Never mind post-truth, this is the age of post-competence #TheresaMay #Brexit

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Poor cow, I almost feel sorry for Theresa May. So desperate was she to get the premiership that she grabbed the most poisoned chalice since the Poll Tax, and betrayed all her barely discernible principles in the process. We should coin a phrase for this kind of infantile hubris; instead of “selling out” we should refer to it as “Clegging Up”.

Brexit is the most bone-headed act of mutual self-destruction since the appeasement of Hitler. I understand there are very strong emotions on both sides, but it must be clear to anyone with a brain larger than a walnut that we’re already getting fucked and it’s only going to get worse, and no-one knows what to do about it.

Except just stop it, that is, seeing as Article 50 has not been triggered and the referendum is not legally binding and it should be debated by parliament and blah, blah, blah (just add any of the other stuff us liberal-elite, unpatriotic remoaners keep banging on about).

It’s perfectly clear that there is not one person in our entire government who is remotely qualified, experienced or capable of managing such an unimagined contingency. What’s more, our government and parliament is largely (not completely) comprised of uneducated imbeciles. Sounds like a cheap, ad-hominem insult, I know, but in which other profession could a middle-aged person, with any degree of professional confidence or ethical credibility, move from a senior job in finance to a similarly pivotal role in the health sector? Or education, or defence, or social welfare? Quite a common occurrence among ministers in British government.

The British parliamentary system not only celebrates delusional, aspirational folly but also handsomely rewards any amount of corruption, misconduct and incompetence.

We now have a Prime Minister who actually said “brexit means brexit.”

In public. To the press. No, really, and we think Trump is an idiot.

Imagine if I went to work and a client asked me what audio-visual (AV) tech I was going to provide to achieve the required results, and I said “AV is as AV does.” I would be dismissed on the spot, but the British parliamentary system requires no such competence, actual or perceived.

When I was of school age, we used to tease each other by pretending we knew an embarrassing secret about another child but refusing to say what it was. Another technique was to start telling some tale and then abruptly stop and say “never mind, you wouldn’t believe me”. Both childish ruses, of course, to pretend some superior knowledge or advantage, and founded on nothing.

Rather like the government’s refusal to give details about its brexit negotiations. Most of us left that sort of behaviour in the playground but Theresa May is so immured in her Thatcher-a-like folly, she can neither recognise nor accept her own impotence. In a move reminiscent of the so-called Darwin Awards, which awards trophies to those whose acts of stupidity remove them from the gene pool, a woman that could countenance the appointment of Boris Johnson to Foreign Secretary has already selected herself for political extinction.

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A bunch of Johnny Foreigners ignoring Spooky May.

I must admit, I had lost my mojo a bit over the weekend and failed to come up with a satisfactory Playbolam™ for the 18th, although I did have a few ideas, and failed to get it published on time. However, I was saved by the doorbell and the arrival, the following day,  of a few carefully chosen bits and bobs direct from Playmobil themselves.
http://playbolam.wordpress.com/
http://playmobil.co.uk/

Under the section of their online shop listed as “Last chance to buy”, I couldn’t resist the price reduced pink unicorn at £1.75, although I was not sure what use I would have for it. But as soon as I unpacked it, I could see Spooky May riding it as a symbol of Brexit, accompanied by a few kippers.

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Agent “Spooky” May, the licensed snooper, now leader of the Nazti Party.

Seems so obvious now.

My own inaction was partly inspired by the sheer tyranny of choice, with so many easy targets for anger, frustration and downright incredulity at the sprawling omnishambles that is the British parliamentary system.

I see no future for Britain whilst such incompetence is tolerated. All MPs should be dismissed and re-elected, but employed on proper contracts of employment and overseen by an independent standards body that has the power to remove them from office and, if need be, prosecute them.

Until genuine oversight is applied to those in public office whose decisions affects the lives of others, there is no future but fascism, and we are destined to be lead by the very least among us.

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Great Exhibition of (What’s Left of) The North – or – Fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me #GXN #GEN #GreatExhibitionOfTheNorth

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No credit given, but I found it here: http://www.wepsite.de/the_end5600pix.jpg

In April last year, I attended an evening event entitled “Everything’s Better in the North” where we endured a series of presentations by residents of Sheffield telling other residents of Sheffield about how good Sheffield is. All good people, and if you were one of those presenters (and you know who you are) please do not be offended. But I don’t need to spend two hours of my life being told that everything is going to be alright when it’s abundantly clear that it’s not.

I grew up here. Not in Sheffield itself, but in this area, and I have been coming into the city regularly for my whole life. I didn’t move to live here until 2003 but I have spent almost all of my adult life living and working in the Sheffield city region.

The speaker from Sheffield City Council did the usual thing of claiming Sheffield is well placed, amongst other things, by being next door to the Peak District, and I grew up believing that the Peak District was a special place, but I was wrong.

The Peak District is an artificially-maintained, ruined landscape. Before the Middle Ages, the whole area was forest. In fact, pretty much all of Britain was forest until it was cleared for the purposes of farming, burning, or to build ships for war and colonisation. That might seem like a long time ago but in geological terms, a few hundred years is not even the blink of an eye. In ecological terms, however, it is plenty of time to fuck up our environment.

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Name those dystopias.

Moorland is a stunted wilderness, maintained barren by what George Monbiot refers to as the great white plague. That is, sheep. There is nothing natural nor beautiful about grouse moors. They are a barren wasteland, maintained as such as a playground for the undeserving rich and we should not be celebrating that fact.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/16/grouse-shooters-kill-first-casualty-is-truth-astroturfing-botham-rspb-packham

I, too, love living in Sheffield, but where I fall out of line with many of the people who are active in the creative, business and marketing sectors is that I do not subscribe to what I would characterise as an destructively uncritical positivity-cult.

Somehow, it has become understood that to be critical is to be negative, and anything other than unfettered enthusiasm is disloyal to our home city. But someone needs to talk about the uncomfortable truths and, in the absence of any other willing soul, that someone is me.

These days, Sheffield is a shit-hole. It’s sacrilege to say so, I know, and it’s getting worse. Not all of it, of course, and there is plenty to be proud of, but also there is plenty here that we should objecting to, rather than celebrating.

Our roads are in the worst state of repair as at any point in my lifetime, homelessness is now as commonplace in Sheffield as it used to be as a cliché in London, public services are being eroded at the same time as banks and corporations are making record profits, wages are falling and employment opportunities are reducing. Publicly owned land is being sold off to corporations, and town planning control has been eviscerated to the point where we are witnessing the most poorly planned and brutal urban redevelopment since the 1960s.

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The Moor Market.
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PRIMARK!
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The Moor Market.
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Fitzalan Square, the heart of Sheffield’s vibrant financial sector.

Interesting times, and unless we do something about it, there is worse to come.

But now the Conservative government has offered the carrot of funding for The Great Exhibition of the North. The stick, of course, is not critcising the most corrupt and incompetent government in British history.

Having watched the promotional video, representing Sheffield’s bid and featuring University of Sheffield’s Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Chair of Museums Sheffield, Kim Streets and director of Sheffield Theatres Daniel Evans, I understand their dilemma and I sympathise. Although that is no compensation for their vacuous complicity.

Kim Streets enthuses about the “great spaces” available for the exhibition whilst standing in the Millennium Gallery, but fails to mention how many staff have been laid off by Museums Sheffield in the past few years due to austerity-led funding cuts, or the shortened opening hours of these great spaces. Professor Vanessa even has the disingenuous hubris to use the term “Northern Powerhouse”, having fully absorbed and regurgitated the Tory propaganda. She’s a highly-qualified academic and social historian and should know better.

Five million pounds sounds like a lot of money and like it would do the region some good, but it’s not. Not only is it a tiny amount, given the size of “The North”, but if the aim of the exhibition is to celebrate what we have, or what we achieved in the past, it belies the elephant in the region.
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/competition-opens-to-host-great-exhibition-of-the-north

That is, what we have lost.

Arts and cultural activities are, mostly, the indulgences of the middle classes, and a large proportion of the population (the same people who regularly receive nothing from arts and cultural funding) will receive nothing of value from money spent on exhibitions, craft classes, seminars and walking tours.

The disenfranchised of Sheffield and “The North” will not be re-enfranchised by the enthusiasms of academics, administrators and curators. Nor will they benefit from the fees paid to accountants, solicitors and technicians, employed to enable such a celebration.

And the so-called “legacy fund” of £15 million for the whole of “The North” is little more than the retirement package of now-retired Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) chief Fred Goodwin (real name, honest).
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/feb/12/uk-banks-expected-to-pay-out-5bn-pounds-in-bonuses

Maybe some of that money could be used to repair the roads in “The North”, or maybe the PFI corporations charged with the task are restoring them back to their pre-tarmac days by uncovering all the cobbles and setts of yesteryear.

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A61, the main southbound A road in Sheffield.
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Gleedless Road. Last week, I saw a toddler fall in this pothole, it is so deep.

The problem I see with this kind of festival (and I have worked on, and been to, many of them) is that it will be primarily comprised of activities of consumption and distraction, created by middle-class people, for middle-class people and selected & funded by middle-class people. Artisan bread and carbon-neutral circuses.

But we could say no.

Conditions here in “The North” are now worse than at any other point in my lifetime and pretending that everything is going to be alright is a deluded fantasy. Rather than singing “God save the Queen”, we should be singing “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”.

That might seem angry but this is what I grew up on:

For many years, a regular sight in Sheffield city centre was a man carrying a banner, claiming “The End Is Nigh”. He always seemed a little out of place, wielding his melodramatic warning amid the thronging shoppers of Fargate.

But just the other day, walking along The Moor, Pinstone Street and Fargate was like one of the continuous follow-shots from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men” (2007), the streets lined with religious zealots, worn-out beggars and passive-aggressive chuggers, every one of them hussling for money and salvation.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_of_Men

The end was nigh, after all, although I didn’t know how nigh, and now I do know, the end is even nigher.

I never expected to be the angriest voice in the village during my own middle ages. But where is the protest? I was a young adult at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s but I do not see any of the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian rebelliousness in young people today, just when we need it most. They seem to be too busy watching “Game of Thrones”, or playing Minecraft, or else whacked on energy drinks, too distracted to recognise what a sterile, debt-ridden dystopia they are growing up in.

There’s plenty of money about. Not in Sheffield, of course, but ask Google, ask Apple, ask Barclays or maybe even ask the Bank of England who conjured £375 billion of funny money in 2009 to support a group of businesses, supposedly too big to fail, whose operational practices are indistinguishable from organised crime.

And they did it again, only a few weeks ago. And it’s not working. Again.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/brexit-bank-of-england-qe-bonds-gilts-pensions-mark-carney-interest-rates-vat-a7182256.html

Lloyds Bank who have doubled their profits in the last year but are now laying off 3,000 staff and closing branches. No doubt a few in Sheffield and lots in “The North”.
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/28/lloyds-bank-to-axe-3000-jobs-and-close-200-branches

“Every day, we’re busy helping our millions of customers get to where they want to go in life. Lloyds TSB, for the journey.” Yeah, the journey to the local Job Centre Plus. God bless their crooked hearts.

We now live in a world of post-factual journalism, post-responsibility politics and post-competence institutions.

And this brings me back to the Great Exhibition of the North. The very name betrays a divisive cynicism only conceivable within the distorted mind of a Westminster-based “special adviser” to the most corrupt and destructive government in British history.

I genuinely apologise to anyone in Sheffield that I might have offended by suggesting that their endeavors are futile but, if it’s any consolation, I include my own. Especially in the creative & arts sectors, we have lied to ourselves for years that everything will be alright, and if we do this project or that job, or another exhibition for nothing or very little, it will lead to some sort of deferred future “success”.

But it didn’t, and there is no precedent to think it ever will.

The promised funding is nothing more than a bribe to keep “The North” quiet and those people who have contributed to the application should be ashamed of their complicity in such shallow and cynical manipulation.

And maybe the proposed date of the Great Exhibition of the North, summer 2018, is coincident with the proposed start of fracking operations in “The North”. Theresa May has just announced personal bribes for local residents affected by fracking.
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/06/fracking-local-people-payments-theresa-may

I hardly think that such politically-savvy professionals will have missed the significance of the timing. I wonder if the Great Exhibition of the North will include an exhibit about unconventional gas extraction? Or the increase in homelessness? Or banking fraud? Or the 45% loss of invertebrate species in the past 35 years.
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/vital-invertebrates-decline-by-45-per-cent-study-finds-9626745.html

I doubt it.

But an exhibition celebrating all the good things about “Not London” will seem pretty sick when your water has been poisoned and your house condemned due to earthquake-induced subsidence.

If Sheffield wins the bid, I’m sure The Great Exhibition of the North will be about much more than stainless steel, Park Hill and Henderson’s Relish (like most exhibitions in Sheffield are), but I hope the people involved will look beyond the end of their own suburban gardens and consider how to include those in our city and region that are unrepresented by middle-class professionals: those without homes, those without status and those without disposable income.

And in the meantime, I say fuck you, I won’t like what you tell me.

MPs should be paid more, and here’s why #MPsPay #votepleb

Vote pleb 3.007-001

I remember a television interview with Tony Benn (1925 – 2014), some time in the 1990s I think, where he proposed (if my memory serves me correctly) that members of parliament should be paid £100,000 per annum. BUT, and it’s a big but, forbidden from having any other financial interests. It is possible that I have not remembered the details correctly but that doesn’t matter, it’s the perspective that’s important, and I have some of my own suggestions.

At the time, it seemed like a monstrous amount of money, an annual income that most people will never earn in their lives, but I have come to agree with him and think they should be paid even more than that, and I’ll come back to that later.

Friends of mine will know that, despite a very long-standing disdain for politics and politicians, I have only recently become politically active, but why is that?

Shame, disgust and anger.

On a daily basis, I am appalled by the explicit corruption of people who are PUBLIC SERVANTS, paid with public money. Not government money, there is no such thing as government money, it is our money, paid by “hardworking” people. Not Google, of course, or Gary Barlow, or any of the hordes of other favoured tax avoiders otherwise known as Conservative Party donors.

However, UK members of parliament are not bound by the same kind of terms and conditions that you and I might expect in our place of work, and they cannot be removed from their positions except by a general election, a by-election or under certain specific, but none too punitive circumstances.

Members of Parliament are paid a generous salary but also have a wide range of perks and benefits, including a subsidised second home, paid-for ancillary staff and rather generous expenses. I will not go into the figures here but it is all available on http://www.theyworkforyou.com/.

And now, it is proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to give British MPs a 11% pay rise, despite years of austerity and caps on local authority pay and social security benefits, and demonstrable failure of the government to deal with the problems of the United Kingdom.

Having said that, my own criticism would not be the cost to the British public, but the lack of responsibility taken by the very people who have been elected to represent us. I accept that being an MP is a huge commitment and an undertaking far more serious than any of my own paid roles, but with great great power comes great responsibility.

And there’s the rub.

I am sure David Cameron and his Bullingdon buddies see themselves as statesmen. An élite. The cream of the crop. But these are people who have never done anything worthwhile in their entire lives. They have never contributed anything to the world around them because they have never actually worked and they know nothing of the world because they jump straight from university into politics with nothing more than a first-class degree in fluff and a dollop of mummy and daddy’s prejudice.

I’m sure they think it’s work, and I have no doubt that they spend long hours in their efforts, but working as a researcher or a speech writer for another politician is not work at all. It’s just an exercise in disguising prejudice as prudence.

If you look at Cameron’s Wikipedia entry (I don’t have my Who’s Who? to hand) he was known to be an outstanding student. However, his most notable skill seems to be question avoidance, otherwise known as professional lying. Such a shame that someone so obviously talented has dedicated his life to the perversion of truth.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron

George Osborne (currently Chancellor of the Exchequer) was not such a star pupil, but he is just a placeholder, although I gather he has been having acting lessons and voice coaching in order to improve his appeal.
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/12/ministers-acting-lessons_n_4583751.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/pandora/squeaky-osborne-raises-his-game-with-a-lower-voice-471165.html

This might explain why he has become such a charismatic performer recently. Money well spent. But why would a politician find it necessary to have acting lessons, whether or not it’s paid for by the taxpayer? Well, it’s because even a pantomime needs actors with a convincing vocal delivery.

Oh yes it does.

The reported amounts of money are trivial, but the principal of it is deeply invidious. It demonstrates what a sham the British parliament is, where performance has become more important than policy.

I can imagine a television competition show with those heavyweights of showbiz mentoring, Tom Jones, Will I Am, Jessie J and whatsisname-from-a-boyband, who sit with their backs to the dispatch box, listening to the deep, earnest rumblings of Osborne, followed by the artificially-maintained brogue of South Yorkshire’s favourite relish, William Hague, and then the twittering of Clegg, and finally the expertly polished, boyish fervour of Cameron.

What a shock they’ll get when then spin around, only to go eye-to-eye with the smooth-faced dumplings of the coalition front bench. Clegg is the looker, but I don’t suppose he’ll be in the competition much longer. (You know, I keep forgetting about Clegg, even though I am in Sheffield too. He’s not taken very seriously around here.)

It would not be fair to accuse Cameron or Osborne of being out of touch, they were never in touch in the first place. Cameron is the 5th cousin (twice removed) of Queen Elizabeth II, and Osborne is the direct descendent of King Henry III of England.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Cameron
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Osborne

This is also anathema to a responsible manager. I have been involved in selecting and interviewing for professional roles, but I would never appoint any of them. These people are the worst possible candidates for their jobs. They are conditioned sociopaths, their emotional development willfully stunted by their educational institutions, thereby making them incapable of arriving at informed decisions. If these people were not from wealthy families we would consider them deprived.

These men are not statesmen in either principle or practice, and we have lost sight of the fact that they, like us, are workers. They are being paid to work for us, to represent our interests, and if they don’t do that then no amount of drama coaching or vocal gymnastics will distract us from the fact that they are guilty of professional negligence.

What’s more, in any other industry, if an employee refused to answer a question posed by their colleagues or employers, or was found to be lying, that would count as gross misconduct, even if their mic technique was faultless. And yes, I am talking about Prime Minister’s Questions, which is a grotesque sham that future generations will compare with the obscene excesses of the Roman Empire.

What I would like to see is for a General Election where parliament is dissolved and all elected MPs are re-employed on a normal contract of employment. Just like the rest of us. Just like “hard working” people.

This would mean that MPs could be disciplined and, if necessary, dismissed if they fail to meet the conditions of their contract. I have had a number of management roles in my life but only once had to pursue disciplinary proceedings against a colleague. It’s not something to be taken lightly but is a vital safeguard that protects the employing organisation and fellow workers against the negligence, incompetence or misconduct of colleagues.

And as the responsibilities of Members of Parliament directly affect the wellbeing of thousands or even millions of other people, rather than the laissez-faire that we have at the moment, the contracts of MPs should be even more strictly scrutinized.

First out of the door would be Iain Duncan Smith. He’s an easy target, I know, but he’s been found to have lied about his education, mismanaged a number of extremely important government projects, willfully misrepresented statistical information and neglected his duty of care in his job.

Three strikes and you’re out is normal practice, mate, and that’s four. Oh and don’t sit down, Grant Shapps, you won’t be stopping either.

In normal employment, it would not be unreasonable to forbid employees to associate with other organisations that might create a conflict of interests, so why do we allow it amongst workers who have direct responsible for our economic prosperity, social services and national security?

Nadine “Mad Nad” Dorries (another easy target) would have been dismissed for gross misconduct. Not for swallowing maggots in the jungle, or for having the stupidity to appear on “I’m a Celebrity”, but for neglecting the duties she is paid to perform. Although, surely her appearance on the programme constitutes misrepresentation by the television production company, but let’s forget about that.

However, it’s not all depravity in the Houses of Parliament. I realise that I rarely mention the competent or ethical MPs, but they are not the ones we need to worry about. For a number of years, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has been campaigning for a “Recall” Bill, whereby members of parliament can be removed from their seats, via a by-election, if they are considered to be not doing their job properly.

The Recall Bill has just passed its first reading (on 11th September 2014) but Goldsmith has expressed his concern how it “falls scandalously short” of what he has been campaigning for.
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/11/recall-bill-power-mp-criticised-zac-goldsmith

The recall process in the bill as about to be enacted is reminiscent of the appeal process against the building of an intergalactic bypass that involved the destruction of the Earth in Douglas Adams’ 1979 novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

That was just a satire, but the reality is so grotesquely cynical, it’s not funny at all.

If you read the conditions required, it’s just a filibuster. In my opinion, however, Goldsmith doesn’t go nearly far enough, although I believe his heart is in the right place. My own preference would be for a much more radical, but not extreme, solution. A solution that already has millions of people in the UK employed in a similar manner.

Here is my proposal: members of parliament should be paid £250,000 per year, but forbidden from having any other income or financial interests during their tenure, and for a full parliamentary term afterwards although they would still get paid. Also, they would have to pay for all their travel, hotel bills and sundry expenses out of that amount, with no second home or personal favours. Additionally, any staff would have to be paid for out of that gross amount, but not spouses, offspring, friends, relatives or “special advisers”.

As Dennis Skinner put it, half the party opposite are not crooks, but it’s not just on the government benches. From the front benches all the way to the back on both sides, parliament is half full of people who would not be employable elsewhere because of past bankruptcies, criminal convictions or demonstrable incompetence.

I fight for the users, for the workers, for the plebs, and all I want is for “them” to realise that they are “us”.