Monday, 27 October 2014


ANDY FLEMING details how we need to completely replace our current economic paradigm if we are to have a future on the Earth.

It’s so easy to be negative about the current global economic system. And of course there is every reason. Most readers will be aware that the economies of virtually all major developed nations including China are well, stuffed.

When it comes to a solution however, yesterday’s Labour Party European Election broadcast brought home our dilemma. In its theatre and comedy it was excellent, vividly portraying the economic abyss we have descended into as a nation. Character assassinations of Cameron and Clegg flowed freely, highlighting their promotion of the philosophies of greed, inequity, deceit, self-advancement and privilege.

There was of course no reference to Labour’s immense culpability in our economic plight. Neither was there one positive economic policy proposal of how the people’s party was going to fix things. Apart, that is, from the usual rhetoric of economically castrating the bankers, with whom until late 2008 they were so intimate.

They offered no practical policies because here’s the thing; there aren’t any. That’s because the whole current global economic paradigm based on greed, central banks, drugs, money laundering, the military industrial complex and war is quite simply not fit for the new millennium. Tinkering around at the edges with an economic system originating in the sixteenth century simply won’t work, and here’s my rational for saying this, based surprisingly not in politics but in science.

Cast your mind back to your high school biology lessons. Do you remember Petrie dishes? Those shallow glass containers into which a food substrate was poured, such as agar jelly. A small sample of bacteria was introduced onto the surface of the agar, the lid was replaced and within a few days the organisms had reproduced exponentially covering the entire surface of the jelly.

The spectacular success in the growth of the bacteria was tragically short-lived. A few more days and they would not only be seen to have exhausted their raw materials (i.e. food substrate), they would also have poisoned themselves with their own toxic waste products.


It's April 14, 1976, and Metro Radio's James Whale presents the station's late night phone-in programme, Night Owls. Metro Radio was one of the first nineteen commercial radio stations to gain an IBA licence following the demise of the North Sea pirate station in the late sixties. It's on air date was July 15, 1974.
ANDY FLEMING analyses how over the past thirty years freedom of speech, innovation, personality, choice and imagination have been sacrificed within Commercial Radio, in favour of maximising company shareholder value and franchise revenue streams for the government. And politicians are once again the culprits! Our airwaves have been sold to the highest bidder without a thought for local public service or quality content.

Do you have a long memory? Do you remember how after her General Election victory in May, 1979, Margaret Thatcher 'transformed' the economic landscape of Britain with her 'resolute approach'? It was a defining moment in the social, political and economic history of our country. Because until that date all previous governments whether Conservative or Labour subscribed to the so-called social democratic consensus. In other words the British economy would not be comprehensively exposed to the vagaries of the free market, and neither at the same time would it be a full blown command economy as per the Eastern Bloc with all the limitations in terms of individual freedom such collectivisation would entail. Capitalism was to be the economic system rather than socialism, but the worst excesses of the free market would be excluded by a collectively provided welfare state.
So the UK was dragged into the modern world with a National Health Service, a free education system for all, benefits for the elderly, disabled and those unfortunate enough to be unemployed, a properly integrated public transport system and of course, 'homes for those returning heroes' from fighting Nazi Germany. Britain was going to be a more pleasant, fairer society where opportunities were going to be accessible to everyone without the exploitation and poverty of the inter war years. The Gold Standard was dropped and this new social democratic consensus was to be underpinned with Keynesian economics. The government would regulate capitalism by stimulating the economy in a recession with capital projects and would restrict the money supply when the economy overheated in one capitalism's cyclical booms. That was the theory at least, and until the late sixties and an ever increasing balance of payments deficit the mixed economy model seemed to be a practical compromise.

Regulation seemed to work, whether it was in employment, unemployment, housing, transport, and telecommunications or as especially applicable here, the media. However with the devaluation of sterling crisis in 1967 and then a major world oil price shock in October 1973 as a direct result of an Arab-Israeli war western economies had been hit by an economic tsunami. And it was one from which Keynesianism was not to recover sparking as it did political and industrial strife including three day weeks and Winters of Discontent. With another oil shock in 1979 as a result of the Iranian revolution, the last government of the old social democratic order and the last true Labour government led by Jim Callaghan was swept away by a new Conservative Party in government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Her government was totally different to those of the preceding four decades, espousing as it did, a return to 'monetarism' to reduce inflation (restricting the money supply) as propounded by her economic guru Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek before him.

Thatcher's policies were socially brutal and divisive. Whole state industries were to be privatised and closed if not profitable irrespective of the country's strategic needs, or if the result led to mass unemployment. Inflation was to be reduced at all costs as was taxation; but just income tax and mainly the rates for top earners. VAT was doubled, and from the outset there was a re-distribution of wealth from the poor to the rich. Benefits were slashed in an effort to cut state spending and regulations across business, including in the media were cut to maximise profits. State 'red tape' to protect the consumer was apparently strangling private enterprise. Infact, Thatcher's whole philosophy could be summed up succinctly as state equals bad; private equals good. Period. But what would the effect of these gargantuan economic changes be on the media, and radio in particular?

I suppose commercial radio in the United Kingdom can be traced back in a cheating fashion to the thirties, ironically (due to government censorship) with a radio station broadcasting from outside our country. To Britons, this was the only commercial radio station available, the high power Radio Luxembourg broadcast from the Grand Duchy in order to circumvent the UK-wide ban on any broadcast radio apart from the BBC thus preserving its total monopoly, and preventing any criticism of the government.


A Northern Rail Class 156 Sprinter, calls at Castleton Moor on the Esk Valley Railway with a Whitby to Middlesbrough service. This line was saved quite arbitrarily from the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, and yet for 20 years since privatisation has seen only a couple of trains per day in each direction. Unforgivably, none of these services are suitable for commuting to either of the line's termini. This railway awaits an imaginative and innovative operator who will maximise its undoubted potential at the heart of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.
In last week's post Privatisation Profiteers Ride the Rails (at your expense), ANDY FLEMING examined the Tories' half baked, inefficient, horrendously expensive and disastrous privatisation experiment with our railways. 
In the last post in this series he examines why Britain's rail network now the most fragmented and expensive in Western Europe to both passenger and tax payer alike, has become a cash cow to train operating companies who reap the profits, while you and I pay the losses.

Following the botched privatisation of British Rail in 1994, hopes were high that a change to a New Labour government in 1997 would see re-nationalisation of this strategic national asset in a country crying out for an affordable, reliable, safe and fully integrated environmentally-friendly public transport system.

But of course we didn’t see any such change. The key was in the word ‘New’. What we received was just a continuation of Major’s full-baked policies in railways and elsewhere, just different cronies enacting them. Sure there was the odd left winger full of bluster who was ready to drop all of their principals, in order to give the impression that there may be a little socialisation of the economy but of course it was a mirage. As would become clear following Tony Blair and George Bush’s illegal Iraq War of 2003, the petroleum industry was still pulling the strings despite the environmental rhetoric and run-ins with hard working truck drivers.

This phoney environmentalism was however a deceitful and duplicitous way of launching a full scale assault on the motorist with crippling petrol taxes, while simultaneously John Prescott was announcing an investment in railways so grand that the Victorians would have been jealous. It was of course all lies. Most of the £30 billion funding for the network announced in early 1999 wasn’t new money at all, just recycled promises from the last days of Major’s corrupt and sleazy administration. New Labour were of course masters of lies, dishonesty and deceit (these grotesque human traits were of course spun as ‘spin’ to the gullible).

It was brought home to me one night when BBC Look North carried a visit by Tony Blair to a primary school in Ferryhill, part of his Sedgefield constituency. One little girl asked the Prime Minister a fantastic question that deserved a fully honest answer.

“Please can you re-open Ferryhill station as there are a lot of people here who can’t afford cars”, she said.

His answer would be the reason why I wouldn’t vote Labour ever again,

“I’d love to be in a position to do it, but it would be just far too expensive”.

It was clear where this charlatan’s loyalties lay and they certainly weren’t with his constituents’ needs in a civilised society for even a basic public transport system. And he certainly couldn’t care less about the environment.


In the previous post: UK Rail Rip-Off:Coming off the Rails, ANDY FLEMING looked at how our once great national railway system that was the envy of the world, was butchered by politicians obsessed with imposing free market disciplines on a strategic national monopoly. In this post he takes a look at the Tories' half baked, inefficient, horrendously expensive and disastrous privatisation experiment with our railways.

You can always detect a political zealot. They are just like religious zealots and fundamentalists. The very last thing any of them can be bothered to do is learn any facts about the particular area they rant about. And I don't mind, I'm all for freedom of speech, just so long as they don't wreck our industries and economy or blow up aeroplanes. But that's just what's been happening to the British economy over the last four or five decades.

It has of course been an agenda dominated by right wing libertarian politics that has espoused an age old doctrine first propounded by Adam Smith and his "hidden hand" in his tome The Wealth of Nations. Like a hydra that keeps having its tentacles amputated, its philosophies of deregulation, "rolling back the state", and the wholesale privatisation of strategic state natural monopolistic industries just keep growing back.

The same old tired policies practiced right up to 1945 keep getting trotted out in every new generation of right wing politicians. They regard them as panaceas to every conceivable societal ill. It took an 'Old Labour' government led by Clement Attlee to civilise Britain, to legislate against children being sent up chimneys or down mines or becoming illiterate adults. Centuries of Adam Smith's free markets had failed to provide even a meagre standard of living for the majority of the population. The whole ideology was and still is just an excuse for individual greed masquerading as a political and economic ideology.

In just a few a few short years following VE day thanks to collective state intervention, Britain gained a socialised health care and education system, a Welfare State, socialised housing and the nationalisation of decrepit and rundown yet vital and strategic monopolistic industries including steel, coal and the railways. Such is the nature of global capitalism however, that even in the fifties a civilised society meant a society in which wage, safety and environmental protection costs were higher. Corporations and international capital always on the lookout for a workforce and a nation to exploit started to relocate their sweat shops run with slave labour to places such as Hong Kong and Japan.

It wasn’t long before the worsening balance of payments and trade deficits were being blamed on workforce laziness, unionisation, wages, infact everything under the sun as long as that didn’t include archaic British management practices or an early sixties Macmillan government led by a bunch of politicians like Profumo who epitomised the word sleaze.

Nationalised industries bore brunt of much of the blame and especially Britain’s railways. Nationalised in 1948 out of desperation resulting from decades of private company neglect, the “Big Four” railway companies (London Midland Scottish, Great Western Railway, London and North Eastern Railway and Southern Railways) became united and nationalised as British Railways.


The end of the line? After decades of neglect and funding cuts, by the late eighties much of Britain's once great national railway network was starting to look like this. Even worse, a large proportion of route mileage was already gone thanks to the infamous Beeching Cuts of the sixties, most of which were executed by a Labour government.
In a regular series of posts ANDY FLEMING takes a look at our non-integrated and not fit for purpose public transport system. He starts by taking a recent historical look at the UK’s railway system, one of the most expensive in Western Europe for both passengers and taxpayers. It isn’t long before corrupt politicians are seen to be taking the public for a ride along the rails.

They say that travel broadens the mind, and foreign travel especially. I was a late starter in getting “the bug” for it. In fact it was on our honeymoon in August 1989 in Paris that I first set foot on foreign soil. And as a graduate student of sociology with modules in transport and planning what a shock it was.

We arrived in Paris via train, to me the most civilised form of mass transport, at Gare du Nord. The journey had been a real eye opener. We had travelled all of the way by train from Darlington, enjoying an overnight stay in central London and then using the ferry for the short crossing to Boulogne (this was before the Channel Tunnel of course).

Nothing remarkable in this, but on a personal level, visiting France for the first time was a big event in my life. At the age of twenty nine I had previously developed the view that everything about our country was best. Its education, health care, welfare, and other state systems and infrastructure were at the apex of civilisation.

My first footsteps on to the Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) express train shattered this UK-centric worldview. Clearly, before I had even tested a word of my pigeon French out on an unsuspecting local person, this wasn’t just a journey of discovery in terms of culture, society and country; it was a tale of two completely different national railway systems, and it would be a comparison in which Britain would inevitably come out a very poor loser. Bear in mind too our journey was at the time TransManche Link (TML) were still excavating the Channel Tunnel, Eurostar trains were still a couple of years in the future.

On time we left Boulogne and travelled through the beautiful countryside of northern France at high speed on our way to the nation’s capital. We were seated inside a second class compartment, but it appeared to both my wife Gill and myself to be perfect luxury. In fact, we had initially inadvertently mistaken our coach as being first class and we might be reprimanded for sitting there. Our worries soon abated on a walk down the train to enjoy the delights and service of a fully stocked restaurant and buffet car. That’s because first class was even more luxurious. This was first class travel with a second class ticket. Through Amiens and on to Paris we were whisked to pull into Gare du Nord on time to the second. This was how rail travel should be, I thought.


It's July 16, 1969 and the start of the greatest voyage in our history: Apollo 11 is launched from Cape Kennedy atop a Saturn V booster (left). Four days and over 200,000 miles later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin become the first people to set foot on another world (right). And all thanks to Newton's Laws of Universal Gravitation and Motion, exquisitely accurate at non-relativistic 'everyday' speeds.

All of my life I've been fascinated by science, and although I'm not a scientist (I was however a laboratory analyst at ICI for many years, and I am an amateur astronomer) I still consider science to be the best human method for explaining how we, and the entire cosmos came to be. Unlike many other areas of human endeavour such as religion, our scientific theories, although still only approximate descriptions of reality, are testable, falsifiable and most importantly, can be verified by peer review. This cannot be said of many other academic disciplines, as instead of logical, rational thought, they rely on each individual's belief systems and their hypotheses are hence not testable in the real world.

Humankind's scientific theories are however, at best only approximations of reality, albeit often exquisitely accurate approximations. Over decades and centuries they have been developed and amended in the light of better data and evidence. For example Newton's Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation were perfectly adequate up to 1915, and indeed are still used in determining a spacecraft's trajectory. Such an example is NASA/JPL's's New Horizons mission to Pluto, due to arrive with perfect accuracy to the nearest second at that distant dwarf planet in 2015. However, Sir Isaac Newton cannot be placed in the driver's seat in very strong gravitational fields or at relativistic velocities (speeds approaching that of light), due to effects including time dilation and Lorentz length contractions. And Newton’s speculative contention that time is a universal constant was proved incorrect by Einstein. It is the speed of light that is a universal constant.

It is in such situations that Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, developed from the edifice of Newton's work must be engaged.

Isaac Newton in 1689 (left). His Laws of Motion are perfectly adequate for launching spacecraft to the stars. Albert Einstein as a young man in the early twentieth century (right). His Theory of General Relativity builds on Newton's work at relativistic speeds and in regions of strong gravitational force, and is a requirement when adjusting clocks in GPS deep space systems due to even miniscule amounts of time dilation as a result of the varying strength of the Earth's gravitational field both on the planet's surface and in orbit.

Through science's language of mathematics and through its empirical research and practical experimentation, the two pillars of modern physics (seemingly bizarre and counter-intuitive in their verified predictions to both the public and scientists alike) – Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity are supremely accurate descriptive approximations of physical reality. Most importantly for our civilisation, and unlike the revelations, myths and prophecies of pseudo-science and religion, they ‘bring home the bacon’, witnessed by the presence in our lives of television sets, computers, the internet, the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system, telecommunications, nuclear power – the list is seemingly endless.

Space-time being dragged and contorted in the bottomless infinite gravity well of a black hole (left). Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, his 'theory of gravity'... forecast these bizarre objects decades before their discovery and fully accounts for their effects on the surrounding cosmos. In General Relativity, Einstein also merges special and temporal dimensions into one: space-time, and introduces the equivalence of indistinguishability of acceleration and gravity.

However, despite all the enormous benefits that the scientific enterprise has brought to human kind – life-saving vaccines, medicines and medical procedures, electronics, technology, even the manned and robotic exploration of our Solar System, there remains a concerning mistrust within the general population of science and scientists.

As previously explained, science and its theories, as a human activity is never perfect.  Scientists are not infallible, possessing the same vulnerabilities, frailties, prejudices and personal agendas as each and every one of us. And let's face it, science and mathematics are difficult subjects; such accurate models and descriptions of reality based on evidence and calculation are never going to be instantly decipherable to the layperson without at least some scientific education.

When it comes to the general public understanding of science, there is also the issue of public science education (or lack of it) in the West. We have conspired to produce a situation where our societies and economies totally depend on science and its offspring, technology. And yet virtually nobody knows anything about science. With scientific decisions being taken over important issues such as climate change, energy supply, atomic power, atomic weapons and stem cell research by largely scientifically illiterate members of the public and their elected political representatives, it's a state of affairs that will eventually blow up in our faces.

However, I think that the distrust and suspicion of science has another reason all together, and this can be found in some of humanity's darkest moments and activities. Here I'm talking about the misuse of science, especially by politicians, exemplified in weapons of mass destruction, the holocaust in Nazi Germany in which eight million people were murdered, and the fact that in the 1960s over half of the world's top scientists were involved in some respect in the atomic arms race between the former Soviet Union and the United States.

The late Dr Jacob Bronowski, responsible for the epic 1973 BBC
Television documentary series, "The Ascent of Man". (Image courtesy of the BBC).

The battle lines were drawn through the very heart of the scientific establishment, the further development of J Robert Oppenheimer's Manhattan Project 'bomb' (see right graphic) being simultaneously propounded by Edward Teller, and yet vehemently opposed by that greatest of all scientists... the genius Albert Einstein.

All of the above historical abuse and misuse of science are emphatically not, however, the fault of science itself. As that brilliant polymath Dr Jacob Bronowski (1973) explains in his fabulous chronology of the development of the scientific method, and how science works, "The Ascent of Man”, such abuse of science is what happens when human leaders aspire to the power of gods, and believe they have absolute knowledge and certainty. It is also what happens when the population at large indulges in a philosophy of ignorance stemming from a high degree of scientific illiteracy and an absolute lack of healthy scepticism. It is the epitome of Bronowski's "push button society" complete with a total absence of any check in reality, the very cornerstone of true science.

The very bedrock of the scientific enterprise is testability, repeatability, falsifiability and verifiability by peer group. No other area of human endeavour is so unsympathetic to an individual's challenging new hypotheses. Indeed, scientists still compete for a Nobel Prize to be the first to discover cracks in Einstein's greatest achievement, his Theory of General Relativity, despite the fact that it is nearly one hundred years old. And certainly at some point in the future, someone somewhere will nail down a flaw in Einstein's edifice. And therein lies another unique facet of science: unlike politics or religion there are no ‘authorities’ in the subject; no ‘high priests’.

Anyone can make an astonishing discovery and propound a new theory, but it must be falsifiable, verifiable and testable. After all, Einstein was slow to learn to talk, a difficult pupil at school (which he left early), held an ordinary position as a patents clerk in Berne, Switzerland, and yet went on to be the most famous scientist of the twentieth century. His concise and humbly titled 1905 paper On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies ushered in the paradigm-changing concept of special relativity and the age of modern physics.

To be successful in science one needs imagination and scepticism both. Regarding the former, there is no greater example than Einstein's strides in relativity, all derived from one amazing imaginative thought as he toured Italy on a bicycle: what would the world look like if one rode on a beam of light? What an incredible thought for a sixteen year old child. Little did he know it at the time, but this single thought would lead inexorably to nothing less than a total revolution in our concepts of space, time and energy. But imagination is not enough; scepticism is particularly important in the ability to distinguish fact from speculation.

I hope that by now I've explained adequately how all of our science, indeed all of our knowledge is never absolute, never certain. Never perfect. The pursuit of the truth may indeed set you free, but through science you'll never acquire the absolute truth about the construction of reality.

But what happens when an individual or nation confuses its imperfect knowledge available through science, with the unattainable ideals of certainty or absolute knowledge, and aspires to the latter?

Such aspirations, with no test in reality inevitably lead to the gates of Dachau, Buchenwald and Auschwitz, the refugee camps of Gaza or genocide in Rwanda or the Balkans. The ultimate result can be gullibility on an industrial scale and the dispensing of scepticism by a whole people who are mindlessly prepared to allow their evil political leaders to mislead and manipulate them.

In 1973, BBC Television first broadcast The Ascent of Man, widely regarded still as one of the best documentary series ever made. The expensive sets, on-location filming around the globe, huge production values and the sheer enthusiasm of its presenter Dr Jacob Bronowski were all attributes that would ensure its success. One such location was the pond outside the crematorium at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, into which the ashes of millions of holocaust victims, including those of the relatives of Dr Bronowski were poured.

With certainty, but without any evidence in reality whatsoever, the Nazi Germany believed all of its victims to be inferior or sub-human. This despicable genocide was not perpetrated by science, or even by gas, it was committed by individuals defaulting to a push button society, individuals who were not prepared to confront their own ignorance, prejudice and arrogance.

Bronowski's ten minute clip at Auschwitz is regarded by many as the most poignant and moving moment in the history of broadcasting. As Bronowski scoops up the pond's sedimentary ashes, he is seen to have tears in his eyes as he logically explains how humanity allowed itself to stoop so low. He describes the unthinking, non-sceptical, unscientific push button society that was Hitler's Third Reich.

Scooping up the ashes of a generation of an entire people, he movingly states that,

“There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy. All information is imperfect. We have to treat it with humility. That is the human condition; and that is what quantum physics says. I mean that literally.”

Holding the ashes of Holocaust victims in the mud, Bronowski’s entreaty to all humanity is that,

“We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.”

Now please, watch Dr Bronowski's clip filmed at Auschwitz and edited from this wonderful documentary series. It is an excerpt from "The Ascent of Man", Episode 11, "Knowledge or Certainty", at the crematorium and pond at Auschwitz.

Bronowski, J., "The Ascent of Man", British Broadcasting Corporation Books, 1973. ISBN: 978-0563104988.


A voyage of discovery. It's September 5, 1977 and NASA/JPL's Voyage 1 spacecraft is launched atop a Titan IIIE/Centaur booster at Cape Canaveral's Launch Pad 41 (left). Thirteen years and 3.7 billion years later scientist Carl Sagan insists with NASA's Administrator Richard H Truly that for the benefit of public education the cameras of mankind's little robotic emissary are turned towards the inner solar system for a photograph of the Earth. At this distance, beyond the orbit of Neptune our planet is photographed as just 0.12 of a pixel (right).
As guest blogger, ANDY FLEMING in his own lifelong voyage of consciousness-raising, makes the ultimate connection between our ancient and vast cosmos and the human spheres of politics, economics, and philosophy. In the process he deduces that our very survival depends on new economic institutions, caring for each other and cherishing our Pale Blue Dot, the Earth, the only home humanity has ever known.

I’m sure that all of us who share the same political, economic, sociological and philosophical perspective of this unique, revealing and informative blog arrive at this standpoint via a variety of routes. For some of us, our journeys may have been circuitous and lengthy, perhaps taking a lifetime. Meanwhile others may have been encouraged at an early age to foster a sense of equity, fairness, critical thinking, healthy scepticism and a disdain for greed and selfishness.

My own voyage of awareness, consciousness-raising, synchronicity and connection-forging has taken me from my college education in science, then my university education in sociology, my employment in youth work, the retail sector and the media and then on to my burning passion: marvelling at the vastness of the cosmos and our place in space. Anyone who knows me knows that my avid interest is mankind’s original science of astronomy, practised by generations of human beings, way back into the mists of antiquity.

Whatever subject we use as a vehicle in our individual journeys of discovery that reveal who we are and from where we came (both as individuals and collectively as a species), the road often includes a pivotal turning point or spiritual awakening. Our whole world view changes profoundly and with it our beliefs and aspirations.
Such profound personal development and change often arises through exposure to the works of great philosophers, sociologists, poets, authors or religious leaders. And yes, sometimes, as in the case of Nelson Mandela politicians too! Such progress may also not be without some personal discomfort and stress, and indeed to some people, change may be a psychological imperative as they battle their own personal demons.

Personal change within the political or religious spheres for example may lead to profound conflict with one’s peers, friends and family as one develops new ways of seeing society and the physical world. These new beliefs and new ways of thinking with healthy scepticism often place the person on a direct collision course with prevailing paradigms and the orthodox perspectives of the social and physical worlds. The invariable outcome however is a better, healthier human being at peace with oneself, the wide world and the cosmos.