Unmentionable Racial Issues

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In a previous post, I talked about how some subjects are never discussed because they are, or have been made, politically toxic. As a result, important issues lie unmentioned and simmering with politicians preferring to ignore them rather than raise their heads above the parapet. With this in mind, it was extremely refreshing to read an article in The Sunday Times by journalist and former chairman of the Racial Equality Commission, Trevor Phillips, on the deep racial problems lying within our multi-cultural society and our inability to discuss them.

In his brave article (unfortunately behind a paywall), called Ten Things About Race that are True but we Can’t Say, Trevor highlights how New Labour’s attempts to tackle discrimination failed to addressed the problems of multi-culturalism in practice. He says that local authority funds promoting multi-ethnic diversity have been misused by community leaders who benefit from preserving isolation. He highlights that many young people are “trapped behind walls of tradition and deference to elders”, and identifies that the Charlie Hebdo shootings in France were partly of a consequence of segregation within Muslim ghettos. He believes that similar issues lie behind our own 7th July bombings.

The article would be incendiary if it wasn’t written by a well-known and respected black journalist, and perhaps this is the point. Trevor is absolutely correct that in our desperation to avoid causing offence we are ignoring critical issues and he cites as an example the institutional reluctance to tackle the grooming of young girls by some young Pakistani men in our cities. He also points out that the recent fury over Benedict Cumberbatch’s use of the term ‘coloured’ meant that his important point about the need for more black actors to be employed got completely lost. His key point is that it is “more and more difficult to address problems in our society because we are too afraid to describe them”

Bingo! This is exactly the point I tried to make in my previous post on toxic policies, and Trevor is also correct to highlight that unless we are brave enough to overcome this reluctance, then the far right, already ascendant in some European countries, will continue to make electoral progress for merely ‘speaking the truth’

Trevor Phillips will develop his theme in a Channel 4 documentary on Thursday at 9pm, and I for one will be interested to see it. Well done Trevor.

Political Grandstanding and Hubris

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In previous posts (here and here) I have discussed the pernicious effect that today’s 24-hour soundbite media has on the quality of our political debate and its contribution to electoral apathy. I don’t want to bang on about this but I was so outraged at the TV coverage of yesterday’s meeting of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that I feel compelled to get a few things off my chest so that I can enjoy the rest of my day and eat lots of hay without enduring a bad dose of ruminant indigestion.

For those of you fortunate to miss it, this all-party Parliamentary committee, chaired by the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, was taking evidence from HSBC executives on the company’s role in facilitating tax evasion schemes. Now, this is precisely the sort of core business that this committee should be conducting and it is quite right that Parliament investigates any abuse of the tax system. My objections are not to do with the subject matter but the conduct of the MPs during the hearing.

The verbal abuse of Stuart Gulliver and Chris Meares was bad enough but the treatment of Rona Fairhead was an abuse of parliamentary privilege. Unfounded accusations, inappropriate tone, confusing informed comment with personal views, refusing to allow witnesses to answer by talking over them, deliberate rudeness, contrived moral outrage and anger. The list goes on, and it only happened because the proceedings were filmed and presented an opportunity for our parliamentary saviours to grandstand safe in the knowledge that they would get a few moments of glory in the evening news.

The problem with this approach is that the purpose of the proceedings was undermined by the behaviour of the all-party committee members. The idea is to take evidence and report back to parliament, and by behaving in this way the committee members actually reduced the chances that witnesses would provide meaningful evidence and that anything consequential would eventually be reported. Moreover, whilst the MPs may have thought they were courting public opinion with their contrived anger, actually all they were doing was bringing politics further into disrepute and adding to the widespread public impression that they are solely interested in themselves rather than the public good.

It really is time to remove the cameras and have a clear out. I periodically have to do that with my sheep. Distasteful, but occasionally necessary for the benefit of the rest of the flock.

Toxic Policies: Mentioning the Unmentionable

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In a previous post called Avoiding the Debate, I mentioned some of the factors that I believe are stifling our political debate and reducing its quality resulting in worrying electoral apathy and a democratic deficit. Today, I thought I would mention another feature that undermines proper discussion, and that is the toxic policy.

The toxic policy is an issue that has become so politically suicidal ever to mention that no MP will even dare to raise the matter for discussion. It is a political no-go zone. A good example is our centralized funding model for the NHS. Now I don’t know if our current model is the best solution or not. But I do know that the NHS costs an extraordinary sum of money and that demand for health services is increasing at an alarming rate. With this in mind, it seems to me that periodically we should at least look at other ways of funding health care even if we subsequently decide that the current model remains appropriate for today’s circumstances. At the very least we should have the courage occasionally to take a look and discuss it.

Making subjects politically impossible to raise is a deliberate tactic employed by those who oppose change and seek to stifle debate. Frequently, those employing the tactic will try to adopt the moral high ground by implying that someone is extreme or despicable if they dare even to open a matter for discussion. At a local level, a good example is the use of the term Nimby to describe someone opposed to a development. The moral implication is that an individual or party is somehow acting selfishly and against the common good for opposing a development even if they are the person most affected by the proposal. The Greens are particularly adept at employing the tactic when wind farm developments are proposed but it is also used to stifle debate on other policy matters. In these instances, contrived moral outrage is often reinforced by accusations that the very fact that a subject has been opened for discussion reveals that a decision for change has already been made.

The problem with such political correctness is that questions that need to be asked remain buried, change becomes impossible to achieve and political orthodoxy becomes dogma. Now you might think that a politician that is unwilling to tackle the toxic policy lacks bravery and that would be true to some extent, but in the face of the likely adverse media coverage it becomes much easier to bury a subject rather than to raise it.

This is ultimately bad for all us in my view. How will we ever get better if we don’t look at all the options?

Pick and Mix Policies for the Politically Homeless

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The problem with tribal politics is that politicians and voters are forced into narrow categories where there is little scope for interpretation or shades of grey (no we’re not going there today). Politics has always been tribal to some extent, but the 24 hour scrutiny of a media that is hungry to write stories about internal divisions has made party politics even more partisan and boring. The Whips hold sway, and with some notable and interesting exceptions, politicians rarely put their head above the parapet to challenge their party orthodoxy with interesting and new ideas. I discussed some of this in a previous post, Avoiding the Debate.

Recently, I have started to reflect on which political pigeon hole I should adopt as my home, and I found that I don’t really fit anywhere particularly well. I suppose if I was forced, I would say that I’m socially liberal but economically conservative. I believe that self-reliance should be promoted wherever possible as it enriches lives, but on the other hand I want the State to provide a temporary safety net for those of my fellow citizens that fall on hard times. But, note, a safety net not a means of dogmatically redistributing wealth, and so I would place limits on the extent of taxpayer support (see here for my post on the welfare state). In a similar vein, I think that the State should be as small as possible for efficiency but that does not mean zero state activity as government intervention in some areas is necessary and beneficial. I don’t think governments should run trains but they should run the security services and law enforcement, for example.

Even on other economic matters I do not necessarily adhere to conventional doctrine as whilst I believe in a free market I also think that limits should be placed on its excess. I don’t want higher taxes but I do think Google and the like should pay their way if they expect to trade here. Similarly, I’m not opposed in principle to the private sector providing public services so long as it is properly regulated to ensure the necessary standard. Sometimes, the private sector can do a better job than civil servants, and that can offer value to taxpayers so long as we don’t get ripped off. And, finally, do let the bankers make loads of money so long as its not at our expense, they pay their taxes and they don’t rely on us to bail them out when they cock it up.

On other topical matters, I have decided that on balance I would like the UK to leave the political and legal structures of the EU and to implement proper immigration controls (see post here) for the benefit of all the people living in these Isles. Yet, I also want to protect the rights of our existing immigrant population now that they have settled here. I see them as British as myself. On civil rights, I believe in our democratic rights and legal system but I also think that with citizen rights come responsibilities and that the balance occasionally gets skewed the wrong way by inappropriate laws some of which are imposed from outside the country. On social affairs, what’s wrong with gay marriage, for example? Why should I try to stop someone experiencing the same happiness that I have found in my own union. It affects me, my lifestyle and my country not one jot. It is only religious and extreme political dogma (see post here) that would oppose such ideals and I have no truck with that.

I think a bit of me is also nationalistic in the sense that I believe we should act in the interests of the UK and all its citizens. Now that may sound a bit scary or suggest that I could be a closet EDL or BNP supporter but I could never vote for them because I believe in the equal rights of all British citizens whatever their ethic origins or religious beliefs. I believe that the UK should continue to play a role on the international stage but with our own interests placed at the centre of our approach to diplomacy and international aid, and not necessarily for the benefit of those around us (depending on the issue, they may coincide, of course). In this regard, I would like to see us deploy our overseas aid budget more strategically to support foreign policy.

Above all, I want to feel that I have some kind of influence on what happens around me. That means that I am gravitating away from the centralized Westminster political model towards a more federal system of government. That is the preferred Labour answer for English devolution if I correctly understood their comments following the Scottish Referendum. Following my earlier post on Devolution, blackandwhiteram made some interesting remarks about the US federal system, and on reflection I think that the size of our population could now make a similar system viable for the whole of the UK. A fully federal system would allow the regions to tax and spend (but not borrow) in order to provide services but with a greatly reduced federal government at Westminster providing mainline services such as defence and foreign policy. There are some difficulties with this model which we discussed previously and it would be necessary to design the regions carefully (or come up with an English Barnett formula to reduce regional inequality – see the Devolution post I linked). A federal system needn’t cost a lot more if Whitehall was reduced in size and a layer of local government stripped away to make space for the regional assemblies or whatever you want to call them. Most importantly, it would improve voter representation and influence, and we could get away from this charade that is currently taking place in the run up to the general election.

So I am indeed politically homeless. There are signs of new thinking. I notice that Tim Montgomerie has started to promote a right-leaning initiative that challenges the Conservative orthodoxy by introducing an element of social justice, and maybe this is a sign that some of the dogmatic political boundaries are starting to erode. Its worth a read although its still not quite right for me.

So, homeless for the moment. Good job I’ve got a sheep shed to sleep in.

Devolution: Who’s Accountable?

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Since the Scottish referendum, there has been much discussion about devolving power down to the regions, and the recent announcement by the Government that it intends to devolve a £6 billion health and care budget down to the Greater Manchester area has been largely greeted with approval across the political spectrum. For sure, it gives local authorities the responsibility to set health and care priorities and to shift cash around but does it actually increase accountability and promote value for money for the taxpayer?

Well, I expect that there are few that would disagree that centralized structures are unwieldy and often struggle to get value for money despite the attractions offered by the economics of scale. We’ve heard about the £10 Whitehall paperclip too often for this not to be true. There is also no doubt that a centralised and corrupt political system often directs resources for political purposes rather than on the basis of actual need. Where it is allocated altruistically, it is often misdirected owing to a lack of understanding about particular local conditions and requirements. Local spending also gets better scrutiny and is more transparent as budgets are smaller and easier to inspect than the national versions.

Devolved budgets look attractive then, but in my opinion it is only by owning the right to spend and to raise revenue that proper democratic accountability can be enforced. If it is only the power to spend a budget that is devolved then there is little to stop the spender using up all the cash and then pointing to the central government when it finds it has run out of resources. ‘It’s not our fault, you haven’t given us enough’ will be the excuse. Particularly from a Labour-run council with a Conservative Government (or vice versa). On the other hand, if an authority has to raise the cash that it wishes to spend then it is totally accountable for both sides of the equation. It may decide to raise more revenue through an increase in local taxation and spend a little more but to do this there will have to be a conversation with the local electorate who may see things differently. That is proper democracy at work and a powerful driver for encouraging tax-payer value for money. Moreover, if that conversation takes place at a local level then the debate is often better focussed and able to highlight the real issues rather than a centralized argument that gets lost in all the Westminster noise.

So, it’s an open and shut case: we should devolve the maximum power down from the centre. Well, perhaps not. Whilst a centralised treasury sometimes misdirects resources through corrupt politics or incompetence, it does allow the central authority to at least have a stab at resolving geographically competing needs. If we fully devolved tax-raising and spending powers to small regions then the sparsely-populated or poorer areas would be completely disadvantaged, and it is unlikely they would be able to offer the same standard of services. In extremis, this could encourage significant population movements
to the metropolitan areas which could be destabilising and suddenly increase the pressure on services in particular areas. On a more philosophical note, I suppose one aspect of belonging to a country is that the population has a common interest in looking after each other regardless of location. Isn’t that why we have the Barnett formula for Scotland? That collective insurance would soon disappear as the devolved regions started to become more like autonomous mini states.

I am instinctively against big government and so the devolved solution looks attractive. But it is not a straightforward case and it requires careful thought. It may be that a half-way house solution that partially devolves tax and spending would provide the right balance of efficiency and accountability. In this regard, a locally levied sales tax (with commensurate reduction in VAT) might be one way of devolving tax raising powers without going the full hog. However, our Union has already suffered some shocks recently following the Scottish referendum and I think we need to move cautiously to avoid the unintended effects of any fiscal actions we take too hastily. It is probably a question of scale. The Soviet Union was too big to run from a centralized authority but, on the other hand, we can’t live in little tribes. Thoughts?

Political Leaders’ TV Circus

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Oh Dear, the TV companies have agreed the dates for our lords and masters to strut their stuff live on the telly. There will be two TV debates where 7 of the party leaders will engage in a political soundbite melee, and a final event where just David Cameron and Ed Miliband will go head to head. They will be screened on 2, 16 and 30 April so my advice would be to attend your pub quiz night on those dates as you are likely come away better educated and, I suspect, a good deal more cheerful.

In my post, Avoiding The Debate I discussed the reasons for the poor quality of the political debate in the UK and the adverse effect it was having on the electorate. Forgive me for sounding cynical but is this really going to help the situation? The media will talk up the programmes and tell us they are bringing politics to the people when in fact all they really want are the viewing figures and the hope that someone trips up so that the story can be kept going for a few days. Forget any idea of a considered discussion on the strategy-led policies of the various parties. Instead it will be a fest of soundbites, faked outrage and manufactured drama. It will be Eastenders meeting Westminster in a Christmas panto special. The audience will boo and hiss, the protagonists will roll their eyes at each other and those at home will think solely about who got the better of who in the war of pre-rehearsed wit and soundbite.

And how could it be otherwise especially in the two debates where there will be seven parties (Con, Lab, Lib/Dem, UKIP, Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru). There will be no time for any detailed argument just the same old inane point scoring that has turned so many people off politics and politicians.

The only hope is that the whole thing falls apart and gets cancelled although the TV companies have said that if anyone pulls out, the programmes will continue with an empty seat on the stage.

Enjoy your quiz.

The Religious State

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Today, I would like to write about the interface between religion and the State. Before I start, I would just like to say that it is not my intention to offend anyone that holds strong religious beliefs although I will make some difficult points that reflect my perceptions as an educated non-believer. I will also mention radical Islam, not because I want to single out any particular set of beliefs but because it perhaps represents a threat to our immediate peace, security and community cohesion.

Whilst I personally lack any belief that there is a God or a creator that provides a higher purpose for us in life, I do accept that many religions provide a moral framework with teachings that are sensible and advantageous to follow such as peace, goodwill, forgiveness and respect for our neighbours. It is also interesting that many of these principles are common across the religious spectrum even between religions that are opposed to each other in the manner of their implementation. I also accept that for many people religious beliefs can provide comfort in times of bereavement and inspiration for endeavour. These have immense value for those that embrace the ideals, and I would not wish to denigrate their beliefs or those advantages.

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Whilst I acknowledge some of the practical benefits, I have difficulties concerning the implementation of some belief systems. Throughout time, religious leaders have imposed their ideas on people through the fear of retribution, violence and even bribery. Whether it is fear of purgatory, the Inquisition, witch trials, catholic and protestant persecutions or, more recently, the rise of Islamic State, then the common thread is always about the imposition of a belief system on the flock by those that seek to exert control. It is all about, ‘I am the upholder of this religion, I am right and if you don’t agree and conform then x,y and z will happen’. This way of imposing belief systems is apparent within many religious texts which are reinforced by ideas that prophets and religious leaders are qualified and entitled to uphold religious tenets. It is almost as though the authors of these texts wrote their own job specification. There is also the threat of divine retribution against those that demur from the stated ideals. Historically, it is through such certainties that leaders have been able to exert control. It is rule by fear.

Whilst much of this is historical, there are still problems today even though most religious texts were written hundreds or even thousands of years ago. On a positive note (in my view), things are gradually changing. It is interesting that as educated populations and liberal democracies have spread then it has become ever harder for religious zealots to impose their doctrine, and religion in these countries has become more of a voluntary matter. Clerics are still able to influence the public debate but in secular countries it is more by cajoling than enforcement which reflects a distinct and welcome reduction in political power and authority. It is almost certainly why hard-line extremists in places like Afghanistan are so against democracy and threaten to punish people who take part in elections.

And yet we are nowhere near total enlightenment. Some branches of Christianity still issue threats of eternal damnation, and Catholic attitudes towards some matters like contraception are still controlled by an unelected hierarchy in Rome. More worrying are the atrocities that take place in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where religion dominates most functions of the state. Or, even worse, in lawless parts of the world like Syria, Libya, Somalia. In these places effective government has completely collapsed, and ad-hoc groups use religion as the justification for unspeakable acts of violence as a means of exerting control over a terrorized population.

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Closer to home, we have no majority group religions that are actively seeking to supplant our system of government. There are some single-issue Christian groups like the pro-life lobby that are vociferous but they are restricted in their objectives and they largely eschew acts of violence even if they can be quite intimidating in the manner of their approach. However, there is a small but growing minority of the Muslim community that is attracted to the ideals put forward by radical clerics originating from non-secular countries and who are willing to use violence to enforce them. In extreme cases, some proponents would replace our whole legal framework by a system of religious law. Religion and the state would become inseparable and, presumably, the arbiters of good taste would be the self-appointed religious leaders. This is not just a cultural variance but a matter that directly challenges our whole way of life, our system of government and our system of rights born out of Magna Carta. Having baldly stated the challenge, I must at this point be at pains to state that such views are attractive to only a tiny portion of our Muslim population which at 7% is itself only a small minority. However, small though it may be, violent Islamic extremism does seem to be a growing problem with security ramifications that need to be addressed if community divisions are to be avoided.

It seems to me that as the problem centres on a radical interpretation of Islam then the problem can only be addressed from within the Muslim community, and this means within homes, mosques and schools (in that order of importance). The problem (and I tread warily of generalizing here) is that within the Moslem community there seems to be a cultural reluctance to challenge religious certainties and teachings. There seems to be much more respect for religious leaders, and this makes it less likely that statements heard in the mosque will be challenged in later discussions around the family dinner table where in my experience most children learn to find their way in life. This religious deference is indeed a weakness being exploited by those that seek to influence opinion, and one that must change if a battle of the cultures is to be avoided. I do sense that were there to be a home-grown outrage then there could be a significant backlash resulting in community divisions and unrest so the matter does need to be addressed urgently. And it can be addressed with Muslim leadership, determination and community action. Witness the heartening photograph on Twitter of a group of moderate Norwegian Muslims surrounding a synagogue to guard it in an act of symbolic unity. Now let’s see a huge march in London for the same ideals.

It is a measure of how difficult the situation has become that I found that last paragraph very difficult to write. Whatever the reasons (and perhaps we will address some of these in my next post on immigration), cultural divisions and misunderstandings really do exist in our society. I am no social scientist, and I have written my perceptions as a white middle-class Englishman but they are only my perceptions and I am very open to counter-arguments. As a result, I would welcome informed Muslim comment if I have misunderstood the situation. It is only by eating our hay together and ruminating that we will increase our peace and mutual understanding.

Avoiding The Debate

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There is nothing more frustrating and boring than watching a politician avoid answering a question, and it is little wonder that public respect for MPs and the political process has sunk so low. But how is it that we have arrived at this point and are MPs solely to blame? The mother of parliaments was once regarded very highly, and its members were largely seen as public-spirited and principled. Now the electorate yawns at the day to day political tussle, and MPs are mocked and set alongside merchant bankers in the court of public opinion.

To my mind, the primary reason for this state of affairs is the manner in which the political debate is hosted and targeted. Modern communications are instantaneous, and fickle media outlets provide such fleeting opportunities that politicians often only have time to spill out some short and catchy, yet inane, sound-bite that they hope may later command a headline in the following day’s paper. There is very little opportunity for considered argument about the pros and cons of a policy: only its one-sided and instantaneous promotion.

This problem is made worse by the misreporting of any kind of admission by a politician that a counter-argument may have some merit even if he believes that those disadvantages are outweighed by the advantages of his own position. What tends to happen is that if a politician acknowledges both sides of an argument then it is often the fact that he has acknowledged the disadvantages of his proposal that is reported as the main thrust of the story. As a result, his reasoned debate that might well have interested the audience is left unexposed.

But why are political discussions reported in this way? It is quite clear that many media outlets have their own political allegiances and will spin a story to suit their own political allegiances. So, for example, from the same interview content, The Telegraph would report that a Minister favours tax cuts to stimulate the economy whereas The Guardian would report that the Minister wants to cut services to make tax cuts for the rich. The party whip system also makes this situation worse. So utterly tribal has party politics become that absolute adherence to the party line is demanded and anyone caught going off message is immediately dragged into the Whip’s office for a metaphorical (or real, who knows?) spanking. The problem with this approach is that it not only discourages MPs from discussing matters rationally, but it encourages the media to make the thrust of their story the very fact that a minister or MP has raised their head above the parapet to occasion proper 2-sided debate.

Finally, I suspect that there is another altogether more cynical component to this issue. With the erosion of 2 party politics has come the rise of the special interest groups and ever more research into the polls. Rather than steering public opinion through good leadership and strategic vision, parties now seek to be all things to all people in the hope that they can court the maximum vote. This is a strong driver for avoiding reasoned debate because any clearly stated position risks alienating a potential voter somewhere. How intellectually dishonest is that? It is obfuscation, and it is driven purely by the thirst for political power rather than a desire to make the world a better place.

I don’t know where the answer to this problem lies. In the first instance, I really wish that media outlets would act more responsibly by encouraging fair reporting and creating the conditions to allow politicians to make their arguments properly. Second, the local party associations, whips and party apparatchiks need to recognize that opinion cannot be uniform and that it is not necessarily damaging for both sides of an argument to be exposed. Indeed it is healthy for the country. Finally, it is possible that we will have to re-examine our electoral system. Whilst I was always a supporter of the first-past-the-post system, perhaps the other factors I have mentioned mean that it has finally had its day. Whatever the answer, we cannot go on with matters as they are. Democracy relies on proper debate and voter engagement, and we don’t appear to have either at the moment. Anyone got some good ideas?

Welfare: Redistribution or Contribution?

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It seems to me that the intricacies of the British welfare system have become so complex that we have stopped thinking about who and what exactly it is for. Is it a safety net or a means of redistributing wealth within our society? These days, politicians would never discuss this question in such politically bald terms, but if you turned back the clock 40 or so years and you would find no such shrinking violets. In some respects, I feel this is a shame. At least the old class warfare discussions were politically principled and had a touch of intellectual honesty about them. Today, it is almost as though politicians have mislaid their politics or conveniently forgotten them as they seek to confuse the floating voter. As a result, arguments about welfare become foggy either through dissembling, complex technical discussions or, worse, piecemeal and inefficient reforms which are largely advanced to court the voting approval of narrow interest groups. But in my view the lack of a clear vision about the purpose of welfare makes reform difficult as the lack of a strategic framework encourages ad-hoc and expensive changes that rarely achieve the intended purpose. It also encourages that modern scourge of government: political meddling in operational matters.

So where do I sit on this? Well if pushed, I would fall on the safety net side of the argument but with some provisos. Ha Ha, they shout, the old ram wants to pick on the poor and disadvantaged. Rename him, Ebenezer at once! But, actually, not at all. In my view, it is a measure of a peaceful, successful and humane society that we should help those that fall on hard times or become sick such that they are unable to support themselves. We will discuss religion (I don’t do it) in future posts but the texts of many religions nonetheless demonstrate that as a species we have long demonstrated an innate sense of compassion and consideration for our fellow beings even if it is not always put into practice (which I very much intend to return to).

It therefore seems that our basic instincts are to act compassionately, and I would certainly like to think that I live in a civilized society. Yet in my view that aspiration shouldn’t extend to using state spending as a means of redistributing wealth. That model has clearly been shown historically to fail. Look at the disasters in the former (and, increasingly, existing) Soviet Union or in Venezuela. At face value, state-manufactured equality sounds attractive but the principle always gets mismanaged and corrupted, the rich flee, the economy suffers and everyone gets poorer defeating the primary objective of the idea. No, to my mind welfare is a safety net, and it is certainly not a mechanism for making poor people better off. The best way of achieving improved living standards is to provide a framework that encourages individuals to compete through education and civil rights, and then to encourage innovation and individualism to allow people to achieve their maximum potential. Note though, that potential cannot be the same for everyone no matter how much we meddle or wish it otherwise. That is not a fact of politics, it is a fact of genetics and the way of the natural world. This is the key point that nobody will discuss because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control every individual’s outcome in life.

Having said all that, it doesn’t solely have to come down to the survival of the fittest, and we have it within our ability to set moral limits and achieve some kind of balance. If someone is ill with a life-threatening condition or something that would materially affect the quality of their life then I feel that we should find the cash to look after them. That shouldn’t extend to boob jobs, tattoo removal and varicose veins, though, and it doesn’t mean that a patient should get a free consultation with the GP just because they have a cold. The principle of self-reliance rather than collective-reliance should always come first and this should be applied as the first test. Its not just in health matters either; the same principle should apply to the benefits system. I really don’t like the way that some try to stigmatize those in receipt of benefits, and whilst generalizations may appeal to the Sun readership, it cuts no ice with me. That said, it is right that people should be encouraged to return to self-reliance and the only way of achieving this is by setting limits on the amount of collective aid that will be provided and by limiting the conditions that may prompt its delivery. The Coalition government recognized this, and in my view was quite right to point out that nobody on benefits should receive more than an average wage. Quite where the level should be set, however, is a serious matter for debate and I would be interested to hear views.

Lastly, we’ve talked about the need for balance in our welfare state, but before we get carried away by dealing in absolutes, let’s take a look at redistribution in terms of one of the less savoury aspects of capitalism. Twenty years ago I would have argued that the free market should run free and unencumbered. Certainly, it seems to provide the best framework for successful trading and commerce, and ordinarily this would benefit all. However, globalization, improved communications and porous borders have decreased the power of national governments and allowed unaccountable multinational corporations to trump elected officials. This has undermined our system of liberal democracy to such an extent that I do fear that we are in danger of a political retrenchment brought on by popular antipathy. I find it ironic that those who have benefited most from globalization have accumulated such wealth whilst exhibiting such little awareness of the wider world that they may have already endangered their own existence. By any measure, it just cannot be right that 1% of the world’s population owns 80% of the worlds wealth. That means that the benefits are not being shared out equally. Oh wait, you don’t mean redistribution, Old Ram? We thought you were against it?

Its a conundrum for sure. I instinctively feel that we should be wary of regulation yet as a very minimum, all corporations should be made to pay the tax due in the countries where they conduct their business. That doesn’t mean to say they should necessarily be taxed more because they are large, but it does mean they should pay their way. Its a question of balance again. I’m not sure of the answer to this one and it demonstrates the dangers of dealing in absolutes, but I’m sure if I eat some more hay and ruminate a little something will come to me. Over to you.

Welcome

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Welcome to my personal blog called The Ruminating Sheep. Have you ever shouted in frustration at politicians and commentators for either refusing to debate an issue properly or for re-framing the question to suit their own personal agenda? In my opinion, most thinking people would accept that there are pros and cons to any preferred course of action and they understand that policy is often about choosing the best path rather than one that is right in all respects.

Sadly, today’s media-centric world prevents important matters being debated in such rational terms. Commentators are so restricted by time that there is only a brief moment to blurt out some meaningless sound-bite before the matter is closed and the forum moves on to the next topic. Personally, I am infuriated that politicians’ media advisers tell their proteges never even to acknowledge the existence of a counter-argument. Instead, they are told to promote solely their own stance even seemingly at the expense of personal integrity. As a result, the pros and cons of a policy are never properly exposed, and politicians and commentators are left looking evasive, dishonest and to most of us, utterly foolish. It is no wonder that respect for Westminster is so low and that voter apathy is so prevalent. Why cant they understand that the country is crying out for some honest public debate? An individual that was able to explain rationally why he thought his proposed course of action was better than the alternatives would really tap into this rich seam of frustration, and the political system might be surprised at the electorate’s response. Media permitting of course, but perhaps we’ll come onto that in due course.

Here at The Ruminating Sheep, I would like to open up topical items for friendly and analytical debate. In terms of my own politics, I suppose most folk would describe me as right leaning. That said, part of the problem with modern politics is that the whipped party system seeks to corral opinion into tribal pigeon holes whereas in reality most people have a variety of views that don’t necessarily fit into any one particular political compartment and I would hope that this would apply to me as well. We don’t just want to be policy wonks either as politics can get a bit boring after a while so I will also provide respite by posting on other matters in the news that I think you will find interesting. I would like to point out that the views on this site are my own as an interested layman. I am neither a political scientist nor a member of any political party. With that in mind, what you see is what you get. The blog is completely run within my own resources and without sponsorship.

Technology will also prevail, and you can follow me on twitter at the link on the page. Whilst I hope that you will come here routinely, I will periodically prick your conscience by tweeting links to the latest post if you elect to follow the flock of ruminants.

Lastly, can I please ask that you remain polite to me and to each other, and that you remain on topic. Many of our subjects will invoke strong feelings and opinions but in the spirit of open and rational debate lets try to channel these emotions into some really sharp intellectual analysis. I will moderate the comments for offensive remarks and bad language and repeat offenders will eventually be banished from the sheep shed and into the pig pen! Oh, and by the way, that means offensive in terms of common decency rather than politics!

So, thank you again for visiting. Let’s eat up our hay and start ruminating…..