Equal Opportunities?

As a jobless piece of shit, pumping out ten or more applications a day, I can honestly say that (despite asking the mandatory equal opportunities questions) not every employer is concerned with following the equal opportunities ethic of which they boast.

I completed an application just now for a very well known budget airline and I was met with a question that is very frequently asked, but which poses real danger for the prospective applicant.

The question: What are your salary expectations?

This is a double-edged sword question, designed for one reason: saving the company money. For example, let us say that an administration job has been promoted online but there is no wage attached. The applicant is left to guess at how much they could earn. One person applies has a history of administration and they have usually been paid £16,000. Another person has a similar history in administration but they have previously been paid £25,000.

Both people apply for the job. When asked What are your salary expectations? the first person responds with £16,000, the second responds with £25,000. The employer can therefore look at both applications and choose the person who expects the lowest amount. But let us say that the first person is unemployed, on their last paycheck and desperate. They therefore want to look more employable so, in a bid to get the job, they sell themselves short and say that they expect £15,000.

The company may have had a budget of £25,000 to spend on someone to fill the role, but they have potentially succeeded in saving the company £9,000 – £10,000. Maybe we are all equal in poverty as companies drive down average wages in an attempt to save money.

I dunno. Just thinking out loud.

What are we thinking?

Why our economic plan is rubbish.

Capitalism in an odd bird. It is more or less wholly responsible for the increase in living standards and global stability. The latter point is arguable but think of it this way: do you think that we would have less or more war if people were more devoted to nationalism than to capitalism? After all, transnational trade breaks down barriers and, with the simple threat of imposing sanctions, we can maintain some semblance of order.

That being said, capitalism is failing and is in drastic need of an overhaul.

Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, is the bible of modern economics and it states, as put best by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind: “people become rich not by despoiling their neighbours, but by increasing the overall size of the pie. And when the pie grows, everyone benefits. The rich are accordingly the most useful and benevolent people in society, because they turn the wheels of growth for everyone’s advantage.” This is the most common theme in arguments claiming that capitalism benefits everyone through “trickledown economics”.

I don’t know if this has ever really been the case. And, despite being part of what we claim is a liberal democracy, even today we cannot claim that the trickle economic model is really working as it should be.

Using the most commonly reported case, let’s start with Amazon. Amazon is a giant unlike anything this world has ever seen. An online marketplace that sells pretty much anything and that doesn’t have to cover the usual retail overheads. Jeff Bezos is the modern day success story. But it is because of a shoddy work ethic and malpractice that Amazon has been a so-called “success.” There are reports that the factory workers whose job it is to pick and pack the items we choose, are made to wear headsets that bleep in the employee’s ear every time they miss a quota. People have been fired for going on bathroom breaks. Workers have not wanted to have time off for childbirth for fear that they will lose their jobs and some workers are even said to have urinated in bottles because to go to the toilet might result in them losing their jobs.

In the world of trickle-down economics in which the wealth is meant to be spread among the workers and they can therefore pay taxes and perhaps even purchase the wares from their benevolent employer. Along with shoddy work conditions, employee pay is around £9.00 to £10.00 per hour.

One common argument we find ourselves constantly faced with is that it is better to have an employer in town than to have no employer in town. But you might as well tell all those people experiencing despicable mistreatment to “suck it up” and “be thankful”. The truth of the matter is that just because a company is the only employer in town, that people should simply settle for mistreatment and be thankful that they even have a job. We are not living in an age where employers should be able to get away with such activities. Having a job is one thing. Being treated with respect is something else entirely.

Capitalism is meant to fund economies. Again, Yuval Noah Harari captures it best when he says:

“Capital consists of money, goods and resources that are invested in production. Wealth, on the other hand, is buried in the ground or wasted on unproductive activities. A pharaoh who pours resources into a non-productive pyramid is not a capitalist.”

The same can be said for so many of the rich and powerful. Houses, cars, private jets, yachts. These things are some of the hallmarks of the wealthy but there is also another realm into which the rich funnel money which would be better spent either paying employees a decent wage or perhaps funding new start-up operations. The world is that of the offshore tax-haven. Not only are companies shirting their duties of paying adequate tax within the countries where they operate, they are also squirreling away profits for their own economic gain.

It is all very well boasting that you are employer and that you are doing x,y and z in aiding the economy and keeping people within jobs, but the boasting stops when their capitalist idea hits the real world. Money and power corrupt. Look at capitalism’s nemesis; communism. What may look like an understandable and worthwhile pursuit for equality consistently breeds dictators, as history proves time and again. Capitalism does the same. Entrepreneurs turn from imaginative and successful capital generators to wealth hoarders.

Covid-19 and the benefits to the private sector

There is no doubt that big change generates big potential. During the crash of 2007/2008, individuals capitalised by betting against the market, a process known as “shorting”. The fact that individuals can make such wealth whilst the majority of people are so adversely effected by changes in the market is a hard one to swallow. But wealth buys serious advantages.

Covid is a catastrophe. In the face of the global pandemic we are seeing a recession much like of 07/08 private sector companies are benefiting from the struggle. First of all, track and trace (a scheme squelching through a quagmire of controversy) was awarded to a firm that has close links with the Conservative Party. The job was not put out for tender but was instead rushed through by the standing government. The Guardian rightly highlighted this topic in their “Covid-19 investigations” piece: “Firms given &1bn of state contracts without tender in Covid-19 crisis” (15/05/2020).

“Official data analysed by the Guardian shows state bodies have awarded at least 177 contracts worth £1.1bn to commercial firms in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Of those, 115 contracts – with a total value of just over £1bn – were awarded under the fast-track rules bypassing competitive tenders. They include two contracts worth more than £200m, both awarded by Whitehall departments.”

War is lucrative and so is any catastrophe. Among the companies given tender were Deloitte, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Deloitte has been under the intense scrutiny of publication Private Eye for some time. Deloitte has overseen the procurement of 50m unusable masks despite Deloitte’s role throughout the Covid-19 crisis being: “supplier monitoring, analysis and due diligence”. Due diligence is definitely not a strength for this organisation considering the firm was “fined for failing to spot fraud” and it has also been found guilty of ‘”serious and serial failures”‘ in its work at IT company Autonomy.

Another problem that has been highlighted regarding the government’s fast-tracking of contracts to private parties is the grabbing of information. The grabbing of information happens when companies take user data from mobile phones and devices and sells that information to 3rd party interests. Last year data mining was more lucrative that the oil industry. The money to be made from advertisers trying to peddle products and services straight onto our feeds and through our apps is staggering and Covid-19 has given data-mining free reign over information that we once wanted to keep private.

Private firms have always been circling the public sector like vultures waiting for an accident or a hiccup. What is so troubling is that the chumminess of Conservative MPs with so many higher-ups in the private sector has blurred. David Cameron’s contemporary, Dido Harding (previously chair of TalkTalk) has been ushered in to run the track and trace initiative. Her husband is Tory MP and Tory Minister John Penrose. In a Huffpost exclusive, Dido Harding’s suitability for the role is questioned.

“Critics point to her record at TalkTalk where the company suffered a major data breach and was given a record £400,000 fine for failing to protect customers details from a hack attack.”

“Shadow health minister Alex Norris said: “Nurses on the frontline using food banks or families denied the opportunity to see grandparents because of local lockdowns will be appalled at revelations this Tory peer has pocketed thousands of pounds worth of taxpayers cash.”

The Huffpost emphasises the close link between Tories and the interests of their friends and donors. People not fit for purpose are afforded the helm of projects and yet, despite questionable results (i.e. Dido Harding’s recent failure on Track and Trace which sent some people up to a hundred miles from their homes to get treatment). Surely such an important task should be handed to a group already working within the public sector who better know the health services available?

Another lackluster speech by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson’s speech yesterday was hardly the breath of fresh air that most people thought it would, and should, have been. Construction and manufacturing businesses were told that they could continue doing business (not that the construction business ever stopped) but that these businesses must suddenly implement measures to ensure that the two metre social distancing measures.

This is the “shape of the plan” as Boris Johnson tries “reopening society”. The Plan has fallen under heavy criticism as people from all professions have pointed out a waterfall of issues. For instance, that reception, years 1 and 6 would try to be back in school before the summer break period. Many teachers and school staff believe that this would be a huge mistake given that children would find it hard to distance themselves from one another and any social distancing tactics that teachers might try to practice around children would only end up scaring them. I imagine it would be hard to teach a child whilst wearing a face mask and gloves though, hopefully, measures will not be so drastic.

Manufacturing businesses, on the other hand, have to make the decision as to whether or not they can reopen and if or how they can put in place safeguards for their employees. It is only early days and the Prime Minister made clear that more information would follow later today (Monday) but given the smoky information that has come out of Downing Street since Covid-19 touched down on UK shores, clarity might be hard to find.

Another confusing statement came from Boris Johnson that he has “consulted across the political spectrum” and that his plan is in-line with other UK leaders. Before Boris Johnson’s speech, and in answer to the Sunday newspapers headlines, Nicola Sturgeon took to Twitter with the following statement:

There is very little trust among those reading the papers that Boris Johnson is in-sync with other leaders and his actions are instead speculated as those being taken by someone who wants the economy up and running and is taking timid and untimely steps toward achieving that aim. The primary problem is that, much like Boris Johnson’s vague comments stepping into the Covid-19 emergency – when he was still calling for Britain to “stay open for business” – he is still expressing that same vague quality about getting back to business.

The UK needs clarity. The UK needs leadership. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson’s career in journalism might give him the gift of spin, but he has very little substance.

Covid-19 & the market

Economists, businesses and social commentators have spoken at great length about how the Covid-19 crisis has shocked the market. Flying between meetings might be a thing of the past for many companies as business goes on as normal by utilising videoconferencing software. Home delivery services are on the increase, whether it is small businesses trying to cope with the lack of footfall or larger companies providing home deliveries for those not wanting to break quarantine. Netflix and other streaming services have seen an increase of users.

The market is changing. The way we operate is changing. These are changes that will linger for long after Covid-19 has become a thing of the past. But, as is a theme above, Covid-19 has done one thing especially well and that is boosting the information and technology and digital services sector.

I work in the aviation sector, arguably the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last week:

  • British Airways has cut 12,000 jobs
  • Virgin Atlantic has cut 3,000 jobs
  • Boeing has reduced production by 50%
  • Airbus has reduced production by 35%
  • GE has cut 10,000 aerospace jobs
  • Rolls-Royce set to cut 8,000 aviation jobs

People will travel for business and for pleasure but getting back to the levels seen before the Covid-19 crisis will be a rough, but is it right for companies to reduce their numbers? And how is the move supported by government given those companies listed above have such high profit margins? The BBC today (6th May) released a piece of news regarding Qatar Airways:

“In February, Qatar Airways increased its stake in British Airways owner IAG to 25% as part of its strategy to invest in other carriers.

This boost in confidence in IAG also comes not long after we have found out that the Spanish government has provided IAG with a substantial €1 billion-euro bailout package. This has, however, been directed toward IAG’s low-cost airlines – Vueling and Iberia. The amount has been agreed, but not yet been processed.

IAG has seen year-on-year profits before the Covid-19 pandemic (as illustrated below) leading to staff threatening strike action in regards to pay. Which raises the question; why was British Airways was so keen on making 12,000 staff redundant?

It is often argued that companies need to make reductions because they need to survive and to stay afloat. A slashing of jobs means that the company can go on. But Covid-19 removes us from what are considered standard levels of business practice and instead shoves us back into the realm of fiscal tightening not seen since the financial crash.

It is precisely because of this debacle that we need companies to put their staff first and continue to keep them in employment. We limped out of the last financial catastrophe with a huge divide between those that have money and have the facilities to store it in offshore accounts or who bet against the market, a practice known as “shorting”. The majority of us don’t have these capabilities and are therefore more likely to suffer as a result in companies clamming up with the money that their employees helped them create.

The money going into hands of employees means that more funds will be diverted to other areas of the economy that have seen a drop because of Covid-19 such as the retail sector, restaurants, pubs, renovations and home improvement that would bring back the fleet of self-employed people who suffered a shock after Rishi Sunak’s emergency Covid-19 budget. People will also be able to pay their mortgages and their rent instead of facing the ridiculous one month deferral period in which landlords are not allowed to kick out tenants.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. This is one of those times when big businesses need to not stem the flow of money, but approach their workers with a calm and collected resolve to spread money and help stimulate the economy. And maybe even win back some trust and faith from their employees because, when the time came, the companies did the right thing.

Lack of preparedness for Covid-19

Much of the UK breathed a sigh of relief when Rishi Sunak claimed payouts for business and that employees would be given 80% of their wage whilst on furlough. However, despite being the Chancellor of the party “for business”, they offered not much shy of a middle finger to the self-employed.

The problems are myriad and systemic and, despite Boris Johnson standing outside No.10 and clapping for the NHS, have been created by the very government now trying its best to make a show of appreciation to the public services and other key workers.

According to the latest Private Eye (1520), the UK came 2nd in the Global Health Security Index which ranked countries according to their ‘”capability to prevent and mitigate epidemics and pandemics.”‘ So what went wrong? Why is it that a country that came 2nd in such an index had such a sluggish response to the Covid-19 emergency?

For the most part, it was Boris Johnson attempting to keep the country open for business. Secondly, the NHS was ill-equipped to deal with such issues due to outsourcing. This was the process by which different sections of the NHS’s prime functions were disbanded between private companies. Thirdly, and this is still under debate, the government’s stance against the European Union may have stood in the way.

Communications regarding the government stance have also been slow in coming largely due to the fact that the Central Office for Information (the office responsible for communicating to the country at times of war and emergency, was slashed and eventually dissolved completely in 2011 as a result of austerity measures. It was an easy choice because it was seen as an invention and tool of the “nanny state”.

Instead, communications come through third party agencies and were therefore slow to be put together. Boris Johnson has also had to rely on the BBC coverage of daily briefings, that very same organisation that he is trying to break up and throw to the wolves.

As climate change alters our landscape, we are expected to suffer at the hands of new and old diseases. Malaria, new strains of Coronavirus, you name it. That raises the question of just what are we going to do the next time around if another pandemic were to happen?

Hopefully, we won’t have Boris Johnson or his supporting cabinet who seem to think that lying would make for good policy when it comes to talking about PPE, death tolls and testing kits. We should also reverse any privatisation of NHS services and we should look more at publicly-funded emergency systems whether it is a designated communications network or pre-fab buildings ready to be up and running in a few days time. What is for certain – we need to stop focusing on media spin and how politicians look as opposed to what they are actually doing.

Journalists aren’t the only ones to blame for our lack of faith in the media

There are some shoddy journalists out there. People sitting at desks rehashing actual stories but adding their own spin and coming up with click-bait headlines. We see it all the time on our social media feeds in random articles that pop up somewhere no matter what we’re looking at online.

But, there is also good journalism, and this needs to be recognized.

A recent poll by Sky showed that faith in journalists is at an all time low. “I don’t trust the media” is a common phrase I hear on the talk radio shows to which I’m addicted and this is reflected in the Sky poll. It’s also something I hear a lot in conversations at work and among friends.

If that was really the case, we wouldn’t buy newspapers, we wouldn’t share the articles with which we agree and we would be completely uninformed about the world around us if we didn’t at least take notice of the headlines. We do trust the media, we just don’t trust the media that disagrees with us and our worldviews. Knowing this, newspapers kindle that prejudicial flame.

Think of journalists that you don’t trust. It’s hard to bring up a list of names. Now think of a journalist you do trust. It’s also very hard. Now, think of a newspaper you like, and a newspaper you don’t like. It is much easier. It is much easier because we don’t like the institution. In America, it is much easier. Donald Trump repeatedly slams the New York Times and the Washington Post but frequently tweets about his satisfaction with Fox. People who distrust Trump would therefore likely side with the New York Times and the Washington Post and vice versa.

Many will struggle to do this. Now think of a newspaper or news station you don’t trust. That is much easier. Now, think of why you like one newspaper. And then think of why you hate another. Why?

Newspapers and news stations are bias. The Guardian’s coverage of antisemitism borders on negligence. The Telegraph’s pandering to Tory ideals is pure sycophancy. The Daily Mail’s previous owner, Paul Dacre, ran along the same lines and the paper pumped out who-knows how many hit pieces on anyone even remotely leaning toward Remain or Labour.

Yes, they lean and they pump their agenda. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t also uncover truths that the powers that be would rather remain in the dark. Buzzfeed is a prime example. The organisation started off as one of the most avid producers of click-bait pieces, but it also generated one of the most illuminating pieces of long-form journalism on Russia’s interference on in UK politics, and political assassinations on UK soil.

We are bias. Since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the western world has become polarized. You are a Leaver, or a Remainer. You are a “never-Trumper” or you are a MAGA maniac. Now is the time we need to stop listening to populist figures of leaders of the opposition, and start looking once again at the stories in the news. Go one step further and buy a paper or listen to a news station you don’t usually agree with. Buy a different paper every day.

If you don’t trust the establishment, don’t listen to the establishment. Listen and read everything else. Don’t just question what doesn’t agree with you. Instead, question everything and expand your horizons.

It is exactly because of Trump and Boris Johnson’s current veto of publications into his briefings that journalism, (the decent, scouring through information, digging through dirt and coming up with stories) has become so much richer. Trump waged war on the media. You can either roll over, or you can fight back with new and improved tactics. That is what much of the media has done. And that is what we should also do.

We need to be less distracted, and more attuned. We need to talk to people and read the opinions of people with whom we do not traditionally agree. Because somewhere between the two versions of events is some kind of truth, and sometimes, whether we like it or not, that truth might lean more one way than the other.

We need to trust more in the journalists, and less in the leaders. It is journalists that hold people to account. It is investigative journalism that has uncovered human trafficking rings, fraud, the MP expense scandal, the Panama Papers, Richard Branson’s tax evasions…the list is endless. Papers get it wrong, but they get so much more right. With the obvious exception of The Express. That paper is just pure trash.

Why the stalling on the Russia Report?

Ever since Boris Johnson and the Conservatives gained a sweeping majority in the last election, many have been wondering, now that all the fuss is over, just when Boris might release the Russia report.

The report into Russian influence in the UK’s Brexit vote has been seen by Boris Johnson and yet remains to be seen by much everyone else.

As we saw in America, once Donald Trump was elected 45th president of the United States, an instant cloud of ennui descended on the Republican party who were just happy to have won the election and could now go about trying to enact their own agendas. The same seems to be happening here in the UK as well.

As reported by George Grylls of the New Statesman; after Boris Johnson claimed victory in the general election, he wrote a letter to the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) stating that there was nothing within the Russia report that would pose a threat to national security. This was a green light for the document to be handed over, and for it to be scrutinised by those who needed to know – the security forces who could determine Boris Johnson’s fitness for office and, of course, the general public. Those who “lent” him votes and put him into power.

Despite giving the green light for publication, Boris Johnson has still to give the go ahead and instead, the report has, for the time being at least, been quashed. When the Bureau of Investigative Journalists made a Freedom of Information request for the document, it was refused on the basis that the document was “vexatious,” a term “used for requests which would cause “a level of disruption, irritation or distress.”

It is obvious then that Boris Johnson and his cabinet have thus far refused the publication on the grounds that it would damage their 2019 campaign. Now that the Conservatives have won the election, and once the Covid-19 crisis has passed, will we see the publication of the Russia Report?

It is definitely a hard question to answer seeing that the UK seems uncharacteristically soft on Russia. Bill Browder, human rights activist and creator of the Magnitsky Act, points out that London is floating on a sea of Russia money. It is not an uncommon practice of Russia’s wealthy oligarchs to use estate as a way of laundering dirty money. That is, when it is not being transferred through offshore tax havens through a spiderweb of shell companies.

When the new ISC members have been put in place, and depending on whether or not Boris Johnson tries in any way to influence the ISC membership, we should get a more thorough insight into the Russia Report and may even finally see its publication. But the choice, as ever, is Boris Johnson’s and the government’s to make. Dominic Grieve, a previous member of the ISC and overseer of the Russia Report, has already stated that negotiations with UK’s intelligence organisations (MI5, MI6, GCHQ) regarding the necessary redacting of classified information took place between March and October of 2019.

the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has stated that:

The Russia report had been fully cleared for publication by the committee and by all relevant intelligence agencies before being sent to No 10, sources close to the ISC confirmed, in a painstaking and thorough process that took just over six months.”

Boris Johnson is able, and should now be willing, to release the Russia Report.

The new ISC members should have been duly elected in Easter of 2020 but this has, of course, been put back due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Boris Johnson was handed the report on 17 October, 2019.

The Johnson Family Drama

Nigel Farage recently tweeted:

“Bloomberg has more money than sense. Only ideas and personality win in politics.”

Farage is a man who consistently dances the line around what is real, and what is not. He is a man who has blown trumpets and raised noise when it comes to political and – whilst his reasoning and facts are simply not there and whilst you may not agree with his politics – he has been extremely effective.

Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson all have one common trait among them; they are personalities. Nigel Farage wears tweed, chimney sweep hats and walks the British countryside in order to stand up against his beliefs, and people can join in for a fee. A strange business model. Donald Trump acts like a successful businessman and professes to stand up for the average American. Boris Johnson bleeds a persona of a well-spoken, stuttering toff.

In the last week we found out that Boris Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, is now pregnant with Boris Johnson’s child. The Prime Minister is about to enter a new phase of his life as a father.

From here on out the optics around Boris Johnson will change and this change in optics will help him and his cabinet greatly. It might sound very low-brow, but as Nigel Farage says, personality wins in politics, and the United Kingdom are about to see not a calculated, power-hungry man like his closest colleagues know him to be, but a bumbling, fuzzy-haired figure become a father.

Cue the “Exclusive” from The Telegraph (or is the Daily Mail that scores all those family photo sessions?) showing Boris as a new father, cradling a newborn alongside Carrie Symonds. And then of course there is the possibility of marriage. No doubt a large televised event that will have everyone yapping on about what kind of dress Carrie Symonds will be wearing. Of course, not forgetting the Telegraph/Daily Mail photo shoot.

This isn’t a sniping attempt. It is just a fact that this change in Boris Johnson circumstances is bound to unfold into something much more than the standard Prime Ministerial story. The UK is about to become witness to a drama.

I can’t help but think that the minds of Dominic Cummings and whatever “weirdos” he heaves up from the dregs of the advertising and marketing world (to which he has shown a substantial preference) will work the angle of the forming family unit and turn it into some kind of national drama.

A man who has spent much of his adult life in the spotlight curating and perfecting the personality of a lovable rogue, has also used this jokey laid-back approach to shrug off allegations of racist and derogatory comments. The sad truth is; (and again I must say that this is only a matter of circumstance and not some master plan) that Boris Johnson’s fatherly personality will change him even further in the eyes of the public as a loving fatherly lovable rogue, whilst the truth is entirely the opposite.

Dominic Cummings is very aware of just how effective optics are in getting what he wants and Boris Johnson’s upcoming fatherhood will be front and center whether the Prime Minister likes it or not. Considering Johnson’s usual spaff, pay-off and run, it is hard to imagine how he feels now that this child is being held front and center in the world’s media.

This is all a prediction, and maybe I’m wrong, but we know that narratives are a clincher. Donald Trump was a bolshy character who came to the limelight by promising to lead a kind of revolution against the “elite”. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage both did the same -the contradiction of elitist fighting the elite is not lost on most people – and they invited the people to come along on the journey with them as they pushed a neo-empirical story-line of fighting the good fight.

Britain is now going to follow unkempt lovable daddy Johnson showing smiles to the camera whilst turbulence rides below.