Tag Archives: Enterprise

Tory Democrats on Europe: Confused and negative campaigning

Negative campaigning at its worst: It's what the Liberal - or is it Tory? - Democrats do best.

Negative campaigning at its worst: It’s what the Liberal – or is it Tory? – Democrats do best.

If you thought the Tory manifesto was a deceitful joke, or the row over UKIP’s policies was damaging, have you seen what the Liberal (?) Democrats have been sending around?

Here’s a letter sent to houses here in Brecon and Radnorshire. It starts with the famous Lib Dem block graph, which is a mainstay of all their election communications in places where they have won seats. Presumably they keep using it because it is effective but one has to doubt this example, as it does not feature a European election result, but that of the last UK general election in 2010.

They cannot use a block graph to show a favourable result in the last European election because they don’t have any Welsh MEPs, and the result in the last Welsh Assembly election (in 2011) showed support was already eroding away as a result of their toxic alliance with the Conservative Party in Westminster, along with some spectacularly effective campaigning by the local Labour Party.

The result is a misleading graphic that shows a massive Liberal Democrat majority, coupled with the slogan, “Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories here”, where in fact we have two Labour MEPs, one Tory and one representing Plaid Cymru.

It hardly encourages confidence when a political letter – from one of the ruling parties in Westminster – begins with a filthy lie.

The text of the letter, by the constituency’s Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams, asks where the reader wants to be working in five or 10 years, and suggests we will be looking for more pay, promotions and a better quality of life. He states that it is important to protect the economic recovery, but “all that hard work could be undone” if Britain pulls out of the EU “as UKIP and many Conservatives want to do”.

Thanks to the UK’s Coalition government, ordinary hard-working people are receiving far less pay than before the 2010 election, with a corresponding drop in quality of life. Child poverty, for example, is rising fast. The economic recovery has helped nobody but the very top earners (like those in the Sunday Times ‘rich list’, published last weekend) – and besides, the Tory Democrats are not the only party keen to protect Britain’s place in Europe. For that, your best bet is still Labour or (in Wales) Plaid Cymru.

The letter continues: “Across rural Wales the EU has invested £5.8 million into local businesses struggling to find funding to grow and create more jobs, this is on top of the £26 million invested in promoting tourism to Wales which is vital to our local economy.” Yes indeed – but that money was negotiated by either a Labour government in Westminster or a Labour government in Cardiff Bay. It has little to do with the Tory Democrats!

The letter ends with an exhortation to vote for the Yellow Party’s nonentity candidate, whose name is instantly forgettable.

Alongside this came a double-sided flier offering more of what the Tory Democrats do best – negative campaigning. “Don’t gamble with Welsh jobs…” it states, “Stop UKIP and the Tories from risking Wales jobs”. A box-out with a red background says, “Labour stay silent” – which is a blatant falsehood.

Flip the page and you’ve got the pro-Tory Democrat bit – but they can only say they have “helped deliver” funding for superfast broadband, funding for small-to-medium-sized enterprises, and cash to support tourism. And who did they help?

Labour!

It’s a sad little screed from an organisation in its twilight days.

The saddest part is that someone will believe it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Disabled people and work: Is this government scheme too good to be true?

Access to work (allegedly): If you are also wondering why a group of people apparently having breakfast symbolises access to work for the disabled, you're well on the way to the right level of scepticism about this scheme.

Access to work (allegedly): If you are also wondering why a group of people apparently having breakfast symbolises access to work for the disabled, you’re well on the way to the right level of scepticism about this scheme.

The government is launching a new scheme for the disabled, saying those on traineeships, supported internships, work trials and work academies are to get “additional help” through the Access to Work programme.

After all the persecution of recent years, is it wrong of me to look askance at this?

Here’s the press release; what do YOU think?

“Disabled people will get more support to gain the skills and experience they need to get a job under changes to the government’s specialist disability employment scheme announced today (16 July 2013).

“Disabled people on traineeships, supported internships, work trials and work academies will for the first time get additional help through the Access to Work scheme – which provides funding towards the extra costs disabled people face in work, such as travel costs, specially adapted equipment or support workers.

“Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey said: ‘Young disabled people tell me how difficult it can be to get a job without experience – and they want the same choice of training opportunities as everyone else to help them into work.

“‘We’re opening up Access to Work to do just that – so that more young disabled people can get a foothold in the jobs market, get their careers on track and achieve their full potential.’

Recent changes also mean that businesses with up to 49 employees will save up to £2,300 per employee who uses the fund by no longer paying a contribution towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work.

“Disabled jobseekers who want to set up their own business through the New Enterprise Allowance are also eligible for Access to Work funding. Access to Work has previously been called ‘the government’s best kept secret’ so to raise awareness of the changes, the government will continue its marketing campaign – targeted at young disabled people and people with mental health conditions.

“Last year the programme helped 30,000 disabled people keep or get employment. Research also shows that around half (45 per cent) of Access to Work customers would be out of work if they did not receive support through the scheme.”

The last paragraph should be ignored because it is a DWP statistic. Even if it was right when it left the statisticians, we cannot guarantee that there hasn’t been interference for politically-motivated purposes.

Lord Young – a talking example of why working people should never vote Conservative

Unrepentant: Ignorant old Tories like Lord Young cannot see anything wrong with starving workers - and, through lack of tax revenue, the benefits bill - to make fat profits for greedy business bosses. The families of all those who have died because of these policies might have a different point of view.

Unrepentant: Ignorant old Tories like Lord Young cannot see anything wrong with starving workers – and, through lack of tax revenue, the benefit budget – to make fat profits for greedy business bosses. The families of all those who have died because of these policies might have a different point of view.

Apparently we are living in an excellent time for businesses to boost their profits – because labour is cheap.

That is what Lord Young, who advises David Cameron on enterprise, told the cabinet yesterday (May 11). His words make it crystal clear that working people who vote Conservative are classic examples of turkeys voting for Christmas. They beg to be exploited.

He said low wage levels in a recession made larger financial returns easier to achieve – in other words, he actually admitted that bosses could use the current state of the UK economy, as caused by his own government (not the previous Labour administration, for reasons we’ve covered in the past), to push workers’ wages down and keep more moolah for themselves.

Vox Political has accused the Conservatives of exactly this behaviour in the past, but we never expected to see a member of the government admit it so brazenly.

Perhaps this is more of the government’s pet ‘nudge’ theory at work. We have seen that benefit increases have been lowered in order to instil fear of destitution in the jobless, and in those who have low-paid jobs. Now, businesses are being urged to capitalise on this, exploiting their workforces with the obvious threat: “There are plenty of other people out there who’ll do it for less!”

Let’s just back this up with some statistics, courtesy of The Guardian , shall we? UK employees’ average hourly earnings have fallen by 8.5 per cent, in real terms, since 2009. That’s adjusting for inflation, and the newspaper got its figure from the Office for National Statistics.

Meanwhile, the 1,000 richest people in the UK are now worth more than £414 billion – up more than £155 billion in the three years to December 2012. And in April, the Tory-led government gave those people a £100,000 per year tax cut.

Lord Young is not to be confused with Sir George Young, the Tory Chief Whip who once famously said “the homeless are what you step over when you come out of the opera” – but he is cut from the same cloth.

He had to apologise after telling the Daily Telegraph that “for the vast majority of people in the country today, they have never had it so good, ever since this recession – this so-called recession – started”.

For this reason it is easy to suggest that he would have stepped over the body of Stephanie Bottrill, had he been the first to find it.

Oh – do you think that statement goes too far? Please, reserve your judgement until I have explained my reasoning.

Like so many members of the Tory government, this is a man who absolutely point-blank refuses to understand the relationship between the decisions he makes and the conditions in which the majority of us are forced to live.

This former advisor to the Prime Minister on health and safety laws has advocated relaxing them, ignoring the fact that this will increase the likelihood of work-related injury that makes it impossible for people who need the money to go to work.

This enterprise advisor was asked to conduct a “brutal” review of the relationship of government to small firms, presumably with a view to cutting off as much public assistance for small businesses as possible.

This former chairman of the Manpower Services Commission advised the late Baroness Thatcher on unemployment, and we may take it that it is due to this advice that joblessness skyrocketed during the Thatcher years.

He refuses to see that his attitude is causing the problem: By ensuring that Britain’s labour market remains “flexible” (read “low-wage”), he ensures that the national tax take remains far lower than it should be; low-paid workers form the overwhelming majority of the workforce. In turn, the low tax take means the government cannot pay off its debts and provides it with an excuse to cut public spending – especially on benefit payments.

Stephanie Bottrill had an auto-immune system deficiency, Myasthenia gravis, which meant she was permanently weak and needed constant medication. Doctors said she was too ill to hold a job, but she never qualified for disability benefits.

She committed suicide because she could not afford the cost of living after the Bedroom Tax was forced on her, and it has been said by others that she died for want of £20 per week.

It is the attitude of Tories like Lord Young that has deprived her of that money – and ultimately, of her life.

Our upstart politicians have an important lesson to learn: Respect.

vote

Sometimes events coincide to create a coherent pattern, apparently by accident.

So it seemed today, with publicity surrounding the legalised corporate theft of all our images on the Internet, the part-privatisation of the government unit that has been carrying out illegal psychometric experiments on jobseekers… and the publication of my letter to the local newspapers, deploring a previous missive from a Conservative politician who was determined to parrot disproved assertions from his superiors in London, rather than treat us like intelligent creatures and try to connect on an equal footing.

We’ll start with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, which received Royal Assent last week. Under this act, any image that does not contain information identifying the owner (or has had that information stripped away) will become available for exploitation by commercial organisations.

These so-called “orphan works” are placed into “extended collective licensing” schemes. Any user wishing to, say, put that silly photograph you uploaded to Facebook onto a T-shirt, only has to perform a “diligent search” for the owner which, when it comes up with a blank, will allow them to proceed with impunity. And they won’t have to pay you a single penny for the use of your work.

What can you do about it? Nothing, unless you can afford costly and cumbersome legal action – despite the fact that, previously, ownership of your creation has been automatic, enshrined in the Berne Convention and other international treaties where it is still considered to be a basic human right.

Would you like to know how the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills describes the changes? Like this: “For the first time orphan works will be licensed for use; these are copyrighted works for which the owner of the copyright is unknown or can’t be found.”

That makes it seem like a good thing; in fact, it’s quite the opposite – as you’ll soon find out.

Meanwhile, we see that the government’s Behavioural Insights Team – otherwise known as the Cabinet Office’s ‘Nudge Unit’ – is being part-privatised after causing immense embarrassment to the government when it was revealed that a psychometric test it had devised for the Department for Work and Pensions to use on jobseekers was not only fake but, in fact, illegal.

The team was established after the 2010 election to – according to the government – find ways of getting people to make better choices themselves, rather than through state intervention.

But the psych test foisted on jobseekers by Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions was the exact opposite of this. Firstly, workless people have been forced to take the test or lose their benefits. Next, the results have been proven to be a sham – it seems you get the same set of personality results, no matter what answers you enter – so there is no possibility of personal choice. Finally, it turns out that the whole exercise is illegal according to both UK and EU law, as “informed consent” is required before anyone takes part in a test of this kind. This is because the test has been presented as research – a “randomised control trial” (see that use of the word ‘control’? Dodgy!) according to a Cabinet Office blog.

As fellow blogger Steve Walker stated in his Skwawkbox blog on the subject earlier today (which I have reblogged), “the test itself is not the point – what is being trialled here is the supposed effect of going through it on the subjects of the trials – the unemployed people being made to participate”.

Informed consent must be given before people take part in such trials, according to the law. A person cannot be pressganged into it; they must freely make a decision to take part – written, dated and signed – after being informed of its nature, significance, implications and risks.

There is also a data protection issue.

Apparently a competition is to be held to find a business partner for the Nudge Unit. It might be hard to envisage many reputable firms seeking to collaborate with an organisation that is known to have been acting illegally, but even worse is the possibility that this will be the first of many instances where parts of the publicly-owned, operating for the benefit of everybody in the country, civil service will be hived off into private, profit-making ownership by a government of privateers who can’t wait to get their hands on all that lovely moolah – that should belong to the people, not them.

Finally, the letter I wrote last week, in answer to one from the local Conservative Parliamentary candidate, was published today in the local newspaper. It responded, with evidence-based information, to a series of groundless assertions about the bedroom tax, the benefit cap and Employment and Support Allowance, that had clearly been handed down to him from Conservative Central Office. Particularly incendiary was the parroted claim that 900,000 people dropped their claim for ESA rather than take the work capability assessment. This had been disproved and ridiculed on the same day Grant Shapps originally came out with it!

It takes a special kind of contempt for your intelligence to repeat, as fact, a claim that we all know is false. The Coalition government seems to be trying to make a living out of it.

The attitude that we see, time and time again, is “oh, they’ll take what they’re given. As long as we put a nice spin on it, they won’t even notice what’s happening to them”.

What’s happening is, of course, that our freedoms are being stolen from us, and all we’re getting in return is meaningless soundbites.

There is an election tomorrow (as I write this). You can see that certain politicians, currently in office, have no respect whatsoever for you, your opinions or your freedoms. You can’t shift them out yet.

But you can – those of you who are voting tomorrow – send a message to them and, if you have any self-respect, you will.

I hope you get the representatives – and the respect – you deserve.

Local election campaigns begin – but where are the NEW contenders?

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term vote is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Get your votes out: But who will you support, if your local council is holding elections this year? The mid-term poll is always carefully watched, so your vote could sway predictions for the 2015 general election!

Hard though it may be to believe, in the midst of all the ‘Mrs T’ drivel, but life goes on and there are elections on the way.

The Liberal Democrats have launched their bid for seats on 34 councils in England and one in Wales, predictably, with a smear campaign.

Apparently, both their Coalition partners the Conservatives, and Labour, are inefficient and waste money on “vanity projects”.

This will be a hard criticism for the Tories to counter, considering they are about to waste up to £10 million of taxpayers’ – our – money on a ceremonial funeral for Baroness Thatcher that the majority of the people in the UK simply don’t want.

Apparently, MPs can claim £3,750 each, from the taxpayer, because Parliament has been recalled to pay tribute to her. If they all take advantage of it, that alone will cost us £2,437,500!

Praise is due to Labour’s John Mann, who the BBC placed among those calling the debate a waste of money. He said tributes could have been made next week, when Parliament is due to return.

But then, what is the Liberal Democrat plan to increase the Personal Allowance, that we are all allowed to earn before we start paying Income Tax, if it isn’t a vanity project?

Nick Clegg says the Liberal Democrats will spread “the burden of austerity fairly”, but if this policy really has made 24 million families in the UK £600 better-off than they were in 2010, that means the Treasury has received £14,400,000,000 less than it otherwise would have. Nearly 14-and-a-half BILLION pounds!

This is money that could have eased the severity of the benefit cuts on the poorest in society, or the government could have invested it in projects that would have created jobs, increasing the tax take and lessening the burden of debt repayments and benefits for the poor.

Noticeably absent from Mr Clegg’s speech, at the Eden Project in Cornwall, was any mention of what his party would do with any new council seats it picks up. Instead, he went back to the Liberal Democrat ‘message script’ that was thrust upon his party back between Christmas and the New Year. “Only the Liberal Democrats will build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life” he droned.

Here in Radnorshire, Wales, people hearing that will be thinking those words are familiar, and asking themselves when they were aired before. Oh yes – it was last week, when our MP Roger Williams and AM Kirsty Williams were talking up the increases in the Personal Allowance.

So there’s no offer from the Liberal Democrats.

At least Labour’s Ed Miliband launched his party’s campaign with a solid commitment – he wants councils to be allowed to prevent payday lenders from operating in their areas, and to stop bookmakers from opening as well.

In hard times, it makes sense for gambling to be curbed – although it is a shame that the last Labour government allowed it to become commonplace before the financial crash hit. And payday lenders must be brought to heel – the huge interest rates they charge mean borrowers – who need the money because they receive such a poor pay packet from their fatcat bosses, don’t forget – fall even further into debt.

But Labour’s recent behaviour in Parliament has created deep mistrust of the party among its core voters. Labour betrayed the poorest workers in the UK, and everybody who is looking for a job, by supporting Iain Duncan Smith’s retroactive law to legalise his illegal sanctions against jobseekers who would not take part in his slave-labour ‘mandatory work activity’ schemes to raise cash for ‘work programme provider’ companies and commercial enterprises that took part.

If Labour wants to win that trust back, it needs to field prospective councillors who genuinely want to represent the interests of the people in their wards, with good Labour values – ensuring they get the best value for their council tax money, rather than turning services over to private enterprises who then make councils pay through the nose for inferior work, for example.

And what about all the new contenders that have sprung up since the Coalition came to power and started reversing all the good work the previous Labour government did, justifying it by saying the new austerity made it necessary (it isn’t)?

The National Health Action Party can be ruled out, I think. That organisation is a single-issue party created solely to attack Coalition members of Parliament, and anyone else who voted in support of the Health and Social Care Act, that allows private, for-profit companies to run NHS services.

What about the ‘No’ Party? This group claims the UK needs a fresh start, and wants to contend the next general election “on a massive scale”. In that case, they should start at local level. Political organisations of any kind won’t be trusted with Parliamentary seats until their members have proved themselves in the local arena and the May elections are a perfect opportunity to get started. Where are the ‘No’ candidates?

What about the People of the British Political and Lawful Rebellion Party, which says it aims “to put the People back into politics”.

This organisation’s Facebook page says: “It is time this country came together and started the mass political and legal upheavel required for a legitimate, lawful, peaceful and successful rebellion. As a newly founded political party, we take one-step at at time while learning to utilise our skills as individuals and collectively.”

Okay, then why not start now – in local councils? Then the ordinary people will be able to find out what they’re all about.

It seems too early for any wide-based, mainstream ‘Party of the Left’, of the kind Ken Loach has been pushing, to come together in time for these elections – which is a shame.

In the light of Labour’s actions on the Jobseekers (Back to the Workhouse) Bill, it is possible that there does need to be another mainstream, national left-wing political organisation – if only to remind Labour of what it ought to be.

One of the most telling comments about the late Baroness Thatcher was that she changed not only the Conservatives, but other political parties, meaning that Labour followed a similar course to the Conservatives when it came to office in 1997.

It’s time Labour remembered that there are other, real and workable alternatives – and started working on them.

Britain’s worst idlers – the MPs who wrote Britannia Unchained

I have been saddened to learn of two events that will take place in the near future: The death of The Dandy, and the publication of Britannia Unchained.

The first needs little introduction to British readers; it’s the UK’s longest-running children’s humour comic, which will cease publication (in print form) towards the end of this year, on its 75th anniversary. The second appears to be an odious political tract scribbled by a cabal of ambitious right-wing Tory MPs, desperate to make a name for themselves by tarring British workers as “among the worst idlers in the world”.

The connection? Even at the end of its life, there is better and more useful information in The Dandy than there will be in Britannia Unchained.

The book’s authors, Priti Patel, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, and Kwasi Kwarteng, all members of the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs, argue that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”, that the UK “rewards laziness” and “too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work”.

They say the UK needs to reward a culture of “graft, risk and effort” and “stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk and rewarding laziness”.

Strong words – undermined completely by the authors’ own record of attendance at their place of work.

Chris Skidmore’s Parliamentary attendance record is just 88.1 per cent – and he’s the most diligent of the five. Kwasi Kwarteng weighs in at 87.6 per cent; Elizabeth Truss at 85.3 per cent; and Priti Patel at 81.8 per cent. Dominic Raab is the laziest of the lot, with Parliamentary attendance of just 79.1 per cent.

To put that in perspective, if I took more than a week’s sick leave per year from my last workplace, I would have been hauled up before the boss and serious questions asked about my future at the company. That’s a 97.9 per cent minimum requirement. Who are these slackers to tell me, or anyone else who does real work, that we are lazy?

Some have already suggested that these evil-minded hypocrites are just taking cheap shots at others, to make themselves look good for promotion in an autumn reshuffle. Maybe this is true, although David Cameron would be very unwise to do anything but distance himself from them and their dangerous ideas.

I think this is an attempt to deflect attention away from the way the Tory-led government has mismanaged the economy, and from its murderous treatment of the sick and disabled. As one commentator put it: “They get a token Asian, a token African, a token Jew, mix in the middle class/grammar school rubbish propaganda, and suddenly they are just ordinary people? No they are not; they are stooges for the ruling elite.”

Britain doesn’t reward laziness among its working class. What it rewards is failure by managers, directors of industry, financiers. These people continually increase their salaries and other remuneration while their share prices fall, their dividend payments are lacklustre and shareholder value is destroyed. What have they given shareholders over the past 10 years? How many industrial or commercial leaders have walked off with millions, leaving behind companies that were struggling, if not collapsing? Does the criticism in Britannia Unchained apply to senior executives and bankers?

Our MPs are as much to blame as big business. They vote themselves generous pay, pensions and extended vacations (five months per year). They never start work before 11am, never work weekends (or most Fridays, when they are supposed to be in their constituencies, if I recall correctly). They enjoy fringe benefits including subsidised bars, restaurants and gyms. They take part-time directorships in large companies which take up time they should be using to serve the public. Only a few years ago we discovered that large numbers of them were cheating on their expense claims. They take more than £32,000 in “Resettlement Grant” if we kick them out after one term – which, in my opinion, means all five authors of Britannia Unchained should be applying for it in 2015.

These are the people who most strongly represent the ‘something-for-nothing’ sense of entitlement the book decries.

Have any of them ever worked in a factory or carried out manual labour? I’ll answer that for you: With the exception of Elizabeth Truss, who did a few years as a management accountant at Shell/Cable and Wireless, none of them have ever done anything that could be called real work.

In fact, the people they accuse work very long hours – especially the self-employed. When I ran my own news website, I was busy for 12-14 hours a day (much to the distress of my girlfriend). Employees also work long hours, get less annual leave, earn less and pay more – in prices for consumer goods, taxes and hidden taxes – than most of Europe. Average monthly pay rates have now dropped so low that they are failing to cover workers’ costs, leading to borrowing and debt.

Are British workers really among the laziest in the world? Accurate information is hard to find but it seems likely we’re around 24th on the world league table. On a planet with more than 200 sovereign nations (204 attended the London Olympics), that’s not too shabby at all.

Interestingly, the European workers clocking on for the fewest hours are German. Those lazy Teutons! How dare they work so little and still have the powerhouse economy of the continent?

If so many are reluctant to get up in the morning, why are the morning commuter trains standing room only? Or have the Britannia Unchained crowd never used this form of travel?

It seems to me that Britannia Unchained is just another attempt by the Tory right to make us work harder for less pay. The Coalition is currently cutting the public sector and benefits to the bone, while failing to introduce policies that create useful employment, and trying to boost private sector jobs. The private sector has cut wages and pensions. The result is higher unemployment and benefits that cannot sustain living costs, creating a working-age population desperate for any kind of employment at all (even at the too-low wages already discussed).

And let’s remember that Conservatives want to remove employment laws to make it easier to dismiss employees. In other words, they want a workforce that will toil for a pittance, under threat of swift dismissal and the loss of what little they have.

Why do they think this will improve the UK’s performance?

We already work longer hours and have less protective legislation than in Europe (such as the European Time Directive). But we are less productive in terms of GDP than their French and German counterparts, who work fewer hours and are protected by the likes of the ETD.

France is more unionised than we are, yet its production per employee is higher.

The problem is poor management and bad leadership. Poor productivity is almost always due to poor investment and poor training. Workers are abused when they should be treated as an investment. They lose motivation and when managers get their decisions wrong, they blame the workers.

Working class people are sick of grafting for low pay and in poor working conditions, to be exploited by the types of people represented by the authors of Britannia Unchained.

Is it any wonder we feel de-motivated?

I started this article by linking The Dandy to Britannia Unchained, noting that one was coming to the end of its life in print while the other was about to be published for the first time. I’ll end by pointing out a quality they have in common.

The Dandy is closing because it represents ideas that are now tired and out-of-date. Britannia Unchained should never see publication – for the same reason.