The UK General Election 2017


What is it?

The UK had a General Election on Thursday 8th June 2017. This is when we elect a representative, in our constituency area, for Parliament. It is supposed to happen once every 5 years but we have had three elections in 7 years now (2010, 2015 and 2017). The Prime Minister Theresa May called the Election when she was significantly ahead in the polls from her nearest rival, the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. Theresa May called the Election purely on political grounds for her party. She expected and wanted to win an increased majority to give her a mandate in the upcoming Brexit negotiations as the UK leaves the European Union(‘EU’). She also did not have a personal mandate as she became leader of the Conservative party after David Cameron resigned following the UK Referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU. As she was now leader she automatically became Prime Minister (‘PM’) but had not been elected by the UK electorate. 

What happened?

What actually happened was that Labour gained 30 seats and the Conservatives lost 13 seats. She made the campaign about “strong and stable” leadership. As a consequence this is a huge failure for her; the gamble did not pay off. 

Minority Government 

Theresa May now has to form a government with the support of the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party (‘DUP’). This is hardly strong and stable – more like a weak and wobbly coalition. We shall see how the coalition pans out and what concessions have been made to the DUP to elicit their support.

The key moment will be the vote on the Queen’s speech. If Theresa May fails to get that passed in parliament then Jeremy Corbyn will be asked by the Queen to form a minority government. It could result in another general election before the year is out so that one party can take control.

It’s not a new thing though, the Scottish National Party ran a minority government in Scotland about 10 years ago and John Major survived without a majority in the dying days of his administration in the mid-1990s. Harold Wilson and James Callaghan governed with minorities for most of the 1970s (and probably the most memorable Labour administrations that everyone remembers for all the wrong reasons).

The Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, have 10 MPs and if they vote with the Conservatives, the government will be able to get its business through Parliament. The easiest way for the government to ensure regular DUP support in Parliament would be to agree a “confidence and supply” arrangement. The DUP would promise to back the government in votes of no confidence and budget (supply) issues. In return, the government would support or fund some of the DUP’s policies. 

Facts and figures

Women 

There are now 208 women in the Commons, up from 191 in 2015. This takes female representation in the Commons to a new high of 32% of MPs. There are significant variations between parties:  Labour 45% of their MPs are women and 21% for the Conservatives. 

Lost deposits

To stand as a candidate in the General Election, you have to submit an application to your local returning officer with a £500 deposit.When a party gets less than 5% of the vote in a constituency, it loses the £500 deposit each candidate needs to put down to stand. 

The Prime Minister’s constiuency always attracts a large number of candidates due to the guaranteed publicity on election night. The media always report live the outcome of the PM’s constituency as well as the leader of the opposition (as well as numerous other key or important, newsworthy constituencies). Now the majority of those standing in the PM’s constituency only got a few votes each, meaning that they lost their deposits. They included the Green Party, UKIP, Animal Welfare Party, Lord Buckethead (yes, really), the Monster Raving Looney Party (‘Howling Laud Hope’), Christian Peoples Alliance, the Just Political Party and three brave Independents. Lord Buckethead has now developed a following on social media as a consequence of his appearance in the election.

The Lib Dems lost deposits in 375 seats(£187,500), UKIP lost 337 deposits (£168,500). The Green Party lost the most deposits with 455; That’s a whopping £227,500 down the drain.

Other facts

Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s share of the vote more than any other leader since Clement Attlee (who had a 10.4% swing in 1945). Nine Conservative ministers lost their seats including Ben Gummer who co-authored the Conservative manifesto. Rosie Duffield won Canterbury defeating former defence minister Sir Julian Brazier and taking the constituency Labour for the first time since its inception in 1918. The Conservatives secured 13 seats in Scotland, making it their best performance since 1983. Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister in the coalitions government, lost his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour. A final punishment for his reversal on tuition fees and joining the Tories in coalition. 

The electorate was 46,843,896 and the turnout was 68.7% meaning that nearly a third of the electorate did not vote. There were 3,303 candidates contesting a total of 650 seats. This is down from the 3,971 candidates who stood in the 2015 General Election which in turn was 162 lower than the all-time high of 4,133 in 2010. 

The DUP

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is the largest unionist political party in Northern Irelandand is far right on the political spectrum. It was founded by the late Rev Ian Paisley in 1971 (at the height of the troubles), breaking away from the Ulster Unionist Party (the ruling party in the country since its formation in 1922). Unionism in Ireland is a political ideology that favours the continuation of some form of political union between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain. Since the partition of Ireland, unionism in Ireland has focused on maintaining and preserving the place of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom. 

The Rev Ian Paisley led the party for 38 years. The current leader is Arlene Foster. It is the largest party in the Northern Ireland Assembly and the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. 

What next?

Theresa May will be forming her cabinet and changes will be necessary as she lost some ministers in the election. Jeremy Corbyn too will be forming a shadow cabinet. Then there is the Queen’s speech and the subsequent parliamentary vote, which will be the first test of the new coalition government. Theresa May is going to have to compromise on policy and legislation and carefully select that which she really want to get through Parliament as upsetting a few back benchers will mean a defeat. Watch out for MPs hanging aimlessly around parliament late at night waiting for a vote, as every vote really does count. It has been known in the past for MPs to be wheeled in from hospital to vote on crucial matters. 

Whatever happens it will certainly be interesting. Perhaps another General Election before the end of the year, who knows!

Being too Busy in Bangalore to Blog

I haven’t written a blogpost for a couple of weeks. I have come to really enjoy writing and I am missing my daily drafting of notes of things to write about and update you. What have I been doing then?

U.K. Visitor and School Inspection 

We had a visitor with us from the UK for a week. We took a day trip to Mysore (which will be the subject of a blogpost at some point) as well as a trip around Bangalore seeing a few things. I also took him to a friend’s place as she was hosting a talk on North East India. The beer and biryani was certainly an attraction but the talk was fascinating.

During the same week though there was a visiting group from the international Baccalaureate accreditation who were looking at the school. I was on a panel of parents who were asked a few very easy questions about the school and the environment. So that took up an afternoon. 

On the Friday Zahra was in the PYP music concert and then finished school at midday. She also had a friend over for the afternoon for a play date. We went to the pool for the afternoon. 

The week just flew by really.

PTA Charity Gala

Well, it’s all been about the Stonehill International School PTA Charity Gala for the last few months and very hectic over the last few weeks. 

I’ve been sourcing gifts for the raffle and silent auction as well as vouchers for all attendees. I was pleased with the results. Thank you to those wonderful people who did donate and those who bought tickets.

I have to say though that the experience was one that was certainly an education in cultural differences. I can say with confidence that it is a heck of a lot easier to source raffle prizes in the UK than it is in India. Most businesses simply refused. Others passed the request up the lines of management (for there are many) before refusing. Those who indicated they might be interested in sponsoring wanted to know immediately what they would get in return and presented a long list of requests. Suffice to say that European contacts and companies were a lot more forthcoming and didn’t make these demands.

The whole process was exhausting. I had so many phone calls, emails, Whatsapp messages to try and get some of the donators over the line. It was if I was asking some of them to sell their granny to me!

I won’t be quick in volunteering to do that again. I’d rather bake some cakes. Which leads me nicely onto the next event.

Swim Tournament at School 

There is an international swim tournament being held at school on Friday and Saturday. (Zahra has an ENT viral infection and can’t participate.) We are hosting two girls from the Dehli school who are from New Zealand and Japan. They arrive Thursday afternoon. I’ve been shopping for healthy snacks (not easy in Bangalore) as I am sure competitive swimmers will be hungry. We rearranged bedrooms and got spare beds ready, all whilst baking for the bake sale. 

I’ll be having a stall to sell cakes and (handmade) cards at the swim tournament. So I’ve been baking: Chocolate Brownies, cookies, red velvet tray bake, flapjack, chocolate fudge cake with mini eggs, coconut cake and chocolate coconut cake. So far. More to come.

Sofas

It’s fair to say that travelling thousands of miles in a shipping container and a move across campus took its toll on our sofas. I washed the removable covers, only for them to shrink. 

I’ve bought new fabric – which Zahra chose- and the tailors are currently sewing up a storm in the lounge. Bespoke re upholstery is cheaper than buying a new sofa in India.


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So imagine the scene, there are cakes and cookies chilling everywhere and I have tailors measuring and sewing on the floor. In addition I finally got round to having all our art work framed and that’s sat around the walls on the floor waiting to be hung. 

It’s chaos. 

Volunteering at a Slum Summer School

This week was also the start of the summer school in a slum. This will be two mornings a week for the next 8 weeks. The first one was on Tuesday and it was great fun for both the kids and the volunteers.

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So as you can see, I’ve been too busy to blog.

2016 – The Good Bits

2016 was a year full of upheaval and change. It saw the deaths of many celebrities. It was a dramatic year in politics with historical votes on  Brexit and Trump, as well as a political assassination in the U.K.; the Maldives quietly left the Commonwealth on 13th October.

Personally it was a difficult year with illness as well as the challenges of living daily life in Bangalore; a year which saw rioting on the streets, the burning of buses and general strikes amongst other things (such as having to quickly move house!). Access to the internet has been a continuing thorn in our side, and the start of 2017 saw us yet again without internet for weeks. (The service by the government provider, BSNL, is truly awful.)

Despite the gloom there were some good things that happened in 2016. Here are some of them.

Some good bits of 2016

The World we live in

On the 14th January the World Health Organisation declared an end to the Ebola outbreak.

22nd April saw 175 nations sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement at the United Nations.  On 3rd September the USA and China joined it too. India ratified the Agreement (signed on 22nd April) on 2nd October. On the 4th of November the Paris Agreement on climate change came into force. 

On the 4th September the Giant panda was removed from the endangered species list (to vulnerable) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. When I was a child there was a real risk that they would become extinct so this development gives me hope that sustained action by individuals can bring about the change we want to see in the world. Similarly, manatees were also removed from the endangered list earlier in the year on 7th January and in July scientists declared that the ozone layer had started to show signs of healing. (People boycotting products containing CFCs actually worked.)

Politics and Government and laws

The National League for Democracy in Myanmar take part in a historic parliamentary session for the first time on the 1st February. On 15th March Htin Kyaw, a close friend of Aung San Suu Kai, is elected the first civilian President of Myanmar. He was sworn in on 30th March and made Aung San Suu Kai his Minister for Foreign Affairs. The USA lifted economic sanctions on Myanmar on 7th October.

The Sri Lankan Parliament adopts a resolution to consider converting itself into a Constitutional Assembly on 9th March.

Sadiq Khan, a human rights lawyer of Pakistani descent, and famously, a son of a bus driver, is sworn in as Mayor of London on 7th May. He remained dignified during the awful campaign against him and beat Zac Goldsmith. Also a “hurrah” for Sarah Olney MP who beat Zac Goldsmith in the by election he triggered and gave us all a sliver of hope that nice people may triumph in the end.

On 7th July the German Parliament passes a landmark rape law stating “no means no” and broadened the definition of sex crimes. Thank you Germany. 

Pakistan’s National Assembly passes legislation against honour killings on 6th October.

Austria’s Alexander Van der Bellen (Green Party) was elected President on 4th December and gave hope that not all of Europe (or the rest of the world) is accepting fascist rhetoric.

Science, Space and similar



Sir Arthur Wiles, an Oxford University Professor, is awarded the Nobel prize on 15th March for proving the 300 year old mystery of Fermat’s last theorem.

British astronaut Tim Peake becomes the first man to complete a marathon in space on 24th April. (For those of us feeling like we’re under achievers in life now – it’s got to be ‘easier’ to do a marathon in space when there is no gravity – no weight to carry around. *snigger*)

NASA’s solar powered Juno spacecraft successfully enters Jupiter’s orbit on 5th July after a 5 year journey from Earth.

Three British born scientists, David Thouless, Duncan Haldane and Michael Kosterlitz, are awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for revealing unusual states of matter which potentially will help work on future quantum computers. (I have no idea what this means but it sounds good!).

UK Sport

I’m no football fan but even Leicester City winning the Premier League on 2nd May made the news in India. On the same day Mark Selby won the World snooker championship.

Andy Murray won his second Wimbledon title on 10th July. Quietly, without fanfare, he did his job and is world class. An example to other men in sport and a good role model for future generations.

Chris Froome won his third Tour de France title on 24th July. Third title!

The women’s hockey team take gold at the Olympics on 19th August for the first time ever and inspired a generation. They never lost a match and won the final on penalty shoot outs – keeping their nerve to the very end and teaching us all to never give up. Britain’s Alex Danson MBE was the top goal scorer for the entire Olympics. Yay! I can’t tell you how pleased I was that the ladies did this. I’ve played hockey for over 35 years and this was a huge highlight for me.

On 20th August Mo Farah became the second man ever to retain the 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic titles. He fell during one race and got up, carried on running and won. Another example of never giving up.

UK Paralympians secured second place on the medal table at Rio with 147 medals, 64 of them golds. The ladies led the medal charge with Dame Sarah Storey winning 3 golds in cycling, Hannah Cockcroft with gold in athletics, Sophie Christiansen and Natash Baker with golds in equestrian and Bethany First claimed 3 golds and two silvers in swimming. Kadeena Cox triumphed in two different sports and won golds in both athletics and cycling. Go Ladies!
Miscellaneous 

The world’s oldest serving royal and the longest reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, turned 90 on 21st April (and she’s still with us thankfully).

The experienced skydiver Luke Aitkins jumps out of a plane without a parachute and lands in a net at the Big Sky movie ranch on the outskirts of Simi Valley, California on 30th July (phew!).

Bob Dylan is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature on 13th October.

Mel and Sue and Mary Berry turned down the cash and remained loyal to the BBC on principle. A rare shining example in today’s world. 

India

In India, the Mental Health Care Bill 2013, which seeks to de-criminalise suicide, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on 8th August. 

In Tamil Nadu, maternity leave for government staff was increased to nine months on 1st September. 

On 3rd September India Post released a commerative postage stamp to celebrate the canonisation of Mother Theresa. 

On 14th December the Rajya Sabha passed the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2014 with more benefits. It is passed by the Lok Sabha the following day.

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Keep smiling folks. Take one step at a time and each day at a time and we will get through 2017 and make the world a better place.  As Mahatma Gandhi said: “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Advent

What is it?

Advent is the start of the Christmas season in Christian homes and churches. It is the time of expectant excitement and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, at Christmas. 

The term advent is derived from the Latin word meaning “coming”.

When is it?

Advent is the beginning of the western liturgical (public worship, church) year and commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday nearest to St. Andrew’s Day (30 November). In 2016 advent starts on Sunday 27th November (the first Sunday in Advent) and ends on Saturday 24th December. Christmas Day is Sunday 25th December. The first Sunday of Advent is not a bank holiday in the United Kingdom. Churches (and shopping centers) may be busier than usual as people prepare for Christmas.

Advent calendars, in nearly every home in the U.K. At this time of year, start on the 1st December. Children and adults alike enjoy advent calendars.

Traditions
 

Some Christians attend special church services on the first Sunday in Advent. Some churches also hold a Christingle service for children and families. During a Christingle service, each child is presented with or carries a Christingle. The Christingle is an orange with a lighted candle with sweets. 

Christians collect money and donations of food, clothes and other supplies to help support families facing violence, neglect or poverty in their daily lives.

Many people put up Christmas decorations in their homes, schools and offices on or just after the first Sunday in Advent. Christmas cards are written and posted to family members and friends – even in this digital age. Everyone likes to receive the annual Christmas card- many now containing updates on family activities throughout the year. This is also the time to bake a Christmas cake and store it for Christmas Day and some more adventurous prepare the Christmas pudding.

The Christmas lights in town centers, shopping centers and lights on large Christmas trees in public places are also turned on in ceremonies in this week. The enormous Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in London is an annual present from the Norwegians to express their gratitude for the UK’s support for their country during World War II.

Advent Calendars

LEGO City Advent Calendar

It flumoxed me a bit when I was met with blank faces when I asked where I could buy an Advent Calendar in Bangalore. They simply have never heard of it. Christmas is not a big event in a Hindu nation. I had not understood the full reality of that until I asked this question. 

An Advent calendar is a special calendar used to count and celebrate the days in anticipation of Christmas. Advent calendars are a large rectangular piece of card incorporating 24 small numbered flaps or windows,one for each day of December leading up to and including Christmas Eve (December 24). A window is opened on each day of Advent. When I was a child it was a nativity scene and each window revealed a picture appropriate to the season, a poem, a portion of a Bible story (such as the story of the Nativity of Jesus). Today advent calendars contain a small gift, such as a toy or a chocolate item. They are rarely of the nativity and mainly branded commercial items. There are Advent calendars now specifically marketed for adults containing scented candles, make up, alcohol and many other items. They’re great – but I wish these could all be marketed along with the traditional Advent calendar…after all “Jesus is the reason for the season”!

Shopkins chocolate Advent Calendar

Advent wreaths 



The keeping of an advent wreath is also a common practice in homes or churches. These are groups of four candles with leaves and twigs from evergreen trees and plants. People light one candle on the first Sunday of Advent, two on the second Sunday, three on the third Sunday and all four on the fourth Sunday. Some people then continue to light all four candles during the Christmas period. It is now more popular to hang a Christmas wreath on the front door to a home; these wreaths do not have candles. 

In the Church Of England the readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope. 

The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets. 

The third Sunday is celebrated with rose-colored vestments. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds.

The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the announcement of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle.

 Where an advent wreath includes a fifth candle, it is known as the Christ candle and lit during the Christmas Eve service.

Enjoy Advent

I wish everyone an enjoyable Advent. Enjoy the anticipation and excitement of the coming celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour for all mankind. 

Meeting an author in Bangalore 

What is it?

The Overseas Women’s Club (‘ OWC’) of Bangalore organises regular events for expat ladies living in Bangalore. This month was a “speaker meeting” with Achala Moulik, the author of Dangerous Dispatches. It’s a very long time since I’ve been to a book launch or review so I decided to go along, after all it was something different to do in Bangalore. I had no idea what to expect. The meeting was scheduled to start at 10am. This is very early for Bangalore as commuter traffic is a nightmare. (Needless to say the meeting didn’t start on time!) I left at 7am to get there – missing the traffic and arriving early at 8:30am. My friend left at 8am and arrived at 9:45am. It’s a 10km journey.

The venue

I met my friend in the reception of one of the large hotels in Bangalore called the Shangri-La. It’s beautiful and the reception area always has a magnificent and huge flower display. This week it is star gazer lilies and the fragrance wafted through the air delighting the senses. We meandered up to the restaurant on the 18th floor where the meeting was to be held. We were immediately arrested by the magnificent view across Bangalore. The Palace grounds could clearly be seen in full as was the palace itself. We could see for miles. The eclectic mix of houses juxtaposed with the trees and the birds (kites) soaring through the warm therms really encapsulated Bangalore.

The Author

Archaea Moulik is a lady with a story to tell. She has lived through exciting times in the U.K.,USA and Italy. She has visited many countries (as we discovered during our talk) and has been a tough negotiator to get what she wants; a characteristic you would not anticipate from the slight framed physical appearance. 

After graduating her career has been varied being the Education secretary to the Government of India, the Director General of the Archeological Survey of India, published 20 books on cultural history and archaeology, written a play called “Pushkin’s Last Poem” and written about Russian history and literature, as well as 3 novels. She has received the Pushkin medal and the Sergei Yesenia prize from Russia. (I was left thinking about my own career and achievements and wondering whether I’ve been slacking for some of my time on this planet!)

The meeting

A small group of ladies gathered around a table to meet Achala. The meeting organiser from the OWC introduced the author who then introduced herself, telling us all about where she had lived and what she had witnessed (e.g. being in America when JFK was demanding Cuba remove atomic bombs – also known as the Cuban Missile Crisis). Prompted by questions about her life and the book, ‘Dangerous Dispatches’, we discovered stories about crossing borders and exploring dangerous territories all in the aim of investigating the unknown which may be of some interest. “Just a little further” was a phrased Achala used when crossing the border into Afghanistan to explore some architectural wonder, pushing the boundaries of her ‘guards’ and permissions! It was fascinating. The people she has met and the adventures she has experienced all helped to shape this book. I could have sat and chatted with her for hours.

The book


The book is a story about a ‘frontline’ journalist (I think now we call them foreign correspondents) and his wife who is an archaeologist; their Russian friends (also a journalist and his wife), an Afghan prince and his wife and an English writer and his wife. It is set amongst some of the 20th century conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia and the Middle East and is about how their lives cross and how it shaped their destinies. It is clear that the characters and stories have formed from the authors own experiences and people she has met over the generations. 

It sounds like a fascinating book (just like the author) and I can’t wait to get started on it. (It is available for a very cheap price of INR410.) 
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Altogether a very different and enjoyable morning in Bangalore. Sometimes life provides inspiration and fascination in the most unexpected places – today was one of those days.

Demonetisation and daily life – an explanation for the UK

It’s been nearly 2 weeks since Prime Minister Modi announced the demonetisation of INR500 (£6) and INR1000 (£12) notes on TV. It is fair to say that daily life in a cash economy has become somewhat challenging as a result. Living with it we have just been adapting and getting on with it but I thought I would reflect on how life has changed over the last fortnight by providing a comparison and an explanation for the UK. It’s easier to explain it in terms that I am familiar with.

An explanation for the UK

To try and explain what has happened, and the impact of it, I will say what would have had to have happened in the U.K. 

So The PM Theresa May announces on TV at 9pm that all £5, £10 and £20 notes will be illegal from midnight. The surprise announcement is to rid the economy of fake notes, money laundering and tax evaders. Only the Prime Minister, The Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor know. The PM has kept the rest of Parliament (and everyone else) in the dark. They have been planning it for 10 months. 

You will only be able to pay for petrol and prescriptions with old notes for the next 3 weeks. You can bank old notes into your bank account or exchange up to £45 for cash at a bank for the next 2 months. Anyone banking £3000 or more will have to provide an explanation of where the money came from as well as being taxed on it and potentially fined, a lot. There is also the prospect of criminal proceedings should an explanation not be sufficient.

All the banks and building societies will be shut the next day and cash machines will not be working. Bank staff are told they have to report to work to prepare for the change. All holiday is cancelled for bank staff until the end of the year. 

You can pay for things with £1 coins only. A new £50 will be coming into circulation within the next 2 weeks (after it has been printed) but your cash withdrawal limit is £25 a day from a cash machine and anyway they are not configured for the new notes yet so your cash withdrawals will be in £1 coins. 

Now add in to the mix the following. You can only pay for your bread, fish and delicatessen (cheese) items with cash. You can only pay your help at home (e.g.cleaner, gardener) with cash. Your gym membership, personal trainer or fitness classes (whichever you do) can only be paid with in cash. Your monthly electricity bill can only be paid in cash. Cash back, in shops or anywhere else, does not exist. Anyone on minimum wage does not have a bank account and operates solely with cash.

Just try and comprehend all of that and the fact that your money will be worthless pieces of paper within 3 hours. You can’t go anywhere in your car (our driver had gone home so let’s say your car is needing the RAC/AA before you can go anywhere). Your friends are in flight and arriving at Heathrow tomorrow morning. The cash they have with them will be worthless and the cash machines will not be working. The taxi drivers only take cash.

Don’t panic.

Trying to obtain cash

Immediately you will calculate that withdrawing the maximum amount allowed each day is not going to enable you to meet your bills. Everyone rushes to the cash point machines as soon as they are open and long queues form quickly – and I mean long – 200 people long. As the cash machines can only dispense £1 coins they run out of cash quickly – within 30 mins. The security vans can’t fill cash machines quickly enough and are working long days to meet demand. A hunt for a working cash machine with cash begins. 

It takes four cash machines and an hour of driving before you find one with any money and a ‘short’ queue of just 30 people. You’re the only woman in a queue of agitated men with no sense of personal space – you are constantly brushed up against, shoved and touched accidentally. The temperature is 30C  and you can’t leave the queue to get some water to drink. (I know that’s a difficult one to envisage in the UK but I couldn’t think of an appropriate comparison. Maybe -5C and you can’t get a cuppa?). You stand there patiently whilst men lean over your shoulder to try and see what is going on in front…for 45 minutes to an hour. 

There are after all 30 people in front of you trying to withdraw £25 in £1 coins and then count them. There is a security guard stood next to the cash machine watching everyone’s moves. You get to the front of the queue and have to remove your sunglasses and mobile phones have to be put away (I have no idea why). You attempt to withdraw your £25 but it will only give you £20 as this bank is rationing the cash even more. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in the queue looks at you as you walk past them with your cash. 

You have spent all morning obtaining £20 in cash and you will have to do it all again tomorrow. Except that you can’t as you haven’t got the time so you wait a day and try again. You’re not successful. You even drive to the nearest hospital to go to the cash point there but they ran out at 11:15am after it was filled at 10:45am. You drive to the shopping centre as soon as they open and try every single cash point there but of course they are all empty. Every journey now becomes a scouting mission too. You are constantly looking for cash machines and the queues at them – if they have cash. 

You go to the bank to exchange your old notes. They want a copy of your passport and a utility bill before they exchange your £45. You’re made to complete a form and sign a declaration that you haven’t exchanged more than £45 in cash anywhere else. (They will be checking later when things have calmed down.) You sit in the bank for 30 minutes longer before the manager delivers the cash personally. He’s doing that with everyone. It’s a necessity as all the staff are processing the forms and requests. They’ve not had a day off since the announcement – working all weekends and until 8pm.

Adapting to the effects

You start sharing information about cash machines with cash with your friends and neighbours. Anyone who obtains cash immediately shares about £5 to friends, neighbours etc to help them out. They give £5 to their household help, gardener etc to keep them going (as they don’t have a bank account) and run out of cash quickly. 

Apps appear trying to share information on location of cash machines and the ones with cash. Twitter has a # trending with cash machines with cash. Youths start offering a queue service for a 5% commission (in cash). They queue for you and call you when they are at the front of the queue – so you need to be close by having that cuppa.

Shops start refusing any cash sales as they don’t have any £1 coins to give as change. Shops start offering credit to minimum wage workers (who don’t have bank accounts remember) as sales drop through the floor. Street vendors see sales plummet. Shopping centres waive car park fees as there is no change available and nobody is coming to shop anyway – they’re all out looking for cash. Police waive on the spot fines as they only take cash and don’t have the change. The congestion charge is waived as that can only be paid in cash and no one has any change. 

After 2 weeks you finally manage to get hold of a new £50 note…but you can’t spend it anywhere as nobody has any change.

Politics and media

The sensationalist tabloids and hate mail run stories about how house prices have stalled and building projects have halted because cash flow has stopped. They bemoan the fact that the rich will have difficulty banking their cash and how it is needed to keep the economy moving. 

The broadsheet newspapers run stories about the brave move to tackle money laundering and tax evasion. They also run stories on how it is affecting minimum wage workers, all of whom support the Prime Minister’s move to make tax evaders pay their tax. They also report about bags (literally) of money being dumped in lakes. A raid on an Government Minister’s home reveals a whole room full of cash. They are immediately arrested.

The opposition parties go on the attack about how it is effecting daily life and particularly the hardship the minimum wage earners are suffering. It is not well received by anybody. The majority of the population are happy to go through some hardship if the tax evaders pay their tax.

The Prime Minister makes a statement at a press conference asking for 2 months for things to settle down and cries in front of all the press. The support for the Prime Minister increases overnight.

Cartoons start appearing in newspapers. (This one appeared in The Hindu newspaper.)

The Hindu newspaper cartoon
The month end

The end of the month is less than 10 days away. You have the electricity bill to pay, your gardener and cleaner and your fitness coach. You’ve bought tickets to a Christmas Party and they need paying in cash. You’ve ordered some handmade Christmas presents and they need paying in cash. Even if you now manage to withdraw your allotted daily allowance of cash you will not have enough to pay all the bills coming due. What do you do?

Minimum wage staff cannot open a bank account in time even if they could find the time to go to the bank and queue to do so. They definitely need paying in cash. The Christmas party tickets need paying in cash . You arrange, at some length with a communication barrier, to pay for your handmade gifts via direct bank transfer. You arrange credit with your fitness coach until the situation is less critical. You investigate whether the electricity bill can be paid online. In the meantime you spend several hours everyday looking for a cash machine with cash and join the inevitable queue.

If you can find your chequebook you can drive, for an hour, to the bank branch you opened your account with, and cash a cheque for £250 – but only once a week. Yes, I did say chequebook. When did you last use that? Would you know where to find it? 

Incredible India 

It is difficult to imagine this happening in the U.K. New notes are introduced and old notes phased out over a period of years. There would be absolute uproar and no doubt a vote of no confidence in the Government in Parliament – immediately triggering a General Election. None of this has happened in India. Everyone has discovered that they can indeed survive on less. Purchases are being delayed or not made at all. India is a poor country and the poorest are used to hardship – which is perhaps why they are OK with this change. It is the middle class and the rich that are struggling. The economy may actually shrink until this is sorted. The best outcome will be the removal of black money from the economy and the tax evaders finally getting their comeuppance. That will be good for everyone. Corruption is a big issue in India. It will be several months before things return to ‘normal’. In the meantime the Cauvery water crisis has finally taken a back seat in the news and that’s not a bad thing either.

Incredible India. A very accurate statement.

Tackling the black economy in India: make currency illegal overnight

What happened?

At 8:50pm on Tuesday 8th November, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, addressed the nation on TV. We just happened to be watching NDTV as The British Prime Minister Theresa May has visited Bangalore that day and our daughter Zahra had met her at school. The TV cameras from NDTV were there and we hoped to see her on TV meting the Prime Minister. It was therefore purely by chance that we had this news channel on when Mr Modi delivered his speech (in English). 

It was with shock we listened as the Prime Minister declared that all Rs500 and Rs 1000 would be illegal tender from midnight that night. This is a cash economy and the majority of payments are made in cash. We had orders being delivered in a few days and people to pay the next day – and our money had just become worthless pieces of paper. It was alarming. We have never experienced anything like it before. In the U.K. when new currency notes are introduced there is a long period (1-2 years) during which the old notes are phased out of the system. The speed of this change was astonishing and there was nothing we could do. Banks were closed and our driver had gone home a long time ago so we couldn’t get to an ATM to withdraw Rs100 notes to keep us going. 

The Announcement 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the formal announcements in his speech. It included the following:

1. All 1000 and 500 notes illegal after 12:00 Tonight (Tuesday 8th November)
2. Rs500 and Rs1000 notes banned from today (Tuesday 8thNovember) midnight to keep the black money market in check.
3. Rs500 and Rs1000 notes can be deposited between 10 Nov to 30 Dec into banks and Head Post offices
4. Corruption, fake currency and terrorism are festering wounds, holding back the Indian economy
5. On November 9 and in some places November 10, ATMs will not work
6. Rs 20,000 weekly cap on exchange of Rs 500 & Rs 1,000 notes
7. Those unable to submit notes by Dec 30 will be given a chance to submit notes by giving declaration to The Reserve Bank of India
8. For 72 hours (until 11 Nov midnight), Rs500 & Rs1000 currency notes would be acceptable in the hospitals
9. There will be no change in any other form of currency exchange be it cheque, DD, payment via credit or debit cards etc
10. All banks will remain closed on 9th November for public work

There was an acknowledgment that there would be a few days of hardship and inconvenience but that it was worth it for society as a whole as black money was removed from the economy.

Why is this necessary?

Fake rupee notes of high currency have increased and they look the same as the real notes but without security features. It is difficult to decipher the difference. It is alleged that the fake notes are used for “anti-national” and illegal activities (used by terrorists and those hoarding black money). As India is a cash based economy it has been difficult to tackle the fake notes and black money.

Exchanging currency 

Currency will be exchanged exactly i.e. on a like for like basis but with a limit of Rs4000 per person cash with the remainder deposited into your bank account. Everyone is being encouraged to use cheques or electronic banking for any transactions requiring more than Rs4000. Exchanges can take place at branches of commercial banks, the Reserve Bank of India and at post offices. It does not need to be your own bank to exchange up to Rs4000 in cash but for amounts more than that it has to be at a branch of your own bank to facilitate a deposit into your account. ID proof is required to exchange notes.

Advertising change

Advertisers seized on the opportunity

Formal Government flyers
Official Government flyer
Advert from the Reserve Bank of India showing what the new Rs2000 notes will look like
 

Advert by the Reserve Bank of India indicating what the new Rs500 note will look like
Government advert regarding the change

Further announcements followed clarifying which places would still accept Rs500 and Rs1000 notes until 11th November. These included hospitals, chemists, petrol stations, LPG gas cylinders, railways and metros, crematoria and burial grounds and authorised milk booths. 

We were able to fill up with diesel on Wednesday 9th and paid using Rs500 notes. Change was not being given (they simply didn’t have any) so the tank was filled to the nearest Rs500 and no more.

All banks announced that they would remain open on Saturday 12th and Sunday 13th to facilitate the demand for exchanging notes.

The Finance Ministry announced that deposits would not fall within the tax immunity scheme and all deposits of Rs500 and Rs1000 notes would be taxable (sort of the whole point of this exercise really). They also announced that they would be tracking accounts into which 2.5 lakh (thousands) and above were deposited.

The Reserve Bank of India issued Rs2000 notes in large boxes and asked banks to ration the distribution of them from Thursday 10th. They would be only available from branches, and not ATMs, for a period of two weeks.

ATMs resuming operations in Friday 11th November would dispense Rs100 and Rs50 notes only. 

Thursday 10th November

The day the new notes were expected, banks opened and some ATMs were working. Well that was the theory anyway. In reality banks had huge queues (as expected) and ATMs were not working and new notes were not available. Instead the old Rs500 and Rs1000 notes, subject to a maximum of Rs4000 per person, could be exchanged for Rs100 notes. Photo ID (passport) and FRRO copy was necessary for the transaction. A form had to be completed with the amount of notes and value being exchanged and a declaration signed to say that it was a maximum of Rs4000 and you hadn’t exchanged any money anywhere else. After completion of the forms, copy signatures taken, signing the copy ID documents and money taken, I was asked to wait for 10 minutes whilst they processed everything. It did only take 15 minutes before the clerk returned and handed me a wedge of Rs100 notes. At least I had money to spend.

I returned to the house and was immediately asked by the gardeners and housekeeping ladies to see the new notes. They were disappointed to discover that they were not yet available. There was then a general discussion about who would take Rs2000 notes when Rs1000 notes were already difficult to spend. Such high value notes are not appreciated by shopkeepers or roadside sellers who usually carry very little change. 

As I had cash I was also immediately asked for small loans (Rs200-Rs500) so people could buy rice and vegetables for their dinner. It was revealing that people really do live day to day and do not stock up on essentials such as food. Also notable that the impact on daily wage labourers was immediate and harsh – they were using all their small change and low currency notes to get by and to buy tiny amounts of food. 

The news reported that ATMs would be operational from Friday 11th November but would only dispense Rs100 and Rs50 notes. Newspapers reported that toll booths were free until midnight on 11th November, police fines were being waived, bus conductors were turning people away and chaos at tourist destinations as no one had any change. Low value currency notes were a precious commodity suddenly. Shopping streets were deserted and restaurants had low attendance as they were refusing to accept the old notes (rightly).

More disturbing was the reports of Hawala operators making large margins. These people are effectively money exchangers  and brokers in a system based on honour and trust. The Hindu newspaper reported that Rs500 notes were being exchanged for Rs350 and Rs1000 notes were being exchanged for Rs700. That’s a huge cut for any daily wage labourer to suffer. (Daily wage labourers are least likely to have a bank account).

My phone was awash with text messages from stores confirming that they would not accept Rs500 and Rs1000 notes in line with the Government’s announcement. Flipkart, Big Basket and Amazon messaged advising that they had stopped the cash on delivery option.

Tackling the black economy 

It is a bold move by Prime Minister Modi and one which caught everyone off guard. Media outlets had no idea. It was a very well kept secret. The effect is immediate. Anyone with a stash of cash is going to have to deposit it and explain themselves or be stuck with a pile of worthless paper. Questions will be asked and of course tax will have to be paid on the deposits made. It has been greeted gleefully by those at the poorer end of society, who see it as a great move to rid the economy of black money and make the middle classes and the rich pay their taxes. 

Anecdotal hearsay is that some people have already been approached by their landlords to bank cash on their behalf. Thankfully tenants are refusing and rightly stating that they would not be able to justify having such large amounts in their possession considering the job they do and the wage they receive. Those unscrupulous tax avoiders are having to face the reality that black money is not acceptable and everyone has to pay their taxes. It will hit some people hard and immediately – and that is not a bad thing. 

Hopefully the reliance on cash transactions will diminish as a result and transparency will prevail. Only time will tell but it is a laudable aim and a very bold move which is to be congratulated.