India: A democracy rising.

By Mike Swadling

“the world’s largest democracy and country, India is going to the ballot box”

With a 20 mile stretch of golden sand, a shallow continental shelf allowing you to walk far into the Arabian Sea, a dry heat and beech bars every few hundred yards my spot in Goa wasn’t a place to be thinking about politics.  

However, go about a mile inland and flags, boards and posters start to pop up for the Aam Aadmi Party, the Revolutionary Goans Party, Congress, a selection of BJP candidates, and even graffiti about the Portuguese (Goa used to be a Portuguese colony).  As well as a likely general election in the UK and the Presidential election in the US, the world’s largest democracy and country, India is going to the ballot box.

No signs of revolution on the beach as long as the Peoples Lager kept flowing.

“The Indian National Congress is the traditional party of power in India having held the position of Prime Minister for 54 of the 77 years since independence”

The election is dominated by two main groups the BJP led ‘National Democratic Alliance’ and Congress led ‘Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance’.  The Indian National Congress is the traditional party of power in India having held the position of Prime Minister for 54 of the 77 years since independence.  The Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) was formed in 1980 and is the current party of power being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Whilst no Pakistani PM has ever completed a full-term, India has had many peaceful transitions of power.  Not that India has been devoid from political violence, far from it.  But this is a nation of 780 spoken languages (23 official), from four major language families, with 1.4 billion people, and 5 religions with over 8 million followers, it is amazing India functions as a democracy at all.  For all its challenges function it does.

Not often you see anti-Portuguese graffiti.

I turned to Nimit Shishodia to explain some of the main differences between the main party’s:

BJP

  • Right-wing ideology: Aligned with Hindutva, a Hindu nationalist ideology, emphasizing cultural nationalism and a strong central government.
  • Economic focus: Leans towards privatization and economic liberalization, attracting support from sections of the middle class and business community.
  • Social positions: Often takes conservative stances on social issues, appealing to traditional values and rural communities.

Congress

  • Centre-left ideology: Advocates for secularism and social welfare programs, historically drawing support from diverse groups, including minorities and lower-income populations.
  • Economic approach: Promotes a mixed economy with government intervention in key sectors, appealing to working-class voters and some sections of the middle class.
  • Social positions: Generally, takes more progressive stances on social issues, aligning with urban and younger demographics.

Important Caveats:

  • Both parties have diverse internal factions with varying viewpoints.
  • Their policies and stances evolve over time and in response to political realities.
  • There’s significant overlap in their voter bases, with both parties drawing support from various social and economic groups.

Nimit’s last point that “There’s significant overlap in their voter bases, with both parties drawing support from various social and economic groups” is perhaps the most significant.  Functioning democracies require people to be able to change who they are voting for, not just vote based on identity.

“Modi is widely expected to win again”

The election will take place between April and May to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha (House of the People) each coalition has 20+ party’s.  The country has 8 recognised national parties, 55 state parties, and 2,597 unrecognised parties.  It’s fair to say everyone has a point of view.  Modi is widely expected to win again.  I wrote briefly about a debate at the Battle of Ideas on Indian Politics, giving lots of background in an easily digestible way, you can listen to it at: Understanding Modi’s India – Battle of Ideas.

“I want the 5th biggest economy, and most populous country to be democratic and free”

“the people of India benefit from that basic enabler of liberty the ability to ‘kick the buggers out’”

Why does all this matter?  Democracy’s support and advance human freedom, something we should all want.  Democracies promote general economic growth and their citizens wellbeing, and democracies don’t tend to ever go to war with each other.  In a world reverting to a more multi polar state, quite apart from the benefits to its own people, I want the 5th biggest economy, and most populous country to be democratic and free.

We should all be thankful this massive country and significant power is a democracy and the people of India benefit from that basic enabler of liberty the ability to ‘kick the buggers out’ when the party of power no longer meets the people’s needs. 

Live Facial Recognition – A nightmare for criminals or for freedom?

By Mike Swadling

Trials are underway across the country of Live Facial Recognition technology allowing Police to scan crowds for known criminals.  These trials have taken place in Croydon town centre among other places.  The MP just across the border in Croydon South is Chris Philp the Minister of State for Crime, Policing and Fire, and my local MP wrote to residents about the trials.

Chris’ note describes how the software works.

“LFR starts with a “watchlist” of images of people who are wanted for serious offences or who are wanted by the Court for failing to attend a criminal hearing. A camera is then set up by Police in a location with high footfall, and advanced facial recognition software is used to see if anyone walking past matches one of the images on the watchlist”

“I admit to having been in some conflict, not losing too much sleep over the criminal arrests, but worrying of the civil liberty implications”

According to a Croydon Guardian article of the 10th February, the software has led to 45 arrests.  As someone who has seen the sharp increase in crime in Croydon, and people staying away from the town centre in recent years, what’s not to like? Well…

A couple of friends recently ask my thoughts on the civil liberties implications and if it is just an extension of CCTV cameras everywhere.  I admit to having been in some conflict, not losing too much sleep over the criminal arrests, but worrying of the civil liberty implications and how the technology might be used in the future. 

“Is it the same as a Police Officer walking down the street and recognising a known criminal or is it more like a house search?”

The obvious point with any new technology is once we have it, we can’t uninvent it.  Whishing it would go away isn’t realistic, so the best option is to work out how we use it.  How to use Live Facial Recognition?  I believe we should look at how we police today and see what template the technology best fits into.  Is it the same as a Police Officer walking down the street and recognising a known criminal or is it more like a house search?

We have templates for these.  In the case of a Police officer recognising you in the street, to arrest you they must meet the following criteria.

“To arrest you the police need reasonable grounds to suspect you’re involved in a crime for which your arrest is necessary. The police have powers to arrest you anywhere and at any time, including on the street, at home or at work.

Whereas the power to search your house (although with some time specific exceptions), requires additional judicial sign-off.

If the police want to search a property, they must usually get a search warrant from the court first. In the application, the police must prove to the court that there are reasonable grounds for the warrant.”

Stop and Search powers lie somewhere in between these.  The interpretation of the law changes and the way stop and search has been carried out in recent years, has seen wildly varying numbers of searches.

Number of stop and searches performed by the police in England and Wales from 2001/02 to 2022/23

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/284599/police-pace-stop-and-searches-in-england-and-wales/

Likewise in the UK wiretapping requires judicial approval.

“Without a warrant, the police cannot listen to a person’s phone conversations, unless one of the parties to a phone conversation consents to the use of a wiretap. Any information they gather without a warrant and without consent cannot be used against a defendant in a criminal trial.”

“scanning peoples faces to see if they match a watchlist goes a significant step further than seeing you acting suspiciously”

So where does Live Facial Recognition fit within these templates.  Clearly this is a matter of opinion, but it does seem to me that scanning peoples faces to see if they match a watchlist goes a significant step further than seeing you acting suspiciously or having reasonable grounds to suspect you’re involved in a crime. 

As a general view it seems the use of Live Facial Recognition is more akin to a search.  Therefore, if it is used in the street a judge should be needed to sign it off for a specific purpose.  Examples could be, Police think there will be trouble at a specific football match, and it is used to search only for known football hooligans, or there has been increased gang violence in an area and it is used to search only for known gang members wanted for crimes.  This would mean not giving Police the power to just use the technology in a given high street on the off chance that they can arrest some people. 

However, it does seem reasonable that it is used in some places you would expect Police to act.  This could be in Police stations to identify suspects, in courts, at the border, where you should be carrying a passport already, the systems could permanently run.

“we should panic, a bit, not overly so, but it is reasonable to assume the Police will abuse this power without some constraint”

What about all the criminals that won’t be caught?  Chief Superintendent Andy Brittain, is quoted to have said people “don’t need to panic”.  In the last couple of weeks we have seen police tell a “Christian singer on Oxford Street that she is ‘not allowed’ to perform ‘church songs outside of church grounds’”, only a few years ago police had to “ apologise for telling family they weren’t allowed in their own front garden”, whilst elsewhere there were using drones to “chase Peak District ramblers”.  Police have in recent times treated different groups protesting in central London very differently, so much so that the then Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote as summarised in Spiked that the “Metropolitan Police must be ‘even-handed’ in their approach to protests. She warned that there is now a ‘perception that senior police officers play favourites’”.  In short, yes we should panic, a bit, not overly so, but it is reasonable to assume the Police will abuse this power without some constraint.

We don’t today allow police to search people without cause, search homes or wiretap without a warrant, we restrain police powers to protect our freedoms, and there is no reason why Live Facial Recognition should be any different.

Source: Uploaded a work by mikemacmarketing from https://www.flickr.com/photos/152824664@N07/30188201497/ with Upload Wizard

Croydon – doing less, better?

In November we held our 3rd My tuppenceworth event giving you the opportunity to speak to those assembled on an issue that really matters to you.

Mike Swadling gave an update on Croydon Council and his speech is below.

“Croydon is 29th on the list of highest real terms increase at 114%.  We are paying well over double the real terms rate we were 1993″

We are the Croydon Constitutionalists. Constitutionalists signifies that we believe in the principles of English constitutional government through electoral politics, and the Croydon part is self-evident we are a local organisation.  So, 18 months into a new Croydon council led by a new executive mayor what’s happening in our town?

Firstly, let’s take a little step back in time.  The Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) has published data showing that of the 450 local authorities that have continually existed since the Council Tax was first introduced in 1993, Croydon is 29th on the list of highest real terms increase at 114%.  We are paying well over double the real terms rate we were 1993.  We are still de facto bankrupt and we are paying through the nose for it.

“Croydon was one of 47 councils, about 10%, who failed to submit accounts on time.  I get that this is doing less, but can it really be called better?”

In an interview in August Croydon’s chief executive, Katherine Kerswell, gave some encouraging words when she said:
“Our ambition is to become an efficient council – to deliver essential services well, offer value for money, to listen to the people of Croydon, and simply do what we say we will do.
So how do we get there? We must do less, better”

Fine words, but what have we seen in practice. To quote: “Croydon council in South London paid 21 staff six-figure salaries last year. Its top earner was chief executive Katherine Kerswell on £192,474.”

I took this information from a June article in the Daily Express.  Not able to take it from the TPA’s Town Hall Rich list report as Croydon was one of 47 councils, about 10%, who failed to submit accounts on time.  I get that this is doing less, but can it really be called better?

I tried to verify this data on the council’s website as I should be able to.  If anyone cares to search it and can find a decent list, please send me the link.  Eventually I found a list of job titles listed in an unclear format in a PDF file on the site which is I suppose meeting their statutory requirement. 

Again, I get that this is Croydon Council doing less but is it really doing it better?  Worse still whist 21 is down on the 29 roles paid over £100K the council had last year; it is up on the 19 roles the year before.  Last year was a year of transition and I believe not all these roles overlapped, so it appears, and the lack of clear publications make this hard to see, that top end spending at the council is back on the increase.

“spending public funds on arts that are not viable commercially or via voluntary donations as the council has been doing for years, is no less of a waste of money when it comes from someone else’s funding stream”

Croydon is the London Borough of Culture for 2023. As part of this they are committed to spending £522,500 in 2022/23, and £452,500 in 2023/24. Additionally, £1,350,000 will come from the GLA, and £1,900,000 is expected from Arts Council England and National Lottery Heritage.

I believe spending public funds on arts that are not viable commercially or via voluntary donations as the council has been doing for years, is no less of a waste of money when it comes from someone else’s funding stream.

“Of the £623,000 spent on the London Borough of Culture in that time, £34K went to Redacted, what are they hiding from us?”

As part of this in the last 4 months Croydon Council has published figures of Borough of Culture spending which include £113K that went to Think Events (London) Ltd, £75K went to Stanley Arts, £67K to White Label Publishing Ltd, £42K to Theatre – Rites, and £39K to London Mozart Players, I could go on and on.  Of the £623,000 spent on the London Borough of Culture in that time, £34K went to Redacted, what are they hiding from us?

“in 4 months £623,000 of taxpayers’ money spent not feeding needy families, not boosting our town centre, not providing social services for the most vulnerable, but on painted Giraffes and non-commercially viable arts”

May I remind you this is in the last 4 months that data has been published for, May to July.  This is 4 months, not one year, not over the two-year programme.  That is in 4 months £623,000 of taxpayers’ money spent not feeding needy families, not boosting our town centre, not providing social services for the most vulnerable, but on painted Giraffes and non-commercially viable arts.   

Yes, things are better than 18 months ago.  We are no longer haemorrhaging money through Brick by Brick, and we are slowly unwinding the commercial property failures of the last administration.  But when it comes to transparency and wise use of public funds, it’s hard to argue they are doing things better at Croydon Council.

Build Baby Build

In November we held our 3rd My tuppenceworth event giving you the opportunity to speak to those assembled on an issue that really matters to you.

Mike Swadling spoke on the issue of housing and his speech is below.

“with so much of our housing stock built between the wars it’s seems likely the number of homes in need of replacement will increase rapidly in the next couple of decades”

At the recent Battle of Ideas, I attended a panel on ‘Housing Britain: Yimbys vs Nimbys’.  For a contentious topic there was a surprising degree of unanimity among the panel and audience on the need to build, and even what to build.  Most disagreement came on the process of how to get it done.

I am firmly of the belief we need to build housing, and we need to build lots of it.  There is a general consensus to meet current levels of demand we need to build around 300,000 new homes per year.  In 2022 we built 232,000 new homes. 

In checking the data for this I found numbers for new build and net new homes seemingly used interchangeably. This may be in part because of property conversions, but clearly these are not the same thing.  However, it does strike me that with so much of our housing stock built between the wars it’s seems likely the number of homes in need of replacement will increase rapidly in the next couple of decades.

All this has led to a growing number of concealed households”, now believed to total 1.6 million potential households of people who would like to be in their own home but can’t because of shortages.  We are believed to have about 260,000 long-term empty homes in England but even if somehow these were magically all brought back into use they would solve little of the overall problem.  Even second home ownership lies at about 3% and is little changed in decades.

Whatever the reasons behind it, we have a problem today with a lack of houses.  We have a problem with a younger generation feeling increasingly disengaged from our society when they can’t leave home and build their own lives.  We also have a problem with rising costs for care as an increasingly aging population often face a choice between staying in their own home or being in a care home, with little suitable middle ground alternatives.  In short, we need to build baby build.

“People will more willingly accept hosing built in their area if they believe we have control of our borders and if local people from the community the homes are built in are given priority”

Necessary Pre-requisites

There are however some necessary prerequisites to oversee a largescale increase in housebuilding.  People need to believe these are houses for their families, their community, not just to be brought by overseas property speculators or used to house the worlds migrants coming to our shores.  People will more willingly accept hosing built in their area if they believe we have control of our borders and if local people from the community the homes are built in are given priority to fill them.

“At the battle of ideas panel on housing one member of the audience was simultaneously praising the green belt and complaining about the intensification of building in the city”

At the battle of ideas panel on housing one member of the audience was simultaneously praising the green belt and complaining about the intensification of building in the city.  As someone who lives on the doorstep of the green belt and has seen 157 flats go up next to my home, I can’t help but wonder if one or two of the farmers’ fields in the green belt near me could be used to provide 157 houses rather than have flats built on what was my town’s main car park. 

Don’t worry about us running out of land, it would take about 5 football pitches to build 157 homes at 4 bedrooms (these flats are not 4 bedrooms), that would use 7 of the 17.2 million hectares of farmland we have in the UK.  (This would provide 385 million homes, with currently about 30million in the UK).

The green belt lovely though it maybe, ensures we live in ever more crowded cities, rather than expand them as the need for housing expands. We are in Croydon, a Surrey market town built out to accommodate the expanding population of London, why are we insisting that future generations live in ever more cramped environments rather than in new suburbs or towns further out. 

“Can anyone cite examples where cramping people into tighter spaces gives good outcomes?”

Can anyone cite examples where cramping people into tighter spaces gives good outcomes?  A hundred years ago we were clearing out the slums.  The high rise post war blocks of flats were generally seen as a disaster in my youth. I wonder why we are intent on recreating them.

What to do

So, what are we to do?  I say we need to build bigger, build beautiful, build better, and build for everyone.  What would this mean in practice.

Build beautiful – At last year’s Battle of Ideas, Ike Ijeh the architect, and 2019 Brexit Party candidate, spoke about how he had seen developers have success getting acceptance from the local community for new builds through well laid out design.  Beautiful well laid out communities, which could well include a mixture of flats and houses are more likely to be approved than throwing another box of 9 flats on a previous 1 home plot.

“We all benefit from better high-end homes; we all get the chance to move up the market and we will free up what used to be called starter homes”

Build bigger – I was impressed by an article I read last year on ‘how building expensive homes can help people on low incomes’.  The article proposes we should focus on building more £5million homes rather than £120,000 ones.  To quote the article “adding homes that are better quality than the existing stock allows people to move out of the existing stock into better homes, and frees up existing stock for suppressed households.”  We all benefit from better high-end homes; we all get the chance to move up the market and we will free up what used to be called starter homes.  Few communities would object to an estate of £5million homes being build on the edge of town, and few property developers would sit on this planning permission.

Build better – We need to build new estates with services, shops, schools, transport, and things that people want.  We can’t build just based on environmentalist dreamlands, where someone after a hard day’s work will somehow pick-up the kids from the childminder and pop to the shops on a push bike.

We are not going to build everything we need just on the edge of cities and as much as I don’t believe it should be sacred the green belt has a purpose.  After the war we built new towns in Crawley, Hemel Hempstead, Welwyn Garden City, Milton Keynes, Peterborough, Northampton, and many other places.  These might not make it to your bucket list of destinations to visit but they are good places for work and to raise families.

“Coming into land at Gatwick airport on a sunny day you can see from Croydon to Brighton and view the miles of greenery in between”

Local to us Crawley houses 118,500 people.  Coming into land at Gatwick airport on a sunny day you can see from Croydon to Brighton and view the miles of greenery in between.  Only the airport and Crawley stand out as major developments.  3 more airports and Crawley’s in the view and it would still be overwhelmingly green, 6 more and you would still think you are viewing the countryside.  We could build 2 more Crawley’s in the area of the A22 to A24 corridors and hardly notice.

Croydon has a 10 year housing target from the Mayor of London of 20,790 new homes (2019 – 2028).  This on top of the thousands of new homes already built in the borough in recent years.  One new Crawley built with the industrial estates, shopping centres, office blocks, schools, doctors and everything else needed to form a community could at this rate supply 60 years of growth needed in Croydon and over a third of our annual UK wide rate of new homes growth.

“with about a quarter of the country having less than £500 worth of savings it is reasonable to assume many will never buy their own home”

Build for everyone – There are not many times I believe government can help, but I increasingly believe we need to build more social housing, and government will need to play a part in this. As someone who was born into the Regina Road Estate council blocks now being pulled down by Croydon Council, I have little faith in their ability to provide property.  However, with about a quarter of the country having less than £500 worth of savings it is reasonable to assume many will never buy their own home. We can argue how much government provided housing is needed, who should run it and what right to buy schemes we should have.  But, we do need to provide something for the taxpayer and for renters that is not just busting budgets to pay for private rents.

“Why not offer what I might call free ports of housing.  Designated areas with council tax holidays for new development or major upgrades to a generation of remote workers keen to get on the housing ladder, encouraged to less fashionable parts of the country”

Some of the problems I have described are local or they are a southeast problem.  We have a whole country much of which is not so expensive to live in and could do with attracting more young people.  Why not offer what I might call free ports of housing.  Designated areas with council tax holidays for new development or major upgrades to a generation of remote workers keen to get on the housing ladder, encouraged to less fashionable parts of the country by an influx of similar people and tax breaks.  Let’s level up the country by helping to spread the wealth and helping people better their lives.

We build properties not just for now but for use 100 years from now, we have a changing population, with greater demand and desires.  Why not build better, bigger homes, why not let people have second homes, whilst also catering for those who need help.  We have the land let’s make use of it, whilst also encouraging people to move across the country.  This does require some government action but is best achieved by them laying foundations and then getting out of the way whilst we build baby build.

Picture: Andy F / Building site, Wise Street, Leamington / CC BY-SA 2.0

Australia’s Voice

By Mike Swadling

“The Voice referendum result has been described as Australia’s Brexit moment, with the referendum backed by the metropolitan elite and major institutions being thoroughly rejected by the people”

I happened to be in Sydney Australia for October’s ‘Indigenous Voice referendum’.  Whilst my focus was mainly on glorious views of Sydney Harbour and sampling a few schooners worth of the local brew, I did notice the election campaign going on around me.

The Voice referendum result has been described as Australia’s Brexit moment, with the referendum backed by the metropolitan elite and major institutions being thoroughly rejected by the people.  I’m not best placed to write about the issues at play and the referendum result, but rather what I observed in Australia during the campaign and just after the results were in.  For more on Australian politics, I would recommend following Helen Dale, and you can read her here on ‘Why Australia’s Voice vote failed’.

Maybe this is the way of the modern world, but whilst in Sydney I probably saw more about the Voice referendum on my phone from international social media and political web sites, than on the streets, in conversation or watching the local TV news.  Ordinary Australians just didn’t seem that bothered by the vote.  Now this may be because in past 120 years Australia has already had 45 referendums (for constitutional changes) and 4 plebiscites (for non-constitutional issues).  Also, with compulsory voting there is no need for the ‘Get out the vote’ (GOTV) campaigns we see here.

“The Yes campaigners outnumbered No’s considerably, but there were good natured interactions between both, some of whom were chatting, and both occupied the same area to hand out leaflets”

This is not to say the referendum wasn’t spoken about or campaigned on.  Getting off the ferry at Manly Wharf I saw a dozen or so campaigners from both sides handing out leaflets to those on their way to the famous beach.  The Yes campaigners outnumbered No’s considerably, but there were good natured interactions between both, some of whom were chatting, and both occupied the same area to hand out leaflets.  Having done many a street stall and leafleting session in the UK I can say generally opposing parties or sides would be civil and occasionally friendly.  Civility is however generally maintained by having a respectful distance between both (or multiple) groups, and where occasionally needed, calming down more excitable participants.

“The suburban Sydneysiders of all ages I spoke with were voting No in the referendum, which seemed a statistical anomaly until the results came in”

This contrasted with the media representation of a nation divided.  Much like in our EU Referendum many in the media had decided only a Yes vote was acceptable and somehow even contemplating a No vote was beyond the pale (an example here from our ever even-handed and impartial BBC).  Whilst famously plain spoken, it was noticeable that older Australians with little to lose were much more vocally critical of referendum proposals than those in middle age, and with teenage children.  As one explained “ahh they keep correcting what I say, they get brainwashed with this stuff at school”.  The suburban Sydneysiders of all ages I spoke with were voting No in the referendum, which seemed a statistical anomaly until the results came in. 

“for most of the week leading up to the referendum the main political activity I saw in the area was for the ‘Don’t Block The Rocks!’ campaign against proposed harbourside development”

The whole referendum didn’t feel like a big a deal on the ground as it did in the media.  Staying in The Rocks, an area sandwiched between Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Central Business District, with great views, and average ‘unit’ prices of over AU$2million (~£1million), I was in what should be the passionate centre of Yes voters.  Indeed, in a site unusual for us in the UK, on voting day the local polling station was engulfed in Yes campaign posters.  However, for most of the week leading up to the referendum the main political activity I saw in the area was for the ‘Don’t Block The Rocks!’ campaign against proposed harbourside development. Even at a 21st Birthday party on the day of polling none of the young guests appeared to be talking about the vote.

“The next day Australians just seemed to get on with their lives as much unaffected by the result as I found them to be unbothered by the vote in the first place”

Ultimately Australians are just not as woke as their elites would like them to be.  Even in The Rocks, the heart of young metropolitan culture two of the major pubs are called ‘The Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel’ and ‘The Hero of Waterloo Hotel’, both of which are covered with suitable patriotic décor.  The results came in and 60% rejected the referendum proposals.   The maps in The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) below show how the Yes vote won in all the city central areas you might expect, with limited support beyond.  The next day Australians just seemed to get on with their lives as much unaffected by the result as I found them to be unbothered by the vote in the first place.

You may also like Mike’s previous article about politics spotting in Australia: ‘Newly risen, how brightly you shine’.

Back into Battle

By Mike Swadling

For the second year I attended the Battle of Ideas Festival from the Academy of Ideas.  Held in Church House near Westminster Abbey the event hosts almost 100 panels, interviews, and discussions on a range of topics on Free Speech, The Economy, Technology and Science, Education, Housing, Arts, and other political and moral issues.  Up to 10 panels are held at any one time and you often need to arrive early to get into the one you want.  With so much going on there is always a discussion with free space, that you will be happy to see.

The director of the Academy of Ideas is Baroness Claire Fox, the commentator and former Brexit Party MEP.  Other key figures in the Academy include former podcast guest Alastair Donald, and Spiked columnist Ella Whelan.  The great guests on the panels are too numerous to mention but some personal highlights included seeing local man and GB News regular James Woudhuysen, former Podcast guests Harry Wilkinson and Dominic Frisby, commentator Helen Dale in the audience and former Croydon teacher and resident Francis Foster of Triggernometry.

The event isn’t just the panels, around the events were stalls from the SDP, Reform UK, the Free Speech Union, Don’t Divide Us, #Together, and especially pleasing to see our new associates Politics in Pubs who received a well-deserved shout out from the main stage by Claire Fox when encouraging people to create their own forums for free speech.

Pro-noun elite and California values

The panels were at times light on opposing views as so many commentators from what was once the liberal left refused to engage.  But this did lead to lots of sound comments like references to the Pro-noun elite and those having California values.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of disagreement, as I saw in a fascinating debate on housing.  How and where do we get housing built, and some of the practical problems of the Town and Country Planning act were heatedly discussed. 

Some highlights for me were a panel of comedians reminding us to laugh at the things we think are a threat, and attending the live recording of Spiked’s Last Orders anti nanny state podcast with Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Perhaps my favorite sessions were on ‘Understanding Modi’s India’ and ‘Schools: The Great Expulsion Debate’.  Modi’s India was an interesting and useful session on the world’s largest democracy and most populous country.  The panel included Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert of Don’t Divide Us, and spoke about among other things, India’s 1937 elections and ‘Toilets before Temples’.  The Expulsion Debate included Lord Tony Sewell of Sanderstead on the panel.  The debate covered the high rates of Special Needs (SEN) pupil expulsions and how we combat this, and Dr Sewell spoke about varying expulsion rates across the country and how schools can set up to reduce the need to expel pupils.

An overall fascinating event I would encourage anyone to sign up for information on future Academy of Ideas events, and if they can, to attend next year’s Battle. 

You can read Mike’s write up from the 2022 Battle of Ideas at https://croydonconstitutionalists.uk/into-battle/.

Who should pay for a University Education?

On September 5th the Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society debated the motion “University Education should be free for all UK citizens”.

Mike Swadling opposed the motion, and below is his speech delivered to the society.  As always with this friendly group the debate was good natured, very well proposed and drew out some great views from the audience.

University Education should be free for all UK citizens.

Now I might be able to dramatically shorten tonight’s debate for us all.  I’m tempted to say, ‘I agree’, I agree, University Education should be free for all UK citizens. 

  • I agree teachers shouldn’t be paid.
  • I agree scholarly books should be written by authors for free.
  • I agree canteen staff must give their time freely and be forced to provide the food for the students at no cost.
  • And if the university doesn’t have the facilities it needs, we must pressgang builders, plumbers, electricians, and anyone else we need to build them, to work, no excuses, at no cost!

Or is that not what you meant?

If you agree with this motion, you must surely agree that anyone upon becoming a qualified lecturer must be conscripted into the profession as some sort of indentured servant, compelled to work for free.

Or do you not agree with that?

“What we’re really talking about here is having someone else pay for it”

Does anyone of you who worked in education, or frankly anywhere, believe you should have worked for free?  Education is important do you think people should be forced to give up their time, effort, or property for nothing in the name of education.  Of course, you don’t, of course no one thinks teachers should work for free, and of course no one agrees with this motion.  No one thinks Education is free, or even should be free.  What we’re really talking about here is having someone else pay for it.

University Education of course used to be free for pupils in this country.  Before 1998 students would go to university at no cost, some would even receive a grant.  But then of course university used to cater to about 30% of the population, prior to 98, and as little as 15% in 1990.  We now have over 50% going to university. 

It’s easy to provide a service for free at the point of use if it’s used by so few people.  As university education grew in the 90s and 00’s of course the costs grew, and these costs needed to be funded.  This left the choice of should they be funded by the user of the service who receives the lion share of the benefit or funded by the wider community.  To put it bluntly should the cleaner, dustman or Amazon delivery driver pay for the university education of the children of the well to do families who’s houses they service.

“it is more than the amount almost half of the people in this country earn.  Only then do you start to repay your loan”

Now let’s consider for a moment what paying for a university education in this country really means.  Students are loaned the funds for their course, which costs £9,250 per annum.  Repayments to the Plan 2 student loan kick in only when a graduate earns over £27,295 which incidentally puts them in the top half of 20 something income earners, and 53rd percentile of all earners

This is not a massively high income, but it is more than the amount almost half of the people in this country earn.  Only then do you start to repay your loan.  Student loans are also written off after 30 years.

General taxation already massively subsidises university education in this country.  Our debt to GDP ratio is 100.5% the highest level for over 60 years, going back to when we were still paying for the second world war.  This motion asks that we increase it further still, not to improve services, not to incentivise economic growth, not to benefit those who most need it but instead to the benefit of those who have the brightest future and can most afford to pay their way.

“In 2012 only 13% of Free School Meal pupils went to University, today, after all the increases in fees that number is over 20%”

Now it’s not uncommon that people say student loans have put people off higher education, but let’s look at what’s really happened.  In 2012 only 13% of Free School Meal pupils went to University, today, after all the increases in fees that number is over 20%.  For those eligible for Free School Meals the rate is up to 29%.  There is also a huge diversity of pupils going into higher education with 63.5% of Black pupils progressing, 67.8% of Asian and 83.8% of Chinese pupils. 

“Fewer opportunities will exist, and they will go to those middle class families with the sharpest elbows”

If we were to make university free to the student, and affordable to the taxpayer we would once again have to cap the number of students at a low number.  Who would lose out?  Who would be those not able to make the grade.  We know, as the evidence from the past shows, it is the working class and the most disadvantaged who will miss out.   Fewer opportunities will exist, and they will go to those middle class families with the sharpest elbows.  Free University education may feel good but, will in reality deny opportunities to those who most need it and worse will be a regressive tax added onto the bills of those who don’t even receive the benefits of the service.

Now none of this is to say how we provide, and fund university today is ideal.  There is lots that can be improved with our current system.  Whilst the increase in the numbers going to university is a good thing.  The drive to make almost every career accessible only via a degree denies opportunities to millions and means all too often square peg students are driven into round hole jobs. 

Surely the wide range of basic care, cleaning, feeding, bedside manner, stock supplies, customer service, and practical skills needed by nurses are often not best taught at a university.  These are practical skills, best taught I and many who have written on the subject believe via on-the-job training.  No doubt there are skills nurses need that are rightly taught in a classroom.  But these can be taught as nurses develop in their career, should they want to take on these extra duties and roles.  Since making nursing a degree entry career we have seen reported drops in bedside manner and ward cleanliness.  Of course we have, why would it come as a surprise to anyone that someone who has trained to become a highly qualified nurse is reluctant to undertake menial tasks.  It may be entirely appropriate for some to enter nursing via a degree, and that route should be available, but why have we chosen to deny nursing as a career path to people who are not academically gifted?  Yes, I want a nurse to know how to make an injection, but I care more about their basic care skills than their A Level or GCSE results.

Whilst technically you do not need a degree to become a Police Officer, you do either need a degree or to undertake the completion of the ‘Police Constable Degree Apprenticeship’ which is described as a professional degree-level apprenticeship.  Or in layman’s terms a degree.  In 2020 official figure show police failed to solve a single burglary in half of neighbourhoods, and three quarters of all burglaries remain unsolved. 

Of the 30,265 Police Officers in the Met Police in 2021, 22,753 failed to make a single arrest.  We used to recruit many of our police from armed forces, we used to value police with local knowledge.  Now we have degree educated police more interested in policing Facebook and Twitter than the streets. 

“let’s value Police with the skills of a thief-taker more highly than their ability to recite Latin, list the causes of the Franco Prussian war or tell you about their gender studies degree”

In June the National Police Chiefs’ Council confirmed that police will now attend the scene of every home burglary.  How was this ever not the case?  You must have gone to university to think something so stupid as not attending every burglary was ever acceptable.  Yes, have a route into the police for graduates, but let’s also have a route in for people who can handle a rough situation, who know their community, who can deal with people.  Let’s once again let’s value Police with the skills of a thief-taker more highly than their ability to recite Latin, list the causes of the Franco Prussian war or tell you about their gender studies degree.  We can reduce the number of students, which would allow greater subsidy for university and other forms of education by removing the requirement for degrees for many careers.

There are other ways we can improve universities in this country.  The Nobel prize-winning economist, Milton Friedman used to list the Four Different Ways To Spend Money.  These were:

  • You can spend your own money on yourself – in which case you are careful what you spend and what you spend it on.
  • You can spend your own money on someone else – much like a present.  You are careful about how much you spend but maybe don’t worry as much about what you buy.
  • You can spend somebody else’s money on yourself – like being on expenses.  You are careful to get good things for the money. But you’re not very worried about the price.
  • Finally, you can spend somebody else’s money on somebody else – you neither care about the cost or the value. 

Funding a free university education for all is rather like the last of those choices.  Someone, somewhere in Whitehall takes someone else’s (the taxpayers’) money and provides a service to someone else (the student).  Whilst imperfect the current system does mean via a deferred payment, students will pick the best education for them, and presumably seek the best value for money with the degree they undertake.  Indeed, the increasing use of apprenticeships and stabilisation of student numbers suggest many are choosing these as the best value route for themselves.

“No doubt the years at university are a great time for many, and a great life experience.  But that is no reason to expect others to pay for it”

Now I do want to briefly address the reason some people believe a University Education should be free and widely available.  This is that, some believe, it to be some sort of rite of passage.  No doubt the years at university are a great time for many, and a great life experience.  But that is no reason to expect others to pay for it.  Although I could be persuaded on this.  I, myself am away on holiday soon, and I hope it will be a great trip.  It has certainly cost the earth.  If anyone of you here is committed to the idea that we should all help fund other’s opportunities to learn and grow, I am in no way adverse to taking your money to help fund my trip.  Please just deposit funds here at the front, during the interval. 

If a University Education were to be free for all UK citizens, what limits would be imposed?  Could for instance anyone go to university?  Would you need a minimum qualification?  Could you study any subject?  Would you be able to keep doing new courses?  I mean, why ever work if you can just stay at Uni?

If the answer to any of these is no, who chooses?  Or are we saying the motion is really “A University Education of my specification, should be free for all UK citizens.”?  If you impose a minimum level of qualifications once again you tax, then disadvantage, those who can least afford it and you punish the neuro divergent.  Free university education would require the willingness of hardworking taxpayers to fund increasingly obscure courses for 30-year-olds who are reluctant to leave academia.  Imposing limits, means you create a university system for the few funded by the many.

“If people want degrees and then follow these career paths, fine, good for them, but let’s not burden everyone with the costs”

We already have a problem of what’s known as elite overproduction, a condition which describes a society which is producing too many potential elite members relative to its ability to absorb them.  Research suggests 36 per cent of graduates are overqualified for the jobs they currently hold. 3 per cent of post office clerks had a degree in 1992, compared to 30 per cent now, in a job that really hasn’t changed much in that time.  In 1992, 3 percent of bar staff, and 2 per cent of security guards had degrees, now those numbers are 19 and 24 per cent respectively.  There is nothing wrong with having a degree and working in any of these careers.  But are you really saying society needs to pay for degree quality bar staff, rather than say putting them onto an apprenticeship or giving them other on the job training.  If people want degrees and then follow these career paths, fine, good for them, but let’s not burden everyone with the costs.

A paid for education does create opportunities to encourage people into qualifications which we as a nation want or need.  We could for instance direct students through subsidies that would, I believe, have widespread support.  As a nation we don’t educate enough doctors, let’s do that, let’s make the qualifications high to get onto the course, but reduce the costs to encourage more to join.  We don’t have enough engineers, or more generally enough people learning STEM subjects, so let’s subsidise them.  These are hard subjects that provide great jobs.  We don’t need to make the education free, but we could make it cheaper than more popular subjects that provide less societal benefit. 

“the necessary restriction needed to fund a so-called free education imposes a tax on all for the benefit of a small often already privileged minority”

The motion is that a ‘University Education should be free for all UK citizens’.  No one here believes this, we know an education is not free.  The motion proposes someone else pays for the education.  As we have discussed someone else paying for someone else’s’ education can lead to some perverse outcomes.  But mostly the necessary restriction needed to fund a so-called free education imposes a tax on all for the benefit of a small often already privileged minority.  The reduction will reduce opportunities for those who most need them. 

Let’s make education pay, make it good value, and make it available to all who benefit the most, which is why I ask you to oppose this motion.

Summary

I’ve already spoken about how fees for UK Universities, haven’t stopped UK students from all backgrounds studying here.  But let’s look at international students.  They pay on average £22,000 per annum to attend a UK university.  The number of international students rose from 450,000 in 2016 to over 600,000 today.  The top 10 list of countries sending students to the UK includes, China, India, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Malaysia, France, Italy, and Spain.  All of which have a lower GDP per capita than the UK.  Don’t tell me student fees put people off studying in UK Universities or make universities only a place for the rich.  It may feel like that’s the case, but it simply isn’t born out by the facts. 

“It won’t be the pupils of private schools missing out when there are fewer university places, they will know how to still get into their academy of choice”

If people from all over the world think that paying £66k for 3-year UK degree is the right choice for them, why shouldn’t our students continue to pay £27k rather than move that cost onto others.  Taxpayers already fund Higher Education in this country to the tune of £4.5 billion, moving more burden to taxpayers will mean we need to constrain costs and restrict supply.  It won’t be the pupils of private schools missing out when there are fewer university places, they will know how to still get into their academy of choice.  It will mean, fewer places for pupils from the bog-standard comprehensives, and from the families not used to sending their children off to Uni.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I would ask you to support the best outcomes, rather than the best intentions and oppose this motion.

To find out more about the Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CoulsdonPurleyDebatingSociety/ or email them at [email protected].

Croydon Council – please just do your job

By Mike Swadling

In 2019 I wrote a plea on this site that Croydon Council focus on just doing it’s job.  Croydon Council had just been busy spending our money on the Croydon Park Hotel and Colonnades Retail Park.  At the time I asked if the council had fully taken account of the risks should we have a downturn.  I also wondered if it more made sense to have the best and brightest at the council, focused on providing services rather than property speculation.  Well as we now know Croydon Council fell into de facto bankruptcy.

“looking for offers in excess of £10million, the only snag being they purchased Davis House for £19million in 2008”

Croydon Park Hotel was sold at a loss of £5 million.  The Colonnades Retail Park appears to be up for sale, and we await the final bill for this property speculation.  In case you think this is a one (or two) off, it appears Croydon Council has a longer history of property speculation.  The council is now in the process of selling Davis House and is looking for offers in excess of £10million, the only snag being they purchased Davis House for £19million in 2008.  MyLondon reports “At the time, the Conservative administration, described the £19 million purchase as a “good investment”.  Cabinet member for finance, Jason Cummings, was not a councillor at the time but said the investment was “reasonable”. He said: “Broadly speaking it is thought to have been a reasonable and justifiable price, I don’t think there was any controversy about it.”

” Councils engaging in property speculation are like the communists who think this time, unlike every other, it will be done properly and it won’t end in mass starvation”

No doubt at the time this was considered a good idea, the Croydon Park Hotel and Colonnades purchases were considered a good idea, the property speculation that led to Woking Council issuing a Section 114 notice with £2billion of debt, was considered a good idea at the time.  All, it turns out were very bad ideas.  Councils engaging in property speculation are like the communists who think this time, unlike every other, it will be done properly and it won’t end in mass starvation, and piles of dead bodies.

For those following the story at Woking Council this report by SurreyLive echo’s many of the problems that led to Croydon’s own bankruptcy: “A separate internal review was conducted that found long-standing issues dating back to before 2016 including an environment of weak financial controls, sub-optimal record keeping, and a lack of resources to manage complex company structures. There has also been an “absence of external audit opinions on the council’s accounts since 2018/19”.

Focusing on doing their job isn’t just restricted to abstaining from property speculation.  We’ve reported previously on the cost to taxpayers of Croydon Pride.  This peaked in 2019 at £65,000 and last year (in bankruptcy), Croydon Council has confirmed their sponsorship cost £10,000 of taxpayer funds:  

“We can confirm that Croydon Council provided a grant of £10,000 for Croydon Pride in 2022/23. This was part of our initial funding to prepare for the London Borough of Culture 2023: This is Croydon, and was provided from ring-fenced funds and not general council funding.”

“Whilst we should be thankful the cost to taxpayers is now less than 1/6th of what it was a few years ago, it’s still unclear to me why you, or any other taxpayers should have subsidised my weekend entertainment”

Whilst we should be thankful the cost to taxpayers is now less than 1/6th of what it was a few years ago, it’s still unclear to me why you, or any other taxpayers should have subsidised my weekend entertainment at the event.

The most concerning part of this is that Croydon Council believes it is somehow acceptable for a bankrupt council, that is cutting services, and who have had to increase council tax by 15%, to spend funds gathered from all out taxes on subsidising weekend entertainment for a few people (and people who are not struggling judging by the drink prices), just because it comes from a another pot of money. We have no news yet on what Croydon Council being the ‘Headline Sponsor’ of this years Croydon Pride will cost taxpayers, but if it’s anything like the previous ones they are great events, and you might want to get along on Saturday 15th July to get your money’s worth.

Giving thanks to the Industrial Revolution 

By Mike Swadling

As the advert goes ‘If Carlsberg did…’, days out for somewhat dull, middle aged guys, they wouldn’t be going far wrong if they produced the ‘Black Country Living Museum’.

In the centre of Dudley, the open-air museum set across 26 acres has rebuilt old buildings focused on historical industrial life in the area.  With rebuilt homes, a mine, workshops demonstrating traditional skills, public buildings and 50 shops, the place is amazing. In most of these you can encounter great information and have fascinating chats with actors playing part guide and part historic character.   As if this wasn’t enough, the absolute icing on the cake is two working pubs, where you can sample a cracking pint of beer (or two).

“we were left with the impression the Industrial Revolution was rather a bad thing!  Indeed, we were often left feeling that the lives of those in the Black Country at this period had never been worse”

I visited the museum back in April and thoroughly enjoyed it but was left with one nagging doubt of concern.  There were great insights from staff about life around the turn of the 20th Century.  They were able to answer most questions people had, and clearly enjoyed their job.  But for me the doubt wouldn’t go away, at every stop we were left with the impression the Industrial Revolution was rather a bad thing!  Indeed, we were often left feeling that the lives of those in the Black Country at this period had never been worse.  It’s not just at the museum but more generally we are asked to see industrialisation as a blight on the lives of those who lived through it, when the opposite in many ways is the truth. 

The Industrial Revolution is generally considered to have started in around 1760.  At that time average life expectancy in what is now the U.K. was about 38, it steadily rose to be over 50 by 1905.  This might not seem much of an achievement by today’s standards but given life expectancy had hovered around 35 for 900 years that steady increase is quite something.

Life expectancy is far from the only measure of the quality of life in a country, population growth is also a good indicator to the robustness of a society.  England’s population hovered from 5-10 million (the Black Death impacting this) for about 500 years until the mid-1700’s when it starts to take off to reach around 40 million by 1900.  This change represents children outliving the challenging first few years after birth and families being able to provide for many more young mouths. 

“In 150 years, average annual income had grown by more than it had in all the time since the invention of money.”

How could these poor workers afford those extra mouths? Especially given we are told how hard life was. Well, it turns out people were earning more, much, much, even inflation adjusted more.  Average Incomes started rising in the mid-1600s due in large part to the agricultural revolution, by 1760 they breach £2000 per annum in today’s money for the first time ever, by 1910 they were over £5000.  In 150 years, average annual income had grown by more than it had in all the time since the invention of money.

Not only were these extra mouths being fed, life was improving for them.  Life for children in the industrial revolution shouldn’t be compared to some idealise vision of living off the land, or to pictures from our own childhood, but instead be compared to a life punctuated with regular periods of famine and plague.  Children always worked, but the industrial revolution started to see families choose to and laws put an end to that.  In 1785 we see the Sunday School Society established, 1788 see the start of laws setting the minimum age boys could be employed as chimney sweeps, 1802 see’s the first of the Factory Acts, which required factory owners to provide some education.  In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act set out that ‘pauper children’ should receive education daily.  Half a century of improvements eventually saw the 1870 Elementary Education Act which introduced compulsory education for children aged 5-13.

The moves to compulsory education but also the additional options the relative wealth of industrialisation brought, meant that whilst “In 1800 around 40 percent of males and 60 percent of females in England and Wales were illiterate. By 1840 this had decreased to 33 percent of men and 50 percent of women, and, by 1870, these rates had dropped further still to 20 percent of men and 25 percent of women. By the turn of the century, illiteracy rates for both sexes had dropped to around 3 percent.” (source: Education, Literacy and the Reading Public.  Amy J. Lloyd, University of Cambridge)

“India has grown its industrial output from $5.4 billion in today’s money in 1960 to $443.9 billion in 2021.  In the same period life expectancy has gone from 41 to 70”

The industrial revolution significantly improved the lot of people throughout the United Kingdom.  But not only has this industrial manna from invention benefited people in the UK, it’s proven to be a repeatable process benefiting those across the globe.  India has grown its industrial output from $5.4 billion in today’s money in 1960 to $443.9 billion in 2021.  In the same period life expectancy has gone from 41 to 70.  Nigeria has seen industrial output in today’s money rise from $33 billion in 1981 to $64 billion in 2021, and life expectancy rise from 45 to 55 over that time.  On the same basis Nicaragua has seen industrial output rise from $0.54 billion to $1.96 billion from 1994 to 2021, and life expectancy rise from 66 to 75 in the same period.  Lastly Botswana’s industrial output has gone from $0.01 billion in 1965 to $0.98 billion in 2021, whilst seeing life expectancy grew from 51 to 69.

“We should celebrate industrialisation, celebrate the increased standards of living it gave us, and celebrate the increased prosperity it’s brought across the globe”

Many countries have either gone through or moved directly to having largely service based economies, whilst seeing similar benefits in life expectancy.  All of this is possible thanks to the Industrial Revolution, indeed almost literally everything you see around you is thanks to the Industrial Revolution. We should celebrate industrialisation, celebrate the increased standards of living it gave us, and celebrate the increased prosperity it’s brought across the globe. 

The Black Country Living Museum is a fantastic place, a great place to visit and a great place for a pint.  I just wish the excellent staff and society more generally would be more thankful for the glories of the Industrial Revolution.  From affordable mass-produced clothes on our back, the heating in our homes, the lighting at night, our transportation, to our abundance of food from across the globe, and much more, the Industrial Revolution is responsible for it all.