High, low, yo: 25.07.15

I’m trying something out here, so bear with me. In my effort to be a better blogger and to concentrate on writing, which has been wandering of late, I want to start a more regular feature. High, low, yo will comprise of three small parts: a high point in the news (a genuinely good news story or schadenfreude), a low point (self-explanatory) and yo – something that happened to me in the day. Let’s begin.

Low

Sadly, another day begins with another shooting in America. It’s a tragedy with heroes, an obvious villain and a clear cut solution. Well, to everyone on the outside, it appears obvious but progress is non-existent. 

For this latest awful shooting, it appears that the immediate cause is a deep-seated misogyny, yet that doesn’t explain the ease with which John Houser was able to buy a gun. The underlying cause helps to explain the anger motivating the murderers, however we cannot keep palming off these tragedies into the outskirts of excuses: ‘he was racist’ – yes but there are many racists who do commit murder; ‘he was anti-feminist’ – ditto; ‘he was religiously confused’ – ditto ditto. All of these have a common theme running through them which is the ready access to guns. Remove the guns to save the lives. Which is easier said than done when the monolithic second amendment stands in the way. Confounded by an 18th Century piece of paper.

High

John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, has spent £31,400 on travel expenses between 2010-2013. It should also not be forgotten that Speaker Bercow was meant to be a disinfectant, cleaning Westminster up from the stench of the expenses scandal. Whilst he may not be fiddling his expenses in the same way as he predecessor, it does make me question the prices that the chauffeur cars are charging and how I can become involved in that racket.

Yo

I met Lola and Sophia, my twin ‘first cousins once removed’ (an ugly turn of phrase, if e’er there was one) for the first time. Both had almond eyes that were intently gazing on their surroundings, taking it all in, studying every face, toy and movement as if it’s a work of art. Yet to a couple of 8 month olds, it is art. There is nothing more important and interesting than their own wiggling fingers. Plus, it appears that fart noises are universally funny.

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European Parliament Elections: You don’t have to scream into a pillowcase…yet.

In the wake of the European Parliament election results, the UKIP MEPs will be smugly dancing (the middle-aged, middle class, awkward white type of dancing) all the way to their well remunerated jobs. Of which, they are disgusted about; but will take them on with a sullen grimace.

With a portion of the electorate wondering what in holy hell went on in 27.5% of the voting booths, we are now left with a confused and fragmented citizenry.

Image

A true man of the people….

In response to this uptick in support for UKIP, more air time, column inches, and blog….space (?) has been devoted to mocking them, calling them racist, bigoted and homophobic. Whilst portions of the party may possess some, few, many or all of these traits, we should not ignore what millions of people are saying. It doesn’t need to be agreed with, but acknowledged. We can’t just ‘listen to the feedback’, the erstwhile response of a disappointed politician, we have to take action.

Mocking UKIP is not a viable strategy any more, we can’t wholly laugh away their policies. Candidates, yes, positions, no. During the run-up to the election, one of the refrains was ‘I don’t care who you vote for, just not for UKIP’; can a democracy really be founded on such apathy? Political parties, commentators and those who like living in a positive society need to start offering a real alternative to the yellow-toothed attraction of UKIP.

Parties should also steer away from pandering to the perceived wants of those that voted UKIP and actually try and steer public opinion. Yes, have more conversations about immigration, but be brave and defend those that come over and show up British natives. Yes, agree that the EU is flawed, but the UK will be floored without it. Yes, agree that politicians are usually quite a grey group of people but learn how to juggle or tell a decent joke. Be human.

In essence, don’t belittle, be big.

 

EU’ve got to be kidding me

Yes, I couldn’t resist the title, it is like a headline from The Sun but that is probably the only positive contribution they make to the debate.

Like a farter on a roundabout, the debate over the EU smells and returns all too often. Migrants this, straight bananas that; only negativity makes its way through. Of course a few of the thousands of EU employees do something stupid once in a while, but it must be said that Westminster doesn’t manage policy roll-outs all that much better. Yes, the EU has a tendency to over-reach and develop it’s own governmental logic, but resolving that can be achieved by active collaboration with other member states, rather than cutting off your nose to spite your largest trading partner.

As the Eurosceptics grow ever more feverish, like Gremlins after midnight, those that are pro-EU need to step up and be more than mere Euro-apologists. There needs to be a proper articulation of why membership matters, especially as it isn’t a difficult case to make. For a long while, politicians have been content to be led rather than lead public opinion and yet we still wonder why our public sphere is weaker. Elected officials have to counter the lazy claims of UKIP and use facts (sadly a rarity in this debate) to trump scaremongering.

The EU isn’t a perfect democratic vehicle, but it would be hypocritical to criticise it from our beaten up banger.

The Leveson Report – Reading between the criticisms

With the publishing of the Leveson Report on Thursday, after seemingly 237 years in the making, those instantly critical or dubious of the conclusions have come out of the woodwork faster than Gary Barlow on a slip-n-slide.

1. With the earnestness of a nun at the Vatican, all of the leading newspaper and TV organisations have dutifully focused on the importance of the report and its wide ranging implications for the future of the press, but no one has really taken a step back and questioned the place of newspapers in our society. With circulation diminishing year on year, it feels like regulating on a new type of stable door after the horse has bolted. There is seemingly little forethought as to how newspapers will operate in a world full of iPads and the Mail Online; if more newspapers reduce their publishing frequency or become a digital only entity, like Newsweek, then the difference between a regulated media outlet and one that is not, will be rather stark and absurd.

Lord Leveson

Lord Leveson with his magic report

2. The new Ofcom style regulatory body that will be established (Ofpap anyone?) will herald the first press law since the 17th Century, and the Conservatives don’t like it. Their main reason for ‘hating on’ Leveson is the ‘mission creep’ fear that politicians today have about their counterparts in the future. Apparently they are creating a vehicle for the future government control of the press, which in turn raises many interlinked points:

  • A ‘vehicle’ that can alter the future sounds like a time machine – is that where George Osborne has been hiding whilst it is being built?
  • When is this expected government takeover of the press likely to take place, as we can keep a look out for it?
  • Do politicians really distrust the future iterations of themselves that much? Though saying that, I suppose they know the wants and desires of politicians better than us mere mortals. Maybe we should take their warning with a greater seriousness than we have so far.

3. The reaction of most of the newspapers is of collective shock at how their industry has been slandered by Leveson. But lest we forget the ‘last chance saloon’ of the 1990s, and to be able to drink in such a salubrious establishment there must have been one or two other bars they were thrown out of because of raucous behaviour. Newspapers are a public entity with a moral duty to upload to society, and that was destroyed with phone hacking, profit maximising, politician entrancing behaviour.

4. People bought the papers out of their own free will. So surely we, the people should accept some share of the blame

There isn’t a magic elixir to solve the ills of press behaviour whilst maintaining the ideal amount of freedom, and I think it is time that that fact was acknowledged a bit more by those in power. Much like a teenager that has misbehaved once too often, the press will have to be grounded until it has learnt it’s lesson and only then will it be allowed to go out by itself again, but hopefully with more wisdom and greater responsibility.

Downing Street Fighter

The newly installed leader of the Labour Party has issued an ultimatum ahead of the next General Election: that their politicians will be more ‘human’. Gone are ‘the living embodiments of dull. The Minster-Bot 3000s. The grey, soulless, vacant and examples of Parliamentarians that have been inflicted upon the country for too long.’

‘Re-selection for a seat will now be based on a Hit Point system,’ said Tom Jenkins, who sprung from nowhere to take over as Leader of the Opposition after Ed Miliband stood aside due to being stuck in a state of permanent incredulity one day at Prime Minister’s Questions. Jenkins, who studied Computer Games Design, said that MPs were rewarded for good deeds within their constituency, well thought out verbal displays (in interviews, local council or Parliament) and advancing general Labour Party aims.

A bunch of..

Conversely, any evidence of the type of behaviour that would have been permitted under the ‘Old Regime’ causes a deduction in the ‘life’ of an MP. Mr Jenkins says that this can include a deduction per evasive answer (one point for every piece of business speak), or petty politicking.

‘We want to return to a more representative politics, one where MPs actually appear to be in touch with the people they are meant to be elected by. This is rewarding solid, hard-working politicians, those that are standing up for their community’s interests, whilst punishing those who only seek to slither their way through Westminster like the Basilisk through Hogwarts. No longer do we want to see the kind of Punch and Judy debates that have blighted Parliament. We aren’t seven any more; they’re not fun.’

Jeremy Paxman, foil of so many aspiring politicians had mixed feelings about the move, ‘whilst this is obviously beneficial to the link between the electorate and the elected, it makes my job nearly redundant. Ever since the much recognised nadir in 2013, politicians have fought hard to regain the trust of the public; an effort that died before it was even born as they continued to stand around saying how much they were listening to the public.’

Of course, this was best shown during the Night of the Long Whines when Transport Secretary, Justine Greening (‘barely a human’ said Paxman) made one of her campaign staff change his name from Ed to George in order to ‘refocus the message’.

‘That would have been a knock out blow in this new system’, said Jenkins, ‘and quite rightly too. We want a new type of politician, ones that are unfamiliar with the language of the past.’

A Conservative Party spokesperson that ‘this is another gimmicky Labour proposal that misses the point. The public don’t want accountability; they want strong figures, ones that are willing to make tough decisions in these precarious economic times. In wasting time over this, it highlights Labour aren’t up to the job.’

‘Sigh’, said Mr Jenkins.

Social Well-Fair

My goodness, how I would love to be in the upper class. From their lofty perch, their perspective on society is so crystal clear it never fails to astound me. Now just filter that through the purifying elixer of Government and you can see just how much we need the current Conservative rulers.

The latest example of twenty-twenty policy making is the posited removal of housing benefits for under-25s in their next manifesto. Of course, the people receiving this benefit are just scroungers who need to be taught the value of work. Thank God for David Cameron’s vision, here I was thinking that people were receiving the benefit because they were in low paying work. Little did I realise that everyone is a little aristocrat waiting to break free. In homes all around the country, you can find people sat slovenly on their piles of pounds; using gold ingots as chopping boards and dressing in sheets of stirling. Disgusting. 

Alternatively, they aren’t. I would love Davey C to have to explain the cut personally, to all those claiming it. After being shat on by the lack of a decent pension; the declining job prospects; the rise in tuition fees amongst many other terrible streams of excrement, Dave is now wanting to cut another lifeline to those in need; those who require that little help to make it through the month. And whilst there are some people relying a bit too heavily on benefits, it does seem as if Cameron is tarring all those claiming it with the same brush.

But moving beyond the ‘moral’ point, his justification for the cut is that it costs £2 billion. Only a person devoid of any human emotion/decency/facial expressions would see cost as the only barrier. If you thought that California had it bad with the Terminator, we may have actual robots in the Cabinet now.

To counter this, all Labour need to do is focus on those that need the money – some simple life stories (don’t get Ed involved (either of them) as his persona makes people uncomfortable) to overturn the Government’s narrative, and then paint the policy as a Cameron-Special. Done successfully, Cameron will appear out of touch (surprising…) and uncaring. 

This type of policy seems endemic of a political culture bereft of either a decent idea or a thought to probable outcomes. Policies do not seem to have any thought put in to them but are instead farted out on the fly, hence the chasmic gap between us and them.

Of course when I am rich and flying above you ants in a platinum helicopter, I may be able to spend a moment thinking about your mortal concerns.

Noses to the Grindstone

Dear old Phillip Hammond, a man whose face is the very picture of despair, has said that he does not support the Government’s push for gay marriage, as it has to focus “on the things that matter to the people in this country”.

This oft trotted out bit of tripe allows me to imagine all MPs and Civil Servants working their damnedest in a forge, or foundry, sleeves rolled up (as they mean business), ‘trying to save the economy’. And it’s obviously wrong for two reasons: the first is that the thought of MPs doing practical work is enough to put the majority of people in a cold sweat. But secondly, whilst everyone in Government is working to better the country, it is fatuous to suggest there is a ‘national aim’ and everything outside that is trivial.

With the UK LGBT population estimated at 750,000, this policy will affect over 1% of citizens in Britain. So Long Face Hammond, this seems like an awfully large number of people to still be ‘not a priority’. What about those 10,000 millionaires you made richer, was that deemed important enough to warrant Government time? Was that that a good use of legislative powers? Government doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) rule for the majority. These ‘people’ he mysteriously refers to are not beacons of social change, more like Conservative stick-in-the-muds reluctant to agree to any change. The point of Government is to transcend this group of people not kow-tow to them.

At least other Conservatives have had the bravery to say they don’t support gay marriage; I don’t agree with them but they have the courage of their convictions. It is this pathetic ‘public service’ mantra that really marks out a wimp; too scared of being controversial, but also not wanting to get on the wrong side of the Daily Mail.

So come on out Phillip. Don’t be your usual uninspiring self, myself and the faceless ‘people’ want to see what you’re made of. Time for you to get us out of recession, single-handidly. That’s what the people want.

No More Local Heroes

I’m sure the morning after the local council elections was the time that Ed Miliband finally put the order in for Labour leaders business cards and changed his job title on his LinkedIn profile. After 18 months in the role, this is the first time he has appeared safe; not election-winning safe, but moving away from the hushed calls for him to return from whence he came.

But is Labour a viable alternative again or were they just there? WIth confidence in the establishment at an all-time low, with politicians at  the nadir of a very downward facing bunch, no mainstream party can claim they have caught the public’s imagination. Labour in particular have repeatedly failed to learn lessons laid out very clearly on the table by the misdeeds of the Brown and the Coalition Governments. There were even big neon signs and an instructional video to help them find their way.

Blindfolded, Labour have waddled on, blithely ignoring opportunities like they were mirages in the desert. Whilst they were gaining favourable press, their message has not been translated to the public at large. Take the pasty debacle as an example, Labour had a clear run to broaden the debate beyond petty pasty politics, but instead pranced straight to Greggs and paraded in front of cameras brandishing their Cornishes like local fundraisers holding an oversized cheque. If I was a Labour Party activist, I would be embarrassed.

Ed and the Pasties

Labour now need to translate speech in to action. Move beyond rhetorical scoring points, and actually change the face of politics, lest they be stuck in the public’s apathy for a generation. And with the Conservative  and Lib Dems doing their best to distance themselves from public support , it is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss out on.

Now is a time, that more ‘ordinary’ (a word with such beige connotations, it makes Coldplay seem exciting) people to get involved with politics. To realise that the world is not what it is but what you choose to make it. Any party worth it’s upkeep should be recruiting more people off the street that broadly share their ideals to be the rising star’s in the party, and not just the sweaty fisted careerists that adjust their tie every time a camera and a baby are in the same room.

The reason that people are getting increasingly frustrated with politics is that it is always a competition,, but one with a very infrequent winner (if it can be called that at all). Citizens don’t care about who is right about the economy; anyone with half a brain stuck to the top of their skull can see that both sides of the debate are crossing their fingers when they proclaim they know the answer. Instead we just want action, a true understanding that Government is made for not against us.

Democracy at a local and national level is now more like the end of a night at a club; only the groping drunks are left and we have to decide which one we want to go home with, if any at all. In a clear sign, this time around the voters chose abstinence. Which is a first for  Britain.

The Race for Adoption

The issue that has annoyed me most this week has also left me a bit shaken and unsure of my footing, like a mountain goat with oiled hooves. I’ve agreed with the Tories over the Guardian. Or to be more exact, Lemn Sissay’s article about adoption in the Guardian. Thankfully solace can be found in the comments section, usually the preserve of those with only a finger’s grasp on sanity yet possessing the same unwavering belief in their opinion as a petulant teenager, though this time the voice of sanity.

In the article Sissay was sets out a case against the Government’s new plans to speed up mixed-race adoptions. He felt that we were reverting back to the pre-1985 consensus where there was no importance placed on the cultural needs of the child, leading to some abuses at the hands of adoptive parents. Whilst these stories cannot be ignored, I do wonder if he feels that any progress has been made in nearly 30 years? Is Britain still populated by mini-Alf Garnetts lamenting the growing diversity? I don’t think so. It is fatuous to claim that everything is like a United Colours of Benetton advert, but neither is it acceptable to extrapolate one unpleasant experience of someone in Wigan across the nation. Not least because Wigan is not the most diverse place in the UK (according to the 2001 Census) thereby lacking the ideas of cultural sensitivity so inherent in the metropolises. Sissay urges us to throw down the shackles of colour-blindness in order to live (apparently for the better) in a world where we are demarcated in terms of race. That sounds like a step forward doesn’t it?

At the core of the arguments both for and against is a desire to house the child in a loving household and a tacit acceptance that the longer a child spends in care, the worse it is. How Sissay can’t see the neon-rimmed, arrow pointing solution is beyond my understanding. Having more prospective adoptive parents is a good thing, regardless of their race. To think that it is reminiscent of colonialism is appalling and surely a nice hearty slap in the face to those who gladly open their homes to children in care. And whilst it would be ideal to have more black prospective adopters, I am not sure if it is the duty of the government to do so.

How someone so intelligent can have such a conspiratorial idea of how government works is also beyond me. By no means perfect (by no means…), those at the top aren’t seated in a ‘Secret Cabal Room for the Disenfranchisement of the Poor & Minorities’, no matter how much the Tory Annual Conference seems like it. Moreover a policy supported by the NSPCC and Barnardo’s cannot be totally fascistic; now call me odd, but I would rather back two organisations who’s raison d’etre is child protection. We cannot afford to place race above the needs of children.

Is it time for an ‘Occupy the World’?

If you ask anyone who the most greedy, venal, evil group of people in the world are today, and about 76% of people will shout ‘bankers’, outranking dictators, serial killers and the cast of Jersey Shore. To a point, I would agree. The world has been brought to the brink more times than a lemming on a bungee cord and the banks are standing front and centre in the blame game, but somehow even after all this world leaders are still in thrall to their demands and whinges.

Yet to place the sole burden of blame on the bankers is a gross simplification and an easy scapegoat to make (granted, in this instance the goat is holding a smoking gun over a corpse with a gunshot wound). In truth, we are all to blame; when times were good we were queuing up outside bank for ‘free plastic money cards’, the type that could never lead to repo men calling round for tea; the City was working, so we shut our eyes. But now we have been kicked in our economic teeth, with our impulsive desire to spend, spend, spend leading us to ruin and yet we only prefer to focus on the tip of the iceberg, partly because it’s the bit that can be easily seen, but mainly as it means we are avoiding calling ourselves a twat.

Occupy Wall Street aren’t afraid of calling a twat, a twat. Situating themselves in one of the hubs of modern capitalism, OWS are standing up for the 99% affected by the global recession; yes, we might have aided and abetted the global meltdown but why should we have to be the only ones bearing the brunt of it? In the face of the media’s (mostly) subtle opposition, and prominent confusion, the supporters of OWS have been raising awareness of the dangers of sleepwalking into another financial crisis and the benefits of living in a more socially focused capitalistic economy. The reporting of OWS highlights just how non-existent politically objective coverage has become; it has receded into the background like a chameleon at a camouflage factory (yes, they happen all the time, you just can’t see them).

The 99%

In a world where the Tea Party is presented as a cohesive whole, seemingly unwavering in their belief in everything conservative even though their ranks are as ideologically diverse as a the average football match (for the most part, sitting in the ‘similar intelligence to a snail shell’ camp but to varying degrees), Occupy Wall Street are shown to be fractured, indecisive and ‘eccentric’. Protesting against ‘The American Way’ is seen as a fringe concern, something that was exterminated when the Berlin Wall came down, but it can’t be isolated from the mainstream any longer.

Britain needs it’s own alternative to Occupy, but looking at the support for similar protests in the past, the general public aren’t a fan of the status quo but do not want to do anything about it. I find this disjuncture between anger and lack of pragmatism both fascinating and hugely dispiriting; why do the majority of people feel that they are not part of the alternative? Is this phenomena something exclusively British, are the protests sufficiently inclusive or is this just the state of modern political discourse?

Whether Occupy the London Stock Exchange will be as successful as OWS will have to be seen, but purely based on how catchy the name is, the bankers win once again.