Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke


A few months back my wife and I reluctantly decided to try and get a cleaner for our home. I say reluctantly because I feel uncomfortable about the idea of anything resembling the idea of having a domestic ‘servant’  – I feel such an arrangement is of its nature demeaning to the employee cast in the role of servant. My wife however suffers from a neurological disability, and I often work 12 hours per day or  more, 5 days per week. We struggle to keep up with the cleaning. So we set out to see who we could find.

We telephoned a number from a local free newspaper, and were visited at home by a pleasant lady – I’d say she was in her mid 40’s (as we are) who told us about her cleaning business – we were relatively impressed, and decided to give her a chance to do our cleaning. She talked for some time and during this time she issued the following statement :

“I’m not racist but, a lot of these Polish cleaners that you see these days, they have different standards from us.”

It’s fair to say that I bristled at this.

Why ?

Well, because I anticipated that she might start to make racist comments about Poles (she didn’t); because most people I’ve come across who do make racist comments invariably start their diatribe with “I’m not racist but …”; because my best friend is a Pole – and I’ve known him since I was 12; because my recently deceased Aunt, though not Polish, was Eastern European, having come to the UK as a Latvian refugee as a young girl; because I’ve employed at least a dozen Poles – either teachers or teaching assistants, in my role as Headteacher of a special school – and found them without exception to be hard working, usually very talented, and in at least one case to be an exceptionally gifted teacher; and finally because I deplore racism – and by extension the racists who promote it.

In short I thought it likely that she was bigoted and racist.

Would I have been justified in saying that to her ?

Well no, I don’t think I would. She didn’t actually say anything derogotary about Poles – just that their standards might be ‘different’ – and she presumably has come across more cleaners from Poland in our local area than I have (not difficult – I haven’t come across any – or any Poles either actually come to think of it) – she may well be right.

So I held my tongue, and engaged her to clean our house on a weekly basis – starting in a couple of weeks time.

Several weeks down the line I still don’t know whether she was bigoted, but I do hope that Polish cleaners do have different standards, because this English one never turned up.

However – my point is, although this woman never technically said anything specifically racist, she hinted to me that she might do – and I was wary – and expecting it – but it never happened. For me to jump to conclusions about her bigotry, would have been just presumptuous as it was for her to jump to conclusions about Polish cleaners.

Today on television Gordon Brown encountered a woman who similarly came out with a comment – out of the blue – about Eastern European immigrants. She said “where are they all flocking from” shortly after she’d said something about vulnerable people not getting access to help, and people who do get help not being vulnerable. And in common with the lady that I talked to,  she didn’t actually say anything racist  – but like Gordon Brown, I would have been tense  in this situation, and I’d have been expecting her to make a racist comment at any second – and yes I probably would have leapt to the conclusion that she was bigoted.

So was he justified in saying so – well no he wasn’t – he’s the Prime Minister and he should be extra careful not to jump to conclusions  – extra careful as well not to forget that he’s wired for sound.

Not that I can’t understand how and why he said what he said. To be constantly under the media spotlight all the time, having them judge your every word, every gesture, every look must be so exhausting – to get into the safety of the car away from the glare of publicity – I feel it is entirely natural that a Prime ministerial candidate, would voice doubts and anxieties about his performance, would question how well his team were doing, and would say things that weren’t particularly complimentary about a woman who’d just given him a tough time – even though he’d dealt with it rather well actually.

Understandable. It still doesn’t make it alright though.

But let’s be honest about this. He didn’t say this the second he got in the car, as the videos running on BBC and Sky news would have you believe. It was a short while later – he should have been out of earshot, and he was off air (but not unrecorded). His comments weren’t either blurted out live – they were recorded and played back after the event. And though his comments were unjustified, the conclusions that he had clearly jumped to weren’t entirely illogical.

That he apologised, both to the lady in question, and to Labour Party members (to whom I suspect he’s done the greater disservice) is to his credit.

So to my mind that’s more or less it.

Do I think Gordon Brown was right to do this ? – No I think he was stupid – it was an amateurish mistake

Do I think this will harm the Labour Party ? – I’m not sure – clearly it will with some people – others I am sure are getting heartily sick of the smugness with which the TV pundits are making news mileage out of this – and will quite possibly turn towards Gordon rather than away from him – we won’t really know until election day. I’m sure that many of them are wondering whether Sky would have published any off the cuff comments by David Cameron, had he left his microphone switched on in the car. I suspect the answer is no – but also suspect that Tory supporters will be quick to point out that David Cameron wouldn’t leave the microphone switched on in the first place – which would be a fair snipe.

Will it change the way I vote ?

Well I’m not pleased that this has happened – but I’m even less pleased with the barrage of nastiness that has followed the incident on television, and will presumably continue to do so in the papers tomorrow – so “No !”,  it will not change the way I intend to vote.

I’m still voting Labour

April 28, 2010 Posted by | Family, politics, racism | , , , | 2 Comments

Cameron : We’re even worse than Bulgaria !

Regular readers of my blog might have spotted a vaguely familiar statement from David Cameron in last night’s Leaders Debate on ITV television.

In my post Things that bug me – Part 2 on April 2nd, I moaned about the misleading reporting in the Daily Mail England’s poor cancer detection and bad diet mean Slovenian women live longer of the Government report ‘Health Profile of England 2009’ DoH Health Profile of England

I complained amongst other thing’s of the Mail’s tendency to pick an Eastern European country at random for us to be “worse than” – in what appeared to be an attempt to capitalise on racism against Eastern Europeans for sensational effect.

It seems David Cameron must have appreciated it – last night he chose not Slovenia but Bulgaria to compare our “oh so terrible” health care with.

While there would seem to be some evidence from WHO that his statement was in essence correct – that there are more deaths from cancer in Bulgaria per head than in the UK at least according to the Sofia news agency  Bulgaria Pops Up in UK Historic Debate – Sofia News Agency ; the Department of Health’s own published data (ie. the document linked to above)  – which is produced in close consultation with other countries, would appear to suggest otherwise.

Check out the table 3.1 on page 61 – it quite clearly shows that UK & English cancer deaths have a lower incidence than in Bulgaria. That’s not to say that we’re ideal though – David Cameron could have said we were worse than Ireland or Italy – or better than Denmark or Spain. Whichever country he chose to compare us with would have been misleading though – because on page 49 we have a chart that tells us that “there has been a steady decline in the mortality rate [from cancer] between 2000 and 2008. It is evident that the mortality rate has decreased faster for males in recent years than for females”.

So irrespective of whether we are or are not “worse than” Bulgaria, the number of deaths from cancer, has been reducing steadily during the incumbency of the present Labour government.

So Labour’s record is unarguably better than the Conservatives’  in relation to deaths from Cancer.

If I might conjure up a phrase from the recent past : “Don’t you dare lecture us on Cancer Mr Cameron !”

April 16, 2010 Posted by | blogs, Election 2010, politics | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Leaders Debate

Well I watched some of it (although missed start because I was collecting Labour leaflets to deliver) (and if you think I’ve ever done that before you are seriously mistaken)

I’m not going to do blow by blow, I found it hard enough to keep my attention throughout. Why ?

Well because I enjoy politics, I find it interesting – the nuances, the similarities, the differences, the tactics, the different means to the same ends, the same means to different ends – but a programme of this nature boils it down to a talent show – and as we all know in the UK talent shows throw up some bizarre results – witness the Jedward & Subo phenomena if you need any more evidence.

Actually it’s probably closer to the mark to compare it with a Harry Hill TV Burp style decider : “I like David Cameron, but I like Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg as well – but which is best ? There’s only one way to find out – FIIIGHHT !!”

There is no room for subtleties in a debate of this kind – and OK I freely admit that this makes it more attractive to people who aren’t as fired up by politics as I am (and never forget that however uninterested they are, all of their votes count just as much) – so it puts me off.

The first question I caught was about “Immigration”. Clearly they all thought that this is an issue that they’re likely to get a tough time on, so all three did their best to be “tough”. OK – but I’d have liked to have found out how it makes it  any easier to recruit decent trained teachers in London – but I accept that there’s no way that could have been discussed tonight.

Similarly when we got to “Education” we didn’t get anything I was interested in – but promises of how Headteachers were going to be helped to be “tough” – David Cameron giving his anecdotes (which by the way, if we’re going with the X Factor theme, were about as deep and meaningful as dedicating his performance to his poor old Mum who died last year, and it was her life ambition to hear him sing Whitney Houston on telly) related the story of a pupil excluded from school then reinstated on appeal. The Tories will take away the right of appeal.

Well there could have been a fair old discussion about that – A person’s whole career possibly being decided without a right of appeal on the say so of one headteacher ? And what about the appeals of those parents with children with special educational needs, that all parties want to support in their battles with schools and local authorities – don’t they count either ? At what stage does a misbehaving pupil become a disabled one ? and wouldn’t it be convenient to treat them the same anyway – save a lot of hassle, and keep the results and attendance looking good. We don’t get any of that though, no questions about where excluded pupils go once they’ve been kicked out (because believe me it starts getting expense when they’ve been kicked out of few).  No discussion either of how a headteacher could have such a poor relationship with his Governing body that she ends up in a situation like that.

To be fair to the party leaders, there’s no way they had the chance to reach that high level of debate.

So I’m disappointed, but I knew I would be. Sorry I can’t give you any more insight than that.

If I were to venture a few observations though :

  • Gordon Brown looked relaxed, if fumbling his lighter notes a little – certainly far more convincing than just a few months back.
  • Nick Clegg looked nervous – but I’d venture suitably nervous – he’d be stupid if he didn’t – came across strongly as I expected – but then he has so little chance of being elected that he can promise whatever he wants with no real fear of having to deliver
  • David Cameron was weaker than I expected. I feel he is easily the strongest weapon in the Tory arsenal, and I was surprised at how he faltered, and how he fell back on arrogant repetition of things like “death tax”, and trying to convince people that the National Insurance rise would take money OUT of the treasury – I felt he’d been briefed too heavily by advisors – would be better to follow his instincts.
  • I was disappointed neither Clegg or Brown homed in on Daniel Hannan’s comments about the NHS and questioned whether Cameron has the authority and bottle to properly slap him down – at present we have the official line being that the Tories will increase spending on NHS whilst other prominent Tories want to abolish it. Kick them out if you can Dave !
  • Surprised at the ITV poll showing David Cameron so far behind – although I expected Nick Clegg to be ahead – not that it matters – the effect that it has on general polls (and ultimately the election) will be the telling statistic.
  • Truly impressed by the traffic on Twitter during this – must have broken all records – not sure what election night will be like. I gained 8 followers during the show !

Any way I’m off to bed now to get ready to deliver Labour leaflets tomorrow. I’m still voting Labour

April 15, 2010 Posted by | Election 2010, politics, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Election 2010 Day 1 – The Great Ignored

So Gordon named the big day today, and we’re on with the campaign.

All went pretty much as expected – all according to the plans, everyone saying the things we expected them to say.

Or did they ?

Well – not quite – the press release for David Cameron’s speech said that he’d be talking about the people who he called “the great ignored” –  “Young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight.” (Armchair election: The great ignored – Financial Times Blog) and he duly did his “without notes speech” trying his damnedest to upstage Gordon Brown before he’d even announced the election, speaking outside the old GLC building over Westminster Bridge, and he certainly did talk about “the great ignored”.

Only he missed a bit out – He ignored his own planned reference to “gay, straight” people. Which only leaves us to wonder why. Especially coming hot on the heels, as it does, of shadow home secretary Chris Grayling’s reported comments this past weekends, in which he apparently defended the actions of Bed & Breakfast owners who had turned away an openly gay couple.

This was very quickly picked up on, and so we had the first “incident” of the election campaign.

I could tell it was making the news because when I turned on Radio 2 in the car (partly in an attempt to avoid the tedious repetition of the lack of election news on 5 Live), I was surprised to find the issue being discussed between the music – Jeremy Vine taking the issue up with Gavin Hayes from the left leaning Labour group Compass; and arguing the case against, was Telegraph columnist Charles Moore (he is actually a former editor of the Telegraph- and the Spectator, and is currently chair of the Right Wing think tank ‘Policy Exchange  – which the BBC failed to mention. I think it’s fair to say he’s a Tory !)

Hayes promptly pounced on Cameron’s remarks, and brought up again Chris Grayling’s weekend comments citing them as evidence that the party had not changed, and that it was the same old Tories. A solid if fairly predictable response.

His opponent, for his part, did probably less well, choosing to focus only on the issues of Chris Grayling’s comments and taking pretty much the line of “An English man’s home is his castle, and I’ll be buggered if I’ll have sodomy going on under my roof”.

There followed a bit of to-ing & fro-ing, in which each protagonist re-iterated their position. End of skirmish.

One – Nil to Labour eh ?

Well I’m not too sure. I agreed with Gavin Haye’s arguments, and profoundly disagreed with the line taken by Charles Moore.

When all said and done though, my vote doesn’t have to be fought for – I’m voting Labour anyway.

That’s not the case for the votes of millions (well at least thousands) of listeners to Radio 2 this afternoon though. The casual listener, who hadn’t been following recent events could well have been forgiven for thinking that the right to exclude gay couples from B&Bs was a cornerstone of Conservative Party policy.

Which left them with an apparent choice between a party wanting equality for all, regardless of sexual orientation; and a party wanting to give business owners the right to exclude gay couples.

Now whilst the latter option is particularly odious to me, the sad truth is that there are many people who sympathise with  that position. They also have a vote – and right now, the important thing is not to change their way of thinking – we have the rest of eternity to do that. No – the priority is in 30 days to get them to cast their votes for Labour.

So if you’re involved in this debate at some time over the next couple of days – don’t get suck into arguing about whether B&B owners should be able to exercise their prejudices. Point out instead the real choice that is available.

Point out that Chris Grayling voted in parliament to make it illegal for B&B owners to discriminate, point out that he’s said that he has no wish to change the law back, and point out that he’s happy to say and write and commit himself to one thing in front of the learned intelligentsia – but peddles something entirely different when he thinks he’s not going to be called to task.

Point out that David Cameron’s quite happy to write things down saying that his party’s changed, and that he’s not going to discriminate against gay people when he’s trying to demonstrate that his party has changed – but just like Grayling, he can’t be courageous enough to commit to the same thing in a live speech, that he knows will be seen by Sun reading potential tory voters, who might be a little anti-gay.

So point out the real choice, between a party that says that it is in favour of equality, and that takes steps to ensure that it really is; and a party that says it’s in favour of equality, but sometimes does something else – and whether you’re a homophobe or an egalitarian, you’ve no way of knowing what they’re really going to do.

My guess is this  – what they’ll actually do is whatever they think it takes to gain them power – not because they believe it or want it, but precisely because they want that power. My feeling is that the reason the Conservatives find it so hard to say what their principles really are is because they really don’t have any  – unless you count narrow self interest, and the pursuit of power and money.

Finally, I did think it was rather interesting, after having debated the issue of exactly who is or is not, on David Cameron’s list of “The Great Ignored” on BBC Radio this afternoon, that the BBC should then choose to not mention any of them on their website’s reporting of David Cameron’s speech. Cameron launches Tory campaign with ‘hope’ message

“And let’s win this election for the good of the country that we love.”

Mr Cameron said he was fighting the election for “the great ignored”. [ <– OOPS ! THEY MISSED A BIT HERE – northernheckler !! ]

“They work hard, they set up businesses, they work in factories, they teach our children, they keep our streets safe, they obey the law and they their pay taxes,” he said.

Truly there are some things that are great, and are ignored.

April 6, 2010 Posted by | Election 2010, politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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