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In just a few days EU leaders meet in Hungary for the March 2011 EU summit to discuss a multitude of pressing issues, amongst which concern the Libyan unrest and the ongoing Eurozone recession. Forecasted for discussion by Germany’s deputy finance minister Joerg Assmunsen, will be financial lending programs like the European Financial Stability Facility, which currently require a review on interest rates to assist countries to return to capital markets.  In the wake of the disaster-stricken Japanese market, it goes without saying that European currency would do well to make gain of the volatility of the Yen. Inevitably, Head of the European Central Bank Jean-Claude Trichet will be one of the key influential figures factoring further economic movement for Europe’s 2011 financial agenda. This is a crucial time for Europe and it would certainly seem that Germany, historically Europe’s financial control centre,  holds the keys to the entire continent’s future. And if one person could tilt the decision one way or another, it is Angela Merkel.

Over decades of economic and political change in Europe, Germany has played a centrifugal role in keeping Europe together in spite of it’s differences. The overwhelming fear of a cannibalistic single Euro currency underlies so much of recent European history and for those who have pressed against it, Germany has, until now, actively ensured that economic independence remained an effective counterweight to the introduction of the Euro. The trouble now comes as only 17 of the original 27 leaders will be meeting for the summit, bringing (once again) accuracy of representation into question. One of the most controversial topics the 17 will be discussing is the proposal of a streamlined tax rate, an idea supported by both Sarkozy and Merkel. If these talks are found to be the root cause and foundation of a future unified economic governing body, it could spell trouble for the very countries Germany sought to protect over the Maastricht Treaty.

Germany currently has several cards in it’s hand. As Europe’s cultural, political and economical thermometer, the world looks upon Germany as the forecaster for both unanimous and dissenting shifts in European momentum. It currently stands as the central spokesperson for the failure of 21st century ‘multiculturalism’, a country famous for it’s pragmatic approach. It refuses to bail out weaker countries afflicted by the recession, such as Greece and Portugal. However, on closer inspection it would appear that Germany is also holding a hidden card. One has to question why Merkel has not taken a firmer stand against a summit that does not include representation for all 27 EU countries. Her position of advocacy appears to go against everything Germany has sought to achieve up until now. Britain, whose royal history with Germany has cousined the two countries for centuries, should carefully start to wonder about the actions of it’s bedfellows. Of all countries disadvantaged by a unified economic governing body, Britain stands in the most awkward place, having the most to lose and the most conflicted position to remedy. As the world waits to hear the final outcome of the summit, countries like Britain and Denmark would be well advised to come up with something more substantial than to plan more future vetoes. Irrespective of the opinion of Germany’s voters, Merkel may well wake up too late, something Denmark nor Britain cannot afford to wait around to find out.

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At some point or other, we’ve all thrown our hands up in disbelief and cried, “What’s happening to this country?!” or “The world’s gone mad.” A lot of British people have just given up trying to follow what’s happening to Britain anymore. People can barely keep track of where we were as a country last month, let alone 2 years ago; how on earth we ended up with this law or that reform; why every few weeks or so, we wake up in a different society governed by different rules. Over the last 5 years, change has happened to Britain fast; in dramatic leaps, and over a very short space of time. There has been nothing gradual about the last 5 years and frankly, it’s been exhausting to watch. It’s no wonder the British have become numb to politics.

The problem is this. Being disinterested in politics doesn’t make you stupid. Being disinterested in politics does make you underinformed and ill-equipped for disaster. Ask any British person what’s happening to their country and the simple response from your average joe is, “Everything’s changed so quickly.” Ask where Britain is going and you’ll get either a roll of the eyes, a resigned sigh or a shrug. The apathy has set in deeply and many are immovable from it.

There are just 10 days to go til the next UK General Election. A lot of people are sick to the back teeth with party political propaganda all over the TV and can’t wait til it’s all over. And so for some, my enthusiasm for voting is over the top. They couldn’t be more wrong. If ever Britain needed a hardcore election it’s now.

There have been two televised debates between Brown (Labour), Cameron (Tory) and Clegg (Lib Dem) covering domestic policy and international affairs; the last will be on economy and taxes. This is something we’ve never done before and taking prime advantage of the public’s political apathy, are the tabloids. The media are delirious with opportunity as the work comes easy; sensationalist headlines, spoof campaigns, repetitive soundbites and salacious stories of corruption pour out, emotionally whipping people up into a sudden frenzy of divisive opinion. The clock is ticking and thus far, opinion polls have fluctuated erratically across Britain like a rollercoaster. While the media have everything to gain from swaying the public, once the election is over, the media will be onto their next catch while the public are lumped with the consequences of a bad choice. So how does a tired, languid and fed-up Britain know what the right choice really is?

The truth is that this comes down to the lesser of three evils.

As current PM, Gordon Brown represents the vote to increase ‘free’ handouts for the ‘unfortunate’ public, ‘free’ benefits to keep people smiling and happy (even though everyone knows there’s no such thing as a completely ‘free’ benefit), with a general greater reliance on widespread government control over everything. Essentially speaking, Brown’s manifesto will keep Britain as a slave to tax increases (which, by the way, is how Labour pays for all your ‘freedom’ passes and ‘free’ this and that). His idea is to reinforce a nanny state which is completely dependent on the government for absolutely everything. (That’ll work for the politically lazy who can’t be bothered with reading the small print, “so long as Big Brother doesn’t do anything nasty” like, deny the public a right to fight a reform before it becomes a law–which, of course, Big Brother will.) Lest we forget–Brown never actually wanted the role of PM when he was forced into the position by default of Blair’s resignation in 2007. In following his Labour advisors, he frankly hasn’t the foggiest idea of why he’s made the promises he has, nor how on earth he will execute them, financially nor strategically. Despite appearances and his talk of us hoping in the ‘experienced party’, Brown knows deep down how his last 3 years of service has reviled many. His plea for the public to vote Labour smacks of, “I know I screwed up, I’m sorry, I promise I won’t do it again.” Anyone with a rebellious child knows there’s only so many times you can believe that line as gospel.

Despite appearing to be the ‘refreshingly different’ speaker of the three, Nick Clegg is the opportunist of the traditional ‘conflict’ between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. His appeal is less of a strategic one and more of an emotional one, whispering to the listener, “You don’t have to watch these two fight it out for another age–pick me. I’m someone else altogether and after all, isn’t it “different” that you’ve been looking for all along?” Clegg’s approach is an unveiled, intentional play on the public’s distrust in previous Tory/Labour governments; an assistant to the aforementioned media circus. If you’ve been won over by his Mr. Straight Talker speeches, read the Liberal Democrat manifesto first. For the first plan of his inexperienced party, Clegg wants to “fix” the problem of Britain’s 900,000 illegal immigrants by ‘forgiving’ them for breaking the law with an amnesty to “stay in the country, work without being a criminal and we’ll reward you with citizenship.” What’s terribly wrong with that? Oh, only the consequences. Only a nice and easy, brand spanking new loophole for the next wave of illegal immigrants to make a fresh attempt on Britain’s borders. And apparently our citizenship is no sacred thing to Clegg, since he wants to give it away to any old Tom for practically nothing. If “Politically Correct Britain” is driving you up the wall, Clegg isn’t your man for that either: the Liberal Democrats’ central goal of making Britain more EU-centric will further weaken our economy, our say in what Brussels can lord over us and their ‘environmentally friendly’ banner smacks of more restrictive rules about good old carbon emissions and crying over polar bears, that have left us the laughing stock of the world driving revolting electric cars.

The Conservative Party are no angels either. The Thatcher years have such a bad reputation in Britain; a synonym for ideological betrayal. Cameron’s identification with Thatcher’s views have made him a target for criticism, largely because of Thatcher’s allegiance with liberalism in the face of traditional Tory politics. The current Conservative Party were involved in the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal of 2009 which damaged their appeal as a ‘clean politics’ party. Cameron has echoed Obama’s winning formula with the headline “Vote For Change”, producing further skepticism from traditional Tory supporters who take issue with what that represents, given the consequences America is facing having voted for a liberal president under such a slogan. In a modern multi-cultural Britain where the idea of social class has become more and more fragmented, the current public have less of an affinity with the traditional British class structure, which have been a fundamental skeleton to previous Tory politics. Cameron’s manifesto is Eurosceptic which could easily cause internal conflict through Britain’s membership in the EU and the huge number of Europeans living in Britain. Cameron has not guaranteed that taxes will be lowered which the public views as a grey area.

What the British public need to realise over the next 10 days is that the direction Britain has been going in has not been working up until now. This popularity contest will get us nowhere: we need facts and facts can only be found in party manifestos. Comparing manifestos only, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are only walking us in that direction faster; under the guise that this direction is the only way, any other way is “backwards” and your only choice is simply who you want to walk with. This is completely untrue and a giant deception. With this to mind, the Conservative Party are the lesser of the three evils. Currently this is the only party which has a focus on managing the country’s current problems whilst minimizing the side effects that could create future problems. Having a cap on immigration is one such policy. The consequences of this reform are minimal compared with Clegg and Brown’s solutions which would quickly compound the problem. Exacting a punishable consequence for residents and citizens who are able to work but don’t want to is another. This hardline on benefits will inject vigour into a reluctant nation that’s been used to getting freebies for over a decade; a far cry from the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ attitude Labour and the Lib Dems exude. Cameron’s idea of putting 16-yr old British boys back into mandatory National Service is a champion idea; it’s a hard line but a vision with a long term benefit. Whether or not Cameron will deliver on his promises, only time will tell. But any fool will tell you that when a country loses it’s identity and roots, it loses it’s way. Let’s hope The Conservative Party’s promise to bring our identity back is worth voting for.

“America just caught up with the rest of the world. Now everyone gets free healthcare! Why are they so angry?”

“I thought you were supposed to provide for the poor. Why are people against the Bill?”

“Wait–I’m confused. Didn’t Obama just do a good thing?”

The British can’t see what the fuss is all about and it’s really not their fault–America’s non-stop party squabbling is not helping. Barack Obama signed the US healthcare bill as law, the entire country went into a rage and if you’re not American, you probably don’t understand why…

BECAUSE nobody is explaining ANY of it properly.

Let’s break this down, nice and simple.

The United States government has never paid for health care. Never–in it’s entire life. Why? Because it’s not in The U.S Constitution, the foundational legal doc for America’s existence. In the name of freedom and independence, The Constitution encourages taking total personal responsibility for oneself (health care and all). Well, the first people to take advantage of that freedom were health insurance companies–the ‘shops’ of healthcare, if you like. Americans ‘shop’ for the best doctor or dentist, they always have; they’ve never known any other way. Gradually, health insurance companies became competitive. If someone couldn’t afford to shop, the government wouldn’t pay for you but they’d help you try to get ‘discounts’, so you wouldn’t stop trying to afford shopping.

This sounds sadistic to the British. Why? Because the British government cut out all this ‘shopping’ business: it promised to pay for health care–no shopping or competition involved. In Britain there’s only government-funded hospitals, government doctor’s surgeries (offices) and government ambulances. (Unless you’ve chosen to pay private insurance.) Nobody in Britain remembers life before the NHS because the ‘pay-for-a-doctor-or-die-in-the-street’-method, was considered primitive and inhumane. Since 1946 the NHS is how it’s ‘always’ been. The biggest disadvantage of the NHS is that you can’t buy a ‘better’ doctor–you just take what you’re given. But if everyone else in the country is also at that disadvantage then, none of us will ever know or want any different, right?

From day one, Britain and America’s models have been as different as chalk and cheese. This is the first difference between our countries that nobody bothers to explain.

The only universal healthcare America has, is what the British would consider ‘discount’ schemes. These are Medicaid, which covers low income families and Medicare, for over 65’s and the disabled. Medicare is 100% federally-funded/managed; Medicaid is 50% state-funded, 50% federally-funded and 100% state-managed. Medicare is an automatic entitlement (i.e you grow old, you claim it), Medicaid is determined by eligibility (i.e show proof of income, we’ll decide if you pay all/part of the fee). Both are in trouble. Why? Because the Health Insurance companies are getting more expensive. Medicare is claimed by fewer people these days, but it is also bankrupt because insurance companies are expensive ; approximately 4 people’s taxes pay for 1 person’s Medicare. Medicaid is also increasingly expensive because states charge high premiums for revenue, making it inaccessible anyway. Neither work.

Still with me at this point?

So what do you think happened? There are an estimated 308 million Americans to provide for. They’re all fed up with the greedy health insurance companies. The government’s ‘help’ programs are failing. Everything’s been badly managed and has spiralled out of control. Then along came Barack Obama.

Of all the changes Obama promised to make during his presidential campaign, healthcare reform was the biggest. To quote: “I’ll make our government open and transparent…No more secrecy, that’s the commitment I’ll make to you as president. And when there’s a bill that ends up on my desk as president, you the public, will have 5 days to look online and find out what’s in it before I sign it, so that you know what your government’s doing…and you can decide whether your representative’s actually representing you.” Now that sounded like change we could all believe in. Inspirational stuff.

Except when he became president, he did the exact opposite of all these things.

Last year a healthcare reform bill 1500 pages long was written, in obscure legal jargon, which an average man cannot read nor understand. In November 2009, this bill was hurried through the House of Representatives without the public getting to read it. On Sunday 21st March 2010, the House voted 219-212 and Obama signed the bill as law. The public were only given 36 hours to read it online.

The American public, even some of Obama’s staunch supporters, were furious. Every step of the way.

To pay for the new reform, the Obama administration says it is taking $500 million from Medicare. Hold on, isn’t Medicare bankrupt? That’s right–it’s a hollow wall. As a result of this bill, health insurance companies are raising their rates and collecting federal funding at the same time. Hold on, aren’t health insurance companies already rich from overcharging people? That’s right–they’re still the controllers of health care. The reform doesn’t take effect for 3 years. The total predicted spending costs are currently at $2.5 trillion. Hold on, didn’t Obama say he would cut people’s taxes to help recover from the recession? Yes, that’s what he said. America’s national debt is already past $700 million and the country is still in a recession.  This can only mean one thing: the American people would have to pay for it…all.

As a friend of mine said, “…He put out a bill that most people can’t stomach in this economic climate…He tried to do too much all in one go.”

To think that the health care reform bill has created one problem, is wrong. It creates several separate problems. The country has gone berserk and torn itself down the middle because many Americans are fiercely against any sort of government dependency. Many believe that a move like this bill, is an enormous and dangerous step backwards. America’s emancipation from British rule was to abolish government dependency, establishing an American government which would represent and preside over the people, not provide. Because once upon a time, a British government once said it would provide for it’s American colony…it robbed them instead. America never forgot that.

And that dear friends, is what all the fuss, is all about.

honda_102

For all things made, we are more spoiled with choice than ever before in this generation. Few young people know how to ignite something from scratch in this age, a worrying thought for the minority who traditionally opt for a beginning involving the tested measure of rubbing twigs together. In many ways, choice has become a proverbial enemy for the modern day inventor. This caused me to ask the deeper question, what of those who are still starting life with their bare hands? The generation without money is one that choice has no authority to obliterate. Without inspirational leaders the world has no example to follow for hope. Revered figures who were unafraid to get their hands dirty are all but died out. As a person drawn to legendary figures with explosive and often controversial, hardworking personalities, I harbour a great disappointment that the batons of the previous age have been left to diffuse on the ground. And so I found myself returning to the drawing board of those who picked up the first spanners of our civilisation, in particular one man I admire and liken much to my own father.

The bicycle shops of the Far East are filled with the stuff of young boys’ dreams, often being the backdrop for childhoods filled with excitement in it’s simplicity; the endless supply of opportunity found in nuts, bolts and mechanisms. Children fortunate enough to be taught by their mechanic fathers are often regarded as particular sorts of keyholders for the next generation. My own father grew up under this privilege, watching and helping his father repair a number of things besides bicycles in his repair shop. What is fascinating about this, is that this early stimulation of curiosity proved influential in shaping much of my father’s professional aptitude for application today. It caused him to flourish in the idea that in all things, there are limitless opportunities for growth and experimentation. Sadly, to the mind conquered by the new age, such menial tasks no longer have a place in association with excitement and thrill; we have pivoted past the point that almost everything we know has been replaced by electricity. Yet, there is still a growing need for the reliability, functionality and framework of honesty that physical mechanisms provide us with on a daily basis. One such pragmatist fulfilled this need many years ago, from which we continue to reap bountifully from today.

In 1906 a boy of simple background was born to a blacksmith in Hamamatzu, Shizuoka, Japan. Much like my own father’s early years, he too spent his humble childhood helping his father’s bicycle repair business with much intrigue.  A fascination with mechanics was stirred up during these formative years; as his understanding grew, forthwith sprung an unbridled passion for the motor engine in all regards. The boy would ask his grandfather to take him to watch the rice mill engine in a farm nearby for the simple pleasure of watching it in action. He often chased after cars in his neighbourhood, amazed by the power of their engines and the smell of hot fumes. Eventually he began to experiment with fashioning his own toys with materials and instruments found in his father’s workshop. And on one occasion much later on, he took one of his father’s bicycles to ride to the Wachiyama military airfield and climb a tree just to watch a biplane military demonstration. The love of all things mechanical drew him towards engineering; with drive, determination and focus, he grew to eventually forsake his formal education, move to downtown Tokyo and steadily become a respected mechanic. It was much later that this man experimented with a small engine-powered bicycle in an attempt to create a forward-thinking commuter vehicle. Together with his best friend, they created the first, humble 98 cc two-stroke motorcycle named “Dream”. Thus were the beginnings of the great empire of one man who dared to dream, named Sōichirō Honda.

Why is this story even relevant to us today?

Today in the world, there are societies in certain parts of the globe that jealously and deliberately seek to strangle the hope, joy and determination for success out of those who dare to dream. It is those societies which will reap the miserable shortcomings of such oppression. Without the boldness to experiment, the dreams of this next generation will never get off the ground. In every leap of faith there is an equal chance of failure and success, and there will always be the overwhelming notion that living by safe measures of practicality is the only safeguard for your life.

But to those whose only hope now, is to take the chance to be something you could only dream of becoming, I hold up before you Sōichirō Honda. Looking simply at just the facts, the odds were stacked against him in great numbers: at the time of Honda’s emergence it was 1946, the war had ended a year ago; the transportation industry was already at a level of previously unmatched maturity, smaller fish who had tried to break fresh into the market failed miserably, no new contenders were wanted. Looking at the climate and the facts before him, Sōichirō Honda had no good reason to try and open his company at a time like this, much less all by himself and with nothing but a dream. But this was the only moment he had. If he didn’t seize it, it would vanish from underneath him.

In this current climate of doom and gloom, I take great courage from this man and urge you to too.