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Tuesday 20 December 2011

What We Need Is Salesmen, Not Greedy Profit Takers

If the current debate over Europe has done nothing else, it has at least made the people of Britain begin to question our country’s relationship with the wider world; and forced us to recognise some unpalatable home truths regarding the UK’s lack of manufacturing capacity, which has not only helped to tie us to the unholy alliance that is the European Union, but has fundamentally limited our ability to trade openly and competitively with the rest of the world. Despite what some may believe, Britain is still a nation of entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, builders, inventors and visionaries, but all too often they are creators frustrated by a lack of commercial insight, investment and infrastructure, the very resources that they need to bring their creations to life within the UK. As a result they are left with little option but to take their ideas, their designs and their innovative concepts outside of Britain simply to see them realised, built, or manufactured elsewhere in the world, so the even though the design itself is “Made In Britain”, the actual products are not. However, even though the lack of a credible and vibrant industrial base is one of the major factors affecting Britain’s ability to make things, it is also true to say that the British habit of unfettered and sometimes clearly unashamed profit taking by owners and investors alike has played an equal part in helping to ensure that the nations industrial capacity will never be rebuilt, unless steps are taken to curb the rapacious appetites of our modern day banks, investment groups, shareholders and business leaders.

According to a report issued by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Britain’s current industrial malaise is not simply the result of the emergence of the newly industrialised BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China), whose development was a significant factor, but was also the result of commercial laziness, a lack of financial investment and a failure to provide effective representation for goods and products in these newly emerging markets, by British manufacturing companies themselves. Where once Britain had some form of commercial representative on every continent around the world, be they public or private, nowadays Britain’s manufacturers are largely left to their own devices to try and sell their wares to the world, a highly costly and often troublesome arrangement that most small manufacturing companies simply cannot afford to implement. For those larger multi-nationals with a stake in these emerging markets, or those government sponsored defence companies whose sales matter to Britain’s economy, no such financial restraints exist and as a result they are generally well represented in Russia and the Far East, as a means to gaining access to the lucrative contracts that will inevitably spring from the modernisation of these developing nations. Increasingly however, even though British manufacturers are gaining a fair share of the medium to high end technological equipment required by the likes of Brazil, Russia, India and China, this does little to help those numerous small to medium sized British producers who would like to gain access to the native populations of the BRIC countries in order to sell them British made products.

As a result many of these smaller manufacturers tend to stay within the confines of the European Union, which is not only geographically closer to their factories, but also offers the advantage of lower transport costs, no tariffs and well established trading relationships. Unfortunately, this reluctance or inability to trade with the likes of Brazil, Russia, India or China simply helps to preserve the existing status quo with regard to our country’s often troublesome membership of the EU, which will almost certainly persist, if British manufacturers and traders are unable to increase our trade with other non-EU countries, such as the BRIC’s, the Commonwealth, as well as North and South America. However, with most medium to large sized companies quietly content to maintain their generally trouble-free and highly profitable trade with their European customers, they generally have little incentive to invest both time and money in investigating new foreign markets; so as a result little is being done to claim a share of these new markets for Britain’s struggling industrial companies.

Sadly this is rather typical of the short-sighted commercial thinking that has come to dominate British industry over the past three or four decades, where minimal investment and maximum profit-taking, low risk and high returns, have typically become the order of the day. Allied to this stagnation in Britain’s manufacturing sector has been the evolution of the UK’s burgeoning financial sector, elements of which have been incorporated into the country’s official trade figures, as export and import services, as opposed to actual physical goods that are bought and sold around the world. It is thought to be increases in these non-manufactured goods that has helped to support Britain’s languishing export figures, helping to give the impression that the country’s export driven industries are in a far better shape than they actually are. According to the same BIS report, between 1998 and 2008, British exports in goods increased by around 72%, while exports in services increased by more than twice that amount, by 156%, illustrating the disparity between the sectors and the UK’s greater reliance on non-manufactured products. During the same period, Japan was said to have increased its exports by 100%, Germany by 176%, France by 100%, and the United States by 95%, putting the UK’s figure into some sort of perspective, at least internationally. However, all of these figures paled in comparison to the 700% increase in exports reported by China, which has become the main manufacturing engine of the world’s economy, often at a direct cost to the workforces of the United States and the UK. Much of the UK’s export in goods was thought to have comprised the previously mentioned medium to high end technological goods that are typically purchased by governments or large industries, typically aspirational equipment, rather than those utilitarian items bought by individual consumers, underlying the fact that it is Britain’s larger international companies that are managing to find foreign markets, rather than smaller British manufacturers, the ones that would undoubtedly add strength to the UK industrial base and create new opportunities and employment.

It is also worth pointing out perhaps that a reliance on services to support the country’s export figures might prove to be troublesome, given that such services are generally tied into the mood and behaviour of international markets, which as previous events have proved can be erratic and highly costly, as in the case of Lehman’s and the 2008 financial crash. Billions of pounds of investors, savers and taxpayer’s money was reported to have been lost, a situation that might have been less critical and cataclysmic had the monies in question been invested in real manufactured goods, as opposed to non-physical financial services like mortgages, insurances and future speculations.

In the decade 1998 to 2008 and despite the development of these new export services, Britain’s share of total world trade was reported to have fallen to 4% in 2008, from a figure of 5.8% in 1998, begging the question, what would have happened to that figure if Britain hadn’t had its growth in export services to support it. Over the same 10 year period Britain’s share of the world’s total imports had also fallen to 6.2% in 1998 to 4.5% in 2008 implying that our country’s impact on world trade was weakening, rather than strengthening, even though during 2007 and 2008 the value of sterling was said to have fallen, meaning that British made goods should have been more popular with overseas customers, but that wasn’t the case. When asked about this some 60% of exporters were said to have been reluctant to put more resources into exploiting sterling’s weakness to generate greater sales, a staggering admission from producers whose life-blood is supposed to be international trade. Out of these same exporters only 27% of them felt that a weaker pound was beneficial for their businesses, reinforcing the view that a large majority of Britain’s manufacturing were unwilling to exploit this opportunity, although the reasons for this remain unclear, although it is surmised that many preferred profit-taking to committing further financial resources to their businesses, seemingly an ongoing attitude amongst the UK’s business community.

At the same time the UK’s share of the world’s total export market has fallen from 5.3% to 3.1% between 1994 and 2009 indicating the seriousness of the situation that is facing Britain’s manufacturing companies; as well as the mountain they have to climb if they have any intention of becoming a major international trading nation in the near future. Even though the likes of Germany and Holland have followed Britain’s lead in producing medium to high end technological products for the world’s markets, more significantly both of these countries have retained their low to medium end manufacturing industries as well, giving them a distinct advantage over the UK, which has very little of this sector operating in Britain. Where German and Dutch businesses are willing to produce cheaper, better value for money products, the UK tends to go to extremes, producing cheaper goods that no-one wants, or expensive products that very few can afford, rather than copying the much more commercially successful Dutch and German models that are aimed in the middle, thereby attracting both ends of the price range. Even though the BRIC nations are reported to have bought up to 6% of Britain’s total exports at one time or another, in reality this is far from being a success story and much more needs to be done, to achieve the sort of double-digit figures that some of our European competitors regularly attain with the likes of China, Russia and Brazil, so there is still much work to be done.

Given that the BRIC nations on their own are widely expected to increase their economies as much as seven times that of existing ones (7 times the growth) then surely it makes sense for British manufacturers to be committing far more money and time into tapping the commercial potential of China, Russia, India and Brazil, rather than just taking the view that it’s all just too much trouble. Much of Germany’s industrial strength is centred on their production of heavy plant and equipment, a model that Britain would do well to copy if it has any intention of being equally successful in the years ahead. But perhaps Britain’s future prosperity is far too important to be left to the private commercial sector alone, who have clearly demonstrated their indifference to growth, while their current profit margins are deemed to be acceptable to bosses and shareholders alike. Maybe for Britain to be a truly successful manufacturing centre again, it will take direct government involvement to motivate and encourage private enterprise to look beyond our existing European borders, to see that there are huge business opportunities in the big wide world, but British business needs to go out and get it, before the competition does.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Biggest And Longest Lie In Britain's Political History

And Britain’s apathetic population probably deserve everything they get, having allowed themselves to become immune and indifferent to the Europhile propagandist mood music that they have listened to and then learnt to ignore over the past 40 years or so. It’s hard to believe that we are the same nation of people who were quite prepared to stand alone during the 1940’s to confront a heavily armed European menace, yet 70 years later we wet ourselves over the prospect of being threatened by a bunch of biro-wielding bureaucrats, who wrongly claim that it’ll be the end of our country if we don’t agree to follow them over the edge of an economic cliff. Are we really still the country of Nelson, Wellington and Churchill, or have we simply become a nation of highly indebted, cringing lemmings who are content to follow their political leaders into the abyss, just because they tell them it’s the right thing to do?

Likewise, it is truly staggering and surely a source of national shame that so many people in Britain continue to believe without question the same sort of propaganda and outright lies regarding the costs of our continuing membership of the European Union that were first deployed in the 1970’s, and which in the intervening years been largely discredited by economists and statisticians alike. Even today we have Europhile politicians informing us that a British withdrawal from the EU would cost an estimate 3 million jobs here in the UK and yet have offered no evidence to substantiate this rather alarming claim. However, according to some sources, the first politician to mention this mythical 3 million jobs was thought to be our former Premier, Tony Blair, who was the same man who also claimed that the UK could and would survive outside of the European Union, despite being a European supporter of the first order. Blair too refused to explain exactly where these 3 million British jobs would be lost and for most reporters on the subject, the only measure of millions of jobs being lost in the UK has come from Britain actually joining the EEC in the 1970’s, when a similar 3 million employment posts were said to have been lost as a result of Britain’s Coal mining, Shipbuilding, Fishing, Agricultural, Steel and other manufacturing jobs being closed largely because of our European membership.

At one time an estimated 300,000 people were said to have been employed in Britain’s numerous shipyards, building the ferries, tankers and warships that sailed the earth’s oceans, carrying cargoes to and from Britain to the great trading nations of the world. However, come the EU and the free market Conservative Party of the 1970’s and 1980’s and most of Britain’s vast shipyards were either closed or sold off into private foreign ownership, which in most cases resulted in the same thing, as other European States sought to protect their own shipbuilding industries largely at the expense of Britain’s. The intention of Thatcher’s government to decimate the country’s historic shipyards, often at the behest of or with the complicity of the EEC is perhaps exemplified by two significant instances. The first of these was our current Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, standing before the House of Commons and announcing that he could see no future in British shipbuilding, despite the fact that we are an island race and a trading one at that, a moment of breathtaking irrationality that helped consign our shipbuilding yards to the history books. The second of these significant events took place in the same year that Mr Clarke drew his devastating conclusion, in 1988, when the Conservative government took the decision to close North East Shipbuilders, at the time one of the best equipped yards in all of Europe, which the government closed with the loss of 2500 jobs, largely because of EU concerns about the overcapacity of shipbuilding facilities within the community, as a result of which it was decided that the North East yards had to go. Even today, British governments continue to sacrifice British manufacturing for the sake of our foreign competitors, as was the case with the train maker Bombardier, who lost a £1.4 billion contract to the German company Siemens, without taking any account of the devastation that that decision would cause to the 1400 Bombardier who subsequently lost their jobs as a result of yet another Tory government’s EU driven choice. These are some of the most highly skilled workers in the country and yet the Coalition Government is content to throw these vital employees onto the scrapheap, all in an effort to satisfy our European neighbours.

Unfortunately for British manufacturing and unlike our European neighbours, successive administrations at Westminster have chosen to play by the rules of the game, whilst our competitors choose to deliberately skew contracts to benefit their native workforces, a system that the French and German governments are particularly adept at. However, rather than replicate their foreign counterparts, British government would rather see their home manufacturing base slowly but surely disappear, rather than copying the continental model of buying and supporting home-grown products. It is absurd for anyone to claim that British jobs rely on our membership of the European Union, as history clearly proves that this multi-billion pound common market has actually costs thousands, if not millions of British jobs, as opposed to creating any. How long one wonders before proposed defence treaties lead to the loss of our British aircraft, ship and tank building jobs, or worse still the loss of tens of thousands of British ground troops, as we get ever closer to sharing our defence industries with our continental partners, all for the sake of a highly disparate, unethical and questionable political union?

Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes, David Cameron, George Osborne, et al would have us all believe that outside of the EU, Britain would be a much weaker nation state, which would hold little if any sway within the international community. In fact, Nick Clegg went further by implying that without the EU, Britain was in danger of becoming a “Pygmy” state, isolated and ignored. Of course in reality, the only thing that is pygmy-sized is Mr Clegg’s own intellect, which becomes more and more evident as each day goes by. So completely enamoured by his own perceived importance, he and his Lib Dem colleagues would already have Britain fully signed up to every European treaty, including the Euro, were he able, safe in his own mind that the lies, half-truths and propaganda that he peddles is somehow right. Mind you, David Cameron is little different in believing the spin that his Europhile coalition partners, European leaders and the numerous technocrats in Brussels spew out at an ever increasing rate. Even though they have no mandate in Britain, or indeed allegiance to our country, it is widely reported that millions of Euro’s have been spent in helping to persuade, cajole and mislead the British public into believing that the European Community is the best thing since sliced bread; and in the process, dragging us into the biggest hole ever dug by mankind.

The truth of the matter is this, rather than being some sort of pygmy nation, Britain is one of the world’s foremost economies, in spite of the best efforts of the EU to hobble our economic, diplomatic and political power for themselves. Not only are we one of the largest and most vibrant economies on the planet, but also a permanent member of the United Nations, a member of the G20, a founding member of the IMF, as well as the WTO and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations……..some pygmy indeed! It is also worth noting that only around 10% of Britain’s total GDP is traded with the European Union, a significant part of which is not actually destined for EU states, but is simply transited through a European state or port, so the much acclaimed 40% of our trade that the Europhiles constantly trumpet, as a reason for being in the EU, is not quite as important as it first may appear. If the EU disappeared tomorrow, much of that transitory trade would remain intact and would still need British workers to produce it and would continue to earn revenue for our country. In a report from 1999-2000 it was estimated that 93% of the world’s independent states operate outside of the Eurozone, whilst 94% of these same independent states have NOT joined a single currency union. Additionally, 95% of the world’s population live outside of the Eurozone, making the much vaunted 500 million person market of Europe look singularly unimpressive by comparison. One India, or China would probably outnumber the EU population by some way, so quite why we’re so worried about losing access to 500 million people in Europe absurd. But then again that’s another lie isn’t it, the threat that by withdrawing from Europe would somehow lose us these European markets, because in reality that wouldn’t or couldn’t happen.

Consider this, in reality the European Union has been in decline for the past decade or so as other Asian-Pacific markets emerge, leaving Europe as very much a thing of the past and the likes of Brazil, Russia, India and China reflecting the future of international trade; and somewhere that Britain’s manufacturing and marketing efforts should be firmly focused. Equally interesting is that of the 200 or so nations that can and do trade with other countries, the EU has trade agreements with approximately 180 of them, but NOT with Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, most of which are historic trading partners with Britain, but which are now largely closed to the UK because of our continuing European membership. Not only is this commercial suicide for British manufacturers, but a indirect snub to those former trading partners who played a significant role in helping to build Britain’s earlier global business empire.

Another interesting aspect of the perceived threat to Britain’s trade should we choose to leave the European Union is that Europe would be legally bound to allow us to continue trading with our current partners under the terms of both EFTA and the WTO, the world’s two major trading organisations. Although the EU would be able to impose a charge for granting us access to their “enclosed” market, this has not discouraged the likes of Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, who all have superior GDP per capita figures than most countries in the EU, suggesting that being outside of the Union has proved to be highly beneficial to their own economies. In other words they are generally twice a wealthy as their EU counterparts, which begs the question…why? Not only are they reported to be wealthier, but on average also have lower inflation, higher employment, healthier budget surpluses and lower interest rates; and yet they operate outside of the supposedly more successful and prosperous European Union…….dispelling yet another Europhile lie perhaps? More importantly perhaps in a British context, all of these nation states have retained control of the territorial waters and their national borders and are largely free of the mountainous legal and social legislation that threatens to drown most of their European neighbours, including the UK. Additionally, all of these four countries are free to make their own trade agreements with the likes of Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, etc. the very same partners that Britain is prevented from dealing with on a national basis, two of which are Commonwealth members!

According to Daniel Hannan MEP for every one piece of EU legislation that these countries receive from Brussels, most of which they can refuse to adopt, fully signed up Union members such as Britain receive six, a total of around 18,000 laws that are said to cost our country anything up to £20 billion. For anyone to suggest that Britain cannot survive outside of the cloying arms of the EU is not only laughable, but clearly delusional when you consider that Switzerland with 7.5 million citizens, Norway with 4.5 million, Iceland with 300,000 and Liechtenstein with 20,000 people can survive perfectly well and prosper too, whilst some 60 million Briton’s can’t, is just complete and utter nonsense, never mind it being an out and out lie!

Remember this, 40 years ago the British people were told that Britain couldn’t survive outside of the European Economic Community, now the EU and that membership of this exclusive club would bring us nothing but growth and prosperity. We were told that the EEC was purely a trading body that had no intention of growing into a political experiment that would cede control of member states to an unelected body in Brussels and Strasbourg, let alone to foreign leaders in France and Germany. No loss of sovereignty, job creation, financial success and peace on earth and goodwill to all would be the result of this great experiment; and politicians from all parties, from home and abroad, all conspired to mislead and lie to the British public about their ultimate intentions. So here we are some 40 years later, a whole lot poorer, a lot less enthused and with a much smaller pot to piss in. Our great industries, the backbone of our nation that once accounted for around 30% of our economy has now shrunk to a struggling 10% and employs a little over 2 million workers. Millions of our former fishermen, farmers, miners, shipbuilders, engineers, welders, etc who helped forge Britain’s place in the world are either retired, unemployed, been re-trained as call centre workers, or have left to pastures new, to countries where their talents are appreciated and valued. Our territorial waters and their native fish stocks are now regularly trawled, exploited and decimated by EU fisherman who use every legal loophole to hide their abuses, whilst British owned trawlers have been abandoned or broken up, because there’s no work for them. Similarly, we are now importing significant amounts of coal from beyond our shores, because we lack the mines, equipment and miners to exploit the hundreds of years of supplies that still lie beneath our feet. What a waste….what nonsense…..what a complete and utter farce!

The old adage of “lies, damn lies and statistics” being used to describe an argument that is largely weak and supported by highly questionable evidence couldn’t be more appropriate for the subject of the European Union and the supposed benefits that its supporters claim it has brought to our country. I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but I don’t need to be to see that Europe is and always was a leech, a parasite, on the British economy and its people, a self inflicted wound that the British people must decide to deal with before it kills the patient; and the only way for that to happen is for the British electorate to finally enforce its will on Parliament through the only way possible………the ballot box.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Canada - Britain's Greatest North Atlantic Ally II

Although Canada was entirely independent of Britain by September 1939, when the Second World War erupted, the Canadian government declared war against Nazi Germany on 10th September nonetheless and the following day issued a similar declaration against Mussolini’s Italy. As was the case elsewhere with many of the western allies, during the inter-war years Canada was thought to have put little investment into its armed forces and in common with its pre-First World War status had a relatively small full-time army of several thousand which was supplemented by a part-time militia, both of which were poorly trained and ill-equipped.

In common with most democratic countries of the time, Canada, along with its former allies, Britain, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, etc. had believed that the losses of the Great War would prevent such an event ever happening again, but as with all of the other allied nations, they were wrong. Fortunately for the allied cause, in common with the United States, Canada was reported to have had the capacity to become one of the world’s greatest industrial producers and like its southern neighbour was able to mobilise these vast manufacturing facilities to produce materials for the war, including ships, aircraft and wheeled vehicles. However, according to some sources, the most important products supplied by Canada during the Second World War were the vast amounts of both aluminium and nickel, both of which were necessary components of the allied war effort. The first military supply convoy reportedly left Canada just days after war had been officially declared and by June 1940, the first Canadian troops were said to have been landed in Europe, in an attempt to reinforce the British and French forces that were being forced back to Dunkirk by the advancing German army. Unfortunately, the Canadian troops were thought to have reached France far too late to prevent the large scale evacuation of the allied expeditionary force and were subsequently forced to withdraw from Europe, back to the isolated British mainland.

Rather frustratingly perhaps, for the Canadian troops, with Britain generally besieged and few foreign theatres in which to operate effectively against Germany and her Axis allies, most of these Canadian forces were thought to have been largely restricted to defending Britain’s mainland from the threat of an impending German invasion, which never actually happened. Thanks largely to a British Air Force which contained numerous Commonwealth pilots from around the world, including many from Canada itself; the German Luftwaffe was prevented from gaining air superiority, which was a prerequisite for the planned military invasion of Britain. With the Battle of Britain won by the RAF and its limited numbers of pilots and planes, Germany subsequently turned its attention to Russia, fatally wounding its own long term military ambitions by fighting on two separate fronts, one to the east and one to the west.

Apart from the ill-fated and largely unsuccessful raid on the French port of Dieppe in August 1942, most Canadian troops had to wait until 1943 before they could become formerly engaged on the European continent, when they were fully employed in both the invasion of Sicily and later the Italian mainland. However, elements of the Canadian army were said to have been involved with one of the conflicts most notable Special Forces units, the Devil’s Brigade, a mixed force made up of both American and Canadian troops. Although they were reportedly tasked for a number of extremely difficult missions, the unit’s first high profile operation was reportedly against Monte La Defensa in Italy, during December 1943, where they were reported to have scaled a seemingly impenetrable cliff face to overcome German positions that were stationed there. Having overcome their initial target, the Brigade were then said to have been used to attack a number of similarly difficult mountain targets, as a result of which some 70% of the unit was thought to have been either killed or wounded.

By January of the following year the Brigade was said to have been reinforced and put back into the frontline at Anzio, where they were first referred to as the “Devils Brigade”, having terrified the life out of the German forces that were opposing them. With the approach of the allied invasion of mainland Europe planned for June 1944, the Canadian forces were said to have allocated their own section of the Normandy coastline, codenamed “Juno” beach, where they suffered heavy casualties as they hurled themselves ashore to begin the long awaited liberation of Europe. Despite incurring heavier losses than any other allied force on the day, with the exception of the American troops on “Omaha” beach, the Canadian troops were reported to have still managed to penetrate deeper into occupied France than any other allied soldiers, save for those paratroopers who had been deliberately dropped inland in order to disable German communication systems, thereby preventing them from reinforcing their coastal defences, which were being attacked and overrun by the allies.

Canadian forces were later instrumental in helping to secure the port of Antwerp, leading a mixed British, Polish Belgian and Dutch force to secure the Scheldt estuary, which was still held by the Germans, thereby preventing the allies from using Antwerp as a supply point for their military operations in Europe. Suffering extremely heavy losses, of which some six thousand were reportedly Canadians, this force was said to have spent several weeks helping to secure the area around Antwerp, before turning their attention to the liberation of the Netherlands. Throughout the entire course of the Second World War, the Canadian people were reported to have contributed hundreds of thousands of their young men and women to the allied cause, who subsequently served in virtually every service, from the Army and Navy, to the Air Force and the auxiliary services, including Nursing and the Merchant Marine. Some one hundred thousand Canadian’s were thought to have been killed or wounded during the conflict, amongst which a significant number of gallantry awards were said to have been earned by Canada’s fighting forces, including several Victoria Crosses, the highest award that could be issued by the British military authorities.

Canada - Britain's Greatest North Atlantic Ally

Watching a TV programme about the last heroes of World War II, I was struck by the numbers of former US and to a lesser extent British soldiers who fought in the final battles leading to the defeat of Nazi Germany and its wartime allies. Speaking personally, I have always believed that if Britain has one true ally across the Atlantic, then it is Canada, rather than the USA, who are our truest friends across the ocean, a fact that they have proved when our country has faced its darkest moments, but which has been largely overlooked by many commentators and historians. The following is an extract from my book “Mariners, Merchants and the Military Too – A History of the British Empire” relating Canada’s contribution to the British Empire during World War I alone…….

“As with many of Great Britain’s self governing colonies and dominions, the outbreak of the First World War proved to be a pivotal moment in the history of these former Imperial territories, marking their change from being an historic dependency of the British Crown, to becoming a recognisable international state in its own right. Through its political decision making, but more importantly through the valour and commitment of its armed forces, Canada was reported to have finally emerged upon the world stage as an independent democratic nation which willingly submitted itself to upholding the ideals of freedom and democracy. As in the other great British colonies and dominions throughout the globe, including India, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, tens of thousands of young Canadian’s, both men and women, were reported to have rallied to Britain’s cause, willingly committing themselves to her defence. Despite only having a relatively small standing army of some several thousand men, within a matter of months, some thirty thousand Canadians were said to have volunteered to serve in Western Europe and were making their way across the Atlantic to take their place on the Western front. The first Canadian troops were thought to have arrived in France by the beginning of 1915 and elements of their 1st Division were reportedly some of the first allied troops to have been attacked with the poison chlorine gas which was commonly used by the German army. While large numbers of British and French troops were said to have fled the threat of this new weapon, the Canadians were thought to have quickly realised that the effects of the gas could be neutralised by the use of urine soaked rags being placed over their nose and mouths, helping them to hold their positions and preventing the enemy forces from advancing. However, even with their homemade defence against the poisonous clouds that were unleashed on their lines, it was still reported that some six thousand Canadian troops were affected by the gas, of which, a full third were thought to have died as a direct result of it being deployed against them.

Canadian forces were also an intrinsic part of the allied force that was marshalled in 1916 in preparation for the Battle of the Somme, which ultimately resulted in the largest number of allied casualties ever suffered by British and Dominion forces, nearly fifty eight thousand men killed or wounded in a single day. As much the result of poor planning, communications and inadequate leadership, as it was of complete incompetence, such enormous human losses were thought to have become a common feature of the First World War overall, although for the Canadian’s specifically, the Somme campaign alone was thought to have accounted for some twenty five thousand casualties, either killed or wounded. Despite such losses however, Canada’s frontline troops, continued to enhance their military reputation, reportedly being prepared to take on any military assignment, seemingly regardless of the cost and earning the everlasting esteem of their civilian contemporaries, as well as their political masters in equal measure. Vimy Ridge was said to be just one of the many battles which saw the Canadian military divisions take their place in the vanguard of various allied operations, designed to capture the German army’s well established defensive lines. Beginning on the morning of the 9th April 1917, a “creeping artillery barrage” was said to have cleared the way for the following Canadian troops, who then cleared the trenches of their German defenders, slowly, but surely moving the allied lines forward of their previous positions. By the afternoon of the following day the Canadian troops had not only taken a great deal of ground, but also captured several thousand German prisoners and killed many hundreds more. However, the victory had not come without a high price for Canada’s own young troops, who were reported to have suffered some eleven thousand casualties, either dead or wounded, a figure which underpinned their utter determination to achieve the objectives that they had been given.

Seven months later and largely because of their tenacious reputation, Canadian troops were reported to have been redeployed to the Ypres area, in readiness for yet another allied offensive that later became known as the Second Battle of Passchendaele, which was fought between October and November 1917. In conjunction with British and Anzac troops, Canadian soldiers were tasked with pushing the German’s front line back, allowing the allied positions to be advanced, so that the town of Passchendaele could be recovered by the allies. Although there were several instances of allied reversals and occasional failures to reach individual objectives, the operation itself proved to be successful, although the entire campaign was said to have cost some sixteen thousand Canadian casualties, with at least a quarter of that number being killed. Despite these losses though, Canadian troops were thought to have been so vital to the allied offensive strategy that they were intensively employed throughout much of 1918, most notably during the famous One Hundred Days Offensive, which saw Canadian troops and others, participate in the Battle of Amiens, Cambrai and the vital breaking of the Hindenburg Line which ultimately forced Germany to agree an Armistice on 11th November 1918. As with a number of other former British colonies, including Australia and New Zealand, by the end of the First World War, Canada’s international reputation as one of the principal victorious allied nations, had been assured and the military worth of its fighting forces had likewise been enhanced. Back in Canada itself, its own people began to see themselves as an integral part of the international community, a country with its own culture, traditions and now with a reputation and standing that was equal to its previously more dominant American and British counterparts. Although Canada was thought to have been largely independent of Britain, since the beginning of the 20th century, its emergence after World War I, was thought to mark the period when most Canadians began to see themselves as Canadians, rather than being historically tied to or associated with Britain or indeed the United States”

(Extract from: Mariners, Merchants and the Military Too by Phillip E Jones)

I'm Not European - I'm British And Proud Of It!!

Don’t you just love it, when the foreign press attack us for being “British”, as if that’s something that we should all be ashamed of! What most foreigners fail to understand is the very characteristics that annoy them so much, are the very traits that make our country so unique and previously helped our tiny little island nation become one of the greatest trading and military empires that the world has ever witnessed; and will probably never see again.

The British people are also unique because they share no single common origin, but are largely the result of an amalgam of peoples, from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, as well as those regular waves of invaders and refugees from continental Europe, who have settled on our shores and subsequently been absorbed into our general population. The Anglo Saxons, Normans, Danes, Dutch and Norwegians have all played a part in helping to create Britain’s national identity, bringing with them the very best and worst of their own cultural heritage; thus helping to create a mongrel race who are unlike any other national population in Europe. It is little wonder therefore that other modern European’s fail to fully understand the British people, when we have so little in common with them.

Although the idea of being “British” has tended to wane in the past few decades, mainly because there is no unifying purpose to tie the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh populations together, one suspects that most people living in England, would typically describe themselves as British, rather than English. With Scotland, Ireland and Wales all having achieved some degree of political and regional independence in recent years, with the establishment of their own national assemblies, so their citizens have increasingly begun to see themselves as Scottish, Irish or Welsh, rather than British, thus undermining the historic links to the Union that once tied all four nations together.

It’s difficult to try and identify specific British characteristics, other than the stereotypical whiners, who incessantly talk about the weather, which is the way most foreigners seem to regard the British people. Of course, the British people that they choose to forget are those many millions who have died in order to preserve other countries democratic rights, or the British public who have welcomed millions of refugees over the centuries; and who have made them welcome on our shores. They also forget the tens of thousands of British people who regularly donate to various charities every year, to feed and clothe those less fortunate in Africa and Asia, not because they have to, but because they choose to do so.

It’s perhaps worth remembering that although we might be painted as a nation of beer swilling, telly watching, wannabe celebrities, the vast majority of the British public are not only generous of spirit, but are also prepared to sacrifice themselves, their sons and daughters, in order that international law and basic human rights are observed by less compliant states. It’s a mistake to judge the British people by the standards of their political leaders, many of whom are completely unlike the citizens that they purport to represent. As seems to be the case throughout the world, for the past four or five decades Britain has been unfortunate enough to be led by a succession of low grade politicians who have somehow managed to attain the highest office in the land, without having the slightest clue of what to do once they get there. As a result, the entire country has fallen into an economic, political and social malaise that seems to get worse with each succeeding government; and that requires financial trickery and deliberately invented property bubbles to keep the country from erupting into civil disorder. Is it any wonder that the British public eye all politicians, foreign or domestic with such unbridled cynicism. As somebody commented on a newspaper thread “Cameron, Clegg and Miliband may be idiots, but at least they’re our idiots and we can choose to elect them or not”, unlike those unelected politicians across the English Channel, who want us to simply dispense with our hard won independence; and then threaten us with all sort of economic reprisals if we continue to refuse their offer.

Speaking for myself, such overtures simply help to confirm my personal view that I am not European, never was, never have been and never will be! I’m British and proud to be just that. We may have our problems and a pretty poor set of politicians, most of whom lack the credibility, principles and leadership qualities of previous generations,, but they’re ours nonetheless and we’ll have to make do with them, till something better comes along. We may lack the discipline of the Germans, the flair of the French, the passion of the Italians, Spanish and Greeks, but give me the independently determined and slightly impoverished character of the British any day of the week.

Thursday 13 October 2011

Books, Blogs and Publishing too - Part Three

So, having uploaded my books onto the Amazon servers, you then have to deal with the thorny issue of what price to put on your work. There are obviously a number of schools of thought regarding price, including giving them away for free, in the hope that people will like the author’s work so much that they’ll be prepared to buy their other chargeable books. Alternatively, authors might charge a minimal price, say around 99 cents, in the hope that so many Kindle owners will buy the bargain book that it will all mount up to a tidy sum, after all, isn’t success sometimes based on the strategy of “little and often”? If a writer can sell 10,000 copies of their book at 99 cents each, then it’s still a tidy profit. The third option for author’, is to try and calculate a fair price for their book based on what other comparable books and similarly unknown writers are selling for. I mention that simply because unless you have a massively undeserved ego, few writers are going to compare themselves to the likes of Stephen King, J K Rowling, etc. who have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.

Considering the possible options for pricing my own books, there was no way I was going to give them away for free, at least not immediately. Quite apart from the time and effort I’ve put into producing them, only the market can really dictate whether or not they’re worth a single red cent and as such it would be foolish to give something away for free, when someone might actually choose to pay you for it. The same argument can equally apply in making the decision to sell your books for a nominal fee, which is typically around 99 cents. Even though some writers and book marketing experts take the view that such a low price can encourage buyers to purchase books they might normally avoid, it’s worth remembering that you’ll have to sell a significantly more to end up with a decent return. In a relatively straightforward equation you’re selling your book for $1 and a rival author is selling theirs for $5, meaning that you have to sell five times as many just to earn the same financial return. Although we’ve all become accustomed to the idea of a bargain, fundamentally it could still be argued that a low price reflects low quality, so if you’re getting a book for nothing or for $1 then should you expect it to be brilliant in every respect. Likewise, the idea that low prices or freebies actually guarantee large numbers of “sales” doesn’t always apply, as why would someone download a book that they don’t want, don’t need or possibly won’t even read?

For me, it made far more sense to calculate a price based on what other similar books were selling for, as at least that way and assuming you’re not competing against a known author, you’re competing on a fairly level playing field. Having previously had a similar pricing problem with a dog magazine that I used to produce, in an ideal world you should be able to equate the selling price to the level of content. In that particular case I tried to work on the basis of around 10p per printed page, which for a forty or fifty page magazine would work out at about £5 per copy, a price that most readers were more than happy to pay at the time. Clearly, such a pricing mechanism isn’t the same for printed books, or indeed for e-books, but it doesn’t hurt for an author to have a vague idea of how much their work is worth to them personally, thereby allowing them to fix a price and to stick to it. Although my own books are not the cheapest, neither are they the more expensive; and the fact that they entirely fit into the non-fiction history category has undoubtedly played a part in the number of buyers that they have attracted thus far. A couple of my books have had rubbish sales, whilst others have done okay, but then again I never had any real expectations of them becoming best sellers, just so long as they earn me regular money, which seems to be the case up to now. That’s where the numbers part of the process comes in though, a sufficient number of books, each earning a sufficient amount of revenue, equates to a sufficient personal income; and if you hoping to be a full-time writer then that’s what you’re looking for, right?

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Books, Blogs and Publishing too - Part Two

Having made the decision to go down the self-publishing route rather than try and navigate the numerous submission processes of the traditional publishing houses, my first point of call was Lulu, the self publishing website that offers both electronic and hard copy versions of your books, which can be sold through their site, or your own if you have one. Although it took quite a while to figure the uploading process, especially when creating the front cover file for each book, Lulu’s system was relatively easy to use and effortlessly converted my computers MS Word files to PDF, along with the cover files I managed to create in a very basic format. The electronic version of the books looked quite good initially, although largely due to my own fault, when I ordered hard copies of each one and had them delivered to me, they didn’t look quite so hot, although most of the unsightly errors were quickly undone and revised copies ordered from the printer.

To be fair, I was quite happy with the finished result, so much so, that in order to make marketing my books a little bit easier I even decided to purchase a block of ISBN numbers, so that I could get them recorded on the official ISBN listing sheets that the likes of Amazon, Waterstones, etc use to order books from suppliers. However, having worked out the actual costs of ordering printed copies from Lulu and then realised the sorts of discounts demanded by the high street stores, it quickly became apparent that the figures didn’t add up and either the selling price would need to be so extortionate that nobody in their right mind would buy them, or perhaps more seriously I would end up making little or nothing from each sale. As it turned out I made a few sales to local outlets where I was able to dictate the selling and purchase prices for each book, so that the retailers made a decent margin and so did I, but eventually realised that unless I was going to retrain as some sort of super salesman, then this particular route to self publishing was gong to end in complete and utter failure. Since then, although I have continued to utilise Lulu’s online services and created books in both print and electronic versions, I haven’t ordered any more printed copies, preferring instead for any potential customers to buy direct off Lulu and save me the headache of having to stock, transfer and post items to each individual customer. As it’s turned out I still get occasional book sales through Lulu’s website and all without having to worry about cost, discounts or trying to get paid.

With that particular scheme being both troublesome and unprofitable, bearing in mind I want to be writing, not “dicking” about with administration and marketing all day long, I turned my attention to trying to get my books onto Amazon’s Kindle device. However, as with most things on the internet, this wasn’t a straightforward process, as Amazon would only accept certain file types for the Kindle; and I’d never even heard of a PRC file, let alone created one. Fortunately, having posed the question on Google, I was easily able to find a cracking little program called Mobipocket Creator, which convert HTML files into suitable files for the kindle, even though it meant that I had to rearrange my MS Word files into Frontpage HTML files, along with all the relevant image files that my book manuscripts contained. Although it had its limitations in respect to page layout, etc. Mobipocket turned out to be a fantastic little package, which ultimately allowed me to format all six books into Kindle files and put them up for sale throughout the Amazon network. I have to say that I have been more than impressed with the results from this particular exercise; and where sales have been less than brilliany, this is entirely the result of subject matter rather than anything else, after all not everyone is interested in the history of my home city, though I can’t imagine why?