Category Archives: Politics

Music and Murdoch

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra play at the Glastonbury Extravaganza. Music, picnics, cocktails, fireworks, dancing fountains, a thrilled and enthusiastic audience... put THAT on an MP3

I think we can all agree that Rupert Murdoch is an arse, for so very many reasons.  At the moment there’s all the stuff with the ‘phone hacking and the media buy-outs.  All ghastly, no doubt about it.  But he is an arse for more reasons than that.

Technology is changing the consumption of music.  As a child or teenager, the sight of an undisguisable LP under the Christmas Tree was a beautiful moment and record collections were prized and protected.  Young people would gather to, genuinely, listen to records and music was shared and joyfully consumed.

CD’s then made one’s record collection more portable and less bulky, whilst remaining scrumptiously tangible and ‘on show’ as a testament to one’s taste and general grooviness.

But now there is the MP3 player.  I love my iPod with a big love, but I use it in the same way that I used to copy my LPs onto cassettes; it is a way of making my physical music collection portable.  I also download podcasts which is utterly marvellous because now I never have to miss my favourite programmes from my beloved Radio 4.  I then burn these podcasts to disc, catalogue them and place them on a shelf so they become REAL.  MP3 files don’t feel really real to me – they feel like a backup.  But before you say it, I am clearly an old git.

The one thing that seems to have evolved from the intangibility of downloads is that live music is more popular than ever.  The public spend on live concerts has rocketed in the last few years and, if that is a side-effect of digital music, then hooray to that.

There is nothing, but nothing, to compare to the joy of hearing live music performed in front of you.  I remember, as though it was yesterday, the night that Sister the First took me to the Albert Hall to hear the soprano, Margaret Marshall, perform.  I was twelve years old, we sat in a box to the right of the stage, and I had never heard anything so enrapturing and beautiful in my life.  I could feel the tears in my eyes as the combination of her voice, the orchestra and the company of others enveloped me and swamped my senses.

The point is that the people who make the music are playing the music, right there in front of you, and everybody present shares your enthusiasm and your desire to be there.  I have floated to Madame Butterfly, roared along with The Proclaimers, crooned (in harmony) with The Andrews Sisters and lost half a stone through excessive pogo-ing  to The Undertones.  Live music is brilliant beyond words.

Not according to Rupert Murdoch though.  According to Rupert Murdoch in The Times a couple of weeks ago, “If you love music, instead of paying £100 to go to a great concert, you pay 99 cents to get it on your iPod and you’ve got it for life, wherever you are.”  Not instead of, you tosser – as well as!

And while we’re on the subject of Murdoch, here’s another tossy thing he said to the poor beleaguered Times correspondent (and I paraphrase):  All children should have computer tablets and through such advances … the finest teachers in every course, in every subject, in every grade will be available to every child.

Now, children.  Can you guess who owns 90% of a $360 million company called Wireless Generation in Brooklyn, USA?  And can you guess what they sell?
Well, well, well.

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Filed under Education, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Politics, Technology

A joke too far: Argumental on Dave

There are 215 million child laborours in the world, half of whom work do hazardous work. Hilarious *

I’m not a big fan of the Dave programme ‘Argumental’ despite the undoubted talent of the participants.  I am also usually inclined to the view that if something’s genuinely funny, one can mostly get away with it.

Last night, however, the subject was something along the lines of  “Child labour; are they actually the lucky ones?”.  Jimmy Carr then delivered the argument in favour of child labour, illustrated, hilariously, by photographs of very young children working long hours in horrible conditions for next to no money.

I couldn’t believe that the programme makers genuinely thought that this was a suitable subject for comedy.  I acknowledge that sometimes really serious subjects can be communicated through the medium of humour, but this wasn’t a couple of carefully constructed satirical missiles, this was ten minutes of an audience laughing hysterically  at comments like ‘ the kids who work in factories are only there because they’re too ugly to be on the game’ or that’ if they really didn’t like it, they had access to high performance trainers and could escape that way’ and so on, ad nauseam.

It’s bad enough that so many people pretend they don’t know where their clothes come from without ridiculing the exploited families who ensure that we can afford to change our wardrobes three times a year.
Argumental should be ashamed of themselves.

This photograph came from a 1999 article on the BBC News website and I hope they forgive me for using it without permission.

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Filed under Life in general, Politics

Riot Riot

I have been on more demonstrations than I can remember in my time.  I have picketed buildings, slept outside embassies, boycotted consumer goods and marched with my head held high, lustily singing campaign songs, sometimes in two part harmony.  I have leafleted, canvassed, collected signatures and stood for election.

The right to demonstrate, to protest and the right to free speech are absolutely essential in a democratic society and I wish more people would do it.  I find the political and social apathy of  people abhorrent and the only time they seem to take to the streets is if someone challenges their inalienable right to personal comfort or threatens their access to free Wi-Fi connection in Starbucks.

OK, I admit that’s a little harsh, but I stand by the sentiment.  We are turning into a society of whingers, tutters and softies who think the world owes us a living, that we deserve everything, yet we need do nothing in return.  Not for nothing are references being made to the ‘L’Oreal Generation’.  Well it’s come back to bite us on the bum.

This year, Britain was days away from being in the same financial state as Greece or Ireland.  A country which once (rightly or wrongly) administered half the world, had manufacturing industries which were the envy of other developed countries, we had shipyards, farming, car plants, steelworks – you name it.

And we buggered it all up.  Successive governments borrowed and borrowed, wasted and wasted, taxed and taxed and spent and spent.    We have not supported our own industries and we have become such slaves to greed that our desperate and misguided pursuit of cheap goods and cheap food have put our own businesses out of business.

If a household finds that it has a reduced income or finds itself with its outgoings outstripping its income, the first and most sensible thing to do is look at how it can trim down the cost of living.  Luxuries go, leisure activities are cut down, shopping bills are curbed, wine consumption may be limited, holidays may have to be curtailed.  This is all done to keep the finances under control so the family doesn’t incur debt whilst strategies are found to stabilise or increase the household income.

If that family carries on as normal, buying on credit and spending  the same as they did when their income was higher, they are soon going to find themselves with mounting debt and unmanageable interest payments.  Even if their income subsequently increases, they will be saddled with the debt they incurred for a long time to come.  If they manage their finances carefully, when the good times come round again they will be in a far stronger position.

If you have over-indulged and  become too fat, however valid the psychological reasons, you have to endure a period of pain where you are obliged to forego eating the things you like and to move about more, in order to have the body shape you want and the comcomitant health and increased energy.

I am no economist and I am no politician and I’m quite sure that those of you who are, are jumping up and down and asking what the heck I know about it and how dare I be so obnoxiously simplistic.  Obviously I am aware that a family is a micro-economy and a country is a macro-economy, and that the numbers and complexity of managing the beast in the red box are eye-wateringly immense.

But it strikes me that the basic principles are the same.  If we stand any chance of enjoying the benefits and services to which we have become accustomed, well into the future, there has to be a major overhaul of the nation’s economy and a major change in our own attitudes to what we can do for ourselves.

As I said at the beginning, I have been on many demonstrations for many causes in which I passionately believed and, occasionally, with hindsight, I was mistaken in my beliefs.  I was delighted to see so many people taking to the streets (shame about the violent and malignant tossers who got so much attention, but they always turn up and always will) to protest about what they believe to be wrong.  I do hope that those marching people will go back home and play their part in supporting local economies and community projects and trying to make a difference on their own doorsteps.

If you have only £15 in your pocket and have to buy school shoes and something for dinner, you (may) have two choices.  You can complain loudly that you can’t possibly manage on that, overdraw by forty quid, buy a pair of branded leather shoes, a tray of lamb chops and knuckle down to a bit of compound interest.

Alternatively you can buy a pair of £12 shoes and make a nourishing lentil and vegetable stew that will last two days.  It may not be ideal – the lentils might make you fart a bit if you’re not used to them and the leather shoes would probably have lasted longer than the supermarket version.  But in the long term,  you won’t owe anyone anything and you’re not giving free money (that you could have saved up for the next pair of shoes) to the thieving, shameless, scumbag banks.  Or the EU.

Right then,  I’m bracing myself.  Put the pitchforks down.

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Filed under Politics

Is it OK to build on Green Belt land?

In which the Wartime Housewife draws your attention to GASP, a pressure group in Buckinghamshire, and offers explanation and discussion about what Green Belt and Brown Field sites really are.
Recently, Sister the Second announced that she had been on a Demonstration.  Now, I spent large chunks of my late-teens to mid-twenties marching, demonstrating, campaigning and generally sounding off about a variety of political and social issues, but Sister the Second has never had an obvious militant tendency.  I beat her over the head with a placard and demanded to know what it was about.

The owners of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps Rugby Clubs want to leave Adams Park (their current ground) and build a new stadium development. Wycombe Air Park is their preferred site. This is Green Belt land next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Wycombe District Council is proposing to support and part-fund the project through substantial ‘enabling development’ i.e. selling off land owned by WDC for housing development – possibly 2000 homes. The project is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.

Group Against The Stadium Proposals (GASP) was officially formed on Monday 15th November 2010 when concerned representatives of independent groups representing some 13,000 residents came together to unite against the stadium proposals by Wycombe District Council and private enterprise. Groups include parish councils, residents’ associations, sports clubs and conservation bodies from both the local and wider area.

Whilst each group has their own individual concerns, many are shared by all groups, including loss of countryside in the Green Belt, concerns about access to and from the stadium and housing development.  To learn more about their campaign, log on to http://www.gasp-no.org
 

What does Green Belt actually mean?

A Green Belt is an allotted space of land that is held in reserve for an area of public open space and for recreational purposes. Greenbelt land is normally undeveloped or sparsely populated land, which has has been set aside to enclose developments, prevent towns from merging and provide open space.

The beginning of the Green Belt was in 1935 and was established by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee. It was not until 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act allowed Green Belts to be included in their development plans and it was not until 1955 that the whole idea was beginning to be used throughout the UK.

There are a few set purposes for these greenbelt areas which include preventing large areas from getting larger and keeping them in one area, to keep neighboring towns from growing together, to protect the countryside from development, to preserve the character and history of smaller towns, and to help with the rebirth of derelict areas within the urban area.

Green Belt map of England

13% of England is Green Belt, the largest being the London Green Belt, at about 486,000 hectares. The smallest Green Belt is the Burton-Swadlincote Green Belt at just 700 hectares. There are around 14 Green Belts throughout England.

Green Belts were necessary because London and other major cities kept on expanding, and there had to be intervention to stop the countryside being concreted overIt has been said many times that once an open space has been built, on it will almost certainly be lost forever – no-one is ever going to look at a housing estate and say “Let’s knock this down – we could grow barley here”. 

There are five purposes for  designating Green Belt land: 

  1. Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  2. Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  3. Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land 

 There are also five threats to Green Belt land:

  1. Short term planning gain – over-riding the permanent nature of Green Belts by shifting the boundaries enabling towns to expand.  The 2005 draft Milton Keynes and South Midlands Plan produced for the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) talks of shifting the Green Belt to enable existing towns to expand.
  2. Housing pressures.  For example, in the South East of England (Kent, Surrey, Sussex etc) the government is asking for 500,000 more houses.
  3. London overspill.  People who currently live and work in London and are finding it too expensive and too crowded to live in London which is reducing their quality of life.  As a result, they are moving out of London to live in surrounding towns.  This is increasing the pressures for more housing in the Home Counties
  4. It is easier and cheaper to build on green field sites because brown field sites can be expensive to decontaminate.  Technically, developers have to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to build on Green Belt.
  5. Inappropriate development which reduces the openness of Green Belt land.  For examples, click here for appeals against refusal of permission to develop on Green Belt land

Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 there has been a net decrease of 80 hectares when compared with the latest 2008/09 estimates. This is due to two authorities who adopted new plans which resulted in a real net decrease in the area of Green Belt.  Since these statistics were first compiled in 1997, there has been an increase in the area of Green Belt, but this is because a huge chunk of the New Forest National Park was redesignated as Green Belt in 2005.

So what is a Brown Field site?

A Brown Field site

Brown Field land development is previously developed land that may or may not have been contaminated. Today, you will find literally thousands of Brown Field sites that were previously used for industrial use. Because of this, these sites potentially present dramatic risks to people’s health, along with the environment.

With the problem of these sites being so significant, the UK government has stepped in, initiating programs to help redevelop Brown Field sites, calling these cleaned up areas Green Field sites. The program defined by the government is to take up to 60% of Brown Field sites and use them for new housing developments. The goal is to eliminate stress on green belt areas of the country.

Land that has not had industrial activity on it does not usually have contamination issues and its use is dependent on the regional councils having the will to use it and the impetus to encourage and incentivise developers to move into these areas.

One of the problems with Brown Field land development is that the public are much better informed and understandably wary about the potential liabilities associated with building a new house on previously industrial land.

Brown Field land development could be successful if waste and chemical risk is removed, making the land stable. Although new processes are being reviewed, the current steps involve redevelopment through a planning process for both environmental and economic relief and growth. This must include stringent surveys to ascertain the history of the land, groundwater testing, subsurface soil testing, and so on.

Landfill sites are going to become a huge problem in the future because it is so hard to decontaminate the site to use the land for anything useful.  Have a look at this previous post for more information.

Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are happy for our green spaces to be slowly but surely eroded.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  No going back.  No reclaiming land for agriculture or farming, no knocking down of stadiums to build a nature reserve or a green space to stop us all going bonkers.  And no more back-handers for corrupt planning officials.  Now there’s a thought….

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Filed under Community and shopping, Environment, Politics, Science and Technology

Well done England!

In which I briefly discuss the difference between National Pride and Nationalism, applaud the England Cricket Team and invite you to be a bit less cynical about England’s abilities in general.

Last night, quite uncharacteristically, I fell asleep on the sofa.  I never fall asleep during the day and sleep like the dead at night, although rarely for long enough.  Yesterday had been particularly busy and, after putting The Boys to bed, I settled down to watch an episode of Morse.  My Sisters bought me the entire series in a boxed set for Christmas – there is something very wonderful about a boxed set of anything.  At about 9.10, I selected an early episode that I hadn’t seen before, took a slurp of tea and promptly fell asleep.

I opened my eyes, wondering sleepily how Morse had managed to solve the murder in a matter of minutes, and realised that it was quarter past ten.  Right, I thought radically, I’m going to go to bed.  I made a large mug of Ovaltine, and snuggled up with the radio playing softly and continued with Bill Bryson’s ‘Thunderbolt Kid’ (which I was also given for Christmas – I really was a very good girl last year).

The English Cricket Team 2011

At some point during the night, a voice from the radio excitedly announced that England had won The Ashes.  I switched off the light and the radio and went back to sleep, feeling very pleased indeed.  I like cricket although I don’t follow it closely, but I am always delighted when England wins anything, because the achievements of one’s country should be a source of National Pride, particularly if that success is borne of genuine talent and skill.

Next year, London is going to host the Olympic Games which, in my opinion, is absolutely brilliant. England has a long history of excellence in engineering, construction, organisation and pageantry and I believe it will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase both our talents and our athletes.  It will re-generate an area of London which badly needs it and, if managed properly, can be a valuable resource and inspiration for sport for the whole country for a long time to come.

The last time the Olympics were held in England was in 1948, just after WW2, and it was appropriate that it should have been held in the capital city.  It would have been nice if one of the other cities had been successful this time, but that’s not how it turned out.

But I am  absolutely sick to death of hearing so many people slagging off our involvement in the games and casting aspersions on our ability to host them successfully.  There is no earthly reason why we shouldn’t make a success of it and, as we are embarking on a period of necessary austerity, we could take the opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that events of this kind can be carried off with efficiency and panache without bankrupting the country in the process.

There was a time when it was perfectly acceptable to express pride in Britain and the achievements of its inhabitants.  I think that it’s very interesting that the inclination towards national criticism coincides with a rise in unpleasant nationalism as expressed by The British National Party and other right wing organisations whose agenda is nothing to be proud of whatsoever. 

I am completely in favour of supporting and promoting British interests and businesses and I put my money where my mouth is at every possible opportunity.  I am also both conscious and proud that we have historically proved to be an inclusive country where diversity is celebrated more than almost anywhere else on earth. 

That is not to say that we shouldn’t have stringent immigration laws – we are a small island and, as I said before, we have to put our own interests first.  But throughout history England’s economy has survived because we have recognised the value of migrant workers and the skills and cultural benefits that they bring.

I constantly remind Boy the Elder that his intermittent streams of negative invective about current affairs, and his own current affairs at school, are extremely unattractive and not remotely cool.  I suggest that the constant whinging about how awful everything is in Britain is equally unattractive and un-cool and we should get a grip. 

I’m not suggesting that we should all be wandering about in a state of starry-eyed, patriotic ecstasy, but I am definitely suggesting that we should take a long hard look at what we’ve actually got and be glad of it.  If there are things that need changing, either personally or in the wider world, then we should see what we can do to change those things. 

Let’s not turn into a decadent society in which we are disempowered, de-skilled and useless whilst at the same time demanding that someone else should do something about it.  We have to be realistic about how the country can function and thrive and that means being realistic about what we’re good at as well.

Well done to the English Cricket Team and here’s to the success of the London Olympics.

At this point the Wartime Housewife considers falling to her knees, sobbing with emotion and warbling the National Anthem, but mercifully pulls back from the brink. 
Here is a picture of  Princess Elizabeth and some dogs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some other articles I’ve written about sport:

If you have a note from your mother…

The only article I am ever likely to write about football


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Filed under History, Politics, Sport

Two precious minutes of silence

I attempted to observe the two minute silence this morning.  The elderly lady I was with came in and started chatting, but when I pointed to the clock and said “Oh gosh, it’s 11’oclock”, she said “Oh I’m so awfully sorry, I’ve forgotten your elevenses!” and then proceeded to have a discussion about whether I wanted tea  or coffee, biscuits and what type, how hungry was I etc.  Whilst this was a laudable display of compassion for me (who did hunger and travail) it wasn’t quite what I had in mind.

I’m a big fan of the two minute silence.  Not for every minor mishap, or when a footballer breaks his toe, or every year for fifty years after a train crash, it’s a matter of perspective.  The First World War was something on a scale which I pray we will never see again.  The Second World War was fought to protect us from tyrants, to stick up for oppressed people and to endorse our national concept of liberty. 

More recent wars can be difficult to understand, the motivations for them muddied by economics or religion and it is ever harder to be convinced of the righteous nature of military intervention.  Why did we go into Iraq but not Zimbabwe?  Why do we sit back and let China oppress Nepal?  Should we have let Argentina have the Falklands back?  The problems and solutions are never simple and never without repercussions and I don’t envy the people who have to make those judgements.

Whatever one’s view of the righteousness of individual wars, the families of dead soldiers mourn just as deeply for the dead of Afghanistan as for the dead on the Somme.

I use the two minute silence, both today and on Remembrance Sunday, to silently commune with all the other people who also share that contemplative silence and to think about the broader concept of conflict.  The war in Iraq and the campaign in Afghanistan have resonances with our daily lives.  Every day there is a story in the news about a faith school viewed with suspicion, a racially motivated assault, fundamentalists planning hate campaigns or the spectre of terrorism slowly but surely turning Britain into a police state.  That is conflict on our doorstep, conflict between people and it deserves our attention. 

There is precious little silence in our lives and we should use this time to remember the past, meditate on the present and use that knowledge and compassion to inform our future.

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Filed under History, Life in general, Politics, Religion

What we need is another war

This is what my grandmother used to say with astonishing regularity whenever she perceived the world to be a Worsening Place.* “Bring back National Service” was another regular supporting feature.

So.  The necessity for another war.  Even as a child I used to think this was a wicked thing to say and told her so.  I had read about the two World Wars and I’d seen Vietnam and Palestine on the news; who could possibly want a repeat of that?

The problem is, I now know what she means.  She didn’t want bombs, terror and death, she wanted an environment where people, looked after each other, valued what they had and didn’t whinge because they felt hard done by all the time.  She saw what was coming and feared the dissolution of society.

Last night, Sister the Second and I watch ‘Housewife 49’ the real life story of Nella Last, a housewife during WW2, who wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Project.  It is the sixth time I have watched it.  Thank you to my cousin Long Lost 1 for introducing me to that.

Before the outbreak of war, Nella Last had been a timid, nervous and unfulfilled women with limited life experience, who was married to a suffocating and emotionally fearful man.  The war gave her the courage and the opportunity to break out and learn who she was and what she could do.  She joined the WVS, undertook practical, useful work and made friends with people who liked and valued her and it changed her life.

Many people today feel undervalued either at work, at home or in their social sphere.  Women feel they have to have a career, children, an ideal home, foreign holidays, regular orgasms and a perfect body.  Men are under tremendous pressure to support all these things and be a hands on father, a passionate and sensitive husband and maintain their masculinity at all times without feeling emasculated by their thrusting wives.  And yet it’s still not enough.

Why are we doing this?  Why do we have all these ‘time-saving’ gadgets and machines to help us in the home and yet we still have no time?  Why can no-one bear to be quiet?  Everywhere we go there is noise; music in shops, radios, television, traffic, ‘phones, computers, iPods.  You see shuffling families walking together in shopping centres and half of them have earphones on.  Trains are a cacophony of mobiles, laptops, fizzing high hats and people shouting into slivers of plastic that ‘I’M ON THE TRAIN!’

What are they trying to block out I wonder?  I put it to you that they are drowning out the loudly gnashing teeth of greed.  Strugging to suppress the wailing of their perceived inadequacy and desperately trying to quench the crackling flames of failure.  No really.

Many people lead pointless lives.  They are de-skilled, de-motivated and devolving.  How many people are capable of sitting quietly with no sound, no flickering images?  Even supposing that anyone can sew, knit or make things, how many would do it without the TV, radio or stereo piping away in the background?

I’m not suggesting that we should all be sitting in silence, just that we shouldn’t be frightened of doing so.  We should allow ourselves time to reflect on what we’re doing,  how we’re doing it and whether we’re on the right track.

I think we also need to have activities in our lives where we can actually see the end result of what we’ve being working towards.  Many people never see a ‘product’ at work and never experience the satisfaction of a job well done and there’s not always a lot we can do about it.  But we should try to find windows in our manic schedules in which to say ‘I am going to do this; I’m going to put some effort and skill into it and at the end, I will have this and I will like it’.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand or ambitious – it could be an Airfix model, a flower arrangement, a knitted scarf, a wooden toy, a jigsaw, the taking of photographs, a painting, writing a letter, building a model railway – anything that allows you to calm down, focus and create something.

And maybe some form of National Service wouldn’t be such a bad thing, particularly in view of  the rising levels of youth unemployment.  Not necessarily military, but a year or two’s community service might well be just the thing to drag disillusioned, unskilled young people away from their  Nintendos and alcopops.  Discuss.

Technology and communications are wonderful things and full of potential to enhance our lives, but if we’re not careful, they will become substitutes for self reliance, independent thought and creativity.  Technology is only a tool.  My grandmother didn’t want another war, she just wanted someone to restore the factory settings.

*  Just for record I really, really regret that I didn’t realise what an interesting person my grandmother was until after she’d died.  Although, in my defence, she was 77 when I was born and I was only 13 when she died.  If you’re out there Nana, you were much loved and I’m sorry for being an ungrateful git.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Family and Friends, Leisure, Life in general, Politics

Austerity Measures

Yesterday was the first budget from our newly formed coalition government.  It can’t have been easy negotiating policy with two parties who have very different views on various aspects of social and economic policy.

I listened carefully at lunchtime to a list of cost cutting measures intended to help the country out of it’s massive debt.  There is no doubt that the deficit must be cut, that expenditure must be cut and that in order for the country to get back on its feet we are going to have to brace ourselves for a period of austerity.  Obviously I am not qualified or sufficiently intelligent to give a detailed breakdown of the minutiae of the budget, but there are a few things that interested me, mainly because either they will effect me directly or I have some experience of them.  This is a budget that could really hit lower income families and single parents.

It’s absolutely wrong that people earning as much as £80,000 a year were still entitled to a degree of Working Tax Credit and it’s right that it should be limited to families who really need the help. 

It’s great that the Personal Tax Allowance has been increased to £7,475

Child Benefit should be means tested as well, as it is preposterous that wealthy families should get money from the government when they can fully support their children. If this was the case, maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to freeze Child Benefit for the next three years.

Benefits may rise in line with consumer prices but restricting Housing Benefit to £400 a month will see many families in genuine hardship.  In Market Harborough District for example, the Social Housing waiting list is four and half years long and one’s only option is private renting.  In the unlikely event of a family finding a house for £400 a month, actually moving house costs a fortune and there is limited help available to cover the agent’s fees, deposit and a month’s rent in advance.  There is the added problem that a private landlord can ask a tenant to leave with a couple of month’s notice and if the family has been there less than a year, then it is unlikely that they will have paid off the government loans and will therefore not be eligible for any more help.  This could have catastrophic consequences for vulnerable families.

They have announced that single parents will be obliged to seek work as soon as their youngest child starts school.  This is fine if either you have a job which pays enough to cover child care costs and/or you have family living nearby who can help out on a regular basis.    The reality is that I don’t know a single family with young children where either both parents or the single parent go out to work, who don’t have the grandparents taking up the slack.  Help towards childcare costs is available for a period of time, but even with Tax Credits, this still means that most single people will be significantly worse off and I don’t understand why the government is happy to contribute towards someone else looking after your child when, for most single parent families, (and I would argue, most families) it would provide more stability and security for the children to have a parent at home.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think we are extremely fortunate to live in a society where the vulnerable and the poor are supported by The State.  Income Support, Child Tax Credit and Child Benefit provide just enough money to live on, particularly if one is good at housekeeping, although there is little left over for after school clubs, or other enrichment activities for children and certainly not enough to run a car which can crucial in a rural area. 

But the needs of single parent families and the needs of single unemployed people are radically different.  Some of the solutions may be the same, for example education or re-training but the ethics and reasons for getting them back to work are far more complex. 

Poverty is catching.  Children brought up in poverty are going to have completely different expectations of life and themselves than their wealthier counterparts.  A child brought up in a family who has never worked may not see a job as a cultural or economic necessity.  We also have to live with the fact that there is a proportion of the population who is unemployable and that there are families who, no matter what incentives are offered, will still be crappy parents with crappy values, launching crappy children into the world.  But there are others, for whom life may have taken an unexpected turn, who just need a bit of help, a bit more preparation and training for returning to work – when it is economically practicable, sensible and, above all, right for the children for them to do so.

I would be very interested to hear how and if The Budget has affected you.

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Filed under Children, Education, Family and Friends, Politics

Foxed by urban attitudes. Don’t feed the foxes.

Along with the rest of the country, I was heartbroken at the plight of the two little girls in East London who were attacked in their cot by a fox.  I sincerely hope that they will recover and that the wonders of modern surgery will be able to minimise the effects of their injuries.  I send my love to the family.

It does, however, bring the problem of foxes, usually considered to be a ‘countryside’ issue into a much broader focus.  I am going to nail my colours to the mast here and now so there is no confusion.  Despite living in a cottage owned by The Fernie Hunt  I am not in favour of fox hunting.  Not because of the elitism of the hunt, or because I have romantic notions about foxes, but because it is a very inefficient way of culling.  In fact, (and don’t tell them this will you) I suspect that the hunt actually strengthens the fox population because the hounds are far more likely to catch the old and the sick ones.  When they do catch one, it’s a horrible business, as horrible as the fate of lambs and poultry that are attacked and killed by foxes.

Foxes have to be controlled around humans and livestock in the same way that other vermin have to be controlled.  They have no natural predators in the UK and just because they’re beautiful, that doesn’t make them any less verminous.  If rats were fluffy with cute little ears, would we hesitate before feeding them poison which kills them over several days with internal bleeding?  If foxes carried rabies, as they do in other countries, would there be as many hunt saboteurs? 

I would suggest that, in the countryside, other than taking all reasonable precautions to protect livestock, the livestock farmers and particularly the gamekeepers, nearly all of whom own guns, should have training as marksmen.  This is a far more humane and efficient method of control.

Regarding the towns and cities, the first thing we should do is to ask ourselves what the foxes are doing there in the first place.  They are unlikely to have come in for the culture, but they are absolutely there for the fine dining.  The increasing amount of waste food lying about in the streets and piled up in bins is the fox equivalent of a safari supper.  I swear I saw one in Leicester wearing chinos and loafers, whilst snuffling daintily at a discarded vindaloo.

Another massive incentive for them is the utter idiots who deliberately leave food out for them.  The Aged Parent’s next door neighbour used to leave chicken carcasses, often with half the meat still attached, out on her lawn “for the lovely little foxes”.  Apart from the wickedness of wasting half a chicken, the local rat population must have thought the God of Takeaways had come to Earth in human form.

Wednesday’s Telegraph reported that a local wildlife expert had suggested that the fox who attacked the baby girls was probably a cub that was attracted by the smell of nappies and that, as soon as it realised that the nappies were attached to a human, it panicked and injured them. 

There is nothing that can be said or done to make this incident less frightening and tragic for the Koupparis family, but let us use this incident as a wake up call.  Foxes belong in the countryside in manageable numbers.  If we treat our urban environment with such contempt by leaving our filth and detritus scattered about the streets, then we are inviting trouble.  Rats are already increasing in frightening numbers, foxes will inevitably become emboldened by their familiarity with the towns. 

This country is in financial meltdown and very soon the new coalition government is going to start making economies and rightly so.  Let’s all start to take some personal responsibility and, at the very least, help to keep our towns and cities clean by disposing of our rubbish responsibly.  Better still, consume less in the first place or we’ll be playing ‘Where’s Wall-e?’ whether we like it or not.

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Filed under Ethics, Food, Politics, Re-use Recycle

An incitement to vote

I’m not sure if any of you are aware of this, but apparently there’s going to be a general election on 6th May.  This means that all over the country, huge numbers of idle, feckless people will decide that politics has nothing to do with them, claim themselves to be powerless and  choose not to vote.  Several other people will drag themselves down to their local polling booths and vote the same way they have voted all their adult lives, the upshot of which will be that an effectively unelected group of people will end up running the country. Again.

If you don’t vote, I believe that you relinquish your right to complain about, or otherwise criticise the government in any way whatsoever.  The people who make all the most critical decisions about how the country is run – whether you get a pension, how young people are educated, whether you will get treated if you become ill, whether the country goes bankrupt – are decided by people who have only been elected by a tiny proportion of the tiny proportion of the population who could be arsed to vote.

For the first time in my life, I have absolutely no idea how to vote and it feels horrible.  In my former life (before children) I was always an active member of a political party, and I have changed allegiance when their vision no longer tallied with mine, but I have found that as time goes on, it is harder and harder to distinguish between the parties.  The parties themselves have changed considerably over time; Ted Heath’s government of the 1970’s was considerably further Left than the current Labour party, so how can anyone justify voting Labour or Conservative simply because they always have?

If you are not sure how to vote, I would suggest asking yourself a few pivotal questions:

What do you think are the most important issues facing the country?
What are your opinions on those issues?
What policies most affect you, your family or your community?

Then ring your candidates and ask for a manifesto and pay attention to the debates on TV and radio.  Some parties have opened temporary offices in town centres where you can drop in and pick up information or ask questions.  If you have such a thing, go in, question them closely, put them on the spot.

In the Daily Telegraph’s website, in their section on the General Election 2010, they have an interesting questionnaire called How Should I Vote?  They ask you a load of questions, you then pick three parties you would like to compare and it tells you, by percentage, which party best represents your views.  This can turn up surprising results, it’s quite stimulating and you don’t even have to give a quid to The Telegraph to do it!

The right to vote is very, very precious.  In relatively recent history, people have been imprisoned and have died for the right of men and women to participate in democracy.  Universal suffrage was not achieved in this country until 1928 – the year in which my mother was born.  I know that sometimes we feel powerless in the face of politicians who don’t appear to care about us, but if we don’t stand up and tell them what we want, to whom should they be listening?

Often the only way we can express our approval or disapproval is through the ballot box.  We can’t all be political activists, we can’t all be policy experts.  But we can read leaflets, listen to the odd debate, discuss it with our friends, family or colleagues.  If you still think they’re all lying scum, then turn up to vote with a big marker pen and write “There is no suitable candidate – they are all Lying Scum” in big letters across your ballot paper.  If everyone who shared your opinion did the same, someone would take note, perhaps you could form your own party. Wa-hay!

Everything is politics.  Everything matters.  On May 6th every single one of us should get down to the Polling Stations and cast our vote.  Impress upon your children, grand-children, nephews, nieces the importance of voting, drive them to the Polling Station if it helps.  We cannot allow yet another government to dictate our lives without a mandate.

I always thought that voting should be compulsory, but another part of me values the personal freedom not to.  Just remember, that freedom carries a burden of responsibility; our personal freedoms are being surreptitiously eroded and we have a responsibility to stand up and say to this and the next government “You are accountable to me and I will call you to account”.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Politics

Cars, Petrol and the Thieving Commie Scumbag Government

I receive a great many e-mails telling me that I must DO something with them – I particularly hate anything that has the phrase ‘smart women’ in it, and when an ostensibly humorous e-mail slips into my virtual letterbox saying “send this to ten smart, funny women (or men who can take a joke!!!)” or “pass this on in five minutes or your children will be interfered with by aliens with spoons” etc etc, I immediately delete it.  I don’t usually sign on-line petitions either.

However, on this occasion I will.  I am absolutely fed to the teeth with being victimised for having the temerity to drive a car.  Drivers are taxed and penalised at every turn; the only people more vilified than car drivers are smokers and don’t even get me started on the government’s hypocritical attitude to smoking.

I could not possibly manage without a car because:
a) I live 100 miles away from my family 
b) the school run is a 20 mile round trip 
c) the buses only run once an hour 
d)  it is often the only time in my day when I’m alone, and that time is incredibly valuable to me. 

I drive a well maintained Ford Escort not a Chelsea Tractor and I never put less than £30 of petrol a week into my car.  I completely agree that cars pollute, but until such time as there is sufficient public transport to make it a viable alternative, then cars are here to stay and the Government’s energies (pardon the pun) must be concentrated on realistic alternative fuels.  And that doesn’t mean giant bloody windfarms despoiling the landscape.

A recently discovered cousin (in whom I am well pleased), who is an Accountant and Knows Things, sent me the following and I am going to sign it.

When VAT was temporarily reduced to 15%, the Chancellor added 2% duty to fuel to offset the reduction in tax collected from motorists.  Now that VAT has been increased to 17.5% again this hidden tax has not been removed – hence recent rises in your fuel costs.  Sign the petition at the link below to have this stealth tax removed.

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/DutyReduction/

Glad I got that off my chest.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Politics, Transport