16 Oct 2007

Questions for Labour

How about some straight answers to some simple questions. Don't bet on it!

  • What exactly does your party stand for now?
  • Why is it acceptable to promise holding a referendum on a new EU Treaty, then break that promise?
  • Why is it acceptable for a government to be elected on the promise of its leader that he will serve a full third term, then break that promise.
  • Why do we treat our prisoners better than our soldiers?
  • What happened to John Prescott's 10 year Transport Plan?
  • Where are the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
  • Why does the government waste so much money?
  • Why has the tax credits system been so inefficient and expensive to administer?
  • Why does it necessarily make something better just because you spend more money on it? Does it not matter how and where excatly that money is spent?
  • Why are so many of our hospitals ridden with fatal diseases after the the record amounts of money lavished on the health service?
  • Why has NHS dentistry effectively been privatised?
  • Why can Scottish MP's vote on laws which affect only English people but the reverse isn't true?
  • Why do voters in Scotland receive over £1,000 more per head than those in England?
  • Why are voters in the north of England effectively heavily subsidised by the rest of the country. Is it a conincidence that all these areas are Labour strongholds?
  • Why is the average size of a Labour MP's constituency significantly smaller than those for other MP's? Is that fair?
  • Why, in spite of record amounts spent on education, are so many young people unable to read, write or add up properly?
  • Why have an additional one and a half million people people started receiving incpacity benefit over the last ten years? Is it a conincidence that this makes the official unemployment figures look better?
  • Why has the civil service been politicised?
  • Why are the levels of violent crime on the city's streets so high? Why has it become tacitly acceptable for young people to walk around carrying knives and guns?
  • Why has the police force become so ineffective, putting their own bureaucratic policies and procedures before protecting the public?
  • Why are we fighting a war in Afghanistan? What precisely are we trying to achieve?
  • Why is it acceptable for soldiers to lose their lives becasue they do not have the right equipment?
  • Why does Gordon Brown say there will be no more spinning before trying to lamely pretend that him calling off an election had nothing to do with opinion polls?
  • Why does Gordon Brown think he has a mandate to rule the country without anyone actually electing him?
  • Why should the public believe anything you say because your words and promises are cheap and empty?
  • Why should people take you seriously when collectively you have been serially misleading and dishonest?

9 Oct 2007

Strikes

There's a postal strike on at the moment. It is affecting lots of people, costing them lots of money. But it wont cost those dinosaurs who enforced the strike anything. Well it should do. Sure they might have some grievances and a right to protest, or even withdraw their (admittedly rather reduced anyway) labour. But why should it have to affect the rest of us? Why should we have to pay a penalty for something they've chosen to do?
Its the same on the tube in London. Anyone who 'works' for London underground probably has one of the cushiest jobs going - lots of holiday, not too many hours for a handsome wage, big fat pension, early retirement etc. They only need someone to not clean their lockers properly or shut down a vending machine and they selfishly decide to cripple London's transport network. For what purpose exactly?
Perhaps the next time the likes of Bob Crow need to travel somewhere in a hurry (say on a flight out the country for one of hus luxury holidays) maybe the public of London should take it upon themselves to detain him indefinitely. Then he can see precisely and intimately the very consequences of his irresponsible, childish, outdated and selfish politics.

Tax and Spend

Spend Spend Spend. It is the mantra that few politicians dare to deviate from, the solution to everything. its funny how you never hear Tax Tax Tax, or Waste Waste Waste instead.
What is it with politicians making promises and pledges about how much money (not actually their money) on various things. There's something very old fashioned about the sort of ocmpetitive boasting: 'We're going to spend X Billion more than you are'. It all gets dutifully reported by the media.
But all too rarely do we stop to ask the question: Just becasue you spend more money on something, even a lot more, does that automatically make it better? Does it not matter how wisely that money is spent rather than the impressive sounding amount of it. Afterall, the same principle can be applied to anytime we spend money on anything.
Just because you pay a small fortune for an expensive meal say doesn't necessarily make it good value for money. The same applies to buying a car, some new clothes or a house. Those who spend large sums of money can be incredibly wasteful as well as frugal. But the more money spent, the higher potential for vast waste and mis-management. Look at the NHS.
Look at the complexity and inefficiency of our tax system. Great for accountants, bureaucrats and lawyers, but not for ordinary taxpayers. Look at the system for tax credits, Gordon Brown's pet policy - the government takes huge amounts of money off people then hands it back to them, obviously at great expense and unnecessary complex adminstration. Why not just let people keep more of their own money in the first place and decide for themselves what they would like to spend it on? Ah but that would be dangerous because it remove control from the centre. A command and control economy, that is Gordon Brown's creation, where people cannot make their own decisions.
And council tax, why is it so high? What value for money do we get for it. Many people cannot even rely on their rubbish being collected regualrly or the road to be proeprly maintained. But there's lots of fancy new warning signs and rising salaries for anyone who work on the council. Funny that.
Alistair Darling is Gordon Brown's malleable lackey, the most charismatic things about him being his jet black eyebrows. Everything else about him and his political style is deadpan grey. It is designed to send us to sleep, so we stop noticing the economic holes the government has got into and the woefully poor value for money achieved during the last 10 years. You find me someone who doesn't think this country is extortionately over-priced and I'll promise to splurge billions on him or her.

26 Sep 2007

The Conservatives

Here are the things the Conservative Party needs to do if it really wants to get back into power:
  1. Be less like Tony Blair and his style of politics as possible. That is mainly what has worked so well initially for Gordon Brown. Accept that a lot of people got really fed up by Blair and a touchy feely immitation, however well-intentioned, just wont be popular. Serious conviction and substance will be.
  2. Meaningfully connect with ordinary people, that is people beyond London's well-off metropolitan elites, people in the North of England and the Midlands who once voted for them but now perceive them as being out of touch and without concern for their everyday basic aspirations and concerns
  3. Differentiate themselves from Labour with strong clarity an a simple message. Call it clear blue water or whatver you like, but strongly emphasise the real differences. If voters have a choice between two parties with very similar manifestoes, they are likely to stick with the one they know, rather than an untested imitation.

  4. Attack Gordon Brown more and expose him for all the things he's done that he doesnt want to talk about or be questioned on. Like his backing for the Iraq war; like his sneeky tax rises in his budgets; like his refusal to hold a referendum on the EU treaty even though there was a promise to do so; etc. Ignore what he says and judge him by what he has actually done. Demolish the received and misguided wisdom that he represents regime change and hammer home the message that he is nothing more than continuation of the same old failing regime.

  5. Constantly remind people how long the same government has been in power - sometimes they forget or overlook it - and how little it has achieved. Remind people of John Prescott, Peter Mandelson, Tessa Jowell etc. and the shameless hypocrisy and dishonesty at the heart of the governments.

  6. Talk about the environment and global poverty, but don't lecture about them in a way that might come across as patronising to many voters on lower incomes. And don't over-prioritise them at the expense of issues which are much more fundamentally integral to most voter's everyday concerns - like rising crime, failing schools, an overly bureaucratic health service, stolen pensions, a shambolic transport system and the consequences of uncontrolled mass immigration.

  7. Scotland. The unfairness of so many Scottish MPs (Gordon Brown included) being able to vote on laws which affect people in England but do not affect the people in Scotland who elect them. Scottish people can make laws for Scottish people so what is wrong with English laws for English people? The system is fundamentally unfair and every English MP should not be afraid to very vocally and repeatedly say so.

  8. Get stuck into the Lib Dems and expose them for what they really are - a party that likes to be all things to all people whose only serious objective is to reach a power sharing agreement with a Labour government short of an overall majority. Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell are pretending not to be friends, but they will be coalition partners.

  9. Taxation. Even if future tax and spending commitments cannot be nailed down on detail, don't be afraid to very clearly be in favour of the principle of lower taxation and explain clearly why - because people will get to keep more of their own money. Taxing, spending and failing is not good enough.

  10. Question the tired old dogmatic mantras about high government spending on all sorts of things. Just because billions of voters' money has been spent (or 'invested' as the government misleadingly terms it) doesnt mean all of it automatically goes to exclusively to good causes. Plenty of money gets wasted or mis-spent. Just because you spend more money on anything does not automatically make it better. Value for money and efficiency should be the priorities

  11. Re-engage the hundreds of thousands of apathetic voters (many over 65) completely turned off by a political elite that has all started to sound the same. Grasp a distinct message and repeat it often with conviction to be taken seriously.

  12. Make a priority of re-establishing trust in politics and don't be shy in reminding people why it collapsed so spectacularly. This means all politicians being unafraid to give straight answers to straight questions and making themselves properly accountable for the decisions they make.
  13. Get the media on side and seek to set the agenda and dominate headlines as much as possible, whatver it takes, morning, noon and night. Voters need to hear a clear, distinct message as often as possible from high profile politicians speaking with conviction. Labour spin and headline chasing gimmicks must be aggressively combatted and exposed wherever possible.
  14. Boris Johnson. Don't be afraid to use him. He reaches people that no other politicians can. Why do you think Labour is so aggressive in attacking him? It is because they genuinely fear him as a formidable opponent to be taken seriously.

Burma

And so the world wakes up to Burma, for a week or so at least. Last week it was Zimbabwe. This week it is Burma.
When you see pictures of brave protestors defying armed soldiers and tanks, it is extremely stirring. In a small way I can relate to that because I was on the streets of Budapest last year when popular mass demonstrations turned to rioting with battalions of armed, faceless police unashamedly meting out punishment to anyone in their way. It is deeply unpleasant to have tear gas penetrating your eyes and throat.
If only we could bottle that spirit and determination that these proud people have and instill even just a little of it into the backbones of our own leaders so they can follow through their well-meaning and opportunist (why did anyone not utter a word before?) words with actions. Like making it very clear to the Communist waxworks in China that sustaining a nasty military regime is unacceptable. The only thing China is interested in is the maintenaince of stability.
Then there's the French, as ever with ulterior motives and contradictory interests. The giant French energy firm Total has major interests in Burma and has effectively been helping to sustain the military regime to tune of millions of dollars. So the next time you hear the French government lecture anybody about human rights bear that in mind - money used to repress the Burmese people has come indirectly from the pockets of French citizens.
Whatever you think of George Bush (and its probably quite strong either way) he was spot on with his philosophy for freedom and democracy. Every single person alive on earth should have the right to live freely under a government elected fairly by the people of their own country. Finding the means to implement such a noble sentiment - by forced impostion or organic growth - is of course the magic question. Because there are so many countries with nasty regimes who are quietly content to treat their people disgracefully. Many of them happen to be our allies. Many others barely merit news coverage. For example, how often do you hear about the human rights abuses in Egypt or Saudi Arabia?
What can we expect from the UN on Burma and Zimbabwe? Virtually nothing, of course. They might utter a few mild and meaningless words, or even issue a declaration. Maybe they'll send an envoy for a nice cup of tea with the generals. Maybe they'll agree to have some more meetings about meetings. And isnt it odd how all those who can get so angry about an 'illegal and illegitimate' war have been noticeably less vocal about nasty regimes like Burma and Zimbabwe for whom the words 'illegal and illegitimate' could not be more painfully accurate?

Ayatollah Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown has become our Supreme Leader, the strong, wise, serious, great and strong (did I say 'strong' enough times?) Ayatollah who decrees how we must lead our lives, whom we must faithfully look up to and obey. Dissent will not be tolerated.
As with Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran before overthrowing the encumbent he bided his time in exile waiting for his moment to seize power from a lavish and extravagant preceding regime where the previous occupants (Shah Tony and Madame Cherie) unashamedly tried to plunder the country for all it was worth and enrich themselves before going into pampered exile.

Just like Ayatollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Gordon has taken his hostages - all those in awe of how wonderful he is - and stresses his own religious piety and commands slavish obedience from a pliant, subservient media as he centralises the lives of his subjects. Ayatollah Gordon is unashamedly patriotic at every turn, always keen for the masses to be reminded how 'British' he really is Whatever you do don't call him 'Scottish' - that would see a fatwa imposed on you by Ed Balls.

How long before every building in the land must display a stiff, framed pose of Ayatollah Gordon (fully suited of course), so we can all exclaim the utopian wonderfulness his latest pledges, promises and decrees? How long before prayers on our knees are necessary every morning for us to proclaim how grateful we truly are for his never ending interference in every aspect of our lives?

24 Sep 2007

Zimbabwe 2

Is the world finally waking up to the sickening calamity of Zimbabwe? Perhaps, but don't hold your breath. Strong words and fine intentions are laudable, worthy and sound good. How about actions though? They are a little tougher.
I always find it peculiar that all those hunderds of thosuands who were so vociferous in (rightly) denouncing the 'illegal' (an oft used term for it) invasion of Iraq seem so mute on the misery in Zimbabwe, almost as if its not really worth taking to the streets for, as if there's no real moral equivalence.
Every time the ruinous and murderous consequences of Mugabe's destruction of his own country is brought to our attention we tut-tut in low tones and mutter that 'something must be done. But what and how?
Well, for a start how about Gordon Brown et al putting some meaningful pressure on Mbeki in South Africa instead of meekly appeasing his continual and tacit endorsement of everything Mugabe does? Why not put pressure on China as well to unequivocally stop sustaining his nasty regime through business and arms deals?
How about the UN standing up and, at the very least issuing some strongly worded collective condemnation? Don't bet on it though. Its funny isnt it, all those who want us to live in this utopian, idealist paradise where everything can be solved by the UN are slow to shine light on its pathetic shortcomings on a significant issue like Zimbabwe.
How about the US - so keen on foreign invasions and interventions, when it suits them of course - standing up to be at the very least a bit more vocal?
How about the European Union - so introverted and largely obsessed by its own workings - taking a clear, collective lead in refusing to do any business whatsoever with Mugabe or any of those who have aggrandised themselves on his coat-tails. Again dont bet on it.
How about other African leaders doing the same and refusing to have dealing with Mugabe? Again, don't put your money on it.
And how about a sober recognition of what is actually happening inside Zimbabwe? The fact that one man things its ok to starve his people (yes, starve) to keep himself in power. Morally, how is any of what he is doing much worse than the likes of Pol Pot, Stalin etc.?
I can tell you now, hard as it is to believe, that the situation can get a lot worse to the point where Zimbabwe plummets to the basement depths of some of Africa's most war-ravaged, crippled, lawless states. That will happen and the really sad thing is that those with the power to prevent this seem content to sit on their hands and look the other way. That is to their eternal shame and we should not forget that. Doing what is expedient is nowhere near the same as doing what is right.

23 Sep 2007

War on Terror

Its not an expression you often hear these days is it? There's a good reason for that. The War on Terror is not something that can ever be definitively won. Who exactly is at war? And who exactly are 'we' (?) fighting this 'war' against? How can victory be measured or defined? It cannot really. can it?
What can be measured is how we change the way we live. The freedoms we relinquish, our liberties, the ways of life that are made more demanding in the name of the 'war on terror'. Things like extra long queues at airports, entire city centres closed down for hours at a time whenever a funny shaped bag is left lying around. They inform us that the alert levels have been raised they tell people to be 'vigilant' (what exactly does that mean?!). Our authorities don't want to take any chances now. They have seen the consequences of 9/11 and, although no one will publicly admit it, they are covering their backs in case something really bad does happen so they don't get sued. Everything has to be carried out in the name of 'sec-ur-ity'.
By the way do you remember the 'Dead or Alive!' ultimatum George Bush handed out to Osama Bin Laden? Well, where is he now? Why is still making videos? Is that 'mission accomplished'?
Defeating terrorists cannot be achieved through aircraft bombing and indiscriminate shooting. Quite the opposite. It relies on clever, reliable, up-to-date intelligence and understanding.
But most of all, it relies on something very simple - us, continuing to get on with our lives in the same way we always have done, not allowing our way to be dictated to by a few murderous nutters. Our countries and histories are much bigger than that so why do we give them the satisfaction of changing the way we live? I say dont give any terrorists the satisfaction or mass hysteria publicity by building them up into a level of exaggerated threat beyond what they are really capable of. Just deal with them as cold-blooded mass-murderers, plain and simple.

2 Sep 2007

Rugby

Maybe, like me, you're a big rugby fan. Maybe you've always though rugby was a bit of a strange game...lots of complex rules and all those large grown men pushing their bodies together with lots of aggression and shouting.
Rugby has shaped my own life in so many ways so I have an incredible amount of affection for what it can do. Many of the best days (and worst days) of my life have been rugby related, both playing and watching.
In essence, rugby is the ultimate team game. In few, if any other sports, are you so dependent on those that are on your side. Any rugby team is only as good as its weakest link - the team spirit can engender immense camaradie which extends far beyond the pitch and off it afterwards. There is a special purity to it.
I have played many sports and tried my hand at several endurance activities. Few of them come close to the sensation of exhaustion with two minutes to go at the end of a tough rugby game. And few of them engender the satisfaction of achieving a tough, narrow win alongside those who have put their bodies on the line to achieve it.
Rugby shapes character because you cannot hide away from confrontations. If someone runs straight at you, you have to tackle them - the fear of scorn from your team-mates if you don't helps. Of course it hurts - I once had my head sliced open with a boot and had to have 12 stitches down the middle of - but you pick yourself up and prepare to do the same again, a good lesson for life really.
Sure, rugby has an unfortunate (and mostly dated) reputation for grown men trying to fight each other. But the best aspect of rugby is that the players have total respect for the referee. They don't swear at him or unleash angry shouts in his face when they disagree with a decision. They just accept his authority and carry on with the game.
Few sensations are more exhilerating than scoring a try in rugby. Few moments give you greater pleasure than when you are sitting around the changing room after a victory, possibly enjoying the refreshment of a cold beer, and you can see your mates have been through what you have been through. Perhaps the worst sensation is being a substitute or being injured - you're intimately close to everything going on but not really a proper part of it all. Watching can be tremedous fun, especially for big games, but it is never the same as playing.

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse, Pete Doherty, Lindsay Lohan...they're all the same really aren't they after a while. The same stories. We entertain ourselves on how low they can sink, another puncture in the inflated bubble of glamourous, but cheap, celebrity. Build 'em up, knock 'em down, and so on it goes until a new 'star' arrives.
My problem is not with these overblown and over-hyped semi-talented celebrities. If they want to allow their lives to spiral away into drug-fuelled destruction, thats very much up to them and there's very little anyone else can actually do about it. If they want to squander their wealth and fame in such a narrow, self-centred manner, thats fine. We should just leave them to get on with it.
Although maybe once in a while they'd like to be reminded of the millions of poor children and young people in lesser developed parts of the planet who would give anything to have one hundreth of what they probably squander in drugs in one night to feed their families for a week or to give themselves a proper education. Or the thousands of disabled people in this country for whom every hour of the day is a battle just to accomplish basic things. There are many more, much worse off people (through no fault of their own whatsever) who we never hear about and who are far more deserving of public sympathy and empathy. Everyone should slap themselves around the face with a true sense of perspective.
My problem is with those in the media who deliberately chose to exploit their predicaments for their own selfish ends because it feeds the hunger for cheap, un-newsworthy journalism. How many of the journalists who are so quick to moralise are complete hypocites, I wonder.
My problem is also with the moral devoid vultures around these people who supply them with their drugs - surely in such high profile cases, the police must have a good idea who is at the source, but then intelligent, pro-active policing is another story - and profit from them.
Its the same with anyone who is happy and conscious free to use hard drugs. Of course they are illegal, but that should not really be the main point. The main point is that using hard drugs has some very nasty consequences - not for the users, thats up to them - but for the lives of those caught up in the revolting worlds of the smuggling and dealing, the children in poor faraway countries who are exploited, the women who are raped and used as drug mules, the innocent victims who get shot dead on our streets in turf wars between gangs. Maybe the next time anyone thinks taking hard drugs is glamorous or trendy, they should stop to think about where they have come from and the blood shed along the way.
So a message to the tabloids should be - leave this people alone and let them fall back into obscurity. If you want to expose and shame the people around them exploiting them, thats fine. But then again, who is it that buys all those tabloids and lick their lips each time a new piece of celebrity gossip emerges on their front pages. It is us, the public, of course isnt it?

Wake up to Gordon Brown!

I sometimes wonder how so many journalists and people can have such short memories. Gordon Brown gets crowned as this wonderfully new modernising prime minister, when in actual fact he's nothing of the sort. He is the same old Gordon Brown, who was masterful at hiding away when the flak was flying. Lets looks at his track record properly.
Gordon Brown has played the dominant role in the Brown-Blair government of the last 10 years in terms of domestic policy. We have plenty of things not to thank him for...

  • The Iraq war - he voted for it, remember, fully supported it, was just as responsible as anyone else for sending our troops there and keeping them there. And in spite of some clever spin, he shows no real sign of changing policy. He's actively in favour of sending our soldiers to war, but has tried to do so on the cheap without equipping them properly. Its exactly the same with Afghanistan. Either you are in and you do the job properly or you are out.
  • Its the end of Spin, or so he would like you to believe. What nonsense. That is actually a form of clever spin itself. Remember, Gordon Brown is a man for whom you must always keep a keen eye on the detail, the small print. If he announces something, like his 'tax-cutting' budget, the chances are that it will actually be something very different a few days later. Don't judge him by what he says, more by what he actually does.
  • Schools - billions of extra pounds poured in and, behind the misleading guise of ever predictable rising exam results, still more and more young people can't read, write or add up properly
  • Hospitals - again, billions of your tax money thrown at the NHS, not much of it making any difference, most of it just disappearing into the black holes of armies of managers and target monitoring. Since when did having more people to fill out forms and monitor and evaluate targets save people's lives or stop them being sick?
  • Crime - another sorry mess. Gordon Brown refused to release the money to build more prisons, which he knew would be required thanks to all the extra 'tough' legislation his government implemented. Why are the police so hamstrung by having to meet targets and do paperwork which keeps them off the streets where they can do more protect the public and prevent crimes? Fundamentally, because of Gordon Brown's top down obsession with centralised control and micro-management.
  • Next time you're stuck in a motorway traffic jam or frustrated by your train being late again, did you ever stop to wonder why? I always think of John Prescott and his 10 year transport plan at such moments. But then I think of the mess of the London Underground, which was fundamentally caused by Brown's unnecessary meddling and Soviet style interference.
  • Britishness. Something Gordon Brown likes to bang on about a lot. In fact, he probably wishes he could now become an Englishman because he hates to be tagged as being Scottish. How is it fair that Gordon Brown can implement laws which will effect schools, hospitals and much more in England, but won't effect any of those living in his own Scottish constituency? His Scottish contituency, where they make their own laws (free university tuition fees, free care for the elderly etc), which are all paid for by English money.
  • Europe - at the last general election the Labour party got elected on a promise to hold a referendum on the new EU Constitution. What happens? We have the new EU Constitution but Gordon Brown is too scared to have a vote on it, which his party promised in 2005. All the other leaders in Europe happily admit that we do have a new EU Constitution, so why can't a election promise be kept?
  • Gordon Brown has become leader of our country without facing a single competitive election. Where exactly does his mandate to govern and represent the British people come from? Tony Blair promised to serve a full five year term and thats what people elected Labour on the basis of in 2005.

    If Gordon Brown wants to be a proper representative prime minister with a fair mandate to govern the country, why doesn't he ask the people first if they actually want him. He won't of course, because he is a fundamentally risk-averse and cautious politician, but it would be refreshing if more people asked him about this more often and more persistently.

Every pledge, promise or vow Gordon Brown utters, he does so for a reason - his own preservation of power. The clarity can usually be found in the small print buried at the bottom or the bad news sneaked out at an opportune time. Don't be taken in by his promises - judge him by what he has actually done rather than what he says.

1 Sep 2007

Multi-culturalism

Multi-culturalism must surely have been one of the most damaging dogmas to have been inflicted on us by the established political class this century. It was totally misguided, naive and patronising for those blessed with power to have invested so much capital in such a damaging concept.
If you went to live in another country, you'd probably expect to learn that country's language and adopt some of its customs and values, wouldn't you? Not in England, where you're encouraged to remain segregated, where you don't need to learn the language that everyone else speaks, where you can burn the flag and jump up and down proclaiming death as a good thing for that country's citizens...the country which you've chosen to accept the hospitality of, but you want to see destroyed. And you know you can get away with it because those imbued with power will just smile you in a kind, forgiving manner and expain away your death chanting as 'a matter of cultural difference which we should all try harder to understand'. Don't worry, the police won't arrest you (unless you've caused a minor traffic violation that is) and even if they do, they won't know who you are, especially if you've just been released from one of the prisons that the government was meant to get around to building.
Hopefully multi-culturalism will soon be defunct and superceded by integration. Because it is integration into an existing community which truly makes life better for everyone. And it leaves those who want to preach hate exactly where they should be (on both sides) - on the margins, rather than hiding from within the mainstream of an unintegrated community.

Immigration

Why are we so afraid about discussing immigration properly, openly and sensibly? Why is it wrong to question (belatedly anyway) whether it is a good thing for our country to have opened up its doors to hundreds of thousands of people and discuss the consequences of that? Why is is 'racist' to not be in favour of mass immigration? Maybe it is because those who casually toss out the slur of racism do not actually want to debate or scrutinise the real issues and consequences of an open door immigration policy and the inevitable strain on resources brought about. That means more people to be looke after by hospitals, more children to be squeezed into alraedy overcrowded schools, more crimes to be dealt with by the police, more cars on the road, greater pressures on already finite supplies of housing etc.
Without doubt, the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats (same thing really!), don't want to have a debate about because the vast majority of these new arrivals are of course going to vote for them arent they?
Some things are facts: We are a small island with an increasingly overcrowded polulation concentrated in very heavily populated areas. Our transport infrastructure is lousy at best and strains under the impact of the numbers of people using it now. The same applies to the health service and education - there's only so many that schools and hospitals can deal with effectively, otherwise the quality of service begins to suffer - you might say it already has.
Has anyone stopped to ask the question, why do so many people from overseas want to come to our island, especially when there are many other countries to chose from? Its because we are all such wonderful, civilised and tolerant people of course, the politicians spout. Well no it isnt actually. It is mostly because our country has been a ridiculously soft touch and doesn't know who is coming or going. Everyone knows this, its no great mystery.
Australia, a far far bigger island, also in need of more people, has a managed policy of controlled immigration. They know who comes in and out, so why has it been so difficult for us to do the same? Call me a cynic, but do you not think it might have something to do with the fact that Labour is counting on all the new arrivals to boost their vote?

Europe

Most of the other countries in the EU are perfectly content to openly admit that it is a political project, a way of centralising power and decision making. For decades a powerful elite has repeatedly concentrated more and more power in their own hands, remaining untroubled by any sort of democratic defecit.
I am totally in favour of Britain being very in Europe, but the emphasis should be strongly on economic issues before the political ones. Because is the establishment of a genuine single trading market, where all goods and services can be bought and sold freely across all countries that will make peoples' lives better, which is fundamentally what politics at any level should always be about. So it doenst seem a very clever or efficient idea to spend half of the EU budget on farmers who only employ less than five per cent of Europe's workers. Can you imagine the outcry if the British government did the same thing with its spending?
Why does the European parliament have to meet, at vast expense, in Strasbourg and Luxembourg? To keep the French happy of course. Because it is the French, much more than other other nation, who pull the levers in power in Europe.

Diana

How many people are now quietly wearied by the endless speculation (much of it pointless and very un-newsworthy) about Princess Diana. Am I the only one who thinks Mohammed Al Fayed has been bribing Richard Desmond to keep alive his very personal and zealous crusade to challenge anything and anyone who accepts her death was purely accidental? The amount of news coverage she receives has been far, far out of of proportion to its actual importance. Are there not much more relevant issues and news stories for journalists and readers to be concerned with?
Looking back with hindsight as a new era of 24 hour rolling news unleashed itself on us, the deification of Diana's celebrity and the obsession by every aspect of her life from what she looked like to who she spent time with set a troubling precedent. Newspapers love to build newcomers up before they find something salacious to knock them down with.
Obsessing over un-newsworthy trivia about the lifestyles of celebrities has come to feed our hungry lust for gossip. We talk about people in magazines and newsapers as if we know them, when we barely know them at all. Of course, we know plenty about them, but then that is not quite the same thing, is it? And much of the media obsession with celebrity has its roots in the way Diana was treated. Do we get the media we deserve? Quite possibly yes.
If you were one of those people who saw Diana as a saint, prepare to be offended.
Supposedly, she modernised the monarchy and dragged it in to the new century. But have the core values of a our royals really shifted? Not that much really. The queen still embodies some of the true values that have made our country so special - namely stoicism, dignity and respect for others, which the majority of the population silently agrees with.
So Diana was the perfect emblem for Blair's Britain - shiny and pretty on the outside, always with an eye on manipulating a pose for a camera or fixing a headline, but deeply shallow and lacking substance underneath. This is not to say that Diana wasn't a very caring person and a wonderful mother. She was. But then so have been lots of other women that we never get to hear about. Mother Theresa died in the same week as Diana, but we hear nothing about her.
Sure Diana did many wonderful things and affected the lives of many in a very positive way. But lets have some proper and thoughtful perspective to her lasting impact.
There are too many people in this ocuntry who are incapable of thinking critically for themselves. The obsession with celebrity is a form of stimuli by proxy for them, really no better than out rubber necking at the misfortunes of others.

19 Aug 2007

Crime

In so many many ways the actions and attitutes of those who matter are so badly wrong when it ocmes to dealing with crime.
First of all the government, again staggeringly complacent and out of touch, cannot bring itself to admit the scale of the problem of rising violent crime. Government lackeys just shrug their shoulders when another young person is stabbed or shot on our streets. Thats just the way it is, they sniff in patronising tones, before launching into a meaningless and breathtakingly insulting tirade of statistics in a vain attempt to instill the belief that all this shooting, stabbing and anti-social behaviour is really just in our imagination. Well it isn't. Next time you go to the shops or use public transport, you'll see how far removed and totally detached from reality most of these politicians are in their ivory towers insulated from the more unpleasant aspects of real life.
On a personal level, many of the people in this country are now lacking in moral courage. Some are justifiably too frightened to intervene. Others are just plain cowardly. Our walk-on-by, look-away, look after ourselves first society doesnt help. All of us tolerate bad attitudes, rudeness and lack of respect for older people.
Parents of misbehaving youths are also deeply culpable becasue they have probably imbued their young tearaways with their own feral, feckless lifestyles. Society is structured in the wrong way because it encourages young unemployed single mothers to have children without consequences. Children who grow up without fathers are generally morel ikely to get into trouble, They dont know any limits but they certainly know their rights and the police are largely inept or powerless to enforce any authority. We indulge misbehaving young people too much, and all too willingly make excuses for bad behaviour which don't involve taking resonsibility for actions which inevitably have consequences. And the compensation culture is partly to blame.
The police have become next to useless. Surely their very first purpose in any civilsied society is to protect the public, something they often fail to do. With some wonderful exceptions, they (or rather their leaders) seem more concerned with protecting themselves before they protect the public! Sure they've got lots of paerwork to do, procedures to follow, health and safety regulations to comply with. But it is the hands-off laissez faire attitude to criminals which is most damaging.
Allocation of policing resources need to seriously and critically reviewed. I get the feeling there is too much emphasis on too much triviality - paperwork, procedures, regulations to be ocmplied with, training methods to be followed to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it.
And one consequence of the police failing to properly enforce the law is that more and people will take it into their own hands to enforce it for themselves. And who can blame them? There's no point ringing the the police - I know from experience - they just give you a crime number and mutter platitudes that unless you have ready-made evidence of a suspect they won't do anything.
Schools have lost the abiltiy to instill discipline and respect largely because teachers live in fear of lawyers and aggressive parents, and also because head teachers cannot be trusted by central government to run their schools autonomously. And why is truancy so high also? A disruptive or expelled child usually knows its rights will prevail over that of the school to enforce the authority of teachers. This is very dangerous.
The courts. Why are courts so slow, wastefulyl expensive and inefficient at administering justice? I've never particualry understood either how so many lawyers can be so morally bankcrupt in defending people they know to be adanger to the public. More judges should be more in touch with the consequences of everyday crime on members of the public. And of course it owuld help enormously if the government could actually manage to properly lock up convicted criminal and build enough prison places, especially after it has spent year upon year announcing 'tough' new crackdown legislation which is tremndously effective at securing front page headlines in The Sun, but less effective in actually protecting the public.
We treat our criminals better than our soldiers and we should all be deeply ashamed about that. I know from a source who works inside prisons what soft, comfortable places they have become. Many potential criminals don't live in fear of going there or staying there. Prisons also fail miserably to rehabilitate (perhaps for the same reason). The government wanted to send more people to prison but it failed to build any more prison space, so prisons are now overcrowded and rife with drugs. Its is staggering incompetence.
When it comes the crime, the critical theme which should always be the first thought in everybody's mind is the protection of the public. So called infringements of criminals' human rights comes right at the bottom of the list. Essentially, we need to bring back the element of meaningful proportionate punishment and deterrent for committing crime so those who do still commit crime will be more aware that their actions will certianly have consequences.
Finally, the way that we all indulge or tolerate low level anti-social behaviour inevitably has in it the seeds that one day lead to more serious and more violent crimes.

Environmental Protestors

A naive group of wet behind the ears adolescents are going to save the world by holding a few protests at Heathrow. When departing passengers take one look at them, they'll all change their minds about flying, just like the rest of us, because it will be the end of the world.
Ah well, it will give thousands of police a nice break from doing paperwork at their desks, catching speeding motorists, wrapping miles of police tape around lamp-posts of incidents areas and hunting terrorists. One can only hope that all the police have been thoroughly briefed on all the haleth and safety proceedures before proceeding. No policeman wants to be sued for daring to touch a screaming protestor in the wrong place, does he? And its not like there is any real need for more police on the safe, clean stabbing and gun free streets of London is there?
Wouldn't it really satisfying if some of these deformed freaks who take great pleasure in chaining themselves to fences or superglued to doors were just left chained to the fence for a few days. Maybe it would give them proper time to serious reflect on how misguided and stupid much of their views are. Maybe they could also reflect on how hypocritical so many of the seem to be, before they take their next flight out to daddy's holiday villa. Maybe they could do us all a favour and find a real cause to get angry about, Zimbabwe say or the French government for perpetuating poverty in Africa by stubbornly continuing to protect their farmers . Or maybe they should take their protest against global warming to an energy inefficient three-bedroomed semi-detached house without loft insulation - an appropriate place as any for their ill-thought out, hypocritical views to get the publicity they truly deserve.
Quite frankly, they should get over their middle class guilt complaexes, stop taking themselves too seriously by trying to imposing their own narrow agendas and 'do as we say not as we do' views on the rest of us and just generally grow up.

A Level Results

Maybe at some point in the not too distant future we should just hand out A grades and passes to everyone before they even bother sitting any exams. It would save a lot of time and hassles, and no one would have to do any resits. In fact why not just let all students recycle the work of previous ones? Much less work for teachers marking and no need for exam boards...everyone gets to pass everything, any subject they like, and everything is wonderful.
Maybe you are detecting a whiff of cynicism in my suggestions. Maybe you are right, full marks to you. But the crux of it is this: The establishment of this country has become completely delusional about endlessly rising exam results because all those involved in the establishment have vested interests in not speaking out against it. It has been decided that half the population (a rather arbitrary target dont you think?) must be compelled to go to university. What exactly they will all do when they get there is another matter. Why is it such a wonderful thing that so many people must go to university?
Conincidentally, having so many young people incurring huge amounts of debt also keeps them off the government's unemployment figures before they get that lucrative job in a call centre that that second class degreee in media studies deserves. Or of course, they can always go and work for the government which does a wonderful job of consuming so much of the wealth that the rest of the population creates.
So if so many young people are achieving like never before, how is it that employers complain about more and more young people being able to read, write and add up properly?
The rigid way in which young people are schooled these days does lead many of them to have a genuinely questioning and critical mentality. No one disputes they haven't worked hard. Lots of people worked hard to obtain success, but since when did hard work alone entitle anyone to success?
The saddest aspect about all this is by marinating ourselves in this feel-good stew of not wanting to question or criticise rising pass rates, the people who are really being cheated are the young people themselves because they cannot know the true worth which their abilities and efforts should be yielding. It is endemically tied in with the culture of not allowing anyone to fail at anything, the same culture which frowns on competitive sports and taking risks. Everyone has to be told they are a success, no one must ever fail at anything. Well I tell you from experience, that failure is one most essential experiences to shaping solid character, far more than endless praise and successes can be. If young people are always repeatedly told what great successes they are, how will they cope when real failure comes along, as it surely will do at some point in real life?
The whole notion of so many people - from teachers to government ministers wanting to bask in the relected glow of rising standards - not being brave enough to question rising pass rates is mildly depressing and smacks of cosy complacency. What underpins so much of this issue is something so common to the Labour government of the last ten years - they have been a catalyst for the devaluation of standards. So when it comes to rising pass rates, maybe it's time for a few more people to go back and do some resits of their own blandly conformist views. The self-congratulatory complacency is as consistent as it is breathtaking. Maybe they should made to sit an A Level in Critical Thinking...no really such a thing actually exists!

19 May 2007

English Middle Class

Such an interesting and evolving group of people.
The English middle class have become angst-ridden with their affluence. Restless with insecurity, consumption is the most satisfying form of redemption. Consumption is all about points scoring. It is an obsession with status and one-gunmanship, in thrall to fads and crazes because the media tells us so. We mistakenly live our own lives through those of celebrities because we have manufactured false attachments to them.
More and more the English middle class put all different sorts of armour around themselves. The armour is made up from the lifestyle statements we attempt to make.
Houses have become isolated cocoons where we can segregate ourselves from people we don’t want to speak to, like our neighbours. More and more people feel the need to erect gates, high walls and fences to ‘protect’ themselves from possible intrusion or unwanted invasion of privacy.
On the inside, our houses are brimming with aspirational excesses. And outside the front doors, we are obsessed by ‘For Sale’ signs. Never ending house price rises make us feel better about ourselves when we know something we have bought has gone up in value by thousands of pounds. it’s the same ‘bargain’ mentality that we apply to when we shop.
And do the English middle class like to shop. From fancy, sterile shopping centres to Sunday car boot sales, we cannot get enough of shopping.
Our cars always have be the latest up to date model - the craze for 4x4’s demonstrates this. Cars have to be status symbols of who we are (or who we want people to think we are).
Unwittingly or not, our children are also part of the consumption treadmill and aspiration status obsession. How they are dressed, what toys or mobile phones they have etc…they are being groomed to become like their parents.
Our food has to be organically pure, fair trade or hand-reared by Prince Charles. Mistakenly, we somehow imagine that drinking bottled mineral water also makes a difference.
Holidays have to be taken in more exotic and far flung places. And if not far flung and exotic, then nearby, but somewhere obscure and overlooked or incorporating something physically demanding. We like to say we have done something, been somewhere, ticked it off.
Yet, at the same time, we also like to feel we have done ‘our bit’ to save the planet by staying at an eco-resort (conveniently ignoring the thousands of miles to fly there) or doing some charity work (which helps local people in a poor country, but also makes us feel better about ourselves)
Cosmetically, never before have so many people become so obsessed by their appearance. Never before have so many people wanted to have plastic surgery, slap on so much fake tan, go crazy for designer clothes and brands in their quest to ape celebrities, who they themselves have helped to erect like tall poppies on flimsy pedestals.
Take global warming and ‘going green’. We do a few virtuous actions to assuage our consciences and feel better about ourselves. Nothing typifies this better than David Cameron (the Great Green Hope) riding his bike to work with a chauffeur driven limo cruising behind him carrying his suit and shoes. But it is an empty piety.
The English middle class may be angst ridden with their affluence and weighed down by a perpetual sense of guilt. Underneath it all though, we don’t really want to give up our privileges, like cheap flights and convenient car journeys. For many of us though, almost all of our lifestyle statements, however aspirational or expensive, are little more than an indulgence in an expensive form of tokenism.
Fundamentally, there is a thread of hypocrisy running through the English middle class.
Less and less can people think independently for themselves. We build up all this armour around ourselves because of insecurity. But however much we do it, we never quite manage to feel fully ‘safe’ or contentedly ‘secure’ where it really matters…deep inside our stressed out minds.

Blogging is Rubbish

Blogging is a load of rubbish. Not something you’d perhaps expect to read on someone’s blog. But, boy, with a few honourable exceptions, is there an awful lot of rubbish out there filling up blogs all over the world. People have decided to share their thoughts and opinions on all manner of inanely dull and trivial subjects. If you ever find me falling into the same trap - maybe you think I have done already! - do please let me know. Or maybe you have already come across the most useless and least life-enhancing blog out there. Maybe we could have a competition.
I suppose this is the inevitable consequences of freedom and choice - on balance extremely positive, life-altering benefits. But not without their downsides too. Its probably a bit like going into a vast supermarket to buy something like toothpaste and be totally overwhelmed by the hundreds of choices on offer. I suppose it raises the question is too much choice ever a negative thing?
We now live in a society where, like never before and because it has never been easier for them to do so, people feel the urge to share their inner most thoughts and opinions with complete strangers. it’s a bit like the Big Brother / Radio Phone-in self-indulgent effect - everyone has to have their say and inflict their views on others. Its part of the ‘ME-ME, I HAVE MY RIGHTS!’ culture.
Attributes like discretion, integrity, quiet decency, dignity and most importantly of all, common sense, have been made redundant. Bottom up value predominate in our modern day, trash-TV culture where everything has to be instant, immediate and dumbed down enough for our unquestioning minds to digest.

16 May 2007

Beckham and Blair

How apt that my country’s two most famous people from this decade should have near identical career paths. Think about the similarities.
Two fresh-faced, good looking men, high hopes, great expectation, obsession with images, lots of great talking about what would happen, brilliant branding and self-marketing.
But the actions never quite matched the talk or the promises. The substance to follow the promises and the hype was missing, be it meaningful political delivery or simply delivery of match winning corner or free-kick to lead England to World Cup success.
And now both these global celebrities coincidentally will find themselves taking the American mega bucks as they head into semi-retirement like two Disney make-believe characters that ordinary people stopped believing in a long time ago.

15 May 2007

Iraq

I put my hand up. Tacitly (probably like a silent majority of people) I thought it was no bad thing at the time to try and rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein. He was a nasty, murderous dictator and around the time it happened I was seeing intimately close up how a nasty, murderous dictator can destroy people’s lives and totally crush their hopes.
That was in Zimbabwe where some desperate locals pleaded with me for their country to be invaded and for their dictator to be overthrown. I had a lot of sympathy for their suggestions and told them if only they had some WMD’s or oil, it might just be possible.

Like most people at the time, I gave my government the benefit of the doubt when it made a case to go to war. Although there was definitely a certain amount of scepticism at the time about the detail of their reasons (WMD’s, 45 minutes etc.). Instead of inventing technicalities, fabricating reasons and imposing arbitrary deadlines, I thought, Why couldn’t they just come out and say, ‘We want to get rid of this nasty dictator because we don’t like him and wish we had finished him off back in 1991.’

The failure of George Bush Sr in 1991 to have to nerve to chase Saddam all the way back to Baghdad was to have unimaginably catastrophic consequences. His son had to finish the job for him…once he had come up with a barely plausible reason to do so: The War on Terror of course.
Sure, I realised people would die during the invasion, but I figured on balance it was necessary. All those people who were anti-war throughout do themselves and the Iraqi people a major disservice to portray the situation pre-2003 as rosy. Sure there was stability, but at a heavy and bloody price for those who had to live under Saddam’s repressive regime. It was stable in the same way as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe was stable…miserably and depressingly stable.

Critically, where I really began to take issue with the invasion of the Iraq was what happened afterwards. The insensitive occupation. The arrogant and casual nature of planning for reconstruction. The unnecessary abuses of power. The wicked failures to do anything basic to improve the day to day lives of ordinary Iraqis even by doing simple things like supplying reliable electricity and clean water. Never mind guaranteeing their security, building roads and other important mundane things.

Then there were the things the Americans didn’t do. Secure the country’s borders. Include or give opportunities and jobs to all the lower level army recruits and Ba’ath party members who have now become insurgents. And fundamentally, why did the Americans simply not understand and foresee any of the disasters that happened? Was it arrogance? Probably. But it was also a major lack of intelligence…in both senses of the word. Complacently relying on fancy technology, satellite imagery and the like can never be a substitute for human insight on the ground. Its not the invasion that mattered, it was the occupation.


But what of the future? What has happened in Iraq has had so many far reaching consequences, in terms of time and geography.

  1. Who really won the Iraq war? Iran, of course, whose position in Iraq and the region as a whole has bee strengthened beyond belief. What a clever move that was by the Americans. They must be really pleased with that.
  2. Hardly anyone in the Middle East will now believe anything that the US or the UK governments say. Their own people no longer trust or give the benefit of the doubt to the US and UK governments. What happens if a really, desperately serious situation arises when military intervention somewhere becomes essential? When they come to make the case for any actions anywhere, however valid, most people will just sceptically shrug their shoulders and refuse to give our politicians the benefit of the doubt.
  3. All the sensible, moderate people across the Middle East - I’ve met plenty of them, people who instinctively trusted the West, they make up the overwhelming silent majority in countries like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, exactly the sort of people we should be encouraging and giving prominence too - feel totally let down at best and repelled at worst by the mishandling of Iraq’s occupation. They now see American soldiers walking the streets like military robots
  4. Extremists of all denominations must be rubbing their guns and bombs with glee for the void which opened up for them. It never took too long for Iraq to become a honey magnet for terrorists. And what did the occupiers do to deal with this? Nothing.
  5. Because of Iraq’s lawlessness and the staggering lack of planning post-invasion the manner in which American (and British) soldiers conducted themselves was also affected. Scandals like Abu Ghraib jail torure and humiliation occurred because they were allowed to occur by the arrogant Rumsfeld and the misfiring Cheney
  6. The Iraq war has been extremely expensive and very bad value for (US and UK)taxpayers money. Economically, the mess in Iraq also has major consequences. High oil prices. Thousands of talented, clever Iraqis - exactly the sort the country needs to build its future - are leaving the country.
  7. Home-grown terrorism. Quite blatantly, every time there is television footage of more people losing their lives in Iraq, it hardens the resolve of home-grown extremists and has certainly increased the probability of these people causing death and destruction in our own cities.
  8. Democracy - the much vaunted (and transparently patronising) substitute reason given for invading Iraq has now become more unlikely across the region. A successfully run and stable post-invasion Iraq could well have put pressure on some of the other repressive regimes in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. But now the dictators in those countries have been strengthened by the weakness in Iraq and the long suffering peoples of those countries are also paying the price of American failures.
  9. We've managed to strengthen the influence of Russia and China in the region as well as Iran. And the world has had its eyes diverted from other, arguably equally catastrophic abuses in places like Zimbabwe and Sudan. How some of the millions suffering in some of those countries must rue the gaze of the world's media being transfixed elsewhere for the last few years.
  10. Finally, the mess in Iraq has simply reinforced the way the British and Americans have always been viewed by history in the region; duplicitous, interfering for our own financial and strategic ends ahead of those of the local population. It could take a generation at least to melt away or dismantle the angry perceptions, if at all.

Just a grain of humility from Bush / Cheney/ Rumsfeld / Blair that they made mistakes which had disastrous consequences would be refreshing, but also about as realistically likely as any of them ever taking to the streets of Baghdad on foot.

14 May 2007

Lib Dems and Politics

The Lib Dems love to have it both ways. If you are anti or against something other, the chances are you’ll vote Lib Dem. They are a cosy home for protest voters. Anyone who is against the Tories or Labour (which lets face it is a lot of us) will be welcomed with open arms on the doorsteps of the Lib Dem front door. And when you’ve had your protest vote, be it on Iraq or some local issue, something green perhaps, you the voter can march straight out through the open back door of the Lib Dem house back onto the next street, feeling better about yourself.

They have an easy time of it because the media never quite takes them seriously enough to scrutinise what they say and do because they will never win an election outright. Instead they loftily position themselves like a prostitute on a street corner waiting for the first major party in the next hung parliament to go into coalition with them. Do not be in any doubt whatsoever that Menzies Campbell has his eye on being foreign secretary under the government of his long time friend Gordon Brown.
Principled? The Lib Dems? Hmmm. What about their environment spokesman Chris Huhne, who made such a big thing (and indeed his name) by lecturing us all about the environment? Well, it turns out he drives a gas-guzzling car all over the place (on taxpayers expense of course) and hardly bothers to use public transport. Another example of why the public deserves to be cynical of politicians.
Because they are never going to lead a government, the Lib Dems can righteously claim to be ‘different’ from the main two parties. They like to tell you they are ‘principled’ and ‘ethical‘ even, but remember they are all professional politicians. They vote themselves 30% pay increases that you or I never could do - basic salary £60,000 and average expenses £130,000. And of course, don’t forget the gold-plated pensions while they lecture the rest of us about restraint and being responsible with our money. Wouldn’t it be better if they were more responsible with our money?
They run up unimaginably high expenses doing their jobs and happily vote to take more taxpayers money to promote themselves. And they then have the temerity to cover it all up and hide where our money goes by voting themselves exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Then they wonder why ordinary people think they MP’s have become out of touch. Do you think it is wise for the tax you pay to subsidise the likes of John Prescott? No, me neither
And is astonishing, but not altogether surprising, that because the main political parties have come come close to bankcrupting themselves (whose fault is that?), they expect the taxpayer to bail them out. Well, why should we fund compacent, out of touch politicians who don't want to be accountable with our money? If they want to be properly funded, maybe they should come up with policies that are genuinely representative or what people want rather than just guzzling up state handouts so they can impose on us what they think we want. It is the wrong way round.

13 May 2007

Gordon Brown

He couldn’t really have scripted it any better or worse could he? On the first day when we are told he will finally come out from the murky shadows in a spirit of openness and reveal himself, there he is hiding behind a misplaced white autocue! A premonition of what is to come perhaps?

And we are told he will be dispensing with spin. What tosh. To tell people you are now anti-spin is of course a form of spin in itself. Like much of what Gordon Brown does, it is trying to be too clever by half. You only have to go back to the mirage of his last budget to see the real ‘substance’ (a term he likes to use himself) of how he really operates.
At least Tony Blair was good at spin and could pull it off. Although Blair feeling the need to remind us again one last time that he really was a ‘pretty straight kinda guy’ who always did ‘what he thought was right’, probably was a little too excessive and nauseating even by his schmaltzy thespian standards.
Somehow you fear that Brown, with his adhesive smile and stiff social awkwardness, just won’t quite manage to be so convincing, or as convincing as he needs to be.

Again and again we are told what a formidable intellect Gordon Brown has. Since when did being a ‘formidable intellect’ give anyone a god-given right to tell everyone else how to run things? Then again, he has spent most of the last ten years attempting to tell people how to run things down to the last details of his command and control, stiflingly interventionist economic policy.
Gordon Brown tells us he will ‘listen and learn’. Well those aren’t exactly things he has done much of so far. Its probably like Brian Clough once said: If we have a disagreement, we sit down, have a discussion about it, then we agree that I was right. Except with Brown, you somehow suspect the ‘discussion’ bit can be made redundant.
He is a control freak politician with a very damagin legacy; all the targets and bureaucracy that stifles much of the public sector - in schools, hospitals, the police etc. - has derived from his personal obsession with wanting to control as many things as possible. He's never worked in business so he doesn't properly grasp that individuals are perfectly capable of making their own sound decisions. Instead, he has sought to impose his decisions directly onto how they impact the jobs of nurses, policemen and teachers. Thats why they find it so hard to get on with doing their jobs effectively - because he cannot stop himself and his army of lapdogs over-interfering in ordinary people's jobs and lives.

When he steamrollers out reams of statistics on how much money has been spent, it is all rather reminiscent of when the Soviet dictators used to list how many tractors their factories were producing and how wonderful their economy was. Of course, politicians like to use the term ‘invest’ rather than ‘spend’. 'Waste' might be the best term. But its not often that they like to remind themselves it is actually the taxpayers’ money there are spending (and often wasting). Quite frankly my attitude would be; ‘So what if you’ve spent all these tens of billions of our money. Shouldn’t things be a heck of lot better than they actually are?’
Remember that 1997 song…‘Things can only get better…’

Sport and Money

For once, I’m going to pay tribute to Australia. Yes you did read that right.
Their government is opting not to send their cricket team to the brutal dictatorship that is Zimbabwe. If they back up their words with action they will be doing far more than the UK government did - which was no more than utter sound bites about how inappropriate it would be for England to go there, then not back it up with money to pay the fines imposed by the ICC.
The spineless men who run international cricket (and it is all out of touch, time-serving men ) should be deeply ashamed of themselves. They see nothing wrong or abnormal about Zimbabwe. Maybe they should make an effort to go there and see what its like for ordinary people struggling to feed their families or being beaten by police because they want to speak freely.


Maybe they, and others in cricket, could take an example from the upstanding of Stuart MacGill who expressed a individual conscience about how wrong it would be go to Zimbabwe and pretend that everything was normal there. Wouldn’t it be tremendous if more people in all sorts of positions of power and influence really stood up and told us what they really thought rather than trotting out media-trained, non-committal cliches and banal platitudes?

The ICC men are in danger of damaging cricket with their enthralment for making as much money as possible out of the game, plenty of which trickles down into their own pockets to fuel their own more-than-comfortable lifestyles. The ICC has come to be obsessed with advertising and television money. This is almost entirely down to the power of the television market in India, the greedy contracts drawn up there which means players have to play as many games as possible to fit into the television schedules, and countries have to reciprocate games with each other.

Just what is it about the self-serving bureaucrats who run all the major sports that makes them so out of touch and repulsive. Think of Sepp Blatter at FIFA. This odious Swiss cannot gourge himself enough on the publicity of being in the position he is in, handing out favours to even more odius, corrupt officials from other countries.

Think of the FA in England and Brian Barwick swimming in all the millions of TV money. Think of his horrendous cock-up in deciding to hand Sven a brand new lucrative contract just months before we all received final confirmation of how inept and incapable a manager he really was. What does Barwick do next? He decides to give the job to Steve McClaren, a man who even managed to make Sven look like he had the Midas touch. If the England fans want someone to target abuse at, it would be better aimed at the man who appoints the failed managers. It’s a bit like Freddy Shepherd at Newcastle, am an who’s frittered away millions on failed managers…all appointed by him. But the Newcastle fans don’t seem to mind. If only the rumour about Sven wanting the Newcastle job could have come to fruition..things might have come full circle.

Think of the idiots who run rugby at the top level. Francis Baron runs the English RFU. It took him a year or so longer than the rest of the country’s rugby supporters to realise that the head coach he had appointed - Andy Robinson - was nowhere near up to doing the job. He is another man in thrall to the mantra of playing as many games as possible so they generate as much money as possible from television and gate receipts.

Its why there are so many corporate boxes in Twickenham and other stadiums, and why ticket prices have become so over-priced. To my mind, how can someone who sits in a corporate box not really following the sporting action with the same enthusiasm as the rest of the ground call themselves a genuine fan? They are not. Can they really claim to share the passion, the disappointment, the ecstasy? Somehow I doubt it. But they do keep the self-serving sports bureaucrats content though.

12 May 2007

Zimbabwe, Africa & Us


Zimbabwe has been elected to head the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development…which tells you everything you need to know about why the UN has been and always will be so uselessly ineffectual in world affairs.

Sure, the UN does lots of good all around the world, much of it unheralded work in unpopular places. But for all those who naively imagine we can live in a UN led utopian paradise where nasty regimes can be talked out of not going to war and be gently persuaded not to abuse their own citizens, then instances like this provide another firm slap in the face. The UN is a giant, expensive, ineffectual, powerless talking shop. And now the leaders of Africa have seen something they can copy and aspire to…hence the African Union.

What exactly is the point of the African Union when all it does it slap Robert Mugabe on the back for wrecking and ravaging his own country? What is the point of the African Union when the government in Sudan encourages ethnic cleansing within its own country and it also does not get held to account or even condemned?

In the West (as we like to strangely call ourselves) we look down on much of the misery and destruction in Africa, build up a guilt complex which then overflows and translates itself into the ‘something must be done’ mentality. So we try to make ourselves feel better about our guilt complex of having so much wealth by giving money to poor people in Africa thanks to Bono and Bob Geldof

Unpopular and unpalatable as it is for me to say this, but throwing millions, even billions of dollars in aid at Africa is all a giant fallacy. Think hard about where all that money actually goes to. It wont reach the poor, desperate people who really need it. That money will just swell the Swiss bank accounts of rulers like Mugabe. It will pay for expensive cars and private jets. It will pay for their wives to go on expensive shopping sprees.
But most depressing of it all, that money will go into reinforcing nasty unaccountable regimes and it will contribute to giving them more tools to repress the poor, long-suffering people that we in the West so wanted to help.

The critical problem for Africa is the woeful failing of its political leadership. Until this is meaningfully addressed, depressing thought as it is, then the continent and the people will continue to wallow in misery like those in Zimbabwe.

I’ll tell you straight the one single thing that would do more than anything else, more than any bloated UN conferences or extravagant pop concerts, to change the lives of ordinary Africans for the better. Open up the trade system. Let us buy what they produce. Particularly in Europe lets dismantle the protectionism of our economies which stops us buying things that poor Africans make and grow. Its not just Europe though. Japan is too protectionist, but America is also particularly bad especially when it comes to subsidising cotton farming.

Just handing out money to unpleasant African dictators has failed, made things worse even, because of the corruption and dependency. Give a man a fish and he eats today. Give him the opportunity and means to fish himself and he can feed himself for life. It’s the only way.
And the great irony or liberating our trade systems is that we would all be better as well because we would pay lower prices and save billions in wasteful subsidies that we pay to our own farmers to produce mountains and lakes of food and drink that no will ever eat or drink.

The main obstacle to European trade opening up is of course the French. The Common Agricultural Policy, whereby 50% of the EU’s budget is splurged on just 5% of its people, largely dominated by French farmers. Those numbers sound ridiculous, I hear you say. How could so few people receive so much money for doing so little with such far-reaching consequences? Well I would put a lot of the blame on Jacques Chirac, the former French president whose rural roots were so critical to him staying in power.

In a trade off with Germany to ensure there would never again be another war in Europe - the whole founding point of European integration - France got to assume much of the political power in Europe. Only now is it being forced to gradually and begrudgingly relinquish some of it. France obviously dominated the EU before it enlarged and looked after it farmers….at an obscene cost both to European taxpayers, European consumers, but also for the lives of Africans.
So if you really want to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Africans, then campaigning for us all to open up our trade is the best way to start.

10 May 2007

Blair's last day, My First Blog

On the day Tony Blair finally resigned I decided to create a blog. It's time for some plain speaking and clear candid opinions on lots of things.
Who knows where all this might lead? But mostly its very likely to revolve around the three aspects of life which engage and fascinate me above all others: travel, politics and of course, sport.
Occasionally, in fact very probably, I shall stumble off at tangents, but then that's half the fun I suppose. As is being controversial

What will be Blair's real legacy be? I will come back to that in due course. But probably not the one he and his crony chums (exhibit 1 - Peter Mandelson) with their vested interests in his years in power being viewed kindly are so keen to have us believe.

So the much underhyped 'long goodbye' farewell tour can get underway. It might end up making the drawn out cricket world cup feel like it was condensed into just a couple of hours. Lots more synthetic toothy grins. Lots of fake sincerity. The only consolation is that we now know we won't have to endure too much more of it all. Instead we get cuddly, cheerful Gordon - there's soething very Soviet Politburo about that man, but we can come back to that later as well, I'm sure.

Cherie can have one last self-indulgent shopping binge. Maybe time for one or two more speeches to promote and flog herself as 'First Lady' (don't call her that at work of course - not that being a human rights lawyer under a meddling Labour government would bring home enough to pay the bills...well enough to pay off the bill on an extravagant new central London mansion anyway)

But for me, the highlight of it all is knowing that the grotesque, power-abusing, useless outdated political beast that is John Prescott will finally be moving on to pastures new as well. Can't someone arrange for him to be sent on a permanent junket somewhere where his contempt for the electorate and appetite for abusing for power would fit right in. Somewhere like Zimbabwe perhaps. Somewhere where the situation is so desperate and depressing that even he wont be able to find a way of making it any worse. Preferably send him by horse with his expensive cowboy boots and hat on, wielding a croquet mallett. And let him try implementing an integrated transport policy in a country where drivers have to queue 4 days to fill their cars with petrol. At least he could teach them to play croquet

The end of Blair also means no more Fatty Falconer spouting forth on the importance of the latest promotion his old flat-mate (Tony Blair) had just given him, or attempting to dig his boss out of a hole with excessive and preplexing legal speak. Is it just me, or do you get the feeling that lawyers have accumulated too much power in our country. So many people are afraid of them nowadays, afraid of saying things which might result in being sued or causing offence to someone. Along with the burgeoning armies of accountants, it is the lawyers who have come to run much of our country.

Who else can we take great pleasure in seeing dissappearing into the political wilderness. Well there's Margaret Beckett for a start. And Patricia Hewett of course. What tremendous losses of leadership and competence that would represent to our country.

John Reid has also decided to do a dissappearing act. Great timing there just after he'd made such a hoo-ha about splitting the Home Office in two and him being the only man who could make it fit for purpose again. He kind of sums up so much of what the Blair Labour government stood for - nine jobs in ten years (none of them done competently), lots of forceful media appearances to explain lots of incompetence and when the spotlight becomes too unfavourable or intense, why not just draw a line and move on?