What have the Capitalists ever done for us?

Francis:         We get in through the underground railway system here…up through to St Paul’s Cathedral here… and the place where tourists wait for buses, take photos and have their sandwiches is here. Having pitched our tents, we inform the Dean that we are the 99% and forthwith issue our demands. Any questions?

Xerxes:                 What exactly are the demands?

Reg:                 We’re giving them two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Capitalist State and if they don’t agree immediately we start up the acoustic guitar-led singalong.

Matthias:                 Out of tune?

Francis:                 Completely, we add a tambourine, harmonica or pan pipe every hour on the hour… show them we’re not to be trifled with.

Reg:                 Also, we’re demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of George Osborne with his cock hanging out while he snorts coke through a five hundred euro note.

Stan:                 What? They’ll never agree to that, Reg.

Reg:                 That’s just a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we start cooking a lentil casserole, and… that we shall not submit to blackmail.

Omnes:       (Applause) No blackmail!

Reg:                 They’ve bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had, not just from us, from our fathers and from our fathers’ fathers.

Stan:                 And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.

Reg:                 Yes.

Stan:                 And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.

Reg:                 All right, Stan. Don’t labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?                

Xerxes:                 North Face outdoor gear.

Reg:                 Oh yeah, yeah they gave us that. Yeah. That’s true.

Masked Activist:                 And the nice tents from Millets!

Stan:                 Oh yes… Millets, Reg, you remember what camping used to be like.

Reg:                 All right, I’ll grant you that the GoreTex and Millets are two things that the Capitalists have done…

Matthias:                 And the roads…

Reg:       (sharply) Well yes obviously the roads… the roads go without saying. But apart from the microfibre fleeces, the nice tents and the roads…

Another Masked Activist:                 Irrigation…

Other Masked Voices:                 Medicine… Education… Health…

Reg:                 Yes… all right, fair enough…

Activist Near Front:                 And the Starbucks…

Omnes:                 Oh yes! True!

Francis:                 Yeah. That’s something we’d really miss if the Capitalists left, Reg.

Masked Activist at Back:                 The Olympics!

Stan:       And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now.

Francis:                 Yes, they certainly know how to keep order…(general nodding)… let’s face it, they’re the only ones who could in a place like this.

(more general murmurs of agreement)

Reg:                 All right… all right… but apart from better wet weather gear and tents and education and irrigation and public health and roads and innovative coffee-based drinks and the Olympics and public order… what have the Capitalists done for us?

Xerxes:                 Brought iPads!

Reg:       (very angry, he’s not having a good meeting at all) What!? Oh… (scornfully) iPads, yes… shut up! (has anyone got a charger?)

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Even a Stopped Clock

…Tells the right time twice a day. I’m not holding my breath for the next time but I agree with Nadine Dorries’ blog arguing that the 81 Conservative MPs who voted for a referendum on membership of the EU need a leader. Of course, she spoils it by suggesting Liam Fox as a candidate or even by hoping that readers will infer that perhaps she might do the job.

But, if it is really true that so many people want a referendum and that so many MPs believe that there should be a fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU the argument should be being made in a much stronger way. One of the other potential candidates suggested by Dorries is David Davis. He has already pointed out a way in which an issue of strong personal importance to an MP and the public can be tested. He resigned his seat (and permanently lost his front bench position) on the issue of 90 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects and forced a by-election on that single issue.

Conservative MPs who are so exercised by the issue ought to be looking not just at finding a leader but at following Davis’ precedent. Why hold out hope for a referendum being offered when it is clearly not the policy of the leadership of either of the parties in the Coalition or the main Opposition? It won’t happen. If it is such a burning issue, they need to have the courage of their convictions and at the very least resign the Conservative whip – particularly as their rebellion in last week’s vote on whether to have a referendum effectively involved doing just that over that particular issue. If they believe that they have not just the support of a majority of Conservative supporters but also of the general public, one or more could stage a referendum of their own by forcing a by-election and standing on an EU referendum ticket. Or, if they genuinely believe that there is no good counter-argument, why ask for a referendum at all, when losing it would mean losing the chance to do what they believed right and necessary?

Why isn’t anyone doing this? Is it because they don’t really believe it is so big an issue for ordinary people and that they fear losing their seat? Is it because they’d prefer to remain a vocal internal opposition to a Conservative Party led government rather than risk handing power to a pro-EU Opposition? Or are they just blindly optimistic that they can persuade their party’s leadership to undergo a complete change in direction without such drastic measures as challenging the leadership by choosing their own, resigning the Whip or forcing by-elections which could topple the government? Maybe they’re just too small c conservative to be as radical as they try to sound.

Orange – Nothing, Anywhere

I could moan about how poor the mobile reception I get with Orange is – it shouldn’t really be beyond the abilities of a modern mobile phone company to ensure decent coverage in the inner suburbs of a major city like Leeds. Having to stand in a particular part of the house by the windows or in the garden is a throwback to the predecessor technology of Rabbit phones from 20 years ago, but at least they led on to DECT cordless handsets for landlines. But, those are relatively minor moans.

Today, I tried to upgrade with Orange. They have a great deal allowing existing customers to get an iPhone 4 and an iPad 2 for £99 on a £65 monthly tariff for 24 months. That’s only a little more than I pay monthly for my iPhone 3GS and I’m not too bothered about the length of the contract as I’ve been with Orange for over 15 years so, until today, was not too likely to want to switch networks. If nothing else, the free home broadband made them worth staying with. I know the iPhone 4 hasn’t got great call reception, but my expectations are low in that regard and the 4S on its own doesn’t really do enough more that I’m bothered about. I know that an iPad is an inessential toy. I’d just quite like them.

So, while out in Leeds I went into the Orange shop on Commercial Street where the pleasant and helpful assistant, Lisa, tried, in vain, to process the upgrade. After the laborious ID checking process (thanks Al Qaeda, criminal gangs and money-launderers!) the computer said – NO. Apparently, despite having seen through my last 24 month contract (not to mention the previous 13 years of contracts) I wasn’t due an upgrade without a penalty charge for another 4 months.

How could this be? Well, first of all, the computer helpfully said that it was because I was a high value customer. Way to go on customer service! So, being a high value customer means that it costs more to volunteer for a higher tariff? Hmm, that didn’t sound right. So, Lisa calls up the customer service department. It turns out that the apparently nice thing that Orange had done for me when my 24 month contract expired wasn’t so nice. What they had done was to change me to a SIM-only contract. I saw that on my last statement and thought “that’s nice, they’ve lowered my monthly charge because I’ve come out of the end of my 24 month contract”. What I didn’t see was that the new, cheaper contract, tied me in for 6 months.

Now, this would have been OK had I actually called them up to switch to a lower tariff. But I hadn’t. I never call up to do stuff like that because I’m rubbish at that sort of thing. Just as I never quite get round to switching energy tariffs or doing all those other things that make competitive markets work properly. It means I wouldn’t have minded had nothing happened and I’d stayed on my old tariff through my own inertia.

So, instead now I feel lumbered with a phone contract I never signed up for and which puts me in a worse position than I was previously in. Not only can I not upgrade without being penalised – a relatively minor problem – I can now not decide to cancel or switch to another phone company without paying for the priviliege of “breaking” my new, unwanted and unasked for contract. Who wins here? Not me, not Lisa, who is an upgrade and sale less near to her monthly sales commission target, and not Orange, who get an annoyed customer paying less than they would have done for the next six months.

I suppose I’ll just have to navigate my way round their undoubtedly Kafka-esque call handling systems and think myself lucky if I can persuade them to let me pay them more money sooner. I just hope I don’t hear that the automatic change to a “cheaper” tariff wasn’t due to some misguided consumer protection regulation from Ofcom…