Sunday, 11 October 2015

First It Was The Cricket Test, then British Values and Now It Is Baking

I have lived in this country for 34 years and I am completely exhausted from jumping through hoops and shooting imaginary balls into moving goalposts to prove that I am a worthy ethnic minority. Sometimes it is no fun being an ethnic being. In fact, it takes a terrible toll on us. Witness me writing this blog on a Sunday evening while I leave my curry to burn on the stove.

The rules of engagement in a majority white country requires people like me (ethnic people, in other words) to constantly evaluate ourselves, our likes and dislikes, our loyalties to such an extent that we feel like we are filling in a Japanese HR form. Everyone knows that Japanese corporations extract their pound of flesh by requiring workers to do exercises in the morning at their desks and to sing songs that pledge undying loyalty to the company.
Image result for pictures of multiculturalismPaying one's taxes isn't enough. I have never even claimed benefits eventhough I am a proponent of the welfare system because I was born and brought up in Asia where I saw people live in shanty huts who could have done with a leg up in life if a welfare safety net had existed. On top of all this I am remarkably tolerant of the white majority who appropriate our culture by turning our normal staples of rice and curry ( I only speak for Asians here) into a treat such as a 'Friday night curry take away' or the wearing of a Sari to an Indian friend's wedding because "Saris are so exotic".

Years ago Norman Tebbit, a former Minister in Thatcher's cabinet, proposed the cricket test. This went something along the lines of if you were an Asian watching a cricket match between England and an Asian country whom would you be cheering on? This test proved to be a non-starter when Asians started playing for England and Asian spectators cheered these players on. It left everyone feeling so confused that I am not surprised that Asians didn't give up cricket and play some other game like Badminton.

Then we had the 'British Values' test whereby Asian immigrants had to somehow prove that their values co-existed with the British ones. This hit a solid wall when debate after debate took place about what 'British Values' really are. Answers ranged from people scratching their heads and declaring "Dunno" to high intellectual debate about the meaning of citizenship and the rights of it. Ofsted stepped in in November 2014 and declared that schools had to promote British values. I asked my daughter who takes PSHE very seriously whether she had learnt about British values and her answer was "I have no idea". Seeing that we pay a lot of money for her to attend private school her articulation of the negative brought some relief than a "Dunno" would have.

See where I am heading here? No? and you expect me to know the rules of the game.

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Lastly, we now have the baking test. I have not watched a single episode of the Great British Bake Off. I only know about the presenters because they are featured in the press so much. My only worthy knowledge of the programme is the fact that Paul Hollywood had an affair. I read it in The Guardian, my daily newspaper. However, as soon as I heard that a Muslim head scarf wearing woman called Nadiya Hussain had won my prediction was that it would be turned into a race centred pivotal point for multiculturalism. Voila! it has. You see Barack Obama's middle name is Hussein and he has been harangued endlessly for being a Muslim even though he is not.

Rather predictably the Daily Mail waded in pronto and has accused the BBC of social engineering. To be fair, white contestants of the programme have been pilloried for not adhering to some British stereotype who bakes lovely cakes.

I will never cut it, personally speaking, and I am not talking about slicing beautiful cakes up either. I don't know how to bake. My daughter has always gone into school on cake days with one bought from a high-street supermarket. I don't understand cricket and don't watch any of it. As for British values, I stand some chance here because I read Law and Ofsted defines 'British Values' as 'democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith' but I thought these were universal moral codes.

I give up. 

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Paul Krugman on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn

A great piece from the nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman on Jeremy Corbyn and the fortunes of the Labour party. 

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses of what it means.

But I won’t try to get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing about the leadership contest was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.

Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not, in fact, commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?

In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve fiscal policy, specifically claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a deficit and debt crisis that caused the broader economic crisis. The fiscal crisis, in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.

These claims have, one must admit, been picked up and echoed by almost all British news media. It’s not just that the media have failed to subject Conservative claims to hard scrutiny, they have reported them as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch — because every piece of this conventional narrative is completely false.

Was the last Labour government fiscally irresponsible? Britain had a modest budget deficit on the eve of the economic crisis of 2008, but as a share of G.D.P. it wasn’t very high – about the same, as it turns out, as the U.S. budget deficit at the same time. British government debt was lower, as a share of G.D.P., than it had been when Labour took office a decade earlier, and was lower than in any other major advanced economy except Canada.

It’s now sometimes claimed that the true fiscal position was much worse than the deficit numbers indicated, because the British economy was inflated by an unsustainable bubble that boosted revenues. But nobody claimed that at the time. On the contrary, independent assessments, for example by the International Monetary Fund, suggested that it might be a good idea to trim the deficit a bit, but saw no sign of a government living wildly beyond its means.

It’s true that British deficits soared after 2008, but that was a result of the crisis, not a cause. Debt is also up, but it’s still well below levels that have prevailed for much of Britain’s modern history. And there has never been any hint that investors, as opposed to politicians, were worried about Britain’s solvency: interest rates on British debt have stayed very low. This means both that the supposed fiscal crisis never created any actual economic problem, and that there was never any need for a sharp turn to austerity.

In short, the whole narrative about Labour’s culpability for the economic crisis and the urgency of austerity is nonsense. But it is nonsense that was consistently reported by British media as fact. And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.

This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless. Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. Part of the answer is that the U.S. news media haven’t been as committed to fiscal fantasies, although that just pushes the question back a step.

Beyond that, however, Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Yahoo boss and her 'limited maternity' leave

How long was your maternity leave? A year, six months? Well, well, you are obviously never going to be CEO material, much less one fronting a global brand name. Maternity leave, especially anything for longer than two weeks, would probably be considered a 'girl's blouse' in the machofication  world of pregnancy as evidenced by Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo. She has announced that she will be taking 'limited maternity' leave after she has given birth to her twins who are due in December.

While Mayer hasn't defined 'limited maternity' the yardstick to go by is the two weeks that she took off after having her first child in 2012. The pop-them-out and life as normal brigade must be cheering at having a high profile cheerleader. For me, her announcement represents the tedium of yet another high-profile female boss vowing to take 'limited maternity' leave because life must go on as usual in much in the same way that the business world worships at the altar of BAU (business as usual). In fact, Mayer uses words like 'hard work' and 'thoughtful prioritization' to describe how she will balance life post-birth. Reading her statement reminded me of the HBR (Harvard Business Review) management books that offer similar advice advice for the workplace but applying these to babies?

What annoys me is the reductive messages being sent out about maternal health care. Maternity leave exists for a reason and this is to do with the mother's own health and the care of the baby. Blimey! After two weeks of having my daughter I was still not in a fit state to be able to distinguish between night and day, let alone juggle the work of the deregulation of the telecommunications industry (my job at that time) AND the every 8 seconds demands of a newborn. I don't think I was being a wally either.

Mayer's decision backs up my theory that women in boardrooms/high positions hardly ever break new ground for the rest of ordinary women folk. In fact, by Mayer's own admission, she does not consider herself to be a feminist. Contrast this with Hilary Clinton, who calls herself a feminist, who would leave the office at 5pm to send a signal to her staff that a work/life balance was crucial to their wellbeing. Who would you rather be working for? 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Great Statement on Welfare

On the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima why does a threat of nuclear conflict still exist?

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Events in history which involve mass killings and destruction always elicit calls along the lines of 'never again' when these events are recalled on anniversary days. Today is the 70th anniversary of when America dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima which destroyed five square miles of the city and killed between 90,000 to 166,000 people. Peace movements have been vocal in their condemnation of nuclear capability and have called for disarmament. There is more than enough evidence of Hiroshima to show leaders and policy makers and the global population the destruction that nuclear weapons can cause so why then is the world still facing a growing threat of nuclear conflict?

Russia spends more than a third of its defence budget on nuclear weapons. China is increasing its stockpile. Pakistan is buying battlefield nuclear weapons. North Korea, it is alleged, has 10 nuclear warheads. The question is not about which country has a bigger nuclear stockpile but, increasingly, becomes one about which country will push the button first?

Six years ago President Obama spoke about the dangers of the world becoming complacent about nuclear weapons. Today is a good reminder of why we cannot be complacent.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

What Would A Fiscal Policy For Women Be?

Women's concerns and worries are often portrayed as being a sub-set of the wider problems that beset an economy and seldom do our issues come across as being those that concern society as a whole. Hillary Clinton, however, has managed to do the latter and has announced that the days of issues being dismissed as women's issues are, "Well, those days are over". 

According to Hillary Clinton, "“We can’t afford to leave talent on the sidelines, but that's exactly what we’re doing today....We not only shortchange women and their dreams, but we shortchange our country and our future.”  She is a strong advocate for equal pay, paid family leave (including maternity leave), flexible working, affordable child care, paid sick days, increased minimum wage and other employee benefits such as training which will help break the glass ceiling.

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While women in the UK enjoy paid maternity leave, flexible working and training packages in the workplace America varies because it does not have a welfare state that has fostered an ideal of thinking beyond the narrow confines one's individual sphere of life. Putting aside these differences Hillary's positioning of women's issues as being mainstream ones will help tremendously in lifting awareness of just how crucial women are to the running of an economy.

The most salient recognition to take away from Hillary Clinton's proposals is the fact that she has identified the state as a medium for changing policies that affect women's lives. If she wins the Presidential Race in 2016 she would have positioned the state as being central to implementing feminist policies. According to latest polls, Hillary is set to win the Democrat nomination and the Presidential race. A win for Hillary would translate into an immense leap for women's rights in a country which often sets the trend for worldwide change.

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