Category Archives: council and other tax

The People Have Spoken – Sort Of

Yes, the people have spoken.  But we’re still trying to work out exactly what it is they’ve said.  Before I try to untangle it, there are some features of this election that are fairly clear:

First, young people were key.  Everyone thought they wouldn’t bother: everyone was wrong.  Young people came out and voted in large numbers, boosting the turnout in many places by students and young voters.   When I turned up to vote I was told they’d been very busy due to large numbers of students from the nearby college and university: ‘we’ve never seen anything like it,’ said one member of staff.  When our candidate went to the university he was met by 2000 students going in to exams, many of whom shook his hand and said they’d voted for him (in the end he failed to get in, though he halved Nicky Morgan’s majority.)

Second: the turnout was high.  In general there was a high degree of engagement in this election, due in part to Brexit but on the left to urgent concerns about the NHS and social care, and the privatisation of public services.  Overall the turnout was nearly 69%, more than two points higher than 2015.

Third, and for me most important: Jeremy Corbyn.  Here was an elected leader who from the word go had been derided, attacked, slandered and smeared by the press; treated unfairly by the BBC and undermined by his own party.  No sooner was he elected than they set up someone to oust him; he was given no chance in this election.  many feared defeat worse than 2015.  But they were wrong.  Commentator after commentator has (finally!) paid respect to how he has fought and won seats to turn the election round.  Labour have taken key seats from the Tories and although they have not gained enough to be the largest party, it is not over yet.  If all falls apart in the Tory camp we are waiting in the wings to form a minority government.  This, in my view, shows what can happen when, under election rules, the media are forced to report more fairly on the issues.  In the space of weeks, JC turned from a hate figure to someone whose policies and campaigning proved massively popular, attracting tens of thousands to public rallies and millions more on live feeds.  Canterbury, which has been Tory since Chaucer, became Labour; Derby North returned to Labour and many others were won or retained while Tory strongholds were threatened.  Amber Rudd nearly lost her seat in Hastings and the Kensington result has yet to come in because they’ve had a thousand recounts and the staff are all comatose.

So where are we?  To be honest, nobody knows.  May has no intention of resigning, though resignation would seem to be indicated, partly because there is no obvious leader to take over and partly because to resign might, it is suggested, precipitate another election.  And another election is the last thing anyone wants right now.

So at the moment it looks like the Tories will try to do a deal with the DUP.  This is not great, but I for one am massively relieved that they didn’t get an increased majority, since it looks like the end to privatisation of the NHS, the end to a hard Brexit and – please god – the end to Murdoch and Dacre dictating the results of elections.

Phew!

I am now exhausted.  I don’t know how politicians do it.

Kirk out

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How Does Your Garden Vote?

What with my time being divided between canvassing and gardening at the moment, it was inevitable I should eventually get round to thinking of the election in terms of gardening.

The other day we were having a discussion with someone on Facebook about manifestos: OH had opined that the Conservative one seemed devoid of content and asked for opinions from Tory voters, to which one friend replied that the point of Conservatism is precisely not to have ideas but to allow the economy to function on its own: to, as it were, find its own level.  The phrase ‘find its own level’ is reminiscent of water, but my mind turned to gardens.

So, imagine if you will, our nation as a garden.  When you start out, there seem to be two ways to go.  You can try to control everything: you can spray every weed, get everything out of your lawn that is not grass, have neat rows of flowers and veg and not a single weed.  This looks scarily controlled, and leaves no space for spontaneity or creativity.  In political terms, this represents total state control as practised by the Soviet Union and others (I won’t call it communism because it wasn’t).

Alternatively, you can practise the opposite policy of unfettered capitalism, and leave the garden to regulate itself.  Initially, this allows for plenty of spontaneity; but after a while the weeds take over and you end up with a garden full of the strongest, most invasive weeds – brambles, horsetail, nettles, dandelions and poison ivy.  Nothing else is allowed to flourish, and useful flowers and veg are throttled.  And so it is that capitalism swallows everything: public services, health, even democracy itself if we let it.

What we need, I suggest, is a mixture of the two: we need judicious pruning and weeding for beneficial plants to flourish; we need a zero-tolerance policy towards brambles, ivy and of course horsetail; and for other, somewhat beneficial weeds such as dandelions and nettles, we allow them to grow in moderation and in the right place.  This represents a mixed economy and in my view, allows the best of both approaches.

We need a mixed economy in order to flourish.  Capitalism has its place: innovation and creativity often flourish here.  We need creative people like Dyson, to name one person off the top of my head.  And public ownership has its place: some industries are natural monopolies, and essential services ought to be run in the public interest.

So, to summarise: if profit is allowed to permeate everything you get corruption.  If the state controls everything you can get stagnation.  Some things ought to be nationalised, most industries should stay privately run, and that way everything in the garden will grow in a balanced environment.

It’s not perfect, but what is?  A mixed economy is like democracy: it’s the worst system apart from all the rest.

Kirk out

 

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Debate

Last night I watched a debate via live streaming.  This is a good way to get a feel of how it’s going; and before I watched I decided to make a special effort to be fair.  I wouldn’t watch just in order to hear my own views confirmed: I would try to listen and see whether I heard anything to make me change my mind.  Because in the end I really want to be sure I’m not living in a Corbynite bubble where people bolster each other’s opinions either in real life or on social media.  I tried to watch with as open a mind as possible.  And this is what came across:

Smith is perhaps well-meaning (although that is somewhat undercut by the fact of his challenging Corbyn at this time).  He seems to espouse very similar policies to his opponent, although some people think he’s just adopted them in order to be more popular.  If so, isn’t there a problem there?  I thought Corbyn was unelectable?  But from what I heard you couldn’t get a fag-paper between their policies; the only thing they really seemed to differ on was Trident, the rest being a question of extent and emphasis.  Smith’s pitch seems to be that he’s a ‘reasonable man of the Left.’  I looked at his voting record and it does in fact seem reasonable.  I have heard reports that he has at one time or another spoken in favour of some privatisation of the NHS: if so that doesn’t show up in his voting record.  So he may be more ‘socialist’ than we’ve been led to believe.  And yet – and here’s the rub – he doesn’t feel genuine.  His gestures seem studied; his manner practised.  He makes the ‘thumb-in-fist’ gesture a lot to get a point across and you can’t help wondering where he learnt to do that.  It doesn’t seem natural.  His speeches seem rehearsed.

Well, what’s wrong with that?  I practise my poems every day: most performers practise over and over so that they get it right.  Maybe Jeremy practises too?

Maybe.  But it doesn’t seem like it.  It seems as if in response to a question he just opens his mouth and says what he thinks.  And here’s the point: he doesn’t need to practise his arguments because he knows them.  Basically, he’s been practising for the last forty years, saying the same things over and over, in small meetings, in the Commons, in debates – everywhere.  And he doesn’t need to think about what football team he supports because he’s not afraid to say if it’s Millwall or Chelsea or if he doesn’t like football at all because – well, who gives a sh*t?  It’s austerity he cares about: it’s the people affected by government policies that truly concern him.  He doesn’t stop and think ‘What’s going to play well here?’  He just says what he thinks – and that, more than anything, is why people trust him.

OK.  But the reason Owen Smith is standing – or so he says – is that Corbyn is ‘unelectable’.  He accepts that JC means what he says; he accepts that he’s popular with a section of the electorate; he just thinks that won’t translate into a wider appeal.

Is he right?  Let’s leave aside here any arguments about bias in the media, which are too obvious and have been aired too often already.  My view is this:

People up and down the country are sick of austerity, sure.  And they will vote in droves for someone who promises to end it.  But people are also sick of insincerity.  They yearn for a leader who is authentic; not one who merely seems so.  They know the tricks politicians employ to make themselves look sincere because, even if they haven’t read the same Guardian articles I have, there’s something in the brain or the heart or the gut that tells you.  On some level you know when.  It doesn’t matter how often they look straight into the camera or what gestures they make or what tone of voice they use, there’s something about true sincerity that cannot be faked.  When you see it, you know it.  Because you feel it.  And that, ironically, is what makes Corbyn electable.   Because he has it, and Owen Smith doesn’t.

Kirk out

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Massive Disappointment for Corbyn as Labour Only Win in England and Wales…

There’s a satirical site often seen on Facebook called Newsthump which is beginning to seem less like satire and more like real life:

https://www.facebook.com/NewsThump/

and sadly the Beeb’s coverage of yesterday’s elections could be straight out of Newsthump.  I am heartily sick of how they’ve gone for Corbyn with every ounce of editorial energy; how they’ve made the story about him and interviewed just about everyone who hates and fears the man, but I have blogged about this before so I won’t go on and on.  However, it was disappointing to see a paper which had the good sense to quote me the other day (see previous post) joining in and, instead of giving the results for England and Wales (where Labour did well) focussing instead on their defeat in Scotland.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/may/06/scottish-labour-facing-third-place-after-collapse-in-vote

A weasel with half a brain could have forecast that they’d do badly in Scotland: every erstwhile Labour voter is now understandably voting for the SNP whilst everyone else was a Tory anyway.  So that is definitely a ‘well, duh!’ result.  But they are way ahead of the other parties in England and Wales and I don’t care what anyone says; that is a clear validation of Corbyn’s leadership.  So there, nah!

Anyway, sighs of relief all round.  We don’t know about the London mayor yet but it looks as if Zap Brannigan – sorry, Zach Goldsmith – won’t make it.  So we’ll have to put up with that terrorist guy instead…

 

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NIMBY? No, NUMBY!

According to today’s Guardian,

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/28/uk-support-for-fracking-hits-new-low

opposition to fracking is on the rise and support is running at around 19%.  I can’t say I’m surprised: the dynamic which one would usually expect with this kind of measure is that there would be more support among the wealthy living in suburbs and rural areas; you know, the kind of person who gets all aereated* about wind farms and solar panels because they don’t ‘look nice’ but doesn’t mind a nuclear power station provided it’s miles away and surrounded with leylandii.  But where the powers that be made their big mistake was in giving frackers permission to drill under people’s homes without consent.  An English person’s home is still as much their castle as it ever was, and threatening that principle by quite literally undermining their home is not a good move for a Tory government to make.  You’d think they’d have seen that – but no.  All they ever seem to see are the £££ signs in their eyes.  Oo, I’ve come over all biblical and wanting to say something about taking the pennies from the poor and not seeing the pound signs in your own eyes.  Anyway, so what this means that instead of NIMBYs not wanting wind-farms in their back yard, we now have NUMBYs digging in their heels and saying ‘Not Under My Bloody House.’  (OK that should be NUMBHs but it doesn’t really hit the spot, does it?)

I simply cannot fathom the mind-set of a government which reduces funding for renewables and gives the money to yet another highly-questionable fuel source which will also run out in a few decades.  It’s almost as if they’ll do anything sooner than give up their lifestyle – and now people are protesting.  Latest to join this up-in-arms race (see what I did there?) are Emma Thompson and her sister Sophie.  I never realised that Emma was the sister of the intense bride in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and Mafalda Hopkirk in the last Harry Potter, but so it is.  They have launched their own campaign to which I have signed up, although like many of Emma Thompson’s projects it inspires me with a mixture of affection and ickiness:

https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/frack-free-bake-off?source=em&subsource=20160427fraem01&utm_source=gpeace&utm_medium=em&utm_campaign=20160427fraem01

Anyway, something should be done and they are doing it, so for that I salute them.

Suffragette City

Bong! in other news, I have signed up for a cycle ride around Leicester to celebrate the city’s suffragettes, thus combining a feminist action with a tribute to Bowie.  Neat, eh?  I’ll keep you posted.  Better get my bike oiled…

Kirk out

* how DO you spell that?  Spellchecker doesn’t like any of my suggestions

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Two Out of Three for Reality

I’m not normally a great fan of ‘reality TV’: the programmes seem engineered and contrived to me, particularly in the area of conflict.  Light blue touch-paper and retire immediately seems to be the producers’ motto in bringing people together.  Sometimes they get a positive outcome: usually it’s just fireworks.

But the recent series Famous, Rich and Homeless was an exception; although I have to say at the outset that two out of the three epithets didn’t really apply.  I’d only heard of one of the four who volunteered to sleep rough for a week and be filmed doing it, and that was the snooker player Willie Thorne.  But even he, though famous, could no longer be considered rich, having recently gone bankrupt due to a gambling problem.  Still, it put him on the same wavelength as his homeless buddy, which is more than could be said for Kim Woodburn.  I had no idea who this woman was but apparently she presents a programme called ‘How Clean is Your House?’  Her attitude towards the people she met seemed to be ‘how genuine is your homelessness?’ – however she did seem to change over the week especially when paired with a woman who had lost her home in a fire and was in temporary accommodation (one room) awaiting the insurance.  And when I found out that she was 73 and had slept rough as a teenager I changed my mind about her.

Willie Thorne was a little flaky and spent the second night in a hotel.  I was tempted to be judgmental here but then I reminded myself that he didn’t have to volunteer for the programme (in aid of Sport Relief) and that I would probably be no better.  The last time I went camping was bad enough: if I’d had a car I’d have packed up in the night and gone straight home.

The guys the ‘celebs’ paired up with included a heroin addict who slept on a stairwell, a young woman whose pitch was an underpass and a Dutch man, formerly a successful businessman, who had lost everything and now slept in a tent in some woods outside London.  But the one who coped best was, unsurprisingly, the presenter of ‘Country File’, Julia Bradbury, who is presumably used to roughing it a little.  And when you consider that they did this in the middle of winter and that I have so far wimped out of doing the Great Sleep-out which is in high summer, I’ve got no room to talk.

So I shall stop.  Go watch though

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4wYPlMSchtm6w0zYg0n7pbv/the-celebrities-facing-up-to-life-on-the-street

Kirk in

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Something has Happened

Something has happened but I’m not allowed to say what.  All right, I can tell you I’ve had a poem accepted for publication but I’m not supposed to tell you where.  All I can say is that it’s a national magazine and that it will be published in March.  It’s a comic poem which I think I mentioned a while back, based on one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales.  I thought they might go for it – and they did!

So that was a bit of news which brightened an otherwise bad start to the day: the computer got screwed up and then I couldn’t get Daniel’s laptop to work with my documents so in the end I went out and booked a computer at the library, using the intervening time to get outside a really HOT pot of tea at the lovely Tiny Bakery, where I also picked up the latest gen on the proposed residents’ parking scheme.  I’ve yet to hear anyone who wants it and I can’t say it’s been a hit in the West End either.

And so back to the laptop-face where I eventually churned out some words.

And that was Monday.

Kirk out

 

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