Walk 12: Hampstead

This is the final of the 12 walks from the 1980s AA guide book.

Walk 1 was around Westminster and Millbank.

Walk 2 around Buckingham Palace and Westminster Cathedral.

Walk 3 around St James.

Walk 4 was around Mayfair.

Walk 5 Bloomsbury and Holborn.

Walk 6 was ‘A walk around Soho’.

Walk 7 The Strand and Covent Garden.

Walk 8 The Inns of Court and Fleet Street.

Walk 9 The heart of the city

Walk 10 City Streets and Alleys

Walk 11 The Highways and Byways of Chelsea

The final walk in this series was around Hampstead, and I completed this on 16 December 2018.

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The walk commenced at Hampstead Station, on the boundary of zone 2 and 3 – making this walk the furtherest out of central London.

The first stop was Church Row, a street with a number of 18th century terraced houses. At the end of the street was St John’s Church, rebuilt 1746-7.

Then the walk took me past St Mary’s Catholic Church on Holy Street, through to Hampstead Grove. Here I got to visit Fenton House, and use my National Trust membership to walk around the property. Fenton House is a 1690s mansion which housed a number of musical instruments and a nice garden.

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St Mary’s Catholic Church.

Next the walk took me to the Admiral’s Walk. On this street can be seen the Admiral’s house, which according to the guide book is “supposed to resemble a ship.”

 

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The view looking up Hampstead Grove

From here the walk proceeded to Jack Straw’s Castle, known to authors Dickens and Thackeray.

From here I walked up Spaniards Road to the Old Toll House and The Spaniards Inn. I stopped at the latter for liquid refreshments.

 

After this I walked to the next stop on the tour, Ken Wood. This House and gardens is looked after by English Heritage, which I am also a member of, though entry to the house is free. The House and gardens were laid out by William Murray first Earl of Mansfield, and the house enlarged by Lord Mansfield in 1967.

One feature in the 1980s guide book of Ken Wood that no longer exists is Dr Johnson’s summer house. A replica of this was created in the 1970s(?), and a photo of it can be see in the guide book (see above). When I asked the grounds keepers about this, they said that this summer house burnt down in the early 1980s.

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The site of Dr Johnson’s Summer House. 

From here the walk took me through Hampstead Heath, one of London’s larger and more famous green spaces. This took me to Parliament Hill, where you can get panoramic views of the city.

From here I left the Heath and headed to Downshire Hill, which has Regency period houses and then down Flask Walk.

After this the walk concluded on Hampstead High Street and I caught the tube back from Hampstead underground.

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Voting systems – why they matter.

I generally don’t hold New Zealand politics up on a pedestal. However there is one decision made in recent years that I do support, and that is changing the NZ electoral system in 1996. For the last 22 years New Zealand has used the Mixed Member Proportional system (MMP for short) which is explained here. This system was modeled on the German MMP system, and is used in a number of other countries around the world.

In the 2015 Canadian General election, Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau ran on a platform of electoral reform in Canada. This country uses the First Past the Post electoral system also used in the UK, the US and in New Zealand prior to 1996. Disappointingly, Trudeau after being elected abandoned this policy in early 2017 claiming there was lack of public support for such a change. This is disappointing on two counts. Firstly this is a broken election promise. Secondly the best test of public support for electoral reform is through a binding referendum, just as New Zealand held in 1993.

A few days ago, the UK Make Votes Matter campaign released a clip by John Cleese of Monty Python and Faulty Towers fame in favour of electoral reform. This clip can be seen below:

Cleese makes a compelling argument as to why the current voting system for the Westminster Parliament in broken, and why too many voices are not being heard.

I must admit to struggling to understand why electoral reform is not a bigger issue in the UK. In 1951, The Attlee Labour government lost the general election on seats, despite winning the most votes by a significant margin. In 1974 the Ted Heath Conservative government lost the October election (there was another election in February 1974 which it won) despite winning more votes nationally.

In more recent times, no government has won an overall majority in the UK. Thatchers Conservative Government at the height of its support in 1983 only won 44% of the vote. Then in 1997 when the Blair government supposedly won in a landslide, Labour only won 43% of the vote. As Cleese points out in the clip, the numbers were even worse in the 2005 and 2015 elections, where in both cases a single political party won an outright majority in the house of commons despite only winning 35% of the vote.

In the US, First Past the Post resulted in Trump winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote by 2.5 million votes nationally. Also in 2000 George W. Bush won the presidency despite losing the popular vote by 0.5 million votes, and dodgy maneuvering in Florida. Then there are the issues with House and Senate elections, where again an MMP type system would likely produce a significantly different and probably far more diverse and representative set of results.

In New Zealand the catalyst for change came when the Muldoon National (conservative) government in power from 1975 to 1984 won 3 consecutive terms despite winning fewer votes than the Labour opposition in the 1978 and 1981 general elections. This was followed by two governments which quickly pushed through Neo Liberal reforms despite strong public opposition. Electoral reform was seen as a way holding the two main party’s to account, and ensuring no party that got under 50% of the vote could govern alone.

The New Zealand system isn’t perfect. For example I’d change the threshold that says party’s only get into parliament after winning 5% of the vote unless they get an electorate seat. I’d lower that threshold to say 2-3%, and winning an electorate seat wouldn’t entitle you to additional MP’s if your party got under the threshold.

Despite these niggles, the NZ voting system has worked ok. Yes coalition governments are now normal, and it has forced the two main party’s to compromise (arguably a good thing). However the system has produced stable governments, and in 5 of the 8 MMP elections it has been clear which party or party’s won on election night. In the other 3 elections a government has been formed within a few weeks of the election. It has improved representation with the number of women, Maori, Pacifika, Asian, Queer and other previously under represented groups getting elected to parliament in increased numbers.

No electoral system will fix everything. But it lays the foundation by a strong functioning democracy. Electoral systems like First Past the Post result in too many people not having a voice, and election results that don’t reflect the will of the people.

If you live in the UK you can sign a petition calling for electoral reform here

 

MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE – NEW HSE GUIDANCE

Very pleased to see that DNG are taking leadership on this important issue.
Through Piko I have worked with DNG in 2018, and fully support the work they are doing in this space.
The below post was originally published on the DNG website:
Mental Health issues for crew are not always visible

MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE – NEW HSE GUIDANCE

 

The HSE have issued new Mental Health in the workplace guidance. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) is a UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare. Moreover, they undertake research into occupational risks in Great Britain.

Research

In August, they published the results of research into the effectiveness of Mental Health First Aid. Also, now the HSE has updated its guidance on First Aid Needs Assessment, to include specific guidance on making provisions for mental health first aid. It encourages employers to consider ways to “manage mental ill health in your workplace which are appropriate for your business”.

It goes on to say that this could include “providing information or training for managers and employees, employing occupational health professionals, appointing mental health trained first aiders and implementing employee support programmes.”

Where to Start?

As a relatively new subject, it can be difficult to assess how your needs need to be met. In other words, every business is different, and has different needs. Here are a few suggestions, that we as a business are looking at, that we are happy to share.

Train Mental Health First Aiders

MHFA training is available as a full 2 day course, 1 day for a ‘Champion’, and half day for ’awareness’. We now have 3 people trained as Mental Health First Aiders. Our plan is to expand this to other members of our team. As a result, there have already been situations that have directly benefitted from this training. More information available at https://mhfaengland.org/

First Aid Courses Covering First Aid

Further, the HSE guidance says that these courses “teach delegates how to recognise warning signs of mental ill health and help them to develop the skills and confidence to approach and support someone, while keeping themselves safe.” At DNG, we have recently brought our first aid training in house. As a result, this allows us to develop mental health awareness sessions as an introduction.

Provide Information to Staff

Providing information – flyers, posters, newsletters, social media posts, emails, during 1 to 1 sessions, appraisals – all helps to increase awareness and move the conversation forward. Similarly, size and nature of teams dictate how this is best done. Also, we will produce a series of blog posts about various mental health problems.

Music Support Charity

Music Support is a registered charity founded in April 2016. It provides vital help and support for individuals in all areas of the UK music industry suffering from alcoholism, addiction, emotional or mental health issues. They have a helpline available 24hrs a day, and could be a timely and invaluable resource if needed. All their helpline volunteers have personal experience of the music industry and the issues that Music Support covers. You can reach Music Support 24hrs a day on 0800 030 6789, http://www.musicsupport.org/

 

Mental Health issues for crew are not always visible

Analysis

You can read the full HSE guidance at http://www.hse.gov.uk/firstaid/needs-assessment.htm

So, this is definitely a major step forward, and reflects a much wider conversation about Mental Health within society, as awareness spreads and the taboo lifts.

It is easy to make a business case for looking after our people. MHFA England estimate that “Mental ill health is responsible for 91 million working days lost every year.”

Furthermore, this revised guidance from the HSE goes further. It moves mental health issues into the same category as physical first aid. Most importantly, it is now adequate duty of care to make provisions.

Conclusion

Finally, it is important to note that this has become increasingly pertinent in the workplace. Moreover, the Department of Health advises that one in four will experience mental ill health in our lives. So, lets change the conversation and take action.

VAT vs GST – the tale of two taxes

Benjamin Franklin, famously wrote in a letter in 1789 “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Tax isn’t an exciting or fun topic. But we all pay them. And we all get benefits of public services because of them. There are many different types of tax policies and regimes throughout the world, some more common and popular than others.

Sales taxes are a common form of taxation. How each country or state runs its sales tax varies considerably. The first time I went to the United States I couldn’t understand why in California they’d advertise a price, then the tax would be on top of that (which you’d find out at the counter once you’d counted out your coins). In Arizona there was from memory no sales tax, whereas neighbouring Utah had high alcohol tax and restrictions on sales (thus you crossed the state line to stock up on beer).

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In New Zealand a Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced in the mid 1980s by the fourth Labour Government as part of their Neo Liberal reforms (yes you read that right, a Labour Government in NZ introduced the policies of Thatcher and Reagan back in the 1980s).  This originally started off as a 10% tax on all Goods and Services sold, but shortly afterwards rose to 12.5% and in 2011 was increased to 15%. The argument was at the time and since that a sales tax was the best form of taxation as nobody could avoid paying it. NZ doubled down on this and said that no item at all would be exempt from GST as this would just created administrative headaches.

In the UK there has for many years been a Value Added Tax (VAT). This tax is 20%. When I moved over to the UK a number of people exclaimed that this was such a high rate, and that it must make things more expensive than in NZ. This proved not to be the case. In the UK most supermarket items do not have VAT on them. When I do my weekly shopping, out of say 20 items I might pay VAT on maybe one or two things. Whereas when I recently visited NZ, I was staggered by how expensive everything was. This in part is economies of scale as large supermarket chains in the UK have stronger buying power than NZ. But also 15% tax on milk, bread, apples and other grocery items in NZ all adds up.

Setting up Piko in the UK I made a few initial errors with VAT. Luckily I my helpful accountant Paul Beare who is used to helping international companies move to the UK put me on the right track. I soon discovered that train tickets, taxi’s, rent and many other core expenses have no VAT on them. In NZ all businesses must register for GST, and all items will have GST charged on them. In the UK only businesses with a turnover of above £70,000 need to register for VAT, and between half to two thirds of typical business expenses have no VAT charged. Does this create more administrative work? Yes, especially at first when you don’t know the rules. However, on balance I still believe that the NZ system, while administratively more straight forward is worse.

The biggest argument against any sales tax is that a billionaire pays the same tax on an item as someone on minimum wage. This makes it a regressive tax. This issue is compounded in the NZ model where everything has a 15% tax on it. The significant increases in poverty, rising gaps between rich and poor and the many related social problems NZ has faced in my lifetime are certainly not helped by this tax policy. The Australian GST or UK VAT policy of exempting basic necessities like fruit and vegetables is far more egalitarian. This is not to say either of these countries have it right, or should be held up as examples. But the NZ model of no exemption is very bad in my view.

The big challenge in 2018 to any of these sales tax policies is the significant increase in online shopping, much of which is done across national borders. Increasingly people are and will continue to buy and sell items across the globe. With smartphones this can be done anywhere anytime. Having a tax regime that operates within a nation state is a 19th and early 20th century model, which in the early 21st century is fast becoming obsolete. Yes governments are finding ways to get tax money from these international transactions, and with some success. But it still poses a challenge, and many international transactions go untaxed. Until such time as there is stronger global governance and international cooperation, nation states will continue to struggle with this challenge.

There is no perfect taxation system. And it is easy to criticise one form of taxation as I just have without proposing an alternative. There are alternatives, many have a degree of merit, and people far more qualified than I can and have outlined their arguments for them. What is clear to me is that sales taxes are regressive, and the NZ no exemption model particularly so. Designing equitable, sustainable tax systems appropriate to the 21st century needs to be a priority for policy makers.

Brexit means Brexit.

So Theresa May survived…for now.

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May stays in Downing Street for now. 

Last night a secret ballot of Tory MPs voted 200 to 117 in favour of keeping May on as leader. However as a concession she has now said she won’t contest another general election for the Tories.

Bluntly, I am no fan of Theresa May. But had she lost the confidence vote last night, I really don’t know who in the Conservative Party would have replaced her. And while there is plenty wrong with the exit deal she has negotiated, the reality is the exit deal with the EU was never going to be on strong terms for the UK. Lets recap…

In 2016 a referendum was held in the UK on membership of the EU. Then PM David Cameron and the political establishment didn’t bother to do any modelling of what would happen if people voted to leave, as they arrogantly assumed people would vote to remain. The establishment f%#ked up.

Cameron resigns as PM when the Brexit result is announced. May is elected Tory leader shortly after as the compromise candidate both pro and anti EU Tory MPs could get behind. Contrast that to the “unelectable” Corbyn who most Labour MPs hated, she was seen as a sound option. After months of strong polling in April 2017 May calls an early election, expecting to do what Thatcher did in 1983 – romp home and destroy the Labour Party. What did happen, “unelectable Corbyn” significantly increased Labour’s vote. The how’s and why’s can be argued for hours on how this happened. But the simple facts are that May, her advisors and the establishment in both Labour and the Conservatives thought May would win big and Corbyn would be toast – and once again the arrogance of the political class was shown up by the voting public.

So the last 18 months have been a painful trainwreck where the Tory government are at open war with itself*. Where the DUP (the topic of a future post) are relied on for numbers. Negotiations with the EU are difficult, mostly because the UK is very deeply divided over what should happen. The 27 EU member states by contrast are united in tough negotiation stance, mostly to discourage other EU nations from leaving . May comes back with a deal, and has to delay the vote in the House of Commons she doesn’t have the numbers to get the deal through parliament. Yesterday she survives a confidence vote, but 1/3 of her MPs vote against her.

As yesterday’s post stated, anything could happen now. The parliamentary arithmetic make getting this, or any other EU exit deal through the commons very challenging. Could another referendum take place? Maybe. Would this reverse the 2016 Brexit result? Possibly, but possibly not. Would another campaign of Tony Blair et el telling people how great the EU is actually increase the Brexit vote? Quite probably.

Again the topic for another post, but the impacts of Brexit on Northern Ireland and Scotland, who both voted strongly to remain in the EU, should be considered. Certainly for Scotland, EU membership was a significant factor in the 2014 independence referendum result.

A no deal Brexit would be difficult for the economy. But going into Christmas and the New Year not knowing whether a deal, no deal, a second referendum or some other outcome (eg delaying the March 29th deadline) will happen is doing damage. In many ways its the political instability and lack of clarity which will do the most harm to the UK economy. It would be a brave pundit who predicts now how this will end. But arrogance and the inability to compromise for the greater good will likely continue as themes of this Brexit saga.

*Much could also be written about the internal differences within UK Labour – this again is possibly for another post. 

15 months in London

There has been a bit of gap between posts to this blog lately. This isn’t due to a lack of things to say or write about, but due to being busy with work – a problem I have been very grateful to have.

Yesterday marked 15 months since I moved to London. Its now also roughly a year since I started this blog. My first post on this blog referenced Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why.’ This and subsequent posts were me being reflective of where I was and how I got there – and why. From there the blog posts explored my background, including my first campaign at school, and my involvement in politics. Then later my involvement in the Students’ Association and election to leadership roles there.

I’ve also written about current events and topics of the day. These include President Trump, US gun control, the housing crisis in NZ and the UK, and the English council election in May. 

Its not all been politics and social comment on this blog. I’ve done a series of walks through London using my 1980s AA guide book – of which I have now done 11/12 (the last one is coming soon.

In the New Year I will continue the series of self reflective posts. Specifically I will be writing about my time in the Trade Union movement. Those who know me will realise I will have plenty to say on this – and what I think the future holds for organised labour.

Talking about the past is important, and I think reflecting on where you have come from helps you understand where you are and where you are going. Increasingly though, I see this blog focussing more on talking about the future – both mine and society as a whole.

The past 15 months have for me been about establishing myself and my business in London. When I started this blog I’d been in the country a few weeks and much of my time was focused on setting up the basics (bank accounts etc). I was still setting up a UK company heavily based on the model used by the NZ parent company Piko NZ. Piko in NZ is primarily a campaigns and government relations business. My colleagues in NZ have complimentary and in many cases overlapping skill sets and this worked well there. Coming to London, where there is a larger pool of talent, a greater degree of specialisation (something I have already commented on here) and a different market with different needs. The last 15 months have been a journey of me digging deep to see what my strengths and skills really are, and how I use these best to my advantage in London. I haven’t written much about this on my blog, as I feel it best to reflect upon things first then write later. Needless to say 2018 has been a year of significant pivoting and change for me – and I look forward to sharing my reflections in 2019.

As I write this the UK political establishment is in turmoil, trying to manage the Brexit negotiations. It is far from clear what will happen as of today – in fact it feels like anything could happen. I have plenty to say about this and plan to write my thoughts over the next few days. For now I will just say that its an interesting, nervous, exciting and unpredictable time – and I am very glad to be here.

More soon….

Walk 9: The heart of the City

This is the 9th walk from the 1980s AA guidebook. This one started and finished at Bank station and passes through the financial centre of London. This was was done 20/10/2018.

Walk 9: Heart of the City

The first stop was The London Stone – said to be the milestone from which distances were measured on military roads in Roman London. The stone is still on display but is not very prominent.

The next two stops were Laurence Pountney Hill and The Old Wine Shades. The former some great example of early 18th century London Houses, the latter sadly shut when I walked past. The Old Wine Shades survived both the great fire and the blitz.

The Old London Shades

Next was the Monument, designed by Christopher Wren and Robert Hook as a monument to the great fire of London and erected in 1671-7. The views from this monument of central London are really good.

After this I walked past Billingsgate where the old fish market used to be.

From here the tour proceeded to the Tiger Tavern. According to the 1980s guide:

Although rebuilt in this century, this tavern’s history stretches back over 400 years. Every ten years, the lord mayor, sheriffs and aldermen of London take part in an unusual beer testing ceremony here. A sample of the beer is poured on a stool provided by the official tester, and he then sits on it. If his trousers stick to the seat (and they always do), then the beer is pronounced to be of acceptable quality. 

After spending a considerable amount of time trying to find this tavern, google eventually told me that this tavern having survived the great fire and the blitz, could not withstand 21st century development and has now closed. In the UK many of the the old pubs are at risk with many closing each year.

After this sad news I proceeded onto the famous Tower of London. First the tour took me too The Tower Subway, 19th century engineering achievement as the first underground railway tunnel under the Thames.

The tower is one of London’s main tourist attractions. Built by Edward I, it is famous for being where princess Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Bell Tower.

From here the walk took me to the Trinity Square Gardens opposite the Tower. This square was the site of public executions until the 17th century.

Next the walk went up Seething Lane, where diarist Samuel Pepys worked. The church here has skulls on its gateway which Charles Dickens refers to in one of his works.

From here the walk took me to the disused Aldgate Pump. The water was believed to have efficacious qualities. The pump is now disused.

Next to this was The Sir John Cass charity school established in 1710.

After this I passed Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest Synagogue in England.

The walk then took me past “the enormous National Westminster Bank.” This building was bombed by the IRA in 1992 after this guide book was published. This is now the site of The Gherkin .

Next to this is St Helen’s Church, which dates back to the 12 century.

The final stop before returning to bank was the Simpson’s Tavern, sadly also closed when I walked past.

The walk then took me past the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England to Bank station.