Friday, 5 July 2013

Fred Nile - Extremist Preacher of Love

Don't get me wrong - Fred Nile upholds some values to which I subscribe, though mine tend to be in a more diluted form, but his idealism is in danger of blinding him to the will of the Egyptian people.

By getting involved in their political affairs by standing for the Christian Democratic Party now that Morsi has been ousted, he's failing to recognise that the voters are tired of their leaders foisting their religious agenda onto the way the country is run.

You cannot dispute the fact that Morsi was elected democratically.  If his Government had just focused on bringing stability back into the economy instead of trying to manipulate the country towards Islamicism, the recent uprising might not have occurred.

Egyptians do have a thirst for democracy - but a true democracy representing the interests of all its citizens, of all faiths.  Politics and religion should never be mixed.  As elected representatives, ministers should concentrate on social infrastructure and leave their beliefs at the door.  Let law and religion slug out the moral issues.

I posted something to this effect on the Fred Nile - CDP Facebook page yesterday, but it was removed.  In what way is that kind of censorship any different to the dictatorial behaviour being challenged in Cairo, if your zealousness overrides the expression of a balanced view?

There are preachers of hate, like the high profile clerics that feature so often here in the UK, but equally provocative are those extremist preachers of love who, with the same passion, drive wedges between the faiths - albeit that they are driven by their own honourable intentions.

But promoting democracy under a Christian banner will not give the Egyptians anything different to what they had before - only a different flavour.  The imposing of faith, or allusion towards it on a political stage, is not democratic and the terms are therefore mutually exclusive.

This is one Nile that shouldn't be running in Egypt.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Big Brother - beyond Orwell's worst nightmares

Original post: 18 June 2013
I usually like my posts to have a bit of a shelf life, but my 'Rage-o-Meter' hit red last night when C5's 'Big Brother' programme issued a contestant with a formal warning for 'inappropriate language' (I think they stopped just short of suggesting she was racist) because she stated a personal preference not to date black men.

So, if I wouldn't go out with someone over 70 - would that make me ageist?  Or, being straight, date a gay man (if I wasn't already married) - I'd be branded a homophobe?  Or someone who didn't have blue eyes and blonde hair? - Good Grief, they'd have me down as a Nazi!

The effect of such misinterpretation of the spirit of the law is that, rather than promote social harmony, it actually drives a wedge further through it.

Channel 5 should retract.

Update: CBB 24 August 2013

... and they've done it again.  Warned a contestant for saying the 'N' word in proper context while recounting a story widely reported in the press - not directed at anyone or used in a malicious way.  It was bleeped out (rightly so), but then spoken and aired by the producers themselves when issuing a formal warning.  I'm sure higher powers are doing this deliberately to gauge how well the public interpret what constitutes offence and to stimulate debate ... either that or C5's legal advisers are incompetent (IMHO) or, at best, hypocritical.

Feel free to share your views by commenting below:

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

'Treating Customers Fairly' - Subjective is not Effective

From my previous posts, you'll know I'm no great fan of how Santander treat their clients.  Now people approach me with their own tales of woe ...

Here's one scenario (skip to next para if you don't want to bother with the details):  A couple were on low income at the previous anniversary of their mortgage contract but Santander still offered them a fixed 2 year term at a very reasonable 2.99%.  They subsequently fell into some arrears, but had 50% equity in their home and were allowed to enter into an arrangement to repay these at £20 mth above their monthly repayment.  However, at the next anniversary last October - having set a precedent under the same circumstances (borrowers were still on low income) and already aware that the family could only afford an extra £20 mth - Santander instead hit them with the Standard Variable Rate (see earlier post) of 4.74%, increasing the repayment by over £330 mth.  The base rate of 0.5% had not moved an iota during this time.

I suppose it's like all aspects of life - once you're deemed to constitute a risk, they'll screw you even further.  "Can't afford the electricity bill?  We'll remove your tariff options and you can pre-pay on this key instead - at a higher cost per unit, of course".  Except in this instance, Santander only focused on one part of the lending criteria - capacity to repay - and completely disregarded the other main determination of adequate security.  With 50% equity, where was the risk that the debt would go toxic any time soon?  They also called the anniversary "new lending" and, besides, they knew the clients were in no position to qualify for a loan elsewhere so they had them over a barrel.

So, the likes of Santander exacerbate the plight of struggling borrowers by penalising them, while they and others in the industry keep reassuring us with soundbites like "working with borrowers to help them overcome their situation", promising to "explore all possible ways of preventing repossession of your home".  And the Council of Mortgage Lender's guidance is to "continue to exercise forebearance where it is fair to do so for the borrower" and that this "does not translate into an immediate possession risk".

The Financial Conduct Authority (previously "FSA") requires financial institutions to adhere to principles of "Treating Customers Fairly" yet, when the above case was escalated to the Ombudsman, the reply proved beyond doubt that once again the regulators are utterly toothless.  Santander were not required to disclose their reasons for applying the higher rate because their "lending criteria is commercially sensitive" - in other words, the industry has closed ranks as usual.  And here was the real classic extract: "A lender must be responsible in relation to the concessions it grants when dealing with consumers suffering with financial difficulties, ensuring the situation is not purely being deferred to a further time in future, ultimately making the situation worse".  It would be funny if it wasn't so tragically ironic.  Hello?  Who is making the situation worse by upping the repayments by, in this instance, 60% (the arrears/loan ratio was barely a quarter of a percent)?  And it took five months for the Ombudsman to reach their conclusions, by which time the couple could have had their home repossessed.  Would any regular person in the street (the ones the FCA is there to protect) consider the above outcome to be "fair"?  I appreciate it's a subjective term, but come on ... you can only stretch semantics so far.

Another twist in the tail - at the previous lower repayment, the arrears represented three months payments and it went to litigation (a whisker away from repossession).  But, at the higher repayment, the arrears represented only a little over a month.  Same people, same arrears/loan ratio, but suddenly within the tolerance of Santander's Collections Department.  Lies, damn lies & statistics.

And the biggest irony of all?  The banks got the economy in this mess in the first place and, having therefore been partly responsible for the borrowers being unable to find work in a depressed job market, inflict even more pain on them by coming back for a double-dip into their pockets.

Homes will be lost, placing an even greater burden on a society already struggling to provide social housing and, stupidly, the banks seem oblivious to the fact that they're only shooting themselves in the foot by terminating loans they could have been acquiring interest on when they're finding it hard enough to get rid of the stuff.

Treating Customers Fairly?  Not likely, while our self-serving banks have no sense of social responsibility.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Taking London Sightseeing to a Whole New Level

I was thrilled and privileged this morning to be invited by The London Helicopter to take a flight over our beautiful city on the day that MD Chris Mann and his welcoming team launched the UK’s first online helicopter sightseeing service from Battersea and Redhill.

 With attractions like the London Eye and now The Shard vying to lure tourists with ever more spectacular viewing platforms, the suggestion seems to be that the higher up you go, the more breathtaking the experience becomes. 

Well, yes and no …. 

Go too high up over central London - as you do when you come in to land following one of Heathrow's flight paths - and you may as well be flying over any other major city in the world, except for the distinctive shape of the Thames snaking far below you like the montage used for ‘Eastenders’.

But at the lower altitude of 1,000 feet, this new service achieves the Goldilocks Factor.  It’s ‘just right’ - not so high that you lose definition of the major landmarks and not so low that you’re obscured from putting the City layout into perspective.  It’s far more intimate and gives you a much wider scope, taking in as it does Greenwich/Docklands to the East and Putney/Wetlands to the West.

That’s not to belittle the fixed panoramic locations - as this service is meant to complement what’s already on offer by providing tourists with another option to bring London into line with the likes of New York, Las Vegas and Capetown - although I have to confess to feeling a little smug as I flew over those people below with inferior vantage points to mine.

And it’s not just for tourists …

Do you think you know London?  I thought I did.  I’m just about an authority on the sights when it comes to showing overseas visitors around and would go so far as to say that I have a better grasp of the roads and suburbs than I did of my native Brisbane.  Yet I was amazed by just how close places are in Greater London from the air - at one point I had three Premiership football grounds in view, with the Wembley Arena and the Olympic stadium in the distance.  A glance up the river from the Houses of Parliament and I could already see Canary Wharf looming large.

And if you’ve never been up in a helicopter, as I hadn’t until today, take comfort that it feels quite natural to take off and land in something that is essentially a familiar car cabin environment that flies.  Despite having bungee’d in the past, I once had a bit of vertigo looking down from the London Eye but felt none of this in the chopper - it somehow seems to cradle you by being suspended under the power source rather than being thrust forward in a giant metal cylinder like in a plane.

Loved it - a ‘must do’ for Londoners and tourists alike. 

For more information, visit The London Helicopter website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Tarred with the Same Brush (The Honest Victims of Austerity)

Today marks the trial rollout of the cap on housing benefits across four London boroughs but, as with all new initiatives, not everyone's circumstances fall into neat pigeonholes.

Innocent and ordinarily hardworking people, who fell foul of the job cuts perpetuated by the economic mess our bankers got us into initially, will now fall victim to constraints on reasonable standards of living.

But this time a good portion of the blame should be lain at the feet of the town halls themselves, who were slow to identify cases where the existing system was being so blatantly exploited.  Only look at the first boroughs to be targeted - Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley.  While the Government has no doubt done its homework in respect of where it can effect the greatest savings on the public purse, they should at least also have made examples of the boroughs that failed to address the obscenity of people on benefits living in £1M+ properties in places like Ealing or Belgravia.

More and more people will see their living standards reduced through no fault of their own and, in my view, none will suffer more than the now middle-aged children of Thatcher's Britain who, having been encouraged into home ownership, are now seeing that dream being shattered because they fall into one of the two most affected unemployed groups: the over 50's, seemingly invisible to employers and recruiters alike, and - at the other end of the spectrum - school leavers who have been let down by a society that allowed it financial affairs to get so horrendously out of control.

And, at odds with the the FSA's new mandate of having to treat theirs customers fairly, banks continue to penalise their unemployed mortgage customers by only taking into account one of the two primary lending considerations - equity and capacity to repay (guess which one?) - when existing arrangements hit their renewal anniversary, opting instead to apply the standard variable rate ('SVR') to inflict even more pain on the embattled long term unemployed who have already seen mortgage relief reduced from interest on the first £200K down to the first £100K.  Santander, are you listening?

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Beefing Up the Price of Meat

When the horse meat scandal first broke, my immediate thought was "If the price of meat goes up now, it would suggest that the supermarkets had been implicit all along and knew what they were buying", because the deception and profiteering would have been occurring further down the chain if they'd been paying normal market prices for their raw ingredients.

Well, prices are going up - and some of the explanations we're being offered don't sit well with me because, as with the finance industry, we're again being asked to stump up to meet the costs of ensuring that others will now act with the honesty and integrity we'd previously expected to take for granted (remember the Financial Services Authority's edict that banks should now adhere to the principle of 'Treating Customers Fairly'? ... duh!).

And, drawing further stark parallels with it's identically-acronymed (FSA) and equally ineffective financial watchdog counterpart, the toothless Food Standards Agency has abysmally failed to exercise even the most fundamental duty of care to the consumer.  Surely one of its first functions should have been to, erm, monitor that food was up to a certain standard. Caught napping, it will probably now put out a radical new directive like "The description on food packaging should be accurately representative of its contents or else we may, in the unlikely event of actually holding anyone to account, fine them and pocket the proceeds so that we can continue to fund our valuable work".

So now the cost of DNA testing is being held up as one of the reasons we'll pay more for meat.  Another, based on consumer behaviour in the immediate aftermath of Horse-Gate (a significant drop in processed food sales), is that market forces will come into play as a result of the increasing demand for fresh meat produce.  I can see this, but again we're paying the penalty for a change in consumer behaviour brought about as a direct consequence of the actions of the unscrupulous.

Dr Pamela Robinson, a former Tesco executive and now a lecturer in international food chains, warns that it's inevitable that supermarkets will have to put up prices to guarantee quality.

So they didn't care before?