Saturday, 23 September 2017

The Eurozone is ‘bouncing back’? Tell that to the people of Spain and Greece

EU citizens living under squeezed financial circumstances could be forgiven for wondering whether Commission President Juncker was having a joke at their expense when he spoke recently about how Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back. After a tumultuous decade triggered by the global financial crisis in 2007, the Eurozone’s growth figures are being compared favourably to America’s, with production up 3.2% against last year.

However, evidence points to a wide chasm between people’s lived experiences and Juncker’s message of triumph. It is doubtful that the citizens of Spain and Greece, for example, would agree with his assessment.

According to the Commission, 30% of Spaniards are at risk of social exclusion due to poverty and income inequality. The proportion of children in Spain living below the poverty line increased by 9% between 2008 and 2014, to almost 40%, and Spain is in 7th place on the list of countries where inequality has risen the most since 2010. Greece, meanwhile, is at top of this ranking.

Now, ‘growth’ may be used to express the success of a country’s economic performance. But how impressive is it really, when the Troika’s austerity driven politics is causing so much human suffering in countries like Greece and Spain?

According to the OECD, countries have continued the trend towards implementing tax policy reforms to boost growth. French President Macron is proposing to cut corporation tax from 33.3% to 25% by 2022.

Yet the use of tax levers, primarily cuts to corporation tax, as a means to draw inward investment has been disputed by top economists.

“The way you get a productive economy is changing the fundamentals, says John Van Reenen of the LSE. “You get your people to be more skilled, or you have your infrastructure working efficiently. You’re never really going to get there just by reducing corporate tax.”

So what’s the alternative? It is possible to pursue a successful strategy without crucifying ordinary people in the process, and Portugal is leading the way. The country adopted left wing alternatives to austerity policies in 2015 and is now reporting an impressive recovery. It is a model from which governments can learn.

I wrote this article originally for DiEM25 which is a grass roots organisation co-founded by Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister of Greece, campaigning for reform of the EU. Membership details can be found here.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Sal Brinton's speech was a rouser

When one cannot be at conference (like me) then watching a livestream of it is a lifeline. Punchy, intellectual  and people centred are the words that I would use to describe today's proceedings. Sal Brinton's, President of the Liberal Democrat Party, speech was the highlight - pitched at the right level to appeal to both the converted Lib Dem-er and non-converted voter, packed with truths and rounded off with a strong dash of an urgency to answer her 'call to arms'.

In other words, Lib Dems have their work cut out for them in trying to rope in Labour and Tory voters who are wavering about their tribal allegiances.

Sal Brinton started off by alluding to a Groundhog Day feeling in politics given that two general election and a referendum have been held in the space of two years. She spoke about the "loony" figures and situations that have arisen in global politics and name checked Trump, North Korea and Theresa May. I suspect there were no dissenters in the audience to Sal's analysis. If there were then they were clearly in the wrong place.

Recent events were referenced in her speech. Sal probably captured the common mood when she referred to the "shocking lack of humanity and efficiency" demonstrated by the Tory government over their handling of the fall out from Hurricane Irma as experienced in the British dependent territories. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, managed to get troops out before Hurricane Irma struck, she said, contrasting this with the Tory government who were "taken by surprise at the scale of the disaster" despite numerous prior warnings.

Continuing her attack on the Tory Party she described Theresa May's leadership as akin to being a house with "the lights on but no one is at home".

"The Nasty Party is back", Sal declared and spoke about how the Tories are starving the NHS of funds and that the UN has declared that the UK government's treatment of the disabled is "disgraceful".

She called the Lib Dems the "only national party fighting for a true place in Europe".  Her call to arms came when she told followers that the left and right of politics had been crushed by the lurch to authoritarianism.

And where does this leave the Liberal Democrats? According to Sal Brinton it is the only party that questions and challenges authoritarianism.

Sadly, some may not buy this given the resentment that still exists over the party's role in building austerity driven politics but, as a speech at a party political conference, it did the job.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Is missing your child's first day of school a big deal?

Most parents hold the memory of their child's first day of school quite dear. My daughter started school in 2003 and I still remember every detail of it with emotion bordering on extreme nostalgia. Dropping your child off at the school gates or walking them into the classroom itself, as some schools allow, is a memory making moment.

Starting school is a defining moment in a child's life. It marks a transition from being a toddler to entering an institution tasked with instilling a sense of discipline and responsibility in the child. As a responsible parent we feel it imperative upon us to physically deposit them at school as if it were some sort of cultural 'handing over' ceremony.

But is it just flummery or does the whole 'taking your child on first day of school and making a big deal of it' mean anything at the end of the day?

I think the answer has two dimensions: from a parental point of view and from the child's view.

As a parent, taking my daughter to school was a BIG deal for me. It felt like a rite of passage. What sort of mother would I have been if I hadn't marked the day by physically being there, was my personal view. The whole process of waking up early on the day and getting her changed into a school uniform was part of a 'process'.

Fast forward 14 years later. My daughter is now 18 years old and can't really remember her first day. Neither, I should add, does she give a stuff about how it all went. While I still cling on to old memories she has made newer and fresher ones that are far more exciting to her.

The 'process' that I refer to two paras above turned out to be not quite as life-changing as I thought it would. My fear was that the home would become a diminished place because much of her life would be shaped by academia and teachers. I severely underestimated the continued primacy of the home and my role as a mum.

From the acres of coverage of Prince George's first day at school what is rapidly emerging is an unspoken subtext that the Duchess of Cambridge ought to feel guilty for not being present today at the school gates.

I have no doubt that she is convulsed with guilt and regret over it but somebody should tell her that as the years roll on these things fade into the background and, more likely, Prince George didn't feel abandoned in the slightest.

As parents we sometimes create extra burdens for ourselves by gold plating our sense of care, love and responsibility.


Thursday, 31 August 2017

How did Princess Diana manage to stay sane with all that misogynistic vitriol?

All photos taken from the Diana exhibition currently on at Kensington Palace, London
There were many times in the 1990s when I wondered how on earth Princess Diana managed to wake up and go through the motions of the day. If you are a believer in the power of the Establishment then, make no mistake, this woman fought against the might of it on a regular basis.

The powers that be were misogynistic and cruel in their treatment of Diana. Remember when pompous Nicholas Soames cast aspersions on her mental health and relied on Parliamentary Privilege to get away with it? If not, read this.

When Diana was at her lowest because of her age and inexperience the Establishment kicked her even harder

The treatment she received from the pressmen could only be described as hard machoism. Long lenses were directed at her in her face. As she lay dying she was being objectified. Instead of helping her the press men were snapping her dying moments.

The saboteurs and such like pond life would defend their disapproval of Diana by telling people that she wasn't blameless, that she had invited attention and trouble by flaunting herself. 

It's a familiar 'putdown' argument used against women who are perceived to not know their place in life. She was beautiful and always well dressed and blonde. Perfect fodder for misogynists.

There is a fantastic exhibition at Kensington Palace titled. 'Diana: Her Fashion Story', which showcases Princess Diana's beautiful clothes but is much more than a fashion display or a memorial of some sort. If anything the exhibition is a touching reminder that her beautiful gowns and dresses were, at the end of the day, accessories to the way she interacted with the public in breaking new ground as a royal member.

Dressing glamorously seemed to be Diana's way of arming herself in facing the misogynistic patronising attitudes towards her.

Diana was meant to be a demure Princess in tow but grew in stature to become a Princess who led the way in confronting global issues like AIDS and landmines. Her dress style shaped the way the world thought about her. She dressed down to walk through a minefield. She wore gloves to meet AIDS victims and removed a glove to shake hands with them thus dispelling the myth that the illness could be spread through touch.

The royal family that so callously stripped her of the HRH title lost a gem 20 years ago today.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

A mother's account of coping with her daughter having leukemia one year on

Kirsty, left, with her mother, Dr Janet Chelliah

This is a particularly poignant blog post for me. Kirsty is my niece. A much loved darling. Dr Chelliah is my only sister and we have a very close relationship.

The words "She has Leukaemia, Babes..." still echoes in my head, even though it has been a year since I first heard those words from my husband, Neil.

My daughter Kirsty, who was 15, had just celebrated her birthday a few days before. It was a Friday at 6pm when I heard those words. I was just walking out of work having just referred a patient into hospital for suspected cancer.
Kirsty and her sister Melissa , together with their friends from Dancestars, had performed 5 street dances at a family event. It was meant to be a fun, exciting Friday as we then were expecting family and friends to arrive that weekend. We had spent the whole week planning for this weekend.

We were going to have a 15th Birthday party for Kirsty. Chocolate Fountain and Mocktails in the garden as her friends arrive, lots of singing, dancing, and games in the garden before they had Jacket Potatoes, Chips, Pizzas followed by the Ice Cream Bar. Melissa and I had baked the 'perfect' chocolate cake for Kirsty. It was all working out perfectly.

The week before we sat on a beach on the North East Coast of Scotland . The weather, the sights and the food was all great. I still remember saying to the girls, "remember this moment when we get home and we have a difficult day. Think of this beautiful moment to keep us happy".
Kirsty has Down Syndrome. She was just about to go into Year 11, we were thinking about her future, how do we prepare her for Post 16 Education, how do we help her build her independence, how do we help her achieve her dreams to be a dancer, singer, actor, an athlete who would one day be part of the Special Olympics and to work as a receptionist in her favourite hotel, Premier Inn?

Dr Janet Chelliah was deputy medical director at the Special Olympics held in Sheffield, August 2017

Our lives as a family, our dreams and most of all my teenage daughter's life came crashing before us...why, why why??
We have had a horrible year, probably another blog to tell you about it.

Our lives have changed. our priorities have changed , my younger girl Melissa has seen and experienced more than any 9 year old should experience, but most of all Kirsty's life came to a hold for almost a year.

One year on today...our family life hasn't got back to how it was. However there have been some happy moments. Kirsty celebrated her 16th birthday this week, she attended her school prom, she is walking more and using her wheelchair less than she did, she uses a trike, she has started singing and drama lessons, she is starting to attend her dance classes, she has a different hairstyle as her hair grows back, we managed to travel out to a caravan park, she has made new friends ,she has been shown how much she is special and loved by the many wonderful family and friends we have and, most of all, her beautiful smile and fantastic personality and sense of humours is shining through.
Kirsty has a long journey ahead of her. She remains on chemotheraphy till 2019 followed by monthly blood tests for a few years. I pray and hope she will soon catch up with the last year that put her life on hold.

Thank you to our family and friends who have continued to show their much needed love and support. I wish I could name you all here and thank you personally but I will just have too much to say.
A very special thank you to my sister Jane, who has encouraged me to put my thoughts in this blog and has been a great support.