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The UK in 2017: Sinking or Burning?

The spring time terrorist attacks in both London and Manchester along with the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in London’s Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have left a painful and fearful legacy in the UK at present. While the new diminished government barely copes.

The UK Election

The June 2017 General election was premised on Brexit. It aimed to provide Prime Minster Theresa May with a larger majority and a stronger mandate to negotiate a hard line in the Brexit negotiations with the EU which commenced this week. She failed and now her tenure in Number 10 hangs by a thread. A confidence and supply deal agreed has been struck with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (DUP) to provide a small working majority which some in her party find distasteful.

The Brexit deal or the stance of the DUP on parliamentary legislation presented, although much reduced from the election manifesto, could cause her government problems. The SNP may attempt to thwart the Repeal Bill’s passage through parliament by the legislative consent motion (LCM) requiring the consent of devolved administrations over repatriated EU laws. The ascendant Scottish Conservatives also have more influence and concerns over the forthcoming Brexit Bill as Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP wishes for an open Brexit rather than a hard exit from the EU (Guardian, 2017).

Also, LGBTQ issues opposed by the DUP have raised concerns with openly-gay Scottish Secretary David Mundell MP and Davidson MSP. Although Theresa May has given Davidson some reassurances that this won’t transpire. This hopefully will be more reliable than she hoped, for a majority and strong and stable leadership (Telegraph, 2017).

This blog’s prediction for the election result was way off the mark (LDC blog for May 2017). However, the prediction is now for awkward times ahead for No.10 and the UK Brexit negotiators as the more certain guess.

Terrorism

The terrorist attacks, although widely condemned throughout the world, perhaps now seem destined to become part of modern life in western countries. This replays awful similarities with the IRA, Basque, Red Brigade or ETA bombing campaigns in the UK and Europe from the 1970s-1990s. Notably, these despicable atrocities were sometimes accompanied by a warning beforehand.

However, deranged lone wolf attackers are extremely difficult to identify and stop before committing their dreadful atrocities. The opportunist claims by ISIS or other terror groups to claim “credit” for any attacks are deplorable. Consequently, any proposed draconian measures for the public to spy and inform on suspicious neighbours has Orwellian implications for freedom of speech, association and movement. What needs to be done to improve intelligence to thwart these atrocities? It needs local knowledge with communal care and attention with a willingness to help friends, neighbours and colleagues long before they become radicalised, hateful or simply mentally disturbed. No easy task in a busy world.

The unfolding consequences of the Grenfell Tower fire, poor regulation and building procurement.

The residents and local inhabitants of Grenfell Tower in North Kensington demonstrated some genuine kindness and commitment to help other after the recently renovated 1970s tower block ignited like a Roman candle in the early hours of the 14th of June. The final numbers of dead are yet to materialise with 79 killed or missing so far and 65 rescued from an estimate 400-600 residents according to a BBC News report on the 23rd June 2017 (BBC, 2017).

Construction Industry commentators have declared the deaths as tragic and totally avoidable. How a multi-million pound recently renovated building was left without an adequate means of escape, firefighting systems and external cladding which was seemingly flammable is a scandal set to run for years.

The cladding panels have failed a government safety inspection since the fire causing more fear and upheaval. In Camden residents have been evacuated to temporary accommodation for months while building repairs are made to affected buildings in the Chalcots Estate (Evening Standard, 2017).

Reports suggest there will need to be cladding removed from a wide variety of public buildings so far in 76 local authorities throughout the UK which have failed further Building Research Establishment (BRE) safety checks.

What this suggests about the state of public sector building procurement and contracting is dire. This is an utter shameful debacle for the UK construction industry as it will take many years and many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to rectify.

The entire process and professional competency in many parts of the construction Industry are clearly inadequate and substandard. The industry is littered with building regulations, codes of practices and health and safety legislation such as the Construction, Design and Management Regulations literally designed to design out hazards like flammable cladding. Clearly, the building regulations need addressing to include fire systems in residential blocks of all types.

However, the plethora of safety management documents required for public sector housing contracts and the professionals producing them should prevent catastrophic occurrences. Are these safety management documents just a pointless paper chase? Is there hands-on supervision of building works and adequate material specification during these contracts-seems unlikely? In Edinburgh 17 new high schools were built, using PFI contracts, that lost their cladding due to high winds and the causes of the failures are reported in a damning independent report (Architect’s Journal, 2017).

Parsimonious building owners or government austerity are one issue and another is an industry obsessed with cost control and budgets without competent design and building supervision.

Somehow in spite of all this UK focussed incompetence the stock market has risen while the pound has fallen. This adjusts for the foreign earnings of FTSE100 and 250 constituent companies. Shall more UK focussed companies fair worse with a weakening pound, slipping UK consumer spending, rising inflation and stagnant wage growth amid political uncertainty? Seems highly likely as combined with the UK’s poor productivity wealth creation is dipping.

It’s time to spend some more borrowed money on housing provision, infrastructure and education in a manner that benefits a declining world power to at least care for its citizens and children without squandering it on the meaningless procurement process.

If we’re going to sink in global prestige let’s not burn money and especially life on inadequate edifices.

The UK can do better but some bold changes and moves are required by competent people. Let those who are not capable either step aside or be made accountable for their failures.

LDC

References and Further Reading-

Architect’s Journal; (2017); ”Poor Construction and Lack of Scrutiny Caused Scottish Schools Defects’, by Richard Waite, Emap Publishing Ltd, UK. Website accessed Mon. 26th June 2017: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/poor-construction-and-lack-of-scrutiny-caused-scottish-schools-defects/10017249.article

BBC News Service; (2017), “London Fire: What We Know So Far About Grenfell Tower”, BBC, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th 2017:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40272168

Evening Standard; (2017),” Hundreds of Fire Doors’ Were Missing From Tower Blocks Evacuated In Camden,” by Patrick Grafton-Green, Evening Standard, London, UK. Website accessed Mon.26th June 2017:
http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/hundreds-of-fire-doors-were-missing-from-tower-blocks-evacuated-in-camden-a3573551.html

Guardian; (2017); “ Ruth Davidson Dismisses Reports of Scottish Tory Breakaway,” by Chris Johnston and Anushka Asthana, Guardian News and Media Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th June 0217:
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jun/10/ruth-davidson-dismisses-reports-of-scottish-tory-breakaway

Telegraph; (2017); “Scottish Secretary Urges DUP to Change Its Position on Gay Rights Issues”, by Auslan Cramb, Telegraph media group Ltd, London, UK. Website accessed: Mon.26th June 0217:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/12/scottish-secretary-urges-dup-change-position-gay-rights-issues/

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Don’t Go to Davos: Time to Be a New Rebel in the Brexit/Trump Era.

This is the message I give to Davos man or woman for the 2017 January meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, unless you want to go skiing of course. Picking a theme like inequality or climate change is all well and good.

However, with the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the USA on the 20th January and Theresa May, UK Prime Minster, taking a harder line with Brexit from the EU once Article 50 of the EU Charter is triggered. The opportunity has arisen for a new type of rebel against the new anti-establishment establishment now that Brexiteers and Trumpites are in their ascendancy.

Global business executives, politicians, commentators and celebrity activists instead of lamenting about the ending of the Obama Presidency now need to embrace not just a new agenda of defending and improving liberal democracy, as the best political engine for raising living standards around the world, but a better way of involving its increasingly disparaged citizens in the process.

More elite group thinking in the cool mountain air is not going to resolve any loss of confidence in Western political systems that caused the political upsets of 2016. It has allowed the rise of nationalism and nativism across Europe and the successful isolationist rhetoric of the Trump presidential campaign.

Will he and his new administration be all bad? He seems to be rather thin skinned and rises to the bait or “tweet” far too quickly for trouble not to be too far away.

However, global stockmarkets have rallied, perhaps too far, in anticipation of looser fiscal policy, reflation and rising bond rates. Investment strategists have suggested the US should publicly finance infrastructure as one area of fiscal policy earmarked to get a boost under Trump.

How the new administration deals with Russia’s President Putin over claimed election interference with Rex Tillerson as the new Secretary of State, a lifelong oilman with business dealings with Russia, will be worth following. So too will the complex negotiations with Iran and Saudi Arabia over Syria, Yemen, trade sanctions and global terrorism. Furthermore, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea with its neighbours will test and stress his administration to the limit no doubt.

Although it’s likely he’ll rely on his team to do the job for him and I suspect he’ll be as much of a part-timer as possible with Kellyanne Conway and his daughter Ivanka likely to feature a lot in managing the media (and his tweets) in the months ahead.

So what can the new establishment rebels do to make sure they don’t experience the political shocks that upset them so much in 2016 continuing in 2017?

Well to begin with, as it will take more time than a 4 year presidential term or the timeframe for the UK to exit the EU formally. By engaging with people and organisations not based in capitals or large metropolitan areas to better understand, argue and formulate changes to the political system.

Politicians and political elites should promote and introduce deliberative democracy techniques using sortition and lots for forming representative bodies. As in Finland, organise trials for universal basic income models to help alleviate anticipated long term employment or lifestyle changes due to technological advancement.

Well intentioned worries over inequality at Davos won’t produce any worthwhile solutions unless more people perceive they aren’t excluded from society or its opportunities by distant wealthy elites. This is surely the lesson from 2016 and any time now would be a good time to address it. Lest unpalatable results materialising further for those who claim to know best what’s good for society.

It might even be interesting experience transitioning to a new democratic system of governance now that could be worth talking about at some future Davos gathering.

LDC.

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Building a Wall to Stop Immigrants is the Last Piece of Infrastructure the USA Needs.

Republican Presidential Nominee apparent for the 2016 election (unless the Republicans can depose him at their convention) Billionaire property tycoon Donald Trump as part of his electioneering bravado has promised to construct a wall along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigrants from entering the US.
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2016: What’s Coming – the Good, the Bad or Mediocrity.

Another year starting so what’s in store for investors and markets?

In 2015 the GDP of the US economy grew at 2.4%, the UK did 2.5% and the EU managed 1.5% with all its currency and migrant upheavals (GS, 2015). China slowed down yet still reported 6.9% causing investors or speculators a heap of disappointment or margin call troubles depending on what figures one believes. India performed better at 7.4% and seems to have the confidence of pundits for an improvement in 2016 to 7.8% (GS, 2015). Let’s hope so, as India the world’s largest democracy, has disappointed before and there’s still plenty of debt and cronyism in its large institutions.
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Trends, Themes and Fault Lines: Where Could All This Inequality End Up – in Darkness or the Light?

Since July 2013 the FTSE100, the leading UK share index, has ranged between 6400 and 6800 points. While the larger US S&P 500 index has moved from 1600 points up to record highs, closing above the 1850 level on several occasions, notably since January the S&P 500 has traded in a more sideways fashion. Perhaps this indicates a top in the market or a pause for good reason- reported earnings weaknesses or Fed tapering – however it’s still an impressive increase from the market lows during the 2007-2009 financial crisis. The bulls and bears react to positive or negative news and information which forms investor sentiment to drive the markets on their trajectories and so forth.
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A crisis in the Crimea and growing volatility in the world’s markets – it’s been quite a 1st quarter for 2014.

Back in January it was hoped that global equities may repeat some of 2013 rally. However, the US Federal Reserve increasing tendency to taper remains firmly part of the US financial agenda. China property bubbles and debt defaults have started to concern investors. Yet so far the Chinese authorities have bailed out government entities and kept a lid on a more general panic in view of the vast quantities of property related-debt. Vladimir Putin put on a good show with the Sochi Winter Olympics, where some of his now sanctioned oligarchs made a few (billion) now devalued roubles, while plotting and executing a, relatively harmless welcomed by many, annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
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Al-Megrahi and MacAskill Observation

Well to remember- Play hard and well in international relations as coming bottom of the league isn’t a sporting option in the real world. A thought from a few years back-
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The Grangemouth Conspiracy – Close To Reality Or A Product Of My Furtive Imagination: You Decide And You Read It Here First.

2014 following on from 2013 has the continuing debate on Scottish independence and with the referendum this September. However, the industrial action at the Grangemouth refinery near Falkirk, Scotland last autumn an issue came to mind involving the global view of possible US security and economic interests with friends and allies. Read more

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The Big Guns Are Blasting In The Scottish Independence Battle Of The Pound

The Big Guns Are Blasting In The Scottish Independence Battle Of The Pound. Is a new currency looming for an independent Scotland and would the EU accept Scotland into its membership?
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Future Perfect or Future Problem: Part 2: Defence and Diggers

And 2014 the Year For A Lot of Yellen

2014 has started with a Polar Vortex descended on a huge chunk of North America some 190 million people affected by the icy Artic blast. The US has reported disappointing employment statistics for the end of 2013, the BoE and ECB have held rates at their current lows and the Federal Reserve has Janet Yellen as its new Chairwoman – a 1st too.
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