Blog Archive

Monday, April 1, 2013

Immigration, Habemus Papam, Bankers, Marcel Duchamp, Trousers, Men in Authority, Tea.

One of the big issues in recent weeks, probably spurred by the results of the Eastleigh by-election is immigration.  All of a sudden, each of the major parties is trying to outdo the others by their hard-core stance on immigration.  The Labour party have said they got it wrong in government and let in too many immigrants and even Nick Clegg has come out with a tough speech on curbing immigration.  The reason for this of course is the apparent surge in support for UKIP.  Nigel Farrage, their leader, is coming out with some real classic claptrap reminiscent of the National Socialist party in Germany in the 1930s.  Farrage said in the run-up to the Eastleigh by-election ‘I have nothing against the 29 million people who will be able to leave Bulgaria and Romania next year but there should not be an open door policy for them’, the implication being that they will all come to the UK (when of course they won’t) scaring people towards an anti-immigration stance.  The proper political parties are running scared and trying to match UKIP.  The sad thing about this is that if anyone actually bothers to look at the facts, they would suggest we should encourage immigration. Amongst all immigrants from the EU (who make up the majority of immigration as they have freedom of movement) the proportion who claim benefits is about half of the rate of the UK population as a whole.  They also use the NHS less and cost the pension system less as they are younger.  So anyone who really cares about the UK, should be arguing to maintain freedom of movement within the EU, and should welcome selective immigration from outside the UK.  Many of our most successful companies would like to employ the best talent in the world but more and more are finding that they are restricted to the UK talent pool and faced with masses of bureaucracy if they want to bring in top non EU talent.  If we are not careful, our competitors will forge a head of us by taking the best.  We are also missing out on tourism (more Chinese tourists go to Belgium than the UK if you can believe it) and on substantial income to our Universities by scaring off these wealthy groups who would come here if we made it easier and made them feel more welcome.  If you go back far enough, we are all immigrants; and this is what has made Britain Great.  If we had a UKIP style immigration policy I wonder how few medals we would have won last summer at the Olympic Games?   It’s time for our leaders and our people to wake up and smell the café au lait.

Habemus Papam. In the last month we have seen two new global leaders ascend.  Each as different as you can get.   Pope Francis 1 is the spiritual leader of some  1.2 billion Catholics across the world.  And there are now more Catholics in South America than in Europe.  Mr Xi Jinping is the new President of China, governing 1.3 billion Chinese people.  He is also, General Secretary of the Communist party, and Commander in chief of Chinese army, making him the most powerful man in China.  I hope these two very different men will each in his own way make our world a better place.  Not a lot to ask, not hard for them to do.  But they may prefer to conform to tradition and keep things as they are.  It is time to modernise for the benefit of the whole world.  If they do, they will be remembered; if they don’t they will fade into the dull archive of uninspiring popes and presidents.

My trousers still fit.  For the last 30 years I have been the same waist size and always purchased the same size trousers.  Both my sons have a smaller waste size than I do.  A couple of weeks ago I was unable to find my size in the same shop I have been going to for the last 15 years.  I discussed it with the sales staff who explained that they no longer stock it as people’s waists are expanding and the smaller sizes are no longer sold.  I eventually found the pair of jeans I was looking for at half price in the sale; they were getting rid of the last pair.  Seems I will have to put on some weight.  However, I should be careful not to eat too much bacon, sausages and other processed foods as a major Europe- wide piece of research has just revealed that eating too much of this type of food is bad for us.  Well that is shocking! Whoever would have guessed that?  But seriously, are we all too stupid, so lacking in common sense, that we need researchers and news media to tell us this?

Banker bashing is still very much in mode.  The major British banks, some of the largest in the world, have recently revealed how many of their staff earn over £1 million per annum.  HSBC has 200 staff earning over a million, of whom 78 live in the UK,  RBS has 100, and Barclays 400. The popular press and the Union reaction to this was outrage.  Ranting about how they should be paid less and that all our economic problems are their fault and they should be made to pay more taxes etc.  I think a sensible, reflective response would be: Excellent, all those people paying loads of tax, many of them still in the UK – what can we do to have more people like this,  spending money in our shops and on our services.  Make sure we don’t frighten them off to Zurich, Hong Kong or New York.  Bankers we love you!  Even if we don’t all love you, we certainly need you.

Last weekend I treated myself to a very special exhibition at London’s Barbican centre.  The centrepiece is Marcel Duchamp’s urinal.  This is considered the most influential piece of art of the 20th century.  Without it, there would be no modern art.  No Ikea, no Tracy Enim, no Tate Modern, no Surrealism; art would still be conventional painting and sculpture; our houses would still be designed and decorated much as in the 19th century.  The urinal was the only exhibit in this large exhibition that was protected by perspex.  It is protected as previously visitors have tried to urinate in it ‘to augment the art’.  There was a large stage in the middle of the floor with elegant ballet dancers making beautiful moves.  Two grand pianos played all by themselves music by John Cage (most famous for 4 minutes 33 seconds of silence which I have purchased) which seemed to be unconnected to the dance movements made by the ballet.  It made me smile but it also gets you thinking.  There were a number of other very challenging works of art ranging from the incomprehensible to the beautiful.  And there was a fair bit of ugly.
The Urinal, Marcel Duchamp

Men in authority seem to think they can get away with anything.  Not all of them, but there is a long list of men at the top of their organisation or top of their game behaving badly and through influence, favours, bullying, lying and other means trying to get away with it.  In the worst cases (Jimmy Saville) many innocent victims have suffered terribly over decades.  Some such as Lance Armstrong have robbed others of money and prestige through their extravagant lying and cover-ups.  Others like Chris Huhne and Vicky Price (both now in prison) have ended up creating suffering for themselves and their families more than others.  These people and others like them are people of huge influence and who are respected by millions, revered by the popular press.  Yet they are able to manipulate their high standing to conceal their misdeeds and ensure that their close aides cover up for them or at best don’t question their behaviour.  The conundrum is that the tremendous respect commanded by these high profile figures is the very power that they abuse to get away with their criminal activities.  I am sure this has always existed but the good news is that society is becoming less tolerant to it and is routing out this sort of behaviour even if it took place decades ago.  Beware all high ranking individuals: you are on a pedestal and everyone is watching you.  Your behaviour should be impeccable; a model to all of your followers.  And to all of us: don’t be complicit in illegal activity; don’t tolerate it; report it to the authorities if you are certain it is taking place.

My Random Act of Kindness is proving harder than I expected and to be honest I am failing.  Must try harder.  I gave some money to Comic Relief but that’s not the same as a free gesture to make some stranger have a better day.  If we could all just do a bit more of that imagine how much better our world would be.

Tea is of course the best drink in the world.  Refreshing, inexpensive, warm, delicate, coarse, infinite varieties.  Outside the UK, I often get served very high quality tea, but served inappropriately rendering it virtually useless.  The usual problem is that the water is served lukewarm.  Recently, in a well known Paris café, I was given a beautiful silver teapot full of lukewarm water.  In my porcelain cup was a very high quality bag of large leaf tea.  So I poured the water onto the tea and guess what happened?  Nothing much.  The flavour and colour only transfer to the water if it is piping hot.  So an expensive cup of warm water.  Unfortunately I have seen this trend spreading to the UK as some café staff are clearly not being trained how to make a cuppa.  More positively, I had a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea at Costa in Heathrow airport recently while I waiting for a colleague from Zurich.  When I ordered it, the Barrista showed me a cup the size of a small chamber pot.  I asked for a smaller one.  He then showed me only only slightly larger than a normal tea cup and I asked if he had anything smaller.  With a big smile, he showed me an espresso cup!  A bit of humour makes a difference to our day.

'The great advantage of knowing little is you can learn so much' Sir Georg Solti. Conductor, 1912 - 1997

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