On The NHS


On The Purpose Of Money

On Jazz, And Love Supreme

On Demographics, And Brexit

Here is an interesting fact to throw into the whole Brexit debate. Last year, for the first time ever, more people died in the EU than were born. The population of the EU, about 740 million, shrunk by 135,000, if you take out the effects of migration.

Of the biggest countries, only France and the UK saw a natural increase. Germany shrunk at a faster rate than any other country. To cut the figures another way, if the UK, and its natural increase in numbers, was excluded, that total fall of 135,000 would have more than doubled. The EU is running out of people, as are other advanced economies such as Japan. We in the UK are merely better off than most.

Obviously, migration makes up the difference, and then some. But a shrinking population, which is by definition an ageing one, is bad news for all of us. Which is why we are having to import so many economically active younger people.

Those Brexiteers who want that inwards migration to cease will have to face up to an inconvenient truth. If you are not prepared to allow people into the country to do the needed work, you are going to have to do it yourself. Which means a later retirement date.

Given that those voting for Out were, proportionately, older than those voting In, I wonder if they appreciated just what they were voting for, a longer working life. I rather think not. The Law of Unintended Consequences again, then.

On Labour, And History

In the first ballot for the 1976 Labour leadership contest, I am reminded, the candidates were Jim Callaghan, Tony Benn, Anthony Crosland, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and Michael Foot. Say what you like about these. Crosland helped destroy the education system. Foot – well, they subsequently had to wait three decades to find a leader who was worse.

This time round we get Jeremy Corbyn. Angela Eagle, a politician so charismatic that when she held her press conference to launch her leadership bid the entire press corps left half-way to report on the doings of someone they had never heard of a fortnight ago. You can see it here:


Oh, and Owen Something, a person whose sole qualification for the job is that he is Welsh.

It is like the aftermath of some terrible First World War battle, is it not, when all the officers are killed and the regiment is led by dim second lieutenants fresh out of Sandhurst? Excepting of course Theresa May, whose spell as Home Secretary suggests an inability to crack down on the real Bad Guys and a willingness to infringe on civil liberties in a botched attempt to do so. IMHO. Time will tell.

On Nice, And Risk

You could prevent more deaths by banning cycling in London than by deporting every Muslim in the UK and not letting any more in.

Up to a dozen cyclists die on London roads each year. Deaths from terrorism range from about 60 one terrible year more than a decade ago to nil. Or one that year. Or nil again the next.

Most terrorist acts are random, committed by random individuals in random places. A soldier walking along the street in Woolwich. A concert by a band almost no one has heard of in Paris.

This suggests heavy-handed policing is not the solution. All the armed police in the world at the Gare du Nord will not influence events on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Those armed officers I walk past at London Bridge each day will almost certainly not be present at the site of the next attack. It is the boring strategy of surveillance of known individuals and combating the spread of the meme of radical Islam that will limit the damage.

The French do seem to have a particular problem, with their large and disaffected Muslim population. They are also suffering from the previous inaction of the notoriously incompetent Belgian security forces.

If terrorist attacks are random, if committed by individuals or groups, they are better seen as similar to the deaths caused by serial killers such as Fred West and Harold Shipman. The difference is that serial killers’ actions, and the deaths they bring about, are limited by their wish not to get caught. No one sane worries, though, about being murdered by a serial killer.

We assess risk by balancing the likelihood of an event happening with the extremity of the consequences if they do. Sometimes we get that balance wrong. We may over-protect our kids because of the awfulness of what might, just might happen.We play the National Lottery despite the virtually nil chances of winning because the consequences of winning are life-changing.

Anyone who changes their behaviour because of the fear of a terrorist attack is like one of those Lottery players in reverse. Those of us who lived through the IRA campaigns of the 1990s can recall a time where there was the statistical possibility that we might not return home because of terrorist action. That possibility was vanishingly small.

I am not saying terrorism will not get worse. In France, they are talking about the prospect of something resembling civil war, if enough terrorist outrages sweep the far right to power.

Here, there will be another attack, and it might be worse than the London transport bombings. But it is about balance of risk.

PS: before you say it, no I am not proposing mass deportations. Don’t be silly.


On Southern Trains, And Brexit

Odd how unconnected ideas sometimes come together. We were travelling on Southern rail over the weekend. This is officially the worst rail franchise in the country, the operator having been given permission to scrap hundreds of services a day because there are not enough staff to man them – or because the staff are constantly pulling sickies as a form of industrial action. Depending on who you believe.

There is a long-running dispute with the union over removing the guards from the trains. You can wave to the new rolling stock all ready and standing at Three Bridges as you go past, assuming you can get onto the train in the first place.

Our train out was, needless to say, cancelled. We were told to change at Brighton – except that we were not allowed to use the next train there. Against the rules. Wait for the next one. More delay. It is fair to describe the attitude of Southern staff as unhelpful. This has been a long running scandal, with passengers stranded for hours day after day.

Go to the information desk to ask what you do now, and there are two policeman standing there ostentatiously. They are there to prevent trouble – there have been ugly scenes, demos, one man was recently escorted from Victoria Station, itself a warren of temporary barriers put up to combat the persistent overcrowding.

People are understandably angry. Lives are disrupted, for months on end now. The fares are enormous, and the recent change to the timetable is designed to prevent them from claiming refunds. We have the forces of law and order standing by to prevent protests getting out of hand, because those customers have no levers they can pull, no power to compel those who run the service to do so properly.

It is that sense of powerlessness, the sense that there is nothing people can do to change a system which is weighted in favour of those who sit in offices somewhere out of their reach and control their lives, which led to the recent regrettable referendum vote. People who feel they have no power will do anything.

Abusing disgruntled Southern staff is not the solution, but it is all they can do. Most of us have felt like that at some time or another. Equally pointless is a vote to leave an economic union they may barely understand, whose consequences are unknowable and probably self-destructive.