Thursday, 27 February 2014

Well, it's been a little while...

As the two or three of you who have yet to delete my blog from your list may have noticed, it's been pretty quiet on the western front for a while...this blog has become decidedly sporadic.

I think part of it is that we're not in a political climate at the moment that's conducive to constructive interventions on my part and I did get a bit sick of my own negativity.

My intention earlier today was to delete most of the stuff on here then think about using it more as a forum for my thoughts, musings and ideas about what we should actually do to make things better rather than just a review of where we are.  However, I was pleasantly surprised when I read through some of my old stuff.  There's plenty of moaning in there but also lots of surprisingly interesting ideas...I may have had a few good days when I was writing some of them!

Given that, I'm leaving the old stuff untouched but still plan to think more about plans for the future than moans about the past.  It may or may not become a sort of personal manifesto (purely for my own purposes, I have to say) but that's the plan.  When I occasionally get round to doing this, I'm more than happy to debate the ideas - the argument is the fun bit!

So anyway, you may get to hear a little more from me over the coming weeks - I guess we'll see!

J  :)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


I am not sad that Margaret Thatcher has died but equally I am not celebrating that a frail, elderly woman has died. I do feel an irrational happiness that the symbol of the politics I feel has had such a terrible impact on our society has now gone but this is neither useful nor healthy. Nonetheless, there it is.

There may well be features of Thatcher's government that were positive. These probably include limiting the extremes of union power (although she went far too far) and something about the way Britain was represented abroad, at least at the beginning of her period in office. She was also remarkably successful in implementing her vision of economic and social policy, often through sheer force of personality. I have little doubt that she believed what she implemented.

However, it is clear to me that her administration ultimately did terrible damage to the UK and that this damage continues to be done now. The economic policy of the 80s was not the unmitigated triumph it is now made out to be. The UK's manufacturing base was decimated and the deregulation of the financial sector may have brought apparent success to our economy, but this was achieved by placing the benefits of this deregulation into the hands of a tiny group of wealthy individuals rather than spreading them amongst the population as a whole. Thatcher's social policies, which were ruthlessly implemented, made this not only acceptable but desirable. In Victorian times, 'good' industrialists created model villages, town halls, swimming pools, parks and other amenities for their workers. Taxation was a shared contribution to society. After Thatcher, 'good' business leaders cut costs, minimise wages and manpower and maximise profits for themselves and their shareholders. People using shared social amenities are 'scroungers' and taxation is theft of personal wealth.

I live in a post-industrial city in the Midlands and have seen, over my lifetime, the impact of the reforms that took place over in the 80s and 90s. Our staple industries (pottery, coal and steel) have all collapsed, as has employment. A once proud city with a highly skilled and cohesive workforce has become a downtrodden place with a lost population that has little chance of breaking free from these chains. Mine is one of many post-industrial towns that needed help in the 80s to either transform it's manufacturing base or to move into new, modern industries. Instead, it was left to collapse and the social problems that resulted will take generations to be healed.

The great failure of the administrations that followed Thatcher, and in particular the Labour government from 1997, was the repeated acceptance of the monetarist philosophy and the failure to roll back the liberalisation of the economy and workplace. The most striking statistic that I've read over the last few days is that 1 in 7 children lived in poverty in 1979. That figure is now 1 in 3. That we consider our society to have progressed over that period is a terrible indictment of the health of our society.

Thatcher's legacy is a more unequal society, a more divided society and a less cohesive society and it should be remembered as such. Please don't allow the current generation of politicians, left or right, to paint this philosophy as being the accepted status quo.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Projecting a Good Image

I've just been watching Have I Got News for You and it's got me thinking a bit.

For possibly the first time since Spitting Image left us, I think we can all be absolutely clear about how they would represent a current politician. I suppose we could all come up with ideas for some of the past party leaders or significant figures, but I'm not sure we'd all agree in all details.

However, I suspect that we could all picture the Spitting Image puppet of Nick Clegg. A touch of David Steel's 'in David Owen's pocket', a little 'fawning sycophant' and top up with 'public school fag'. And, I suspect that the fact that we probably all share the same image of this and that all the mickey taking we see on the telly is pretty consistent, is bad news for old Nick. It's early days, but it looks like the mud is sticking.

Of course, some of our other politicians are living up to form too. Our beloved Prime Minister would certainly have a posh toff sort of puppet, with George Osbourne a slightly more whiny version of the same thing. I suspect that Michael Gove and Boris have already been replaced by their puppets! However, none of these stereotypes are far from what we knew before the election. Nick's is a whole other ball game - I don't think there are many people saying 'I agree with Nick' any more.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

I'm Back - Complete with Anger Management Issues

Well, hello all - I'm back!

I thought I'd missed a few months - turns out it's just over a year. Luckily, I am fully refreshed and full with happiness and love towards my fellow man, so expect lots of lovely, positive messages. may not be entirely true...

Since I last made a contribution to this bloglet, there have been a few changes in the world. I think you know what I'm talking about, here. A brave, new world was on offer. A fresh faced (too fresh faced?) newcomer sprang onto the stage promising a new approach to politics. I've flirted with the Lib Dems for a few years now. Charles Kennedy seemed like a great chap to me (still does), even when a little under the weather. Straight talking bloke who seems to mean what he says.

I wasn't overjoyed when they dumped him for a model that operated a little better early in the morning but, when I was feeling generous, still gave them the occasional vote. Even when shiny Nick appeared on the scene, while I still pined to have jolly Charlie back, I kept flirting with them. Having been rather disillusioned with Labour (Iraq, an ongoing flirtation with consumerism and big business, a lack of ambition in really transforming the country), I thought a nice Lib Dem/Labour coalition could be just the ticket. So, the Lib Dems got my vote (luckily, I live in Stoke, so it made absolutely no difference to the local MP whatsoever!).

The day after the all-nighter of the election results, I had lunch with a few ex-colleagues and suggested that the only viable outcome was a Lib Dem/Labour coalition and that any flirtation with the Tories could only be political posturing. I don't think I'm ignorant of politics, but I was well and truly caught out.

Since then, I have been highly disillusioned and suffering from severe bouts of Tourettes, hence my absence since the election (I really have no excuse for my absence beforehand).

And so to the point...

Of all the scandalous policies being proposed at the moment in the never ending torrent of announcements we are currently being subject to, my absolute bugbear is tuition fees. I shall be brief...

Education is by far the most effective way of effective social change. Learning is entirely transformative and opens up opportunities to people that they could not have contemplated without it. I speak from experience.

My father used to be a painter and decorator, my mother a stay-at-home mum. I ended up being the first person in our family to attend university (under the grant system) and there is absolutely no doubt that my life is a million miles away from what it would otherwise have been. Given my background, a loan of £30,000 or more would have seemed an insurmountable mountain to climb, however soft and fluffy the repayment terms. I would have gone and got a job and probably pootled along on an average wage or so.

As it is, I do pretty well for myself and, not entirely coincidentally, both my parents now have post-graduate teaching qualifications and have rather transformed their own lives. And, just to be clear, we all pay for our degrees through the larger amounts of income tax that we now pay.

Education, from primary school through to university, is a right not a privilege. It is by far the best possible way of moving people from poverty to affluence. It is also the best way of building social cohesion and challenging preconceptions.

And tomorrow, when parliament votes to introduce tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year (don't forget to add subsistence onto this), everything I said above will be changed. However much later students have to pay back their massive debts, people from backgrounds like mine with be massively deterred from undertaking Higher Education because of the debts that will be hanging over them.

I expect this sort of thing from the Tories - it's exactly what they believe in. However, the Lib Dems have not moderately tweaked their policy. They have totally reneged on it to a degree that really is scandalous.

As a result, any faith I had in the ability of politics to effect the sort of changes our society so desperately needs has totally evaporated.

But don't worry about me, I've already got my degree.

(I imagine there will be more on this theme)

Friday, 27 November 2009

Depression Time

Sadly, I'm going to break my latest promise. I am not going to review Spiceworld The Movie, since I fear that it may lose some of my select audience who do not follow me for my popular music tastes. I am, however, going to despair slightly at the state of British politics which is, I suspect, far more up their street!

As ever, I watched Question Time from last night largely in order to give myself a justifiable reason to shout at the television. I didn't realise just how great an excuse I would receive until I saw the starting credits with the lovely Melanie Phillips leering suggestively out of the screen at me. Melanie Phillips, I have to report, is not the one woman in the world to turn me back to straightness. She is, instead, an evil harridan whom I abhor (and it's nice to be able to use that word, I can tell you!).

She was, possibly, slightly less awful than usual but do bear in mind that these things are relative. Climate change is a massive conspiracy, the British public are deluding themselves by now feeling that we may have been a little mislead about the Iraq war etc. is really not up to her usual level of odiousness. My particular favourites are always drawn from her massive sense of moral superiority and are usually well exhibited on the Moral Maze, when she is so...well, awful...that I physically can't listen to it.

I really can't be bothered to actually address the specific arguments from the evening because, as a well-established liberal (apparently apart from my acceptance of Fleetwood Mac!), you already know where I'm coming from, but I do sometimes just despair about there being any chance of our political leaders actually dealing with the rather large problems ahead without basically screwing the poor and disadvantaged.

Fortunately, though, Marcus Brigstocke was also on and always entertains me. So that's alright then.

Maybe Spiceworld is worth a look after all!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Rumour Mill

Having had a tiring and busy few weeks, I've decided I can't face writing yet another serious post, so I'm going for a lighter tone here.

I find myself inexplicably obsessed with Fleetwood Mac at the moment, and particularly the album Rumours. This started a couple of weeks before the recent documentary about the band, so it's not because of that. But I find myself wondering why on earth they have (or maybe had) a reputation for being a safe and steady band that your Dad would like.

Say what you want, but Rumours is a cracking album, bristling with tension, anger and revenge all set to very good pop/rock tunes.

Particular favourites? Nothing revolutionary, I think...Dreams, Go Your Own Way, The Chain and Gold Dust Woman will do nicely, thank you. So if you've not dusted your copy off for a while (pretty much everyone seems to own a copy), dig it out and give it a go.

And, out of interest, their last studio album, Say You Will, is surprisingly good for a band of their age!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Inevitable 'BNP on Question Time' post.

Well, the build up to Nick Griffin's forthcoming appearance on Question Time is properly under way now. I was, as you can imagine, especially please to see Blurton (in Stoke-on-Trent, for those not of a local disposition!) featured as a great example of the 'white working class' who are being drawn to vote for the BNP.

Actually, unpleasant as it was, the main piece was pretty accurate, although the figures presented clearly show that 'working class' is not really the correct phrase. It painted a picture of a community excluded from traditional employment opportunities, living on a disastrously low average income and quite understandably resentful about the situation in which they find themselves.

And, helpfully, Barbara Follet (Labour MP and Minister for Culture, Creative Industry and Tourism) was on hand to discuss the issue in detail. And, helpfully, she continues to almost entirely miss the point, an approach not entirely unusual to the main parties.

This is not a discussion about race. People who are comfortably off and happy with their lot rarely get overly concerned about what the brown people down the road are up to. There may well be some low-level residual racism in their conversation, (and as a dyed-in-the-wool wishy-washy liberal I abhor this as much as the next person), but offensive as this is, it certainly never rises to voting for neo-Nazis.

All the major parties have entirely failed to tackle the massive clusters of unemployment and deprivation that blight many of our previously industrial cities. Although decline had been in the system for many years, the marvellous contribution of Margaret Thatcher's policies put the nail in the coffin of the sort of skilled yet somewhat unpleasant industries that made Stoke and many other cities economically viable. The subsequent failure of both Tory and Labour governments (and local authorities) to develop and deliver a clear vision and strategy for meaningful economic redevelopment that focusses on exactly the individuals no longer employed in engineering/manufacturing etc. has left large proportions of the population in these areas with literally no hope.

These people look around and see anyone different from them as being favoured and are understandable resentful. Their analysis of the situation is incorrect, but the mistakes are understandable given their viewpoint.

Which brings us to Question Time. Many principled politicians (see Peter Haine) believe that the BNP should not be given a flagship public platform.

Absolute nonsense, I think. It's about time that these thugs and idiots were properly challenged on their policies by the public and serious politicians. Exposure to proper debate is the way that the stupidity and blatant racism of their argument will be placed on view for all to see, and I for one am happy that Jack Straw (of whom I'm no great fan) has had the guts to go on and fight the good fight. I very much hope that the audience and the panellists give the delightful Mr Griffin hell.

But more than this, politicians have got to understand that minor tinkering in shattered communities is not nearly enough. We need intervention on a massive scale if we are to make the sort of change to individual peoples' lives that we need to restore some sense to the political process. The entirely reasonable concerns of these forgotten communities need to be addressed, and relying on a Sure Start Centre and occasional employment programmes is simply not going to do it.