Recent Articles

Who would you blame for Cumbria shootings?

by Claude Carpentieri     June 3, 2010 at 10:00 pm

With Britain waking up to the worst firearms tragedy since Dunblane, the predictable finger-pointing begins.

And yet the police are still trying to piece the story together. It was unclear what exactly tipped 52-year-old Derrick Bird, the killer, over the edge. Was he having financial problems? Did he have a row with his fellow taxi drivers over queue-jumping and touting?

Did he fall out with his relatives over a will?
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The ‘siege mentality’ of English nationalism

by Claude Carpentieri     May 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Like clockwork, with each World Cup or Euro Championship comes the urban myth based on some grand anti-English design or some hollow conspiracy theory whipped up by tabloids for the populace to consume.

The fact is, an alarming number of Brits are happy to be treated like imbeciles the moment there’s a whiff of international football in the air.

The rumours appear to have been kickstarted by (make a wild guess) the Sun when they published an article under the header “Bid to ban England tops in World Cup pubs“.

Anyone with more than a brain cell would have detected that the headline had nothing to do with the facts.
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Are 172 new Lords going to be the ‘Change we need’?

by Claude Carpentieri     May 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

“Change”, is what David Cameron pledged all along. Well, you certainly can’t accuse him of leaving things as they are.

If the Times is to be believed today, the House of Lords is set to become the fattest parliamentary chamber in the world.

There are currently 736 sitting Lords, or 707 if you take into account disqualified ones and other exceptions- see here for a full summary.
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Ashcroft and the unions

by Claude Carpentieri     March 17, 2010 at 7:00 am

The acute observer may have noted that, whenever the scandal of multi-millionaire non-dom top party donor Lord Ashcroft is brought up, the Tories’ default reaction is “yeah but the Unions too, they bankroll Labour”.

Let’s leave aside the long list of differences (technical, fiscal, substantial, ethical, practical, etc) between the two types of “donations”. Let’s leave aside “solemn and binding” promises.

The best way to gauge weight and influence as carried by Lord Ashcroft vs the Unions is to check the relationship between donors and political parties.

Not a single senior Tory has publicly said a bad thing against the Belize-based tycoon. They said a lot of things, but nothing bad. And how could they, given that the Baron has pumped around £5m into Tory coffers?
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Weekly grocery bill of £420?

by Claude Carpentieri     March 15, 2010 at 11:00 am

The rising number of repossessions is the forgotten issue of the pre-election campaign.

In a different world, this incredibly insightful piece of research by the housing and homelessness charity Shelter would be front page news.

Referring to 1971 as a starting date, Shelter discovered that if food and other essential items had gone up as fast as the average property price, a box of washing powder would now cost £28-53, a jar of coffee over £20 and a pint of milk £2-43. continue reading… »

Redundancy Island

by Claude Carpentieri     March 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

How a group of laid off workers took over an uninhabited island and began their protest.

When so-called “reality TV” programmes started mushrooming up one after the other, many commented on the fact that the only “real” thing about them was in the name.

And yet, as they quickly saturated television, their artificial, dumb and repetitive formula will probably be judged by history as the Noughties’ worst cultural legacy.

Back in 2005, we wrote that a Temping Idol or Casual Employee Academy would have been a good antidote to the binge of televisual fakery that goes by the name of “reality”.

Now, a dramatic story is actually underway and it’s no fake.

A group of workers barricaded themselves on Asinara, a small island off the northern coast of Sardinia. For decades, and until 1997, the island was used as a maximum security prison, and its only inhabitants were prisoners and warders.

After being collectively laid off four months ago, on February 24, a group of workers from a chemical company called ENI landed at Asinara and set camp at the old prison.

This is when their L’isola dei Cassintegrati, “Redundancy Island”, started. Though there are no celebrity and no television crews, the workers are hoping to direct collective focus towards their plight.

Their families help them set up a Facebook group which has already gained over 14,000 supporters. It reads:

“Redundancy Island is a ‘real’ reality, unfortunately, where no-one is famous but everyone is jobless. Hidden away on an island which is the symbol of what a once Great Sardinia which is now in the throes of a deep crisis, we are dwelling in cells which are no worse than the prison bars that the national government, the regional one and ENI presented us with.

There are no yachts, billionaires or showgirls on this island, just the crude reality of unaccountable politics and a state-controlled company – ENI – pursuing its business goals as they trample on hundreds of families. Not least, a group of brave workers fighting for their rights”.

Since redundancy notices were served in November, the workers have had to make do with a single 800 Euro payout.

“It’s embarrassing that we have to mimick Celebrity Island to remind people of what’s going on in both Italy and Sardinia”, said one of the protesters to Italian daily la Repubblica.

How apprenticeships cut youth unemployment

by Claude Carpentieri     March 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Youth unemployment data across the EU suggest that countries with more developed apprenticeship policies have minimised the worst effects of the downturn.

In Britain, 17.9% of those below the age of 25 are unemployed. True, some countries are faring even worse. The percentage is 21.5 per cent in Ireland while, in Spain, the jobless amount amongst the young has now reached a staggering 42.6 per cent.

Countries like Denmark and Germany, however, show a different picture – with the unemployment rate amongst the under-25s standing at 8.9 and 10.5 respectively.

Of course, there is no obvious reason for this disparity. However, Germany has long been known as a country placing apprenticeships at the core of its education system.

The German system is a model for youth work contracts. It is called ‘the dual system’. Once completed compulsory education, either at 16 or 19, a worker can start an apprenticeship at a company which can last between 2 and 3 and 1/2 years. During this period, for two days a week, the apprentice will have to learn the theoretical background at a vocational school known as Berufsschule.

The precise skills and theory taught on German apprenticeships are strictly regulated. The employer is responsible for the entire education programme.

There are aroud 350 trades to choose from: anything from accountant to builder or from medical worker to baker.

About two thirds of young people who finish school decide to begin an apprenticeship every year.

The fact that the contract is really an ‘apprenticeship’ doesn’t mean that the worker has no rights. Unlike other countries such as Italy, contracts designed to help the young are not misused to maximise profits out of unprotected workers. The company is required to pick up the social security costs as well as unemployment insurance and pension entitlements.

What varies is the salary. For instance, an apprentice metal worker in the Baden-Wurtemberg region will earn around 810 Euros a month during his first year, €861 in his second, €937 in the third and €988 in his fourth. His counterpart in Berlin will probably take home €100 less each month.

This can partly explain why there is a lower percentage of university students in Germany when compared to other Western countries, but there is a much lower percentage of people entering the German labour market with no qualifications. This seems to have protected, at least partially, German workers and job seekers from the worst effects of the downturn.

Britain, instead was hit on two fronts.

One one side, the 1980s and 1990s saw a sharp decrease in the number of apprenticeships which was only reversed through increased investment since 1997. The number of learners of all ages starting on the Apprenticeships programme has more than doubled from around 75,000 to around 180,000 today.

On the other side, the Labour government was guilty of placing unrealistic expectations on the University system. You may remember the old Blairite obsession with having 50% of people in Higher Education by 2010. It was never going to be economically sustainable, which is why the Government is now -very shyly- trying to support graduate internship positions.

At the moment, it’s not going very well. Out of 725,000 unemployed 18-24 Britons, there are 3,400 graduate internship positions, only 47% of which are paid.

What’s wrong with a slimmer BBC?

by Claude Carpentieri     March 4, 2010 at 8:00 am

Calls in favour of reducing the cost of running the BBC by 25% haven’t gone down well. Facebook campaigns are being set up and accusations are being flung that the cuts are “politically motivated” to butter up the Tories.

In short, the sceptics argue that weakening the BBC will be a gift to its private competitors and a blow to public services on both radio and television.

I am totally in favour of the BBC. I think a competitive state-owned TV is sacrosanct and whoever thinks the BBC should be dismantled and/or privatised is purely driven by rampant ideology.

However, the current cost of a TV licence is £142.50. In 2000, it was just £104. In ten years, an increase of around 36% – without anyone asking licence payers if they agreed with the way the corporation expanded.
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Did you know Gordon Brown’s got bad breath too?

by Claude Carpentieri     February 26, 2010 at 11:30 am

Following previous rows about the Prime Minister’s favourite biscuits, as well as speculation over his use of anti-depressants, the state of his eye sight and his chewed fingernails, Gordon Brown has now been accused of using his breath to intimidate staff.

It all started when senior Observer columnist Andrew Rawnsley, anxious to plug his new book The End of The Party, quoted a number of staff at No.10 Downing Street accusing the Prime Minister of making their life a misery with his pongy mouth.

This ignited a political battle over whether Gordon Brown suffers from halitosis or whether this is simply a Tory conspiracy aimed at discrediting the Prime Minister as recent opinion polls indicate Labour is making up some lost ground.

According to one of Rawnsley’s sources: “the air in our Downing Street office is really unpleasant. Each time the PM opens his gob we recoil in horror. It’s like being hit in the face by a rotten onion”. “Needless to say”, the source adds, “the whole thing’s ruining our lives. We dread coming into work”.
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A better way to reduce smoking

by Claude Carpentieri     February 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

Rumour has it that the Department of Health is considering mandatory health warnings on all alcoholic drinks in the style of tobacco products.

I don’t know about you but I’ve never met anyone -not a single person – who’s ever quit smoking after reading health signs on packets of fags. Like, NOT ONE.

Introduced in the early nineties, warnings such as “Smoking kills”, “you’re gonna die” and “What a piece of shit you are for smoking” were made to cover at least 30% of a cigarette pack in 2003 – presumably a measure for the inattentive. Most recently, “picture warnings” have also been introduced, along with measures to “hide cigarettes under the counter”.

But with alcohol the contradictions will just be comedy material.

Here’s a government that makes a substance available 24/7, practically everywhere, but then goes apeshit that those bottles and cans don’t carry a clear enough warning that the same substance is bad for you.
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