Category Archives: Uncategorized

DUP “plan” is simply garbage

Arlene Foster was mocked for talking of a five-point plan during the UTV Leaders’ Debate, which was in fact this:

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So, a ten-point “plan”. Except it isn’t a plan.

And that is what really annoys people.

Who opposes “more jobs, rising incomes”? No one. But where is the plan to achieve it?

Who opposes a “world class health service”? Many would say we already have one. But her party has had five years to reform it and has comprehensively failed.

Who opposes giving “every child the opportunity to succeed”? But where is the analysis of why is not the case?

What exactly is “rebuilding Northern Ireland”? The SDLP also have a peculiar obsession with building.

Where is the plan to “reward hard work”, and how is it judged and defined?

What precisely is “smarter justice” and has she noted we have “safer streets”?

Are “stronger communities” to be “created” or are we just using random words now?

What does a “friend of the farmer” mean and how is that a plan?

Her party has had a decade as largest party to “change politics in Northern Ireland”, so why has it not?

And detail how someone plans to “take pride in Northern Ireland”?

There is not a plan there to be seen. It’s just vacuous nonsense. The DUP clearly has no plan – it just wants power for the sake of it. No wonder its representatives keep failing to turn up for panel events.

Plainly the DUP thinks we will fall for this bunkum; in other words, DUP candidates think we are all fools.

It would be a good idea to prove them wrong.

Populist candidates getting it wrong on infrastructure

No sooner had the CEO of Belfast International Airport tweeted that a crash on the main A57 road from the M2 to the airport demonstrated his case for a dual carriageway, Assembly candidates were lining up to agree – indeed, one first-time candidate for the local constituency instantly called for a motorway.

They thus demonstrated the whole problem with Northern Ireland politics. As soon as someone calls for something, politicians and would-be politicians are climbing over each other to agree. Yet, once they have attained office, they find it isn’t quite so easy… no wonder so many people thing politicians are dishonest!

To be clear, such an upgrade is not a bad idea. But it is not programmed; it is very complex; and in any case it shows a false priority between road construction and road maintenance.

It is a duty of candidates, before making pledges, to do some research into how viable they are. Even a cursory piece of research would have demonstrated that there is zero chance of a significant upgrade to the road from the motorway to the airport this decade, and almost zero even in the next decade. In fact, on this very blog, I provided the current list of programmed primary road projects in Northern Ireland just three months ago – these take us essentially to the end of the 2020s, and the A57 airport road does not appear.

Of course, a future Infrastructure Minister could decide to re-prioritise, and take a project off the list, replacing it with the A57. Yet a cursory look at Assembly debates and party statements notes that absolutely no one has seriously suggested this – there is the odd reference to an upgrade but no reference whatsoever to which project would be removed from the programme to enable it.

Were an upgraded road to the airport to be prioritised, it would become quite complex. It is far from clear that such a road should run along the current alignment of the A6/A57 from M2 J5 (at Templepatrick/Ballymartin) to the airport. In fact, there is perhaps a better case for a route from somewhere near J4 Sandyknowes (this would require the construction of an additional junction roughly where the new Templepatrick Services are, and in fact such a junction is proposed in the longer term for all kinds of reasons); or perhaps even from between J5 and J6 (near Parkgate). Either of these options would make it considerably easier to bypass Templepatrick with a high-speed road without causing significant public protest (and thus delaying the whole thing until well into the 2030s). In other words, it is not at all straightforward, which is one reason it is not programmed!

There is another problem here, which is that for all the understandable excitement about grand projects like the A12 York Street interchange or the A6 Moneynick upgrade, funding is being cut back from basic maintenance. Many readers in Northern Ireland will already have noticed street lights going unrepaired; resurfacing projects being delayed; even still road side verges going untreated.

While we protect funding for an unreformed education and health system and push for more and more grand infrastructure projects (hands up on the latter!), we are omitting many of the basics.

It is the basics the politicians (and those who would be politicians) need to get right. Meanwhile, beware anyone promoting a motorway to the airport. There hasn’t been a motorway constructed in Northern Ireland for over 20 years – and the maintenance of the ones we have is going under-resourced. Let’s fix what we have first…

 

#Brexit takes us away from most successful continent

So, what is the case for the European Union?

To answer this, let us forget about money, even though the financial and economic case for membership is unanswerable when actual facts are used.

For me, it is quite simple. Europe possesses the countries and peoples who most see the world the way we do.

It possesses the world’s foremost long-term state-sponsored/funded health systems; the most generous welfare provision; the best public transport. Far from falling behind the rest of the world, Europe continues to lead it in a vast range of ways.

It possesses the world’s most representative democracies. Astonishingly, to these, it has added the whole of Southern and Central-Eastern Europe in the past 30 years or so. Far from being a place which does not respect democracy, the European Union has been at the forefront of expanding it to hundreds of millions of people.

It possesses the world’s highest culture, of which the renaissance and the enlightenment are products. Thus the countries of the European Union receive more tourists and host more major events than anywhere else on the planet.

What Brexiteers are proposing is straightforward – they want us to be less like these countries of great social innovation, expansive democracy and high culture.

Do you?!

SDLP anything but “progressive” on women’s rights

Earlier this month a young woman was handed a three-month suspended sentence effectively because she couldn’t afford to travel to England.

What kind of obscene society would allow this, based on a 150-year-old law?

Yet “Precious Life” took the even more obscene position that the young woman should be imprisoned, depriving a living child of a mother.

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Sometimes a picture (with the “Precious Life” spokesperson Bernie Smith left and the SDLP’s Minister and Deputy Leader right) paints a thousand words.

The Greens have embarrassed themselves too on this issue of course, by trivialising it with plans to legislate to extend the 150-year-old law rather than remove or replace it. But worse than that, remember, every single SDLP MLA went through the “no” lobby on an amendment even merely to allow termination in the event of Fatal Foetal Abnormality. This means the SDLP,  which likes to rant about “Tories”, actually takes both financial and social positions well to the right of the Conservatives.

So if you want a socially progressive option next month, as I do, you will obviously need to look elsewhere.

Sectarianism and the delusion of objectivity

The Undercover Economist author Tim Harford has a very important article here on the “Delusion of Objectivity“.

It applies to many things, but one is the oft stated contention that “It is not sectarian to take a position on the constitution” in Northern Ireland.

Actually, in practice, it usually is.

The position taken on the constitution by parties made up almost entirely of British Protestants educated in state schools on one hand or by Irish Catholics educated in maintained schools on the other is not objective. It is pre-determined. It just so happens that all of the former, who grew up in a broadly British culture, prefer the British state; and all of the latter, who grew up in a broadly Irish culture, prefer the Irish state. Funny, that.

Such constituonal positions, therefore, are a product of cultural upbringing and not of objective and rational thought.

Now read the article again…

We see the tendency of each side to forgive the other side their constitutional position given that people on the other side grew up in a different culture. At heart, though, we still believe the other side to be misguided; we just don’t blame them personally, but rather their upbringing, for this delusion.

Anyone who cannot give a clear, rational view as to why someone of a different background should switch to their constituonal position has arrived at it based solely on cultural upbringing. That cultural upbringing was in a society (and, notably, education system) segregated along sectarian lines.

So yes, if you cannot defend your constitutional position genuinely objectively, the practical reality is that your position is sectarian – because it is arrived at solely based on which side of the sectarian divide you are on. Indeed, you may even be deluded…

“Giveaway” manifestos merely offer more of the same

One BBC NI correspondent joked that with the DUP offering giveaways to centenarians and the SDLP offering them to new borns, he was wondering who would give money to those in between!

Such petty populism is, of course, utterly pathetic.

Rather than targeting vital resources towards Early Years programmes in marginalised  communities where they could be accumulated and make a real difference to entire groups of people, the “Social Democratic and Labour Party” wants to give £500 individually to sons and daughters of millionaires.

Remember, this is the same “Social Democratic and Labour Party” which still thinks people living on £1.2 million mansions should only pay a third of their rates.

Thankfully, the evidence is that such ludicrous attempts literally to buy votes (via a programme which once existed across the UK and was abandoned by Labour fifteen years ago) will be seen through by an electorate increasingly tired of silly promises with no delivery.

What is unfortunate, however, is that if we want daft giveaways and mismanaged budgets, we can already vote for the DUP and Sinn Féin, who now have a decade-long record of delivery on such nonsense. The whole purpose of any “social democratic” party should be to offer a clear alternative, with properly costed proposals to help those on the margins, appropriate revenue raising from the better-off, and detailed plans for reform of public services.

Instead we get money for millionaires. You couldn’t make it up.

“Tax returns” and fearing for democracy

The fuss over tax returns makes me despair for democracy, and politicians publishing them is actually dangerous.

Of course, the reason politicians are often hypocritical is that so are the voters. We are hearing frankly ludicrous demands for six years’ worth of tax returns made by people who themselves would never dream of publishing theirs – indeed, often by anonymous trolls on Twitter!

The real problem with our democracy is that it is increasingly a closed shop – people get a job in a constituency office, become a Councillor, and move “up” from there. We end up with Ministers who have never run a business, never managed a charity, never worked in the public sector, never in fact had to manage a household budget on anything like the average salary.

What we need in our legislatures and governments are people who have created jobs, promoted charities, worked at the coal face, succeeded in academia, seen the public sector first hand and so on – professional people, who can provide valuable experience and knowledge to the policy-making process. Already, when seeking public office, they have to deal with risking careers, restricting family time and dealing with public ire with no guarantee of electoral success. Now, on top of that, we want them to reveal details of their private lives which none of the rest of us would even dream of revealing even to close friends and family? That is going to improve the quality of public debate, is it?

There is of course the issue here of public ignorance about taxation and public finance. Basics, like the difference between “tax avoidance” (which most of those agitating about it actually do themselves!) and “tax evasion” are missed. Moreover, the very point of an “offshore” investment is it does not appear on a UK tax return! Worse than that, however, is that a tax return actually tells us nothing about a person’s real interests. We learn nothing about what industries they may invest in, what property they may own, and even what charities they may support – all of which is potentially relevant to decision making as public office holders. That is why we have registers of interests!

Add to this the modern social media world where sanctimonious outrage is King and anyone engaging in the actual complexities of managing public finances, reforming a health system or assessing social housing stock is instantly dismissed. It is of course a lot easier and less time consuming to tweet #CameronResign to feel good about yourself, than actually to engage in the complexities of the issues and to influence real change in the public interest.

The only issue here is whether people making decisions in the public interest are being up front and honest. We can assess that on the public evidence – and not on private and irrelevant tax returns, which are already assessed by the tax authorities.

We have now spent days discussing tax returns – both a practical and political irrelevance – in a way which can only damage the chances of new blood entering the political system. Meanwhile decisions on Health, Housing and everything else that actually affects us have been made completely without scrutiny. What kind of farcical democracy are we creating for ourselves?

Brexiteers – what about the real world?

The vehicle I use most of the time is in fact leased. Although I use it most of the time and refer to it loosely as “my car” because it is registered to me and is parked on my property, strictly speaking it actually belongs to the manufactuer’s UK financial services company. Yet that company has no interest in the car, only in ensuring it is paid for; I am the one with the interest in it. Who owns it in practice, therefore? And does the ownership have any practical relevance?

There is a section of the Russian Far East which is twice as large as India yet contains a population lower than that of the island of Ireland. Yet it has in recent years experienced notable immigration – number hundreds of thousands. These immigrants come not from elsewhere in Russia, but from China. They have come not to leave China, but in fact to set up a Chinese timber company which will send timber supplies back from this small corner of the world across the border for use in by Chinese industry, notably construction. Who owns that part of Asia, therefore?

Nominally, the territory referred to falls within the boundaries of Russia and is thus theoretically under the sovereignty of the institutions in Moscow. However, it is almost depopulated and has no functioning economy except for timber. That economy is entirely dependent on Chinese immigrants sending timber across the border into China. The territory, therefore, is only under Russian sovereignty in the same way my car is under a financial service’s company’s ownership – it is theoretical but has no current practical purpose (for as long as China needs timber and I keep up my payments, respectively). In effect, Chinese industry has “leased” this territory from Russia, and it is now solely within China’s interest for as long as it wants it and can make it economically functional.

China is of course “leasing” lots of the world, often in terms of maintaining or constructing infrastructure – building piers in Mozambique to cricket grounds in the Caribbean in return for “maintaining interests”. The UK, notably last week Scotland, has not escaped its attentions. This is a form of neo-colonialism – complete even with the partition of Sudan into a China-dominated North and a Western-dominated South.

In this context, what on earth is sovereignty?

The world consists of new mega-cities (often in the Far East) and major trading blocs. Sovereign states are no longer of particular relevance, other than as units of nominal, reactionary government.

Why on earth would we leave the economically largest such bloc?!

Steel issue shows limitations of sovereignty

The debate around the future of the UK steel industry has demonstrated just how ludicrously parochial political debate here has become. People lined up to argue over how losing hundreds of jobs in Port Talbot was the UK Government’s fault, the Welsh Government’s fault, the Remain side’s fault, the Leave side’s fault, the fault of any politician I don’t like…

It is just possible that it isn’t any politician’s fault.

The fact is, since the mid-’90s in particular, we have all literally bought into an economy based on cheap supply from the Far East.

We are not necessarily wrong. Upon retirement in 1997 my father bought an Internet-capable (US-built) PC for the modern equivalent of around £5,000. Its capabilities would be comfortably passed by a basic (Chinese-built) £100 mobile phone now.

So it goes on across a vast range of goods – phones made in China, vacuums made in Malaysia, electronics made in Indonesia, etc etc. In such countries, wages are much lower and workers’ rights much inferior (even basic welfare or pension provision is almost unknown).

But we don’t care, as long as we get the goods cheap and can spend the rest of our wages on leisure activities, fancy cars and holidays (perhaps to places like Dubai, largely built by migrant workers on pitiful salaries with no basic rights at all).

Let us be clear, any politician seeking to deny us this standard of living, even though it is in effect based on slave labour (just not our slave labour), would never attain office.

China and other countries have used this income to grow their economies and create a burgeoning middle class – which, just every few years, grows by a size equivalent to the entire population of the UK. One of the inevitable consequences was a construction boom in the Far East (most obviously in China), and then something of a bust, with a further consequence that China had an excess steel supply which it dumped cheaply on the world market.

So it is that Chinese economic decisions affected an Indian company to the extent that hundreds of jobs were put at risk in South Wales. This is globalisation, an inevitable consequence of the cheap supply economy into which we have all eagerly bought – not “politicians”, us!

Such also is the limitation, or indeed near irrelevance, of the concept of “sovereignty”. It was not a current Welsh Government or UK Cabinet Minister’s decisions which threatened the UK steel industry; it was a Chinese economic decision and an Indian company board’s reaction to it.

This is the ludicrous nonsense of “take back control”. This is a globalised world of quality European imports and cheap Far Eastern imports. We need to be part of a big team, not exposed on the sidelines.

 

Sinn Féin fails Irish unity test at Glasnevin

For a party which bangs on about “Irish unity”, there are few parties more committed to division than Sinn Féin. This was demonstrated again by its hysterical reaction to the basic notion that everyone killed during the Easter Rising should be treated equally.

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Photo courtesy BBC.

The howls of indignation are made worse by the sheer hypocrisy of it all.

This is the same Sinn Féin which talks of an “Ireland of Equals”, but then wants “Irish rebels” treated favourably to “Irish civilians” and “Irish soldiers”.

This is the same Sinn Féin which protests against the notion there should be a “hierarchy of victims”, and yet then specifically tries to create one to suit its own historical myths.

This is the same Sinn Féin which tells British people on the island of Ireland that they have “nothing to fear” from a United Ireland while retweeting sentiments that the “British” are nothing but murderers, rapists and slave traders (and of course that the “[native] Irish” have never been any of these things).

Actually the British people in Ireland’s northeast probably have little to fear from a Fine Gael Government committed to genuine equality, as demonstrated at Glasnevin, and whose previous Taoiseach openly regrets the Easter Rising as a divisive and illegitimate act of unnecessary violence.

Fine Gael and many others recognise that “Irish unity” is more than a geographical concept. People have to be brought together too. Overt protestations that some are of better historical stock than others (as represented by the argument that some dead should be treated better than others) is no way to achieve that unity.

Indeed, is the notion that some people should have preferred status based on their bloodline not precisely what so-called Republicans are supposed to oppose?!

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