage, wages would flourish, failed Tory economics would be proven right, and disabled people would be working shorter hours, for a loyal boss, who paid wonderfully? Because I foresee a bunch of employers driving even bigger Porsche’s whilst their £2 an hour disabled employees can no longer afford adequate care. Davies certainly didn’t offer any added benefits that some disabled people may require due to being paid below minimum wage. Grants for specialised equipment? Incomes and the ability to pay for necessary care and equipment cannot always be planned for even on a week to week basis, for those suffering certain disabilities. To promote the idea of wage discrimination against those with disabilities, at the same time as cuts to Disability Living Allowance take hold

It is a minimum wage for a reason. Do we really believe employers wouldn’t use an “opt-out” for their own advantage? Wages at the top are already obscenely high in the private sector. In 2009, for example, the chief executive of the Anchor Trust, which provides home for the elderly, took home £391,000. Anchor Trust is a charity! Whilst donations are down and employees are facing redundancy it is ludicrous for a CEO of an organisation that so many people rely on, to take home almost £400,000 a year.

I continue to be of the opinion that if an employer cannot afford to pay somebody a decent enough wage to live on, he/she shouldn’t be running a business. They are a danger to the public. £5.89 is not a lot of money, and to suggest that the rest of us are entitled to at least that, whilst a disabled person is entitled to less, purely because of a natural affliction is sensationally regressive.

The far right narrative is the problem, not minimum wage legislation. Philip Davis is attempting to remove responsibility for fair pay away from the employer, and onto the employee. Citizens UK found that of the companies in London willing to sign up to paying their lowest paid members of staff a “National living wage” rather than a “National minimum wage”, of £8.30 an hour, they managed to lift 3500 families out of poverty in 2009. It didn’t have an adverse affect on prices, in the same way as the minimum wage introduction in the late 1990s didn’t have an adverse affect as many Tories claimed it would. Campaigners for a National Living Wage are screaming out at Tesco, who have failed to ensure their cleaning staff are paid a fair living wage, despite the company making £3.8bn profit last year. Employers do not, ever, take paying their staff a respectable wage seriously. Ever. Surely if they were made to pay more, of which they can definitely afford, the money would be divided among a workforce who would pay more tax, and use the added disposable income on goods and services from businesses across the Country, rather than wasting it on the very very small band of wealthy elites?

A study in America called “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” , found that job applicants with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to be asked back than an applicant with a white sounding name. The researches sent out 5000 applications in sales, marketing, clerical and customer service positions. The names they used were a mix of white sounding names, and black sounding names. The report showed that white applicants with stronger resumes than other white applicants received 30% more callbacks, whereas black applicants with stronger resumes than other black applicants received just 9% more callbacks. It proved that regardless of credentials, black applicants were 50% less likely to get a callback than a white applicant. I wonder if Philip Davis thinks black Americans should agree to work for less money than their white counterparts, purely because they are black? What about a black person with a disability? Back to slavery?

We should though, not be surprised by the ignorance that Philip Davis displayed. Here is an MP who voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, which state that it is unlawful to discriminate when selling goods or services, education or facilities based on sexuality. Davies therefore thinks it is acceptable for a school to expel a gay student. Or for a shop to ban a lesbian lady purely for her sexuality. He also voted against removing hereditary peers from the House of Lords. So, he wants more freedom for shop owners to ban people based on sexual orientation (individualism and all that Libertarian bollocks) yet that same individualism, he doesn’t extend to the most privileged of people passing that privilege onto their children, who may or may not have worked or produced anything worthwhile in their entire lives? Oh the hypocrisy.

In 2011 he even invented his own logic based on a lie, when it comes to making cigarette packaging plain:

“I believe that the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes is gesture politics of the worst kind. It would not have any basis in evidence and it would simply be a triumph for the nanny state and an absurd one at that.”

– The objection I have with the line “it would not have any basis in evidence” is that it does have basis in evidence. Cigarette companies spend millions on their packaging, and over the last couple of decades, they have used the idea of “light” packaging to sell products to people who believe smoking “light” fags, means less danger. A 2004 British Medical Journal research article found that:

The increase in lung cancer risk is similar in people who smoke medium tar cigarettes (15-21 mg), low tar cigarettes (8-14 mg), or very low tar cigarettes (≤ 7 mg)

– So smoking a cigarette from a package that claims to be “ultra light” means nothing. But do people really believe “ultra light” means they are at less of a risk of developing lung cancer? Does the advertisement on the packaging work? If it does, then Davis is either a liar, or a massive idiot. Well, surprisingly……. he’s a liar or a massive idiot. A University of Toronto research paper, titled “‘Light’ and ‘mild’ cigarettes: who smokes them? Are they being misled?” published in 2002 found that:

In 1996 and 2000, respectively, 44% and 27% smoked L/M (light and mild cigarettes) to reduce health risks, 41% and 40% smoked them as a step toward quitting, and 41% in both years said they would be more likely to quit if they learned L/M could provide the same tar and nicotine as regular cigarettes. These data provide empirical support for banning ‘light’ and ‘mild’ on cigarette packaging.

– The policy of plain packaging is absolutely based on evidence. It is time we started to ignore the “nanny state” hysterical screams from manic, misinformed, ignorant right wingers.

Not only that, but in 2006, after an act of vandalism was initially blamed on a group of Muslim men, Davies said:

“if there’s anybody who should fuck off it’s the Muslims who do this sort of thing.”

– It later turned out that the act of vandalism was caused by white men. Davies did not apologise, nor did he take the same tough far-right, BNP-esque line with the white vandals as he had done when he imagined the vandals were all muslim.

You might think the incessant stupidity stops there. You’d be wrong. In 2009 Davies asked:

“Is it offensive to black up or not, particularly if you are impersonating a black person? Why it is so offensive to black up your face, as I have never understood this?

Maybe he would be happy for black people to take a pay cut after all.

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The children of the Enlightenment

June 21, 2011

About a year and a half ago, Sky News posted a story about a 21 year old Swiss Skier named Cedric Genoud being found alive after surviving for 17 hours in snow, after an avalanche. Genoud and the rescue team involved said that being found alive, was a “miracle”. The Herald Sun in Australia referred to Genoud as “Swiss miracle skier“. The word ‘miracle‘ to describe the story crops up all over the World. So it got me thinking, as an Atheist, I obviously find the notion of miracles absurd, and so how could a man survive in such hellish conditions for 17 hours without dying? It must be explainable, even though lazy journalism insists on sensationalising and promoting the simplistic idea of a ‘miracle’.

So I explored, until I came across one theory that reaffirmed my amazement at the possibilities of mankind. We do not need the premise of a God. Humanity is magnificently advanced, and the theory of what could have happened to Cedric Genoud and how we could replicate his experience for medical advancement is beyond brilliant. I will try to explain it the best I can.

In October 2006, the Sciencemag.org published a story following the findings of a group of scientists from Seattle, who had successfully managed to put mice into a state of suspended animation. All visible signs of life during the period of suspended animation are closed down, rather like a seed. The mice were then brought out of a state of suspended animation and were perfectly fine.

To achieve this, the scientists from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, placed the warm bloodied mice in a cell, but with an added measure of Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) in its artificial atmosphere. An incredibly low dosage was required, as too much H2S is deadly. 50 to 100 parts per million can lead to loss of sight. One single breath of an atmosphere containing 1000 part H2S per million, will cause death. The 2006 Côte d’Ivoire toxic waste dump scandal which claimed the lives of 17 people, was attributed to dangerous levels of Hydrogen Sulfide in the dump. In short, too much is deadly. So with the mice, the researchers added 8 parts per million H2S. What they discovered was that the H2S, in the right dosage, actively seeks out and binds itself to oxygen receptors in the body of the mice. This effectively means that H2S acts as oxygen. When people are deprived of oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur in the body, due to the fact that oxygen receptors have nothing to receive. So, with the H2S acting as oxygen for some receptors, it became possible to lower the parts per million of oxygen to near deadly levels. Breathing lowered to unnoticeable levels. The mice were all but dead. On a smaller level, researchers drained oxygen from fish cells and noted that whilst growth stopped entirely, the cells were still alive. When normal oxygen levels were resumed and the H2S taken away, growth picked up where it left, as if time had stopped. A cell can live but remain inactive indefinitely. To grow and progress, a cell needs oxygen in a process called oxidative phosphorylation. It is as if you are holding a small windmill, it needs wind to keep producing what it is made to produce, but if there is no wind, it doesn’t stop being able to produce, it just waits until the wind returns. Our cells are similar. So, with nothing left to produce when H2S is attached to the receptors, our cells and organs grind down to a halt, but do not stop.

How does this relate to the skier? Well, H2S is actually in all of us; it is thought that it regulates our body temperature. Around 50% of people who are frozen for over 3 hours and then brought back to normal body temperature survive. Freezing conditions may very well kill us, but if our body is shocked into over producing, or is exposed to higher levels of H2S it is likely that the cells in the body of the skier would be brought to a halt, until normal levels of oxygen and room temperature were resumed. As The leading scientist on H2S, Mark Roth has stated:

Our work in suspended animation derives from the fact that many animals exhibit what we call “metabolic flexibility,” the ability to dial down their respiration and heartbeat and, in effect, “turn themselves off” in response to physical or environmental stress.

With mice for example, Roth found that when exposed to 80ppm of H2S, the core body temperature of the mouse (remember, warm bloodied mammal) could be reduced by 11 degrees. Absolutely deadly at any other time. What if the skier had managed to produce more H2S or was exposed somehow to more H2S than normal? The 17 hours, for his body and the cells in it, would have felt like a split second.

This is beyond brilliant. There is usually a window of opportunity between someone suffering a near fatal injury, or stroke, or heart attack, and fully healing. If, for example, the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long, there will be serious damage. But, if a treatment could be devised, that prolongs that window of opportunity by decreasing the amount of oxygen needed using H2S, organs could survive serious trauma, a stroke could potentially mean no serious outcome, lives could be both saved and drastically prolonged. If a man is hit by a car for example, and may not make it to the hospital, it would be possible using H2S treatment, to essentially suspend his life for the journey to the hospital, work on him, and then bring him back, and his body will not realise that so much time has passed. The possibilities really are fascinating.

To call such a spectacular feat of human understanding and endeavor a “miracle” does our species an unforgivable injustice. Sky News would be doing the World a great favour if it worked to propagate advancements in science and medicine and spread the message to humanity, that we are far greater and more powerful than the debilitating idea of God.

Humanity does not need miracles.


An absurd introvert

June 16, 2011

Learning about myself is like reading a book I need to reread over and over to understand. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness had that affect on me. Read a page, sit and wonder what was just implied, reread the page out loud, put the book down, decide I’ll give it another go tomorrow night. I can’t imagine being in Sartre’s mind, though there must be a serenity in being able to so openly spill your insecurities and create an entire new branch of philosophical thought from them.

If I sit listening to my mind, I confuse myself excessively and have to take a minute to meditate on those confusions before ignoring them, and deciding I’m just being over analytical. Nonetheless, it is quite vicious much of the time, to feel a sort of annoying hot poker jabbing at your brain, whispering “who the fuck are you?” whilst you’re trying to focus on menial life chores.

I decided long ago that I adhere to the philosophy of absurdism made famous by Albert Camus. I discovered this absurdist leaning after becoming most annoyed by a certain work etiquette and a work colleague who seemed to embody it, like Camus’ Sisyphus quietly pushing the rock up the hill only to watch it fall down again and again. I had taken a tray of food over to a table in an uninspiring conference room. An old portrait of the owners’ grandma as a toddler plagues the far wall. An old fireplace confirms my suspicion that the whole place had failed to progress beyond the 1950s. The dullness of the room was reflected in the dullness of the people sat around the conference table waiting for their overpriced dinner to arrive. I had been asked to help take the food out, a joy that I rarely partake in, not least because it is about as intellectually stimulating and as jubilant an occasion as realising you have no toilet roll left in the house during a moment of terrible bowel discomfort. Anyway, I took a tray to the table, placed it down, took the food from the tray and put it neatly in front of the gentleman. We talked for 30 seconds or so about the local football team, and we laughed about something. He was actually very pleasant. He seemed desperate to talk to someone other than the lifeless souls who had gathered around the table to eat, like robots refilling on oil. He gave me a tip too. At my workplace, they don’t normally tip. I walked out of the room and my colleague said, in a brash tone, with a stare that could cut through solid lead, said “I cannot believe you just did that“. After giving her a look of confusion, she told me that I should NEVER put the tray down on their table because it makes us look terribly unprofessional. At that moment, it struck me, just how pointless and meaningless my job was. Just how useless an existence it is to say that your full time job, is to serve rich people. She told me it was awful to put a tray down on a table; she became red with anger. To an outsider, it was as if I had gone into that room, quietly walked over to the table and waved my willy in their faces. It was an absurd situation, of which I had to laugh. I laughed at her. Not intending to be rude, I just laughed, which is rude, but I honestly don’t care. The situation deserved a laugh, and it just spontaneously came out of my face, it couldn’t be stopped. The whole episode was so insignificant it holds more meaning to me, than much of my life so far. That very episode changed my philosophical self reasoning far more than any other.

Discovering your life and your essence are absurd; putting an end to what is seemingly considered an innate search for truth and purpose, by accepting thoroughly that truth and purpose are simply man made concepts that are vastly incompatible with the chaotic and aimless nature of the universe and the random process of natural selection, we must then discover who we are individually. This is the tricky part. There are so many contradictions in my personality and so many faults and flaws that I cannot pin down exactly who I am and this frustrates me. I want to be fully rounded, I want to understand myself entirely and I want to know that I am in control of who I am and what I do.

I think it is fair to say I am decidedly introverted. I would be happy living my life with no interference from anyone else. Whereas many people can count “good listener” as a positive personal trait, I can’t. I may act it, I may pretend to care, but ultimately I am easily bored by the stories of others, I get anxious about how to respond, especially if those stories are excessively trivial. I hate clubbing, I hate too much socialising, I prefer solitude and thought. I like my own company and time to myself. I like losing myself in a book. I may come across as ignorant and at times I wont talk much, answering everything with a simple “yeah“. This is either because my mind is wandering, or I have very little interest in what is being said to me, and feel any response would be forced and inadequate. The only person I like listening to, and being around is Ash, which is probably a good thing. We went viewing homes around Bendigo in Australia last weekend. Beautiful, and yet affordable homes. We both want a personal study room, to lock ourselves away in when we need to be alone. Often you will hear people insist that a happy relationship and a happy family is achieved by spending quality time together, and that’s true. But equally as important is having your own space. Independence is a feature I must never compromise, nor would I ever wish to throw myself so deep into someone else’s life that they feel less independent. If I feel my control over my own life is under threat, I pull away and start to question the route down which my life has rolled. I do not particularly need anyone else. I simply need to know that my World remains my World. Over my domain, I am a control freak.

Carl Jung brilliantly hypothesised that introversion and extroversion are chemical reactions in the brain; the introvert experiences large energy surges when alone or in a small group, whilst the extrovert thrives on less cortical arousal, needing instead outside stimulation. I am far more comfortable writing about how I feel, than actually telling people, because whilst I know I’m being completely irrational, I subconsciously presume that no one wants to hear my ranting, in the same way that I don’t particularly want to hear the rantings of others. I cannot abide people bitching endlessly about each other, or quite clearly having issues with each other and not communicating them. I notice the unneeded tension that I am not a part of, and wonder why the fuck I am in that situation, feeling slightly uncomfortable. I suppose introvert is simply a synonym for prodigiously self involved. That is certainly what “blog” is a synonym for. Or maybe it is the climax to a series of insecurities that chip away but never get faced. I don’t know which line of reasoning I prefer. Spending too much time around others drives me close to insanity and drains me of all energy, I get all anxious and need to get away. Life is not a waste of time, if it is spent on introspection, and reflection, as long as it doesn’t eat away at you. It is a constant search for an identity that seems to so fleetingly blow in the wind. There is an impeccable beauty in the solitude I feel when I am sitting on the beach wall at Dawlish Warren on the English south coast, in the early morning, with no one else around, the sounds of the sea at that particular place is the most serene and perfect of all places in my World. That is where I go when I close my eyes at night.

That is me.


Lords of Merit

June 15, 2011

Over at Libertarian.co.uk, Sean Gabb provides a rather weak attempt to defend the hereditary right of the Lords. There is a strange, almost unnerving hypocrisy in a site that proudly waves the flag of Libertarianism, yet supports the deeply tyrannical premise of a deliberative chamber based solely on inheritance. One argument for instance, is that the oldest hereditary peerage dates back to 1264, and that an attack on hereditary peerages is an attack on our heritage and tradition. Gabb says:

The oldest Peerage now represented there is the Barony of De Ros, dating from 1264. The most senior is the Dukedom of Norfolk, created in 1483. There are titles in the Lords that carry the mind back to times long before the modern age—to the time before America was discovered, before printing and gunpowder, when English was a collection of barbarous dialects, and when Europe was still in the shadow of the seemingly greater civilisations of the East.
To lay hands so violently on the ancient Constitution is to attack the national identity of the English. It is to snap one more of the precious threads of continuity that bind us to our past.

I would disagree with this premise. The ghost of 13th Century England is certainly one to be feared. Rash decisions based on the need to end a costly and vicious civil war was the main reason behind the creation of certain Peerages. Firstly, the first Baron of De Ros, Robert De Ros, whom we might credit for fighting against King Henry III, only took up arms to extend his own power, pushing his languorous son toward the thrown of Scotland through his rather flimsy claim to that particular thrown due to his great grandad marrying the bastard daughter of Scotland’s William I. De Ros was only interested in more power. He may have fought against the King when the rebels had the stronger hand, but he had also fought for the King of Scotland against a similar rebellion years earlier, because it benefited him to do so. Right here in Leicester at that time, Simon De Montfort raised a force against the King – which included De Ros – forced Henry III to sign the Provision of Oxford, creating a council of Barons and appointments by the King, and De Montfort called the first ever fully elected Parliament a few years later. The war of the Barons in the 13th Century was an attack on hereditary rights, and De Monfort is considered a father of Parliamentary democracy. In fact, after De Montfort was killed in battle, a year after pretty much taking power, the Dictum of Kenilworth reinstated the power of the King, the apparent “divine right” that would persist for centuries, giving us a cruel Monarchical tradition resulting 200 years later in a century long battle for supremacy between the nobles and the crown during the Wars of the Roses. Not to mention the apparent “divine right” which gave Henry VIII the freedom to spend 30 years executing everyone who he didn’t care to see living. Or the five year reign of hell forced by Mary during which time anyone who owned a Bible written in English could be burnt to death. The creation of a peerage in 1264, to signal the regained power of a disturbingly bloody history of Monarchical power, is not something we should be proud of. The point of Simon V De Montfort’s attack on the power structure of the day, was progression. Society and political institutions progress. Tradition is not a valid argument. Surely if Libertarian.co.uk were to invoke the 13th Century as a key moment in English political tradition, he would be calling for greater democracy, not defending the right of hereditary peers to sit in the Lords, when the exact opposite was the sentiment and legacy of the 13th Century he so fleetingly calls upon to defend his magnificently weak argument.

Incidentally, the current Lord of De Ros (one of the few remaining hereditary peers), is Peter Maxwell, who continues to insist that his children’s names (including the horrifically named “Finbar Maxwell“) be prefixed with “The Honourable“. Wouldn’t that be a bit of a slap in the face of English Parliamentary tradition, and Libertarian thought in particular, to have to refer to a child as “The Honourable“, based solely on inheritance?

My argument here, is that the Lords should be neither hereditary, nor fully elected.

Before the Medici family had climbed to the heights that they managed to during the 16th and 17th century’s, they lived rich, yet subtle lives. They didn’t much care for public life and kept pretty inconspicuous in a city whose wealthy thrived on extravagance. Giovanni de Medici, the father of Cosimo, was a part of the Arte Della Lana wool merchants guild, who had much power, but he himself didn’t wish to come across as almost ruling the city. The government of Florence was interesting. It was known as a Republic, but it was far from democratic, or Republican in our sense of the word (but we must not look at the Republican of Florence through 21st Century specs, given that we have had the wisdom of John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Paine to inspire modern Republican thought).

The Florentine Government was known as the Signoria. The Signoria was made up of a group of men collectively known as the Priori. To be elected as member of the Priori, you must be a member of a guild (There were 7 major guilds and 14 minor guilds), you must be over 30, you mustn’t be in debt, and you mustn’t be related to someone who has just been elected to the Priori. If you fit this criteria, your name was placed in one of eight leather bags called a “borse“. The borse was kept in a sacristy, in the Church of Santa Croce, in the Piazza di Santa Croce, just east of the Duomo. If your name was pulled from the hat, you joined the Priori for two months, after which the whole process began again. The placements were set to house two members of the Priori from the minor guilds, and six from the major. The ninth and final member was known as the Gonfaloniere; the standard bearer of the Republic. The Signoria also consisted of two councils who were to be consulted on matters relating to foreign policy; the Dodici Buonomini and the Sedici Confalonieri. Other councils were called for advice at specific times, like war. The Priori, once elected, were required to take up residence at the Palazzo della Signoria, in the centre of Florence. There they remained for two months.

It is fair to say, the government of Florence was run by a very narrow wealthy elite.

The 21st Century House of Commons is much the same. The Tory/Lib Dem cabinet is worth £60mn between them, whilst they insist that their governing ideal is one based on fairness. Out of 29 Cabinet ministers, 23 have assets worth over £1mn, and not all of it was “fairly” achieved. The Chancellor George Osborne is set to make £2mn from his father’s wallpaper company, of which Osborne has no input over, and has never worked for. He is a modern day Lord; forcing a heavy George Osborne Tax on the workers of the wallpaper company. The people who make the money, don’t see the money, because it goes into the pocket of a man who already owns a £2mn house. The Cameron family set to inherit a combined wealth of £30mn. That is the House of Commons. England’s Medici. Yet they seem to think they are the beacon of democracy. An especially odd sort of democracy, that must be spread to the evil, anti-democratic House of Lords as a matter of urgency. The truth is, the House of Lords is necessary. An elected upper chamber is unnecessary, and simply plays to the idealised version of democratic principles we so naively believe in. A set of principles so corrupt and useless, calling it democratic is an insult to democratic principles.

I do not want an elected House of Lords. Whenever a political party claim to be reforming a system for the interests of the people, one must be skeptical. Take the mention of “patient choice” with NHS reforms. On the one hand the Tories are indirectly criticising GPs by insisting that most disability allowance claimants do not deserve the benefit, and on the other hand, insisting the GPs are best people to do a job which apparently requires far more involvement of the private sector, with plans put forward by a Health secretary whose private office is largely funded by private health insurers. When it is claimed to be “for the people” then it isn’t for the people.

In November 2010, John Nash, the head of private health provider – Care UK – donated £21,000 to the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley’s personal office. Of all the ministers, or even MPs that Nash could have possibly donated a massive sum of money to, he chose the guy in control of the health policy in the UK. There is obviously a reason for this. It is unlikely that Nash just donated such a vast sum out of the goodness of his heart. Do we really want another chamber funded by people like Nash? Is an elected 2nd chamber really empowered to work in the interests of the people, rather than a very narrow wealthy few?

The late Lord Onslow was one of the few remaining Hereditary peers sitting in the Lords after the 1999 House of Lords Act. Hereditary peerages are an awful, archaic idea and owe less to merit than does a fully elected chamber, which is saying something. During the Queen’s speech in 1998, in which she outlined Labour’s plan to reform the Lords and bin Hereditary peerages, the Tory Lords screamed out “Shame!” at the Labour front bench, as if they had an absolute, Hobbesian right to their peerage. Labour were right to abolish Hereditary peerages, yet the late Tory Lord Onslow insisted that he’d disrupt the legislative agenda of the Blair government entirely, if he continued with his abolishment of Hereditary peers. Lord Onslow clearly believed in the ancient principle of the divine right of Kings. A dangerous, discredited, and utterly absurd basis for power.

Since Labour’s reforms, the House of Lords is no longer based purely on hereditary acquisition, but far more on merit. Merit is not a bad thing to be appointed to the Lords for. I personally want my politicians to be experts in at least one field, rather than relying on a Minister working at Health, and then being moved to Transport, and finally onto education, in a time period of two Parliaments, without knowing anything about the plethora of Whitehall departments they’ve spent less than a week at each. If we take for example, David Blunkett, not only was he an MP or Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, dealing with constituency issues constantly, he was appointed Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Two completely unrelated fields thrown awkwardly into one small department, overseen by a single Minister. Five years later he was crowned Home Secretary; a job distinctively different from his previous post at Education and Employment. Less than four years later, he ends up as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Does he have any qualification for Education? Employment? Policing? Pensions?……… he has a BA in Political Theory and Institutions, just before becoming a Clerks Typist. By contrast, Lord Winston has a degree in Medicine and Surgery, is an expert in fertility, developed a technique known as sterilisation reversal for those wanting to reverse a vasectomy/hysterectomy, was the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science set up one of the Countries top IVF facilities, and primarily spends his time in the Lords arguing on legislation surrounding fertility and medicine. Do I want Lord Winston replaced in the Lords with another David Blunkett? No. I want to see a House of Lords filled with experts, chosen on merit, not on how much money their campaign can raise.

Democracy is massively overrated.


Bobby Kennedy

June 5, 2011

Forty-three years ago today, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed as he campaigned at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Languishing in hindsight and speculation, I will say that I believe Bobby Kennedy would have been one of the greatest President’s the United States has ever had, had he not been cut short on the campaign trail in 1968. If he’d have lived, there may have been no President Nixon, No President Ford, and maybe even no President Reagan. If his ideas and sentiments not been crushed in the following years by a vicious right winged neoliberal elite, and less eloquent and less popular and far less charismatic liberal politicians made to sound like the ramblings of archaic socialists, the World might not have had to endure thirty years plus, of the rise of the Hayekian New Right. The spirit of the ’60s was firmly shot down in 1968.

I wanted a short blog today on RFK, and a quote that I felt summed up his political philosophy, and why he remains one of my political heroes.

“Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Perfect quote.