Climate change

Built of an unsailed warship;
Grown of a door that will now never open;
Made of a cluster of courage unshown,
the oak hangs, ancient, in the orange air.

The summer storm is over now, boiled to nothing by a rage of sun that once warmed me.

By my side Baxter sags back home.
His heart, like mine, is a begging bowl.

But still the noise: within a canopy heavy with wet sorrow dew, rain taps on, hidden from all.

Baxter feels it, and stands askew by my side.

The climate of my life has changed. This oak cracks in the heat, and must remain at a stand.

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This is hysterical

When my dad reached 65, the whole family, plus dog, went on holiday as his retirement gift.

We were a working class family from Manchester, and even though dad was a highly skilled engineer who had worked on missile systems and the world’s first supercomputer, he never received the kind of salary that bought international travel. That’s how much we valued the manufacturing sector in my dad’s day. Plus ça change.

So as a treat, we flew him to Edinburgh, carefully coordinated our journeys so one of us could meet him there in a rented people carrier, and then we spent the week touring The Highlands, as he’d always dreamed of.

We had rented a quiet cottage near Ft. William, settled in, had a few drinks, and went to bed.

That was 30th August 1997. I can be sure of that date because, in the small hours of the next morning, Princess Diana died in Paris.

I remember my mum waking me with the news. I got dressed, and stood in the cottage’s small lounge with my family, watching the rolling news for half an hour. It was sad.

And then we made sandwiches and set off on our holiday.

When the week was over, the cottage owners arrived to collect their keys, and were in tears, which stunned me. “What a terrible time to have a holiday”, they said, while we shuffled our feet and looked around awkwardly. “It must have been awful for you”, they said, and we looked at each other, puzzled, because we’d sort of… well, we hadn’t forgotten about it, exactly, but…

Diana and all her attendant dramas were, for me and my family, like a soap opera we didn’t watch. To be honest, we didn’t watch any soaps – we were a bookish, nerdy kinda family – but we definitely didn’t watch royal soaps.

Obviously we knew who the main cast-members were, but we didn’t care very much about them. We didn’t follow the details of who was shagging whom; didn’t care what Major or Butler or Celebrity Gal-Pal had sold what story to what tabloid; didn’t notice how tragic the eye makeup had become during any specific skiing holiday.

I felt no emotional connection to Diana. I wished her no harm whatsoever, but she didn’t enter my consciousness very much. I don’t buy tabloids, I tend to skip celebrity gossip, and I’m vaguely republican in a shrugging “does it really affect me” kinda way. To this day, I genuinely have to concentrate to remember which one of “the boys” is heir to the throne and which is only tangentially related to Charles. I know they’re called Harry and Wills, and I recognise their faces, but their names are interchangeable in my mind.

Diana was as important to me as, say, John Lithgow is to you. You are aware what he does, he seems quite nice, and you’d be surprised and saddened if he was killed by a roaming gang of photographers in a Parisian underpass one Saturday night. But that’s as far as it goes.

So the blubbering reaction of the holiday cottage landlords a week after her death perplexed me. I assumed they must be particularly ardent royalists, or have, to a crippling degree, some sort of congenital emotional diarrhoea. But this was just a taste of the ocean of histrionic slurry awaiting me as I drove back to Manchester again, on the day of her funeral.

The world had gone fucking mad.

Perhaps you still admit to being one of the lunatics, in which case you’re rare, and this blog will infuriate you. Sorry about that.

But I maintain you’d lost your collective minds. Literally millions of people were stood on the streets wailing and rending their clothes. I saw them actually tearing at themselves in grief, on streets in Eccles, for Christ’s sake. Lairy Mancunians called Gaz, Gaz and Gaz, with faces like a knuckle and knuckles like a ball-pein hammer, sobbing en-masse outside the Pig and Fetlock.

On arrival home, my neighbour, a man I scarcely knew, ran from his house in his underpants to throw his arms around me and cry, while I stood patiently holding my suitcase and wanting a wee. It was as if every single person in Britain had been given a puppy for a month, and then had to watch it being fed backwards, alive, through a bacon-slicer one morning, and I’d turned up just as the procedure was ending.

It bore no relationship whatsoever to the actual event, which in essence was: the pretty star of a popular reality show died in a car accident, and then show was unceremoniously cancelled while you were asleep.

Great for the press, though. Sold a lot of newspapers. The BBC’s Jennie Bond must’ve had a field day.

Could the insane coverage perhaps explain the insane public response? Hmmm, I wonder.

It’s possible I was always going to be immune from the cataclysm of weeping that descended over the nation, due to being a bit of a geeky cynic; or perhaps my family was like the guy in Day Of The Triffids, and our isolation from events during that critical week left us the only ones unaffected by the blinding meteor shower of Dead-Diana-Mania.

But today, I meet almost nobody who admits to being swept up by it all. Sad, sure. But hysterical? Nobody I meet was hysterical. Yet at the time, millions were.

Globally, 2.5 billion watched the funeral. Literally half of the people in Britain watched it, and almost a quarter of us had to take time off work due to the grief.

So surely at least one person in 10 would today admit to being part of the festival of sobbing. But no: practically everybody seems to remember their husband, wife or friends being overwhelmed, but they themselves were models of British dignity, detachment and reserve.

I report this because in my life I remember two instances of mass hysteria, and two instances of mass political protest. And, like a Venn Diagram, mass hysteria and mass political protest overlap in Brexit, right now.

The hysteria is Diana. The protest is Iraq. The cause, with Brexit, Iraq and Diana, is wildly inaccurate and demented press coverage.

54% of us supported the invasion of Iraq a month or so before it started. Today, 38% remember doing so. The war was built on lies, had no plan for what happened after victory, was widely predicted to be a disaster, stoked by loathsome right wing press, secretly promoted by even more loathsome American right-wing pressure groups, opposed by almost every expert, brought millions of protestors onto the streets, nearly broke the governing party, and revolted most of Europe… but scraped together a tiny public majority at one key moment, which then fell apart during implementation.

Good job we’ve learned our lesson, eh? Won’t make that mistake again.

Brexit feels like a cross between the manufactured consent of Iraq and the manufactured hysteria of Diana. And just like them both, Britain is already feeling embarrassed that it got so carried away and has been taken for such a fool. Our cynicism for Britain’s press knows no bounds 99% of the time, but come a war, come a celebrity death, or come a chance to feed our 1000-year-old suspicions about the bloody French, and we’ll lap up any bullshit The Daily Mail spoonfeeds us.

It’s time to slap ourselves in the face, realise the bollocks we’ve just fallen for, and stop this demented moment of collective hysteria. Cos tomorrow, you’ll deny you were ever taken in: but like Diana’s untimely death, Brexit is permanent.

Brexit: like Christmas every day

Strangely, for someone who bangs on about the catastrophe of Brexit every day, I don’t want to reverse the Brexit referendum. 

I want it to plough on regardless, and let Brexiteers learn the consequences for themselves.

Unfortunately the Brexit crowd are – and I genuinely don’t mean this offensively – like 12 year old children. That’s fine. We were all 12 once, and many of us (including myself) occasionally revert. We want and we want, and refuse to see that all those sweets will rot out teeth. We just want.

But the truth is, Brexiteers have suffered 25 years of having their every bad impulse reinforced by the nastier end of the British press, like the child-catcher offering sweets. And it’s been very convenient for every government to blame the EU for screw-ups created in Westminster.

After a generation of that, it’s not going to be possible to sit down and explain consequences to the Brexiteers, no matter how hard AC Grayling tries. Nobody wants to listen to the consequences. They voted for Christmas every day, and they want Christmas every day. 

If we – the grown ups – attempt to cancel Christmas, the tantrums will be epic. Better let them find out the hard way.

So my advice is: wake every day and force feed them the reality of “Christmas every day”. The reality is: you’re sick of a family of people “just like you” by the 28th. By the 1st January you’ve had your credit cards stopped due to unusual activity. In mid-January your home is repossessed, and your kids are in a diabetic coma by Valentine’s Day. 

But even hearing that, any 12 year old will stick fingers in their ears and refuse to accept the truth.

The only way back is forwards. We have to let Brexit play out and stop attempting to reverse the decision. It feels undemocratic. It feels rejectionist. The mood music of Remainers is Scrooge-like, and all Brexiteers want is plum pudding and custard.

Instead, I want sensible grown ups to focus on the opportunity for a second referendum when the consequences become clear. Because at some point average Leavers will see that even with all the power of government and an army of Brexit negotiators fighting the good fight, Christmas every day is a godawful nightmare.

Why aren’t Leave asking these questions?

10 simple questions.

If we don’t find answers for these, Brexit will fail, even on it’s own terms. 

Why is nobody from the Leave campaign asking these?

  1. 26% of NHS doctors are migrants. It takes 7 years to train a doctor. We plan to expel even skilled immigrants after 5 years. So where are the courses to urgently train 23,000 replacement doctors?
  2. 11% of othe NHS staff (nurses, midwives, therapists, lab technicians etc) are migrants. Where are the training bursaries to attract the 50,000 replacements we need? The new colleges? The new teachers?
  3. UK has a 19,000 mile coastline. To keep out migrants – a key promise of Brexit – we need thousands of border security staff. We are training none. Why not?
  4. The National Farmers Union has warned that a lack of migrants will affect food security. Where are the apprenticeships to train the 80,000 seasonal workers farming needs?
  5. The Dept of Transport anticipates 150 miles of daily tailbacks in Kent after Brexit. Where are the road widening schemes? The lay-bys? The traffic management investment?
  6. The Civil Service Managers Union estimates we’ll need 28,000 additional civil servants to replace EU provision. Where are the job adverts? The buildings? The training?
  7. The UK currently has 92,000 care home staff vacancies, and 150,000 carers are immigrants. Where is the funding to train 240,000 new care home workers?
  8. The UK hospitality industry employs 456,000 immigrants. Where are all the spare Britons willing to clean rooms and serve food for minimum wage?
  9. 200,000 migrants work in UK construction. We’re in the middle of a housing crisis. Where is the funding to train British replacements?
  10. 320,000 immigrants work in financial services. Where is the training to replace their skills in the next 12 months, especially as 11% of tax revenue relies on that industry? Without them we have to make cuts bigger than the entire education sector.

In case it’s unclear, that’s at least 1,397,000 jobs – many highly skilled – that we need to fill in 12 months… or start training two years ago.

And that’s just the direct jobs: it doesn’t count all the additional teachers, administrators, quality controllers and examiners required to attain the quality we expect from so many of these vital skills. 

Removing or barring immigrants – as the government plans to do – is only half the question.

Replacing those immigrants’ essential contribution to our economy and national fabric is the bit the Leave campaign has never explained.

And even if migrants aren’t banned, our attitude to the world is already driving them away. Its already happening, and Brexit hasn’t begun yet. Reports show a 48,000 fall in immigration over 3 months to June 2017. Over 12 months, that’s a loss of 20% of the vital roles we’re clearly unable to replace from the British population. 

If you back Brexit, you should be asking this stuff, not asking about Labour or terrorism or democracy – all important issues, certainly, but ultimately not related to keeping the UK going day-to-day. Having enough workers to get food into the supermarkets, however, isn’t optional. That’s the stuff we need from day one, and on literally every subsequent day.

I have heard absolutely nobody from the Leave side ask these questions, or make any attempt to answer.

I have seen no job adverts, or announcements of plans for new nursing colleges, training programmes or building schemes. 

So one last question: if Brexit is happening, why is nothing essential to Brexit happening?

I don’t want to be the Nation of No


We can argue forever about immigration, economics or housing. I certainly don’t know the answers, and few people seem to agree about the data. 

But to me, it comes down to this: as a nation, who do we want to be?

Do we want to be the open, outward, sympathetic country? The people who help the desperate? The friends? The optimists saying Yes to opportunities

Or the country that is closed, inward, self-obsessed? The people who let migrants struggle alone? The enemies? The pessimists refusing to even try?

I don’t have expert knowledge on migration or economics. Nor, probably, do you.

But I don’t want to be the Nation of No. So I’m voting to Remain.

How dare I ask to pay?

I recently sent the following tweet. 

Hi @George_Osborne 

I pay top rate tax. I don’t want a tax cut. I want better benefits for the disabled. Tax me more, you inhumane twat.

Which was unwise, given the flurry of abuse it generated. Not, sadly, from George, but from the type of feral UKIP intellect which occupies that perfect grey area between being fiercely patriotic about Britain, yet totally unwilling to pay a penny to fund it.

I am not patriotic. I find patriotism very uncomfortable, in that it automatically assumes the specialness of this country and therefore the lesserness (not even a word) of everybody from other countries. 

But perhaps that’s why I’m a fan of taxation, and the patriotic right aren’t. I don’t feel I’m more special or more deserving than anyone else. Luckier, sure, in some ways (but also a cancer survivor, so not particularly lucky in the matter of kidneys).

It’s been pointed out to me that, if I want to be taxed more, I can just write a cheque to HMRC. And I could, it’s true. But this misses the point of taxation. 

Firstly, my excess money wouldn’t help much. Disclosure: my salary is £40,000, which puts me in the top 12% (just), but I’m fortunate to have the kind of job that lets me freelance, so in a good year I can earn another £8,000 or so, pre-tax. 

So my massive cheque to HMRC would amount to, at best, about £40 a month.

If everyone on £40,000 paid another £40 a month (and pretty much all of them could) it would fund university education for everybody, or better social care for the disabled, or… Christ, at least some improvement to our shambolic, crumbling, failing nation. But my forty quid on its own? Not so much.

Second: I have an old friend who works at HMRC, who tells me (and this is my only reference for this, so if I’m wrong, forgive me), that HMRC don’t want your bloody cheque unless it’s for about £20k. It’s too much paperwork. They have a facility to accept it, but not the manpower; not since the closure of 108 tax offices and 60% cut in staff. Cos Osborne is all about chasing those tax avoiders. Yeah.

But, say the right, I could give it to charity. They’re right. Except, well…

Third: how many bridges have been built by charity? How many hospitals? Yeah, I could (and do) give money to charity. I worked for charities for 13 years, gave up 20% of my earnings, built free websites for them (and still do, in evenings and weekends); and I do all the usual standing-order stuff.

Good for me, aren’t I a saint? No, I’m not, I’m a smug git, but sleep well knowing I’m doing my bit (and probably your bit too)

But my bit isn’t much, and isn’t mandatory. Tax is mandatory. What about the poor sods who need to know – not hope, know – that their disability allowance will be paid each week? Charity, on the whim of comfortable smug arseholes with spare time and HTML skills, does not replace a functioning society. Only those who assume they’re better and more valuable than other people could be so blinkered and greedy. Cough up, you self-centred git.

Fourth point: government is useless, wasteful, thick. It says so in the Daily Mail. Well… yes. It is. So is private enterprise, and to the same extent. This shows us that:

CEOs, no matter how much they are paid, have no effect on the performance of a company: the idea that they are worth what they are paid, which is gigantic compared to the average member of their workforce, is nonsense. A report in 2013 found that between 1993-2012 40% of the USA’s highest paid CEOs had either their companies bailed out by the taxpayer, had their companies charged with fraudulent activity, been fired for poor performance, or have overseen the death of their companies

Are charities any better? If so, why don’t FTSE100 companies headhunt charity CEOs all the time? They don’t. Inefficiency, failure, stupidity – they’re human factors, and exist everywhere. But collective taxation does things charity or private endeavour can never do. Those things have a vital role, but so does government; and if you don’t understand that, you’re an ideologue and there’s no hope for your mind: it’s ossified in the position chosen for it by The Sun. 

Fifth: lower corporation tax has not grown the economy. We have a lower rate than anyone in the G20, but still lose investment to Germany (with a rate 8% higher). Reduced tax receipts hit our deficit, and increase the debt (which has doubled under Osborne’s low-tax regime). Our tax income has fallen almost a quarter since George the towel-folder took charge. Reducing our tax income yet more is idiotic in the extreme.

And you know who has super low tax and super tiny government? Sierra Leone. I bet they’re all glad they saved a few quid on tax and had stopped funding the state, when the local warlord is demanding their daughters down the barrel of a gun.

Finally, there’s an assumption that champagne socialists like me (and, by the way, I don’t like champagne and am a pretty rational middle-of-the-road business owner who struggles deeply with Corbybism and thinks functioning capitalism is a positive thing) – there’s an assumption that we just want “richer people than us” to pay. Well… yeah! I do. 

I’m 45. But after 25 years hard work, often 2 jobs at a time, I can’t afford to buy a house. I can’t replace my 10 year old rust bucket of a car. I saved for 2 years for an engagement ring, cos I have no savings, no pension, and for 6 years I had no holiday whatsoever. And I’m lucky. I’m in the richest 12%. Most of us have seen no pay increase since 1980 (in real terms) even though the total amount of wealth has more than doubled.

But the richest 1000 Britons increased their wealth by £155 billion since the 2007 crash – coincidentally the amount cut from government spending is also £155 billion. 

Where on earth could that money have gone to? Gosh, it’s a puzzle.

I live in Knutsford, which is all posh’n’that: but I rent here because I need to be here for work. I can’t live elsewhere, it’s utterly impractical. And I’m no silver-spoon wet liberal: I was born and brought up in a tough working class place called Ashton Under Lyne, which has just about the lowest life expectancy and highest social deprivation in the UK (certainly in the lowest few percent). If I live in Knutsford now, it’s cos I worked damn hard for it. That’s how it should be – see: no communism here, mate. 

But there are many, many people much richer than me, who can comfortably afford to pay the same top rate tax that I want to pay on my own higher earnings. There is, for example, £13trillion – yes trillion – hidden offshore, untaxed, and squirrelled away by the wealthiest 0.1% of psychopaths. Can they not afford to pay 5% more on that, to secure food and heating for our poorest and most disabled? 

Yes they fucking can. 

So when I argue for higher tax for myself (and others who are doing ok-to-spectacularly-well), I do it from a position of knowledge about how much is out there. And from a moral understanding that I am not better than the people our best patriots are currently driving into starvation, poverty, misery and death.

Cow politics.

I have a love-hate relationship with politics.

It’s important stuff that shouldn’t be trivialised, and it affects every aspect of all of our lives in a way that Russell Brand seems incapable of recognising. Voting for your leaders is the thing that separates us from animals more than anything else apart from speech, clothing and line-dancing.

But I also recognise that politics is a nonsensical soap opera, and a big part of the fun – if fun it be – is hitting MPs with a bladder full of piss whenever they do something stupid.

The problem is: we fail to spot the really big stupid things until 100 years after they happen.

A really big stupid thing is happening right now, and this little blog is my take on it. But first, and because I like incongruity, let’s discuss bison.

A bison is a massive, hairy, aggressive, powerful one-ton cow with huge horns and a fearsome mothering instinct; it can run at 20 miles an hour for 20 or 30 miles, and it lives in huge groups which have the potential to form an impregnable wall of horns, muscles and overwhelming strength.

And they get eaten by wolves all the time.

On David Attenborough’s recent series there was a spectacular sequence showing 3 wolves, each weighing 40lb, managing to take on a biomass of Bison weighing several thousand tons, scaring the bejesus out of the cattle, and killing the weak.

Now, dogs are pretty stupid, but not as stupid as cows. If bison had any brains (or maybe some vocal cords or WhatsApp ) they’d agree not to run and scatter. Scattered, they’re all vulnerable. Combined they’re indestructible, and only idiots who leave the safety of the pack would be killed. If wolves ran at 1000 tons of angry bison, and 1000 tons of angry bison turned to face them and growled, we’d see a lot of wolf tail and absolutely no blood.

This is a neat metaphor for today’s global economy. 100 years ago, nations were like bison in a land without wolves. They competed with each other, and had fleas, and were subject to plague; but nobody was picking them off, so it made no sense to have agreements. Eat your cud, keep your head down, cooperate with nobody.

But today, the world is different. International finance and corporate giants – whilst a fraction of the size of most nations – are wolves picking off the weak. National laws have no effect on international companies, just as they have no effect on international criminals (in most minds, these amount to the same thing).

So to return to my earlier comment: the stupid thing we’re doing right now is wasting air on a massive debate about which way to run, like each nation is a bison, and we can’t communicate or join forces to mount a defence.

What we should be doing, of course, is recognising the reality and joining forces to make a shield-wall of horns and muscle against predatory capital, to prevent anyone being destroyed.

Of course, in this biomass there would be a lot of mess. We’d all have to wade through a lot of shit before we work out the toilet facilities. We’d have to learn to live together in ways we didn’t before. We’d have to work collaboratively to walk to the watering hole en-masse, and have proper health and safety rules that prevented anyone falling in.

But wolves wouldn’t kill us. And we’d prosper.

And this – in its confused, bureaucratic, inefficient way – is what the EU is attempting to do. It’s not perfect. It’s not clean. There is shit underfoot, and we haven’t figured out a way to get to lush green pastures yet. Lots of people are bitching about the cost of health and safety (although they’d stop bitching if they saw what it’s like when someone falls into the pond). But the EU is protection in a world which is – like it or not – ruled by wolves which will kill us all, given a chance. It’s not great protection. But that’s mainly because we’re not yet great at collaborating.

And this is my intellectual opposition to UKIP. They fail to realise that alone, we’re at the mercy of killers. They’re too busy moaning about other bison standing too close and nudging them while they wee to recognise the truth: that proximity to neighbours is better than having your throat ripped out by lupine psychopaths. UKIP ignore the fact that the problems of globalisation aren’t globalisation per se. The problem is that only the killer corporations are global. The nations are still, well, national, and therefore vulnerable.

We can’t put the Internet away, or stop progress. All we can do is recognise the new vulnerabilities progress exposes us to, and find ways to fix them. And the only rational fix for supranational finance is supranational governance.

Not only should we stay in the EU (which must, I agree, reform fast). We should also work towards more and more global agreements on tax, workers rights, ecology, power, military and more.

Otherwise, we’re little better than idiot cows running away from each other to be slaughtered in the bushes.