Saturday, November 30, 2013

Let's stop bleating about the secondary market for event tickets.That's capitalism at work.

One of the immutable laws of economics is that the price of a commodity is determined at the intersection of the supply and demand curves. If Demand > Supply the price goes up. If Supply < Demand the price falls. We accept this as a given in our largely free market society. Take housing. We actually congratulate ourselves when the value of our homes increases. All that means is that there is a demand for our property which pushes up its price. The reverse can, of course, also apply. It applies to gold, to art, to everything that is traded. Without it the Auction houses and the Antique shops would go out of business. So why are event tickets different? They aren't. If, as in the Python case, more people want to go than there are tickets available the price will rise. Simple economics.

There is nothing inherently wrong in having a secondary market for anything legal. Indeed it is arguable that it is our right in a free country that this happens. Instead of doomed attempts by event organisers to prohibit resale of tickets they should facilitate it happening. My football club, Tottenham Hotspur, publicises the activity of "StubHub" a commercial operation which legally puts sellers of unwanted tickets in touch with buyers. The ticket price depends not on the face value but on demand. In truth eBay and the rest are no different. And remember that "Caveat Emptor" always applies! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The objection to "immigration" is often a coded objection to multiculturalism

The objection to "immigration" is often a  coded objection to multiculturalism. Objectors just don't like the fact that parts of some of our towns and cities have changed to reflect the culture of the newcomers and look and feel different from those areas which have not had immigrants. They don't like the fact that when  you travel you sometimes see a mix of ethnicity and dress around you. They don't like the fact that our once exclusively White Anglo-Saxon Christian nation isn't like that any more.

I would suggest that the number of Britain's indigenous citizens who have actually personally been disadvantaged in some way by immigration is less than 0.5%. A few who have lost jobs to better qualified incomer candidates (in which example the employer is making a rational choice. And why not?). But the vast majority of Britain's citizens have not been adversely affected by immigration at all.

Whilst few are affected adversely by immigration we are all beneficiaries of it. The entrepreneurship and hard work of the Asian small shopkeeper. The care and skill of the Bengali nurse. The pride and talent of the Somali athlete or the Jamaican footballer. The culinary excellence of the Chinese or Thai or Indian restauranteur. (Not to mention the French chef, merci M. Roux et M. Blanc!).

Our nation is so much better for the arrival on our shores of people from foreign lands and for the contribution they have made to our society. As with all things not everything in the garden is rosy. There have been and are problems - not least the phenomenon of the home-bred Islamic militant. But the P&L is overwhelmingly on the credit side. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

The slaying of JFK–fifty years on

My school friend David Carter contracted polio when very young. At our boarding school he played a very full part in most things despite the handicap of having one callipered leg and having to get around the school in a wheelchair. Within a few days of our first term together as new boys in 1959 I and the others in David’s house had pretty much forgotten his disability. It wasn’t a big deal. We competed with one another to push him around and tried to break speed records from our House to the Dining Room just around the Quadrangle and past the Chapel.

On 22nd November 1963 I was sitting in my study with friends when I heard this commotion in the distance, then the unmistakeable sound of David moving at speed in my direction his gammy leg banging hard on the floor as he limped along. “Guys, guys” he shouted as he charged down the corridor “Guys, Kennedy’s been shot.” In my study I had a large, ancient but rather good radio set – it was tuned in as always to one of the pirate radio stations that were prevalent at that time. We spun the dial to try and get more news and latched on to the “American Forces Network” (AFN) which had a strong signal as there were many US Forces bases near us in Cambridge. For the next hour we sat silent as the news came in – made all the more poignant by the American accents of the reporters.

It’s a cliché, I know, to remember where you were when Kennedy was shot. For me it will always be associated with David’s noisy approach and that increasingly dreadful news coming from the American radio station. The following day was my 17th birthday and there was a school outing to London that I was to take part in. We were all somewhat subdued when we borded the bus having seen the newspapers with their terrible story. In London I phoned home using the cheaper local rates and my Mother wished me a Happy Birthday. Neither of us said a word about Kennedy – I think that it was just too difficult to find words…

John Kennedy was President for just 1000 days. He was work in progress. In 1962 he had saved the world form oblivion by fronting up to Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He had also moved Western governance firmly into the 20th Century – he was the first US President to have been born in that century. He was younger than my father! He was modern, articulate and for a seventeen year old he had a charisma (although I doubt I knew that word at the time!) so absent from the stuffy old Victorian suits who ran Britain!

Would Kennedy have been a great President if he had been allowed a second term in 1964? Above all would he have avoided American involvement in the Vietnam War – that vile conflict which lasted through my student years later in the decade? Well the Jury is out on that one – my view is that JFK, advised by his more liberal brother Robert Kennedy, would have limited America’s involvement, would have had the good sense to see what was happening and would have avoided the obscene escalation that destroyed his successor’s presidency, alienated my generation and eventually gave us Richard Nixon. But – who really know?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Douglas Carswell - an irritating little sharp-toothed terrier snapping at the heels of giants.

Under the headline "Only a Eurosceptic Tory Party can win a majority" in the Telegraph today poor, deluded Douglas Carswell once again sees the world through the filter of his own paranoia. He and his obsessive single-issue predecessors have done untold damage to his Party and the country. The divides on Europe in the Conservative party haven't gone away just because their current leader has judged that his own survival (an improbable event anyway) requires him to grab at the Referendum straw.

Mr Cameron, informed as Mr Carswell has never been by the cool realities of power, knows that for Britain to leave the EU would be a disaster - and has said so. The majority of his Cabinet colleagues also know this to be true. But those men who made life hell for John Major, some still banging on as they ever did, and their faux-patriot successors don't care. They dangle the prospect of Britain being better off "Out" as if all of our social, economic and other problems would be solved if we hauled up the drawbridge and travelled back in time to 1955.

Britain has its problems but only to look outward at one aspect of how we operate as a Nation state (our place as a partner in the EU) is myopia of the worst kind. Indeed, as Ireland has shown and as Spain, Greece and Portugal will also soon demonstrate, Europeanism is not the problem but a key part of the solution. When the history of these febrile times comes to be written it will be the leaders like Angela Merkel who eschew petty nationalism and create pan-national solutions who will be seen as the heroes. And the likes of Douglas Carswell will just be "Douglas Who?" - remembered (if at all) only as that irritating little sharp-toothed terrier who once snapped ineffectually at the heels of giants. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.

"The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori." So finished Wilfred Owen his great poem about the horrors of war. It is, says Owen an "Old Lie" that it is "sweet and right to die for your country". The Latin quote is from Horace and it lies of the heart of the "Call to duty" that took men to die in the trenches or in countless conflicts before and since.

There was nothing sweet and very little right about the Great War - although the jury is out as to whether it was, from a British perspective, a "Just War". You picks your historian and takes your choice on that one. Was the threat to Britain from Germany in 1914 so great that it had to be met with force? That is a far from clear cut assertion. But for Owen, at least in his poem, the rights and wrongs don't matter. What mattered was that a friend died horribly his "white eyes writhing in his face". 

The "Glory of War" is an oxymoron and to glorify war is moronic. Remembrance Day does not do that. You'll probably hear the word "glory" today but I doubt that it will be triumphantly spoken. Not from the mouths of the marching veterans anyway. They'll be more likely to echo the words of Harry Patch who wrote at the age of 109 "It wasn’t worth it. No war is worth it. No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives let alone thousands. T’isn’t worth it."

But then as we sombrely reflect on the loss of family and friends or of unknown ancestors do we buy another lie that they were all "heroes" and that everyone who puts on a uniform is the same? The problem with the assertion that every single one of our soldiers, sailors and airmen is or was a hero is twofold. It is patently untrue - as we were starkly reminded this week. And it denigrates the use of the word for those who genuinely were. 

In his wonderful children's book "The Butterfly Lion" Michael Morpurgo describes an act of heroism in the trenches for which the hero receives the Victoria Cross. It explains what being a hero really means far better than the battery of "Help for Heroes" bombast does. Wilfred Owen, Harry Patch and a million others did not see themselves to be heroes. They were there because they had to be, maybe partly out of duty but mostly because they were required to be. The "white feather" alternative was unappealing.

So let's keep the word "Hero" for the true heroes of war and not apply it indiscriminately to every man and woman who chooses the military as a career. And let's remember today not just the true heroes who did the extraordinary things that justified that name. Let's remember those who didn't want to be there, who had to be nevertheless, and who died anyway. Not heroes at all but innocent victims of countless leaders' failures to resolve differences peaceably.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Why I support the stay IN the EU campaign

The economic arguments are strong. But when I took part in the pro EU campaign for the referendum in the 1970s it was because I wanted my generation to be the first not be be embroiled in a European conflict. My Grandparents lives were damaged by the Great War, and my parents by World War Two. Peace leads to prosperity and economic cooperation to genuine partnership. You don't fight people you have as partners.

The success of the EU is remarkable - and in saying this I am not being myopic about the last decade. Indeed the strength of the EU members has been seen in the way the Union has worked together to solve the huge problems of the global financial and banking crisis. Compare this with the way the nationalism of the early 1930s (a consequence of the last global financial meltdown) has been replaced by cooperation in Europe.

Nationalism is the most dangerous of all the "isms" . Those who are paranoid about the EU in UKIP and the Right Wing of the Conservative Party are truly dangerous in their faux patriotism and dangerous nationalism. Now is not the time to turn inwards and erect barriers. Now is the time to play a full part in building the united, peaceful, prosperous Europe that can be such a force for good for all our people.