27 October 2014

27th October 2014

Tendring Topics……..on line

The EU isn’t some hostile foreign alliance!

          …….but sadly, that’s how some newspapers and some politicians behave as though it were.  The European Union is a political and economic association of European States that Britain joined for its own advantage.  Over its policies and activities we have as much power and influence as any other member.   What’s more, it is the only international association of which the UK is a member and of which we – the members of the public - have already been asked in a referendum whether or not we wished for membership.

            The Scots have recently been able to say whether or not they wished to be part of the United Kingdom – but neither the English, the Welsh nor the Northern Irish, nor any of our ancestors have ever been asked in a referendum whether we want to be part of it.  Probably there’s little doubt that most of us would vote ‘yes’ to continued membership – but a resounding ‘yes’ is much less certain about our continued membership of the United Nations or of NATO, or our ‘special relationship’ with the USA.  I would not have voted yes to the last two of those.  I think it’s quite likely that they have cost us more in pounds and pence (keeping that Trident submarine fleet active for instance) than the EU ever has and they have certainly cost us much more in British lives.   They have dragged us into an illegal war in Iraq that has made us thousands of implacable enemies world-wide and has certainly not made Iraq a happier, more peaceful and more tolerant country in which to live; and into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan from which we are now withdrawing if not in defeat, certainly not victoriously.  When the Falklands were invaded and we could have done with some help from the ‘allies’ we support so loyally, we received none.

            Freedom of movement of goods, capital and people was an important feature of the European Union when we joined and for some years no-one objected.  We wanted a ‘level playing field’ for our exporters and importers so there naturally had to be union-wide labour and health and safety regulation.  The membership, when the UK joined, was of nations with similar economies and public services.  There was no influx of workers into Britain from Germany, or the Netherlands or Denmark or any of the ‘old EU’ member countries.  If anything the flow of migrants was in the other direction.  The popular tv comedy series Auf Wiedersehen Pet was, at least in the first instance, about a group of British building workers who found employment in Germany.  My grandson, an international Tourism Publicity Consultant, lives in Brussels but commutes to his office in Ashford in Kent (near the Eurostar station).   His business takes him to every part of Europe and indeed the world but, thanks to Britain’s membership of the EU, travelling in most of Europe is much simpler than it once was.

Some years ago the then existing members considered making their union a united political and economic bloc capable of co-operating and where appropriate competing on equal terms with the USA and China, or expanding to include former members of the Soviet bloc like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.  Tony Blair, then Britain’s prime minister, was one of the keenest and most determined of European leaders to draw these countries into the EU fold.  The problems that this could lead to were fairly obvious. Their economies and public services were in no way comparable with those of existing members.  The uncharitable thought crossed my mind that his enthusiasm for expansion could have been to ensure that Europe would never unite into a strong federal political force – a United States of Europe – that might not please his bosom friend across the Atlantic, George W. Bush.

            Well, the expansionists got their way, and provided Nigel Farage and his Ukippers with some ammunition, though hardly as much as they had hoped for. Do you remember the imaginary coach-loads of eager immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria who, according to the popular press, were just waiting for the gates to open so that they could flood in, swamping us poor natives and taking our homes and jobs?   Some turned up – mostly those who had jobs waiting for them, but in a trickle rather than a flood.  The swarm of migrants who now seem to be permanently camped near Calais waiting for an illegal opportunity to enter the UK are not from EU countries.

            The strange thing is that the worry about immigrants from the EU seems, at least from a casual glance, to be in inverse proportion to the number of EU immigrants in the area.  We clearly have some Polish immigrants here in Clacton because I note that there is now a shop here dealing with Polish delicacies. Perhaps if I were a Roman Catholic and going to mass at Our Lady of Light Roman Catholic church, I would meet some of them - and be pleased to do so.  As it is, I don’t think I have ever encountered a Pole in this town, though a Polish worker was one of the team from Enfield that very efficiently, insulated my roof space a year or two ago.  As a former public health inspector I have met Greek and Italian restaurant owners – but they were here before we were EU members!

            Clacton’s immigration problems are mostly home-grown and all-British. They relate to the fact that we are within easy reach of London, have generally dry weather (a help for those in b. and b. or sleeping rough!) and that cheap accommodation of a sort can usually be found on the Brooklands Estate, Jaywick or elsewhere in the area.  None of this has anything to do with the European Union – yet Essex’s seaside holiday coast is real Ukip country, with many of its residents worried to death about EU immigration and the fact that 70 percent of our laws are now ‘made in Brussels! – a blatant lie that Ukippers accept as a fact.

            Ukippers have convinced themselves that if there is a simple IN or OUT referendum  on EU membership, there will be an overwhelming OUT majority.   They may well be surprised at the result.  I voted NO to EU membership in that earlier referendum because I had a romantic notion that the Commonwealth could be moulded into a viable political and economic unit.  It was a stupid idea that I have outgrown.  In any future referendum I shall vote for continued membership, hoping that the EU will become more politically and economically united and that there will be fewer UK opt-outs.

Nor would I be alone. Recent MORI and Ugov public opinion polls, publicised in the London Evening Standard, indicate that nationwide, despite the rise of Ukip and although there is a big worry about immigration, a comfortable majority favour retaining EU membership and that this majority is even larger in the London area.

A Boost for the Ukippers

          The shock was considerable.  The timing calculated to bring maximum joy into the hearts of Nigel Farage and his motley band of followers.  If I were a believer in ‘conspiracies’ I’d be considering the possibility that an under-cover Ukipper had   penetrated the inner defences of Brussels and, just when Europhiles were rejoicing at opinion polls showing that most Brits would prefer to stay within the EU, arranged for ’Brussels’ to send the UK a peremptory demand for the almost immediate payment of the eye-watering sum of £1.7 billion pounds!  And, adding insult to injury, they were proposing to give substantial cash hand-outs to France and Germany.

            Rarely has there been such agreement between British political leaders.   They were unanimous.  We weren’t going to pay it and we asked our Prime Minister to make that clear to other European leaders.  No one, it seems, even considered the fact that the criteria that decided whether EU members were to get a hand out or a demand had been agreed by our representative as well as that of other members. Nor was much said about other countries who had received demands that seemed at least as ridiculous as ours.  The Netherlands is probably as well able to pay as we are, but are scarcely likely to be any more eager than us to do so.  How about Greece?  We haven’t heard much about the Greeks recently but not long ago many of them were literally starving.  Then there was Cyprus and the Irish Republic. All three have received similar demands and all three are poverty-stricken compared with either France or Germany.

            The decision to demand payment from us is at least partly because of our much-trumpeted economic recovery and growth. It had been more than expected.   The anger of the public, reflected in that of the top politicians, has been strengthened by the fact that very few of us have noticed any improvement whatsoever in our daily lives as a result of George Osborne’s economic triumph.  Inflation is low but wage rises are even lower – in the case of thousands of public servants – non-existent.  Due to ridiculously low interest rates, thousands of life savings, mine included, are steadily losing their value in Bank or Building Society savings accounts.

            Only the very wealthy have benefited from that recovery and there has, so far, been no sign of that wealth ‘trickling down’ to the rest of us.  I have no doubt that somehow some kind of an agreement will be reached in connection with the EU’s wealth redistribution.  I wish I felt equally sure that the anomaly that working people on low wages pay a much bigger proportion of their income to the government in taxes, VAT and customs duties than the bankers with their telephone number salaries and bonuses, the big property owners, financial fiddlers and tax evaders, will also be put right.

Blog readers

     Only last week I wrote that I would not, in the future, be able to write so long a blog, nor would I be able to publish it every Monday - yet here I am, with a blog that is every bit as long as usual, and is published on Monday morning!

      I did say though that I would write and publish it 'as and when' the situation might demand.  Last week there were two news items in quick succession that seemed to me to demand immediate comment; the two pro-EU opinion polls, and the demand from the EU that the UK should pay up £1.7 billion pounds -  so I duly commented.  I could have published my comments on Saturday 25th October, but decided to wait to see if there were any new developments over the weekend.

         Next week?  Who knows?



20 October 2014

Week 44 2014

Tendring Topics……..on line

The Ukippers!

            I was not surprised (though I was disappointed) that Douglas Carswell now a Ukipper, retained his seat in parliament with a comfortable majority at Clacton’s recent by-election.  Douglas Carswell had undoubtedly been a popular MP and in the few weeks before the election we had been deluged with literature telling us what a wonderful chap he was.  There was door-step canvassing, cold-calling on the phone and a couple of well-attended public meetings addressed by Nigel Farage, Ukip’s leader, as well as by the successful candidate.

            Despite all this it seems that some Clactonians were a bit confused even up to and beyond polling day.  One resident is reported as having said ‘Yes, I voted for Ukip this time – our Conservative MP has done nothing for years!’

            Did you see BBC’s Panorama feature on Nigel Farage and Ukip last week?  One thing that did surprise me was to learn how many people had held senior positions within Ukip and had apparently been close friends of its leader, until there had been a falling-out and they had parted with some acrimony.  I wonder if the apparent close friendship between him and Douglas Carswell is similarly fated.  I was also astonished to learn how many thousands of pounds Farage had claimed from the EU in expenses – and how rarely he had bothered to attend the EU parliament. 

 I wasn’t particularly surprised at a revelation of his lack of common courtesy. I had noted the rudeness of all Ukippers in  the European Parliament in standing up and deliberately turning their backs on the  playing of the European Anthem but I hadn’t realized how very rude, boorish and (he’d probably laugh at the word) ungentlemanly Nigel Farage himself can be on occasion. It was really embarrassing to watch him on tv, deliberately and without provocation insulting the European President, an older man than Farage and more distinguished than he will ever be.   

I had hoped that our MP, Douglas Carswell, former Conservative now Ukipper, might prove to be quite different in that respect.  I certainly hadn’t associated him with lack of courtesy – though he didn’t apparently have any qualms about displacing the recently democratically elected UKIP parliamentary candidate for the Clacton Constituency, when he decided to defect from the Conservatives and contest the seat as a Ukipper.  The elected candidate, Mr Lord, a UKIP county councillor and a local farmer, didn’t take kindly to the usurpation.  He resigned in anger from the Party and from the county council.     

Sir Bob Russell, Colchester’s Lib.Dem. MP was mildly surprised when the Chief Whip, Michael Gove, phoned him on Saturday 11th October to say that Mr Carswell had invited him to be one of his sponsors when he made his debut in the House of Commons as a Ukipper.  Sir Bob told a Gazette reporter, ‘He held me in high regard as an Essex MP although I have expressed critical words about him and Ukip’.  However, when Sir Bob arrived at the House of Commons on Monday 13th October he learned that there had been a change of plan. Former colleagues Sir Peter Tapsell and Zac Goldsmith were to accompany Mr Carswell into the chamber.  Sir Bob withdrew, though not before commenting that it showed, ‘astonishing pomposity’. 

An unfortunate muddle caused by mistaken underlings?  Perhaps, or is our born-again-as-a-ukipper MP a quick learner who realized what his new loyalty demanded of him?   

What of the future?

          A friend of mine is convinced that the current popularity of Ukip and of Nigel Farage is fleeting; that by the time of the general election next May electors will have realized where their true loyalties lie.  Ukip’s glory, and that of Nigel Farage will fade away and it’ll be a straight fight between Conservative and Labour.   I very much hope that that is so, because I believe that Ukip and its leader are dangerous.

            Meanwhile Nigel Farage is convinced that the tidal wave of public opinion in support of Ukip is unstoppable. He is already making plans for action when Ukip holds the balance between what we think of as ‘the main parties’.  In the meantime he’s delighted that there is a proposal that he will be asked to take part in at least one (he’d prefer two!) of the pre-election political leaders’ debates. It may well be that that could prove to be his downfall because although Farage performs brilliantly before a friendly audience I’m not at all sure that he’s capable of answering convincingly, hostile or even neutral questioning on either the details, or the broad sweep, of Ukip’s policies and the direction in which they would take the UK.   

            I find it extraordinary that the debates will be between the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties with the leader of Ukip taking part in at least one of them. Why hasn’t Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party been invited?  The Greens are offering a real alternative to the tired old policies of the Tories and Labour.  Ukip doesn’t offer an alternative – their programme simply fulfils the secret wishes of the extreme right-wing of the Conservatives as Labour defectors are likely to find out if ever Ukip gains real power.

            The Green Party stands for a more equal Britain, with a National Health Service in public hands for the benefit of the many – not a source of profit for the few; for free education and affordable homes for all. They oppose welfare cuts and believe that public services should be in public hands.  Come to think of it, that’s what we returning servicemen and women thought we were getting when we elected Clem Attlee’s government in 1945.   In those days, of course, we didn’t realize the importance of replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy, another Green priority.

            And the Greens are growing. Like Ukip, they have just one member in the House of Commons but in the European parliament they are a force to be reckoned with. Did you know that 1.2 million people in the UK voted Green in May this year – 150,000 more than voted for the Liberal Democrats.  In our own Clacton by-election the Green Party Candidate – with minimal expenditure on his campaign, pushed the Liberal Democrat candidate into ignominy in fifth place! Yet Nick Clegg is offered a place in those pre-election debates and Natalie Bennett isn’t.   I voted Conservative in that by-election because I thought that the Conservative candidate stood the best chance of denying victory to Ukip.  And I think he might have had the local Conservatives campaigned with the same energy and enthusiasm as the Ukippers.

            Should I still be around for next year’s election I shall vote Green.  The Green candidate is unlikely to be elected in Clacton-on-Sea but every vote cast for him will add to the total number of Green votes nationally.  If you’re disillusioned with the traditional political parties and are seeking an alternative – don’t vote Ukip.  You’ll regret it if they ever do rule Britain.  Vote Green!

Dear Blog readers…..

          I took early retirement from the local government service in 1980, a few days before my 59th birthday. I then embarked on a new career as a freelance writer.  Among many other things I contributed ‘Tendring Topics’ to a local newspaper every week for 23 years.  It was a weekly comment mostly on local and regional affairs though occasionally I wrote about the wider scene.

            In 2003 a new editor wrote to me saying that Tendring Topics was no longer required.  I was summarily dismissed.  I was very hurt at the time, as I had acquired a large and appreciative readership.  However, like so many apparent disasters in my life, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Very shortly after that my wife, whose health had been deteriorating, fell and broke her hip.  She never regained her ability to walk and during the next two years she became more and more disabled.  During those two years I didn’t write a word, read a newspaper or listen to the news on tv or radio.  I was her full-time sole carer and really had neither time nor inclination to do anything else.

            On 12th July 2006 my wife’s life came to an end.  She was 82, I was 85. Three months earlier we had celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary and had received a congratulatory card from the Queen.  Her death left a gaping, and aching, hole in my life that I attempted to fill with activity.  My grandsons helped.  Christopher, the elder, arranged for me to have a Flickr site on which I have posted hundreds of photographs (www.flickr.com/photos/ernestbythesea)  Nick, my younger grandson, is a computer expert and now runs his own successful international Digital Travel Publicity Consultancy (www.se1media.com)   He organised at first my blogspot (www.ernesthall.blogspot.com ) and later my website (www.ernesthall.net) on both of which I have published week by week Tendring Topics …on line  for the past seven years.

            I am now 93 and am feeling my age.  I fear that my writing has become stale and repetitive and I often find myself consulting Google for information that, even a few months ago, had been stored in my head.  I don’t propose to stop writing the blog altogether but I won’t be publishing it regularly every week.  Nor will I feel that I have to write quite such a long blog as has been my custom.  I will continue to support the causes that I think are important: nuclear disarmament; a United Europe; narrowing that yawning gap between the rich and the poor; proportional representation in parliament; a comprehensive reorganisation of the taxation system so that all of us – rich and poor alike – pay  an equal percentage of our gross income  as income tax or, as I prefer to think of it, our annual subscription to British citizenship - and I shall continue to promote my Christian/Quaker Faith!   I thank all blog readers for your interest in my ideas.

13 October 2014

Week 42 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

Some thoughts on the ‘world wide Jihad’

          A regular blog-reader and correspondent also always watches the Andy Marr programme on BBC tv on Sunday mornings, in which matters of general importance to us all are discussed.  A recent programme inspired him to give serious thought to what is an increasingly important and urgent world problem.  Below, unedited, is the greater part of an email that he sent me.  There’s certainly ‘naught for your comfort’ in it: 

There was a lot of debate also about ISIS and about a major piece of investigation in the Sunday Times about the huge sums of money that wealthy and influential people in Qatar and Saudi Arabia are giving to ISIS.   It really is terrifyingly clear that no one knows what to do about “the problem” which is not really an ”ISIS problem” but is a global problem of Islamic militancy which is definitely a movement, not a single state or a single organisation or a single person.  No amount of decapitating the leaders, blowing up their hardware from the air or rhetoric at the UN is going to make any difference.  Almost any military action only serves to help them recruit more followers, and make it more likely that people already living in western countries will conduct mindless acts of suicidal terrorism.  Their total contempt for the western way of life – and by association all westerners – makes them very dangerous. It means that nothing is out of bounds, no rules of warfare will be respected, all civilians are legitimate targets and as they don’t seek personal gain (not in this world at any rate), then any attack could be suicidal and would be contemplated, even if the chance of “success” were very low.

Somehow, I think we need to go back to first principles and ask how two cultures have become so far apart in their fundamental thinking about the way society should be organised.  I think that many of the views Muslims have today, would have been much closer to the views of our Victorian ancestors.  There is a big issue about the role of women in society. Perhaps we should be more concerned than we are about the overt sexualisation of women in just about every walk of western life, in your face on TV, in music, in advertising.  The reaction to all of this in the Muslim world seems to be to go in the opposite direction – “protecting their girls” – from what, I suspect, even moderate Muslims regard as evil.

Did you read about the girl who has been turned down by Camden High School for Girls for wanting to wear a full face veil in class?  The school (it is a 6th form college) has no uniform policy, but felt that this was “inappropriate clothing”. Naturally, she felt her human rights had been abused (having been taught all about the virtues of freedom of expression and tolerance in a Western Society) and commented that many girls were wearing “inappropriate clothing” at that school such as “very short shorts” and no one minded that. It is – to me at least – ridiculous for any girl to wear a veil at school, but is it any more ridiculous than girls wearing erotic clothing – as I have seen at local schools in London for myself?  In our local school here, which is very mixed race, all the Muslim girls come wearing the hijab over their heads, and modest clothing – generally trousers. Indian girls also dress modestly while the others, particularly White and Afro Caribbean girls wear the shortest skirts they can get away with to complement their designer handbags, and during the holidays are generally seen wearing beach-ware in the local park.  Funnily enough the boys – of all races and religions – mainly take a delight in showing their contempt for authority, by wearing their Uniform in as dishevelled a manner as they can get away with.

Well, I said there was naught for your comfort.   I have to say that if I were a teacher I wouldn’t want to teach anyone whose face I couldn’t see – and I probably wouldn’t even notice the short shorts. (well, perhaps I would if I were half a century younger!)  Come to that, if I were to be attended by a checkout lady at a supermarket or a receptionist at any office, whose face was veiled, it would be the last time I would go there.  That’s not Islamophobia.   I have no objection whatsoever to the headscarf, but I do like to see the expression on the face of whoever is addressing me or to whom I am talking. 

My correspondent’s comments about opposing values and outlooks explain how it is that the jihadists gain recruits from ‘western countries’ but doesn’t suggest any easy – or even difficult - remedies.

It did occur to me how very important it is that the jihadists should never get their hands on any of the nuclear weapons that we know Pakistan possesses.  Those ‘ultimate deterrents’ on our Trident submarines aren’t going to deter those who regard their own death while killing infidels as providing them with a first-class ticket to a Muslim Paradise!

Sunny Clacton-on-Sea makes the headlines!

It is an unfortunate fact that if ever Clacton-on-Sea features in the headlines of the popular press and is referred to in a television news programme, it won’t be about our town’s holiday attractions – our usually dry and sunny weather, our safe and sandy beaches, our colourful public gardens and our lively pier.  It’ll be about something that the Council, and all who wish our town well, would prefer remained unpublicised.  

From 1973 to 1980 I was Tendring District Council’s first Public Relations Office (Spin Doctor) and on several occasions since then I have been thankful that I have now been retired from that post for over thirty years; never more so than a week or so ago when the illustration,and comment below appeared on the front page of the local daily Gazette.

It seems that ‘Banksy’, undoubtedly the world’s best known graffiti artist had visited Clacton, no doubt listened to Clactonian chatter in shops and pubs, and had left a souvenir of his visit on the wall of a public building.   It is a powerful satire depicting five indignant pigeons bearing anti-immigrant and racist posters (the sort associated with the BNP and English Defence League) directed at a solitary African swallow.

Now ‘Banksy’ originals are extremely valuable possessions.  It might have been expected that the Council would have been delighted to have found it and would have explored ways of making the most of it.  I would have suggested finding some way of protecting it from vandals and then advertising it as one of Clacton’s tourist attractions:   Come to Clacton-on-Sea for sand, sea and sun – and an original ‘Banksy’ art work!   And under that satirical cartoon have the Council’s own comments.  How about: but that’s for bird-brains. Clacton-on-Sea welcomes holiday visitors from all over the world!

But the Council didn’t do anything like that.  Someone reported that a picture with ‘racist’ words had been painted on Council property and with what, under practically any other circumstances would have been commendable alacrity, the order was given that it should be erased – and erased it was.  I defy any spin-doctor to put a ‘positive spin’ on that particular news story!  Perhaps the Council should be pleased that the by-election, with its Ukip victory, drove the story out of the news bulletins – though the uncharitable thought did enter my head that the bird-brains had won – and now had their own representative at Westminster.

An Uncertain Future

            I had thought it likely that Douglas Carswell would win the Clacton-on-Sea by-election – if only because the Ukip election campaign made those of the other candidates look like the products of well-meaning but bungling amateurs.  I had at least twelve printed communications from Ukip, each full of confidence and enthusiasm, plus a door-step canvasser and an eager phone call.  From the others I received one or two lack-lustre leaflets, and that was all.  I dislike Ukips attitudes and policies so much that I cannot bring myself to say that they deserved to win – but all the others certainly deserved to lose.

            A few weeks ago I considered in this blog the then remote possibility of a Ukip/Conservative coalition government after the General Election – with Ukip gradually controlling the coalition.    What then was a fanciful idea now seems a distinct possibility.  I am reminded, once again, of the progress of the Nazi Party in Germany in the thirties. The NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) began by being a smallish party of ‘fruitcakes’ but with a charismatic leader, then they were a growing force that could be controlled and manipulated – and who finally, almost overnight so it must have seemed, took over and ruled with a rod of iron.    Don’t let it happen here.


06 October 2014

Week 41 2014

Tendring Topics….on Line

Coping with Islamic State

            So now we are officially ‘at war’ with IS (Islamic State) with our aircraft already striking IS targets but with the promise that there will be no ‘boots on the ground’.  This may slow down Islamic State’s progress but I don’t think it will stop it; much less reverse it.  Its principal effect will probably be to recruit more enthusiastic young people from the UK and no doubt, from other ‘western’ countries, into the IS ranks.  Now, so it seems, British teenage girls are making for Turkey as the first step towards becoming brides of their IS heroes in Syria!  It’s strange (well perhaps it isn’t) that we never hear of young people travelling to Syria to help those ‘moderate forces’ opposing President Assad that the UK and the USA are so eager to support.

            I heard on the tv a few days ago an ‘authority’ on Middle Eastern matters declare that the IS uprising is a result of Britain’s failure a year ago to take decisive action against President Assad.  This, so he said, had enabled President Assad’s army to defeat the ‘moderate opposition’ and leave the extreme jihadists in control. What rubbish!  Does he really imagine that if Assad had been overthrown, those moderates would have prevailed over IS?   On the contrary, without Assad, his army and the substantial number of Syrians who remain loyal to him, IS would probably now be ruling the whole of Syria

            The Iraqi army has proved woefully unable to halt the IS advance.  The Kurds have been more successful but they are not a national army and the Turks are unwilling to let them have the heavy weapons they need, because of their fear that they might be used to create an independent Kurdistan – part of which would be part of what is now Turkey!  The only effective national army in the Middle East, experienced and hardened in battle with Islamic State, is that of President Assad.  It is time we made our peace with him and accepted him as an ally.

            No doubt the pre-civil war Assad regime had its faults (what Middle Eastern regime hasn’t?) but it was an oasis of freedom and tolerance compared with some of those whom we now claim to be our friends.  Saudi Arabia in particular is the source of the poisonous doctrines that IS puts into practice.  The overwhelming majority of those known to be responsible for the 9/11 outrage were from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia regularly abuses human rights in much the same way as IS, but only on its own people.  Half its population (the women) are regarded as the property of members of the other half!   I have little doubt that IS’ initial funding came from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Now, of course, IS doesn’t need outside funding.  They have enriched themselves from their conquests in Syria and Iraq.

 A regular blog reader points out in an email that IS, unlike Hitler and his Nazis, is part of a militant movement that is sweeping the globe.  The Archbishop of Canterbury accurately described it as a ‘many headed Hydra’. Islamic State in Syria and Iraq has the same motivation and the same objectives as the Islamic jihadists who abducted, and still hold, those Christian teenage girls in Nigeria; those who constantly threaten the government of Pakistan, who are fighting for control of Libya, and who are likely to take over Afghanistan as soon as the last GI leaves.

I am reluctant to criticise Obama and Cameron for authorising air strikes on IS targets.  I am sure that they have done so reluctantly and that they are both well aware of the risk of their countries being dragged into a third ‘Gulf War’.  I really have no idea of what their course of action should be.  My blog-reading email correspondent clearly feels the same.  ‘I don’t think we can stand idly by and let these people take ever more and more land, forcing completely peaceful populations out of their towns and villages and murdering anyone who opposes them.  I feel that the priority should have been the defence of the innocent and humanitarian relief – and that does need boots on the ground.  Surely we have the hardware to put a ring of steel around these villages and keep the enemy at bay without getting deeply involved.  It can’t be right for all the Kurds to have to move into refugee camps in Turkey’.

No, of course it isn’t.  My knowledge of military tactics is (to say the least) extremely limited – but I am sure that it wouldn’t be possible to defend all those vulnerable towns and villages as my correspondent suggest. I don’t think we should underestimate the fanaticism and determination of these jihadists. National boundaries mean nothing to them.  If they successfully drove all the Kurds out of Iraq and into Turkey they’d drive on into Turkey!

I am just a little disappointed at the reaction to Islamic State of the majority of peaceful and moderate Muslims in the UK and Western Europe. Imams have condemned the actions of IS as unislamic but -  where are the angry street demonstrations and demands for a fatwa that were provoked by Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ and the cartoons featuring the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper?  As well as increasing Islamophobia in the ‘western world’ and providing encouragement to members of such Neofascist organisations as BNP, English Defence League and some Ukippers, it is surely the ultimate blasphemy to suggest that the torture and slaughter of any of his human children is in accordance with the will of God.

I had been persuaded that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and that jihad doesn’t really mean a ‘Holy War’ but the inner struggle within us all against the forces of evil.  The members of Islamic State and other similar organisations worldwide are doing their best to persuade me (and thousands of others) otherwise.

‘Ring of Steel’

My email correspondent’s  use of the phrase Rings of Steel to protect non-Islamic communities in Iraq and Syria from the fury of the Islamic State, reminded me that Ring of Steel was the headline on the front page of the weekly Clacton Gazette on Thursday 25th September.  A sub-heading announced that Special Branch, undercover police and sniffer dogs are to be drafted into Clacton in a huge security operation for the town’s high-profile by-election on 9th October – a fortnight away as that particular Gazette was published.  If I publish this blog on the internet on Monday 6th October as I intend, it will be just three days away. 

A news article within the Gazette points out that this by-election will have the highest profile in English political history and its announcement has come just as the country is put on a heightened state of alert against possible terrorist threats.  Police say that there is no known terrorist threat in Clacton but electoral organisers are taking no chances.  Ian Davidson, Tendring Council’s Chief Executive and Returning Officer for the Clacton By-election, told a Gazette reporter that, ‘This election is massive in terms of attention and national politics – the spotlight is on Clacton politically.  We have been in touch with Special Branch and the Police because there are potential security issues and we are taking every precaution to make sure it is a safe and secure count.  We have never had Special Branch at an election before. There is no information of a specific security threat, but we are taking every precaution because of the national and international profile of the by-election’.

Tendring’s district police commander, Chief Inspector Russ Cole said that local police officers would be visiting polling stations throughout the day and there would be a police presence at the count.  ‘We are very much driven by intelligence, and the intelligence we are looking at says there are no major public disorder or counter-terrorist issues but we want to make sure we have enough policing assets’.

I don’t know whether or not my experience has been shared by others but it saddens me that have to say that Ukip and Douglas Carswell have dominated the election campaign.  I have lost count of the number of items of  election literature I have received telling me what a wonderful chap Carswell is, how fortunate we are to have had him as our MP and how important it is that he should be re-elected (but this time as a Ukipper) at the by-election.   These have included leaflets, posters to stick in my window and two apparently personal letters one that addresses me as ‘Dear Ernest’ and the other as ‘Dear Neighbour’.  Douglas Carswell and I have never even met and are certainly not on ‘first name terms’. I have no idea where ‘Dear Douglas’ lives but I’m quite sure it isn’t in my neighbourhood.  I have also had a Ukip doorstep canvasser call on me and among the junk phone calls I had yesterday (1st October) was a lady urging me to put a cross against Carswell’s name on the 9th.

Of the other contestants, I have received election leaflets from the Labour, Conservative and Lib’Dem candidates plus a phone call on behalf of the Labour candidate.  And that’s it.  Ukip, it seems, has unlimited funds and lots of eager volunteer supporters.  The others haven’t.

 Ukip’s policies embody everything that I most dislike in politics.  I don’t like their attitude towards Europe, towards global climate change, towards ‘green’ issues generally and towards taxation.  The situation in the UK today, with a great many people (including myself) having lost faith in any of the traditional political parties, is uncomfortably like that in Germany in the late 1920s early ‘30s.  They sought a politician who distrusted politics and offered an alternative path.  They found such a politician in Adolf Hitler.  We’re in danger of finding one in Nigel Farage.

I have a postal vote and have already used it.  For the first time in my life I voted for the Conservative candidate - not because I want him as an MP, but because he offers the best chance of keeping Ukip defector Douglas Carswell, out!





29 September 2014

Week 40 2014

 Tendring Topics…….on line

‘Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the red flag……

          …….tucked away safely out of sight’.   That seems to be the message of Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, at the Labour Party Conference.  Mr Balls appears to be determined to demonstrate that he’ll behave ‘responsibly’ with public money if Labour wins next year’s General Election.  He proposes to do this by emulating the policies of George Osborne with just one or two differences.  He is just as obsessed with reducing ‘the deficit’ as Mr Osborne and just as determined ‘to reduce government expenditure to do so’. 

 No, the government expenditure he has in mind is not the £100 billion pounds ring-fenced for those totally useless and vastly expensive Trident submarines pointlessly patrolling the high seas.  He is going to freeze increases in children’s allowances and, to prove that he really is the friend of working people, he’s going to remove the entitlement to winter fuel allowance of the wealthiest pensioners, reinstate the tiny tax increase on the incomes of the very highest earners, and impose a ‘mansion tax’ on the owners of stately homes valued in excess of £2 million!  Oh yes – he’s also going to pursue those who avoid paying their due amount of income tax; but (while they’re out of office) they all say that don’t they?

 Both Labour, and the Greens (with whom I agree about most things), seem determined to tax the wealthy simply because that’s what they are.  The Green Party promises that in the unlikely event of their forming a government they’ll impose a special ‘wealth tax’ to relieve the wealthy of some of their fortune.  Everybody also seems to imagine that by raising the tax threshold of liability for income tax and taking increasing numbers of low-paid workers ‘out of the tax system altogether’, they are doing the poor a service. Raising that tax threshold helps all income taxpayers.  The only folk it doesn’t help are those whose income is so little that they are already outside the income tax system. Freeing more people from income tax liability reinforces the myth that there’s a large tax-free underclass supported by hard-working tax payers!  In fact every one of us pays taxes in VAT or customs duties virtually every time we buy goods or services, especially when we buy tobacco, alcohol, or petrol, and every time we buy lottery tickets. That’s one of the reasons why I have never bought a lottery ticket or scratch card!    People not liable to pay income tax, may pay a larger proportion of their income through these indirect taxes, than do some income tax payers.

 I believe that income tax should be regarded by every adult as his or her annual membership fee for the very considerable privilege of being a citizen of the United Kingdom. It should be paid by the very wealthiest and the very poorest.  What’s more, paying that subscription should impose exactly the same burden on each one of us.  This could be achieved by making it an equal percentage of every adult’s gross income (before any of it can be salted away in ‘charitable trusts’ or overseas investments).   I reckon that a tax (membership fee) of 20 percent of every adult’s gross income would probably meet virtually all the government’s financial needs.   The actual percentage could be calculated each year.

Obviously 20 percent of a billionaire’s income would be a considerable sum while 20 percent of the minimum wage or the job-seekers’ allowance would be very little.   That minimum wage or allowance would need to be raised, to enable even the poorest of us to pay the ‘membership subscription’ without being reduced to starvation or homelessness.  Then everyone, rich and poor alike, would have a stake in our country’s future and get rid of the myth that hard-working tax payers support an ‘idle poor’. ‘The rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate’ would be making an equal sacrifice.

Basing taxation on a percentage of total income may seem revolutionary but there’s nothing really original about it.  The Church at one time demanded ‘a tithe’ (one tenth, or 10 percent) of everyone’s gross income. That was quite reasonable in an age when the Church provided many of the services (education, relief of the poor and so on) that are now considered the responsibility of the State. In the public services negotiated pay increases are always a percentage of the existing salary.  Thus, the Chief Executive and the junior clerk get the same percentage salary increase though, in pounds and pence, the former gets many times more than the latter!  

Percentage taxation isn’t going to happen overnight or even in my lifetime; probably not in my sons’ or my grandchildren’s lifetimes either.  There’s one obvious measure that could be introduced here and now to reduce that deficit without causing hardship to anyone. It would also, at a stroke, reduce the anomaly of the wealthy receiving benefits that they don’t need, without the need to submit claimants to always-hated ‘means testing’. 

This would be to make all state ‘benefits’ taxable.  Our state retirement pension is added to any other income we may have and is subject to income tax.  Why on earth should other benefits be tax-free?  Other benefits that could be made taxable include winter fuel allowance, free tv licences, social security payments, attendance allowance  (I receive that because of my poor and deteriorating mobility), children’s allowances and so on.

Even with our present income tax system it would be much fairer to both poor and wealthy than at present.  Those whose total income, even with the benefit, came to less than the threshold of the lower tax rate would continue to pay no income tax.  They would be unaffected by benefit becoming taxable.  Those of us who are better off would pay according to our income but no one would have to pay more than the appropriate rate on their taxable income.  Income tax never resulted, nor ever can result, in either starvation or homelessness – no-one has to pay more than he or she can afford to pay. Of course, it would be much fairer if the threshold for the highest rate of income tax were to be lowered or if, as I have suggested, everyone paid income tax as a percentage of their gross income.

But that, at present, no political party is prepared to endorse.

‘The tongue is an unruly member’

Says St James in his New Testament Epistle.  I certainly agree with that. It has been my over-active tongue that has got me into trouble in the past.  There was the time when I was Tendring Council’s public relations officer and I told the Chairman of the Council that……………..  No I won’t reveal the extent of my idiocy, and it was a long time ago!  Their tongues have brought embarrassment to people much more important than me.   Only last week they did so to both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition. I think that the Prime Minister really should have known better.  

On the occasion of a meeting of business men and women in New York, he was overheard remarking to a former mayor of that city that H.M. the Queen had ‘purred’ when he had phoned her with the result of the Scottish referendum, and that she had shown great relief at the fact that Scotland would not separate from the remainder of the UK.  One of the reasons why the British monarchy has survived among a sea of republics is that the Sovereign, as head of state, never expresses a political opinion.  She is the confidante of Prime Ministers and can advise them in the light of her much greater experience of the national scene – but the content of any conversation with her Prime Minister, of whatever political persuasion, is never revealed by her and should never be revealed by the Prime Minister.

It is true that the Prime Minister’s gaffe was part of a private conversation and never intended to become known by the general public. However, its content should never have been revealed to anyone, certainly not to a foreign politician.

Ed Miliband’s tongue’s failure was one of omission rather than commission. He gave a stirring ‘leader’s speech’ to the faithful gathered together at the Labour Party’s annual conference – the last such conference there’ll be before next year’s general election.  It was a speech all the more effective for the fact that he made it without notes. 

Now I’ve done quite a lot of public speaking (on much less important issues and to far smaller audiences) in my time and I have always tried to speak without notes.  There’s no doubt at all that it is the very best way to connect to, and hold, one’s audience.  Sadly, on my way home I’d often think ‘that went down well but – oh dear, I forgot to make this, that or the other point that was of particular importance’

I reckon that Ed Miliband must have been having very similar thoughts – possibly even before the applause had died away.   If there’s one thing that the public feel the Conservatives do better than their Labour opponents it’s managing the economy, in particular reducing that deficit – the gap between government expenditure and government income.  If there’s one issue that accounts for UKIP’s meteoric rise in public popularity it’s their strong opposition to overseas immigrants ‘pouring into this country, taking our jobs and bankrupting our public services’.   I think it likely that the Labour Party has policies on both these issues – but sadly Ed Miliband, perhaps carried away by his own rhetoric – had temporarily forgotten all about them.  They didn’t get a mention!

Ed Miliband’s error was surely much less culpable than that of David Cameron – but I think it likely that it will do him and his party more long-term harm.



22 September 2014

Week 39 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

The Scottish Referendum

          When I switched on the tv to hear the news last Friday (19th September) I was just a little disappointed, but not really surprised, to learn that the No votes had outnumbered the Yes ones in the Scottish referendum that had taken place the previous day.  Faced with a decision in these precarious days we all tend to think better the devil we know than the devil we don’t.   The not-quite-decided voter in the voting booth is likely to think; Times are hard but my family and I are managing to survive under the present regime. Who knows whether we would under a different one?’   He or she would be likely to go on to reflect that the old regime was now offering many of the same benefits as those that the new regime was promising.  It is hardly surprising that several thousand of them, who possibly had thought seriously of voting Yes, changed their minds and voted No!

            There will be bitter disappointment today among those who had fought so hard, so long, and so hopefully for Scottish independence.  As I pointed out last week, the result of losing that referendum is unlikely to be as awful as they probably fear. Some of those who fought hard for rejection of Scottish Independence are already finding that victory has brought its problems.  How is the UK Government to fulfil those promises of greater autonomy for the Scots – and answer a demand for similar autonomy for the English?

            I don’t know.  Why is it, I wonder, that nationalism seems to come in an uglier form in England than in Scotland?  Our fervent nationalists seem to be full of hate for ‘the others’.  I don’t believe that the Scots were, or are, like that.  This morning on tv a black couple, who had lived in Scotland for many years, spoke of their love for Scotland and their sadness – but not bitterness – at the NO campaign's triumph.   I can’t imagine any black couple in England having any feelings for the BNP and the English Defence League  other than dislike and fear.

            I believe that the best course of action for the present Government would be to practise some of the ‘localism’ that they continually preach. They should restore to local authorities, whose election is every bit as democratic as that of the  House of Commons, some of the powers and authority (to run schools and colleges, to build homes for letting at reasonable rents and to let them to those in need, and to be adequately funded to provide local services) that they enjoyed in the 1930s, but of which they have been systematically robbed by governments of both main parties since the end o World War II.

And, finally, I have to say that I shall miss Alex Salmond from the political scene. He was one of the few politicians (perhaps indeed the only politician) to whom I could listen on the radio or tv without feeling a compelling urge to reach for the ‘off switch’!ouse of Commons,   H

        Eight Hopefuls

          The Scottish referendum may have made some of us forget that we in the Clacton-on-Sea area of North-East Essex have our own by-election on 9th October, less than three weeks away.  There are no less than eight candidates from which we are invited to choose our parliamentary representative – for seven months only.   A general election is to be held in May 2015 in which we will choose our MP for the next five years.  By deciding to defect from the Conservative Party to Ukip, and to resign his membership of the House of Commons, now – rather than postpone that decision until the General Election - our former MP has given us all  the hassle of a parliamentary by-election at an estimated cost of £100,000.  Value for money?

            We now know that on 9th October there will be no less than eight candidates hoping that we will vote for them, though there is little doubt that for four – possibly five – of them it will be a pretty forlorn hope.   In fact I think that the most they can hope for is that they won’t lose their deposits!   They are, in alphabetical order:

Douglas Carswell, Ukip    Andrew Graham Liberal-Democrat
Alan Howlin ‘Laud’ Hope, Monster Raving Loony Party,
Charlotte Rose, Independent, Bruce Sizer, Independent
Chris Southall, Green Party, Giles Watling, Conservative
Tim Young, Labour

            I think it very probable that Alan Howlin ‘Laud’ Hope, Charlotte Rose, Bruce Sizer, and Chris Southall will be heavily defeated and will probably lose their deposits.  I am sorry that the representative of the Green Party is almost certainly doomed to disappointment because that is the one national political party having a policy that I can endorse.  I fear though that in this constituency and in a first-past-the-post election their candidate hasn’t a hope of being elected at present.   I know little about the Independent candidates except that, according to the Clacton Gazette, Charlotte Rose describes herself as a high class courtesan, and is endeavouring to give us all ‘sexual freedom’ and protect and improve the status of ‘sex workers’.  I would hardly have thought that an area like ours, sometimes unkindly described  as ‘Costa Geriatrica’ was very promising ground for such a campaign!

            This by-election surely highlights the deficiencies of the ‘deposit’ system.  Until 2005, candidates for Parliamentary elections had to pay a deposit of £150 which was refunded to those who secured five percent or more of the total votes cast.  This was raised to £500 in 2005 with the intention of deterring frivolous, time-and-money wasting candidates.   It is clear that this only deters frivolous candidates of limited means.  Those who can lose £500 and just shrug their shoulders at the loss (and there are quite a few of those nowadays) aren’t in the least deterred.

            It would surely be more effective to abolish the deposit altogether and require that all candidates should be sponsored by say fifty registered electors of the constituency in which the election is to be held.  This would prevent truly frivolous candidatures while not deterring serious but not necessarily wealthy groups (supporters of the Green Party for instance) from competing.

            I think it likely that in our forthcoming election in the Clacton area, both independent candidates, the monster raving loony candidate, and probably the Green candidate will lose their deposits, and the Lib. Dem. candidate will be heavily defeated but will possibly not lose his.   Serious contenders will be the Labour Candidate Tim Young, our defecting MP Douglas Carswell now standing as a Ukip candidate, and the newly selected Conservative candidate, Giles Watling.

            Both Giles Watling and Tim Young are local men (one of Tim’s uncles was a colleague of mine in Clacton’s Housing Department way back in the early ‘70s). I think though that in a constituency that includes Frinton-on-Sea and where Douglas Carswell, as a Conservative Candidate, was elected with a majority of over 12,000, the real contest will be between Douglas Carswell and Giles Watling.  The candidate for whom I'd like to vote, Chris Southall the Green Party Candidate, really hasn’t a chance. I’m sorry to say that, in this by-election  a vote for him would be a vote wasted.

            I shall therefore vote for Giles Watling, not because I want him in the House of Commons but because he offers the best chance of keeping Douglas Carswell from becoming Ukip’s first British M.P.