24 November 2014

24th November 2014

Tendring Topics…..on Line

Bankers Bonuses

          The previous Governor of the Bank of England said publicly on several occasions that the financial crisis in the UK and world-wide was not due, as Messrs. Osborne and Cameron would have us believe, to the policies of the previous government, over-generous welfare benefits, nor even the activities of immigrants and the machinations of ‘Brussels’.  Fairly and squarely to blame were the activities and incompetence of ‘the Bankers’, obviously not the management and staff of your local Barclays, Lloyds or what-have-you (they’re as much victims as we are), but the ‘super-brains’ at the top – and the Governor of the Bank of England really should know.

   Mind you, I think that a considerable measure of blame does lie with the previous New Labour government – not because they were too eager to spend money on social services, but because, blinded by billionaires, they were just as keen to seek the favour of the bankers, the money lenders and the financial fiddlers as the present lot at Westminster.   They should have spotted what was happening and curbed it.  I don’t recall that the present Bank of England Governor has ever publicly blamed the banking fraternity as had his predecessor – but then he has never suggested that his predecessor was wrong.

            What is particularly infuriating to the ordinary British citizen – the ordinary voter – is that throughout the period of recession top bankers have shed a few hundred junior staff; carried out mergers; effectively reduced the value of savings (including mine!) by paying savers an interest rate below the rate of inflation - and have continued to draw eye-wateringly high salaries for just turning up at their offices.   For actually doing their best at the job for which they are paid those enormous salaries, they expect to receive even more gargantuan bonuses!

            Quite apart from causing the world-wide financial crisis there have more recently been the muck-ups and illegal fiddles in which some of them have been involved.  Millions of pounds had to be repaid to bank customers who had wrongly been sold insurance.  For weeks I had regular phone calls from ‘ambulance chasing’ lawyers assuring me that they’d get my money back for me despite my assurances that, as far as I knew, none of my money had been involved!   Then there was the fiddle with interest rates that led to huge fines – all passed on to customers I have little doubt.  Yesterday we learned that one of the biggest banking groups had been heavily fined for having a faulty IT system that resulted in customers being unable to access their own money for several days.    Rents, mortgage repayments and direct debit payments were not paid!  No doubt this was the fault of someone well down the line in the banking hierarchy – but the top people claim the credit for success, so they should also be prepared to accept the blame for disaster.

            Something should really be done to cut those huge salaries and abolish those enormous bonuses  but, so we are assured, market forces demand that we offer those rewards if we want the ‘best’ brains.  If we don’t they’ll just go elsewhere.  Well, we’ve seen the disasters that ‘the best brains’ can cause.  Who knows?  The ‘second best’ might be less successful – or they might just be less disastrous!

            One way that ‘the best brains’ could be discouraged from migrating in pursuit of a few extra millions would be to limit or reduce the number of places to which they could migrate.   The European Union probably had this in mind when they decided to put a legal limit on Bankers Bonuses.  Throughout the EU, they suggested, no banker should receive a bonus in excess of his or her annual salary.  They then added a rider to the effect that the bonus could be up to double the recipient’s annual salary if the Bank’s shareholders agreed.

            It doesn’t take a financial genius to see how utterly feeble that is.  It means that a banker with an annual salary of £500,000 (common enough among top bankers though at least ten times more than a salary that most of us would consider very high) he would be able to receive another £500,000 as a bonus.  He’d be receiving a million pounds for his year’s work!   But that’s not all.   If he could persuade a majority of the bank’s shareholders to agree, that bonus of £500,000 could be doubled, making his total pay for the year  £1.5 million. That’s nearly £29,000 a week!  You could hire quite a few doctors and nurses for that.

            Would you believe it? – pathetic as the EU’s decision is, Cameron and Osborne were determined to  oppose any limit to bankers’ bonuses on the grounds that it would only lead to their being offered even higher salaries!   I understand that they have now withdrawn their opposition, having been told they haven’t a leg to stand on.

            No wonder the UK electorate is sick of all the existing political parties!

UKIP triumphant?

          I concluded my comments about Bankers’ bonuses by saying that the UK electorate is sick of all existing political parties.  Their members in Kent demonstrated that distrust last week when they followed the ‘Clacton example’ and, in a by-election in Rochester, returned another defecting former Conservative  to the House of Commons as a Ukipper.

         Once again I see parallels between the situation in the UK today and that in Germany in the late 1920s, early 1930s.  In Germany too a dynamic and charismatic leader, first thought of as ‘a bit of a joke’, transformed a struggling political party into a dynamic, powerful and all-conquering force that struggled into shared power and then became a ‘cuckoo in the nest’, turning out members of all other parties and establishing the Nazi one-party state. ‘One People, One United Kingdom, one Leader!’  I can just imagine Nigel Farage acknowledging that Nazi acclamation when he and his party finally acquire the power they covet!
             A month or two ago, during the run-up to the Scottish referendum, I wrote in this blog that the worst-case possibility in the event of there being a majority YES vote, could be the creation of a Conservative/UKIP coalition government after the May 2015 general election; a coalition that the more ruthless and determined Ukippers would quickly dominate.   Well, there was a NO vote majority and the United Kingdom remains united.

            I now think though that, despite that NO vote, Ukips’s continuing success means that a very dangerous Conservative/UKIP coalition could emerge from the general election (I can’t tell you how fervently I hope that I am wrong!) and that Ukip members, with their vigour and ruthlessness  could dominate the coalition, so that the situation could end with Nigel Farage as a 21st century Oliver Cromwell.  Conservatives proclaim that a vote for any party other than the Conservatives makes it possible that Ed Miliband will be the next Prime Minister.  I very much fear that a vote either for the Conservatives or Ukip will make it possible that, sooner or later, our government will be headed by Nigel Farage.

            However, another – to me more cheering – future seems possible.  An  unexpected result of the Scottish NO vote has been the increasing popularity of the Scottish National Party that has, since the referendum, more than doubled its membership.  Alex Salmond, a dynamic and charismatic leader  has retired and has been followed by a forthright and politically experienced still-young woman who promises to be a worthy successor. She has taken his place both as Party Leader and as Scotland’s First Minister.

            Conservatives and Lib Dems. have been all but eliminated from the Scottish scene.   Ukip has never gained a foothold there – and the machinations of New Labour have little appeal.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Scotland, still part of the UK thanks to that No vote, returns a solid block of Scottish National Party MPs in the new Westminster Parliament.   It is possible that they might make common cause with MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland and join with Labour to create a formidable coalition that could well outnumber the combined Conservative and Ukip forces.  Who knows – the fervour of the Scots might inspire Ed Miliband at least to attempt to narrow that yawning gap (no, not the deficit) between the wealthy and the poor and induce the wealthy to carry their fair share of the burden of taxation.

            There's another quite different matter about the Rochester and Clacton by-elections that’s worth bearing in mind. In both by-elections (and in the earlier European Parliament elections) the Green Party Candidates received more votes than the Lib-Dems.   Nick Clegg in his urge to become Deputy Prime Minister has effectively finished off his once-great Liberal Party.  Gladstone and Lloyd-George must be turning in their graves.  Yet the BBC and other  tv channels are still inviting Nick Clegg, and not the leader of the Green Party, to take part in televised debates before the General Election.  The only conclusion that I can come to is that the BBC and whoever funds the independent tv channels doesn’t want Green Party policies to be considered by the public because the Greens are the only party working towards real change.  He who pays the piper calls the tune.


14 November 2014

14th November 2014

Tendring Topics……..on line

Greed and Self-interest Rule – OK?

        When our two sons were children, my wife Heather and I never tried to indoctrinate them with our ideas and values.  On the other hand we did make our ideas known to them and made sure that they knew that there were values that were important to us.  Looking back over the half-century that has elapsed since then I am very pleased, as I know their mother would be were she still with us, that both of them have lived socially useful lives and that their outlook on matters of importance is much the same as my own.

                      Sons to be proud  of!  Left Andy, then aged 13; and Pete aged 15, on holiday in Cornwall 1968 

 Last week, for instance, I received an email from my older son Pete, who founded and runs a successful and expanding consultancy, about one his major concerns. He expressed thoughts that could well have been my own.  Here are a few paragraphs from it: 

            This week started with the most explicit and extreme warnings and recommendations from world scientists about climate change, clearly and unambiguously saying for the first time that we have got to stop burning fossil fuels by the end of the century and halve our output by 2050 and that means that much of the known resources of coal, oil and gas can never be burned.

 But the BBC, instead of making a feature of it, and trying to explain the gravity of the situation to the ignorant British public, gave it a five minute slot on the National News, with a weary tone, saying that we have heard all this before but politicians never deal with it and won't this time. That instead of reducing carbon emissions global emissions are actually increasing year on year.  And then there was the ‘feel-good’ information, Britain and Europe are doing their bit, but China and the USA are the biggest emitters. After that, we could move on to the next news item.

I just despair. The climate change debate really does seem to encapsulate the problem of human greed where we are actually prepared to sacrifice the quality of life of our grandchildren for the sake of short term financial gain for this generation. Also, that we measure quality of life by the Gross Domestic Product, not by the environment in which we bring up our children. From the big global issues to the small local ones you see the same mentality. In London doctors are saying that 4000 people every year die prematurely from breathing disorders directly caused by pollution from cars, which is far higher than agreed European levels in London's hot spots. Millions of children at school also have breathing problems and need to use inhalers. This seems shocking to me and surely demands swift and uncompromising solutions.

But - with general public support - Boris Johnson has dragged his feet, postponed and watered down measures to deal with this. Why? Because it might damage the London economy or the livelihood of Taxi drivers or the financial health of road hauliers or upset the motoring lobby to act too swiftly.  

While I can see the economic need for Delivery vans and Lorries to drive through central London, 50% of the traffic consists of private cars owned by people wealthy enough not to care about the Congestion Charge, who have a company car park to go to and "prefer to drive". How can that be justified or dealt with by a higher charge? It should just be banned!

My sentiments exactly – and I couldn’t have put it better or more forcefully. This is not just a British or just a European problem. I watched last week a tv programme about the Mekong river, one of the greatest waterways in south-east Asia, that flows through the countries of Cambodia and Vietnam.  Along its course is an enormous freshwater lake, the level of which is raised several feet during the rainy season. Communities with homes built on stilts exist round this lake and for generations they have lived by harvesting the fish with which the lake teemed.

            Recently though both Cambodia and Vietnam have been introduced to free-market competitive capitalism.  Local fishing methods were anything but cost-effective.  Big corporations are now using modern mass-market fishing methods – reaping, for a year or two, a rich harvest and enriching their share holders. They’re also depleting the fish.  Tough luck on the lake-side communities!  They clearly have no future in the world of the 21st century.

One of the verses in Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam says

Ah Love, couldst thou and I with fate conspire
To take this sorry scheme of things entire.
Would we not shatter it to bits, and then
Remould it closer to the heart’s desire?

 In 1945 our world had been shattered to bits by world wars.   I believe that with the welfare state, the foundation of the United Nations and the beginnings of the foundation of a united Europe, there was a genuine attempt in many countries, including our own, to create a world of peace and justice, closer to the heart’s desire.  This vision of a better, fairer, co-operative rather than competitive society persisted, in this country at least, through the governments of Clement Attlee, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath (I look back on that time as a golden age!) until the 1980s and the advent of Thatcherism and, the other side of the same coin, Tony Blair’s New Labour.

It was during this period of privatisation, of the development of the idea of a world-wide market free of bureaucratic regulation, that greed and naked self-interest took over. I like to personalise it as the triumph of the false god Mammon with his unholy trinity of profitability, productivity and cost-effectiveness.  I wonder how many well-meaning Labour supporters realized that in erasing ‘Clause 4’ of Labour’s constitution, they weren’t just voting that not everything should be nationalised but opening the door to the privatisation of all public services.   I remember being quite shocked when the Daily Telegraph, a newspaper for the ‘responsible citizen’ if there ever was one, carried as a keynote feature an article entitled A Defence of Greed!

I have been proud of my country but now I am ashamed. It is a land in which the gap between the wealth of the richest of us and the poverty of the poorest is the widest in Europe, in which conspicuous and flaunted wealth exist while many hard-working people have to rely on charity and food banks to keep their families from starvation; where an army of lawyers and accountants earn a parasitic prosperity by making sure the very rich pay nothing like their fair share of taxation; a form of ‘immoral earnings’ that is risk-free and richly rewarded!

I can only hope that our fellow men and women will come to their senses and repudiate Mammon and all his evil works before the unbridled greed and selfishness of a minority drag, not me at 93, but a future generation to disaster.

A fateful Decade

Writing about the decade that I think of as the ‘avaricious eighties’ has brought to my  mind the fact that it was during those fateful ten years that  Home Office files, that are said to have implicated members of ‘the establishment’ in child abuse disappeared – were lost or destroyed.  No, I am not suggesting for a moment that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in any way responsible for their disappearance. It unlikely that she was even aware of their existence.

I do think it possible though that someone with authority in the Home Office who was a fervent supporter of the ‘iron lady’ did glance through them, saw some of the names mentioned, and recognised their potential ability to hinder – or even halt - Mrs Thatcher’s revolutionary crusade of privatisation and removal of every trace of what she considered to be the taint of socialism.  The last thing that she would want would be a major public scandal possibly involving some of the government’s most enthusiastic and generous supporters.  

So, those potentially damaging files ‘disappeared’.  Who would have imagined that anyone would remember their existence over thirty years later?

‘We’re better together!’

I had never expected to get very excited about the progress of space exploration.  Much of it is really beyond my comprehension.  However, the fact that the European Space Agency has succeeded in placing a man-made object on the surface of a comet millions of miles away and travelling at breathtaking speed, really does deserve heartfelt congratulation. 

I am particularly pleased because it was achieved by fellow Europeans, working together.  Some components were manufactured in an Essex factory.  It is an achievement that neither the Americans, the Russians nor the Chinese have managed to accomplish – and you can bet your life they all would have if they could have!  This European achievement in the field of space exploration could be repeated in the fields of politics and economics.  Europe could, once again, lead the world!

This is no time for the United Kingdom to think of leaving the European Union.  As the leaders of all Britain's main political parties proclaimed on the eve of the Scottish referendum:

                                       We’re better together!

Dear Blog Readers,

When, a few weeks ago, I wrote that I would no longer necessarily publish this blog on Mondays I had in mind that it would sometimes be later in the week.  However, this week 'next week's blog' was completed and it seemed to me that I should get it published as soon as possible because it has important messages.  So here it is - published on Friday 14th November instead of Monday 17th.  I've no idea when the next blog will be published.  It all depends on what happens in the world!  


10 November 2014

10th November 2014

Tendring Topics……on line

Two Social Events

            There was a time when I didn’t think of myself as a very sociable person.  Give me a quiet corner, a comfortable chair and a good book and I’d be quite happy with my own company for hours at a time.  That phase of my life has passed.  My interest in books – whether fiction or non-fiction – has waned (though I still enjoy reading letters and emails, newspapers and magazines) and there’s nothing that I enjoy more than the company of friends and family.  I am really extraordinarily fortunate in both.                                            
  Dr Volker Dudeck, distinguished historian and Cultural Senator of federal state of Saxony, and  seven-year old  Maja Kulke, both from Zittau the small German town where I was  once a POW, with me on my 93rd birthday.  Note the birthday cake-  a birthday present from the management of ‘The Bowling Green'! 

In May of this year, to celebrate my ninety-third birthday I invited my immediate  relatives  (sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren) and my best friends – from the UK and from mainland Europe – to a celebration lunch at The Bowling Green a licensed restaurant four or five miles from Clacton.  Twenty-two of us sat down to lunch.  There were seven Germans, two Austrians, one Belgian and the rest of us were Brits. The Germans and Austrians had travelled over a thousand kilometres to be with me on that occasion.   It was a wonderful birthday celebration.

Enjoying myself (clutching what’s left of a pint of Guinness!) at the family get-together on 25th October.  On the right of the picture is a great-niece of whom I am very proud. .She graduated as a doctor over a year ago and is currently gaining experience in general Medical Practice 

Last month (on 25th October) it was the turn of ‘the family’. I was an ‘only child’ but Heather had s sister thirteen years younger than herself.   Consequently I have a sister-in-law, four nieces, a nephew, five great nieces and a great-nephew.  The nephew and three of the nieces are married and my grand-daughter, younger grandson and two of the great-nieces have partners.   My older grandson lives and works in Taiwan and one of my nieces lives and works in Hongkong.   My sister-in-law, a nephew and one of the great-nieces were also prevented by circumstances from joining us..  Otherwise all came and there were once again twenty-two of us who sat down to a celebration lunch at The Bowling Green on 25th October.

            Nick, probably the family's most experienced computer expert, had brought along a piece of IT wizardry with which, via Skype, he was able to contact  his brother Chris in Taiwan.    This gadget, by which we could see, hear and chat briefly to Chris, was passed round and meant that he too, became part of the celebration.  I found myself lost for words and probably mumbled nonsense to my grandson on the other side of the world! 
            It was a splendid occasion that I think everybody enjoyed as much as I did.  There were two  members of the family – Dani, Jo’s partner and Romy, Nick’s partner - who had not previously had an opportunity of meeting all of us.   Lunch began at 1.00 pm and the celebration didn’t end until 4.30 when, thoroughly exhausted but happy, I was driven home by my younger son Andy,and his family. It made me realize, not for the first time, how very fortunate I am in having a loving and caring family and wonderful friends.

The celebration breaks up.   I am clutching my recently acquired folding zimmer frame that helps me get about safely and folds up so that it can be transported in the boot of a car.

Noses in the trough

             Shortly after the event recorded above I spotted a headline in the local daily Gazette that made our modest family celebration at The Bowling Green, Weeley, seem positively Spartan!

Councillors scoff way through £20k of food headed a report of Essex County Councillors having consumed  no less than £20,000 worth of free meals in the restaurant at County Hall during the past year, .despite the fact that twenty-three councillors had no free meals at all and others had very few. Images from George Orwell’s Animal Farm came unbidden into my mind!  

It seems that the more important was the councillor, the larger – and the more expensive – was his or her appetite.  Leader of the pack was Councillor Rodney Bass who last year received £43,225 (that’s twice the average wage in Essex!) for his role both as a county councillor and cabinet member with responsibility for highways, presumably including pot-holes!   His food bill, paid for by us, amounted to just a fiver short of £1,000! Councillor John Aldridge, vice-chairman of the Council came close behind him with £986 and three other county councillors had had meals costing a total of over £700 each.  This information had become public on the insistence of the Green Party members of the County Council, who have boycotted the restaurant with its free meals for councillors.

            Councillor Rodney Bass feels that he has been unjustly criticised by the Gazette.  The money, he claims, just shows how hard he works.  He told a Gazette reporter that, ‘These are nominal meal costs that are supplied by the county council canteen. My day can start at 8.00 am and finish at 10.00 pm. Am I supposed to exist on no victuals at all?’

The fact that Mr Bass’ working day can start at 8.00 am and finish at 10.00 pm doesn’t mean that it often – or even ever – does!  And of course no-one expects him, or anyone else, to work all day without food.  It may, indeed, be a good idea for the County Council to run a restaurant for the benefit of both stall and councillors.  What council-taxpayers do expect is that he, and all other county councillors, should pay for their meals like everyone else.

As Mrs Thatcher, not really one of my heroines, used to say:  ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.   Someone has to pay for it.

Those EU Immigrants!

            What a problem they’ve been causing!   Nigel Farage says the only way we can stop them flooding into our country is to leave the European Union.  Our Prime Minister is determined to reduce and control their number even if by doing so, he breaks EU rules.

            Now – Surprise! Surprise! It turns out that they’re a blessing, not a curse.  Far from being ‘benefit tourists’ they’re ‘paying guests’, generously paying guests in fact;  handing over to the government in taxation billions of pounds more than they receive in benefits and services.

            I suggest that the reason that they are still regarded by some as a drain on us is that the services under pressure are the education service, the NHS and other public services.  The billions that immigrants pay out, are paid directly to the government which is continually squeezing those public services and/or privatising them.

            The government has far more interesting and important things to do with those extra billions than hand them over to health, welfare, education and highways authorities.. They’d only fritter them away on services to the public! Our rulers at Westminster have much more important priorities. They have NATO membership and a ‘special relationship’ to maintain, and a totally useless and very expensive nuclear submarine fleet to keep at sea; not to mention having to make sure that they don’t inadvertently increase the tax 'burden' on any of their multi-millionaire financial supporters.

03 November 2014

3rd November 2014

Tendring Topics……….on line

Westminster’s Robin Hoods…….in reverse!

            For the seven years I have been writing and publishing this blog I have been banging away about the way in which successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have acted like Robin Hoods in reverse, for ever widening the gap (already the widest in the EU) between the incomes of the rich and the poor, and using the taxation and benefits system to punish the poorest people in Britain in order to reward the very richest.  Now we learn that George Osborne’s austerity programme has failed.  Instead of reducing the national debt he’s managed to increase it.  I have little doubt that it is the poor who will be expected to pay for his failure.

            Last week London Evening Standard columnist Armando Ianucci made all the points that I have been trying to make, but much more effectively than I have, in a feature article on the subject of Punishing Poverty, a practice of which he accuses politicians of all the main parties. Below are the introductory paragraphs: 

It’s now a rite of passage for any aspiring political leader to state that he or she is keen to cut the welfare budget; it’s a mantra as regular as putting a penny on tobacco or vowing to protect the NHS. That’s why it drew no real howls of outrage when George Osborne got up at his party conference last month and declared that to cut the deficit further he needed to find another £25 billion of savings, and that he’d get them from cuts to welfare. You don’t have to be a Harvard-trained economist to know that the last people to have a  spare £25 billion sloshing around are the poor. Yet no one seemed that bothered by the Chancellor’s economics. 

           Similarly Ed Miliband, who has spent the past few years putting his party through intensive social policy reviews, seems to be restricting his public pronouncements to “tough” decisions to limit child support payments and to put a cap on welfare spending.

There’s nothing “tough” about kicking someone when they’re down. In fact, it appears to be the easiest job in British politics. So, even though benefit fraud itself is dwarfed thirtyfold by annual tax fraud by companies and individuals, headlines express more contempt for the shirker than for the City’s creative accountants and financial experts who caused the economic crisis in the first place. There are no poster campaigns asking us to snoop on tax fraudsters; but it’s become a common trope in any portrayal of benefit culture that it’s peopled entirely by women banging out babies to get better housing, and men claiming sickness benefit while out ten-pin bowling.
The passage that I have printed in bold type should be written in letters of fire on the walls of the House of Commons and in every newspaper editorial office!  The article in the Evening Standard goes on:

The true picture is a much more sobering one: it’s of an increasing section of society working or trying to find work while living within touching distance of poverty. We may be through the worst of the Great Recession but many have had to drop down in pay level, endure frozen salaries, move to find work at great personal cost, or take themselves off the unemployment register by entering the fickle world of self-employment. This weekend’s figures that show there are now a record 5.2 million workers in low-paid jobs point to a significant section of the community being pushed to the margins.

Meantime, those claiming benefit are evaluated by firms such as Atos and Maximus, charged with keeping welfare costs down. Claimants are subjected to an undignified, demoralising series of tests and conditions which, if flouted, result in a sanction, an automatic suspension of payment.  Fair enough, you might think, were it not that these firms are under pressure to hit targets. There are thousands of examples of claimants sanctioned for missing interviews when they’re incapacitated, or in hospital, or receiving notice of the date after the event, or being sent it on line even if they’ve said they don’t have wi-fi.   You can appeal against a sanction, in case you’re wondering, but the process can take six months, and benefits stay suspended for the whole of that time. 

Even claiming disability benefit draws suspicious looks. The suggestion by welfare reform minister Lord Freud that certain disabled people were not worth the minimum wage can only reinforce a current unspoken prejudice against disabled claimants. There are more and more accounts of people in wheelchairs receiving verbal abuse and worse on the streets.   

We are now in the middle of a shocking rise in poverty in all its forms, most shocking of all being hunger. Since 2012 both Save the Children and the Red Cross, institutions set up to provide charity overseas, have been busy working in Britain. Meanwhile, the number of food banks has grown tenfold in the past four years, with around 1,400 food bank centres distributing food around the UK.

The experiences of volunteers there are not of dealing with skivers or cheats, but with vulnerable people whose dignity has been washed out of them by austerity and who are embarrassed by their situation. Some come admitting they skip evening meals so they have enough to feed their children. Some are children bringing fathers or mothers who are too proud to make the trip on their own. Many are working, sometimes with two jobs, but on low pay.
            I think that that is a pretty damning article and one that goes against the policies of most politicians and most of the popular press.  I can only congratulate and thank the author of the article and the editor of the Evening Standard for swimming against the tide.  I hope that this blog will be instrumental in gaining it a wider publication both at home and overseas.  In the UK today hard-working tax payers do not support an idle and feckless poor.  On the contrary, it is the labour of poor people, the majority of whom work hard for long hours for meagre pay (who pay, through indirect taxation, a far greater proportion of their income back to the state than even the richest income-tax payer)  that maintains and increases the wealth of the richest fraction of our society.
  Why do you imagine that multi-millionaires contribute so generously to traditional political parties?  It’s to keep them acting as Robin Hoods in reverse!

Some unquestionably Good News!
            One has to look hard for unequivocally good news in the news media today.  Murders, child abuse, uncontrolled epidemics, wars and rumours of wars fill the newspapers and the tv and radio news bulletins.   I have to keep telling myself that what is newsworthy is the exception and that most of my fellow men and women are friendly, law abiding and peace-loving.  No-one is going to buy a local newspaper with the headline No-one was assaulted, robbed or murdered in Clacton-on-Sea Yesterday!  It’s the occasional violent crime not the much more usual boring old peace that makes the headlines!

            Yet during the past fortnight we have had what was at least to me, a completely unexpected piece of good news and the possibility of more to come.  Surgeons in Poland (yes, that’s the same country that produces all those unwanted migrants!) had performed an operation on someone whose spinal cord had been severed and who had been told he would never walk again!  The basis of the surgery seems to have been the removal of some tissue from the back of the nose and its transplant in the area of the broken spinal cord.  The British consultant who had carried out the research that had made this possible commented modestly that he felt this was equivalent to ‘A man walking on the moon’.  I think it is far more important to human-kind than that. It offers hope where, in the past, there had been none.  

            Nearly half a century ago, when I was Clacton’s Housing Manager, we had a young newly-married couple in one of our Council Houses.  The young man was very keen on 'keeping fit' and went for a jog and a quick plunge into the sea every morning.  One morning he plunged head-first into what he had thought was 6ft depth of water.  It was actually little over 18 inches – he was rescued and survived, but with a broken neck that left him paralysed from the neck down, and with no hope of ever recovering movement in his limbs.

            The Council moved him into a bungalow specially adapted for his restricted life but, of course, he needed twenty-four hour care.  I felt desperately sorry for his young wife; still in her early twenties. The prospect of being a carer for 24 hours a day 7 days a week had not been in her mind when on their wedding day, only a few months earlier, she had promised to love and support him 'for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health' as long as they both should live.

            Nowadays, thanks to British research and the skills of those Polish surgeons, such a young couple could be offered at least the hope of an eventual happy ending.  Dante knew what he was doing when, at the entrance of his imagined Hell, he put the notice 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here'.  We humans need hope to make our lives worth living.

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.