Monday, 30 April 2012

Climbing A Ladder

On Sunday it rained.  Most of you in southern England will have noticed that but did you notice it blew in from the east and not the west?  I did because when the rain is driven in from that direction the windowsills by the stairs get wet.  This isn't a common occurrence but as I'm in the (very long) process of decorating the hall stairs and landing I had to do something about it.
On close inspection it turned out that when the windows were fitted, as part of the loft conversion work, the pebble dash was brought flush to the wood at the top of the frames instead of overlapping it to prevent water ingress.  Over the years one or both have shrunk leaving a small gap over the window frame; there was also no sign of mastic which didn't help the situation.  This close inspection was done by going up my ladder to both windows; the top one being on the second floor which meant the ladder was on its full extension.
Today I used quick setting cement to build up over the wood frames and then applied mastic over the edge between the wood and cement. It wasn't until I'd finished I realised something odd - I'd just gone up a ladder to a second floor window.  This may not sound odd to you but I suffer from vertigo in buildings (not mountains or cliffs) and going up a ladder that high has always filled me with dread; I'd be clinging on for dear life.
Today it just seemed a natural thing to do so I can only assume that the Prozac I take for my depression has either lessened or cured my vertigo.  This isn't all good news as I used to be very cautious up a ladder and I'm now a bit worried that I may be too relaxed about it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

What's Wrong With British Politics

So here, in the UK, the news is full of politicians sucking up to the press at the same time as the economy is in its worse peacetime condition.  The odd thing is I think the two are connected.

The problem is career politicians; people who have only worked in the political arena and who see their life in terms of how 'successful' their career has been. That means how much power do they wield and power and the press seem to be linked all too closely.  Now I know that is a massive generalisation but it does appear that the top echelons of our major parties have a predominance of these people.  In the past politics was seen as serving the nation but now it's your career.

One of the big problems this leads to is short termism - something that is rife in government.  Apart from the obvious fact that every government is actually working to get re-elected it shows up every time there is a change of minister in a government department. The new minister arrive and wants to make a big impression to further their career and they do this by introducing a lot of new initiatives.  While there is nothing wrong in that in itself it usually means new initiatives and ways are working are rushed in before the initiatives of the previous minister have been allowed to bear fruit or even be fully implemented.  Now it should be the role of the civil service to bring a level of impartiality and continuity to the transition between ministers but, of late, this has been undermined by ministers appointing 'special advisers' who are not civil servants and report directly to the minister.  These advisers are, of course, political careerist who aim is not to look after the country but to further their own political career; paid for by the tax payer.

With ministers (and MPs) surrounded by career politicians all parties have become increasingly out of touch with the life of the average Britain.

I don't have all the answers but how about these fort suggestions of how to make politics relevant to normal people:

  • Ban special advisers.  If a minister wants a political assistant it should be paid for by the party and not funded out of tax revenues.
  • Set the salary of MPs at the national median wage; currently around £26,000.  There are two reasons for this; firstly to ensure MPs know how the rest have to live and secondly it might discourage people from entering politics for self interest and encourage those who want to serve the country.  I know people will say you need to pay more to get the right people but as that doesn't seem to be working we need to try something different.
  • Have a mainly elected upper chamber whose members are elect for 10 year terms to counter the short term objectives of the Commons.
Any comments?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Why I Now Know History Is Important

Many years ago when I was at school (I left in 1972) I used to think history was a waste of time; what mattered was the future and not the past.  Over the years I have changed my mind and realised that it is important to study history for two reasons; to know how we got where we are and to avoid making the same mistakes again.  This second lesson and my days at school came back to me when I read this story:

You see I was among one of the first students to take Business Studies 'A' Level and as part of this we did some economics.  Among the things we were taught was that one of the fundamental mistakes made in the Great Depression was for firms, who facing tough trading conditions, to cut wages in order to cut costs.  While they did get a short-term cost cut they also reduced the market for their goods which meant they had to cut production which, due to the fixed cost element, meant their costs per unit increased.  It doesn't take much to realise that this is a vicious circle of wage cuts, sales losses, production cuts wages cuts etc.

In the linked article are a couple of paragraphs that I had feared would happen when all the government cuts were announced:

The ONS said output of the production industries decreased by 0.4%, construction decreased by 3%. Output of the services sector, which includes retail, increased by 0.1%, after falling a month earlier.

It added that a fall in government spending had contributed to the particularly large fall in the construction sector.

Notice that the government cuts have led to a 3% decrease in construction which will in turn mean less government revenue and higher welfare payments which will lead to further cuts/higher taxes, which will in turn push national output down further.  Does anyone spot the similarity?

I know that, as a country, we have been living above our means and the deficit has got to be cut but this  needed to by tackled by greater efficiency and not just cuts.  My time in the Civil Service tells me that successive governments have introduced endless changes to bureaucracy, usually before the last changes have been implemented, as they asked for more and more information to make the 'front line services' prove they are value for money; politicians not trusting anyone to do an honest job unless they 'prove it.'  Given the way politicians behave (MP's expenses etc) it would be better to get the politicians off the front line services back and let them get on with the job.  That way we could have efficient public services, cut costs and be more productive as a country.

The only snag I see with this plan is convincing the politicians that, for reasons of self interest, they don't know how to run a country.