26 April 2015

26th April 2015

Tendring Topics………on line

Humankind’s Priorities

          The appalling earthquake in Nepal reminds us of the potential destructive power of nature.  In a few minutes thousands of human lives were lost and hundreds of buildings flattened.  The power of the quake shook houses and caused panic in Calcutta hundreds of miles away.  It also shook Everest the world’s highest mountain causing avalanches that cost yet more human lives.

            In Western Europe, including the United Kingdom, we may feel free of danger from earthquakes but the warnings of the world’s scientists about the effects of global warming are becoming more and more urgent.  Instead of recognising that climate change is largely the result of mankind’s misuse of the bounties of nature we blindly continue draining existent oilfields and finding new ones. Now ‘market forces’ demand that we. turn ‘England’s green and pleasant land’ into an industrial wilderness by fracking for oil and gas in subterranean beds of shale.   We have been warned that governments should take immediate action to seek out and develop sustainable and non-polluting sources of energy – the use of wind, sun, the waves and the tides – and phase out the use of fossil fuels.  The evidence of the effects of global warming are all around us -  unprecedented typhoons and hurricanes, floods, bush fires, droughts and periods of unseasonal extreme weather conditions.  The arctic ice is thawing every year, the glaciers are retreating and the world is facing climatic catastrophe.  The general election is now less than a fortnight away.   No-one would have guessed from the televised debates between the political party leaders that our country (and the world) is threatened by the inexorable and accelerating progress of climatic change.  Most are much too busy scoring political points against their political opponents, and earning the votes of the gullible, by making impossible promises that will turn out to be no more than aspirations.  David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all accept the reality of global warming and its consequences – but all are prepared to ignore the warnings, at least until after the election, because ‘there are no votes to be obtained by banging on about climate change’.

            Nigel Farage is at least honest in his intentions.  Denying the warnings of the world’s scientists, he doesn’t believe in the reality of global warming or – if it is taking place – that it is anything to do with human activity.  He’d drag the last barrel of oil and cubic foot of gas out of existing wells and encourage the frackers. He’d withdraw financial support from wind and solar farms. 

            The only party leader who has tried to highlight the real and urgent problems arising from an over-exploited natural world is Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party.   Below you’ll see a copy of an email that I have received from her that sets out her, and the Green Party’s priorities.  If you believe that The Greens are fighting for a cause in which you believe, don’t be persuaded that ‘a vote for the Greens is a vote wasted’    If everyone had said that about the fledgling Labour Party at the beginning of the 20th century, Labour would not now be competing with the Conservatives for power.      ‘This above all, to thine own self be true’. 

Hello Ernest,

This year the most important climate talks in history will take place in Paris.

Leaders from around the world will come together to decide the world’s course of action in addressing the most important issue of modern times.

Yet, despite the looming threat of a climate crisis, during this election you could be forgiven for thinking that the threat had lifted.

The truth is, politicians from the other parties simply aren’t speaking about climate change. In fact I was the only party leader to raise the topic during the three and a half hours of Leaders debates.

You and I know both know that the science is unequivocal – fortunately we have the plan to tackle the crisis.

The Green Party is the only party calling for the urgent action required and at the heart of our pledge to protect the environment is our conviction that we must also reconfigure our world to work better for people.

We will cut public transport fares – because everyone should be able to afford to get to where they want to go – and because the air pollution caused by cars is a crisis that must be tackled.

We will invest in home insulation – because no one should fear family members getting ill or even dying from the cold – and because we want to cut carbon emissions.

We will generate 80% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030 – because we know we must leave four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

We are using three times as many resources as our planet can sustain - we must change course, and we can.

I, like you, want to leave a better future for our children. I want the next generation to look back on what we did at this time and think  ‘my parents’ generation did something to protect our world’. I want them to be proud of us.

To keep climate change on the agenda and to continue our fight for social justice we must elect more Green MPs.

We can do this if we have a strong Green voice in parliament - but we need your help now more than ever with a Green vote on May 7th.

Thank you,

Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green Party of England and Wales

           
Well, I’m a postal voter and have already posted off my vote for Chris Howell, Clacton’s Green Party Candidate.  I hope that at least some regular readers of this blog will also vote Green!


                                          Ernest Hall

 
           

21 April 2015

21st April 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

I’m not alone!

            I had begun to think that I was a solitary voice crying in the wilderness in my dislike of ‘right to buy'  and, if the Conservatives win the general election, its progression from the tenants of local authorities to those of Housing Associations.  However I was pleased to read in the Church Times that Dr. David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, has condemned it as making economic nonsense and being morally indefensible.   David Orr, Chief Executive Officer of the National Housing Federation also describes the extension of ‘right to buy’ to tenants of Housing Associations as fundamentally the wrong answer to our country’s housing problems since it involves the transfer of large sums of money to private individuals who are already some of the best and most cheaply housed people in the country.   Furthermore, he says that it is completely unfair to the tens of thousands of tenants of private landlords who haven’t the remotest possible of ever becoming home owners. 

            With the general election coming ever nearer I might be asked, and I have indeed asked myself, why – since I am so strongly opposed to the present coalition government – I don’t wholeheartedly support the Labour Party, which is the only political force with a realistic possibility of replacing them.

            The reason is that there are a few political objectives about which I feel strongly.  My support, little and feeble as it may be, goes to any party that shares those objectives.

            I believe very strongly that the enormous gap between the incomes of the very wealthiest and the poorest in our country is scandalous – the largest in Europe and one of the largest in the developed world.   Its narrowing should be a government priority.

            During the decade of Labour rule that gap widened and Ed Miliband’s Labour Party has no plans to use income tax, or any other effective means, to narrow it.

            Compelling local authorities and/or Housing Associations to sell dwellings to sitting tenants at discounted prices is a betrayal of earlier and wiser generations who provided those homes for letting to eliminate homelessness, overcrowding and sub-standard housing.  ‘Right to buy’ should be repealed as a major cause of our present housing crisis.

            New Labour failed to repeal ‘right to buy’ when it had the opportunity to do so and Ed Miliband has actually apologised for the Labour Party’s earlier opposition to its introduction.

The possession of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear weapons, does not protect our country from attack any more than carrying a knife protects an individual.  It might encourage any ill-disposed country, or terrorist group, possessing similar weapons to use them against us before we had a chance to use ours. The threat of using nuclear weapons is only effective if we are in fact prepared to use them.   If we ever did so we would be guilty of mass murder and possibly responsible for a chain of events that could result in the extinction of the human race.  We should cease our reliance on nuclear weapons as an ‘ultimate deterrent’ and disarm our Trident Nuclear Submarine fleet.  Reliance on Nuclear Defence has been rightly described as Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD!

Meanwhile, the coalition government has run down our regular army which can be used for genuine ‘defence’ as distinct from acts of vengeance, for peacekeeping, and for replacing ‘outsourced’ private enterprises, when they fail to fulfil the public services for which they have been contracted.  Where would we have been had the army not been available to replace the firm that had contracted to provide security for the Olympics and had failed to do so?

David Cameron has announced that a future Conservative Government would replace the existing ageing Trident Submarine fleet with four new state-of-the-art nuclear submarines costing billions of pounds.   Ed Miliband has been at pains to assure the electorate that he would not oppose this.

I believe that a responsible government needs to carry out a thorough review of Britain’s foreign policy, beginning with referendums on our membership of NATO and our ‘special relationship’ with the USA.  These have resulted in our blindly following the American lead into the illegal invasion of Iraq (into which we were led by deliberate lies about Iraq’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and its complicity with the outrage of ‘9/11’) and the unwinnable war in Afghanistan, despite our experience of failure in similar wars in that country in the 19th century!  We have not had reciprocal support from the USA, particularly in the recovery of the Falklands from invasion by Argentina.

More recently, while our EU partners are struggling with the Kiev government, the Russian government and the Ukrainian rebels to secure a lasting peace in Ukraine, our coalition government has given, and is giving, military support to the Kiev government – a government that has lied repeatedly to obtain NATO support, has ruthlessly shelled its own people, and has driven over a million Ukrainians into seeking refuge in Russia.

It might have been expected that UKIP, claiming to be fighting for the UK’s independence, would have agreed with my ideas for a radical revision of Britain’s foreign policy..  It seems though that they’re happy enough having our foreign and defence policies dictated by foreigners from across the Atlantic.

 I have never trusted Nigel Farage whose meteoric rise to fame reminds me too much of Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany in the late 1920s and early ‘30s.  I hadn’t realized though until the election campaigns got into their stride that he was campaigning under false colours.   Ukip, under Nigel Farage, isn’t battling for UK Independence.  He and his disciples just want to sever our connection with Europe to which we are linked by geography, history and culture, and to the European Union in which Britain has an equal and influential voice..  If they were honest they’d just describe themselves as Europhobes.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, I’d like the new government to accept the need for early and decisive action to combat and alleviate the effects of the global climate change that is taking place before our eyes. Already we have seen unprecedented drought and bush fires in Australia and parts of the USA. There has also been severe coastal flooding in parts of the USA and a period of unseasonably arctic conditions extending from Canada almost as far as Florida.  Island nations in the Pacific, and parts of the Indian subcontinent have been threatened with extinction. Even in the equable UK there are many households still suffering from the effects of last year’s floods in Somerset and in the Thames valley.

Nigel Farage denies that unprecedented climate change is taking place or – if it is - that human activity has any responsibility for causing it.  Given the opportunity he’d stop all government financial support for wind farms and solar farms.  He’d encourage the extraction of every last ton of coal from British coalfields and the last barrel of oil from our inland and off-shore oil reserves.  He’d tear up the British countryside by ‘fracking’ gas or oil from the beds of shale deep below our feet.

The other party leaders have more respect for the urgent warnings of scientists world-wide and for the need to take urgent action in the face of otherwise inevitable catastrophe.  Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, on one or other of whom prompt action surely depends, are aware of this.  Both are fully determined to take resolute action…….but not just yet.  Only in the Green Party’s election literature has the threat of climate change featured prominently.   Only the Green Party shares the concerns that are important to me. In Clacton’s by-election I voted tactically for the Conservative Candidate because I thought he had the best chance of defeating the turn-coat former Conservative now Ukipper, Douglas Carswell, who was in fact elected.  For the General Election I shall follow the advice that I quoted in this blog a week or so ago, given by Polonius to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, ‘This above all, to thine own self be true and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not  then be false to any man’.

I shall vote for Chris Southall, the Green candidate.   He is a local man, living with his family in Burrs Road He is a trained engineer and has been self-employed for most of his life, working as a potter, computer engineer, drummer and with people with special needs.  He has been both a school governor and a parish councillor.  Chris practises what he preaches.  He and his family live in an ‘Eco house’ with a Permaculture Land Centre that is sometimes open to the public. 

He may be unlikely to win the election but a vote for him is not a vote wasted. My vote, together with those of all who vote Green at the General Election, will give national politicians an idea of the growing number of folk in the UK who care passionately about world peace, fairness and justice, and the future of the world in which we live.

            Voting for the whole of Tendring District Council will take place on the same day as the General Election.  In my (Alton Park) ward I have a choice between two Labour and Co-op, two Conservative, and two UKIP candidates.  I shall vote for the Labour and Co-op hopefuls, more in the hope of keeping the Ukippers and the Tories out than of getting those for whom I am voting in!





           

             

              

             

           

           


             

16 April 2015

18th April, 2015

Tendring Topics……on line

Buying Votes…….with other people’s money!

          That’s how I described the ‘Right to Buy’ legislation introduced by then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the ‘avaricious 1980s’.  ‘Compel to sell’ legislation might have been a more appropriate name for it.

            For almost a century prior to the advent of Thatcherism, local authorities throughout the UK had built council houses to let, in order to combat homelessness and overcrowding in their areas and to rehouse families from individual unfit houses and properties in ‘clearance areas’ that were to be demolished.  They allocated tenancies according to housing need, without paying particular attention to whether housing applicants were poor or comfortably off.  I think that, on the whole, they were successful.  Slowly but surely, slums were demolished, overcrowding eradicated and substandard houses improved or demolished and replaced. I know that in the years before local government reorganisation in 1974, while I was Clacton-on-Sea’s Housing Manager, no-one was forced to ‘sleep rough’, under the Pier of instance, for want of a roof over their head; nor did we have to resort to providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation for homeless families.   The Council had a modest annual house building programme and this, together with casual vacancies resulting from a death or a tenant moving away, prevented even temporary homelessness.   

            All that was changed by ‘right to buy’.  Local authorities were compelled to sell homes to sitting tenants at bargain basement prices.   Many of the better off (and least troublesome) tenants took advantage of the legislation and bought their council provided homes.   Some of them took advantage and sold them on directly they were able to do so.  Some of those houses were bought by speculators and again let – but this time at a much higher ‘market dictated’ rent.  Councils were told not to let homes to people who could afford to buy or rent privately.  Tenants could not expect a home for life – tenancies were for a short fixed period, and were not renewed if the circumstances of the tenant had changed.  The government made clear that ‘social housing’ should be a temporary provision for the poor or, as Mrs Thatcher preferred to put it breathily, ‘for the genuinely needy’

Inevitably Council Estates deteriorated. Tenants had no incentive to tend their gardens, redecorate their rooms or take any pride in their homes.   Former tenants who had bought their homes sold them directly they were able to do so, taking advantage of accelerating house price inflation, and moved on to a better area.   Councils no longer had any incentive to build homes that they knew would have to be sold on ‘on the cheap’ after a few years.  Nationwide demand for homes vastly outstripped supply. Inevitably both rents and house prices rocketed and the housing situation that we have today developed.

            Those extra votes that ‘right to buy’ undoubtedly won were very dearly bought indeed.   But extra votes, from former tenants who had bought their homes ‘on the cheap’ at their Council’s expense, they certainly did buy.

            Now, with the general election only weeks away, the opinion polls indicating that the Conservatives and Labour are neck-to-neck, the Lib.Dems. nowhere in the polls, and Ukip and the Greens threatening both the main parties, the Conservatives are hoping that they can pull off the same trick a second time.

            Local authorities were not the only providers of ‘social housing’.  Housing Associations also housed thousands of folk who couldn’t aspire to home purchase (I say ‘home purchase’ rather than ‘home ownership’ because, as many home purchasers have discovered, no-one becomes a home owner until he or she has paid off the final instalment of the mortgage loan)   Prior to ‘right to buy’, Housing Associations provided a much smaller proportion of social housing than local authorities.  However during its decade of power New Labour did nothing to repeal the pernicious ‘right to buy’ legislation and Ed Miliband actually apologised for the fact that his party had opposed it!  Consequently Housing Associations have provided a steadily increasing proportion of the UKs social housing.

            Evidently hoping that his proposal will buy as many votes as Margaret Thatcher’s did back in the ‘80s David Cameron has  promised that, if the Conservatives form the next government, tenants of Housing Associations will enjoy the same ‘right to buy’ as council tenants.  The government’s costs will be recovered by compelling local authorities to sell off their most expensive housing when it becomes vacant and thereby, so they believe,  raising £4.5 billion a year.  (This is, of course, the same government that claims to believe in loosening the power of the state and putting local matters in the hands of local people!)

            Will it work for a second time?  Will this ploy be as successful in buying votes as Margaret Thatcher’s was in the 1980s?   Possibly not; prior to the 1980s central government did not dictate housing allocation policy to local authorities.  Many –perhaps most – authorities allocated tenancies on the basis of need for accommodation.  The applicants’ financial circumstances were a minor consideration. Certainly neither of the authorities for which I worked as Housing Manager in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s barred any applicant on the grounds that they could have found private rented accommodation or could have bought their own house.

            Consequently when Margaret Thatcher offered all council house tenants the ‘right to buy’ their home with a substantial discount on the actual value, there were hundreds of council tenants eager and able to become home buyers and take on the responsibilities, as well as  the privileges of ownership.   That was a long time ago.  Since then social housing has been allocated only to unemployed or low waged people with few resources and often large families.  A great many of them wouldn’t be able, or wouldn’t wish, to take on the responsibilities of home ownership no matter how large a discount they were offered.    I doubt if many will respond positively.

            Anyway if they’re wise they’ll remember that it will only happen if the Conservatives win an overall majority in the general election.  If I were a Housing Association tenant I wouldn’t be getting too excited about the prospect of home ownership just yet.  I wonder if David Cameron has ever thought of extending the ‘right to buy’ to tenants of privately owned properties?  Probably not; private landlords are almost certainly Conservative Party supporters.

Is ‘Ironic Fate’ waiting in the wings?

          I once had a colleague with a firm faith in what he called ‘Ironic Fate’ (or I.F. for short)     I.F. was continually on the look-out for humans who took the future for granted, and handed out an appropriate punishment.  He believed that the fate of the Titanic was sealed when the Captain declared that ‘God himself couldn’t sink this ship’.   Hitler did the same thing by promising Germans ‘a thousand year Reich’. My colleague took this conviction to extremes.  He would never, for instance, put up the new office calendar on 31st December, because that would have been taking for granted that we’d survive into the New Year.

I don’t personally believe in an ironic fate waiting to catch us out but I have thought a lot about I.F. or Nemesis as the election campaign gathers pace.   There are all these politicians making firm commitments for the future.  One promises umpteen  million pounds for the NHS, or for Education, or for affordable homes.  Another says that there’s no way, except by taxation, borrowing or even more savage cuts than we have already experienced, that  that promise can be realized.  One politician is going to give us four brand-new state-of-the-art nuclear submarines (just what you've always wanted?), another a new airport for London, yet another a north/south rail link.

Is it just possible that, perhaps while the election results are still being evaluated, nature will demonstrate its supremacy over all things human and mortal with another tsunami, this one closer to home, a burning all-consuming drought like those recently experienced in Australia, a gale of the strength of the typhoon that recently devastated an island nation in the Pacific, or extreme weather such as they have experienced recently in the USA and elsewhere.

All the party leaders (except perhaps Nigel Farage) accept that climatic change is taking place and that human activity is its principal cause.   They all, again with the exception of Nigel Farage, accept that urgent action is needed – but, as far as they are concerned, not just yet.  They’ll oversee the extraction of the last barrel of oil from bowels of the earth and ruin the countryside by ‘Fracking’ for shale gas, before they take serious steps to find and develop renewable and clean sources of energy, and put combating climate change as the very first item on their manifestos.

I wonder if, when climatic catastrophe strikes, anyone of them will think. ‘That’s exactly what that Green woman, the one with an Aussie accent, what was her name, warned us about during the  election campaign – but at that time we all had much more important things on our minds.
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11 April 2015

11th April 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

Oh to be a Non.Dom – in a new Financial Year!

          After I took early retirement from Tendring Council’s service in 1980 I earned a considerable income from freelance writing.  I wrote and had published five commercially successful books on domestic hot and cold water supply and drainage.   I wrote the plumbing section of a number of d-i-y manuals including the ‘Readers Digest Householders’ Manual’.   I wrote and sold dozens of feature articles to magazines and periodicals on domestic hot water supply and drainage, on local government, on camping and caravanning in the UK and mainland Europe and on any other subject about which I had at least some knowledge and experience.  For several years I wrote Advertising Features for Essex County Newspapers, and for ‘Look East,’ a publication promoting commerce and industry in East Anglia.  I also wrote a weekly column, ‘Tendring Topics’ for the Coastal Express’ for twenty-three years.  

  Some of this work was for overseas publishers.  I remember writing about Dedham’s and Harwich’s association with the USA and about the historic village of Bosham near Chichester, one-time home  of both King Canute and the ill-fated King Harold killed at the Battle of Hastings, for a magazine for retired citizens of New England.  I had a lucrative arrangement with an Australian publisher who sought permission to print articles of mine that had already appeared in Do-it-Yourself Magazine in England.

I declared every penny I earned, including those from overseas, to Inland Revenue and I claimed reasonable expenses.  I paid quite a lot (by my standards) of income tax each year.  I didn’t complain.  I enjoyed what I was doing and the tax was only a fraction of my income.

I would have been a lot less happy had I realized that there was a privileged minority of very wealthy people who paid no income tax on money that they received from overseas.  They were the ‘non-doms’ whose ‘domicile’ was said to be elsewhere than in the UK.  It seems that ‘non-dom’ status can be inherited and that having a clever lawyer is much more important than where you or your parents actually live or may sometime have lived.

Now it’s one of the issues that may affect voting in the general election.  Ed Miliband says that if he becomes Prime Minister his government will abolish ‘non-dom’ status altogether.  Apparently though the shadow chancellor has said that to do so would bring in very little extra revenue, and Ed Miliband’s political opponents claim that it would lead to all these wealthy and talented ‘non-doms’ leaving the country and domiciling themselves elsewhere.

It is a sad reflection on the zeitgeist of our wonderful ‘free market’ society that discussion about ‘non-dom’ status has been solely concerned with whether or not the Treasury would benefit from its abolition.  I have heard no-one say that it is clearly wrong for a privileged minority of very wealthy individuals to be exempt from taxation to which ordinary ‘hard-working tax-payers’ (about whom David Cameron claims to be so concerned) are subject.  Morality, it seems, has nothing to do with it.

United Kingdom Independence………but from whom?

It is always interesting to hear what Nigel Farage has to say about any subject other than the European Union.  Recently he was discussing Britain’s defence policy and I was just a little surprised to hear him say that he was all for our spending two percent of our national wealth on ‘defence’, as requested by NATO.  It was the as requested by NATO that astonished me.  Mr Farage believes that the government should comply with ‘the will of the people’.  He’d like to see an immediate in/out referendum on the EU because he is quite sure that the Outs would win.  He’s certain that the British people don’t want to be ruled by ‘foreigners’.

He could be wrong about that but, in any case membership of the EU is one of the few matters about which the British electorate has been consulted in a referendum.  Surely there are several matters of national importance about which we have never been consulted.  One of them is membership of NATO and another, closely related, is our ‘special relationship’ with the USA.  I’d have thought Nigel would be demanding a referendum on these subjects before demanding yet another on EU membership.  Doesn’t NATO consist almost wholly of ‘foreigners’ and isn’t the special relationship a little one-sided? 

We blindly followed the USA into the invasion of Iraq, and the USA and NATO into an unwinnable conflict in Afghanistan.   The USA entered World War II against the Nazis only when Hitler declared war on the USA in accordance with Nazi Germany’s treaty with Japan.  We’ll never know if the USA would have engaged in war in Europe had he not done so.  I think it at least possible that the USA would have decided that their war was against the Japanese and in the Pacific.  They’d have thought about Hitler only after they had defeated the Japanese.

We do know that the USA gave us no support when the Falklands was invaded by Argentina, and actually led an armed and unprovoked invasion of Grenada (the island in the Caribbean, not the town in Spain!) then part of the Commonwealth, in order to force a regime change.

Nigel Farage is righteously indignant about the cost of our membership of the EU.  Perhaps the BBC’s Radio 4 ‘More or Less’ team could discover if our membership of NATO and the Special Relationship have cost us more in cash than our membership of the EU.  Without a shadow of doubt our participation in those two USA-led ‘colonial wars’ in the Middle East have cost us much more in dead and wounded!

All of this simply confirms in my own mind that Farage has no objection to British foreign and defence policy being dictated from the other side of the Atlantic but he dislikes our co-operating with our European cousins and developing into a federal super-power able to co-operate (or compete) on equal terms with the USA, the Russian Federation and China.

 The Fruits of Desperation

            Do you remember how the coalition government, supported in this instance by New Labour, offered concession after concession short of complete independence, to the Scottish nationalists in a successful attempt to secure a majority NO vote in the recent referendum?  Desperate measures were needed because opinion polls suggested that the YES voters might be successful.   It was a tactic that they may now be regretting.  A number of English towns and regions are demanding autonomy comparable with that of the Scots.  At the same time it seems likely that SNP candidates will triumph in the forthcoming General Election and, since Scotland remains part of the UK, may prevent the Conservatives forming a government with a comfortable majority in the House of Commons.

            The leaders of the main political parties are now taking desperate measures to gain, or retain, a few votes.  I mentioned David Cameron’s promise to would-be home buyers of thousands of homes ‘on the cheap’ a blog or so ago.  They’ll be cheap because the developers won’t be required to build any ‘social housing’ or contribute to the provision of public services in the area.  Now there’s the idea of lending would-be tenants the few weeks rent-in-advance that nowadays landlords demand.  It’ll certainly add to the burden of debt that most people have to carry these days.

            There’s a promise to freeze rail-fares (though a BBC analyst says that it’ll actually mean a fare rise!), to pay large firms and public authorities to allow some of their employees a few days off to do voluntary work, to make more apprenticeships and so on, and on, and on!  They make wild promises about what they’ll do – but they’re even better at rubbishing the claims of their opponents.  The SNP threatens to rob the Labour Party of what were once ‘safe parliamentary seats’ in Scotland.   So ED Miliband has toured Scotland today  telling electors that the SNP’s proposed programme can only be carried out by raising taxes and making even deeper austerity cuts than  the Tories have.  Mind you, Ed Miliband has recently been at the receiving end of just such a ‘rubbish your opponent’ campaign.  It’s a bit complicated and depends on lots of ‘mights’, but I’ll do my best to explain.

            It is just possible that Labour might win enough seats in the election to have more parliamentary seats than any other party, but not have an overall majority.  It is also just possible that the SNP might gain enough seats to make up an overall majority and might be prepared to support a minority Labour government.   They would obviously expect a quid pro quo for this – and it is possible that the price they might demand for that support might be that the Labour Government does not renew the Trident Nuclear submarine fleet with its ‘ultimate independent nuclear deterrent’.  If they did so then Ed. Miliband, in order to become Prime Minister, might accept that condition.  According to the Conservative Defence Minister he has already ‘stabbed his brother in the back’ to become leader of the Labour Party so he’d have no hesitation in ‘stabbing his country in the back’ to become Prime Minister..  David Cameron says he supports his Defence Minister in this assertion and proudly announces that only the Conservative Party will present the electorate with four brand-new state-of-the-art Trident submarines.  Goodness, is that a threat or a promise?  It's certainly as good a reason as I know for not voting Conservative.































    




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05 April 2015

5th April 2015 (Easter Day!)

Tendring Topics…….on line

The Voices of the People?

            I am interested in politics. That’s why they’re a recurring topic in this blog.  But I’m not really interested in politicians’ speeches, and in interviews with politicians.     They’re all too often a masterly demonstration of how to avoid giving a straight answer to a straight question; ‘What we should really be asking ourselves is…………………’ and so on! Then again what, at the time, seemed to be a firm promise turns out to have been no more than an ‘aspiration’.  I’m much more interested in what they do than in what they say!

            Even as recently as a week ago if someone had told me that for two whole hours I would listen to politicians arguing with each other on tv, I’d have thought they must have confused me with someone else.  Yet that’s precisely what happened during the evening of Maundy Thursday, 2nd April.  A debate took place on ITV between seven prominent politicians, each the leader of a political party with candidates in the General Election on 7th May.   There was David Cameron, Conservative; Ed Miliband, Labour: Nick Clegg, Liberal; Nigel Farage, UKIP; Natalie Bennett, Green Party; Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish National Party; and Leanne Wood, Welsh National Party.

            I started to watch when the debate began at 8.00 pm, telling myself that I could always turn it off or switch to another channel if it became really boring.  But it didn’t and I watched till the end at 10.00 p.m. Mind you I was sitting in a very comfortable armchair with a generous double-scotch (well watered down!) at hand. I really think that the ITV authorities who organised the event, and the presenter, who kept the participants in order, deserve to be congratulated.  It could have developed into disorganised pandemonium and threatened to do so on a couple of occasions.  However the presenter was polite but firm and order prevailed.

             I suspect that watchers heard what they wanted to hear from the debate.  The headlines of at least one newspaper reported that David Cameron had clearly triumphed, while an immediate post-debate opinion poll commissioned by another newspaper indicated victory for Ed Miliband.   Personally, I thought that Cameron and Miliband trotted out all the predictable arguments that we have heard from them before.  Nick Clegg remains confident that Lib.Dems. will help either Labour or Conservatives to form a government and will steer that government’s actions towards the ‘middle ground’.  He could, of course, be right – but I doubt it.  Nick Clegg also took pride in the fact that the coalition government had raised the threshold of liability for income tax thereby, so he claimed, lifting thousands of people ‘out of the tax system altogether’.  That is simply untrue.  It has raised them out of the ‘income tax’ system but they still pay the indirect taxes and customs duties like VAT and duties on petrol, alcohol and tobacco that Conservatives much prefer.  It also perpetuates the myth that there is an under-class of non-taxpayers supported by tax-payers who have lifted themselves out of poverty by hard work and thrift.  I wonder how many of Britain’s thriving billionaires acquired their millions by their own ‘hard work and thrift’?   

            Nigel Farage was his usual obnoxious self, pouring scorn on the EU and suggesting that ‘Health Tourism’ is a serious problem and that a majority of folk diagnosed as HIV positive were immigrants.  Nick Clegg pointed out that not all foreigners in this country were malign.  Both he, and Nigel Farage, were married to ‘foreigners’!   Farage also claimed that all the other parties represented at the debate were the same, since they all supported EU membership. Only Ukip, he claimed, represented the will of the British people.  I continue to see in Nigel Farage’s progress parallels with the early political career of Adolf Hitler in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s.  He too assured a disillusioned-with-politicians electorate that his Party (the NSDAP or Nazis) was ‘different’ – and so it was!   

            I was impressed with the three women representing the Green Party, the SNP and the Welsh Nationalists but am quite ready to concede that my judgement is largely founded on the fact that the policies they promoted are the ones that I believe are needed today.   The most impressive, confident and articulate was Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party.  She was the only debater who had the courage to refer to the UKs folly in its insistence on possession of nuclear weapons.  ‘The scarce resources of our country should be invested in the future of our children, not on new nuclear weapons’.  A comment on ‘I’ daily newspaper says that she gave an impressive performance and that ‘it is possible that some English voters watching might have been tempted to switch from Labour to SNP if the Party was standing outside Scotland’. I remarked in this blog a few weeks ago that Ms. Sturgeon was a worthy successor of Alex Salmond.  She certainly is! It is a pity that those three women party leaders with so much in common, didn’t get together to agree who was to say what at the debate!   Leanne Wood (Welsh Nationalist) and Natalie Bennett (Green Party) covered much the same ground as Nicola Sturgeon but less confidently and forcefully.  I’d have liked to have heard from Natalie Bennett rather more about the Green Party’s environmental policies – the importance of combating the effects of climate change world-wide; of finding and developing  clean and renewable sources of energy, and of urgently reducing our dependence on fossil fuels;  and, of course, of the utter folly of encouraging ‘fracking’.

            Voting in the General Election will be taking place the day before the 70th anniversary of VE Day, the day on which in Europe World War II ended.   It comes as something of a shock to me to realize that you really have to be at least eightyish to remember anything at all about World War II, six years that were such an important part of my life..  On that fateful day in 1945 I was with a group of British prisoners of war being marched south-westward into Czechoslovakia, away from the inexorably approaching battle front.  Half-way through the morning our guards announced that they had heard on the radio that the war was over, and left us to our own devices.  We thereupon liberated ourselves – though with grateful thanks to the Soviet Red Army.  I walked through the front door of my home in Ipswich just ten days later – on 18th May, which happened to be my 24th birthday!

            I little thought on that day that seventy years later the world would be threatened by climate change; that Christians would be massacred in parts of Africa and the Middle East for no other reason than that they were Christian; that the Christian faith was in danger of being eradicated from the region that saw its birth; and that the world’s rulers believed that nuclear weapons, whose use could erase humanity, were needed to maintain a precarious world peace.  

Finally

Let's end this somewhat gloomy blog with a message of hope on an Easter Morning on which the daffodils in my garden announce that Spring is here.  Here is the traditional Easter salutation of the Universal Church of Christ and the response.



'Christ is risen - Alleluia!'    'He is risen indeed, Amen!'  

           













   


            

30 March 2015

30th March 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

‘There’s no point in voting – they’re really all the same!’

          That’s one of the standard reasons given by those who can’t be bothered to vote in Parliamentary Elections.   The really sad thing is that they’re not far out.  In times gone by – certainly before World War II and I think for some time afterwards, political parties had a clearly defined purpose and we all had a pretty good idea of their ultimate aims. Leaders and members of the Conservative Party, as their name suggests, thought that the social order in our country and the way that industry and commerce performed were pretty well OK.  Conservatives agreed that some things might need a slight tweak here or there, but generally speaking they felt that history had come to an end and that we Brits were currently living in the best of all possible worlds.

            The Labour Party on the other hand, believed that there was a great deal wrong with our present social and economic system and wanted to change it.  They were influenced by the great reformers of the 18th and 19th centuries, by Christian concern for the poor and disadvantaged (‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek..........He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away) and to some extent by the revolutionary ideas of such thinkers as Marx and Engels.  They thought it possible that they could, by democratic means, create an earthly Paradise – fulfilling William Blake’s prophecy in his great poem Jerusalem ‘I shall not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till I have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land’

            The Liberal Party, originally the Party of the rulers of industry and commerce in conflict with the land-owning gentry of the Conservative Party, sat uneasily between Conservative and Labour, declining in power and influence throughout the twentieth century, though enjoying a temporary popularity at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Love them or hate them, the three parties were quite clear in their objectives and those who had votes (it wasn’t till well after the end of World War I that there was universal adult suffrage, and eighteen year olds didn’t get a vote until after World War II) knew exactly why they voted for the party of their choice.

Now, thanks largely to Tony Blair and his New Labour, all that has changed. All main political Parties now support the Market economy in which everything and everybody has cash value.  Job satisfaction – enjoyed by many thousands (including myself) in the past – has been replaced by a struggle for personal wealth in which everyone grabs as much as he or she can demand for as little as they can get away with.  Leading New Labourites like Lord Mendelson declare that they ‘have no problem with billionaires’; well (while thousands of their fellow Britons are homeless and reliant on voluntary food banks to keep their families fed) they should have problems with billionaires.

            Both Parties accept that top bankers must be paid in millions a year, plus more millions as bonuses – because ‘that’s the only way we can attract the very best brains’ to make Britain great again.  Those ‘best brains’ who demand and receive millions of pounds for their services are the very people who, as was repeatedly affirmed by the recently retired Governor of the Bank of England, caused the current financial crisis.  They were also responsible, if only by default, for the banking scandals that have made the press headlines in recent years.;  miss-selling of insurance (for which the banks have had to pay millions of pounds in compensation),  fiddling interest rates and assisting very wealthy clients to become even richer by tax avoidance.   If those are the kind of things that result from appointing (at enormous expense)  the very best brains to head our banks, perhaps we should find out what the ‘second-best’ brains can do.  At the very least they’d come a bit cheaper – and might not be quite so good at feathering their own nests!

            George Osborne is already set to impose further austerities on a long suffering public sector.  He says that he only proposes to impose the same economies this year as he did last year.  He will be imposing them on already sadly depleted services.  Does he really imagine that if you empty half the water from a bucket one year, you can pour out the same volume of water from that same bucket the next year without emptying it?

So far the competing political parties have been much more eager to denigrate their opponents than to tell us what they themselves propose to do to solve Britain’s problems.  The Conservatives promise more of the same medicine and warn us that electing a Labour Government will create chaos. The New Labourites point out that the Tories are already wrecking the NHS and will probably try to solve its problems by mass privatisation.  Well, my medical practitioner (family doctor) service is certainly not as good as it was when the coalition took over government and the government’s bungled reforms have without doubt played a part in this deterioration.  Now they are proposing that pharmacists should take on some of the tasks previously undertaken by doctors.  That has the potential of creating long queues waiting for service in pharmacies as well as in doctors’ waiting rooms.

              For many years the British government’s annual expenditure has exceeded its annual income resulting in a ‘deficit’ that is filled by borrowing.  Central Government’s strategy must be the reduction, and eventually the elimination, of that deficit.  There are two ways in which this can be done; by reducing expenditure and by increasing income.

            Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats have all chosen the path of reducing expenditure – not on obviously wasteful practices like maintaining a wildly expensive ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ which is neither independent nor an effective deterrent, maintaining an ‘armed presence’ in the Middle East, and unquestioningly  supporting the USA in such military adventures as the invasion of Iraq and of Afghanistan, not to mention blindly backing the Kiev government in the civil conflict in Ukraine.  No, the government has concentrated its demand for economies on benefits for the poor and the unemployed and on local government services – education, maintenance of highways and footpaths, social services, libraries, public parks and gardens, refuse and recyclable collections and so on; all the services in fact that make the difference between civilisation and barbarism.

            All the main parties reject the other way of reducing the deficit; increasing the government’s income by taxation.  There are ways in which this could be done with minimal hardship.  I have suggested in this blog that all state ‘benefits’ should be subject to income tax – winter fuel allowance for the old, children’s allowances, attendance allowance, free tv licence, free prescriptions and so on. This wouldn’t affect at all the really poor who don’t pay income tax.  It would affect the rest of us (several would affect me!) but they wouldn’t impose a crippling burden on anybody.  It would at least reduce the scandal of elderly millionaires getting exactly the same winter fuel allowance and other universal benefits as the rest of us oldies.

            Nor, I think, would a penny or two-pence on the standard and higher rate of income tax cause real hardship to anyone.  We’d only lose a little of the taxable part of our income.   I’m no mathematician but I believe that penny or tuppence on each pound of our taxable income would make a tremendous difference to our country’s finances.   Yet David Cameron promises that a new Conservative Government would not raise the rate of VAT (he could naturally be expected to prefer indirect taxation that disproportionately penalises the poor).  Much more shamefully, Ed Miliband, Labour leader, promises that if he leads a Labour government, there will be no increase in either the standard or the higher rate of income tax.

            Perhaps the cynics are right and they really are ‘all the same’.  They’ve certainly all got the same ultimate aim.  No – it’s not to make our country a better place in which to live.   It’s to get sufficient compliant MPs elected to enable them to form a government and, having done so, to hang on to power for as long as they can manage to get away with it. 

It’s still worth while to vote though – and our duty to those who in the 19th and early 20th Century – laboured and endured derision, arrest and imprisonment for the right to do so.  If you can’t bring yourself to vote for a candidate, then vote against the candidate whose policies you most dislike.  Put your cross against the name of the candidate most likely to defeat him or her!

And, of course, in this General Election we’ll have at least two credible alternatives to those of the three traditional parties.  There’s UKIP and there’s the Green Party.  UKIP consists of Nigel Farage and his followers.  He wants to get us out of the European Union and to limit immigration. For other policies he’ll just jump onto any bandwagon that promises a few extra votes, but generally speaking, his policies are well to the right of the most hard-line Conservatives.  A quite astonishing number of prominent Ukippers – MEPs and other senior party members, have departed from Ukip ‘under a cloud’. I can imagine no circumstances under which a Ukip candidate will get my vote.

The Scots the Welsh and the Northern Irish all have nationalist alternative candidates for whom they can vote.  I shall vote Green because they are working towards a fairer and a more sustainable Britain of which it might truly be said we are all in this together.  They won't achieve this in my time but perhaps my grandchildren’s generation will bring it about. As yet at least, the Greens are not tainted by the determination to achieve office at any price –  and I wish them well.

I’m sorry if any –or all – of the above sounds like a history lesson.  It isn’t that to me.  It’s the story of the United Kingdom during my lifespan, from the first quarter of the 20th century to the first quarter of the 21s.  

            

23 March 2015

25th March 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

Dear Ernest……….
                                 …….. warm regards, Douglas

            You would probably imagine that the above was the salutation and farewell of a personal letter from a close friend or relative, and that between that ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ there was a communication of great interest to both ‘Ernest’ and ‘Doug’.   It wasn’t; and although presumably it was of interest to the sender it certainly was not to me.

            It wasn’t a personal letter. I have never met, and almost certainly never will meet the ‘Douglas’ who addresses me by my first name and sends me his ‘warm regards’.  Nor was it a personal letter.  It was a circular letter, probably sent to every Tom, Dick and Harry and every Jane, Mary or Kate in the Clacton-on-Sea parliamentary constituency from Douglas Carswell once our Conservative MP but currently, thanks to a lightning conversion and an expensive and totally unnecessary by-election,  one of two UKIP MPs in the House of Commons.

            A remarkable feature of that by-election was the fact that Douglas Carswell the UKIP candidate, was the only one who seemed to make a real effort to get elected.  I was deluged by UKIP leaflets, brochures and at least one of those ‘personal’ letters from Douglas Carswell.  I received a phone call on behalf of UKIP and a canvasser who called at my front door.  He seemed a little shocked when I assured him that I would never vote for any UKIP candidate. There was also – so I believe – a well-attended public meeting addressed by both Douglas Carswell and his political boss Nigel Farage.   I received just one leaflet from the Conservative candidate, one from the Liberal Democrats and one from Labour.  There were also a Green candidate and two independents from whom I received nothing.

            The General Election is now only a few weeks away.  History seems to be  repeating itself.  During the past week or so I have received three glossy brochures or leaflets extolling Douglas Carswell’s virtues, a canvassing phone call, and today (21st March)  this ‘personal letter’ from the man himself.  The content of the letter confirms my opinion that, apart from leaving the European Union and reducing immigration, UKIP’s policy is simply to jump on any band-wagon that offers the promise of a few extra votes.   I have so far received nothing from any of the other candidates.

            Douglas’ circular letter promises that UKIP will abolish hospital parking charges, funding this by ’cutting overseas aid and EU payments’ (could be a vote winner – parking at Colchester General Hospital is difficult and expensive – and getting worse!).  They’ll also ‘defend the NHS, defend winter fuel payments, bus passes and tv licences for older folk’ (there are lots of ‘older folk’ with votes in this constituency) ‘stand up to big corporations’ (I don’t know quite what that means but it certainly sounds vote-catching!) and ‘introduce an Australian-style points system’ to control immigration (locally our most serious immigration problem is created by fellow-Brits driven from the London area by ridiculously high housing costs and the ‘bedroom tax').
             
            At the end of the letter there is a chart based on figures supplied by www. ElectoralCalculus.co,uk which suggests that UKIP can expect to gain 48 percent of the votes in this area in the general election, and the Conservatives 45 percent.  Douglas Carswell appeals ‘Only UKIP can keep David Cameron’s candidate out of Clacton’.  I’m inclined to reverse that message and proclaim.  Only the Conservatives can keep Nigel Farage’s candidate out of Clacton

            Regular blog readers will know that at the by-election I ‘voted strategically’.  For the first, and probably only time in my life I put my cross against the name of the Conservative candidate in the hope of denying the seat to Douglas Carswell.  It didn’t succeed!    The closeness of the two parties in the forecast tempts me to do the same in the General Election – but I won’t.  This time I’ll vote Green because I am convinced that it is only the policies of the Green Party that offer a cure for Britain’s ills.
           
Final Note:  

The reason that, in both the by-election and in the months preceding the coming general election I had so much potentially mind-bending material from the UKIP candidate and so little from the others, is not I am sure, because the Labour, Conservative, Green and Lib.Dem candidates and their supporters lack enthusiasm and conviction, but that they have limited funds – and good quality printing and distribution costs money.  UKIP presumably has some very wealthy and generous financial backers – or perhaps Douglas (as he uses my first name I’m sure he won’t mind my using his) has a very considerable personal fortune that he is prepared to use to secure electoral success.

An Anniversary

          We have recently seen the first anniversary of the annexation/recovery of the Crimea by Russia.  It was marked by a public opinion poll in the Crimea that revealed that 93 percentage of the population were happy to remain as Russians and had no desire to be once again citizens of Ukraine.   Ninety-three percent! That’s the kind of result that one would only get in a place like North Korea – it must have been fiddled or fabricated!   Well, that’s what ‘the west’ would no doubt like to believe.  The only difficulty with that explanation is that the opinion poll was carried out by a Ukrainian polling agency commissioned by the Ukrainian government.  That was not the result for which the government in Kiev was hoping!  Certainly in the 1950s when both Russia and Ukraine were provinces of the Soviet Union, the citizens of the Crimea were not consulted when Nikita Khruschev decided that their land (which had been part of Russia since Tsarist times) should become part of Ukraine.

            Meanwhile the fact that we have heard no recent news from the disputed region of Eastern Ukraine suggests  that the terms of the cease-fire are being observed; that hostilities have ceased and heavy weaponry withdrawn from the front line.   I hope that prisoners are being exchanged by both sides and that talks are in progress about the degree of autonomy to be granted to the Russian speaking eastern areas of Ukraine. Meanwhile the British Government, which played no part in the cease-fire negotiations, has supplied the Ukrainian Government in Kiev with armoured cars, and is sending units from our army (depleted by government cuts and by less-than-totally-successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan), to help train the Ukrainian army.  That’s our contribution to the cause of world peace!