Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Steel - not too big to fail...apparently

We heard it so often during the banking crisis, didn't we, that expression 'Too big to fail'.
And because our banks were 'too big to fail' our government pumped billions and billions of pounds worth of taxpayers money into them to stop this 'vital industry' from collapsing.
So what about steel?
Well, it seems that this industry, in spite of the fact it is regarded as a critical national asset (let's face it, the ability to make something as basic as steel in this volatile and unpredictable world is probably a good thing), is not too big to fail...which is why we don't see our government rushing to the piggy bank once more.
The best they can do, according to Anna Soubry (she's our Business and Enterprise Minister, apparently) is to 'work tirelessly' to find someone to buy Tata Steel's UK plants...I guess they're working as 'tirelessly' as they did to find buyers for the steel plant at Redcar...
Funny that they didn't first look to see if anyone wanted to buy a bank or two during that particular crisis!

But, I hear people cry, Port Talbot is losing a million pounds a day. How can we afford to support that??
Yes, that is an awful lot of money.
But when you hear from the National Audit Office that the government's bail out of the banking sector and money markets has cost £850 billion, then suddenly Port Talbot's losses look like pretty small beer in comparison (and before you ask, that £850 billion represents a million pounds a day for 2,328 years!!!!).
But why is Port Talbot losing so much?
Could it have something to do with the fact that, quite bizarrely, there is not a rule in government that any national infrastructure project (for example, the new Forth crossing) must use British-manufactured steel?
Or could it be that we live in a country where energy prices are so ridiculously inflated by the big six energy firms that any industry is at an immediate disadvantage when competing with almost every other country on the planet?
Or could it be that our own government, so eager to cosy up to the Chinese, doesn't have the balls to slap a bloody great tariff on the cheap, Chinese government-subsidised steel that is flooding the international market? (Sorry, we can't do that because of EU rules!)

So, my friends, it seems that we have a choice.
Do we allow another critical UK manufacturing capability disappear and the blast furnaces fall silent, or do we instead say to the workers at Port Talbot, Rotherham, Shotton and Corby: 'Okay guys, here's what we're going to do. We're going to buy your steelworks and help you out, and we're going to give each and every one of you a stake in the future of your new company so you're really motivated. Now it's up to you to make it work,  so no massive pay demands, no bitching about your pension, none of that industrial action shit! And as an added fillip, we'll make sure that every major infrastructure project in this country buys from you. Just make sure the quality and the delivery is up to scratch!'

I, for one, wouldn't mind my government using some of the money it doesn't have to shore up the steel industry for a while and, at the same time, keep thousands off the dole and save whole communities from dying a slow and painful death.
Not that I think the government will actually do anything - after all, how many ordinary steelworkers have made contributions to the Conservative Party...?

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Andy's Manifesto

Well, folks.
Here it is - Andy's Manifesto...and let no-one accuse me of shying away from the big issues or avoiding controversy.
I'm calling it like it is - which is something you'll find as rare as hen's teeth in today's political landscape.

So what's the first thing I'd do if I was in power?
Well, I'd give every man, woman and child a big slap and shout as loudly as I could into their faces:
'Get real, you morons!!'
Well, it's simple really. If you, the mass populous some 70 million strong, want...nay, demand the following:

  • a National Health Service that is fit for purpose i.e. enables you to see your GP quickly when you're ill, to have timely operations instead of waiting a couple of years in agony, to have your hospitals clean and safe and properly staffed with qualified doctors and nurses who aren't so tired that they can't think straight, to have access to the latest drugs and treatments even though they cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, etc.
  • a transport system that is fit for purpose i.e. trains that run frequently and on time and aren't like sardine-cans, motorways that aren't at a standstill forever, roads that aren't so full of potholes that driving becomes something like a video-game, etc.
  • a country that is safe and secure i.e. with enough police officers on the beat to enforce the law, an army, navy and airforce that is big enough and well-equipped enough to protect our interests, security services that have enough resources to identify and snuff out threats before they manifest themselves, etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.
then you can't have all these things without being prepared to pay for them!
And all these things cost money...lots and lots of money...!
So you, the great British public, need to decide (and decide quickly) what's really important to you - low taxation (and money in your pocket so you can go and shop at Primark) or the sort of fully-funded services I've listed above - because you simply can't have both.
Oh, one other thing. You also need to realise, whether you like it or not, that you've been living in a country which, for at least the last 20 years or so, has been living well beyond its means. Successive governments (and Labour and Tories are equally to blame here) has run up a bigger and bigger national overdraft and eventually that particular bird (the £1.5 trillion+ national debt bird) will come home to roost big time and no amount of tinkering around with Insurance Premium Taxes or Income Tax thresholds, or simply praying that the global economy will suddenly flourish and save the day is going to help. 
So, here's the deal.
We have to raise taxation. And I mean really raise taxation.
There's nothing else for it.
Of course, we have to do it in a way that is fair and equitable, and no, before anyone asks, I'm not going to impose a 98% super-tax on all earnings over £200,000. Instead, everyone (and I mean everyone) is going to have to pay more. That means those on lower incomes will see their 20% rate go up to say 22% or 23%; then those who earn more will pay a bit more than that - if you earn over £30,000, you'll pay 26% or 27%; if you earn over £60,000, it'll be 47% or 48% and so on...and maybe all those footballers on simply ridiculous wages can give something back...let's look at maybe 75% tax on earnings over £1 million - at least it'll temper their urges to build monstrous-bling buildings in the Cheshire countryside!
But why do we need to raise taxes by so much? I hear the masses (fish and poor alike) cry out.
Because not only do we need to balance the books quickly, we also need to generate enough of a surplus so that we can get our national debt mountain down and eventually pay our overdraft off...that way we won't be spending nigh on £50 billion a year (that's about half the entire NHS budget) in interest payments, like we do at the moment!!!

Of course, everyone will need to tighten their belts - the job of government (and councils) is to make sure every penny of taxpayer's money is spent wisely and cautiously, giving the best returns possible. 
And no, we shouldn't expect the most vulnerable in our society to shoulder an inordinate burden (as our current government seems to want to do with disabled people, for example).
But there is one group of people that I would target with vigour and that's the workshy, those who have made a career of living off benefits, and therefore off the efforts and hard-work of others.
You see, in Andy's Britain, there would still be a benefits system, but it would be structured in such a way that made it impossible for anyone on benefits to 'earn' more than 50% of a person who is working. Those on welfare must be given an incentive to find work - if they choose not to, then the life they live must not be one where they can afford new designer clothes, plentiful supplies of cigarettes and alcohol, Playstations, flat-screen TVs and Sky, a holiday abroad once or twice a year. Welfare should be there to provide the minimum support only - no more.

Interested and Intrigued?
Want to know more about my other policies?
  • the EU - this, for me, is a no brainer. Not only would we have to leave the EU in order for all the things I think need to be done to actually get done (otherwise every man and his dog would be off to the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice with some sob-story or other), but we should simply not be part of a club that shifts its headquarters between two cities every couple of weeks because it can't decide where those headquarters should be! In the future, I believe historians will look back at the EU as a failed social experiment that collapsed under the weight of its own bureaucracy and corruption - I only hope those same historians will look back at 2016 and say 'Britain was smart to get out when they did'. Remember, God put water between us and Europe for a reason!
  • Criminality - again, this is a no brainer. Society asks, in reality, very little of the individual - but one thing that should be sacrosanct is compliance with the law. To break the law should not be seen as something to be done lightly; the ramifications of such transgressions must be met with swift and terrible retribution. Of course, where possible, everyone should be given a chance at redemption and rehabilitation...but only one chance. Those 'career criminals' who choose to transgress again cannot be tolerated and it would be my proposal to take an island (not sure which yet), build a massive wall around it and follow the lead of Escape from New York! No parole, no Open University courses (and certainly no f**king vote!).
  • Government itself - yes, we'd still have a Parliament and national elections, but it would be a much slimmer version (100 MPs at the most) - the majority party would act, in essence, as the Board of UK plc and it would be their job to set goals in all the major areas of society (economics, health, education, defence, sport and culture, etc). They could then hire and fire the best minds to run those departments - we wouldn't have ministers; instead, we'd score the globe to find the very best individuals the world has to offer. Yes, we'd pay them handsomely (just like football clubs pay good managers) but they would be judged on results. The cost of hiring the best would be more than covered by the savings we'd make on the 550 free-loading and ineffectual MPs (not to mention all those MEPs) that we would no longer need.
  • Education - this would need a radical rethink. Whilst we need to prepare our children for the big, wide world, we also need to recognise that each child is different - some are academically gifted, some are not; some are talented at sports, some at arts, some are born engineers, etc. The job of schools and teachers should be to uncover each child's true gifts and nurture them, encouraging them to grow into the best that they can be. How do we do that? At the moment, I have no idea whatsoever, but given the chance I'd have a damn good go at finding a solution.
  • Multiculturalism - let's face facts: multiculturalism doesn't work. It's a failed social experiment which sought to fly in the face of that basic rule of humanity that people who are the 'same' (be that on the basis of colour, creed, nationalism, religion) will always group together and be naturally wary and mistrusting of everyone who is not like them. So how to heal what has become a deeply divided society. Again, it may sound harsh, but the simple answer is to say that if you are here in Britain, then your first and foremost loyalty should be to this great land of ours. And being British should be to embrace a set of ideals, to embrace Britain's national identity - that identity doesn't have to be based on any religion or faith (though they'd certainly contain many christian values with a small 'c'), but they should encompass the common principles of good citizenship, of knowing what is right and what is wrong, focussing on responsibilities instead of rights. And if you don't like those ideals, then this is not the place for you. 
  • No, I won't constantly apologise for Britain's history and the Age of Empire. Full stop.
  • Scotland - Let's be clear here. I'm a Unionist. I believe Great Britain is great because it is made up of all the different nations of the Union. It saddens me deeply, not that so many Scots want to leave the Union, but that so many Scots seem to think that all the ills north of the border are caused by everyone south of the border. That's simply not the case. There are plenty of people between Carlisle and Crewe who are equally pissed off with the state of our great nation, but unfortunately, short of doing a Sudan and having a twenty-year civil war at the end of which we can split England in two, we're stuck with it. Turning your back on the rest of the UK is not, I suggest, the solution...and yes, before people start saying that the same argument can be used about leaving Europe, my previous stance on Europe is that I think we would indeed better off  in a reformed Europe that is more akin to what it was originally set up as i.e. a trading block, a 'Common Market' - unfortunately, I do not believe the EU will ever reform (and David Cameron's efforts to get it to do so aren't worth did diddlysquat!). As for Scottish independence, I strongly believe that if Britain was run the way I would have it run, then no Scot would want to even consider leaving it!
I could go on - there's plenty more policies, plenty more powerful strategies (and hard choices) - but I'll leave it there.
Of course, I'm always open to feedback and comment - except where it doesn't align with my own views and beliefs, in which case I will simply label it as poppycock...or outdated liberalism.
But feel free to comment nonetheless :)

Monday, 21 March 2016


So, after almost 18 years of hillwalking in the Lake District, the 19th March 2016 saw me stand on the summit of the only 'Wainwright' that I hadn't climbed - St Sunday Crag.
It's an achievement of which I am unashamedly proud.

My first Wainwright was Helvellyn, climbed via Striding Edge on the 8th April 1998 (along with Nethermost Pike and Dollywaggon Pike) in the company of big brother Alex. Alex would accompany me on 10 further Wainwright bagging trips, out of the total of 84 that I have made in which I have summited at least one new Lakeland peak.
Of course Wendy has been my most frequent companion, walking with me to first-time summits on no less than 32 occasions. Ged has been with me on 17 trips. 24 trips I have made on my billy.
A few useless stats include:

  • Most Wainwrights climbed in a year - 29 in 2013, 27 in 2015
  • Fewest Wainwrights climbed in a year - 0 in 1999, 1 in 2006 and 2010
  • Most Wainwrights on a single walk - 11 on 21st August 2005
  • Best walk - the Fairfield Horseshoe (which I've actually walked 4 times since first walking it on 5th March 2000)
  • Dullest summit - Mungrisdale Common
  • Most surprising good summit - Black Fell
All in all, a pretty satisfying 17+ years...