Gap Grows

“One rule for them. Another rule for us.” It’s always an emotive slogan. It’s not my favourite saying in a time of great political polarisation. First you must see yourself as, one of us. Second you must see them as alien and privileged.

In a divided society this slogan gets thrown around like candy. However, it has a core truth in it. Inequality is a fixture in England. It was fine for Blair and Brown to say: education, education education, but they only shifted the dial a small amount.

Recently, I did a guided tour around a well-known English public school. Its history is fascinating, and some notable people have gone through its doors. The experience of schooling in that place is a huge leg up on prospects. There’s absolutely no way that a state school experience can match up.

One of the factors is the huge resources focused on creating opportunity for each pupil. Another, advantage is the closeted environment that creates a private network of lifelong contacts.

What then of “levelling up”? As a political slogan it seems to imply an almost communist attempt to increase the wellbeing, opportunity, and quality of life for every single citizen to a new common level. That makes me wonder why equivalents like eliminate poverty or prioritise education or fix climate change aren’t getting a look in.

Could it be that “levelling up” is in fact “covering-up”? Objective measures say that the gap between the richest in society and the rest of the population has widened over 10-years[1]. Rather than a natty political slogan surely corrective action to address this gap is needed.

This year household finances are going to be under extreme pressure. A cost-of-living crisis is upon us. It’s not just energy bills. It’s post-COVID-19 business failures. It’s supply chain chaos made worse by BREXIT. It’s incompetence and waste in Government responses.

Unfortunately, this Conservative Government has forfeited any trust people may have had in it. Trust matters if solutions to our challenges are to be met and overcome. Trust is broken when one privileged group demands the right to cling to power regardless of circumstances.

There’s need for urgent action. There’s need for a new plan. There’s need for a new Government.


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householdincomeinequalityfinancial/financialyearending2020

An Apprentice

Let’s face it, it’s entertaining although a bit of a Victorian freak show. The Apprentice[1] is back on the tele. The BBC have again given a platform for Lord Sugar and his workday philosophy. It’s deeply engrained in a City[2] centred British philosophy. Boy made good; you might call it. A South Easterner’s quest for the streets of gold that Dick Whittington[3] sought.

What’s on offer is a fast moving climb up a greasy pole in full public view. It’s like no other apprenticeship on offer. The classroom highlights are edited to make the viewer squirm and shiver. Slumped on the sofa we can all say, I wouldn’t have been so silly.

The BBC has a creed. The BBC’s founding purpose, “to inform, educate and entertain”, remains admirable. This includes an equal consideration of viewpoints, probity, popularity, and a commitment to public service. The Apprentice hits one of these buttons. But as we watch, does it inform us what real business is like? Does it educate us about how to conduct successful business? I’d say – not much. The show does, however, give the tie a better name. It’s not bad for pinstripes and power dressing too. Pile on the 1980s stereotypes. Even the wired phones in the Board Room.

As a public funded national broadcaster, the BBC is aware of its commercial competitors. Tooth and nail, they are fighting over our eyeball time. Digitisation has increased the intensity of that fight. So, is it surprising that we get fed monster egos, inexplicable fails, and smug triumphs? Afterall this formula is remarkably entertaining. It creates those watercooler moments.

I’d like to go back to the creed mentioned above. The BBC should be committed to universality. I mean by that a commitment to all sectors of our society. If a public broadcaster is going to do a popular show about business success and failures it ought to cover more ground. Pounding on about the City stereotype is missing a big opportunity.

In a week when Apple[4] reaches a global size of unbelievable proportions, and we watch The Apprentice on their devices, how come we are so blind to the most successful entrepreneurs of the last couple of decades? Making thing matters. OK selling them matters too but both matters.

Having a rough vision in 1976, the year I left school to take up an engineering apprenticeship, a group of West Coast nerds started to shape our future. They shaped it far more than they could ever have imagined. It’s our digital world that continues to expand.

Again, I’d like to go back to the creed mentioned above. There’s would be entrepreneurs messing around with computers, strings and wires in garages and sheds up and down Britain. There’s schools and colleges with incredibly imaginative pupils and students dreaming up dreams and playing with the stuff of the future. Yet, the BBC gives no prime-time space for this corner of our society.

Let’s have a show called – The Innovators. Or even The Disruptors.


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0071b63

[2] https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/supporting-businesses

[3] https://www.london-walking-tours.co.uk/london-history/dick-whittington.htm

[4] https://www.statista.com/statistics/265125/total-net-sales-of-apple-since-2004/

A Year On

Here we are with one year of Brexit under our belts, and the unmitigated disaster that it is couldn’t be clearer. No European Union (EU) Member State has shown any interest in following the UK and departing from the block. If anything, observing the negative impact of Brexit on the UK has strengthened unity within EU. The end-of-year review of Brexit by Bloomberg finds not a one economic positive and a lot of significant damage[1]. It’s not alone either. Finding positives is like the search for the Yeti.

Such is the great embarrassment of Brexit that UK civil servants are told not to mention it. Brexit does not mean Brexit anymore. It means shush be quiet.

There is little doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focus away from the effects of Brexit and allowed the UK Government to avoid the scrutiny that would normally be applied. So far, worldwide COVID-19 deaths total 5,410,921 (Source: Johns Hopkins). Thankfully the extensive vaccination programmes across the globe are working. New Year’s Eve parties will be going ahead in England. Nevertheless, there’s an atmosphere of caution and it’s likely that 2022 will arrive to muted celebrations.

There’s no rational way of explaining why the Conservative Government in power enacts policies that they know will damage the Country’s strength, safety, security, economy, and social fabric. The only explanation is a ridged adherence to dogmatic arrogance, preventing any acceptance of responsibility for the outcome of past decisions. There can be no rational explanation for a trading Nation that chooses to erect trading barriers with its closest neighbours, at a time of considerable global uncertainty[2]. Origin of manufacture customs regulations begin on 1st January 2022 for goods exported from the UK to the EU. This is yet more red tape that will impact UK exports and livelihoods.

Claims made in 2016 that food prices would fall, tax and energy bills would be lower post-Brexit are now completely farcical. It’s true that people were warned that these claims didn’t stand-up but that didn’t deter those who made those outlandish statements. Many of those who made such statements have profited from the last 5-years of troubles. If not always in financial terms they have profited in terms of power and influence[3].

Some of the architects and managers of Brexit have chosen to resign to escape responsibility for the self-inflicted wound. However, a significant advocate of Brexit remains in post. UK Prime Minister Johnson still resides in Number 10 Downing Street. I wonder for how much longer.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that the solution to global problems is collaboration. Acting in splendid isolation may appease a small domestic political audience for the short term but longer term it is a hopeless approach. Working togther to meet global challanges is the way forward.

Brexit simply isn’t working and those that have been dealing with it can see a looming crash. The UK starts the New Year with so many Brexit issues still unresolved. Sadly, Brexit supporters continue to pump out fibs and practice chicanery. But slowly and surly the great British public are beginning to wake up and the political tide is turning. 


[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-22/how-a-year-of-brexit-thumped-britain-s-economy-and-businesses

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-59761292

[3] Examples can be seen by looking at the list of those elevated to the House of Lords.

Bury the Past

Politics does descend into absurdity. It’s not unique to our time. What important is that we don’t ignore what’s going on. That approach just abdicates power to the worst amongst us. Attention must be paid to uproot any burying of the past. Corrective action must be taken to re-establish competency and trust.

An absurdity of the moment is the pretence that what happened in the past is irrelevant. That no one in power is answerable for past events. Even those newsworthy events that are relatively recent. This political strategy elevates talk of future actions to cover-up the deficiencies and negligence of the past.

We’ve heard from a Minister of Justice saying that a suspect crime, that happened a year ago, is not the sort of event that the requires investigation. He’s saying that past mistakes and stupidly can escape scrutiny. For any member of the public, a law degree is not needed to know that this is absurdity. It’s right that questions be asked at the highest level.

The UK’s Prime Minister seems intent on concealing any revelations about a Christmas party that may or may not have taken place in No 10 Downing Street[1]. To deny the past is not sustainable. The open display of a culture that ignores rules is shameful[2]. If this proves to be the case strong corrective actions, including resignations would be appropriate.

In addition, there’s a bad habit of saying that criticism of past actions is only “hindsight”. That word is used to diminish the importance of an important issue. What’s worse is that it’s used to justify ignoring fair questions or legitimate criticisms.

Absurdity becomes the norm when this political strategy is used frequently and with little thought. A default position that says, all past events are irrelevant is dangerous and rapidly erodes credibility. A position that then justifies lying to bury past events is supremely crooked.

Conservative politicians in Westminster have got themselves into this extremely bad habit. It’s an arrogant assertion that accountability is for other people. It’s an attempt to by-pass the checks and balances that are necessary in any successful democracy.

As inflation rushes to exceed 5%, the denial that Brexit has had anything to do with this is another absurdity. This habit of burying the past extends to supply chain problems and a decline in trade[3].

Parliament needs to rise and challenge these absurdities. The fabric of our democracy is fraying.

Government credibility is sinking in the quicksand of denial.


[1] https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-pm-johnson-under-fire-over-christmas-lockdown-party-2021-12-08/

[2] https://news.sky.com/story/this-party-is-not-going-to-be-investigated-by-the-police-in-a-years-time-rees-mogg-jokes-about-government-christmas-parties-12489616

[3] https://ukandeu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/The-impact-of-Brexit-on-UK-services.pdf

What is a lot of money?

I’m marking a birthday in a few days. Although, I think I will imagine my age as being minus one year. 2020 had some notable moments but if I was asked: would you like to do it again? I’d say: make it ten days and you’re on.  One of the beauties of age is reminiscence. Yes, I can remember a pre-decimalisation England.  Pounds, shillings, and pence were what I was taught at my primary school in a small Somerset village. 

I remember the Callaghan led the Government in 1976 and its financial woes. The Labour government was forced to apply to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a loan.  Those turbulent years were a lot of fun for me. The summer of 1976 was magnificent in every way. 

As I started work as an apprentice, unemployment stood at a post-war high and inflation was in double digits. Punk rock was running riot.  England was changing.  It was a dynamic period. 

Although, as a young man I had no interest in it at the time, the way Governments spent money shaped a lot of what was happening.  Money did matter and does matter. It’s the difference between being able to do things and stagnation or recession. 

However, never be deceived. Government spending is not like household spending, as Mrs Thatcher would have had you thinking. For a start, none of us has our own mint. None of us are directly compared with other countries or issue our own bonds. 

So, what are we to make of the apparent calmness expressed over massive Government borrowing and reckless spending? We are in truly unprecedented times. A pound for every time that word was used, and the national debt would be a lot smaller. 

How do we make sense of a 1% pay offer for nurses when they have been so pivotal in the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic?  When there’s no evidence that a Government funded Test & Trace made a difference and yet it cost over £30 billion.  To top that, there’s been 130,000 COVID-19 deaths making the country stand out as one of the worst performing of all. 

Are these the new late 1970s? Except for the absence of inflation, and astonishingly low interest rates it does look that way.  But let’s get back to that word: unpresented. I don’t think there’s an analogous situation in my lifetime that might give some clues as to what comes next. 

For the moment, the so called “cockpit of the nation”, the House of Commons seems all but useless given the power of the ruling executive.  Government actions are not held to account. 

The billions spent on the Test & Trace system are a perfect example.  Well over £500 per head of UK population has been spent on this system in a short period.  But few know where the money went or what it bought. There needs to be far greater accountability and transparency. This is an urgent matter. 

Flight, Risk & Reflections 14.

The end of the transitional period of the process of UK withdrawal from the European Union (EU) is just days away. I believe most people are looking for some light at the end of the tunnel. A tunnel that we have been in since mid-2016. Now, that light looks dim. Dim as a dull cold winter’s day.     

The EU has triggered Brexit No-Deal contingency plans[1].  These plans are to ensure basic services between the UK and the EU for 6 months in 2021. Then it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.

Flying is down to levels last seen in the 1970s. This maybe joy for those who protest at aviation’s environmental footprint. But, given that aviation will be vital to power the world out of the economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 virus, this is not good news. 

Said it before but I’ll say it again, the triple blow of a Brexit No-Deal and COVID-19 and urgent need for action on Climate Change are going to mean hair shirts years ahead. There’s a great deal of bluff from politicians but the bills keep mounting up. We cannot ignore the oncoming trains. 

Worldwide COVID-19 deaths have now topped 1.6 million[2]

In this crisis, there’s no doubt that the UK has a superbly capable science community. Within that specialist community there are world renowned experts[3]. They work in a global context.  So, the persistent echo of nationalism in politicians COVID-19 response is saddening.  Recently politicians have spoken as if the task of public safety regulation was a competition.  This is sheer folly. It undermines trust.  Ensuring either vaccines or transport systems are safe is NOT a matter for national competition.  We all have vulnerabilities and safety is only assured when we are all safe. 

The triple whammy means the UK aerospace industry is under pressure and needs strategic support from the UK Government to sustain its high value jobs. So far, a deaf ear is all they offer businesses that create prosperity across the country. 

Also, on the horizon is that the UK will be under pressure to scrap European tariffs applied to Boeing imports imposed as a result of the international dispute between Boeing and AIRBUS. The subsidy dispute was between the EU and US and so lawyers are saying the UK should step aside. Sadly, this is the sort of situation that will make Europeans seriously question future aerospace investments in the UK. 


[1] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2020/12/16/council-endorses-transport-contingency-measures-in-case-of-no-deal-brexit/#

[2] https://www.statnews.com/feature/coronavirus/covid-19-tracker/?utm_campaign=cv_landing

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000qdzd/panorama-the-race-for-a-vaccine

Flight, Risk & Reflections 1.

Lucy Worsley’s stories about the biggest fibs in history are entertaining but enlightening too[1]. So, often competing versions of history get rewritten to fit the time and a place. It takes a while as the ebb and flow of social and political life chew on the facts. What’s different now is that we are living through a time when history is rewritten almost every week. The power and speed of social media throws up a massive churning of material and some of it never settles. That said, for those of us who were awake in 2015-16 it was easy to see that the direction of political travel was going to end in disaster. It’s a horrible play with no pleasure to say: I told you so.

The agenda for next week’s continuing round of EU-UK negotiations, in Brussels are now published[2]. It’s good to see that aviation has got a slot. We can all hope that the negotiations will make progress by compromise and reason and not get lost in more dogma and ideology. Usually August is a quite time in Brussels. Let’s hope that makes it a fertile environment for quiet reflection. 

At the moment, it seems the UK Government would rather focus on migrants making a Channel crossing than the future of the Country’s economy. With a quarterly drop of more than 20 percent in the UK economy, it becomes obvious why. The UK economy has been hit worst of all the G7 countries. The UK is now formally in recession.

In the past, there’s no question that UK air passengers enjoyed fantastic connectivity, both in terms of number of the destinations served and number of airlines flying routes. Today, sadly the story is one of decline from a peak. Passenger numbers are down significantly.

Aviation is critical to the UK especially with the mismanagement of the whole Brexit process. Aviation is one of the biggest connections the Country has with the rest of the world[3].  Allowing it to flounder and changing travel decisions weekly is a disaster[4]. This week the UK government added France, Malta and the Netherlands to the current ‘quarantine’ list.

BREXIT and COVID are a double whammy.  Add to that confusion and lack of direction and the results are devastating. 


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9680968/

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/negotiation-7th-round-eu-uk-agenda.pdf

[3] https://www.wearefinn.com/topics/posts/ads-calls-for-industry-safeguards-after-record-gdp-fall/

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/uk-aviation-coronavirus-cancelled-flights-quarantine-travel-a9668891.html#Echobox=1597329649

Flying, Democracy and Safety 8.

IMG_2082

Halfway through 2020. What a different kind of year than the one we’d expected. With 20-20 hindsight I’m sure we’d have approached it differently too. In that phrase, 20-20 is a reference to good vison but it could equally have been a joke on the year 2020. Now it’s July and Germany’s EU Council Presidency starts. Their theme is: “Together for Europe’s recovery” #EU2020DE[1].

It’s strange that during the years of Brexit debates those who supported it said that leaving the European Union (EU) would mean a break from competition rules to give Britain the opportunity to boost its own industries. What has happened recently has been the complete opposite. In the face of COVID-19, European Governments have been providing support to their aviation sector, but the UK has not provided similar support.

Now, UK Prime Minister Johnson repeats that the UK is ready to walk away without a deal with the EU if no agreement can be reached in what remains of the time available. At the same time, he’s “optimistic” that there’s a “good agreement” to be reached[2].

If the UK exits the mutually beneficial Withdrawal Agreement without a sound long-term deal, the effects will be felt by everyone[3]. With global tensions between many Countries and China continuing to mount, this is foolish.

Here we go again. The UK’s Conservative Government is getting more Brexity as the people of Britain are getting less Brexity. A recent European Social Survey has found support for Brexit has fallen to 35% of voters while a majority would prefer the UK to be in the EU[4].

The aviation sector hasn’t had a good week. Airbus plans to cut 15,000 jobs amid COVID-19 fallout. However, British politicians would rather talk about fishing than aviation. Yet, fishing contributes £1.4 billion to UK economy while aviation contributes £22 billion.

UK Foreign Office travel advice and the national quarantine continue to make it difficult for anyone to plan to travel. Portugal, a Country that the UK has always had excellent relationships with, has been left out in the cold.

The world’s biggest trading block is on the UK’s doorstep.  The bare-bones of a trade deal could happen but making it more difficult to trade with the EU seems unwise to say the least. Again, it has been conformed that the British membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will come to an end on 31 December. Historians will look mystified at this period. Governments don’t normally work assiduously to diminish their place in the world.

[1] The programme for is now online on http://eu2020.de.

[2] LBC on Friday, 03 July 2020.

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/e4da78ae-a428-4466-9721-d3841cc0e005

[4] https://ldeg.org/en/article/2020/1366373/survey-finds-35-want-brexit-while-57-back-rejoin

Aviation & Brexit 91

90-days[1] to the next predictable Brexit cliff edge.  The UK Government has still got a hell of a lot of work to do to get ready for a Brexit No-Deal scenario.  The international currency markets have detected the fragility of the current situation and reacted accordingly.  The British pound sterling is at 1.216 to the $ and 1.094 to the EURO as I write this short sentence.  That’s an incredibly poor rate, even if you took the view that the pound sterling has been overvalued.  British summer holiday makers are going to find this fact painful, but the flipside is tourist coming to the UK are going to have a great time.  No doubt, air traffic will continue to grow to carry these welcome visitors from overseas.  Unfortunately, in the short-term the threatened strike at British Airways (BA) may put a damper on that prospect.

The bigger issue is: what the state of the national currency says about the level of risk we are taking with Brexit.  It’s not a vote of confidence.  Currency rates may tumble further.

There’s a list of Brexit downsides and one is that British assets now look cheap to overseas purchasers.

I’m not saying that this is a specific example, but I noted with interest the sale of the British defence and aerospace group, Cobham to a US private equity firm for 4 billion pounds[2].  Today, Cobham employs 10,000 people.  They were known for the development of airborne refuelling systems, which was a British innovation.  This organisation is part of my aerospace design history.  In the 1990s, on a regular basis, I visited what was then called; Flight Refuelling Ltd, just outside Bournemouth.  I did numerous approvals of modifications to the Falcon 20 aircraft that they flew[3].

Sadly, the UK’s recent keenness to leave the European Union (EU) without a deal, on 31 October 2019 is like hanging out a big “For Sale” sign.  Sound companies with valuable intellectual property look like a good buy.  That said, this is not new for the UK.  There are desperate periods in our history where selling the family silver was quite the vogue.

My point is that there are valuable British assets that look cheap to foreign investors given the uncertainties of Brexit.  Which is ironic because it’s completely the opposite of what Brexit was supposed to be about, namely; take back control.

History always has lessons for us.  Even recent history.  I’d recommend an offering from the UK TV Channel 5 with Portillo’s series: “The Trouble with The Tories”[4].   He interviews many of the key players who brought the never-ending Brexit calamity upon us.  I watched it and thought, just how useless knowledge with hindsight can be.  Not only that but how dreadful British politicians are at assessing risk.

One thing I’m sure of, next week is going to another Brexit rollercoaster.  It’s as if we have invented perpetual motion.  It would be wrong to see No Deal as the end point or finish line.

[1] https://interactive.news.sky.com/2017/brexit-countdown/

[2] https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-cobham-m-a-advent/us-private-equity-group-advent-buys-uks-cobham-for-5-billion-idUKKCN1UK0NA

[3] http://www.aeroflight.co.uk/tag/flight-refuelling-ltd

[4] https://twitter.com/channel5_tv/status/1157040808845094912?s=20

 

Aviation & Brexit 85

The year’s longest day is almost with us.  This week, for the first time in a while, The UK’s Brexit is not a major topic at a European Union (EU) summit[1].   Now, the new European Parliament (EP) is in place there’s much discussion about the big jobs that need filling.   In the EU, a new team of European Commissioners is appointed every 5-years.  Appointing the President and the College of Commissioners is one of the issues concentrating minds in Brussels and across Europe.

Today’s European Commissioners will be leave office on 31 October 2019.   Coincidentally, that’s the date the UK is supposed to be leaving the EU.  It’s impossible to say if that will happen, not even with the remaining candidates for UK Prime Minister saying; that they still wish to leave.  The words of Donald Tusk, warning the UK to stop wasting time still echo around the room.

It’s worth noting that the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the EU will be replaced by the Finland’s Presidency[2] at the end of the month.  This is interesting given that Finland held parliamentary elections in April this year.   The new Government of Finland was appointed on 6 June.  So, there’s not much time to prepare an agenda for their term but I feel certain Climate Change will be high on the list of issues.

Potentially, that means a lot more talk about EU policies that promote sustainable and “smart” mobility.  In one direction, exhibited at the Paris Air Show are a horde of new electric propulsion systems for aircraft.  In another direction, policies include the introduction of an aviation tax at EU level and a carbon floor price[3].   No doubt this subject is going to be highly controversial.   The call for Net Zero emissions by 2050 is a major strategic shift for Europe.

Today, not all EU Countries have a flight tax, like the UK.  It’s a tax on a ticket.  Unfortunately, that ticket tax is not used to mitigate the environmental impacts of flying.  Aviation taxes, such as fuel taxes or ticket taxes, do have an impact on the economy.  If there’s not strong coordination and cooperation in the design of an aviation tax at EU level, then the danger of exporting jobs is real in what’s an international business.

Some studies do suggest that an aviation tax is not effective in reducing CO2 emissions.  However, there’s a great deal to be debated and investigated on this key subject.  I cannot believe the UK will not have a strong interest in the direction that the EU chooses to take on aviation taxes.  Naturally, it would be better if the UK was part of the decision-making process but leaving the EU with “No-Deal” rules that out completely.

[1] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2019/06/20-21/

[2] https://eu2019.fi/en/frontpage

[3] https://www.aviatax2019.nl/#home