Friday, 21 July 2017

Down Under And Over

The research goes on to find clues to how mankind developed, when and where. We thought we knew, but now we know it was more complicated.

There was limited evidence in the past and science was much less able to tell the detail. So there was a lot of hopeful conjecture or guess work.

Now there is a case for believing that our species arrived in Australia before they arrived in Europe.

There is only one comment that can be made.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

New Money Old Problems

In Richard Murphy had a post on 18 July titled "Dear Gareth A Letter To A Wealthy Man In Denial" as a response to an item by a chartered accountant who seems to have done quite well in his life; very much better than the great majority of people, but does not like the implications of Inheritance Taxes.

RM discusses the issues of these taxes making the present case for them. This is not a new problem, it is over a hundred years now since it became "live" in UK politics with Lloyd George, and the debate had been rumbling for many years before that.

Among the comments is one by Leigh Caldwell who expands on the issues involved.


Apart from all your very well-made points Richard, the guy has received plenty of state services in return for his £1m. The only one he acknowledges is child benefit: currently about £1750/year for 2 kids x 16 years = £28,000. But the state also paid for their schooling: circa £5,500/year/child x 2 x 13 years = £143,000. And most of the first child’s university costs: £20,000 say.

Average NHS spending for a 4-person family is circa £8,000/year – let’s count the children only until they turn 21 years and start earning, and the two adults throughout their adult life, assuming they live to 80. He may not have spent as much in younger years, but the costs will probably be accelerating soon as most of health spending is in the later years of life. Total = £320,000.

The state has provided him with domestic and foreign security services in whose absence I suspect an accountant would not keep his £5m of wealth for long. Approximate share of Home Office, Defence and “public order and safety” budgets: £1300/year throughout an 80-year life for 2 people: £208,000.

Depending on whether he was contracted out and/or receives SERPS, state pension is hard to calculate, but at minimum it should be £6,000/year for each partner. Depending on his wife’s age this could start between 60 and 66, but let’s say they both receive it for 15 years. £6,000 x 2 x 15 = £180,000.

No doubt he has used the public roads and the odd train (£500/person/year), local authority bin collections, libraries, etc (let’s estimate £100 for the parts not covered by council tax – I’ll exclude social care and public housing as no doubt he would tell us that has nothing to do with him), the fruits of subsidised scientific research (£100), the great British countryside protected by the government’s environmental agencies (£250); and as an accountant he will recognise the value of accounting and administrative services to collect and distribute the tax, pensions etc so I’m sure he won’t mind paying his £100 share of all those overheads. That’s £1050 x 2 x 80 = £168,000.

I won’t count the services he’s received from private sector employees whose income was subsidised by tax credits, the implicit insurance policy he’s been given by the social safety net, the benefits of visa-free travel to, and duty-free imports from, Europe – and the many other more intangible gains from being a member of a stable, prosperous society.

I could have counted his own free university education instead of his first child’s, which would nudge the figures up a bit. I could have allocated a bit more of the security costs to him since as a business owner, he receives extra benefit from a secure stable society beyond just those accruing as a citizen. But let’s give him a break at this point.

All the above are calculated based on current budgets, so they may differ if spending levels were different in earlier years. In some categories this reduces the figures, in others it increases them. Gareth’s total bill for state services over his lifetime: £1,067,000.

So according to his own calculations, he hasn’t even covered his OWN COSTS from the state, let alone contributed anything in return for the good fortune of being one of the richest people in the country.

£1m of tax might sound like a lot, but over a lifetime an average couple on national average income (one working for 40 years, the other 30) is likely to pay circa £600,000 (in income tax and NI only – not counting any VAT, council tax, corporation tax).

This guy has barely paid more than an ordinary working couple, despite the astronomical assets he’s accumulated over his life. Not to mention the slightly sneaky “tax, NI, etc” in his email – does this mean he HAS included VAT, corporation tax, employer’s NI, council tax, business rates and everything else?

In which case, he has most likely managed to pay LESS tax than the average worker and it would hardly be surprising if angry voters were sympathetic to the idea of simply confiscating his ill-gotten gains.


If a man of this wealth and income in the course of a working life, can incur such costs in excess of what he pays then the implications are that few people cover their costs.

Which explains the debtor state we are in, literally, and why the levels of debt and liability are growing. Yet our politicians propose to spend more and more to get the votes.

See you in the Marshalsea.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

How Much For The Beeb?

The press are hotfoot after the BBC people to discuss the matter of their salaries, now revealed. They are saying little or nothing about their own. The example they chose is that of the Prime Minister. It is a little like comparing a train driver to a truck driver. They seem to be doing much the same thing but that is not the case.

When we were tripping up and down to London and visiting places we would often see a face and ask, who is he or she, were they in this or that programme, do you remember this once famous person? One such place was Stratford Upon Avon where family visits meant doing shopping and such like.

Some of these people had enjoyed longer careers, but for some their period of fame and therefore fortune had not lasted for long and they had to go into other trades. There was a time when once famous film faces were often to be found running boarding houses in the days before seaside resorts declined.

In short many of the people who are now among them will soon be forgotten and their agents will no longer be able to dictate the terms of their contracts. The crucial figures are those for audiences. If a face fails to pull the viewers the curtains will be drawn. For them this fame can become a liability, in that very many do not want a former star on their payrolls.

In the world of film, commercial theatre and general TV this is the norm and it is a business where you get what you can and if wise this will give an income and pension if you can hold onto it, or better chose the right financial adviser. Even then there is bad luck, divorce and financial crashes to contend with.

The root problem is that it is the BBC, a state entity, that is the employer and this is funded substantially by the license fee although there are other income streams. This means that the performers are seen as being paid out of a tax, chargeable whether or not you ever watch them.

The real question may be is it time for this ninety year old state radio, later TV and now internet service to be sold off to the highest bidder; probably foreign, or do we want to keep it as one of the few things left to us?

Monday, 17 July 2017

Scare Stories

There have been two stories in the media that have excited the various pundits who try to control our thinking. The more important is the person to play the role of "Dr. Who" in the coming series.

Apparently, it is no longer the sort of chap you would never invite to a party but an active female who reminds you of the Head Cook in the school kitchens only wearing trousers. When it first started in November 1963 after a few minutes we decided it wasn't for us.

The lesser story is that we are all going to starve if we do not stay in the EU. Committees and commentators are queuing up to say that food supplies would become insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive if British exit succeeded. Around thirty years ago I recall seminars and lectures saying the same about food supplies.

Only they were not discussing it in terms of Europe, in or out, but trying to tell us that something was happening which if it went on would be as bad, if not worse, than a nuclear world war or a collapse of major states for economic reasons usually related to monetary and debt problems.

At that time they were careful to stick to the numbers and implications to avoid issues of race, culture and others which would mean that the real threat was relegated in other conflicts of ideas. Simply, there were few places in the world where the population was becoming relatively static or reducing.

Most were others where populations were either still growing steadily at relatively predictable rates and others where growth was rapid and there were uncertainties as to what would happen when food supplies became inadequate or failed. This last group was largely composed of the poorest states with least economic growth or potential.

Their concern was that there had to be a point when humanity had demanded so much of the Earth's resources that no more increase was possible. The lessons of history were that there had been many times when one area or another could no longer feed the people dependent on it.

This had been largely countered in the mid 20th Century when progress in transport, storage, technology of food and management of the land enabled increases of supply. So when I was born into a UK population of around 40 million emigration was regarded as essential to the future and this was reinforced by war and its aftermath. Now I am in a population of 65 million where immigration is said to be essential for economic reasons.

But the Greens tell us that time is running out for Earth and its ability to feed us . There are scientists who claim that the larger crops arising from the way the land is worked mean that there is a limit to how many more the land can produce and before that decreases will begin and in parts of the world are already evident.

In short food supplies are destined to become insecure, unsafe and increasingly expensive whatever happens and on a world basis. The Brexit issue is only at the margin and requires us to trust Brussels to manage it properly.

Those areas that suffer worst will become the ones from which large scale population transfers occur to other places, any places which have basic food. This has happened in the past in many places and in the Atlantic Isles in recent centuries. It happened in Germany in the late 1940's. We forget this too easily.

Back in the 1940's we knew a man with a van who now and again on his work travels would go out to farms to buy potatoes for cash, no questions asked. They did cost more, but we were never short of spuds.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Captains And Kings Depart

In the press there is the story about Kings College London and a debate about changing the pictures on the wall of one of its departments. It is said that this is another example of political correctness to please a small group of students from minorities.

They do not want to be looking at some of the founders of modern Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, in which Kings was a leader in research. They were around a long time ago and all male, elderly, etc. etc.

The Dean of the School says that it was an ordinary decision to rehang the pictures elsewhere and replace them with diagrams etc. to help learning, which are bigger than those online, can be more clearly understood and are nicer than old men with the then fashionable fuzz on the chins.

It is difficult to argue with this logic. The students now will spend little if any time on time the early ideas of those sciences and will be concentrating on the rapidly developing present. Much as their History department will have little to say about The Battle of Omdurman once deemed essential.

The wooliness of the reports could give the impression that the men in question were among the founders of Kings, which is not the case. It was founded in 1828-9 after a meeting of Church of England leading lights, chaired by the Duke of Wellington, set up Kings to rival the 1826 University College founded by the Progressives of that time and secular.

They were joined in 1836 to be Colleges of the University of London, which grew and grew in the next century and more. UC, which featured in the 1950's film "Doctor In The House" became famous for drunken nurse chasing rugger playing medic's training to be stalwarts of the NHS.

In the meantime on the other side of The Strand, the Webbs, GB Shaw and others founded the London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE. One famous member of staff was Clement Attlee, so by the 1950's it had become heavy hitters in politics, social sciences and history.

It's Director between 1937 and 1957 was Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders, a leading man in the Eugenics movement, whose research and ideas about race etc. became embedded in much policy thinking and government in many countries in the first half of the 20th Century.

Hence centralised planning and government with the authority of learned men who know to tell the lower classes etc. what to do. You do not hear much, if anything, about Eugenics any more. It has become one of the more embarrassing episodes in academic history and LSE in particular likes to avoid any mention of it.

But one of the twists of history was that when LSE was proclaiming Eugenics, over the road at Kings something else was going on. It was Maurice Wilkins, Rosalind Franklin and others researching into the base properties of humanity and living things, DNA.

They and their fellow researchers had something of a rough ride. But we know what happened next. DNA has become a science central to medicine, archaeology, paleontology and other sciences.

DNA tells us that while we are all different in some respects we are all the same. I wonder what Sir Alexander Carr-Saunders would have made of it, especially if on one of the times I was on the carpet, I might have claimed it was the Neanderthal in me what done it.

The Tour de France this year heading out of Dusseldorf on day one went up the valley of Neanderthal. So what is it in the DNA which makes a top cyclist?

Lastly, when King George IV, above, the portrait is a little flattering, issued the Royal Charter for the foundation of Kings College, not wishing to argue with the Duke of Wellington, he could not have imagined all this.

The Kings College today does not like to mention either of them.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Fancy A Drink?

There has been a good deal of comment on the continuing fall in the number of pubs as well as other changes which are leading to a time when the British Pub as we have known it is no more. The main complaints are from smokers who assert that this is the key reason.

It may well be one reason for a number of people, but it is more complicated than that. Pubs were once an integral part of my “lifestyle”, often I have told a licensee that I have been thrown out of better pubs than this. In the near sixty years of going to pubs there were many changes.

But going to the pub became rare and has now virtually ended We have more or less abandoned “going out” to one for an evening or even a lunch.  The reasons are complicated and have little to do with the health issue, i.e. tobacco.

This may well be a factor but there are many others.  One reason is the prices.  Our income has not kept pace with inflation and the cost has risen quite rapidly.  Given a wet cold night, the choice between going out and opening a bottle at home with something to watch of choice on a wide screen with high quality sound system is a real one.

The other issue is the going out.  All the old style corner locals have now gone so there is no chance of slipping out down the road for a quick one or two.  It means going into town to the pricey drinking halls full of yelling teenagers or using the car.

If the car then enter the breath testing and the consequences of being over the limit even slightly. Whoops goes the car insurance with a black mark on other things.  A danger here is the many gung ho and none insured or licensed drivers in our vicinity.  The prang rate is high and so is the chance of being tested.

Nearly all pubs now have become dependent on their catering for revenue.  They do not want some old geezer and spouse taking up a whole table sipping away at a pint or two.  Not when there could be customers looking to eat and to spend a lot more.

Too many times have I looked up to see a sniffy young waitress asking when I was going to eat.  The reply “When I’m hungry” often ended up with an early exit.

The catering aspect connects to another problem.  In the last 20 to 30 years there has been a huge expansion of eating places of all sorts in both town and country.  These are in direct competition with the pubs.  As both essentially depend on the same food manufacturing preparation and distribution systems it is simply a choice on the style of place you want to be in.

Then alas, there are the kids.  On the continent there does not seem to be much bother with families out together.  In the UK the babies always seem to have that enraged howl that indicates that they do not like where they are.  All too often there are the feral kids running wild, yelling and screaming and knocking drinks over and the rest while the parents argue.

For us the provision of loud TV’s and sound systems in many places is a distinct issue.  Whatever is on it is the level and often badly amplified sound that it very hard to take.  At anything over 70 dcb for us it is impossible.  Fine, we may be marginal customers but it is at the margins that profits matter.

Behind all this is the looming presence of the Pubcorps with their private equity masters that are looking for a high rate of return on investment and want to churn their portfolios to maximise share values.  This is bad news for the publicans who have been under the cosh and there have been ugly stories about the way they have been treated and exploited.

Then there is the raft of regulation in recent years applying not only to standards of operation but to employment and related matters. Running a pub now entails almost running a bureaucracy in terms of the administration to be done and this is an added cost.

So the number of pubs has declined rapidly and the whole system becomes almost a given pattern of food outlets geared to selling the latest factory products based on the latest TV series.  I ate better in the British Restaurants of the 1940’s. But over the generations what a pub is and did changed. The innkeepers in the family would have known this.

If you look at the pub pictured you can just about make out the original part of the building and where the attached forge would have been.  Back in the 18th Century it was run by a blacksmith publican whose name and DNA were the same as mine.

Lost, lost, lost.

Monday, 10 July 2017


Today, 10th July, the post brought the first Christmas Booking opportunity to the effect that if I did not reply instantly, well almost, I would lose the chance of having the fun experience of a lifetime, with food provided from the best possible freezer cabinets and microwaves.

I was shocked, why I ask is it so late?  Midsummer's Day was three weeks ago, which is around when I have come to assume that Santa Claus is checking his sleigh and the nosebags on the reindeer. I think that is possible but if Rudolf claims animal rights perhaps no longer.

Assuming that there will be a Christmas this year, or will Mr. Corbyn promise to ban it if he becomes Prime Minister, along with the other dates determined by a capitalist and religious past? If so, then Ms. May will leap in to ban all Bank Holidays as untidy relics to be replaced by Occasional Nice Days determined by your employers business plan.

Mr. Corbyn will no doubt have other dates, "Peoples Days"  in mind to replace the old ones. They might well be 21 January, 14 March, 22 April, 5 May and 18 December to celebrate Marx, Lenin and Stalin although the date of his death is omitted because he is still in all our hearts, or ought to be.

Many workers of today do not get much, if any break. Also, given the expense and the rest of it, I suspect many no longer want to bother.

Sunday, 9 July 2017


In the news lately have been reports that the Yellowstone Caldera in the USA has been more than usually twitchy recently. When this happens the experts become jumpy. This is one of the very big ones that could see us all off.

This from Wikipedia is an article that deals with the basic story. The general knowledge has known about it for some time. But recent study suggests the potential could be even worse than we think. Zero Hedge has an item from National Geographic but my machine says that site is not secure.

If it does blow at least we will not have to contend with Trump's tweets any more, nor Brexit issues, we will all be under ten feet of ash. But I fear that in our Tory and Labour parties they will still be arguing about who is to blame until the last blink of TV.

However, the word from the locals is don't panic, don't panic, it isn't going to happen. They are the nearest to it so perhaps they are right and all those pessimists of the last half million years or so are wrong again. Old faithful, the geyser above, will still be with us.

My only hope is that it will not happen before the Tour de France finishes.

Friday, 7 July 2017

People And The Past

The genealogy programme, "Who Do You Think You Are?" has returned to BBC1 in a new series of fourteen, almost all being in show business and celebrity circles. It could be called "What Do You Think You Were" but that might not do the ratings any good.

First out of the maternity ward was Charles Dance, the well known and respected actor, who far from being one of the posh lot as some of his roles might suggest, turns out to be a pleasing plebian with varied ancestry suited to our times.

The Guardian review tells the story briefly if you do not want to go the BBC Iplayer. As this suggests what is intriguing are the bits where some expert looks at a photograph nobody can work out and instantly comes up with an answer.

What it should tell all of us is that you never knew who is up there swinging from branch to branch of the family tree. But people are often fussy despite the demographic statistics making it clear that back a few generations the chances of an ancestor who does not fit in with what people might think rises sharply.

The newspaper report above from the Pall Mall Gazette of 17 March 1915, widely used in the provincial press as an amusing item has it's tragic side. The couple married shortly after when he went to the front and a daughter was born a few weeks later.

He died in May 1917 storming The Hindenburg Line, and perhaps never saw her. She was the mother of a famous man of today and someone you might not expect given his politics.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Independence Day Revisited

Listen to me George, just listen. Yes, King George III is short in the marbles department and a few other things, but in the last analysis he is a nobody. I and a few friends have been talking to the people that matter. And they are not the people you think they are.

We might break away from King George but we can't from the pound, the trade and the people arriving who want to stay with their people back home. These are the ones who matter, not all the Dukes and Earls you read about in the newspapers and their horses.

We over here create our own constituencies and send our own people to Westminster and the House of Commons. I have put out feelers to the right people and they reckon they can swing The Speaker and other key men to let them in.

They may not be many but if they stick together and work with other small groups it can happen that they can make the key decisions because their support will be critical in the House. With a few of our people then put into The Lords, we will matter and matter a lot.

Forget cotton, ours is not as good as the Indian or Egyptian and our techniques are not up to it. Also, it is bulk cargo, we need cargo to send that pays better. Just beyond are Colonies are mountains, so what have they got in them?

Think George, if there is gold and silver and other things we are on our way to power in Europe as well as over hear. We could put a stop to all this nonsense about allowing the lower orders to vote or teaching them to read and write. It has too many dangers.

If we ally with our Caribbean neighbours as well, according to Colebrooke and Nesbitt we will have a hold on the key markets in The City of London. Who controls The City controls the Cabinet and what is more the East India Company.

We could take the Scottish system of bound labour and apply it across Britain and Ireland and extend it to many other trades. First would be to make all agricultural labourers and factory workers bound in the way that Scottish miners and saltsters are. And the same would apply here.

Think of the future George and most of all think of the money. This Independence idea will never really work and if you are not careful you will find yourself having to give in to the lower orders.

Anything but that.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Beware Of Change

This blog, along with others, has suggested in the past that many of our prominente do not understand what is going on technically, the rapidity of change or its implications. Our leaders are being led and do not know where they are going or why.

This article in the Engineer deals with "Raspberry Pi" which is a computer device of the kind which advances performance, capability and knowledge to a remarkable extent. This short piece mentions other devices of the past.

One of the items is a prosthetic, did someone once say "take up thy bed, and walk"?

Are we in an age of miracles?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Back To An Imagined Future

One of the knock about corners of the web is the Tim Worstall blog's running dislike of Richard Murphy's "Tax Research" blog. Timothy does not take to Richard's view of the economic financial world and is often unkind.

But Richard with his beliefs in magic money trees and how the world's financial problems can be solved by infinite credit creation and quantitative easing without limit does lead with the chin.

Today, under the heading of "If the 1945 Labour Government represents the threat of socialism it's obvious we need more socialism", taken from a Guardian Long Read, yes, well, Richard gives high praise to Attlee's time as Prime Minister between 1945 and 1951.

But I was there and a voter by the mid 1950's. Richard does not mention the food and clothes rationing, coal allocations, the horrors of travel, and a few other things. My special nightmare was the swimming trunks made of knitted wool from an expired pullover.

It really was as bad as that. But let us take Richards claims on the threat of socialism and Attlee and examine them.

RM: Was it the creation of the NHS?

By the late 1940's a century of work after The Poor Law Act had created extensive health provision with varying structures. It had been a matter of pride for the new local authorities to provide and nurture hospitals, clinics etc. and medical education. WW2 and after meant that money needed to be spent, for Bevan etc. this meant a centralised planning and a dictatorial approach.

RM: Or a massive expansion of free education?

The crucial legislation was the 1944 Education Act, the Butler Act from the Coalition Churchill Government. Free education was already in place up to 14. The Act said 15 plus a new system of schools organisation. This was slow to implement until the 1958 White Paper, "Secondary Education For All, A New Drive". Other reports, Crowther and Beloe in 1959 and 1960 dealt with examinations and the 1962 Education Act with student grants and fees.  This was the Tories led by MacMillan.

RM: Or the creation of the welfare state?

Obviously, Lloyd George did not know Richard's grandfather.

RM: Or the biggest modernisation of British industry in a short period in this country’s history?

Eh? What had been going on between 1939 and 1945? Richard is making the mistake here of assuming cut and shift at the top and in the head offices was the reality as opposed to what was actually going in the factories and workplaces, which was limited because of post war exhaustion and lack of private capital.

RM: Or council housing?

Municipal housing had been around for some time in many ways. In the early 1920's for example, Liverpool built huge estates and many others did the same.

RM: Heaven forbid that it was full employment.

How many casualties in WW2? How many were in the Armed Services at the time, also there was conscription? Because mechanisation and modernisation was slow, capital shortages again, and there was a good deal of "under employment" in some sectors, notably the docks.

RM And rising prosperity.

A lot of women were still working. But the rates of tax began to hit hard for working couples on decent wages. My father, in a good firm on the shop floor, was of the view that Attlee and friends were crooks and thieves given where some of the state money was going, and it wasn't to the poor.

RM: Plus a fairer society.

Like hell it was, we just had a new type of aristo' the Sons of The Raj at the head of the Labour Party. The "fairness" arose such as it was from the Churchill Government's propaganda that we were all in WW2 together.

In a reply to a comment, Richard added some more:

RM;What did Labour deliver?

RM: The biggest investment in rail and road ever

The "investment" in rail was badly needed repairs and maintenance etc. after WW2. As for major roads the Preston Bypass was 1958, although some local authorities did road works, but nothing like on the scale of the 1930's. As for "ever", what about The Turnpikes and The Railway Mania?

RM: It transformed energy supply

The 1926 Central Electricity Board gave us the National Grid. A great deal of electricity and gas came from municipal providers. There were a number of companies, but working under closely defined legislation. When the "nationalised" came along they had to come up with the propaganda while they were making a botch of the transition.

RM: And delivered mass telecommunication

Not if you wanted a telephone it didn't. It took a long while for that to get going apart from important (well connected) people. Again we had the propaganda. The BBC did get a limited one channel TV started but that took a long time to deliver. It was 1954 before commercial television became possible.

RM: It built more houses than ever before or since

Relative to population size the private and charitable builders of the 19th Century did rather better. Many of their houses, with exceptions, were better built as well, notably after legislation demanded drains.

RM: And set up a nationalised industry that delivered Concorde

Concorde? Can you be serious? Mind boggling that this is called an achievement, one of the biggest fattest turkeys in history and strictly for the rich elite at the price of a seat. And they opted out of satellite provision to pay for it. Meanwhile the world was buying Boeings.

RM: And, I admit the Austin Allegro:

The poor old Allegro was a decent design and could have been a basic family car. It was the build quality that was bad in factories dominated by socialist union leaders. I bought an Italian car.

RM: I am not wholly blinkered, of course. The NHS laid the foundations for our pharmaceutical industry.

So nobody took pills made in factories before 1945? It was all done by the local chemist in his back room? With the chemicals coming from Unilever and ICI and a few dozen others? Is it being said that we owe antibiotics to Attlee?

RM: And of course much of this was actually delivered in the 50 but it was Butskillism that did it – and none would have happened under Chutchill. It required Attlee.

Butskellism, as in Hugh Gaitskell. 1951 to 1964 was Tory time. But looking at what happened, it was as much Stanley Baldwin as RAB Butler and consistent with some of the ideas that Churchill held early in his career.

I did not see Churchill speak, but I did Attlee, Butler, Gaitskell, Macmillan and others, even Captain Charles Waterhouse, if only because he was President of a rugger club I played for a few times.

It is worth recalling that Churchill and Attlee served together between 1940 and 1945. They were also veterans of WWI where Major Attlee gave distinguished service for which he was held in high respect, the International Brigade in Spain had a company named for him. Their opposition in politics was modified by respect for their military service.

They also had a common cause in keeping their parties together, Attlee after the fall of Ramsay Macdonald, when Labour may have split. Churchill in the 1920's as Chancellor and 1940 when the Tories had divisions.

So they are not opposites and equally they are not the same. It is a great deal more complicated than that.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Some Of My Best Friends Were Architects

As a teenager in the early fifties a couple of my school mates went to the local School of Architecture so it happened that there was a group of students moving in the same sports and social circles of that time. It wasn't the kind of fifties thing that the London media claim was the norm, life had a rather greater variety then and with real choices.

They were bright, able and ambitious and when qualified moved on to a variety of jobs in the field of architecture. They were among the young architects who found themselves supposed to be regenerating Britain's urban areas and putting up all those buildings and developments that the government were throwing money at.

So what might they have learned at their School and what did their tutors etc. bring to their attention as examples of what might be done besides the basics of their trade? There was certainly a choice among the academics at the time.

One school of thought was that housing etc. and other provisions should somehow be a network of urban villages, but with modern styles, low level and some sort of "community". This may account for those estates of the period where you never knew where you were or where or when the buses were going and are now clogged with parked cars.

There had been the concept of Garden Cities and there are a handful of them still dotted about to remind us. This was a retrospective idea, somehow a clean pretty etc. urban area with drains that worked and running water. But these were more expensive and took a long time to mature which was against the times of the mid 20th Century.

And then there was modern architecture, notably Bauhaus and Le Corbusier and others. If I go into these it would be a long post and you do not have time for that. For choice try the images of Creteil close to Paris in France, above, and other images. I have stayed in Creteil. It was very interesting but daunting. It was not a place to live.

This is the kind of work that so many architects tried their hands at and the kind of living that for many social reformers was the dream of the future. A heaven on earth made of concrete and running to timetables. Only in the UK it had to be done in a hurry, on the cheap, cutting out all the fancy arts and religion and open spaces were a maintenance cost to be avoided. There were never enough lifts and they were never big enough, especially in the brand new hospitals.

In the 60's and 70's the designs often referred to futuristic notions from the 30's etc. One underestimated issue was just how many people might have cars and how much of the movement and delivery of goods might be by motor vehicles. Then there were the contractors.

At my grandfather's knee I was taught when looking for house to go for small local builders who knew their trade and build solidly and well. I managed this with one exception. In a hurry and faced with limited choice we had a Wimpey House.

At parties with our neighbours we did enjoy capping each other's tales of what was wrong and did not work. Whose drains gurgled most, whose doors did not fit, whose windows did not fit, who had the biggest bulges and whose roof space had the most surprises. The fun item was that every outside door lock could be opened with one of three keys.

The unlucky ones were those whose property was so bad that no surveyor would pass it for resale. Worse was when their building society flatly refused to lend extra mortgage money for any needed repairs or rebuilding.

But we could console ourselves. From all reports Wimpey was not the worst, some of the other major contractors were dire. These are the men who put up the social housing of their time as well as the private housing.

It is a very long while since I last saw one of those friends of the fifties. Quite why so many went to live in the country in very old houses or emigrated did make me wonder.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Bad Business

Housing and property have been central to UK politics for long while now. As the parties have striven to out bid each other, so the promises made become more wild and the costs greater.  A couple of links will explain this.

This from the LSE is brief and succinct and explains the general history without becoming involved in much debate about all the current policies etc.. It says about them that it is evident that these measures are failing to defy structural economic gravity.

A fuller discussion comes from Nil Desperandum in "Towering Injustice" of 23 June with two videos. The first is a brief item of one minute twenty seconds saying it has been a bad business.

The second is a full fifty minute documentary from 1984 "The Great British Housing Disaster"  which tells us a great deal about the present one. What is signal in this is that the men who actually did the building tell us what they did, or rather did not do.

It is a shocker, a tale of power crazed politicians, ambitious architects, property companies seeing certain profits, contractors making empty promises and workers paid by the job cutting corners quite literally. It is not a horse that bolted, the bolts were never there or fastened.

In 1984 all this was known. We have been paying since then for it and are now going to be paying more.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

For Whom The Motorway Tolls

It is in the news that the M6 Motorway Tolls have been sold to an Australian investment group.

The story is here if you want it.   My reaction was that this seems a little odd. What would any right minded Oz want with this scruffy little bit of England?

The tale was a longer one I was told by one of the family. Before it had been on the balance sheets of 27 financial operators. Quite how or why any of this had happened was lost to me as it would be to most people. You might think a toll was a simple basic operation for clear purposes but no longer.

It was December 1958 when the wonders of the Preston Bypass were revealed to the nation. It was intended to stop the notorious traffic jams on the old A6 as it wended its way through the ancient borough of Preston and across the narrow Ribble bridge.

So many went to see it that the traffic jams went from Lancaster to Wigan. As for getting to Blackpool by car, it was quicker to go to Berlin was the old soldier's joke. In time the Bypass became but one small part of the M6 motorway as it ran from Shakespeare country to the border and that of Burns.

There were the usual debates about its use and purpose. Some thought it would be a little used luxury, others recognised that Britain seemed finally to be admitting that the age of the motor had arrived. Among them was the issue of whether it should be "free" or whether a toll be made to contribute to maintenance etc. costs.

This was an age when a flow of cash was seen as just that and when intended for a particular purpose would go to the authority or agency responsible for doing the work that needed to be done. Ideally, the cash from tolls would pay for the longer term costs and improvements as well as the short term ones.

More recently under a Labour government, in 2004 the new M6 tolls gave rise to political argument but by then cash was looked on with eyes of envy by financial operators who see it not as there to pay for something to be done, that task should be loaded onto others, notably taxpayers if you could get enough politicians drunk, if only on power, to agree to it.

The cash would become an asset and a base for credit and in turn operations in the many and various markets for trading and lending and lending and trading. The M6 is not just a road from here to there it is a desirable instrument wherever the financiers operate.

So as you wave the latest edition of your credit card over the thing at the entrance you are setting in motion a flow of money movement through the world from the Caymans to Hong Kong and Sydney and incidentally letting GCHQ at Cheltenham know that you are off to see grannie again.

It is not exactly a highway to heaven but it is as good as you are ever going to get. The bell tolls for thee.