Widdecombe, L’Ouverture, Somerset v Stewart 98 ER 499

Anne Widdecombe announced her arrival in the European Parliament this week with a speech that made a spectacularly ill judged comparison with slavery.

Widdecombe’s views on slavery, the British Empire and the last few hundred years of British history maybe eccentric and unpleasant, but she isn’t the only person with crazy views about Empire.

I learnt about the abolition of slavery at school.

It was a pretty uplifting story, that most people will be familiar with.   William Wilberforce established the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1787, whose campaign led to the 1807 Abolition Act, and the 1833 Anti-Slavery Act.  The campaign was largely led by Quakers, and was helped by Josiah Wedgewood who produced a popular medallion with the legend “Am I not a man and a brother”.

A plucky campaign by the new emerging liberal middle classes brought about a change in the law, establishing a tradition of liberal middle class progressive activism that exists to this day.

I started to ponder this narrative after I read Ibram X Kendi’s masterpeice Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.  If you haven’t read it, then read it. Now.

Reading the book made something stick in my mind, a detail I had noticed before but never really thought about.   Shakespeare’s Othello features a black lead character, a free black lead character.   Although the action takes place in Venice Shakespeare never has to explain to the audience why Othello is free, and of high status, and not a slave.

Which made me think that there were black people in Tudor London, but that they weren’t slaves.

It turns out that that there were black people in Tudor England, and there has been research on the subject, including Miranda Kaufmans great “Black Tudors”

But this didn’t really answer the question.   If black people weren’t slaves in Tudor and Stuart England when did they become slaves?  

We can trace some points on the trail along the way.   The first European slave markets were opened in Lagos in Portugal in 1444, before Columbus or Vasco de Gama.    The first black Africa slaves arrived in Latin America with the Conquistadors in the first decades of the C16th.   Britain had some unsuccessful attempts at establishing colonies in North America, but at the time King James I/VI comes to the throne and Shakespeare premiers Othello a century later Britain doesn’t have a new world Empire to send slaves too. 

James I/VI is a lot more enthusiastic about colonies, and Britain soon gains lands in the Caribbean.  The first slaves to enter British territory are probably bought from Spanish or Portugese slave owners in the first few decades of the C17th and sent to British plantations in the Caribbean.   

The first slaves arrived in Britain’s North American colonies in 1638 with the arrival of Caribbean slaves to Boston, then the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

At that point each colony, as it wrote it’s constitution, was allowed to decide for itself if it want to make slavery legal, and in 1641 the Bay Colony voted to abolish slavery, the first British colony to do so.

For the next few decades the importation of slaves into the North American colonies was slow, until the establishment of Carolina in the 1670s, and the creation of the Royal African Company to increase the supply of slaves.  Even so the largest importers of slaves were still the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America, and the British plantations in the Caribbean. 

In 1712 slaves in New York City revolted, the first of a large number of revolts against slavery that spread across British North America, which lasted through the C18th.

At this point James Somerset enters the story.  Somerset was a slave, purchased by Charles Stewart in the North American colonies.   In 1679 Stewart travelled to England, bringing James Somerset with him.   Somerset lived in the United Kingdom until 1771 when he tried to escape.   As punishment for his attempted escape he was to be sent to the Caribbean, however with the help of some abolitionists he was able to move a writ of habeas corpus.   

The case was heard by Lord Justice Mansfield at the court of Kings Bench February to May 1772 at the end of which Somerset was set free.  The judge found that slavery had never been approved by statute in England and Wales, nor was it supported in common law.

The Somerset judgement effectively made slavery unlawful in the United Kingdom.   The number of slaves in the UK at the time was tiny, but the judgement had a profound effect on the transatlantic slave trade, making it illegal at least for ships travelling through British ports. From that point on the only debate would be how slavery would be abolished and whether compensation would be paid.

The Somerset judgement had a profound effect on the direction of American politics.  Previously the southern colonies of British North America had been loyal to the Crown, and discontent was concentrated in northern cities like Boston.   From the Somerset judgement onwards slave owners in the southern British colonies turned against British rule. 

A similar case was heard in Scotland  – Knight vs Wedderburn – confirmed that the Somerset judgement applied north of the border too.

After the revolution of 1775 and the War of Independence Britain lost many, but not the majority of it’s slave plantations. It also lost it’s main airports, according to Donald Trump, but that might not be historically accurate

A further huge blow to slavery was dealt in 1791 when Toussaint L’Ouverture led the first successful slave revolt, liberating Haiti from French rule and freeing the slaves.

The loss of Haiti broke France as a slave power, and removed one of the most powerful arguments in favour of slavery in the UK – if we gave up slavery the French would take over the trade and gain a strategic advantage.

In 1793 20,000 British troops landed in Haiti to seize the island.   Having defeated the French L’Ouverture inflicted an equal defeat on the British, inflicting huge casualties.   The defeat of both French and British troops by an army of former slaves brought home the realisation that an economy in which a small number of white Brits held large numbers of black Africans as slaves was precarious militarily so far from the British isles.

The formation of the Anti-Slavery movement, while important was largely after the fact.   By the time the 1807 Act was passed slavery was dead in the British Empire (although a form of bonded labour continued in British India).  

The major Caribbean plantation owners had long since sold up and bought land in the newly independent USA long before their business became illegal.

This doesn’t discredit the work of Wilberforce and his campaign completely, nor does it make the political campaigns of white middle class liberals a waste of time.   It is however worth noting that Turner’s great abolitionist painting “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on” was only painted in 1840, after slavery was made illegal, and nearly 50 years after the events it depicts.   Still a great work of art though.  

Current British politics contains 2 false narratives about Empire. The Brexity right’s world view is a jumble of Imperial nostalgia, trade deals with the Commonwealth and the 2 world wars. The middle class left world view is one in which plucky white middle class lefties ended slavery, or brought down apartheid.

Britain desperately needs a history of Empire that is based less around the domestic concerns of white people, but one which tells history through the eyes of James Somerset or Toussaint L’Ouverture.   Without that historical perspective we will be trapped forever between conflicting visions of the past, unable to understand the present.

Could Donald Trump really force us to allow US healthcare companies to take over the NHS? Or is it bullshit?

At school everyone knew someone who told lies. Massive lies. If your dad had a new car their dad had a helicopter. If your dad had new job their dad was James Bond

If you went to Tenerife, they had been to Elevenerife.

If you went to Belmont you didn’t last long with that kind of fibbery, and most people soon grew out of it. Or have it beaten out of them.

But sometimes people grow up in a privileged world where they never have to accept the hard consequences of persistent bullshitting. Boris Johnson. Donald Trump. Trump has elevated this kind of bullshitting into an art form. Possibly the first authentic new art form of the C21st. Trumpshit.

Now that the dust has settled on Trump’s visit to the UK I thought it might be fun to go back and look at his claims that the NHS would be on the table in any future trade deals. Pretty much everyone I know got really angry about this, and plucky memes set sail across the internet powered by the retweets of politicians eager to pose as champions of state healthcare.

Trump increasingly looks like a rather sad figure, flying around the world on State visits to avoid facing up to his failure to achieve very much at home. He’s been on state visits to the UK and Japan back to back.

It’s not unusual for US Presidents to visit the UK, although these visits are mostly working visits to attend meetings of the G7, the G20 or NATO. State visits are rarer and most US Presidents only have 1 in the course of an 8 year term of Office. Some will remember George W Bush going to the pub in Sedgefield with Tony Blair. How Dubya didn’t spot we were taking the piss out of him I’ll never know. There were no state visits at all in the 1960s and 70s. Even Jimmy Carter’s trip to Durham for the Bi-Centenary was tagged onto a working visit.

Trump has been here twice in the last 12 months which looks rather like someone with time on their hands.

While we were members of the EU we were bound by EU procurement rules. EU procurement rules are a massive pain, and have lots of bureaucracy attached to it, but they does allow Governments to protect services like the NHS from commercial competition. The current rules that allow competition by private companies is a result of Government Policy, not EU regulation. As long as we are in the Single Market these rules apply.

But the model of Brexit currently being pushed by most Tory leadrship contenders has us leaving the Single Market in order to do global trade deals.

This means that we will be operating under World Trade Organisation rules not EU. This is where there is some truth in Trumps tweet. The WTO has it’s own rules on opening Government contracts to private sector competition which are much harsher than the EU ones.

If we go WTO we open up the NHS to competition by private sector companies from around the world under the Plurilateral agreement. If we decide not to do this then our companies are excluded from state funded contracts globally. Which makes our global trade deals worth an awful lot less. That’s the nature of free trade deals outside of trading blocs like the EU.

While everyone was getting angry with Trump about the NHS another big healthcare story passed most people by, and didn’t generate any memes on social media.

Circle Healthcare has lost the Nottingham Independent Sector Treatment Centre (ISTC) contract.


I realise that this might not immediately leap out as something of massive importance but it brings to an end an era of NHS outsourcing dating back to the start of the century.

I’ve talked a bit about ISTCs before here, as part of a history of NHS Privatisation


The original ISTCs were introduced by the Blair Government who had inherited big waiting lists and long waiting times from the outgoing Conservative Government. They had big plans to build new hospitals and expand capacity, but needed a quick short term fix to treat the backlog of patients.

The ISTCs were supposed to encourage private healthcare companies, often from abroad, to come to the UK to areas with long waiting lists to provide additional capacity.  This was the first big attempt by the NHS to bring in big healthcare companies from the US and around the world to deliver patient services.

Wave 1 was 25 fixed sites, and 2 mobile units, and wave 2 was another 24.   It was soon apparent that there wasn’t anything like enough interest from the private sector globally to make this work, and the programme was opened up to NHS organisations to run and operate them.  By 2006 nearly all ISTCs were run by the NHS due to lack of private sector interest. 

The last remaining big private sector ISTC contract was the Nottingham one, which was held by Circle Healthcare. They had run the contract for 11 years, and was their last remaining big healthcare deal.

Circle had made the headlines a few years ago when they took over running Hinchinbrooke Hospital – the first private company to run an entire NHS Hospital – only to hand the contract back 3 years later because they couldn’t provide NHS standard healthcare and make a profit.

The events with Circle and the ISTC follows a predictable pattern for private healthcare companies:

  1. lobby Department of Health promising that they can deliver loads of great stuff for NHS patients if they get the right contract
  2. fail to provide anything like the capacity they promise
  3. do good work with routine elective work, but flounder with anything more volatile
  4. get angry with lawyers if they don’t get their own way

The decision to bring it in house is consistent with the stealth nationalisation of the NHS which is going on. While Labour angrily campaign against stealth privatisation the whole edifice of the internal market is being eroded.

This might of course change with a new PM and a crash out No Deal Brexit. But it won’t change the reality of UK healthcare – private sector companies don’t have the capacity or the appetite for whole scale private deliver of NHS services.

I am still pretty supportive of the concept of private healthcare companies providing services to the NHS, as long as they use their own capital and take their own risks. I don’t mind Government Departments outsourcing routine admin tasks either.

But private sector companies across the board have over promised, taken on contracts that were too risky and too ambitious and failed to deliver. In doing so they have damaged their own industries, with the enthusiastic help of daft politicians like Lansley and Grayling.

Rising inequality, Income, Life Expectancy and Angus Deaton.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies has commissioned Sir Angus Deaton to lead a review of growing inequality in the UK https://www.ifs.org.uk/inequality/

The press have got very excited about this, and rightly so – what could be more exciting than a 2 year study mixing economics with epidemiology?

Just think of the graphs!



For those who don’t remember Sir Angus Deaton he isn’t the former presenter of HIGNFY, but the Nobel Prize winning economist who often works with his wife Prof Ann Case. Their work spans the fields of Economics and Epimedieology.

I’ve written about his work on life expectancy in the USA before:



The scope of the IFS Review is very broad:

“To give a sense of the breadth and ambition of the project, the themes to be covered here will include: which inequalities matter and why they matter; people’s attitudes towards inequality; their experiences of inequality; the political economy of inequality; the history of inequality; trends in economic inequalities; intergenerational inequalities; health inequalities; geographical inequalities; gender; race and ethnicity; immigration; early child development; education systems; families; social mobility; trade and globalisation; productivity, growth and innovation; labour markets; tax policy; and welfare policy” https://www.ifs.org.uk/inequality/about-the-review/our-approach/

This seems like a good moment to revisit 2 ideas that the review will look at – the geography of inequality and differences in life expectancy.

There is a new iteration of the Regional GDP/GVA dataset which shows how wealth is changing across different parts of the UK

These are the latest numbers for 2017 and growth is slow across most of the UK, with the exception of London. Even the South East show less than 2% growth.

This is just follows a longer term trend since the credit crunch:

London and the South East were growing faster than the rest of the UK before the credit crunch, and London has definitely grown faster since, but it is the dreadful rates of growth in places like the North East and Yorkshire and Humber that stand out. In these places the economy is stagnating significantly.

We can look at some other factors – growth since the EU referendum:

This is just a straight forward comparison of the 2 years before the referendum with the 2 years afterwards. London is actually growing faster than it was thanks to all of that QE. The economic slow down since the referendum is hitting the places that were hit hardest after the credit crunch and making regional differences worse.

GVA as a concept is similar to GDP, however it excludes the redistributive effects of tax and benefits. It show the impact of production and wealth creation, which is very similar to GDP but not exactly the same. These are chained value series which adjust for inflation.

To get an idea of how much these 2 numbers differ we can compare these 2 graphs from the IFS report:

This is a graph showing the top 1% of richest people in the UK’s share of national income:

It looks like the rich are getting richer regardless of how the economy grows. This picture, however, changes hugely when you factor in the impact of tax and benefits on incomes:

This shows an incredibly egalitarian picture (although I think the IFS have excluded the outliers of rich and poor to create this graph). Government policies such as Tax Credits have had a very significant redistributive impact.

Truly this is a triumph for socialism.

This starts to explain why the Cameron government found it so hard to cut spending. As they reduced overall Government spending the economy slowed down, particularly in places like the North East. As the economy slowed spending on benefits went up, wiping out most if not all of the cuts in Government spending. Cameron and Osborne tried to cut benefits payments, but only really succeeded in increasing poverty while still missing their fiscal targets.


We can start and look at the areas in the UK with the lowest GVA/GDP per capita:

And the highest

The slowest growing:

And the fastest growing:

The big differences leap out between urban and rural, fast growing and slow growing, old industry and new industry.

We can compare this data with life expectancy. In this case I have used life expectancy aged 65. These are the places with the shortest life expectancy for woman:

A much more familiar list of mostly urban areas

And the same data for men:

You might have spotted the far right hand column which shows the change between 14-16 and 15-17. Some parts of the UK are starting to experience a fall in life expectancy:

At Ag65  

Name Sex 2014-2016 2015-2017 Change
Orkney Islands Female 21.1 20.1 -1.0
Hart Female 23.0 22.5 -0.6
Lincoln Females 20.2 19.7 -0.5
Boston Females 20.6 20.1 -0.5
Ryedale Females 22.6 22.1 -0.5
North East Derbyshire Females 20.8 20.3 -0.5
Lewes Females 23.1 22.7 -0.4
Hinckley and Bosworth Females 22.1 21.6 -0.4
Brighton and Hove Females 21.3 20.9 -0.4
Southend-on-Sea Females 21.0 20.6 -0.4
Telford and Wrekin Females 20.3 19.9 -0.4
Clackmannanshire Females 19.3 19.0 -0.4
North Kesteven Females 21.8 21.4 -0.4
Plymouth Females 20.8 20.4 -0.4
Norwich Females 21.9 21.5 -0.4
Corby Females 19.9 19.5 -0.4
Pendle Females 20.2 19.8 -0.4
Stoke-on-Trent Females 19.8 19.5 -0.4
Christchurch Females 22.9 22.5 -0.4
King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Females 21.9 21.6 -0.4
Crawley Females 22.0 21.6 -0.3
Wycombe Females 21.6 21.2 -0.3
Runnymede Females 21.8 21.5 -0.3
Wellingborough Females 20.8 20.5 -0.3
Shropshire Females 21.6 21.2 -0.3
Worcester Females 21.8 21.5 -0.3
Mansfield Females 19.9 19.6 -0.3
Hounslow Females 21.9 21.5 -0.3
Isle of Wight Females 21.7 21.4 -0.3
Camden Females 24.4 24.1 -0.3
Rushmoor Females 20.8 20.5 -0.3
Dover Females 20.9 20.6 -0.3
South Northamptonshire Females 22.3 22.0 -0.3
Swindon Females 21.0 20.8 -0.3
Tendring Females 20.9 20.6 -0.3
Chichester Females 22.3 22.1 -0.3
Chesterfield Females 20.4 20.1 -0.3
Conwy Females 21.7 21.4 -0.3
East Lothian Females 20.7 20.4 -0.3
Hambleton Females 22.7 22.4 -0.3
Gedling Females 21.0 20.7 -0.3
Mid Suffolk Females 22.5 22.2 -0.3
Reading Females 21.2 20.9 -0.3
Islington Females 21.3 21.0 -0.3
Dundee City Females 19.3 19.0 -0.3
Chelmsford Females 21.9 21.6 -0.3
Bury Females 19.9 19.7 -0.3
Scarborough Females 21.2 21.0 -0.3
Eden Females 22.9 22.7 -0.3
East Renfrewshire Females 21.4 21.1 -0.3
Southampton Females 20.8 20.6 -0.3
Purbeck Females 22.7 22.5 -0.3

Sorry the table formatting is a bit wonky, there were so many places I wanted to highlight with falling female life expectancy that it was hard to cram them all in

This is the same data for men:

We might as well see the areas with the fastest growing life expectancy:

And men:

What this shows us is that the intersection of wealth and life expectancy is complex. It is easy to spot areas with low GVA which are low because of a lot of retired people. It is also easier to spot areas which have a fast increasing male life expectancy because they are former industrial areas which start from a very poor baseline.

But the list of areas with significantly declining life expectancy includes some very affluent areas like St Albans, which would suggest that this isn’t just about poverty, but about life style too.

A cycnic would ask the obvious question? Do we really care about inequality?

I would rather live in a society where no-one is poor and no-one is hungry but someone has a gold hat, and a society where no-one has a gold hat, but some people are poor and hungry.

I was brought up with the view that socialist politics that are rooted in working class communities concern themselves with tackling poverty, while socialist politics rooted in middle class neurosis concerns itself with tackling inequality

But in this case we can look to the USA and see that the combination of economic decline and declining life expectancy in non-college graduate, non-hispanic white populations has reached shocking levels.

We can see in the data above that we are starting to develop the same patterns of inequality of income and life expectancy that the USA is, although in the UK the picture is more complex.

Maybe we should get ready for the rise of a UK Trump articulating the grievances of non-college graduate white UK voters?






Dismantling the NHS Internal Market by stealth. Ninjas strike again

Croydon Health Services NHS is about to advertise for a new Chief Executive.

This isn’t unusual. It’s been a troubled Trust on and off for a while, formed from the merger of Mayday Healthcare NHS Trust with Croydon Community Health Services. It operates University Hospital Croydon along with lots of Community Services, and a Community Hospital.

The Trust has the second worst accident and emergency performance in London, it sees just 60 per cent of type-one patients within four hours, compared to the 95 per cent target. Both the Trust and the Clinical Commissioning Group have been in special measures over the last few years due to endemic financial problems.

What is unusual is that it is a joint appointment with the Clinical Commissioning Group. Which means that the CEO will have responsibility for the purchaser and provider bit of local health services. The 2 organisations already share a Chief Nurse and a Chief Pharmacist.

This is a quietly radical proposal which undermines the fundamental principles of the NHS internal market – the purchaser/provider split.

It also pretty clearly illustrates one of the attractions of getting rid of the internal market – you need a lot fewer senior managers.

I can’t help but note that if you took University Hospital Croydon out of the equation the rest of the role is:

Commissioner CEO + Community Hospitals + Community Services + Minor Injuries + Intermediate Care = my old job.

How much of this is Matt Hancock (Secretary of State for Health and Parkour Champion), and how much is Simon Stephens (NHS England CEO) is unsure – my guess is it Stephen not Matt.

Next time someone tells you that the NHS is being privatised by stealth, feel free to tell them they are wrong. There is a quiet and stealthy dismantling of the mechanisms of the internal market taking place, unpicking one of the final parts of Thatcher’s legacy. This is a dry run for the full scale repeal of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

And this is the Secretary of State for Health demonstrating Parkour:

Public sector outsourcing dies a slow death, the nationalisation zombie rises from the dead.

The public sector outsourcing market died another death this week with the news that the UK’s Probation Services (or Offender Management as they are now called by wacky bureaucrats) will all come back in house:


This isn’t entirely news as the problems with Criminal Justice outsourcing have been know about for several years:



On this occassion I make no apologies for quoting exclsively from the Guardian. It isn’t the great paper it once was, but it is still the best UK news source for public policy, particularly social policy. I’ve also covered the crisis in the UK public sector outsourcing industry for several years:




If you don’t want to read all of those links I can summarise for you:

Outsourcing Criminal Justice is an inherently stupid idea.

Outsourcing works well when you an transfer risk to the contractor in return for which they make profit, and where you can specify the outcomes you want without creating perverse incentives. You simply can’t do this with criminal justice in the way you can with processing applications, or dealing with telephone queries.

The Tories right now are doing a much better job of dismantling the UK outsourcing market than the Labour Party are, despite the launch this week of another set of jumbled proposals for the re-nationalisation of utilities.


I am pretty happy with the transfer of the utilities back into public ownership, along with big chunks of the Railways, with the proviso that I don’t like “all-in” or “all-out” models, I like a mixed economy with public and private competing, but with HMG maintain a market making stake.

I realise that I am conflating outsourcing with privatisation, but in this case the decisions to outsource/privatise vs in-house/nationalise are based on competing ideological views not on a well thought out set of ideas about the best way to deliver public services.

There are some really big things that Labour need to avoid when designing re-nationalisation proposals:

  1. Don’t use “leveraged buyout” style deals that load debt onto the newly re-nationalised industry. This will prevent them from future borrowing to fund capital investment (the lack of capital investment was always the problem historically with nationalised industries)
  2. Don’t try to hide the cost of these re-nationalisations using off balance sheet transactions. The public need to know clearly the cost of the re-nationalisations so they can judge if they are value for money
  3. Don’t recompense the former owners with Bonds that pay out an income. This is basically all of the problems of PFI without actually creating new assets

Labour’s original proposals had all of these problems:

A hopeless jumble.

It looks like the lateset set of proposals are a step forward, in that they are on balance sheet transactions, but still involve PFI style bonds, and still load debt onto the nationalised industry which will limit future investment.

The scale of the debt loaded onto the books of the newly nationalised will be reduced because Labour plan to pay less than the market value of the shares in the utilities to reflect investment, pensions deficits and historic profits. There is a precedent for that. In 2002 Railtrack got into financial difficulties and the Blair Government nationalised it, paying shareholders £2.50 a share – much less than the £9.50 that they claimed it was worth.

Railtrack haircut

The shareholders took the Government to court and the case dragged on for 4 years before the Government won.

The Utility companies are in much better shape than Railtrack was (it was insolvent and had £7bn in debts when the Government stepped in), and the fight from the Utilities is likely to be much stronger and a lot longer

Just as the Tories are killing off public sector outsourcing by putting ideological dogma above good policy making Labour are setting up re-nationalisation to fail by down exactly the same thing.

So far the Tories are making a great case for Nationalisation while Labour are making a great case for Privatisation. It’s almost as if they are both utterly and totally incompetent.

The economics of doing the right thing

One of the greatest ever papers published in a history journal was written by Jan Vansina for the Journal of African History

Vansina makes the very simple argument that the abolition of slavery increased labour costs. These increased labour costs in turn made it more attractive to invest in mechanisation and industrialisation. And the increased investment in mechanisation and industrialisation created faster economic growth.

The countries who abolished slavery earliest, including the UK, had the fastest economic growth over the C19th. The countries who abolished slavery last, such as Portugal (and those whose economies were the most reliant on slavery), had the slowest economic growth.

I always thought Vansina’s argument was a bit limited – slavery wasn’t really a feature of the economy of the British Isles, it was mainly confined to the Colonies in the Americas, while the investment in mechanisation and industrialisation was in the domestic economy not in the colonies.

But despite these limitations I still love Vansina’s thesis – it is elegant and illuminating

And Vansina’s argument does work. It even works if you apply it more broadly across the Americas: The Northern States which didn’t have slavery were more industrialised and had faster growing economies than the Southern States (this is one of the reasons why they won the Civil War). The USA was less reliant on slavery and faster industrialisation and growth than the South American states who had a greater reliance on slavery and plantation agriculture in general.

The reason why I went back to Vansina is because of a fantastic row which is taking place in the Economic History Review about the extent to which high wages in C17th and C18th England drove increased mechanisation and industrialisation. The debate is largely around whether Britain had higher wage costs than competitors like France. This is the hottest debate I can ever recall in an academic field that is dominated by graphs and tables.

Instinctually I believe the high wage argument. In the centuries before industrialisation the rich and powerful had consolidated land ownership, building the familiar pattern of stately homes and large estates. This left a surplus rural population who were driven off the land, by force if necessary. In Scotland we call this Highland Clearances, in Ireland the Plantation System, and in England the Enclosure of the Common Land. These surplus populations were transported, willingly or unwillingly: The English as criminals to Australia, the Irish as bonded labourers to America, the Scots to Canada.

The combination of an artificially restricted Labour Market and the suppression of the Slave Trade following the Somerset Judgement pushed up wages, in particular for skilled workers in the emerging urban areas. (I’m going to do a short follow up piece on Somerset v Stewart 98 ER 499)

My family were some of the people who benefited from this. They were weavers and textiles workers in Prestwich, then a village on the outskirts of Manchester, and they became more prosperous, some ending up as landlords and mill owners.

I think that there is a bit more behind the industrialisation of the UK, in particular the availability of capital. British capitalists had access to more capital than their competitors because they systematically took the capital of other countries to invest at home, in particular India. We weren’t the only country to expropriate other countries wealth, but we used that wealth to industrialise the nation rather than make gold statues for the Pope.

But above all it was the mix of the 2: high labour costs and easy availability of capital which encouraged mass industrialisation, which came to define the UK in the C18th and C19th.

Why is this important?

Very quietly the Government has been meeting with the TUC on a plan to increase the National Minimum Wage to £9.61, the highest in the world, and a massive step towards tackling in-work poverty. They are in competition with the Labour Party whose last manifesto included an commitment to a £10 an hour NMW. This is over and above the Government’s commitment to a National Living Wage.

For those interested in policy detail the NLW is defined a 60% of median earnings, and the NWW rates both the Government and Opposition are suggesting would represent over 66% of median earnings, which would push the NMW just above the OECD definition of low pay.

The National Minimum Wage has been such a huge success, so much so that both political parties are fighting for their own version of a National Living Wage that would end low pay. I would rate the NMW as one of the greatest achievements of post war Socialism, and one of the most successful Government policies of my life time.

Despite this The Office of Budget Responsibility have estimated that even the Conservative Parties less ambitious target would cost 140,000 jobs.

This isn’t the first time that the OBR have forecast lob losses like this. The introduction of the more limited definition of the National Living Wage in 2015 was forecast to cost more the 40,000 jobs, and yet it is really hard to spot these job losses anywhere in the economy.

Measuring the rate of job losses due to increases in the NMW/NLW is tough for 2 reasons. Firstly because the unemployment statistics are pretty badly cooked these days, to disguise high levels of underemployment and poverty in the working population. Increasing the NMW to £10 an hour isn’t going to end in work poverty for people aren’t working enough hours to make a difference .

But secondly because employers have been shifting insecure low wages jobs to self-employed in order to avoid the NMW. Uber and Deliveroo have both recently lost court cases forcing them to recognise the employment rights of their workers, but bogus self employment is an increasing feature of the UK economy, albeit one slightly declining at the moment.

Despite my scepticism it is clear that something good is happening in the UK Labour Market, and employment is at high levels despite the Government fiddling the numbers. Treating workers well, giving them better pay and conditions encourages more people into the Labour force, which in turn gives more choice to employers. Businesses with a ready pool of motivated workers find it easier to expand and grow, and the economy grows with them.

Wage increases are still low, which has perturbed economists, and is linked to low levels of capital investment. If increased levels of wages lead to high levels of capital investment and higher economic growth then logically an economy like the UK with low wage growth should have low levels of capital investment and low growth. This would explain why low interest rates haven’t led to higher levels of investment or growth.

But there is one final factor in wage growth that struck me when looking at the proposed rises in the NMW/NWL. As the NMW gets higher it draws more and more workers in. And the workers who have a differential above the NMW are effected too.

A £9.60 NMW means that a quarter of the UK workforce will have their wages set by the Government. When you add to that more highly paid employees whose wages are set by the Government in the public sector we have reached a situation where HMG sets the wage rates for more than half of Britain’s workers, even allowing that some Public Sector workers will be on the NMW.

A generation ago this would have seemed like a crazy socialist scheme, and yet we have a supposedly right wing Tory Government endorsing a plan to have the Government set wages for most British workers. The National Minimum Wage really was one of the most transformative ideas in modern British politics.

We have a highly regulated labour market with the Government set the wages and conditions for the majority of workers and close to full employment. Truly this is a Socialist Utopia!

If the Government really wants to tackle low pay it doesn’t have to look very far for solutions. It can simply mandate changes to pay.

As a final comment we have been conditioned to believe that the right thing ethically and the right thing economically are always in conflict, and that Government attempts to deliver a fairer society always have negative economic consequences.

The OBR can be forgiven for making the assumption that fairer wages lead to job losses because the are obliged to use an macro-economic model given to them by George Osborne, someone who has only been out of power for a few years, and yet whose ideas already seem paloe-economic.

But when it comes to Labour markets treating people better, paying them more and giving them more rights in the workplace is a good way to create a more flexible workforce, which is good for businesses. Higher wages leads to a faster growing economy.

Maybe it’s time to think differently about how we make the arguments for progressive politicies?





I can’t get no satisfaction (ratings). Does public satisfaction with the NHS relate to how much the Government spends on it?

First of all an apology. There is a lot on at work, and a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes, and this has got in the way of blogging.

The data from the last set Social Attitudes Survey is out, and people aren’t happy with the NHS.

This might not come as a surprise to people because it is pretty well known that the last 8 years have been lean years for the NHS in terms of funding increases. In fact this has been the longest period of funding restraint in the Service’s history, so no surprise people aren’t happy

Lets have a look at a graph shall we?

There is a really stark difference between the 2 halves of the graph. The left hand side reflects the Conservative administrations of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the right hand side of the graph the New Labour years, then the Coalition, and, finally, the Cameron and May Conservative years. People are much happier on the right hand side of the graph.

The really good scores are from the era was when I was a senior NHS manager. Definitely not a co-incidence

There are three things that really jump out at me.

Firstly that while the Labour Party started spending serious amounts of money on the NHS from 2000 onwards (the publication of The New NHS: Modern and Dependable), the improvement in patient satisfaction is a few years later. Patient satisfaction is clearly a lagging indicator.

If you want to test that against against funding this is a neat graph from the Institute of Fiscal Studies which shows a similar pattern, although it covers a longer time period

Secondly satisfaction doesn’t correlate with the number of Doctors. Patients love Doctors, in fact they love all clinical staff, and I did wonder if there was a correlation between Doctors per head of Population and patient satisfaction (apologies to Nurses and AHPs for using Doctors/Population as a proxy for Clinical Staff)

I’m a bit confounded by that graph which came from the BMJ, which shows that increasing Doctors numbers doesn’t seem to have any relationship with patient satisfaction.

Finally the numbers for the Coalition and the Conservatives are much better than I expected. Given the awful levels of funding increases we saw under Cameron and May I would have expected . People were happier with the NHS when Cameron and Osborne were putting in less than 2% per a year, than they were when Thatcher was putting in 2.5%.

There are 2 possible explanations for this.

One is that the big cash increases that came during the New Labour years uplifted the baseline level of satisfaction and it will take a long time for this to decline. The other is that the NHS has done something, probably during the Blair years, that made it more customer friendly. This seems unlikely, but I do think that the spending increases in the Blair years renewed Britains love affair with the NHS

Lots of my Clinical friends will of course want to ask the obvious question?

“Why does this matter”

And in one sense it doesn’t matter. No patients got better because of a good survey result, no lives got saved.

This is of course true, but it’s worth dodging back in time to the Blair Government’s decision to put a huge amount of extra cash into the NHS.

At the time the Government was worried that support for public services was in decline. People were getting a poor service from the NHS, from schools, from public services in general, and once Labour had been in power a couple of years it wasn’t tenable to keep blaming the Tories.

Labour were scared that public support for universal public services like the NHS was in such steep decline that it would threaten their existence. The great threat to the existence of the NHS isn’t privatisation (as many on social media claim) it is lack of public support.

Labour wanted universal public services, but also wanted to maintain public support for more money

The solution was more cash + more choice + higher levels of satisfaction.

This was the classic Blairite triangulation and it was applied across public services. Taxpayers were asked to put record amounts of cash into public services like the NHS, in return for which they were offered greater choice about how they accessed those services, including the opportunity to access private Hospitals paid for by the NHS. The end result was meant to be better results – better mortality and morbidity but also better satisfaction ratings.

The same troika applied to other public services like Education too.

That’s why this matters. Because looking at the right hand side of the graph May is pushing some decent sized increases of cash through the service over the next few years, not quite Blair levels, but well above the Thatcher/Major/Cameron settlements. A lot more than Corbyn offered too.

Getting this extra cash took years of fighting with Treasury, not just by Hunt, but by Simon Stevens and lots of other senior NHS managers.

I don’t know what promises were made to Treasury in order to get hold of the cash, but they are likely to be pretty strict.

At the same time performance targets have been suspended for A&E performance because overall performance has declined sharply. The 4hr wait target hasn’t been hit for a few years now.

More money + declining satisfaction + worse performance is a tough mix for the Service to handle. I am not sure that Matt Hancock is the kind of Consigliere that May needs to finesse this kind of funding and performance squeeze.

The NHS should have had an idea of what it had to achieve for the new money when the NHS Long Term plan was launched earlier this year, however the plan requires legislation, and more detail, and these are now logjammed by Brexit.

The Long Term Plan website is still describing the Plan as proposals, and there has been a subsequent Implementation document, which sets out further work that is needed. This is classed as an engagement document, which I think means that it is for consultation, but that DH reserve the right to ignore the results of the consultation if they don’t like it. This jumble is a big difference from the Publication of the NHS Plan in 2000

The whole thing looks like a political storm brewing for the Service, with more money, a lack of clear direction, worsening satisfaction, declining performance and an angry Treasury.

Hopefully back to more regular blogging soon!