Sunday, 25 December 2016

George Michael 1963-2016

Extremely saddened to hear of the Christmas Day passing of Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, aged 53, globally known as George Michael, the London-born singer, songwriter, producer and influential global pop star.
Born in East Finchley and raised in Kingsbury, George's death evokes a genuine outpouring of grief and sympathy across London and throughout the world.
George Michael is also the first artist to have sung at the new Wembley Stadium when it opened in 2007.
Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou (25 June 1963 – 25 December 2016).

© London Intelligence, London, December 2016

Monday, 24 October 2016

Will London be ready for driverless cars?

The car guzzles unleaded petrol from the pump and the supermarket slurps £1.15 per litre from my wallet.
I know that geo-political chicanery, oil-producing dictatorships and petro-dollar deals somehow fill my tank with this explosive pollutant mix.
But I'm not troubled by all of that today. I'm joining a queue of other drivers fuming as they watch an elderly gent struggle to inflate his tyres. 
Visiting a London petrol station in 2016 feels expensive and archaic.

Even car manufacturers agree.
They say driverless cars, or ‘autonomously driven vehicles’, will be ubiquitous within five years. Makers like Mercedes-Benz say driverless cars will be the biggest paradigm shift since society replaced horses with horsepower over a century ago.
As soon as 2020, according to some vehicle makers, we will be able to sit with our backs to the traffic reading our iPads whilst automatically being driven to our destination.
For instance, Mercedes Benz says its autonomously driven F015 interacts with passengers, pedestrians, other vehicles and its surroundings (above).
Mercedes-Benz describes the F015 as a ‘mobile living space’ that allows passengers to use their time in a variety of ways while on the road.*
‘Anyone who focuses solely on the technology has not yet grasped how autonomous driving will change our society,’ says Dr Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars.
‘The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport.”

Naturally, Londoners will have to trust the autonomous technology to be safe.
But even if we embrace technology that replaces us as drivers, is London anywhere near ready for a transformation that will render everyone a passenger?
Driverless vehicles would make thousands of taxi, bus and mini-cab drivers and chauffeurs not only redundant but also obsolescent.

How will Dr Zetsche’s ‘mobile living spaces’ impact on London’s existing roads and on other transport modes?
Will they eliminate human error, accidents and fatalities?
Sure, electric cars will cut pollution but will there be enough charging points?
Would London’s ‘petrol heads’ that like to own and drive their own cars have to pay a premium to stay on the roads?
Will police cars, ambulances and fire engines be automatically piloted too?
Londoners would also be able to forget drivers’ insurance, driving tests and licenses. Londoners might be riding in Apple and Google cars – and most might share or hire cars, just like they rent bicycles in 2016.
So many questions – and yet, barring a few magazine articles, there is little or no conversation in London about possible answers.

The driverless and electric Navya ARMA bus (© Navya 2016)

London is already behind other cities.
For instance, bus passengers are already using two operational driverless buses in Lyon, the French city that pioneered self-service bike rentals.
Up to 15 passengers can ride two electric minibuses that operate a ten-minute route at an average speed of 10km (6 miles) per hour.
The four-metre long Navya-designed ARMA buses (above), costing £170,000 each, carry lasers, cameras and sensors to avoid collisions – although they cannot manoeuvre in traffic.
However, Navya chief executive Christopher Sapet says bigger driverless buses and then cars will soon follow.
‘A driverless French car operating in cities can become a reality as soon as 2018.’

Amidst all of this welter of innovation and paradigm shifts, I notice one thing about the driverless bus. 
Those tyres will still need inflating.

* The F015 is over five metres long and just 1.5 metres high, similar to an S-Class Mercedes. A capsule-like bodyshell is constructed from carbon fibre reinforced plastic, aluminium and steel. A flat front windscreen covers the roof. LED lights provide a variety of lighting functions. Inside, a lounge-like cabin offers swivelling seats that can be turned to face each other while travelling. Six high-resolution display screens integrated throughout the interior allow passengers to use touch, gestures, or eye movements to navigate, browse, or see outside the car.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, London, October 2016

Friday, 24 June 2016

EU Referendum: London and a Future Commonwealth

The first basic rights in a democracy must be the right of people to elect those who make their laws and the right to remove them. 
Those rights had been denied to the British people for 43 years by the complex structures and anti-democratic institutions that saw a Common Market mutate into a European Union superstate.
Hence, lashed by mid-summer rain, 17,410,742 British people (52% of voters) exercised a much-delayed and long-promised democratic right to vote to ‘Leave’ the European Union.
Their 'Brexit' choice ought not to be so surprising. 
Frustration marked with a cross in a box.
For decades, successive ideologically driven neo-liberal Conservative and New Labour governments presided over the deliberate destruction of the UK's manufacturing base, destroying communities in the process.
The EU did nothing to halt this destruction - and its corporate free market process fuelled it.
So, the 'Leave' vote has been a light-sleeper for the past 30 years. 


The referendum shows people still understandably vote with one hand on their wallets and purses.
Londoners inside the London economic bubble voted 60-40 to ‘Remain’.
But white working class people struggling inside a low-wage economy in the North, Midlands and Wales swung the UK out of the EU.
They don't believe the EU offers economic security or better life chances. 
They ignored crude ‘Remain’ campaign threats that economic meltdown, financial Armageddon and armed conflict will result from a ‘Leave’ vote.
More subtle propaganda has come out of North Korea. 

What next? 
Hence, the British people’s troubled historical relationship with Europe enters another uncertain phase.
So, what next?
Londoners aside, the British people have decisively rejected any withering idea that the EU could be democratically reformed. An honest and open United States of Europe, with an elected President and Congress, now seems a dead duck.
German and French corporate interests dominate the EU.  
An unelected European Commission still prevails in Brussels.
Far-right nationalism scapegoats refugees and seeks race, civil and interstate war.
Greek, Spanish and Portuguese economies, bullied by the EU's dominant bankers and politicians, teeter over a precipice of meltdown and bailout.
The entire EU edifice looks very shaky.
It isn’t surprising that citizens of the UK and other European countries don’t like being subjects of the EU.
Referendum contagion across the EU might ensue.
The EU house looks set to stagger and crumble.

A brighter future, though, remains possible.
An alternative could be that the UK harmonises economic, trading, education and cultural exchange relationships with EU, European and other nations across the world – each relationship agreed with the consent of the British people through Parliament.
A negotiated peace with Russia would also bring major dividends.

Inevitably, all of this would be a slower process but would prove more durable, rewarding and moral.
Britain, of course, already has a Commonwealth, that emerged after the decline and fall of the British Empire.
But Britain largely turned its back on the Commonwealth.
And London turned its back on the rest of the UK.
India/Pakistan and Bangladesh, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indian nations will need to forgive Britain and appreciate the mutual trading and cultural opportunities that can arise.
And, Londoners will also need to forge new economic links with the rest of England, Wales, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  
It's time for us to forget the crumbling EU - and move on and embrace a wider world of opportunities and hope.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, June 2016

Thursday, 23 June 2016

EU Referendum: Stay or Exit, underlying problems will remain

Rain falls on Londoners this morning (Thursday 23 June) as we cast our votes in what is billed as the ‘most important ballot of a generation’.
We're being asked: ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’
A vote today in favour of British exit from the European Union might adversely impact the UK economy in the short-term and bring down the government.
And a vote to remain – the status quo – might provide a short-term boost to share prices and the pound.

But whether ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’ triumphs, the bigger structural troubles for the UK, European and global economies will still be there on Friday morning – unemployment, a lack of investment, low or no economic growth, massive banking and corporate leverage and increasing delinquency, rising private householder debt, prohibitively expensive housing markets, creaking public services and austerity, and ever-widening income inequalities.

To some extent, the likely political fallout from the UK’s EU referendum distracts from weak economic growth and perverse asset markets, such as London real estate.
A ‘Remain’ win might rally markets and the pound.
But this rally won’t alter the status quo nor change the structural faults that undermine the UK and European political economy.
We’ll still be in debt and bubble territory.
We’ll still be mired in Austerityville.
EU, stay or go, there is no exit from these immense problems.
They will still remain with us.

© Paul Coleman, London, June 2016

Monday, 22 February 2016

Iconic K6 telephone box turned into micro-retail unit - Hampstead, Camden, north London

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence 2016
“We sell coffees, tea, hot chocolate, cakes, croissants, muffins, pies and pasties,” says Umar Khalid.
He stands beside an iconic ‘K6’ telephone box on Hampstead High Street in north London.
Converted to a ‘micro-retail unit’, the K6 is formerly the kind of compact phone box in which Londoners used to shelter from the rain, to secretly canoodle, and to even make the odd phone call.

Umar and Alona Guerra lease the box from the Red Kiosk Company that equipped it with power, a lock and – crucially – with retail planning consent from Camden Council.
“Passers-by are really surprised,” says Umar. “We’re getting busier everyday.”
Red Kiosk leases such boxes around the UK from £6 per day. The company donates some of its profits to the Thinking Outside the Box charitable trust that helps local unemployed and homeless people.

BT sold disused K6s in 2012 after mobile phones killed off demand for phone boxes. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, some 8,000 K6s punctuate city streets and village greens and country lanes around the UK.
In London, homeless people still take shelter inside some of them.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2016

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Race for the White House: Joe Klein and Hillary, Chomsky on Bernie, and Canada runs for America.

Barack Obama's second term as United States President is coming to an end.
But the 'race for the White House' is already heating up.
Click on the links below to check lively interviews and interventions from the past few days.

Joe Klein of Time talks tough to Hillary Clinton. Klein asks Clinton: "If the former Secretary of State were to talk to her younger self about what she knows now, what would she say to her?"

Noam Chomsky says Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders may describe himself as a 'socialist' but a "he's basically a New Dealer".

And, finally, one perspective from across the border, as 'Canada' - the country - declares its candidacy for the American Presidency! 
"Canadians know America is a great country...we just want to make it good again."

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, February 2016

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Labour seeks a 'smart State' route to voters' hearts

By Paul Coleman

Professor Mariana Mazzacuto, with Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (© Paul Coleman, 2016)
Humiliated at the 2015 General Election, how does an opposition party seek a viable new economic policy?
A clue emerges on a rainy night in central London’s Mayfair (Tuesday, 26 January). The steeply banked seats of the Royal Institution's atmospheric Faraday Theatre are almost full.  An audience of about 300 people glare down at the speakers' lectern.  
This famous science amphitheatre is named after south London-born scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867). Faraday's discovery of electromagnetic induction helped to - pardon-the-pun - transform electricity into a powerful technology.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK's main opposition Labour Party, doesn't look particularly electrified. A casually dressed Corbyn looks comfortable to simply be a member of tonight's audience. Corbyn allows his colleague, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, to enthusiastically introduce Mariana Mazzacuto, Professor of Innovative Economics at the University of Sussex.
As Professor Mazzacuto speaks, Corbyn starts to scribble notes into a small notepad - and finds he needs to write quickly.
"I know I talk way too much and too fast," says Mazzacuto, after a breathless 15-minute prelude to the core of her main argument. "It's because I'm an Italian from New York."

Mazzacuto tries to debunk 40 years of perceived wisdom. She rejects the "cartoon image" of the State as "a necessary but boring, lethargic, bureaucratic and inert dinosaur" - and dismisses the idea that only businesses can be "dynamic, creative and able to think out of the box".
Mazzacuto contends that, far from being a "free market paradise", the United States is in fact a successful "entrepreneurial state" with an interventionist public sector that has invested billions of dollars in shaping economic innovation and growth

For instance, she reminds the audience that a nascent Apple received loans from the US government in 1978. 
The US Defense (sic) Department created the Internet.
Global Positioning Satellites began as a US military project.
A publicly funded professor at Delaware University "made our smart phones smart and not stupid" by creating touchscreen technology.
'Siri', the iPhone voice-recognition tool, started as a US state-led artificial intelligence programme.
"No private companies were trying to put a man on the Moon when NASA undertook the Apollo project," adds Mazzacuto.

Professor Mazzacuto acknowledges that Apple's Steve Jobs and other entrepreneurs of his ilk brilliantly harnessed these technologies. But her point is that publicly-funded, State-led research and development fuelled these beneficial developments - and others more recently in clean energy, biotechnology and nanotechnology.
Historically, says Mazzacuto, the State in countries like the United States and China does  "create markets". 
But since the financial meltdown of 2007-09, State-led research and development has diminished. Politicians target public sector debt, even though careless private sector greed caused the meltdown and taxpayers resuscitated private banks.
Mazzacuto argues the State should act like venture capitalists again, investing long-term in cutting edge industries and companies.
"We need a tense, symbiotic public-private eco-system," says Mazzacuto. "We need growth that is smart and innovation-led. We want growth that is inclusive and sustainable - that produces less and not more inequality."

Is Mazzacuto's position a signpost to Labour's own deal? To a 'smart State' economic policy direction that a Corbyn/McDonnell Labour Party might take?
Mazzacuto's lecture is the first in a year-long series of Labour's nationwide ‘New Economics’ seminars that McDonnell says will "raise the level of discussion about our economy". 
The seminars follow on from Labour setting up an economics advisory council peopled, says McDonnell, by "some of the globe's most prominent economists", including Mazzacuto.
McDonnell also promises a 'State of the Economy' summit next May.

Mariana Mazzacuto is Professor of the Economics of Innovation in the Science Policy Unit at the University of Sussex. She is the author of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, (Anthem Press, London, 2015). 
Mazzacuto lectured an audience attending 'Economic Policy: from market fixing to market shaping and creating', hosted at the Faraday Theatre at the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, London W1, on 26 January 2016.

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, January 2016