Down the sewers

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Crammed into carriages on a daily basis, forced to share personal space with strangers and made to endure a service that is regularly poor. It’s no wonder the public behaves as the latest London Assembly Transport Committee report, “Too Close for Comfort” shows. Each of us reacts differently to our journeys on the Tube, but undoubtedly all of us find it stressful. Coupled with an almost sensory deprivation lack of information, frustrations only rise.

There is nothing more annoying than arriving at a Tube station during rush hour to see that there is a 5 or 6 minute gap between trains. This means that it could be anything up to 15 minutes before you can board a train (as regularly occurs on the District Line) due to overcrowding. In this era we, as customers, should not be forced to accept such a poor service. The system is creaking under the sheer weight of numbers, the lack of proper investment and it is also held over a barrel by the unions. All of which compounds the stresses that we, the users, have to suffer.

Traveling by Tube won’t improve any time in the near future (or indeed the long-term) until the customers are treated with some respect by TFL. The lack of respect we show each other is only amplified by the contempt we are shown regularly when we use the Underground. Still at least it’s slightly better below ground than it is above. Life on buses is more akin to the state of nature described by Locke, as evidenced here.

Generations of benefits

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In the Centre for Market and Public Organisation’s Research in Public Policy Winter 2009 edition there is an article concerning research that was conducted which examined the link between fathers and sons and worklessness. Lindsey Macmillan analysed the rates from two data sets, one from 1958 and the other from 1970 (the former being the National Child Development Study and the latter was the British Cohort Study) and found the probability of a son being out of work for a year or more between leaving full time education and the age of 30.

For the first data set the probability of the son being unemployed for a year or more was 20% if their father had been out of work during the latter part of their sons childhood years. For the second set the rate increased to 25%. The results compare to a probability of only 14% for sons whose father was in work for the duration of their childhood. This increase could be used as an indicator as to who may need the most assistance in the future. Ms Macmillan also looked at data from the recession of the 1980s, and hard hit industries and found that unless the period of joblessness was long then the effect on the child was lessened.

The conclusion is that there is a ‘correlation between workless experiences between fathers and sons in the UK.’ How then do policy makers break this bond? Perhaps one way would be to make benefits generational within a family: if your parents were in receipt of benefits then you can’t claim, you must work and you must purchase employment insurance while also paying back your parents debt via national insurance. Or benefits could actually be made to last only for a limited period. Our current system of benefits does little more than addict people to the political teat which of course is what politicians want: a supplicant mass that votes solely based on who awards them the most benefits. This bond is one that needs to be broken.

The Canutes

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Following the ‘hack’ of the Climate Research Unit, at UEA last week David Aaranovitch and George Monbiot have written quite different pieces that attempt to answer the questions it raises. The former continues in the vein of a fervent climate change supporter by sweeping the questions under the rug, the latter is contrite yet still needs more evidence to prove that perhaps the climate change science is partly flawed. (For an excellent round up of discovered flaws see Bishop Hill, more here). The accusations of foul play will continue to pour onto the net over the coming weeks, but they won’t have any effect.

The self-proclaimed gods of climate change abatement meet in Copenhagen next month in an attempt to thrash out a Kyoto II type deal. To the assembled there is no questioning of the science: the climate is indeed warming. We have seen rulers like this before attempting to stop the tide from coming in: we know they get their feet wet. Within climate science currently there are many different arguments over what may cause the earth to warm: solar cycles, carbon dioxide emissions, clouds, the affect of the oceans trapped heat, even volcanoes. All contribute to the global climate, some more so than others e.g. water vapour. Yet politicians are solely concerned with one thing: CO2.

Consider the effect that sulphur dioxide has when it reaches the stratosphere following a massive volcanic eruption. It is well documented that afterwards the climate is changed both globally and locally. In the short term. Surely if politicians want to have an effect be it long or short term then putting sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere is a cheaper and more efficient way to go. Politicians have become blinded by the media spotlight and are failing to consider all sides of the argument. As we shall see in Copenhagen next month, when the Canutes will attempt to stop the sea from rising, the ice from melting, the rain from falling etc. They are doomed to failure and with it, they will drag others into poverty, and further hinder our progress.

MPs: always on the take

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Chris Mullin is right when he states that £64,000 isn’t peanuts. It’s not. It’s 253% more than the national median wage, or roughly double if you include a London weighting figure of 20%. (The Family Spending 2008 figures conclude that London living is 20% more expensive). So it’s fair to conclude that politicians have an easier life than the majority of us on their ‘basic’ salary. Let’s also not forget that they can expense much of their everyday spending whilst also eating subsidized food and drink, and should they garner a ministerial position then they’re really raking it in.

Yes, their expenses should be published, down to the last nut and bolt. Yes, their other jobs should also be listed along with how much they earn for those positions. But neither of these solves the question of their pay. The Senior Salaries Review Board will continue to ‘advise’ the prime minister, meaning that the MPs will still set their own pay. A solution to this problem needs to be found as many in this country don’t trust politicians (historically trust in politicians was declining before the expenses scandal) and therefore feel they are paid too much as of now.

MPs have achieved little for the reward they receive. Their remuneration isn’t a reflection of the overbearing, unproductive and stultifying effects that their actions have on the rest of us. The UK’s political class is in fact acting as a successful glass ceiling to the growth that we all could profit from without their interference. Their pay is purely a reflection of their self-centred and self-aggrandizing nature. A suitable pay cut would be sufficient to drag them back to earth and reveal the hardships that they have brought upon us. Connecting their pay to the median wage, as a base, would firmly ground them. Further linking that with growth and removing their ability to vote on their own pay rises would act as fair punishment for the years of theft they engaged in.

Wasteful competition

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altLondon to Birmingham: who can get there the fastest? Both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are racing to see who can build a high speed railway between these two cities before the other; on paper. The Labour party are pulling out of the station with the announcement that it is to be a key manifesto pledge. The Conservative party have made promises that they will also look to build a high speed rail link in the UK, connecting London to Birmingham and on to Manchester and Leeds. Not since the mid 19th Century has this country seen such competition between two ‘rail companies’.

This government has just spent £8.8bn upgrading a railway line between London and Glasgow. Upgrading it so it can run at the same speeds as before, but with better signalling. Then there is the Channel Tunnel rail link that took over 11 years to build. From its Parliamentary act in1996, to fully opening in 2007. It cost £5.2bn and covers 68 miles or £85.138m per mile. Labour claim that to get to Birmingham it will take them 8 years, but work wouldn’t start until 2017. Birmingham is about 112 miles and if similar costs occurred then the total cost to us to build the railway would be £9.5bn. But of course as with everything a politician touches, the cost to us keeps on rising.

Political parties should not be promising to build railways; high speed or otherwise. Any party that promises to spend other people’s money will do so without due care. What they should be promising in their manifestos is that if a private party (or parties) wish to build a high speed rail line then they would ensure it gained royal assent. The cost to us all is negligible, even more so if it fails.