Blog Archive

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

I saw the Messiah, Just 37 days to go, The Hourglass effect, My Manifesto, Quote of the Month.

Today I saw the Messiah. We popped into the Ashmolean museum in Oxford for a cup of tea. They now have a Benugo’s café in the basement serving their amazing St Clements & almond loaf.  We then took advantage of the fact that British state owned museums are still free and had a look at some of our favourite exhibits (The Pre-Raphaelites John Everett Millais’ portrait of John Ruskin, various Pissarros, a Toulouse-Lautrec, etc.) and some less familiar but equally interesting works. Another of my favourites of course is The Messiah. This is the nickname given to what is almost certainly the most valuable of all of Stradivarius’ violins.  It was made during his golden period in 1716 and remains virtually unplayed to this day making it even more unique. A violinist, Jean-Delphin Alard, said to its then owner about 150 years ago ‘your violin is like the Messiah: one always expects him but he never appears’ and this name has stuck. Another Strad from the same period (The Lady Blunt) which was well played, with regular wear and tear, sold for £10 million a few years ago so The Messiah in mint condition is likely to be worth several times more than this. It was bequeathed to the Ashmolean in 1939 on condition that it is never played! Slightly less pleasing was my wife’s visit to the ladies toilets. A pair of foreign ladies were using the hand basins to wash their feet. Although I understand that this is a tradition in a number of religions, it is not acceptable in public toilets using basins that are designed to wash your hands. Notices need to be placed in the toilets advising visitors not to use the basins for other purposes and the staff should prevent people form using them in this way. When we complained to the staff, I am pleased to say they acted immediately and asked the women not to do it.

The Messiah at The Ashmolean in Oxford

As I write this piece, there are just 37 days to go until the General Election. And this will quite probably be one of the most important General Elections since the last war. The 2010 election was a milestone in that it re-introduced coalition politics in the UK after decades of rivalry between the Conservatives and the Labour parties, one of whom has always ended up governing by themselves. The Coalition government has lasted its 5-year term relatively well. The UK has come out of recession to be the fastest growing economy of all western countries, whilst most of the Eurozone is still flatlining at best. This is a great achievement particularly given that the number of people in work is at an all time high even if productivity is not great and real wages are only now starting to recover. My belief, influenced by the French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s view that “All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone” is that the most important thing is to get people working, even if it means the wages on offer are less than desirable and further state aid is offered to support them. Most of our evils come from people who sit at home, are not part of a work environment, cut-off from society and increasingly resentful.  So 2 million new jobs created in the last 5 years is definitely something to celebrate. However, despite the great record of the coalition, we are about to move into uncharted territory. In 37 days, there is a very strong likelihood that the parties that end up ruling us are not representative of the votes cast. For example, if the Scottish Nationalists (SNP) end up holding the balance of power, we will have a party that was voted for by about 5% of the UK population (all based in Scotland) spinning their influence on everything that happens in parliament with nearly 10% of the seats. It is quite likely that our current democratic system that has worked so well for hundreds of years will be declared broken and will need to be re-engineered. Another example of it not working, is that UKIP (as much as I dislike them) may get around 20% of the vote but will probably be lucky to get 2% of the elected MPs. In the last election the Libdems got around 25% of the vote but only 8% of the MPs. But once again my real issue is immigration. The Guardian has gathered compelling data to show:
  1. Part of the reason our economy is faring so well is because of the large number of foreign workers entering our country and working (as many as half of the 2 million new jobs have gone to foreigners)
  2. If we were to remove benefit payments to foreign workers in the way that parties are suggesting, the net result would actually be an increase in costs to the taxpayer
On the first point, the government had promised to reduce immigration to under 100,000 in 2014 and the real figure is just under 300,000. And instead of fighting each other to announce the most draconian measures they can think of to ‘keep the immigrants out’ a more sensible approach would be to celebrate the additional income they are bringing in through their skills and taxes and the fact that their costs in benefits and healthcare are significantly less than the average population. The immigrants are mostly from the EU and they are mostly young people who come here to work. If they just wanted to claim benefits, most have a more generous system back home! So we see a net gain as a result of immigration, one of the contributing factors to our significant economic growth.

On the second point, there clearly is a cost relating to the state benefits (and other costs) claimed by the immigrant population, as even if they claim less than average, it will still add up to a large figure. What the politicians conveniently neglect to say is that if the UK were to stop paying these people, then we should accept reciprocal treatment from other EU member states.  For example, there are four times as many British people in Germany claiming benefits as there are Germans claiming in the UK. The net impact of this as The Guardian has exposed, is that the money being claimed in benefits by Brits living abroad in EU countries is more than the amount the UK pays out in benefits to EU citizens living in the UK! How shocking is that? “Unemployed Britons in Europe are drawing much more in benefits and allowances in the wealthier EU countries than their nationals are claiming in the UK, despite the British government’s arguments about migrants flocking in to the country to secure better welfare payments.” The Guardian January 19th 2015.

Take a look at the chart below that shows the two sides in most EU countries. Immigration has made Britain great. 10,000 years ago there was nobody on these isles. We are all foreigners. Please tell Nigel Farrage.

I am increasingly hearing people talk about the alarming trend in our workplace towards what is being commonly described as “the hourglass effect". The UK and other developed economies seem to be seeing diverging trends in employment towards those with poor skillsets and low pay and those with high levels of skill, education and training. The middle paid jobs appear to be vanishing, creating the so-called hourglass effect. It is not a decrease in employment that is causing this as the number of jobs is at all time high. It is probably due to technological advances and leaner working practices that business are finding that they can operate without so many managers. One of the most serious consequences of this is that lower paid workers can rely less and less on a career path as the rungs in the middle of the ladder are increasingly rare and further apart. This worrying phenomenon was very eloquently expressed by Sir Charlie Mayfield who gave the annual Robert Oakeshott Lecture on March 20th. He is Chair of John Lewis where they employ 93,000 ‘partners’ and they too have been removing middle managers over the last few years in order to remain competitive. He boldly explained that this phenomenon is touching poorer white men who are drawn to UKIP as a result not realising that UKIP will only exacerbate the problem. Another reason for the phenomenon is cuts in public spending since the recession which have included the loss of many middle ranking jobs. The hourglass effect was very clear during the industrial revolution which benefitted the rich and also created vast numbers of low paid factory work. We are now entering a new tech led economic revolution which will continue to change our economy with potentially huge consequences. Sir Charlie talked about the huge new high tech 670,000 sq ft warehouse that John Lewis have opened at Magna Park in Milton Keynes. It is a good example of the new economy in that most of the employee partners appear to be either involved in receiving stock and whizzing around in various types of electric lift trucks or sitting in front of a computer doing very clever stuff such as controlling the armies of robots and conveyor belts that do most of the heavy lifting. The Robert Oakeshott lecture is organised by the Employee Ownership Association which is dedicated to expanding Employee Ownership to reach 10% of the UK economy.

Sir Charlie Mayfield

My Manifesto
  1. Prioritise job creation
  2. Cherish our great NHS and plan for a new future with a paradigm shift that incentivises wellness and a 1% increase in NI to pay for it
  3. Ensure our education system covers life’s basics from an early age to include British Values, managing finances and communicating with each other
  4. Be welcoming to qualified immigrants who make us all better off
  5. Be at the heart of a reformed EU bringing job security and prosperity to all
Quote of the Month
Dr Mike Loosemore, Head of Exercise Medicine at University College Hospital London, told the BBC recently: "Inactivity and sedentary behaviour is one of the biggest challenges we have in public health today. Compared with 100 years ago, our levels of activity are tiny, the number of manual jobs are continually reducing; even if you dig a road up you sit in a little tractor”

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