Thursday, 30 December 2010

This is for charity

Quick to capitalise on festive cheer and generosity, the government yesterday published a green paper discussing how their pet-project of a ‘Big Society’ can be supported, financially and otherwise, by everybody other than the government itself.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the green paper proposes ways in which individuals might give time to volunteering after they’ve finished the 1652 hours of work the average Briton annually undertakes, a figure 300 hours higher than is found in Germany, France, Sweden and a host of other nations that rank consistently above our little island in indexes evaluating quality of life.

Aside from the giving of time, the green paper also looks, inevitably, at how people can be encouraged to give more of their money to charities, the suggestion being that these private-sector companies need more revenue to help running services and protecting the socially marginalised, a responsibility that – puzzlingly – has always in the past been the very thing a government was mandated and funded to perform. Having raised capital gains tax, resolved to take 20% of VAT from the value of almost every purchase conducted in the UK, and decided that the treasury is in such fine shape that Vodafone could be excused a £5.2bn slice of its tax bill, it is mysterious that the government would now look to the apparently hard-up individual member of society to start making donations, additional to their taxes, in order to pay for the welfare state.

Ways in which this could be done are believed to include charitable donations appearing as options on cash machines, whilst the government has also identified that, as things stand, only 9% of the value of UK legacies are left to charities after people die, with 91% of the value being bequeathed, bizarrely enough, to family and friends. The green paper is quick to note that this leaves great potential for increased revenue.

On other points, the government seems quieter. The paper overlooks the nature of current donations, with almost three-quarters of the total value being given to medical research (32%), overseas aid (24%) and animal welfare (14%). In recognition of the slim overlap between these causes and the remit of the welfare state, it would appear that ‘Big Society’ depends on people donating not only more money, but also to charities most likely to plug the holes in the state, rather than those they have traditionally supported. None of this should be taken as a defence of central government over local, grassroots action, however, it does raise the question of whether the taxpayer achieves value for money from its rather expensive central government.

Another point scarcely touched-upon in the report is that the UK already gives a relatively high percentage of its income to charity. At 0.73% of GDP (approximately £10.6bn), UK giving is the second-highest rate amongst the developed world, behind only the USA on 1.7%. The size of the UK figure must be weighed against the fact that we pay significantly less tax than our European neighbours, but nevertheless, in 2005 Germany gave 0.22% and the French gave 0.14%. Up in Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark donate still less than 0.14% of GDP to charity, and yet still manage to wipe the floor with the UK on all indexes of social health. Indeed, amongst a host of Scandinavian social accolades, you can typically expect to find the average UK citizen less happy, less ‘satisfied with life’, and less likely to have received a high level of education. Enough about what we have less of however, the average UK citizen can expect an awful lot more in the way of mental health problems, discrimination in the workplace, and that lovely thing called poverty.

Charity… a symptom of the disease, somehow mistaken for its remedy.

Monday, 6 December 2010

We are London

With students set to take to the streets in protest again this week, the sports manufacturer, Adidas, is offering a glimmer of hope for the future of London’s youth, and providing them with the support needed in such troubled times as ours. ‘We are London’ is the title of the brand’s new campaign, an effort to recognise the efforts of a generation that is “going places and making its own luck”, qualities that will be of increasing use in a generation widely perceived to be going nowhere and in need of an awful lot of luck just to get a half-decent job.

As university education and graduate jobs recede into the realm of pipe dreams, Adidas have proposed that youths instead stand-around on London’s railway bridges and benches, stuffing their hands into the pockets of any garment of Adidas clothing they can come by. Pastimes once vilified by the mainstream media and criminalised by a decade of anti-social behaviour orders, Adidas propose that sitting about with seemingly nothing to do might henceforth be regarded instead as an act of empowerment and urban belonging.

Whether or not the ruse works remains to be seen, and indeed statistics show no strong correlations between Adidas and social success. Wider society might also feel concerned at what will happen when the next generation of Londoners are not all of them able to make a success of themselves as hip-hop acts, and are forced to take-up jobs at Tesco. Tesco have recently threatened to create 10,000 new jobs in 2011… a proposition that begs the question of just who the unlucky 10,000 will be.

Regardless of all this, “We are London” certainly seems to have struck a chord with its target audience. The campaign’s Facebook group is already “liked” by approximately 6,300,000 people, a figure rising at a rate of about seven every three seconds and soon to eclipse the 6,800,000 “likes” that the Liberal Democrats polled at the last election. It being safe to assume that the Liberal Democrats are now considerably less popular than they were on election day, we can anticipate “We are London” superseding Clegg et al. in popularity come the end of the week, and taking the mantle of third-party should a snap-election be called imminently.

Meanwhile in Westminster, where the average MP remains fifty-years-old, our 650 elected representatives are angry at having spent only £3.1million of taxpayers money in the four months following the election. The figure compares unfavourably with £96million in the entirety of last year, and breaks-down to only £5,000 of expenses each during the four month period, on top of a £65,000p/a minimum salary. MPs have set-about bemoaning the complexity of the new scheme to monitor expenses spending, with some claiming to have been left “out of pocket”. Never prepared to stand idly by as the nation is threatened by inefficiencies of any sort, MPs have given a four month notice period to the independent body responsible for overseeing expenses, demanding that it become "more effective and more efficient”.

We await news of whether four months will become the statutory waiting period for ills effecting the remainder of the population to be put-right.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Happy Anniversary

Well... this very time a year ago I was riding east with about seventy-something miles to go to Rouen, my Rohloff stuck in its tenth gear, myself freezing cold and sleep deprived. It's strange to think that a year has passed, the 4th of each month has had a certain poignance ever since returning, I feel happy that I'm no longer so painfully aware as I once was that another month has crept by.

The world around seems to go on changing in the minutest of ways, ways that will only ever seem significant for the shortest imaginable periods of time. Sky News was this week screening high-definition images from a helicopter hovering in a snowstorm... that's right... a snowstorm in high definition... such progress would have been all-but inconceivable a year ago.

To recognise the anniversary I'm putting-up a recording of a talk that I gave last month at the University of Sussex. The talk forms a brief glance at the world of London that I left and returned to, and also aims to provide a political discussion of the nations and regions that I travelled through. Some of the above photos I have uploaded to previous posts, however, I am including them again as they were featured on a slide show during the talk.

I continue to write my book, and feel that things are progressing favourably with it. I'm arranging an exhibition of photography and writing that will appear in the cycling stronghold that is the Look Mum No Hands cafe in Clerkenwell, London. The exhibit will be up for two weeks or so from a launch on the evening of January 6th... more details closer the time, but needless to say that one and all will be welcome. The exhibit will be accompanied by a small publication of words and photos, a light-touch endeavour to chronicle the episodes of my trip as they appear to me now with the passing of time. Copies of the collection will be on-show in the cafe, and will soon be available online through Blurb publishing. A larger collection of photography is a plan I have for some way down the line, all depending on the reception this first offering receives.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

We do not condone violence.

London's student protests turned violent yesterday, as angry demonstrators destroyed the lobby of the Millbank Centre, Westminster home of the Tory Party. The unrest was the culmination of a 50,000-strong march against government plans to introduce a trebling of university tuition fees, an escalation that would leave them at £9000 per-year.

As law-abiding folk around the capital lodged their dismay at the scenes of broken glass and graffiti, London's libertarian mayor, Boris Johnson, was moved to remark that he was "appalled that a small minority have shamefully abused their right to protest." Johnson echoed the sentiments of media commentators with good jobs and mortgages nationwide, in condemning the violently angry behaviour of youths who have spent the last two years being told that "the good times are over", that graduate unemployment is at its highest rate for two decades, and that they'll never be able to afford a house of their own in which to consider the fine mess they're in. Moreover, one could be mistaken for believing that these viscious, little swines have completely overlooked the "Big Society" solidarity that can be found in these gloomy times. It's almost as if they didn't hear David Cameron's stirring words that "we're all in this together."... that's right folks, the son of a millionaire stockbroker who went to university for free, and with a state grant too, is right in the thick of the action with the everyday Joe currently at university for £3000 a year, and right there alongside the everyday Joanne who will be paying £9000 a year come 2016. It's all about pulling-together at times like these.

And pulling-together should never involve violence, as has been reiterated by Labour Party member and National Union of Students leader, Aaron Porter. Porter labelled scenes from inside the Millbank Centre as "despicable" and lamented yesterday that "a minority of idiots tried to undermine 50,000 who came to make a peaceful protest". Indeed, that violent minority of idiots ought be educated in the history of protest in Great Britain, with attentions drawn specifically to the great anti-war demonstrations of February 2003, when a million people took to the streets of London to peacefully proclaim their opposition to bombing Iraq back into the stone-age. Overwhelmed by this huge display of popular opinion, the government of the day, with supporting votes from MP Boris Johnson of Henley, and MP David Cameron of Witney, did at the last minute abstain from their war path and resolve instead to uphold the values of democracy and international law. Or something like that.

Elsewhere, in similarly misguided attempts at violent protest, Roshonora Choudhry of east London was this week sentenced to at least 15 years imprisonment for stabbing her MP, Stephen Timms. The attack was carried-out by Choudhry as "revenge" on behalf of the people of Iraq, who Timms voted to bomb back into the stone-age in 2003. When asked by the judge what she had hoped to achieve by her actions, she replied that it had been a 'punishment'. This attitude in particular seems to have caused rancour in the media response to Choudhry, with commentators of the distinct opinion that a 21 year-old girl stabbing her MP within five miles of three NHS hospitals is an act more cowardly than hundreds of apparently educated men and women ignoring the wishes of their electorate in resolving to drop 1700 bombs on the people of Iraq in one night alone. The wounds that ensue from an MP being stabbed by a carving knife are also said to be more grave than having to gather-up the scattered legs and hands of your offspring, after a cruise missile lands in your Baghdad apartment building.

As much a cause for conversation as the attack itself has been the context of Choudhry's prolific educational accolades. Expected to attain first-class honours at London's King's University, and already the winner of academic scholarships and prizes, Choudhry is said to be fluent in English, French, Arabic and Bengali, a raft of attributes that has led to lamentations that such a "glittering" future could be thrown-away so easily. As Timms himself remarked, "my real worry about it all is that a very bright young woman with everything to live for would reach the conclusion that she should throw it all away'. Indeed, with her university education, Choudhry would have made an excellent candidate for unpaid internships, and might even have gone-on to obtain a post as a PA or office administrator. It is all-but unthinkable that such heady achievements might have been sacrificed in pursuit of Choudhry's convictions, and for goals that didn't correspond to materialistic enrichment - these are not the values upon which our thriving society is built.

Enough of all this pacifism though... readers will be pleased to hear that Scotland Yard is planning to extend the use of guns within the Metropolitan Police. Areas of Hackney and Brixton are to be patrolled by officers with machine guns, as part of a directive to reduce the spectre of fear caused by an increase of guns on the streets. The patrols will be undertaken by the infamous firearms division of the Metropolitan Police, C019, who in 2005 were responsible for shooting-dead Jean Charles de Menezes on suspicion of wearing a bulky jacket whilst using the London Underground.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Tories losing their marbles.....

In 1948, the Genocide Convention was signed in Paris, committing signatories to preventing acts of genocide. During the 1990s, eager to avoid the commitment of preventing acts of genocide in Yugoslavia and then Rwanda, the traditional do-gooders of the international community began using the non-legally-binding expression 'ethnic cleansing', in order to describe thousands of people being murdered on the basis of their racial background.

Despite 'cleansing' being a process performed ordinarily on colons rather than ethnic groups, the term somehow seemed to stick, and Boris Johnson, the charismatic London mayor easily-confused with a pillock, this week suggested that Tory plans to reduce housing benefits would prompt a "Kosovo-style social-cleansing" of central London, leaving poor people unable to afford their rent. The fact that rents might be so high in the first instance is of lesser concern to Johnson, as is the morality of taxpayer's money paying the mortgages of private landlords. Be that as it may, the somewhat extreme Kosovo analogy has drawn stark reproach from Prime Minister, David Cameron, whilst Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced that the comparison was "deeply insensitive to those who have witnessed ethnic cleansing." Clegg is thought to have been so outspoken about ethnic cleansing having been assured that the coalition government has no existing plans to undertake any acts of ethnic cleansing. Clegg now begins an anxious wait, hoping not to be called-upon to explain why ethnic-cleansing always seemed like a horrendous prospect, but is in fact the only means with which to deal with the realities of being in government.

Given this appetite for the drawing of brusque comparisons, Johnson might perhaps wish to reconsider the appointment of his long-standing friend, Veronica Wadley, as chair of the London Arts Council. With her artistic credentials no more than working as editor to Vogue magazine and the Evening Standard, Wadley's qualification for the job was questioned by members of the selection panel, who also raised the point that Johnson's interventions on Wadley's behalf were in breach of rules on political interference in appointments. All to no avail, Wadley was appointed in June to the £6500/30-day a year position, and Boris Johnson, evidently brushing-up on his history at present, might want to reflect on Hitler's appointment of his friend, Joseph Goebbels, to oversee artwork in Nazi Germany.

In other news... with the Tory party so riled by Johnson's Kosovo hyperbole, it went entirely unnoticed that former Tory MP, Norman Tebitt, this week suggested that an increase in British contributions to the European Union budget would constitute a "Vichy-style" capitulation. In 1940, after the German defeat of the French army, the Vichy regime of Philippe Petain entered into collaboration with the German Nazi party. The relationship saw the opening of internment camps in which Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables were kept for transit to concentration camps in Germany, the relationship saw French soldiers and gendarmerie round-up such undesirables for despatch to Auschwitz, the relationship saw foreigners forced to work on Nazi labour projects. The proposed increase to the EU budget is 0000000002.9%.

Enough of all these Nazis and doom-harbinging however, in lighter news, the Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith, this week advised that unemployed people ought "get on a bus" and go looking for work. The suggestion marks a turnaround from Duncan Smith's position in May, when he stated, on joining the cabinet, that: "I am here because I want this to be the most reforming government on benefits for a generation. I think we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity". His rediscovered conservatism is particularly quaint for its similarity to Tory advice from 1981, when Norman Tebitt famously suggested that the unemployed should "get on their bike and look for work". In a prediction of things to come, I foresee the 2038 secretary for work and pensions, also an Oxford graduate, urging the unemployed to "get on their spaceships and look for work".

Human history is nothing but the invention of new technology.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Deportations and Bicycles

Having remarked in July 2008 that absent fathers are key to explaining the failings of the black community, Prime Minister David Cameron will be disappointed to hear that the five children of Jimmy Mubenga now have an absent father all of their very own. Mubenga, of Ilford in east London, was in the process of being forcibly removed back to Angola on Thursday September 14th, when it transpired that he had been inadvertently killed by the security guards responsible for his deportation.

Witnesses aboard the British Airways flight describe a fifteen minute skirmish in which the handcuffed Mubenga was restrained by three employees from private security firm, G4S. The captive is said to have consistently called-out such puzzling statements as "help me" and, "I can't breathe", before eventually dropping dead in the aisle of the plane. The episode raises questions about a Home Office policy in which individuals are deported by hired goons, employees whose only qualification for serving as representatives of UK immigration is that they applied for a job with G4S, and who are then free to manhandle deportees in front of tourists, businessmen, and other paying customers aboard commercial flights.

Rest assured that a political clamour is well underway, with Liberal Democrat, Julian Huppert, calling for a "wide-ranging independent inquiry" into the event. Onlookers wait patiently for the mandatory week to elapse before it can be ascertained whether the Liberal Democrat in question actually meant what he said, or whether the case of Mubenga is one more misfortune that must be tolerated as part of the "growing-up" process of being in government.

G4S are not the only firm in the private sector making a fist of things of late, as Serco continue to demonstrate that they are less adept at running London's cycle hire scheme than locking-up asylum seekers at their £900,000 a month, money-spinning detention centre, Yarl's Wood. The £140million cycle scheme began on 30th July with a one-month delay before casual, non-registered individuals could make use of the facilities. With two and a half months now passed, Londoners are being told to wait for 2011 before the scheme is up-and-running in its promised fashion. The result of this has been an excess of bicycles in some areas, and absences in others, a logistical problem blamed upon the fact that casual users, including tourists, are unable to use the scheme and thereby redistribute the bicycles naturally between twice-daily peaks in registered users commuting to and from offices.

The delay is at the heart of questions about whether or not Transport for London (TfL) and the taxpayer have received value for money from the contract. Since winning the £140million deal (£23,000 for each of the 6,000 bikes put into circulation) to undertake the cycle hire scheme, Serco have subcontracted Canada's Bixi to provide the bicycles and docking stations, subcontracted FM Conway to dig-up the roads and pavements where the docking stations are installed, and subcontracted Logica to provide the technology for the scheme's payment system, all of which begs the question of why it was that TfL, with an annual budget of £9.2billion, were unable simply to give one of their near 20,000 employees a copy of the Yellow Pages and instruct them to call Bixi, Logica and FM Conway directly.

Naysaying aside, the scheme's sponsors and instigators continue to brand it a riproaring success that is revolutionising travel in London. Less has been said about when the scheme's boundary will be extended beyond the areas of those hard-up folk in central London, where residents of Mayfair and Belgravia (etc.) need not walk more than five minutes to reach a docking station. Outside of central London, in Hackney, Holloway, Camberwell, Brixton and other areas of densely-populated rabble, residents will still have to catch a bus in order to reach their nearest revolutionary cycle hire opportunity.

Aside from the practical failings of the scheme, it remains a moot point that TfL were unable to badge their project as anything more inspiring than 'Barclays Cycle Hire'. The name is a homage to the £25million paid by Barclays bank to have their name appear six times on each one of 6,000 bicycles, have the scheme livery altered to represent their own corporate colours, have every street in central London flooded with mobile advertising, and have the name of the bank as one-third of the scheme's title in return for less than one-fifth of the scheme's funding. The triumph of this as a piece of cheap advertising is compounded by every tourist in London now having their photo taken alongside a dock of Barclay's Cycle Hire bicycles, those venturing into central London being condemned to seeing the name 783 times a day, and television coverage from the capital frequently capturing one of the bicycles ride by. All of which is a far-cry from the much-praised Parisian counterpart of Barclay's Cycle Hire, Velib, a title formed from contracting the words 'velo' (bicycle) and 'liberte' (liberty). Elsewhere in France, Aix En Provence named their cycle scheme V'hello! as a contraction of 'velo' and 'hello', Lyon's was named Velo'v ('velo' and 'love') and Dijon's VeloDI as a melodic contraction of 'velo' and the city name.

None of which seems to concern the insipid, fluorescent mouthpiece of the cycling community, too enthral with anything on two wheels to even consider suggesting that maybe, just maybe, it might have been something so much better.

Anyway... enough of all that grumbling... welcome to the new world of 'more for less'... where we all pay that much more and get that much less in return.


Sunday, 3 October 2010

Graduate Tax and Guinness records.

With the finances of universities nationwide becoming ever-gloomier, UK business secretary, Vince Cable, is continuing to attract heavy fire for his proposed 'graduate-tax'. The scheme outlines a model in which financially successful graduates would pay higher rates of tax on their salaries, rather than students across the board facing the possibility of tuition fees doubling to an annual £7000.

Business group, The Institute of Directors (IOD), are the latest opponents to the tax, arguing that it will see the most successful students financially penalised for their endeavours, whilst also driving a 'brain drain' scenario in which Britain's brightest minds will graduate, only to seek employment overseas. The assertion is the latest in a long line from free-market, centre-right thinkers convinced that Britain is such an overwhelmingly diabolical place in which to live and do business that unless corporations, bankers, and graduates are given generous compensation for choosing to locate themselves on our island, they will all leave instantly and start more prosperous lives elsewhere.

Be that as it may... the IOD, right-wing media, Confederation of British Industry and a bunch of other doom harbingers will be pleased to read "Gifted Children are Failures", a Sunday Times article from September 26th. The article (which none of you can now read without paying Rupert Murdoch a subscription fee) posits that gifted children are likely to become misfits rather than Mozarts, and cites research showing that of children who demonstrate considerable ability and intelligence throughout their schooling, only a very small number go on to amount to anything conventionally 'successful'. All of which is good news for those in fear of Cable's graduate tax, suggesting as it does that society actually has a large and unused surplus of highly talented individuals who go-on to perform jobs that could be perceived as falling-short of their actual capabilities.

This consideration, alongside the notion of a graduate tax, raises questions about the philosophy of tax as a whole. Contrary to traditional thinking, we are here presented with the idea that the most financially successful in society do not attain their positions by virtue of merit and the necessity of their employment, but rather as part and parcel of a social model that requires and permits a certain number of better-remunerated individuals, if only to preserve nominal notions of success and merit. In a pure meritocracy the graduate tax might be seen as wrong-headed and downright abysmal, but in our quasi-fictitious social roleplay, corresponding as it does to all-but nothing rational and mutually-benefitial... then indeed why not tax those who have merely inherited the lucrative role of what a 'successful' person ought resemble?

Anyway... enough of that bullshit... I also write to inform you all happily that Guinness recently acknowledged and ratified my record for a circumnavigation by bicycle. Sincere and deepest thanks to all those who believed in me and supported me regardless... and sincere and deepest apologies to all those who would have rather seen Guinness throw me out as the mean-spirited cheat and grumbling fuckwit that I am. Of course I knew all along that I had done nothing outside the spirit of the record, and that therefore it was a moral and personal achievement regardless of a piece of paper from Guinness... however, I'm not a big enough person to have actually felt that way, even if I knew it to be true... and so I have to say that I do actually quite like my piece of paper from Guinness, which will be invaluable to the CV once I draw a line under this life as a socially-conscientious pauper and start scouting around for jobs in private-equity.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The one about a builder, a policeman and a bank.

Government spending cuts have this week seen the social housing contractor, Connaught, plunged close to administration. A near 80% fall in its share price has followed a profit warning and a request for additional cash. Connaught, valued at approximately just £45million, has had additional funds made available to it by a banking syndicate of RBS (80% taxpayer-owned), Barclays and Lloyds (40% taxpayer-owned), and now expects to exceed a £200million debt threshold, up from £120million, by the end of the year. Although a level of debt four times higher than earnings would be seen as ill-advised in an individual, and certainly not likely to secure the £15million overdraft just granted by the banking syndicate, it does not stop Connaught shares from trading in the FTSE250, along with Britain's other most reputable companies.

What happens next at Connaught is anybody's guess. A sale of part of the group's assets has been mooted, whilst the economic sages at the Financial Times have been quick to murmur about the need for a "debt-for-equity swap", a thing that financial ignoramus such as you and I might refer to, more colloquially as, "borrowing money". The accountancy firm, Deloitte, drafted-in to offer an independent review of the situation, have advised that additional funds be made available to Connaught, who need additional funds to pay Deloitte for their independent review of the situation. Connaught's existing accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, who failed to notice, as an accountant might be expected to, the gaping hole in Connaught's books, have declined to comment. One man not at all caught-out by the falling value of shares was the currently suspended director, Peter Jones, who is said to have made £265,000 by selling stock prior to an initial profit-warning issued by Connaught in June. All part and parcel of a financial sector served by five banks, three accountancy firms, two credit-ratings agencies, and a government without a conviction in sight.

Another matter without a conviction in sight is the case of PC Simon Harwood, best known for killing newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, at the G20 protests a year ago in London. Harwood, who was dismissed from the Metropolitan Police during the nineties for an off-duty incident of road rage, and then investigated in 2003 by Surrey Police for the use of excessive force, was caught on video striking Tomlinson with a baton, before pushing him to the ground. Tomlinson collapsed and died soon after, and his case returned to the media this week, with the Crown Prosecution Service reckoning that no grounds existed to form a criminal case against Harwood, who had concealed both his officer's name and number, and his face, whilst on-duty at the protest.

Crucial to the CPS' decision not to press charges was the Home Office's appointed pathologist, quack-doctor Freddy Patel, whose post-mortem concluded that Tomlinson died of a heart attack, but failed to detect the abdominal haemorrhaging found in subsequent post-mortems. Patel, who is currently on trial for twenty-six counts of misconduct, has an impressive catalogue of gaffes to his name, ranging from false claims that a man who died in police custody was a user of crack-cocaine, to an about-turn in which he first claimed that 21 year-old Maja Trajkovic was killed by opiate poisoning, only to later change his mind to asphyxiation. Patel also stands accused of failing to measure heights and weights during post-mortems, and of neglecting to perform X-rays. Now faced with being struck-off the register at the British Medical Council, and presently suspended from conducting forensic post-mortems, it is clear that Patel was just the man for the job in assessing Ian Tomlinson's likely cause of death.

Misgivings may also be arising from the decision of Lloyds banking group to sell a 70% stake in its private equity division, an exercise that has generated £332million, but is nevertheless thought to represent a loss of about half the figure Lloyds initially paid for shares in cinemas, waste management services and health and fitness clubs. Although Lloyds appear happy that the sale represents part of the transformation to a "smaller, wiser company", the decision to take the loss might be regarded a worrying omen for what will eventually become of the government's 80% holding in Royal Bank of Scotland. A springtime 'investigation' by the Guardian newspaper illustrated a 75% increase in the share value of RBS since the government bailout, gains that corresponded to a £7.4billion profit for the taxpayer, if the government were to cash-in its holdings in the beleaguered bank. Former chancellor, Alistair Darling, and current business secretary, Vince Cable, have both spoken of the fiscal wisdom in acquiring shares in debt-ridden high street banks, however, the Lloyds case, and the loss suffered, arguably represents the value of shares once they are no-longer guaranteed by the taxpayer, and are required to be economically viable as a private-sector concern actively seeking a buyer.

Not all, however, is doom and gloom in UK politics, with pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, pocketing an £800million windfall from last year's government order of 60million vaccinations against swine flu. Even more cheering than that, however, was the recent release of an independent report that has been happy to inform the public that the £1.2billion response to swine flu was in fact, "proportionate and effective". The report, chaired by Dame Deidre Hine of the House of Lords, which has nothing at all to do with the government, claimed that it was wrong to suggest that there was an over-reaction to the threat of swine flu, because we could not be certain how many "very precious lives" (not to be confused with the life of Ian Tomlinson) had been saved by the government response. No thoughts were offered as to the fact that, whereas swine flu caused 457 UK deaths in 2009, conventional flu is reckoned to typically lead-to between 3000 and 4000 annual fatalities. Further to this, the government might be troubled to hear that a "proportionate and effective" approach to saving the "very precious lives" of the 3000 people who die each year on Britain's roads, will cost £8billion every single year.

Keep on rockin' in the free world.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

More news from nowhere

The Deepwater Horizon spillage in the Gulf of Mexico continues to dominate the UK media, with President Obama having moved to suggest that the catastrophe will forevermore change the way people think about the environment.

In accordance with such significance, the US government has this week raised demands that BP ring-fence a sum of $20,000,000,000, in order to clean-up wildlife and compensate victims of the disaster. It has also been suggested that BP compensate workers on other offshore oil rigs, who have been made redundant by the Obama administration's six-month drilling moratorium. The US Treasury, with a debt in excess of $13,000,000,000,000, are refusing to rule-out the possibility of levying such demands against other foreign corporations, in efforts at regaining a handle on their own deficit obligations.

BP, their share-price now half what it was on the day of the explosion, have railed against such claims upon their culpability, and are said to be enlisting the services of the UK anti-Bullying Alliance. Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, left a press conference in tears having taken great pains to highlight that the Deepwater Horizon rig was jointly owned by BP alongside US firms, Halliburton, and the world's largest oil-rig contractor, Transocean. Hayward and the BP top brass are said to be losing hope of a Bhopal-style settlement, invoking the precedent of the 1984 disaster in Madyah Pradesh, India, where at least twenty thousand people lost their lives after an explosion at the factory of US chemicals company, Union Carbide. Compensation paid-out in lieu of the Bhopal disaster to-date represents approximately 32pence per fatality, an amount that BP said they were prepared to treble in compensation for the eleven lives lost in the initial blast upon Deepwater Horizon. Shareholders were thought to have been happy with the £10.56 proposed settlement.

Following the US administration's throwing-out of such an offer as 'deeply insensitive to the lives effected by the tragedy', market analysts have been moved to suggest that BP might curtail their own financial catastrophe by rebranding themselves as American Petroleum, or considering a sale of all operations to US operators, with both Chevron and Exxon rumoured to be interested. The Obama administration acknowledged that such an arrangement "may prove satisfactory".

Back in England, the coalition government have not remained silent concerning the future of one of the FTSEs much-vaunted, 'blue-chip' corporations. Prime Minister David Cameron released the following statement three and a half weeks after the first explosion.

"Whilst we recognise the massive damage being caused by incidents in the Gulf of Mexico, we must recognise the value of BP to the British economy, and recognise the need stand firmly behind this well-recognised company of ours. Whilst we recognise the value of BP to the British economy, we must also recognise the value of this country's special relationship with the United States, which has given many young British men and women the opportunity to see parts of the Middle-East and Hindu Kush that they could never have otherwise hoped to experience. Recognising both of these facts, I rest my case".

Returning from Afghanistan, new Tory Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, has caused insult to the government and people of Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, by suggesting that the country was reminiscent of the feudal age. Fox referred to Afghanistan as a "broken, medieval state from the thirteenth-century", comments which led Karzai to brand the remarks as evidence that Britain remains a "colonial, orientalist and racist country". Apologising for any offence caused, Fox revealed that his presence in Afghanistan formed part of a research trip on behalf of the new coalition government, the purpose being to investigate ways in which Britain could be strengthened in the model of a feudal state from the thirteenth century. With no offence intended, Fox stressed his great admiration for what Karzai, the Taliban and NATO forces are presiding over in Afghanistan, and looks-forward to the day that such a social model can be rolled-out by Westminster.

The future of the UK economy may well be illustrated by events currently unfolding in Greece. In the first good news to hit the beleaguered state for some time, Chinese delegates are this week present in Athens to sign export deals and contracts for infrastructure ownership. Although export of olive oil to China has been heralded as central to the deal, more telling seem to be the sale of rights to develop shopping-centres and airports in traditionally popular tourist destinations such as Crete. These concessions augment existing Chinese ownership of cargo management in the major shipping port of Piraeus, a contract rumoured to be worth approximately a billion Euros to the Greeks. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, who presides over a budget deficit of 12% of GDP (the Greek budget deficit is only 9.3%), is said to be keeping a close eye on developments, and is rumoured to be considering an offer to the Chinese of as many amenities and services as they will buy, plus all the cheddar cheese they can eat.

In lighter news, and showing brave resistance to any talk of economic gloom, London is currently whispering about the prospect that the as-yet unbuilt olympic stadium may have to be demolised after the games have been completed. The 2012 Olympics, dubbed 'The Sustainable Games' are yet to find a new owner for the £525million stadium, a quandry that presents either the need for demolition, or taxpayer-funded upkeep of the stadium once its Olympic use is over. Although low-lying football team, Leyton Orient, have expressed an interest in taking-on the venue as their own stadium, Olympic organisers, who have always championed the "legacy of the games" in a deprived, East London district, envisage a venue that retains facilities for athletics events. Prime Minister Cameron hailed the half-billion pound uncertainty as resounding evidence that the British economy remained buoyant and the British taxpayer possessed of boundless wealth.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

It's getting strange in here.- News from the Island

Spring is turning summery in London, and with temperatures starting to rise, the wider climate is getting curiouser and curiouser.

Leading the headlines this week has been the resignation of Liberal Democrat MP, David Laws, from his Treasury position in charge of spending cuts. Laws, a continuing multimillionaire and former banker with JP Morgan, has stepped-down from his cabinet post amid revelations by the Daily Telegraph that he gave his boyfriend £40,000 of taxpayer's money for sharing his London home whilst attending Parliament. Laws, who was so determined to keep his sexuality secret he felt compelled to give £40,000 of taxpayer's money to his boyfriend, seems to be in quite a spot of personal bother about the issue, stating that he is now going to miss-out on vital budgetary works that he feels "his entire life has prepared him for".

Laws is not the only one upset about the whole affair, David Cameron having grudgingly accepted the resignation of this "good and honourable man", and Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, getting all flush in stating that it was as if Laws had been "put on earth" to do his job at the Treasury. The praise did not stop there, with another minister stating that "David Laws has a capacity to consume information and process it in a logical way that very few people have" ... Asked what would happen next at the Treasury, the minister scratched his head and asked for the question to be repeated.

Perhaps more telling than the loss of what seems to have been Westminster's only intelligent MP, have been revelations that Laws was previously claiming £200 a month for his utilities costs, an amount that fell to just £37 once it became mandatory that MPs submit receipts for such expenses. This begs the question as to why a multimillionaire would ever bother wasting half an hour of his time to lodge the paperwork for claiming thirty-seven quid.

British Petroleum are currently faced with the loss of far less trifling sums of money, their share-price having plummeted by around £15billion on account of the leaking oil well, Deepwater Horizon, off the Louisianna coast. Last week, in a failed attempt to make less of a mess of the ocean, the oil giant implemented a bizarre policy of dumping tons of mud and golf balls and used tyres onto the seabed, all in the hope of stopping the pollution. It would appear that having since tried to block the rupture with some old garden furniture, a large VHS collection, two used mattresses, and a microwave that Lord Brown no longer had use for, BP have abandoned what was being called a "top-kill" strategy, and are hoping instead merely to contain the growing disaster.

Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, whose wife again denied allegations that her husband is crying himself to sleep each night, has tabled one possible solution involving bananas. Hayward revealed to reporters that in his kitchen he has a fruit bowl with an elevated hook that holds bananas above other fruits. This design is intended to separate bananas from the other fruits, because bananas contain an active enzyme that facilitates decomposition in other matter. Hayward has thus tabled the idea of dropping ten million bananas into the Gulf of Mexico, in order to facilitate the decomposition of the gathering oil. A spokesman for Chiquita welcomed the proposal.

The finances of the royal family are looking murkier than a bayou these days, with the Queen herself facing increasing hardship, and forced into the ignoble position of pleading with parliament for a £6million rise in her pocket-money. The royal family, which costs the taxpayer in excess of £40million each year, is said to be at the end of a dwindling reserve-fund that has been paying for the upkeep of palaces and the throwing of garden parties. A Royal spokesman said that the impending crisis, befitting of tough fiscal times, showed just how in-touch the monarchy are with the situation faced by the everyday man and woman of Britain, who are also going about the process of imminenet belt-tightening. Unless the government can provide the extra cash, the Queen has remarked tearfully that "she just doesn't know what she'll do".

One area of spending not yet feeling the pinch is cycling provisions, and Transport for London (TfL) this month announced commencement of a scheme of Cycle Superhighways. The Superhighways, which will cost the taxpayer £116million, and are part-sponsored by the good people at Barclay's Capital, will take cyclists along a direct route, painted in blue, from outer-London areas and into the city itself.

The project is proving controversial on the basis of cost, with advocacy groups pointing to the existence of a network of predominantly smooth, black surfaces that are rumoured to connect every home, amenity, railway station and workplace on the entire Island. An average 7metres across, it has been argued that these sprawling, mythical beasts, known only as Roads, might actually be wide enough for cars and bicycles to use concurrently. Transport for London has promised to set-up a commission to investigate the proposal, but with London mayor, Boris Johnson, known to be a supporter of the Cycle Superhighways, it is doubtful that the proposals will be reversed. Johnson, partially autistic, is known to hold fond visions of a fleet of new, red buses driving alongside new, blue superhighways.

An aide at the Mayor's Office, responding to questions about the cost-effectiveness of the scheme, said that "although cycling offers excellent value for money as a means of transport with few infrastructure requirements, the Mayor and TfL feel that there is nevertheless potential to make cycling policy as expensive and convoluted as possible. Only then can the bicycle fulfil its role in the London transport mix".

In breaking news, disgruntled taxi driver, Derrick Bird, yesterday drove (in his taxi) to eleven different locations around Cumbria, proceeded to shoot-dead twelve people, and then himself, in a killing-spree that has left dozens injured (though rumours are circulating that a Daily Telegraph reporter was responsible for shooting the 24th and final victim... "dozens" undeniably sounding much better than "23"). The news has delighted the media, who have arrived en masse to document the minutiae of an episode with less national relevance than anything else that occurred this week. Also out in force are the Cumbria police, who showed themselves to be amongst the best in the world for showing-up in a host of vehicles and securing roads with blue-and-white tape shortly after events of any magnitude have already taken place. With the taxi driver having driven to an array of different locations, this has left the police with their work cut-out, and over 100 detectives are covering a 150km area to conduct 33 separate investigations at the site of each shooting.

In preliminary press conferences, the point has been raised that Britain does not use kilometres as a unit of measurement, and that many people were clueless as to the actual distance that 150km represents. A police spokeswoman replied that 150km was chosen as a more imposing total than 92.3miles, and one that was therefore more representative of the tragedy at hand. It was regrettable, she continued, that Mr Bird had not driven a further 7.8miles before taking his own life. Asked whether the police were treating the number 7.8 as in any way suspicious, it was said that no possibilities were being excluded at this stage. Although detectives were eager to stress that the 193 separate investigations were in their infancy, initial findings seem to suggest that a taxi driver drove, in his taxi, between eleven different locations, shot-dead twelve people, and then took his own life in wooded areas. The investigation continues.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


A professor by the name of Dorling, from Sheffield University, has just released a book concerning inequality in our great nation. His book seems to have given the media some impetus to talk about the subject, which is probably the best way of ensuring that nobody actually does anything about the subject, but has nonetheless served to see a few statistics batted in my direction.

The book suggests that London is the singlemost unequal city in the entire developed world, with the richest 10% earning 273 times that which the poorest 10% are left with, a fairly sizable 27300% more. I'll let that figure speak for itself, although it probably won't, and instead cut straight to a piece of shameless self-promotion, a sort of serialisation if you will, of what I've been writing of late, which was my own, non-statistical view of what Dorling is, I believe, trying to say.

The Poverty... of all its attributes the Poverty was the greatest in the entire city. It was stunning, magnificent, spectacularly achieved and with meticulous attention to detail. I will never see a poverty so complete as that which I have witnessed in London. There were the department stores with their own horse and traps to take the rich for rides in the parkland, there were the hotel fronts with gentlemen in cravattes and top hats, holding open the doors of Italian sportscars so that their owners need not trouble with doing so. Behind the revolving doors the lobbies of those hotels held violinists, svelte, little Scandinavians in cocktail dresses, and even, in one instance, some old strumpet plucking at a harp with her jeweled fingers. The carpets were plush, so very full, velvetine... it was like walking upon a trampoline as I crossed to the concierge with my deliveries. The toilets, they were something else, with a man in a waistcoat and a towel on his arm calling people 'Sir' as they passed him by. The urinal trough, one of those that runs all the way to the floor and along the length of a wall, they had positioned a visor, at a 45-degree angle, for your shoes to fit neatly beneath and save their being splashed by any piss that sprayed back out of the porcelain. The toilet itself... oh my... but that was a stroke of genius, for the shute went straight down, and then sloped backwards rather than forwards, so that the affluent need not see the banal smear of their own shit trickling down the bowl on its way to a sewer. There must come a point at which a fellow's status makes it hard to accept that his innards contain a digestive tract much the same as any other.

There were shops... shops with locked doors, guarded from within, and with windows that glistened like the Milky Way. I knew of other shops that paid humans to work as mannequins, and I once had to deliver some negligé of the most delicate lacework that would have cost, I was told, a full seven hundred pounds of currency. Seven hundred pounds I tell you... to half-conceal a pair of titties and a cunt. There were the shops that sold yachts, that sold claret, sold port, that sold cigars...the thick smoke chugging on the wind back up St James' Street. There were shops selling cufflinks that cost my month's wages, shops selling villas and islands in the sun, that chartered jets and vintage cars. There were the restaurants too, restaurants with their tables all decked in flutes and three separate sets of cutleries, with embroidered cusions upon the seats and some of the most well-fed and positively delighted-looking folk upon the cusions... I would watch them through the windows, their silent laughter that could not reach me through the glass as they rocked back-and-forth in their voyage of glee. There were auction houses, auction houses with their record-breaking sales, all seven figures of them, announced in the windows... there were commercial galleries asking half a million for the amateur paintings of a professional musician. There were the salons that quaffed the hair of cats and dogs, and there were the universities, amongst the most prestigious on earth, where the children gathered like the prettiest and most delicate of orchards, dressed marvellously in their parents' wealth, clutching at folders of other people's words, and excitedly arranging their evenings without cares in the world. Up at St. Pancras the old station was being refurbished, and they could not help themselves in proclaiming the ten million pound penthouse sitting at the top. Down on Knightstbridge there was a new developement by Hyde Park Corner, it promised to take luxury to new heights, and I believed them.

It was sensational... stupendous, because after seeing all that, I was left to count my deliveries for the day... to get to the bottom of whether or not I had earned the fifty daily pounds that I had come to treat as some sort of watershed of satisfaction. I would count my deliveries, deduct the amount of money I had eaten, and there, right there waiting, after all that I had seen, that was poverty... the most spectacular poverty imaginable, for it could not have been more acute. That awareness of all I did not have.

Perhaps I had no license to complain, for there were certainly others below me, and I could have chosen differently, had my time fairly well-remunerated in any number of companies. But what sort of choice was that? To choose either deprivation or something I loathed... something I loathed but which promised to make it worthwhile during one transaction a month, to all be over in forty years time.

Well... there you have it... latest scribblings. Feel free to either enjoy or disparage it, or else do something more productive entirely than leaving comments on the internet.

Amongst all my pessimism, there is some good news from the capital, where only last weekend there were fourteen incidents of stabbings in a mere forty-eight hours. All being well, I foresee that once the economy goes entirely to pot we'll be able to subsist by exporting television programmes called 'Horror on the Streets', a venture that will recoup all the money that libertarian fools would suggest is being wasted on CCTV.

Anyway, good luck to us all ... a society that knows how to value nothing but money, and yet stands to have increasingly less of it.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A new blog

I've written a blog for somebody else's website, all about the social value of anger. Feel free to go and give it a read at

Over and above that... life in London remains generally a harder undertaking than cycling around the world, though I would like to think that it is maybe getting easier... I now deliver flowers in a tricycle rather than letters and documents for offices... it would seem that pedalling a two-metre contraption full of hundreds of pounds worth of floral arrangements is one way of getting people to smile at strangers, even in a big city, which is good to know.

I continue to wait for Guinness to respond to me with verification of my record ... they are generally entirely within their rights to take as long as they like if the record attemptee does not pay £300 to have their claim fast-tracked.

I continue to scribble away at my embryonic book.

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