Tag Archives: Labour

My review of Martin William’s ‘Parliament Ltd’…

I have a strong interest in politics and I enjoy reading well researched and informative books so Martin Williams ‘Parliament Ltd: A Journey to the Dark Heart of British Politics’ sits very well alongside books that I have previously enjoyed including George Monbiots ‘Captive State’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) and Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/grg36v8) as well as James Rickard’s ‘The Death of Money’ (review here: http://tinyurl.com/y9zfj6tf) and I would recommend that you hunt out and read both. In ‘Parliament Ltd’, Williams sets out to investigate the financial affairs of MPs, who they work for (besides us) and how much they are paid to do so. It examines the arguments both for and against MPs having second jobs and also looks into the influence that these might have on the way that MPs vote. It is an indictment of our political system that Martin had to invest time and money to research this information which should be freely available for public consumption and this only adds to the feeling that politicians have something to hide.

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‘Parliament Ltd’ makes it clear that, even if Parliament cannot be expressly accused of corruption (despite the best efforts of the author to find some!), the way in which MPs are allowed to work second jobs fosters the perception that they might be less than honest especially when allowed to speak on matters that directly affect those who employ them. It also states that a great many MPs, whom the author spoke to, have an entitled attitude that prevents change from occurring in a system so desperately in need of this change. MPs even seem to be resentful of what limited has improved since the expenses scandal (you’d think they’d want to stop that happening again!) and are resistant to anything that might prevent them from being seen in this light. They can claim for meals they might need following a vote in an evening, even if their residence is around the corner, clearly annoyed the writer and costing the public money that really needn’t be spent and this is only one of the ways in which we subsidise their living (Parliamentary canteens and bars are insane for this!).

 

Parliament Ltd is a thoroughly enjoyable read, a book that covers a dense subject in an accessible and enjoyable way with a light (though sometimes also angry) tone that facilitates a rapid read. It is well researched and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in politics and how our political system got to the point that it currently stands at with trust in the system and MPs continuing at a low ebb. It also makes the case that change is still desperately needed but without pressure from within the system to push thing this is unlikely to happen. I suspect that another crisis such as the expenses scandal or the collapse of our two major political parties would need to occur for anything to actually come of this and I guess we shall see.

 

 

‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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I recently worked in retail. Here are my ‘ramblings’ on how it has changed…

This week, I’m ‘rambling’ about something a little different. For the past six months I have been working in retail, more specifically in a local supermarket, and for someone like me who has both a degree and PhD in Neuroscience, this was less than ideal. Between December 2014 and May 2016 I applied for hundreds of jobs and I attended 15 interviews, a soul-crushing experience, before I was finally offered a part-time position back in science. Living in the South-East of England is ridiculously expensive my wife and one salary was insufficient for my wife and I to make ends meet so during this period, I went to work in my local store to help us out financially. The job was your standard retail opportunity; boring and physical and tedious but my point is this: between the last time I worked in retail (during my undergraduate degree) and now, it is obvious that conditions have deteriorated by a significant amount and I was not at all surprised to see the news reports of horrendous conditions inside Sports Direct (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jun/07/sports-direct-agrees-back-pay-deal-with-hmrc-minimum-wage). Actually, I think the conditions that I worked in were not that bad but, given the downwards trend, they are likely to worsen.

So, the job was hard and physical and poorly paid, though actually a little better than minimum wage (or even Osborne’s derisory ‘living wage’ which is no such thing). I was already of the mindset that the minimum wage should now be £10 an hour and working here only reinforced that idea. I spent 7.5 hours each day on my feet, carrying heavy boxes, filling shelves and pulling around carts. I came home exhausted and I lost a considerable amount of weight during this time. I also gained a some muscle, an up-side, and increased my stamina which has helped me in my new job to cope with the travel to and from London. Yet I was only working 3-4 days a week and I find it hard to imagine how exhausted those who worked full-time must’ve been. Yet with the recent shift to part-time workers, full-time contracts are now much rarer and very few of my colleagues had this. Part-time contracts come with fewer benefits and paid days off and instead they offer you over-time to make up the difference if you need it. Fortunately, I did not.

It was immediately obvious that, since my last stint in retail, that conditions have considerably worsened and that the balance of power has squarely shifted in favour of the employer and the management. It used to be that if you worked a nine hour shift you earned three breaks: an unpaid one hour lunch break and two paid 15 minute breaks. These 15 minute breaks are now no longer paid. Additionally, workers lost the right to paid sick days, unless you are out of work for more than three days. I was unwell three times during my six months working there and each time I was genuinely sick. On two of these occasions I had to leave the store and come home to bed. I understand that a sizable portion of their work force is comprised of teenaged workers who are hard to motivate and who would abuse a system that allows them to get paid for days when they can claim they are sick (more often hung-over). But for me and those who needed the job and took it seriously, it was an insult. For anyone with a family who require days to care for them, it is truly horrendous. I also had to sit through a hilarious meeting with two managers to check that I was ‘OK’ and that they didn’t need to discipline me for my (insignificant) absences. Hmm.

My time in this job also made me wonder how these workers manage to make ends meet. With the crazy-high levels of rent required to get even a small apartment in the south-east of the country and all of the other expenses that life incurs like paying your energy bills, feeding your family, owning and running a car, and so forth, I wonder how they do it. And now that they lose pay due to genuine sickness this only adds to their problems. Tax credits and other assistance that a family can claim obviously help, but the current Tory government is doing what it can to take that money away from those who actually do work and genuinely need the support. All in the name of getting the ‘lazy English workers’ back to work.

Despite my grumblings, it wasn’t all bad. One of the things that I did enjoy during my time in the store was the people that I worked with. Most of them were warm, friendly people who were genuinely interested in getting to know me. Of course, there were also some arseholes (including a manager whose name I won’t mention) and some colleagues who went out of their way to be petty and pathetic but knowing that I hopefully wouldn’t be in this environment for the long-run certainly helped me to deal with matters like that. I genuinely enjoyed seeing my co-workers on a daily basis, chatting to them and since leaving I am missing their company. I’m also aware that my current position is only part-time and temporary (it is maternity leave cover) and so there is the possibility that I may end up back in a supermaket in the near future. God I hope not!

I was fortunate to have a way out of this situation and the day that I was offered my new job was a joyful one indeed. But for many of my former co-workers, this is it, this is their life. Short-term, unstable contracts that are poorly paid, do not provide sick pay, and where the next group of incoming workers are offered worse conditions than the current ones. With the impending EU referendum, and the promise from those on the Leave side to have a ‘bonfire of regulations’ should Britain vote to leave, I worry for their future. I’m concerned that, in addition to unpaid sick days, that our government may choose to scrap the right to paid holiday days, a definite upside to working in a position like this one, and that conditions will further deteriorate. Yet, without the return of strong unions, something that seems unlikely at this current time, I do not see matters improving anytime soon. I wonder at what point this government will decide they have taken enough from the poorest in our society and that these people need support, not punishment. Then I remember that it’s a Tory government and my heart sinks. Bring on the next general election and hopefully, a change. Retail workers really need it.

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’…

Recently I’ve read and reviewed a short list of non-fiction, mostly politics books from Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things’ (http://tinyurl.com/jl5trzc) to Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ (http://tinyurl.com/jo8sekz) and George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ (http://tinyurl.com/zevxd7g) as well as a few others. This week I’m reviewing Paul Mason’s ‘Postcapitalism’, a book that is a little different than my other recent reads in that it not only explains how Capitalism got to the point where the author thinks that it will soon collapse, but he also details what might be to come and it is a fascinating read. Onwards to my review!

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In clear and accessible language, Mason talks us through the history of Capitalism and how this economic model, especially the current form of Neo-Liberalism, has driven our world economy to the brink of its own destruction. He explains that this system must inevitably end and that something else take its place. Mason challenges the assumption that Capitalism will always be our economic model, starting from the point that it has not always been so, and moving onward to the changes that are to come. The Postcapitalism model, as seen by Mason, is driven by the rise of information technology, the fall of Labour as the driving force behind value in the production of goods and the desire of information to be free. The internet and the ever increasing connectivity of the next generation is a key part of this coming change and something that, now in place, will be extremely hard to undo. Impossible, I would say.

As someone who has an interest in politics and in the future, I found this a fascinating read and I feel that I can already see much of what Mason addresses becoming reality. Reading this book during the upcoming EU referendum also makes for a fascinating experience. Mason makes the claim that the end of Capitalism and Neo-Liberalism will likely be caused by an outside shock of exactly the sort that the UK leaving the EU might cause. Although that scenario currently seems unlikely, should the UK remain in the EU there is still the possibility that other countries, like Greece , Italy, Spain, may decide that they would prefer not to accept the conditions of remaining and their leaving may be the shock that hastens the end of our current economic model and the move forwards to postcapitalism.

One of the aspects of this coming revolution that fascinates me is that this ongoing change is being driven not by my generation but by the next. I already have an interest in how those younger than me engage with and consume media and, having talked with my younger sister and her friends, it seems that there is a clear difference. I am still stuck buying and owning DVDS, and watching television, though the means by which I access these shows is via the internet. But my sister and her friends don’t own or watch their TV except to have games consoles and internet connections attached to them and all media is consumed through this medium and via streaming services like Netflix. As a result the model for this particular part of their lives has shifted and I only see this change becoming more dramatic. It also changes how her generation access their news, bypassing conventional sources, and pushing them towards different agencies and I find this to be a very interesting thing indeed!

Postcapitalism is a superb book that is accessible and well written and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I can’t recommend it highly enough and if you have any interest in the future, in the end of Capitalism and Neo-liberalism, and in what might replace it in the years to come, then you should read it. I’m glad that I did! Up next time I hope to review either be ‘The Hollowing of Democracy’ or Johann Hari’s ‘Chasing the Scream’. I just have to find the time to actually read them both! Cheers!

 

 

My debut novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’, is available now from all electronic retailers. Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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My review of Peter Oborne’s ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’.

More and more I currently find myself reading non-fiction books and, with my interest in politics, I’m reading works that explore the current political status-quo of the world and more specifically of the UK. Recently, I read and reviewed George Monbiot’s excellent “Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain” and you can find my review elsewhere on my blog. I’m also reading Laurie Penny’s ‘Unspeakable Things” which is superb. But right now I’m reviewing Peter Oborne’s “The Triumph of the Political Class”, an incredible book that details the loss of traditional political figures in the UK and the rise of a Political Class that are distinct from previous statesmanlike figures and explains how this takeover was achieved. Right, onwards…

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I am not hugely familiar with the writings of Mr Oborne as I am a reader of the Independent, the Guardian and New Statesman and not of the papers for which he has previously written. However, I did hear of him leaving the Telegraph following the HSBC scandal where the newspaper was found to have not been reporting stories that might be harmful to one of its primary financial sponsors. Mr Oborne left the paper, disgusted with his employers conduct, and has since found work with the Daily Mail. He is one of only two columnists, the other being Peter Hitchens, for whom I am willing to visit the website of this horrendous publication to read. And like Mr Hitchens, I find Mr Oborne to be a principled reporter who is disgusted with what politics in the UK has become and with whom I have more in common than I would have thought based on their positions in the political spectrum.

So, ‘The Triumph of the Political Class’ is a remarkable read. Truly, a remarkable read. I tore through it in a short time, far faster than I expected to, and found that I absolutely loved it. It is an incredible, thoughtful and more than a little angry work that has changed my view of politics in Britain more than a little. If you have any interest in this subject and would like to know how we got to where we currently are then you should read it and if, like me, you find it to be astonishing then you will be glad that you did. Mr. Oborne explains how our politicians are no longer political servants, instead they have become a elite all of their own whose only interest is their own power. But he goes much further.

Is your opinion that our politicians are all the same and that they are lying, thieving bastards? Mr Oborne shows that you are correct and that standards in political life have dramatically collapsed with the primary interest of our politicians now their own enrichment and not public service. Do you think that our politicians are in the pockets of the media, more specifically of Rupert Murdock? Mr Oborne explains that this is true and details the shocking extent to which it is and that the relationship between the two has now become parasitic. Ever thought that all politicians are the same and that they all work together to keep themselves in power and prevent anyone finding out what they are really up to? This book shows that you are correct and that standards in politics are now lower than is expected for the rest of us whereas in the past they were expected to uphold a much higher standard. All of this is clearly and concisely spelled out with clarity and more than a little anger.

This is a book that changes your view of politics in Britain and opens your eyes. It explains how many things that we think might be true actually ARE true! It details how we have lost control of our political system and how, with a pliant and willing media, our leaders are no such thing. They are incompetent, inept, useless and morally corrupt and they are only able to survive due to their symbiotic relationship with said media. They lie, they cheat and they get away with it! They have strengthened their own power while attacking other important British Institutions including Parliament, the Civil Service and the Monarchy, all in the name of increasing their control over our country. And since the publication of this book in 2008 I suspect that things have gotten much, much worse!

Mr Oborne clearly lays out the cause of the current malaise with our political masters which stems from one simple fact: we no longer pay for them. When membership of the political parties collapsed, and the parties were forced to find other sources of income to support them, they turned to business and corporations who willingly parted with significant sums of money secure in the knowledge that they would reap the benefits. And they have more than done so. It should come as no surprise to anyone that those who pay for the parties have their loyalties but our problems go much, much further than this. Since the Thatcher government the change in the way politics works has been truly dramatic with matters worsening with every successive change of those in power.

One of the truly stunning aspects of this book for me was how much of this damage was done during Mr. Blair’s government. Now, I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Blair and I’ve heard the cry before that he wasn’t really Labour at all. And now I think that this is correct. He was neither Labour, nor Tory. He was Political Class and not a servant of the people. And many that have followed including David and Ed Milliband, David Cameron, Ed Balls, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and others are all members of this same elite. They have little interest in fighting each other and more in fighting the electorate and increasing their power. And this will not change until the people grab a hold of the reins of politics and change many aspects of the current system.

Reading this book in the wake of the election of Jeremy Cobryn as Labour leader also makes for a fascinating twist on Mr Oborne’s words. Mr Corbyn is clearly not a member of the Political Class. He is an outsider, a rebel and thus a very clear danger to the established order where politicians of all colours protect each other from their real enemy: the people. Mr Corbyn is a normal person with actual moral standards who is now in charge of one of the two major parties. As for how much change Mr. Corbyn and his team will be able to implement, well we can only wait and see. But this book helps to explain the, frankly rabid reaction to Mr. Corbyn’s election. The Political Class fear him for he is not one of them! Also, the final section of the book details complex software used in the 2005 election to target swing voters with remarkable accuracy and this makes me wonder what techniques are now being used in the ten years since. I shudder to think.

Like ‘Captive State’, The Triumph of the Political Class is a rallying cry for people to wake up and realise how much control of our country we have lost. And without regaining this control we will never be able to tackle the huge issues that we currently face like Climate Change, the migration crisis and the control that corporations have over our countries and our lives. If you have any interest in politics I highly recommend that you read this excellent book and I hope that you take as much away from it as I did. It should help to explain how the UK got to the current situation that we now find ourselves in and if there is ever to be a way to restore faith in the system then we need to understand how we got to this point in the first place. I will now be looking out for other books from Mr Oborne and will be reading his columns in whichever newspaper he chooses to publish them in. In case I have not been clear enough, go and read this book! It is important that as many people as possible do so, so go out and find it people!

 

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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Ongoing Ramblings: my thoughts on Corbynmania…

One of my passions is politics and last Saturday something truly dramatic happened in the UK: Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party. For those who don’t know who he is, which until recently was most of us, he is a socialist, left-wing MP that has served his constituency for thirty years but has, until now, never had a major role. His inclusion in the leadership race was reported to have only occurred so that the left-wing agenda got a hearing and he was widely expected to come, if not last, then second to last in the contest. But that did not happen.

As the contest dragged on, and it really was far too long, something remarkable happened. He began to take the lead and no one could believe it. Indeed, I could not quite believe it myself. Given the recent inaccuracy of polls in the run up to the last election this is hardly surprising but suddenly, anytime the media needed an opinion, he was the candidate they went to. And then he did indeed win. And he did so with a huge share of the vote, nearly 60%! The closest rival barely had 20%. It was remarkable and there is little doubt that Mr. Corbyn’s inclusion in the contest made for a much more entertaining race. I think, without him, the entire thing would have been widely ignored and instead of any of the other, cardboard cut-out candidates, we now have a widely popular leader and a rapidly increasing Labour membership.

So how did Mr. Corbyn win? Well, from early on in the contest there was little doubt that he was dramatically different than the others. When asked a question, he would actually offer an answer! This was so entirely novel that he quickly gained the attention of anyone watching and people began listening to him, even those who had drifted away from the Labour party or had been turned-off from politics in general. Then he became the lead candidate and reports emerged that a great many people were turning out to hear him speak, indeed overfilling the available venues, and of young people giving up evenings to spend them working at phone banks to help his campaign. This is truly impressive and turning this success into a social movement that continues to drive up Labour membership and brings younger voters into politics is now crucial.

I for one am glad that Mr Corbyn is the new leader of the Labour party but before I go any further I should declare my own interests: I voted for him to become leader, along with Tom Watson for deputy, so I’m not unbiased in this matter. I voted Green in the last general election and, had Labour know that, I might have been prevented from doing so, not that my absence would’ve been noticed given the scale of Mr. Corbyn’s victory. My hope, right now, is that we now have an actual Labour leader, a socialist who will fight for the good of the poorest in our society who are being so relentlessly attacked by this Tory government. For that is what a Labour leader should do, in my opinion. I consider myself to be a left-leaning voter though, as the Guardian columnist Owen Jones is fond of saying, left and right seems to be becoming a more and more outdated concept.

What I care about is the issues that affect my life and those of my generation including social mobility and justice, affordable housing, renationalising public services that should have been sold off, creating good quality jobs and the green agenda. And the current Tory government is dealing with none of these issues, actually making many of them worse. Hopefully this will change, indeed it looks like it already might be. Labour must set about opposing the Tory’s austerity agenda, which is idealistic dogma and nothing more, to begin building the houses that Britain desperately needs and defending the unions that are under such fierce and sustained attack from this government.

But now that Mr. Corbyn has won, no one can decide if he will bring about the rebirth or the end of the Labour party. I’ve seen commentary articles that make both of these arguments. So either he will lead to a split in the party so serious that it never recovers and collapses in on itself or he could bring about a resurgence. I’m betting on the latter but if Labour were to collapse it could also lead to the collapse of the Tories, at least according to some sources, and possibly about a fundamental shift in politics in the UK. Whatever happens there is little doubt that we suddenly seem to be living in more interesting times.

One thing is assured: Mr. Corbyn will certainly not be in for an easy ride. The inevitable backlash from the Tories, including the 85% right-wing media, was predictable and actually amusing in the ridiculousness of the things they said. ‘Corbyn is a threat to national security, economic security’ and (almost) world security. And some of these words came directly from our Prime Minister! They are trying to brand him in his first few days before he has a chance to define what the Labour party under his leadership is about. And they can succeed. They only need to persuade a small percentage of the population that this is the case for it to stick. So the challenge for his supporters is to prevent this from happening for if he is smeared, in a similar way to how Ed Miliband was portrayed as a geek who can’t eat a bacon sandwich, then we might lose any hope that he could win the next election years before the contest has even begun.

My impression and opinion is that Britain’s Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, is no leader. He follows where he should lead and the next five years will present a great many challenges that will test the public’s faith in his abilities. Already this year we have had the ongoing refugee crisis, rumblings in Northern Ireland, and now a new leader of the opposition party who will likely oppose this government in a manner that Mr. Cameron has not yet faced. If Labour can unite behind their new leader then I suspect their fortunes may rise. I really hope they do. The poor of this country desperately need someone on their side and that is a position that the new Labour leader is sure to take.

Check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on comics, politics, self-publishing and my novel, ‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ which is out now at all electronic retailers! Also follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!

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