...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 5079: The Image over Rochester


This time last month, we were on our way to New England, setting for “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by (unspeakably racist) HP Lovecraft, wherein it turns out the locals have been (spoilers) interbreeding with immigrants.

This time last week, the locals of Rochester and Strood were cheerily chucking out their incumbent Tory MP and re-electing him as a Kipper. This despite him revealing that his new Party’s policies are entirely as anti-immigrant as we suspected.

This time in July, Ed Milipede was giving one of his relaunch speeches claiming he “didn’t do image”. And on Thursday, he proved it.

Mr Milipede’s preposterously over-the-top faux-outrage firing of Emily Thornberry for her “Image from Rochester” tweet put the (probably tin-foil) cap on the whole ridiculous affair of a by-election win for “A Plague on All Your Houses”.

The tweet itself was a relatively innocuous picture of house decked in flags and white van, with neutral comment. It was only possible to interpret it as a passive-aggressive attack of snobbish contempt because of the febrile atmosphere that economic post-Armageddon has brewed, one to which Labour have contributed more than a little, encouraging the “us v them”, “Westminster bubble”, “plebgate” contempt for all things elected and establishment. As in Scotland, Labour’s taking for granted of the people they are supposed to most represent comes back to haunt them. As they reap so they sow.

Am I snobbish about the man the Sun has dubbed “White Van Dan”?


I’m repulsed by the policies he espouses and profoundly depressed by the ignorance that informs them.

Bash the benefits; block the immigrants; spend more; tax less; and bring back the cane. If these things worked we’d have solved all of society’s problems by now. And why the reactionary paranoia about burning the poppy when no one is even doing it?

But “point and laugh” tactics particularly from a Metropolitan Liberal Elite Minority like me, never mind Ms Thornberry, is not the way to engage with this kind of thinking. In fact, it’s massively counter-productive, lending “Dan” the fake credence of being “against The Man”, when in fact he’s expressing exactly the sort of white cis straight male privileged oppression that generations of genuine outsiders have been struggling to get out from under.

But while Ms Thornberry’s tweet may have been revealing, the response by Labour’s spin team was nothing short of astonishing. The suggestion that the Labour Leader was “more furious than he’d ever been” was beyond ludicrous.

More furious than over phone hacking, Ed? More outraged than by tuition fees? More angry than at the bedroom tax?

The sad thing is he probably was more furious over an incident that did damage to Labour’s image than by any of those things. There’s a reason why Miliband’s leadership is not seen as “genuine”. It’s because it’s not.

Maybe it was a typo: “The Labour leader is more fatuous than he’s ever been”?

And yet, in one way, he was actually right. The sacking of a shadow cabinet member over a photograph was a massive distraction from the appalling reactionary lurch of British politics.

It’s what the Tories used to call a “Double Whammy”, with on the one fluffy foot more ludicrous Security Theatre and on the other more Anti-immigration nonsense.

It is surely a co-incidence that the Metropolitan police are warning commuters to “Run, Hide, and Tell” and trying to convince the City that saw off the Luftwaffe that it’s facing its “worst threat ever” just as the Home Secretary is trying to sex up her TPIMS, exclude British citizens who’ve been to fight in Syria, and raise her Snoopers' Charter from the dead.

Only this week we’ve heard evidence that the Security Services had information on the killers of Lee Rigby and still failed to stop them. It’s no good trying to pin the blame on Facebook; demanding access and retention of even more data only makes a bigger haystack to lose the needles in.

And as for cancelling the passports of British terrorists who’ve gone to fight in Syria and Iraq: washing your hands of a problem is a shockingly weak abrogation of responsibility, not a strong stance against terror.

And the Liberal Democrats’ principled opposition has… melted away.

Meanwhile, the Tories received a well-deserved humiliation for their failure to deliver on an in-so-many-ways stupid pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands.

And yet we hear Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary – surely that’s Michael Howard in drag not Yvette Cooper – saying: “It isn't racist to be worried about immigration or to call for immigration reform,” before announcing more guards on the frontiers.

While her counterpart Rachel Reeves at the Department of Work is saying she will deny benefits to EU migrants.

Only to receive support from Nick Clegg, for goodness’ sake!

It isn’t racist to be worried about immigration… UNLESS YOU GO ON TO BLAME THE IMMIGRANTS!

Please, I urge you, particularly if you happen to be Deputy Prime Minister, go read the inestimable Mr Hickey on why it’s both morally and tactically suicide to follow the other Parties down the road to UKIP-ised xenophobic populism.

People who think that UKIP are popular because of their policies are frankly morons, who make “White Van Dan” look like Aristotle.

UKIP’s popularity is entirely independent of any policy they may have from moment to moment, as amply demonstrated by the way Farage simply re-writes their manifesto every single time he finds himself on a sticky wicket without any apparent impact on people’s opinion or his Party’ poll ratings.

“Privatise the NHS? No, I meant preserve the NHS! Lower business taxes? No, I meant higher business taxes! Transitional arrangements? No, I meant concentration camps…er, is this on the record?”

No one seems to care that he’s winging it, contradicting himself, saying anything he thinks the voters want to hear, because after all he’s Nige, the bloke with the pint, and he’s sticking it to the Westminster elite, isn’ee.

There used to be a sense that the Westminster Parties were there to make things better for people, for you!

Labour would give you better public services; Tories would lower your taxes; Liberals would stand up for your rights and freedoms. What happened to all that?

In “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – and it’s well worth a read if you can get over the flagrant fears of miscegenation – the protagonist finds, to his existential horror, that (spoilers) he himself is of “questionable” heritage and is turning into one of the monsters.

Here’s the irony. In Britain we are all immigrants somewhere up our family tree. Unless you’re descended from a Woolly Mammoth! (I’m saying nothing!)

And yet, we have the choice: are we capable of being brave enough not to turn into Monsters?


For clarity:
“Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils”
is Lovecraft’s description of one of the Deep Ones, and not, as you might think, of Nigel Farage. Who, if anything, is one of the Shallow Ones.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Day 5076: When is 1% not 1%? When it’s 4%, apparently


Today the NHS has suffered the indignity of a strike by thousands of nurses and midwives protesting that their pay has been frozen for years and all they are asking for is the 1% that was recommended by the independent review body and that the Government has reneged upon.

Except that’s not really true, is it.

The Government offered 1% to everyone who wasn’t already getting an automatic pay rise.

So if you’ve not had a rise in four years, it’s not the Government blocking the 1% on offer; it’s those people who want 5% rather than “just” 4%.

Nursing is a tough job. And a necessary one. Especially as we’re all getting older and more reliant than ever on the Health Service. And this year, we’ve been personally especially grateful to some good nurses, I can tell you. So who wouldn’t want to reward them well?

But it begins to look like their representation is, well, misrepresenting them.

Quite rightly, our nurses have the sympathy and support of the public, but they risk losing that if the public – many of whom have genuinely seen 0% increases, that’s a real terms (i.e. after inflation) decrease – discover that the NHS Unions insist on using such mendacious tactics as claiming that nurses have not had a pay rise when in fact nurses’ pay comes with a built-in increase every year.

More than a million NHS staff – except for doctors, dentists and some senior managers who are on a different scheme – are paid according to a system called Agenda for Change (you can tell it came in under Tony Blair, can’t you).

Under this arrangement, you are assigned to a “Band” based on your job and seniority level: nurses and midwives, for example, start from Band 5; sisters and senior radiographers are in Band 6; and so on. You then have “points” on the payscale and in the normal course of things you would expect to go up one point each year.

Here, from the Royal College of Nursing, are the current (agreed in 2013) pay bands.

So for a nurse in Band 5, you begin at point 16, which is a salary of £21,388 on the 2013 agreed rates.

Then in your second year you advance to point 17, and receive a salary of £22,016, an automatic increase of 2.9%.

In your third year this goes up to point 18 for £22,903, a 4.0% increase and so on up to your seventh year when you reach top of your Band. In fact it’s 4% increase all the way up to the top of the scale for Band 5 when a nurse can earn £27,901.

Similarly for Bands 6 and 7, the salary increase between different points varies from point to point but on average is 3.5% per year, to a top salary of £40,558.

(Bands 1-4, incidentally, who are assistants, secretaries and porters earning between £14,094 and £22,016, have average rises of 2.5%.)

The review body’s proposals, then, were to increase all of these pay points by 1%.

So the effect for a nurse going into their second year would be an increase from £21,388 (on the 2013 rates) to £22,436 (on the new 2014 rates) which is a pay rise of 4.0%. And pay increases of 5% for nurses in their second through seventh years.

The people who wouldn’t be getting an automatic pay rise are the people at the tops of the scales… to whom the Government is offering the 1% that they say they are striking for.

(So actually, the people affected by this are new NHS staff, coming in at the old starting rate rather than the new proposed one.)

There are 380,000 nurses in the NHS in the UK, earning at least £21,388 each or a total wage bill somewhere north of eight billion quid. That 1% increase will cost the NHS, will cost you because you pay for the NHS, at least eighty million pounds.

Or, in the emotive terms that people like to pitch this debate, 4000 nurses.

Not that nurses are paid brilliantly, but the £28,180 on offer (after 1% increase) to an ordinary ward nurse at the top of the Band 5 pay scale is above the median average national wage, and quite a lot more than quite a lot of people get, particularly people on sickness benefits who get hardest hit by NHS strike action, or people on minimum wage or zero hours contracts who lose money when they have to refuse work in order to turn up on time for their NHS appointments, and only get told when they get there that they’ll have to miss more work without compensation because their appointment’s been cancelled through NHS strike action.

Everyone is fed up with austerity. Everyone is tired of tightening belts. And it’s true that to get through the worst of the recession that they inherited, the Coalition did freeze all those pay rates that were over £21,000. The rates were kept the same for the first three years: 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Although rates were increased for those lower paid NHS workers, on Bands 1 to 4, but not the nurses who were already better off than that. And, of course, you would still get an increase by progressing up the rates each year.

But, something I’ve just noticed from the RCN website: all pay rates were increased by 1% for last year (2012/13).

So that “not had a pay rise in four years” just cannot be true.

A nurse starting in 2010 on £21,176 would expect to be earning £24,799 in 2014, an increase of 17% or an average increase of 4% a year. Better than inflation in every year except 2010 when Alistair Darling’s devaluation and George Osborne’s VAT rise both hit.

In real terms, then, nurses are barely any better off. But try telling that to people who really haven’t had a pay rise in four years.

It’s said that the NHS is what the British have instead of religion these days. It’s an article of faith that we must preserve it, as much as it’s a standard mantra that the NHS is in crisis. Labour in particular have made a fetish of “their” NHS – “don’t let the Tories ruin it”, they cry when all other rational reasons to vote Labour fail them; any attempt to empower local people to vary provision to suit their needs is greeted with cries of “post code lottery” and results in power being snatched back to the Secretary of State; at the last gasp, any reform at all is answered with the desperate war cry of “privatisation”.

But locked-in inflation-busting salary increases are another reason, along with Labour’s privatization through the PFI door, why the “best health service in the world” is going to go bust in spite of having ring-fenced, real terms cash increases no matter what the damage that does to other spending commitments.

The NHS has been made a sacred cow by at least five major Parties (and UKIP) including, sadly, my own. And as with most cows, the debate seems to come with a quantity of bull.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 5075: Happy Endings and other Wedding Stories...

Sunday of the Doctor (one year on):

In celebration of my Daddies' four week anniversary, (and some little TV show being 51 today), by gracious permission of Uncle Barry, we bring you

"Alex and Richard in an Exciting Adventure with Doctor Who"

by Daddy Alex,

with some assistance from Terrance Versatile Dicks, Robert Holmes, David Whittaker, Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaranovich, Simon Guerrier, Andy Lane, Paul Cornell and many many more.

and additional dialogue by William Shakespeare.

starring Mr Simon and Mr Nick. And the Daddies' Wedding Chorus.

Thank you all, so very, very much.


Full text and quote-o-matic guessing game to be found at: "Maius Intra Qua Extra"