Nov 192011

I used to work for a bank.  The messages I received were often mixed.  From HR, for whatever reason, the messages were generally supportive and humane.  From my most immediate managers, however, the need to hit targets was imperative.

You can imagine how confused I sometimes got.

Nevertheless, health and wellbeing were seen almost without exception by everyone as key concepts for all.  One wonders if this was out of a sense of humanity – or out of an understandable fear of legal recourse were anything to happen in a health and safety sense to any of the tens of thousands of employees.  Even as I suspect the latter weighed more heavily than it should, there was still an element of the former – without a doubt.

So whether by hook or by crook (that is to say, whether by law or by morality), generally unscrupulous behaviours were indeed kept at bay.

It seems, however, that this will soon all go by the wayside.  I say so, for two very good reasons.  One, for quite a while now (and as I have been reporting on these pages), the Legal Aid bill going through Parliament at the moment is looking to take out of scope a vast swathe of current legal cases.  Over at ilegal we have further evidence, if evidence was needed, of how incoherently (or perhaps not) this is being done:

The government considers social welfare law including employment to be “general advice” and therefore legal aid should be removed from all non-discrimination employment cases. We have already seen how Djanogly is removing legal aid from every level of employment law, so that vulnerable people will not have legal advice at the Employment Tribunal level, or advice or representation in employment in the Employment Appeal Tribunal (purely for points of law), the Court of Appeal in employment cases and the Supreme Court in employment cases.

If consummated, this will presumably lead to situations whereby people will find themselves at the mercy of their own ignorance, without a safe and secure path to obtaining the legal support they might require.  This will allow unscrupulous employers (and in times of severe economic crisis, who mightn’t be tempted to become so?) to take even greater advantage of vulnerable workers than they would have otherwise cared to do so.

Meanwhile, these Tories of naked ambition are messing about in a similarly incoherent way (or perhaps not) with respect to a matter I would argue to be of a pretty similar nature.  As Paul reports:

So the same GPs who are to be entrusted with the £80bn NHS budget from April 2013 may be stripped of their role in telling people whether they are too sick to work or not:
A new body could decide whether people are fit to work, according to drafts of the Government’s Independent Review into Sickness Absence.

Employers would be able to ask the assessment panel, rather than GPs, to make independent decisions.

It is likely to say that family doctors can be too quick to sign people off on sick leave because there is no incentive for them to help people stay in work.

It hardly needs a physicist to put two and two together and come up with neutrinos which can go faster than light to realise that the attack on Legal Aid and employment law on the one hand coupled with the attack on the confidential nature of the GP-and-patient relationship with respect to matters of employee health on the other are part and parcel of a coordinated break-up – a pincer movement if you like – on employee health and wellbeing.

As well as containing within itself a potentially mighty step forward for corporate profits everywhere.

Which is why I would argue we should not be worried about the unscrupulous employers.  They, to be honest, are the least of our worries.  Rather, we should fear how many of the supposedly good ones will become sufficiently tempted by such changes for them to choose to retire entirely their erstwhile crumbs of decency.

The recent stories of internships for shelf-stacking jobs only go to show what companies may try and do – when given the opportunity – in order to maximise their earnings at the expense of their workforces.

So it’s not the so-called bad ones we should be frightened of here.  They are, at the moment, quite in the minority.

It’s everyone else who’ll be going along for the ride

Horses for courses you might say?  Be careful what you wish for.  Before you know it, we’ll all be getting ready for that grand knacker’s yard in the sky.

Nov 192011

The Lord Mayor as Pope perhaps?  Well.  My thesis is a little more profound than that.

I’ve touched on this issue at least twice in the past three months or so.  First, here:

[...] When London becomes the breakaway Vatican State of the the southern tip of the UK, and Boris becomes Cameron’s highest representative on the face of Planet Tory, only then will we be able to all breathe a sigh of relief – as we then also begin to embrace our hard-won freedoms.

And then more roundly here:

If truth be told, we need to turn London into a UK equivalent of Vatican City – an impervious state-within-a-state, which to all intents and purposes it already is – and recover for the rest of England its right to a homegrown politics; unaffected, that is, by Tea Party-style movements and their hangers-on from across the Pond that now divides us.  If London does indeed want the kind of monopolistic capitalist control of public services which Cameron & Co do so love to promise … well, let them have it.  But let the rest of us out here, who may have far more in common with the Scots than Left Foot Forward might care to let on, be allowed to properly choose the bed we wish to lie in.

Today’s post, however, is provoked by the short afternoon and evening which I spent in London last Thursday.  Although this was a brief experience of the hustle and bustle which is our capital city, I definitely got the feeling that I could understand better where our politicians are coming from when they talk about the deregulation of business and the opportunities which might thus derive.  The problem we really have is that London is clearly a great place to work – but less so, perhaps, in matters of accommodation and wider costs of living.

Our leading politicos truly find themselves in a bubble.  They see only economic endeavour; business in the sense of busyness; astounding movements; opportunities galore; and grand sociocultural influences.  But this is what you get when you concentrate in such a relatively small area so many people and institutional headquarters.  In London, more than anywhere else in the UK, monopolistic capitalism and the trickle-down benefits it can – under very special circumstances – apport are clear to see; even it alternatives which could work just as well are not allowed to flower.

But try and translate brutally this religious and unquestioning fervour for that  “impervious state-within-a-state” to other parts of the country … well, you’re on a hiding to nothing.  There is no way we can reproduce the massive nexuses of opportunities to work and engage with others which such a concentration of humanity has enabled.

And yet, in the name of such a particular reality, we are destroying the very essence of other communities across the length and breadth of the UK.  Out of an impossible prejudice, we are looking to “londonise” more than fifty million people. 

Yes.  A Vatican City for the 21st century.  That is what we are really dealing with when we analyse the Tory-led Coalition project.  Top-down and fundamentalist; blind to uncomfortable realities which do not fit the datasets; fast and easy with smooth and convenient rhetoric.  This is the reality of modern Britain.

We’re wrong about one thing, though.  The problem isn’t that our politicos don’t live in the real world: London is as real as any other.

No.  The problem is that they don’t live in our real world.

And neither we nor they care to appreciate the implications.

Nov 192011

Faisal’s tweet first drew this piece of news to my attention:

Herman Cain said seriously “leader not reader” line The Simpsons scripted satirically for “President Schwarzenegger”…”

More background to this story from the LA Times here. Whilst you can see the Simpsons’ clip below.

So a potential candidate for the US Presidency proudly declaims that what the world needs more than anything else are leaders not readers.

Does make me wonder if the NYPD, anticipating the Zeitgeist, decided to take him at his anticipated word:

The Occupy Wall Street librarians tweeted the eviction all night: “NYPD destroying american cultural history, they’re destroying the documents, the books, the artwork of an event in our nation’s history … Right now, the NYPD are throwing over 5,000 books from our library into a dumpster. Will they burn them? … Call 311 or 212-639-9675 now and ask why Mayor Bloomberg is throwing the 5,554 books from our library into a dumpster.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, a similar – though rather more procedurally thorough – process is taking place, as libraries across the country are being closed down in their hundreds.

Interestingly, on Wednesday the Guardian newspaper reported that the destruction had been – at least temporarily – interrupted:

Campaigners attempting to stop the closure of their local libraries won a surprise victory in the high court on Wednesday when a judge ruled that the decision to axe services in Gloucestershire and Somerset was unlawful and should be quashed.

In his judgment on a judicial review brought by campaigners in the two counties, Judge Martin McKenna found that local authorities had failed to comply with their public sector equality duties when pushing through the closures.

To the gasps and muted exclamations of the campaigners sitting at the back of the court, he ordered the councils to revisit their plans. Failure to do so, he said, would send the wrong message to other councils.

“It is important to the rule of law to give due regard to these issues of equality,” added McKenna, before refusing the defence permission to appeal. Gloucestershire and Somerset county councils could still lodge a request with the court of appeal.

Issues of equality?  Now if we had leaders who also read, then more of this might be our lot than is currently the case.

Cain is wrong in what he says – for he constructs a false equation.  Yes.  It is true.  We need leaders at all levels.  But we need thoughtful, contemplative and reflective leaders – not the gung-ho illiterates who blast communities and nations out from their simplistic skies.

Leaders not readers?  No.  Leaders and readers.  Nothing better than a book to put all intelligences at the same level – and give us all an opportunity to better our environments.

Which is why, of course, the Herman Cains of this world are really not all that interested in that written and broadening legacy of our civilisation.

Too much real democracy really isn’t good for the ruling elites (nor, indeed, I might pointedly add, for those who would also wish to form part of such power).

Nov 192011

I saw a TV ad this morning for Armani perfume.  The product was called “Code”.  It was a his-and-hers perfume.  Two actors.  One stage.  Thirty seconds.  An ad for our times. 

For I imagine the main cost of making and selling a new perfume lies in its marketing.  A his-and-hers perfume is a perfect way of cutting such costs by half.  Both men and women’s perfumes need men and women in their narratives.  Both men and women’s perfumes need thirty seconds to make their pitch.  Put them together in the same TV spot – and you must be cutting costs of some sort there.


More signs of our times which crash like cymbals.  I said this on Wednesday (the bold underlines for the purposes of today’s post the idea which draws my attention):

It does, of course, beg the question: what on earth are Osborne and Cameron up to?  In my mind, I think the only sensible reply is to say: “Exactly what they set out to do!”

Increase unemployment – in order to tip the balance of negotiating power in the direction of employers; destroy that part of our monopolistic “free market” which, even now, was giving the bigger companies grief – in order that the only businesspeople left on the killing-field are the big-money sponsors of the Tory Party; shake out all those feelgood policies New Labour had engineered to tie the disparate social elements of this country together – in order to better control the chaos that is left; and – finally – deactivate all chances of making socialism work for the oh so conservative British.

Whilst at the end of October I pointed out (again, the bold being for the purposes of today’s post):

What’s really frightening me about the encroaching crisis we are only now beginning to properly fear is that we’re all sitting lobbing foolish pebbles at each other – from within our corporate and socio-political bunkers – whilst outside a chaos of unimaginable consequences is beginning to make itself clear.  And yet no one seems to know how to make the first move to creating a more efficient business and economic environment.  Concentrations of money and resource of the kind we are currently witnessing are not only examples of bad morals – they’re examples of bad business.  If money only circulates round a few chosen few, the victory is bound to become pretty pyrrhic one of these days.

Which reminds me of a tweet from the always excellent Richard J Hughes which came my way only yesterday:

@shanegreer Beating tax abuse and havens creates level playing field for honest, innovative small businesses & create jobs. Your problem is?

As far as I can see, all the above only goes to indicate those signs of the times I’ve already mentioned.  Whilst we talk endlessly about innovation and progress, and how capitalism’s very essence lies in renewal and imagination, the majority of our business infrastructure is really only ever interested in aping and copying what’s already been done.

Our business environment is evermore set up to benefit existing players at the expense of the new.

And, eventually, we are all going to suffer the consequences – whether we currently judge ourselves rich or poor.