Rainy Days and Mondays…

8 June 2009

…always get me down, The Carpenters used to sing. I am not sure that’s what Channel 4 were thinking about when they commissioned their latest sculpture I saw outside their offices on Horseferry Road today, Monday.

The impressive sculpture, replicating the Channel’s idents, featuring a “you couldn’t tell from a different angle it’s a digit” gigantic Number 4’s, is made up entirely of umbrellas.

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I did see that today’s Sun (or possibly Mirror) headline could have better referred today to Rainy Days and Mondays, being “countbrown” (referring to Gordon Brown’s expected relatively limited time left as Prime Minister. However I was disappointed that, especially after the European elections caused a further crisis for the PM they didn’t go the whole hog and recall Europe’s “The FINAL Countbrown”!

I cannot write much about politics these days, but couldn’t pass by the fact that not only did the Centre Right increase their control over the European Parliament, but also that the British National Part got two seats from the UK. The blogospehere’s now alive with shock, but perhaps we are the more politically enlightened who express our opinions online. And much has been blamed, particularly the Proportional Representation system which gives more ability for smaller parties to get into parliaments than the traditional British “First Past the Post” system. But the BNP seats say a lot about the attitude of the British public, increasing dissatisfaction of the white working class and, in some ways, are a successful result of a democratic system, albeit one where people have been so dissatisfied with Politics that they are apathetic to voting.

Proportional Representation also gave the Greens an increase in their UK vote, and gave two seats to the BNP. (An interesting aside: some countries (mostly smaller European countries) split their vote nationally, rather than by region. If the UK vote was split nationally it would look like this). But, whatever you think of them, it shows how the system can work for the smaller parties. The next task is re-enfranchising people with politics so they vote.


European Election Day

4 June 2009

This morning I left home and went to work via my local polling station
in order to vote in the European elections. There are no local elections
this year. I hadn’t had a single European focused leaflet through the
door from any of the main parties. The Lib Dems sent something but it
was only focused on them cutting council tax: perhaps they forgot that
it’s European and not local elections here.

I did get leaflets from the greens, christians, socialists, christians
and an independent. The first leaflet I got, however, was from the BNP.
Now I cannot go into the detail of who I voted for, or why, but I did
change the habit of my voting life.

Of course people have rather varied feelings about the European
parliament, but one thing is clear: there are things we need to work
together on. We live in a globalised world with global problems and
often tense relationships, we cannot always stand alone. Tomorrow, it
seems to have been forgotten in the UK, is World Environment Day:
there’s a great example of where we need to work together and, if we are
to get anywhere in tackling climate change, it perhaps cannot always be
by voluntary global discourse. And, we shouldn’t forget, it is only 60
years ago that the second world war started in Europe. As my old German
friend’s father used to say, if we’re talking at least we’re not
fighting.

Importantly, I did vote, and urge everyone who can to do so, regardless
of who for. Apathy is, although arguably more understandable than normal
right now, one of the biggest risks to democracy. Even if you cannot
stand to vote for anyone it’s better to go to the polling station and
spoil your paper to register disapproval over apathy.


Bull! Lies!

13 May 2009

The last week hasn’t been a good one for British politicians. The expense scandal, whether claiming for bath plugs and feather dusters, second homes, moat clearing, swimming pools or porn, the Daily Telegraph has been ‘exposing’ the lies and bullsh*t of politicians claiming expenses within, or beyond, creating plenty of public anger.

Not a good week for politicians, especially when the European and local elections are coming up in June. Norman Tebbit even advised the public to protest by not voting for the big parties in the European elections.

Which is why I was interested to see the juxtaposition of a poster saying “make sure nothing stops you voting” with two posters for a mobile phone company in Camden Town station pronouncing simply BULL and LIES.

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Of course, one of the biggest risks of the expenses story is disillusionment with politicians in general, politicians of all parties, and voter apathy caused by lies and bull. But voting is an essential way of exercising you democratic right – so maybe we shouldn’t let lies, bull, or anything else, stop us doing so on Thursday 4 June.


Credit Crunch – a father’s view

8 October 2008

My dad and I emailed today about money, savings, Iceland and the credit crunch… I loved his insight, so thought I’d share it:

Money’s funny stuff really…………..it doesn’t exist, unlike things!

The government did the right thing though overall for jumping in and nationalising [Bradford and Bingley], although if they had made the £50,000 offer to savers at that time they would not have needed to nationalise it. That’s what they’re doing with banks now, so that the nationalisation only happens if they reach the payout point (I think).

Really, it’s socialism by default [thelayoftheland note – not everyone agrees], which is excellent really. Now if they can re-nationslise the railways, power, and water, we’ll be laughing!!

Mind you, water is owned by the country…………………………………..but it’s France……..whoops. Le mess.

Vive la France eh?


Northern Scum

15 August 2008

I haven’t finished reading the Policy Exchange’s latest gem, Cities Unlimited. This is the report this week which – despite the PX being “the tories favourite thinktank” – David Cameron called insane. It’s the report that, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “let them move south” like Marie Antoinette said “let them eat cake” – ignorant of reality.

It’s a shame I haven’t finished reading it yet – I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when I do. The idea that, because “northern” towns and cities have had money poured into them and are still not doing as well as thriving places in the south we should help more people move south to work and live, is an interesting one. It’s based on pure geographic principles (our northern cities are in the wrong place – no more is cotton and shipping an economic driving force), but a rather ignorant and arrogant suggestion nonetheless.

But for a rather intelligent academic with a supposedly switched-on political mind, it’s a rather odd assertion to make. They say:

The reality turns out to be pretty stark. Margaret Thatcher famously declared that “you can’t buck the market”, we find that you can’t buck geography either. Cities such as Liverpool and Hull, for example, were perfectly placed for economic success in 1875 when Britain was a maritime nation, and imports, exports and even trade within Britain often went by sea. But today air, road and rail transport dominate, and suddenly places like Reading and Milton Keynes – awful locations in 1875 for business – beat our coastal cities hands down. No amount of regeneration spending can alter that basic reality.

It’s a rather stupid assertion to say that just because northern cities haven’t grown as fast as more advantageously-places southern ones means we shouldn’t seek to regenerate them (actually they don’t say this per se, but surely they should realise how it comes across). It would be much better, not to benchmark them about how they’ve improved in comparison to the south, but against how much they wouldn’t have improved if regeneration money hadn’t been ploughed in! But their craziest suggestions appear to be reserved for the south, and here I am talking as a town planner.

“We must stop reserving land in the south-east for low productivity industrial use” – I have some sympathy with this argument. But it’s overly simplistic. What about industrial land which is needed here – warehousing (where will our goods come from to get the the many more shops we’ll need?), recycling (we need to have space for this – not ship it all north) and the grotty uses people rely on (even now people have difficult finding a mechanic or car breakers yard in London) are just some examples.

Slightly more crazy is the idea that – assuming by the time you reach the outskirts of London you’re driving at 70 miles per hour, it would only add a minute of congestion onto your journey to expand London by a mile abd you’d have space for 400,000 houses. What about the services people need, what about public transport, what about green space, what about types of homes people (without cars? god forbid!) may want to live in? Is this a child’s approach to urban geography?

John Prescott (Labour’s newest and rather prolific blogger), however, has some interesting words on the “abandon the north” theory, and I’ll leave the last words of this post to him:

It reminds me of what my mother had to do. Daughter of a welsh mining family, she had to work in service in the wealthy homes of the Wirral when she wanted to stay with her family in north Wales.

The same policy was echoed later by Norman Tebbit in the Thatcher regime when he said “get on your bike and look for work.” And that was against the background of over 2 million unemployed. This gave us the highest level of unemployment in the cities they talk about, like Liverpool, Hull and Bradford. And what was their answer then? In Liverpool it was for Heseltine to take a bus-load of bankers up to the city and establish what they called Garden Festivals. Go there now, the Garden festival has been demolished, the city is rebuilt, public services improved and a new confidence, particularly as Europe’s capital of culture.

England’s cities are now better placed than at any time since the end of the 19th century to become motors of national advance. The years of decline and decay have been overcome.


Labouring under a misaprehension

3 August 2008

David Milliband’s comment article for the Guardian this week was an excellent outline of the only way Labour could be brought back from the state of internal negativity they’re in right now.

He said a lot which needed to be said:

When people hear exaggerated claims, either about failure or success, they switch off. That is why politicians across all parties fail to connect. To get our message across, we must be more humble about our shortcomings but more compelling about our achievements.

He outlines where he things things have gone wrong with the NHS (not soon enough), Iraq (better planning), devolving of power to more local levels (more), and that a low-carbon, energy efficient economy is where we should be driving. He said:

The Tories overclaim for what they are against because they don’t know what they are for. I disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, but at least it was clear what she stood for. She sat uncomfortably within the Tory party because she was a radical, not a conservative. She wanted change and was prepared to take unpopular decisions to achieve it.

The problem with David Cameron is the reverse. His problem is he is a conservative, not a radical. He doesn’t share a restlessness for change. He may be likable and sometimes hard to disagree with, but he is empty. He is a politician of the status quo — even a status quo he consistently voted against — not change…

…But in government, unless you choose sides, you get found out.
New Labour won three elections by offering real change, not just in policy but in the way we do politics. We must do so again. So let’s stop feeling sorry for ourselves, enjoy a break, and then find the confidence to make our case afresh.

The British public, as a whole, has an obsession with centre politics – neither radically left nor radically right. But the blandness of the centre ground can have unexpected consequences and lead to vacuous policies of the Cameronites being more popular than less ambiguous Labour alternatives when people think they’re bored of eleven years of the same. Some people go further and believe it’s not just the lack of change but arrogant out of touch policies that fuel the thriving alternative.

But the fact is it’s easy to bash the other side when you’re in opposition. In government you cannot afford this luxury. Milliband lists some of the populist claims and the reality: a broken society – but crime is falling (but recognising the need to deal with serious crime); more single parents living off the state – but employment for lone parents has risen; more asylum seekers – simply untrue.

The Daily Mailism of politics drives a downward spiral of self-perpetuating depression about the perceived inability of politicians to do anything.

This leads to a whole other argument about politics in a globalised world where the state is stripped of its key roles and multinational corporations drive direction – but that’s not for here… In this context it’s the change that’s required, it’s the drive, momentum and movement that are required… and that’s what Milliband’s article called for.

The main problem – and here the point of this post’s title – is that the press have pursued the Daily-Mailist self-destructive argument. They’re obsessed by the potential for self-destructiveness (“he didn’t mention Gordon Brown once”) rather than the fact that what he said needed to be said – and to more people than internally… Whether Gordon Brown can lead them through this change is for him to prove. He’s not a glamour politician, he’s gruff, steadfast and sturdy… when he took over leadership of the party there was hope of change, and that’s what he needs to go for now. If he can’t then Labour will need to think about how they go forward. But only then. Milliband’s article was a challenge to the Tories, but a kick start for Labour and they can’t allow it to stall.


Returning

27 July 2008

I’ve unashamedly been keeping my distance from the news recently – holidays are great for that… and had no real desire to get back into it too much since my return. More dismay for the labour party isn’t something I want to engage in too much, but I appear, unfortunately to have missed some interesting thing I would normally have been blogging on.

Despite the exuberant gayness of the weeks I’ve missed I haven’t heard any more from Heinz, despite the fact the Advertising Standards Authority won’t be investigating. Yesterday I bought Sainsbury’s organic baked beans… I also missed out on the fun of Iris Robinson’s descent into madness and it’s implications for the Tory and DUP partnership. Lighter news I missed may have been a second resignation in two months for Boris Johnson, and another appointment. I’ve even not commented on the Evening Standard’s assertion that there are more gays in the London tory party than on Old Compton Street (they’re trying to fight political correctness don’t you know)…

And sadly I was somewhere travelling through the Alps while the Pride parade, attended by 825,000 people (!), and Boris’s pink stetson, were winding their way through London’s streets. I’m also missing this year’s Europride in Stockholm after the holiday took all my money and time over the last few weeks. And the need for a night in led to me missing a plethora of acts on the final night of G-A-Y at the Astoria (although it appears Kylie didn’t show up)… I’ll be sad to see it go…

Anyway, to make up for this I’ll take some time today so ignore the politics and write an entry on another favourite topic of food – what else could I write about after a holiday in Italy???!!!


Boris’s Pride outfit and the political precipice

30 June 2008

So so sad I cannot be there… wouldn’t this be amazing! Thanks Dave! I still think he’d do worse than follow Dr David Bull’s outfit.

In more exciting news perhaps the country’s wonky shopping trolley wheel is unashamedly steering us towards that rather worrying looking precipice on the right.

But how far? I hope the New Statesman doesn’t have the answer:

An increasing number of traditional Labour voters believe that the party no longer reflects their interests. This is in no small measure a result of new Labour’s triangulation tactic – a deliberate shift to what the political class thinks is the “centre ground”. It is also a symptom of a failure to prioritise grass-roots activism at the local level, instead flirting with the “virtual party” and delivering messages through centralised marketing. The danger is not only that we ignore the reasons for the strength of the BNP, but that in so doing we reinforce the very conditions that have created it.


Planning for a defeat?

24 June 2008

Town Planning is rarely seen as exciting. But, hot on the heels of the 42 days debate, tomorrow’s vote in parliament on the new planning bill will be a key moment for the Government. Over 60 Labour MPs have signalled their concerns about the bill. Not only is this ‘yet another’ change to a relatively new planning system which local authorities are well-behind on delivering, these changes raise much bigger issues of how decisions are made.

Today’s Independent sums up the controversial change nicely:

At present, major projects such as power stations, ports, airports, roads, railways, dams, water plants, hazardous waste facilities and critical gas and electricity works are subject to public inquiries, where lawyers for residents, pressure groups and developers do battle – sometimes for years – before government-appointed inspectors recommend whether the schemes should go ahead. Ministers then take the final decision.

Under the Bill, an independent infrastructure planning commission would decide whether to approve such projects. Environmental groups and MPs from all parties have condemned the proposals as an affront to democracy. They say the final say on such developments should not be handed to an unelected quango but should be retained by ministers accountable to the public.

This raises major concerns over the democratic accountability of decision-making for major infrastructure which will affect peoples’ lives for more than just 42 days

A comment piece on the Guardian website added:

It rejected calls for the impact on climate change to be part of the commission’s remit. It wants the new system to speed through projects that have been stuck for years in the slow (but democratic) planning system.

A further irony is that, at least upon my last reading of the bill documentation (yes I have read it) the Government proposed not to include railway infrastructure because there was no forseen requirement for major infrastructure on the rail network (the multiple planning applications to each local authority on the West Coast Mainline for upgrading undoubtedly contributed to the project delays).

There is a need to speed up the planning process for major infrastructure. There’s a need to make sure decisions on new wind farms and power stations are made in the near future and nobody wants the Terminal 5 planning debacle again. The inquiry cost £80m, heard 700 witnesses, and took eight years from first application to government approval.

The Guardian comment sums up the political debates nicely:

The fantasy politics comes from the almost mythic status that monetary independence for the Bank of England has assumed in the Brown story. It was his most successful single act, so he wants to repeat it. Planning is about balancing different needs. It isn’t about expertise or arcane knowledge. A body told to keep inflation low will get on with it. A body told to get things built, will get things built. Remit is all. But deciding if a wind farm is more useful because of the power it generates than it is damaging because of its impact on a landscape – that’s about balancing interests. There is no obvious “right” answer. It is for politics, and argument, not for closed meetings and phoney experts.

The proposed means of decision making is simply wrong, regardless of any concessions that may be offered. It takes democracy away from decision-making. A different approach is needed which allows both speed and democracy, allows people to make their case but takes into account the much wider benefit of infrastructure. The democratic deficit can work the other way around too (where small-scale decisions are made by elected councilors who are voted by residents but may affect more people than those living in the area).

Coming so soon after other concerns about democratic rights the government is once again setting itself on a collision course with its own party and those who vote for it.


28 days… later

12 June 2008

I should admit I have, probably purposely, not followed the debate over 42 days very closely. I think that the phrase ‘civil liverties’ is used too much and its use in this context made me want to keep away from the debate. There’s a fine line when using that phrase which is often ignored (I’m not necessarily saying crossed). I’ve particularly kept out because of the complexities around when such a measure will apply or not and I didn’t believe I understood the issue enough to form an opinion.

However, having heard yesterday that the government won in the House of Commons I was most interested today, not to read opinion pieces or articles (no matter whether I agree with them or not), but to read a speech made by Diane Abbott, for whom I have a good deal of respect. She raises some very valid points.

I came into politics because of my concern about the relationship of the state to communities that are marginalised and suspected. It is easy to stand up for the civil liberties of our friends or of people in our trade union, but it is not easy to stand up for the civil liberties of people who are unpopular, suspected and look suspicious—people the tabloids print a horror story about every day.

However, it is a test of parliament that we are willing to stand up for the civil liberties of the marginalised, the suspect and the unpopular.

I came into politics about those issues, and I believe that if there is any content at all in ministers’ constant speeches about community cohesion we must offer every part of our community not just the appearance but the reality of justice and equality before the law.

She finished her speech talking about the popularity of the 42 day clause and how that affects parliament, saying “But if we as a parliament cannot stand up on this issue, and if people from our different ethnic communities cannot come here and genuinely reflect their fears and concerns, what is parliament for?”. This reminds me of a debate which I recall, but cannot find the speech for, in respect of equalising the age of consent where it was said that it’s not the job or parliament to do what is popular, it’s the job of parliament to do what is right…

So, no matter what I may or may not think about 42 days detention, Diane Abbott is absolutely right – parliament is about doing what’s right, understanding the concerns and issues, not letting a popular argument, which she believes has not been evidentially and robustly justified, to simply pass through.

In less exciting news I am tucked up in bed with a summer cold, which is really no fun at all.


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