Will They Ever Change – The Price of Fish

An old saying – It won’t change the price of fish.

It’s a deeply pessimistic or cynical view of the efforts of our government to actually make a difference.

The next UK General Election will be held on 7th May 2015. Between now and then we have a further By-Election which comes hot on the heels of the two on 9th October 2014. In those By-Elections UKIP won one and came a close second in another. It now has it’s first UK Member of Parliament (MP) via the First Past the post election system for Westminster. This achievement goes with its 24 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) elected under proportional representation. Before the next General Election it may have another MP. All this turmoil for the main political parties comes after the Scottish Referendum and poll ratings that should concern any political leader from any party, apart from Nigel Farage of UKIP.

In the usual dull analysis that has followed the By-Elections the usual culprit of the immigration debate has been raised as the main source of discontent with Labour, The Conservatives and the almost forgotten Liberal Democrats. The SNP and Plaid Cymru have their support in Scotland and Wales respectively as do the Northern Irish political parties yet UKIP has made inroads even in these areas.

Why?

My personal view is that this goes back to the the scandals before the last election i.e. MPs expenses and behaviour. I had hoped that after the scandal and the anger caused that there would have been a sea change in attitude form the political class and a huge change in representation in Westminster. It did not happen, of the 650 sitting MPs before the last election…

In all, 148 MPs (100 Labour, 35 Conservatives, 7 Liberal Democrats, 2 Independents, 1 Independent Conservative and 1 member each from Plaid Cymru, the DUP, and the SDLP) decided not to contest the election. Alex Salmond did not stand for re-election in order to focus on the role of First Minister of Scotland but the SNP retained the seat with a different candidate and a reduced majority over the Conservative Party. (Wikipedia)

What is still amazing to me is that 502 MPs carried on regardless.

Now not all those MPs had behaved wrongly in the scandal but they all followed the expenses regime even if they technically did not abuse it. I personally challenged my sitting MP during the hustings on his behaviour. Along with many others in the audience we pointed out that if we had behaved as he had done in our military careers we would have been subject to a court-martial. He apologised, stated that he had paid the money back, then got re-elected alongside his fellow 501. The old saying that the British Electorate would elect a pig if it wore the right rosette remained true, but might that change?

Despite the so-called expert analysis that it’s Immigration and Europe that account for UKIP’s popularity, I am not sure. Nearly every interview I have seen recently with actual UKIP voters explains that there is more than this. The words Westminster elite, which the SNP has used in its campaigns, are reflected in the comments from these voters. There is an underlying anger with all our current politicians. Their weasel words, their blatant insincerity but mostly their sheer failure to address problems. These problems remain irrespective of which colour rosette is in office or which white middle class male is heading the other white middle class males (one notable exception I know but she behaved no differently). It is no use blaming the school they went to after all that choice was their parent’s not theirs.

An example – I am a fan of Grand Designs yet in virtually every design the builder gets their windows, materials etc from Germany because they are the only country that manufactures to the right specification. Is it really the case that our manufacturing and construction industries cannot build a window frame to the right high-tech standard? Come on Mr Branson, Sugar et al or the Dragon’s Den entrepreneurs why are you not investing in this capability or do we really need another branded train/bank,sauce experience! Where is government in this, why can BT take public money for fibre broadband then only deliver it to the cabinet up the street. Why aren’t new house built with fibre to the property with solar panels built in and with those high tech windows that save energy. The old manufacturing centre of the North of England are apparently desperate for work so why would I have to go to Germany to get a descent set of windows?

Instead we have proposals for hundreds of thousands of new homes. Homes that are built to the same poor standards we currently have. Homes that will be plopped into villages and small towns with no additional infrastructure, no new schools doctors etc. At least when the garden cities were built this was included. Now adding an estate of 200-300 homes results in a playground if you are lucky.

I believe there is an underlying unease with the political establishment and those that report on them alongside the bureaucrats that implement policies so badly. There smugness, their unnamed sources reported and constant manoeuvring for their own gain. If we are to have a better election with better MPs then our media need to do a much better job, but of course if they are to critical then they won’t get the inside story. It is in no one’s interest to have a reasoned sensible debate. Instead minor differences are blown up into fake huge rows where no facts are present just interpretation of carefully selected statistics.

Perhaps UKIPs rise is due to protests on immigration, Europe or is it something broader. The votes that used to go to Lib Dems in by-elections are now UKIPs, because the Lib Dems in government have shown themselves to be no different from the rest.

As I wrote earlier I had hoped for a major change in attitude if not parties after the last election. Perhaps it will come this time round but somehow, after months of campaigning I doubt that it will. We will have a combination of white middle class men from the same schools and universities carving up the offices of state for their own fulfilment.

What we can all be certain of is – it won’t change the price of fish.

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Ramblings on a Referendum

IMG_0169 I’ve just returned from a week in Las Palmas in The Canary Islands of Spain, don’t worry this is not trip advisor. Away from the UK my wife and I missed the Scottish referendum election and much of the ongoing horrors in Iraq, Syria, Ukraine alongside the Ebola crisis. Not that these events have gone away, even the referendum will have ramifications for months in the UK as the politicians will decide which of the bribes they proposed to the Scottish electorate will be fulfilled – oh and England, Wales and Northern Ireland may get some constitutional change too. How generous, although the argument now seems to be either: from Labour on what the impact will be on reducing the ability of Scottish Labour MPs to vote on English matters; the Conservatives need something to continue their fight with  UKIP.
Meanwhile another group of MPs continue to receive their salaries and benefits of MPs without ever attending Parliament or taking up their seats. Sinn Féin step forward no news there.

As I discussed in a previous post the whole referendum process for Scotland was anything but democratic for the rest of the UK in the end 55% of those voting which was 85.5% (thanks for bothering, but what happened to the other 15%) of the 4.3m, or 3.6m decided the future of 64m. We had the unedifying view of all the main political parties disappearing to Scotland with vague promises on DevoMax which they had all decided previously should not have been on the ballot. Promises put forward by Gordon Brown, so we can all believe those!. I think the SNP were right to describe this as a pointless halfway house if Scotland really wanted control it had to vote yes. Further devolved powers do not make us more united. Of course the independence movement failed to mention the real problem – with so much legislation decided by Brussels or other treaty obligations even an independent Scotland would not have had that much control just like Westminster does not. That was if the EU (Spain may well have vetoed), NATO (would take defence commitments) and the UN (they will take anyone) accepted applications. What about the World Bank, IMF, World Health Organisation these international institutions are all part of legislative and economic power base of the world. Would an independent Scotland have joined the European Space Agency? Perhaps it was this and the currency uncertainties that tipped the balance in favour on a no. Who knows perhaps it was the colour of the flag that appealed.

The Liberal Democrats (remember them they are still in the Coalition) have proposed a federal organisation of the UK as part of the reform. My son who has studied this stuff likes the idea. If it creates another layer of bureaucracy which the previous Labour regional assembly proposals did then I would be against. Labour wants to follow the example of London for more power to big cities but then what about those of us that do not live in big cities? Whatever happens Parliamentary reform is long overdue we should have far fewer MPs given the devolved powers already and even fewer in the Lords. Perhaps 500 MPs with devolved powers to regional parliaments and 250 in the Lords – elected please.

Meanwhile the Pope thinks World War 3 is effectively under way due to the conflicts throughout the world. Not quite; however brutal and the number of conflicts. Clearly it makes no difference to the victims whether the Pope thinks it’s a World War or not but human history is full of mostly unreported conflict. The battles in Africa seem never ending mostly based on tribal divisions made worse by the colonial false borders. There seems no easy resolution of the Syria conflict without supporting Assad, the very man the Western powers (and others) wanted removed, in order to defeat the allegedly bigger threat of ISIS, IS or ISL.

The appalling beheading on video of hostages adds to the fear element in the West allowing/forcing the politicians to act as if that one death is worse than the death from Ebola, Malaria, AIDS, or cancer. Horrific yes but so is a bomb from a coalition aircraft or a shell from an ISIS fighter. Remember those wonderful pictures of precision bombing. Someone’s son, brother, father, daughter, sister or mother has just been publicly killed. No squeamishness from western media in showing that video, but of course the victims are not journalists or aid workers. Not that we know who was in the vehicle or building alongside the fighter. The famous unverified reports beloved of BBC speak especially when dealing with sensitive subjects, must not get in trouble with the government when the next license fee discussion is under way even to the point of not reporting a story about a famous tennis player in case his view influences (only during voting day) the Scottish Referendum – really? The BBC’s efforts not to fall foul or the Electoral Commission are sometimes laughable, just like the promises of constitutional reform which we will now have to sit through.

Are All Politicians and Commentators ‘Nuts’?

Today in the UK there is brewing one of those made up press rows about which the general population stares in disbelief and has to check it’s hearing.  This row concerns the use of the word nuts.  On BBC TV’s Andrew Marr Show The Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was interviewed and asked about the proposed policy of the Opposition’s Labour Party and it’s leader Ed Milliband to increase Corporation Tax for businesses.  The Prime Minister called the policy ‘nuts’ the interviewer tried to turn this into David Cameron calling Ed Milliband nuts but Mr Cameron managed to avoid that potential trap, however, the row is not about the respective merits of the policy which on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme was not discussed.  Instead it was about the use of the term nuts and linked to a story last week about Asda, a supermarket chain in the UK, withdrawing from sale Halloween costumes described as Mental Patients because they were potentially offensive to Mental Health Patients or sufferers.  This could have led to a more interesting discussion about the continued Americanisation of events like Halloween and the importing of those traditions into the UK instead it was only about whether the mental health lobby was offended. They better not watch One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest or The Shining then, or read/watch any other horror, thriller, crime, story that feature potentially psychotic behaviour.  Let alone Basil Fawlty hitting his car with a branch because it has broken down, or should we just call him nuts, sorry I’m not supposed to use that word it might offend other car hitters suffering from a mental aberration.

What has this to do with writing you might ask?  Censorship, is my answer and in particular self-censorship.  Something that public pressure in the form of media frenzy seems determined to inflict on all of us that write.  Now irrespective of the benefits or otherwise of the political policy why shouldn’t Cameron be allowed to call the policy nuts if that is what he thinks it is.  I’m sure Mr Miliband thinks several of Mr Cameron’s policies are nuts as well and if he does why should he not use that term which is defined in this context in many thesaureses as

Nuts – adjective
(slang)=  insane, mad, crazy (informal), bananas (slang), barking (slang), eccentric, batty (slang), psycho (slang), irrational, loony (slang), demented, nutty (slang), deranged, loopy (informal), out to lunch (informal), out there (slang), barking mad (slang), gonzo (slang), doolally (slang), off your trolley (slang), up the pole (informal), as daft as a brush (informal, mainly, British), not the full shilling (informal), wacko or whacko (informal), a sausage short of a fry-up (slang), psychopathic, off the air (Australian, slang) • Either he’s joking or else he’s nuts. • A number of the players went nuts, completely out of control.

Now some of these uses do imply behaviour that is abnormal and have been linked with slang terms to describe mental illness, but should that stop us using a perfectly good description for a policy – I don’t think so.  There is a worrying habit where perfectly good terms are no longer used by writers and commentators because of fear of offending someone.  Language changes – just look at the term gay for an example, I know what it used to mean, happy, joyful, now it can’t be used in any other context apart from to describe homosexual behaviour.  Will I soon have to stop using nuts to describe some of my favourite food for fear of alienating the mental health lobby that really will be nuts.

Meanwhile I continue to know very little about why Mr Cameron thinks Mr Milliband’s policy is nuts nor do I know what the policy link in the USA is between the latest budget crisis and the existing Health Care policy.  Again the story there was described as a row against President Obama and the Republican Party with neither policy being debated just personal invective fired in all directions.  Whatever happened to reasoned debate.  Again on Radio 4 this was linked to a Republican Congressman reading extracts from a Dr Zeuss book, why was not clear and what that had to do with budget debate was not clear.  This was linked to a doorstop canvasser in Virginia knocking on someone’s door.  Meanwhile the fact that Asian stock markets were down several percent because of the impending budget issue wasn’t mentioned.  Now in a debate on Education or literacy, reading Dr Zeuss may be relevant but the whole article struck me as being nuts and if that offends some mental health experts so be it.  Also nuts was the fact that the BBC like many media outlets instead of calling it that actually gave more air time to that Congressman reading extract from a Children’s book.  As to the actual policies being proposed by Democrats and Republicans we heard nothing.  The story was then linked to the next Presidential Election not even a year since the last one – please are you all nuts!

I’ve used the BBC’s reporting twice here simply because I was listening as I often do to BBC’s Radio Four Today programme.  I used to think the programme provided a cultured insight into the day’s headlines but now seems to be little more than thirty second sound bites interrupted by the presenters trying to get their take on the story.  Of course the politicians don’t answer questions, except Mr Cameron did bluntly, albeit on a TV interview,  then tried not to because he was scared of the language he used.  Now that was nuts.  The fact that he may have joked about the Mental Health lobby was also discussed.  Is it just possible that we could have a debate about the tax policy of the parties rather than a debate about the language used to describe the policy.  How about some facts or am I being nuts!

So what as a would be writer should I do?  Should I add to my earlier rants about controversial subjects by using as many examples of allegedly controversial words as possible?  I’ll self censor here, I don’t want to offend anyone in a blog  so no N, (black) C (female sexual organ), used but I have mentioned them, should I not.  If I was writing 1950’s dialogue in the American South shouldn’t the N word be used.   If I quoted D H Lawrence should I use the C word?  I’m feeling happy should I call myself gay or avoid the words as toxic, use euphemisms in order not to upset people.  Do I have to add loony, nuts, mad and countless others to my proscribed list for fear of upsetting someone.  That would be nuts.  Apparently there are over 1 million different words in the English language with many having multiple meanings depending on context although the  Oxford English Dictionary

contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as sub-entries”

Does this rising tide of words we should not use, mean that the number of words will reduce, do we as a population not just writers want our vocabulary reduced?

Now that really would be nuts!