March 12, 2009

ReHeated are no longer together, so this blog won’t be getting any more new posts. Sadly, the band weren’t able to reconcile their musical differences.

All is not lost, however. One of the group has gone solo, and come out from under the cover of anonymity. You can read about his adventures here.


Why I don’t support the Olympic torch protesters

April 14, 2008

We’ve all seen the footage. Demonstrators decked out in Tibetan flags being man-handled by the toughs in the blue tracksuits. A microcosm, you might say, of the Chinese attitude to human rights: the weak, seeking only a platform for free expression, beating beaten down by the faceless strong. Silly arguments about sovereignty and trite comparisons with Israel aside, few could disagree that the Chinese have done many bad things in Tibet, for which they should rightly be condemned.

But in this way, and at this time? The Olympics have been effectively politicised before – remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s epoch-defining statement for black power on the podium in Mexico in 1968 – but they have also been ruined, and their purpose debased, by extensions of power-politicking into a realm where it does not belong. Did the American boycott of Moscow 1980, and the Soviet reprisal in Los Angeles in 1984, really make either side anymore morally pure? It entrenched antagonisms, exacerbated differences, and sunk into the muddied waters of everyday pettiness perhaps the only world forum that seeks, for a brief few weeks, to set common humanity apart from ideology.

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PFI and People’s Pensions: an answer to the PPProblem?

November 28, 2007

PFI is looking more and more like an expensive mistake. How about this for an alternative?

Three facts that should be put together more often:
1. The Guardian reported yesterday that the taxpayer may have to pay up to £170billion for Private Finance Initiative schemes (PFI briefing here). Even a more moderate estimate of the cost still has Gordon Brown committing future governments to pay back £91billion by 2032 to banks, investors and private entrepreneurs.
2. In 1962 51% of total pension fund assets were invested in UK government bonds. In 1993 that figure was 7%. Today, it is just 3%.
3. The money in UK pension funds at present amounts to a capital stake of £750billion. The vast majority – over 70% – of that money is invested in shares issued by private companies.

How about this for an alternative to PFI? Link pension funds to local authorities, NHS Trusts, education authorities and the like. Let these bodies raise the money needed for infrastructure projects by effectively borrowing pension money off people. Let people with pensions choose the type of services they want in the area of their choice. Run the whole thing democratically on a mutual, not for profit basis.

This wouldn’t just sort out the PFI debacle. It wouldn’t just ameliorate the looming pensions crisis. It would square the most important circle in contemporary political life: the cavernous divide between people’s aspirations and what they do about them on a local level.

This isn’t an original idea – if only. The idea for locally-sponsored pensions was set out a few years ago in a paper by the New Economics Foundation, co-authored by Richard Murphy.

They even had a catchy name for them.

People’s Pensions. Not bad, eh?

Are we fighting the wrong battles?

October 27, 2007

An interesting piece from Matthew Parris in the Times on Britain’s power position in the world today:

“In a range of big foreign policy questions it is time we British embraced the politics of impotence. We should save our enthusiasms, our money, our international friendships and our soldiers’ lives, for what is doable.”

Parris argues that British adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq should be placed firmly in the opposing category: they were not, and are not, doable. On aggressive posturing towards Iran:

Britain should do here what we should have done before the attack on Iraq: give the world to understand that we are unpersuaded that the time is ripe for confrontation; but that we will not try to undermine a key ally, America, that has taken another view. We should sit this one, like that one, out. We are, anyway, impotent.

I can’t help feeling that he has a point. Are we still suffering from a post-imperial hangover? Certainly, Britain is still (for now) the fifth largest economy is the world, ranks sixth in the world in military spending, and holds a seat on the UN Security Council. But any sober judge must recognise our ability to project power around the world is limited.

As such, should we be concentrating the limited resources we have on showpiece moral projects, or must we be more ruthless? What Britain most needs in the contemporary world is not a democratic Iraq, satisfying as that is, but access to markets and to reliable supplies of energy. Is the belief that we can still play great power politics distracting from these aims, to our long-term detriment? Perhaps Britain must choose: either we accept our descent to a middling power and bind tight to the national interest; or we keep our ideals, but move them to a stage where there is the potential for Britain to have genuine influence – is now the time to look again at a single EU Foreign and Security Policy?