Friday, November 25, 2016

Black Friday frustration for online shoppers

Black Friday proved to be particularly frustrating for some as millions of people sought to purchase bargains ahead of anticipated price hikes in the coming months [BBC].

A weak pound that followed the Brexit vote in June has made imports more expensive. However many retailers have yet to pass on the costs to consumers, preferring to take a cut in profits rather than risking a loss of custom.

But price hikes are inevitable in the coming months as old stock dwindles and retailers seek to rekindle profits.

But before the price hikes comes Black Friday, an American import which the cynically minded would say is just a way of retailers getting rid of old stock. Nonetheless there are many who don't mind last year's model.

However, those seeking a bargain have encountered hours of frustration attempting to purchase items on crashing websites or battling through crowds of other bargain hunters.

Online hell

Thousands of people attempting to buy a Dell laptop reduced by nearly 50% were thwarted by constant timeouts and other errors. Those seeking to redress the problem through Dell's helpline found themselves in a very long queue.

Many potential customers took to social media to vent their frustration. "If @DellUK can't cope with people buying stuff from their store, how could they cope with a DDoS attack?" one annoyed Twitter user posted.

Some felt the whole promotion was merely baiting people who unable to buy what they wanted felt compelled to still make a purchase though for a much smaller reduction. "Don't fall for the Dell doorbuster bait and switch" wrote @Jellyf0x. "It's a bait and switch scam, they don't want your £200 they really want to sell you something else later" 

Others felt the online problems did not bode well for a tech giant like Dell. Indeed the Black Friday offer may have backfired. One hopeful buyer glumly suggested he might opt for a Lenevo laptop instead. Others aired similar grievances. "Your Black Friday treatment has been nothing short of disgraceful...I'm taking my money elsewhere & advise others to do likewise!!!" Simon Church posted on Twitter.

Many people were sceptical as to how many laptops were even on sale. Dell on stated there were a 'Limited' number. However given the issues so many people experiencing and the fact that Dell said the offer was closed within an hour of going live, some questioned whether there was even one laptop available at the stated £199 price tag.

Stabbing and overspending

In the physical world things weren't doing too well either. Many shoppers found themselves stuck in heavy traffic as they headed to out of town shopping centres. For some the bargains were not cheap enough though and one off duty police officer was stabbed after attempting to apprehend a shoplifter in Leeds [Sun].

Shoppers grabbing bargains have been cautioned against overspending, especially given the uncertainty of the British economy.

"The key is to make sure you only buy items you were looking for anyway, and not because you fall for the marketing hype," said Gary Caffell, from Moneysavingexpert. "There are some great deals out there but make sure you do your own price comparisons, as prices can fluctuate wildly from store to store - don't just take a retailer's word for it that something is a bargain."

While there will be many who have walked away with a bargain, there will be a far greater number who will have increased their debts by loading expenditure to credit cards. Others will have been left bitter by the whole frustrating experience.


tvnewswatch, London

Sunday, November 20, 2016

40 years since punk rock hit the UK

It is 2016 and some 40 years since punk rock emerged on the London music scene. Anarchy in the UK was released on 26th November 1976 and so began one of the most momentous changes to music and culture. In celebration the London Mayoral office and the National Lottery of all bodies are funded and backed a series of events to mark the occasion [Punk London]. An irony given the furore the Pistols and their contemporaries created with the then Greater London Council and how the punk movement as a whole rejected the nature of capitalist ventures as would include such things as the National Lottery.

But aside of the commercialisation of the event, it is perhaps important to reflect on the importance of the punk phenomenon and its influence on culture and music, be it good or bad.

They couldn't play - or could they?

"Find four kids. Make sure they can't play," Malcolm McLaren espoused in the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, reinforcing the myth that most punk musicians couldn't play and that most could only bash out three or four chord riffs.

However, a listen to some of the best punk albums released nearly 40 years ago soon dispels such notions. Indeed some of the musicians were extremely accomplished.

Never Mind the Bollocks here's the Sex Pistols was far from bollocks. And Siouxsie and the Banshees 1978 album Scream is both haunting and complex with its melodies and rhythms.

The Clash's first LP of the same name, while raw also has some incredible moments. Take White Man in Hammersmith Palais for example or Police and Thieves with their strong reggae influences and heavy bass lines.

And while occasionally despised by many in the punk scene, how can one ignore the Stranglers with their wandering bass lines courtesy of Jean-Jacques Burnel and the haunting keyboards of Dave Greenfield.

Gone but not forgotten

Sadly many of those old punks are no longer with us. And not all of them met an unhappy end like Sid Vicious who found his way to taking a heroin overdose after allegedly dispatching his girlfriend Nancy Spungen with a knife in a New York hotel.

Lead singer of X-Ray Spex Poly Styrene passed away in 2011, at the age of 53, after a battle with breast cancer that spread to her spine and lungs. The guitarist Jak Airport also succumbed to cancer and died in 2004 aged 49.

The Clash of course lost their frontman and rhythm guitarist Joe Strummer in 2002 when he became the victim of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. He was 50.

Lead singer Ari Up of the Slits meanwhile died of cancer in Los Angeles, aged 48.

And who could forget the Ramones who by 2014 had lost all four of the band's original members. Lead singer Joey Ramone died of lymphoma in 2001, guitarist Johnny Ramone died in his Los Angeles home in 2004 at the age of 55 after five years battling prostate cancer, bassist Dee Dee Ramone succumbed to a heroin overdose in 2002 and drummer Tommy Ramone passed away in 2014 aged 65 following unsuccessful treatment for bile duct cancer.

Moving on

Whilst some old punks have died others have simply moved on. John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten is still knocking out records at 60 but many of his contemporaries left the music scene some time ago.

Former drummer with the Clash, Terry Chimes is now a chiropractor while Steve Ignorant, lead singer of the anarcho-punk group Crass is now a lifeboatman. Meanwhile punk fashion icon Jordan has since become a veterinary nurse [Guardian].

Such changes in career might not seem very punk, but what's wrong with helping saving the lives of animals, fishermen lost at sea or relieving someone's back pain? After all punk was as much about community and helping others as it was about DIY rock music and sloganeering.

In the end we all have to move on with our lives as a Guardian photo gallery of old punks shows [Guardian].

Nostalgia

For most people punk is little more than nostalgia [Guardian]. There are some groups that continue to tour, such as the Damned, albeit with different line-ups. But there are many who scorn the flogging of a dead horse and the commercialisation of punk.

Indeed, Joe Corré, son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, has said he he will burn £5 million worth of punk memorabilia in public in reaction to the commercialised Punk London celebrations. "Rather than a movement for change, punk has become like a f***ing museum piece or a tribute act," Corré is quoted as saying [BBC / Telegraph / Guardian].

But at the same time one cannot ignore the influence punk has has had on music, fashion and culture. From the new wave groups of the late 1970s and Gothic bands ranging from Bauhaus to Marilyn Manson, punk has changed the face of music.

Distressed jeans have almost become socially acceptable some four decades after torn clothing was a fashion statement, though bondage trousers have faded away to little more than a distant memory. Nonetheless to have coloured hair hardly raises an eyebrow as it did in the mid-seventies. In fact punk has become a commodity and a symbol of London as much as its red phone boxes, black cabs and the Queen with postcards of snotty youths with green mohicans sitting alongside those depicting Beefeaters and the Queen Mother [FT].

Shifting politics

The politics has also shifted somewhat. Punk was initially defined as being a subculture largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom. However, now, more than ever, most youngsters are driven by materialistic desires than by politics. And the only freedom sought by many is in the pursuit of entertainment and leisure activities.

To coin a phrase from one of punk's first anthems Anarchy in the UK, "Your future dream is a shopping scheme." Bear that in mind if you start shopping on Amazon to rebuild your old punk collection on CD.

Punk London is conclusive proof, if needed, of the French situationist Guy Debord's assertion that consumer capitalism drains authentic lived experience of meaning. "All that once was directly lived," wrote Debord in 1967, "has become mere representation."

But not all the old punks have forgotten their roots, even if some claim they've sold out such as John Lydon - aka Johnny Rotten - with his butter adverts.

Concerning Corré's intention to burn £5 million of memorabilia, Lydon is highly critical.

"He [Corré] is into lingerie isn't he? Well I think he'd be better off burning his bra," Lydon quips. "It's pathetic and he's going to ruin the environment with all those toxic fumes."

"If you've got £5 million of anything, donate it to charity," he adds on a more serious note, describing the act as "pompous, ludicrous and unfortunately what Britain seems to be full of."

He has also slammed Brexit as ludicrous. "To leave it [the European Union] would be insane and suicidal," he resolves. "We're never going to go back to that romantic delusion of Victorian isolation, it isn't going to happen."

"There'll be no industry, there'll be no trade, there'll be nothing – a slow dismal, collapse. It's ludicrous."

"It's an act of cowardice really, it's running away from issues instead of solving them." [Metro]

Indeed for this old punk rocker it rather reflects the anthem from a song he penned 40 years ago when he suggested there would be "no future".

tvnewswatch, London, UK


Monday, November 14, 2016

Sleepwalking into a new era of fascism

A little over 80 years ago an outspoken Austrian seized power and took Germany on a course few will ever forget. That man was of course Adolf Hitler.

His rise to power came after the 1932 German general election. Although he had no absolute leadership at the time, Hitler managed to oust Hindenberg as his party grew. Two successive federal elections left the Nazis as the largest party in the Reichstag and anti-democratic parties in control of a majority of its seats. Under this political climate, Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

Soon after judges were forced to sign allegiance to the party and the so-called People's Court was established. There was no presumption of innocence, and most cases brought before the People's Court had predetermined guilty verdicts.

The court was established in 1934 by order of Adolf Hitler, in response to his dissatisfaction at the outcome of the Reichstag fire trial, in which all but one of the defendants was acquitted.

Newspapers of the day such as the Völkischer Beobachter and the associated publication llustrierter Beobachter followed the party line of criticising the verdict and labelling socialists, communists and others as so-called enemies of the people.

And so began the erosion of civil rights and a consolidation of power  by the Nazi party led by Adolf Hitler.

Sleepwalking into a Fascist state

Post-Brexit, and more recently post-Trump, there has been some concern that the democratic West is sleepwalking into new era of fascism.

There are those that would say such claims are exaggerated. Neither May's government nor Trump have yet seized absolute power, nor have people's rights yet been eroded. The police are not wearing jackboots, there are no concentration camps and the judiciary is still independent. But there is a language coming from today's politicians that has strong echoes of Germany's dark past.

The vote to leave the European Union was partly won on the back of arguments surrounding immigration, and some might say outright racist language.

Unnerving parallels

UKIP's Nigel Farage in particular was criticised for his campaign where he focused on the large numbers of refugees fleeing war zones such as Syria.

One particular poster caused outrage with many likening it to Nazi propaganda [New Statesman].

Hours after the vote to leave the EU was announced racist attacks increased dramatically. Poles in particular received a barrage of abuse, but Muslims, Jews and others also found themselves in the line of fire of emboldened racists.

It certainly wasn't a state-sponsored Kristallnacht but for those on the receiving end of the attacks this mattered little. One Pole was murdered in one Essex town after being set upon by youth apparently for simply speaking in a foreign language.

During the Tory Party conference Angela Rudd suggested employers keep records of all foreigners they employed [Guardian / BBC].

Even members of her own party aired their concerns. "This kind of divisive politics has no place in 21st Century Britain," the Conservative MP Neil Carmichael, chair of the Commons education select committee and member of the Open Britain campaign, said. Meanwhile Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said "drawing up lists of foreign workers won't stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain".

Her full speech was carefully worded to avoid accusations of extremist ideology [Spectator] However, many felt the overall feel was one that drifted further towards the politics seen only a few decades ago in Nazi Germany.

LBC radio presenter James O'Brien likened her speech to the rhetoric found within the pages of Hitler's autobiographical treatise on political ideology Mein Kampf [Independent].

"For the state must draw a sharp line of distinction between those who, as members of the nation, are the foundation and support of its existence and greatness, and those who are domiciled in the state, simply as earners of their livelihood there." [Adolf Hitler-Mein Kampf]

The lines from Mein Kampf seen by themselves are not far removed from the rhetoric coming from certain right-wing politicians.

"Enemies of the People"

In early November a High Court ruling was announced that said the British parliament must have a free vote before Article 50 - which triggers the negotiations to leave the EU - is invoked.

The anger that followed, especially in the right-wing pro-Brexit press, was staggering. The Daily Mail led the pack calling the three high court judges "Enemies of the People".

The irony was not lost on some who likened the headline to those seen in papers that once backed the Nazi party in the early 1930s. "Compare and contrast Nazi Illustrierter Beobachter 1933 and the Daily Mail 2016" @HistoryNed said in a tweet.

The headline was essentially the same, although many misread the pictures of those in the Illustrierter Beobachter to be judges . They were in fact journalists, political activists and lawyers, as FullFact later pointed out. However, the comparison was clear. Many newspapers, especially post-Brexit, had become even more right-leaning and had now begun to attack the same enemies once attacked by the Nazi party.

Immigrants, refugees, left-wing journalists, political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have all been attacked in British media. Immigrants and refugees have been blamed for all number of ills while political activists, the so-called liberal elite and judges have been lambasted for daring to question the EU referendum.

Meanwhile Nigel Farage proclaimed there would be "anger on the streets" should Brexit be hindered and called for a 100,000 strong march on the Supreme Court when the government appeals the decision. At the same time UKIP's Suzanne Evans said she felt that judges "should be subject to some sort of democratic control" or even sacked.

Post-Trump

Britain is not the only country that has swung to the right. The presidential election in the US, which saw Donald Trump elected as the 45th president, has stunned the world.

Britain's foreign secretary Boris Johnson has described the Trump victory as a "Good thing for Britain" and a "Moment of Opportunity". But Trump was a man who came to power on an almost overtly racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, protectionist ticket.

Trump has been on record as wanting to ban Muslims from entering America. He has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. And he has dismissed accusations of sexual assault as "locker room banter". He has also called for his Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton be locked up for her crimes, something that has echoes of Ernst Thälmann's incarceration soon after the 1932 German general election.

"Make America great again"

Trump's main slogan was "Make America great again" which raised the question as to when America wasn't great.

One could dismiss some of what Trump said as rhetoric, merely saying things to whip up a crowd who feels disenfranchised.

One core view appears to be one of isolationism and protectionism. He has called for TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] to be abandoned. He has suggested the US might pull out of the WTO and called NAFTA the "worst trade deal ever.". And he has threatened a trade war with China. For what is a globalised world, the Trump victory on the face of it does not look good.

He has questioned NATO's role and also the role the US plays in its policing the world. But he is also seen as a dangerous individual who may go as far as pressing the nuclear button.

Concerning civil rights he is known to be pro-life [anti-abortion]. He has expressed what might be construed as anti-gay message and is opposed to same-sex marriage [BBC].

The ghost-writer Tony Schwartz, the journalist who authored "The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump's best-seller, has called Trump a sociopath [BBC / YouTube / New Yorker].

There are others that are concerned over Trump's association with the likes of Alex Jones [ABC / JonRonson / Amazon / YouTube].

Trump's other bed fellows have included UKIP's Nigel Farage who was the first UK 'politician' to meet with the president-elect.

This raised eyebrows in Britain where some Tories suggested Farage might even act as a go-between the UK and Trump [Sky News / Guardian / Time].

"Big change in the world"

Johnson's assertion that Trump's win has brought about a Big change in the world is not wrong [Guardian]. But whether it's a good change is debatable.

The win has emboldened the far-right with the KKK in the US claiming victory on the back of Trump's election and the likes of Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilder in the Netherlands and Norbert Hofer in Austria seeing it as their chance to capitalise on the back of a growing disenfranchised electorate with populist, and, some might argue, racist politics.

Trump proclaimed his victory would be "Brexit, plus, plus, plus". However Brexit has come to mean any number of things since 24th of June 2016. For some it is the banner of taking back control, of reclaiming sovereignty and independence. For others it has become a symbol of increased government control, a dissolving of sovereignty and intolerance. Some Brexit campaigners have claimed that the European Union was trying to achieve what Hitler had failed to do by creating a federal Europe with more integration. However, the Brexit vote has given ammunition to the hard right and fanned the flames of Fascism. Europe too is in danger of becoming sucked into the populist nationalist fervour that has so far taken over both the UK and US.

Lessons of history

It is often said that man should learn the lessons from history. Sadly however, people very quickly forget the past. The warnings are more than clear as movies like Schindler's List, Labyrinth of Lies and The Pianist indicate. Lincoln's dreams of bringing together America also seem lost. There is, as Alex Jones seems so willing to convey, a New World Order developing. But it may well be far darker than he envisaged.

It is time the free world wakes up before it's too late and walks into a new era of Fascism [BBC / Guardian / Independent / Seeatblogs]

tvnewswatch, London

Monday, November 07, 2016

Brexit and the echoes of Nazi Germany

Last week the High Court in London declared that the UK government must have a free vote before Article 50 is invoked [BBC]. But there has been a stream of anger both in newspapers and on social media following the ruling.

The ruling [PDF] has upset the Prime Minister's plan to invoke Article 50 using the royal prerogative [Guardian]. But it has also unleashed a stream of attacks upon the judges and those who brought the case. Indeed Gina Miller, who brought the case, has been subjected to online abuse which has even included death threats [Independent / Sun].

"Anger on the streets"

The reaction to the court decision by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage was immediate and robust. "I now fear every attempt will be made to block or delay triggering Article 50. They have no idea level of public anger they will provoke," he wrote on Twitter.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC Nigel Farage reiterated his opinion that anger over any dilution of Brexit could spill over into anger on the streets, something that some have likened to Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech.

"Believe you me, if the people in this country think they're going to be cheated, they're going to be betrayed, then we will see political anger the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed in this country. Those newspaper headlines are reflecting that."

Asked by Andrew Marr if there was a danger of "disturbance in the streets and so on" if Parliament thwarted Brexit, Mr Farage replied: "Yes, I think that's right...The temperature of this is very, very high." [BBC]

He spoke too of a feeling of betrayal by the government and questioned whether the judiciary should be independent. "After today's judgement I'm really beginning to question the independence of our judiciary," Farage tweeted soon after the High Court ruling.

Farage's view was repeated by other UKIP members. Candidate in the UKIP leadership race, Suzanne Evans, said she felt that judges "should be subject to some sort of democratic control" or even sacked [BBC / Sun].

"Enemies of the People"

Both her and Farage's views were reflected on many of Britain's Brexit leaning press. The day after the ruling, judges were labelled as traitors and enemies of the people [Guardian].

The Daily Mail not only condemned the three judges as "Enemies of the  People" but made judgement on whether their verdict was valid given one had founded a European law group and one was openly gay! [Daily Mail]

There was particular anger concerning the reference to one of the judges being gay. However some were somewhat dismissivive of the headline with the author J.K.Rowling tweeting "If the worst they can say about you is you're an OPENLY GAY EX-OLYMPIC FENCER TOP JUDGE, you've basically won life."  [Independent

The gay community was far more angry however. Pink News and other papers representing the gay community quickly responded to the vitriol pouring from the right-wing paper.

The MailOnline soon removed the references to Sir Terence's sexuality in the headline [PoliticalScrapbook]. But for some it was clear that many papers had become an outpouring of almost fascistic propaganda.

Nazi overtones

Many people began to liken the Daily Mail with the Nazi leaning paper Völkischer Beobachter which in 1933 ran with similar headlines whilst condemning judges that failed to follow the party line.

One senior Church of England bishop said people in Britain should be "very alarmed" at the way newspapers reacted to the High Court decision Parliament must vote on triggering Article 50.

"The last time we saw things like the photographs of judges on the front page of a newspaper described as enemies of the people is in places like Nazi Germany, in Zimbabwe and places like that," Nick Baines told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme [Independent].

It is not the first Nazi association. Even before the EU referendum a UKIP refugee poster bore a striking similarity to an image from Nazi propaganda film and Farage himself was accused of stoking up the flames of xenophobia, racism and intolerance [RT].

The irony that Brexit is now being used to target the Left, Gays, foreigners, refugees and now judges will not be lost on some who feel that the country is gradually moving further to the Right wing of politics.

Growing hate crime

The fallout from the Brexit has continued with a surge in racism, hate crime and now it appears a gradual leaning of newspapers towards fascism.

Speaking on the BBC's World this Weekend, Cobra beer founder Lord Bilimoria said "the anti-immigration sentiment is like nothing I've experienced before" and said he personally had received countless abusive tweets and even letters following the EU referendum [BBC World this Weekend - available until 05/12/2016]

But he also spoke of the difficulties faced by Britain should it not retain access to the European single market [Radio Australia] .

May has apparently already rejected any suggestion of relaxing immigration, something which Bilimoria says won't be looked upon favourably by India [BBC]

A trade deal with India is absolutely imperative, but there is a significant risk Britain might lose its business relationship with the world's largest democracy if Britain's European relationship sours [BBC / Guardian].

India relies on Britain's access to the single market to trade inside Europe and this is something which appears to be something the British PM seems willing to abandon. With immigration being seen by May and her hard line Brexiteers as a red line, access to the single market will be difficult to maintain.

Bilimoria is not the only business leader to have stepped forward to attack the government over their immigration policy. Many are worried that curbs will mean they cannot recruit the staff they need to keep their firms running smoothly.

Seamus Nevin, head of employment and skills policy at the Institute of Directors, said, "Businesses know that the EU referendum result means change to free movement of workers from the EU, but people were not voting to make the economy weaker. The evidence is clear that migrants are a benefit to the economy."

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has also raised concerns. "Businesses across the UK report skills shortages on a number of different levels. Firms are pretty clear they will need workers from overseas with various skill levels in the years ahead," Marshall said [City A.M.].

Uncertainty is the only thing that remains certain. And that uncertainty may continue for at least two years as Britain negotiates its exit from the EU. Even at the end of the two year process, which will only begin after the triggering of Article 50, Britain may still have not clear trading position with the 27 nation trading bloc - or indeed any other nation around the globe.

Last week Polish MEP Danuta Hübner said Britain cannot negotiate a free-trade agreement until it has left the European Union [Guardian].

Indeed issues surrounding the single market, the customs union, free movement and immigration in general, remain unclear. There is still no clear indication on what type of Brexit the government wants.

David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, merely repeats the line that the electorate have given a clear mandate that they wish to leave the EU. He has also dismissed the assertion the referendum was merely advisory, something which even Nigel Farage has been forced to admit [Independent]. Indeed this issue was clearly stated prior to the referendum, but not widely known [Guardian].  

The road ahead looks even more bumpy than many may well have foreseen [Guardian]. Meanwhile investment is beginning to slow as uncertainty forces many companies to rethink their position [BBC]. And for consumers prices look set to rise further, the latest victims being Birds Eye products and Walkers crisps [BBCGuardian].

tvnewswatch, London

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Brexit vote and weak pound hits prices

The fallout from a weak pound is beginning to hit consumers with price rises starting to be reflected in familiar brands and high street products.

The right-wing Brexit leaning press have predictably called the price-hikes cynical. But companies and manufacturers say they cannot swallow the increased costs any longer.

Tea prices set to soar

For Somnath Saha, the chief executive of Typhoo Tea, the economics are simple and brutal. Typhoo Tea produces 125 million tea bags a week at its factory in Moreton, Wirral, which have just one ingredient - tea leaves, and they are imported.

Black tea is a global commodity. But like oil and many other commodities it is traded in dollars. Following the fall in sterling since the EU referendum, costs have soared for this renowned brand as 95% of its sales are in the UK.

"This is an absolute disaster for a company the size of ours," says Saha. "The very sharp fall in the pound means the impact is at least a quarter of a million pounds a month for us. This is having a very negative impact on our business and we are really suffering. It's now come to a point where it's not sustainable for us." [BBC]

Tea is not the only product that is increasing in price. Other well known brands have also seen price hikes. In the last week of October The Grocer magazine reported that Morrisons were charging £2.64 for a 250g jar of Marmite, an increase of 12.5%.

Prices for the same product varied at other supermarkets. According to supermarket websites, a 250g pot of Marmite cost £2.64 at Morrisons, £2.50 at Sainsbury's, £2.35 at both Waitrose and Tesco and was on special at Asda for £2.

Earlier in the month Tesco was embroiled in a row with Unilever over pricing. The dispute was soon resolved, but was exploited by the tabloid press who accused companies like Unilever of taking advantage of consumers and using the weak pound and Brexit as an excuse for price rises [BBC / Telegraph / Daily Mail].

The spat between Unilever, which produces some 3000 household products, has been dubbed Marmitegate and spawned many jokes often parodying the 'Marmite you either love it or hate it' catch phrase and replacing Marmite with Brexit.

But for consumers and shoppers it is no joke. The Grocer reported that both Tesco and Asda have raised prices on a number of Unilever products, and Morrisons has also increased the prices of other items made by the company.

Distribution costs rise

Britain imports a vast majority of products or the ingredients from which things are made and the weak pound is driving prices up. Even domestically produced items aren't immune since fuel prices will drive up distribution costs.

British motorists last month faced the highest road fuel costs this year as global oil prices continued to creep higher from historic lows. And with sterling now 18% lower the forecourt prices are steadily rising.

Rising prices for clothes, hotel rooms and petrol have led to the highest rate of inflation in nearly two years, official figures show. Inflation rose to 1.0% in September, up from 0.6% in August, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. Clothing saw its biggest price rise since 2010 and fuel, which was falling a year ago, was also more expensive [BBC].

Fuel prices and a weak pound has also affected airlines with some seeing profits drop significantly [BBC]. Airline group IAG, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, said the fall in the value of sterling has cost it €162m [£145m] in the third quarter of the year.

GDP up, but slowing

Brexit supporters still remain positive in the face of such increases and claim the the weak pound is good for exports. Britain's economy indeed appear to shrug off the uncertainty surrounding June's referendum vote to leave the European Union and maintained the best performance among the world's leading economies with growth of 0.5% in the three months since the poll.

However, the figures were marred by a contraction in agriculture, construction and manufacturing that prompted business groups to urge the chancellor, Philip Hammond, to use the autumn statement next month to support measures that boost investment and productivity. In fact, overall, GDP growth slowed from 0.7% in the previous quarter [BBC / Guardian].

It remains to be seen whether growth can be maintained in the coming months. The government has to maintain confidence in a manufacturing industry that fears a so-called hard Brexit which would see increased tariffs. Indeed while current figures are buoyant, a Grocer survey reveals grave misgivings, with some "terrified" by the government's approach.

Secret deals, risks & threats

Indeed it appears the government may be making deals and promises to keep the likes of Nissan on board and stop them fleeing to continental Europe, although No. 10 said there was "no cheque book" on the table [Guardian].

But Prime Minister Theresa May's deal to keep Nissan investing in Britain may well have opened the floodgates to demands from rival car companies chasing their own assurances from the government that they won't be hurt by Brexit [Reuters / Guardian]. The so-called 'sweetheart deal' could make things more complicated or political as Britain wrangles with what type of Brexit it wants [Guardian].

And where might it stop. Already banks are mulling over their position concerning a loss of passporting, which seems more than likely should the PM insist on controls on immigration and limits to free movement, something which is non-negotiable as far as the EU is concerned.

Recent reports suggested that some banks were likely to start shifting before Article 50 was invoked, given the apparent intransigence of the hardline stance of May and her government [Bloomberg].

While some have dismissed the 'threats', there was further concern for British finance after the ratings agency Standard and Poors said Britain's sovereign credit rating remained at risk of a further downgrade because of ongoing uncertainty about the country's future outside the European Union. Furthermore, S&P said Brexit threatened the pound's future as a reserve currency [Reuters / FT].

Of course such predictions will be dismissed by Brexiteers as yet more fearmongering from the Remain camp. However, month by month it is becoming clear that the decision to leave the EU is having negative effects on the economy.

The question is not whether the economy will slow and whether manufacturing will suffer, but how long before those who voted leave wake up from their state of denial and realise that a vote for Brexit was a vote for economic suicide and has allowed the Tory party to seize control with little or no challenge to its leadership.

tvnewswatch, London

Monday, October 17, 2016

Will UK be the sick man of Europe again?

Brexit supporters have, since the EU referendum, maintained that all the fear-mongering by the Remain camp was exaggerated and point to the rise in the FTSE as proof Britain is still doing well.

The 16% fall in the pound since the EU referendum, now worth only $1.21 (16/10/16), is also dismissed by Brexit supporters. Some advocates of Brexit say the currency was overvalued anyway while suggesting that Britain will be able to take advantage of more competitively priced exports.

But both the high FTSE and low pound are being misread by Brexiteers. Most are ignoring the economic repercussions since the Brexit vote and insist the UK government should follow through with plans to pull Britain out of the EU. But doing so could have disastrous effects on the UK economy and might return Britain to becoming the poor man of Europe once again.

FTSE is not a barometer

The FTSE 100 is not a barometer of the UK economy as many might think. Britain's blue chip stock market index is dominated by international groups that have chosen to list their shares in London, but who carry out the vast bulk of their business abroad.

This means they earn their money in other currencies such as dollars and euros. Indeed more than two thirds of all earning by FTSE 100 companies come from overseas.

Thus their sterling-denominated shares have at least kept their price and, in many cases, have risen.

This includes Unilever which were, in the last week, involved in a very public spat with the supermarket chain Tesco over price hikes [Guardian]. The Anglo-Dutch company is the third biggest company in the FTSE 100. Its 11% share price rise since the referendum has been a significant part of that rise in the FTSE which Brexiteers are so keen to boast about.

Repercussions of a weak pound

But now Unilever has acted to try to maintain the value of its income from the UK as the pound is falling. And the Brexiteers are crying foul while ignoring the fact that a weak pound is likely affecting Unilever's operating costs.

Its UK factories are undoubtedly facing higher costs as result of the falling pound. But even if they were not, the fact remains that every pound it earns in the UK is now worth less.

Brexiteers cannot hail the rise in the FTSE driven by companies with earnings in dollars and euros and, at the same time, attack Unilever for trying to maintain the euro value of its profits in the face of a falling pound.

Unilever is not alone and nor has it acted entirely unreasonably. Overseas suppliers who provide the international products Britons all buy in huge quantities will all be looking for price rises.

That is the reality of business and is one of the many plain facts which Brexiteers chose to ignore throughout the whole referendum campaign.

A further issue many seem to be blissfully ignorant of is the fact that exports might not be more competitively priced when one takes into account the fact that many items 'manufactured' in Britain are simply assembled with a great many components coming from abroad.

Should those components come from Europe, only the weak pound will be taken into account since - while still a member of the EU - there are no additional tariffs. However, for items coming from outside the EU there are extra tariffs to take into account.

There are many manufacturers that still work in Britain. But typically they assemble components made elsewhere. That is true of Britain's car industry, and it is true of JCB, the company David Cameron used to love touting in India and China. In 1979, 96% of a JCB digger was made in the UK. By 2010, that had dropped to 36%.

The picture is similar for other car manufacturers, many of which are foreign owned. According to a 2012 study, about 40% of the components [by value] in a British-made car are sourced domestically.

The British car industry employs nearly 130,000 people and generates more than £10bn a year for the economy. And this is all at risk if firms close up shop and move their manufacturing base to mainland Europe. Japanese firms in particular have already warned they shift operations if tariff free access to the European single market is curbed.

Nissan’s Sunderland factory ships about three-quarters of its cars to the EU. For large exporters such as the motor industry the weakened currency already presents a choice of whether to hold their euro selling prices to increase profits, or reduce them to gain market share. But there are further challenges. “In reality, 50 to 60 per cent of the costs of a manufacturer on average these days are in materials they buy and a large proportion of those come from overseas,” says Tim Lawrence, head of manufacturing at PA Consulting.

A so-called hard Brexit may not prevent access to the European single market, after all other nations outside the EU freely access the single market. However all these countries are affected by, sometimes punitive, tariffs. Not having tariff free access will make British exports far less competitive than is claimed by Brexiteers. Furthermore, foreign markets, both inside and outside Europe will reassess whether British made products are still worth buying.

Higher prices

For Britons at home there will be a growing and stark reality that things will become more expensive. Domestically produced items reliant on imports are certain to rise if the pound remains low and tariffs are put in place. Foreign goods will also rise for the same reasons. But even domestic products not reliant on imports could suffer. In a report published today, it says £11 billion worth of agricultural products the UK sells to the EU each year would be hit with an average tariff of 22.3% [Bloomberg]. This would undoubtedly affect Britain's domestically produced fruit and vegetables, if it can even pick them!

Several British farmers have warned of the effect that curbs on free movement could have on food production. One leading farmer has warned that British vegetables will disappear from supermarket shelves if post-Brexit immigration controls prevent thousands of Eastern Europeans from working in the UK [Sky News]. Others have raised similar concerns saying that the humble British strawberry could be in short supply without migrant workers [BBC].

It is not a new story either. Two years before the referendum farmers were saying they needed more migrant workers to pick crops because Britons did not have the "work ethic" to do it [BBC].

While some suggest the influx of EU, and other, migrants affects the job market figures do not bear this out [Bloomberg].

Further uncertainty to come

With little if any clarity on what sort of Brexit Theresa May wants, uncertainty will continue. Uncertainty will further stifle foreign investment and may dissuade companies from establishing a business in the UK. Others may make plans to up sticks and leave while others may not wait for UK plans to be unveiled and leave before the ship goes down.

The Russian bank VTB has already announced it will shift to mainland Europe and is now running through a decision over whether Paris, Frankfurt or Vienna offers the best options [FT / Independent / Telegraph].

VTB is not the only move. The Swiss stock exchange was last month reportedly eyeing Germany as a new location for its European operation [SWI].

The Chinese owned car maker MG also announced its almost complete pullout from the UK for economic reasons, widely seen as being due to a weak pound as well as concerns of a so-called hard Brexit [BBC]. Nissan, meanwhile has called for compensation from the UK should Brexit affect investments in the UK [Guardian].

Hard Brexit fears

It is a hard Brexit that is most feared by big business. A weak pound combined with increased tariffs into Europe is not at all appealing to manufacturers looking to trade with the EU.

Given Europe remains adamant that there will be no cherry picking and that tariff free access to the single market means accepting free movement, a hard Brexit is seemingly inevitable unless Brexit is abandoned altogether.

Whether one voted for Remain or Leave, one should be pragmatic and realistic. It is painfully clear to anyone who reads the financial press that Brexit will only bring much economic pain. Call it fearmongering but the writing on the wall is clear. Europe has made it clear that there will be no 'a la carte' deal, whilst several members have implicitly stated they would veto any deal that doesn't leave the four freedoms intact. This has prompted Brexiteers to suggest that the only route is for a hard Brexit. 

However, WTO chief Roberto Azevêdo has pointed out any post-Brexit trade talks must start from scratch and only after a complete divorce from the EU. Pascal Lamy former WTO Director General has said it would be a long and bumpy ride. Why? Essentially there are some 162 countries with which the UK would need to renegotiate, which could take up to a decade, if not longer. 

Bear in mind all the UK's current trade deals have been done through the EU and as such the UK has few seasoned negotiators. Of course Britain can reemploy some, but they can do little more than talk unofficially until the divorce papers are signed with the EU. It could thus leave Britain in limbo as many countries would not wish to break internationally agreed rules by breaking WTO agreements and trade with the UK without trade deals having been signed.

A WTO route

Can the UK just go ahead and trade under WTO terms as soon as it leaves the EU? As an article in the FT last June pointed out the UK would have to detach itself from the EU and regularise its position within the WTO before it could sign its own trade agreements, including with the EU. As Roberto Azevêdo, the WTO's director-general, said, there is no precedent for a WTO member extricating itself from an economic union while inside the organisation. The process would not be easy and would likely take years before the UK's WTO position was settled, not least because all other member states would have to agree.

Chief economics commentator at the Financial Times Martin Wolf has suggested the government should be prepared to overturn the referendum. "Nothing has changed my view that the UK is making a huge economic and strategic blunder," Wolf states. "The country is going to be meaner and poorer" and "David Cameron will go down as one of the worst prime ministers in UK history." [FT]

May and the UK government should abandon the folly of Brexit and sell it to the electorate by way of explanation that it is not in the country's best interests. Putting arguments concerning democracy aside, there are fundamental truths that Brexiteers refuse to accept. Thus far many have ignored the experts, and pointed to the fact that the calamities predicted have not happened while failing to acknowledge there has only been a vote thus far.

The pound remains at an all time low and there are already signs that financial companies are not going to take the risk over the loss of passporting. And as a lead article in the FT in September pointed out, there is a 'Significant' Brexit risk for 5,500 UK groups using EU passporting [Guardian].

The cost of all of this could run in billions of pounds. Indeed one leaked government report suggests Brexit could cost up to £66 billion a year [Guardian].

Brexit means Brexit

Brexit means Brexit which means economic suicide. Ignore the experts fine. Go the WTO route. But when the UK is floundering in a decade's time after Japanese industry has dwindled, much of London's services industry has relocated, the NHS struggles with staff shortages and the pound is worth less than a euro it will all be too late. It will even too late to rejoin the EU since Britain's financial standing would probably fall below what is required of a new member state. And even if Britain were to meet the criteria to rejoin, many EU states would probably veto the membership bid - and who would blame them.

Of course, anyone that proclaims that Britain should abandon the folly that is Brexit risks being labelled unpatriotic, undemocratic or worse. Remainers have been labelled Remoaners and this week one Tory MP Christian Holliday suggested an amendment to the Treason Felony Act to include post-Brexit support for EU membership [Guardian]. The suggestion might have been tongue in cheek, but it feeds into the growing abuse Remain voters have been subject to especially in the tabloid press [Daily MailGuardian]. The hate and anger has become violent too. One incident saw one man die after a Remain voter fought with a Leave voter [Daily Mail].

Britain was arguably divided in terms of class and wealth gaps, exacerbated by fears of immigration [Telegraph]. Some have suggested Leave and Remain voters can be differentiated by their brand choice [BBC]. There are also suggestions Leave voters were more likely to be in favour of the death penalty [BBC]. Some differences are far more insulting. But whatever factors came into play the Brexit vote has created further divisions and even split families and friends.

At the end of the day it won't matter which way one voted. Everyone will be suffering the same fate as Britain once again becomes the sick man in Europe. Others have described it rather more colourfully; What Brexit really means is: "We're f***ed."

tvnewswatch, London

Monday, September 12, 2016

Surge in racist attacks since Brexit continues

There has been a surge in racist attacks and what police often refer to as hate crimes since the EU referendum which saw some 52% of those who voted opting to leave the European Union.

There are certainly some who would say the attacks are nothing to do with Brexit. Indeed this week Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP and a leading Leave campaigner, accused the media of "jumping on" cases of people who have been attacked or abused which had nothing to do with Brexit [Independent].

However, given the nature of some of the attacks and some of the language used by the perpetrators, it appears clear that at least some attacks have been committed by people emboldened by the Brexit vote and who feel the vote to leave the EU justifies their racial bigotry [Guardian].

'Hostile environment'

A month after the referendum the Prime Minister was accused of helping create the 'hostile environment' that paved the way for 'Fuck off to Poland' messages, excrement being posted through letter boxes, and racist abuse from children as young as ten.

The Independent newspaper reported that there were some 500 racist incidents compiled in a database in just four weeks following the EU referendum [Independent].

There were even comparisons made with 1930s Nazi Germany as a crowd strode through a London street chanting, "First we'll get the Poles out, then the gays!"

Only one day after the result was announced there were calls to radio stations by victims of racist abuse [Independent]. And over the weekend a man was photographed wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "Yes, we won! Now send them back".

While he was later dismissed as a lone 'nutter' and an 'idiot', even by his family, the image of such an individual strolling through an east-London street appeared to epitomise the feeling of a significant minority [Mirror / Sun]. 

Spike in hate crime

Several police forces reported a spike in hate crimes in the week after the vote. But whilst the reporting of such incidents faded from the news the attacks have continued.

While racists have targeted a wide range of groups, Poles in particular have been singled out. Racist graffiti was found on the front entrance of the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) in Hammersmith, west London, on the Sunday after the referendum. Meanwhile former Conservative chairwoman Baroness Warsi told Sky News that race hate crime organisations had reported some "disturbing early results" and blamed the "divisive and xenophobic" Leave campaigning during the EU referendum [Sky News].

Murder

While politicians on both sides of the House condemned the attacks, they continued unabated. Then on 27th August, almost exactly 2 months after the Brexit vote, 40-year-old Arkadiusz Jóźwik died after he was beaten by teenagers in Harlow, about 30 miles north of London. Even in the days that followed other Poles were attacked in the area, and there have been reports of further incidents across Britain.

Speaking at a silent vigil a week later the newly appointed Polish Ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki, spoke of a disturbing rise of hate crimes directed to the Polish community and called for peace and solidarity between the British and Polish communities.

The local MP Robert Halfon said he believed that "the vast majority of people who voted to leave the EU, did so for noble reasons" and that the attacks on the Polish community were committed "by a minority who come from the sewers, who want to exploit division and have their own racist agenda."

Attacks "on a daily basis"

However, Eric Hind, one of the organisers behind a silent march and vigil, said Poles had been quiet for too long.

"Brexit kind of gave the British people a kind of green light to be racist. My family and friends have all been abused. It happens on a daily basis," he told the Guardian newspaper. "We have kept our mouths closed too long. ... This time it is the Polish people, but it could be Muslims, it could be any different group. We need to fight racism everywhere, every day."

At a public meeting in the town some said were were seriously thinking of leaving the town and even Britain because of the rise in racism [BBC].

Mira Gustmajdzimski, who was at the meeting, said Polish people no longer felt part of the community in Harlow, and "many people were scared to come to this meeting".

Albanian Mimoza Matoshi, who works for Integration Support Services in Harlow, said there had been a dramatic rise in racist attacks since Brexit and that some Polish people were considering leaving the town.

Miroslawa Majdzinska from Poland said she had been repeatedly targeted in racist incidents. "Many people were abused, my friends were told not to speak the Polish language at work, kids are not allowed to speak Polish in school," she said.

On Friday [9th September] Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her "deep regret" over attacks on Polish citizens living in the UK and told the Polish PM Beata Szydlo that "hate crime has no place in UK society".

Such words will mean little to the family of Arkadiusz Jóźwik, or the growing number of victims of racial hatred.

Divisive campaign

The Leave campaign and particularly that run by UKIP has been criticised for focusing heavily on immigration and scapegoated European migrants for many of Britain's social problems. Towards the close of the campaign, UKIP leader Nigel Farage was widely criticised for unveiling a poster with pictures of Syrian refugees alongside the caption the "breaking point".

Following the vote it seemed clear that there was some correlation between those areas leaning towards Brexit and a rise in racist attacks. Many areas that voted strongly for Leave posted even higher increases, police figures obtained by The Independent showed.

While some will dispute any connection between Brexit and a rise in hate crime statistics and the feelings amongst migrants appears to indicate otherwise. What is not so clear is whether the heat will gradually dissipate.

tvnewswatch, London