Category Archives: government

The house shortage conspiracy

The chancellor talks about helping people buy their own homes, but he knows which side his bread is buttered.

The chancellor talks about helping people get on the housing ladder, but other than helping them get into more debt he has done very little. He knows which side his bread is buttered.

Conspiracies abound and conspiracy theorists make a good living pandering to our natural suspicions. The vast majority, including those surrounding Marilyn’s and Diana’s deaths, are nonsense. They persist because we find it hard to accept that famous people are subject to the same chance, and often malign, forces as the rest of us.

But that there are out there a fair few I have no doubt. I believe them to be almost a part of the human condition – from the tiny trader, like myself, who might wish for a private arrangement with a fellow trader not to undercut each other to a mighty conglomerate who might wish to do the same. OPEC is a perfect example. It has also to be accepted that the great majority are successful and that, as a result, we never get to hear about them.

I am a natural born sceptic – which perhaps has something to do with being called Thomas – and while I try to maintain an open mind, I have to admit that some theories are outlandish to the point of being funny. A couple which immediately spring to mind are that the pyramids were built by aliens and that the photos of the moon landings were trick photography.

I do, however, believe that the universe is teeming with ETs. With 100,000 galaxies in this universe – and science is starting to believe that there may be many universes – it surely is down to numbers. However rare may be the incidence of all the important factors coming together to make life possible – the so-called Goldilocks Effect – I find it inconceivable, with such numbers, that it only happened once. Furthermore, I believe that when these factors do coalesce, sooner or later, life is the inevitable consequence.

But returning to Earth and our penchant for conspiracies, I believe I have cottoned on to one which may go a long way to explaining why, when there is a clear need for many more houses, it never seems to happen. It is because the politicos are terrified of bringing about a downward spiral in the value of houses. It is not a conspiracy in which a handful of people have got together, but rather an acknowledgement that one’s home is typically his only significant asset.

Meantime, millions languish in rented, overcrowded and often substandard accommodation, desperate to buy their own homes but unable to do so because house price inflation has advanced at three times the rate of general inflation and as a result the deposit required is beyond their reach.

No one can argue against our desperate need to build more houses. Unlike Japan with fewer divorces, a falling birth rate and zero immigration, we are high on all three; people splitting from their partners need separate homes, a rising birth rate requires more houses (down the line), and millions moving to your country will require places to live.

During the recession the construction industry was the hardest hit. Didn’t it strike you as odd that its legions of unemployed were not put to work building this extra accommodation? The 100k houses built last year was less than half of what was required. What would happen if supply at long last rose to meet demand? The iron law of economics says prices would fall. What pushed house prices up to their present level, racing ahead of general inflation at a crazy rate? Easy credit and too many would-be buyers chasing too few houses. The real question is: if all the political parties are agreed on the need for more houses, why doesn’t it happen? After all, builders would set-to with a gusto and buyers would have not just a house but one at a more affordable rate.

Cameron and Osborne promised a relaxation of planning laws in 2010 and pledged to free up more land for development, but this government has so far failed miserably to deliver. Why is this? The answer, I fear, is that present mortgage holders have an interest in not just maintaining prices but contriving to force them up still further. They love a situation in which they are getting richer by doing nothing. Many are making more on their house annually than they are getting paid, with the difference being that living eats into their salary while nothing eats into their unearned capital gains. So just let a politician come along who threatens this nice little arrangement. That greatest of all feel-good factors would disappear down the plughole. To prick that love affair with rising wealth would make them incandescent with rage.

But in many ways crazy house prices might be compared to fools’ gold. Unless you’re going to flee abroad to a cheaper domicile or downsize, which most don’t want to do, then there are no tangible benefits. So how do the politicos keep them happy in this delusional state and excuse themselves from doing their duty to the homeless? First they acquiesce in keeping planning laws fiendishly difficult and listening too much to the ‘not in my back yard’ arguments. Then they waffle on ad nauseam about converting brown field sites. Then they pedal the greatest fiction of all: that our island is in danger of being concreted over.

Next time you fly over our green and pleasant land, look down and see what proportion of our lovely acres remain green. The Office for National Statistics have produced some very interesting figures on this. I invite you to read a BBC News article titled ‘The great myth of urban Britain‘. You will be happily stunned by the stats provided.  It turns out only 2.27% of England’s landscape is built on. Just look out of your airplane window if you’re in any doubt.

Mind those plebs, Thrasher!

Concerning ‘Thrasher’ Mitchell, the Chief Whip, we seem to have moved backwards in electing ourselves governments of all talents. I am not saying we should discriminate against public school boys, yet at seven per cent of total school population they are grossly over-represented in government comprising over 50 per cent of the cabinet. Sixty years ago the Attlee cabinet was much more representative of the people it governed. But here we are today, all these years on, with one which would not have looked out of place in Downton Abbey days.

Although Cameron is a personable enough chap himself – one you perhaps wouldn’t mind having a pint with – he seems not to have the wit to see any of this. He understands that the nation’s finances are in dire need of sorting out, along with welfare dependency and educational shortcomings, but he seems to think that only a cabinet stuffed full of stinkingly rich public school boys can be relied on to see it through. The irony is that the two crucial success stories of his administration are likely to be the very ones not piloted by his public school chums: welfare reform and education.

The display of petulance, arrogance, threats and not to say downright abuse that the Chief Whip showed his police guardians – in the very week of grief, would you believe, for fallen comrades – opened a window into the mindset of these privileged individuals who really do believe that we are here to serve them, not they us. Theirs, it would seem, is a god-given right to rule and we should get used to it. The public does not like what it sees.

All of this is disastrous to the man who spent years trying to massage the image of the Tory party into a kindlier, voter-friendly mode. In a little over two years’ time he is going to have to asks the ‘plebs’ if they will give him and his pals a fresh run. It is lucky in the extreme that he faces such a deeply unattractive and discredited Opposition, but that won’t necessarily save him. If there is visceral hatred for his class, fanned by the likes of the ‘Thrasher’, that might be enough to sink him.

In addition to all this, Tory foot soldiers have neither forgotten nor forgiven for the fact that Cameron failed to win an outright majority against the most disastrous government of modern times led by the most unpopular prime minister ever. The fact that he failed in these circumstances and was obliged to put himself in hock to a party that hates his own and spends its time sabotaging so many of its most cherished policies rankles still further. And then there are the multiple instances of poor judgement in his appointments. It ill behoves Cameron, therefore, to adopt all too often a high-handed approach with his backbenchers which can be taken a a sign of perceived class superiority. Dollops of humble pie and signs of genuine contrition should be more the order of the day.

But Cameron’s troubles don’t even stop with those outlined; women (half the electorate) have gone off him too. They have concluded that – Samcam excepted – he doesn’t much like them and that Bullingdon attitudes still lurk beneath the surface. There is real anger that he has shortchanged them, having promised them a third of cabinet seats. The recent reshuffle was his last chance to make good on that promise and he failed miserably.

So for the prime minister there is much to do and little time to do it in. It worries me also that he doesn’t seem much concerned at the drip, drip hemorrhaging of his party to UKIP. Had disaffection not driven so many into their camp he may well have had that precious majority at the last election and the process continues apace. As I see it only one thing stands a chance of bringing large numbers of them back into the fold: he must give them an unequivocal pledge, written in blood, that there will be an in/out EU referendum immediately after the election. Then he must make it clear to them that if they do not respond they will have only themselves to blame for a fresh dose of Labour, but with even more of a Leftish lean. That, together with a hopefully recovering economy, troops home from Afghanistan, robust law and order policies and falling immigration should be enough. Welfare and Education success would be the clincher.

In the meantime he must get all his appointments carefully scrutinised beforehand, stop patronising women (or anyone else for that matter) and put the equivalent of a chastity belt on the mouths of certain of his ministers. As for the ‘Thrasher’ himself, he must go – but not before he has has received a damn good thrashing himself, to encourage les autres.

It was always delicious irony that Rugby School (of Tom Brown’s Schooldays fame) should spawn a character who would go on to be known as the ‘Thrasher’ and that that same character would go on to be awarded the Chief Whip’s job in government. That same whip must now be used on him. ‘Flashman’ Cameron is just the man to wield it. He’s got the perfect credentials.

Acts of civic vandalism

Parents hold their children in trust. They do not own them; we only own ourselves.

Until we are old enough, that duty of care is vested in those who brought them into the world. If they fail in that monumental task then society’s duty is to step in. And it failed lamentably in the case of the British woman in Spain who snuffed out the life of her two young children.

Once again we have Social Services frantically buck-passing and failing to measure up. Exercising always due diligence, we must not be afraid of being more interventionist. I said as much last week when I supported Sir Michael Wilshaw’s efforts to give deprived children a chance by sending them to boarding school. But provision for our young people extends far beyond the remit of Social Services. Our town halls have a part to play also.

Most days, after I close my shop, I like to round off the day with a cappuccino on the Hoe seafront. One of the pleasures I have enjoyed – along with myriad tourists – is to watch the young people having fun on the diving boards and rock pools of the foreshore. Not anymore.

The powers-that-be in the town hall had other ideas. Aided and abetted, no doubt, by ‘Elf ‘n’ Safety’ they closed it all down and demolished the lot. Even after two years I still feel cold fury at what they did.

It was, in my view, an act of civic vandalism. I never saw an accident in all the years visiting, much less a fatality. What I do know is that the kids loved it and it didn’t cost them a penny.

Did the dunderheads of the dept. involved reason, in their twisted logic, that the kids would turn their attention to the newly revamped and expensive-to-use Tinside Lido and spend their pennies there? No way!

They were, for the most part, poor kids who didn’t have many pennies. But thanks to the city’s forefathers they did have a lot of fun. At huge expense, Plymouth’s forefathers had created something that generations of Plymouth youngsters had enjoyed. It had become part of their childhood memories – even folk law.

What I want to know is: who gave the vandals the right to nullify all this and spend huge extra funds to do so?

Their predecessors had dug deep into their pockets to create a leisure facility because they recognised that they had a duty to provide for young people and in so doing help to keep them out of mischief. All that expense of yesteryear, however, was over. All their successors had to do was maintain it, but even this was too much.

Young people have a need for exciting and challenging things to do, and so in fulfilment of that need they took themselves a couple of hundred yards down the road and hurled themselves into the sea from a rocky cliff face in what is known as ‘tombstoning’. There, the dangers were real if not always apparent. If the tide was not out far enough, they could easily kill themselves.

So when the decision was taken to cull their previous, marvellous facility, did the numbskulls responsible not take this into account? I think not.

You see, they fail to think these things through, and so the law of unintended consequences comes along and hits them over the head.

Whether it’s exhorting kids to wear goggles when they play conkers; preventing little old ladies setting flower arrangement in cathedrals unless they have criminal-record checks; not allowing hanging baskets in seaside resorts in case they fall on someone’s head; or not allowing the emergency services to go in to three feet of water to save a life; they seek to wrap us all in cotton wool and take the risk out of each and every sport and situation.

They do not realise that measuring risk and pitting ourselves against the odds is part of the human experience.

A large part of the fun of sports is knowing that there is an element of risk. Take it away and you have neutered most of the fun.

Our kiddies’ play parks today may be full of colourful plastics and rubberised flooring, but they are sanitised affairs and do not hold a fraction of the thrill of the play parks their parents enjoyed.

Kids need to learn how far they can go and arm themselves for the future in the school of hard knocks.

Look at the pathetically short-chained swings they insist on today, and compare them with the mighty chains of yesteryear that allowed you to soar almost to the heavens.

Yes, the duty of care is multi-layered; town halls should remember that as well as others. They almost forgot it at Mount Wise when those marvellous facilities which the poorer kinds of Devonport enjoyed so much were almost swept away. Only a public outcry stopped the axe from falling.

It was the same sad story with our precious lido. Hands off, I say, please.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The state of our roads is very much a concern of everybody.

Currently motorists are trying to dodge – dangerously, I might add – millions of car-damaging potholes which severe winter temperatures have inflicted on us. Yet the government tells us that in these straightened time there is not the money to tackle them as we might wish.

It is possible that we might buy this line were it not for the fact that the highways department still seems to have ample funds to continue with changes to our existing road infrastructure.

For many years now we have had to put up with an endless succession of tinkering changes, all under the guise of protecting us from harming ourselves. I’m largely talking here of traffic lights where none had been previously thought necessary – even on roundabouts, the sole purpose of which is to keep the traffic flowing.

A few, I must concede, have been beneficial – especially improvements to known accident black spots. But then there is the senseless turning of so many streets into one way; the chicanes; the road bumps; the bus and cycle lanes (where grossly underused pavements could have been developed to accommodate the bicycles); traffic islands; and so many more instances of so-called ‘improvements’ which are actually little more than attempts of social engineering.

The fact is that for some long time now we have enjoyed one of the best road systems in the world, used by some of the safest drivers in Europe. So why, I keep asking myself, are we constantly wondering – and worrying – what ‘safety measure’ the road planners will think up next?

My own guiding principal is that old axiom ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

When the present government began the desperate task of finding savings why did it not turn its attention to the huge expenditure that these so-called improvements represented? We are talking billions here!

At a stroke it could have announced that we can perfectly well manage with what we’ve got and spend nothing more for the duration of one whole parliament. The savings would have been truly enormous, and can we seriously argue that we would have been any worse off?

During this time the traffic would have enjoyed the rare luxury of continuing to flow freely, spared the maddening delays which such ‘improvements’ entail.

I well remember a recent example of wasted effort and money in my own neck of the woods, where Plympton motorists join the A38 at the top of Chaddlewood. It was a spot where you had to keep your wits about you – but knowing the consequences of not doing so, people did. After all, you had a clear view of everything that was going on.

But Highways Harry knew better; he was not content with allowing motorists to trust the evidence of our own eyes, nor our own desire to stay alive. So at vast expense and months of roadworks and delays, he reconfigured things and, yes, you guessed it – traffic lights were part of his solution.

The upshot of it all is that, in my view, we are worse off than we were before and most certainly a lot poorer. I cannot think there could have been much change out of a million pounds for such a project.

The Department for Transport also pays little regard to the enjoyment of driving. When the Victorians developed their railways system, it was very much part of their game plan to drive the line through as scenic and pleasurable a route as it was possible to do – as long as doing so would not add too many more miles to the journey. You see, they wanted you to enjoy the trip.

As a result, we have some truly magnificent rail journeys all over our lovely island. They compare with some of the best in the world. One of them is right on our doorstep: the journey through Dawlish to Exeter. They could have saved a bob or two by a different, shorter, route, but they wanted you to enjoy your journey.

How differently the authorities view things today. They know how much the car means to us, but they are not the least bit interested in making the experience as pleasurable as they can.

Again, right on our doorstep: it used to be enjoyable to drive the Madeira Road route from the Barbican round the Hoe foreshore, with its world-beatingly spectacular views. Perversely, it would seem, they give every appearance of wanting to spoil it for us; they’ve peppered the road with poorly designed humps which deny you admiring the view at all.

Their answer, no doubt, is boy racers (I was never aware of it being an accident black spot). Well, police it properly, as you used to. Don’t rob us of one of our delights.

This highlights an area in which David Cameron’s vision of the Big Society could come into play.

The roads belong to us; it is we who have to live with the consequences of them getting things wrong, and we who have to foot the bills.

Seldom will the authorities admit a mistake, even when it is staring them in the face, much less make restitution. When it’s done, it’s done. “Tough,” is their attitude, “you must learn to live with it.”

It should not be enough for jobsworth Highways Harry, sitting in his office, to dream up ever new and bizarre schemes and then foist them on us. There should be much more democratisation where these matters are concerned, and in my view local people should have the final say.

Also, before our man in his office comes forward with his next bright idea – such as chicanes, road bumps and speed cameras – he should be obliged to prove his case and have done his homework. By this I mean that he should be able to convince us that there is a problem (i.e., by way of deaths, accidents or undue delays).

Every single decision which involves public money, dislocation or change should be evidence-based. In other words: bring us the proof.

If the government had put roads on a ‘care and maintenance’ basis at the start of its term of office, not only would there have been more than enough in the kitty to take care of every one of these scandalous potholes which so blight our driving today and damage our cars, but we might have been able to avoid some of the more contentious cuts altogether.

But before anyone takes me to task about the massive rise in unemployment we would see in our already hard-hit construction industry that a cessation of all road ‘improvements’ would entail, my answer is to get your priorities right.

Start building those much needed houses – social and otherwise – that our burgeoning population and young people need. Spain may have too many, but we most certainly have too few.

It must be truly depressing to see no prospect of ever being able to afford your own home. How can we bang on about family values when you cannot even find a pad to put down roots and raise your children?

You have to feel sorry for our young people. Not only can they not get their own roof over their head, but they cannot get a job either – even in many cases where they’ve toiled to get a degree. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, we’ve hit them with a double financial whammy: debt to pay off for what may well turn out to be a useless degree (if and when they do get a job), never mind a mountain of public debt to pay off as well.

All of this will make it next to impossible for them to pay into a pension plan for their old age. What a great legacy to leave our children. We should hang our heads in shame.

The war on motorists is far from over

Few things impact on our lives more than the car. It is our friend, our refuge, almost our starship. So when Philip Hammond, the newly appointed coalition transport secretary, declared that ‘the war on motorists is over’ we all heaved a collective sigh of relief. Here, at last, was recognition of what the car meant to us.

For years we motorists had felt ourselves a beleaguered section of society: milked for all we were worth; told that we were anti-social for not using public transport; told we were a menace to life and limb; and told also that we were polluters of the planet. Never once did the-powers-that-be recognise what the car meant to the public and how we found them such a marvellous means of conveyance – and how we valued that it kept so many of us in work. So twenty months into this government, we are entitled to ask of the evidence that it intends to make good on its welcomed promise of a cessation of hostilities.

Motoring back from my Burns Night supper near Lincoln this weekend, I was struck by the number of newly installed average speed cameras: dozens and dozens of them. We were told that the whole matter of cameras and much else besides was going to be looked at, and that they were going to be confined to genuine accident blackspots – as was their original intention.

Nothing discredits a government more than broken promises. They do, after all, form the basis on which our elected politicians got their jobs in the first place, so it is little different from lying in a job interview.

Almost immediately on my arrival back in Plymouth I learned that Hush Puppy-booted Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, is to raise spot motoring fines by 66% to £100. What a kick in the teeth that represents. And what a duplicitous example of government two-timing its electors. What’s more, it demonstrates a total disregard for the financial pain people are suffering right now and only provides further evidence of how utterly out of touch with reality the political elite really are.

We deserve better than this. As I have said before in this blog, our motorists are among the most considerate in the world and our death rate reflects this fact. But here in Plymouth I continue to feel quiet fury at the way the transport authorities behave.

Take the Cattedown roundabout East End Development as an example. Long drawn-out and hugely over-budget, it has recently been completed. They have, however, built a superb slip road bypassing the Embankment shopping thoroughfare. It is smooth and congestion-free, without a single house flanking it, nor cross road or pedestrian crossing. Yet it is not fast. Absurdly, they have applied a thirty-mile speed limit and, just in case you are inclined to ignore this piece of nonsense and travel at forty, they have installed average speed cameras.

In the approach to this development coming from the city centre along Exeter Street, there was a road which allowed motorists to safely escape a hundred yards of nose to tail traffic leading up to Cattedown roundabout. Motorists have been taking this exit for years to no ill effect, but with the great benefit that it reduces the tailback of traffic leading to the roundabout. Now they are suddenly banned from this because it has been made one way.

How many streets, I ask myself, across the city have suffered a similar fate? Were the people who live in these streets asked for their thoughts on the matter? Were there accidents or fatalities that forced the planners into action?

I have spoken to people living in the street mentioned above, and they are furious that they cannot enter it any more from both directions. Yet all over the city things have been done to the annoyance of the people who have to suffer the inconvenience. And why? Because some pencil-pushing jobsworth thinks it’s a good idea, I imagine.

It was once possible to save time and relieve traffic on the busy Plymouth Road by passing through the Woodford estate. But now vast numbers of road bumps – which are exceedingly difficult to be taken properly and are often taken dangerously because of parked cars – make this route a nightmare. Again, locals say their views counted for nothing. It was imposed on them from on high – from our masters who know best.

I can only suppose that all over the city, and indeed all over the land, you would hear similar stories of ‘solutions’ foisted on communities with neither proper consideration of their feelings nor proper consultation with them. After all, they are the ones having to live on a daily basis with these foolish, not to say costly, changes. And when mistakes are plain for all to see there is invariably an arrogant refusal on their part to acknowledge them as such, much less to make restitution.

Far away in their ivory towers they hold to the view that the man in the town hall knows best.

A black box in every car

A letter recently unearthed during a house clearout dated 1925 read as follows: ‘Dear Mr. Grainger, We respectfully draw your attention to an under-payment of fifteen pounds, eight shillings and four pence made on your recent income tax remittance. We are sure this is an oversight. May we suggest the 31st of next month as being a suitable date for settlement of the balance. If you require clarification as to how we arrived at this figure we would be most happy for you to call at this office where we will endeavour to explain. In the meantime we remain your Most Obedient Servant’. How very polite and considerate this all is. No doubt here who the boss is.

The signing off tells you all you need to know: the state in those days knew its place. It was, of course, nonsense to suggest that its agents regarded themselves as anybody’s servants, but the then powers-that-be thought it important to continue to emphasise what the proper relationship should be. Today it is all different; government is in the driving seat.

With 4 million CCTV cameras in place (by far the highest number of any country in the world – North Korea included) and the planet’s largest DNA database and every conceivable detail of our lives – both personal and financial – logged, we are well and truly skewered and corralled. The East German Stasi (secret police) would have been proud.

Only the media stand between us and total subservience. That is why almost the first act of any authoritarian regime is to muzzle it. What people need to understand is that authority, be it central or local, has an insatiable urge to accumulate power – to regulate and control. It cannot help itself. It is in the nature of the beast. Only our ability to scrutinise it through the media and force it to submit itself for re-election has any hope of controlling its growth.

We like to preen ourselves as being almost the freest society on earth. But does this really stand up? We are bossed around to an extraordinary degree. Gone is the fanciful notion that ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’. Hundreds of agencies have the power to barge into them and they don’t need a scaling ladder to do it either – just the local plod to intimidate any would-be heroes.

Our government recently wanted the power to lock us up without charge for 90 days and only the most extraordinary of efforts got that figure down to 28. And that is still one of the longest in the civilised world.

I cannot help believing that the age of terrorism has been a godsend to those most zealous in their urge to control us. It has given them the perfect cover to push through a range of measures under the mantra ‘Do you really want to get blown up?’ Well, the IRA were blowing us up for thirty years and were much more competent with explosives than the Jihadist buffoons – and just as ruthless. Yet we resisted bringing in all these special measures on the mainland so beloved of New Labour. They even talked of putting aircraft-like black boxes under every car bonnet until this was laughed out of court. But in truth it was no laughing matter.

They talked also of having all 62 million of us DNA tested – naturally, of course, so that they could catch more criminals. Townhalls were authorised to conduct certain types of surveillance on its citizens, and that ended up checking out people who were trying to get their kids into a decent school. Let’s not forget either the recent national census. Look at the ridiculous scope of the information it sought. And if you were unwilling to provide it, look out! You would be bludgeoned into submission.

But all is not yet lost. We appear to have a government (glory be!) which actually says it wants to devolve power from the centre to the regions. I never thought to hear it, but it says ‘Whitehall does not always know best’. It wants schools that answer to parents; elected police chiefs who have to clock up results or be thrown out; Mayors who have to run their cities competently or face the same fate; and even a social security network that protects the truly vulnerable, but not the army of scroungers.

The attitude of entitlement which so many display is truly marvellous to behold. What gives a person the idea that he or she is entitled to lie in their bed of a cold winter morning while their neighbour must get up and go off to work? And then, as if to rub salt into the wound, hold out their hand for large chunks of their neighbour’s earnings so that they can enjoy a not-much-different lifestyle. It’s actually all very bizarre. But the fact is that so many do really believe that they have that right. There’s no accounting for folk!

Nobody wants a return to certain of the bad old days. But not all of them were bad. We ought to cherry-pick what was best. Among them was neighbourliness, self-reliance (of the fit and able) and straight dealing – honesty if you like. Even today, members of the older generation are so imbued with this ethos of self-reliance that their pride will not allow them to take benefits that we would like them to take.

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