Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Bloody Christmas

I was reading MIddleAgedCred’s blog about Christmas and it made me realise how different this time of year is for different people. When I was working (until 7 years ago) I never got time off at Christmas or New Year; as a professional musician it’s the time when the pay day bell rings long and loud and you have to be a fool to sit it out. It was funny to listen to radio DJ’s telling people to give a thought for all those working at Christmas, then spewing out the usual suspects – police, nurses, firemen – and yet I never heard a DJ add musicians to that list, even thought they spend their whole year playing records!
Musicians are the ones staying sober at your Christmas Eve/Day/ New Year party, the ones taking all your drunken abuse and smiling, the ones entertaining your kids, grannies or anybody in between, and you will expect them to work through midnight and into the new year, you won’t ever think about them, offer them a drink (which they can’t accept anyway) or get out of the way when they are trying to load their van quickly so they can get home to see their kids. In short you will expect them to be fabulous, funny, original, dance worthy and then disappear into the night sober while you stagger for a taxi.
And that’s what I miss................
Now I don’t have to do it anymore and I have the opportunity to relax, enjoy my family, wrap presents and put them under the tree, be with loved ones on these special days, I miss it horribly. How perverse is that?
You see the feeling you get from working at Christmas and New Year is different to the rest of the year. Somehow it’s better, bigger, brighter. And when you’re not there anymore Christmas and New Year seem dull and a little dingy.
I guess it’s because Christmas and New Year are manufactured periods of euphoria – you HAVE to be happy, you HAVE to laugh and raise your glass, no matter how shit you feel. If you are lucky you have the money to buy useless gifts for people you don’t really like, you can drink mulled wine, play carols on your iPod, watch reruns of Morecambe and Wise. In fact you can do as much as is necessary so that your pretence of festive joviality is maintained. Cynical moi?
When you work you look out at people enacting this ritual. You are sober (I would drink tea for my voice and water for the smokiness), you are rational and you are doing a job – hopefully to the best of your abilities – you smile and laugh, you make eye contact, you might occasionally let some drunken skunk up onto the stage to show his drunken friends what a talent he is. Performing is a thankless profession but at the festive season the thanklessness is magnified. You rehearse so that it looks easy, you perform through gritted teeth (sometimes) you accept the big money and have your celebrations later, in calmer times, with civility and no false friendships or platitudes.
The musician works for his supper, he celebrates his Christmas at a quieter time, with real friends, with real happiness. Nothing foolish, nothing forced and without any feeling that mirth is ‘required’.
So when you look back on this years round of parties, think about the musicians, the invisible people in your selfish festive parade.
For me, I hate Christmas and New Year now, it’s so tacky from this side, so cheap and false, it lacks any sincerity and it just seems to be about draining the life (and the cash) out of otherwise decent people.
Roll on January 3rd.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


I use the word "fat." I use that word because that's what people are: they're fat. They're not bulky; they're not large, chunky, hefty or plump. And they're not big-boned. Dinosaurs were big-boned. These people are not overweight: this term somehow implies there is some correct weight... There is no correct weight. Heavy is also a misleading term. An aircraft carrier is heavy; it's not fat. Only people are fat, and that's what fat people are! They're fat!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Only in America!

This is based on an actual radio conversation between a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. The radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 20th October 2011 authorised by the Freedom of Information Act.
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I have to say my relationship with Twitter has not been a happy one.
I remember when I first started using it, within a couple of weeks Stephen Fry (who I know) had decided to quit Twitter after some random act of verbal violence by a thug. Stephen’s reaction was driven by his manic depression – I know because we talked about it – and he finally saw sense, felt the love of his vast following, and relented. The sadness he felt was that the chap who had delivered the insult wasn’t a particularly bad man and he was attacked mercilessly by Stephen’s followers until he had to leave Twitter – ironic really.
Manic depression (and please don’t tell me it’s not called that anymore – I’ve had too many total prats tell me “it’s called bipolar nowadays” – don’t you think I know that, I’ve lived with it for 30 years) does things to your mind that are cruel. It makes you believe everybody hates you just because one person may have said something unpleasant and reinforced your own self hatred. It makes you doubt your own abilities to the extent that any form of success is an utter surprise. And it accentuates your love for something into a feeling more akin to desperate reliance rather than the warm and lovely feeling normal mortals feel.
Well my MD (I’ll use this short cut for manic depression –you pedantic twats can read bipolar for it instead) does that; and here’s the thing about MD – it does different things to different people,  that is the pure beauty of mental illness. I do understand the main key identifiers and their commonality across the population, but just like any ‘treat’ in life, it’s the personalisation that really counts.
I am a successful individual, I have worked in ‘showbiz’ all my life and as a result know a lot of ‘famous’ people simply as friends. I get invited to fancy parties (I rarely go but the invites continue) I work in TV right now and will be recording an album of my songs sometime soon. Life should be good but, of course, it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, most of my life I have ridden the wave that is MD, and haven’t let it rule my life. Outwardly, so long as things don’t get too personal or emotional, I am stable, quite jolly at times and sociable. I am a little ‘cold’ as they say – I don’t emotionally connect – but that often comes across as a leadership quality and people do follow me (which I find quite amusing given how I feel inside) and have done all my life.
But here’s the thing. Ever since I joined Twitter I have struggled with my MD in ways that have never been there before. I like twitter, there is a community of individuals which quite suits my detached sociability system, you chat without knowing who you are chatting to. Strangely some people want to turn Twitter into a place where they can connect in real life with people – it doesn’t hold that attraction for me and I don’t really understand it, but whatever works. To me its remoteness (some of my best chums on Twitter don’t even have a photo of themselves up – and I am like that as well) is what makes it work. I don’t need to connect, I don’t need to be nice and I don’t need to justify anything I say. In simple terms if somebody sends back a mention I can ignore it.
So in theory Twitter should be an ideal place for me. Anonymity, no social contact, a place to publish my views. But Twitter has become a strange connector of people for me. Of course you cannot choose your followers on Twitter (well you can create a closed group but the point of that defeats me) and I seem to have collected a lot of very clever people. Smart folk with ‘posh’ accents (that’s how I see them) now follow this working class boy from Yorkshire and, to be frank, they intimidate me! Ironic isn’t it, that the people who like to connect with me are the reason why I struggle with the medium.
They are lovely people, that are appreciative of my opinions and interventions but they magnify my personal feelings of inadequacy and by doing so they magnify my MD. Don’t get me wrong, there are other things happening in my life – big things – that are also effecting me but I just don’t think Twitter helps!
So what to do? For the last few days I have just posted and not interacted. Maybe that will work. I doubt it though to be honest. Maybe I should simply not go onto Twitter anymore. I managed without it until 18 months ago and I’m sure I can get back to that, but do I want to?
A few days ago I was fiddling with my avatar and I changed it to a picture of my dog Izzy. I should say that I bought Izzy 5 years ago for purely selfish reasons. I was at a low point in my life (yeh another one) and was seriously considering suicide. But I have kids and I angered myself for even thinking of doing that to them; but still the feelings remained. The idea came to me to buy a dog. My kids have left home and their needs are not immediate, a dog would rely totally on me and I wouldn’t be able to consider leaving it alone. It worked and we are incredibly close.
So when I put the picture up on Twitter I did it as a proud dad and some folk hit me with what I’m sure they thought were clever and funny comments. Unfortunately, for me, they were the same as somebody making fun of your kids. So I took the picture down and left. I made a comment and funnily enough some of my followers asked who it was who had upset me; on a minor scale I suddenly saw the Stephen Fry parallel, I didn’t reply. I don’t need defending.
The question remains do I ‘need’ Twitter? Clearly I don’t but maybe I do. Let’s see how it goes with less Twitter and more real life – wow what a brave concept that is.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Funny Little Thing

In light of the rising frequency of human/grizzly bear encounters, the Montana Department of Fish and Game is advising hikers, backpackers, hunters, and fishermen to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears.

“We advise outdoorsmen to wear noisy little bells on their clothing so that the bears are not startled unexpectedly by a human's presence. We also advise outdoorsmen to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a bear.
It is also a good idea to watch for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoorsmen should recognize the difference between black bear poop and grizzly bear poop. Black bear poop is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear poop smells like pepper and has little bells in it.”

Friday, 14 October 2011

In search of the English - Part One

There is a strong case for agreeing with Winston Churchill that the Second World War was this country’s ‘finest hour’. He was talking about Britain and the British Empire, but the values of that Empire were the values that the English like to think they invented. To my mind the war and its aftermath are the last time when the English had a clear and positive sense of themselves. It was reflected back in films like In Which We Serve, Noel Coward’s fictionalised account of the sinking of HMS Kelly. It is an ordered, hierarchical sort of place in which the war is an inconvenience we put up with, a chaste, self-denying country in which women know their place and children go quietly to bed. ‘Don’t make a fuss’ the wives say to one another during an air raid ‘we’ll have a cup of tea in a minute’; as the Chief Petty Officer leaves home his mother asks when he’ll be ashore again.
‘All depends on Hitler’ he says
‘Well who does he think he is?’ responds the mother to which his cheery reply is ‘that’s the spirit’.
In Which We Serve was unashamedly propaganda for a people facing the possible extinction of their culture, which is the reason why it is so illuminating. It shows us how the English like to think of themselves. The picture we get from this and many other similar films is of a stoic, homely, quiet, disciplined, self-denying, kindly, honourable and dignified people who would much rather be tending their gardens than defending the world from fascist tyranny – but if they must well....let’s get on with it.
I’ve lived all my life in the England that emerged from the shadow of Hitler and am happy to confess an admiration for the place as it seemed to be then, despite its small mindedness, hypocrisy and prejudice. It fell into a war that it had repeatedly been promised would be avoided, because of the spinelessness of the French and their partners, and in so doing it found itself picking up the bill for the rescue operation whilst those it saved turned their back on it – it also advanced its fall from world eminence by decades.
The revisionists tell us that much of the British achievement in that war was not what it seemed or was reported at the time. Certainly the British have clung onto heroic illusions about the war, the favourite ones being the Little Ships at Dunkirk, the victory of the Few in the Battle of Britain and the courage of Londoners and other city dwellers in the Blitz. OK, the role of the Little Ships has been exaggerated, the Battle of Britain was lost by Hitler’s misjudgement as much as by the heroism of our fighter pilots. The Blitz was stopped by the courage and determination of Bomber Command whose ruthless retaliatory raids on Germany caused Hitler to lose the stomach for it. It is also demonstrably wrong that the British won the war alone, the Americans provided the leverage and the British ended up paying the bill for that until the mid 60’s; but the fact remains we did stand alone in the summer of 1940 and had we not done so we and the rest of Europe would still be in the grip of the Nazis today. Had we not had the great benefit of geography, perhaps like the rest of Europe this country would have found willing executioners to do the Nazi bidding. But geography matters; it makes people who they are.
There have been many attempts to explain what the Second World War did to Britain, what is undoubtedly true is that in that titanic struggle the English had the clearer idea of what they stood for and, therefore, who they were. It was nothing like Hitler’s pride in his Fatherland it was something smaller more personal and I think more quietly powerful.
Take David Lean’s 1945 tale of forbidden love, Brief Encounter. The couple meet in a railway station tearoom where she is waiting for a train (steam of course) home from a days shopping. A speck of coal dirt gets caught in her eye and, without a word of introduction the gallant local doctor steps forward and removes it. The following 80 minutes of this beautifully made film show their deepening love and the guilt each feels about it. Trevor Howard’s tall strong frame, fine nose, strong jaw, Celia Johnson’s retroussé nose and clear eyes seem to embody the English. They belong to the infinitely respectable middle class in which strangulated scheme of things ‘levly gels’ wish only to be ‘relly heppy’.
The doctor begins his seduction with the classic English gambit of commenting on the weather, a few moments later he mentions music; ‘my husband’s not musical’, she says ‘Good for him’ says the doctor. Good for him? Why is it good for him? Makes it sound like he’s done something really brave admitting his lack of musicality; it is Good for him of course because it recognises a God ordained right to be a philistine and the rectitude of people who please themselves in their own home – a very English trait indeed. As Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto comes and goes in the background their love unfolds measured out in cups of tea. Celia Johnson’s husband is the kind of man who calls his wife old girl, at one point she muses ‘ I believe we’d all be different if we lived in a sunny climate, then we shouldn’t be so withdrawn and shy and difficult’. Being English she feels no animosity towards her husband who she sees as ‘kindly and emotional’. Trevor Howard is also trapped in a dry marriage but doesn’t express any animosity towards his wife and children. The two of them are in the force of passions they can barely control; ‘we must be sensible’ is heard several times ‘if we control ourselves there is still time’.
In the end despite all the protestations of undying love the romance can never be. He does the decent thing and sets off for a job in South Africa while she returns to her decent but dull husband. The end.
So what does this incredibly popular English film tell us about the English? First ‘we are not put on this earth to enjoy ourselves’, second the importance of a sense of duty: wearing a uniform had been a fact of life for most of the adult population – Trevor Howard had been a Lieutenant in the Royal Corp of Signals, Celia Johnson an auxiliary policewoman – they both knew about sacrificing their careers and lives for the greater good as both had been ‘stars’ before the war and simply faded into being ordinary to help the cause. Most of all the message from the film is that emotions are there to be controlled. It was 1945 but it could just as easily have been 1955 or 1965; the fashions might have changed but the weather would still be damp and the policemen avuncular. It would, despite the post war Welfare State, be a country where everyone knew their place. Delivery carts (driven by men in uniform) still brought milk and bread to the front door. There were things that were done and things that were not done.
One could assume about these people that they were decent, and as industrious as was necessary to meet pretty modest ambitions. They were accustomed to seeing themselves as aggressed against, steady under fire, defiant against an enemy. The image is of British troops at Waterloo withstanding all out assault by the French, or the dome of St Pauls emerging from the smoke and flame of German bombs. They had a deeply held sense of their own rights, yet would proudly say they were ‘not much bothered’ about politics. The abject failure of both far right and far left in General Elections testifies to the profound scepticism of the English to anybody offering a promised land. They were, it’s true, reserved and prone to melancholy. But they were not in any meaningful sense religious, the Church of England being a political invention which had elevated being a ‘good chap’  to something close to canonisation! On those occasions when the state would require them to admit their allegiance they would write ‘C of E’ knowing that this religion would never badger them into regular attendance or try to get them to give all their money to the poor.
In 1951 the People newspaper organised a survey of its readers. For three years Geoffrey Gorer pored over the 11,000 responses and, at the end, concluded that not a lot had changed over the past 150 years. Clearly a vast lawless population had been turned into a law abiding society, a country which had enjoyed dog fights, bear baiting and public hanging was now humanitarian and squeamish but.. “what seems to have remained constant is a great resentment at being overlooked or controlled, a love of freedom; fortitude; a low interest in sexual activity compared with most neighbouring societies; a strong belief in the value of education for the formation of character; consideration and delicacy for the feelings of other people; and a very strong attachment to marriage and the institution of the family.....The English are a truly unified people, more unified I would hazard, than at any previous period in their history. When I was reading with extreme care, the first batch of questionnaires, I found I was constantly making the same notes: ‘What dull lives most of these people lead’ but also ‘what good people these are!’ I should still make the same judgement”
The reason for this unity was obvious enough – the country had just come through a terrible war which had required shared sacrifice. The population of England was still relatively homogeneous, used to accepting the inconvenience of discipline and unaffected by mass immigration. It was still insular, not merely in a physical sense but because the mass media had yet to create the global village.
It is the last time when it was possible to define the English, the nation whose discipline and resolve won the Second World War, that nation who for the last time was asked to organise the world to end the disgusting German and Japanese models of the future and in doing so it let itself slip away.
Now we stand on the edge of another disaster in Europe, this one created by greed and arrogance, but this time the English no longer exist as a breed who can take the lead. Again the Europeans would rather we stayed out and simply gave them our money and perhaps we will, but this will be a pivotal time for the English (not the British) and I hope we make the right decisions, whatever they might be.
I am proud to be English and hope that we do still exist as a breed. I will post other articles as I find the English and I’ll be happy to accept any help in finding this very special and powerful nation of people that the world unwisely turned its back on. 

Friday, 5 August 2011

You are not wired like me

I have no idea who wrote this but it beautifully explains how I feel due to my bipolar:

Can't you see, that you are not wired like me?
You will never know the terror that I face, the horror I feel, the ugliness,  YOU say is not there.
Those of you who are not like me are blind, you see.
You, who are not wired like me, will never believe, in the evil that envelops and controls takes me to places I never wanted to be.
I feel the ugliness of the world. the lies, cheating, hitting slapping hurting murdering rending of the soul, that happens each day. I look at you and know what will be in our lives. In the short span of time, when our lives intertwine, be it good, be it bad, be it betrayal be it mad.
I can feel what you are going to do to me. I can see, in advance, because I see your heart, your reason for being in my life.
Those that are not wired like me, will never see, or believe, that what I feel, know, see, is very very real.
Those that are not wired like me, tell me I am all wrong. I am all mixed up My brain is not working right. And you think yours is?
Do you care at all, those in the world that hurt betrayed rioted raped cannot escape the hatred of the heart of this world.
Because we are not wired like you? I am below you I am wrong, take these pills it will be all gone. WRONG!
It only waits, this evil twin, until a time when she can be released. Her anger strengthen, her rage knows no bounds at the attempt to control her existence--from me.
I am the guardian, or shell if you please. Of the anger of this world, I am not wired like you.
You do not have the ability to shine in the madness that everyone tries to hide. From each other, themselves, it all comes out in us, because you cannot face what is real.
I am only a reflection of what you try to hide from behind
My madness is real it is truer than you my anger is justified my rage avenged
I am only a shell that carries the evil of this world That will not be denied.
Can't you see, that what I go thru is because of you!
When the world is away from me and I can't hear or see the ugliness it shows My evil twin is not as strong.
My only fault, is that I cannot constantly push the meanness pain hurt away.
It stays within until it can no longer be restrained. And she shows her face. Releases her rage  until it is all spent. Then this guardian, this shell, must be there to try to fix all she has wrought, in the life of the guardian. To face those that say I am the one not right!
Those that are not wired like me, cannot, nor will never see.
The rage, terror, madness loneliness of being me. You fear what you don't know. You hide from what you don't like. You lie about what you don't want known.
I am a guardian, a shell that carries the heart of this world. And she is ugly.
Like you; those who are not wired like me.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Travelling to meet Tweeters.

This Sunday they are having a garden party where I live. It’s a gated community of 23 mews houses which sit prettily and contentedly around a cobbled courtyard with a garden at the side. We pay for this bit together and due to the studious work undertaking by the Chairman and Treasurer of the community company there is enough left over each year for a garden party. I won’t be going of course – I never do. You see the people I live amongst intimidate me; they are middle class, educated, posh, smart, socially poised – all those things I’m not.

So I got to thinking, given that I don’t actually work anymore (I have enough money not to have to), wouldn’t it be fun to travel round England a bit and try to understand what it is about the middle classes that so terrorises me. So that is what I intend to do.

The middle classes and middle classness (I know that’s not a word but you get it, right?) has always fascinated me. I am working class so to me, those with assured educations courtesy of their parents and life values that shout certainty, worthiness and self sacrifice (usually for kids and/or career husbands) seem strangely intimidating to me. Of course there will be those amongst you who assert, like Jeremy Paxman before you, that there is no longer a working class, that we are all middle class these days. This, to my mind is a very middle class concept; you like to be in clubs, you like to get other people to join, you like to think your efforts better the lot of others.

But there is a still a working class out there. It now resides in the urban sprawls of London, Birmingham and Manchester and, of course, in my own home town of Bradford. It sits amongst middle class folk who live there because they choose to, working class people live there (wherever there is) because they have no other choice. Being working class means being pretty certain you won’t amount to much and being eternally surprised if you do, it’s not about work ethic or money usually, it’s actually about how you think.

But I digress, this blog will not turn into a treatise on the working classes; if you middle class folk want to learn about us then you need to get out of denial, get on your bikes and find out. This blog is to become my vehicle for exploring the middle classes; their belief systems, their delusions, their ambitions and their view of themselves. I will wallow in what I hear as ‘posh’ accents (I have always wanted to sound like Michael Parkinson the earthy Yorkshireman but actually sound more like Peter Kay) designer lifestyles and pretentious socialism (that’s one thing the educated middle classes do really well) and I will try to understand why you scare me so.

I have done quite well for myself, I was well educated, successful in work and live in nice surroundings. I am still, however, working class and therefore totally intimidated by middle class people who I see as my superiors. I intend to try and find out why that is.

In 1993John Major made his now famous ‘back to basics’ address at the Conservative Party Conference and cited a litany of icons of Englishness some lifted from The lion and the Unicorn written by that finest of socialist authors George Orwell. Orwell is one of the few middle class (upper class perhaps) authors who I can congratulate on their socialism – he worked hard, he immersed himself in the people and he got it – and this book is a socialist call to arms suggesting strongly that major had never read it and the references were put into the speech by some smart little researcher. Major talked of ‘old maids cycling to Holy Communion, long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs and dog lovers’; Majors misquoting has passed into Conservative Party legend, Orwell though, and this is telling, also cited (as icons of Englishness) ‘the clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the labour exchanges, the rattle of pin tables in Soho pubs’. None of which, perhaps understandably, Major thought would get the blue rinses and retired colonels dewy eyed and yearning for times lost. In many ways Major embodied Middle England and the middle classes even though he was the Brixton born son of a trapeze artist – he did after all have  a passionate illicit romance with Edwina Currie and it doesn’t get more middle class than that!

I decided, therefore, that to understand the middle classes I must learn to understand Middle England. Depending on how you see it Middle England can mean entirely different things. Said in some private members club frequented by media types in Soho it means stifling conservatism, the Daily Mail and bringing back hanging (oh and getting out of the EU although that’s suddenly fashionable for everybody). Said with a swell of pride and a raised glass of warm flat beer in a saloon bar in the Shires, it means tradition, dependability, decency, the swish of willow on leather - and getting out of the EU.

As I journey through this strange land that is the Cotsworlds, the Chilterns the Mendips and the Peak District, I will be asserting, and perhaps acknowledging, that Middle Englishness and middle class values which flow from these environs, are not so much about geography but represent a certain kind of Englishness; one that is , in Middle England, distilled to its essence providing the stark and simple underbelly of middle classness; comfortable, straight-laced, cosy, assured, purposeful. It’s always easier to study at the margins, the extremes where the contrasts are the greatest so that’s what I’ll do. So I don’t want those of you who acknowledge being middle class but cannot abide my Shires study subjects to get over excited; I am studying on the margins and I think you just might recognise some of yourself in them – the real worry is that I might recognise some of me in them!

When the Department of Media, Culture and Sport, in its restlessly upbeat, sandal wearing teachery sort of way asked us to nominate our “icons of Britishness” the top 10 were Stonehenge, Punch & Judy, Holbein’s portrait of Henry VIII, a cup of tea, the FA Cup, the Routemaster bus, the King James Bible, the Angel of the North, the Spitfire and Jerusalem (song not place). Journeying through the Shires I hope to add farmers markets, branch lines, country lanes, gift shops, gastropubs and of course those things which, to me, define middle class England – loft conversions, CCTV cameras, adverts for firms doing patio improvements, white towelling clad women in health spas, trampolines in gardens, garden centres and those yellow signs that say ‘cleaning in progress’, yummy mummies in 4x4’s, Polish chambermaids and sad little bunches of flowers taped to Pelican crossings. Did I insult everybody there?

I believe the middle classes are epitomised by Middle England, it’s ample well fed midriff rising and falling contentedly in a post Sunday lunch snooze. The place is iconic for their value systems, I would use a term like psycho-geography but then I would be falling under the spell of the foolish middle class intellectuals who fear the use of simple plain words might ‘find out’ the nonsense they spew. In middle England they call a spade a spade – unless its an edging iron or a Dutch Hoe.

Let the travels commence!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

On being a socialist who doesn't support Labour

I read an excellent article in the Independent yesterday by Christina Patterson ( in which she pointed out the pressures on all of us economically which lead us to conclude that we should turn our backs on those in the Horn of Africa who now face starvation. She laid out all the arguments for pulling up the ladder and shouting “Yup all ok up here Jack” and then she made an excellent statement that topped and tailed her argument – ‘we are the luckiest people on the planet. We think corruption is MP’s claiming for bath plugs and poverty is eating at McDonald’s. We’re lucky to have food, and water and shelter and a government we elect’ – her point was well made; we are way beyond the poverty of Africa and we must help those less fortunate who cannot help themselves; even when we have to also accept that corruption is so bad much of what we donate will never reach them and may well pay for guns. I read it, I didn’t agree with her but I truly wished I could see her argument and could support what is clearly a fine set of principles – much finer than mine. I have to simply accept she is a better person than me.

But the fact was, no matter how many times I read the article I would never agree with her; when we are driving people into poverty here (even if our definition of poverty is very different to that used in Africa) simply for ideological reasons I cannot agree with our government which, on the one hand tells us we have messed up our country, then starts playing the big men of the world spending our money in countries that do not agree with any of our ideological foundations.

I find myself thinking that as these countries are Muslim why don’t the worlds super rich Muslim countries help their brothers; the Arab countries provide virtually nothing in aid with Qatar (just as an example) giving less than 1% of the international aid we do. I hear the arguments that say we should rise above that but should we? Really?

I have had to accept lately that my self assessment of my own intellectual ability (and hence my philosophical stance and outlook) are not what I had hoped. I’m clearly not the developed, balanced sophisticated intellectual that I thought I was, as I simply cannot agree with the arguments propounded by the great and the good anymore.

Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the fancy job, expense account and ultimate security of earnings that Christina Patterson and folk like her have. Perhaps it’s because I regularly head back to my home town of Bradford in Yorkshire and see the poverty, social decay, racial tension and educational vacuum that typifies the north (ultimately the place I try to be proud of) but I just cannot think as these supporters of wider, purer thinking then mine propound.

And here’s the thing. For almost 40 years I have been a card carrying paid up member of the Labour Party. Earlier this year I cancelled my membership and after I had got very upset (incandescent I might say) at the fact that nobody from the Labour Party seemed to care I had quit, I sat back and tried to understand why my intellectual and ethical belief system that made me a ‘man of the left’ was now letting me down.

I found myself unable to support council workers who strike to protect their jobs and benefits, I lost my faith in the European experiment and its principles and I started to contemplate that a largely privatised NHS might actually provide decent healthcare unlike the system we have now. Had I turned Tory overnight! Well clearly I hadn’t, but the loss of blind faith in Labour that grew from the selection of the Trades Union man Ed Milliband as leader when nobody else in the Party’s electoral college wanted him, and the subsequent rallying behind a man who is neither tough enough nor savvy enough to handle the current situation had been the catalyst for my resignation. The decision by these weak and spineless characters to then rewrite history to distance themselves from Tony Blair (the finest labour leader there has ever been in my view) and become apologists for the modernisation that he achieved in the Labour Party finally led me to tear up the card. The thing that finally convinced me I was right to do it was the announcement this week that the election of cabinet members would be dropped so that ‘Ed’ could hand pick his brown nosers and finally put the Blairites to the sword; the horror being I now hope he suffers a massive electoral defeat and his brother is then allowed to pick up the pieces and put the party back where it should be – I have never in my life wished labour to fail but now I do.

And I know that this is not because I am no longer philosophically a Labourite, it is because I am also a strong man (like Tony Blair) and not an apologist. I fight my corner and I expect the party I support to do the same as it has throughout its history – I am not interested in the over analysis and tedious ponderings of the EM Labour movement; it is no longer my movement and it will fail as it will lose its core support.

So I now rationalise the fact that I don’t want us spending what little money we have on aid, I want us to spend it here, helping our own. I do not feel guilty and ‘anti-labour’ by thinking that way, I don’t feel like I’ve lost my socialist mojo.

I also don’t feel guilty that I cannot support the actions of our council workers who I believe have had it too good for too long. I believe there is massive over employment in the public sector and now the lie has been exposed that they must protect their pensions because they earn less (it turns out they earn more than those in the private sector like for like jobs) I want to see them grown up and swallow their medicine like the rest of us are having to.

So the autumn is going to be interesting for me I guess. For the first time in my life I have no political party to lean on, no politicians who I admire whose words will guide me, I am going to have to think for myself! And that process leads me to understand that defining myself by political definitions is wrong (as politicians are power hungry so glibly change the definitions to suit the mood) – I like honesty and everybody to pull together, council workers don’t care about the rest of us they are looking after themselves and they are hiding behind false statements to try and get our support, it won’t work with me anymore.

The message here is clear. Be fair and carry your own can and I will support you. Try to hang onto your cushy number where there are at least two people for every job and too many invented jobs that don’t need doing and I lose interest. And finally if you want to spend my money in Africa instead of at home I will oppose you as you are delusional.

I also want to see us out of the joke that is the EU, get our jobs back in the hands of Brits and stop giving £1.4billion contracts to Germans but then maybe that’s just too much to expect.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Cash for Honours

Anyone Want to Buy a Title?

The Ironmonger’s Hall, tucked beneath the Museum of London, is home to the Ironmonger’s Company, a medieval guild concerned very much with iron, ironworks, working with iron, and furthering the secret, closely guarded interests of iron-people and their irony ways. The City of London might be famous for forcing newness on other people – new working practices or bizarre new forms of dodgy credit – but amongst their own ranks they like nothing more than a bit of archaic weirdness, bonding together in ancient closed shops with dizzying rituals.

The hall looks suitably old: a bit Tudory, all of stone and oak. In fact it was opened in 1925 and is something of a put-on designed to whip up a spot of quick awe. This made it an apt setting for the event I had come to witness. On this weekday lunchtime at the beginning of ‘disappointing’ June, the hall was hosting an auction of ancient British titles by property consultants Strutt & Parker. Going under the hammer were 5 baronies and 33 lordships of the manor. These were the kind of titles bought by City Boys, carpet kings, footballers, or anybody else who seems to have forgotten there’s a recession on and we are supposed to be being all grown up and putting egotism to one side.

The winners wouldn’t sit in the Lords (or bag any property), although there could be benefits – a few years ago, Chris Eubank became Lord of the Manor of Brighton (yes not everything down here is uber cool) which apparently entitled him to 4,000 herrings a year; maybe that’s why he needs that big truck?

The interior was all coat of arms wall hangings, portraits of the young Prince Phillip, capacious wood panelling. At a desk I registered for the event (twenty quid!) and was provided with a handsomely tooled silver booklet on the titles up for grabs and a name badge with a coat of arms on it (the armorial bearings of Strutt & Parker): nice.

I was here to get beneath the froth and consider real power. Old power. Aristocratic power. Britain’s ruling caste. How William of Normandy landed on this land, turfed the Saxon landlords off their land and dished out titles to the new lords of the land after generally knocking everyone and everything about a bit (setting in train centuries of upper class bad behaviour). Before the auction started, I sat in the hall, a 60 foot affair (sorry can’t do meters but then you know that already) with cascading chandeliers and stained glass, eating the free biscuits and coffee, watching the title hungry file in; judging by appearances older City folk on extended lunch breaks, plus the occasional country type and random oddball (that would be me then). I assumed the super rich and famous would be using the manned phone lines on the side of the auction block.

The refreshments table was buzzing (no wonder, yes it was £20 to get in but if you put your back into it you could easily drink yourself up on the deal) – I stayed off the sauce for fear of rash bidding under the influence; one false wave of the hand in an exuberant “more wine” gesture and we could end up Lord of Somewhere or other which was definitely not in the plan. Not that I hadn’t considered the benefits; you could have a title which admittedly didn’t come with anything more than petty privileges but in general there weren’t any obligations either – like unquestioning military service to the monarch (which might stop the most status hungry carpet king in his tracks). And if I did get the right to graze my sheep somewhere, that might come in handy if we ever get those sheep we’re always talking about.

As the auction started I retired to the large wooden balcony at the back of the room so that I could survey the bidders and realised they didn’t look like barons and earls. No swagger. The auctioneer perched behind his lectern – a suited bespectacled chap in his 50’s – was fleshing out each lot’s history. Well sort of; what was for sale was, of course, just a title – the Lord of the Manor titles were divorced from their original locale by a law passed in 1922. But the auctioneer kept talking about the places at considerable length. He told us that Carriglaine is ‘famous for porcelain’: the place that is. Of the house at Hamstall Ridware he revealed that ‘Jane Austin stayed there and wrote some chapters’ – she did..... in the house ... which you’re not buying!

The Lordship and feudal barony of Castle Knock, County Dublin was, the auctioneer explained, ‘near Lucan, famous for the lord of that name who disappeared’ – a smile and mild titters from the crowd. I decided not to interrupt and say he disappeared after murdering his children’s nanny at the home of his estranged wife.

But what were these people buying into, hoovering up Norman bestowed feudal titles? The Normans were professional rampagers, Vikings who settled in northern France in the 10th Century. Their oppression of the native Britons was appalling, we became their bitch, their beast, dragging their shitty French plough. I wanted to shout from the balcony ‘You’re buying your own oppression!’ but I thought this might look a bit mental so I had another biscuit and just thought it.

The auctioneer was a bit of a joker – or so he had decided – when he got to Lot 28 Lord of the Manor of Bracknell he could resist telling us it was made ‘famous by Oscar Wilde’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell  in The Importance of being Earnest – we all knew what was coming next – we braced ourselves as he screeched ‘A Haaaaandbaaag?” (the lot went for £7,000: £3,500 below the guide price).

In truth I was getting a bit bored by now. There was no manic auction frenzy, no jumping about, it was all a tad sedate – cash in the Attic this was not. But then all of a sudden things picked up. The penultimate lot was Lordship of the Manor of Bermondsey in south east London and the bidding was brisk and a little aggressive before it went to a phone bidder for £55,000. I thought how he would celebrate – perhaps heading for a few of the local pubs to proclaim his new status or maybe hitting the terraces of the New Den for Millwall’s next home game. Either way he was probably heading for a lively time.

Afterwards as I waited with the press (all two of them) to see if Strutt & Parker would divulge the identity of the 55 grand Bermondsey phone bidder (Theo Paphitis? Babs Winsor? Barrymore!) but they didn’t. In fact there was very little information about and the phone bidder was staying anonymous. I managed to ask why they would do that and the spokesperson said titles had become trendy wedding gifts (!) so they were often kept secret. Interestingly one person who had bought one two years ago said they had done it precisely to hide their identity – he said if he didn’t want to he didn’t have to sign his real name anymore – just using his title which was always enough for hotels and the like AND you could get credit cards issues with the titles; the whole thing was becoming more interesting!

Just as I was planning to leave the Mail on Sunday woman grabbed my arm and said she had bagged the new owner of the Lord Plumpton title. He was a self made property magnate called Mike Holland who owned the 18th Century manor house on the edge of my beloved Brighton to which the title once belonged, Stanmer House. I asked him if he was planning to now ruthlessly subdue the local natives but he didn’t seem that interested so I felt I as safe heading home.

The Normans subdued everything of course. For generations following the invasion they (1% of the population controlling virtually 100% of the land) refused to inter marry with we Brits and created the first known apartheid. But irony was to have the last laugh (can you say that?) when in 1204 Philip II of France muscled in on Normandy and gave the Normans a choice: come back to Normandy and keep it under his control; or stay in England and become English. There was no contest – France is warmer and has all that runny cheese and crackin booze – but amazingly the Normans chose to stay here and become English. It probably started raining at that exact moment. That’s not in any of the sources but it probably did happen.

Later in the week BBC South Today showed Mike Holland back at Stanmer House – it’s actually a conference/wedding venue he opened with the help of David Van Day of Dollar. The female news reporter walked into the entrance hall, past a suit of armour talking of a new lord of the manor...”but while he has a coat, it’s not a coat of arms, it’s a coat of fur....”. Yes, Mike had conferred the title on his pet white Alsatian Dillon.

Dillon was having a bit of a bark at her but, undaunted she said to Mike “people might say you’re barking mad” (see what she did there?) “you’ve spent £29,000 on buying a title for Dillon, why?”. Holland, who is truly rock and roll in EVERY way said ‘We’re all barking mad round here, that’s part of the fun...’

Glad to see that Brighton won’t be subdued ruthlessly (I think a bright shiny ball would soon distract Dillon from that plan) and the titles remain in the hands of the barking mad, no longer through inbreeding, now more by selective breeding.

Britain is truly safe in their hands..................................

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Englishness - is it all it's cracked up to be?

ENGLAND IS BACK! The polls show people in England are suddenly feeling more ‘English’ than ‘British’: Telegraph readers, white van men, Billy Bragg...all together getting weepy over the end of The Railway Children.

I too had been feeling this way, changing my address on my headed paper to England rather than United Kingdom, that kind of stuff, and as I had arranged a weekend break in Stratford Upon Avon I looked forward to a bit of good old patriotism – after all that’s what Will Shakespeare was good at right?

The great thing about Stratford is that, yes, Shakespeare was born there, but they don’t like to make a fuss about it. It’s a self-confident little town that knows it has many other attractions. Ha! Only joking – they never shut up about it. All over town, it’s Shakespeare this, Falstaff that. Even the coach station is called The Birthplace Coach Terminal.

It wasn’t always thus. When Shakespeare’s own company, the King’s Men, tipped up in 1622 to perform in a Stratford in the grip of Puritanism, they were paid to go away (as a musician I’ve been there and it’s not nice trust me); the Borough Chamberlain recording in his accounts: ‘To the King’s Players for not playing in the Hall 6/-. But that changed and the rest is history as they say. Ian Ousby likened the 19th Century town to the medieval catholic church – powered by solemn reverence, blatant hype and bogus relics – and the birthplace became a tourist trap with many writers including Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle scratching their name into the window frame (Scott carved: Byron is a twat).

Having checked into the Shakespeare Hotel and taken a stroll down Shakespeare Street we set off for the Courtyard Theatre where we were seeing Richard II. Once in our seats we eagerly anticipated the rich hit of literary patriotism; Shakespeare is of course English/British (he often melds the two like a yank Tourist) but bagging him up with nationalist sentiment is tricky – being one sided is very much what nationalism is all about whereas plays tend to require a spot of dynamism. So when the government requested a propaganda version of Henry V during WW2 Laurence Olivier had to take out the scenes with English troops being infiltrated by traitors, English soldiers committing war crimes against the French, and Henry shrugging off the nameless dead in his own ranks – plus the general tenor of the play that war is a fruitless waste of life. ‘Loving your work Larry, loving it! But I wonder if we can tweak it a bit by taking some of the central themes and completely reversing them? Yes you still get to ride the horse............’

But one speech does unequivocally stir up ‘we’re the best’ passions: the sceptre isle speech in Richard II “this other Eden..this happy breed of men...this precious stone set in a silver sea..this tophole place that everyone knows deep down is the dogs bollocks” (think that’s how it goes).

According to history Richard II started off well, bashing the hopes of his people by ruthlessly repressing the Peasants Revolt aged just 14. Shakespeare takes up the story when the young Plantagenet had gone to cat-crap with arrogant self regard (seems a bit harsh that, I mean he was king – these days people get arrogant and self-regarding if they know someone who’s met Matt Lucas and David Walliams in their lady costumes) and by having ‘favourites’, history speak for effeminate guys. This performance has him powdered and poncey and just asking to be usurped – the message was clear, England cannot be ruled by somebody who can’t take his ale but can take it up the chuffer. To be honest John of Gaunt’s great speech came and went. We’re not saying people should stand up and cheer at that bit, that would be a bit too much but it does provide one important insight into Englishness; Gaunt follows his ruddy litany by detailing England’s dereliction and shame. He says thanks to Richard, England is now ‘bond in with shame’, the country that had been ‘wont to conquer others/hath made a shameful conquest of itself’. Richard had screwed England so much that its now screwing itself when we all knew it should be screwing other countries!

So, we concluded England has been going to the dogs since at least  1399 which is over 600 years ago – and that’s a lot of dogs. Afterwards we headed for a curry at the Thespians Indian Restaurant – happily there were no thespians in it.

Think I’ll change my address back to United Kingdom – seems the right thing to do...............

Monday, 23 May 2011

Am I getting too old??

I turned 54 recently (well not that recently I’m racing to 55 now!) and for the first time that feeling of old age hit me. I’m not old of course and I could live many more years – my mother just made 87 – but I did feel down and decided to research some elder statesmen who are a little older than me.

The oldest complete skeleton found in Britain is called the Cheddar Man (he was found in the Cheddar Gorge, he’s not made of cheese – you were mistakenly thinking of the moon there). He dates from around 7150BC: about 4,500 years before the first stones were erected at Stonehenge. Older parts of humans have been found, but the Cheddar man, who now resides in the Natural History Museum, is the oldest complete true Brit.

Mr Cheddar has butchery marks on his boles, as if he’s been professionally sliced up in some way. Naturally this being pre-history, this is contested: he may, for example, just have over enthusiastically scratched an itch. (if you’re turned off history cos it’s a bit argumentative don’t even bother going anywhere near pre-history. The guys in this field are animals). Turn away if you’re of a nervous disposition, but basically, he was probably eaten.

The Lindow Man meanwhile is the naturally preserved body of an Iron Age man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss, Cheshire. He lives in the British Museum and looks like a deflated football. Lindow man dates from between 2BC and 119AD the time of the Celts and the Druids and the good news is he wasn’t eaten. On the downside he was probably a human sacrifice. Of course all the sources saying the Druids/Celts sacrificed humans are Roman and therefore possibly fabricated, as they were unlikely to give good reviews of a population they were ruthlessly suppressing. The Roman writer Tacitus wrote of ‘religious groves dedicated to superstition and barbarous rites’; Lucian of ‘trees sprinkled with human blood’. But the archaeological evidence indicates that they may well have liked a touch of human sacrificing, probably usually criminals or slaves, possibly burnt alive in huge baskets made of wicker.

Human butchery in these isles. It’s a shocker. That’s your roots for you. You watch programmes on the tele like Tribe and you see a world where everyone is close to nature and to each other and no one is ever ignored for long and it all seems quite inspiring. Then some elder wise man strats beating the crap out of the kids with sticks (to ward off evil spirits) and you think: balls to that for a game of soldiers and move to Swindon instead.

I actually popped in to see Cheddar Man on my 54th birthday. I was on my way somewhere else but thought I was feeling very old and he would cheer me up – unfortunately he was out. Now I don’t mean  he was REALLY out, on the town, doing the clubs, I mean he wasn’t on display. The books all say he’s in the Natural History Museum, he’s on their website. He’s the oldest complete skeleton found in Britain – of course he’s going to be on display in the country’s foremost repository of things historic – why would anybody need to check! And how would you check anyway; ring the museum and ask “is the Cheddar Man in?”

It’s all dinosaurs now of course. Old Cheddar man is upstairs in a cupboard somewhere. I’m sure they’ll put him out again one day – well if they haven’t chucked him in a skip or something. I came looking for solace that my old age feelings were nothing – I left with foreboding for my ignored future however limited that was.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The People we Brits love to hate


THE DANES: You wouldn’t think it to look at them now, but they were once huge bastards

THE FRENCH: In the 18th Century Britishness was built on four mainstays according to top Britishness academic Linda Colley: Protestantism, war, the pursuit of profit, and hating the French. Nelson prescribed: “you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil”

THE ROMANS: Slaughtered Boudica and subjugated the noble, woad-spattered Britons. On the plus side introduced under floor heating which cuts radiator clutter

THE NORMANS: Prototype French. Cunningly also Danish

THE SPANISH: No gripe for ages on this front, but at the opening of Parliament in 1656, Cromwell declared: “Why, truly, your great enemy is the Spaniard. He is a natural enemy, he is naturally so”. You don’t get speeches like that at the opening of Parliament anymore – more’s the pity.

THE ARGIES: All smoothed over now, so it’s OK to eat corned beef again – except it’s disgusting. Here’s an idea: let’s have  war with whichever nation is responsible for luncheon meat (I do hope it’s the French)

IRAQ: Seems they posed a considerable threat – but well, they won’t be bothering us for a while

THE DUTCH: Attempted to rival Britain for naval supremacy before giving up to become pot sodden whore monsters

THE GERMANS: Number One all time top enemy. The wave of anti German feeling during WW1 even saw angry mobs attacking Dachshunds. We have it on the strictest authority of my gran that the Boche will rise again – Achtung! Achtung!

THE YANKS: And after all we’d done for them! At the time of the War of Independence it was feared defeat would mean the dismemberment of the Empire. But the Empire went on to be the largest the world had even seen. So who’s laughing now eh?

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The ugly truth about the kilt (not really)

With a head nod to Steve Lowe

When Scotsmen proudly don their kilt for another wedding or to claim supremacy at a Burns night, they are expressing a rich tradition – a rich tradition that was invented way back in the mists of time: in 1822. But then, 1822 was quite a long time ago...

This was the year that Scots literary giant Sir Walter Ivanhoe Scott and military man David Stewart of Garth prepared a massive pageant for the fat, drunken monarch George IV (the first visit north of the border by a reigning monarch since Charles II). Basically wanting to show off a bit, the Lowland Scots suddenly stopped thinking of their moor-dwelling neighbours as dangerous lowlife and instead got well highland themselves: out came the kilts and the tartan, and the immortal pipes – all nearly as novel for the Lowlanders as for the fat King himself.

George’s visit – one and twenty daft days according to one observer – included balls (oh, the balls), walkabouts (oh, the walkabouts) and general ‘huzzas’ from adoring crowds (this was quite a turn-up, because most people thought he was a complete arsehole). Now finally, all the Scots looked Scottish.

Ironically, this festival of kitsch Highlandism was just after the first and before the second load of Highland Clearances, which saw hired thugs brutally expunging the Highlands of your actual Highlanders. These Clearances were not really post Culloden English revenge on rebel clans, more the Lowland Scots Lords developing a brutal eye for sheep related anyone wearing a Scottish sweater is basically a bastard.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Tory Lies and Damned Statistics

All praise to Zoe Williams

Here is the problem with the economy, and the coalition's stewardship of it, from an observer's point of view: they say "the huge burden of debt the last government left us with", and although I smell a rat, I cannot smell how large this rat is. Ed Balls or – more audibly, actually – Gordon Brown before him, can say this deficit reduction policy is lunacy, but it's hard within a context of adversarial politics to tell how much danger we're really in.

A Tory MP might say on Any Questions, "We have to do this or we'll end up like Ireland", and we might know instinctively that we're not Ireland yet not know exactly how unlike Ireland we are. It's straightforward to disagree with specific cuts – but maybe, because it's simpler, we're arguing about which tree to cut down when we should be arguing about the whole programme of deforestation.

Michael Mendelson is now an academic at the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, but his relevance for these purposes is his work in government: he was at the centre of fiscal policy during the great Canadian "bloodbath budget", the massive-scale deficit reduction undertaken by Jean Chrétien's liberal command in the mid-90s.

Canada's success was the ideal held up in Tory electioneering: it is rare to effect successful consolidation – to the extent that it's only happened six times among OECD nations since 1970, and one of those was Greece (in other words, it didn't happen but looked as if it had). Apparently Tories did solicit advice from key players of the Chrétien experiment prior to Britain's 2010 election, but only about the mechanics of deficit reduction. Nobody asked whether conditions were right. Nobody asked if it was a good idea to try this at home.

The first problem is that the UK is nothing like Canada. They succeeded because they had vigorous growth, their exports were strong (oil and manufacturing, both to the US, which was also booming) and private-sector demand for labour was outstripping the public sector cuts from the minute they started.

Mendelson explains: "You can't just choose when you're going to cut your debt, any more than you can say 'I'm going to sell my house now and get the same price as I got three years ago'. There's a market. And it's odd that the people who are the most defensive of the market don't seem to understand that fiscal management is also part of the market. You can't just decide that you're going to free up resources that are currently being used by government unless you're sure there's somebody else who's going to buy them."

To edge back a step, our deficit was nothing like Canada's either. Theirs had been rising steadily since 1974, and debt had got to 70% of GDP. Ours was 30% before the financial crash, a figure that is manageable, almost respectable. Mendelson observes: "You're an extremist country, it's odd. You don't think of yourselves that way. But you are. There is no crisis in Britain. Even if you're not a Keynesian, at the very least you'd admit that it is incredibly risky to implement a massive one- or two-year cutback in public-sector spending in the midst of what everybody recognises as the most dangerous period of economic turbulence since the Great Depression. Why would you do that now?"

The totem of the huge New Labour overspending that has brought us all to our knees is fiction. This might explain why the opposition never complained about it at the time. There was an upturn in national debt after the financial crisis and the bailouts, and "you couldn't have carried on like that indefinitely", says Mendelson. "But with some moderate constraint, washing out the transient effects of the crisis, the rate of increase of the debt would have been moderated."

But that is just the beginning of how phoney the coalition's war against debt really is. If we're nothing like Canada we're nowhere near Ireland either. "Ireland didn't have a debt crisis. Ireland had a balanced budget, it had a very low debt-to-GDP ratio. Ireland's problem started because they decided to guarantee all the bank debt. So if you want to look at the Irish problem and say 'we don't want to end up like that', the first thing to ask is 'what's the structure of the UK bank debt?'"

Nobody's asking that because to accuse the banks of anything is taken as the last resort of the deficit denier. It's time to own up to that, instead of backing away. It's time to start denying this deficit properly. Imagining for a second that even with this misinformation and mismanagement the economy pulls through, what's the best-case scenario?

"If the world continues to recover economically you'd probably be looking at continued slow rise in unemployment for another couple of years, a stagnant GDP, you'll probably miss the deficit targets, unless they have been purposefully understated. And then, four or five years hence, you will begin to recover, much more slowly than the rest of the world. Your debt-to-GDP ratio won't be that much better because your GDP won't have grown that much and your debt remains your debt. But sure, you'll be into a period of renewed growth four or five years hence, after a significant amount of pain."

And that growth would have happened anyway?

"Well, it would have happened a lot sooner."

The good news is that I'm out of space to pass on the worst-case scenario.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Elected Coppers - No Thanks?

With thanks to Ed West

I hate to use the phrase “liberal elite”, I really do. It should be on a Right-wing banned list along with “metropolitan liberals”, “Hampstead/Islington liberals” and “political correctness”, whether the mad or sane variety (and I’m sure I’ve used all of them). But looking into the reasoning of those who opposed Government plans for elected police chiefs last night it’s hard not to.

The proposal was killed off with a Lords amendment, voted out by, among others, former Metropolitan Police commissioner Lord Blair. Sally Hamwee, the Liberal Democrat rebel whose amendment it was, told peers it would lead to “the politicisation of the police”. She said: “I fear that what is populist may sometimes be dangerous, and may not reflect the needs of those who can shout less loudly.”

She’s not the only one. One legal society has warned that “a significant reason for resisting this reform is the irrefutable tenet that the police must not be swayed by public opinion”, because this might encourage miscarriages of justice. Liberty oppose it because “the proposals threaten the centuries old pillar of police independence”, while the Local Government Association says it could “fragment local partnerships” with councils.
Populism? Public opinion? Didn’t we just have a referendum last week based on the principle that, ultimately, the public does the right thing, one which the liberal elite lost? Damn, there I go again.

There might be problems with the model proposed by the government, but isn’t the idea that the public has more control over government officials a good thing? Not to everyone.
Blair has been bitterly opposed to reform of the police ever since Mayor Boris Johnson removed him in 2008. Last year he wrote in the Guardian: “And then there is the announcement of the introduction of elected police commissioners, apparently drawn from the US model of elected sheriffs, without any intellectual underpinning or historical understanding of the kind of national compact between the UK police and its public.”

But that is exactly the point; there is no national compact right now. Many of the police’s natural supporters feel completely alienated by the service’s hierarchy, and its priorities; they cannot understand police decision-making, the ludicrous overkill when investigating some petty crimes, the failure to put foot patrols out, the lack of interest in dealing with burglary, street robbery and what is now euphemistically called “anti-social behaviour”, the mentality that crime is a “social problem”, the proliferation of “thieves operate here” signs which basically say “we don’t”.

A few years back Sir Ian, as he was then, complacently declared that people in Haringey could leave their doors unlocked; as a taxpayer in Haringey, and one who lives in the London postcode with the highest burglary rate in the capital, I can assure him that is not true. Yet there seems to be no redress, because the people with power wish to impress those who appoint them, government officials; that’s why police chiefs seem more interested in winning over Guardian readers, by ticking the right ideological boxes, than Mail or Express readers.
It was also reported today that there would be tougher penalties for burglars, but that large numbers would still escape jail. To many people the idea that anyone who commits burglary – an incredibly serious crime which causes huge emotional damage to the victim, and fear in their neighbours – should escape jail is baffling. But many people do not have a say, because presumably to ask ordinary people would be populist. This has to change.