Tag Archives: britain

In-ger-land

I was filling out the form I need to complete to register as an overseas voter and there is a section where I need a witness to my signature. But it can’t just be any old witness. It has to be another British person who does not live in Britain and is not related to me.

São Paulo is a city of 20 million people, but I don’t know a single British person here yet…

Perhaps if I take the form up to the Bristol Tavern pub down the road from where I live, there might just be an ex-pat who can help?
Sex Pistols - Brixton Academy

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We never manufacture things any more…

A common refrain about the state of the world today is the economic emphasis on services rather than manufactured products – the cry that we don’t make ‘stuff’ anymore, we just import it all from low-cost countries and the only jobs are in shops or giving acupuncture to dogs with wealthy owners.

But take a look at the news about British car manufacturing in the Financial Times today. Production of cars and commerical vehicles has jumped to over 1.4m vehicles in 2010 – that’s up 28% on the year before.

But it’s still not like the good old days is it? The Rovers and British Leyland marques that dominated the world?

Well, the absolute peak of vehicle production in the UK was in 1970 when just over 2m units were produced. That’s right, just 2m. Not much more than today is it? And by 1980, car and commercial vehicle production in the UK had slumped to 1.3m units – less than today’s figures.

But they are all foreign brands, none of them are British anymore might seem the next response…

But those companies – like Nissan, Toyota, Honda, VW, GM, and Ford – are all employing local British workers to build their vehicles in Britain, so those companies are creating British jobs and investing in the industrial manufacturing heritage of the nation.

Who complains about Santander being one of the dominant high street banks today (and not British)? Or Green & Blacks chocolate being the dominant brand of organic confectionary (and not British)? Or that cup of (Indian) Tetley tea?

The world has certainly changed since the automotive industry was all about local design, local production, and local sales, but it can’t be said that Britain doesn’t build anything these days. Britain is still building and exporting, it’s just not always British brands that are exported from Britain.
Morris Oxford

When I’m 64…

I saw this BBC report on French protests about the retirement age being raised to 62. Of course, the typical French disdain for England is annoying – the same old stereotypes being dredged up by French protestors.

But the real point applies to France and England – and most of Western Europe equally – who is going to be paying the state pension by the time I ‘retire’? I personally think that the concept of the third age, rather than a retirement, will have become normal by the time I am 65.

By third age, I mean it will be normal to enter into a new career, to use your life experience working with a charity, or working on the local council… doing something useful that is still work and probably still pays something – though far less than you would have earned during your main career. But by that time most of us won’t have a need to support kids or a mortgage anymore, so income requirements should be more modest anyway.

What I don’t expect is that I can hit the age of 65 and suddenly put my feet up and retire from work, to live out the next 20 years on the golf course.

In Britain, it’s the present taxpayers who pay the state pension through their tax. The older people claiming pensions will suggest that they have paid into their NI pot and now they are just claiming it back, but there is no bank account they are paying into, it’s the young workers paying their pension. The stakeholder pension was the first step towards trying to shift people to a sense of personal responsibility for their old age, but I’m not sure I have met anyone who actually has a stakeholder pension.

Perhaps it sounds too harsh and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ to suggest that personal responsibility needs to make a return – rather than a blind reliance on the state, but European demographics are not favourable. There will be far more old people as I age and fewer young workers paying income tax. Immigration would be the only real solution and yet that’s not something most politicians are welcoming either…

If you are ‘retiring’ 20 or 30 years from now then don’t look to the state to pay for your every need. Or if you think that’s an unreasonable assumption to make, then get out on the street and throw a few bricks – like the French.
Entire family over 100

The Pope in Britain

I’m a Catholic because I’m half-Irish-half-English and, as my dad isn’t much of a believer, I ended up getting baptised – not that I actually go to church. My attendance record is pretty much based on weddings and funerals.

But, when I was asked if I would be interested in working with the government Cabinet Office to follow Pope Benedict around the UK during his visit, providing live commentary via Twitter and blogs, I jumped at the chance. Though I’m not a follower, the teachings of his church have permeated their way into my consciousness just because I was always surrounded by Catholics when I was growing up – and who wouldn’t want to be embedded with a head of state providing a live Twitter feed of what really happens ‘backstage’?

But it was the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, who invited the Pope to the UK. And Brown is no longer in office. And the current Prime Minister is either less interested in the Pope visiting, or more attuned to the scandal that will be caused by his visit. Most probably the latter as the child sex scandal furore only seems to be getting worse and the present Pope was previously in charge of handling complaints against the Vatican, and should therefore be acutely aware of the issues – and be handling them rather better.

So the regular media will continue to cover the visit, but all additional nice-to-have coverage (like a live blogger backstage) were all canned.

It’s a shame as I was looking forward to trying to offer some insights. The views of the church often rub directly against my own liberal opinions – I was working in Malta last week and I was surprised to hear that divorce is illegal there because the church won’t allow it. The Catholic church has some way to go to reach the standards considered acceptable in a modern-day society where free expression and respect for Human Rights are considered essential.

But the church has an immense history and tradition and is followed by hundreds of millions of people. I was looking forward to exploring these questions of how faith collides with modernity, but now I won’t get the chance anyway. Another thing I can blame on David Cameron.

What a shame.
Art installation, Central St Martin's

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

I know that the British government doesn’t have much control over private enterprise, and it’s not desirable for them to have strict control over what companies can get up to. Can you imagine the situation if companies had to ask permission of the government before borrowing, lending, or buying interests in other companies – we would be similar to China.

But, the recent situation with Cadbury seems quite bizarre.

If Cadbury shareholders believe they have now got a good price for their shares then there is nothing to stop them selling to Kraft. That is just business and the emotional response to the loss of another British company is actually not fair – though it’s worth remembering that the majority of shareholders are just funds (pension funds) and so they have no emotion anyway. If British people want to prevent foreign investors buying into Britain, then that restriction would apply in the opposite direction too… Britain would find itself unable to invest in foreign businesses as a reciprocal measure.

But, Kraft had to borrow money to finance the deal. And the British bank Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) financed Kraft. And Royal Bank of Scotland is 84%-owned by the British government, and therefore by the British people. So the British public are effectively financing a deal to buy their favourite chocolate manufacturer.

The government is claiming that RBS can’t be controlled like a government department, that it needs to operate as a regular bank so it can return to profit and that’s mostly correct. But surely someone must have seen this public relations disaster looming on the horizon? Billy Bragg has initiated a campaign where he is refusing to pay income tax, until the government starts controlling the publicly-owned banks – particularly the hefty bonuses bankers are already starting to pay themselves again so soon after the economic collapse.

Bragg won’t change much with this campaign. Even he acknowledges that the government will get their tax from him in the end, but he is demonstrating that the British public are not stupid. They care about how the banks behave and when they own a share of those banks they have a right for their views to be respected.