Universal Credits, Care in the Community and Enoch Powell. A short history of crap policy


I visited Cardiff earlier this year to see the Dr Who exhibition before it closed.  On the Sunday morning we walked around the City to see some of the filming locations.

It was like a horror movie.   We came across people collapsed in the streets, comatose, or overdosed.  Those who were moving were staggering semi-concious.   

This apparently is Spice, the synthetic cannabinoid, recently made illegal, which has moved from head shops to street dealers with devastating consequences.  Seeing such a desperate situation was very disturbing.  What was worse is that we have been here before, and haven’t learnt any lessons.

Back in the 1980s I lived in Liverpool, and like most students, lived in a fairly poor and run down area.   At this time the Government was implementing the Care in the Community programme, and neighbourhoods like Toxteth were filling up with people recently released from long stay Mental Health services.   I have no doubt that Care in the Community is one of the greatest Social  Policy failures of my lifetime.

Care in the Community was driven by 2 forces.  The Libertarian Right had long

argued that mental hospitals were effectively prisons, preventing a return to normal life.  Enoch Powell, a former Health Minister had argued as early as 1961 for the closure of the “isolated, majestic, imperious, ……  asylums which our forefathers built with such immense solidity to express the notions of their day”.  Alongside this was a second force – a desire to move to a cheaper model of service delivery without the costs of inpatient Mental Health services. 

The Griffiths report in the mid 80s had recommended changes to the model of Mental Health care, inspired by the belief that State provision was bureaucratic and inefficient. The Thatcher Government enthusiastically embraced this philosophy but ignored his recommendation to support the shift of Mental Health services in the community with a ring fenced budget for Social Care support. 

Predictably Local Authorities, already strapped for cash, reacted badly to being transferred large numbers of NHS patients to look after, with no budget to do so.  Rows between the NHS and Local Authorities about who paid for which service were widespread, and larger and larger numbers of former patients became non-compliant with treatment, homeless or both.   Gaps in service became larger and larger, and because the individuals affected were not the most eloquent the gaps were easy to forget about.

The problems were exacerbated by policy changes elsewhere.  Homeless services, for example, had long dealt with people with Mental Health problems on an informal basis.  As they were closed down the range of options available to people shrank.

Not all former patients became homeless, many struggled on in poor quality rented accommodation in neighbourhoods like Toxteth.   There was however a massive increase in homelessness – Shelter estimates that during this period homelessness doubled to over 400,000.   

As more and more former patients became non-compliant with treatment self medication with drink and drugs became widespread, and groups of outdoor drinkers and drug users became a common feature in large cities.   Often people who hadn’t been in long stay accommodation gravitated to these groups.   

It is hard to write about violence by people with Mental Health problems without slipping into cliche, and it is important to stress that Mental Health patients are massively more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.  However, within these groups of people , self medicating with drugs and drug, and with chaotic lifestyles, there were a number of people who were very dangerous and very violent.   They found cover among the homeless and the Mentally Ill and largely preyed on them.   From time to time they would attack members of the wider population.

By the early 90s we had come to accept groups of homeless people on our streets, many with visible signs of Mental Health problems, some drunk or high on drugs, as part of living in big Cities. 

The turning point was the 1999 Mental Health National Service Framework, the first time the NHS had produced a detailed service specification for Mental Health services.

Mental health wasn’t the top priority in the early years of New Labour, but the NSF meant that local areas were audited on their provision.   Gaps were identified, and many, but not all were closed.  Services were expanded, and new services introduced. 

The National Service Framework benefitted by being introduced at a time when the new New Labour Government was increasing spending on the NHS.   In 1997/98 the NHS Budget was £33.5bn.   But 2005/6 it had grown to £76.4bn, and by 2008 had hit £96.4bn.   

To put this into context Boris Johnson claimed that leaving the EU would provide a one off  increase to NHS funds worth £350m per week.    In the early years of C21st the NHS budget got an extra £150m every week. 

One of the new services that was established in the National Service Framework was Assertive Outreach.  These were specialist Mental Health professionals, normally Community Psychiatric Nurses, who went out and tracked down people who weren’t engaging in treatment.  This was an expensive solution but bit by bit individuals were found.

Some re-engaged with treatment, but for many years of neglect had left them damaged.   The best which could be hoped for was to limit the harm.  For many this meant being helped to access benefits that they were entitled to, and live less chaotic lives.   We funded a worker based within our local branch of Mind who advised people with Mental Health problems to access benefits and housing. 

More controversially from 2001 onwards a new initiative called the Dangerous Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD) Programme was established, which targeted individuals with a very high Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL–R) risk score in the community.

Not all of these developments were welcomed by the Professions.  The DSPD programme was incredibly unpopular with Psychiatrists.  In many parts of the Country the new resources the Government provided were hoovered up by Acute Hospital Care and waiting list reductions, and Mental Health services struggled to meet the National Service Framework requirements.

What is true is that people did re-engage with treatment, and British cities no longer had large groups of outdoor drinkers and drug takers.  Homelessness peaked in 2003 and then fell sharply through to 2010.  We need to be careful not to conflate homelessness and Mental Health, but it is clear that vulnerable people with Mental Health problems are more likely to become homeless if they aren’t receiving the right treatment.

By this point I had left the NHS and I was working for a Crown Non-Departmental Public Body sponsored by Department of Work and Pensions when the Coalition government came in.  I was in the unusual position of having worked at Department of Health, which gave me a different perspective on the incoming governments policy mix. 

The policy agenda they were persuing was a jumble, just as it had been in the 1980s.   There was a movement within the Conservative party led by Ian Duncan Smith and the Centre for Social Justice which wanted to emphasise personal responsibility, similar to the beliefs of Enoch Powell in the 1960s.   IDS wrote the foreword to a collection of essays in praise of Enoch Powell in 2014:


But this was secondary to the overwhelming policy commitment of the Cameron Government – Austerity.   Whatever happened had to be cheaper.   A lot cheaper. 

I am forbidden from being too mean about IDS by a compromise agreement signed when I left the Civil Service.  I am however able to criticise the Centre for Social Justice.   In 2010 after 6 years of well funded policy formulation the Coalition government came into power with little or no actual policy ideas.  Normally the problem with think tanks is they produce too much, with not enough thinking through.  The Centre for Social Justice produced nothing of any value.

Despite the emptiness of the policy cupboard Cameron and Osbourne had a desire to appear reforming and meaningful, and not just cost cutters, but with little concept of how to achieve this.    IDS offered them Universal Credits as a solution and they embraced it without really considering what it meant.

Universal Credits was originally designed as a Labour Party policy, and was proposed by James Purnell during his brief tenure as Secretary of State.   Gordon Brown squashed it as too expensive and complex.   Given Gordon’s willingness to sign off on expensive public sector change projects this decision should have sounded alarm bells for David, George and Ian.

Instead it was seized upon by the Coalition as a way to give them a focus for Welfare Reform while they cut benefits.   

I’ve written previously about some of the existential design problems that have beset UC:

Deep House Victims Mini Bus Appeal

In truth I could write about Universal Credit design flaws and programme management mistakes every fortnight for the rest of the year and still not communicate exactly how bad it is.   Gordon Brown might have made some mistakes with Public Spending over the years but scrapping UC was one of his best decisions.

At the same time the Coalition was filling up friendly newspapers with horror stories about people claiming benefits, doing nothing to find work, and sitting around all day drinking cheap lager.   Mostly stories like this were made up, but in truth there were people, claiming benefits doing exactly that, although they weren’t representative.

The Government ordered a massive clamp down shiftless benefits claimants both imaginary and real, and Job Centres were set targets for sanctioning the benefits of anyone who was deemed to be insufficiently diligent in seeking work.    I signed on to Job Seekers Allowance while I was setting up my current business in order to access DWP’s small business start up service, and I had my benefits sanction on a couple of occasions, for trivial reasons. 

Before leaving the Civil Service I tried to explain to some of my DWP colleagues the work that the NHS had done in Assertive Outreach, and that for some people, particularly those who had suffered under Care in the Community it was better to leave them securely housed and claiming benefits, even if their attempts at finding work were negligible.   I even tried to describe the DSPD cohort who lived in the Community and how important it was that they stayed where they were, in contact with Community Mental Health services. 

Predictably I was ignored, and Job Centres targeted the most vulnerable for sanctions in order to hit local targets.    Targeting poor people in this way has become so politically acceptable that the last Labour Manifesto banked £7.5bn of savings from benefit cuts and freezes to fund it’s spending plans, while promising a rather timid “review”.

Homelessness has risen every year since then, as this graph for Rough Sleepers shows:


Screen Shot 2017-09-23 at 10.55.40   

UC is years behind schedule and only has 500,000 people on it  – the original target was 8.5m by 2015.  It is clear that it is making things much worse.   Applicants have to wait up to 12 weeks before receiving any money, which is then paid monthly in arrears.  When they do receive money cuts and freezes to the value of benefits have left too many people unable to afford housing.  And then there is the Bedroom Tax.

This has left us with exactly the same problems we had in the 80s and 90s, and it is exactly the same groups of people being hit the hardest.   I have no doubt that there are people who suffered under Care in the Community, who got their lives back together thanks to Assertive Outreach, who are being targeted again by Government Benefit cuts and Universal Credits.   The only thing that has changed is rather than alcohol and heroin the drug of choice is now Spice.   People living in Cardiff or Manchester will already know how bad things are. 

The rest of us are about to find out.

While the Labour Party were recently asking for a pause in the roll out of UC with typical timidity the Centre for Social Justice were publishing a report recommending placing homeless people with problems like alcohol and drug abuse in permanent accommodation and giving them access to care and training. The approach, known as Housing First, had been trialled in the US and adopted by Finland with positive results. Conservative communities secretary Sajid Javid said he was “keen to examine the scheme”

No shit Sherlock. 









Modi, Thatcher, Reagan, Morrissey


Nahendra Modi is the first world leader to have been a chai wallah.  He is also a tea-total vegetarian, unmarried (although he was briefly married when he was younger), and by repute, celibate, possibly a virgin.

Add to that some conservative social attitudes and you have the political equivalent of Morrissey. 

I had read a fair bit about Modi before I left the UK. Mostly the left leaning press give him a very hard time – he is portrayed as a hard right Hindu nationalist.  The right wing press tend give him a hard time for a different reason – for not delivering fast enough on a predictable neo-Liberal economic agenda.

I started to write about Modi as if he were an Indian Thatcher, or Reagan. Modi is normally portrayed in the West as a Conservative hardliner, pursuing an agenda of economic reform comparable to the changes the UK and the US went through in the 80s.  This isn’t entirely inaccurate.  Modi recently removed large numbers of high denomination notes from circulation.  This was pitched to the Indian public as an attempt to control corruption, however it looked more like a classic attempt to reduce the money supply in a country which is still very cash based.   I fully expected to see further announcements making it difficult to do business without a financial intermediary like a Bank, followed by de-regulation of financial services.  Exactly the same formula the US and UK applied, which led to widespread corruption, mis-selling and eventually the Credit Crunch.  Modi has also staked a lot of political capital on a new Tax code that is meant to simplify the taxation system and cut red tape.   

There is still time for Modi to become a new Maggie or Ronnie, but in all honestly the country that I visited didn’t look like it was heading in a Thatcherite or Reaganite direction.   India is very different today to the country I first visited 20 years ago.  It is visibly cleaner, wealthier, and everyone apparently has a mobile phone.  The participation of women in the workplace looks like it has increased significantly too, particularly in urban areas.  Fast expanding business sectors like financial services with good working conditions have attracted large numbers of high quality female employees.   More than half of all Indian Companies with female CEOs are in these sectors.   Women head the largest public and private banks in India, and India has more female Airline Pilots than the UK or the US.   

It is hard to tell how much of the change in female labour market participation is driven by indigenous changes to the Indian economy and how many of have been imported from the West as companies from the UK and US have built their presence in India.   The first time I visited Gurgoan it was still a small town, with more farms than offices, and when I was told that this was going to be a massive commercial area in a few years I was very skeptical.    Now I wish I had bought a couple of acres.   When big Western companies arrived at Gurgoan or Pune and started to recruit they didn’t really care wether India had traditional gender roles, or a family structure that demanded that a woman’s place was her mother-in-laws home.  Nor did they care about which religion their employees came from.  They looked for the cheapest, most productive employees, the ones who would earn them the most money.  This meant recruiting woman as well as men, sometimes recruiting women rather than men.

The change in woman’s participation in the workforce was so striking that I was pretty shocked when I checked the statistics and discovered that India is one of the few countries in which female participation in the workforce is declining sharply.  When I first visited India 20 years ago roughly 40% of women worked, now it is 28% and falling.    Female economic participation rates in urban areas are rising, but falling in rural areas, and the fall is so dramatic that it is over writing the increase in urban employment.  In an economy growing by 7% a year this is baffling.

The driver of this change is rural employment.  Of the 40% of woman who were working 20 years ago the majority were employed as subsidiary workers in farming, supporting a main, male, wage earner.   In rural areas the number of women working has fallen sharply as wages have risen. Families in rural areas are sharing India’s fast economic growth, but are using the extra money to reduce female participation in the workplace.  More women are staying on a school, in both rural and urban areas, which reduces the female workforce further.   

This highlights the central dilemma of Modisim.  India has a young, fast growing population, and it needs high levels of economic growth to keep GPD per capita increasing.   It is hard to achieve this with a substantial proportion of it’s human talent out of the formal workforce. But the economic regime of production determines the values and social structures of a society, and if you change the economic regime the values and social structures change with it.

Modi’s constituency are Conservative Hindus, exactly the people who are determined to maintain traditional gender roles, who demand that woman stay at home, and who want to use additional income to turn the clock back not forward.  Hindu religious Conservatives are similar to their contemporaries across the Muslim world who complain loudly about the impact of Liberal Western values on their societies.  They share their concerns with changing traditional patriarchal societies, and with concepts of equality on behalf of groups for whom equality is not a feature of traditional societies, such as LGBT rights.

This is the central tension of the Modi government.  It has come to power with support from traditional Hindu voters, many of whom are concerned about the pace of change, and who want to keep their privileges.  This same group, however, also want the economy to grow, which means economic change, which in turn produces social and cultural changes.  This conflict between urban and rural values, men and women, played out in the surprise Bollywood hit of the summer; “Toilet: A Love Story”

Screen Shot 2017-09-09 at 14.51.40

It is this tension between the economic and social pressures which lies behind the criticisms of Modi which have come from the political and economic right.  The Economist was recently scathing about Modi’s record of economic reform, showing him riding a paper tiger.   When Thatcher and her successor John Major were in power they forced through economic reforms such as Sunday Trading in the face of opposition from the Church.  Righties will be very disappointed if they think that Modi will take on organised Hindu groups in the same way.

So far Modi has done well in resolving these tensions, partly because he is an astute political mover, but also because he isn’t afraid to use a loud crowd of right wing Hindu political activists to drown out any opposition.  To this extent he resembles Trump or Corbyn in harnessing the social media power of partisan activists to stifle dissent.   The continuation of the 1870 Raj era Sedition laws give politicians a lot of power to suppress views they don’t like.   Britain of course being much more Liberal than India abolished these laws years ago.   In 2009.   And India isn’t the only country to retain repressive British legislation.  The British tried the writer Saadat Hasan Manto for sedition 3 times in the 1930s.  After Independence the Pakistani government used the exact same laws to try him a further 3 times. 

Despite the popularity of socially Conservative politics there has been a massive shift in Women’s Rights and LGBT Rights around the world over the last 20 years.  Partly this is due to work by NGOs, local activists, and brave role models.   But to a great extent it is driven by economic changes which have provide a wider range of employment opportunities with employers who are more concerned with the bottom line, than with protecting traditional social structures.  This has increased the economic power of women and the LGBT community, which in turn has been a key factor in successful Rights campaigns.  The great irony of this is that it is exactly the kind of Neo-liberal economics which left wing activists loathe which has provided this favourable economic context. 

Of course this approach to equality has some clear draw backs – it is very good at empowering well educated women with in demand skills in urban areas.  Less good at tackling poverty and Conservative social structures in distant villages. 

This doesn’t mean that this is a purely rural problem.  I have no doubt that the Conservative social attitudes which keep women out of the workforce in rural areas are the same Conservative social attitudes which drive harassment and violence towards woman in urban and rural contexts – the use of power to keep women in their place.    

But there is more to Modi and the BJP Government than the tension between economic reform and social Conservatism.  Travelling across India it was hard to miss adverts praising the Prime Minister for giving 2 Crore Indians access to subsidised LPG.   20 years ago you would see cow dung cakes drying on walls for uses as fuel, and I was glad that I didn’t see a single wall covered in animal poo on my most recent visit.   This campaign was explicitly promoted as giving dignity to women.

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It was also startling to see Government adverts on the backs of buses promoting HIV/AIDS testing and treatment with Modi’s face on.  Hard to imagine Donald Trump lending his support to such a campaign.  There were equally large posters promoting condoms in a way that would cause US Conservatives to wet their pants.   

Modi’s economic policies go way beyond Thatcher style demoniterisation.  His Government isn’t scared to intervene directly in the economy, and has huge infrastructure plans; large scale rail and tube building, plus anti-car measures like increasing car parking.  These measures look a lot closer to Roosevelt or Attlee, and would place him on the left of the political spectrum in the UK.

And just because opposition to Modi is muted doesn’t mean he is in complete control.   While we were in India the Supreme Court made 2 huge judgements.

The first made the Muslim practice of Triple Talaq divorces illegal as the result of a campaign by Women’s Rights Groups.    

In the Second Judges ruled against the Modi Government ID card scheme, in direct opposition to the Modi governments use of “offence to the sensibilities of the majority” as a reason to curb personal choices.  Not only does the rolling have massive implications for the Government, it also has massive implications for LGBT rights:

“It is an individual’s choice as to who enters his house, how he lives and in what relationship. The privacy of the home must protect the family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation which are all important aspects of dignity.”

LGBT rights in India have had a complex recent past, with the Delhi Court over turning the 1860 Raj era laws banning same sex relationships in 2009, only for the Supreme Court to re-instate the ban in 2013.   The privacy ruling strengthens the case for reinstating the 2009 ruling, and makes it hard for those opposing the repeal of the 1860 Act to continue with their arguments. 

The Modi Government wouldn’t have shed any tears over the Triple Talaq judgement, however the defeat on ID cards, and the way the Supreme Court framed their judgement most definitely ran against Modi’s wishes.

These judgements show that even with a Prime Minister sympathetic to Conservative values an independent judiciary can be swayed by liberal campaigns.  History has plenty of examples of politicians driven in the opposite direction to the one they set out on. Gladstone was an anti-Imperialist who ended up annexing chunks of Africa.  Modi is a social Conservative whose time as Prime Minister might end up advancing LGBT and Women’s rights further than his more Liberal predecessors.    Modi is certainly serious about unpicking the caste system and supported the appointment of an Untouchable as President.

The interaction of economic and social changes have similarities to those I wrote about a few months back in Wath on Dearne.   The difference is the timescale – these changes are moving much faster in countries which started off decades behind, and which are catching up rapidly.

There is however one aspect of Nahendra Modi that the British press don’t really get.  Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister born after Independence.  He doesn’t remember British rule for good or for bad, and he isn’t shaped by it.   India under Modi is a geo-political rival to Britain, a much larger and more powerful rival, particularly once we leave the EU. He is someone not really interested in making an arrangement with Britain on British terms.   The trade deals that Brexiters talk about are all based on the idea that we can get a better deal than the EU because these deals will be on British terms.   The world frankly isn’t really interested in doing deals on British terms, and this is only going to get worse as Britain tries to force it’s economic will on larger economic players with their own agenda.   India’s big geo-political priority is China, who is building alliances with Pakistan and Bangladesh supported by huge infrastructure investments.  Britain within the EU was willing to stop or stall progress on EU policies and projects in a way that no other country would.  This made Britain a valuable ally for countries such as the US, China and India who frequently wanted to stall or divert EU decisions.  Outside of the EU Britain is a much less influential player to

What I saw in urban India was an economic system which supports individuality and a plural culture, protected by the Supreme Court, triumphing over a government which favours the views of Social Conservative Hindus who are uncomfortable with individuality and religious and personal diversity.   I suspect in India, as in other countries where this conflict is playing out, it is the economy which will win out in the long run. 

Loot, Boot and Nigel Farage. Britain in India.



The English language is full of loan words from Hindi and other languages from the Indian sub-continent. Shampoo, Veranda, Bungalow, Pyjamas, Bangle, Dinghy, Dungaree, Thug. Anyone who has Indian relatives will have this pointed out to them regularly. 

One of the most commonly used Hindi loan words in English is loot.   Derived from the Hindi lūṭ, which is turn is derived from the Sanskrit luṇṭh- ‘to rob’. It entered the English language in the early C19th, meaning to steal or plunder wholesale, as well as the proceeds of plunder.

Loot is a pretty good word to describe the British in India. 

A new YouGov survey finds that more Brits think the British Empire is something to be proud of (59%) rather than ashamed of (19%).   A third of British people (34%) also say they would like it if Britain still had an empire.  This is despite the fact that people in the UK are largely ignorant about Empire and always have been.  Every survey ever conducted about British History and Empire reveals that most Brits have only the vaguest grasp of events, including the niche belief that Gandalf defeated the Spanish Armada.   

The Foreign Office regularly polled British attitudes Empire in the 1940s and 1950s as the sun was setting on the thing on which the sun would never set.   Even then knowledge was poor.  In the 1947 Survey respondents were asked to name a British Territory in the Far East.   Lincolnshire was a popular answer.

That would be British East Lincolnshire no doubt.   

I don’t intend to dwell at length at the awfulness of British rule in India, but I thought it was worth giving just one example to illustrate how terrible it was.   

In 1903 British Army Officer Captain Stanley de Vere Julius published “Notes on Striking Natives” his textbook on administering violence in the service of the Empire.   While the book had applications across all of Britains’ Territories it was primarily aimed at India, where de Vere Julius was stationed.   

India under British rule at the start of C20th suffered from famines and epidemic illnesses, which had left many Indians weakened and less able to withstand beatings.   There had been a number of incidents where British Soldiers or Colonial Administrators while dishing out thrashsings had inadvertently killed people by rupturing their internal organs.  Obviously no Brit was ever punished for this, but it was embarrassing and expensive.   

It is a testament to the thoroughness of the British when brutalising the people they were looting that we produced a text book so we could be precise and economical about the amount of violence we dished out.   Brutality austerity.

British rule in India was a purely financial undertaking – the systematic looting of a continent.  Most European Empires were founded with at least a semblance of a moral mission – spreading Christianity, ending slavery, or promoting the spice trade.   

To borrow liberally from Hannah Arendt when looking at Imperial or Colonial relationships we can observe 3 characteristics:

  1. A set of unequal economic relationships which transfer money from the Colonised/Imperialised to the boss nation
  2. An ideological framework which provides a positive explanation for the public back home why it was right to transfer the money, and to justify the sacrifices of the Imperial Vanguard
  3. An Imperial Vanguard, who are prepared to endure hardship in the expectation of financial gain and Imperial glory; Clive, Jameson, Rhodes, Livingstone.

Britain in India made no attempt to bring Christianity, or end unfree labour.  While the Mughuls built Mosques and Mahals, and the Portuguese built Churches, the British Empire’s main contribution to Indian architecture was Lutyen’s New Delhi – an impressive set of Government Offices. The one thing that Britain did give to India – the English legal system –  was imposed to form the basis for British property rights. Like all such endeavours it was deeply and profoundly bureaucratic in a country which already had it’s own obsession with bureaucracy.  We get the word Palaver from India too.   

Britain’s slim ideological justification for ruling India was that we were so much better at it than the Indians themselves would be. There was no attempt at an ideological higher purpose, just simple pragmatic administrative efficiency, enforced by beatings.  Even at the time some Brits knew this was wrong – Edmund Burke spent 7 years trying to impeach Warren Hastings and the British East India Company for economic mismanagement of India.   

De Tocqueville also saw through the fraud: “[Britons’] perpetual attempts to prove that they act in the interest of a principle, or for the good of the natives, or even for the advantage of the sovereigns they subjugate; it is their frank indignation toward those who resist them; these are the procedures with which they almost always surround violence.” 

Like al Bureaucrats the Administrators of the British Empire hated being thought of as b

bureaucrats, preferring to see themselves as Merchants, or Soldiers or Explorers.  Much like the Bureaucrats of Imperial China saw themselves as Philosophers and the Bureaucrats of contemporary Capitalism prefer to be thought of as Business people or Entrepreneurs.

This is why Gandhi was able to have such an impact on British rule with his campaign, by pointing out that lack of moral purpose at the heart of the Empire he revealed it’s true purpose – looting. I would however wonder how much moral purpose or authority was left to the Raj after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919.

Up until the formalisation of Imperial rule in 1857 the British rule in India was outsourced to the British East India Company.  This wasn’t the first time Imperial rule had been organised like this – the Vatican had awarded franchises for the Imperial conquest of Latin America under the Padroado Real system.  For anyone visiting the Holy See is no coincidence that many of the brightest shiniest things decorating the Vatican date from this period, just as it is no co-incidence that the brightest shiniest bits of the British Crown Jewels date from the Raj era.

We think of outsourcing as a quintessentially modern neo-Liberal phenomenon, however in the era before mass production and vertical integration most businesses, particularly craft businesses, outsourced.  The idea of one big company doing everything is a modern, probably temporary, state, and the idea of one big Government doing everything itself an equally recent concept.

The East India Company was established in 1600 by Queen Elizabeth I. For most of it’s first century of operation it was a trading enterprise competing against French and Portuguese rivals.    By 1700 Britain had been through long period of political change – the Civil War, Commonwealth, Restoration, Glorious Revolution, while Moghul India was at it’s peak.

In 1700 Moghul India had 24.2% of the Worlds GDP, 24.2% of the World’s Trade, and 25% of it’s manufacturing output.   The UK had 2.9%.   By the end of the Empire India had 4.2% of the Worlds GDP, 2% of the World’s Trade while Britain had more than a quarter, including 26% of the world’s manufacturing exports.   Moghul India had a larger GDP, and a higher per capita GDP than Britain too.   Joanna Lumley’s TV show shows how the East India Company turned Calcutta and Bombay into great trading ports, ignoring that India was a World trading power long before the British arrived. 

From 1700 onwards Britain replaces the Netherlands as the fastest growing economy in Europe. Some of this improvement was driven by changes in banking, financial and fiscal institutions on Dutch lines.  Later on Britain was the first nation to go through an industrial revolution leading to a surge in industrial productivity.   

But fiscal reform and industrialisation aren’t enough to explain the timing and the extent of the growth in UK GDP.  From the C18th British economic growth is at driven partly, if not largely by slavery and the Colonies. Unequal economic relationships and the exploitation of non-European labour and resources are the common factor throughout this period.

Table 1: Share of World GDP (% of world total)

Year                             1500     1700     1820    1870    1913   1950   1973   2001

United Kingdom        1.1         2.9        5.2       9.0       8.2       6.5       4.2      3.2

Western Europe1      17.8       21.9      23.0     33.0    33.0      26.2    25.6    20.3

United States              0.3         0.1        1.8         8.8     18.9      27.3    22.1    21.4

China                           24.9       22.3      32.9      17.1     8.8       4.5       4.6      12.3

India                            24.4         24.4     16.0       12.1   7.5      4.2        3.1      5.4

Asia2                            61.9        57.7      56.4      36.1    22.3   15.4      16.4   30.9

1 includes UK

2 Excludes Japan

Some of the decline in India’s share of GDP is relative – it’s economy stagnated under British rule while other countries grew – however there is a real terms decline in Indian GDP, both in total and per capita between 1757 and 1857.

The easiest way to understand the changes in GDP are as a flow of funds form India and China to the UK and Western Europe, particularly in the period 1700-1870,; then the eclipse of Europe by the US from 1870 to 1950; and finally a shift back to India and China in the post Imperial era. 

From 1700 (or slightly earlier) Britain starts to get a large flow of funds from Asia, mainly India, which by the start of the C19th are providing Britain with a big trade surplus, and making Britain richer.  The capital which created British capitalism came from high savings rates at home, but also from exploiting the labour and resources of it’s Colonies.  This is the reason why British capitalists in the C19th have more capital to invest in technology and growing markets than their foreign competitors. 

Essentially while Britain might have done lots of exciting technological innovation it was the relationship with  the Empire, particularly India which provided markets for the new machines, capital for investment, and profits to put in the bank.   From 1950 these financial flows start to reverse and Britain experiences a growing trade deficit and much slower rate of economic growth. 

Since the end of Empire the UK has had an almost permanent balance of payments crisis, most recently the fall in the Pound post the Brexit vote.  Money flows out of the UK, and the books are only balanced by sloshing lots of the worlds money through the City of London and bits of the UK property market no questions asked. 

This picture from the latest ONS data set shows how the UK balance of trade has declined sharply in the years since Empire.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.33.28

One of the most surprising parts of the GDP share data is the declining US position. This is a relative decline, rather than an absolute one, but for lots of ordinary Americans whose incomes have stagnated and whose purchasing power has fallen it feels like absolute decline. The US also has endemic balance of payments problems, just like the UK, and has a similar solution – it allows the Worlds hot money to flow in and out of Wall Street and the Manhattan property market to disguise it’s terrible record on exports

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.35.13

The data for China isn’t so complete but shows how it’s trade balances have improved as the West declines.  India would show a similar set of figures if it wasn’t for it’s massive trade deficit with China, driven largely by it’s obsession with cheap mobile phones.  And taking selfies. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 18.37.01

One of the most common foreign policy opinions that the British Left has is that America is somehow a kind of Imperial or Colonial power forcing it’s will on the world.  If we compare the flow of funds from the British Empire to the flow of funds in and out of modern America it is hard to see how America is any kind of Empire, or if it is it is a totally hopeless one which gives money away instead of looting it.   

It is possible that the American numbers are wrong.  The USA has an unusual Tax regime which Taxes US Corporations on Global earnings rather than domestic-only taxation, which is the system the rest of the World uses.   The USA has known for decades that it needs to reform the way it taxes Businesses, but the fractious state of American politics has made that impossible.

As a consequence US Companies have huge stacks of cash, earned abroad, which are stashed overseas, somewhere between $1.4-1.7trn.   I like filling my blog with stacks of numbers, but even I am impressed by a Trillion.  Apple has $246bn, Microsoft has $116bn, Cisco $62bn, Google $52bn.  This is just cash, and doesn’t include physical assets outside the US purchased by US Corporations to avoid repatriating their cash.  In addition there are US Companies operating tax Inversion deals moving their tax address to countries like Ireland to reduce their tax liability. 

It is hard to work out how big the US trade deficit would be if these funds were brought home, although the size of the trade gap is big enough that even with this money the USA would be still be exporting money.  It would be easy to draw a comparison between the US tech giants following their own economic agenda and the East India Company, although there is one huge difference – the East India Company at it’s peak had 250,000 mercenaries fighting for it – in an era when the British standing army was the biggest in the world at only 120,000.

If American is an Imperial or Colonial nation it isn’t a very good one. 

That doesn’t mean that the USA has none of the characteristics of an Imperial nation that Arendt identifies.  For many years it’s Cold War ideology and it’s willingness to involve itself in Parkistan, Iran and the Congo had an Imperialish flavour.   The CIA and the legion of Private Sector contractors who have followed American engagements have the look and feel of an Imperial Vanguard, particularly the Olly North variety who were willing to operate like Jameson or Gordon at the fringes of legitimate authority.  Just as Britain sent teams of experts, archeologists, professors to study and write about the countries that we had taken over so the USA likes to send their own experts but in more prosaic subjects like financial services dergulation.

America does have an Orientalist world view, maybe some people deep in Government and Business might have a Colonial one too.   But it is increasingly an ideology divorced from economic reality.   Steve Bannon, recently defenestrated as Trumps Chief Ideologue claims that the next big battle for hegemony is between the US and China.  Looking at shifts in GDP and share of world trade that battle happened years ago and the US lost.

Rex Tillerson is this week angrily telling the Pakistani Government that if it doesn’t do what the USA wants it will end it’s support.  All of which looks daft given that Pakistan and China are diplomatic BFFs, and the USA is geopolitical sideshow.  If anyone was thinking of coming on the protest march to protest about the lack of protest marches protesting USA interference in Pakistan it is probably too late. Sorry.

In my last blog some readers felt that I was uncharitable to Jeremy Corbyn,  In truth his jumble of ideas about Gandhi, Hamas, Hezbollah, pacifism and the developing world are pure Orientalism.  A white man’s fantasy of the East where he can project his own hobby horses and pet peeves.   

An acceptable way to embrace anti-imperliaism without having to engage with thinking about the violence of imperialism or it’s modern variants.   

But Corbyn isn’t the only British politician with a daft jumble of ideas shaping his word view.     Brexiters have their own jumble of ideas around Empire, Leadership, Brexit, Sovereignty and Exceptionalism.  I don’t think it is a clear identifiable ideology, but a passionately held set of ideas none the less.  The Empire fuels a sense of exceptionalism, a belief that we don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, and Brexit is an expression of that.  The lack of curiosity about Empire and it’s details are matched by a lack of interest in the detail of Brexit, and a willingness to substitute patriotic slogans for carefully planning.

Brexit isn’t for most people a kind of imperial nostalgia but a recognition that once upon a time we were able to impose unequal trading relationships upon the World in a way which protected our own domestic industries and gave us favourable access to other markets around the world.    These deals were much more better than our current deals as EU members. 

UK share of world manufactured exports (%)

I Imports Exports

1937 21.3

1950 25.5

1960 16.5

1970 10.8

1979 9.1

1990 5.3 6.2

1995 4.7 5.1

2000 4.4 5.1

But these unequal trading relationships dated from an era of British economic dominance, and their demise has nothing to do with the EU. The decline stared well before then.  British industry was protected by unequal trading relationships with it’s Empire. With the empire gone British manufacturing struggled and in most cases never recovered.  India was a captive market for trains and steel, manufactured goods of all kinds.  Outside of the EU we will no longer be the economically dominant power setting the terms of trade. We will be in the opposite position.

But there is more to the Orientalist fantasy of the Brexiters than trade deals.  The Empire gave more to Britain than just cash and prestige. It provided gainful employment for large numbers of under talented bossy Brits, who relished having someone they could feel superior too.   The end of Empire and the shrinking of the state has given Britain a surplus of public school educated, self important under achievers.  Well connected but without the talent for Business, the diligence for Law or Medicine or the sense of Public Service for Charity.  In the first half of the C20th Nigel Farage, Dan Hannon and Douglas Carswell would have been happily employed drinking warm G&Ts and moaning about the natives in one of the less prestigious colonial outposts.  Boris would have been a blundering Governor of some obscure province with a lop sided Pith Helmet. Instead they play out their petty intrigues at home, too many egos chasing too few top jobs.

We tend to fall too easily for the myth that the British in India were competent Administrators ruling a continent out of duty.  In fact they were ham fisted chancers. Idiots out to line their pocket. Second raters, racists and bullies. People too dim to make it at home who had been sent out to India so that they could mess up where no one could see them.

The Brexit boys would fit right in. 

India, Prizes, Corbyn and the Illuminati

I’m not a massive fan of Jeremy Corbyn.

People who know me won’t be surprised by that, as I haven’t taken any steps at all to hide my lack of enthusiasm for him.

I do however know lots of people, very nice people, who do think very highly of him, and who often share things with me on social media about how lovely they think he is. One of the most popular things about J-Corbz is that he was awarded the Gandhi Peace Prize, which definitely means that he is a bloody good bloke.  There is even an on line petition you can sign lobbying for Jezza to get a Nobel Peace Prize, which quotes his Gandhi Peace Prize as a precedent.

Here is the photo that is most commonly shared of Corbyn at the award ceremony, looking slightly startled.



I was baffled by this photo, and the enthusiasm with which it was shared across social media.   

Partly because Corbyn is a noted supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, 2 organisations at the absolute opposite end of the political spectrum to Mohandas Gandhi, but mainly because the Gandhi Peace Prize is rarely awarded to anyone British.   

Given the history of the British in India that isn’t really surprising. The Gandhi Peach Prize is awarded by the Government of India and most of it’s recipients are African and Asian activists and NGOs, reflecting Gandhi’s own career in those 2 continents.  The only British recipient is Nobel laureate John Hume for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

I was so baffled by this that I tracked down the list of recipients of the Ghandi Peace Prize:

Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency

No Corbyn.

I was aware that this was an alternative Prize – the Gandhi Peace Award, awarded by the Enduring Peace Foundation, based in the US, and I wondered whether this was the prize Corbyn had won. It’s 2017 award ceremony was held at Yale and looks to have been slightly smarter than the one Corbyn went to.  Ralph Nader and Omar Bhargouti shared the award, which has previously been awarded to such luminaries as Martin Luther Kin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Illustrious company for the Jeremy.

Except when I checked the list of past winners Corbyn’s name wasn’t listed either. 

There is another US based Ghandi Humanitarian Award, which is given by the California based Gandhi Memorial Foundation.  This is headed by Yogesh K Gandhi, who claims to be a descendent of the great man, and whose luminaries included Bill Clinton and Joan Baez.  In 1999 The GHA was prosecuted for Tax Evasion, Mail Fraud and Perjury, and was closed.  The whereabouts of Yogesh K Gandhi, also known as Yogesh Kathari are currently unknown.

In the end I traced down 5 different Gandhi Prizes from different continents, although I suspect that I might have missed a few.   It seems like that Gandhi brand is so strong that giving out Peace Prizes is a big industry.  We can immediately discount the Scandinavian Gandhi Prize, as it looks like it was scrapped a few years back, and the list of past winners has vanished off the Internet.   

The Prize the Corbyn won was set up in the 1980s following the success of The Dickie Attenborough movie.   Dickie Attenborough headed up the initial panel, which was largely made up of white British men, and the people who have won the award also have a predictably large bias towards white British men too.   There has always been a romantic appreciation of foreign freedom fighters among those Brits who have never had to fight for anything in life, stretching all the way back to Byron.

This isn’t quite as odd as a bunch of rich White Americans creating an award in the name of Malcolm X and giving it to Donald Trump, but is has enough similarities to be a bit worrying.*

This gives us the following table of Gandhi Peace Prize Winners, which reflect the extent to which Gandhi’s endorsement, no matter how vicarious, is still prized by people.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Edwin Dahlberg, Rabbi Maurice, Eisendrath, John Haynes Holmes, Linus Pauling, E Stanley Jones, Martin Luther Kind Jr, AJ Muste, Norman Thomas, Jerome Davis, William Sloane Coffin, Jr, Benjamin Spock, Wayne Morse, Willard Uphaus, U Thant, Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day, Daniel Ellsberg, Peter Benneson, Martin Ennals, Roland Bainton, Helen Caldicott, ,  Corliss Lamont, Randall Watson Forsberg, Robert Jay Lifton, Kay Camp, Bernard Lown, John Somerville, César Chávez, Marian Wright Edelman, George McGovern, Ramsey Clark, Lucius Walker, Jr., Roy Bourgeois, Edith Ballantyne, Alan Wright and Paula Kline, Howard Frazier and Alice Zeigler Frazier, Michael True, Dennis Kucinich, Karen Jacob and David Cortright, Ehud Bandel, Arik Ascherman, Amy Goodman, Bill McKibben, Medea Benjamin, Tom B.K. Goldtooth and Kathy Kelly, Ralph Nader, Omar Barghouti Julius Nyere, A T Ariyaratne, Gerhard Fischer, Ramakrishna Mission, Baba Amte, Nelson Mandela, Grameen Bank/Muhammed Yunus, John Hume, Vaclav Havel, Coretta Scott King, Desmond Tutu, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, Indian Space Agency, Bill Clinton, Werner Erhard, Joan Baez, Shirley Temple Black, David Packard, Hogen Fukunaga, Ryochi Sasakawa, Michael Harbottle, Nicholas Gillett, Adam Curle,  Martin Dent Bill Peters, Denis Halliday,  Helen Steven, Ellen Moxley,  Clive Stafford Smith,  Shabana Azmi, David Edwards,  David Cromwell. Rev. Harold Good OBE, Father Alec Reid CSSR, Coram Children’s Legal CentreThe Parents Circle-Families Forum (PC-FF), Binayak Sen, Bulu Imam , Jeremy Corbyn, Godric Bader Tore NærlandFrank Tomlinson, and Peter Tatchell

The presence of Martin Luther King on the list gives us a clue as to one of the factors at work here.  Ghandist pacifism is popular in the West, and MLK is it’s main exponent.  Like Gandhi The Reverend King used non-violent opposition to undermine the moral claims of the regimes they challenged.  There is no doubt that Gandhi’s tactics, and King’s, worked brilliantly in attacking the moral and intellectual justifications of their opponents, both of which were based largely on racism.

Outside the West it is harder to find examples of other Asian and African independence movements following Ghandi’s pacifist lead.  From the Viet-Cong to ISIS Mao-Tse-Tong’s Anti-Facist Base Area strategy has been the blue print for the kind of asymmetrical warfare that has inflicted consistent victories against Western Powers.  Corbyn’s friends in Hamas and Hezbollah are Maoists not Gandhists. 

I was worried that by restricting my analysis just to Mohandas Gandhi and Jeremy Corbyn I was missing something, so, in order to broaden my view I decided to pick a selection of Indian Independence leaders, and look at the prizes awarded in their names to see if there were similar themes.

My short list was; Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Netayaji Subhas Chandra Bose. I make no apologies for picking these individuals, as in their own way they are all heroes of mine.   For those who  are less au fait with C20th Indian History I have included a short biography alongside a description of the Prizes awarded in their name

Jawarhalal Nehru, better known in the West as Pandit Nehru, or just Nehru is one of the few Indian politicians recognisable by one name only.   He led the Congress Party of India to Independence, negotiated the departure of the British, and it was Nehru, not Gandhi who gave the speech announcing Independence 70 years ago this week:

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance”

Nehru is a more likely hero for the Western left than Gandhi, who often eschewed the traditional divisions of Left/Right, Mulsim/Hindu.  Nehru was a genuine anti-Facist who instinctively understood that even if Nazism threatened the Raj it was a threat to India not an opportunity.    One and a Half Million Indian Volunteers fought for the British Empire in WW2, the biggest volunteer Army in history.  Some fought for loyalty to the Emperor, some in the belief that helping Britain would help the case for Independence.  Nehru would have fought Fascists just because they were Fascists. Good man. 

Nehru only gets one prize in his name, also awarded by the Indian Government in International Diplomacy. Looking at the list of recipients it is even more prestigious then the Gandhi Prize, although as it is a Diplomatic Award at times it has been given to some odd characters including Hosni Mubarak and Robert Mugabe:

U Thant, Martin Luther King Jr, Khan Abdul Ghaffar khan, Yehudi Menuhin, Mother Theresa, Kenneth Kaunda, Josip Broz Tito, Andre Malraux, Julius Nyerere, Raul Prebisch, Jonas Salk, Giuseppe Tucci, Tulsi Meherji Shrestha, Nichedatsu Fujii, Nelson Mandela, Barbara Ward, Alva Myrdal, Leopold Sedar Senaghor, Bruno Kreisky, Indira Gandhi, Olof Palme, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Yasser Arafat, Robert Mugabe, Helmut Kohl, Aruna Asaf Ali, Maurice Strong, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mahathir Mohamad, Hosni Mubarak, Goh Chok Tong, Sultan Qaboos, Mangari Maathai, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, Angela Merkel

Nehru also got a jacket named after him, popular with the Beatles, which may be a shallow reward, but at least recognises his cultural significance.   

Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the Muslim league at the same time Nehru led Congress. While Nehru was jailed 1943-5 for his part in the Quit India campaign, and Gandhi placed under house arrest in one of the Aga Khan’s Palaces,  Jinnah was free to manoeuvre and ultimately build the case for the creation of Pakistan. 

Jinnah was the youngest Indian to be called to the London Bar aged only 19, and while mandating Urdu as the official language of Pakistan he preferred English himself. He also has the odd distinction that he has been played in the movies by Christopher Lee, which puts in on a par with Saruman and Count Dracula.  This rather over-shadows his own political beliefs which would warm the heart of a British leftie, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and much more pacifist than his role in Partition would suggest.

Ultimately Jinnah’s legacy is highly contentious, viewed as a hero in Pakistan, and a villain in India, it is the Indian view of him which prevails the most in the West.  The British left have been brave and forthright in denouncing US interference in Latin American politics, and exposing the links with corrupt and often Military regimes.  That the US has done exactly the same to Pakistan seems to have passed the same people by.  I am unsure why Pakistan is judged as less worthy of attention, but if you would like to join my protest march protesting against the lack of protest marches about Pakistan let me know.

I was able to track down 3 Jinnah Prizes for definite.  One is apparently awarded by the Pakistani Ambassador to Canada to high performing school kids in Vancouver.   The other is entirely Pakistan based, and, I think, acknowledges achievement in Journalism but my Urdu isn’t good enough to get further.

There is a British Jinnah award which recognises achievement among the British Pakistani Community, with a diverse range of recipients;   

Sarfraz Manzoor, Azeem Ibrahim, Amir Khan, Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ibrahim and Imran Khan.

If you don’t recognise Aziz Ibrahim he is a highly paid session musician who played rhythm guitar on the last Stone Roses album as well as most of Simply Red’s hits.   

Netajayi Subhas Chandra Bose is by far the most controversial politician on this list.  Despite being one of the few Indian politicians with his own distinctive honorific Bose is almost totally unknown outside of India.

He was a radical Communist who left the Congress Party and split with Gandhi in the 1930s because he disagreed with non-violent resistance.   He fought against the British and when WW2 broke out, on the run from the Empire, he was offered safe passage across Europe by Hitler as part of the Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact.    Sadly for Bose he was in Berlin when the Germans invaded Russia leaving him stranded in Nazi Germany, Asian and Marxist.    

Bose’s life expectancy must have been pretty short at this point, however he was able to charm Hitler with a load of nonsense about the mystic destiny of the Aryan races.  Hitler gave him a German Submarine to transport him to the Far East where he raised the Indian National Liberation Army among India soldiers captured by the Japanese when Singapore fell.  As he left he persuaded the Germans not to send their remaining Indian prisoners to the Concentration Camps but instead to enlist male Indian prisoners in the Wermacht as Aryan super soldiers. This is why when the British liberated Norway they found a few hundred Indians disconsolately guarding a Fjord.

In 1944 Bose and the INLA, as part of a largely Japanese strike force, crossed the Burmese border and made a military attempt to capture the nearest state capital; Imphal.   Among Bose’s troops were the all woman anti-Imperialist feminist Unit – the Rani of Jansi Brigade.  Bose, and the Japanese were stopped at Kojima, which when I first read the Official British Military History of WW2 was described as a border skirmish.  Now it is described as the Stalingrad of the East, and is among the battle honours of the DLI and the West Yorks who fought there.

Bose and the Japanese were broken at Kojima and driven back into the Burmese jungle where, according to Japanese accounts they were subject to brutality that often crossed over to war crimes.

Bose died in a plane crash in 1945, however conspiracy theories spread immediately after his death.   The Indian Navy mutinied in this name, pressurising the British during the Independence negotiations.  Jinnah returned to legal practice for the last time as defence Barrister in the treason trial against Bose’s Lieutenants.  The case failed and they were hung from the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi, one Muslim, one Hindu, one Sikh.    

When I visited India for the first time nearly 20 years ago you could still see “Netayaji Lives!” Graffiti.    Bose has no prizes named after him.

When I was a child I went to the DLI Museum with my Grandad, which for years had no mention of the role of the local soldiers who fought at Kojima, Imphal or Admin Box, or the India troops who fought alongside them, despite a number of Victoria Crosses awarded.   The inscription of the British soldiers who fought at Kojima borrows from the stelae at Thermopylae.

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow, we gave our today

At the end of these stories what are we left with?  A lop sided view of Indian Independence which is turned into the biography of one great man, much as the way that our domestic history is reduced the Tudors and Stuarts.  Henry VIIth with a Toni and Guy haircut.

Maybe we the Brits only have room in our History books for one good Indian as long as his story doesn’t contain much ambiguity, much like the Billy Bunter’s cricket team.

There is clearly something that we are missing.  Something not just about Indian History, but about our own.   When we write the Rani of Jansi Brigade out of history we also write out the British troops who fought in the same battles, troops from my own home town..

As a kid I read avidly books like Pyramids of the Gods, which while fun to read, had a fairly obvious racist undertone.  Non-white people couldn’t possibly have built amazing buildings like the Pyramids so long ago, it must have been Aliens.

One of my faves was “Morning of the Magicians” by Pauwells and Bergier.  This is the book which first introduced the legend of the Illuminati to the popular imagination, now one of the most widely held conspiracy theories. 


The Illuminati legend told by by Pauwells and Bergier is based on the Indian legend of the Nine Unknowns, who got their wisdom from the Emperor Ashoka, and passed it down from generation to generation.   Pauwels and Bergier got this story from a British source – the Nine Unknowns by Talbot Mundy.  I tracked down a copy of Mundy’s book to an American bookseller.  It isn’t rare but it isn’t widely available due to it’s moderate racism.   As you have probably guessed Mundy’s book is fiction, the sequel to his classic King of the Khyber Rifles. 


We are in an era of bogus anti-establishment political movements in which people from privileged backgrounds construct narratives which pit the good people against a semi-fictional elite.  Conspiracy theories about politics regularly move from the fringes into the mainstream, aiding the rise of eccentric politicians.  Political movements which resemble secular gnostic cults. For movements on the left who wish to construct these kind of fake narratives non-white resistance movements provide an easy way for politicians to get themselves some radical credibility and a sense of being real, no matter how safe and privileged their own back grounds might be. An orientalist fantasy in which the phrase “our struggle” spoken by the Western Left means appropriation not solidarity.

To borrow a phrase from Salman Rushdie this is the chutnification of political struggle

When we ignore real history we allow false narratives to take hold.  The examples above of the Illuminati or the competing Gandhi prizes are annoying, but largely harmless.   The failure to discuss the reasons for, and the events of partition, continue to poison politics in India and Pakistan today and help create an environment in the UK in which it is easy to demonise Muslims.

Because we will only deal with a limited view of Empire and it’s ending we have allowed daft ideas of Empire to linger on, unchallenged into the modern world.  Right now we have a Cabinet Minister, Liam Fox, flying business class around the world negotiating imaginary trade deals based on noting but a daft sense of British exceptionalism.   

Our inability to move beyond a narrow view of the past, means that we only have a narrow set of futures available to us.

*[I would like to make it clear that when I left the UK a couple of days ago no-one had given Donald Trump an award in the name of Malcolm X, but with the speed that politics moves these days I wouldn’t be surprised if this had happened while I was away, or he had declared himself King and bought a massive throne from Walmart]

Unemployability and the National Minimum Wage


I recently a met someone who to all intents and purposes is unemployable.  That is to say they are unable to sell their Labour to any employer in the current Labour Market and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

I met him because we recently recruited a new Production Manager. Our current Production Manager is moving with his wife to Canada as she couldn’t get work as an Academic in the UK.   

We had a lot of really good applicants and could have recruited 2 or 3 times over.  None of the applicants were unemployed, however about a third of them weren’t working. They tended to be older applicants coming back to the workforce after a period on the sick, or who otherwise weren’t economically active.  The unemployable chap was in this category.

We have a rule that we pay at least the National Living Wage, and quite a bit more for jobs like Production Manager.  Confusingly George Osborne rebranded the National Minimum Wage as the National Living Wage, which isn’t very helpful, but it did give Ian Duncan Smith the chance to fist pump in the House of Commons.  I am legally prevented from telling you my opinions of IDS, which I am sure is a great comfort to him.

Paying above the NMW is a good thing on principle but it is good business sense too.  In the North East setting a wage rate even slightly above NMW makes us an attractive employer.  That and the free Gin.   

But it is also because of our experiences of low wages.  We were offered, and briefly tried recruiting a Business Management and Marketing Apprentice through a government sponsored scheme.  For employees like this the NMW doesn’t apply, and most employers pay the legal minimum for Apprentices -£2.60ph.   There was little attempt to hide the fact for the most employers this was just very cheap labour ready for exploitation. 

If you were wondering why there are so few Saturday jobs these days this is the reason. Why would shops employ middle class kids part time for £5 an hour when they can get full time workers cheaper?

We were shocked at the low level of wage, and decided that we would set a wage rate higher than that.  The problem was how much?

I had a contact at the Labour Market Research Dept at the Trades Unions Congress.  For the sake of discretion let’s called him Brother Gavin.  The TUC has one of the few research departments left that looks at wage rates and differentials.  In the past research like this was a big bit of Industrial Relations (for younger readers this is what Human Resources used to be called).

Brother Gavin patiently explained to me that the going wage for someone with no particular skills and no particular experience was £0ph.   The same was true for people with only the lowest levels of manual skills.  There is no wage rate set by the TUC for jobs like that because in a world of the NMW there is no demand for that Labour at £7.50ph. 

The individual who applied to work for us was in this category.  He was a nice chap, enthusiastic and trying hard to get back into the workforce after a period out of the Labour Market, but his skills and experience were very narrow and very out of date.  At £7.50 an hour I don’t know of any employers who would recruit him where he would want to work.  The Care sector always needs new recruits, but he wants a more traditional male job, not a job that he perceives as woman’s work.   

We ended up agreeing a wage structure for our apprentice with the TUC, which paid quite a bit more than £2.60ph, but in the end the Apprentice we had tried to recruit went somewhere else, and we gave up.  We decided not to hire lower than the NLW ever again.

The introduction of the National Minimum Wage is the biggest change in the UK Labour Market in the last few decades and one of the most transformative Left Wing policies of all time.  The increase in wages for people at the lower end of the Labour Market has transformed people’s lives, and as the NLW becomes more prevalent it will transform a lot more.

This massive impact has been almost completely unseen by a huge chunk of the population, who don’t work at that end of the Labour Market, and don’t recruit from there either. This includes a huge chunk of Labour voters. Even cleaners come via agencies who handle the wage negotiations.   

One of the biggest criticisms of the NMW is that it has distorted the labour market – which rather misses the point. It was meant to distort the Labour Market fundamentally.  Lots of people have benefited from as a result.

There are however an increasing number of people in the Labour Market who can’t sell their Labour at £7.50 an hour.   If I can pay even a small amount more and get a wide choice of potential employees who bring a much wider skill set why would I pay the minimum?  The NMW hasn’t just increased wages, it has increased employers expectations of what employees will do.  There are still people out there recruiting people with very narrow skills, however in the North East the supply of basic manual Labour outstrips supply hugely.

While all of this is going on unemployment apparently continues to fall:



I month or two back I wrote about why I don’t buy the idea that unemployment is as low as the statistics claim.


We have huge numbers of economically inactive, and plenty of others who are classed as full time self employed who aren’t working enough hours to come off benefits.   Just under a quarter of the UK workforce 16-64 are currently economically inactive but not counted as unemployed when the Government releases it’s statistics.

Historically there are plenty of examples of labour markets clearing at a level with a high level of unemployment

There was traditionally a view on the Left that it was in the interests of Capitalists to keep reserve of labour that could be used to depress wages. I was never entirely sure how this was actually happening, who co-ordinated these activities?  Was there a club too which, if you were invited, decided how bad unemployment would be.   I think that maybe there have been times when Governments made decisions that led to high unemployment but I am baffled how the Capitalist conspiracy works

What is true however that labour markets might not clear at a rate which leads to full employment, for lots of reasons, and if wages can’t fall then it is likely that markets won’t find a level that creates full employment no matter what steps the Government takes to stimulate demand.  For lots of manual roles it is increasingly easy for companies to replace workers with technology.  Most newspaper articles about technology substitution have photos of humanoid robots to illustrate them, but in reality it is mundane things like Self Service Checkouts in supermarkets replacing manual roles rather than anything more sophisticated.    Clever Digital technology is transforming big chunks of our leisure time, but it isn’t replacing workers to the same extent.  It is old fashioned technology which is doing that.   

It won’t take too long for people to find clever take downs of the technology substitution argument on the internet.  Mostly these rely on the work of Neo-Classical economist David Ricardo to explain why Capital spending and Wages are different things.   The problem is that real actual businesses don’t think or operate like Neo-Classical economists.  If they did no-one would have invested in Spinning Jennies.  As technology removes low value added, low skilled jobs the jobs that are left are more service oriented and require a more diverse range of skills.

All of this doesn’t mean that the NMW is a bad idea – on the contrary it is a huge success.  But this success has had a cost, and that cost is a group of people displaced from the workforce.   As the NMW/NLW goes up so does the risk of further displacement. 

Historically the answer that people have promoted to tackle problems like the has been to encourage increased Labour market flexibility. 

When right wingers talk about flexible labour markets they tend to mean taking away rights and protections to make it easier to hire them or treat them badly.  The acquisition of rights by workers is felt to be a big disincentive to hiring workers.   I am not sure I have ever experienced a real life situation in which this was true, and i can think of more examples where granting extra rights to employees has benefited organisations I have run.

There is however another approach to Labour Market flexibility – making markets more flexible by increasing labour market participation. The wider the pool of potential candidates the easier it is for employers to find someone who matches their requirements.

In particular the big change in women participation in the workforce, has imho, been more significant in increasing labour market flexibility than cutting workers rights, and I am strongly of the view that positive flexibility – increasing the pool of workers by encouraging people from a widest range of backgrounds into the workforce – is a much better way to make markets flexible than cutting benefits and reducing workers rights.  Immigration has much the same effect.

Higher Minimum Wages and increased Labour Market flexibility is all good news even if the Government’s statistics are dodgy.   

But none of this helps people who are unable to sell their Labour at £7.50 per hour.  All main political parties have embraced the NMW, and often compete as to who can make the most attractive promises on raising the hourly rate.

But much less thinking has been done about dealing with the economic and political consequences of Labour Market displacement.  It has become an invisible topic, with older, often male workers in unfashionable parts of the country becoming marginalised, and suffering all of the consequences of that, including short life expectancy.  The only Labour Market options open to them are Self Employment and the On Demand economy.

But just as the impact of the NMW has passed by the majority of the population so has the marginalisation that goes with it.   Left wing pop stars don’t right songs about it, and Left Wing politicians often can’t see beyond the White Vans and the Cross of St George.

When TV addresses this group at all it is in wholly negative terms.  Frank Gallagher has replaced Yosser Hughes.

Does Austerity really kill? If so how many? How can it if we are all living longer?

We are all living longer.  Life expectancy is increasing year on year.

This has become such a ubiquitous news story over the last few years that no-one ever seems to question the concept of an ever ageing population.  While I am not disputing that there has been an increase in life expectancy I am sceptical about some of the claims made, and I am even more sceptical about the way they are used to justify Health policy decisions.

In an ideal world we would like to believe that politicians sit down with Senior Clinical Advisors and Civil Servants, work carefully to identify how to improve how NHS outcomes and efficiency, and then devise strategies using clear evidence and expert reference groups.

In fact this is a pretty rare occurrence, and this style of technocratic policy making is well out of fashion across the political spectrum.  We are sick of experts.

Mostly policy formulation is a massive noisy clamour of ideas. An almost inseparable mass of journalists, lobbyists, SPADs, hobby horse riders and politicians generate a huge number of policy options.  Whoever gets the Ministers ear and can generate sufficient excitement in the papers gets their idea adopted.

Problems are used to justify pre-determined solutions, rather than solutions created to solve problems.  Data is retro-fitted to solutions.  Andrew Lansley in the British Journal of Nursing defended his plans to outsource care to the private sector as reforms to address an ageing population.

Caring for the ageing population and covering the annual £600m of new drug treatments mean NHS costs are rising at an unaffordable rate and underline why we need to rethink how the system works”

In fact these were solutions heavily promoted by lobbyists looking for a problem to pin themselves too. Having been generous in my praise of Norman Fowler last week I think I am allowed to call Lansley a total muppet.

When we look at the ONS data it doesn’t really support my cynicism. Life expectancy is still rising,  and mortality rates are falling.   Comparing 2003 to 2015 Mortality Rates are 20% lower. 

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Lots of people have explanations why the figures are improving. Personally I think that there are 3 broad reasons:

  1. A cohort effect – my Grans generation grew up before the NHS, by Dad’s generation lived all their lives with comprehensive state funded Healthcare. 
  2. A treatment effect – new drugs and treatments have extended peoples life span, Statins, for example
  3. A life style effect – smoking rates have plummeted, for example

Generally the popular press like to emphasise the treatment effect because they are lazy and they can fill masses of column inches by reprinting press releases from big Pharmaceutical companies.   The Daily Mail is the worst offender for this, but most newspapers are guilty to an extent.

The life style effect is harder to quantify because we have to balance out the positive effects on health (huge reduction in smoking, smaller reduction in alcohol consumption), with the negative – obesity levels are still too high and are wiping out too many of the gains made by other public health improvements.

All of this looks like to directly contradicts one of the other most prevalent claims being made in the media – Austerity Kills.  Austerity stories fall into 2 categories; those which deal with individual cases, and those which deal with the impact of austerity on the whole population.

Having worked for the NHS, Department of Health and DWP I can assure you that stories of individual hardship caused by Government Welfare Reforms are true.  Maybe not all of them, but there are clearly individual cases where lives have been shortened, or made unnecessarily harsh due to poor Government policy decisions.   Decisions about Welfare Reform were taken without any consideration of the impact on individuals or on the NHS as a whole.

It seems shocking that any Government should make a decision that shortens anyone life, however lots of decisions are made every year, often with popular support from the public that increase Mortality and Morbidity

For example – we could increase our Cancer survival rates if we disinvested in expensive end of life last chance drugs and spent the money instead on improved access to Diagnostic Tests.  We have known this for a very long time, however it is politically very difficult to achieve.  Pharmaceutical Companies who sell expensive last chance drugs find it easy to get journalists to put their case across, local MPs don’t want to be seen to be withdrawing care, and boring stuff like faster diagnostic access or awareness campaigns to get people to present earlier are easier to cut. The movement of Public Health services to Local Authorities, where they can be more easily cut, has made things worse.   We can measure the impacts of these poor policy choices by comparing deaths over time, or to other countries. 

It is harder however to start and quantify the impact of Austerity at a whole population level, even though instinctively I believe that there has been a significant negative effect.  If you take a population on a low income and you make them poorer, less securely housed and colder in winter time then you will increase their Healthcare Resource Utilisation rate and their mortality rate.

If our overall health statistics are getting better how do we quantify the excess deaths from Austerity?  Is the overall population effect of Austerity a myth?

Going back to the ONS graph we can see a slight uptick on the right hand side.  Deaths increased between 2014 and 2015 for both sexes.  This is pretty unusual.  Since 1995 this is the first increase for men, and the 4th for women – and each of these previous increases were much smaller.  The overall mortality rate increased from 953 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014, to 993 deaths per 100,000 population in 2015.  Total deaths increased by 5.6%, from 501,424 deaths in 2014 to 529,613 deaths in 2015.  

Partly this could be explained away as a bigger population, with more older people having more deaths in winter time.  The increase was concentrated in the first 3 months of the year, which would suggest that this is a short term effect like a virulent Flu or a harsh winter rather than a longer term Austerity effect.

A recent paper in the BMJ compares the ONS data to an alternative view of mortality from the Faculty of Actuaries.  This is a much less well covered source, but has a massive impact on our lives.  It is the actuarial models which determine how much you have to put into your pension, and it is their data which is used by big Companies to justify closing their final salary pension schemes.

Their model of morality showed that mortality improved by 2.2% pa for women and 2.6% pa for men between 200 and 2011. From 2011 onwards the improvement in mortality stopped for men, and got worse for women. 

Had the continued on their trend they would be 11% lower for men now than they are.

The actuarial data shows that the recent decline is not a short term event, driven by a one off event like a virulent flu strain, or a harsh winter.   This is a medium to long term decline. The co-incidence that these dates map exactly to changes in NHS expenditure and the introduction of Austerity measures is hard to ignore.

This starts to give an indication of the likely scale of the impact of Austerity on life expectancy.   Lives are being shortened, or at least improvements in mortality are stopping, and it is hitting women harder than men.

This isn’t the same scale of Public Health catastrophe that has hit Non-Hispanic White Americans without a College Degree that Deaton and Case identified, and which I wrote about last time.


It does however give us a clear early warning that the improvements in Public Health that we have experienced in our lifetimes are being undone by economic policy decisions in the same way they were in America.

Just like the USA the people who are being affected are being excluded from the debate about policy.   There is plenty of chatter about Social Murder on Social Media, but largely this blots out the voices of the people who living shorter lives rather than making them louder.   If we don’t find a way to represent people in these debates, or give them a voice to challenge preconceptions then maybe an angry orange faced politician will come along who will.

There is of course a silver lining to this rather doomy data.   

The private sector companies who closed their pensions schemes or cut benefits due to an ageing population have received a £28bn improvement in their pension liabilities as a result of declining mortality.   

I am sure that the big companies who are benefiting will use these funds to improve pension schemes, won’t they?











Guns and drugs with David Wojnarowicz, Norman Fowler, Klaus Nomi, and Donald Trump. Part 2.

As a partial follow up to my last blog I wanted to share some data on HIV/AIDs reporting in the USA, just to give a perspective on how hard it is to actually get a grip on the data.

This is from the CDC HIV Infection Report 1989:

“All 50 states and the District of Columbia require health-care providers to report new cases of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) to their state health departments. As of July 1989, 28 (56%) states also required reporting of persons infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (Figure 1). In addition, 10 states (as of May 1989) have proposals on reporting currently before their legislatures, governors, or voting constituencies.

The 28 states that require HIV infection reporting account for 45% of the U.S. population and 24% of U.S. AIDS cases reported as of June 30, 1989. States with HIV infection reporting had a lower median cumulative incidence of AIDS (388 AIDS cases per state or 14 cases per 100,000 population) than states without reporting (1244 AIDS cases per state or 31 cases per 100,000 population). Thirteen (46%) states with HIV infection reporting had greater than 500 cumulative AIDS cases, compared with 14 (64%) states without reporting.

Reporting systems among the 28 states have been developed independently and therefore vary widely in methodology and information collected. In 21 (75%) states, reporting is the responsibility of both the physician caring for the patient and the laboratory that tested the patient’s blood for HIV antibody. In five (18%) states, reporting is the physician’s responsibility alone, and in two (7%) states, it is the laboratory’s responsibility alone. Twenty (71%) states require a positive result on a supplemental test (Western blot or immunofluorescence assay) in addition to a repeatedly reactive enzyme immunoassay (EIA) before a patient is reported; three (11%) states will accept reports on patients repeatedly reactive on EIA; five (18%) states will accept reports on patients reactive on an initial EIA. All states, however, recommend supplemental testing before patient follow-up or initiation of partner notification procedures.

Eighteen (64%) of the 28 states require HIV reporting by patient’s name (Figure 1); however, under certain circumstances, 10 of the 18 states permit anonymous testing and therefore do not receive names on some reports. Most states request basic demographic data, and more than half request HIV risk information. Twelve (43%) collect clinical information, e.g., eight (29%) ask whether the patient was symptomatic, and four (14%) collect sufficient information to allow use of the CDC HIV infection classification system (1). Reported by: State and territorial health departments. AIDS Program, Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC”

In fact it wasn’t until 1999 that large Southern States like Texas and Florida started to produce standard reports on AIDs infections.   The difficulties with this data collection were entirely political – some states were notoriously unsympathetic towards patients with HIV and AIDs and were reluctant to devote resources.    There were still 20 states who weren’t reporting HIV at all, just AIDS.

I knew that there had been lots of delays and inconsistencies in reporting, however I had assumed that from the turn of the century things had got a lot better.

This is from a discussion I had via email about HIV/AIDs data last week:

we don’t have data that goes back that far and I’m not sure you could find it all in one place.  Reporting rules, laws, funding, etc… has changed so much since then and has not been standardized across states for very long in the scheme of things.  Each state and their big cities will have data going back that far but it may not be standardized from year to year or state to state or collected in the same way from year to year or across states.  You could contact each city health department (NYC and SF are separately funded cities so will have their own surveillance programs) and ask how to file a data request for the information.  You could also reach out to the CDC (HIV Surveillance Branch) and see if this is available through them.”

Looks like progress in developing Public Health data is still incredibly slow.

One of the things that we take for granted in the UK is the existence of accurate centralised Public Health data.   This helps inform policy, and allocate resources effectively.  In fact without accurate data it is hard to create meaningful policy interventions and ensure that resources are being spent to best effect.

Worth reflecting on this the next time someone tries to start a debate about whether Government or the free market is the best way to allocate healthcare resources.