Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Charitable giving becomes a tradeable commodity

My mother-in-law is interested in animal welfare and for several years has made donations to charities working to alleviate suffering or rehome animals. Recently, however, she has noticed a marked increase in requests for donations from a host of other charities. These take the form of letters, and can come at the rate of 5 or 6 a week. Being advanced in years, it can be distressing to be deluged with mail you haven't requested - and, again, being older - perhaps she hasn't noticed the little box you're supposed to tick if you don't want your details to be sold on to other parties, with the express purpose of being the target of an ever increasing number of pestering, begging letters. Things have now reached a point where I regularly remove - unopened - a range of letters and take them back to my house and our waiting shredder. Sorry to have to break it to you, but the Spectacled Bears of the Andes will not be benefiting from my mother-in-law's largesse, neither will his Grace the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Durban - thanks for the card, you look great in the cardinal's robes, your Grace, and the blessing on the back of the postcard was no doubt kindly meant. But I hope you don't mind my mentioning that your request for donations to be paid into an Isle of Man bank account does rather put the Catholic Church in the same frame as some rather disreputable company, just when things were starting to look up a bit for the Church (of which my mother-in-law has never been a member, by-the-by).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Parliament just got a little bit more supreme - now to keep up the pressure

The Labour MP Clive Efford secured a highly symbolic victory in a debate on his Private Members' the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill on Friday 21 November to roll back NHS privatisation and remove the NHS from the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership Treaty negotiations(TTIP. During the debate, in which Tory MPs were conspicuous by their absence, Labour Health shadow Andy Burnham pointed out that over 60 of their number have links to private health companies, many of which are US-owned; just the kind of multinational business that would benefit greatly if TTIP passes into law – doubly so, if the Coalition keep the NHS within the scope of the Treaty. Paradoxically, for a party that pays a lot of lip service to the convention of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ or ‘supremacy’, the Tories seem very keen to give large chunks of it away to foreign-owned businesses. TTIP would allow such businesses to sue our government if it dared to pass any future laws that threatened to undo privatisations or reduced their perceived ability to make expected profits on UK-based deals. In reality, therefore, TTIP puts the British people (the ones Cameron likes to bang on about) at the mercy of the profits of foreign and multinational business (those who have such a problem paying out taxes, remember?) And Cameron is very keen on TTIP. He wants the deal signed with almost indecent haste, and said only this week that he wanted ‘rocket boosters’ putting under the negotiations, ridiculing those who argue against it for having only ‘weak arguments’ and dismissing fears that it will be used to force further NHS privatisation as ‘nonsense’. Parliamentary sovereignty has two main features: first, there is the unwritten rule (called a ‘convention’) that parliament can pass a law on any subject it fancies – because that’s the democratic will of the people (yeah, right); and second, parliament can’t ‘bind its successors’, which means any law passed by the current parliament could be repealed by one sitting in future – we don’t have any ‘entrenched’ laws – unlike the written constitutions of the US, France or the Irish Republic, for example. So by forcing through TTIP and making sure parliament passed domestic legislation to give effect to it in this country, Cameron was hoping to make NHS privatisation unstoppable, because he’d effectively given away the power of parliament to stop it in future. After all, MPs with shares in private health companies won’t be took keen to cut off the profits from their own investments, and a future parliament would be wary of incurring legal costs if a foreign company took the UK to court because it had legislate in a way that was damaging to their supreme right to make money. TTIP, like Cameron’s line of reasoning is dangerous and needs to be stopped. Clive Efford’s PMB has to become law, for all our sakes.

Friday, November 14, 2014

My boss can be a prat sometimes

This week's Private Eye (Eye 1379) contains a worrying article on page 9 (Tidings of Joy) which reveals that Daily Express employees have been commanded not to make disparaging comments about owner Richard Desmond or any of his friends in their Tweets or on Facebook.
This is worrying for several reasons. First, an employee should not be expected to cede all aspects of their right to freedom of expression when they sign their contract of employment. Second, an adverse comment about an unidentified co-worker, superior or manager made in exasperation or as a throwaway remark should not constitute a breach of the implied term of mutual trust and confidence that forms part of the contract of employment when to do so serves to allow the employer to intrude into an employee's personal and private life. In any event, to claim a right to control how an employee uses social media represents a gross abuse of bargaining power that distorts the employment relationship.
In my case, I can say that my boss can sometimes be a right pillock; but then again, I'm self-employed.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Recognition for George Osborne's EU Triumph?

On 17 December 1985, the Labour MP Brian Sedgemore was suspended from the Commons for calling the then Tory Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, a 'snivelling little git'. After his brazen attempt to spin his dodgy deal yesterday can't help but feel that Gideon is a worthy heir to Sedgemore's earthy epithet

Friday, November 07, 2014

War - and the failure of politics

This is what political failure leads to . The images are striking and have had a profound affect on public opinion. War is not an acceptable or 'normal' part of the human condition - it certainly isn't 'generational' or inevitable. I'm reading a collection of pieces written by First World War veterans that was published originally in 1930. Time and again, they use the phrase 'never again', and many were firmly convinced that they had taken part in the last war ever to be fought; there was no way they could ever imagine another conflict after the horror and loss they had witnessed - no politician could ever make that mistake again. But now, we see remembrance used in a very different way: remember the past, but also with an eye to contemporary and future events - almost as if the past is being used to validate future political shortcomings: 'we fought before and we'll fight again' has replaced 'never again'. On Sunday, I'll stand before a war memorial, as I did in years gone by with my granddad and my dad - veterans of the First and Second World wars. When I was young, I wondered why dad didn't wear his medals when the others did. He replied that they 'meant nothing' to him, and that the regimental mascot, a bulldog, had been given the same ones. For dad - who fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy - war was neither normal or inevitable. He'd been brought up in a family where is dad and uncles had fought - and in one case died - in the war 'to end all wars' and he knew that the conflict he had had to endure was a result of the failure of politicians to secure a lasting peace, compounding the failure that led to the First World War. Now, I have to stand on my own, my granddad and beloved dad have gone, but I go to honour their memory and remember the suffering they and their comrades and former enemies had to endure. But I have a growing sense of unease when politicians now speak of war was inevitable, or of engendering military discipline in our schools, because this makes conflict seem commonplace, even acceptable, especially when fought in far away places, where its victims are not placed in the public eye - we hear about the casualties, but the ambulance trains do not bring the wounded home to the full glare of the public gaze, as in those earlier wars. The suffering has almost been sanitised and the media - especially the tabloid end - uses this language and imagery to perpetuate the old myth: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Hyundai - counting down the seconds

Hyundai's Auto Stop function cuts the engine when the car is waiting at traffic lights or held up it congested traffic; it restarts when you depress the clutch to engage first gear. But this environmentally sound feature comes with an unpleasant add-on. The time the engine is automatically stopped is measured - to the nearest tenth of a second - by a clock that comes to life right in the middle of the dashboard display. This is lost time you will never see again, being counted down in front of your eyes, while you wait for the road ahead to clear or the lights to change. It's very cruel of Hyundai to taunt us in this way.