"You may say that I am a dreamer/But I am not the only one" John Lennon: "Imagine"

"So come brothers and sisters/For the struggle carries on" Billy Bragg: "The Internationale"

Elizannie has a reading room at 'Clarice's Book Page' http://www.villiersroad.blogspot.com/

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Do political parties 'create' friends to influence people? Don't waste your vote!

Suffragettes demonstrating in London* early 20thC

My friends at Hope not Hate yesterday published a link to a story in a local newspaper commenting on the fact that the UKIP campaign for their General Election candidate in the Castle Point [Essex] constituency has apparently been paying local businesses to display UKIP posters, placards and banners. And to make this story even more humorous, UKIP representatives are apparently trying to get away with the least possible amount of payment as small business owners are depressed to find that their neighbours may have been paid more [see article]

Well, in over 50 years political campaigning I have to say I have never heard anything like this! OK, political parties pay to advertise on advertising hoardings and other public advertising spaces like buses etc but not like this. I will be displaying a placard for the Labour candidate in my constituency as always. But - as they say - free, gratis and for nothing other than the belief that he is the best candidate. UKIP are apparently pouring money into the election campaign, flooding householders with multiple letters and leaflets in the Castle Point area in the belief that they can in this way induce more support.  Someone should explain to them that this is not the way that *real* politicians act. And also to make friends and influence people, UKIP 'bargaining' over what price they will pay to get posters etc displayed is really very funny! All rather desperate really.

Meanwhile, several newspapers and other media outlets have published a letter signed by 5,000 business people  supporting the Conservative party. As can be seen in this clip it is however a Conservative party 'production' which it asked these 5,000 'supporters' to sign. Some are not even business people. Again all rather desperate really.

Believe it or not, I got so bored with these shenanigans that in the writing of this I nearly deleted it all. Where are the good old days of good old political debate when candidates argued vigorously but relatively politely? When party representatives appeared on our TV screens to be interviewed and actually knew the answers to the questions they were asked? [Unlike the poor chap in the clip above. I almost felt sorry for him. Andrew Neil had such an easy job in that interview he must have hankered for the good old days when it was much harder and therefore far more satisfying to make a politician squirm]

Roll on May 8th when all this posturing will be over for another 5 years. Oh unless the law is changed again when no-one is looking and the 'fixed term' for the life of a parliament is changed again. Supposing this was to happen every year! Or the politicians decide to hand it all over to the civil servants and the country be ruled by referendum?

And now for the [possibly] boring bit. I say this at every election, but it is important. Next week on May 7th everyone registered to vote will have the opportunity to select their preferred candidate. Please don't waste this glorious privilege. Many of our ancestors, especially women, died to get the vote for all of us.

*Photo courtesy of http://secretsofabeautyaddict.co.uk/articles_and_interviews/articles/100th-anniversary-emily-davison/

Sunday 26 April 2015

Smoke and Mirrors [2] : Conservative Main Pledges

Williton workhouse, built 1840. Lest we forget*

More generally, "smoke and mirrors" may refer to any sort of presentation by which the audience is intended to be deceived, such as an attempt to fool a prospective client into thinking that one has capabilities necessary to deliver a product in question.

Conservative's Main pledges
  • Eliminate the deficit and be running a surplus by the end of the Parliament
  • Wasn't this the plan last time around? I won't be holding my breath.......
  • Extra £8bn above inflation for the NHS by 2020
  • Considering last time Mr C proclaimed 'We are the party of the NHS' and then proceeded to undermine it, forgive me for distrusting this statement, whilst at the same time asking for a much larger investment.
  • Extend Right to Buy to housing association tenants in England
  • I've a lot to say on this. I could start by pointing out that many Housing Associations are furious about this as they disagree with the principle. I could point out that as these Housing Associations are not Government funded, the Conservative Government will also have to find the money from their 'fiscal plan' to pay off the discounts offered to the tenants, I presume once they have passed legislation forcing the Housing Associations to sell off their houses, that is.
  • Legislate to keep people working 30 hours on minimum wage out of tax
  • This is of course good news and really common sense. But what Mr C fails to point out is that is already the case although all earnings above £155 per week attract National Insurance, in this case £4.94, and maybe that could be re-examined. What would be a far better pledge would be to raise the minimum wage, surely?
  • 30 hours of free childcare per week for working parents of 3&4-year-olds
  • Whilst this sounds generous, there are many families where one parent opts to stay at home with their children. They too would appreciate a cash injection to help them - maybe to home educate. This could actually be a cheaper alternative
  • Referendum on Britain’s EU membership
  • Actually, what would be useful would be to tell us what the question on the referendum would be and what would be done with the results, i.e. supposing the question was a 'simple' in/out would the government be tied by that or would they use it as a negotiating tool for changing some of the clauses to which they are currently signed?
Mr Cameron also set out a 100 day plan for the first one hundred days of his imaginary government's office. Bit odd that when he has actually been Prime Minister for the last fiver years that he has come up with this 'all in a rush' now. More smoke and mirrors, methinks.

Friday 17 April 2015

Warning re the current political situation

                       The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London in 1848*

Warning: Some of you may have noticed that there is a General Election in just under three weeks time. I happen to think this is quite an important occasion especially with regards to the National Health Service, Education, Welfare Services and much, much more. 

So here's the thing, politics of the left wing variety have been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of you may have already noticed that every now and then - not that often really! - I comment on something which I find interesting. This is likely to increase in the coming days! 

I am not apologising but quite understand if any of you don't join with me in that interest. BUT please remember that the privilege of voting is something which many of our ancestors fought for us to have. Many were attacked, arrested, injured, deported and died - especially women - to get us that privilege [see footnotes re Chartism and Suffragists] Please don't waste it. 

BTW, I do love a good discussion [argument] so feel free to comment. But as David Dimbleby pointed out to Nigel Farage in last night's BBC debate [16th April], insulting one's audience is never a good idea!

*Chartism was a working-class movement for political reform in Britain which existed from 1838 to 1858. It took its name from the People's Charter of 1838 and was a national protest movement.......Support for the movement was at its highest in 1839, 1842 and 1848 when petitions signed by millions of working people were presented to the House of Commons.........

The People's Charter called for six reforms to make the political system more democratic:
  1. A vote for every man twenty-one years of age, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for a crime.
  2. The Secret Ballot – To protect the elector in the exercise of his vote.
  3. No Property Qualification for Members of Parliament – thus enabling the constituencies to return the man of their choice, be he rich or poor.
  4. Payment of Members, thus enabling an honest trades-man, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency; when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the country.
  5. Equal Constituencies, securing the same amount of representation for the same number of electors, instead of allowing small constituencies to swamp the votes of large ones.
  6. Annual Parliament Elections, thus presenting the most effectual check to bribery and intimidation, since as the constituency might be bought once in seven years (even with the ballot), no purse could buy a constituency (under a system of universal suffrage) in each ensuing twelvemonth; and since members, when elected for a year only, would not be able to defy and betray their constituents as now.
                                        [Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartism ]
As the charter only 'covered' men, the Suffragette movement was formed to demand 'Votes for Women': 

Suffragettes were members of women's organization (right to vote) movements in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly militants in Great Britain such as members of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).[1][2] Suffragist is a more general term for members of suffrage movements, if radical or conservative, male or female.
The term "suffragette" is particularly associated with activists in the British WSPU, led by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, who were influenced by Russian methods of protest such as hunger strikes. [ Taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette ]

Elizannie electioneering with the brilliant Labour candidate for Castle Point, Joe
 Cooke [4th from right] supported by Richard Howitt MEP [centre]

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Smoke and Mirrors:Conservative General Election Make Believe Wishes [1]

Smoke and mirrors is a metaphor for a deceptive, fraudulent or insubstantial explanation or description. The source of the name is based on magicians' illusions, where magicians make objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors amid a distracting burst of smoke. The expression may have a connotation of virtuosity or cleverness in carrying out such a deception.
More generally, "smoke and mirrors" may refer to any sort of presentation by which the audience is intended to be deceived, such as an attempt to fool a prospective client into thinking that one has capabilities necessary to deliver a product in question.

Let's see if I have got this right. David Cameron has promised the right to buy houses the Government doesn't own at a discount to people [housing association tenants] living in those houses. And who pays the discount? The Government aka the taxpaxer. What do the Housing Associations think about this? Well according to the Conservatives, they will have no cause for concern because 'they will receive the full market value of the sold property'. So that's all good then.

Erm, just a little minute, Mr C. Could you please tell me where that money for discounts is going to come from. Yes, Yes I know the taxpayer - but how? Oh yes in the Gruniad article [link above]  it does say that councils are going to be required [aka forced] to sell approx 5% of their more expensive properties when they become vacant [I am a bit unsure of this 'vacant' issue. When the tenant dies? Or moves out of their own violition? Unlikely that, say, there will be many expensive, larger properties vacated by the former means as the bedroom tax has seen off older tenants; families needing and entitled to larger properties will not be able to move to smaller properties and I have heard too many tales of the bedroom tax meaning that tenants of large properties incurring the levy trying very hard to get into smaller properties, which are unavailable as they have already been sold off!] and build cheaper properties with the proceeds. But that doesn't answer the question - where is the money for the discount on the housing association properties. Oh its all part of the fiscal plan.

The fiscal plan. Could this be just smoke and mirrors? Apparently the Conservative Party is the party of the working people. Just like the Conservative Party was the party of the National Health Service in 2010. That was smoke and mirrors then too.

Friday 10 April 2015

Hurtling back to the Bad Old Days

                                            Blackfriars free breakfast, c. 1933, Daily Herald © 
                                            National Media Museum, Bradford / SSPL. Creative 
                                            Commons BY-NC-SA  *

I suppose many of us are already fed up with the 'yah boo-ing' of so many politicians on so many media programmes. Never mind, I can hear you say, four weeks today and we can put on the news programmes again, read the comments columns in the newspapers knowing that we are safe for another five years from electioneering.

Of course that may not be true. There may be - very probably will be - that interregnum where political deals are being made, coalitions are being forged and best political friends fall out whilst new, unlikely alliances look increasingly likely.

After what happened in the days following the last General Election, we should be ready for anything both ante and post May 7th. Increasingly shrill 'discussions' on TV programmes must make many voters despair. Shouts of 'not true' from political opponents only serve to confuse not enlighten. Last night's 'Question Time' was a prime example. The 'token journalist' was obviously not impartial and if not exactly toeing a party line seemed to be following a line laid down by editorial policy. The two lady politicians were complete contrasts one so shrill and incapable of answering a question that she made her very reasonable opponent appear even more reasonable, especially when she answered a question! The two male politicians also contrasted each other, one patronising especially when talking about the less fortunate sections of society, the other so capable and inclusive that at times I wanted to cheer. Notice I name no names or parties/newspaper because sadly this sort of make up happens each week and only the faces change.

So what are we to think and how do we decide to vote? Well I have taught history and I also have a family history of, shall we say, membership of the 'awkward squad'. I look at where we are now in society and who/which party is responsible for it. Sadly, so many of our current social conditions remind me of the 'Bad Old Days'

The zero hours contracts remind me of how my English greatgrandfathers used to wait at the docks to be picked for a day's work. Zero hour contracts have grown massively under the Coalition government and Ed Miliband has pledged to end this 'epidemic'. And don't forget Dirty Dave Cameron admitted he couldn't live on a zero hours contract.

Food banks remind me of soup kitchens. Many times in the past unfortunately the disadvantaged and dispossessed have had to resort to soup kitchens, free breakfast clubs etc when there has not been enough money coming into the family home to feed the individuals. In recent history, most scandalously, during the miners strike in the 1980s when the Conservative Government sequestered the Miner's Union funds and for some the only meal of the day was that provided by the soup kitchens or food given by the relief committees. In the depression era of the 1930s when so many were unemployed, soup kitchens etc fed many, the photograph* above is from an archive at the National Media Museum . But most of these previous incarnations were necessary in times before the Welfare state and in today's affluent society there should be no need for such 'charity'. If our society cannot support those who are sick, unemployed and disadvantaged it is a very harsh society. Especially when it rewards the very rich with income tax breaks. Ian Duncan Smith is very vocal about benefit cuts..... Do we trust his party as government again?

Demonization of immigrants reminds me of the ghettoization of Jews, Irish and Welsh and other Ethnic minorities in times gone by. So much racism is of economic basis as so many individuals have come to this country in search of work to enable them to send money home to their often starving families back in their home countries. My father came to England from Wales on one of the hunger marches in the 1930s and when looking for work and digs was often met by notices stating 'No Dogs, No Irish, No Welsh'. Nigel Farage does not seem to understand why others wish to live in our country and uses our facilities even thought his ancestors did just that albeit many, many years ago. He does not seem to recognize that when British citizens live in a EU country they are also entitled to use their facilities, despite being a MEP. When we lived in an EU country we used their health services extensively. So do we want such an ill informed man one of our MPs?

What looks like the prospective dismantling of the NHS reminds me of the stories of pre-1948 medical care in the UK. How one of my aunts died on the day the National Health came into being and the family story that they all wondered if she would have lived if it had come into being a year before. How it cost his mother 2/6d [13p] to have a bead removed from my father-in-law's nose in the 1920s when that amount of money would have provided the family's tea. How it was cheaper to have all their teeth removed rather than have a few fillings attended to. How individuals went blind due to cataracts or undiagnosed or untreated glaucoma. How women who needed hysterectomies bled and bled each month, suffered from anemia and often died too young as their immune systems weakened. I remember David Cameron's boast pre 2010 General Election 'We are the Party of the NHS'. What - the destruction of it? Do I want his government in power to destroy what is left?

The hiking of the pension age reminds me of way my English grandfather worked until he was nearly 70, in poor health [see above] and died, worn out and an old man aged 72. How my Welsh grandfather never even reached pension age and died aged 64 of 'the coal dust' [pneumoconiosis] on his lungs. No compensation then either. Leaving my Grandmother to be supported by her children. Do I want a government who will keep us all working beyond our capability whilst giving tax breaks to the very rich via tax havens and non-dom status?

So listen to the politicians, read the elections addresses. But listen also to the subtexts, read between the lines, look back to what their parties said last time and what they actually did. Go to meetings if you can, ask questions whether face to face or by letter or email. 

Do vote - many died, especially women, to get that privilege - don't waste it!