The Lie of the “Northern Powerhouse”

The Northern Powerhouse brings to mind the coal burning days of old. Of industry and progression. Of manufacturing and textiles and everything in between. It was a concept developed by the coalition government (2010-2015) to try and boost entrepreneurial endeavours and transform the north into a hub of industrial and innovative excellence.

But was there ever any real determination to make sure that the plan became a reality, and that government would stick to its vision of a brighter and stronger future for the north?

An article released in today’s Guardian claims that “almost half of new jobs in England in the last decade were in London and the south-east, despite only a third of the population living in that region”. In the last decade, 1.8 million jobs were created in London and the south-east whilst only 0.6 million jobs were created in Yorkshire and the north-west.

The north-east has fared worse than most regions with a mere 1% of the total number England’s job increases. The area also has the lowest average disposable income.

The north has been let down by the governing politicians of the last decade and the term rendering the phrase “northern powerhouse” little more than a term to throw about when doing the election rounds. It placates by offering a vision, but the reality is that there is very little substance in it.

It is not only ruling governments which have let down the north. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the party historically known for championing the working people of the northern territories, has often been hailed as more of a “metropolitan socialist”, focusing his energy in the capital.

Is it so surprising then to see the “red wall” of the north being dissolved by suspiciously highly-funded Conservatives?

But will the Tories boost the north as Boris Johnson seeks to “level up” the country, or will they fall short like the governments before them? The closure of multiple automotive manufacturing plants in the face of Brexit and the general downturn of trade expected as a result of leaving the European Union predict a slowing of the economy and therefore not much hope for drastic change.

Fiction & non-fiction

Reading is an experience. A channel to another world. Whether that other world be fictional or rooted in fact, seeing the world throuhh different eyes is refreshing, challenging, thought-provoking and wondrous.

Fiction books should be new. When tumbling into another world of endless possibilities, the smell, the feel and the crisp pages should all feel untouched. It makes me feel like I am the first to experience the universe on the other side of that book cover.

Non-fiction books are sometimes better used. History books, for instance – bent spines, dog-eared pages and a little yellowing goes a long way. The reader(s) that have come before have left their mark and I hope that through those used pages comes not only the knowledge of the book, but something more from those who passed the book down. Vestigium, perhaps.

Fiction interprets, emphasises, dissects, peels back the layers and wonders about the real world. It also adds to it by creating new myths and provides new outlooks.

Non-fiction shows the world how the world and society came to be, what it is and where it may be heading. To write good fiction, it is good to know the facts. And can’t we say that fact is sometimes even more extravagant and more incredible than fiction could ever be?

Phrase dissection: “Politics of envy”

Anyone reading the news nowadays would be remiss not to have noticed the surge in populism over the past few years. 2016 especially saw a seismic shift that only few people with their ear to the ground were able to predict.

With the rise of populism came a rise in factionalism and tribalism.

Socialism, democracy, capitalism, republicanism and liberalism pulled out the stops, jumped online, onto the pages of opinion pieces and the pages of newspapers and started swinging.

With competing ideologies came a rise in word-warfare and phrase-flinging.

Politics of envy

This is actually a phrase that’s been used for years by high earners, Tories taking swipes at other parties, and people of a certain class who disagree with liberal, democratic or socialist thinking.

If workers and/or unions believe that employees should have better wages, a place in boardrooms or at least a stronger voice in the workplace, they are deemed to be suffering from envy. Even people who think that higher earners should pay more tax are also often thrown under the “politics of envy” banner.

So, anyone on a lower rung of the socio-economic ladder who wishes to get ahead or go further in life.

But the phrase itself needs some dissecting.

Those people who are very well off have a tendency to protect themselves, their companies, and their profit margins. Businesses progress by making sure that they repeatedly turn a profit. This is because they have a duty to give their shareholders a healthy return on their investment.

But companies are only as good as their employees. If a construction company such as Persimmon Homes generates a multimillion pound profit, is it because of the person who started the company or because of the crews who worked through all weathers to build homes?

Work is the biggest killer outside of natural death. Workplace accidents. Slips, trips and falls. Muscular-skeletal injuries. People breathe noxious and hazardous substances. Later in life people will experience back problems, breathing difficulties, cancer through exposure. A vast array of problems from a lifetime of arduous work.

There is a romanticism about “an honest day’s labour.” Earning an “honest living.” There is truth in this. Working laborious jobs and seeing a job completed comes with an immense amount of satisfaction. But that satisfaction of a job well done should come with a wage that mirrors the worker’s toils. But those toils have a heavy toll on the body and, often without financial security through sustainable wages, on the mind.

On the other hand, higher earners have a longer life expectancy and are far less likely to suffer from those physical detriments that are incurred through physical labour.

Is it therefore politics of envy to want more money for your efforts or to want a certain quality of life? Or is it just politics of what is fair? After all, people sacrifice themselves.


“Politics of envy” is a phrase used to dismiss any kind of socialist thought, even that kind of socialist thought to which most people adhere. Like wanting a free NHS. Like wanting the more wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share of taxes or perhaps wanting to redistribute wealth.


Is it fair to claim that ordinary people looking for true representation within the political system are suffering from politics of envy when modern day politics is controlled by the dispersion and directing of capital?


So is it really politics of envy? And even if it is, how does that compare against those who partake in the politics of greed?

Did you vote for Henry Smith?

Henry Smith was re-elected as MP for Crawley in this year’s general election.

But what does Henry Smith stand for? We can get an idea by looking at his voting history. He has voted:

  • Against banker’s bonus tax – despite bankers being responsible for sinking the economy in 2007/2008
  • Against gay rights
  • Against laws promoting equality and human rights
  • Against a “right to remain for EU nationals” already living in the UK
  • Against benefits raising in-line with prices
  • Against higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • For increasing rate of VAT (BUT against increasing rate of taxes for those paid over £150,000
  • For allowing employees to exchange some employment rights for shares in the company they work for
  • For more restriction of trade union activity
  • For reducing capital gains tax
  • For reducing corporation tax
  • For raising England’s undergraduate tuition fees to £9,000
  • For reducing government funding for local government
  • Against a more proportional system for electing MPs
  • For greater restrictions on campaigning by third parties, such as charities, during elections
  • For mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities
  • Against measures to prevent climate change
  • For selling England’s state-owned forests
  • Against financial incentives for low carbon emission electricity generation methods
  • Against greater public control of bus services
  • For capping civil service redundancy payments
  • Against restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents

After a visit to the Cayman Islands, Henry Smith also supported the fight against anti-money laundering measures and criticised plans to introduce more transparency to the islands. In other words, Henry Smith supports offshore tax havens.

The Panama Papers have shown that offshore tax havens support organised crime including drugs and human-trafficking and terrorist cells whilst also allowing banks to hide money and avoid paying those taxes that could go toward public services.

Does Henry Smith stand up for the average person? Please check the site:

They Work For You

Post-election Questions

The election was vicious. Not the kind of high-quality sparring that we were once used to when politicians fought tactically over policies and with pride and decency. Instead, we saw tribalism, character assassination and online vitriol the likes of which have left most of us flabbergasted and confused.

Either way, people gave the Conservatives the majority meaning that, unless some kind of large-scale scandal arises, we are leaving the European Union. If Scotland and Northern Ireland will be part of that process is yet to be determined.

Boris Johnson may claim that we should let the “healing begin”, but he and the country now face some very serious questions. Such as:

Will Boris Johnson now open the enquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 referendum? This is an enquiry into hostile foreign forces meddling in western democracy that Boris Johnson previously quashed.

What is the future for the Labour government? Do they continue to follow so-called “Corbynism” or do they move on to greener pastures in a bid to win back the vote of the working classes?

Will the government move toward green energy or will they continue pursuing fracking?

Will Labour make fresh moves to push Anti-Semitism from their ranks?

Will the government show the full document (and not the redacted version of which three-quarters were blacked out) in which they are shown to push a “pro-shale narrative” on the communities in which they plan to undertake fracking?

Despite leaving the European Union, will government still make sure that they follow the upcoming directive to make sure that transactions to offshore tax-havens are made transparent?

What do the government plan to do about disenfranchisement of the “North” and other areas across the UK?

Is the UK going to become a vassal state for the United States?

How is the NHS really going to be effected?

Now that we should be without bias, are the British public ready to return to fact-checking and verification and to take part in face to face discourse, and hold politicians to account when they lie or do not deliver on their promises.

Will Boris Johnson finally be interviewed by Andrew Neil?

Two things are certain:

1. Journalists have a hell of a lot of work to do to make sure that people are held to account.

2. Government have to make sure that they do everything they can to keep disinformation and misinformation out of the public sphere.

Homage to Ozack Van-Damme

I loved my car. A Renault Clio Tourer Dynamique with a 1.1 engine, though the engine size didn’t stop Renault selling it as a; “sport edition.” Every time I renewed my insurance I had to convince the person on the other end of the phone that it didn’t have spoilers and nitrous but it did have a large boot for shopping and it shook when it hit 71 mph.

When Ozack Van-Damme shuddered to a stop on a busy dual carriageway I had no idea he was going to be a write-off. The recovery guy told me it didn’t look good before he winched it onto the back of his van and drove Ozack and myself to my local garage.

A couple of days later I got the call. He was as dead as dead can be. A piston shot through thrle cylinder and there was nothing I could do without materialising a couple grand. The next day I found myself emptying Ozack of all those things a car holds. Receipts. Emergency kit. Log book. Ice-scraper. No matter how hard I jammed my fingers down into the gap between driver’s chair and handbrake I couldn’t reach that two-pound coin.When it was emptied, I watched it get hauled onto the back of yet another recovery vehicle. Why didn’t it have scrapyard or car funeral service written on the side instead of “recovery vehicle” as if it was going to give Ozack another chance at life?

Ozack took us around Europe, large boot crammed with camping gear and three weeks-worth of clothes for three of us. He had taken us across the flat expanse of the Netherlands, along the no-such-thing-as-a-speed-limit autobahn and up the steep mountain roads of Switzerland.

It is because of Ozack that we accidentally discovered a dogging spot and caught sight of two people going at it in the back of an old faded red Vauxhall something-or-other, pale naked figures illuminated by our headlights as we swung out of the car park. Men and women stood around the Vauxhall looking like rabbits caught in headlights, others refused to look up and instead kept their heads down. I made out furrowed brows as if they were pondering the universe and not whacking off as they watched two strangers going at it. Though we didn’t see any spectator flesh so maybe it was too cold.

My partner and I had spent many a night huddled under duvets in the back of Ozack, the car perched on top of the cliffs of Cornwall. We were rocked to sleep by harsh coastal winds and awoken by morning light draining in through the windows.

It saddens me to think that he is being put through the works at the local breakers yard. But I guess like so many dead bodies he is being plucked of organs so other machines can last that little bit longer.

Living with a (tired) teacher

I was spread out on the living room floor, reading a bulky sci-fi novel when I heard an intake of breath. Not exactly a snore. But kinda like a snore.

My fiance (let’s call her “Tired Teacher”) was sitting cross-legged on the couch. A four-colour bic hanging from her hand and a student’s English book spread on her lap. Her head was on her chest and her eyes were closed. Asleep.

This is common. I reach over and shake her leg. She comes to, head snapping up like she had never stopped marking. She offers an exhausted, embarrassed smile and gets her pen ready.

I get another paragraph in, a boy trapped underwater, his best friend struggling to get to him. The adults are racing to the scene but who knows if they’ll be there in time – another not-quite-but-kinda-like a snore.

Her head is down again. Eyes closed. Pen at the ready.

I shake her awake. Tell her to go to bed. She nods and puts her student’s book into a large bag. The same bag she lugs in and out of the car and somehow hefts to and from school Monday to Friday.

When the book is away she slumps sideways across the couch and is asleep. It’s 12.32 in the morning. She’ll be getting up at six-thirty.

A new nuclear power struggle

On 8th August, the inhabitants of Moscow were surprised when their televisions flicked from their standard programmes to a blue screen with a single star. It was a weather warning telling the people to find shelter. It then disappeared leaving people wondering just what had happened. At the same time in Severodvinsk, a small town in the North-West not far from the Finnish border was exposed to gamma radiation 3x higher than is permissible for human health after an explosion at the nearby Nyonoksa top-secret testing facility.

The explosion at Nyonoksa facility killed several including nuclear scientists. Russian weather service, Rosgidromet, recorded levels of radiation 16x higher than normal levels within the vicinity of Nyonoksa. In true Cold War style, residents were quick to stockpile iodine, known to stop the Thyroid from absorbing radiation. The explosion killed several including nuclear scientists working on the project.

After more correspondence it was finally let on that the explosion was down to the failure of an “isotope” power source. Russia was testing the infamous Storm Petrel missile at the Nyonoksa site. The Storm Petrel missile – called Skyfall by NATO – was unveiled by Russian president Vladimir Putin at the State of the Union address in 2018 and boasts a propulsion system powered by a miniature nuclear reactor which gives a potential flight time that could be measured in days, weeks or even months.

Having extended range plus cruise-missile capabilities – meaning that it can change direction, move around objects and evade interception – would mean that the missile would be harder to detect and defend against.

Another new and chilling piece of kit that Russia are working on – Poseidon – is an autonomous drone submarine which is programmed to unleash nuclear warheads on key enemy locations on the US west coast should Russia “go dark.”

Due to a series of agreements, Russia and America have not tested nuclear devices for twenty years. However, Russia have breached the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty. Donald Trump responded by removing America from the pact. The New Start agreement which ensures Russia and the US have a limit on how many intercontinental nuclear missiles they can produce, runs out in 2021 and may not be renewed, thus giving America and Russia free reign to progress their arsenals and potentially make another power grab.

The US has been stepping up spending in nuclear warfare infrastructure with former President Barack Obama developing a $1.2tn plan to “maintain US air, sea and land-based nuclear weapons.” Donald Trump has gone much further putting an additional $500bn including $17bn for the production of a “low-yield” tactical nuclear weapon, essentially a mini-nuke that can be used on the battlefront.

It is rumoured that some factions within the Pentagon and within the defence contractor sector believe that Russia’s move away from agreements is a step in the right direction.

America’s nuclear defence capabilities are ageing and therefore, like many wars before, this will drive innovation and strengthen America’s standing.

Tensions are rising not only between the US and Russia (who between them hold little over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) but with China, Iran and North Korea all flexing their muscles, we could be looking at the age of a new Cold War with new frontiers.

The point by point scaling up of nuclear armaments is not the only evidence of a new Cold War. Russia and China flexed their muscles during the Brexit and Presidential election campaigns with industrial scale levels of spreading disinformation. Seeing their success during these campaigns, Vladimir Putin is pushing further. At what cost?

Rail fares hit environment

Rail Fares

Rail fares are due to rise by 2.8% as of January, 2019, hitting not only people’s pockets, but the environment as well.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) protested at key locations yesterday in response to the increase in fares which come at a time of slowing inflation. For example:

2017

Rate of inflation: 3.1%
Rail fare increase of 3.3%

2018

Rate of inflation: 2.48%
Rail fare increase of 2.8%

2019

Rate of inflation in 2019: 1.84% (predicted)
Rail fare increase: a 2.8% rail hike due in 2020

The cost of rail travel is the highest in Europe and it is only getting worse. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has stated that the “cost of train travel had increased by twice as much as wages over the past decade.” Since 2009, wages have grown by 23% whereas the overall cost of train travel has gone up by 46%.

The changes will add more than £100 to many annual season tickets.

There are a few worrying trends in this data. The first is that the rate of inflation over the past years has been sluggish due to uncertainty over Brexit. The second is that prices are exceeding the rise of inflation, therefore putting more people either further out of pocket or else unable to use such methods of transport as stated by Bruce Williamson from campaign group Railfuture that travellers “will either find another job or another form of transport.”

The problem is that other modes of transport are fossil-fuel intensive meaning raising many concerns that greener methods of transport are being unfairly overpriced making them unacceptable for many members of the public.

With many annual tickets touching four figure sums, cars and buses might very well become the next alternative and whilst this could result in an increase in car-sharing schemes, the amount of cars that would be put on Britain’s, adding to the already congested road transport network, is incalculable.

Suspicious…

I was left somewhat confused when Sir Kim Darroch stepped down as British Ambassador to the United States. Leaked documents had shown that Darroch had called the President of the United States, Donald Trump, “inept” and “uniquely dysfunctional”. After much pressure from Donald Trump, who retaliated by calling Darroch “the wacky ambassador” and a “very stupid guy,” before claiming that “we will no longer deal with him,” Darroch handed in his resignation letter.

Before Donald Trump’s visit to the U.K earlier this year (in fact whilst in the air on his way to Stansted Airport) Donald Trump took to Twitter to openly accost Mayor of London Sadiq Khan calling him a “stone cold loser.” This is alongside comments made regarding Theresa May regarding the Brexit strategy in which he all but trounces her for not listening to his advice on how to proceed regarding withdrawing from the European Union.

So why is it that a diplomat speaking in confidence is bullied to step down when a president can openly proffer trash-talk and see absolutely no retaliation?

Writing for the ‘i’ (09/07/2019), Kim Sengupta raises a very important issue regarding the backlash faced by ambassadors whose primary role is to comment honestly and freely regarding issues within the respective countries in which they are placed:
“The real risk of the UK being ill-served will come from an ambassador who fails to send a transparent, candid account of what is happening in Washington because of ideological reasons, such as adherence, for example, to the jihad of hardline, doctrinaire Brexit.”

Ambassadors are required to give honest accounts of their host countries. Are we prepared to believe that ambassadors within the UK are not reporting back to the superiors commenting on the shambles of Brexit or the ineptitude of the current government?

Perhaps the most controversial part of this story is that of the leak itself. It has been reported that two years-worth of emails had been stolen, stored and eventually leaked meaning that the information gathering had been taking place since roughly the time that Donald Trump became president. This is not an act of whistle-blowing (since it has already been ascertained that Kim Darroch was simply doing his duty) but is instead an act of political sabotage.

This became much more plausible when Brexiters called for a more Brexit-minded individual to take up the ambassador role. Nigel Farage used his LBC segment to call out Kim Darroch and push for someone else to take up the position. This is all the more severe when assessed alongside the recent finding that the leak of Kim Darroch’s emails were from Isabel Oakeshott, Brexit Party MEP Richard Tice’s partner.

Could we in fact be witnessing a political coup?