Saturday, May 17, 2008

Colonel Moseley Asks ~ What About Us?

As I look out from Moseley Towers just now, I increasingly want to pull up the draw bridge and exclude the world. Not exactly John Donne and no man is an island, but there you go.

Since about the time poor Mr Brown became Prime Minister, life for many in this country has become less tolerable. Sadly, many political and economic chickens have well and truly come home to roost. I know I wasn’t the only one concerned about what was on the way; I only wish more of us had spoken up earlier.

As with issues such as the removal of the 10p tax band, once the majority stop being silent – and, more particularly, once MPs become fearful of the likely personal consequences - something is actually done about it.

For what it’s worth this late on, here are some current and very obvious concerns:

The real rate of inflation: The official inflation rate isn’t just something used for scare-mongering in the Daily Mail. It is applied to fix pay and pension levels that directly affect the lives of millions. As I have pointed out before, inflation on food, heat and light and petrol is massively in excess of the official rate which includes various non-essential consumer fripperies. As a direct consequence of this distortion, many pensioners and others spending a greater proportion of their income on such essentials are being massively disadvantaged and pushed further towards poverty. The government seems to be intent on ignoring this unfairness and will do so until more voters show we are concerned – so speak up, write to newspapers, express yourselves in blogs or contact your MP before the situation becomes even more critical

Dustbin Stalinism: like most people without any real say in the matter, I now receive fortnightly refuse collection. First, I don’t want fortnightly collection. It is inconvenient and unhealthy to store rubbish for this period, particularly in the summer. Secondly, rules about contents and lid-closing often appear to have been clumsily, unhelpfully and even officiously enforced. Press stories are only the tip of the ice berg. The collectors complete their rounds speedily yet seem able to find fault with one’s refuse, stick a snotty label on the bin with a few boxes ticked flagging up one’s transgressions and leave the bin un-emptied. The public do need to try to co-operate, but implementation of this regime has been heavy-handed and inconsiderate with hardly any recognition that house holders who obey the law and pay income and council taxes merit a modicum of respect and consideration. This may seem trivial, but it’s a symptom of an insidious trend in the exercise of power - all stick and no carrot.

Petrol prices: over the last six months there has been an significant increase in the price of petrol – particularly diesel. Prices to oil suppliers have risen markedly on world markets. In parallel the profits of the major oil companies have rocketed to record levels. This increase seems unfair and untoward and should give rise at least to consideration of a windfall tax. Similarly, the burden upon consumers in this country is excessive and made worse by penal excise duties. The government should recognise the undue pain being suffered and take action to ease it. No-one is convinced by their hiding behind expressions of environmental concern. They are taxing fuel primarily for revenue.

Gas and electricity prices: similar concerns apply to domestic heating costs. Global markets do show record prices, but our power utilities also show high profits. The weakest in society are hit disproportionately by these price increases for gas and electricity and a one-off winter bonus may capture a few headlines, but does not address the underlying problem of manipulation of volatile markets for the advantage of a few at the cost of the most vulnerable. The first step must be to recognise that there is a problem.

Large companies: dealings with commercial behemoths, particularly the utilities, banks and in telecoms have become an impersonal nightmare whether it be compulsory enforcement of payment by direct debit or Kafkaesque telephone systems that take so much time and rarely lead to a successful outcome. Many companies’ use sugary verbiage to stress their mission and desire to please the customer. In reality nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately often the customer has no alternative than to deal with these outfits. Frustration, anger and resentment are building up and one day will find expression. In the meantime, if you feel you are a victim complain vocally – eventually we will all be heard.

Islington detachment: From whatever side of the political fence they stand, we seem to be governed by a breed of callow politicians who simply do not share the life-experience of most people or really recognise their problems and concerns. They are capable, for example, of referring to statistics showing that violent crime is falling when more and more people are frightened to be in certain city centres late at night. Many people now visit their town centres and feel it is no longer theirs; they no longer feel any connection with the people, place or sometimes even the language spoken. Our political class need to re-connect with ordinary people and recognise and hopefully sympathise with the realities of their lives, their hopes and fears. If our democracy means anything, the feelings of the majority need first to be recognised and if valid, catered for.

What about savers? With the credit crunch, market conditions have hardened for many borrowers. Parallel to this, one would expect some increase in rates for savers. Paradoxically returns seem to be diminishing. With even less incentive to save than before, it seems everybody loses. I guess it may be a matter of securing the profits of the major banks who brought about the malaise in the first place by the reckless marketing of loans – but why the paradox and does no-one remember, let alone value, the prudent saver?

What happened to our NHS? Regardless of all the so-called performance statistics, how many people do you know who have waited an unconscionable time for a necessary operation or been forced to endure the embarrassment if a mixed ward? How many people avoid treatment they should properly have because they are terrified of MRSA? Why do we have to fork out for private dental care simply because there aren’t any available NHS dentists? What we treasured as our NHS clearly hasn’t been safe in their hands for some time.

So there you have it. It’s rare if ever that anyone – let alone me - should need to quote Michael Jackson, but “What about us?”

The self-serving politicians and short-sighted and greedy management of large companies seem to have reached a point when they simply do not properly consider or perhaps care about the effect of their decisions.

Statistics such as those on inflation are used to bamboozle and huge groups in society such as pensioners are increasingly sold short. Petty regulation is enforced without due thought or planning and often hides behind the excuse of imposition by the higher power of Brussels. Again, the weakest suffer.

Vested interests secure rocketing prices for essential commodities claiming that it was an inevitable result of market forces and yet coincidentally go on to declare record profits.

Large telecoms and power companies employ billing and call centre systems that are frustrating and ultimately insulting to the customer who has increasingly limited chance to express a viewpoint or obtain redress. The whole charade is compounded by an assertion that the customers call is important to us and that the system is intended to improve service. Nothing could be more false.

Overall, the interests of a substantial part of society are being ignored. The overlooked tend to be the quiet, law-abiding people who pay their taxes and try to save. They are increasingly disregarded, poorer, threatened by crime and worried over the failure of once-cherished institutions, such as the NHS.

This insidious deterioration is presided over by an often shallow metropolitan political class with insufficient understanding of this country and the feelings of its people. This nonsense has gone on too long and it’s time that these widely-held and obvious concerns are recognised and acted upon.