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.

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?

Cut disc

I have suffered from Sciatica for a year and a bit now. In most cases, Sciatica disappears after a few months. In this case it kept on for 14 months, until yesterday.

I had an operation called a discectomy in which part of the disc pushing onto the nerve was cut back, allowing my Sciatic nerve some breathing space.

I am now sofa-bound. Every time I get up and walk around it feels like my midriff is going to just snap and I’ll end up doubled over, my eyes looking between my feet.

The anaesthetic was amazing. Some clear liquid and an oxygen mask before the white liquid, the main barbiturate solution, pumped in.

‘Do you feel a bit light-headed?’

I nod and the next thing I know I’m waking up in another room. The surgeon tells me something that I think is meant to be important but I have no idea what it is. Why do they have to tell you how it went when you’re out of it? For all I know I could have been left paralysed but missed the memo.

I was given an egg sandwich and a cup of tea. I chilled and listened to the radio. It was a pretty easy recovery, until I got home and the pain meds wore off.

Spectating The Spectator: Trading places

Image source: Pindex

The Spectator’s 10th August, 2019 edition of The Spectator opened up with a piece called Trading places.

The article considers the argument that the UK should look positively on a trade deal with America in place of the trade deal which we already have with the EU.

“The reality is that free trade is almost always on balance a good thing, regardless of which country is it conducted with. That said, there will always be compromises to be made. Vested interests to be tackled. Product standards have to be reviewed…Good trade deals can even destroy native industries – but the overall effect of global trade is to boost the creation of wealth…The important thing is to make the right concessions.”

The U.K already has these concessions with the European Union but with the extra added benefit that, as a democracy, the United Kingdom also has a vote and therefore a voice in the passing of European law. The author of this piece is essentially trying to argue for a position that would make the UK worse off.

“Free trade with the US is opposed by some Remainers for no better reason than because it is advocated by Leavers.”

The author is clearly a hypocrite. What kind of bias does it take to argue that getting away from our closest allies (culturally and by locality) and toward the US would be preferential over the kind of deal we already have? To say that Remainers oppose a deal with America for no other reason than Leavers want it seems exactly what this piece is arguing…only the other way.

‘…the NHS has always outsourced some of its services – which last year accounted for 7 per cent of its budget. There is no reason why US providers should not be allowed to compete for this work on equal terms with British companies.”

That was not the line towed by Leave supporting parties and groups throughout the 2016 referendum and there is also solid reasoning why the US should not be competing on the same terms with British companies: American health care standards are lower than the UK’s. Not only are American health care standards lower, the introduction of more private interests within the NHS goes against public polling which shows that people want private companies kept the at the biggest possible distance from health care system.

The NHS is not the author’s only area of attack. On GM foods:
‘No one can point to ill-effects, and for good reason: GM foods are subject to far more scrutiny than non-GM foods.’

The reason for the GM foods being held to higher scrutiny is because…well…they are genetically modified. A crop created as opposed to one grown is no doubt going to undergo far more scrutiny because it has to pass myriad tests that would decide whether said food was safe for consumption.

The simple truth is that America uses GM crops as it helps mass production which ultimately makes the crop cheaper to make. European food standards are among the highest in the world whilst America have been time and again castigated for packing out their foods with copious amounts of highly addictive and highly fattening corn-syrup.

‘Then there is the practice of washing chicken in chlorine, which has been continuously cited as a reason why we shouldn’t do a trade deal with the US. Even the EU, when it banned chlorine-washed chicken in 1997, came to the conclusion that the practice was perfectly acceptable from a food-standard point of view – but banned it anyway on the flimsy pretext that it might provide farmers with a sense of false security. A better explanation is that it spied the opportunity to snuff out US competition for less efficient European producers.’

The pretext was far from “flimsy”. For instance, the European Commission decided that using chlorine to wash chicken dramatically lowered standards because it allowed farmers to get away with providing poor conditions. As highlighted by Ben Chapman writing for the Independent (Sunday 3 March, 2019) – “Advocates of this approach” (not washing chicken in chlorine) “say that it leads to higher standards of hygiene and animal welfare because farmers must take care at each stage of the process rather than relying on a chemical bath to kill any harmful pathogens after animals are slaughtered.”

The idea that European farms are supposedly “less efficient” is exactly because European standards are higher and do not lower themselves to mass-production quality levels, which results in questionable practices like washing chicken in chlorine. The author also argues that the EU was being protectionist in its endeavours, something which many conservative thinkers is one of the best outcomes of Donald Trump’s America. When the EU tries to put EU farmers and food safety levels first, it is chastised.

What it comes down to is facts. Is chlorine washed chicken okay to eat? Looking back on Ben Chapman’s piece for the Independent, the answer is quite clear.

Are we so loathing of the European Union that we would opt for subservience to the US and lower not only our standards but our global standing?

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?