Perhaps the worst things in politics is not to be wrong but to be irrelevant

It feels today that we are at the start of a new era, still hazy and uncertain in its final shape, but clear that the old order is gone. As in a cartoon, we have run off the cliff and we hover in the air, our feet still spinning, waiting for the fall to start while we realise what has changed.

So much has changed.

Firstly, the laisser-faire deal between the people with businesses is over, but many company boards still misguidedly think that just more marketing and fine words will let them continue unreconstructed. The horrors of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London exposes the duplicity of lobbying for fewer regulations while protecting profits, bonuses and huge salaries, including in some not-for-profit organisations. That there is now a criminal investigation may finally bring home to these boards the fury and anger of poorer people and the outcry for the growing inequalities and disregard for ordinary people to be challenged.

Secondly, the UK economy is weak and getting weaker. We really have not yet got past the 2008 crash, and the penny has now dropped in the public mind that austerity has not been the answer. Many economists have been calling out austerity for years, but it suited some peoples’ agendas to ignore the facts and to pretend instead that self-interested tax cuts and spending cuts were a sustainable answer to the previous private sector credit crunch and banking crisis.

Thirdly, austerity did not apply the privileged. We were not all in it together. The public mood now understands it was a mistake to believe in arguments that concentrated the spending cuts on revenue such as welfare benefits and public sector salaries while protecting capital and outsourcing contracts to business cartels. We are probably now at that moment in the Wizard of Oz where the curtain opens and we have realised the grubby reality of these deals. The railways with subsidies of over three billion pounds each year and yet staggering on in shabbiness and chaos is just one case study. Food banks are another.

Fourthly, Brexit. As one CEO pretty much summed it up this week – WTF! There is a crass level of thinking in some business circles that disruption is great. Lots of opportunities to make more money. Frankly, some who hold that idea are simply drawn by greed and will never be able to think through the consequences. Which is why we come back to the first point about regulation, where bluntly it is the role of the state to limit the excesses of greed, a job that goes way back into the beginnings of recorded history. And greed drove Brexit, both for political power and for disruption at any cost. For a change of perspective as seen from the continent this article by Jean Quatremer is well worth reading.

Finally and not least, those pesky kids. The institutions of the UK are frankly running fast to play catch up with millions of young people. An example here from a conversation within the BBC by young staffers who were frankly bemused with their detached older bosses.

“They don’t know where to start [to reach young people]. Even the studio audiences cannot have under-18s unless they are accompanied [post-Savile]”

“They say that given recent [political] events we need to come up with ideas to reach apathetic 16 and 17 years olds. [But] BBC Three isn’t touching them, nor is Radio 1. And TV is for ABC1 women aged 55 run by controllers who are ABC1 males aged 55.”

The times are changing. The pressure has been steadily building up but was denied and resisted. But economic realities have a force and groundswell of their own. The old neoliberal ways are increasingly irrelevant.

Now we must choose: either we manage change smoothly or change will manage us roughly.



One of my sisters and her family lives in social housing a few streets away from Grenfell Tower in London. She wrote the following pieces in the days after the tragedy:

[We] have been touched but not hurt by the fire in our community. There is a palpable ‘let them eat cake’ tension, heartfelt and visceral to me and mine that seems to largely pass the notice of our rich neighbours.

I believe that the establishment perspective is about media and information-release management, with a view to letting the story, and the number of the publicly admitted deaths, dribble out gradually.

The aim is to prepare people emotionally, nationally for the true horror and scandal. The effect here on the ground is of their denial of the loss, adding grievous insult to grievous injury.

They say 17, the people say 100-150 mostly children, with the most elderly and disabled on the top-most floors.

I also heard that once it was ablaze, no-one above the 5th floor got out.

I have seen Emma Dent Coad speak at a meeting a while back, she is exactly the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

Theresa May is on borrowed time.


My Canadian employers can’t understand how the fire could have happened in the 21st century. In Canada all high rise buildings must have sprinklers.

In this country we appear civilised. Tourists, visitors and the rich and privileged accept this appearance, as they are meant to. The resident poor know the difference.

Social housing is largely punitive, it sends messages to its residents that it must be their own fault, somehow. It is cramped with inadequate sound insulation and the landlords keep updating us on things we are not allowed to do. Coming up to Christmas my own estate they put up posters reminding us that if we try to spend on ourselves, rather than rent then we will be evicted. Each Christmas they do this, then, a few days before Christmas they post out the annual rent rises. The standard of workmanship is shoddy and third rate and they only repair things that they have a legal obligation to do.

My own block (4 floors) has balconies that run serve as a passageway to the flats, all of them built on the north side of the building. They built them in the shade deliberately. They know that if they were on the sunny side then residents would spend more time there. Our landlords have so little regard for us that they believe that we would all be fighting with each other, better that we stay put in our boxes.

The term ‘sink estate’ didn’t come from nowhere and the permanent signs posted around the grounds giving us a list of ‘no’s (no ball games, no cycling etc) finished off with a warning about anti-climb paint.

This thing happened because we are regarded and treated badly collectively, we are treated badly because we are poor and because they can.

Tony, you know from your own professional experience that risk assessments are a recurring feature. With my working in nurseries a daily risk assessment happens first thing. At each step of the way, but especially when adding cladding, what kind of a half-arsed excuse must that have been.

I will try to explain to my employer that what we have here is a corporation built shanty town.

I consoled my Jewish neighbour and friend yesterday who was revisited by the spectre of Auschwitz.


I don’t blame all rich people, or Theresa May personally. I get how these happen. I know why she and the landlord’s representatives don’t want to face the people.

Collectively we have a terrible record of responding appropriately to large scale domestic disasters. In part the individuals immediately concerned can be overwhelmed by their tasks, rabbit in the headlights response.

In the case of Grenfell Tower the establishment playing down of the numbers is part of the reason, I think, that their response is non-existent. I know they dare not show their own faces (could some of them be busy shredding documents?) but if they were taking their responsibility, and the true scale of the scenario seriously then they could have employed an agency that knows how to deal humanitarian disaster relief.

I have heard, unconfirmed, that the gifts donated have now been locked away in storage.


Going anywhere on foot these days takes so much longer because friends and neighbours want to talk.

My friend thought the true number could be 200.

One neighbour told me that the metal reinforcements within the concrete will have melted away. If this is completely or only in part, the structural integrity is seriously compromised.

Yesterday was humbling, none of those deeply traumatised young firemen joined to tell people to stay inside only to watch them burn and it is this same force that will be going back inside to shore up the fragile and charred mega-mausoleum and to locate and count the bodies.

It isn’t just that people here need to talk when they meet their neighbours in the estate or in the street, we have also learnt just how valuable our community is and we feel a need to express our love and to strengthen those bonds.

Why, I have been asked, do we build over 11 stories when that is the extent of the fire brigade’s hoses?

Sky and Channel 4 have been praised and valued, the BBC has been perceived as trying to wind down the coverage too early.

Among the tributes at the site, collective and individual expressions of loss, some well targeted anger and one particularly that I will hold onto, two words inside a sparkly red heart outline: Come Unity.


I learned yesterday from The Metro, that last year The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea received £55 million in rent and spent £40 million on housing, they are currently ‘sitting’ on reserves of £274 million. These shocking figures haven’t taken account of the council taxes reaped from their tenants, on top of the rent.

I live in social housing in the Right Royal Borough although my landlord is Peabody I can supply some background.

My second biggest expense, after rent is council tax and my rent has risen with an eye to the private market rates rather than them accurately covering my landlord’s costs.

Quite a big proportion of the total rent received by the Borough is through housing benefit but not all. And quite a big proportion of the housing benefit is on behalf of people on state pensions. Most of those around me of working age and ability do just that, and pay full rent even if they are earning low or unreliable wages.

My costs (as an example):

Last years rent: £7,027.80

Last years council tax: £926.93

Also I learned from The Metro, they repeat it from an interview in The Daily Telegraph with a rookie firefighter (Shoreditch based April Cachia -26) I feel this needs repeating, quoting:

“Her crew was warned that the stairwell was too cramped for firefighters to go in wearing breathing apparatus suits, so they were given the option of helping survivors outside the building or going inside wearing just their eye gear.”

She went in as far as the 10th floor and helped out 20 people despite it being 5 days into her job. She also said that she had never seen so many people work so hard.

Heroes and villains. 


I don’t intend to be banging on endlessly, but there are still some salient points that need a good airing. They also need to be acknowledged and addressed by those responsible and those in power.

Firstly, and this is aimed at the media outlets. Please, when you quote the numbers (79 at the moment) choose your words very carefully! 79 is NOT the number of the dead from the Grenfell fire, 79 is the officially acknowledged number of the dead from the Grenfell fire so far! It will rise and everybody knows it. To imply otherwise is to collude in what could be, or appear to be, a cover-up!

Secondly there is a real fear that the survivors will be housed outside of the Borough, even if their family, school, work and community is right here. This perception stems from the aggressive gentrification pushed by top price property developers to change the poorest section of the Borough into prime real estate that has been a feature in the area.

In the past few years there have been two nearby mass developments, clearing away social housing and poor people.

  1. Covering a huge area from the top of Portobello Road running all the way to Wornington Road, this is nearing completion.
  2. The whole other side of Wornington Road from the college at the Golbourne Road end to Ladbroke Grove at the other, which is currently being demolished.

Now I know that these developments are welcomed and encouraged by The Royal Borough, who relish the prospect of moving out potential Labour voters in favour of nice clean (and rich) fellow Tories.

This is, and has been, their agenda and their policy of choice and it has fed into their outrageous attitude that is apparent in their dealings with their social housing tenants.

This is why when Emma Dent Coad took the Kensington seat for Parliament the jerrymanderers could not believe that, even after all of the Kensington Town Hall Tory rigging of the democratic process a Labour candidate had still been chosen, and demanded three recounts.

If we do not actively address these issues and we go back to business as usual then we will be storing up potentially worse problems in the future.


Thursday night I was woken at around 1am, someone knocked hard and repeatedly on my door. I couldn’t see anyone through the spy-hole so I stepped out onto the balcony to see one of the two fire engines entering my estate.

1 of my neighbours in my block, it transpired, had fallen asleep and a chip pan had caught fire, No-one was hurt and we watched the same firemen, last seen in tears at the ceremony at the Grenfell site a week on, working efficiently and without the extra stress that we have also recently witnessed. An hour and a half later we went back in.

The following day around noon I answered my door to three senior firemen. They told me that they would like to check my smoke alarm and answer any questions I may have. That was what they told me but this clearly was not the extent of their job in hand. One of them engaged me in pertinent conversation and sought permission for them to enter my home. I am not an expert but I know that it doesn’t take two experienced senior firemen to press the button on a smoke alarm. As we were talking the other two were all over the place in a hurry, as well as pressing the button.

My guess is that their brief included looking for evidence, and making notes of:

  • How many people actually live here.
  • The type and condition of any possibly dubious domestic appliances.
  • Does anyone smoke or use candles.
  • The tenant’s understanding and responsibilities regarding fire safety issues.

They also listened with interest the tenant’s specific concerns about their particular building in regards to fire safety, I asked about the entrance doors to all blocks on my estate which are electromagnetic, solid 2″ thick hard wood. Would they open in the event of a serious fire.

If I were a professional firefighter I would feel happier going out to a housing estate fire with a clear picture of what difficulties may be encountered before they happen in order to be equipped and briefed ahead.

God bless them.



How to write a book – zzzz is my tip

There are lots of resources for writers out there – courses, books, meetings, networks, hashtags – and you can find your preferred mix of support that works for you. For me, pausing the internet is a big one.

This pausing has mostly to do with avoiding distractions. I believe that avoiding distractions is the key technique for success while you are writing.

Two key distractions to writing are researching and editing. There you are, in full flow, typing away at long last when you come to a section where you want to mention a person, a place, a meeting, or whatever. The word or details are just on the tip of your tongue.

Don’t stop. Type zzzz and keep on writing.

The key is not to stop. Finish that first draft, even if it has 20 or 30 or 40 zzzzs.

With your first draft completed, then go back to edit. Each time you find a zzzz you will remember what you need to check and add in there – a date, a name, a Latin phrase, whatever.

And later on, any word processor can be used to search your text to make sure no zzzzs have been overlooked.

Somerset Maugham is reported to have said, “There are three rules for writing a book. Trouble is, no-one knows what they are.”

Well, for me, “don’t stop” is one of them.

Manchester et la France ensemble contre le changement climatique #climatechange

It is good to see the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, in his first week releasing a video (below) callout to climate change scientists in the USA to come to work in France because of the hostility, denial and cuts faced in the EPA and NASA. 

My blog posting last December (below) was a similar suggestion. 

Perhaps the next stage could be some joint discussions with French activists and officials to see what can best be done in Manchester to support this European safe harbour for climate change scientists.


Why negotiate – just do it

There is a radical proposal in political circulation now, that the 3m EU citizens living in the UK should be given UK citizenship now. Not negotiated as bargaining chips. And not left to live in wretched uncertainty while protracted negotiations with the EU27 dwell on reciprocal health care or sickness benefits or whatever.

Supporters of this approach range from the right-wing Leave sponsor Peter Hargreaves to the left-wing Remain economist, academic and politician Yanis Varoufakis.

They argue that negotiation isn’t the only way to make change happen, and that following the Brexit vote an offer of UK citizenship would be morally right. It would also be politically astute, putting the pressure on the EU27 to reciprocate against the UK’s declared position. First mover advantage, for those that like the jargon.

Or, we sit on our hands while key workers such as NHS nurses from EU27 countries continue to quit the UK in disgust and despair.

Own the disruption

Yanis Varoufakis goes further, proposing that the UK simply tells the EU27 that, after the Article 50 exit is concluded the UK will adopt the Norway option for five years. It deals with the threat of a cliff edge. It provides market certainty, and the arrangement is already legally agreed and in place. Cut and paste. Prêt à partir!

Myself, I think it will take nearer ten years to transition into fully negotiated new trade agreements, bearing in mind that the single largest agreement will have to be with the EU27. But with a working arrangement in place, the pressure is off.

Equally, there are some pretty blood curdling headlines such as £100bn on the payments due from the UK to the EU27. These are not helpful, and transitional arrangements provide some useful long grass to kick this ball into. Negotiating funds with the EU has been the Whitehall day job since the 1970s, and especially so since the structural funds started in the 1980s. Every negotiation fed into the next one, the concession in one fund matched the next day by a gain in another.

The key to sorting this out will be found when politicians find such blood curdling headlines are no longer helpful. Might the general election have something to do with this? Who knows.

Zombie economics and the third recession

It is dispiriting to realise that we are probably entering our third recession in nine years – 2008, 2012 and now 2017. When will we learn to break the cycle? The newspaper article below from the 2012 recession could have been written yesterday.

Why has so little changed?

The ‘zombie economics’ identified soon after the 2008 crash still dominates the political debate. Nine years on and we are still trying more austerity, near-zero interest rates, quantitative easing to give to companies, increasing inequality, property asset bubbles, and cutbacks for non-elderly poorer people, education and health care.

Of course, Brexit is the new ingredient this time round and in some quarters it is a big enough issue to drown out all other economic debates and memories. Like many people I wish the Brexit vote had been different, and that the current debate on ‘what comes next’ would be more honest. To read of senior civil servants talk about Empire 2.0 is frankly horrible and embarrassing.

But Brexit is just one aspect of the economic pressures we face. The indications are now of GDP-measured growth falling further as we head into a trading future which many reasonable people acknowledge will be worse than we have now. Students on economics degree courses at universities in England set up Post-Crash Economics Societies, critiquing their rote learning of just one orthodox economic model when at least nine models are known to exist.

Economically, 2008 onwards to 2017 have been our lost years. Only by learning new economic realities, such as aiming for sustainable growth, can we break the cycle. Given the attacks on the welfare state, left wing groups are understandably nervous of any economic changes being used as a smokescreen to attack our common services like the NHS.

But change is required. I suggest we need a combined model reflecting rainbow economics for a fairer system, promoting the interests of:

  • environment
  • equality and fairness
  • feminism
  • internationalism
  • people and communities
  • small enterprises,

and not

  • zombie one-trick economists.

To understand Brexit in 2017 we need to learn from the UK housing bubble in 2007

On Valentine’s Day 2007, a short news item inside the Financial Times was the first report that the housing bubble in the US was about to collapse. Financial analysts in Germany had found that the US sub-prime housing mortgage market was seizing up.

Now ten years on, the worldwide economic waves from the collapse of the US housing bubble are still rocking the shores of the UK. The reports so far have focused on the impact on the major banks, with pictures of their big shiny office buildings in London and New York.

A better analysis would look beyond the banks and into local economies. UK housing values outside of London have not had a good decade. Some communities have seen property values collapse to 50% or less from their peak. The conventional explanation given is that the local economy has collapsed, too few jobs, too little pay. Blame the locals for their low skills.

Another explanation would swap the cart and the horse around: the collapse of housing values has drained wealth from the local economy. This is especially so since the 1980s when people were first encouraged or coerced to use the value of their home for their retirement income and for social care costs. But since then housing has switched from being a source of family capital to becoming a source of business revenue through high rents.

Politics and economics are two sides of the same coin. The collapse of the UK housing bubble, triggered by the US in 2007, has been very uneven. The so-called Northern Heartlands have seen the worst, especially outside of the main Northern cities. Wealth has been drawn back to London, and the London housing bubble continues to just about hold up, but under intense pressure.

Now map the Brexit vote onto the selling price movements in the UK housing market since 2007. The correlation is very clear.

Yes, the Brexit vote to leave was a protest. And it did involve a protest with London. But it wasn’t about metropolitan values, experts, or liberal elites – it was the sense in the wider country that London had used its tight hold on economics and politics to save its own housing market at many other people’s expense.

Populist movements have since tried to link the Brexit vote to immigration, sadly with some success. But London is a world city – so diverse, so many cultures, so many languages, and so many immigrants. Yet London voted to remain in the EU, while many other areas with negligible numbers of immigrants voted to leave.

To fix Brexit we need to fix the economy, and to fix the economy we need to resolve the aftermath of the UK housing bubble, a solution which has to include London.

Pundits are wrong when they claim that the Brexit leave voters wanted to go back to the 1950s. They didn’t. They just wanted to go back to 2006, before their homes and the local economy tanked.