UK National Debt

This baby was born with a debt of £25,000. That’s his share of the UK national debt. Why are politicians and the public incapable of balancing the books?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

Every year, the government spends more money than it receives in taxes. The consequence is a mass of unpaid bills and a burgeoning national debt crisis. So, when will we stop spending money we don’t have?

Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about the national debt… the nation’s accumulated credit card bill, which we will leave to our children to pay off.

This counter shows you the additional debt the UK is building up whilst I’m speaking. More than £5000 every second.

Last year, the UK government took in £673 billion in taxes and spent £742 billion. That’s a deficit for the year of £69 billion. Now, what would happen if, every year, you or I spent more money than we earned? The debts would simply pile up. The UK’s national debt now stands at £1.6 trillion.

Put another way, right now, there’s a baby being born somewhere in Britain. He has inherited a bill for £25,000. That’s his share of the national debt.

The government spends more money on interest to service that debt, than it spends on defence. Let me say that again! Whilst the first duty of the state is defence; we spend more on interest than we spend on the army, navy and air force put together.

Here’s the picture of UK national debt over the past century. Basically, the graph goes in one direction.

Obviously, your ability to pay off debt is easier if you earn a lot of money. So, some people prefer to look at debt as a percentage of national income or GDP. Take a look at that graph.

Debt as a percentage of GDP was highest during World War I and again during World War II. Then it dropped from the 1950s as the economy grew. The absolute debt was still getting bigger but the economy was growing faster… until the financial crisis of 2008.

The country now owes 80% of what we earn every year. So, how did we get into this mess?

The answer is simple. Politicians like to spend money and they hate to tax us to pay for it. Spending wins votes. Raising taxes loses votes. Read my lips: no new taxes. That’s what President Bush said in 1988. Then he did raise taxes and American voters kicked him out after just one term. A lesson learned by all politicians around the world.

So, when you hear of “austerity cuts”, these aren’t cuts. They are just smaller increases. Government spending, whichever Party is in office, always-always rises.

That is an unmistakably law of democratic politics!

It’s politically easier for governments to borrow money to cover the difference between income and expenditure. So, we get deficits every year and the debt piles up.

All politicians are fickle, weak, attention seeking narcissists, who want to be loved by everyone, so they give us what we want and avoid doing things we don’t want. They spend, but they don’t tax.

However… you – we, the public deserve the politicians we get. After all, they are only doing the things that get them elected. If we want better politicians, we have got to stop asking for everything while not being prepared to pay for it.

Oh, why not tax the rich… tax the bankers… tax some group we don’t like… what about immigrants, Jews, the Arab nations we invade? All those are actual policies advocated over the years. It’s an ugly road to travel along, while negating our collective duty to pay for the services we vote for.

I believe taxes should be simple and universal. All of us should feel the impact of higher taxes if we want higher government spending. Even if it’s only an extra £1 from our pay packet. There has to be a personal cost felt by everyone, otherwise there’s no penalty for demanding more spending.

This is not a left wing or a right wing view. If you favour spending lots of money on welfare or the health service. That’s fine. Just have the guts to increase universal taxes to pay for it.

And for politicians on the right. It’s all very well to talk about fiscal rectitude and then bring in tax cuts for favoured groups, but then lack the guts to cut spending, sufficient to balance the books.

Here’s my view. Britain should have a policy to pay off the national debt within a generation, 20 years. That means every year, we must have a budget surplus of around 3% of today’s GDP. No public body should be allowed to ever have an annual deficit or any debt. All spending must be fully financed through taxation.

Then we the public and our politicians have two choices. Spend less or tax more. There’s no other option.

Or is there?

For the past eight years, the Bank of England has been printing virtual money, a process known as Quantitative Easing or Q.E. It’s created £435 billion of fake money and used it to buy government bonds from banks and pension funds. It means: today the Bank of England is the government’s biggest creditor. I know it’s ridiculous. It’s a bit like your left hand owing money to your right hand. Both the Treasury and the Bank of England are part of the state.

I say the Bank should simply write off the debt. In one swipe of the mouse, this would erase nearly one third of the national debt.

It’s magic! The Bank of England can just print even more money to pay off the rest of the debt, right? Well, it could do a little more, but it risks creating massive inflation as creditors lose faith in the dodgy money they’re being handed. Inflation is – in essence – a tax on money itself, by eroding its value.

Take a look at the debt counter. More than £2 million in extra national debt amassed during the course of this video. We need a radical approach to balancing the books, paying off the national debt and thereby creating a sustainable state… and with it… a more honest relationship between politicians and voters.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Brexit

As Britain moves closer to negotiations with the European Union, Leon predicts “no deal” is the likely outcome and looks at policies the British government should plan to avoid a cliff-edge exit.

VIDEO SCRIPT:

The Prime Minister says: no deal is better than a bad deal on Brexit. So, what are the chances EU leaders are prepared to compromise?

Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union following last year’s referendum.

Brexit means Brexit, according to Theresa May. And now she’s outlined what she wants from negotiations with the EU.

Britain outside the single market.

Outside the customs union.

Outside the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

And no free movement of people.

All this is music to the ears of hard line Brexiteers. But that was the easy part. Now she has two years to sit down with the EU and discuss two SEPARATE but connected issues… the specific terms of our departure… you now, who gets the furniture, paying unpaid bills… AND a future trade deal.

So, deal or no deal?

Mrs May says she will walk away if offered a bad deal. And the Chancellor has threatened “an alternative economic model” for the UK – such as a low corporate tax regime to attract investment away from the EU – if they don’t play fair.

Opposition parties here keep posturing about what they want in a deal with the EU. This is the worst kind of gesture politics… to say we should get this or that, because we cannot control what the other side is prepared to give.

Here’s the problem. If this were a negotiation between two or three parties, then we would posture, make threats, exaggerate… and at the end of the day, we’d reach a compromise.

But the EU is not one person. Britain isn’t negotiating just with Angela Merkel or Francois Hollande. We are negotiating with the European Commission, the European Parliament, 27 other governments and, in line with their constitutions, as many as 37 other national and regional parliaments.

Any of these parties can veto a deal.

We saw in the recent EU-Canada trade negotiations… how the regional parliament of Wallonia in Belgium effectively vetoed that deal, for several days, despite the fact it had been accepted by everybody else. The same is likely to happen for any future EU-UK trade deal. We are held ransom to the lowest common denominator. This is another good reason why Britain should be leaving the EU. Its structure is simply ridiculous. You cannot negotiate with 50…60 other institutions, each with a veto.

I say: the chances of “no deal” are highly probable. So, the British government should now be actively planning for that outcome.

There should be THREE parallel negotiating teams. One, negotiating our exit terms. A second team negotiating the future trade deal. And a third team planning a “no deal” scenario. I know: how can you reach a deal on no deal. What I mean is by this – resolving easy, relatively non controversial issues that avoid any uncertainty if the bigger issues remain unresolved when the clock runs out.

For example, the European Health Insurance Card allows EU citizens to have free health care in other EU countries. Britain could agree to stay within this regime, or it could create a new insurance scheme for Brits abroad, not dependent on agreement with national governments… just as there is for private health insurance.

But the Prime Minister should publish a wide ranging unilateral “no deal” plan, saying: this is what will happen if we fail to reach agreement. It’s important this happens early in the formal negotiations, so we set a base line and make it public, so there are no fears of a cliff edge or last minute overnight negotiations… all of which unsettle financial markets and ordinary citizens.

Everyone can plan of the basis of “no deal” as the worst possible outcome. Any actual deal will have terms that are the same or better than that. This approach provides certainty and clarity.

It also strengthens our negotiating hand, as it shows the EU: we have no fear.

For example: we could say… in the event of “no deal”, we would immediately… the day we leave… cut the rate of corporation tax to12.5%, the same rate as the Republic of Ireland. We could say we would immediately reduce the rate of VAT, currently controlled by the EU, from 20% to 10% to boost our economy.

Another point: the government has said any attempt to mete out a punishment beating on Britain in order to prevent other countries from leaving the EU will not be viewed as an action by a “friend”. By implication, this means we will treat them as enemies if they start playing silly buggers in these negotiations.

I believe the European Union is a threat to democracy and nation statehood. What started out as a good idea to boost trade and agriculture after World War Two has morphed into this socialist superstate, where Brussels bureaucrats, corporate lobbyists and German bankers can overrule Greek elections and referenda in Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands and France.

Britain’s policy should be to bring about a collapse of the EU. This would be a catastrophe for the political class who make a good living, riding on the Euro gravy train, but it needn’t be an economic catastrophe for the peoples of Europe.

They – just like Britain – can do this is a controlled, orderly fashion and together can share a bright future in a family of independent European nation states.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Terrorism

16 years after 9-11, Al Qaeda and Islamic State are thriving despite the “War on Terror”. Is it time for western governments to find a different approach in order to defeat radical Islamic terrorism?

VIDEO SCRIPT:
Radical Islamic terrorism is top of the agenda for most western political leaders. The response is bans on migrants and targeted assassinations. Is that the best we can do?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about terrorism… murderous attacks by Muslim extremists on western interests.

For most Americans, terrorism began on September 11th 2001, when Al Qaeda hit the Twin Towers. Americans were the victims that day; and so began President Bush’s War on Terror.

The Al Qaeda brand name was adopted by other jihadist groups around the world. Subsequently, it’s been overshadowed by the Islamic State, ISIL, which showed early success in seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.

President Obama and now President Trump stopped using the term ‘war on terror’, but the idea of waging a military offensive against jihadist groups continues.

Nine days into his presidency, Trump ordered a botched attack on a compound in Yemen apparently to kill the current Al Qaeda leader, Qasim al-Raymi. The mission was a disaster. One Navy Seal and a number of civilians were killed.

No doubt, there will be more commando raids as the new president seeks to demonstrate how he will keep America safe.

Politicians – especially those who have never served in uniform – like to use military force. It makes them look tough. It also provides a comforting narrative for the public. Terrorist bad. We killed him. We’re safe now.

The problem is the whole war on terror misses the point, perhaps purposely or negligently, it over simplifies the motivations of the terrorist; and thus the strategy is doomed to failure.

The question I ask is: why do they, the radical Islamic terrorists, want to kill us? The simplistic answer is: we in the west are infidels, non believers in Islam, they hate our liberal lifestyle and they have a religious imperative to convert us at the point of a sword.

Those statements are all true. But it’s not the whole truth and it’s not the most important truth.

Political dissent in most Muslim countries is not permissible. If you are a Saudi citizen and you want to change your government, you cannot just set up a blog or a political party and campaign for the peaceful dissolution of the Al Saud monarchy.

Well, you could, but you would be arrested, tortured and executed.

Moderate political dissenters in the mideast have no peaceful options. British, French and American intelligence help the regimes quash opposition by all means necessary, fair and foul.

Right now, Jack Straw, the former British Foreign Secretary and MI6 are being sued for allegedly assisting Colonel Gaddafi kidnap and torture a political opponent… in the days when Gaddafi was an ally.

So, how would you feel about the west if this was your experience?

Our meddling in mideast affairs dates from the Sykes-Picot Agreement, when the British and French carved up the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

A generation later, during the Cold War, we supported mideast dictators, who were allowed to murder, torture and steal from their people, so long as they were on our side and didn’t cosy up to the Russians.

We rigged elections. Murdered political opponents. Committed innumerable crimes against humanity in order to prop up these dodgy allies.

All this forced political dissent underground. The only place people could go to assemble was in the mosque. So, religion became the centre of essentially civil political dissent against corrupt rulers, kept in power by the west.

Just as black churches became a focus for the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s, the mosque became the centre of political dissent in the mideast.

These dissenters didn’t start out as religious extremists. They were Arab nationalists, anti colonialists. But the physical proximity to the mosque forced a merger of philosophies and the rise of more extreme voices.

I believe we can still disentangle radical Islam from the justifiable political complaints of these groups. If we address the political agenda, I believe the religious voices would lose support.

So, what are the political grievances?

Firstly, virtually all the Sunni Muslim monarchies in the mideast are barbarous kleptocratic regimes. If there were free and fair democratic elections, all of them would be ousted.

Why do we in the west still care about keeping these corrupt royal families in power? It cannot be about oil. Remember, OPEC is a cartel that keeps the oil price high to drain more money from us. After all, whoever runs these countries needs our money.

I say we have no strategic interest in keeping them in power. We should stay out of their business and let them fight it out. If we don’t mess with them, they won’t mess with us.

The only issue – especially for the Americans – is the State of Israel. This is a major thorn in the side for all western discourse with Muslim nations. But the antipathy towards Israel is shared by millions of Muslims, not just jihadists. So long as the US aids Israel with money and arms, they will have a problem with Islamic terrorism.

So, there has to be a concerted push to bring about the Two State Solution, recognising a viable Palestinian state and brokering a wider regional peace accord between Israel and its neighbours.

America seems to have a cultural need to find new enemies or inflate the significance of minor irritants. We in Britain should not follow suit. Islamic State is a mere pimple on the backside of history. The danger it poses is in our over-reaction and a misdirected and clumsy response. It is that reaction that could create a tsunami of unforeseen consequences.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

UK Overseas Aid

The UK spends £12 billion a year on overseas development aid. Why? Is there a better way to help people in poor countries.

VIDEO SCRIPT:
The UK government spends £12 billion a year on overseas aid. It’s time to put Britain first and focus on problems at home.

Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about overseas aid… taxpayers’ money spent by the government allegedly to alleviate poverty in developing countries.

It’s now written into UK law that the government must spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid. It’s part of the United Nations’ Millennium Project to reduce poverty.

Only five other European countries have reached this 0.7% target: Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands.

When David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, he decided to ring fence and increase overseas aid spending at the same time he was imposing austerity cuts on welfare programs.

I doubt if Mr Cameron lay awake at night caring about sick children in the Third World. Basically, he was trying to detoxify the Conservative Party brand…make it seem caring… at a time when so many people thought it was the nasty party.

Look. Whenever there’s a crisis in the world… a famine… a war… an earthquake, a celebrity pops up on TV asking us to donate money to a charity like Oxfam, Save the Children or the Red Cross. And countless numbers of us respond to scenes of devastation. We’re all human and if you or I – who live in a rich country – can give a few pounds to ameliorate those conditions, it would take a monster to refuse.

Giving to such causes shows the best of us. But what’s good about it is each of us makes a personal, individual, decision to give that money. It’s our money and we choose voluntarily to give it to this cause or that cause.

Aid spending by Government is not the same. It is where some special interest group manages to lobby the right bureaucrat or politician and gets a fat slice of taxpayers’ money. You and I have no choice. We do not voluntarily give and we do not choose where the money goes.

So, yes, I am in favour of individuals giving to charity. But I am not in favour of government taxing me, taking a slice of that tax revenue and spending it overseas.

The British government exists to work for the British people. Not for citizens of other countries. It is therefore outside its legitimate remit to spend money like this. That is solely for individuals to choose to do voluntarily with their own money.

The list of crackpot aid projects funded by us is too long to list.

Then there are all the dodgy government officials in these developing countries who stuff their Swiss bank accounts of our money and stick two fingers up at their own people. They skim off the top and spend a fraction where the money is intended.

Britain donates aid money to INDIA, when India has more billionaires than Britain. India spends a £1 billion a year on a space program. I think it’s time for India’s elite to take care of their own people.

The solution to poverty is trade, not aid… which merely keeps people impoverished… like giving a drug addict another fix.

Instead, we should be pulling down the EU trade barriers that block or impose tariffs on agriculture and goods from Africa and Asia. This is what keeps them poor.

Meanwhile we pay our own rich farmers fat subsidies, while trying to appease our guilt by spending money on development aid. It’s completely hypocritical, counterproductive and wrong.

This is Priti Patel. She’s the UK International Development Secretary. Before she got that job, she called for the department – DFID – to be abolished. I agree. Not only should DFID be shutdown, all £12 billion it spends on overseas aid should be cancelled.

There are a few circumstances where, for example, in the event of an earthquake, Government is the only agency with the logistical capacity to respond, with helicopters, troops etc. Of course, that should continue. But that’s not where most of the money is spent.

I say: let’s privatise overseas aid.

As DFID is shutdown, it could be replaced by a social enterprise, run by independent directors. Government could give it a one off grant of 10, 20, £50 million to get it off the ground.

Its purpose – to market to business and the public – to give voluntarily to development programs, collaborating with existing aid charities.

Take this example. Pampers teamed up with UNICEF to pay for one life-saving vaccination for every pack of nappies purchased. This is a wonderful collaboration between business, charities and consumers, each making voluntary decisions. It’s called “cause-related marketing”. This social enterprise could work as a dating agency, helping match brands to overseas aid projects like this.

This is morally a better way to fund overseas aid.

The job of our government is to put Britain first and use our taxes to pay for projects at home. The British people will always make individual voluntary decisions to help others when we can.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Abortion

The abortion debate has got stuck in the 1960s with rival Pro-Choice and Pro-Life lobbies saying nothing new. Can the two sides agree on a different strategy to reduce the 200,000 abortions carried every year in Great Britain without changing the abortion laws?

VIDEO SCRIPT:
Abortion is an emotive subject and politically contentious in countries like the USA and Ireland. So, is it time for us to re-examine the issue of unwanted pregnancies?

I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about abortion, the termination of unborn babies as a form of legal birth control.

Last year, 200,000 abortions were carried out in Great Britain. That’s about one in four of all pregnancies.

Behind each of those numbers is a sad story for the woman concerned and, obviously, for the life of the unborn child.

Let me state from the start. I believe abortion should remain legal. We don’t want a return to backstreet abortions that can maim or kill the mother.

Nor do we want to export the issue to other countries where abortion is legal. That’s the hypocritical policy in Ireland, where pregnant girls simply buy a Ryanair return ticket for £30 and have their abortions in London.

But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

200,000 abortions a year is both a tragedy and a national crisis.

The goal on which the Pro Life and Pro Choice lobbies surely can agree is we should try to bring down the number of unwanted pregnancies, thereby reducing the number of abortions.

The whole abortion debate, especially in America, has got stuck on arguments about women’s rights that belong in the 1960s. Abortion is not a women’s rights issue. It is a human rights issue; and both genders have a right to express an opinion.

When abortion became legal in Britain in 1967, there was virtually no other way for women to control their reproduction. The contraceptive pill, though invented, was not widely available at the time. So, you could argue, back then, abortion rights were a necessity, of sorts.

But the pill and the morning after pill have made those arguments redundant. There is absolutely no reason why any British woman, engaging in consensual sex, should get pregnant if she doesn’t want to.

The pill is available free of charge on the NHS, even to under-aged schoolgirls, without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

The morning after pill is effective up to five days after intercourse. But it does cost around £25 from a high street pharmacy. That makes it unaffordable for many young women. I believe the morning after pill should be available free of charge at all pharmacies, thus making it rapidly and easily available.

Emergency contraception, to give it its proper name, is not morally comparable to abortion. Firstly, the woman in most cases doesn’t KNOW she is pregnant, only that she had unprotected sex and there’s a chance she might be. And secondly an embryo that is 1-5 days old is not the same as a foetus that is up to 24 weeks old.

So, if the morning-after pill were free and more widely promoted, it could vastly reduce the number of abortions. I think every woman should have a packet of morning after pills in her bedside draw, just in case.

An average abortion costs around £700, whilst each morning-after pill costs the NHS just £5.50. So, the financial as well as emotional cost-savings would be significant.

So, who are the women having abortions?

The most common age to have an abortion in England and Wales is 21.
Teenage abortions are dropping while the group showing the fastest increase is women aged in their 30s.

38% of women having abortions have had one before.

9 in 10 abortions (92%) are carried out in the first trimester, inside 13 weeks.

And 2% of abortions are carried out after the foetus has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition.

But the total of 200,000 abortions in Great Britain is rising. What’s needed is a sense of urgency to do something about these huge numbers, instead of complacency among politicians, presumably afraid of being attacked by women’s rights activists.

Again: I am not some religious nut; nor am I calling for policies that restrict or ban abortion. Also, I do not seek to castigate any women who have made that choice.

I am calling for policies that significantly reduce all these unwanted pregnancies because none of us should be happy living in a society that needlessly terminates so many potential lives.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

UK Prisons’ Crisis

85,000 people are in UK prisons, the highest number in history. While riots, drugs and deaths inside are on the rise, the government says there’s no crisis. Really?

VIDEO SCRIPT:
Britain locks up twice as many people as it did 25 years ago. Is this something we should be proud of?

I’m Leon Hawthorne. We talking about prison, putting people behind bars as punishment for their crimes.

“Prison works” according to a former Conservative Home Secretary. He, Michael Howard, meant: if we lock up criminals, the rest of us are safe from their offending while they’re inside.

Today, the prison population is 85,000… double the rate of incarceration for countries like Germany and Denmark. The problem is our prisons only have space for 75,000 inmates. So, they’re overcrowded and literally bursting at the seems.

What do you think? If you put a group of bad boys, who like break the rules and are generally up for a fight into a tight confined space, what might happen? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.

So, it was no surprise that riots broke out in Birmingham and Swaleside Prisons at Christmas. Riot police had to go in to retake the buildings.

There are not enough prison officers to maintain control or guarantee the safety of officers and vulnerable inmates.

Suicides and deaths in prison stand at record levels, 300-plus a year.

Politicians like to out-do each other, talking tough on crime. So, they pass more laws, removing discretion from judges, forcing them to lock up more people for longer. All the time, not rushing to increase spending to build new prisons or renovate old ones.

The prison system is in crisis and I foresee more riots and deaths, including murders of prison officers.

Let’s backup a bit and take a look at the big picture.

We in the 21st century are not more criminal than we were in Victorian Britain. We just have a political class that likes to lock up people.

Politicians often say they make tough laws to “send a message”. Well, if you want to send a message, open a Twitter account. The criminal law and the penal system have to be effective, not symbolic. And our prison policy is not working.

We lock up people for stupid offences that should not be crimes in the first place. There’s very little for the prisoners to do inside, so they turn to drugs. Many inmates are semi-literate or have mental health issues, neither of which are adequately addressed inside. So, they come out, commit more serious offences and half go back inside within a year.

While the courts send people down for long sentences, the truth is these sentences are a fraud. Whatever the nominal sentence, prisoners serve only half that time. Then they are released because the prison authorities need space for the next batch of convicts.

This is totally dishonest on the part of politicians, who claim to be tough on crime but effectively play a confidence trick on victims of crime, by pretending criminals serve longer behind bars than they do.

The police know this, the lawyers and the criminals know it… everyone except the victims.

So, I say let’s bring honesty and transparency to sentencing. Judges should sentence offenders to a minimum and a maximum term. For example, for 5 to 8 years. The criminal must stay behind bars for at least the miniMum. And he can earn time off from the maximum term, based on good behaviour. But his sentence shouldn’t be determined by the prison service coping with overcrowding.

Next – magistrates courts. They deal with 90% of all criminal trials, the more minor cases. But they can sentence offenders for six months, or a year for multiple offences.

Short sentences are a complete waste of everybody’s time and taxpayers’ money.

Let’s say someone doesn’t pay for their TV licence because they’re poor. So, the BBC prosecutes them and they are fined £1000 by the magistrate. If they had any money in the first place, they would have paid for the TV licence. They can’t pay the fine. So, they get sentenced to six months in prison for non-payment.

They leave prison after three months. But they’ve lost their job, their home, maybe also their family and now they’re in debt.

During their time in prison they mix with hardened criminals. Perhaps get addicted to drugs. Or make new friends with whom they can plan ways to make money on the outside. Why not, no money, no job, what else are you going to do?

A few months later, they’re back inside.

So, what was the point of all that? We are criminalising poverty and then imposing stupid short sentences that make the poor even poorer and more desperate.

I say we need a radical new policy. Let’s remove the capacity of Magistrates Courts from imposing prison sentences altogether. Only serious offences that go to the Crown Court should be eligible for prison time. And the minimum time served should be at least one year. Anything shorter is totally futile.

In place of short term prison sentences under one year, we should have a wider range of non custodial punishments.

I don’t believe that should include fines. Money has no part to play in a fair criminal justice system. If I am guilty of reckless driving, which hurts more – a £200 fine or the loss of my driving licence… or being forced to re-sit my driving test?

We can be more creative about non-custodial and non-financial sentences, which are both punitive and effective. Let’s leave prison for serious, violent and repeat offenders.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

NATO: Obsolete?

President Trump has said NATO is obsolete. Is he right? The Cold War is over, so is it the end of the line for the western defence alliance?

VIDEO SCRIPT:
President Trump has said NATO is obsolete. His “America First” inaugural address has sent shudders through the corridors of power in many European countries? So, what is the point of NATO?

Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation that’s been the bedrock of western defence for almost 70 years.

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949. Article 5 asserts: an attack on one is an attack on all members. This is the principle of collective defence, where each member agrees to to come to aid of each other, if attacked by an external enemy.

The only time Article 5 has been invoked was after 9-11, when NATO members joined the offensive against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

But let’s be clear: the whole purpose of NATO was to prevent the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union after World War II. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. The Cold War was won. NATO was a success. Job done. Does it really have a role anymore?

Today, NATO has 28 members who are each meant to spend 2% of their national income, or GDP, on defence.

Take a look at this table from the NATO website showing the defence spending of all members. You see that green line. That’s 2%. Only five countries – the United States, Greece, United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland spend 2% or more. The other 23 members spend less than that. Much less.

Germany, the 4th richest nation on Earth, spends 1.2% of its GDP on defence.
France, the 6th richest nation, spends 1.8%.
Canada, the 10th richest… less than 1%.

These nations like to boast how much better their healthcare and welfare systems are, compared to Britain and America. Well, no wonder. We’re paying for their defence, so they can spend their money on welfare programs. They are getting a free ride and it’s not on.

No wonder President Trump used his inaugural address to warn: he would pay for the defences of other countries with money he should be spending at home.

There’s nothing extreme about that. Even NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, a former Prime Minister of Norway, has urged members to spend 2% on defence.

What’s new is for the first time, European governments have to take this message seriously. They believe President Trump means what he says about NATO, so with that threat hanging over their heads, it’s likely they will agree to spend more.

Aside from money, there’s another element to Trump’s thinking. Ever since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet bloc disintegrated, NATO has been searching for a new role.

You don’t use standing armies and aircraft carriers to fight a cyber attack or a terrorist running amok with a machete. NATO is not fit for the purpose of fighting asymmetric or hybrid warfare, that is a war against an enemy that does not fight like a conventional state, refusing to wear a uniform and wait to be machine gunned.

Yes, there are potential threats posed by Russia, Iran, North Korea… maybe China. But are these likely to be conventional wars or ones waged in cyberspace, or using surrogates, terrorist organisations, spies and covert operations, for which NATO is ill equipped.

Let’s take a look at Russia. President Putin has used military power at home and abroad. Of greatest concern to NATO is his 2014 invasion of Crimea and previously Georgia… and his continuing manoeuvrings around the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Look. Putin is no angel and these border countries have legitimate fears. But these are regional issues. They do not threaten Britain or America’s vital interests and should not risk creating a nuclear conflagration.

But the cause of the problem with Russia is NATO… searching for a new role, made a decision to expand into eastern Europe. That was a catastrophic strategic mistake. It has humiliated and threatened a weakened Russia, who like a wounded animal is lashing out.

Instead, we should be bringing Russia into our embrace. Russia will never be a democratic paradise, but that doesn’t mean we cannot have better political, economic and military relations with it. I believe that is the best way to reduce the threat to its neighbours.

So, we should drop the economic sanctions against Russia, imposed after its invasion of Crimea. Crimea is not worth the life of one British or American soldier. The reality is two-thirds of its population is ethnic Russian; and they want to be part of Russia. If we in the West believe in self determination, we should be content with the wishes of the Crimean people, irrespective of Russia’s actions.

Sure, the stage-managed referendum in Crimea in 2014, where 96% voted to join the Russian Federation, was far from free and fair. But does anyone seriously believe the outcome would be any different if the referendum were supervised by a truly neutral party?

So, Crimea is gone. Get over it. It would not have happened if NATO and western intelligence weren’t stirring the pot in Ukraine and eastern Europe.

It’s time to move on and shape a new relationship with Russia. That might mean the abolition of NATO. It’s served its purpose.

In any case, the European Union has been mumbling about forming an EU army for some time. Well, get on with it. If I were Chancellor Merkel or President Hollande, I would be drawing up plans right now. What is certain is, one way or another, Europe will have to spend more money on defence and stop taking a free ride from the US and UK.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Alternative Facts

When are facts alternative and when are they just lies? Is there anything new about the White House’s attitude to truth-telling?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

The Trump administration regards the mainstream media as the opposition party. Its answer to tricky questions is alternative facts. So, when are facts alternative and when are they just lies?

Hi, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about alternative facts, the tactic advocated by the White House to get its message across.

Kellyanne Conway is the ubiquitous face of the Trump presidency, wheeled out onto TV talk shows as her master’s voice. She coined the phrase ‘alternative facts’ during a now infamous interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd.

The term has been met by a wail of abuse and ridicule. It followed several statements of falsehood by the White House Spokesman, Sean Spicer about the size of the crowds at the inauguration. And subsequent statements of falsehood by Conway herself about a terrorist massacre that never occurred.

Of course, that doesn’t even include the countless statements of dubious rectitude by the Commander in Chief himself.

So, for many, “alternative facts” are just lies from an administration at war with practically everybody.

But let’s take another look at this.

What Ms Conway was actually trying to say was: if confronted with a narrative that doesn’t present you in a good light, switch the conversation to another topic, with facts that are favourable to you. So, if asked: when did you stop beating your wife? Answer: with facts about how long you’ve been happily married and what wonderful children you have.

Deflect. Obfuscate. Confuse.

This is a debating style. It is an exercise in sophistry that allows politicians to win an argument by dodging questions; and fighting a verbal battle on a ground of their choosing.

All politicians do this. The most successful politicians do it instinctively. They might not even know they’re doing it.

I was a member of the Westminster lobby when Tony Blair was Prime Minister. I used to watch him artfully dodge annoying facts by throwing up a stream of favourable, alternative facts.

So there’s nothing new about this. Blair never thought he was lying. I’m sure he would pass any lie detector test. The trait was so ingrained into his DNA, he would believe 2 + 2 = 5 even if he had sworn it was 4, moments earlier.

The current furore however has been linked to other buzzwords like “post truth” and “fake news” and “echo chamber”.

The danger is this juxtaposition of an administration that is so reckless with checking its facts alongside a public that prefers the comfort of listening only to facts that reinforce their own opinions.

If you already believe Hillary Clinton is crooked, then headlines linking her to a child paedophile ring merely confirm that.

But most of the fuss over fake news is hysterical. There have always been pranksters trying to trick journalists into running made-up stories.

The whole world of celebrity journalism is fake news. Headlines like ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’ were concoctions between PRs and editors to sell newspapers and boost flagging careers.

Most fake news is actually very funny.

‘Woman arrested for defecating on boss’ desk.’

‘Cinnamon roll-can explodes inside man’s butt.’

‘Man shoots off his own penis taking selfies with a gun’.

This is all old-fashioned tabloid non-sense that is, of itself, harmless.

But it does add to a general mistrust of all media… of all so-called facts. And if you can’t trust the facts, just rely on your instincts, right? And that’s what gets us to “post truth”.

Trump says 3 million illegal immigrants voted for Hilary because he wants to believe it. It fits with his own self image of why he lost the popular vote. Facts don’t matter if you really FEEL it’s right.

Mankind doesn’t add to global warming if your livelihood depends on oil or coal because you don’t want to hear it. As Al Gore put it, it’s “An Inconvenient Truth”.

I say: there are such things as facts. They are separate to opinions. Not all opinions are equal. An opinion from a medical doctor is worth more than an opinion from a witch doctor.

So, whatever cause you want to argue, don’t deny the facts. Embrace them. Argue your case despite them, or let them change your mind.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.

Grammar Schools

The British government says it wants to open more grammar schools, so why is the education establishment so opposed?

VIDEO SCRIPT:

The Prime Minister, Theresa May has vowed to lift the ban on the creation of new grammar schools. She says it will boost social mobility, so why is the educational establishment opposed?

Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about selective education… schools that admit children based on academic ability… usually ascertained by an entrance exam at the age of 11. The 11-plus.

Grammar schools were mostly abolished in the 1960s and 70s; and replaced by comprehensive schools that CANNOT select children on their academic ability.

The argument against grammar schools – then and now – is they cater only for the top 25% of children, usually from middle class or well-off families. And they get disproportionate amounts of public money.

They argue the 11-plus brands children as successes or failures at a young age, which is socially divisive, psychologically damaging to those who fail the exam; and doesn’t cater for late developers.

And a new argument put forward is… if you take all the clever kids from a neighbourhood and put them in a grammar school, the academic performance of the children left behind actually FALLS below the level it would have been if all the children stayed together in comprehensives. In other words, grammar schools worsen the academic performance of children who don’t get in.

OK, let’s take a look at this, piece by piece.

Firstly, grammar schools are excellent for children who go there. Nobody argues with that.

So, the argument about how they impact children who don’t get in… is a bit like telling Usain Bolt he can’t run 100 metres in record breaking speed. Instead, he has to run slower, so the gap between him and the guy at the back of the field isn’t too big…. because that might hurt his feelings.

Shall we sacrifice excellence for mediocrity? I don’t think so.

Let’s look at social mobility.

During the 1950s and 60s, a generation of working class children, who went to grammar schools went on to university, and from there into the higher echelons of society.

Today, performance in comprehensive schools has got better. More low income kids are going to university.

But the university system has changed a lot since the 60s, when fewer than 5% of young people went to university; and thus any degree was a virtual passport to economic success.

With around 40% going to university these days, the currency has been devalued. All we can do is look at who gets the best jobs afterwards.

Who are the CEOs of the top companies? Who are the top judges, civil servants, lawyers, accountants, MPs?

What I see is a generation of grammar school alumni being replaced by more and more of those who were privately educated and come from wealthy families.

It’s true grammar schools are not the only solution to this problem. Good headteachers in comprehensives can make a big difference. But the brightest children will always do better if they are taught with other bright children.

I’m not suggesting we roll back the clock and re-establish the school system we had in the 1960s.

I say: let a thousand flowers bloom. The government should create a framework in which dozens of different types of taxpayer funded school can come come into existence.

Especially ones that allow excellence to be nurtured. Whether that’s elite sports academies, schools for the performing arts, schools that focus on technical crafts… AND grammar schools.

It’s not too difficult to resolve many of the problems identified by opponents of grammar schools.

Instead of one entry exam at age 11, let’s allow children multiple opportunities to qualify at 11, 12, 13. This deals with late developers.

New selective schools could be forced to admit a minimum percentage of children from poor backgrounds, say 25% of those on free school meals. That’s double the national average. This forces these schools to search actively for the brightest children in neighbouring areas.

I also think grammar schools offer a great opportunity for social mobility among black and ethnic minority children, a disproportionate number of whom come from poorer households; and thus are held back by comprehensive schools.

So, let’s abandon the one-size fits all philosophy and allow our brightest children to shine.

I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.