Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

We’re all in this together

I spotted two news articles today, which were reasonably interesting in themselves, but didn’t have me salivating with rage or frothing with indignation. Taking them both together though, they threw up a couple of interesting numbers.

The first article was this 37 Tory donors with a combined fortune of £10,258,000,000, have gifted the Tory party with £2,891,436 in the last 13 weeks. on Eoin Clarke’s blog “The Green Benches”  .

I’ll be honest, although I’m fairly left wing, I don’t hold that it’s immoral to earn money, or indeed to amass wealth, and if you’re wealthy, why not donate some to your favourite political party ? Seems reasonable.

I noticed on the list a couple –  Carol & Eddy Haley, – who have an estimated wealth of one and a half  billion pounds. An astonishingly large amount of money. I’m not going to speculate on whether they deserve it  – I’ve no particular reason to doubt that they do. I do know that they suffered a particularly nasty violent robbery some years back – for which they have my sympathy. They donated a large amount to the Conservative Party in the last three months – as they are entitled to I believe.

Elsewhere in the news we have the spectacular story of Annunziatino Attanasio Cardiff waterslide woman jailed for £20,000 benefit con who’s own home video of her lapping up a luxury holiday, and sliding down a water slide, when she was claiming the highest rate of Disability Living Allowance helped to land her in big trouble. She has been found guilty of fraud and has received a prison sentence. I could speculate about the fairness of this – but let’s not. I’m not going to second guess the court – she pleaded guilty and is therefore deesrving of the punishment meted out. She has after all diddled “the taxpayer” out of almost £20,000 over 5 years.

Hang on though – that number – almost £20,000 – actually it was £19,374 – and she was claiming the top rate of disability living allowance for 5 years ?

So forget what she’s done for a minute – that’s the amount that a disabled person – on FULL benefits, can expect to receive over FIVE years !

That’s right : £3,874 per year – £74.51 each week to live on.

£10.65 per day

Meanwhile, Carol & Eddy could if they so choose, place all their money in a savings account. Times are not great for savers, but they’d easily get an account that GUARANTEED them a return of 1.75% until 2015  Top Savings Accounts (They’d probably get a lot more, but let’s choose a low interest example for now).Then they could go to sleep, loaf around, slide down waterslides or do whatever takes their fancy – secure in the knowledge that their savings would  net them £26.25 million per year – or if you like, £504,807 per week

£72,115.38 per day

Now I know these figures are misleading a little – they’re liable to tax on all that for a start, and if they liquidised all their assets, which presumably make up that total, then the assets themselves would probably fall in value because of the very fact that they were cashing in.

However – the difference here is stark. The difficulty we have is not that the Haley’s are doing anything wrong. Nor that it’s wrong to prosecute those who defraud the benefits system.

But when a severely disabled person is only able to receive crumbs from the table – some   0.174%  of the income that a donor to the Governing party can receive  by doing nothing except put his money in the bank, then there is something wrong somewhere. The pretence that we’re all in this together is offensive, and the Government’s determination to villify and demonise disabled people is so very very wrong.

December 5, 2011 Posted by | Disability, news, politics | , , | 1 Comment

In remembrance …

I’ve never been much of one for poetry, but the poems of Wilfrid Owen, which I first encountered at GCE O’ Level, in 1977, have always struck  a chord with me :


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 – March, 1918

Portrait of Wilfred Owen, found in a collectio...

Wilfred Owen

November 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pro-Life AND Pro-Choice

[ Since publishing this, there’s been quite a bit of movement from the Government – See links at bottom of post ]

I’m continually disappointed at the failure of those people who approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Choice“, and are called “Pro-Abortion” by their opponents) and those people who do not approve of abortion (who call themselves “Pro-Life” and are called “Anti-Choice” by their opponents) to engage in any kind of constructive discourse which takes any notice at all of each other’s positions regarding abortion.

The “Pro-Life” argument is this : Human Life is sacred, and to take it away deliberately is an act of murder. Human Life begins at conception, therefore an abortion is the deliberate taking of life and is therefore an act of murder. That is why they oppose abortion.

The “Pro-Choice” argument is this : Human life may well be sacred – but the mother’s life is the one principally affected in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Human life begins at the moment of birth, and an unborn child is therefore not alive, and an abortion is nothing more than a medical procedure to remove what is technically a part of the mother’s body. This is why they support a woman’s right to choose whether she has an abortion or not.

Now is it just me ?

I can see that there is an eloquent logic in both of these arguments. They are both reasoned positions, they are both admissible arguments, irrespective of whether you agree with either position. I find it easy to respect the thinking behind each of these arguments.

So why can’t the Anti-Choicers or the Pro-Abortionists ?

It’s really not so difficult to understand these arguments, but each side gets ever more deeply into the dismissing the other sides claims as “madness” or even “evil”.

It frankly bores me. There’s no attempt at accommodating each others position, no attempt at a move out of the impasse, no thought of synthesis or reconciliation – just ridicule and venom in equal measure, to and from both sides.

It seems very clear to me that the key issue separating the two sides of the argument is not over whether the mother or the child’s life is more important. It is about whether life begins at conception, or whether life begins at birth.

It seems though that neither side seem to want to address this fundamental difference of opinion. This saddens me.

It saddens me further that it seems highly likely to me that neither position is true. Human Life clearly does not start at birth – since births can be induced prematurely, and babies can be delivered by section, all without harm to the child – if performed at the right time. It’s also unlikely that Human Life begins at conception – other than in an abstract sense. Is a group of cells a person ? Does it have conciousness ? Does it possess – dare I say it – a soul ? I think it’s unlikely.

So the question of exactly when a foetus or embryo becomes a human being is an important one to ask. Unfortunately it’s not one we’re likely to get a definitive answer on – it involves complex moral, religious, and philosophical considerations, as well as complex issues of science and human biology. We might as well argue about angels dancing on the head of a pin.

For me though the argument around abortion becomes simpler when I consider this. Human Life clearly begins at some point between the moment of conception, and the moment of birth – which is quite a long time for a margin of error.

To me abortion doesn’t seem quite right. It seems that when we carry out abortions we are carrying out actions which are at least ethically questionable, and which many people find undesirable.

Neither though does it seem quite wrong. I can not believe that an abortionist, or a woman who has an abortion, is a murderer. They are clearly entering into a procedure in the firm belief that they are not taking a life, and there are many reasons why they should do so.

When it comes to the anecdotal heart string pulling stories that are wheeled out both for and against abortion, I think I’ve encountered most variations of them in my life.

I’ve had female friends who’ve had abortions, and never regretted it for a second, and I’ve had those who’ve spent the rest of their lives feeling guilty. I’ve known those who’ve considered abortion and rejected it, and been delighted with their baby. I’ve never known anyone say out right that they’ve regretted NOT having an abortion – but I’ve seen a few who don’t need to say it – it’s written all over their face frequently.

I could tell you wonderful stories – like my cousin who was told she was expecting a Down syndrome child, and advised to terminate the pregnancy. She did not – and her baby is loved by all the family – and doesn’t have Down syndrome.

A fairy tale ending – but not all of the stories have a happy ending. I’ve taught children with some of the most severe disabilities throughout my career – and though I’m particularly attuned to valuing the lives of all of these children however disabled they are, I also see some of the almost unbearable suffering that some of them endure – and see parents struggling to cope, year after year. I could not judge those parents if they decided to abort the pregnancy of  a potentially disabled child.

I could tell you a story of a girl, abducted by soldiers in Africa, forced to become a sex slave, who then escaped to England, only to be pimped into prostitution on arrival and abandoned when it was realised she was pregnant. She had her baby who suffered severe brain damage and will have severe medical problems and learning difficulties throughout his life. She loves her son dearly but who could have blamed her for terminating that pregnancy ? And who can fail to be moved by her faith and strength of character in choosing not to abort ?

So I find that I’m someone who is pro-Life – I don’t like abortion. I want to promote life, not end it. Though many pregnancies are unwanted, most children are wanted – and I’d hope that my own daughter would be able to feel confident that she could have a child that she would be helped to provide for, should she find herself in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy – she’s 15 at the moment.

I’m also pro-Choice though. I don’t think these decisions are easy, I accept that I may be right or wrong on these issues, and I accept that there are situations which make the issue so complex that it is nigh on impossible to come to a reasoned conclusion one way or another. And I realise that ultimately it will be the woman carrying the child, who will need to make that decision – and will need to live with it afterwards. If that’s the decision my daughter came to, my wife and I would support her and help her all the way.

That the issue of abortion has risen to the surface on social media and in mainstream press in the last couple of days or so seems almost entirely due to the amendments proposed to the upcoming Health Bill made by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, and Labour MP Frank Field which propose amongst other things, to prevent the existing agencies Marie Stopes, and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service giving counselling and advice to women considering abortion, on the grounds that as paid providers of abortion services they have a conflict of interest, and are not independent. It has been reported – notably in the Guardian Ministers back anti-abortion lobby reforms  that the Government intend to implement this part of the proposals without legislation, in favour of independent advice – provided by agencies as yet unknown – but it’s widely thought that anti-abortion group Life will be invited to form part of this.

It’s understandable why this has caused a storm. On the one hand it seems entirely reasonable that women considering abortion should be able to avail themselves of as much advice and counselling as they can. On the other it seems ludicrous to brand esteemed organisations such as BPAS and Marie Stopes as biased, in comparison with the lop sided argument they are likely to receive from Life.

I feel that in any open debate this would not be seen as a way forward – there are many sources of truly independent advice which considers all options : The Brook charity for instance is one such source that is widely respected, and BPAS and Marie Stopes could well argue that they already provide impartial advice.

The thing is though that this is not going to be an open debate. It’s going to be tagged on to the much larger – and potentially much more important – debate regarding the Tory proposals to change the NHS. ( See Kerry McCarthy MP’s blog regarding this : Right to choose -v- right to know ) Any time spent discussing changes to abortion law in parliament, will be time not spent discussing the rest of the proposed legislation.

So we now come to see the real political opportunism that Nadine Dorries and Frank Field are using. They’ve managed to bring their proposals to such a state that they could potentially threaten to de-rail the Tories’ show piece legislation that is the Health and Social Care Bill. They know that MPs from all sides of the house will be clamouring to debate and de-rail their proposals on abortion. They know also that David Cameron’s government, can ill afford to waste time on this side show to the main event. They have thus apparently been successful in extracting a concession from the Government in the shape of the proposal to alter the provision of counselling and advice.

Both Field and Dorries are mavericks in their parties, Dorries in particular is a grandstander who delights in being controversial

While Pro-Choicers everywhere seem to be chomping at the bit to denounce them as mad fruitcakes, the pair seem to have pulled off a remarkable coup – extracting a change of policy without legislation from the Government, presumably in exchange for leaving the way clear in the commons to push through the changes to the NHS.

If you really believe in choice you might want to consider whether the new bill will give any of us greater or less choice in our lives, or indeed those of our unborn children

UPDATE : Since writing this it would appear that David Cameron has done a U-Turn on the promise to change the regulations on provision of counselling, without legislation. He’s now saying that this is NOT on the cards, and that Tory ( & Lib Dem) MP’s will be advised to vote against the amendments (although still allowed a free vote) – If they are debated . Quite how much time this will leave for debating the rest of the bill is by no means clear.

Full Details in this Guardian Article : Downing Street forces U-turn on Nadine Dorries abortion proposals . This analysis of the situation is also rather enlightening Abortion advice from Nadine Dorries is classic backstreet politics


This all leaves things in a rather uncertain state – perhaps the only certain thing is the Guardian’s assertion that

“The U-turn, stemming from No 10’s frustration about the health department’s handling of the situation, is another embarrassing blow for the health secretary, Andrew Lansley.”

August 30, 2011 Posted by | politics, Uncategorized, women | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Riots, Romance & Reggae

This town, is coming up a ghost town ...

Memories from 1981

Anti-Nazi League logo

We had no idea who was behind ANL or RAR - we just loved music & hated racism

Way back in 1981, I was a student, and set off on a Saturday in July to a Rock Against Racism event in Leeds. These were times when the Thatcher Government was in full swing, knowing that their unpopularity had plenty of time to abate, they were merrily presiding over an unemployed population quickly approaching 3 million.

Already that year there had been “riots” and mini-riots in places like Handsworth and Brixton, and the newspapers were still fresh with the news from the Toxteth riots in Liverpool. There’d also been disturbances in Chapeltown in Leeds. Though many of these disturbances were christened “race riots” – as a white working class young man I identified absolutely with the populations involved. Whether that was a real connection or one just in my own mind I don’t really know – but all my friends seemed to feel the same – and they were mostly white and mostly English.

The Specials – at the time, top of the charts with “Ghost Town” – were set to headline the ‘Carnival’ which was preceded by a march from Leeds City Centre, to the concert venue at Potternewton Park, Chapeltown. The venue had not been chosen coincidentally. It was in an area that had previously had problems with race relations and rioting.

If I’m honest we were half expecting some kind of riot or disturbance to occur that day. If I’m really honest we weren’t just expecting it – we were actually rather hoping for it. Why ? It’s hard to explain now – certainly there was lots of anger at the government, certainly unemployment played a part – although at the time neither me nor the friends that I went on the march with, were unemployed. A lot of the feeling though arose out of the excitement of being able to hit back at … well hit back at someone, be it the police or the Government or whoever, in a way that made the headlines, and felt invigorating and exciting. Maybe some of it was just because it was Summer, and there were hot nights when you wanted something a bit out of the ordinary to happen.

You might think well think that is pathetic.

I’m not saying it wasn’t – I’m telling you what we felt like – back then, when we were 20 years old.

The march got underway. There were lots of placards handed out – some of them round Anti-Nazi League “roundels”, and others with the legend  “Socialist Worker : Black and White Unite and Fight “, We were given the latter, and immediately started doing what had become a habit – we started tearing off the bit that said Socialist Worker. We’d pretty much decided that the Socialist Worker Party were an extreme left version of the extreme right National Front, (that were more or less the reason we were here)  and in many respects little better than them.

The irony did not hit us until some years later, that both the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism were formed by the SWP, and in many ways were a front and recruiting tool, for that organisation.

The cardboard didn’t tear off easily, and the sticks holding the placards came away before we could customise them. Great ! We now had some nice sticks to carry round – these would surely come in handy as we marched to the “front-line”. The police were way ahead of us though, and a few pleasant men in uniform came and took them from us “Why are you taking them off us ?” we angrily demanded. “Because we wouldn’t want to be arresting anybody for carrying offensive weapons if we didn’t need to” came back the genuinely cheery response.

As we approached Chapeltown, you could sense the tension – if things were going to kick off  they would kick off here. The whole place felt different. Colourful, and slightly foreign. Yet also hyper local  – terraced red-brick streets, with black people selling Red Stripe and Coca Cola from plastic dustbins filled with ice (which you tended to see when England played the West Indies at Headingley).  A stall here and there selling stuff like Curry Goat and Rice & Peas. We were excited and a bit anxious. Were we going to be in a real riot ? If one had started we’d certainly have been part of the mob, and would have need little encouragement.

But no we-  weren’t – the event was impeccably policed. Any sign of rowdiness politely and sensitively addressed by the boys in blue. They didn’t seem phased when we chanted “Bah-Bee-Lon Bah-Bee-Lon” at them, and we arrived at the park ready for the gig.

It was a sunny day, and we had a great time. In no time at all we’d hitched up with two girls from Manchester, and we had innocent youthful fun. We kissed and cuddled and flirted – but most of all we danced and danced and danced. The girls were young, pretty, intelligent, witty – but most of all they were black. In later years we’d question our values in deliberately trying to get girlfriends purely because they were black – but it wasn’t a thought that crossed our minds at the time. I don’t think either me or my friend could have felt any more “cool” than we did that afternoon. It’s more than probable also that the girls’ attraction to us, was also based more on our whiteness than on any other qualities we had.  Whatever, at that precise moment, we didn’t see how life could get much better, we had sun, we had The Specials, we had cute black girls from Manchester – what more could anyone ask for ? Well to be honest we were still ever so slightly disappointed that we hadn’t seen any police cars torched – but you can’t everything

Highlight of the afternoon had to be The Specials singing “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more” – which from that moment became the anthem of the Summer. Remember we weren’t actually unemployed, although we experienced unemployment, and knew lots of people who were.

The end of the day came, we kissed the girls goodbye at the coaches, and quickly exchanged addresses – we were going on holiday next week and would send them a postcard.

And so to the next week. We were going on holiday. Of sorts. We were planning to hitch hike to Cornwall, and see what we could find by the way of bed & breakfast – but we weren’t setting off until the following Saturday.

During the week though the riots which never happened in Leeds, started happening in other parts of the country. I can’t remember where it started first – perhaps Birmingham on the Wednesday night.

On the Thursday we picked up the NME – the New Musical Express – the bible for all young dudes like us who fancied themselves as urban guerrillas. It was full of the latest on all the riots and disturbances, and sure enough on Thursday night, there were lots more reports, of looting, rioting and other disturbances around the country – the expression “copy-cat rioting” started to be used, when we read about this in Friday’s press.

We didn’t do any copy-cat rioting on Friday night, as we were due to set off for Cornwall early in the morning, and found ourselves on the slip-road of the M62 at about 6.00 on Saturday. In no time we were in Manchester. Unfortunately though we didn’t seem to be able to get a lift on to the M6 southbound, and did a few fruitless journeys around the Greater Manchester area, ending up God knows where waiting for about an hour and a half before getting a ride anywhere.

Eventually someone picked us up, and took us to Manchester Airport. (I’ve never quite understood why). On the way though we realised something quite spooky, and the rest of the day sort of changed my life – it took me a good while to realise it though.

The street we were driving down in a stranger’s car, was in fact the street where the girls we’d met the previous week lived. A few other things were apparent :

For one thing there were bricks and broken glass, and various other debris strewn around the road. At one point there was a big box or something in the road. The driver slowed down – clearly wary about what must have gone down here. We looked round, the house numbers clearly indicated that we were bang outside the front door of one of the two girls.  Across the road was a pub. It was boarded up completely and a sign pinned to the door just said “Closed”. It looked grim.

We progressed down the street. A little further on there was a shop – what would once have passed as a supermarket – but not a big one like we have now. It looked like it had once been a Co-op. It had no windows, no doors and no stock. It had clearly been subject to an attempt, mostly unsuccessful, to burn it down – and the charred stains ran up the wall at one end of the building. So this is what a looted store looked like.

Burnin' & Lootin'

In the distance we could see a huge plume of smoke rising from what we presumed must be the local shopping centre. We didn’t hang around to find out.

The eeriest thing though was the complete and utter silence – it felt like 6.30 on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t though – it was about 11.00 on a Saturday morning. A busy residential area like this should have been buzzing – but we were the only car on the street – there weren’t any parked up either. No people on the streets either. All inside.

I don’t know where we thought these girls lived – I think in our minds eye we were thinking somewhere like Chapeltown, somewhere vibrant and multicultural where you could nip out and get Ackee and Saltfish at three in the morning. This wasn’t like that – it was just like the council estates that we’d grown up on, only much bigger, and on this particular morning it was a horrible frightening place to be. The bonfire smell of burning building in the air only added to the chilling atmosphere.

The driver didn’t say much, but dropped us dutifully by the airport. What was the first thing we did ? Nip inside and buy a paper of course – and boy did it make salacious reading. It seemed that the whole country had erupted into spontaneous riots – there were riots everywhere – Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, London, Bristol, Birmingham – it seemed as if every centre of population had “kicked off” on the Friday night we’d stayed in. Smaller places were getting a mention too – including Dewsbury and Heckmondwike – where we came from.

Dewsbury and Heckmondwike ?

Riots ? Really ?

This seemed far fetched. Especially Heckmondwike. The Asian community would never risk losing their customer base for the numerous small shops, restaurants, take aways and taxi companies they ran by doing something as risky as rioting; and the white community could make most Friday nights end up with police vans in the market place, but when it came to “beating down Babylon” they really weren’t that clued up.

So for the first time we started to doubt the veracity of what we were being told by the news media. Even so, if things carried on at this rate, we’d presumably have a revolution by Monday. We felt slightly euphoric in the middle of this – on the one hand the riots that we’d have happily joined in with only a week earlier – if they’d happened – were now happening thick and fast, spreading at a speed that was difficult to comprehend.

On the other hand, what we’d just witnessed on a Manchester council estate, was giving us a proper reality check, and making us realise that riots were not a leisure activity, or a method of protest – but a frightening and violent crime.

Anyway, we were no nearer to Cornwall – we got a bus back into Manchester. It dropped us at a bus station, and by chance we realised we could get a bus to Devon in the morning. We booked tickets, and found a bed at the YMCA, got changed, and went off for a night on the town in Manchester.

Except our plan was once again thwarted. All the pubs were closed. Well, not all of them. Just most of them – and there was no one out on the lash – it was a very quiet night. We found a pub that was open close to the Arndale centre, and had a few pints – it closed just after 10 – mostly due to lack of business – there were only about 5 people in there. We set off looking for somewhere else to drink.

We got about 50 yards down the road and looked down a side street. What I saw there will stay with me forever. There were dozens upon dozens of police vans, all with grills on the front, and all with police in full riot gear waiting in side them . A bit further down the road, and the next side street was just the same, and the one after that. I have never, before or since, seen so many police men – and that’s quite something for a football supporter to say.

Imagine 200 of these quietly waiting off the main street

A policeman not in riot gear strolled up to us, and asked us where we were going – we told him we were looking for somewhere to get a drink – he directed us back to the pub we’d just come from. We told him it was closed, and he said “Yes most of the pubs are”. He asked us where we came from, and then where we staying, and advised to go back to the YMCA – which we did. He was perfectly polite. As far as I know there were no riots in Manchester that night.

The next morning we went to catch our bus to Torquay. Obviously we got the Sunday papers before we went. Strangely though, the revolution wasn’t happening. Or perhaps more to the point – if it was happening the papers were not reporting it. It became clear that some kind of block had been placed on the reporting of riots. Where the previous night virtually every town and city in the country had a riot, on Saturday night there were none. None reported.

Over the next week we kept checking the papers, there were no more reports of riots. We bought the NME on Thursday. There were no reports of riots. And strangely we found that “this town” wasn’t coming up a “ghost town” – Torquay was balmy in the late July heat, full of French students looking for adventures in England; Newquay was full of surfers by day and drinkers by night – which is what we decided to become.

We quickly forgot our angry youth status, and were no longer looking for a riot. It seemed pretty much the rest of the country did too – at least for a while.

I don’t think either of us ever viewed civil unrest with quite the same casual attitude again though. For my own part I decided that rioting, looting, destruction of property, is not a mode of protest. It’s not a means that is justified by any ends – it’s simply a way of trying to use violence to intimidate and frighten. It’s wrong – it has no place in politics. Neither is it about left wing or right wing politics – it’s just not acceptable.

So when I see the riots happening across London now, and the rumours of riots further afield, I remember back to 1981 – remembering that it was only by good fortune and good policing that I didn’t get sucked into becoming a rioter. I remember pretty black girls, and ugly glass strewn streets, and looted shops. I remember lines of police vans and deserted city centres.

And my advice to the people involved today is this – go home, switch the telly off, put the barbecue on, listen to some decent music, and forget about rioting. It’s just not worth the pain.

August 8, 2011 Posted by | fascism, politics, racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Much ado about nothing : e-petitions

The Daily Mail apparently will run this front page in the morning : MPs to vote on death penalty

The crowned portcullis, symbol of the Parliame...

Want to change the law ? With e-petitions you can. Or not. It depends

Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that this is a little misleading.

You might be surprised to find out, just how wide of the mark it probably is.

The headline is a reference to the Government’s latest initiative – e-petitions.

This is an on-line method of petitioning parliament – you put a petition on-line, leave it for up to a year, and if it gets over 100,000 signatures, it becomes eligible to be debated in the House of Commons.

More specifically it’s a reference to high profile blogger Paul Staines, who “blogs” as Guido Fawkes, and his campaign to bring back the death penalty via an e-petition. Although clearly his intention is to embarrass parliament and increase his own notoriety as much as any desire to see criminals hung from Tyburn tree.

The Mail’s sub-heading is “MPs face being forced into a landmark vote on restoring the death penalty”

If the headline is misleading, then this statement is simply untrue.

Any petition placed on the site has to satisfy the conditions for eligibility

One of the conditions is that it’s not allowed to be a “joke” – well Guido’s petition might fall there, but hey ho …

It then has to get 100,000 signatures – sadly Guido will have little trouble.

It then becomes “eligible” for debate.

It might be worth considering that ANYTHING is already eligible for debate by the House, should the House decide to debate it.

Just because it’s eligible though doesn’t mean it will be debated. The same is true for a petition on e-petitions with 100,000 signatures.

So who decides if it WILL be debated ?

That job falls to the Backbench Business Committee – who I’m sure will be excited by being dumped with the job given the privilege of  selecting which petitions get to be debated.

Note that they don’t have to select any of them. They can ignore them, and will ignore many. They can’t be forced to debate anything.

Even if they do debate it, they don’t have to have any kind of vote, and it doesn’t have to lead to any change in the law.

Pretty much the same as if nobody had signed the petition in the first place.

Oh and even if they did have a vote, don’t forget that there have been a great many votes on capital punishment in the commons since its abolition, and all have soundly rejected the idea. The last was in 1994 when re-introduction was opposed by 403 votes to 159, and there is little evidence to show that any other result would occur if such a vote were to take place in the current parliament (source UK Polling Report )

So no change there then.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | idle banter, politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Recipe for Hemicrania Continua

Around six years ago, my wife started getting excruciating headaches for no apparent reason.

Bromo-Seltzer advertisement for headache medic...

Unfortunately Bromo Seltzer didn't manage to quite get my wife into a ta ra ra boom de ay frame of mind

They seemed to be non-stop, and whatever she took for them, they never disappeared completely.

Six years later they still haven’t disappeared, and my wife, now out of work, disabled, and almost always in pain because of a condition diagnosed as Hemicrania Continua, is due to be admitted for surgery on Wednesday of this week, in a bid to alleviate her difficulties.

I’m hoping to blog about this over the next few days and weeks to let people know how she gets on, how our family gets on, and to bring her disabling condition – Hemicrania Continua – to the attention of a wider audience – that they may understand it more thoroughly, and hopefully help society become better disposed towards helping people who have it.

So what is Hemicrania Continua ?

Well the dry medical definition is that Hemicrania – or HC – is a rare form of “primary headache” – that is a headache for which no cause can be found – it is that it is. (and if that sounds as if it doesn’t make much sense then do please tell my wife about it !). It’s related to other forms of primary headache conditions such as Cluster Headache – CH . Cluster Headache is usually several extremely severe headaches coming rapidly one after another in a very short time. Although attacks can be very frequent, or perhaps not so frequent, there are periods of respite in between.  Hemicrania is a usually a left sided constant bi-lateral headache – it’s down one side of the head only and may vary in intensity, but is usually ever present. It’s a disabling condition, many sufferers have to give up their jobs, and medication used to treat it can cause a large number of side-effects – some of them very unpleasant.

I could – and will – tell you more about HC  later – but for the time being I’ll leave you with this recipe for Hemicrania Continua from Liz – a Hemicrania Continua sufferer who posts on the Ouch website – Ouch is the Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headache – and acts as an umbrella group for all rare headache conditions. Please do visit their site.

Here’s the recipe :

Recipe for Hemicrania Continua

Take some labour pain – increase the strength a little

Add: a burning sensation
a strong feeling of weakness
some vomiting
sensitivity to light and sound
blocked nose on affected side
blurred vision
slurred speech
drooped and watery eye on affected side

Stir well

Now pull the pain through the corner of your left eye until it goes right through your head so you can feel the pain of it coming out the other side.

Send stabs of strong sharp pain through the top of your head from time to time.

Boil well for at least 72 hours

Simmer for 12-24 hours

Boil again for 12-24 hours

Simmer again for a few hours

Boil again for 12 hours

Repeat this for the rest of your life occasionally swapping sides.

Oh by the way, I forgot to say, while you are doing this you must cook, clean and shop for yourself and go out to work.

Does that sound like fun ?  No ? That’s right, it’s not !

Please check back here to see how my wife and our family get on.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | Disability, Election 2010, Family, Uncategorized, women | , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Burying bad news ? Theresa May needs to be grateful to Ken Clarke

Home Secretary, Theresa May

Home Secretary Theresa May was given an extremely tough time by the Police Federation

I arrived home this evening having heard the radio (BBC 5 Live) spouting almost non stop about Ken Clarke’s comments regarding rape and sentencing this morning, and also about the Queen’s state visit to Ireland. There was it seemed very little other news – even the prospect of justice regarding the murder of Stephen Lawrence seemed to be a minor issue.

However on arriving home I found the television tuned to Sky News – airing a story which I hadn’t known about at all up to now. It was showing footage of  Home Secretary Theresa May at the Police Federation conference, and unflinchingly gave us vivid coverage of her getting what can best be described as “a proper mauling” – delegate after delegate queued up to offer difficult and critical questions, all of which were supported from the platform. The chair introduced a clip from the officer blinded by Raoul Moat, who asked “Am I worth £35,000 ?”, and was asked before she took the podium “Home secretary, can you sleep at night ?”

As she stepped up there was no applause, there was nothing, just a deafening silence, which continued throughout the speech, and after it.

This was huge news, well covered by Sky News.

Coming to the computer a few hours later though it seems that Sky have removed the story almost entirely from their headlines,  and the story when it is covered now only contains video of  Theresa May’s speech  Govt Police Cuts Are ‘Revenge’, Not Reform – the report does contain some description of the anger on display – but it lacks the stark reality which was presented on the earlier broadcast clip.

Undeterred I turned to BBC News where once again I find that the story has slipped down out of the headlines altogether. A quick search found the clip – which was again reduced to only the Home Secretary’s speech. After some exploring I eventually found this – which does cover the story in greater detail Home secretary refuses to back down on police cuts . I think it’s fair to say though that the casual reader would not be likely to find this clip easily.

I have to say that I find it very worrying that the two major television news outlets in the country choose not to report this as a major news item – and in Sky’s case appear to be back pedalling rather quickly.

For a great many years the Conservative party have been seen, and have tried to encourage the view of themselves, as the “party of law and order” – The Police Federation, similarly has been more or less unique in being a Conservative supporting trades union.

That the NUT should pass votes of no confidence in Education Secretary Michael Gove, is newsworthy – but is true to form – one wouldn’t particularly expect anything else (and yes I’m an NUT member) – but for the Police Federation to put Theresa May through the mincer like they did today, is not far short of Hell freezing over.

It’s a highly significant story which should in all usual circumstances be dominating the headlines.

However Ken Clarke has been shooting his daft gob off, and the Queen’s down the brewery knocking back the Guinness.

There is a more nuanced report of the activities at the Police Federation conference here in the Guardian : Police greet Theresa May’s speech with complete silence  – I confess that I’d feel more comfortable had this article been in the Telegraph – who could only manage a clip of her speech – complete with the usual rubbish about “the mess that Labour left us” Theresa May: police cuts have to be made . Hopefully they’ll add to this as time passes. Print though does not have the impact of TV pictures – and the ones earlier on Sky really were quite remarkable. Such a shame I can’t find them any more.

So Theresa May comes away relatively unscathed.

I guess it’s an ill wind indeed that blows no good at all for this Government.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Should it be “big society” or “big government” that ensures emergency services in major incidents ?

air ambulance 07

Can the Big Society run the Air Ambulance service ? Or will a ride in a volunteer's van be nearly as good ?

Last week the inquest for the victims of the 7/7 London bombings completed its deliberations and published its report.

Nine recommendations were made – the final one of which concerned the air ambulance service which was so vital on the day of the attacks. The coroner called for a review of the level of cover the London Air Ambulance is able to provide and its funding.  She went on to note the reliance of the service on volunteers    (source Guardian : July 7 inquest: coroner’s recommendations )

“I am concerned that London, a major global capital, host to the Olympics in 2012 and a prime terrorist target, should find itself dependent upon corporate funding and charitable donations, and upon professional volunteers giving up their limited free time in order to provide life-saving emergency medical care. It is equally concerning that the capability to provide such care is limited.”

It’s difficult to disagree with the implications of that observation – and I feel sure that the London authorities and the national Government, will ensure that the recommendation is addressed.

The reason I point this out though is because it offers in very stark terms, the problems with David Cameron’sBig Society” idea.

I’m certainly not being facetious when I say that I feel that it’s very laudable that Mr Cameron should seek to promote community empowerment, and the notion of people working together – freely and voluntarily – to promote the common good of their local neighbourhoods. Volunteers are a powerful force, and the act of volunteering is one which can provide enormous benefit for the individual as well.

What I disagree with is the underlying Conservative philosophy that the big society is needed because big Government is not. The notion that Government is not and should not be involved in the minutiae of daily life, because our society should be big enough and strong enough to let people run their own communities and lives.

It sounds very noble – in fact it sounds almost socialist – but be under no illusions – what it really means is starving essential services like the London Air Ambulance of public money, and public accountability – and leaving them to the vagaries of charitable donations, and voluntary help.

I feel that the terrible events of 7/7/2005 tell us so many things.

One of them is that some services are so important that they can not be left to chance – they require a Government that is strong enough and big enough to ensure that they are provided effectively.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Sector workers better off ? Pull the other one !

This morning saw the publication of a paper “Public and private sector terms, conditions and the issue of fairness” by right wing think tank Policy Exchange.

The sound byte from this paper is essentially that Public Sector pay is now significantly outstripping that in the private sector to the point where it is becoming unfair and reaches the conclusion that “significant reforms will need to be made to limit job losses in the public sector and to achieve equity and fairness in the labour market.”

There’s a fairly comprehensive debunking of the paper on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog by Richard Seymour* “Public sector pay – the myths exposed”, but for myself I’m not even going to bother checking the methodology of the research, or fisking the report.

No – as someone who has spent most of his life working in the public sector, there are some truths which I hold to be self evident :

I’ve been a highly qualified teacher for some time – on occasion I’ve been also a highly paid one. I’ve never been paid what could really be considered a low salary since I qualified with first class honours in 1989.

I have however found that on several occasions friends and acquaintances with similar qualifications working in the private sector have earned considerably more than me – not just a thousand or two a year – but sometimes double or three times the salary that I earned. Almost all of them have suffered periods when their salary has dropped – not just frozen – but drastically reduced – because most have suffered unemployment on one or more occasions.

It’s become clear to me that the cycle of “boom and bust” is something which affects the private sector more than the public. When times are good, the rewards are great, and the hardworking and the successful reap the rewards in fistfuls. Meanwhile, the public sector plod along with below inflation rises – without bonuses and with seemingly uncompetitive salaries.

When the lean times come though the public sector still plod along, they get low pay increases, sometimes pay freezes but they are far more likely to keep their jobs, far less likely to actually suffer a loss of salary, and generally are protected from the ravages of the storm. The private sector meanwhile get pay cuts, lost bonuses and lost jobs – fairly quickly.

So over a cycle of several years it all tends to even out. For those brave enough to take the risks it more than evens out for the private sector big wheels – as they can make enough in the years of plenty to enable them to “buy low” in the lean years.

What Policy Exchange are asking for then is “an end to boom and bust” – which surprised me a little.

Perhaps they should employ Gordon Brown as chancellor

Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown wanted an end to boom and bust - Do Policy Exchange want the same ?

( There is a flip side to this however – during the past 12 months I’ve gone from earning c. £79k per year, to struggling to gain a permanent contract on around half that – I’d say that this is generally the exception rather than the rule – but does prove that public sector workers are certainly not immune to economic tribulation )

*Some of the more diligent of my readers may well have noticed that the Richard Seymour who did the blog isn’t the same one which WordPress has automatically linked to – thought I’d leave it anyway as it’s mildly amusing !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | idle banter, news, politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Base, common & popular

Tony Blair & Margaret Thatcher - Royal London ...

Blair & Thatcher visit the wax works - Image by Alanna@VanIsle via Flickr

There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.

All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.

I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.

Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.

We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.

It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.

Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.

You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”

Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)

The most popular, and the most significant post-war  Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.

So I’m just saying !

May 9, 2011 Posted by | blogs, idle banter, politics, twitter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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