Author Archives: davidsblogpage

A sharp turn to the right!

It seems that the world we live in is getting crazier by the day. Just this week we have seen the atrocious terrorist attacks in Spain, white supremacists marching in America and killing opponents to their despicable beliefs, and, to top it all, at home we have seen the growth of a campaign on behalf of that throwback Jacob Rees-Mogg; there have even been suggestions that he could be the next leader of the conservative party! Not that any of these events are truly surprising, but they do highlight the way things are at present.

The whole idea that America is a “white” country is beyond ludicrous. Europeans were the invaders, driving back the indigenous, non-white, population who they have treated appallingly ever since. The colonialist’s approach to the native population represented the worst of European arrogance, something we have seen time and time again as European nations spread their influence across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

North America in particular, has thrived for centuries on immigration. Don’t forget it is a comparatively new country and a large proportion of the population is probably no more than a couple of generations on from an immigrant. The continuing influence of white supremacists in the southern states just goes to show how out of touch with reality and the modern world these people really are.

America may claim to be the land of the free, but to some that only seems to apply if you are a white Christian. One of Donald Trump’s earliest blunders was his idea to place a ban on travel from selected, mainly Muslim, countries. This came in response to perceived threats from Isis. But coming at a time when the biggest threat to innocent lives is from home-grown, gun toting madmen, it is clear that the President either doesn’t understand the real issue, or, more likely, is choosing to ignore it and, like so many people before him, blunder about placing the blame for the nation’s woes on the most visibly obvious minority.

But once again, neither America or Trump are the first to react in this way, and they won’t be the last. When times are hard, or people face uncertainty, rather than look at themselves, they will look outward and seek an easy target to vent their fury and frustration. After all, it is easy to lay the blame for your troubles on others rather than yourself, particularly those who, for one reason or another, are outwardly conspicuous. If unemployment is high, blame the immigrants for taking our jobs. You can’t get on the housing ladder, blame the immigrants who are taking all our social housing stock. Long queues at the hospital, then it must be all those immigrants coming here for free treatment. To anyone with any sense, all of these statements are obviously untrue, but they are things we all hear said time and time again.

Some people don’t have the patience or the capacity to look beyond the overly simplistic rhetoric of the far-right and take the easy option of accepting a point of view that seems to offer a simple solution. But the simple solution is very rarely the best and, hardly ever, the right answer. Trump’s threat to tighten up immigration controls plays right into the hands of the extremists and legitimises their twisted view of the world. And is hesitation in condemning the neo-Nazi’s behind the killing last week of Heather Heyer just goes to highlight that it is not just the KKK that we need to be rid of.

Of course, we face similar, though much less overtly obvious problems of our own. We also have a leader whose position within their own party has been weakened by their arrogance and poor decision making. While Trump plays his dangerous games in the far East, Theresa May continues to flounder around over the issue that dominates the political arena, Brexit. A lot has already been said about the jingoism expressed during that particular campaign. It was just another example of the growing nationalism that we have seen right across Europe. Whilst we do not have the same issue in this country with neo-Nazis, the popular acceptance of right wing rhetoric as worrying.

Terrorist attacks like those in Manchester, London and Barcelona only add fuel to the nationalistic fire. Whether or not they are achieving their goal is hard to say, but what they can take some credit for is giving the far right, as well as those who seek simple solutions, ammunition to back up their calls for deportations and a clamp down on immigration.

And the last thing we need is the likes of Jacob-Rees-Mogg gaining any more influence than he already has. Mind you, if he ever did get himself elected as leader of the Conservative Party it would polarise political views in this country, particularly as the Labour Party is now led be someone from the left. It would ensure their policies were discernibly different.

 

Invasion of the body snatchers

I finally have proof that aliens are here, taking over the bodies of humans as they lay their invasion plans. Only I’m not sure whether it’s my body they have taken over or Michael Gove’s!

You see, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with one of his policies. During his time in Education and Justice, and the whole Brexit debacle, I was comfortable in the knowledge that his ideas and opinions were right-wing lunacy. We are still suffering from the damage he did to both departments, particularly Education. As far as I am concerned, Michael Gove epitomises the worst of the Tories. And then, out of the blue, he not only says something sensible, he goes and proposes a policy that I find myself agreeing with.

That is something I never thought I would say, and it pains me to even think about it.

So, what is it that Mr Gove has proposed that has gone against every principle of his career so far by being sensible? Well, he has announced that he is going to match the funding the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but on a different basis. Rather than pay the subsidy based on the amount of land they farm, in future they will be paid for protecting the environment and enhancing rural life.

I am not sure how protection and enhancement will be measured, and knowing Gove it may not be quite what it seems, but let’s hope that, for once, he is going to do the right thing. Let’s face it, his approach in his previous departments have been aimed at appeasing the Tory right and getting the best deal for those least in need of help, whilst leaving the rest of us to pay the bill and suffer the consequences.

Farming is an important industry for the UK and it is vital that we protect it. Paying out millions of pounds to already wealthy landowners has never been an effective use of public money. With supermarkets putting pressure on producers to keep prices down, many farmers are being pushed to the brink of bankruptcy. And it’s not just the price of produce that is a problem. In many rural areas, the cost of housing means that low paid farm workers are being priced out of the market.

So, we can only hope that this time around, Michael Gove’s proposal is what it seem and he is at last going to do something positive.

asylum

The lunatics have taken over the asylum

I have been quiet for a few weeks now, not because I have nothing to say or that there is nothing to talk about, because there certainly is. Being honest, as I suppose I must be, I have another project that has rather distracted me of late and taken up what little time and energy I have available.

Looking around at the moment you might be forgiven for thinking that you have entered some kind of twilight zone. As the great Neil Peart once wrote: “You have entered the Twilight Zone, beyond this world strange things are known.” Peart (drummer and lyricists with Rush) has always had a wonderful way with words, and in this 1976 song he was portraying a world beyond our own where anything can happen, based on the TV series of the same name. But here we are, 41 years later and those lines seem to sum up the world I find myself in.

And this is a slightly surreal world, though not too dissimilar from the world of 1976 when Rush recorded “Twilight Zone” for their career defining album “2112”. I had thought we had left the threat of nuclear war behind us, but then along comes Kim Jong-un and his counterpart Donald Trump. Two of the wackiest leaders the world has seen for some time. Whilst Korean madman Kim has nuclear weapons at the top of his birthday wish list, the tragedy that is Donald Trump is flexing his fingers, ready to push that proverbial button. And I am quite sure that if he thought he thought it would benefit him in any way, he would have pushed it by now. For once the Russians seem to be staying out of things. They have caused quite enough trouble in Ukraine and Syria without adding any further fuel to the fire.

So, other than the antagonists, no change there.

And what about things closer to home? Well, things aren’t all that rosy here either. I remember the political and economic mayhem of the 1970s only too well. The economy was going down the pan, labour relations were at an all-time low, unemployment was on the rise and the divide between the rich and poor was as deep as ever. After the struggles on the Margaret Thatcher era it seemed that all of this was behind us, but now I am not so sure.

Over the past few months we have seen acid attacks, terrorists striking our city centres and deaths due to negligence and penny pinching. We have a lame duck government that is struggling to put together anything remotely like a coherent plan for the future. Policy and direction seem to change with the wind, and with the current effects of climate change, that is a lot more frequent than it used to be. And with public sector pay being frozen and jobs slashed, things don’t seem to have moved too far from those troubled and insecure days that gave rise to punk rock and Margaret Thatcher.

Today the BBC published the salaries of its top stars. And linked to the recent pay increases for big bosses and politicians, it just rubs salt into the wounds of our health workers, police, teachers and other public-sector workers who have had to deal with real-term pay cuts for several years now. For someone like Theresa May, who along with her husband has great personal wealth, to condemn those at the lower end of the pay scale is hypocrisy on an almost bewildering scale.

Actually, much of what I see around me at the moment is somewhat bewildering. I have never been able to get my head around the thinking behind the actions of terrorists who target the innocent, or politicians who put personal gain above the needs of the public they are supposed to serve. Unfortunately that is the way of the world we live in.

May has dropped a clanger

So that’s it! The election is now over and all that is left now is for Theresa May to try to form a government. And as the losers retire to lick their wounds and the victorious crack open the champagne, the rest of us are left wondering, what now?

For the Conservatives, the election was a disaster. They had no need to call the election; when she became Prime Minister after David Cameron’s resignation, Theresa May was emphatic about not calling an early general election. When she did go to parliament with the request for an election, she claimed it was to ensure she had a mandate for her reforms and Brexit negotiations. Nobody else wanted the election and I still fail to understand why the Conservative hierarchy thought it might be a good idea. In the end, they were returned with a reduced majority after a disastrous campaign that only highlighted why Theresa May shouldn’t be Prime Minister.

On the other hand, Labour had a much better than expected campaign and secured a result far better than anyone could have anticipated. No one thought that Labour could win the election, and many pundits thought, at the beginning at least, that Jeremy Corbyn was a liability that would cost the party seats and influence. How wrong they all were. It seems that despite the antagonism towards him from the Parliamentary Party, Corbyn has a great deal of support on the ground. A lot of young people were encouraged to go out and vote for Labour in support of him. In my own constituency the increased Labour vote pushed the LibDems from first to third place, a result that no one could have anticipated before the election began.

Although they increased their seats, it was not a good night for the LibDems. They saw the loss of their former leader Nick Clegg and their current leader’s majority slashed to less than a thousand. It seems that for the time being at least we have returned to a two party system.

What all this means for the future, who can tell. Can Theresa May continue to lead her party after dragging them into an election that cost them their majority? Will the Labour Party get behind Jeremy Corbyn and get on with the job of holding the government to account? Can the LibDems ever regain the level of support they enjoyed in 2010? Will UKIP finally go away?

For now we just have to sit back and watch and wait as the parties assess the damage and decide what to do next.

One thing I know for sure is that this election has changed the political landscape. I am not so sure now about the future of the LibDems in those constituencies like Southport where the Labour vote has been suppressed by years of tactical voting. Only a change in the electoral system will give people real confidence to vote with their hearts, but what we have seen is a rejection of the tactical vote, despite it being pushed by most of the opposition parties. This may impact on next year’s local elections, and if it continues, it will certainly make the next general election even more unpredictable.

Personally I have always considered myself a Liberal and have almost always voted that way. But I have been impressed by Jeremy Corbyn over the past few weeks, more for his honesty and style than his policies. The more I read and heard, the more convinced I was by what he had to say, so much so that on the day of the election I found myself questioning my loyalty and very nearly cast my vote for Labour. In the end I voted for the candidate I thought would be best for the town, which just happened to be the LibDem. I am not so sure that this will be the case by the time the next election  comes around.

I am sure I am not the only person questioning their loyalties today. I now need to go away and have a little think…

To vote tactically, or not?

It is the eve of polling for the 2017 general election and decision time is almost upon us. Many people will have decided where their vote will go before the election was called, but a large minority will have been reading the media and listening to the views of the party leaders and candidates before making their choice. But for some, it isn’t as simple as that. Probably more than in other election in recent years, the Tactical Vote has become a big issue in a lot of areas.

Almost from the kick-off, there has been a co-ordinated campaign by the “progressive” parties to persuade voters in key marginal seats to vote, not with their conscience or political allegiances, but instead to put their support behind the candidate in the best position to defeat the Conservatives. This is not a new phenomena and has been practised in my own town for many years now, first by the Liberal Party and now by the LibDems.

But why should people have to vote for a party or candidate they don’t support? After all, this is a democracy and we can vote for who we like can’t we? Certainly we can. It is everybody’s right to put their X next to the candidate of their choice. And if we had an electoral system that ensured that each vote counted equally then yes, go for it. Vote for your chosen candidate in the comfort of knowing your vote will do some good.

Unfortunately, we have an electoral system that doesn’t work that way. The first-past-the-post system we use for electing our MPs, and consequently the government, wastes thousands of votes and allows governments to be formed by parties that can barely manage to get the support of a third of the electorate, if that! In its heartlands, Labour MPs are regularly elected with huge majorities, often taken taking up to 80% of the vote. Whilst this is impressive, they still only count towards the election of one MP. In other constituencies, MPs are routinely elected with just 30%. To me this has never seemed right. I would want to see people elected with a majority. What we really need is a new system, one that encourages electors to vote with their heart and feel their vote counts. It is telling that we have not adopted the first-past-the-post system for the recent mayoral elections or for MEPs.

But that is not going to change any time soon. The Conservatives, and to some degree Labour as well, have a vested interest in maintaining the staus quo. They argue that a more proportional system will make it much more likely that parties will have to work together to form coalitions. Personally I don’t have a problem with that, despite what people say about the Con/LibDem government of 2010-15. This arrangement allowed the LibDems to get some of their policies through and also to veto some of the Conservative’s more damaging ideas. In addition, proposed boundary changes will benefit the Tories, making it extremely difficult for any opposition to gain a working majority.

We have a far from perfect system. It has gone on well beyond it’s sell by date and needs some radical reform. But in the meantime voters have to work with what we’ve got. And yes, in some areas, that may mean having to decide between voting for the candidate of your choice, or voting against the one you really don’t want to see elected. I am lucky in that for me, they are the same thing – I would vote for my chosen candidate anyway, regardless of the tactical element. But I can understand the frustration of those who have to make a very difficult choice when they come to cast their vote tomorrow, to vote with their head, or with their heart.

In the end, the important thing is that people go out and vote. Nothing will change if people stay away. Change can only be made if we all stand up and add our voice to the crowd.

Lies, madness and terrorism

As I start to reflect on the week that has passed, I can’t help feeling more despair than optimism. Not only was this the week that Donald Trump outdid himself by withdrawing the USA from the Paris agreement, Saturday night brought yet another senseless terrorist attack in London. All of this on the back of even more lies and personal attacks that have become the hallmark of the current General Election campaign.

I must admit that as far as the election is concerned, I have become increasingly impressed by Jeremy Corbyn. Despite everything he has faced since becoming the Labour leader, he remains calm and collected and true to his values. It is obvious he has also learned the need to compromise and the importance of gaining trust and a consensus. Yes, there are till those in the Labour Party who do not agree with him, and many I suspect who oppose him, but to me his leadership style is refreshingly open and honest. Whether or not he would make a good Prime Minister I couldn’t say, but his style and policies may just be what we need to bring us back from the brink. After all, the alternative is Theresa May who has proved herself to be uncaring, shifty and blinkered to the needs of the country.

Throughout the campaign so far, Theresa May and her team have been continually put onto the back foot, struggling to defend policies aimed at dismantling the welfare system and removing almost all protection the less affluent and those less able to defend themselves. The “Dementia Tax” debacle was probably one of the most damaging policy changes of any outgoing government. And to claim they have not been forced to make a U-turn on the proposal is nothing more than lies.

But lies are at the heart of this campaign. Personal attacks on Corbyn and blatant lies about Labour’s policies have formed the thrust of the Tory election campaign. It is easier to twist the words of your opponents to make out they are saying something they are not than to come up with anything original of your own.

And the constant harping on about a strong Brexit is just a smoke screen. When negotiating Britain’s departure from the EU, what we want is a team prepared to negotiate and if necessary make some compromises to get the best deal we can. Anyone who believes that by shouting, throwing tantrums and making unrealistic demands we can get the best deal for the UK is living in cloud cuckoo land! As we negotiate to leave the European club, the remaining members have no interest in making it easy, and everything to gain from making the divorce painful and costly. If we were on the other side with, say, France wanting out, who are we kidding if we think our government would try to make it easy? On the contrary, we would be doing everything we could to ensure that they retain none of the rights of membership without paying a hefty price. So, who can blame the French, Germans and the rest of the community doing the same.

May’s autocratic approach is very similar to Donald Trump’s, but without the added paranoia. This week saw Mr Trump follow through on another of his election pledges, to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change. He has consistently maintained that he believes the climate change issue to be a fake, a hoax conjured up by the Chines. He sees it as an attack on the American economy. It’s as if he honestly believes that the rest of the word have conspired against them, as if the whole agreement is targeted at damaging American businesses and interests. But what is most frightening is just how many people in the US agree with him!

Having said that, I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised. Whilst America has for several generations been at the heart of technological and social change, it is also one of the most conservative nations in the world one of the last to abandon slavery and recognise equal rights. It is also the country where they still ban the teaching of evolution, because it goes against the teachings of the bible!

But bad as all of this is, Saturday night’s terror attack in London reminds us that we face more problems than the strictly political. Another seven innocent deaths at the hands of extremist cowards reminds us of the fragile state of the world as a whole. The UK is far from unique in having to face an increase in acts of terror. This weeks has also seen the bombing of a funeral in Kabul and the massacre of innocent men, women and children in Mosul. The need for a strong and united front to face these growing threats to our freedom and liberty has never been more apparent, but selfish and arrogant leadership of the likes of Donald Trump actually make it more difficult.

Knee jerk reactions and calls for radical action against immigrants make good headlines, but are poor policies. Whilst we must do all we can to prevent such atrocities happening again in our streets, we must not resort to the kind of draconian measures and illiberal policies that many seem to be advocating. It is easy to point the figure and find a scapegoat for the ills of the world.

But there signs of hope with the election of Emmanuel Macron as French President and Leo Varadkar as the new leader of Ireland’s  Fine Gael party. Both elections fly in the face of the more extreme and conservative views being expressed in some quarters. I for one would hope that when it comes to deciding this country’s future at the polls this week, we don’t turn our back on the opportunity to turn away from the current right-wing path and instead take the more socially responsible and considered approach being put forward by Jeremy Corbyn. In an ideal world, I would prefer to see a LibDem government or coalition but I am not naive enough to consider this to be a possibility in the current climate. But never say never…

More fun and games on the campaign trail

Well, the general election is well and truly underway and, as you would expect, the accusations, incrimination and general mud slinging is almost at it’s hight. Now, I enjoy a good election campaign as much as the next sad loser, but this one is really beginning to get my hackles up. I think that the problem is that the two main party leaders – May and Corbyn – are are such extreme ends of the political spectrum that there is very little common ground, if any.

On the right hand you have Theresa May, a stuck-in-the-mud Tory who not only has no idea what “ordinary” people are having to put up with and the importance of state services to our very existence, she is someone who would be very happy to see us return to the social and economic divide of the Victorian era. From a privileged background, and married into the kind of wealth that makes earning a living almost irrelevant, she no real concept of the effects her party’s policies are having on people at the bottom of the social pecking order. Theresa May’s leadership style is rather reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher – domineering and condescending.

On the left hand we have Jeremy Corbyn, an old fashioned socialist who is as passionate about social justice and supporting the less well off in society. He is very much a man of principles and one who was reluctantly thrust into the role of leader. I don’t think he really wanted the role, but now he has it he determined to fight for change. However, he has learned that even as party leader, he can’t have it all his own way and he has had to compromise some of his personal policies for the good of the party. Not a bad lesson to learn if you are going to lead successfully.

Of course, other parties are wading into the campaign with their own unique views and policies, but in this country it has always been about the two main parties. Since the 1940s that has been Conservative and Labour. Our electoral system can’t cope with any more.

Like previous elections it has been reduced to a personality contest. To focus on the individual leaders would be OK if it were a presidential election, but it isn’t. As we have seen many times before, the party leaders can change, so campaigning on the merits of individuals is actually rather foolish. In reality, the electorate has no say in who the Prime Minister is. We each have a vote for our own MP; in most cases that is also a two hose race, but often with one or another of the two main parties not actually in the running. In my own constituency for instance, the fight is between LibDem and Conservative. Any Labour voter going to the poll to support Jeremy Corby may very well actually be putting more power in the hands of Theresa May due to our inadequate and out dated voting.

But, getting back to where this all started, we have seen an increase in personal attacks, most noticeably on Jeremy Corby as Labour begins to close the gap with the Conservatives in the polls. At the end of the week we saw Tories lining up to take shots at Mr Corbyn for daring to link Terrorism with Foreign Policy. Several leading Conservatives attacked him for supposedly making excuses for terrorist attacks like Monday’s Manchester bombing. But that has been counter productive as they face criticism from the media for their double standards. Not only has their beloved Boris Johnson made the same link, briefings from security services also warned the same. Previous governments were warned of the possibility of an increase in such activity where we to become involved in conflicts such as Iraq and Libya.

Also Corbyn did was to bring the question out into the open. And you really would have to be blinkered to not see that there has to be a link. By invading these countries we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably result in increased terrorist activity. That is how these people work. They cannot hope to face our military, so they hide behind their own civilians whilst sending brain-washed extremists out to commit the most vile and cowardly acts against our own civilian population.

To admit this is not to make excuses; it is an opportunity to put actions and reactions into perspective. This is not to say we shouldn’t have taken the actions we did. That is a different debate. But to ignore the consequences of our actions not only puts lives at risk, it also means we fail to learn. The increased terrorist threat may have been anticipated, but a blinkered government has left the police, the military and security services underfunded, under staffed and under resourced to act on it.

And while we are on the subject, the increased calls for clamping down on immigration are just more ammunition for the extremists. The more intolerant the right becomes, the more isolated and vulnerable  these “immigrants” are made to feel. And it is this isolation that helps groups like Isis recruit from our own young people. Monday’s bomber wasn’t an immigrant. He was of Libyan descent, but he was born here, like so many others. And to criticise the Security Services for letting him do what he did when he was known to them assumes that they have the resources to track everyone on their lists of potentially dangerous individuals. They don’t and some will inevitably fall through the net. That is also the price we pay for a free society. We could always submit to tighter controls over our every day lives such as monitoring of  all emails, internet and phone activity and much greater use of CCTV. But I don’t believe that anyone really wants that. Nobody wants the government to have access to everything. That is where totalitarianism starts, and we all know where that one ends!  And that is the subject I will have to come back to another time.

Well as Sunday afternoon rants go, this has been a long one!  It often surprises me how discussing one issue can open doors to other things. There are so many things wrong with the world that there is never a shortage of things to talk about. The problem is often how to maintain focus without wandering off, like I have done today. So, before I get sidetracked again, the end!