London Weighting? Nope, London (and the rest of the UK) left waiting

Many people of late have expressed the opinion that homes in London ought to be made affordable for those in essential occupations but not so much for other ‘wannabe Londoners’ because “London is a great place to live but… if you can’t afford it find an alternative.” Well, here’s the thing: London is a great place in large part because of all the life, the vibrancy and the amenities that it has, but if you want to be able to enjoy the bars, sandwich shops, malls, cafés, gyms, cinemas and offices then they will all need to be staffed and cleaned and those are jobs which pay neither megabucks nor, very often, a commuting salary. Homes need to be made available for all and affordable to all.

And besides, who truly wants to live in a fiscally-segregated society anyway? People is people – being in a different salary bracket doesn’t make any of us any better than or even any different to one another; just more fortunate, perhaps. Inequality is the enemy of social cohesion and it is certainly not a state to be encouraged or pursued. The alternative to an integrated society is a disintegrated society, with all of the fragmentation and division which that term implies. We should be aiming to become a more whole nation, working together to make not just London but Britain a place we can all be proud to be a part of and proud to call our home, and that is why greater provision of so-called social housing is something which we all ought to be demanding.

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Civilian Surveillance

I think it’s a real shame that government cuts have led to the closure of so many of our libraries, otherwise the authorities would easily have been able to monitor what we read. As it is, to save the security services from having to pore over my internet usage too closely, I’ll gladly give them a list of all the sites worth visiting – they’ll soon understand how Abu Hamza was able to get along so well despite only having one hand…

Incidentally, if any of the security services do take the trouble to trawl through the retained data of my internet browsing history, they will find that I did indeed visit one extremist website in the last twelve months – but they needn’t worry, all of the speeches I was searching for had long since been deleted from the Conservative Home website.

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The Politics of Smears and Accusations

There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t give good sound-bites. He may be a great many things but he’s certainly not a PR man. Nonetheless, I was most surprised that our Prime Minister recently described Corbyn as “the Britain-hater” when it is David Cameron himself who has presided over the decimation of our armed forces, our police force and our emergency services; who has overseen the most sustained fall in living standards for fifty years (according to the Office for National Statistics); who has authorised the intentional deprivation of funding to the NHS; who has allowed the dismantling of the Welfare State (which, let us not forget, exists as a cushion for every one of us in times of hardship); and who only at the last minute, and under intense public pressure, abandoned a plan to cut tax credits which would have had a drastic impact upon the lives of the working-poor.

One of Corbyn’s recent so-called failings was when he said that he was “not happy” for the police or military to implement a “shoot to kill” policy on British streets. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure why this is even an issue: of course there are occasions when shoot-to-kill may be the only course of action but it should never be policy. The way to deal with armed criminals and terrorists is to disable them, arrest them and put them on trial – that way nobody gets to be made a martyr. The US likes to shoot first and ask questions later, but that’s because they like to think of themselves as gung-ho action heroes. Rather tellingly, that’s not how the rest of the world sees them.

As for accusations that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser: I can’t help but notice that we as a nation are still supporting and arming Saudi Arabia, the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East, even as we wring our hands over how to cope with the human tragedy that is unfolding before us. Cameron actually negotiated the Saudi election onto the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 – rather odd behaviour for someone who purports to love British values such as democracy and free speech…

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A Sense of Proportion

The temperature of the Earth is rising, sea levels are rising, thousands are fleeing war in the Middle East, terrorism is on the rise, human rights-abusing countries are buying up properties and businesses in the UK, corporate tax avoidance is endemic, the NHS is in crisis, our industrial base is crumbling, a great many people in the UK are being forced below the poverty line by cuts and zero-hour contracts, increasing numbers of people are homeless and out of work, the rise of antibiotic resistance in micro-organisms threatens the future of humanity and fracking poses a very real risk to our water supply… but never mind all that, what I’m really gripped by is that, when you went shopping – which you knew you were going to do – you had to pay five bloody pence for a plastic carrier bag. Please, pull up a chair and tell me all about it.

Posted in Austerity, Capitalism, Environment | Tagged | 1 Comment

Friendships in an Expanded Real World

The other day, I was very interested to read an article by Rosie Millard It’s difficult to admit, but some friends see you as an acquaintance – and vice versa in which she wrote about the value of friendships and how she felt that real-world relationships were more worthy than digital encounters. Initially I found myself agreeing with her but then I got to thinking: surely all of our relationships are based, to some extent or another, upon illusions: those which we present to others and those which are presented to us. We each of us wear different masks in different areas of our lives and so there is no reason to suppose that an online friendship is necessarily any less valid than a real-world one. Indeed, a great many of my own real-world relationships have been based upon little more than coincidence of location and impulse (which can be an agonisingly painful lesson to learn, I can tell you).

On the other hand, there are a number of people who I know online-only who I would most certainly class as being real friends because we have formed a solid bond of pure intellect – which actually makes for quite a strong relationship, in my opinion. I also have a number of disabled friends online for whom the web provides not only a portal to genuine friendships but also a vital link to the outside world. This is another of the many ways that the internet gives us windows into lives that we might otherwise never encounter. I certainly feel a fuller and more rounded person for it, although perhaps that’s just my age…

It is, I believe, crucial that we do not dismiss relationships founded in cyberspace as being of no worth just because they have no physical aspect; in truth, they may be deeper simply because it can often be easier to be intimate with people who you will never encounter in the physical world, precisely because of that very fact. (Quite apart from which, in the realm of romantic endeavours – which I am not discussing here – it may very well also serve to remove the near-certainty of disappointment. Catfishing has its own value too, you see; at least so long as it doesn’t spill into an extravagant real-world deceit à la Gayle Newland). The web, where we effectively unleash our naked thoughts into the ether, might even be considered to be a parallel existence of pure mind and emotion, almost akin to a vision of the after-life: a kind of a virtual heaven, if you will, where we are free to express ourselves without pretence or corporeal limitation.

As an aside, online is also a great way to re-establish friendships with people who we’ve lost track of over the years. I actually have more friends now from when I was at school than I had when I was at school.

Of course, online friendships are very much subject to a degree of interpretation, insofar as that you can never be entirely sure how much of what you like or dislike about someone lies in the expanse between the intent behind their words and your interpretation of them. Further, this artificial distance makes it all too easy to end up arguing with someone with whom you actually agree or vice versa. You might think drunken cross-purposed conversations in a pub are difficult but that’s small-fry compared to hammered conversations on a keyboard.

In truth, our perceptions of our internet friends may very likely be contrived out of our own fears and our hopes for what other people are. Analogue mates can be more inconvenient and less mistakable but that doesn’t make digital pals any less vital. An online friend should be seen not as an instead-of but as an as-well-as. Sure, it’s true that a great many of our online friendships may be little more than acquaintances, but I think we are entering into a new age which will require our various forms of relationships with others to take new definitions and adopt whole new frames of reference.

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A Labour of Love

Caught up in an internal power squabble, most of the Labour Party appears to have completely forgotten what being in Opposition is all about. Somehow convinced that they lost the last election because of what they stood for, the party now seems to be afraid to stand for anything – as illustrated by their abject failure to cohesively oppose Osborne’s swingeing cuts (sorry, “reforms”) to welfare this week. In truth, Labour’s great failing last May was in not giving people something that they could believe in; they were a party with no purpose, no solid idea worth getting behind.

It is no secret and surely no surprise that the British public are utterly disenfranchised with Westminster; in the last few years we have had more than our fill of smoke-and-mirrors government driven by sound-bites and focus groups. What we are looking for now is principles, passion and beliefs – all ideals that the Opposition has the luxury of being able to indulge to their heart’s content.

Right now, it appears that only Jeremy Corbyn can save the party from becoming an irrelevance. Far from leading Labour into the political wilderness (or splitting them asunder, as some commentators would have us believe that he might), Corbyn may be the only candidate with sufficient belief and charisma to draw the party together and lead them back into the fray. His spirit and commitment has stirred a renewed interest in politics from all quarters of the electorate (quite some achievement in this era of apathy and indifference) and will hopefully invigorate political discourse – just look at the column inches devoted to discussing his influence now, even if they do seem to be mostly disparaging voices.

If Labour don’t want to be dismissed as a spent political force – and, despite appearances, we must presume that they don’t – then they need to get on with defending the values and the people that their party was established to represent; only then will they be seen once more as a force to be reckoned with. To achieve this, they need a leader of substance with a voice that is unafraid to speak out for fairness and to possibly offend corporate interests. A more equal society must remain the goal: neither history nor the British public will forgive them if they abandon those who cannot defend themselves. The choice now is clear.

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What’s in a (Brand) Name?

As I’m sure everybody has noticed, there is a long-running trend for people to wear the waistband of their underwear above their jeans, displaying a brand label. Mention this exposure to them and they’ll tell you “it’s fashion.” It’s not, you’ve been duped: it’s advertising. Twenty years ago, I’d have to buy somebody a drink and slip them a mickey to get the sort of close-up and intimate views that are now thrust upon me unbidden. Buy a belt, please.

It’s part of an ongoing trend, though. Many years ago, men used to be paid to walk around the streets wearing sandwich boards plugging shops and products; today, people pay through the nose to wear exposed brand names: Super Dry, G-Star, Nike and their ilk. This seems incongruous – why would folk be so eager to show off their allegiance to a particular chain of sweatshops? Stranger yet, though, replica football shirts are emblazoned with the names of electronics giants, telecoms companies, airlines, beers, banks, confectioners and loan sharks, and people shell out small fortunes for the privilege of walking around wearing billboards that no-one but their fellow supporters would recognise as being affiliated with their club.

Then there’s a more recent and utterly inexplicable phenomenon: band t-shirts have some point because they at least say something about the taste of the individual wearing them, but of late I’ve seen people wearing Google, Facebook and Call of Duty tees – because, presumably, nothing says more about you as a person than your choice of search engine, your use of social media or your on-line gaming habit.

Of course, as we have become an ever-more materialistic society, people genuinely do feel an allegiance to brand names – Apple, Amazon and Starbucks all seem to have very loyal customers. In the past, hospital wings used to be named after wealthy notables who had contributed a great deal to society but, since these names pretty much avoid paying taxes or making any contributions – thus leading to hospital closures rather than openings – perhaps they’ll get their names posted above the graves of those children whose lives were curtailed thanks to the efforts of their accountants.

I don’t really have a point to make here, other than to express my exasperation with the world and my disappointment at the path that civilisation has taken, but I will add this: many small children enjoy dressing-up as their favourite superheroes: Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman and so forth. In their minds, they can pretend to be them and they can bask in the glory of their adventures. I know of fully-grown adult men who have complete replica football strips…

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Political Effrontery

Only 37% of the votes cast at the general election were for the Conservatives and yet somehow they now hold 51% of the seats. That cannot be right. In effect, we are being governed by a party that was opposed by 63% of those who turned out to vote. Our electoral system is an affront to democracy.

Over the years, both the Conservatives and Labour have tweaked and altered boundaries in an effort to rig our archaic voting system in their own favour (although never, it seems, in ours). When we were eventually – reluctantly – offered electoral reform in 2011, the sole unseductive sop on offer was Alternative Vote, which is just a spin on the same system of disproportionate representation that we already suffer.

This crowbarred distribution of seats over unequal pockets of population serves Britain badly: to live in a true democracy we need a political system which represents us all fairly, and that system can only be Proportional Representation. Politicians are not our rulers, no matter how they try to set themselves above us: they are public servants – our employees. It would serve them well to remember that when they consider what reforms they are willing to “offer” us in future.

Of course, there are those who would tell us: “Yes, but if we had proportional representation then Ukip would have ten percent of the seats.” And? So what? If they got ten percent of the vote then they ought to have ten percent of the seats – after all, racists and bigots are people too, are they not equally deserving of representation?

Meanwhile, it seems that some people are balking at the £7,000 pay rise being awarded to MPs. This is ridiculous: it is crucial that our parliamentarians are paid well so that we can continue to attract the very best talent to governmental roles. Just imagine the havoc that might be wrought if our schools, NHS, justice system, armed forces and Welfare State were to be run by rank amateurs and bumbling fools…

As a footnote, I was shocked to learn that I agree with the Conservatives on something: strikes should not be permitted unless at least 40% of those eligible to vote have cast votes supporting that action. Presumably that would mean that a government which had only been elected by 37% of the turnout on the day – a mere 24% of those eligible to vote – would lack the authority to strike any further blows upon the poor, the sick or the disabled.

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A Ballot in the Brain

I see that David Cameron is proposing to pass a law banning any increases in tax during the next parliament. This is clearly no more than grandstanding, since such a law is clearly unnecessary, but were a law limiting the actions of the next government to be needed then I believe that a more desirable piece of legislation might set out to ban the closure of our A&E departments, the outsourcing (read privatisation) of our NHS, the decimation of our police force, the cutting of our public services, the victimisation of our poor, our sick and our disabled and the wilful destruction of our justice system… or am I just being a sentimentalist?

In another recent “strong, commanding” speech, Cameron also pledged to introduce “English votes for English laws” and promised that England will set its own rate of income tax in future – thus giving the lie to his claim of last year that he wanted to keep the United Kingdom together. Such divisive measures as these are sure to stir up territorial divisions in our country – if anything, this is a more extreme version of the Little Englander separatist mentality displayed by Ukip.

The point of the United Kingdom is that we are stronger when we act together as one, both as a nation and as a society. Cameron’s pathetic whine that “it is simply unfair” that Scots are able to vote on legislation affecting England (and, more particularly, London) has everything to do with protecting the interests of his rich chums in the city and nothing whatsoever to do with looking after the nation as a whole – which, he’d do well to recall, is the job that he was elected (well, almost elected) to do.

Instead, the Conservative Party – having campaigned vigorously to keep Scotland a part of the union – now seems to be constantly peddling the notion that the election of SNP ministers into the next parliament would present a very real threat to the future of our nation because they might exercise disproportionate influence (if only there had been some recent opportunity for electoral reform!). The possibility of a Labour government, elected in a free and fair ballot, being supported by SNP ministers, who had also been elected in a free and fair ballot, would destabilise our government and our economy, they shriek.

Fortunately, they assure us, salvation is at hand: anyone who fears the installation of a government that would represent the will of the people must vote Conservative. (Well, there’s some refreshing honesty!) That way we are guaranteed not only more of the same governance of cuts (both to vital services and to the taxes of high earners), but also the prospect of having that amusing Johnson fellow running the show. I, for one, can hardly wait to go and cast my vote.

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Disproportionate Representation

Conservative defence minister Anna Soubry has described the prospect of a Labour government supported by the SNP as “terrifying”. Really? What about a government that has cut deals with the racist EDL? What of a government supported by Ukip (a party that has reportedly already made its own arrangements with the far-right BNP and Britain First)? How about a government bankrolled by the same financial institutions which caused the global recession in the first place, via massive accounting fraud, now attempting to buy themselves immunity from prosecution and to avoid regulation despite having been proven time and again to be untrustworthy and irresponsible? Or how about a government backed by tax avoiders who are ready and willing to provide support and funding in exchange for the promise of sweetheart deals and lucrative government contracts?

What we truly need is the chance to elect a government which will actually be representative of the population of our nation. While it cannot be denied that this number does include racists, bigots, fraudsters and thieves, surely it’s still safe to say that they represent neither the best of us nor the most of us. The prospect of a government which represents the very worst among us is what’s truly terrifying; men from the north with beards and kilts I reckon we can handle.

Meanwhile, David Cameron is asking for five more years in the job in order to “see it through” and it’s hard not to sympathise with his position – after all, he’s so very close… He’s almost finished dismantling the NHS, which looks after the health of our population; he’s almost finished dismantling state education, which teaches our population; he’s almost finished dismantling the Welfare State, which cares for our population when times are hard; he’s almost finished dismantling our justice system, which protects the interests of our population; and he’s almost finished selling off all of our nation’s assets. To be this tantalisingly close to wrapping the whole deal up must be agonisingly frustrating for him.

So that’s the choice we’re now faced with: do we want to let him “see it through”? Well, it’s tough to judge because we wouldn’t really know what we were voting for: George Osborne has reiterated Iain Duncan Smith’s pledge that the Tories won’t tell us what they’re going to cut next until after the election is over, but he claims “Our values are to protect the most vulnerable. You can judge us by our record.”

That was brave of him. Presumably he has forgotten that this government’s record includes welfare ‘reforms’ which have been directly linked to the deaths of a number of ill and disabled citizens when their lifelines were suddenly withdrawn; it also includes the establishment of the divisive and loathed bedroom tax, which has hit the poor and the disabled the hardest; and it includes the exponential rise of dependency upon food banks, as real people have been hit by a combination of spiralling living costs and wage stagnation.

The civilisation of any society is measured by how it cares for its weakest members, and it is incumbent upon whoever is placed in charge to ensure that they are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. Remember that these are the criteria by which this government wishes to be judged when you are casting your vote at the ballot box…

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