Thursday 20 April 2017

Made in China?

How often have you read that label on something you’ve bought? When I was a child in the 1950s that was found on many toys which were regarded with some suspicion. It meant the toys were made cheaply, possibly dangerously and as I grew older I came to realise that this may also have meant that the person who made them was probably not paid a lot. 

Things have moved on now. China produces some really good quality goods and it’s a rising economy over there.  Mind you, I still feel uncomfortable at the vast difference between the rich and the poor; it makes us look like a very equitable society. However, everything seems to be moving in the right direction. 

I’d like to pause just there: made in China. So, we’ve always imported from China. And from many other places in the world. I export books to Australia, Canada, US, India and Japan.  There is a constant exchange of goods. But where we’re not in a trade agreement, we have to pay import and export duty. There are also the “food” miles to think about.

So, de we really want to have to start paying to import and export duty on goods we get from  our nearest neighbour where food miles are less of a problem? How daft it that?

Look what happened with peppers recently. There had been a massive crop failure in the Mediterranean counties because of bad weather. They became scarce because we had to buy them from a market that supplied other places. They became expensive because of scarcity, import duty and food miles. Is that what we want? 

In my ideal world there would be no barriers at all. We would use the same currency.  Affordable healthcare, housing and education would be available to everybody. Homelessness and starvation would not exist. Indeed, anyone causing the latter two would be marked as a criminal.

I’m old enough and cynical enough, however, to realise that we’re some way as a human race from being able to achieve that. However, breaking up what could be a balancing super power, is a step backwards. In fact it looks as if that break up might cause the break-up of a smaller unit as well. What oh the Union Flag then? 

For the sake of something made in China that we can get relatively easily anyway?               

Monday 3 April 2017

The £350,000,000 a week bus lie

There is the old joke: “How can you tell when a politician’s lying? He’s opening his mouth.” That’s a little harsh, perhaps. There are many sincere MPs, who, although they may show bias and in the end there is something natural about that, they don’t set out to deceive. Nevertheless, just before the referendum on 23 June 2016 a group of academics, some of my dear colleagues among them, urged both Remain and Brexit to stop lying. After the referendum many of us signed a petition asking politicians to be truthful.  And what was their reaction? They claimed that they don’t tell lies. That’s the sort of statement that can unhinge a robot or a computer. 

Historians write history by leaving things out. Many who know of Florence Nightingale have never heard of Mary Seacole. You can use statistics to prove anything: I’ve seen the same set within ten days in my former place of work being used to give us a pat on the back and then to kick our behinds. We have all heard of alternative facts now. The more philosophical will say that the opposite of truth is another truth.
Yet there was something really nasty about that bus that goes beyond this nuancing. And about the sign I had to drive past every day that said “£350,000,000 a week is no joke. Save our NHS.” 

Of course, now we know it can’t. By his own admission a certain MEP who always reminds me of a Jack Russell, says that that was a mistake. A mistake that he lied? Or a mistake in his understanding? Goodness, if an MEP doesn’t understand how the EU works, how will the rest of us manage? Amazing how many people googled “EU”  AFTER the referendum, mind.
Yes, we send £350,000,000 across but we get £300,000,000 back for our regions – two of which want to remain in the EU and all of which are making big noises about independence. I’m near a city that voted Remain and I’m enjoying the new tram routes partly funded by EU money. On the Sunday after the referendum I went to an outdoor event and we parked at a nearby enterprise that displayed a huge European flag. It had received European funding and brought thousands of jobs to a deprived area. Then there are the subsidies to farmers and the collaboration in research. I’m no expert on how all of these pots of money fit together but if we start having to pay import and export duty on goods going to and from Europe, the extra 50,000,000 will soon be used up. Did you notice how the price of peppers went up after the crop failure in Spain and we started getting them from further afield, paying import tax and air miles?    

There is something here, I believe, about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
I fear a rise in UK taxes. Amongst other things, civil servants are going to be very busy. How will the present government be able to keep its promises? 

And for the record: I love Jack Russells even if they remind me of someone.