350 - Whinging | Scoins.net | DJS

350 - Whinging

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A common habit in Britain is to moan. Whinging Poms, as the Aussies put it. Not at all wrong; we love a good moan. But there is not much point in moaning just for its own sake, it needs to be constructive, to be the cause of discussion about what we could do better. I've taken quite a bit from the snippets page (no, it's not duplicated, just moved).

David Cameron referred to broken Britain, though perhaps it was The Sun or The Guardian that initiated the phrase, maybe as long ago as 2007.  Googling 'broken' or 'fractured' Britain resulted in these several threads to explore: [1], [2], [3], lots of stuff based on Brexit, some counter argument [4].  Example 2011

I started with the counter argument, from Tom.Slater@ed.ac.uk (that's Edinburgh, not Education). Here's the abstract: This article takes on the challenge of what Robert Proctor calls “agnotology” (the study of ignorance) to analyse the current assault on the British welfare state by think tanks, policy elites and conservative politicians. The assault is traced back to the emergence of the Centre for Social Justice think tank, founded in 2004 by the current Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith. I argue that a familiar litany of social pathologies (family breakdown, worklessness, antisocial behaviour, personal responsibility, out-of-wedlock childbirth, dependency) is repeatedly invoked by the architects of welfare reform to manufacture ignorance of alternative ways of addressing poverty and social injustice. Structural causes of poverty have been strategically ignored in favour of a single behavioural explanation—“Broken Britain”—where “family breakdown” has become the central problem to be tackled by the philanthropic fantasy of a “Big Society”. My agnotological approach critically explores the troubling relationship between (mis)information and state power. He writes in a readable prose. Towards the end of this paper he writes: In contemporary Britain it makes sense to speak of a broken state not simply as a hyperbolic counterpoint to the “broken society”, but because the state is making a steady switch from a remedial to a generative force in respect of marginality, inequality and precarity. Drastic and punitive welfare reforms arguably constitute the centrepiece of a severe fiscal austerity package, where possibilities for a redistributive path are drowned out by the rhetoric of “welfare dependent troubled families” causing society to crumble at the margins. This rhetoric then serves as the justification for massive public expenditure gutting as the appropriate course of                                        crisis management.  If that's too dense for you, then read a lot more of the paper so that it makes sense. I'm afraid I decided that all of this fell into the general category of describing political sleight of hand (slight-of-hand might be as appropriate, since one is insulted); where the political action, however ineffective or even counter-productive, counts for everything "Look, I'm doing something". Thus perception remains larger than truth, but Slater may well be right.

 Yet there are undeniable issues which exemplify where we fail to discuss things so as to produce consensus. For example, the public monstering of a huge slice of the population by luckier, better-paid people [3]  questions what we should do about disadvantage. We might choose to remove advantage and we might do a lot of levelling up; but those who have advantage are not going to cede what they have. So we 'must' provide mechanisms for people to gain social mobility and generally we call this education. The many ways in which we fail to make that succeed, or ensure that it fails in myriad ways is something I'd like to see addressed, but our UK society deems that the possibility of self-improvement is required. Meanwhile, of course, what goes wrong is that the (already) advantaged find more advantages. Much of the same issues apply to migrants and I've already written at length about this. I really don't care whether this is 'broken society' or 'broken state', thought these two are perhaps separable problems; we definitely have things that need to be fixed. At the very least, the state is largely responsible for causing any fixes to broken society and has by far the greatest ability to affect this. 

Insert 20210619, just a few days later, on reading reaction to the Lib Dems winning a by-election in Chesham & Amersham which, commentators claim, says that the proposed moves on housing (part of the much promised 'levelling-up) are very much unpopular with 'traditional Tory voters'. Well of course that is so, and so easily said; this is a proposal in which advantage will be lost. One could argue that the trad tory, to shorten the label, votes to preserve all perceptions of being ahead, so conserving position.

So consider disadvantage and what it is that you might mean by that. Some is chronic and some is churn; I mean that some people fall into a disadvantageous position (think of homelessness) and can be assisted out of that position, but that doesn't make the homeless numbers zero, because the underlying causes continue. Chronic conditions are those that don't go away and we can point to (many) sink estates that demonstrate that we have unaddressed issues.

Should not provide support to the disadvantaged? We seem to have decided that we have people totally dependent upon state aid and then we have a system that determines the extent to which this is allowed or supported. We call this, in general, social care. Compare this with the attitudes discussed in the four tribes of Americans on the previous page, which I think generally disagrees with aid. However, what seems to grate most in Britain is where an example can be found of people successfully taking advantage of the care and support system; the test for 'success' here is that the gains from the state exceed the position achieved by someone who works full-time. Of course, being noticed is not success but failure and we have many abusive terms, even as some of these cases are surely being properly supported. The trouble is that we have difficulty deciding what 'fair' means at the bottom edge of our spectrum. At the same time, the huge range upwards is another something that we need a solution to, though whether that solution is punitive taxation or a much better understanding of transfer of wealth (and its return to the economy) is also something not well enough discussed. I came across a post on FB this week that said something like "give money to a worker and it goes back into the local economy; give money to an owner (a boss type person of some description) and the money goes overseas into a vault". But you get the idea; someone who already has enough by the light of the 'worker' removes their excess funds from circulation, where, in the interests of the economy as a whole, it would be better spent. Trying to make that happen could have interesting consequences.

Aside, still from [3]: a 2011 DWP press release says fraud is £1.6bn of benefits. Yes, but that is 0.7% of the benefits total, which I say implies a pretty good efficiency rating, though still well worth pursuit. In 2010 there was £38.4bn identified fraud and most fraud is in the finance industry – £3.6bn – though it's only 9% of the economy. But that is 9% of the total, so what was the point, please? [3], though elderly by 202s standards, is certainly worth reading for yourself.

My conclusion is that state aid is a jolly good idea and that we should provide a lot more of it. How we might go about that is a lot less clear to me.

We have the repeated negative effects of identifying a problem and then somehow we lump all cases together with a label that manages to make this a non-issue. A 2010 Guardian article points to Easterhouse in Glasgow and how this caused some dramatic moment for visiting politicians including Iain Duncan-Smith, then a minister under David Cameron [it resulted in the creation of the Centre for Social Justice]. I do not say that Easterhouse is 'cured', but it may be improved. Spend in 2016Report in 2018. This last link records the effort spent in recovery since 1985 and points to the quality of housing being an essential element (not all of the solution). That suggests to me that perhaps the supply of good quality housing is an essential part of moving this nation to a better place, which perhaps means that addressing housing right across the country might go quite a way towards the 'levelling-up' that needs to occur. But that has to include the removal or refurbishment of existing substandard housing. This has huge attached costs, but is for the benefit of, in the end, all of us. If better housing gives people reasons to behave better (not least by moving their daily concerns to a healthier place), then I don't think I care what it costs, we need to do it. Do read the last few pages of that 2018 report.  

Those who 'have' generally resent those who 'have-not' being given a leg up; the 'haves' feel that by their own efforts they have raised their position and that therefore it is unfair that others are simply given advantage. At a regional level, we might expect those down south to demand a share of any largesse and, any northerner would expect, their perceived needs will be given undue consideration. So we need to have genuinely national standards and we need to have this funded so very thoroughly that we do actually level up. 

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It struck me as sensible to look for more recent reports reviewing whether our society or nation is seen as broken. Here's a 2019 poll that enumerates that opinion. There is much debate about the roots of Brexit and the impact its handling has had on British public opinion, and this latest study shows that perceptions that British society is broken, that the economy is rigged, and that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about ordinary people are all high and rising.  While fieldwork was carried out before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, support for a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful was also high, but on nativist measures such as giving preferential treatment to native Britons in jobs, Britons are somewhat less anti-immigration than the global average, as previous Ipsos MORI research has shown.  Britain is one of many countries around the world with high and rising levels of dissatisfaction with the political system and there are few signs that this is getting better since Brexit.

The UK's general policy problems are an issue discussed in a paper from the Resolution Foundation. Reuters report [12]. Here's one such report [13]  from them. It reads to me as borderline political when I feel that what is needed is well-substantiated argument, much more than 'something needs to be done'. But then every UK government has a surprisingly bad record at following through on the recommendations of reports. I wonder why that is.

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 Just what does need to change in this country? I have concluded—across the last few years—that we need devolution to be written large across England, so that the result is something more close to a federation of states each of 4-10 million and I'd prefer them to be more or less equal in size, at around the population of Scotland.¹  But I came to that conclusion because I think that change to the electoral system simply isn't going to happen, so the route to PR is to set up a subsystem more locally, at the regional level. Sure, some of the bad ideas and habits are going to survive but at least the people themselves will be nearer to part of the solution. I think this would go some way to fix some aspects of the 'broken state', where one of the perception is that we have a general failure of democracy. That is not a complete solution, but it may set up the conditions for other repair to occur. 

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Looking for wise words on the more general issue—what needs fixing—I ran up against paywalls repeatedly. I found that there is a citizen's convention running that should report this year. From the blurb encouraging participation:-

The Hansard Society’s most recent annual Audit of Political Engagement found that:

  1. 72% say the system of governing needs ‘quite a lot’ or ’a great deal’ of improvement;
  2. 63% think Britain’s system of government is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful;
  3. 54% say Britain needs a strong leader who is willing to break the rules;
  4. 47% feel they have no influence at all over national decision-making; and,
  5. Of a list of 13 political activities, the number of people saying they would be prepared to do ‘none’ is up 10 percentage points in a year to 22%.

I am not convinced that this project is yet making progress. That may be cynicism  strongly assisted by distrust in the institutions of government. Looking for evidence, I found this, from the House of Lords, which points to ccukdemocracy.org. At the foot of their, CCUKD, home page is recommended reading, if you're hooked. Of course, citizen's assemblies could be treated by HMG as just another report, welcomed, published, discussed and then largely ignored. Vested interests always trump external interests, even where those concerned are elected to act in the interests of those whom they represent. So, if this citizen's assembly ever gets off the ground then, while it runs, there is 'something being done' that will 'come up with solutions' which response will run for the whole of the period through which the Assembly survives and then will flip very strongly to snafu, change only at the edges. Look, for example at the Boundary Commission, whose results are due about now. Quite what changes is in my 'don't care' collection, because having 650 more or less equal (in voter count) constituencies makes sense to me and I firmly believe that all complaint can be categorised as me-me-me. 

The more I hunted, the more I felt that this is an idea not making headway against the Establishment, however vague that may be delineated. Way too much of what search engines find to peruse is more promise of future action and expressions of enthusiasm, without actually getting anything to happen. Discussion is needed, deliberation without being assaulted by those with vested interest and as such communication while the 'slow brain work' occurs might well be a bad thing, but I cannot find evidence that there is any actual action. The arguments about what communication is appropriate are mixed; I see a lot of sense in including as many people as possible in the thinking going on, while at the same time protecting the assembled citizens much as a jury is protected. Link, based on Australian experience. I think that the issue here is whether the objective is to have deep thinking or mass participation  to me the whole point is to come up with ideas that the political representatives won't allow themselves to consider (vested interest again, such ideas threaten their persons). So I see benefit in allowing ideas to be generated, then circulated so that there is understanding of how opinion divides. But for considered thinking outside the box, both citizens' assemblies and the second chamber are intended for exactly that purpose.

I found that there was at least one attempt at such an Assembly on Brexit, and here's the summary report. Looking at this and what occurred i come to no useful conclusion, but that this was a conversation that should have occurred before the referendum. Indeed, I read the report more as if this was a focus group, because I think that anything called a Citizens' Assembly should be tackling problems that as yet don't have solutions, while a focus group establishes the pattern of opinion held by a representative assembly in discussion (that is, it starts in one place and, having been better informed, one hopes, moves to a different position). I then found this. I was struck by the point that, like the districts of Glasgow discussed in that same horrid colour, improvement of the immediate environment (directed state spend) rated very highly.

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One notes that uk.gov has not found any solution to the issues that Northern Ireland poses. I don't think they are any closer to resolution now than they were in 2015. I think Brexit creates a situation where there is no good solution—something acceptable to all interested parties—available. From England's viewpoint I reckon there is sufficient indifference to happily discard the province but this too is an unacceptable position. What I notice is that the province (looking for a label that is accurate but shorter than Northern Ireland) has an equal voice to that of the rest of the UK, despite being only 1.89 million in 66.79 (data [7]), less than 3% and thus even smaller than, say the North-East, the smallest region (data). Liverpool is listed as 1.42 million. So at Westminster voting is in line with GB majorities while at Stormont and in the press matters are very different. I read this as being that if enough people disagree with policy they can secede. 'UDI for Wideopen' was a chant when I was at school. ² ³

We must not return to the Troubles. We must not abandon the Good Friday Agreement. Yet I continue to think that the arrangement with the EU runs counter to the wants and needs of both the Republic and the Province – and that Brexit created the problem. Eventually the solution has to be that we have a United Ireland, within the EU, but that day is a generation off in the future. See.  Protocol Command Paper. Perhaps all that needs to happen is that the province become accustomed to the change (that the majority didn't want) and see the advantages shoved in their direction. Which amounts to change occurring that is subsequently seen as a Good Thing. The Russian solution (as happened in the Baltic states) would be to move people across the water to speed up the change; but that's thinking way outside the box.

Further reading list [8] on this topic.

The UK has promised internally that there will be no paperwork hassles, such that one of its red lines ('do not cross') is complete regulatory autonomy from the EU. The EU in turn takes a zero-risk approach to protecting the single market. Note the DUP’s move to make abolishing the protocol party policy, which strikes me as very much not helpful, by removing the direct benefit given to the province that allows it to trade freely with both the mainland and Europe. Do read [9]. What the protocol says is at [10].


My conclusions here are that we might make significant progress with two significant changes: 

(i) A housing policy to engineer the advertised 'levelling-up'. This is hugely expensive but the evidence from Easterhouse for example shows that the spend has good consequences. The massive spend must result in consistent (higher) standards of housing across the nation, to demonstrable 'levelling'. Policies and structures to make this continue are complicated; how we fund it is undiscovered — but, given the spend on the pandemic, it shows that we can do these things if we really want to.

(ii) To have devolution in England to a regional level, such that much of the perceived interference from Westminster, which amounts to pervasive, institutional London-centric attitudes, is reduced. No doubt many of the ills will devolve also – I think of Manchester becoming the capital of the NorthWest and gaining many of the ills of London, but the spill-over should reach more locals and that has to be, in general, a good thing. Among the marked benefits are that regional elections use proportional representation. Central government distributes very large sums collected from taxation (as it does now, but much larger sums) and provides regulatory control systems that ensure that the levelling up actually occurs. By removing a component of what Westmonster does, (typo kept as apt) we might hope to have parliament and its allied state institutions begin to function in better ways.


DJS 20210611

top pic from here, [14]


1  Devolution at NI population levels would give us 35 provinces. At NI sized units, Wales divides in two, Scotland in three and England into 30, total 35  At Wales-sized units, 21 provinces but actually 22 because NI is one and so is Wales, Scotland is one or two and England the remaining 18, total 22.  At Scotland-sized units, the total is 13; the smaller nations are one each and England divides into ten – In practice, though, England divides into nine more-or-less recognised regions; NE, NW, SE, SW, East of England, East and West Midlands, London, Yorks and Humber. This would serve, making the UK a possible federation of 12 and leaving both Wales and NI relatively over-represented in any putative meeting of provincial bodies.

2  At the time, Ian Smith in Rhodesia had made a UDI, unilateral declaration of independence, Nov 1965. [11]. Harold Wilson's government found this hard work (a sort of 'They can't do that, can they?' response), generally over whether this was indeed what the Rhodesian majority wanted. This was more or less resolved by the creation of Zimbabwe in 1979. Meanwhile at school, what we picked up on (I'd be Y10 in Nov) was that Smith had declared UDI and seemed to get more or less what he wanted on the instant just by saying it was so, though history says differently. It seemed sufficiently random (not a word we'd have used at the time that way) that Wideopen, three miles north of school, seemed a suitable choice to make a similar claim. No-one who lived there genuinely wanted secession, but it had a lovely ring to it, so we used the phrase to refer to any and every want that was going to remain unresolved. Thus it became an identifier for such things, even down to not wanting to do homework; "UDI for Wideopen" would be the cry, meaning 'I want something I can't have'.

3  Northern Ireland has 18 MPs, which hints at 105,000 per MP, 2-3% adrift of the UK whole average of 102,000. Sinn Feinn refuses to sit at Westminster, which means any voting leaves the province with 11 votes when they are in unanimity.  


[1]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_Britain

[2]   https://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/mar/31/is-britain-broken   Yes, 2010.

[3]   https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/may/31/chav-vile-word-fractured-britain Yes, 2011.

[4]   https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk

[5]   https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/global-study-nativist-populist-broken-society-britain

[6]   https://www.newlocal.org.uk/articles/citizens-assemblies/

[7]   https://www.statista.com/statistics/294729/population-united-kingdom-uk-by-country/

       https://www.statista.com/statistics/294681/population-england-united-kingdom-uk-regional/

       https://www.statista.com/statistics/294645/population-of-selected-cities-in-united-kingdom-uk/

[8]    success of the northern ireland protocol

[9]    https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/ni-protocol-political-movement

[10]   https://ukandeu.ac.uk/explainers/the-protocol-on-ireland-northern-ireland/

[11]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhodesia%27s_Unilateral_Declaration_of_Independence

[12]   https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/uk-risks-italy-style-decline-economic-challenges-mount-think-tank-2021-05-17/

[13]   https://economy2030.resolutionfoundation.org/comment/the-uk-is-entering-a-decisive-decade-of-economic-change-without-a-plan-to-shape-it/

[14]   https://digitalbloggers.com/home-improvement/www-digitalbloggers-com-both-men-and-women-whinge





Related pages; 

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 284 ProRogue 

 315 Dissatisfied with Democracy

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