Disunited Kingdom


Another interesting few weeks in international politics. Trump gets nearer and nearer the precipice, though if anyone ever gives him a push is anyone’s guess. Then there’s the UK. Jermy Corbyn gave Theresa May an almighty scare in the general election, to the point that to form government the Conservatives need to enter into a coalition with the uglies of the Irish Unionists, who don’t believe in same-sex marriage or abortion, and in general have a range of retrograde policies – and they hold the whip hand. Then came the awful Grenfell Tower fire in London. Last I heard there were 58 reported deaths, and bad deaths too – trapped in a burning building and succumbing to smoke or flame. The firestorm has spread far beyond the building though.

I don’t see how Theresa May can survive this. She got a very shaky mandate from the electorate after running a poor campaign. Her conduct and behaviour after the election inspired little, but it’s the Grenfell Tower fire that is her death knell. But let’s start at the start.

It’s not long ago that Corbyn was deemed unelectable, and May called an election in the expectation of a landslide. Corbyn improved his game, and May was diabolical on the campaign trail, and these in combination were a catalyst for reconsideration by the electorate. The elements were already there though – general cynicism, disenfranchised voters searching for something to believe in, and those disenchanted in general with the party system and the rhetoric that goes with it. Much has been made of the Conservative mantra throughout the campaign of strong and stable government and I agree it played a big part in the outcome – as a negative to the conservatives.

That’s not always the case. As mindless as these slogans may seem, it’s apparent that by the perpetual repetition of them something gets through to the electorate. In the past it proved a positive for like trained monkey’s we (well, never me) came to associate the proponents of the slogan with the message. That was in simpler times.

These days it’s a rowdy crowd. They’ve come angry, unwilling to be appeased by mindless drivel. Had May been better that sense may never have been activated in the electorate. As it was she was unwilling to engage and came off as being evasive and untrustworthy, while Corbyn was campaigning on simple sincerity. Get a load of this the punters thought, and just listen to the bullshit she’s spouting! The electorate became aware, at which point the repetition of empty phrases became a negative.

The move towards Corbyn was a rejection of political party machinations. All over the world voters have become jaded by cynical politics, faceless and cruel bureaucracy, and an utter absence of sincerity or ideals. May embodied that and in comparison Corbyn’s homeliness and home-spun wisdom was positively attractive. In the end I think the English electorate were drawn to Corbyn and what he represented, but were unsure whether they wanted him to govern. That was then.

Now it might be different. The disaster at Grenfell Towers is almost biblical in what it means. It feels as if a message from on high sent to expose the inequity and utter poverty of the Conservative movement. What is a human disaster has been proved to have been utterly preventable if not for corruption and shortcuts being taken by the ruling Tories. Added to that was the deplorable conduct of Theresa May in the aftermath – a more out of touch leader you won’t see.

Where do we start? Well, Grenfell Towers is public housing in a posh area, Kensington. The victims were working class strugglers. They had complained about the risk of fire and were ignored. The building itself had no smoke alarms or sprinklers – unimaginable (and illegal) in Australia. The cladding added to the building during a recent renovation was proven to he highly flammable, but chosen to save money. Then of course there were the cuts made by Boris Johnson when he was mayor to the fire service. And so on. Then, to add insult to injury, after this barely comprehensible tragedy Theresa May turns up shielded by minders and talks only to the firefighters – the homeless victims are ignored. (In comparison Corbyn, and even the Queen, showed normal human compassion. Corbyn has really shone throughout this).

May copped a lot of criticism for this, and rightly so, but what I see is a woman totally out of her depth. She’s not a particularly attractive character, but this misjudgement I suspect is borne of complete confusion – not that that’s an excuse.

A government has yet to be formed in Britain, and Brexit looms. After Grenfell Towers great swathes of the population are outraged. If they had an election today I think it’s Corbyn who would win in a landslide. That’s not going to happen though. What will happen is hard to know. I think May’s leadership is now not sustainable; and I think there are too many questions about the proposed coalition which, after Grenfell Towers, contradicts entirely the mood of the nation.

I’m fascinated to see what will happen now. There must be victims – sacrifices – which is all a part of the political culture. May is dead, and I think Boris is terminal now too. Admission must be made, the sacrifices made public, and a conciliatory leader who promises to ‘bring the nation together’ will be found. How they resolve the political stalemate I don’t know.

As for Australia, if we’re watching then there’s a lot to learn – but I’ll get onto that another time.

 

Disruptive hopes


Some time last year I had a conversation with someone comparing Bernie Sanders with Jeremy Corbyn. There were superficial similarities between them, with both being well to the left, both anti-populist, and both theoretically appealing to the great swathes of the politically disaffected. In the US, without Sanders as a candidate, most of the disaffected ended up in Trump’s court. The question was whether Corbyn, an incumbent leader, could go one step further than Sanders when the time came.

The time is now upon us with a British general election on Thursday, but my answer now is somewhat different what it was back then.

Last year I scoffed at the prospect of Corbyn ever becoming prime minister. The consensus was that he was unelectable and I had no reason to disagree with that. Sanders, by comparison, was eminently electable I thought – the pity was that he never got the chance.

The problem with Corbyn is that he appeared a narrow ideologue, passionate, idealistic and totally out of touch with practical realities – a bit like an Australian Green. If anything he was too left, too purely hardline without a skerrick of compromise in him. It didn’t help that he looked like a downtrodden history master with a bit of the bolshie in him. He was as far as you could get from the slick grove of New Labour (not altogether a bad thing).

Sanders, by comparison, was both passionate and idealistic also, but more practical. He was a better communicator, and roused large parts of America in the lead-up to the primaries with his message of change and hope. He was, like Corbyn, a different voice, someone outside of the political machine, and there was a great part of his appeal – but Trump was outside .

It appeared up to a few months ago that the critics take on Corbyn was broadly true. He had been utterly ineffectual in the campaign against Brexit, and trailed by a huge margin in the opinion polls. Now, a couple of days out from the election, he is well within striking distance. It seems a small miracle.

He has been greatly assisted in that his opponent, the Liberal Prime Minister Theresa May, is a very unappealing and largely unimpressive character. She took for granted that a big lead in the polls would translate into a big lead in the election, and campaigned accordingly. She has come off as shifty, evasive and a touch cowardly – which is pretty much your standard polly circa 2017.

Corbyn at least has been sincere. That is his virtue. There is no cant with him. He may be earnest, but what you see is what you get. And, unlike so many politicians today, he seems fully committed. He is a true conviction politician, and in an era of shifting opinions, policies and rhetoric that becomes very appealing.

May is of the old political order. It’s an order the electorate no longer trusts or really believes in. It’s the safer option, but it’s not something that anyone can really believe in.

Corbyn is of a different order. He is the disruptive candidate because he doesn’t hold with conventional wisdom, or with conventional platitudes. He is distinctly his own man and that is immensely appealing in an era of packaged messages and

Sanders is of the same order, but so too was Trump. Being different, going your own individual way, doesn’t automatically make it right.

I sit here writing this hoping that Corbyn gets up. It’s not that I agree with his policies – some I think are too extreme – but I admire his fervour, and believe strongly that the likes of him and Sanders offer an antidote to the soulless political dichotomy we have for so long been served with. That needs to be broken, and the election of a reasonable man outside of that might just be what it takes. (Trump is not a reasonable man, and unfortunately his presidency is far from an endorsement).

That’s it in a nutshell. You may not agree with Corbyn, but you have to admire him – which is the obverse of what many might feel about may, and her ilk.

I don’t expect Corbyn to win. I may be being cautious, but I tend to believe that while punters may flirt with the option of a Sanders many will end up ticking the box for the tried and worn out. But who knows, I could be wrong.

Can’t ignore any longer


I can’t go on writing of trivial things when about me in the world momentous events occur. I think of Kafka who in his diaries made mention of WW1 commencing, followed up by a note that he ‘went swimming’. I understand that. A diary is personal, it’s not intended to reflect on the great moments of history. There comes a point though when those moments become personal, and to continue to disregard them is just impossible, and vaguely immoral. My issues may consume me, but in a time where innocents are targeted for brutal execution they are small things indeed.

Of course over the weekend there were terrorist attacks in London, a couple of weeks after the terrorist bombing in Manchester. On Saturday amid widespread panic and disruption 6 people were murdered by jihadists. It may well have been much worse. By memory 22 died in the Manchester bombing, most of them children and young people, and all of them much loved by friends and family. The damage goes far beyond a simple list of dead.

It might sound callous, but it’s not the lists of dead that I find most horrifying, but rather it’s the incomprehensible ideology that exults in this violence.

When the bomb exploded at the Ariana Grande concert I wondered at the mentality of people who set out to wreak destruction on the most innocent and vulnerable of our society. The audience for an Ariana Grande audience is always going to be predominantly junior – kids and teenagers for whom Grande is an idol. To attend a concert of this type should be the most innocuous and joyful of pastimes for people who have yet to hurt anyone. Yet it was these people who were targeted. How can you understand that?

The attacks over the weekend were more normal in the sense that there have been similar attacks in France, Germany and Denmark in recent times. The method was to create panic and terror, and in that it was a complete success. London was virtually shut down and all the news services carried it for hours on end. The death toll was modest considering the impact, but the tactical objective was achieved.

In the aftermath of these attacks there is widespread and justified outrage. It’s hard to deny that, but it serves ISIS objectives exactly. I cannot comprehend the ideology, but the strategy is clear. The death of infidels is a bonus, it’s the terror, fear, mistrust and violent reaction these attacks provoke which is the real purpose of them.

The people who commit these crimes are commonly described as evil. It’s an easy label and it seems an easy fit at first blush. Certainly these are evil acts, but I suspect that the schmucks who sacrificed themselves for this misplaced ideology are a mix of fools and tragically misguided, the easily led and readily corrupted. In the absence of anything more meaningful they have been drawn to the exotic appeal of the extreme, and a purpose in death they could never find in life.

The true evil is the corrupt ideology that justifies such heinous acts, and the cruel and sadistic leaders of this ideology who seek to manipulate, enslave and murder. They claim to act in god’s name, but that too is a corruption – no just god demands the death of unbelievers; and no true man of god demands – and so exults – the murder of so many innocent. This is a false ideology, the god they clamour to is not the true god of their faith, and those who seek to destroy will themselves one day find themselves called to a violent judgement.

For now, it’s a hard thing to get your mind around. It is so big now, and seemingly unending – and just so terribly wrong. For a moment you wonder what it is that allows this – but then you recall all those movements through history who have had a similar urge to righteous murder. It’s just the most recent form of extremist reaction, this time Islamist, but it’s nothing new, regardless of what the other extremes will tell you.

There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been better said by others, but I can’t stay silent any longer.

Our day


I took Rigby for a walk down the beach earlier today and overhead the Roulettes flying low zoomed by in formation, twice. It’s Anzac Day, always significant, and always a big day. Like I’ve said many times before, it seems the truest of our national days. Just about everyone has some kind of personal connection with it in a way not possible with Australia Day.

Both of my grandfathers fought in WW2 and I grew up watching the parades down St Kilda road. Later on, I was in Gallipoli for the 2004 Anzac Day commemoration, and about 7-8 years ago marched in it with my nephew, wearing my grandfather’s service medals. That was a great occasion. It’s always been a big day for me.

We had bucketloads of rain last night. It kept the crowds away from the dawn service, but there were still 30,000 there, which is damn impressive. By now as I write all the old diggers and their families will have finished marching and will be off having a beer somewhere, or else be playing two-up with mates. I love this day.

To honour the occasion I cooked up a batch of Anzac biscuits this morning – pretty good, though next time extra oats and extra golden syrup.

I’m not going to the footy this afternoon. I still can’t afford to go to most games. I’ll be watching it from my couch though. I’ll crack a bottle of red and unwrap some cheese and indulge myself while the mighty Bombers make a mess of the pies. The sun is out and while I’m not tipping against further rain, reckon it will be largely fine for the game. Can’t wait.

Bryan Dawe breaks his silence on the death of his friend John Clarke


The news of John Clarke’s death wrenched Bryan Dawe back 54 years to the worst day of his own boyhood.

Source: Bryan Dawe breaks his silence on the death of his friend John Clarke

This is an outstanding piece. I wrote about John Clarke earlier in the week, but this is more eloquent than anyone could write. This is remembrance, funny and sad and deeply felt, by the man who was John Clarke’s straight man.

Besides everything else, it’s a very moving description of friendship, respect and sorrow. 

Shabby deals, poor policy


The latest piece of nonsense from the Australian government is cutting the company tax rates for business with turnover of $50M or less. As announced Friday, it will fall from 30% to 27.5%. The government will claim an economic driver for this, but really it’s all political. It’s theatre, which accounts for much of our politics these days. This is something government hung its hat on and was determined to drive through by hook or by crook. Originally they sought an across the board cut to business tax rates, but that was never going to happen – but anything was better than nothing.

In a time of so-called budget emergency and with a growing deficit – not to mention a range of essential services like health and education being constrained – giving a tax cut to big business was always going to be a difficult political argument. Not surprisingly the ALP opposed it, as did most of the cross-benchers, and public sentiment was against it also. In the end a watered down version only got through because of a now routine shabby back-room deal, this time with Nick Xenophon. But at least the government could claim a victory of sorts, and that’s what all this was about.

There is very little good in this. The myth of cutting company tax rates creating economic growth is right up there with the unicorn. There is no evidence anywhere that it works, despite it being a popular piece of dogma around the world for the decade or so. It’s similar to the old-fashioned and similarly ludicrous ‘trickle-down’ economics espoused by Reagan when he was president. It just doesn’t work.

The idea is that if you give more money to the people at the stop of the pyramid they’ll spend or invest it and it will trickle down towards the poor sods at the base of the pyramid holding it up. It’s the same sort of ill-considered philosophy that saw Sunday penalty rates cut recently – the notion being that it will make small business more profitable, meaning they could do more, and maybe even pay their staff more. No-one believes that, and not only is it unfair to the person who gives up their Sunday to work, it overlooks some pretty basic economic precepts.

Economic activity is predicated on money circulating through the economy. You want money in people’s hands, and you want them to spend it. It’s one of the major arguments for tax cuts in general. The problem here is that by reducing penalty rates you’re taking money out of people’s hands. It means they spend less and economic activity diminishes in that sector (not to mention quality of life). The irony in this case is the unforeseen impact on tax revenue. Everyone knows that overtime gets taxed more – as soon as you reduce it you also reduce income tax revenue, which impacts on all of us. Just stupid all round.

It’s the same with cutting company tax rates. I’m not against reducing tax, but it has to be for the right reasons, and preferably directly linked to productivity targets. The reasons stated here are just bogus. The majority of the cuts will go towards profit, shareholders or CEO wages and bonuses. Some will likely be invested, but very little will go towards better employee wages. And it’s likely to make not one whit of difference to international investors looking for somewhere to invest.

What it does do is drastically reduce government tax revenues – when already there is insufficient. It further entrenches inequity of a system where low income workers carry the greater share of the burden while having services they rely further cut. It’s disgraceful, and really does beg the question: who does the government govern for? Is it for the people, or for big business? We know the answer to that, and the reasons are all political – big business is the biggest donor to Liberal party funds. This is payback.

It’s hard to look upon Nick Xenophon with anything but contempt after this. I used to respect him, but he’s cut a deal to suit his own political agenda, and betrayed his greater responsibility to the Australian people. In exchange for his vote he’s negotiated a one-off payment to pensioners – I hate one-off payments; and negotiated government investment in a thermal plant for his home state of SA.

As far as I’m concerned the final result is almost the worst possible outcome. Because there is a cut-off amount it will increase red-tape and encourage rorting, if not outright corruption. It complicates a tax regime when we should be simplifying it, and will certainly drive work to the finance sector to account for this increased complexity, and no doubt to set-up complex company structures to ensure revenue is under the $50M cap to take advantage of it. And because it is gifted, rather than tied to productivity incentives, it’s unlikely it will lead to any meaningful business investment.

You and I get nothing from it, indeed, we probably lose more now as decreased tax revenues doubtless lead to a further contraction of essential services.

Turnbull can crow about it, but it’s a miserable outcome for this country.