No B(T)rainer

February 19, 2013

First a disclaimer: whilst this is not primarily about Politics, nevertheless my political views will be expressed. These are —shall we say— lean slightly to the left… of ant like communism!

This article in part is engendered by the notion of “One Nation Labour” coined by Comrade Ed.

Nice in theory…

I remember the febrile conversations concerning the last Labour Government – correction the last NuLab experiment (I think Harold Wilson’s was the last real Labour government… Recently featured in Roy Hattersaley’s piece. (A good party man G2 Guardian 14th February)
But when the dawn broke over London and “Things could only get better…” resounded around the Capital; one hoped that twenty odd years of Tory economic ruination would be reversed. (I include Heath here as he had no grasp of one nation Toryism and allowed Thatcher in…) But my projection: that Bliar would be politely shuffled off stage and replaced with some real Red meat like Tony and Ken for PM and Deputy; fell somewhat short of the mark.

Then we forgot to eat the rich. What were we thinking…

NuLab as an experiment: failed IMHO. I thought that under Brown we would at least (at last) see a reversal in the widening gap between the poor and the fabulously wealthy but then NuLab; Bliar; Mandelson et al were all a creation of the City (and Thatcher) rather than anything to do with the party of Harold Wilson. Excess piled on Excess in the financial equivalent of the Tower of Babel. And it is still going on! Enough.

Big Labour Big Science
Under Harold Wilson we had TSR2 (an object lesson if there ever was one); Black Arrow; the beginnings of Concorde; world renown if not leadership in: computing; solar cells; atomic power;… and the rest of the scientific mantle we acquired with the technological white heat of the post-war science boom. Scientific swords turned into plowshares.
But that had to go! As a well educated; high skilled; scientifically literate; well paid and questioning electorate is the last thing any government wants. Especially a Tory one. Instead it was to be a Friedman inspired: “race to the bottom” with a sub-literate unquestioning mob of serf citizens toiling away to make the filthy rich even filthier. Reagan might have believed that ‘trickle down’ economics would work but Maggie and especially Denis knew better.

When we ceased to support blue sky research (except for a few select areas, mostly defence); when we turned our Universities into graduate production lines rather than centres of academia and allowed companies to buy-in innovation on the cheap and then stifle it. It was only a matter of time before bright young things decided that —rather than seeking a scientific career— more money was to be had in accountancy or law. It was with amusement that I noted that over sixty percent of my fellow graduates in Biochemistry; finding no work in medicine —or even science— went on to become Accountants. All that intelligence put towards a freshly deregulated finance industry well an explosion was bound to happen. Thus rather than a new Britain forged in that white hot heat of the Sixties: we had the tax avoiding; funny money; litigation prone chaos of the Eighties through to date.

Alas our political class are now firmly science averse. Even to the extent of ignoring and then sacking their own appointed scientists. Unlike France and Germany: the Bureaucrats have prevailed over the Technocrats. Indeed it is worse than that: as there are fewer and fewer politicians with real life experiences. Apart from a bout of PR work or towel folding before Daddy found a better sinecure.

Perhaps One Nation Labour may signal a change. Let us hope so.

Thus in anticipation of the electorate doing the Left Thing: I put forward the following modest proposals. The first is a little something that I suggested to one and all, back in 1997 when the Bliar was going to make things better…
The concept was revolutionary then. Now it is a no brainer…

The Age of Stream
Rather than more roads or airports or flat-pack housing estates, we must build the infrastructure of a smarter; cleaner; greener Britain.
We must build the new means of getting to work and the new means of working. Compatible with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The Age of Stream!

I note that because of E.U. Cutbacks (!) we will struggle to roll out an internet service that is a joke compared with South Korea and the Asian economies. And even that overpriced. With BT acting in the grand manner: a hydraulic despot redolent of a First Dynasty Pharaoh.
It was time to bypass the monopoly then and it is high time to bypass it today. Thus we need a program to lay a high speed data communications system throughout the land in the grand manner of the Age of Steam.

Rather than have a few monolithic companies making truckloads of cash out of a government project; I would suggest the following:

  • first an investment in industrial plant to construct the best fibre optic cable in the world. This will have long term benefits as optical connections can only proliferate as we move into optical computing.
  • second that the network itself is laid by local small firms bidding on contracts as laid set by Local Government.
  • third that the fastest connections be made to local Hubs: Libraries; Community centres; Health centres;… government sponsored brown cafés? (Well one can hope!) These places would become data hubs where large quantities of data could be downloaded really fast. Perhaps the back catalogue of the BFI or the BBC could be made available for a suitable subscription or fee. Similarly art; music; drama; opera; ballet;… The Hubs would enable people to own digital copies of the vast array of cultural wealth ranging from the British Library online, or the National Portrait gallery or a virtual tour of Tate Modem [sic]. In addition to the panoply of e-books there would be the Project Gutenberg texts. These Hubs would also become places of work for the professional who needs a really fast connection. Or locations where HD video-conferencing could take place.
  • fourth that a connection charge will be made for laying cable to the main property. Say a pound a metre. Thus the filthy rich living in their moated mansions at the centre of the land they appropriated during the Enclosure and anyone else with ‘huge tracts of land’ will pay a premium. Whereas in the property where the boundary is the wall of the building itself: the fee will be zero.

The ultimate aim is simple: every house in Britain will have free (and fast) access to the digital world. Communication is a public utility, like air and water should be free of charge!

Conversation Conversation Conversation
With the optical structure in place the educational, informational and representational infrastructure would be coded in parallel.

The educational would be in the form of a massive expansion of the Open University. Another of Harold Wilson’s gifts to the betterment of our Nation.) With the remit to provide free further education to all and at all levels of interest. Perhaps a collaborative community in the model of Wikipedia and other crowd sourced projects. Their remit ranging from computer interactivity for tots to the abstract specialities of tutors. (In the process breaking another hydraulic despot that of academic publishing with its pay walls and restrictive practices.)

This “Online University” …would form an extension to the Open University and attract all levels from retired academics to disenchanted teachers. Its remit would be simple: advance the scientific; philosophic; and cultural level of the Nation. Controversially I would suggest that time spent at the Online University be rewarded by some form of benefit. In other words cash! Rather than wasting electrons (and paper) searching for jobs that will never appear: the time would be much better spent improving knowledge and intellectual understanding. Rather than a fruitless and degrading process driving so many to despair, instead there would be satisfaction in bettering one’s mind. And, with time, eventually the pupil would be passing their newly gained knowledge on to others. Another exercise in raising self esteem.

The informational aspect would be the roll out of government functions. Both local and national. Thus advice on: health; benefits; employment; legal aid;… and the other social services would be directly accessible from these local hubs. And locally staffed as well.

Finally the representational aspect: with an informed and educated electorate issues of the day can be decided by the people rather than a bunch of ‘professional’ politicians who, once in office, renege on their manifestos; lie; fiddle expenses and then fail to represent the people that elected them. The exact nature of the voting system and how to present the various sides to the issue I would leave to debate! However the word Demarchy springs to mind.

Needle Train Network
There is a proposal to extend the HST to Birmingham and points North. NIMBY heaven…

Thus not in the lifetime of the next Parliament and probably not in the lifetime of anyone currently alive in Britain today!
Just why Britain —which invented the Maglev (Laithwaite)— has not the finest bullet train network in the world escapes me. Or rather it doesn’t. The reason is obvious and can be summed up in one word: ”Privatisation” Whilst it paid off handsomely for the City FatCats and the current shareholders; the people that actually pay for the service have paid for it in LIVES.
Never forget that.
Short of re-nationalisation (A subject on which I will return.) …I would propose a “One Nation” “Needle Train Network” with the MAIN hub in the Midlands!
Well Doh!

The following expertises and technological breakthroughs will pay dividends that we can export to the world. (And beyond)

Tunnelling The NTN would be mostly underground, in concrete tunnels that would not only be water proof but also air tight and thus capable of partial evacuation. Tunnels would also allow suspension from above as well as repulsion from the sides and underneath. And propulsion from motors mounted top, bottom and sides: this train network is going to be FAST.
For the most part “cut and cover” would be used with listed buildings; monuments and other small structures moved to one side before being put back again. Special sites of natural or scientific interest; large housing estates and other major structures would be tunnelled under.
Naturally these tunnels will be sited in suitable geological formations and, ideally, under the houses of the most vociferous of protesters! Kidding just kidding.

Concrete Alas releases a lot of CO2. Perhaps research be undertaken into finding a low carbon equivalent. However over the lifetime of the NTN I would suggest an overall saving in carbon release.

MagLev The British scientific community should be challenged to produce a good compromise candidate for a high temperature super-conductor. Ideally a room temperate super-conductor. From there a high efficiency repulsion motor and drive motor would follow. Again something the rest of the world would buy.

Aerodynamics Whilst the tunnels would be evacuated there would always be some air and the trains would need to push this aside and dispose of it to the rear. In addition the trains may continue to termini at the ends of the network above ground at greatly reduced speeds but probably faster than today’s ‘Fast track’

Cryogenics The network will probably require a large supply of liquid nitrogen. Efficiencies in the manufacture, storage and transport of this harmless gas would be useful.

Infrastructure Whilst the tunnels are being laid I would suggest a simultaneous super-conducting power transmission system designed to handle base loads sourced from future large scale power supplies. Ranging from Geothermal (Iceland) to Solar Electric (N. Africa) with Fusion and Solar power satellites in the long term.
At the termini I would suggest fleets of self driving electric cars. Again British made and designed to transport four persons to their destination and then navigate themselves back to the nearest recharge rank where they will be available for the next person or party without an electric tandem. We should aim to abolish the private IC car by the middle of the century. (Actually we need to abolish the IC car NOW! But we need the infrastructure in place beforehand.)

Severn (and Thames) Tidal Barrier
Before the environmentalists (bless) get all hot and bothered, I would remind them that we are currently well on course to a four degree Centigrade and 1-3 metre rise in sea level anyway and if we lose the Greenland ice sheet: seven metres. The existing wetlands will be under water anyway. And if Antarctica goes… well the British Isles will become the British Archipelago.

We have prevaricated long enough over this project: some fifty odd years if memory serves me right. Personally I would go for the full smash. A HUGE reservoir with billions of tonnes of capacity and generating the maximal current. Something grand that you can see from space. From the experience I would then construct an equivalent in the Thames Estuary . We will need extensive flood defences there anyway to protect the Thames corridor housing and infrastructure. Thus I would suggest a over protective flood defence wall ~30 metres. (Guessing here and assuming that we will eventually see sense over CO2 release.) The enclosure would then make for an excellent tidal reservoir as well as protect the Capital from the once in one hundred year event that will be occurring with greater regularity well within one hundred years. Inside the wall we could incorporate floating villages in the manner of the Dutch. Along with an explosion of marinas and yachting clubs.

In both cases the outer barrier, I would suggest, would also be a useful location for wind turbines and perhaps even trans-esturine transport links. Further to this we could design in a few arcologies: fishing villages; tourist hotels servicing the Lundy marine preserve; homes and infrastructure maintaining the power generators and shipping locks. A service port for the off shore wind turbines.
Perhaps even a new set of docks.

We seriously need to re-look at this. All new housing stock must incorporate power generation and energy conservation measures. No more flat-pack housing with minimal building standards. Similarly all large buildings (hopefully factories) will contain similar measures. The funding for this will come from fining Big Power as they continue to fail to serve the Nation. The days of privatising the profit and socialising the losses must end. To this end I would suggest that we introduce a new ethos: creeping Re-Nationalisation!

The modus operandi would resemble the current fining structure we have today. With a few changes.
The Offgen watchdog becomes truly independent of its Big Power Master. It is staffed and motivated to be ever vigilant and allowed to bite. Hard. In big chunks.
Ever more restrictions on Big Power and higher fines when they fail to comply.
(And here’s the kicker) All fines to be paid in shares. Existing shares not new stock. Shares forfeited by management and board of directors and coming from their personal portfolios. When that runs out the shares will be bought by the company and given to the Nation.
When we have control we wind the company up and hand it back to the people as a publicly run publicly owned Public Utility serving the Citizen not the City.

If the scheme seems to work I would roll it out on the other public utilities that so signally fail to be useful to the public. If the escalating number of complaints is anything to go by!

Community Kitchens and Cafés
The brave experiment by our Jamie et al in trying to better our eating habits rolled out on a national scale. In the face of an agribusiness and ‘food’ industry that is signally failing the British (and European) consumer. In addition to their role described below, these centres would act as Stream Hubs and as places where Society (That “there was no such thing” off!) is re-built. The ultimate aim is to turn a nation of shop keepers into a nation of thriftycooks. As climate change; desertification of southern Europe; peak oil and the various other ecological factors contributing to the perfect storm of Beddington; the days of flying fruit & veg from the opposite side of the globe will end. Locally sourced, seasonal and misshapen  foods will be the best we can hope for. The worst: food riots!

Rather than reintroduce rationing with posh food available on the black market perhaps a re-education programme started now would start a trend of healthy and sustainable eating habits.

I would suggest that initially the Kitchens be adapted from or added to the primary School network. They would be multi-tasking and best described by a typical working day. Every day. Because a child is entitled to FSM during term and during the holidays! And perhaps a bit of educational catchup with the ketchup! (Or perhaps that should be passata 🙂

Early (Or very late.) Cleaning. Donations. Food Collection. Menu planning

Breakfast Service “The Porridge Club”
According to most the most important meal of the day!
The kitchen would open for business at 6.00 am for the pre-school run with children (of all ages) arriving for a hot breakfast. In addition to starting the day off right for the very young; the very young could be shown how to cook porridge! Spurtles optional. Meanwhile secondary school children; parents; pensioners; workers going to an early shift or returning home after a night shift could also be catered for.
The cost: variable! The charges would be set by the catering manager in line with a local government framework. I would seriously suggest that those families not on income support be asked to donate what they feel the meal was worth. If personal experience and the Occupy movement is anything to go by the financially secure will pay above the odds for a good bacon sarnie and a good cuppa!

Lunchtime Service
In addition to catering for the primary schoolers, the luncheon would also be catered for local OAPs. Perhaps the interaction of young and old would also pay dividends… Again spare capacity would allow the unemployed and the poorly paid access to a proper ‘works canteen’ style lunch. Rather than a mass produced pret-a-snack bolted down at the desk whilst working through the lunch break. Again the cost would be variable decided by the local management. But the donation principle might still apply!
In the afternoon the school would run cookery lessons. Again for all ages with the emphasis on healthy eating and fresh seasonal foods. Ideally from the local area. Local restaurateurs could get in the act. Skills would range from dough making and smashing up potatos (age five) to knife work (age ten). Again perhaps the retired could take a role here: passing on old recipes, tricks and tips. My mothers rationing recipies were of great use to this batchelor when cooking during my student days often for a hall’s entire kitchen! Those not of a culinary bent could perform some silver service or silver surfing or reminisce from their personal past: passing local history and other topics down across the generation gap.

High Tea
With parents working to all hours the “latchkey kid” is a term to be avoided and a practice too. I would suggest a fast (but healthy) food menu catering for those that would be returning to an empty home. Thus rather than the plateful of sugary cereal or fried chicken & chips; a better nutritional meal would be available as well as a Homework Club. With teachers on hand to help those struggling with a little extra tuition. Naturally with the connection to the National Stream: surfing will be superior to that obtained at home and perhaps a new generation of cooperative video games will instil social responsibility instead of shooting to kill.

Dinner Service
I have in mind the equivalent to the Working Persons Club. Only with food and education at the centre of the stage rather than beer and darts. The working persons equivalent to the Lord Mayor’s Banquet on a daily basis. Whilst families could bring in a bottle I would suggest a stiff corkage fee to discourage excess. After the meal perhaps there would be debate; a presentation of some form; discussion of local politics or national issues of the day. If people want to watch the football there is always the pub. However this aothour would suggest the occasional award winning or thought provoking film vs the Hollywood ‘blockbuster.’

In addition to a break even pricing regime; I would look to a local supermarket tax: specifically aimed at the volume of high fat; high sugar; highly processed foods that they sell. The less they market to the general public: the less they pay. Simultaneously I would look to local vendors to provide free food that would normally be wasted. Skipping on a national scale would prevent the huge amounts of food that is quite fit to eat but ends up in pigs or, worse still, landfill. Again I would take a leaf out of the Occupy movement that was able to feed all comers for free using a mixture of donations and local charity by the local shops.
If it can work in a windy corner of St Paul’s Churchyard: it can work anywhere.

If the larger establishments work I would then run out the smaller (brown!) Cafés where in addition to the National Stream other (taxed) methods of mind expansion would be on offer. These establishments would be licensed and staffed by people trained to handle the rare cases of abuse.
Two birds with one stone springs to mind!


Further to this I would also suggest a minor amendment to existing food legislation.

Currently most foodstuffs have a “sell by” and a “use by” date. This legislation would insert a third date in between the two: “Donate By.”

Food retailers would be mandated by law to donate unsold food to Food Banks, Charities and Community Kitchens. They would also be penalised for nutritious food skipped or sent to pig farms.

Whilst waiting for the cheap bread to appear at a supermarket (as you do on the breadline) …one can’t but help notice the vast amounts of perfectly good bread being sent to goodness knows where. As any good environmentallist will tell you the energy costs involved in feeding the world would be very much reduced if with a parallel reduction in meat production. At the moment we have the luxury of choice.

In the future we won’t have a choice at all.


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