Category Archives: council and other tax


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:

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.

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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According to today’s Guardian,

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:

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

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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I have decided the time may be right to return to teaching ESOL.

A bit of background here: I started my Adult Ed career in ESOL, then known much more logically as ESL but because no organisation can survive more than a decade (or a week) without changing its acronym, they decided that English as a Second Language was somehow wrong and it should be called English for Speakers of Other Languages.  Presumably it would be offensive to these SOL’s to imply that English was somehow secondary – or that – oh, hell: I don’t know what they were thinking.  Just as I don’t know what the people at Embrace Arts were thinking when they changed it from the perfectly good appellation of The Richard Attenborough Centre to Embrace Arts and then back again following the death of its eponymous founder.  I wonder how many people it took to decide that; not to mention the cost of changing letterheads, websites and publicity?

It’s very annoying when they change the names of things for no good reason other than marketing or hyper-sensitivity.  But I digress.

Anyhoo, following the recent announcement of more funding for classes for Asian women, I thought ‘Aha!  They’re going to be doing lots of that in Leicester, which means they’re going to need more teachers.’  So I phoned the number, detailed my qualifications and experience and was told I could apply.  So apply I jolly well did.

Actually the news item was mixed: it’s good to have more money for women who might otherwise be isolated and unable to communicate outside their community.  What’s not so good is that Cameron singled out Muslim women and indicated that a lack of English might lead to ‘extremism’.  He got criticised by a member of his own government for this: Baroness Warsi called it ‘lazy politics’ and quite right too.

For myself, I have mixed feelings too: I enjoyed teaching ESOL as I get satisfaction from helping students and seeing them progress.  I am also greatly interested in other cultures so I learned as much from them as they did from me.  However, I am concerned about the amount of bureaucratic bullshit I may have to endure and I am worried about how much these procedures will interfere with the creative processes necessary to write.

But I must make money somehow.

So we shall see.

Kirk ou


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A House, a House! My Kingdom for a House!

Last night we went to the monthly quiz at our local club, where one of the questions was, ‘which Shakespearian king offered his kingdom for a horse?’  No prizes for guessing that, though it does remind me of a character in Asterix called Mykingdomforanos:

I’m afraid we won again, so another bottle of wine is sitting in the kitchen warming its cockles over the radiator: one of the members seemed rather disgruntled at our victory and pointed out that we were only supposed to have four people in a team.  I neglected to point out that half the other teams consisted of more than four people…

 But I digress; today, following our discussion on aspects of modern living, I want to discuss the topic of housing.

Housing costs money. Everyone knows that. Food costs, clothing costs and entertainment costs, but greater than all of these is housing. Thanks to the corporate greed of a nation, house prices are now four or five times what they otherwise might have been, meaning that many ordinary people can’t afford to buy. This wouldn’t matter if renting was a sensible alternative, but renting is regarded as the threadbare option. As a tenant you are not respected or valued. You are not a proper member of society; you are not grown up. You do not command the right to obtain loans or insurance on the same terms as adult members of society. Only fools and horses rent, goes the song – or would do if it were applied to the housing market. (Incidentally, it was years before I realised the lyric on that song said ‘only fools and horses work’ – an interesting coda to the recent post on jobs).

This is not the case everywhere.  In Europe renting is not only respectable, it is near-universal. As a tenant in Spain you have lifelong security; blocks of flats have a concierge (or portero, as they call them) who is responsible for cleaning and security; and you can pass your rented property on to your children if you wish. So why in Britain do we have this obsession with owning a house?

It wasn’t always thus. When I was growing up relatively few people owned a house as there was much more council and social housing to supplement the private sector. But then Thatcher happened. It is impossible to count the ways in which I loathe that woman. Apparently the ability to paint your own front door is so much more important than having a front door in the first place – so council houses were sold off by the shed-load. Well, not shed-load but you know what I mean. And suddenly home-ownership was on the agenda for anyone who wanted it. At least, if you were ‘responsible’ and prepared to ‘work hard’ it was on the agenda.

I’m responsible, aren’t I? And I work hard. Where’s my house?

Even then, it was not too unfeasible – but then in the eighties came a housing boom and prices rocketed. Of course you can’t expect people to act against their own private interest, so everyone got as much as they could from their house, especially since the people they were buying from were also getting as much as they could for theirs. And so began the treadmill that hurts everyone (all but a few) and which no-one is able to get off, illustrating perfectly how everyone acting in their own private interest can ultimately harm us all.

All of which brings me to a discussion of… market forces. You never heard much about market forces in the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, but they were very big in the ‘eighties and have been ever since. But what are they? We talk about them as though they are a given, something solid, immutable, fixed, permanent. But really, market forces is just a term for human behaviour writ large. It is the maelstrom of human tendencies.  It’s what we all do.

Now you will object that this is all very well, but how does anyone break into this? As I pointed out just now, anyone wishing to sell their house at a reasonable price would find themselves pretty much forced to fall in with everyone else or be seriously out of pocket – and most people can’t afford to do that.

So how does one fight this? That, as they say, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Except that, prices being what they are, it is now the three hundred thousand dollar question.

More thoughts on this tomorrow…

Kirk out


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