Britain’s high speed train project, HS2, is something of an enigma wrapped in a mystery. The projected costs are spiralling, currently at £50bln and counting; the line antagonises voters in every constituency it is planned to run through, and could cost the government seats in the next election; and pretty much every credible transport expert says that if you’re going to spend that much money on rail infrastructure you’re better linking regions together rather than creating a faster funnel into London. And yet the project stays afloat, buoyed up, it seems, by the claims of its supporters. (more…)
Mrs Thatcher’s only been in Hell for 30 minutes, and already she’s closed three of the furnaces and another three are on strike.
It wasn’t on Twitter, or on a political blog, but on the listserv of some football fans – fans, as it happens, of a club in a former mining area in the north of England. As Hugo Young said in his posthumously published piece on her (he died in 2003) in Tuesday’s Guardian, “Thatcher was a naturally, perhaps incurably, divisive figure.”
For my part, I think you need only one chart to understand her influence on Britain, which shows the step-change in inequality during her time in power. I’ve published this here before, when I blogged on the 30th anniversary of her first election victory:
One of the most alarming articles I’ve read this month was by the Cambridge-based economist Ha-Joon Chang. He’s the author of 23 Things You Didn’t Know About Capitalism, and has a sharp eye for how markets and economies work in practice. Anyway, he noted that despite a substantial devaluation of the pound since the financial crisis, both service exports and manufacturing exports had also fallen. This isn’t how devaluation is supposed to work.
I find that I’ve written a lot over the last couple of years about ownership – and by extension, about land and property. Not enough, it turns out, as I read the news this week that the activists who had occupied an education and environment centre in the Forest of Dean, to try to prevent Gloucestershire Council from selling it off, have been evicted. Legally, of course, it is the Council’s to sell. The argument of this post is that it shouldn’t be.
Here’s my starting proposition: (a) public bodies should not be allowed to sell off capital assets.
(b) we need a new class of property – a stewardship category – which enables property to be held in the public good in perpetuity.
I’m still working on a post which tries to explore some of the political science of the recent English riots, but in the meantime I’m struck by the wave of commentary on the riots which positions them as an inter-generational issue. I touched on this in my last post, but only briefly.
And perhaps it’s not surprising that it has taken a little longer to emerge. The older generation, who are generally more blind to this issue (what? us? inter-generational beneficiaries?) include the politicians and media commentators who have more privileged access to the media and were therefore able to construct their preferred narratives more quickly.
The recent transfer of the ownership of Liverpool Football Club from two unsuccessful American millionaires to another group of Americans tells us something about the state of English professional football, but led me to more interesting questions about how and why societies should impose limits on ownership. This goes far beyond football, and the answer seems to be when the value generated by the organisation is primarily social; this value should not be open to private appropriation. It seems increasingly clear that ownership is going to become one of the contested issues of the coming decade. In this post I am going to try to take some case studies to tease this out.
I published a post on the UK election at The Futures Company blog yesterday. Here’s an extract:
“Voting problems in some constituencies seemed symbolic of an electoral system which is no longer fit for purpose. Before the election, research by nef calculated that voters in the most marginal seats have one hundred times more influence on the outcome than those in the safest seats. Prior to the election, one of the striking features was the number of competing campaigns promoting electoral fairness. [Update: These seem to have coalesced into a single campaign, Take Back Parliament, as a result of the election.] Taking a long view, these are each a symptom of the decline of two-party politics since the 1970s. During the campaign, Election 10 published a compelling graph using twenty-five years of Guardian polling data showing the decline in overall support for the two main parties; it fluctuates, certainly, but trends only in one direction.
We know that emerging issues are emerging because they have a social form. Art gives us clues about the changing meanings of the future.
It’s a convention of futures work that new ideas emerge from the “edge” and, potentially, move towards the mainstream; as they make themselves visible, we describe them as emerging issues or weak signals. The journey is long (35-85 years, said Graham Molitor in his pioneering work) and bumpy. Many ideas emerge, but few succeed. But the futures literature is still unclear, as I read it, as to how we know when an issue has started to emerge.
A post to mention a useful review by Will Hutton of a swathe of books on the banking crisis: Philip Augar’s Chasing Alpha; Gillian Tett’s Fool’s Gold; Paul Mason’s Meltdown; and George Soros’ The Crash of 2008 and What It Means. All good writers, all critics of the pre-crash model of finance capital. Between them they unravel the layers of the systemic failure that led to the crash, a combination of greed enabled by increasingly light regulation – with fraud and deception oiling the wheels along the way. Hutton links the collapse to the 1986 ‘Big Bang’ in London and accompanying deregulation in New York: a “story of ideology, greed, and lack of restraint sanctioned by our politicians”.
It’s 30 years since Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and there are still arguments about her legacy (at least in some places: the Conservative Home blog, whose picture I also used, has a post headed, “Margaret Thatcher was the greatest peacetime Prime Minister of modern times but Conservatism can’t fossilise”.)
For me, one chart sums up her legacy. It’s the one which shows a large and lasting change in the levels of inequality in British society, which her successors of either political stripe have done nothing to reverse. The vertical lines show the period of Thatcher’s premiership.