This is Robert Llewellyn's personal blog. The views contained in here are mine alone and do not reflect the views or opinions of anyone else I work with or for. Just thought I ought to make that clear.

Sunday
Feb132011

Why I never have and never can be a conservative

This update is not about the British Conservative party.

I had an interesting discussion late last year on the old twitterage. It started when I re-tweeted a quote by the renowned 19th century liberal thinker John Stuart Mill.

‘Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”

I had heard the quote before and it made me chuckle, I felt it was more cheeky than directly offensive. But I was wrong. My flippant little re-tweet caused a bit of a stir which, for reasons that can only throw a light on my naïveté, surprised me. 

One very irate follower said he was stopping following me and unsubscribing from carpool, which was a shame. But this one rejection was joined by many other criticisms, one of them another quote and I’m afraid I don’t know who posted it, my slap dash wet liberal fail there, I should have made a note.

“If you are 20 and not a liberal you have no heart... If you are 45 and not a conservative you have no brain...”

Very amusing, but in my personal experience, utter nonsense. 

I suppose this is based on to the assumption that at 20 you are poor and have an understanding about the plight of the less fortunate, but by the time you’re 45 you are better off, have dependents and harbor the fear that your security might be ‘taken away from you’ by some, unseen government or foreign force.

I am now seriously over 45 and I have had to accept I can never become a conservative. No matter how old I get I will never agree with the basic sentiments. My world view is just that, a world view, as opposed to a street view or a front window view.

In the UK we have just finished a long period of Labour government which we now know was led by people with such a narrow conservative outlook they made the traditional British Conservative party look positively benign.

However I’m not interested in the capital C conservative party, just like the Labour party they are now beyond all doubt, a devalued and morally defunct organization with dwindling broad support and membership riddled with corruption and self serving vanity. I totally respect and support the right of people to express their conservative opinions, but I’m never going to agree with them.

Here are my reasons. 

Historically, the conservative consensus in the UK and the USA has held power for far longer and with far more regularity than any other political grouping in the last 200 years.

This conservative consensus has fought long and hard to resist any and every attempt at social and political reform, from the abolition of slavery, the right for non property owners to vote, the emancipation of women, the cessation of child labour, the removal of the death penalty, the legalisation of homosexuality and the introduction of fair employment practices.

They have also always fought to maintain class divisions, create their own special, either social or meritocratic exclusive enclaves, and have joked and still joke about ‘keeping out the riff raff.’

In the grand scheme of things, and that’s what I like to look at, these may be petty grievances but they adversely affected the lives of millions. It is the overriding effect this conservative attitude has on our development both technologically and socially which I find most distressing.

Any vitally important dramatic and ground level change in the way we live or organise ourselves has always been firmly resisted by conservative elements, and judging by the tone and demeanor of dead tree communicators like the Daily Mail, this attitude is normally informed by fear.

Change is scary; we don’t know if what we’ll change things too will be better or worse. And anyway, why do we need change, aren’t things better left as they are. It’s all too disturbing, who wants to think about it. Lock the doors, close the curtains, watch the X factor.

But if, like me, your world view is that the present way we live is not very good, or indeed, incredibly short sighted and destructive, then we know we will have to change.

Putting your finger on exactly what has changed is always very hard. After World War 2 there was a period of enormous social and political upheaval in the UK, universal education and health care, a gradual reduction in the gap between the richest and poorest. A stumbling, inefficient, annoying and slow journey toward something resembling equality. I’m not defending the old school socialists in the post war Labour government, they were as hypocritical and self serving as any that followed, but there was undoubtedly the general broad desire to create a society less riven with class and wealth divisions.

In the period since Margaret Thatcher this has all, as we now know, gone into brutal reverse. The worship of the free market and unregulated corporations has resulted in the greatest gap between richest and poorest in human history. There was a radical loony lefty political theatre group sponging off the state (I'm channelling the Daily Mail of course) in the 1970’s called, ‘7/84!’ They were called this because at the time in the UK, 7% of the population owned 84% of the wealth. I have just learned that this theatre company survived up until 2008 so it did very well.

But my how that has changed, the latest figures are around 2/65. 2% of the worlds population own 65% of the wealth. No matter how you look at it, where you stand politically, I do not believe this can be seen as good, healthy, sensible, fair, a natural and successful result of healthy free market capitalism.

The same has happened in our education system in this country. Since the last Grammar School (state) educated Prime Minister (John Major) we have had a string of posh boys running the country. The house of commons is now filled with over 60% privately educated members which, however you cut the numbers, come from less than 7% of the general population. We are ruled by an exclusive wealthy elite and they are in turn funded by an even more exclusive, even wealthier super elite. The British Conservative party is very well funded by the most obscure, unknown multi billionaires. To expect the current administration to deal with the open and obvious crimes, tax avoidance and corruption which are the bedrock of the city of London is tragic in it’s naivety.

But that’s just the political elite who in the grand scheme of things are irrelevant. In the grander sweep of history I do sense a much more fundamental change beginning to take place. It’s going to take years, the forces opposed to any such change are well entrenched and determined to cling to power, as we have just seen in Egypt. 

Without the shackles of old school communism which effectively destroyed opposition to the conservative social bastions for 80 years, there is nothing conservatives can point to and say ‘what, d’you want to live like that?’ Anyone who is not conservative can point down their street, point over the wall of the gated community, point at the glass towers of the lazy and greedy, point at the closed hospitals and libraries and universities that only the rich can afford to attend and say, ‘what, do we want to live like this?’ 

‘Do we want to live in a world where the rich get vomit inducingly richer, don’t pay tax, ensure that the trickle down effect remains a cruel myth, ensure that the poor get chronically poorer and have less chance of ever doing anything about it.’

I think the answer is, no we don’t, and the current conservative world view is just as short term, self serving, lazy, greedy and essentially stupid as it has ever been. 

The world, I believe, is currently looking for a fresh alternative to the dominance of markets, of fiscal policy, of unfettered consumption, of the endless, soulless desire for wealth, and while I've got the chance, clearly religion is not the solution, religion is part of the wretched problem. Religion is always part of the power system and it's the whole power system that needs to fail, crumble and be gently, politely, swept away.

 

 

 

Friday
Feb042011

It's just a joke!

You sit down in your flat in Mexico City and watch ‘Engranaje Arriba.’ but of course you speak perfect Spanish so you know it’s the Mexican Top Gear.

They are talking about a British car, your ears prick up.

‘It’s going to be rubbish isn’t it,’ says one of the presenters, ‘The British can’t make cars anymore.’

‘The British are all too busy moaning about immigration and blaming anyone but themselves.’

‘And the women are very ugly.’

‘Oh yes, there’s that, the women really are fat and ugly, and always drunk.’

‘Well, they have to get drunk, because look at the men.’

Much laughter from the beaming audience in the background.

‘Here’s what I want to know, how do they make babies? They must all hold their noses!’

‘Why is that?’

‘The British never wash.... down there!’

Massive explosion of laughter and applause.

‘Ha ha, and they only make expensive sports cars that none of them can afford to drive.’

‘British food looks like a dog left it on the plate.’

‘Like a dog poo?’

‘Yes, a British dog does a poo on a plate, and they put salt and vinegar on it!’

‘And of course, if the Americans tell them to do something...’

Massive laughs.

‘They all d it straight away, quick, invade Iraq, boom, straight in there.’

All highly amusing, if I watched that I’d laugh, mainly because some of it is true, it’s only a joke and it’s based on silly stereotypes. So, why have the Mexican’s got all moody about the middle aged men in jeans? They poke fun at everyone, it’s Political Correctness gone Barmy as the good old Daily Mail will no doubt say.

Okay, so it’s a subtle area, this whole racial slurring, stereotyping for gags, good natured jibes, the French stink of garlic type humour.

But just imagine this for a moment. You’re sitting in your home in England, Sunday night, it’s Top Gear Time.

Jezza : This is a new car made in Africa.

Hammond: Africa! What’s it made of, mud?

May (smugly): Mud and bark. 

Massive laughs from adoring audience, strangely arranged so attractive women are standing at the front.

Jezza: What’s going on? Africans can’t make cars, they can make grass skirts and famines, but they can’t make cars.

May (smugly): They are good at famines.

Hammond: Anyway, Africans can’t drive, anyone who’s been there knows that.

Jezza: What do they need cars for, they all walk along dusty tracks with half a rainforest on their heads.

Hammond: That’s just raw materials delivery for their car factory, hut.

Another massive guffaw from the audience.

May (smugly): I hope this African car has got wide seats.

Jezza: Why’s that James?

May (smugly): Because all African people have got big bottoms.

Hammond: That’s true, they do have massive bottoms, and the children all have big tummies and flies around their eyes don’t they. Why is that?

Jezza: Search me, anyway, now, the Bugatti Veyron....

Now, what is the difference between that, and the equally badly informed ‘jokes’ they did the other night about the Mexicans? 

I would like to suggest it has nothing to do with what ever political correctness is supposed to be. It’s about being ignorant. One of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met was a Mexican architect. He wasn’t lazy, he didn’t wear a poncho, he cooked some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and he was a gentle, non judgmental kind man. I also know if he’d watched Top Gear the other night he would have laughed because he wouldn’t be threatened by such inanity. He would have known that the three middle aged men in jeans had not a clue about Mexican history and culture, he would know what they were really doing was revealing their own ignorance and frail self worth. 

It’s not true that all comedians make fun of people from other cultures or races, they used to, they were called Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson, they were sexist, homophobic, racist bullies and the world has slightly improved since their popularity has waned.

I do enjoy Top Gear but the Mexican stuff was just painful, bigoted, unfunny and embarrassing. I don't think it's a sign of anything, just that as was recently revealed in a survey, the British are about 25% racist bigots. We are more fearful of immigrants than any other nation in Europe. Maybe this isn't something we should all be so terribly proud of? 

Tuesday
Feb012011

Hack Off

It is quite possible to wander around our sceptered isle, listen to the news, read the papers, chat with your mates at the coffee shop or the pub and know nothing about the Murdoch press empires involvement with hacking the phones of politicians, the Royal family, people in the media industry, actual famous people and even celebrities.

Sure, the story gets the odd mention, it has been widely covered in the Guardian, but only wet liberal hypocrites like me read that. The BBC has hinted at it but run away scared, no other newspapers have dared mention it. Is it because they’re terrified of the pugnacious Mr Murdoch and his many years of bullying, manipulation and skillful lowering of journalistic standards the world over? Surely not.

Even I’m a little hesitant to say anything because I’ve met Rupe’s daughter, had a lovely supper at her house last year and she’s really nice. I don’t want to upset her. Best say nothing, hope it’ll all go away. I think that may be the feeling among newspaper and TV editors, don’t want to upset Rupe, it could get nasty.

And anyway, wasn’t this all sorted out years ago? I remember when a scummy journalist went to prison along with a stink fingered private dick for hacking the Princes’ phone. Cheeky or what, but it’s all done, end of story.

Sort of. 

The man who used to be Prime Minister Cameron’s press secretary, Andy Coulson, lovely fella, he was, surprisingly, the editor at the News of the World when all this nasty business was taking place. He knew nothing about it of course, editors never know what their reporters are doing, they certainly don’t keep an eye on the budget as loads of money gets paid to private detectives. Mr Coulson would have had his eye on big, important news events the News of the World is proudly renown for, like if Jordan had got pants on when she got out of a limo.

Yep, the police investigation into the biggest media scandal since the war just, well, it just stopped. Not that Mr Coulson would have influenced anything, although it was suddenly closed down after the last election. 

But now it’s all bubbled up again. Andy Coulson had to resign as Mr Cameron’s press secretary. We wonder why, surely it can’t be that he is implicated after all?

Now dozens of people we’ve all heard of are bringing private prosecutions agains the News of the World, they all know their phones were hacked, their privacy invaded. 

And all this has come at a very bad time for poor old Rupe, and it’s not a bag of laughs for his boy in Downing Street. Really bloody awkward. You see Rupe’s trying to buy the whole of Sky television, I thought he already owned it, Sky News looks more and more like Fox news every day. But he doesn’t own all of it, and he wants to own ALL of it. 

“All, I must have all of it, mwaa hhaaa hhaaa!”

So what’s wrong with him owning all of Sky, what possible difference can it make. Other than Rupert will make even more money, and control even more of the worlds media than he does now, and influence even more ‘news’ outlets, and spread his very aggressive neo-conservative agenda even further afield.

Oh yes, old Rupe and now his son Jimmy boy are some of the most powerful people on the planet, and like I’ve said before we didn’t vote for them. They are here whether we like it or not, although they tell us very successfully who we should vote for. Through their newspapers they supported Tone in ’97, they supported Dave last year. 

They know they can make or break someone in the public eye and people are scared of them, but it’s just possible, they may just have blown it this time. I think this story is anything but over. I think it’s just beginning. And if you detected a certain amount of Glee in that last sentence, and I don’t mean the excellent TV series, I mean deep joy at the potential prat fall for the most powerful media empire the world has ever known, I plead guilty.

 

Sunday
Jan302011

Global Warming

Picture the scene, a grumpy middle aged man stomping through the frosty British countryside early in the morning. His misty breath visible in the chilly air.

‘Global warming! They’re having a laugh aren’t they.’

Indeed, I daresay they are having a laugh, but I’m just wondering who ‘they’ are.

If I mention climate change, the term I prefer over global warming, on the twitters or YouTube I will receive a great many often quite patronising ‘corrections.’

It will be pointed out to me with great conviction that climate change has been proven false. I’m not sure by who, other than a few right wing bloggers in America, a few right wing journalists in the UK and a few tin foil hat ‘governments are taking over my brain’ merchants anywhere you want to look.

Yes, there were the 'East Anglian' e-mails, which were 10 years old when they were discovered, (i.e an enormous amount of research has been done since they were sent) from one University in the UK, and the Professor involved has been completely exonerated in a peer review and the text in the e-mails was eagerly misinterpreted by people with a massive, barely hidden agenda, but I won't dwell on that absurd non story any more. The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph headlines, blurted immediately without any real research said it all. 'Global Warming Lies!' 

Due to my stance on electric cars, many people automatically assume that my primary concern is climate change because of the perceived beneficial environmental impact such technology can have. This is in fact far from the truth. I’ve always been interested in electric transport from the point of view of sustainability, efficiency and the truly huge geo political impact the demise of the drill and burn economy could have on our lives and political structures.

I have left the climate change argument to others. It’s really bloody complicated, there are so many millions of variables, so many opinions, so many seemingly learned people who violently disagree with each other.

The only way to get a vague notion of what is going on is to really stand back, try to remain as objective as possible and look at the arguments with cold, clinical, unemotional eyes. 

I see it like this. 

On the Climate Change Side.

The tens of thousands of scientists worldwide who have, over the last 30 years, come to a peer reviewed notion that the release of somewhere around 7 gigatons of extra carbon into our atmosphere by human activity is affecting our climate. These ideas reached a wide audience with the release of Al Gore's documentary  'An Inconvenient Truth' The bodies involved in the research are funded by universities, governments and a wide variety of private institutions. A well established and very diverse funding system which in some cases has been in place for literally hundreds of years. 

On the Climate Skeptic Side.

The few thousand bloggers, documentary makers, writers and journalists, and literally a handful of skeptical scientists who claim all the research is skewed, inaccurate and biased by government pressure. They have come up with theories that suggest increased sun activity affects our climate more than human activity, what we do has nothing to do with it. They point out that global temperatures have been higher and lower over the history of the earth, they point out that carbon levels may follow temperature rather than lead it. 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' was a popular manifestation of these ideas, a documentary  made by Martin Durkin who I work for on the popular TV series 'How Do They Do It.' These diverse groupings are also funded by a very wide variety of sources, but it is painfully obvious that one of the major contributors, publicly acknowledged, all above board and legitimate, is the drill and burn lobby. Indeed, they love Martin's documentary, as do extreme right wing pressure groups in the United States who have distributed it widely.

The one thing they both agree on however, and I think it's very important to remember this, is that the climate is changing. They all agree that global temperatures are increasing at a rate not seen before on the planet in around 100,000 years. So why is it so cold in England right now. Because the increase in temperature affects the climate, it changes the climate. It means that towns like Jeddah in Saudi Arabia can get flooded as they did recently. Jeddah has never been flooded before and it's been there a while, like about 3,000 years. Some of the changes in the climate might be beneficial, but some of them clearly will be not be anything of the sort.

They also agree that if there was no human activity on the planet, if we had just not evolved, or been placed here by the hand of God, take your pick, then the amount of carbon naturally released into the atmosphere is around 1 gigaton a year. That’s caused by the turn of the seasons (falling leaves etc) naturally occurring forest fires, the odd massive volcano. 

In the last 40 years we have been adding to that rather substantially, there are slightly differing figures but they all fall between 6 and 7 gigatons per year, from us, the humble naked ape, or divine being created by God, take your pick.

6-7 gigatons a year more than is naturally occurring, and this isn’t going to make a difference, in a ecosystem that took several hundred million years to find a balance that was capable of sustaining life, or 7 days by a divine being, take your pick.

NASA, a government funded organisation staffed by some of the best scientists from around the world have been collecting global weather data on a scale never before even conceivable. They have been creating computer models which are powered by technology which would cause the average geek to have a life threatening nerdgasm. When NASA are suggesting that human activity is having a direct, measurable effect on climate change, I’m afraid I’m tending to lean towards their side of the argument.

When a drill and burn corporation (Exxon) publicly announce that they are spending over a billion dollars on PR in one year to encourage a wider dialogue on climate change, I can feel my wet liberal buttocks clenching a little.

So, to try and see this argument in the widest context:

In whose interest is it to steer us away from finding ways to create energy without burning something?

or

In who’s interest is it to try and find ways to create energy without burning anything?

Those, surely, are the two basic arguments. If we don't rely on burning shit to create energy, in a more efficient renewable way, and the climate still changes and we have to deal with it, surely that is better than if we keep burning shit to create energy, and the climate changes and it is because of our activities and we wander around the floods or deserts regretting our stupidity.

with thanks to Adam Reynolds for reminding me of this cartoon which I really wanted to refer to. Sums it all up beautifully.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/monkchips/4254681996/

Saturday
Jan222011

Rolls Royce and the Rest of Us

The financial news is dire, the reports on the cut backs in support for the disabled, the disadvantaged or the abused are fairly brutal and sadly predictable. 

The cutbacks in public services might not make an obvious impact to many of us right away, but when your local swimming pool closes, when the local library is boarded up I suppose some people will start to go, “oh, right, that’s a shame.”

There is a small group in our society who truly won’t notice. They rarely use public services like hospitals or state schools. The top 1% of our nation are richer now in comparative terms than they ever have been in the history of our entire settlement on these small islands. They don’t need public services and as we all now know, they don’t pay for them either. 

This is not really news, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) released a report last year showing that the UK had the gap between the richest and poorest expanding faster than anywhere else on earth.

Way hey, Britain in the lead for once.

It’s not so much the middle or even upper middle income homes, it’s the gap between the hyper rich and the rest of us that has expanded so dramatically.

This gap is most easily defined as the people who pay tax on their income and the people who don’t. The hyper rich don’t pay tax.

This phenomenon was brought into the spotlight recently when reports of record sales and profits for an iconic British company were released.

The company is called Rolls Royce and they make rather expensive cars. Anywhere from £120,000 to half a million. Rolls Royce have never sold as many cars in their history as they have since the announcement of ‘the global economic meltdown.’

So is the global economic meltdown a myth? Maybe it’s not as bad as the lefty newspapers and the BBC would have us believe. (See how I cleverly grouped them together, I’m learning) Is this another one of my mad cap socialist inspired conspiracy myths? 

The report on Rolls Royce was in The Telegraph, ( http://bit.ly/dW77le) a well known pro Tory newspaper.

I do believe this country is in massive, overbearing debt. I don’t believe this debt is due to illegal Romanian immigrants sponging off the state, or hoodies in Macclesfield who won’t get a job. They cost this country diddly squit. 

The people who took all our money are the top 1%, we all know this and yet is that supposed to be okay?

Is it that we don’t want to criticise them because we believe there’s nothing wrong with making money? We believe there’s nothing wrong with being rich and there’s nothing wrong with being successful. I’m not saying this to make some twisted Marxist point, that is what I believe. I would love to be rich and successful, from reading some of the comments on this page there are people think I am rich and successful and therefore hypocritical and double standard’ed and just, just unfair!

However, I am also very aware that I live in a society (I know M Thatcher said there is no such thing) and I live with other people, some of whom are more successful and richer than I’ll ever be, some who are less so.

I drive on our roads, rely on our hospitals, my children go to our doctors when they’re sick and they attend our schools. I am protected by our police, (I have had very positive dealings with the police and I support their incredibly difficult job) and I flush my toilet into our sewers. (Okay, my house has a septic tank but you get my drift) 

I am part of our society and I’m proud of that, as we all should be. I don’t see the society I live in as some kind of ‘enemy’ out there trying to do me down. I see it as part of me, and me part of it. There’s plenty wrong with it, some of the things wrong with it are my fault, but so are some of the good things.

My experience with the hyper rich, the less than 1% is that they do not see themselves as part of our society. Most of them don’t pay tax, I don’t mean they don’t pay enough tax, I mean they don’t pay any, not a cent. They are prepared to spend a lot of time and money not paying tax. They employ a lot of accountants and lawyers which allow them not to pay any tax. I’m not saying this because I read a blog about it on an Anarchist website, these are people I know personally, people who have told me how they do it and told me with pride.

Well, why should they pay tax? They don’t use the public services scum like us use. Well, okay, they do still use the roads we pay for, they certainly don’t use the schools we pay for, their children will attend private schools. They do still use the water and sewer infrastructure we all pay for, but they don’t use the national health service. Except they rely on the doctors we’ve all paid to train, because obviously the private medical companies don’t want to waste profits training their own doctors.

But that’s just a handful of individuals, maybe 50 or 60,000 who are in the multi million £ earning sector and pay little or no income tax. If they did all pay their fair share of income tax, it still wouldn’t amount to anything near enough to avoid the cutbacks.

However, I am of course forgetting the corporations, the corporations who are governed in the large part by the hyper rich, the corporations who have gone to great lengths to glean massive profits from this country and pay nothing in tax. It is cruel to pick on any individual company, I cited both Vodafone and Top Shop in a recent YouTube rant. That is grossly unfair on them, they are just two who’s tax affairs reached the public gaze thanks to those crazy rioting students. 

As soon as you look into it, they are all doing it, and of course they are all doing it with the direct connivance and encouragement of the present government, essentially because it’s all pretty much the same group of people. Tory MP, CEO of massive retail chain. Same job, sometimes even done at the same time by the same person.

And just because that last paragraph is critical of the current administration, that doesn’t mean I let the previous lot of no-hopers off the hook. They bailed out the wretched, stupid, short sighted and greedy bankers. ( Isn’t it ridiculous that I can term them thus and very very few people would disagree) The last lot in power gave the banks 60 billion pounds of our money because they stuffed up. I didn’t gamble my savings, bankers did.

And if I’m a crazy, doo lally lefty with no grasp of the realities of the markets and global financial structures, I leave you with a quote from someone who is an architect of free market capitalism, someone with their hand on the tiller.

 

"If banks take the upside, but we, the general public, take the downside, there is something fundamentally wrong with capitalism. "

Paul Tucker, Deputy Governor of the Bank of England

 

Nuff said.  Right, where’s the keys to my Roller?