Saturday, 23 August 2008

Mum and Politics

I was called by my Mother a couple of days ago and she had clearly been dedicating some time and thought to my current antics. She was kind enough to share with me a couple of her insights and to my enormous surprise she suggested that it was actually a very sensible idea to be moving into my tent at the start of the winter. Somewhat puzzled, I asked her why?

She pointed out that for the first few months of my camping exploits I would be enchanted by the whole adventure and that the novelty of it may go a great distance towards making the discomfort of winter more bearable. By the time the winter starts to subside I will probably be pretty bored of getting home to a damp tent in the dark and the spring will be just around the corner.

I had not considered this so far but was happy to accept mums accusation of wisdom whilst pretending that this had been an integral part of my scheme from the outset. The other nugget of insight that she had to offer was that my blog has been becoming a bit ranty. I read back through the last few posts and realised she was quite correct but I am not so sure this is a bad thing.

I have spent the last few days in Zurich on business and have discovered that I am possibly the worst imaginable ambassador for our country. I spent a very pleasant evening in the company of one of the members of the naturalisation committee for the country who was very happy to indulge my interest in his country's government and people.

From the moment I set foot on Swiss soil I realised that they are streets ahead of us. They have electric trams that hurtle about the city and whilst the abundance of electric cables overhead and the noise are not the most discreet they are powered by the nations considerable Hydroelectric installations. Also admirable is the way that throughout the day they sell their hydroelectric power to their neighbours at peak prices and then during the night they buy power from the very same people and use it pump water back to the tops of their reservoirs, providing them with enough juice to be able to unleash the flood gates come morning and start selling it back. Now that I thought was cunning.

I also asked if the Swiss economy was prey to the dangers of the Global credit crunch and the response I got was very interesting. It seems that only about 30% of the Swiss actually own their homes, housing associations are king. For those that do own their homes, the vast majority are very committed to using them as actual homes, as tax is paid on housing at the point of sale and not the point of purchase. The longer you have owned your home, the less tax you pay on it, which makes speculating on the property market a far harder prospect. This both increases social mobility as less people buy homes but also serves to resist the temptation to commoditise the housing market.

Here in the UK most noteworthy manufacturing has dwindled to the production of call centre staff and home grown marijuana and we have become increasingly dependent on our housing market to provide the primary economic activity of the country. It wouldn't surprise me at all if we were all compelled by new legislation to play musical houses with our friends in order to keep up the momentum of our insane property market but the Swiss seem to have it pretty well under control.

Oh, and the swiss are largely governed by referendum. Shuh, like that is possible. Actually, it is. An old saying goes, Governments do not gain power by taking our freedoms but by assuming our responsibilities and all of the Swiss that I talked to in my very limited visit seemed aware of their country and their responsibilities. As one chap said to me, "we have very little violence here, but then everyone knows that everyone else has a gun at home."

They pay less tax but have greater social responsibility, they have cleaner streets, less obesity, smokers, binge drinkers... I could go on and on. But that may upset my rantaphobic mother. So I won't. Suffice to say, I am going to be buying a Teach-Yourself-German CD and put it in the car, just in case.

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