Archive for septembre, 2011

Hitech Manufacturing - BAE Systems

Mercredi, septembre 28th, 2011

With the British economy struggling for growth, defence company BAE Systems has now confirmed 2,942 job losses amongst its UK workforce as a further blow to the unemployment figures. These job losses which are aimed at reducing costs and maintaining the competitiveness of the company in international markets, have been blamed on government cuts, particularly in the budget of the MOD, with examples quoted such as the scrapping of the Nimrod air reconnaissance programme and the accelerated retirement of the Harrier vertical take-off aircraft. However, BAE Systems is also facing up to similar shrinkage of defence budgets in international markets and the cuts will , therefore, mainly affect its military aircraft division as a result of nations involved in the Typhoon fighter programme – the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain - cutting production rates.
Union officials have of course blamed the government cuts in the defence budget and described the job losses as a hammer blow to manufacturing, whilst the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, and his officials are trying to bring together the company, local authorities and local enterprise partnerships to ensure all possible support for those affected. The Shadow Defence Minister, Jim Murphy, is also demanding a fast response from ministers with a clear plan for action.
Now BAE Systems is a hi-tech manufacturing company in a market segment where the UK holds a significant competitive advantage. The government is also trying to rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on financial services and towards e.g. manufacturing. In addition, once the highly skilled people in these jobs are let go the UK economy will be losing a precious resource of know-how for the future. Germany is much more protective of its key manufacturing resources and, during the financial downturn, Government, unions and employers came together to preserve jobs and maintain the skills base by short time working with the costs shared between government and employers. The UK should take a lesson from Germany which sets the benchmark for competitive manufacturing of high quality products.

Labour & The Big Society

Jeudi, septembre 22nd, 2011

The Prime Minister should beware or his theme of decentralisation and promotion of The Big Society, could be hijacked by thinkers in the opposition Labour party showing how it should be done!
Labour modernisers are plotting a vast giveaway of Whitehall power, writes Robert Philpot, director of Progress and editor of The Purple Book, published last week by Biteback. These modernisers include members of the Labour shadow cabinet as well as rising new talent from the 2010 crop.
Following on from the financial crisis, it seems that internationally there is a collapse in trust in both the market and the state. Although voters accept the competitive advantages of the market, they are also concerned about the power of large corporations and are skeptical of the ability of the market to create enough jobs. However, confidence in the role of the state as a corresponding counterweight to the market has hit rock bottom with e.g. 29% of those polled in the UK questioning whether there are any advantages at all in government initiatives to improve societies. This presents particular problems for the Labour party which needs to regain the confidence of the voting public, by demonstrating that it has left behind its Big State dogma.
Therefore, the talk now is of the principle of subsidiarity i.e. that decisions should be taken at the lowest appropriate level of government, as close as possible to the people, and that the application of it should be at national level with power devolved from Whitehall. For public services for example, there should be a shift of power to individuals and local communities. People should have new rights where local services are failing. Parents should be able to trigger competitions for new schools where standards fail to improve. Academies, trusts, parent-owned or community-controlled options should be available. There should be more self-governing institutions such as the successful foundation hospitals, with local democratic control and ownership. This model could also be applied to the key primary care part of the National Health Service (NHS).
This all sounds rather like the Conservative concept of The Big Society which unfortunately, up till now, has gained little traction in the public mind!

Primaries & Constituency Culls

Mercredi, septembre 14th, 2011

Conservative MEP and political blogger Daniel Hannan is a great believer in the benefits of open primaries. He cites the example of MP Sarah Wollaston, the first Conservative candidate to be selected through an open primary, turning down a job as a Parliamentary Private Secretary out of a sense of duty to her constituents, and not her parliamentary Whips! He considers open primaries as the single best way of tilting power from the executive to the legislature, and from party whips to ordinary voters. The introduction of such a reform he says would help to make Parliament more independent, more diverse, more representative and more accountable. He then recalls that the governing Coalition Agreement promised 200 open primary selections and asks when can we expect them?
In fact, it is opportune that proposals to redraw constituency boundaries would reduce the number of sitting MPs from 650 to 600. These proposals will be subject to two years of consultation before being finalized in October 2013, in time for the next general election in 2015. The government says that a smaller House of Commons will lower the cost of politics (a recurrent theme of the Prime Minister) with a quoted saving of £12 million from this measure, while the system will be fairer as each constituency will be more equal in terms of the same number of registered voters. As a result, MPs whose constituencies are set to be effectively abolished will need to find another seat to contest in the run-up to the next general election if they wish to remain in Parliament. In addition, senior politicians and current Cabinet Ministers at risk could be parachuted into safe seats, effectively ousting their erstwhile colleagues.
Perhaps with an excess of some 50+ sitting MPs becoming effectively available as candidates to contest seats, a selection process based on primaries would also be fairer to those losing their seats only as a result of boundary changes? With the major political parties finding it more and more difficult to maintain their numbers and recruit new members, together with low voter turnout and the associated disengagement from the political process, such primaries to select candidates could work to re-engage more people in the political process.
Looking at what happens in the United States for state primaries, each party can set its own calendar and rules although the primary election itself is usually administered by local governments according to state law. In many states, only voters registered with a party may vote in the primary of that party in what is known as a closed primary. Some states practice a semi-closed primary in which voters unaffiliated with a party (Independents) may choose a primary in which to vote. Then there is the open primary where any voter may vote in the primary of any party. The open primary in fact can also improve voter turnout even more e.g. in the case of some government or unionized employees who might not wish their political affiliations to be known. This of course makes it more difficult for the parties to gather data on individual voters and their voting intentions. However, in all these systems, a voter may participate in only one primary. Taking then the case of an open primary for a constituency in the UK, it could be assumed that a voter who casts a vote for a candidate standing for the Conservative party, cannot also cast a vote for a candidate standing for the Labour party or Liberal Democrat nomination.
Primaries can be seen as a way of measuring popular opinion of candidates rather than the opinion of the local political party or its central office. With less and less voters in the UK affiliated with any political party, perhaps the 200 open primary selections route promised by the Coalition Agreement is the way to go as a fairer way of re-engaging people in the political process. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, it is not likely to reduce the cost of politics by introducing another level of voting within the political process. Also, as in the United States, the personal wealth of individual candidates can make an important difference between campaigns for popular support. Another drawback is that primaries tend to attract more of the ideologues from the extremes of the political parties meaning that once selected candidates tend to have to modify their campaigns to move towards the more moderate centre in order to get finally elected to office.

UK Riots - Broken Penal System

Jeudi, septembre 8th, 2011

Writing in the Guardian and blaming a broken penal system the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has entered the debate on the causes of the recent riots in the UK. His measured intervention is in contrast to some of the typically knee-jerk reactions of politicians up till now, of using the riots to justify their own favourite themes rather than awaiting a more thorough analysis of the root causes.
In defence of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who has said that the riots were not connected with poverty, has described them as criminality pure and simple and blamed what he has termed the broken society of Britain, there was a need to demonstrate strong leadership without the luxury of more time to reflect in front of the media. However, he has ruled out an investigation into the root causes of the unrest. The Labour party opposition is typically blaming the cuts in public services by the government despite these not yet having come into effect, although their leader, Ed. Miliband, has at least acknowledged the possible impact on national morality of delinquent MPs, greedy bankers and tax-avoiding, high-profile business people. He also wanted a public review of the causes of the riots.
The Justice Secretary has blamed the riots on a broken penal system that has failed to rehabilitate a group of hard-core offenders i.e. the criminal classes. He has revealed that almost 75% of those aged over 18 and charged with offences committed during the riots, had prior convictions. This demonstrated a need for urgent penal reform to stop re-offending among what he termed a feral underclass, cut off from mainstream society in everything apart from its materialism. He, therefore, called for a renewed government mission to address the appalling social deficit revealed by the riots.
Speaking from his long experience in government, including being Inner-Cities Minister 25 years ago, Kenneth Clarke considers the general recipe for a productive member of society is about having a job, a strong family and a decent education, accompanied by an attitude which shares the values of mainstream society. However, while the government is still resisting calls for a public inquiry, the first attempt at an empirical study of the causes and consequences of the riots has already been announced by the Guardian and the London School of Economics.

UK Riots & Moral Decay

Vendredi, septembre 2nd, 2011

Writing in a provocative article about the recent UK riots in the news blog of The Telegraph of 2 September, 2011, Peter Oborne who is chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, views the root cause as the moral decay which is as bad at the top as the bottom of British society.
He considers the entire British political class right to denounce the rioters and to say that the actions of these looters, arsonists and muggers were abhorrent and criminal, and that the police should be given more support. However, he also found something very phoney and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in parliament when MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.
He believes that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society. The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.
Although he stresses that most people continue to believe in honesty and decency, hard work and putting back into society at least as much as they take out, there are those who do not. The so-called feral youth for example seem oblivious to decency and morality but so also are the venal rich and powerful - and he quotes examples in his article – including too many of our bankers, footballers, wealthy businessmen and politicians.
Mr Oborne notes that most of the venal rich and powerful are smart and wealthy enough to make sure that they obey the law although this cannot be said of the sad young men and women, without hope or aspiration, who have caused such mayhem and chaos in the riots. However, in their defence the rioters were just following the example set by senior and respected figures in society.
We must bear in mind that many of the youths in our inner cities have never been trained in decent values. Our politicians and bankers, in sharp contrast, tend to have been to good schools and universities and to have been given every opportunity in life.