Magic Money Tree

The genuine problem with the today’s momentous announcements in the UK Parliament is that of political expediency. I don’t mean traditional political pragmatism but like a snake: the art of shedding one skin to replace it with another. Transformations are part of political life but total repudiation of statements, policies, and positions of only a couple of weeks ago are destabilising and lead to universal mistrust. Who are these Conservatives?

What I mean by this thought is the unsettling claim that some people have made that this is the first days of a true Conservative[1] government[2]. As if the entity that was elected at a General Election in 2019 was merely a dark cloak of convenience. As if the British Conservative Party General Election manifestos of 2019[3] was a prospectus that no one should ever have expected anyone to take seriously. As if the last decade of Conservative rule was merely a colourful sham.

Not so long ago, time and time again we were warned of that Magic Money Tree[4] was a dangerous myth. That the sirens of the opposition parties would entice the great British state onto the rocks. Financial doom would surely result if the public voted for social democrats, liberals, greens or socialist. The perils were exclusively caricaturised as attributed to “lefty” high spenders.

Magical thinking is now mainstream Conservative thinking. This smack of complete and utter hopelessness. The claim is that the new “Growth Plan” puts more money back into the pockets of businesses and families. It makes some attempt at putting some money back into the pockets of businesses but sets the cost against the ordinary taxpayer. Paying for borrowing will be an ever increasing burden.  New British Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is a gold rush gambler without the know-how, track record or skill of ever being a winning gambler.

The cynical political gamble is that increasing burden will not become disastrous until after the next General Election. The leader may have changed, but the same old desperation to cling to power, whatever the cost to the country continues in the Conservatives.

POST: Pound Sterling dives after British Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng presented his budget to Parliament’s House of Commons on Friday.


[1] https://twitter.com/LordAshcroft/status/1573247615629758464?s=20&t=YGIIoj2ODXvpnLdMQHFE1Q

[2] https://www.managementtoday.co.uk/made-pile-lord-ashcroft-businessman-politician/article/940641

[3] https://www.conservatives.com/our-plan/conservative-party-manifesto-2019

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44524605

Motorway

I can’t say the word motorway without the Tom Robinson Band[1] “2-4-6-8 Motorway” number going off in my head. In 1977, the whole experience of jumping on a British motorway was a million miles from where it is now. I guess, the song is a late-night drive from gig to gig. Last night, I saw – That same old motorway sun going down with the evening light. On my way home from a busy day.

COVID, cost of fuel, being environmentally aware, there’s no doubt I’m driving a lot less now than in the past. Yesterday, I had good reason to take a road trip of about 158 miles. Most of the daytrip was taken on packed motorways. That was the M25, that runs around London, and the M1 that heads north. The M1 being the first in its line. Opened in 1959. It’s a little older than me.

Here’s an observation. Logistics is big business. It’s not just the huge trucks that perpetually run up and down the motorways, but the massive steel-clad warehouse that line the route. Distribution centres as vast as many football fields. That seems to be the measure of these monoliths.

What was originally intended to speed a journey from A to B, isn’t living up to the road builders’ intentions. Motorways are a series of stop-go, stop-go encounters where nothing is smooth. In some places not even the road surface. In fact, that was one of the hold ups on the M1. Temporary repairs being done to fill a hole in the carriage way. I thought the guy with the pot of tarmac was particularly brave as he stood behind a few dayglow bollards to do emergency maintenance work.

Back to being environmentally aware. Left and right, being surrounded by heavy trucks, each one sported a slogan. Usually, a marketing company’s best attempt at three words to make a dull business look whizzy. Many of the slogans are now green. Not in colour but in what they are trying to say. There is a distinct overuse of the word “sustainable.” Sitting low down in my car and looking up at a big HGV guzzling diesel and I felt so much better thinking that these transport operators were concerned about the planet. Like hell I was. Maybe this fits the description of greenwashing. One exception was the bright red lorries of the Post Office. There are more concerned to let you know they shift a billion items every year.

So, where does all this activity sit in the world of Net Zero? It’s clear that the logistics trade isn’t entirely on-board with saving the planet. Do we blame them? Or do we look closer home? The ease with which a parcel can get from any part of the country to our doorsteps is a development we’ve grown to take for granted. I’d question that such conveniences are sustainable. Or a lot more must be done before they become sustainable.


[1] https://youtu.be/kGrnEc_3mYo

The queue

Likely a favourite subject of study for social scientists. The queue. That self-organising line of people that waits in an orderly manner. A way of passing the time of day so that everyone can do whatever needs to be done. To wait in turn.

Even that description isn’t accurate. Who amongst us hasn’t been in a disorderly queue. Often angry and frustrated people in an airport building, suffering lack of information. One desk open and hundreds of tired travellers lined up to take a voucher or ask desperate questions about connections. Staff like windup automatons handing out dollops of advice when all they want to do is go home. Overwhelmingly most of my queuing experiences have been at international airports. Well, that and supermarkets but it’s not the routine supermarket situations that carve their way into memories. There are moments at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport that I can never erase.

Being ever inventive, airports provide routine orderly queuing opportunities at security. These are strictly controlled up to a point. Asking for forgiveness and breaking the strict queuing coded there’s always the one or two people who are desperate not to miss their flight. “Please can I pass. I’m late for my flight”. Hearing this we generally stand aside thinking; that could be me one day.

This is where social scientists get their buzz. The etiquette of queues is so variable. Not only is the composition of the line a factor but the climate, time of day and final goal. Not to mention culture.

Now, in London the queue to see the Queen’s lying-in-state[1] is becoming more than just a queue. It’s a phenomenon where people are going to view the queue as much as stand in it. It’s a testament to the commitment of those standing in-line. As night-time temperatures start to fall it doesn’t seem to have acted as a deterrent. The drive to be part of history and pay their respects has overtaken a lot.

What is heartening is to hear the reports of the friendliness, humour, and comradery that’s evident. There’s a great spirt of making it up as they go along. Yet, maintaining a sense of purpose and order. These are admirable characteristics. Although, I don’t wish to join these good people, my appreciation for their efforts is here. By doing what they are doing they make us all a little bit better.

POST 1: Matt caputures it with his pen -https://www.facebook.com/mattcartoonist/posts/pfbid02v74vRWa7SwBqrFcuV9LmU9N2dirp39MxgjohSLVMZ2Dr2oNWp3sNrYT8z4YUc4Bvl

POST 2: I wasn’t thinking of an extra-dimensional being of unknown origin (“Q”) or a Spanish word but as my wife said – how can you spend all week reading articles about the London queue and still spell the word wrongly? To that, I have no answer.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-62872323

Ice Cream

It’s a conspiracy! A devious plot by those government bureaucrats meddling with my fundamental freedoms. There I am, all innocent, in a local supermarket looking for my favourite ice cream. A woman of my age is staring at the upright freezer compartment at the same time. She’s frustrated. “Can’t find what I’m looking for”. In a grumpy voice she further remarked: “Staff told me it’s a government directive not to put fatty foods at eye level. They’ve been told to move them.”

I said: “That’s a new one on me.” I opened the tall glass door and bent down to pick out the nearest selection they had to my favourite ice cream. As I put the box in my cart, “it may not be good for my physical health but it’s dam good for my mental health” I said. She smiled.

My first thought is that the staff member with the all-knowing knowledge was a number one idiot. This is how conspiracies get going. Supermarkets are always moving goods around the shelves. 

So, I looked it up. Yes, a British charity called the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH)[1] has recommended that supermarkets move junk foods from eye-level shelves. It’s the sort of statement a public health charity would say. They are not the government.

On the basis that nothing is left to chance in the way supermarkets are designed, there’s no doubt that health advice would go into their deliberations about shelving. The shelving manufactures[2] have advice too: Keep Them Busy. That’s not just a way of making us move around the store, probability good for physical health, but it’s to get us to see more products. Buy, buy, buy.

In the winter to come, supermarket shelves could be left empty of some food and drink as companies go bust due to exceptional energy prices, but government officials aren’t going to help much with that problem. They certainly were not when that happened due to Brexit.

Back to my theme. Why is the first assumption made that there must be a government conspiracy? Not by everyone but by a significant number of people. I’d venture it’s the disconnection people believe that exists between media savvy politicians and real live everyday folk.

In this case, it’s also the abdication of responsibility on the part of the store worker. It’s a matter of not understanding, or not being bothered, or their own conspiratorial thinking.


[1] https://www.retailgazette.co.uk/blog/2019/07/grocers-urged-scrap-junk-foods-eye-level-shelves-obesity-crisis-bites/

[2] https://www.monarchshelving.co.uk/blog/shelving/effective-shelving-strategies-grocery-stores/

Corporate Failure

I watched the documentary on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 last night. It’s on Prime[1]. Called Flight/Risk. It starts with the launch of the new aircraft and ends as the aircraft returns to service and the consequences of the disaster that are still rippling through aviation. Seattle Times journalist, Dominic Gates appears frequently. His perspective is one that I was reading as the accidents and following events unfolded.

It’s a well-made production. I my view it focuses too much on whistle-blowers and too little on the appalling design errors made in certifying the aircraft. However, I can understand the choices made by the film makers. It’s primarily aimed at a public audience and not technical experts.  

This was a massive and fatal corporate failure. My recollections of working with Boeing in Seattle, in the mid-1990s are that such events could never have occurred in that era. It was a preeminent engineering company, with a proud heritage and safety was as important as the blood that flows through our veins. What happened in this last decade is beyond shocking.

Now, corrective action is being taken. Efforts are being made to re-establish an effective safety culture. All over the world technical experts have securitised the modified Boeing 737 MAX to the n-th degree. The company expects the Boeing 737 MAX 7 will be certified by the end of the year and the larger MAX 10 in the first half next year.

What is regretful is how long the design and manufacturing industries resisted the introduction of Safety Management Systems (SMS). I remember doing presentations to industry on that subject more than 2-decades ago.

So, what does a bad corporate and safety culture look like? We must recognise it, and not ignore the signs. What concerns me is, however much we have learned from the Boeing 737 MAX saga; it will soon be forgotten. Pasted over like wallpaper.

As if to give me an illustration, I was standing in a high street shop, browsing sale items in the normal way. It’s always nice to pick up a bargain. Even though it was a busy Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t many people in the shop. Behind me, were two store employees chatting away. They didn’t pay much attention to me until they had finished. They were close enough for me to hear most of what they were saying. One of them was the store manager.

Basically, they were having a whinge about the company that owned the shop. One key aspect was the waste of time, as they saw it, of being sent on company training courses where expensive consultants rabbited on to them about matters that were totally irrelevant to their day-to-day business. They blamed the corporate management. They haven’t got a clue, and it’s getting worse was the gist of the chat. They both expressed love of their jobs. It was a cry of desperation and frustration as they feared the company was on the road to go bust.

I guess that’s it. When little, or no communication exists between shop floor, literally in this case, and corporate management then that’s a big indicator of grave troubles ahead.


[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flight-Risk-Karim-Amer/dp/B0B5K615MZ

Public Service

Today, Charles III is to be proclaimed King following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. My thoughts are with His Majesty The King and his family.

The Queen has shown us how statecraft is done. With exceptional charm, dedication, and wisdom, she brought together the people of many nations. Her example will shine bright for eons to come. Now, a new era will begin. The monarchy will continue to be at the centre of British life but it’s a world, a family of nations, a Britain that is so different from the one of 70-years ago.

There are three thoughts of recollections I’d like to highlight. One is the late Queen’s love of the countryside and rural life, and another is her celebration of public service and the third is truly being an internationalist.

The Queen didn’t take sides. That contrasted so acutely with the partisan nature of political debate.

Rural communities saw The Queen as a knowledgeable, interested and concerned countrywoman. She spoke up at times of hardship especially for those living and working in rural societies not just in the UK but worldwide.

At a time when the whole idea of public service has been under attack The Queen stood four-square in support of those who give up their time and energies to work for a better society, helping others and upholding the role of those who serve their community.

Having travelled the world and experienced the horrors of war, The Queen was prominent in bringing together peoples of all faiths, beliefs, and backgrounds. The Queen at the Council of Europe in 1992, talking about the European Convention on Human Rights, Magna Carta and changing times is well worth a listen.

The Queen’s death does raise fundamental questions over future of monarchy, but they are not for now. There will be time enough to explore the future.  

May Queen Elizabeth II rest in peace.

21st Century Gothic

It took over 600 years to complete, Cologne Cathedral[1] was finished in on 14 August 1880. That was about six months before the Conservative politician who served as United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister (PM) twice, passed away. None other than Benjamin Disraeli. 

The Gothic revival has started. Europe became awash with gothic architecture. Cologne Cathedral ranks as a pre-eminent example of the style in all its glory.

Today, our UK Houses of Parliament, more accurately the “Palace of Westminster” is as gothic as gothic comes. After both houses has been burnt to the ground, in 1835 it was decided to rebuild. I guess that’s a clue as to why the architectural choice was made the way it was made.

The Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and British all had a taste for this grand nationalistic style. It had become fashionable with the Church as much as being a symbol of national triumphalism. It pushed aside the Classical style. Although many important buildings were still built in the Classical style at that time.

Honestly, I’m not being unkind. This week’s Ministerial appointment had more than one outstanding eyebrow lifer. I really wish I could do that trademark Roger Moore facial gesture[2]. What a handsome chap. I’ll forgive him his conservative leanings.

What got me thinking about a Gothic revival was not the famous painting: American Gothic[3]. Which is a wonderful parody. No, it was the image of a newly appointed Minister of Her Majesty’s Government. My thought was that this is NOT normal. This is worthy of exceptionally grave concern.

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP has been appointed Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, he might be most suited to the Gothic palace where he spends his time, the notion that that gentleman is the best choice for that office astounds me.

We are in 2022, aren’t we? There hasn’t been as sudden slip in the time continuum, and we are back in 1822, by any chance?

The UK Houses of Parliament have become iconic and symbolises the UK throughout the world. Big Ben, the clock tower, is in the Gothic style. I had no idea that this revival of the Medieval impacted the choice of Government Ministers. I’ve been shaken. I hate to use the words but – we’re all doomed[4].


[1] German: Kölner Dom

[2] https://britishheritage.org/en/roger-moore

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Gothic

[4] “We’re all doomed!” the classic catchphrase of Private Frazer in Dad’s Army.

Next Please

There’s no celebration. No fanfare. Today, the UK get a new PM. The 4th in 6-years. We have seen Cameron, May, come and go. Now Johnson is going in favour of Truss. If there’s a celebration, it’s that Johnson is going out of Number 10 Downing Street. The removal van is, no doubt, fully laden.

This is a transition that needs to be made as quickly as possible. For too long the Johnson cabal has been lingering and doing little of any use to the nation. However, the jobs are distributed it’s a time when decisions must be made fast, but with a degree of smart flexibility.

Truss has none of Johnson’s ability to bluff and shtick. The new PM has a delivery that’s wooden and gaff prone. Nevertheless, Tuss has beaten others who would dearly love to be in the hot seat. Although, there’s good reason to question why anyone sane would want to be PM in September 2022, given the vast size of the in-tray that is waiting.

Smaller taxes and smaller Government may have been Truss’s shop window to Tory members but that’s not what’s necessary to dig the country out of the doldrums. This is a time for intervention. We have markets that are actively working against the interests of the British people.

Denying the aftereffects of Brexit also needs to go in the dustbin. It’s only by recognising a problem that a better path can be taken.

The last thing we need is a laissez-faire leadership. The textbooks of the Reagan era do not contain the solutions to the problems of the 2020s. Immediate changes to the energy market are needed. Regulation is a major part of those changes. Not micromanagement but structural change. The accumulation of huge profits because of our peculiar regulatory structure can’t continue.

On this momentous day, change must happen. However, as a word of caution, that transformation must not disregard the real and urgent nature of climate change. If our hot summer wasn’t an indicator sufficient to catch the attention of the new PM, and whoever is appointed as energy secretary, then look at what’s happening in Pakistan[1].

Winter is coming. Short-term measures must prepare us for winter, but the long-term perspective is vital. Not only do we need to decarbonise but reducing demand for energy for heating is achievable. For too long the benefits of improving Britain’s housing stock have been neglected. We don’t need more spiel and the hands-off approach should be for the dustbin.


[1] https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/pakistan-floods-more-than-450-children-killed-in-e2-80-98horror-show-e2-80-99-with-death-toll-feared-to-rise-further/ar-AA11uXnL

Platform & Mockery

It’s accurate to say that there will be a new leader of the British Conservative Party. An announcement is expected and there’s not much that can derail it. Up and down the country the members of that national political party have been twiddling their thumbs and marking ballot papers.

To me, the use of the word “new” is to stretch the langauage to the far corners of the Earth. The politician backed by the pollsters to win is nowhere new on the block. What’s fascinating is the two Conservative candidates for Prime Minister (PM) have been spending their time rubbishing the record of the last decade of Conservative Government. Funny old world.

In a huff from starting blocks The Mail, newspaper, has screamed unfair because mainstream comedians love to mock the likely winner of the Conservative Party’s selection process. This is mega silly. Mocking our leaders is as British a British can be. Recently, I was in the V&A[1] in London and I couldn’t resist a look at the Spitting Image puppet of Margaret Thatcher. If anything, in terms of mockery, we are getting tame. Leaders of any poltical creed are fair game in a free country. Often the humour is spiky but shines a light on a truth. That is so much better than the playground bickering and insults that are gaining momentum among the far right and left.

Exercising a lot of media pundits is the question of when there will be a General Election. The drop-dead date is at the end of 2024. So, practically, any new British PM will have not much more than 18 months to make a big show, and shift the agenda onto their ground. Tough task at any time.

Today’s News suggest that this natural poltical ambition will be incalculably difficult to deliver. The phrase: “Events, my dear boy, events,” comes to mind. When asked what troubles a PM, former PM Harold Macmillan[2] answered with those words. It’s become a popular quotation and so true.

Past events linger. Banking crisis, Brexit, COVID and international tensions. Current events are unpredictable. War, Energy prices, Inflation and the Climate Crisis. Future events often give no notice. None of these are small. All we need now is another troublesome Icelandic Volcano to burst into life.

By the way, Harold Macmillan was the target of wonderfully sharp mockery by a cartoonist called Vicky[3]. His works are a good study of British culture and society in the 1950s – 60s. I expect poltical cartoonists will be happy to mark this day as a good one for future work.

POST 1: There are 605 days until the 2nd May 2024, a likely date for the next General Election. The last one was 998 days ago, meaning we are 62% of the way through the current Parliament. Much can happen.

POST 2: It is my great pleasure to introduce the new British PM Liz Truss ‘Cheese Speech’ to Conservative Party Conference 2014 – video Dailymotion


[1] https://www.helenacurrycreative.co.uk/margaret-thatcher

[2] British Conservative politician who was Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963.

[3] https://www.cartoons.ac.uk/cartoonist-biographies/u-v/VictorWeisz_Vicky.html