Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Colonial shame is the reason the Falklands should be British

In the Guardian it is being reported that Roger Waters, founding Pink Floyd member, while garnering support for his current tour in the South Americas, has stated that the Falklands should belong to the Argentinians. It is reported as follows in the Guardian...

"I am as ashamed as I possibly could be of our colonial past," Waters is reported to have said to TVN journalist Amaro Gómez-Pablos. When asked if the islands are British or Argentinian, Waters reportedly replied: "I think they should be Argentinian."

This is obviously after other celebrity endorsements for the Argentinian heightening of military tension in the region, the most prominent being Sean Penn, clumsily sticking his foot in to something far more complex than he perhaps realised when first opening his mouth.

The trouble I have with these statements is that they are completely at odds with their own reasoning for making the statements, complete oxymorons. If we want to atone for our colonialist ways of the past, we need to stand by the wishes of the population of the Falklands and their wishes, people that have lived on the island for generations.

It is no less than a colonialist mentality to state that Argentina should be given sovereignty over the islands simply because of their position. There is no significant evidence of "Argentinean" people living on the island pre-discovery by the British in the 17th century, any claim to the islands is purely based on the whims and wishes of a particular government and the benefit that such sovereignty can have for their strategic aims.

This is colonialism 101.

Celebrities and others that would see Argentina regain some sovereignty over the land, especially ones that have been so vocal against military excursions in the Middle East due to the underlying controversy of how the country's oil reserves get exploited, are being amazing hypocrites by making the stand they are.

There aren't many up to date opinion polls on the subject, maybe because the last one Argentina tried to use to gain ammunition for gain in sovereignty of the islands almost 20 years ago resulted in only 4% of the population being open to discussions about it. The people, unless there has been a seismic shift in public opinion in the last two decades, want to remain as they are...who are we, or the Argentines, or Sean Penn and other vocal celebrities, to tell these people what country they associate with, potentially against their will?

And why would they want to change? They have an island of their own, not ruled over by the government of Argentina, and not really ruled over by the UK. They have their own governance, their own laws, their own way of life.

Those asking for the people to risk giving that up, and to be amalgamated with a population of people that are culturally and physically miles apart, ought to be ashamed; not for Britian's role in colonising various lands in history, but for their own desires to demand Argentina be allowed to colonise the island now, in the modern world.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Political spin in full flow

It seems as though the political world we have to endure right now is one of those with vested interests, and no intention of listening to the public, twisting our complaints and trying to make out that it is us, wishing to keep the poor and the destitute from becoming more poor, more destitute, that are the "bad people". In some cases the arguments are being turned from big business taking the piss to big businesses having to endure severe hardship in the face of our laws and regulations.

Here are some of the best examples from this month...

Chris Grayling on Workfare during Channel 4 News 21/02/2012

Chris Grayling, while being expertly skewered by John Snow on various claims he was making in defence and promotion of the work scheme that sees "long" term unemployed people coerced in to basic jobs with little to no value in developing skills, came up with this doozy of a spin in order to sidestep one of the main criticisms of the scheme, that people lose their benefits.

Despite the main companies partaking in this scheme have been those like Tesco, Argos, the owners of Topshop and Topman, Poundland and others that have now sensibly removed themselves from the scheme like Sainsburys and Matalan, Grayling had the clumsy audacity to try and compare them to a "local small bakery business".

You see the taking away of benefits is purely there to protect these poor companies from being screwed over by benefit claimants agreeing to provide labour for free, and then deciding maybe they can do something better with their time for free instead. What is the small bakery business to do when the person just doesn't turn up for work? Well..I imagine the same that they'd have to do if the person failed to keep on going to the scheme within the first week, during which they won't lose their benefits.

And of course, let's not forget, the number of small businesses using this scheme is a pittance compared to those like Tesco who are earning MILLIONS OF POUNDS EVERY DAY and who's only complaint is that instead of paying no-one to do the work that they'd normally pay minimum wage for, they might need to ask someone else to cover those hours....for minimum wage.

Iain Duncan Smith on Workfare "Job Snobs" in the Daily Mail (and other papers) 21/02/2012

I doubt I'm the only person who thinks supermarket shelf-stackers add more value to our society than many of those 'job snobs' who are busy pontificating about the Government's employment policies. They should learn to value work and not sneer at it.

Hah! "Job Snob", it rhymes and everything. You see it is not a problem that people are doing work that, if they were given the job, would be earning at least TWICE the amount that they take on Job Seekers Allowance, no...the problem is us "Job Snobs" who somehow think that people doing labour for another person have a right to be fairly paid for that!

We are not sneering at the jobs that people are taking. It might not be everyone's dream, but for a lot of people minimum wage work at the biggest companies in the UK, like Tesco, means the difference between living in daily worry over choices between food or heating, or only having to worry about budgeting properly. What we want, us "Job Snobs", is for people doing this clearly available work to be PAID A WAGE FOR IT.

We sneer not at people getting work experience in Tesco, though for the life of me I can't think what employer is going to value the skill of taking stock from the back of the store to the front, other than Tesco or it's competitors, we sneer at the politicians that think it's fair to say "Here you go Tesco, feel free to save around £150-200 a week on employing someone, you obviously have the capacity to take on a worker...but we'd rather keep them stuck on benefits than actually in employment! We'll pay!"

Yes, it is us "job snobs" that are the devious bastards...

Liam Fox complaining about workers rights to anyone that'll hear his corrupt self 22/02/2012

"It is too difficult to hire and fire, and too expensive to take on new employees. It is intellectually unsustainable to believe that workplace rights should remain untouchable while output and employment are clearly cyclical.

Too difficult to hire and fire? There are too many people to fill each of the jobs around various parts of the country, and recent law changes mean that no matter how good you are at your job, no matter how well you perform, you are not safe from simply being told to pack your desk up and leave before you've been employed at your company for two years

Let's not have any of this bullshit that companies have it hard right now, and that workers have too many rights.

Also "intellectually unsustainable" is an intellectually unsustainable term.

Stephen Hester in an interview with Laura Kuenssberg on anti-banker mood 23/02/2012

He says he has 'great sympathy' for people who worry about pay gap, but UK won t prosper if we 'stigmatise success'

Who is stigmatising success? The complaints against those like Hester are not complaining about successful people getting paid. We are complaining because unsuccessful people are getting paid extra for being unsuccessful, even if they are slightly better at keeping it from being a complete disaster than the last guy.

We all want people to least those of us that aren't spending all of our time demonising the poor...what that means, however, is society reaping the benefits of that success. The problem is that bankers get huge bonuses for very little, it might as well just be called their salary. Advisers get huge sums of money paid in to companies so that they can avoid tax, the highest paid in the land do more and more to avoid paying through these hard times despite still having enough for a great number of families to live off of their spare cash.

Meanwhile the poor are being told they don't deserve their benefits, there are calls for further deregulation of the workplace, a removal of workers rights, the ever present murmurs of removing the national minimum wage.

If anything is being stigmatised it is pricks that think it's ok to skim huge amounts of money off the top, avoid acting ethically on their earnings, and then have the audacity to point the finger at the poor and say that it is those people that need to lose more of their money, their services, their hope, their will.

Monday, 20 February 2012

2014 election? Maybe, maybe not.

Over on the LSE blog an article has been posted, positing that a 2014 election is all but inevitable. It's my opinion that while Professor Patrick Dunleavy may possibly end up being correct, it may have been easier to reach the same conclusion by drawing years from a hat. It certainly would have had the same amount of logical reasoning.

I fisk it below...

The term of this Parliament has passed an invisible but magically potent half-way mark. We now have two years to go to the start of the UK’s next general election campaign in May or June 2014. I am now 90 per cent sure that Britain will go the polls again fully a year ahead of the ‘official’ date for Conservative and Liberal Democrat co-operation to wrap up (supposedly May 2015).

It doesn't bode well when, even by his own standards, his statement of this parliament passing a "half-way" mark is not true. A May 2014 election would mean the halfway mark would be just short of May 2012. Following the expected lifespan the true half way mark in law would be November 2012. Maybe this article has been published too early.

Forecasting the future in political life is a mugs game at the best of times. The opportunities for falling flat on your face are legion, and the chances of actually being prophetic are tiny.

I can't remember where it was right now (damn) but a nice little flow chart detailed that people take the stance of "predict doom" because in game theory is has the best overall outcome for the person doing the predicting. On a personal level if they're wrong then the "good thing" will happen, they won't feel bad. If it does happen, well.."I told you so". More so than this it's that predicting that things will go as planned doesn't get you remembered.

So most social scientists consequently eschew anything that smacks of ‘futurology’. Yet the timing of the next general election is an important matter. Billions of pounds may hang on it for the City of London’s financial markets. And in the second half of a Parliament it behoves all MPs, government departments, party activists and citizens to calibrate their behaviours with an accurate view of when the next election will happen. So a half-time assessment could be useful, however risky.

The fixed term parliament bill was created for a multitude of reasons. First of all it is a democratic move, since the form stance is to have a single person decide when an election happens. This law changes that to say that a super-majority of the representatives of the people must also want that election. It has devolved power to our representatives, and thus more power to the people. Further from this, there is also an element, as Professor Dunleavy will go in to, of "coalition securing".

However the purpose of helping the coalition stay together isn't out of some kind of love for hung parliaments and proving it exists for the very reason that Professor Dunleavy details right here; Fixed term parliaments are to provide the City of London with a very strong promise that this country is not going to destabalise politically.

The fact that he looks at the potential for panic by the financial sector in this country as a reason to look at the possibility for a scenario, a scenario that would exist in direct opposition of decisions made to quell such fear, is quite frankly bizarre.

Liberal Democrats are convinced that this particular stable door [of uncertain election dates] is firmly locked, and that there is now no way that the Tories can ‘cut and run’ – whether through David Cameron ‘betraying’ his commitments to Clegg in order to seize a poll advantage, or because of a putsch or demarche by the Tory right forcing the Prime Minister’s hand. They believe that Clegg has accomplished a fundamental constitutional change, achieving a cast iron guarantee of remaining Deputy PM until the spring of 2015. And, ironically, if the current government was single party majority government, the five year rule really would indeed be binding.

I don't know if any of this is actually quoted from any Lib Dem, in fact I'm sure it isn't. I'd like to meet a single person that would describe a fixed parliament law, that both allows 50%+1 of the parliament to "no confidence" a government, forcing a new government to form, and allows two thirds of Parliament to straight out force an early election, as a "cast iron guarantee" of Clegg and the Liberal Democrats being in government until 2015.

So, we've not even got into the substance of this exercise in "futurology" an hyperbole has already set in...

Yet the incontestable evidence of all coalition theory is that every coalition (without exceptions) tends to unzip from the end. If two actors A and B are in coalition and co-operating, but they know that the coalition is going to end at time T, then it makes sense for one actor (say A) to defect from co-operation in the time period just before the designated end, that is, at time T minus 1.

Can't deny this, there is always a point where differentiation needs to occur. Unless the Tories and Lib Dems forge an election pact to try and attain a second term as a joint governing force, something that might sound tempting to both Clegg and Cameron who can use the other as excuses for their discussion making to the Left and Right of their respective parties while avoiding the many head to head battles the two parties face, but in reality is unlikely to sit well with supporters of either party or the public at large.

The interesting question will not be whether the parties "split apart", as there is evidence every month that more and more is being done to seed evidence of differences between both parties without threatening the union, the interesting question will be if it is done in a respectful manner or in a petulant manner.

And so the logic of unzipping goes on. The only circumstances where co-operation in any coalition will continue is when the end is uncertain or unforeseeable.

Only then will both actors still hope to reap the gains to be had from co-operation, and fear to incur avoidable losses if they defect too early, getting punished for it by the other (betrayed) actor playing tit-for-tat. Explaining this to senior Liberal Democrats I see flutters of unease cross their faces, and sometimes get a reaction that perhaps the election might be two or three months early, but still it will surely be in 2015.

Or where election pacts are made between the two parties, as unlikely as that may be, but it's interesting that not all avenues are being explored here, lest they get in the way of the point that the Professor wishes to make, regardless of how he gets there. There is also still no talk, despite it starting this whole "thought experiment" off, of external factors in the co-operation of coalitions.

Traditionally coalitions exist in times of political shift in the people of a country, or as happened in 2010 an almost uncertainty as to whether changing from Tories to Labour or vice versa will really make any difference to the way the country is run.

While we exist in the latter scenario, it is only because of the idea of forging market stability that a coalition even exists. The Tories would have been perfectly within their rights to govern as a minority government with a confidence and supply agreement from others. It wouldn't have worked in this economic and political climate without Labour themselves providing that endorsement.

I think it is naive to not include the factor of stability, and the perception by the public, let alone the markets, of a move to weaken that stability in to how long a coalition may co-operate.

Writing on this blog recently, Mark Pack – an unbelievably smart and well-informed analyst of the Westminster and Liberal Democrat scene – did none the less concede that:

‘The ‘fixed’ part of the new rules is pretty fixed, but not completely set fast in legislative Araldite… there are caveats for cases where there is either wide cross-party agreement or no one can form a government.

Why is this being written as if he is uncovering some big secret here? The law was pretty clear from the get go, it's a fairly small and easy to follow piece of legislation. At the time there was controversy precisely because it was TOO easy for the caveats to take place and undermine the fixed term nature of the bill too easily. Again, if any politically minded person believes any fixed term parliament bill is a 100% guaranteed "this election date will not change" bill then I fail to understand why they are in politics.

[Mark Pack continues] Forget the idea that Cameron might face a politically bountiful time and try to cut and run for an early election – if the timing is good for the Conservatives, it would be bad for Labour, meaning Labour could and would block it’.

… An early election also happens if the House of Commons passes a vote of no confidence in the government (by a simple majority) and then fails within fourteen days to pass a motion of confidence in a new government’.

Yet the Act is not the waterproof requirement that the Liberal Democrats believe it is. In fact, the scenario for a radically early general election in 2014 is the simple one in bold in the quotation above – the possibility that Pack dismisses as infeasible, where the Conservatives want to call an early general election to reap a polling advantage while they can. Labour will block that for sure he says.

There are good reasons why Mark Pack is right, and it comes down to simple polling and the extension of Professor Dunleavy's theory on political parties cutting and running when it is most opportune for them to do so, the same behavior that has compelled prime ministers for decades to choose or not choose their election dates.

But will it? Imagine that in January/February 2014 David Cameron takes a look at the polls, and talks to George Osborne about the economic prospects and the budget. With press speculation already beginning to build, he privately resolves to step down as Prime Minister in May that year. Accordingly the budget is loaded up with immediate tax cuts and other goodies for voters. The unveiling of the Chancellor’s budget in March 2014 of course gives the game away.

But what can Nick Clegg do now but grin and bear it? If he picks a fight, then Cameron can announce that he is stepping down because of irreconcilable differences. If Clegg stays quiet, the tax cuts happen, the pre-election boom builds, the press speculation escalates into overdrive, and in April Cameron announces that to end damaging uncertainty, the ‘National Interest’ requires him to resign. We must now give UK voters the chance, he will say, to elect a Conservative government with a secure majority, that alone can bring prosperity back to Britain.

Oh of course, "imagine" this, "if" that! A highly specific scenario without any real specifics. Give me a break.

If the Tories go for an early election they have to put it to parliament. This isn't the same as the old way of simply doing it and putting an X on a calendar. The 'easiest' way would be to have a no confidence vote in the government. The Tories would have to say they have no confidence in themselves, resigning as government. I'll go in to this later...

Alternatively they could try and force Labour and the Lib Dems to make that confidence vote, perhaps by offering the tax cuts Professor Dunleavy describes, and therefore services cuts that inevitably goes along with this, since we are going to be nowhere near out of out the woods with our borrowing situation. The Tories would have to start running things like the NHS and welfare truly in to the ground to keep the international markets from panicking.

The danger with this approach is that they would do it, and in the 14 days that the country is then "in turmoil" (note: May not include turmoil) Labour and the Lib Dems could come together and work with other interested parties for the remaining year to "steady the boat."

So in reality "no confidence" ways of destroying the 2015 election date don't work favourably for the Tories, they either have to be seen as sabotaging their own plans for political gain, or they have to allow the opposition the opportunity to take their coalition partners and create a "Well we can't leave this country in a mess like the Tories are leaving it" rhetoric.

Indeed, the only realistic option is working with Labour to gain a 2/3rds vote on calling an early election...

If the Conservatives are calling for an early general election in May 2014 then can Labour (ever) stand out against that? At all times Miliband must look as if he really wants a general election, and is raring to go at any moment.

Well, since you're not really going to look at any of the reasons why they probably would stand out against that, Professor, why don't we do the work for you?

First, where Labour stand on this, and conversely whether the Tories would risk an election coming early, depends on the polls. If Labour are leading in the polls, assuming there is no way for Scotland to be independent in time for the early election, then the Tories can kiss any hopes of a majority goodbye. They might be tempted to try the minority government route, but that isn't dictated right now by their desires as much as the general economy. In effect they would be shunning convenient and willing partners for a slight chance of abandoning them, while ultimately being very likely to need them again for another 5 years.

Not the greatest hand to play.

If the Tories are significantly leading in the polls, and unfortunately for them it does have to be significant still, then they could call the election...but why would Labour say yes? The public will be generally happy with the Tories in rule, albeit in coalition, happy enough to vote them in as a majority...what is Milliband gaining by showing that he's raring to go in to an election?

It's not like Ed saying "No, why don't we adhere to the principles of the law that you set out, to provide stability in this country, we're perfectly happy to fight you on the doorsteps when the law says, not when you say" is going to exactly push him severely down the ratings. Brown lost out because he was seen as playing with power, and also going against public wishes to give or take his mandate away...Ed, in opposition, by definition cannot suffer that same fate. Not unless the polls are vehemently against this government and he turns it down, but again... why would the Tories offer the opportunity to be severely punished by the electorate?

Outside of the polls there is also this issue, mentioned before, of the markets. It's not so much relevant as to whether the markets would be destabilised by an early election or not, as to the narrative that the Tories have built up about economic stability, and then the opportunity for not only Labour, but also the Lib Dems, to make strong arguments of hypocrisy and possibly even lying to the electorate.

"How can you threaten the stability of our economy by trying to gain politically, the public voted in 2010, and their voices said we ALL had to solve this mess?"

"I put it to you that the Tories and Lib Dems conspired to create an impression of market instability to suit their political ends, to cut the amount of money disabled people get, to raise tuition fees, to carve up the NHS for private gain, when it suited they're proving this was all a lie by calling this election!"

I can't think of a single positive argument that can come out of the situation of the Tories successfully bring an early election about within the current political climate.

Labour certainly has no reason at all to look as if it wants to lend a politically toxic Nick Clegg any kind of hand.

It's hard to call Nick Clegg politically toxic without also highlighting everything that is toxic about British politics in turn. If Labour are to try and claim that they wouldn't do any deal with Clegg because of certain issues then they'd find it hard to justify their stance. NHS reforms too crazy? Sure, but then the plans are now just watered down versions of an even worse Tory marketisation of the NHS that Labour started in the first place. Students in higher debt? Shame that Labour have agreed to the principle of it then, except to do it in a way that makes it easier for rich graduates to pay less overall than poorer ones.

Toxic is only toxic if no-one else wants to go near it, and Labour aren't just going near to it, they're pulling their wellies on and jumping right in, where it comes to Lib Dem policy stances.

This all ignores another possible scenario which is that Nick Clegg steps down as leader amongst this "chaos" and allows a new bond to be forged between Labour and the Lib Dems with a hope of moving the coalition to a more left leaning alignment from 2015.

And while sitting in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street once again may seem immediately attractive, Miliband has very, very few incentives to agree to run a risky and lame duck minority government for ten months, with or without Liberal Democrat ministers.

Except to show supporters of things like the NHS that this is the best way to stop cuts to publicly loved services is to let Labour have control again, perhaps? To prove that Labour are actually ready to take the steering wheel and aren't just opposing for the sake of being in opposition?

And who says it has to be a minority government? Labour would only have to find 8 members outside of the Lib Dems to form a working coalition, or a coalition with confidence and supply for one year. With 15 socialist, liberal or generally anti-tory members to choose from it's less in the realm of fantasy than the Professor's prediction would lead you to believe.

So if the Conservatives want an election, and Labour wants an election, an election is absolutely certain to happen.

Yet if I try and push a positive end of a magnet against another positive end it's really hard to make them meet in the middle!

To bring it about it is only necessary for Cameron to resign as PM, forcing Labour to go through the motions of trying to form a maximum one-year administration with Liberal Democrat backing. For form’s sake, because the law requires it, and because it will give him endless TV coverage, Miliband will agree to negotiate for several days on some form of agreement (perhaps not with Clegg though). But then his team will say that it’s clearly impossible. The Liberal Democrats are untrustworthy and right wing, and there is no realistic agenda to get anything done. The ‘National Interest’ is calling Miliband too to go for a Labour government with a clear majority.

It is indeed that 'easy', No agreement for 14 days, an election must occur. But for this to happen this easily, you have to foster an environment where both the Tories are confident that Labour will either follow their lead, or will try and rule for a year and the same time Labour have to be blind to the possibility of being set up for failure, and have to have the same feeling on winning the election that the Tories do, despite there being only a singular issue dominating people's political minds...that of the economy and how it affects them...and plenty of public opinion data to state who is winning on that front.

So maybe not so easy? Take those magnets above, in theory it is easy to push them together, but in reality it's never that simple.

And with that, fixed term Parliaments are toast and a general election is called at the normal 4 year time, that could mean (indeed is almost certain to mean) maximum disaster for the Liberal Democrats.

Fixed parliaments aren't toast, they are still there, the date just changes. THIS fixed term parliament would be toast, sure.

But again, in the Professor's "I don't really do in-depth" way of analysis, what ways could this mean disaster for the Lib Dems? Let's try and define disaster for the Lib Dems. A big result would be remaining in a coalition, or being the "king makers" in a confidence and supply agreement. An average result would likely be going back to the position they were in pre 2010, a minority opposition party, with a better seat per vote share than they currently have. Disaster? Wipe out, reduction to only a handful of MPs that puts them on a level with other barely-there parties.

So how would that happen? Simply put, the public support for the Lib Dems would bottom out...completely bottom out. Yet despite having already lost a lot of Left-leaning supporters with their entry to the coalition, this has probably had a very small effect on their electoral chances. The reality of FPTP Britain is that Lib Dems end up fighting the Tories much more than they do Labour, and where the Lib Dems are fighting the Tories they are still drawing the "anyone but a Tory" vote.

In the end, this Lib Dem disaster is also a disaster for the Tories. Lib Dems are spoilers, and while they would gain seats from their own marginal fights, there would be a bunch of seats that they only keep secure because of third party interference. of roughly 37 seats (if boundary changes go ahead as planned) only 6 are going to be head to heads with the Lib Dems. The rest are Labour, hot on their heels, with a better poll rating than in 2010 (if things remain similar on the polling front) with no Lib Dems stealing votes away from the second place party that at least a third, if not a half, of Lib Dem voters have jumped ship towards.

Perhaps this is another reason why all of this fantasising over Tories fantasising about a Lib Dem demolition at the ballots is just a bit too unreal.

Just as happened with the AV campaign in spring 2011, Liberal Democrat ministers in 2014 will be stunned by the virulence of the Conservative electioneering

Will they now? Having experience it at the last election, and the AV campaign, will they really be stunned that the Tories can be a bunch of pricks with a pot of money come the time to try to get the public on their side? Really?

by the opportunistic way in which they are pilloried by Tory ministers and the Conservative newspapers for every government failing; by the shamelessness with which all Tory bridges to future co-operation are apparently burned; by the extent to which rampant Euroscepticism and populist causes are exploited in Conservative campaigning; and, on election night, by the radical way in which the cohort of Liberal Democrat MPs in the Commons is eviscerated.

Nothing happens to counter this situation by the Lib Dems in Professor Dunleavy's world. There is no concerted effort by the Lib Dems to work with the more liberal media to win back votes that they have recently lost to Labour on the back of evidence of "tempering" the Tory machine? There is no traditional Lib Dem fight of appealing to "anyone but the Tories", again in the realm of evidencing the way they have declawed the nasty party to some degree? Nope, the Lib Dems in this imaginary scenario just sit and take it, and seemingly so do Labour, possibly by joining the Tories in bashing the Lib Dems and handing the conservatives an excuse for everything that hasn't gone smoothly.

What could still stop this ending?

Reality, mainly.

By early 2014, only an economic situation so poor and a Conservative poll rating so low that David Cameron cannot risk any election.

Remember that a poll rating "so low" is still as high as 35% if Labour are higher than them and Lib Dems aren't polling significantly less than 10%....

Instead he would be locked inDowning Streetto the bitter end, hoping against hope that some good news will turn up. With the PM probably facing a divided Tory party (like John Major in his final year before him), a 2015 election would be a train wreck alternative for the Liberal Democrats also.

Brilliant, so even if things stay politically much where they are now, with labour gaining (very) slowly in the polls, it's still a terrible situation for the Lib Dems? Even though every public opinion poll out there on domestic economic issues is aligned perfectly with the Lib Dem stance, they won't be able to profit from that whatsoever? No analysis at all of the potential for the Lib Dems to generate a new Labour/Lib Dem coalition from the ashes of what ends up being a marginally popular, but resented government? No investigation in to the idea that the Lib Dems could act both as saviours to the Tories and to the idea of coalition politics by gaining a stronger hand in negotiations a second time around?

This vision of doom from the Professor, if I were a more cynical man, I would suggest is less about accurate predictions and more about very personal political tastes.

I say all this not because I believe I know better. I don't. Who knows what political craziness could happen to force allegiances apart, or to forge new ones? But if you're going to try an analyse the future, to be "90%" certain, maybe you'd do as well to actually entertain more than a single track of thinking, and stop excluding the most pertinent catalysts for our current political environment from the equation.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Tesco, Workfare, and poor social (media) skills.

If you have been following the news...not the main news of course, no-one cares enough about the unemployed and those on benefits to give top billing to such'll know the government has a scheme that says people are now being perfectly legally offered jobs to work for free. "Workfare" as it's being dubbed. If this doesn't sit well with you, perhaps you worry that your job might be at risk because "employing" someone for free may be better for business than employing you, help show support against the practice by signing this e-petition.

Well, actually it's not exactly working for free, they keep their job seekers allowance (even though they're technically in a job) and might get additional expenses from the company. This equates to companies, many of which can be found on This List, paying NOTHING for labour, and individuals only being paid ~£1.50-2.50 an hour for their efforts....efforts that would normally get them at least £5 an hour. If they don't adhere to the compulsion on them to work? They'll lose their benefits.

But then it's only filthy benefit scroungers getting hit, forced to either find work in jobs that don't exist or turn to other ways of financing themselves, right? Oh, wait... how about the disabled too?

The thing is that Workfare doesn't even seem to work. Read this report that the Department for Work and Pensions put together, and you'll see that workfare certainly isn't an answer to anything on it's own, that is potentially reduces the chances of people that are forced to work from getting real employment, and that (funnily enough) it's least effective in a high unemployment market. Why? Because there are no jobs for people to take after they've done their "placement"!

Somehow this report that says "it's not really effective" has led to this government ploughing ahead with it, no doubt with wind in their sails courtesy of it being a policy idea from the particularly vile parts of the previous Labour administration.

Tesco are currently absorbing most of the ire about this, previous targets like TK Maxx and Sainsburys have done the right thing and agreed to stop this practice, Tesco on the other hand have repeatedly tried to spin their stance, and obfuscate what is going on...clearly hoping it'll all just go away. You can tell, however, when a company is acting shifty when they spin their scheme in to "We give guaranteed interviews to everyone on the scheme". Of course there are few hard figures I can find, it doesn't help that Tesco, on their facebook page, keep deleting comments from anyone that tries to highlight any facts on the issue, but an unverified number popping up is that a whole 5% of people get permanent jobs after being in the scheme.

What has been quoted by someone, on Twitter, is:

Tesco have taken on 1400 unpaid claimants in the last 4 months that equates to 168,000 hours unpaid work (30 hours a wk) Tesco profits 3.5bn

This is AT LEAST £840k saved by Tesco in the 4 months of the program instead of paying fair wages. They make a profit of £3.5bn and we're supposed to accept that the only way for people to get work in this country is by the tax payer funding people to work for these organisations for free? There is clearly work that Tesco can employ people for, why isn't there a huge outcry that they could be employing up to 1400 on a real, full time, job?

Hardly cause to celebrate the company and the scheme with their "guaranteed interviews" now, is it?

Hiding behind a "community policy" that seems to revolve around them dictating what the "community" is interested in (currently sky diving for charity and £5000 worth of chocolate being given away for free), their online moderators seem to be in a minute by minute battle with online activists trying to promote to fans of Tesco just what their favourite supermarket is involved in. Hundred upon hundreds of comments are posted about their Workfare involvement, and yet they refuse to publish any area of discussion on the front of their facebook presence, where everyone can see it, despite the clear desire by the "community" to discuss it.

Like Paperchase and others before them, Tesco are falling in to the well trodden social media trap of believing that they can honestly contain the outcry for them to do something about their practices. These companies fail, time and time again, to realise that the more you contain something the more loud it becomes. We don't have mass censorship here, there are plenty of avenues for this discussion to take place. Twitter is favourite right now, but it can't be long before it moves in front of Tesco stores. If they think that hiding the facts from people on the front of their Facebook page is important, how are they going to deal with people, feeling they're being silenced, being much more effective in making Tesco customers know what they are supporting with each purchase.

But the reality is that if Tesco and others are taking part in this scheme, it is because the Government is allowing it. No, they're not just allowing it, they're pushing it. Changing the policy originally from being purely for the benefit of attempt to keep it in the realm of volunteering and vital local work...they now have expanded the language to include pretty much any business. We can shout at Tesco all we want, it is a fun thing to do for activists, they're low hanging fruit...but if we want to change this we need to tell our Government, our MPs, that this is not how we want our country to treat our poor, disadvantaged and disabled. Sign the petition

I shall leave you with an example of this terrible strategy below, one of many conversations that "David" (are there more than one David's, or are Tesco also making their community hosts work outside of EU working time directive agreements also?) has had with people instead of just doing the right thing and being open and compliant to customer desires in the social web...

Morning. A quick remiinnder that we keep our posts on-topic on this page so we can cater for users who want to diiscuss a range of subjects. If you have a subject you want to comment on other than our chocolate giveaway you may be able to find a relevant post to comment on by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. Best wishes, David - Community Host

Me: about you guys make an official post about your stance on Workfare, here on the front page, where you're not trying to hide the issue, and we can all be on topic there in an open and fair way, and stop wasting your time?

Tesco (paraphrasing, as they've already deleted their own post, along with however many others):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above.

I know it can be found by clicking away from the visible front page...I'm wondering why you are afraid of discussing it openly by letting those who just drift by your facebook page to see what you are involved in, right here where they can see it without having to go searching?

Tesco (paraphrasing, as they've already deleted their own post, again):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above.

Me (quoting from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy): ‎
"But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."
"Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody or anything."
"But the plans were on display ..."
"On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."
"That's the display department."
"With a flashlight."
"Ah, well the lights had probably gone."
"So had the stairs."
"But look, you found the notice didn't you?"
"Yes," said Arthur, "yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

Tesco (now deleted):
Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. We keep posts on a particular topic so that a wide variety of users have a wide variety of subjects they can talk about. Best wishes, David - Community Host

Which is why I'm saying make a new "particular topic" so that people can keep "on topic" with that "particular" topic, and we can have a truly "wide variety" of subjects to talk about here. It seems to me many more people want to talk about your workfare policy than a free chocolate scheme.

Hi Lee. Tesco's statement on Workfare can be freely discussed on one of the Workfare related posts to be found by clicking 'Everyone (Most Recent)' above. We keep posts on a particular topic so that a wide variety of users and Arthur Dent (above) have a wide variety of subjects they can talk about (perhaps with Arthur's towel, a dressing gown and a nice hot cup of tea). Best wishes, David - Community Host

Edit: I have now been blocked by Facebook, despite remaining fair and non-abusive, and asking multiple times in the area they requested I post in, about their scheme...they never replied, and now have decided silencing me is better than engaging with me.