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?

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?

Abortion in the U.S

Criminalising abortion is evidence of Americans moving against their own Constitution.

Article IV of the Constitution:

‘N(o) religions Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.’

1ST Amendment:

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.’

The Constitution is America’s guiding document. A revelled piece of history that is constantly used to link the American people with the foundation of their great country. The Constitution is quoted time and again when protecting the people’s right to “bear arms” but there has been a mass looking of the other way when it comes to upholding the 1st Amendment when it comes to religion having a place in matters of state.

Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, recently signed off on the law and followed it by stating that the bill was “a powerful testament to Alabamian’s deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

As highlighted in the 1st Amendment, whilst the practice of religion is a personal liberty, it has no place as a governing force within the United States and yet this is being ignored. Donald Trump tweeted a response to the motion in Alabama to criminalise abortion by claiming it as a victory for “pro-life” groups. He also tweeted against Doug Jones in Alabama by using the argument that Jones was Pro-Abortion as a smear tactic.

86% of Alabamians identify as Christians.

Why are proud Americans going against the decisions as outlined by their very constitution? Might it have something to do with the Pledge of Allegiance?

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which is stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The often used phrase; “one Nation under God” was not part of the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954.

The State is flexible and, though sometimes wavering (nothing is perfect), it is the closest thing that we have to a true representation of the people. The State considers many factors such as protecting the rights of victims of rape and incest and the impact on children born into unsuitable and perhaps unloving environments. It also takes into consideration the stages of foetal development and the safe (and unsafe) periods of termination.

The economic benefits cannot be overlooked either.

The abortion law is going to hit low-income families the hardest. This is because a lack of funds meaning that they cannot afford to go across state lines to undergo the procedure elsewhere, unaffordable contraceptive methods and because people in low income areas are more likely to be subject to attacks such as rape.

Raising a child when finances are tight will also be extremely tricky which could result in myriad problems including depression in parents and children, resentment or malnourishment. School lives could be dramatically affected and quality of life for parents, children or families in general could diminish greatly.

The welfare system would then have to intervene, at great cost. Social care would soar as children face difficult upbringings and inhospitable living conditions. Parents, especially mothers, would have to be given extensive counselling to help come to terms with rape and its repercussions or to simply help manage a stressful life brought around by an overabundance of children.

Hospitals would have to increase staff numbers in order to be able to manage anything from kids coming in with scraped knees to vaccinations and that is before we even consider what physical issues children born through incest might have. And then there is of course the problem that women will lose any anonymity that abortion could have provided. Now, with abortion illegal, women will have to continue within their communities with their children as any evidence of past trauma.

Pro-life groups are overwhelmingly religious and use religious doctrine to dictate their actions in choosing to fight abortion, or end it altogether. When religious beliefs start to infringe upon the liberties of others, it is no longer the practice of religious freedom but the imposition of one’s own belief on others. It becomes what the late Christopher Hitchens called; “theocratic bullying.”

As of the date of release, the following states recognise abortion as illegal (in varying degrees):

Utah

Montana

Alabama

Kentucky

Missouri

Ohio

Arkansaw

Arkansas

Georgia

Indiana

Mississippi

Louisiana

North Dakota

Going Green (er)

The photo may not look like much but this is a big achievement. Only two days ago these peas were a third smaller and their vines are now clinging tightly to the trellis. That’s life right there.

When I was younger I tried to go vegetarian. I was studying at the time and the lack of meat sent my energy levels through the floor. This later turned out to be because my diet as a not-very-well-off-sudent was pretty shocking. Predominantly bread, cheese, beans and sausages. Yup.

I read an article recently that one of the most effective ways to combat climate change was to plant more trees and increase green spaces. So growing my own vegetables is a two bird with one stone kind of deal. It will help me go veggie and I can do my bit in going a little greener.

All you conservationists and die hard environmentalists can rest assured by the next half of my plan which is to plant more trees in my local area!

I will let you know how that goes.

Traditional Values Vol. 1: Nationalism

Never before have we seen so many advances and changes to our world as we are seeing today. Climate change, the rise of biotech and infotech. The proliferation of automation and the move toward artificial-intelligence which could either improve our wayso of life, or challenge who we are as humans. The mainstreaming of electric cars and the growing awareness of plastic pollution. Widespread movements to give previously overlooked or unrepresented factions of society equal rights. The rise of Asian economies which may soon rival our own in strength, and may even become superior which could change the ways we conduct business and alter long-standing loyalties. I was even shocked recently to find out that China even has plans to build a base on the moon and mine our little white dot in the sky for hydrogen.

This is the stuff of science-fiction!

The point is: we are in a transitional phase and are suffering the existential question of how to cope with the challenges we read about in our papers and see on our television screens and social media feeds. When faced with an uncertain future, people often look to their past. To “traditional values” to guide them through the turbulence. But what exactly are traditional values and do they offer us any guidance for the future?

Nationalism

Nationalism seems to be on the rise in the West and has led to two of the most significant changes that we have seen in our lifetimes: the U.K’s vote to leave the European Union and the vote in America for Donald Trump as President. As an answer to perceived outside threats, two major powers have turned to isolationism.

Globalisation was a worn out word by the end of the referendum of 2016. As was elites. Sometimes we heard “global elites”. The European Union, as pushed by Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and sundry others, was a product of globalisation.

Leavers pointed to levels of immigration and told the people that it was the European Union’s open border policy that was to blame. Leavers pointed out the disenfranchised peoples of towns that had been left behind when the U.K turned from a material and production economy to a service driven economy. The European Union was blamed again for moving production facilities abroad. The decline of U.K fisheries, blame the E.U. Red passports, blame the E.U. Curved bananas, blame the E.U. Hospital waiting times, blame the E.U. Rise in crime rates, blame immigration, thus blaming the E.U.

So, can the problems listed above be solved by a move toward nationalism as was what happened in 2016?
In regards to immigration, yes, technically nationalism has the potential to cut numbers of immigrants or stop them altogether.

But is that really in the national interest? Or is it in the interest of nationalist groups? For instance, whilst the cutting might benefit those who just want see less faces of colour or to hear different languages on their streets (the nationalists) the nationalist approach itself does not do much for our economy, our public services or for our reputation as “global players” which was a phrase championed by Leavers during the referendum campaign and even now.

Whilst the phrase “global player” was used extensively throughout the referendum, the truth is that the actual action of leaving the biggest and most successful trading bloc in the world was seen by many around the globe as an act of closing one’s own doors on trade.

The NHS is dependent on nurses and doctors from the E.U and further abroad but since the Brexit vote we have seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of people applying for university courses in nursing and a drop in job applications from outside the U.K. This is indicative of the trend that those from within Europe and outside the Union were no longer interested in investing in the U.K.

Nationalists might see this drop in foreign applications as a good thing as there is potential for British citizens to take the jobs. The problem however is that it takes years to train doctors and nurses and, in the meantime, care within the NHS would have plummeted. Ironically, it would be those older voters which chose leave who would suffer the most. With around 100,000 vacancies already within the NHS, this further reduction could potentially cripple certain elements of patient care.

As is being witnessed, the idea of being both nationalist and a “global player” is not compatible.

The main problem of the referendum, however, was that it focused anger outward toward the largely neutral E.U, when the truth was that the problems that the U.K faced were actually born and bred within its own borders.

Austerity due to bailing out the banks that had lead us into the financial crash of 2008. The rise in crime as a result of Conservative initiative to cut policing numbers so that there were fewer bobbies on the beat. (Remember Theresa May telling the police federation to stop “crying wolf” in 2015 regarding police cuts). Disenfranchisement of communities as the economy changed toward services and offices were centralised toward London. Those who were workers within communities who worked within extraction and production were never provided the means to retrain, and were instead left to become outdated.

A lethal combination occurred when the finger was pointed at immigrants for pushing wages down. The fact that immigrants were benign agents in the entire mess of things was rarely pointed out and the fact that it was actually exploitative practices being undertaken by business owners. Business owners have been largely left alone by the most recent governments, after all, it is good practice to be the party of business.
This goes to show that the so-called “global-elites” were actually the people within our own borders. Our very own Prime Minster of the day, David Cameron found to be putting money into offshore Panamanian accounts. For years we watched as the government refused to impose proper tax initiatives that would have seen large companies paying their fair share of tax which could have put toward social ventures for our children, thus keeping them out of gangs and preventing such a sharp increase in knife-crime. Not only were companies doing so, but the Conservatives were helping them maintain the status quo.

Britain has for years now been deeply entrenched in off-shore bank account activity that it the global master on managing assets and transferring money to keep it from the hands of nations. It is estimated that half of all global wealth could be locked up in off-shore accounts.

Image source: wikimedia

In the face of problems that originated within our own national system, people turned to nationalism to sort out the problem. That is a new one for me.

In 2013, the E.U offered to give a £22million cash injection into food banks in order to make sure that they were stocked and operational. This was turned down by David Cameron. Whilst our own government strangled the country, the E.U at least offered some kind of help. But that’s not all. The E.U has also been funnelling money into community projects including social groups and buildings, but this is rarely mentioned. The E.U is also a propagator of worker’s rights and is constantly moving to improve pay throughout its jurisdictions. When we are faced with military or cyber warfare, as we have seen from Russia during the referendum campaign and which the U.S witnessed during the presidential campaign, the E.U has close proximity to share information and make sure that each of its member states has the necessary tools to help fight back.

So, nationalism does not actually offer any real solutions to our national problems. Does it offer solutions to wider world issues? In an age of transnationalism, could countries learn from nationalist ideals?
Climate change is not an issue, it is the issue which will determine the very future of human civilisation. And climate change does not recognise borders drawn by man. A tropical storm does not stop when it hits the American coast. It ploughs through and wreaks untold damage. Plastic does not stop at the English Channel. It sweeps in and becomes part of our ecosystem. Just as much as melted ice does not stay in the Arctic Circle but raises water levels around the world.

And when islands start submerging and already challenged countries face drought and famine, we are going to see mass exodus unlike anything witnessed in documented history.
Unfortunately, nationalist interests have often disregard climate change in order to focus on more provincial initiatives such as kick-starting coal mining operations or doubling down on fuel extraction efforts. In the United States, nationalism is often synonymous with climate change denial as is evidential with Donald Trump’s repeated claims that climate change is a “hoax” perpetrated by the Chinese.

In regards to solutions to the climate crisis, nationalist approaches fall short. If nationalists really wanted to make a difference, they would join the global effort to battle climate change which would in turn mean that they are less likely to experience such a high influx of immigrants to their borders. Instead of becoming isolationist, it is within nationalist’s best interests to take part in a multi-national approach in order to combat the effects of climate change.

But then what would be the point in being nationalist when all we are going to do is have to work with countries around the globe and put measures in place which, whether we like it or not, would see the adoption of plans to take in refugees fleeing the effects of an unstable and changing climate?

Throughout history, civilisations have moved and shifted as the cattle migrates or as the living conditions change. After all, if the U.K were to become a dessert wasteland, would we not seek refuge in other countries? But we are the beginning of the catastrophic change where the decisions we make today will effect the next generation. We have the ability to make positive differences to the ways we tackle this threat. But are we capable of doing this as nationalists? Surely we are better prepared against the challenges if we work on an international scale?

A New Cold War?

The Cold War was a war of information and misinformation. Intelligence and counter-intelligence. The ideologies of communism and liberal democracy head to head in a bid to win the hearts of the world whilst doing their best to manoeuvre people and warheads like chess pieces across the globe.

To be able to know your enemy’s next move is to be prepared and to feed your enemy misinformation is to throw your adversary off balance. When the mind is diverted one way, you can move the other and potentially gain the advantage. Russia, America and Europe were all embroiled in this war of secrecy and spy-craft.

The methods of warfare have changed. Where once troops were sent in to stomp the ground, wipe-out enemy placements or just generally shake the hornet nest, we hack phones, use drones and wipe out our enemies with cold efficiency.

During the Brexit referendum and the presidential election campaign of 2016 we were witness to a campaign of misinformation the likes of which we have never seen. Bot related activity increased tweeting and retweeting far-right stories, many of which were not even true. Bots threw ludicrous promises into the cloud where they landed and formed puddles of disinformation. The old saying that a lie can get half way around the world before the truth can get its pants on has never been so apt.

Lies are fast and easy. Seeking the truth is a more tricky and dastardly affair. Russian bots launched disinformation in high volumes, essentially flooding social media with content that was aimed at directing people’s anger and fear toward anyone that wasn’t Leave or Trump, especially Muslims, Mexicans and foreigners in general.

During the span of the 2016 presidential elections and the referendum to leave the European Union, Russian bot activity was at its highest. Twitter handles like NovostiKirov, (Novosti is Russian for “news”) @RussialsBeauty were among those quickly pointed out. Other bots gave themselves American titles in the hope of coming across as nationals or else giving themselves an air of authenticity. DailyNewsDenver, DallasTopNews and JackieCowboy are only a few.

The fact that most of the twitter accounts went dark after the referendum and presidential campaign is evidence that these accounts were not owned by people in the fight for long-haul change but instead had a simple one-track directive. To not see this kind of intervention for what it is would be catastrophic as it would mean that our political processes are being interrupted and swayed by outside forces, essentially mean that those people who talk of championing national pride were, in fact, aided by foreign superpowers.

That is a worrying prospect indeed.

Robert Mueller’s report has been a long sought after document and it recently showed that there was no conclusive evidence of collusion between Trump and Russia. This is a good sign (though yet to be completely verified) but it does not change the fact that Russian intervention in our democratic processes is still taking place. URL’s of the bots were tracked back to the IRA (Internet Research Agency) based in St. Petersburg. The IRA is a branch of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) whose digital fingerprints can be found on “Kremlin-ordered operations around the world.”

It is clear that we are seeing a new war of being waged. But it is a one-sided war of counter-intelligence. A bombardment of (I hate to say it) Fake News.

While the Cold War was a war of intelligence and counter-intelligence we are now living in the post-truth era where narrative (real or imagined) clings with stronger fingers than fact. That is how the war is being waged. Not with the threat of nuclear war, but with the erosion of intelligence and the altering of perception.

Disinformation is lethal. Without truth we are unable to make concise decisions. If we believe in “alternative facts”, post truths and outright lies or worse yet, if we ignore experts like Michael Gove would have it, any truth can become reality. Like believing that Trump was good for the nation despite being aided, directly or indirectly, by Vladimir Putin.

Russia wanted the U.S to pick Donald Trump. Russia wanted the U.K to vote for Brexit. Russia has been proven to have been involved in these processes and sought after the two very outcomes that the U.K and the U.S.A chose in the pivotal year of 2016.

We need to ask ourselves why it is that Russia wanted these outcomes. And when we look at the outcome, that our people are divided, that we are entrenched in our political spheres and no longer considering bipartisanship as a way forward and that we cannot singularly agree on any way forward…well… I think we have our answer.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/how-russias-military-intelligence-agency-became-the-covert-muscle-in-putins-duels-with-the-west/2018/12/27/2736bbe2-fb2d-11e8-8c9a-860ce2a8148f_story.html

Why has the mood shifted on immigration?

One of the leading factors in the Brexit debate was that of immigration.

Be it Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster showing a line of refugees or those elusive rumours that Turkey would join the European Union and that we would see more a heavy influx of migrants, the people were bombarded with the idea of outside forces influencing and blanketing the U.K.

Due to this kind of tabloid journalism many people believed that migrants were the cause of their woes and that immigration was causing a national identity crisis.

Since the Brexit vote, however, the mood toward immigration has rather quickly swung in the opposite direction. As Professor Rob Ford, researcher of immigration trends at the University of Manchester has mentioned, this trend may be down to three predominant factors.

1. The people believe that the immigration issue has been “dealt with”.

2. National debate drew attention to how much immigration contributes to the U.K.

3. The culture shock of immigration of Eastern Europe has dissipated.

With this in mind, how would the vote swing if another referendum were to take place?

The Job Hunt… with a few issues to consider

Above photo: waiting for an interview, Sutton.

Job hunting is ground zero for emotional turmoil.

First, you suffer the job loss. You ask yourself why? What went wrong?

This is often a sad time quickly replaced by anger, thoughts of walking back into your place of work armed with a stapler and a keyboard and slaying everyone inside except Suki in finance because she showed you the occasional smile whereas Nigel in H.R talked to you like he was disgusted by your smell and couldn’t get you out the building fast enough. Which is why you staple his face to his shirt.

Reality comes back and you realise you have a lot to do. You make a C.V and make sure it’s all up-to-date and then you scroll through pages and pages of jobs.

This is when you consider jobs that you have never done before. That you have never even thought about doing.

Sure, I could be a Detective Constable. I guess I could work behind a bar. Could I serve food at a school? I can throw luggage onto an airplane. I could do Forklift driving. I bet I could manage a logistics department. I can drive those kinds of vehicles so I could buy a van and become a self-employed courier driver. Nothing smacks of suspicion there.

You apply for roles and you are suddenly emotionally invested. You imagine yourself in that role which you know you have all the skills for and they pay good money (that will help us with the bills and we can save for that holiday) and a week later you receive the email telling you that “unfortunately you have been unsuccessful.”

So you shake off that image you had of yourself being happy and making a career and you pick yourself up and go again. Scroll. Apply. Scroll. Apply. Each application is different and sometimes the good ones take an hour or more.

And then you do the math.

One hundred applications and a 30% feedback rate. 10% of that is success. An invitation to an interview. The rest is telling you that you have been unsuccessful. They will never tell you how you did at the interview. That feedback is sacrosanct and takes people like Nigel too much keyboard finger power.

The interviews are fun. New places, new people, new prospects.

“Are there any adjustments that need to be made for you if you were to take this job?”

“Yes, I can do any days and any hours under the sun but I need Monday mornings off. I have sessions.”

“Oh. Okay. Well we’re not sure if we can accommodate for that.”

Apparently I need to be more flexible. The other days and nights that I can work don’t seem to be good enough. The other 166 hours don’t need to be counted for.

Two hours on a Monday… is a lot to ask.

So my dreams of working there go up in smoke. I go home. I scroll and I apply. I scroll and I apply.

A Tech Too Far

Always read the fine print. Actually, scrap that. Don’t bother. You don’t read it. I don’t read it. We all want facebook on our phones. And whatsapp. And Instagram. These things are tools of the modern age. These services provide that “connectivity” that people have been lauding. And besides, if you don’t agree with sharing your pictures, snippets of your voice picked up by microphone and data on where you live and your viewing habits, well, facebook, Whatsapp and instagram don’t want you.

No, wait. Go back to the fine print. You can choose to “out” of these options. And it is definitely for the best. Why? Well, let’s have a look.

Andy Jones, who wrote an article on behalf of the ‘i’ newspaper titled “Why your social media activity could stop you getting a mortgage” scared the s#!t out of me.

Released today (21st September, 2018), Andy reported that mortgage providers and insurance firms are trialling the use of social media services on people who are seeking their services. No longer will providers request information from banks on your spending habits, but they will look at your viewing history as well.

“Promoting their service, The Online Me, Hello Soda says: “Every time you make a submission for a loan, a house, or a job, someone is vetting your social profiles.” That’s about as comforting as the thought of a stranger standing at the end of your bed.

HMRC, that scourge of the commoner and hero of the super-rich (see upcoming blog) openly says it will “observe, monitor, record and retain internet data” which is available to everyone including “blogs and social networking sites where no privacy settings have been applied.”’

The reason that mortgage lenders and insurance companies plan to do this is because they will better get an insight into your history, your holidays, how you spend your money and so forth. If you are holidaying every month and you’re not rolling in spondulicks then they would bring in a bunch of sun-deprived voyeurs to do a thorough search. When I read that article my immediate thought was: what does my social media say about me?

You see the danger of this now?
Imagine, in a society in the not so distant future, that you go on your annual family holiday and take a picture of the whole lot of you by the pool. And then you get home and apply for home insurance. Your case is decided by someone in an office clicking their way around your facebook profile.

How did they pay for that holiday? Was it with credit? Do they have a credit card? How do they pay that money back? How often? Have they missed any payments? Did they pay for it using nectar points or clubcard points? Let’s look at that image, where did they go? They had their locations settings on when they posted. That’s handy. Spain! Aha, okay. South east Spain. A villa. Aha! Less than five minutes from the sea. On a hilltop. I bet they paid extra for that view. How much was it exactly? Okay, let’s backtrack. Where does this person live? Eastbourne? Hmm… best do a google map search and see what kind of house they have.

If you think I’m dancing with hyperbole, I’m really not. The searches undertaken by the HMRC could “include anything from evidence of lavish spending on faceback to Google Earth pictures proving you have had an extension.” Forget that you paid for that extension with cash that your grandma left you, you have had the extension and that is what matters.

Imagine you wanted to travel the world. You want to have a bunch of adventures and when you get back you want to buy a house. You want life insurance. If something were to happen to you, your partner or the person with their name on your will no longer have to worry that they cannot pay for that house. You will get back from travelling and post a travel album. There you are smiling on top of Kilimanjaro. And an insurance company now has the rights to check out your lifestyle as part of their cover.

Cue the person considering your case, clocking in, sitting at their computer, clicking a few buttons and having access to your profiles.

Ah, they like expensive hikes. Is that jacket North Face? Hmm, that looks like specialist gear to me. Perhaps they spend frivolously. That would have to be taken into consideration.

There you are, arms wide at the top of a cliff, embracing the world with the wind in your hair.

Hmm, what does that say about them? They are after life insurance after all. I’ll put in the report: “likes to take risks”. It’ll likely increase their premiums but it is for the best.

And there you are strapped to another human being as you plummet toward the earth, smiling at the camera, enjoying one of the best, most thrilling and memorable moments you will ever experience.

Okay, wow. Skydiving in New Zealand! I’ll put: “Puts themselves in harm’s way. Likes extreme sports. Higher risk of injury or casualty.”

This is purely speculative, I cannot stress that enough. But I am, however, convinced that insurance companies are becoming more malign in their actions.

In 2016 I purchased insurance for my car. Fire and theft were included. In 2017 I used a comparison site in order to find my next insurer. I found one I liked and went to their page. After answering the questions I was met with that usual five to eight pages that ask you what extras you might like to include in your policy i.e. breakdown cover, jelly-bean scent, you name it. On the first page it asked me if I wanted to include fire and theft for an extra fee. That raises two questions. The first: why was that not included? Second, why are they charging extra for something that should already be included in everyone’s insurance plan?

It is common knowledge that companies are purchasing data. Fintech is a flourishing sector and the more personal it becomes, the more effective it becomes. And the easier it becomes to separate consumers from their money. I’ll be honest, I love when Man-Booker Prize winners are announced. I know that I am probably going to buy the latest winner and probably a couple more authored by the runners-up. If these books have been shortlisted for the most prestigious award in the world of literature…I want them.
That time of the year would be an easy target for advertisers. Waterstones, Amazon, Foyles, it does not matter. I would probably be susceptible.

Let us go back to that annual family holiday. It takes place in the same few weeks every year (as most peoples do considering families are limited to school term times). You have been targeted by a whole bunch of advertisers and marketing companies putting forward things you may or may not need for your holiday. But the fear is that it could get even more personal. If an algorithm can detect brands in the photos you post, you may be directed deals from that brand in the future. Your taste in cars, motorbikes, foods, jewellery, clothes. It can all be used in order to entice people to purchase goods they do not need. But when advertisements are tailor-made around your lifestyle it would become considerably harder to resist.

When I have looked at travel destinations on google, I often get suggestions afterward on places to go and gear to buy on what I recently believed were unconnected pages i.e. pinterest and instagram. This is something that anyone with a social media account experiences day-to-day.

The things that I have mentioned are not some strange conspiracy in which the “establishment” are dominating the world, it is just the future of marketing and risk management. As Rana Foroohar says in the Financial Times post (17th September, 2018) when reporting on a senate meeting regarding fintech, the Treasury “talks approvingly of data sharing among technology companies and big banks to improve efficiency, scale and lower consumer prices.

“The report puts rather less focus on the on the systemic risk and predatory pricing that could emerge if the world’s largest technology companies and the biggest banks on Wall Street share consumer data.”

As mentioned above, this is the possible future of marketing and risk management. But it is marketing and risk management that poses the danger of exceeding a moral boundary.

We are living in an age where the online and the offline world’s perimeters are blurring. We see something funny or something bad and we either tell our friends, or tell the world via a post. Or both. We want to take photos a certain way because we have seen something like it online. We share photos (don’t even get me started on the overkill of parents posting umpteen number of baby pictures) and we share memes. We share life quotes, music videos, book recommendations and generally scream our point of view into what is essentially…storage space. And why do we do it? Because it’s fun.

Maybe it is best that, however, that you pick and choose your data settings wisely. Because fun is not worth painting yourself a target for corporate interest.

The New-build Dilemma

It is official – houses are getting smaller.

Here are a few numbers from an article on the subject by Andrew Ellson and Jedidajah Otte in The Times, 20th August, 2018.

On average:

– Houses are now 20% smaller than in the 1970’s

– Living rooms are 1/3 smaller

– Kitchens are 1/4 smaller

– Bedrooms are 1/5 smaller

The road to purchasing a house is littered with potholes, diversions, dead-ends and dodgy signage. It took myself and my partner a year and a half to save up the deposit needed for a house in our area. And we only managed it because of the charity of my parents letting me live rent free in their house. If my partner and I had been renting, it would have taken us nearly three or four years to save for that deposit. That says a lot about our current culture.

New couples, new families and O.A.P’s looking to upgrade in their later years are buying new houses in new developments. Around Crawley and Horsham alone – where I am based – five new sectors are being added. Thousands of houses and apartments. All of them built smaller than the average residence, and – from myriad conversations I have had with labourers on site – with ever cheaper materials. For example: door frames built from compressed cardboard, plumbing constructed from PVC pipework, fake chimneys made from wood and rendered to look like brickwork. As well as plasterboard walls which would crumble if the PVC breaks or splits – after all PVC is far more brittle than copper and more susceptible to changes in pressure and atmospheric conditions.

New builds are not just smaller but also more expensive than the regular property and they are selling on the notion that, because they are modern, they have a longer lifespan than those built during earlier periods. No previous owners. No degradation. A new space to make a new home.

Space aside there is another issue facing those living in the new build houses and that is one of mental health. Statistically those living in smaller properties are more likely to develop mental health and social issues such as depression and anxiety. In cramped conditions, members of the family cannot get the time on their own that they need, as highlighted by Ben Derbyshire, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects who says that “In a two-bed, four person home there is no space to be on your own except in the lavatory. Humans are social animals but they also need peace, quiet and space for concentration.”

Higher property prices of new builds lead to financial anxieties due to buyers taking out larger mortgages. Combined with smaller living conditions leading to mental health problems the precedent being set by property developers is worrying.

Mental health and social issues after all lead to the most amount of work days missed and account for two of every five visits to G.P’s. The financial demand of the house combined with the house itself causing stress and worry would only create a false economy, would it not?

That is not to say that every new build is small, but with prices already high for smaller dwellings, the costs of larger properties are exponentially more and therefore fall into a price bracket that is often unachievable by those living on the average income. As commentator Tim Montgomerie says: “Inflated house prices owe much to the power of a few major builders to restrict the supply of new homes.” If someone wants to buy a house to call a home, they are at the whim of the prices dictated by developers. If you are a high-earner or in a high earning partnership and have enough money to buy a larger property, well, it turns out money really can buy you happiness.

The saleability of houses in regards to number of rooms is another contentious issue that we face in the United Kingdom. We are one of the only nations that sell properties based on the number of bedrooms that it has. In America and in much of Europe houses are sold on the basis of how many square metres are available. While people within the U.K might be happy in the knowledge that they have bought a three bedroom property, the space inside might not be appropriate for either the family unit, or to provide adequate separation space. After all, many properties advertised to have three bedrooms live up to the promise but space is massively lacking. What are sold as double bedrooms can at best fit a double bed and nothing else. I came across many of these houses when looking for the place we eventually called home.

As property developers squeeze as many houses into an acquired space as possible in order to maximise profits, the government is doing little in the way of putting regulations in place in order to set a decent living standard. Instead the “minimum size standards for new dwellings” as laid down by the government is entirely voluntary. This needs to change. The standards should become policy for all new developments not only for the benefit of the inhabitants but, as pointed out above, for the economy as a whole.

Architecture and proper civic planning can be, and has been, a tool for great change. By giving people space in which they can be part of the family unit and when needed to spend time by themselves. By focusing on creating public spaces in order to eradicate seclusion from one another and by bringing back community centres for children and social clubs for adults.

Due to the neoliberal dogma that the Conservative government subscribe to, projects such as this will simply not take hold. Maximising profits for companies and deregulating the market only weakens the government’s voice in matters of public discourse as corporate interest takes control. Prices will rise, houses will get incrementally smaller so that it is barely noticeable, and the effects on buyers will only be negative as a result.

Is this the way we want to go? Of course not. We need a government that will implement change and stamp policy into place to give people the place, and space, that they deserve.