The Brexit Political Vacuum

As Brexit slows and starts to stall the 2016 referendum seems a long way away. Trade deals have proved elusive as other countries wait to see our fate – and then strike a bargain with an increasingly desperate government. Very few of the deals the UK eventually signs will be as good as our current trading arrangements – and none of them will be better.

The fundamental misjudgement made by the government is to think this is all about trade. It is more of a misunderstanding than a misjudgement. The EU is about much more than trade. The EU is about peace, cooperation and security. Trade is one of the key aspects of the European relationship, but it flows from the core principles, the core principles make it possible.

We were told that the German car industry would still want to sell 800,000 cars a year in the UK – and they do. However, Chancellor Merkel informed her car industry to make plans to sell more cars elsewhere. The German car industry responded not by complaining, but by accepting this. Like others in the EU, they understand that much more is at stake than fancy tin boxes with metallic paint. The German national psyche is one built around society and teamwork. This can be contrasted with the individualistic approach in the UK – an approach that allows key Brexiteers to wrap themselves in the Union Jack, but at the same time make quiet fortunes shorting the Pound and betting against British companies, (and in effect their employees). Many leading Brexiteers have made money from the chaos while posing as defenders of the people and parliament. Some in that camp have been less circumspect – having supported Brexit they appear to have had a change of heart, or at least jurisdiction. Some people blow hot air, and they suck – quite a skill.

The government has already been forced to ask the EU for more time. However, instead of using that precious time to build a consensus and deliver the next stage of Brexit, the government has stuck to the same lines – and even blamed MPs for this failure to govern. Now that MPs are attempting to gain some direction and control the government has responded by saying that they are free to ignore parliament and will continue to do so. We have a government that cannot pass legislation and one that sees no need to listen to those that could.

A general election would be a mistake – only adding to the delay and uncertainty. However, the current Prime Minister has deliberately and stubbornly blocked any progress, attempting to keep her party together – regardless of the political and economic cost to the country.

As a change of leadership style is highly unlikely, so a change at the top is required. Her replacement could and should be from the saner spectrum of the party. The alternative to this would be a government of national unity – something reserved for times of war or a severe crisis. We have already reached that point.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Brexit Political Vacuum

The Bercow Blinder

So the dust is settling (though not the tempers) on John Bercow’s decision to allow an amendment by Tory MP Dominic Grieve. The amendment means that the government now needs to present within three working days a Plan B – should the government’s Plan A be voted down by the House of Commons on January 15th.

It looks almost inevitable that the so-called “meaningful vote” will be defeated. However, it is important to note that we got here because the government pulled the vote before Christmas at the last moment and without any warning. The government wants a winnable vote – not a meaningful one. At the time Speaker Bercow did say that the decision to delay the vote at such short notice was a discourtesy to the House.

It now looks as though Speaker Bercow is on his way out; he knows this already and is prepared to go out defending Parliament.

It is odd though that one of the central planks of Brexit is about “taking back control” and “making Parliament sovereign”. When the Speaker does just that Brexiteers throw tantrums and mutter darkly. It can’t be both ways.

The fact remains that the EU has never been and will never be a threat to UK sovereignty or to the UK Parliament. The current threat remains a minority government using every trick in the book to get its way.

Speaker Bercow intervened when it had become obvious and intolerable that the central government tactic was to run down the clock to 29th March or as close to it as possible – effectively blackmailing Parliament.

These tactics are to be expected – however, the continuing damage caused to the UK economy does not appear to matter to some in Westminster. A look at the news today regarding job losses and poor Christmas trading shows the real issues facing you & I.

The truth is that the government has treated MPs with disdain and the economy as collateral damage. It is right for MPs to take back control – to retake sovereignty.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Bercow Blinder

The Brexit Political Declaration

The Brexit Political Declaration has turned up just in time for Christmas – it has all the rigour of a Christmas present list written to Santa.

The reality is that all the key points have been booted into the long grass at least a year from now. The only point of actual agreement appears to be is that Christmas is coming and everyone is exhausted by this 2-year and counting divorce. The parties have decided who is going to get the cutlery, but not what will happen to the kids, the house, the mortgage etc. – basically all the important parts.

Goods – it appears the UK will only have access to the EU if it respects EU standards on competition, tax, the environment, and social and employment protection. This is done to prevent the UK from undercutting the EU – which is what the Brexiteers had in mind.

Fishing – there still needs to be an agreement on EU access to UK waters, it could be that British caught fish will be prevented from being sold in the EU without a deal. This is not all bad news; we are just going to have to eat more fish.

Financial Services – passporting is going, it will be replaced with “equivalence”. This is a stricter test, under the agreement it can also be withdrawn with just 30 days notice.

Northern Ireland Border – the addition of a new technological solution paragraph marks the return of “magical thinking” eliminating the need for a physical border and customs – as if Ireland didn’t have enough leprechauns already.

Gibraltar – the Spanish government, has stated they will not agree on any trade deal unless Gibraltar is excluded from it. This appears to be a move to isolate Gibraltar from the UK and make it even more reliant upon Spain.

Breaking up is never easy, but only a sane person would question whether going ahead with this break up is worth it. This is not exactly a quickie divorce, we are not even leaving the house – we are living in a tent in the garden.

Posted in, Public Policy, Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Brexit Political Declaration

The Brexit Endgame

So here we are, after two wasted years of bluff & bull, the time has run out for the government. A deal must be done – and it looks like it has been done, or it could be.

Regardless of where you stand on this fight, (and it has been a proper street brawl at times) the deal done by the government will not satisfy the remainers or the brexiteers. It will also be a substantial downgrade from our existing arrangement, full EU membership.

As a country, we will have to remain aligned to and follow EU rules, but without the power to inform influence and vote on them. Rather than an equal place at the table we will be relegated to a side table and given the kids’ menu.

Many MPs have made a career out of moaning about the EU, they will have even more cause to complain now, and ironically no recourse to do anything about it, no MEPs, no mother-of-all-Parliaments diplomacy.

For those naive enough to think this will be a temporary transitional situation – think again. This situation could very well become permanent; as the EU has absolutely no incentive to offer the UK some favoured-nation status. In fairness to the EU, they have clearly and unambiguously stated this for the past two years.

The UK risks being stuck in this limbo and humiliated for a generation.

For those deluded souls who pine for a hard Brexit, they continue to cling to it. They will forever say Brexit was diluted, or never delivered, that the people were defrauded and duped. This is a bit rich coming from people who lied openly and repeatedly about the sunny nirvana awaiting the UK with all the wonderful trade deals just ready to be plucked from the abundant tree of commerce.

The reality is that other blocs or nations negotiating with the UK know we are isolated and desperate. They will be queuing up around the block to stuff us and inflict chlorinated chicken and hormone filled beef on us. Other countries will just eye-up our ever-lucrative market and salivate at the opportunities awaiting them. (In the past carmakers have called the UK “treasure island” because of the prices they can inflict upon us). The irony is that the EU played a significant part in ending this exploitation of the UK consumer – particularly by European carmakers.)

What awaits us after a hard Brexit can already be seen at the WTO. The UK assumed it could hive off a proportion of the tariffs enjoyed by the EU to fast-track a tariff deal with the WTO. However, twenty nations, already full WTO members objected to this, stating they could lose out on access to the UK market. Those nations included Russia and New Zealand. So, there are trade deals to be done, but they are likely to be wincingly one-sided – in our hour of desperation, we become easy prey when separated from mother Europe.

So, if the May deal is not as good as we currently enjoy and gives us no say or stake and hard Brexit is even worse – we have to ask why leave?

The UK has every right to stay at the EU top table – we built it – the hard way. The EU came into existence after this country (and our esteemed allies) fought and defeated fascism. This is recognised and acknowledged by everyone within the EU.

Some people seem to forget that the war was won by a coalition of countries, all cajoled and persuaded by the British government. The UK has always worked best by working with our friends and allies. The blood on the beaches of Normandy has barely dried, and we are retreating from our historical position of power and influence.

We can and should remain central and fully engaged members of Europe to shape it more to our own image, besides, the rest of Europe still wants us, and probably needs us.

Posted in, Public Policy | Comments Off on The Brexit Endgame

Time To Google Equality

So it turns out that Google is no different to other large companies where mainly privileged men hold the majority of senior posts – and look out and look after each other.

The revelations seeping out of Google are a major embarrassment for the tech giant – all the corporate fluffiness can’t rid Google of this problem. This is more than an image problem – when your own employees walk-out in collective mass protest – you have a problem. The desks and conferences rooms are empty, but the streets outside are full.

The New York Times broke the story, which centred around Andy Rubin who was effectively rewarded for sexual abuse with $90m in a payoff on top of the millions already earned and granted. Google also went on to invest in his next commercial venture.

The New York Times also highlighted other cases of senior male employees abusing their positions of power. In all of these cases, the women were believed, but they were also prevented from going public, were sidelined and in some cases left Google.

Google used “arbitration” clauses in employment contracts to prevent employees from suing or going public. These were in effect legal gagging orders that served to protect the abuser and Google.

The mass-protest – Walk Out For Real Change lists five key goals:

1. End to forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination.

2. A commitment to end pay and opportunity inequity.

3. A publicly disclosed sexual harassment transparency report.

4. A clear, uniform, globally inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct, safely and anonymously.

5. Elevate the Cheif Diversity Officer to answer directly to the CEO and make recommendations directly to the Board of Directors. In addition, appoint an Employee Representative to the Board.

None of these five points is difficult to achieve and are certainly not doing anything more than following EU employment law and best-practice in the workplace.

So, we would like to add our own little list:

1. Revised and simplified pay, bonus and stock structure with employees paid on the basis of their seniority of role. So, a senior manager in engineering will be paid the same as a senior manager in the accounts department – including bonuses and stock – this is important. This should apply right the way down the flattened structure, so newcomers get paid the same, and this remains so through their Google careers.

2. A more open, inclusive and diverse recruitment process, and internally the same for promotion, training and other opportunities.

3. A man and a woman doing broadly the same job or at broadly the same level within the company should be paid the same and have the same conditions of work. The women should be brought up to that level, not the men levelled-down – as happened at the BBC.

4. Equal pay, bonuses and stock back-dated for a minimum of five years. Any inequality in bonuses and stock magnifies and entrenches the overall pay differential – all the way through to possible severance pay and pensions. This means a Google woman could work in the same role as a Google man for the same number of years and still leave substantially poorer than the man.

Google simply cannot fudge this – it is the perfect opportunity to show leadership. It also sends a powerful message to current and future employees that Google can be a positive force for change. It also helps in recruitment and retention, which in turn gives Google a powerful and persistent commercial advantage over rivals.

If Google does not change it consigns itself to being just another tarnished tech company. After all do the founders want to wake up one day and find they have become just like Facebook?

The New York Times

The Guardian

Posted in Employment law, Public Policy | Comments Off on Time To Google Equality

The Gay Cake Case

The Gay Cake Case, also technically (and correctly) known as Lee (Respondent) v Ashers Baking Company Ltd and others (Appellants) (Northern Ireland).

A final (and unanimous) decision was reached by The Supreme Court in London on 10th October 2018. The court found for the bakers Ashers.

The bakers had refused to produce a cake for Mr Lee with the message “support gay marriage”. Mr Lee had previously ordered cakes from Ashers, (but without this message). Ashers took the order, but then subsequently refused the order, due to their committed Christian beliefs.

The cake then became a case – Mr Lee supported by The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland brought a claim for direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion.

Mr Lee won the first round, Ashers then appealed and lost on appeal. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland then referred the case to The Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court found that Mr & Mrs McArthur, the owners of Ashers did not discriminate against Mr Lee personally – they objected to the message because it was contrary to their religious beliefs – which can also be protected. As the court stated, “The less favourable treatment was afforded to the message, not to the man.”

This has proved to be a very expensive cake.

We would argue that the facts of this case a fairly unique and the judgment is actually quite limited in scope.

The argument now goes that discrimination because of your religious beliefs is ok. No, it is not. Mr Lee was not discriminated against; the objection was to the message.

It should also be remembered that religious beliefs still have a significant hold on society in Northern Ireland – this is partly for political reasons. Northern Ireland is also behind the mainland UK regarding gay marriage and equality, and will probably remain out of step for quite some time.

We would argue that if this case was brought by parties in another part of the UK, the decision may, (but only may) have been different.

The bottom line is that if as a business you offer a service be prepared for it to be used in different ways. The way to run a business is to provide the same service to everyone.

Posted in Employment law,, Public Policy | Comments Off on The Gay Cake Case

How To Survive Meeting Hell

Meetings…we have to ask why?
It seems to be that when nobody wants to make a decision, or they do, but they want cover in case it goes wrong…they have a meeting.

The more significant the decision the large and longer the meeting. There is even the likelihood of pre-meetings ahead of the main meeting and post-meetings to dissect the result of the main meeting (if any).

I was talking to someone recently who said he could not get any work done because he was always in meetings…about work.

About work…rather than just doing the work.

His boss had set up a series of committee groups – this seemed like a good idea – except that it was not. The suspicion was that these committees gave the boss cover. If something went wrong, he could blame the committee in charge.

I then decided to waste even more time reading about how to effectively run meetings – a sort of LinkedIn Guide To Hell.

I will keep this post short because I am sure you have a meeting to go to.

I have come up with an almost foolproof way to conduct meetings and get stuff done.

1. Set a definite time limit for the meeting, (subject to a maximum of 30 minutes – see 2 below). Once that is done…halve it.

2. For any meeting that goes over 30 minutes. The person who called the meeting and is supposed to be running it buys everyone coffee & cake. This is important – do you want to run the risk of buying for 5 people or 50? Keep meetings small. If the meeting goes to 5pm, those present can elect to have their coffee & cake the following day – because we all have lives to go to.

3. Use Basecamp or Slack…before, after, or as a replacement for meetings. You can thank me later.

Other additional strategies can include going directly to the coffee & cake and holding the meeting in the queue, and for no more time than it takes to consume your beverage and cupcake of choice.

See simple.

As an endnote, please do not link to this wisdom from any social media…life is too short for “inspirational insights” – we all have lives to go to.

Posted in Public Policy, Social Media | Comments Off on How To Survive Meeting Hell

No-Fault Divorce Reform

Finally, the current government has announced a consultation process to look at updating our divorce laws and introducing “no-fault divorces.”

Just in time for Brexit.

Brexit jokes aside – the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is almost 50 years old and drafted in a different age. Under the Act couples effectively have to apportion blame:

Your partner has committed adultery
Your partner has behaved unreasonably

Or, there is a separation of between 2-5 years, depending on their partner’s consent.

However, the period of separation is probably used less frequently – leaving the first two grounds of “blame”.

It is important to understand that the law was drafted back in a time when divorce was the exception – the current rate of divorce in the UK is approximately 42% of marriages. Interestingly, the divorce rate is climbing in the over-50s age group, but declining in those married from 2000 onwards – so much for reckless youth.

The proposals are seeking to remove grounds for divorce and simply keep the current situation that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The proposals will also remove the right of the other spouse to contest the divorce – this is due to the recent Tini Owens case. This involves a wife who has to wait until 2020 (five years) to divorce because her husband refused to accept it. This case alone highlights how archaic the law has become.

Relevant Links:

UK Divorce
Tini Owens Case
Buzzfeed UK

Posted in Divorce, Family Law,, Public Policy | Comments Off on No-Fault Divorce Reform

Stockpiling Food – More Project Wake-Up

Mondelez International, owners of Cadbury’s (and many other food companies), have announced they are stockpiling ingredients and finished products in case of a Hard Brexit.

This will probably be dismissed as more “Project Fear” – when it is really Project Wake-Up.

Hubert Weber, the president of Modelez Europe, has calmly stated – “We have a contingency plan in place to manage [a hard Brexit], as the UK is not self-sufficient in terms of food ingredients, so that could be a challenge.”

Basically, the UK can’t feed itself – whether it is chocolate or salad.

Those that advocate, a Hard Brexit, appear to be deploying a WWII crisis management approach – a sort of, “We’ll show em”. It plays well to the papers with a reading age of twelve.

So, we have to ask at what point do the public start of taking note of the warnings and take them seriously? The sorry answer seems to be when it’s too late.

The whole Brexit campaign has been brilliantly run by appealing to stupidity, meaningless soundbites and disparaging experts. Never mind that these “so-called” experts happen to be experts in boring stuff like trade, logistics, business investment etc.

We appear to be entering a new golden age of the stupid.

This can be backed up by Nigel Farage’s mock outrage that Mark Carney has been asked to stay on to steady the ship through Brexit. Nigel Farage’s only response was that Carney is a Remainer. This Homer Simpson style response sums up Brexit. It also ignores (conveniently) two important facts:

1. The Bank of England is independent.

2. The Bank of England will seek to minimise any damage caused by Brexit.

Basically, it is easy to come up with the Brexit idea in the pub, it is slightly harder to deliver it and deliver it in a way that does not damage the economy and take away jobs.

But, there was never a plan for the complicated stuff – the complete lack of progress in two years shows that.

Posted in, Public Policy | Comments Off on Stockpiling Food – More Project Wake-Up

When To Turn Off

The UK works some of the longest hours in Europe, but still lags towards the bottom of the productivity scale – this is something that has confused economists and politicians for years.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average hours worked stand at 37 hours per week. This has held steady for the last 10 years. However, productivity (the measure of work output per hour) has continued to drop since 2008. This is trendily known as the “productivity puzzle”.

In Germany the average working week is 40 hours, but Germany has higher productivity. Graphs show that the UK and Germany followed each other upwards from a low-point in 2009, (we assume due to the financial crash). However, despite following the same trend, the UK has consistently lagged behind Germany in productivity.

According to the OECD, this gap has grown since 2015. Germany has continued a smooth upward trend, whereas the UK plateaued in 2015 and bumps along this plateau with barely any growth.

It is impossible to come to any definitive conclusion as to why this trend continues and the gap widens. However, maybe (just maybe) the national attitude to work plays a part.

In Germany, workers tend to be more focused during work hours, partly because it is culturally expected, but also because German workers know when their working day ends – it really does end.

I am trying to avoid generalisations, but German workers have a cultural habit of leaving their work behind at the end of the day. This trait is shared with Scandinavian countries.

It seems to be that grey areas are not tolerated. The national psyche seems to be when I leave work – don’t bother me.

This is taken quite seriously too. Companies such as VW go so far as to turn off work email delivery outside work hours for all employees, except the most senior managers and board members. Furthermore, those with access to work email outside office hours are firmly instructed only to use it when absolutely necessary and not to send emails to subordinates outside hours. This instruction is backed up by an internal disciplinary code.
Compare that to the UK where email can be used as a passive-aggressive weapon, with emails sent by employees at odd hours of the day and night and over weekends – with Sunday afternoon a favourite with aggressive idiots.

We have seen organisation-wide emails sent on behalf of the boss on a Sunday afternoon. Not small organisations either, ones with 1,000s of employees.

In one instance a frustrated junior employee replied with a less-than-cheery “f**k-off”, but replied all – so not only did the boss receive the response, so did the other 15,000 employees on the list. On the plus side it gave some people a good laugh on a wet Sunday afternoon, but less fun for the sender on Monday morning. They kept their job, but their cards were forever marked.

The irony is that someone else on behalf of the boss sent the email. The boss was possibly away enjoying their weekend.

Amusing stories aside – the pressure of constant-on exhausts employees. There is little or no time to escape and recharge depleted batteries. Employees end up starting the working week already warmed up due to the constant stream of nonsense emails from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.

A recent study by the University of the West of England found that Wi-Fi introduced on some train routes had led to more people answering emails before and after work. Interestingly, many people welcomed this as a need transition period to and from work and to avoid work overload on reaching their workplaces.

Sadly, some people referred to time on the train as “dead time”. We would kindly refer these people to a good book, a good newspaper, a good magazine, some nice music, the crossword, chatting or even just looking out the window.

To paraphrase the saying – if you always use the saw and don’t stop to sharpen it, it becomes too blunt to use.

It’s almost 4pm on a sunny and warm late August day. I have focussed on writing this for a clear 90 minutes. Time to go and enjoy the world.

Before I do, I will leave you with a picture of the ultimate symbol of power and status, not a car or plane or another toy – no – the smartphone-free life. Ask Simon Cowell. If anyone is in touch with symbols of status and power, it is he.

Relevant links below, but please go read a good book instead.

BBC News
UK Average Hours
German Average Hours
OECD – Productivity – measured by GDP per hour worked

Posted in Employment law,, Public Policy | Comments Off on When To Turn Off