Wednesday 30 April 2014

Voting Rights

How can anybody hope to vote ‘the right way’? If Twitter is any guide – and in the new connected world we keep hearing about it must surely be representative of those who HAVE an opinion – it is unlikely. Given that most opinions are deeply embedded, formed from an agglomeration of our background and our experiences and our flocking with birds of similar plumage, entrenched views can be hard to shift. It is doubly difficult given that we filter even relatively dispassionate news reporting through our own biased mindset. But how are we to process the news that UKIP is to be condemned by a cross-party alliance for running a 'racist' campaign?

Really? Farage’s Army is so evil that only a concerted campaign by parties normally at war with each other can possibly stop them? Disaffected ex-Labour and Conservative voters are actually The Nazis now? I seem to recall the union rallies of the 1970s and 80s having far more in common with Goebbels’ dogma chanting mobs than the KIPpers’ cheerful gatherings in homely pubs. And see how easily people believe what they WANT to believe. Reaction to a recent distorted story about Roger Helmer was visceral; the story taken at face value and people expressing disgust rather than incredulity. I doubt that many bothered to read his rebuttal.

So your mind is made up? Forget the policies and concentrate on one emotive thing - opposition to uncontrolled immigration is purely racist and not prompted by any economic argument. Inward migration of low-skilled workers – despite all logic – is unremittingly good, essential even? Odd then, that a newspaper that has often been called racist itself, but has also happily headlined spurious examples of racism, today carries the news that 150,000 EU migrants effectively pay no tax at all and many others are a net drain on UK taxpayers. (I may have pointed this out a few hundred times before.)

As a sovereign island nation we've never been fully comfortable with the notion of being European and even after forty years of EU membership there is a vague fifty-fifty split for IN or OUT, but based on what? For almost certainly the majority of UK citizens it would make no immediate difference but the machine is on the move to claim their minds. The current spin – recently adopted by a variety of otherwise antipathetic ideologues – is that for all those years we have only ever heard bad things and not enough has been done by the pro-debate to illustrate the benefits. This is of course code for “We've had a meeting and realised we may be losing the argument, so we've decided what you need to be told. But sod facts, we know you’re not good with facts; we’re going to stick with unquantifiable emotive stuff like racism.”

Why do I want out of the EU federal projekt? Quite simply because I have little enough faith in our own elected representatives to tell the truth, but at least we have a slight chance of rattling their cages every five years. The EU is largely run – and very expensively at that – by hordes of unknowns, many of them with solid socialist and even communist credentials and with absolutely no interest in the unique concerns of the UK. I want control of our national interests entirely within our borders. And that’s it. A fully accountable UK government; one we can change if they don’t perform.

Snack time in the EU - is this what you want?

So, what’s to be done? The truth will never gain what they now call ‘traction’ so in a dirty war of words, what trumps racism? I’m pretty sure a bit of inventive spinning and media distortion could easily portray Van Rompuy as looking like a low-grade paedophile. And Martin Shulz could be rumoured to be a coprophiliac – a charge oft-levelled at a certain former German leader. With a knowing wink we could say, “allegations are unproven” and thereby firmly plant the notion that a vote for the EU is vote to be ruled by a bunch of Nazi, shit-eating, kiddy-fiddling perverts… and foreigners to boot. 

Tuesday 29 April 2014

The back end of the bonkers bus...

Some days you wait ages for one thing to write about and other days, three come along at once. I was thinking about writing a serious statement of how I would fix the world – again – but while that thought was forming, a far better starting point plopped into my metaphorical in-tray. The world can wait; this is seriously funny shit. As is so often the case we all owe a debt of gratitude to @Skip_Licker for unearthing the genius Karen Ingala Smith, who describes herself as ‘working to end male violence against women and girls’.

While we were all waiting for the bonkers bus to arrive we played the perennial favourite game Mission Statement, prompted by @MarkGSparrow with this real life beauty: “ 'Recycling The Past For The Future' An utterly inane and ridiculous mission statement seen on the side of a truck on the M4 just now.” I followed with: ‘Synergising articulate solutions going forward’ and ‘Incentivising change through diversity’ but @nby83 ended the game with the unchallengeable ‘dynamic innovation through collaborative blue sky thinking’. See? It’s all bollocks and all so easy. It’s just a joke, but with Karen we struck no-joke gold.

Remember she was working to end male violence against women and girls? Well, one way mighty be to stop coming out with rubbish like this: “Refusing to see the stabbing of Anne Maguire in the context of male violence against women is a political act.” As so often, this utter lack of self-awareness is funny in itself, but it also parrots (geddit, geddit?) Monty Python and reminded me of the sketch in which Terry Jones as Karl Marx describes the struggle of class against class as a political struggle. Obviously as this particular struggle happened IN a class, Karen may feel she has a strong point, but forget political ‘struggle’, there’s political capital to be had.

The sex war raged on for a while as the chicks had hot flushes and the man-hating taps were turned up full. In the ensuing flood of vitriol the fact that a teacher’s life had been tragically lost was itself lost. Far from being a force for good, this level of spittle-flecked feminism is unhinged enough to see male oppression in everything. But better yet, their utter lack of any sense of humour, proportion or their own idiocy is a wonder to behold. That whoosh? It’s the sound of the point going right over their heads. It didn’t take long for the hate which propels these single issue sirens to surface.

You would like to think, wouldn’t you, that such obvious, self-harming lunacy would be the province of a few deranged idiots whose parents didn’t spend as much time with them as they should but you’d be wrong; they are everywhere. Yesterday, without even a pause for silent reflection, the zero-hours ‘media campaigner’ in Ed ‘Beaker’ Miliband’s office came up with the monumentally crass bandwagon insincerity of: “The killing of Anne Maguire was an appalling act. My thoughts are with her family, the school and those pupils who witnessed the attack” . Maybe that intern is a feminist as well as an insensitive idiot?

Monday 28 April 2014

Nuts in May

Wow. Who would be a politician, these days? Never anybody’s favourite ‘profession’ outright loathing of the political classes now exceeds that for used car salesmen, estate agents and even Satan himself. There may be a few stalwarts clinging to a belief that their MP is in politics through a desire to make things better – and almost all of them really are, or were, at heart – but the majority opinion is that all MPs are in some form of conspiracy to ride the gravy train to Fat Cat Central.

So, onto this UKIP ‘racism’ business: I support one single aim of UKIP – exit from the EU federal project and that’s it. Over the years I have watched developments with great interest. At every point in the European ‘journey’ the people who have benefitted were those best placed to grasp opportunities and run with them; the entrepreneurs, the employers, the lobbyists and policy advisors - all of whom would have prospered, honestly or otherwise, under almost any regime; they are people who need no help. Those who have lost out are the workers, the employed and dependent on others to create work for them. Or as I like to call them, the majority.

Nobody in full time work should need state assistance, but wage suppression, fuelled by an oversupply of labour has made it normal for working families to be propped up by benefits. This is crazy, but any dissent has been met with blatant lies about the economics of uncontrolled, low-skilled immigration and accusations of racism. It may be racist to purposefully treat ‘others’ as second-class citizens but it is absolutely not racist to harbour a belief that foreign migrants are preferred employees when you are told you can’t even get a job interview unless you speak Polish, or that local jobs are only advertised abroad.

Framing any discussion about immigration as racist and dismissing as bigots those who have genuine fears is cynical in the extreme but the media, good little poodles all, have thoroughly bought into it. Perfect, except the voters that have been abandoned by all parties are not the sensitive, soft, liberal elites of ‘that London’ (which is as foreign to them as any far off land) but the displaced, frustrated and unheard inhabitants of Britain’s former working heartlands. Now that Labour is as detached from them as the Tories, is it any wonder they gravitate towards a party which appears to speak their language and echo their concerns?

One definition of madness is said to be repeatedly carrying out an action which always delivers a negative outcome, such as banging your head against a wall. Unfortunately, some people seem unable to stop themselves. The comprehensive, cross-party, mainstream media attack on UKIP in the last week has concentrated entirely on the charge of racism, but even where this is substantiated it is not having the desired effect. In desperation they seek not to alter their approach but to blame it on darker forces – the wall isn’t crumbling but they can’t bring themselves to believe they are using the wrong tool for the job.

It’s the only explanation I can think of for the extraordinary accusation by Nick Cohen that the media has gone soft on UKIP. I urge you to read it because what Nick thinks has happened is patently absurd unless you inhabit his rarefied world. Nigel Farage is the brick wall against which the opponents of UKIP are smashing their skulls to bits. He is the wrong target, as polling seems to demonstrate, with every attack on him being perceived as an attack on ordinary working people and driving still more of them away from the two main parties.

It’s also no good saying a vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour. In fact, pursuing the racist line is far more likely to draw in more former Labour supporters - parochial working folk are naturally xenophobic - but what I find amusing is this persistence with a losing strategy. This is the most exciting election build up I’ve seen in a long while. Of course ultimately it is but a two-horse race but while neither Labour nor Conservatives have much to offer those most disadvantaged by The European Question, is it any wonder that Farage’s Army – no matter how flimsy you judge what they offer – is a tempting alternative for the disgruntled?

Hitting the wrong target.

The political classes and the metropolitan commentators SAY they get this but they demonstrate by their repeated failed smear tactics that they just don’t. One thing is for sure – whoever gets in there will be both winners and losers; Labour isn’t good for all Labour voters, the Conservatives are not universally good for Tory voters but few people vote based on what is good for them. Right now, traditional politics is in the ring and I for one hope UKIP gives it a bloody nose in May. 

Friday 25 April 2014

Fly me!

Having never flown before, Carol is quite nervous about her first trip abroad. She is both nervous and excitable as she skips about the departure lounge, every new thing a delight, as she buys duty-frees and an assortment of handy travel gadgets she will never use. It doesn’t help that she has already had three cappuccinos, all of them ‘leaded’. Wobbly coffee, she has decided, is the drink of the discerning traveller.

Soon it is time to board and Carol is even excited by the travellators and the telescopic access ramps. She positively giggles inside as the cabin crew welcome her aboard like a well-loved friend and she is delighted to take her window seat with a good view just over the leading edge of the starboard wing. Even better, the seat next to her is taken by an attractive young American; how exotic! As the plane fills up they introduce themselves and begin the chit-chat of becoming acquainted.

And then the sheer, delicious terror of take-off; Carol grips the arm rests as they accelerate, rotate and climb into the sky. Her newly-made friend smiles encouragement and as they level off and the seat belts sign is extinguished he summons a stewardess to get them both a drink. For the next couple of hours they relax as the flight carries on smoothly at 33,000 feet over the Atlantic. Brad is an attentive companion and keeps up the small talk as he maintains a steady flow of beverages. After a while their talk turns flirtatious.

But suddenly they are interrupted by the “bong-bong” of the Tannoy. The seat belt signs illuminate and stewardesses hurry to secure the serving trolleys as the Captain calmly requests that everybody take their seats and buckle up. Clipping into her belt, Carol immediately sees the problem. From her window seat she can see smoke bellowing from one of the starboard engines and as she takes Brad’s hand the Captain comes on to explain that although there is a problem with one of the engines, the aircraft has three more and there is no need to worry.

A few moments later, however, the whole fuselage shakes as a loud boom heralds the sudden failure of a second engine. From across the cabin, Carol can see flames flickering through a port side window. She holds onto Brad for reassurance. This time the Captain’s voice is less even as he explains their predicament. They cannot maintain height now and they are too far from land to attempt to find an emergency landing strip. There is going to be no alternative but to bring her down mid-Atlantic.

The cabin crew pass among the passengers, pointing out the cards which explain the procedure for ditching at sea. The loss of altitude is obvious now and the airliner hurtles towards the ocean through a region of turbulent air. As the oxygen masks drop into reach the Chief Steward is repeating the instructions for donning lifejackets, adopting the brace position and preparing for evacuation into the inflatable life rafts. Carol clings to Brad, fearing this may be the end.

But that's not important right now!

Sensing there are only minutes remaining she looks into his eyes and implores, “Brad, before we die, make me feel like a woman one last time?” Brad frees himself from her tight embrace, unclips his seatbelt and whips off his shirt. “Okay” he says, “Here – iron this.”

Thursday 24 April 2014

Fair Game

Racism is still taking centre stage this week what with all the St George and anti-St George rhetoric of yesterday. In fact racism is the prejudice du jour for anybody who wants to be anybody. But its ubiquity is a big part of the problem. As the definition is diluted and broadened and applied thinly to the merest perceived turn up of the nose we are rapidly nearing a racism event horizon, a Lenny Henry singularity whereby all failure can be excused by one’s appearance rather than by one’s performance. Black, white, red, yellow or blue (Scotland) and from under whatever national flag, it is all the fault of other people’s prejudice against your origins. We’re all going nowhere but at least we are equally victimised.

The trouble is where does it all stop? There have been genuine and sincere attempts to have ginga-bashing classified as a form of racism. Thank goodness the blondes haven’t risen up and complained; it’s probably because they don’t get it, a propos of which I bring you this oldie but goodie:

A blind man walks into a bar, taps the man next him, and says, "Hey, wanna hear a blonde joke?" The man replies, "Look mate, I'm blond. The bloke behind me is an eighteen-stone professional wrestler and he is blond. The bouncer is blond. The landlady is blonde and the bottle-washer is also blond. You sure you still want to tell that joke?" The blind man is silent for a few seconds while he considers his options. Eventually he makes up his mind. "Nah, I wouldn't want to have to explain it five times."

New-racism is founded on an odd paradox. While the old racism was caused largely by ignorance and a perfectly normal wariness of strangers, which led to antipathy against the interloper, modern racism turns inwards. Today’s racism is more a product of white self-loathing. So far have we moved from judgement by skin colour that the only uneasy colour is the one we refer to as ‘white’. Even that is a shocking stereotype; at best we’re a blotchy, doughy pink. It’s all gone too far, so today I launch the search for a new, acceptable prejudice.

It’s tricky old thing because most of them have been done already. Left-handers, short people, the bald, the short-sighted, stutterers, Sloanes, chavs, Scousers, the Welsh – see there we’re bordering on racism again, even though nobody seems to be able to properly explain what they mean by race. (Today even the Cornish have been accorded their own protected racial minority status) At a Manic Street Preachers gig some years ago somebody in our group casually remarked that they were good but it was a shame they were Welsh. A perfectly earnest student type felt the need to butt in. “That’s racist” he informed us. We assumed he was joking so burst out laughing. He was serious and now he was offended. Naturally we upped our game and all adopted cod Welsh accents until he piped down. 

But would you dare do that today? The reviews imply that even Ricky Gervais, who built his entire career on offence-causing has given way to opinion and toned down the caricature for the second series of Derek, which aired last night. Fair enough, I think most of us balk at mocking disability but even laughing and pointing at the plain, every-day stupid has to be done in ‘safe’ company for fear of attracting censure. No. We need a less defensible target; a group who, whatever the truth, is universally loathed and set apart from the rest of humanity, ideally by their own choice.

We need a common enemy

But what sort of person would deliberately set out to become a part of a despised minority? And furthermore, what sort of person would not only know they were considered reprehensible by everybody else but would continue, despite all the flak, to keep doing the very thing that attracts our opprobrium? Who could be so thick-skinned that almost any type of resentment against them would be considered fair game? In entirely unrelated news, Ed Davey is justifying putting up the electricity bills again. If only there were more people like him to hate?

Wednesday 23 April 2014

For England & St George!

It's St George’s Day and a recent survey shows that even though we may be secretly (and rightly) proud of our heritage, we are apparently scared of celebrating our patron saint’s day for fear of being seen as that most heinous of bigot – a racist. In my typical contrary way I tweeted that I favour the spelling ‘realist’ and as a result a few people ‘favourited’ that post but not many dared to publicly retweet it in agreement because, well, you never know how it may be taken.

It’s no surprise though, because even though the taunt of racist has become a parody now, with friends routinely outing each other over the tiniest of  twisted slights by deploying the R-Bomb, there is still some nervousness attached to it. There is, I believe, a legal definition which can be tested in court, but in real life nobody has the slightest idea where preference passes over into racism. For instance I would far prefer to work alongside a fluent English speaker with whom I share many cultural norms – not least because I like a laugh and a joke and punchlines rarely translate well - but does that make me a spitting Nazi? Yes, it would seem, to some.

So no wonder the knives were out for Nigel Farage with both mischief makers and concerned public alike determined to denounce a suggestion that an oversupply of labour depresses wages as racist. Racist? Yes, because these workers aren’t native born. This is a straw man fallacy. UKIP’s actual position is simple - open the borders to a plentiful supply of cheap unskilled Labour and those already here are at a disadvantage. That is a pretty simple economic realism which is hard to attack but wait, those cheap units are foreigners, therefore… You Racists! It’s almost as ridiculous as the witch quiz in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

I confess to using it myself all the time. Ed Miliband’s dad was a Marxist, therefore Beaker himself must wish to enslave all of Britain under the yoke of communism. It’s a cheap jibe with which to express my opposition to another term under a Labour government, but it’s not clever. Ed would argue me under the table if I were to try and advance this as a serious political attack because it is lazy and wrong and who the hell am I anyway? No political commentator with any gravitas would ever support such a flimsy fallacy but Kay Burley threw caution to the wind and had a go anyway.

Her straw man argument (and that of many others intelligent enough to know much better) goes thus: Nigel Farage states that a flood of cheap labour depresses low-paid workers’ wages. (This cannot be denied – it’s one of the reasons many employers love the EU; such people will willingly do work that it has become uneconomic for many British born to do.) He, like thousands of other people in public positions employs his wife, a person uniquely available to help him in a way possibly no other person alive could. But wait, she’s German, therefore (and you can almost hear the cogs grinding) he’s not only a racist, he’s a hypocrite!

It’s as if the massed ranks of the media and the political classes put aside their mutual grievances, held a meeting and agreed some battle lines. Time and again, instead of attacking the many chinks (racist!) in UKIP’s armour they went for the man himself on the flimsiest of pretexts, cynically trying to poison him with an oversupply of the oxygen of publicity and betting that if they told the tale often enough it would transmogrify from fallacy into fact. Bomber pilots used to say “If you're not catching flak, you're not over the target.” Farage must be bang on; he’s certainly rattled the cages of some big beasts.

Do you want this dragon slaying or what?

Well today we celebrate - quietly, mind you - that racist heritage of ours as we raise a glass to a Greco-Roman-Palestinian who suffered torture and execution over his beliefs but is remembered in our folklore as a dragon-slaying hero. Be careful what you wish for, many critics said of Nigel Farage yesterday, as they repeatedly lashed out at the figurehead instead of taking on his army. Wise words you might do well to heed. The traditional way of creating a saint is to start off by making him a martyr.

Happy Saint Nigel George’s Day!

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Woman's Hour

The radios in my car, my office and my kitchen are tuned to BBC Radio 4. I love it because, despite all the repeats and the fact that every time I’m driving the sodding Archers manages to elbow its way in, I get to hear all sorts of wonderful things I would never otherwise choose from the schedules. Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time is always fascinating, as is The Moral Maze. Every now and then I catch Any Questions and sometimes even Any Answers. And if I remember, I like to cook along to the comedy slot at half past six every evening.

One of my serendipitous guilty pleasures is Woman’s Hour. It’s like pausing outside an open window during a Women’s Institute coffee morning and hearing snatches of conversation about topics you never even knew existed. Yesterday, as I was driving through the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, the chatter was all about haute couture and looking pretty. This is as it should be and three cheers for the little ladies, I say.

At least they weren’t worrying their pretty little heads about gender equality issues – unlike one little girl’s complaint about McDonald’s Happy Meals. Dismayed at the apparently sexist slight of asking an eleven year-old child if she wanted a girl toy or a boy toy she wrote a stern letter in which she asked if it would be legal “to ask at a job interview whether someone wanted a man’s job or a woman’s job?”  Well silly, of course there are daddy and mummy jobs and always will be; you can’t expect mummy to catch the spiders can you? Just as you can’t expect daddy to give a toss about wedding planning. I’m sure she’ll grow out of it once she starts Secretarial College, or Nursing School.

Now I’m all for a bit of feminism, me. The world needs ‘the fairer sex’ because otherwise we’d never have curtains or fresh bed linen. So it was refreshing to hear that all is well and Jenny Murray and friends were happily discussing lovely clothes, just as they should. I’d far rather the girls spent their time chattering about proper feminist issues such as embroidery, hair, aromatherapy and horoscopes but over the years I’ve seen a disturbing trend towards an altogether uglier side; I wonder if you’ve noticed it too?

Every now and then, marauding metaphorical gangs of angry, stocky, short-haired women, makeup free and wearing sturdy boots, crop up in the media to further a frightening agenda of what can only be described as Scary Feminism. Like drunken gangs of losing football supporters the best way to deal with their threatening behaviour is to ignore them. Just close those pretty curtains and make some more tea until they’ve moved on. Chat about kittens and knitting and you’ll soon feel so much better.

What the scary feminists simply don’t understand is that the matter of gender roles has long been settled. You can always go off and make a spectacle of yourself by rejecting tradition if you like but in the main we all know how it should be. Men make all the big decisions in the world, such as whether we send space probes to Mars and how we tackle climate change. Men decide on important international affairs, such as foreign policy, quantitative easing and whether to spend £100billion to build a brand new giant national train set. These are matters women need not worry about.

Imagine letting her choose the curtains?

Women should stick to the little decisions. Such as: where you will live, how many children you will have, what you will eat, wear, drive and watch on TV… Where you will go on holiday, when you will go to the doctor, what furniture you will have, how the house will be remodelled, who your friends will be, how much you will drink, which parties you will go to… Where and when you will retire, how much time you will spend in your shed, what goes where in the garden… Gender equality, dear? Trust me, I listen to Woman's Hour - we haven't a chance.

Monday 21 April 2014

Seasonal Adjustments

Twitter seems to have spent the entire Easter weekend going on about food banks, the Trussell Trust’s insistence that almost a million people rely on them to eat and the Daily Mail’s low tech ‘exposé’ of the relative ease with which they can be abused. Lots of name calling on all sides, as you would expect, but never a plea for common sense. This is how everything works today, it appears, ideological battles waged across the interweb while in reality nothing changes. Look, if people really ARE starving, where are all the reports of pantry burglaries and the hijacking of food trucks? With the exception of well-organised imported street begging, where are our indigenous beggars on every corner? And where are all these starving people housed and entertained; where are the resettlement camps and municipal soup kitchens? It’s poverty Jim, but not as we know it.

Browsing about I stumbled upon this article by Midlands UKIP MEP Roger Helmer about the way the simplest truths can be distorted. Put aside your automatic - and largely media-driven - abhorrence for a minute and have a read; it’s really rather illustrative of the mores of the mainstream media who know that people make up their mind based on headlines and captions rather than any detailed understanding of the issues, the facts, or their own common sense.

So I’m wondering what the manipulated masses will make of news that the EU has recently set up a Ministry of Weather. Pretty chancy even by their record, this is on top of the whole climate change industry which, as Roger’s blog makes clear, currently spends its time working out ways of making energy as expensive as possible. The Weather Commissioner, or to give him his full title Commissioner for Daylight, Precipitation and Air Quality, is an unelected and (at just over £220,000 per annum) highly paid official who is also a former crony of EU President José Manuel Barroso. As he has absolutely no power whatsoever to alter the weather it has to be asked just how, exactly, will he spend his days in office?

Well, contrary to expectations the department has actually been pretty busy and after consultation with the currently independent meteorological services of the member nations a number of reports have been issued and proposals drafted. The Commissioner obviously can’t change the weather but he has done - in the eyes of the EU - the next best thing and codified it. With immediate effect actual day to day weather summaries will be passed to the database and compared with seasonal norms. And any weather patterns falling outside those seasonal norms will be subject to sanctions. In the UK for instance, both last year’s exceptionally sunny summer and this year’s heavy rainfall would have attracted hefty fines.

Much of the EU’s legislative workload is taken up by this sort of crap, with penalties levied for transgressions over which member states have little or no control. For instance, did you know that on top of having to accommodate our high immigration intake we are effectively fined for exceeding certain unfixed quotas? So on the one hand we must bear the infrastructure and subsequent welfare costs of uncontrolled immigration and on the other we must compensate those countries from where the immigrants originate for their loss of skilled workers. And on top of all that they just banned Milk of Magnesia for having too much milk of magnesia in it.

Wild Weather? That'll be £50k a day!

Of course, the EU does things like this every working day of the year and so much of what we formerly took as freedoms are being corralled into the EU pen to be controlled that we just can’t keep up. People notice things like the Milk of Magnesia story because sooner or later somebody points out its absence. But it’s unsurprising you have heard nothing about the weather business for two reasons. The first is that while the EU likes to spend lots of cash propagandising its supposed benefits it doesn’t trumpet the myriad petty rulings that spew from its chambers every day.

The second reason is that I just invented it. But how could you have known? Research (that I once again just invented) shows that most news is accepted at face value; instead of challenging the truth of it or querying the source it’s so much easier to just adopt a position. Hands up all those who already formed an opinion about it?

Friday 18 April 2014

How green is my valley...

"The Reverend Eli Jenkins, in Bethesda House, gropes out of bed into his preacher's black, combs back his bard's white hair, forgets to wash, pads barefoot downstairs, opens the front door, stands in the doorway and, looking out at the day and up at the eternal hill, and hearing the sea break and the gab of birds, remembers his own verses and tells them softly to empty Coronation Street that is rising and raising its blinds."


Dear Gwalia! I know there are
Towns lovelier than ours,
And fairer hills and loftier far,
And groves more full of flowers,

And boskier woods more blithe with spring
And bright with birds' adorning,
And sweeter bards than I to sing
Their praise this beauteous morning.

Dylan Thomas. Under Milk Wood

As the sun rises over the little green valley on Good Friday morn, Mrs Evans shoos old Dai out the door to gather flowers from his patch to adorn the pew-side baskets in the little chapel by the wood. She bends and straightens and before she hangs the bed sheets out to dry she waves at her neighbour, Widow Jones across the way.

“Good morning Mrs Jones!” she shouts, for the old dear is as deaf as a post. Hearing the sound Mrs Jones looks up, bent backed from weeding her path and begs a repeat. And so the morning starts. (If you can read it in a Welsh accent then all the better.) 

JONES: Sorry love, you’ll ‘ave to speak up a bit.
EVANS: I said good morning!
JONES: Oh yes, good morning, lovely.
EVANS: You going to the chapel, Sunday?
EVANS: I said, are going the chapel? Easter Sunday?
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: It’s Easter, love. You going to chapel?
JONES: Oh yes, of course. I never miss.
EVANS: Reverend Jenkins it is.
EVANS: I said it’s the Reverend Jenkins
JONES: Sorry?
EVANS: Reverend Jenkins doing the service see.
JONES: Which one’s that?
EVANS: Tall. White hair.
EVANS: He’s the tall one, love. With the white hair.
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: Very tall. (She gestures) Snow white hair.
JONES: Oh? I can’t quite place ‘im, now.
EVANS: You’ll know him though.
EVANS: He has a very loud voice
JONES: Pardon?
EVANS: Shouts a lot!
JONES: Sorry, love?
EVANS: I said, he shouts. A lot!
JONES: I didn’t quite catch …
EVANS: (at the top of her voice) BAWLS LIKE A BLOODY BULL!!

Green hill... not far away

Widow Jones, startled at the suddenly heightened volume and ferocity of the response, looks back at Mrs Evans and considers her reply. After a few moments she replies, cautiously, “Has he, now?”

Thursday 17 April 2014

Long live the King!

Have a look up at the top of the page. Right at the top; go on, I’ll hold your place while you mouth out the words. What does it say? It says “When I’m King” not “When I’m Prime Minister” or “When I’m President/Commissioner/Chancellor or whatever other fancy pants democratically elected position you can think of.” And the reason? Well, it’s my blog and I write what takes my fancy. It started life with this declaration of intent which I judge harsh but fair. But what made me, you are no doubt asking yourselves, refer today to the very *first post?

As so often it began with a twitter exchange regarding the nature of politics and political lies and spin and the frenzied courting of popularity, increasing in ridiculousness the closer we get to an election. The riff went thus:

Me: I don't WANT a government that 'connects'. I want one that does its job and stays out of the way.
Twitter: If a party doesn't connect with people it's not gonna get their vote. Or maybe you want a dictatorship?
Me: Well democracy is a ridiculous idea, given the venal nature of humanity.
Twitter: Then so is government of any kind surely, maybe anarchy would be better?
Me: Not really. The impossible to achieve 'benign dictatorship' would be better. Democracy is always a sham.
Twitter: We already have a benign dictatorship, neither party leader has carried out major election promises on NHS or HE.
Me: Neither would Labour. But courting popularity from ANY party is piss-poor governance.

That’s not bad for Twitter. Normally it descends pretty rapidly into name-calling and me laughing at how quickly the left-leaning tend to wish physical harm on any non-socialists who don’t agree with a massive, sickly state. I had a couple on yesterday and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, or poking a cow pat with a stick; easy, strangely satisfying and it always end up in a mess. But the question still hangs there; what use democracy and do we ever really get it?

Under the present system of faux-democracy the selection of a government is reduced to whose lies you believe. I tend towards the simpler lies of the so-called ‘right’ - named after those who, during the French Revolution, supported the King - rather than the ‘left’, the revolutionaries. And if we must elect leaders based on falsehoods, I’d rather have the duplicity of the right who make few bones about where their allegiances lie, than the tortuous self-harming contortions the left must go through as they yearn for equality yet always, every time, create structures which enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Last night Channel 4 aired one of their shock-docs called ‘How to get a council house’. I didn’t watch it – I didn’t even know it was on – but I didn’t need to watch… I had Twitter and, regular as clockwork, the handles lined up to the crack of the circus-master’s whip. It is a clever feat of doublethink to simultaneously hold the view that everybody is equally deserving of a chance while watching the pond life justify their effectively and consciously stealing resources, mostly from the lower paid. Meanwhile the state officials who bring this about are far behind the front lines, on good salaries and plenty of perks.

On the other hand, let the Conservatives hold sway and there is a general fear it’s going to end up with every man for himself. It wouldn’t. The weak and the sick would still be looked after no matter how much the more stridently lefty shriekers insist that Iain Duncan Smith has personally decreed they must die, but there’s no doubt there would be pressure for individuals to be much more self-reliant. That’s a preferable model for people like me, who have little time for the bleating of those who are not incapable, but just prefer not to take the strain themselves.

Vote for the King! What could possibly go wrong?

The truth is that no matter which side wins the next election most of you will see little change because, really, the election is not about you; it’s about which marginal groups slightly increase or decrease their chances. But the political game is about exploiting your beliefs regardless of the truth or your ability to judge. Wouldn’t it be so much better if you didn’t have to worry about all that; if you knew where you stood and could just get on with your lives? The old Frenchie right wing understood a thing or two; better the devil you know. So, on the whole you would be so much happier and better off with a benign dictator. I’ll be here when you need me.

*If you missed any editions of this magnificent blog along the way, don’t fret - all the best bits are available HERE:   ) 

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Costa Packet

“Cost of living.” Say it out loud. What does it actually mean? Given the ease and lack of any kind of competence required to create life the cost and in many parts of the world the value of life itself is infinitesimally small. Being one of 7 billion is hardly laudable unless you’re maybe a virus, or a brain cell where the teeming multitude works together to produce results. As an answer to the meaning of life simple duplication is bleak and the ability to do it is a piss poor performance indicator; almost anybody is capable and in economic terms that puts a very low value indeed on the cost of life.

But no, you say, that’s not it at all, it’s the cost of LIVING that is in crisis. Well, that isn’t expensive either – as proved by those who subsist their entire lives on what they can beg for in the streets of Mumbai or working the fields in Laos. The financial cost of maintaining life is meagre indeed and apart from the often man-caused conditions which result in mass starvation in the far-off lands that only exist for us on our television screens, humans manage to stay alive with remarkable tenacity.

And in our hearts we know that. A generation or so ago, our affluent circumstances were regularly held up to scrutiny; “You’ve never had it so good.” And “There are starving children in Africa who would be grateful for what you’ve left on your plate.” But for many years now we seem to have taken our good fortune for granted and while we have created a grievance industry and, bizarrely, food banks take the place of personal responsibility for some, it is estimated that some fifty percent of bought-and-paid-for food is thrown away.

That sense of entitlement – that whatever our choices we are somehow deserving of equality of living standards – is the last remaining weapon in Labour’s electoral arsenal. Ed Balls’ latest attempt fuel envy and fan the flames of econogeddon is spectacularly poorly timed and he knows this, but it’s all they’ve got. The so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ is nothing of the kind and they know it, but somehow a ‘standard of living squeeze’ sounds less emotive and more like simple greed. Despite all you hear from the partisan press, far from struggling for life itself the distended bellies you see on our streets are the result of the very opposite of starvation.

“Do you feel better off since the coalition came to power?” the Eds ask. Well I don’t; not by a mile. I worked out recently that I’m around £80k worse off than if the 2008 slump hadn’t happened, but that isn’t the coalition’s fault. And if Labour refuse to accept any responsibility for the damage that was already done by 2010, I hardly see that puts them in any position to gripe about the current government getting a grip and cutting back. For all Labour’s tough-on-benefits talk their plan is to revert to the same old borrow-and-spend pattern. Yes, the coalition may have borrowed more in four years than Labour did in 10, but imagine how much more Labour would have had to borrow as a result of its own mismanagement. It really is like taking dad’s car, trashing it, handing back the keys and then blaming the subsequent repair cost on mum.

Given that inflation is down, employment is up, wages are rising and the UK is leading the rest of Europe in economic growth, talk of a cost of living ‘crisis’ is just a cynical attempt to play the politics of envy. And while those who are unemployable can afford the smart phones, fags, weed and Playstations that responsible, low-paid workers have to choose to do without then our benefit system is continuing to be abused. This is what Labour’s legacy is; not the creation of an admirable welfare state, but its perpetuation beyond any sense of proportion. Yesterday, in further evidence that Labour have lost the plot, Guido Fawkes reports that they have appointed a Shadow Cost of Living Minister.

The perfect metaphor for Labour policy - on anything.

What next, Labour? Shadow Secretary of State for Flogging a Dead Horse? Spokesperson for The Bleeding Obvious? Crisis Creation Minister? In four years none of the gimmicks from the policy unit has even suggested that you hold the electorate in anything other than utter contempt. Come back to us when you’ve regained your sense of shame.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Taking the P

It’s not often I do requests and it’s not often I write anything to intentionally increase the sum total of peace, harmony and understanding out there but in this blog I can finish off several birds with a single hefty rock. It might also go some way to explain my inherent and automatic mistrust not only of experts but also of every single one of us in possession of 'a little knowledge'. Today we’re talking about electricians and we’re talking about the actual law this time, not the one named after Georg Simon Ohm.

Some of you may have heard of Part P. You may be under the impression that it is a qualification – many electricians will refer to themselves as ‘having’ it or ‘taking it’ or ‘passing it’. You may be offered ‘Part P Certificates’ or be informed that a tradesman you employ is ‘registered with’ Part P. I was told only yesterday that Part P is for plumbers and many electricians sincerely believe it is aimed solely at kitchen fitters.

Some say that it is some mysterious closed shop – a Cowboys’ Charter intended to allow all sorts of unscrupulous artisans to become ‘electricians’ overnight via ‘Five Day Wonder’ courses. Others believe it is a secret plot to monitor honest electricians for tax purposes. And still more will never be dissuaded from the notion that it was clumsily rushed into being following the untimely and tragic death of a Liberal Democrat peer’s daughter in 2004. The truth of that particular matter is that Mary Wherry died a month AFTER Part P had been signed, sealed and delivered and that culmination was preceded by well over a decade of lobbying and consultation.

The fact that its introduction coincided with the opening of the Polish plumber floodgates and the ensuing downward pressure on trade wages assisted the conspiracy theorists no end. Add to this the increase in trades-folk using the Internet at that time and various trades forums suddenly scrutinising work like never before and the rumour mill was gifted grist to grind for years to come. They are still at it now, a decade on, spreading disinformation and generally getting their knickers in a big twisty mess. To understand you must first immerse, so gather round and listen, my pretties…but first forget all that I have just told you – any variant of the foregoing is simply incorrect. Now, are you ready for the truth?

1. No qualifications whatsoever are required to work as an electrician in the United Kingdom. None. I kid you not; if you work with electrical equipment (and equipment is defined in the regulations as everything from a light switch to a power station) you are, by dictionary definition, an electrician. The only legal requirement is that the work is carried out competently to the minimum national standard.

2. The minimum standard is the current edition of British Standard 7671 “Requirements for Electrical Installations”, otherwise referred to as the “Institution of Engineering & Technology (IET) Wiring Regulations”. In one form or another, this has been around since 11th May 1882 and has required, from the very start, that testing be carried out, although it wasn’t until the Eleventh Edition, in 1939 that any form of certification was mandated. The current version is the Seventeenth Edition; it is 464 numbered pages long and virtually incomprehensible to the majority of electricians. This doesn’t mean they don’t comply with it, just that very few can authoritatively demonstrate that they do.

3. To comply with ‘The Regs’ you must meet all the relevant requirements including the one (Reg 134.2.1) which states “During erection and on completion of an installation or an addition or alteration to an installation and before it is put into service, appropriate inspection and testing shall be carried out by competent persons to verify that the requirements of this standard have been met. Appropriate certification shall be issued…”  In other words, the work does NOT comply with The Wiring Regs until it has been certified and that applies to ALL electrical work; even the changing of a light switch should, by rights, be certified.

4. The Wiring Regulations are non-statutory; there is even a regulation which states this fact. But it goes on to inform that, regardless of its non-legal status (for which there are good reasons) it is nevertheless the standard by which compliance with statutory obligations is proven. In the workplace the principal legal obligation is the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989. In a dwelling it is The Building Regulations.

5. And THAT, dear reader, is what 'P' is a part of. The legal requirement of Part P of The Building Regulations says exactly this and not a word more: “Reasonable provision shall be made in the design and installation of electrical installations in order to protect persons operating, maintaining or altering the installations from fire or injury.” That is it; all of it. By ‘reasonable provision’ it means ‘complying with BS 7671’ which is explicitly stated in the supporting Approved Document. All with me so far? On we go then…

6. First of all, Part P (that single sentence, remember?) applies to ALL electrical installation work in dwellings but ANYBODY can carry out such work, for gain or otherwise, as long as it is done ‘competently’. Beyond certain minor works, maintenance or emergencies such work is notifiable to Local Authority Building Control (LABC) which incurs some hefty inspection costs disproportionate to the extent of the work in most cases; LABC is really geared up to overseemuch larger building projects.

7. For certain specialised building services and elements the government has authorised the creation of Competent Persons Schemes whereby enterprises such as electricians are independently assessed to self-certify that their work complies not only with their own trade regulations but all relevant Building Regulations without the need to engage and pay for LABC intervention. This is what an electrician means when he mistakenly says he’s ‘got’ Part P. A better term would be ‘Registered Electrician’ except anybody, from any trade can be so registered if they meet the entry requirements

8. Phew. We’re there. So, engage any tradesman to carry out work in the home which includes electrical work and compliance is their responsibility. Legally, beyond certain minor works, they must either inform LABC and pay an inspection fee, or be registered as a competent person to self-certify Building Regulations compliance. Either way there should be an Electrical Installation Certificate issued on completion of the job. You may also subsequently receive a Building Regulations Compliance Certificate, depending on the route to compliance.

Electric Shock: When you get the bill...

Any questions?  It isn’t particularly complicated but trade resistance to regulation and a general inability to grasp and use correct terminology means the bulk of those involved – customer and trades person alike – find themselves confused. There’s no need to be. A principal requirement of the Building Regulations is that all work is carried out in a ‘workmanlike’ manner; if it doesn't look like a professional job, start checking credentials. Just remember the Sparkies’ Code: “Red to red, black to black… blew to bits.” (That was much funnier before they changed the wiring colours back in 2004-6)

Monday 14 April 2014

Schools Out! (For the count)

The little concrete prefab hut still stands in the field that used to be the playground for what was once Sowerby Infant School. The prefab was one of my first classrooms and it had windows you could look out of, though there was little to see, unlike those of the classrooms in the main school building, which could only be reached by the teacher’s long hook. When the bell went for playtime and after we’d filed out into the yard, mayhem ensued, but in lessons silence reigned except by invitation.

In my time the old grammar school had become the Thirsk & Sowerby Junior School, which took on ages seven to eleven, at the end of which time we took the old Eleven Plus exam, the sorting hat of its age, which divided us into grammar or secondary-modern by delving into the workings of our mind. I know that I got one question wrong and that question was “What is the shortest distance between two points?” In those days there was no such thing as multiple choice and having never heard the expression before I was at a loss to conjure up the required form of words. Conferring with classmates afterwards only one inky swot had written the right answer but he couldn’t recall where he’d heard it.

I was caned three times in junior school and apart from one instance when I was bang to rights – talking out of turn – I maintain my innocence to this day. The teacher who administered the punishment – in full view for maximum effect – was later revealed to be a predatory paedophile with a taste for the boys in his charge. They've always been there. Otherwise, like all but a very tiny minority, we did exactly what was asked of us and performed our tasks in near silence. The windows in most classrooms were too high to be able to see anything but rooftops; only the windows of the newly erected Portakabin looked over the sports field but they were at the back of the room and any craning round would be instantly detected.

And then on to big school, with windows everywhere which, for some, proved irresistible, especially on upper floors as the view stretched all the way to the Hambleton Hills, the steep-sided slip face of the small rift valley of the Vale of Mowbray. Thirsk Grammar and Secondary Modern School was the first place I encountered aggressive misbehaviour and disrespect for teachers and almost all of it emanated from a recent addition. Before the raising of the school leaving age caused a proliferation of ‘Rosla’ blocks another Portakabin was pressed into service to contain, rather than educate, the remedial class.

Still a few years away from being as inquisitive as I later became I never questioned the etymology of ‘remedial’ and the word became a shorthand for the sort of unruly, troublesome, hulking teenagers you would go to lengths to avoid. Nobody wanted to get on the wrong side of ‘a remedial’ including many of the teachers. The poor sod who was their form master had clearly drawn a short straw indeed and was looked on with pity by staff and pupils alike. One year he didn’t return; we all assumed he had died from the strain.

So, for my entire school life apart from the odd high spirited heckling or the occasional ink fights (remember them?) disruptive behaviour was kept in check by a combination of stern but dedicated teachers and the notion that both teachers and parents were in cahoots to keep us in check. Those big side windows were a constant distraction and what pictures they showed but on the whole we sat in rows and shut our mouths and learned our lessons. Nobody wanted to be thought of as a remedial. But in my final years I saw the façade begin to slip and this slide into indiscipline had a name. Comprehensive.

The loser has to teach Year Nine...

Now, many decades into that experiment is it any wonder that much of what passes for education in British schools is reduced to crowd control? From what was once revered around the world – we used to laugh, heartily at the dire state of education in the USA – we have descended into the pitched battle described in a recent report by Professor Terry Haydn of the University of East Anglia. Turning the behavioural clock back is likely to be a near impossibility but unless something is done to restore classroom discipline we may as well accept that all state schools are remedial schools now.

Saturday 12 April 2014

An open letter to Michael Rosen

The sanctimonious, grammar school and Oxford educated son of communist parents and former Children’s  Laureate, Michael Rosen, wrote a scathing open letter in The Guardian to the new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid. But being a lefty he appears to believe that moral indignation is a one-way street. Have a read of his letter... and then read my reply:

 Dear Mr Rosen,

We've never met, but that's because I ‘work’ and you have spent most of your adult life so far peddling your stories to children. It's very difficult to see from your Wikipedia entry or from any of your public utterances how you are qualified to comment in any meaningful way about the post of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. You appear to have previously held no roles in government that may have prepared you for a ministry.

My experience within the field of ‘work’ is that this country is ambivalent about those who believe in the sanctity of art and culture and while they grudgingly accept that Shakespeare, Dickens, Turner and the like are worth preserving they generally don’t give a stuff about raffia, mung bean sculpture or the exploration of anything at all via the medium of contemporary dance. The myriad daft foreign shenanigans the artsy-fartsy, namby-pamby, liberal intelligentsia would have us fund are of no interest whatsoever outside your naïve yet self-aggrandising cultural tribe and those who tap you up for patronage.

This is, of course, all about money. You think that everyone has the potential to produce art and that everyone is entitled to have access to all kinds of art, no matter how pricey, or how utterly crap that art is. As an openly left-wing thinker you honestly believe that the cost of such entitlements must be borne by those who produce genuine wealth, whether they like art or not; not least, presumably, because your own capitalist endeavours have been greatly enhanced by the recognition of made-up public positions such as 'Children’s Laureate'.  

But while we're on about money, you believe that greed resides only in the wealthy and the greed of borrowers, taking loans they had little chance of repaying, is immaterial. And yet the party that you would support fuelled that greed like no other. The duplicitous Peter Mandelson even said he was intensely relaxed about people getting rich and yet the reckless overspending during the New Labour years is somehow now the fault of the ‘nasty’ coalition government. Lies, all lies, but that's the sort of "culture" we have to put up with from your side of the divide.

All that public spending has to be paid for and while the majority of artists spend much of their lives relying on the state to assist them in various ways – education, health, public transport, housing, welfare, libraries, museums, etc – very few artists are fortunate enough (as you have been) to ever earn enough to pay much in the way of taxes. So in fact as much as you despise the likes of Sajid Javid, I’m afraid he and all the other people who are not fortunate enough to spend their lives dreaming are in fact paying for the unproductive lifestyles of a great many of those who put ‘culture’ before putting food on the table.

Hello, children...

So, as an Oxford graduate who enjoys the ear of many who have mostly taken from the public purse, I'm very curious about why you feel you are in a position to criticise a young man who has risen up from a very humble background and has possibly already paid more tax than your acolytes will in a lifetime. Your very use of the word ‘toff’ betrays that you are arguing not from a position of wisdom and logic, but from a partisan platform of class hatred. Is this the subliminal message in the books you write for children? My mother warned me about men like you.

Friday 11 April 2014


Laura has been in a coma for several months now and Geoff has stayed faithfully by her side. He reads to her, plays their favourite song on a loop and brings in recordings of their friends and family, television shows and sometimes just the noises he has collected on his smart phone of everyday sounds - traffic, people in shops, birdsong… even the rain beating on the kitchen windows - all to no avail. But he has never given up hope.

All her vital signs are fine; she is breathing on her own and scans reveal little in the way of quantifiable brain damage, so the doctors are maintaining an optimistic outlook and Geoff has become a regular face around the hospital. Everybody, from the doctors to the receptionists - even some of the cleaners and maintenance staff - greet him by name as he arrives for his nightly vigil. Her room always has fresh flowers and unlike many, exudes a cheerful calm.

One night, Geoff rushes out and gabbles excitedly to the nurse on duty. “She just gripped my hand!” The nurse alerts the other duty staff who quickly assemble to witness the miracle. But after an hour there is no more reaction. The scenario is repeated several more times over the course of the next few days and although Geoff is clearly convinced, nobody other than he has seen any more sign of life than they’ve observed for months. The monitors also show nothing conclusive and after a while it is quietly assumed that Geoff is suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and his imagination is taking control.

After a while the staff no longer responded so enthusiastically to Geoff’s insistent pleas for attention, but they still treated him kindly while shaking their heads sadly as he returned to her room after each alert. Then one evening the pattern changed. Geoff tracked down the duty doctor and said “Doctor, I just accidentally touched Laura’s left breast while I was arranging her pillows and she sighed!” The doctor examined Geoff’s face, seeking to ascertain if he was delusional. Geoff was clearly convinced but he’d cried wolf so many time before so he just said, “Try touching her right breast and see how she reacts.”

A few minutes later Geoff reappeared and informed the doctor that yes, he'd got a response, “Doc, she sighed again, harder this time!” The doctor quickly followed Geoff back to Laura’s room but despite all Geoff’s efforts to elicit a response, there was nothing to see except the merest blip on the monitor readings that could have just as easily been caused by Geoff’s attentions as by Laura’s independent exertions. The doctor eventually left Geoff to it and as he left, in a moment of frustration and wickedness, he suggested Geoff try a bit of fondling.

A few minutes later Geoff appeared at the doctor’s office door. His eyes were wide and he was breathing heavily. “Doctor” he said, “I did as you said and fondled her breasts. She moaned. And when I sucked her nipples she arched her back!” The hour was late and the doc was tired and in need of some sleep himself and he was in no mood to accommodate this fantasist. "That's very encouraging," he said. "She’s responding to intimate contact. You know Geoff, what might really do the trick is oral sex. She's bound to react to that.” 

Geoff dashed back to Laura’s room and the doctor began to make preparations for turning in himself, but ten minutes later an ashen-faced Geoff appeared once more and this time he was in a state of some distress. “Doc” Geoff faltered as he struggled to get the words out, “she’s dead!” He was clearly not joking. ”No!” said the doctor, “What happened?” 

Geoff looked up, his lower lip trembling as he fought back the sobs, tears streaming down his face, "I did what you suggested, Doctor, and tried oral sex..." He looked the doctor straight in the eye and added, "I think she choked."

Thursday 10 April 2014

But what are we gonna do about Ed?

Whatever trials the Conservatives are going through the Miliband machine is also in disarray and try as they might to avoid it, their favourite word of 2012 ‘omnishambles’ hovers ever dangerously over their own attempts to look like a one nation party under a groovy leader. After a barrage of novelty, gimmick, populist policy was scatter-gunned into the media crowd a few weeks ago, now only tumbleweeds roll through the ideas-desert that is Labour’s policy unit.

ED MILIBAND: So come on chaps…


ED M: Sorry. I mean comrades. Anyway, we have to do something. I looked ridiculous in PMQs yesterday because all I had was that Maria Miller thing and Cameron was ready. Again. (SHAKES FIST)

CHUKA UMUNNA: Don’t blame me! I was on the Daily Politics, bigging up our economic plans.

ED BALLS: We haven’t got any – that’s why we sent you instead of me. Anyway, you agreed with Grant Shapps about the Maria Miller thing.

CHUKA: I thought that was what we’d decided? It wasn’t ME going off message!


ED M: Yes I know, but in the heat of the moment I couldn’t help myself.

ED B: You said “The Prime Minister is the last person in the country to work out that Maria Miller’s position was untenable. He just doesn’t get it.” You even tweeted it.

ED M: Brilliant, wasn’t I?

HATTIE: Except you were the second to last to work it out. If you’d said on Tuesday she should resign you’d look more like a strong leader. And anyway, your Twitter Intern does all your tweets – we don’t even trust you with the password.

ED M: What do you mean ‘look like’ a leader?

TWINTERN: They all think you look like Beaker, off the Muppe…

CHORUS: Fuck off!

TWINTERN: Yes, that’s exactly what they say…

ED M: Anyway, come on, we really screwed up this afternoon. According to Dan Hodges we have nothing! What news on the economy Ed?

ED B: It’s bad I’m afraid…

ED M: Well, that’s great!

ED B: No, the other bad…bad for us. Good for the bloody country. Ungrateful bastards. The way it’s going this time next year the economy could be doing so well the sods might even feel secure enough to give UKIP a go.

ED M: We’ll just keep calling them racists!

HATTIE: But every time we do that their poll ratings go up!  It’s our core voters; they’re the bloody racists - at heart they are no better than Nazis.

CHUKA: Surely we can have a go at them for promoting that Thatcherite millionaire ex- banker to the Culture Secretary job?

HATTIE: No, we can’t do that. He might not be a woman but he’s the next best thing. He’s a Paki… or is he one of the other lot?


HATTIE: What? Can we still say Asian? I lose track. Anyway he’s off limits - they’ve probably got a bloody colour quota to fill just like we have


ED M: Stop it, you two. Now come on; think. We have to attack them on being rich, out of touch public school types with floppy hair and Tuscan tans. We have to be utterly ruthless and get under their skin. We need to gather the facts before we attack; can’t afford any more cluster-fucks like yesterday afternoon. We must give the likes of Dan Hodges no more ammunition.

ED B: Ed’s right. From now on, before we say a thing we must check, check, check our facts and only when we are absolutely sure and we have examined the political ramifications do we strike! At least it’s Easter break now, so at least we can’t screw up until Parliament reconvenes.

TWINTERN: Great news!


TWINTERN: Oh, it’s sweet. I just tweeted about how he’s sacked Boris Johnson!

Labour Press: Boris Johnson and Eric Pickles



Wednesday 9 April 2014

Power to the People?

So, Maria Miller finally resigns and I continue to resist having an opinion either way except to observe that while Tories were clamouring for her removal – as were the voters - the leader/s of the opposition seemed to be curiously tight-lipped about it all. Maybe I missed Red Ed’s impassioned demand for a ministerial resignation; maybe he was saving himself up for Prime Minister’s Questions, but something is very wrong here. A member of the government had misbehaved in a manner deemed, if not actually criminal, then deeply insulting to the office and to the electorate and yet the opposition were not baying for blood?

If ever there was a feeling of unease about corruption and collusion in politics the expenses scandal was surely it and yet nothing appears to have changed. Oh sure, they say, the whole system has been reformed; but why then, were the broken eggs not mopped up when the omelette was being made instead of being left to rot? The stench is so overpowering you have to wonder what else is going on, concealed by the all-pervasive miasma of sleaze. Is it any wonder that people despair of ever getting democratic representation?

It’s not very nice where I live. When Alan Bennett grew up here, literally just over the Tong Road from my humble abode, it was still pretty rough, but rough in that nostalgic, working class solidarity kind of way. Now - despite legions of apologists denying the facts – work is something many have never known. It is a stubbornly Labour constituency, a reliable seat despite the fact that the local MP, Rachel Reeves, knows nothing about the lives of her voters. The locals may be proud of one of their own, a butcher’s son, making it to Oxford but they are deeply distrustful of an Oxford PPE being parachuted in to exploit their loyalty.

I crossed the Tong Road on Monday night, to attend the UKIP roadshow - within a fondant fancy’s throw of the former Bennett household - and far from being surrounded by retired half-colonels from the shires, there wasn’t an obviously recognisable old Tory in the hall. Despite the true blue war machine pumping out warnings that a vote for UKIP is a vote for Miliband – and I’m not saying there isn’t a risk in many wards - this is a constituency in which the Tory war horse is always going to limp home riderless.

I’m not sure how many of the old working class actually signed up for socialism - I well remember the seventies and for most it seemed more about sticking it to the bosses than about any ideological struggle for proletarian rule. The well organised big unions may have waged class warfare but ordinary working men and women despise another class in Britain today – the career political class. As we took our seats in the well-attended, spacious venue an old boy plonked himself next to me and unbidden said, “I voted Labour all my life, but I can’t stand that Rachel Reeves.”

What I then witnessed was a clear demonstration of what Nigel Farage has repeatedly said of late, that far from simply denying the Conservatives, the upstart party will take substantial support from disillusioned voters leaving Labour. People are thoroughly pissed off with the two main parties and don’t generally care one way or other about the Limp Dems; all of them are utterly disconnected from the electorate who reject especially Labour’s 2010 proclamation that “British history has to be revised, rethought or jettisoned”. The biggest cheers went up for unreservedly old-British values and sentiments and every time the phrase ‘the people’ was used, applause spontaneously broke out.

I have to say, as an individualist I felt a little uncomfortable among rousing consensus but one thing was certain - UKIP’s message undeniably hits the spot. Reeves, Miliband, Balls, Cooper – what are they doing here in northern seats? It’s because they are relying on Old Labour solidarity even as they shit on the democracy it used to stand for. I’ve always had a mistrust of unchecked democracy, after all lynch mobs are a form of it and if Paul Nuttall, following his tub-thumping delivery of the UKIP message, had produced a noose I daresay we could have had a mob on our hands… an asthmatic, geriatric, wheezing, creaking mob maybe (and that’s just me) but a mob nevertheless. Maria Miller today; who’s next?