03 August 2015

POSTSCRIPT (3)

POSTSCRIPT (3)

Global Warming – Global Warning!

          In my last blog I said that I was a member and supporter of the Green Party because I believed that Climate Change (global warming largely due to human activity) was currently the biggest threat facing humankind.  Since then I have had an email from a regular blog reader who points out that global warming is not just a future threat – it is already responsible for most of the political problems that are causing us concern today.  Here is part of that email:

I am beginning to see world events in terms of global warming.  Did you know that the real cause of the “Arab Spring” was the rising price of grain, resulting in people in the Arab countries being unable to afford to eat?  The uprisings coincided with a spike in the price of grain. Then the price subsided a bit, but the trend remained very definitely upwards due to lower crop yields and more of the world’s arable land becoming desert. This was reducing output while the population continued to grow.  The uprisings were a cry for help and a call for an end to dictatorial and corrupt governments.  As things got worse the protestors tried other governing systems.   In that part of the world a liberal parliamentary democracy is not the obvious choice of the reformers - but a more rigorous interpretation of Islam is.  Hence the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt now brutally suppressed) the Taliban, Al Qaida and, most extreme and the most successful of all, the so-called Islamic State.

  The no more than Two Degrees Centigrade rise in world temperature upper limit to which all world leaders have agreed is not an ideal figure. It is the point at which scientists predict the world will no longer be able to feed itself, and there will be widespread famine, riot and war. NASA has said publicly  that today Climate Change represents the greatest threat to world peace

So in the light of that, I think what we are witnessing in the Mediterranean and Calais, is the beginning not the end.   It is fundamentally the impoverished world meeting the rich world, and the rich believing their prosperity would be diminished if they shared it with migrants.  I think the incredible risks which the “economic” migrants are prepared to take is testament to the fact that they are escaping a life of destitution as well as immense danger, and particularly, they can see no future for their children in the country they came from. This is really what has driven all previous mass migrations, like the Irish escaping to the USA from the potato famine.

                In the past Britain has been far more generous. We welcomed Jewish migrants from Nazi Germany, we welcomed the Vietnamese Boat people escaping tyranny there and we welcomed Ugandan Asians escaping Idi Amin. And of course, in each case, the migrant population has not been a burden but has done very well in the UK.  The political tide has really turned since then.

I think that the situation in the Mediterranean, and in Eastern Europe where  almost as many migrants are  coming via land frontiers, is the most significant development.   The total number of migrants has reached 180,000.  By contrast there are “only 4000” in Calais. The rest have gone elsewhere in Europe – mainly Germany and Sweden.   So why the fuss in Calais?  Well this is entirely caused by the UK decision not to be part of Schengen, not to accept any quota of migrants at all, and to relocate the frontier to Calais, instead of it being in Dover. It is NOT the result of the UK Benefits system being too generous (it isn’t actually more generous than France), but it’s a good myth to promote.

If we had no borders – like France / Belgium – there would be none of this.  There are migrants arriving in Italy and wandering all over Europe to other EU  countries all the time, and no  one even knows. If the border was in Dover, as it should be, then people could legally hitch a ride with a lorry driver or car driver, and then apply for asylum as soon as they land. However, by putting the border in Calais, they can never get to English soil in order to apply for asylum, so they have to practically kill themselves in the attempt. Why can we not have an asylum office in Calais as well? Is it because they don’t want them applying and it is likely that too many would be approved? Why does the UK stay in the UN if we aren’t prepared respect international agreements?  

                I agree with my correspondent that those migrants aren’t attracted to the UK by our generous benefits.  Even if it were true that our benefits are more generous than those of other countries, I really don’t think that migrants would risk their lives daily in the hope of acquiring a few extra quid!   Many are attracted to the UK because they have learned a little English at school and think, probably correctly, that they’d speak it fairly fluently after a few months.  English has become a world-wide language – and that has its disadvantages as well as its benefits.

                When I hear David Cameron saying that migration from France to the UK is a European problem, not just a problem for France and Britain, I am amazed at his temerity.  It would be a European problem if we had signed up to the Schengen Agreement and had abolished our national frontiers – or if we had been prepared to accept a few of the thousands of migrants who have reached Italy, Spain or Greece either across the Mediterranean  or from Turkey.   As it is I think our fellow Europeans could surely quite reasonably say, ‘If those opt-out Brits want to keep their own frontiers and accept no refugees from Africa of Asia – it’s up to them to guard those frontiers and keep the migrants out.  We’ve got plenty of our own problems to solve before we can give thought to those   that the Brits have brought upon themselves!’

                 On the world stage our top politicians diligently pursue what they think of as our national interests. Meanwhile Climate Change waits in the wings with nasty surprises in store for all of them……….and us!

                 






















            

29 July 2015

POSTSCRIPT (2)

POSTSCRIPT (2)

Post-Election Politics

          I have long believed that what we had come to think of as the three main political parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal/Democrat, all had the same basic policy;  to win the next election by any means possible and, having done so, to hang on to power for as long as they could.  The Lib.Dems knew that they wouldn’t win outright but hoped they’d have sufficient parliamentary seats to hold the balance between the Labour and Conservative  MPs at Westminster.  They wanted to form a coalition with one or other of the two parties (they really didn’t care which one) and they expected to get a few cabinet posts and the title (and appropriate salary and perks) of Deputy Prime Minister for their leader.

          But in the General Election it didn’t happen like that.   The Conservatives (who secured only 35 percent of the votes cast) obtained a small first-past-the-post overall majority and, as I had forecast, the Lib.Dems. were all but destroyed.  The third party in today’s House of Commons is not the Lib.Dems. but the Scottish National Party!  That's something that I hadn't foreseen!

            After the General Election the leaders of the Lib.Dems, the Labour Party and of UKIP all resigned.   Nick Clegg, Lib.Dem. leader brought his downfall upon himself by acquiescing to and defending measures he had, only a week or so earlier, promised to oppose.  The opening words of Robert Browning’s ‘Lost Leader’ come to my mind ‘Just for a handful of silver he left us, Just for a riband to stick on his coat’.  Ed Miliband, Labour Leader, lost the election not because of anything he had done or failed to do but because of the daily dose of quite unjustified vilification and denigration  launched about him by the right-wing press.  If something appears before your eyes day after day you begin to feel there must be something in it – even when there clearly isn’t.  What about Nigel Farage of UKIP?  He did resign, but was back and leading his odd army of Europhobes and crypto-fascists before you could say ‘Brussels Bureaucrat!’

            The Lib-Dems have chosen their new leader who has, as might have been expected, been denigrated by the right-wing press.  Apparently he is a fundamentalist evangelical Christian and believes in a literal Heaven and Hell.  Well, that’s no more fanciful than believing that ‘market forces’ and private enterprise will solve all the world’s problems.   He is, I think, likely to prove to be a man of his word. 

The election of a new Labour leader is proving much more exciting than had been expected.  There appear to be three ‘New Labour’ candidates with proposed policies that are much the same as the Conservatives but perhaps – depending on what the latest opinion poll says – a little less harsh on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.   But now there’s another candidate; Jeremy Corbyn, fighting for the ‘old Labour’ policies of a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth, an end to privatisation and unilateral nuclear disarmament.  At least one of those who sponsored him said that she didn’t think for a moment that he would get anywhere but that she felt the voice of ‘old Labour’ should be heard.  No doubt lack of support for Corbyn was expected to demonstrate beyond doubt how thoroughly ‘New Labour’ had destroyed the tattered remnants of the ‘old Labour’ of George Lansbury, Nye Bevan and Michael Foot.

            But, once again, it hasn’t happened like that.  Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to be a very likeable, straight-forward chap, and his radical policies are proving unexpectedly popular, especially with younger Labour voters.  Opinion polls suggest that he could win the leadership election.  Hundreds of people who have previously not bothered to vote, may decide that Jeremy Corbyn offers something different; something that it’s worth turning out to vote for.  I don’t know why everybody should be so surprised. The democratic socialist policies for which Corbyn stands are much the same as those held by the Scottish National Party who, you will recall, made an almost clean sweep of Scotland’s New Labour MPs in the recent General Election.  Are the Scots really so different from the rest of we British?

            Needless to say, prominent has-beens from Labour’s past have been paraded to offer dire warnings of endless years of opposition for Labour if Corbyn were to be elected leader.  Finally former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave us his great thoughts on the matter - and probably increased rather than diminished Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of success..   Anyone, he said, whose heart was inclined towards old Labour ‘needed a heart transplant’.   That, I think, was bound to infuriate hundreds of sincere Labour supporters who cherish the memory of the up-hill struggles of the 19th and 20th Century pioneers of the Labour, Trade Union and Co-operative movements. 'Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, We'll keep the Red Flag flying here!'

            No-one could deny that Tony Blair was a great winner of elections.  He did so by creating 'New Labour and dragging it far enough to the right to attract the support o the Murdoch Press.  Thousands of Labour Party members who voted to revoke Clause 4 imagined that they were voting against everything being nationalised.  They were, in fact, opening the door to the privatisation of every public service.

            In the ten years that New Labour formed our government, the gap between the wealthy and the poor actually widened, Tory legislation like the Right to Buy Act which lies at the root of today’s housing problems, remained intact.  An unholy friendship between Tony Blair and the most reactionary American President in living memory, led to an illegal bloody war in Iraq that has resulted in the ruin of that country, the growth of terrorism throughout North Africa and in Europe and the USA too, and the martyrdom of hundreds of Christians in the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian sub-continent.  Tony Blair was made United Nations Peace envoy to the Middle East.  As I have previously said in this blog, that was like making one of the Kray brothers a Chief Constable.  

            It simply isn’t true to claim that a political party can achieve nothing in opposition.  Had Nick Clegg not entered into coalition with the Conservatives the Lib.Dems. could have retained their independence – voting for, or at least abstaining from voting against – any legislation to which they didn’t object and joining with Labour and the small opposition parties to oppose legislation they found objectionable. Where the party in government has only a small overall majority this can be very effective.  In this parliament David Cameron was all set to pass legislation legitimising fox hunting with hounds.  The SNP MPs said they would join with Labour in opposing this (largely to remind the Conservatives of their fragile majority) and, to avoid the possibility of humiliating defeat, that legislation has been put on the back burner.

            Had they adopted that policy the Lib.Dems. could have prevented particularly objectionable legislation from being passed, and retained their own integrity.  They wouldn’t have been given any seats in the government and their leader wouldn’t have become ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ – but they might well have been spared humiliating defeat in the General Election.  ‘This above all, to thine own self be true!’

            I am neither a member nor a supporter of today’s Labour Party.  I am a member of and support the Green Party because I believe that today, care of the environment and countering the effects of climate change are more important than any other political issue.  I think though that if Jeremy Corbyn were to be elected leader of the Labour Party a great many, perhaps most, Greens would be delighted that one of the main parties  would be working towards the resolution of at least some of our concerns.






           



21 July 2015

Post Script 1

POSTSCRIPT

Little Royal Nazis?   What rubbish!

            When, a few weeks ago, I wrote my farewell bog, it was my firm intention never to blog again.  I was old, my ideas were stale and I wasn’t expressing them half as effectively as once I did.  In short I was a now senile and decrepit early twentieth century man who had somehow made it to the twenty-first century but who didn’t fit in with the spirit of today’s ‘brave new world’

Oscar Wilde once remarked that he could resist anything except temptation and one or two recent events have tempted me to write at least one postscript to my blog series.  Although many of my views have been described as ‘way out left’ and I am now a member of the Green Party I am not, and never have been, a republican. I think that there is a lot to be said for having a Head of State who is outside party politics, is trained from childhood to be a constitutional monarch and who, even before the coronation, is likely to be more knowledgeable about our government and constitution  than any of the here-today-and-gone-tomorrow Prime Ministers who will form a government during his or her reign.
Scandinavian Royal style.  The Queen of Denmark  arrives in London for the Olympic Games.  Photo by my elder son Pete.

I can’t think of any way of achieving this surely desirable end other than by a hereditary constitutional monarchy.  I would prefer our monarchy to be more in the Scandinavian style but perhaps something on those lines will evolve.
I was both angry and contemptuous when I learned that the Sun had used on its front page photographs taken in 1933 of the children of the Royal Family, and their mother, giving the outstretched arm Nazi salute.   I was around in 1933 (an enquiring lad of twelve), which I am quite sure can not be said of either the editor or the owner of the Sun. We had all seen Hitler and the Nazi salute in the newspapers or on the brief cinema newsreels (there was, of course, no tv in those days) and most of us thought that Hitler looked like Charlie Chaplin and that all the heel clicking and saluting was just plain daft.  We practised the Nazi salute and one or two of us even tried goose-stepping!  It was just a laugh. We were taking the mickey. 
 It could be that that is just what those young royals were doing back in 1933.   It was unfortunate that someone had a good camera available at the time.  It was a family photo that the Sun has obtained (by bribery or the proceeds of a theft?  We’ll probably never know) and used to try to undermine trust in the Royal Family.  In 1933 no-one (certainly no-one in our government) foresaw the potential for evil in Adolf Hitler.  Nor, I think did anyone in the press.  Those who did not regard Hitler as a joke, saw in him a politician who was different and would pull Germany together, defeat the communists (they were seen as a much bigger threat than the Fascists and Nazis) and with whom Britain could negotiate with confidence.
I think that it is significant that the owner and ultimate controller of the Sun and other newspapers, radio and tv enterprises, all of which help to mould public opinion, is a former Australian, now USA, citizen who owes and shows no loyalty to the United Kingdom, its constitution and its traditions.  He is the   head of a ‘news’ organisation that is best known for its phone hacking, its obtrusive pursuit and harassment of its victims (who can be any of us), and its bribery of public officials – all of which activities are said to be in exercise of ‘the freedom of the press’; a strange ‘freedom’ that involves control by a foreign multi-millionaire.
I find it strange that Rupert Murdoch is permitted to reside in the UK and even stranger that so many top politicians fraternise with him and seek his favours.  One who, very honourably, declined to do so was Prime Minister John Major – who subsequently suffered at the hands of the Murdoch press.  Among the latest to seek his company and his favour has been Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP.  They have in common a determination to prevent the UK from ever becoming part of a European Federation.  I wonder if both, or either, would be equally determined to keep the UK independent of Federation with the USA – with the ‘A’ tactfully altered to be the initial of ‘Atlantic’ rather than ‘America’?
More of Rupert’s malign influence?
            Among the emails urging me not to give up writing my blog was one from a regular blog reader expressing his concern about the government’s apparent determination to change, or even destroy, the BBC as we know it.   Urging them on in this enterprise are, of course, the BBC’s commercial rivals, prominent among them Mr Rupert Murdoch of Sky tv as well as a number of newspapers.  Below are extracts from my correspondent’s email;
            Literally every day more reports are leaked to undermine the BBC. A Parliamentary Committee has been appointed with a specific brief to investigate and make recommendations about the future role of the BBC. More than half the people nominated to this Committee have previously made public statements about how the BBC needs to be scaled back, or the licence fee should be abolished. And on top of that, they are clearly briefing papers like the Times with more details of their “thinking”, suggesting that the BBC is “too popular” and that they shouldn’t be doing successful programmes with high audiences, and they should not be running such an extensive web site, and they shouldn’t be attempting to cover all of the News in it, and some of the money for the Licence fee (if it continues at all) should be given to other providers, not just the BBC. They have called the Licence Fee “a regressive Tax” – (so unlike their other taxes).  Oh, and ministers saying the BBC Commission is “not fit for purpose” (always a prelude to scrapping something) because of “the Saville scandal and the pay-offs to senior staff who were made redundant”. Clearly it  would be better for them to discredit and then abolish the Commission first, because last time they threatened to axe part of the licence fee, the entire Commission threatened to resign in protest – probably never been forgiven for that piece of insurgency.

Some people are  baffled by all this – thinking that everyone liked the BBC and would be pleased that Strictly and Masterchef were runaway successes and that all the news and cooking recipes were published for free on the web site.  I have been trying to explain to them the Right Wing thinking on all of this. First of all, the BBC is making programmes which conflict with the financial interests of Tory Party donors. Secondly they are giving the News and cooking recipes away for free, when others are trying to make money out of them. Thirdly, the Licence Fee is a sort of compulsory subscription, and poor families who have to find £140 a year for the Licence fee may not then be able or willing to buy a subscription to Sky on top of that. And lastly, from the viewpoint of the average Tory back bencher, an “unbiased BBC” which investigates climate change, tries to find the root causes of the migration, tries to explain what cuts in Welfare actually mean, suggests that not many people would actually benefit from reduced Inheritance tax comes over as rampant socialism to them.


 The Friends of Widows and Orphans?
Among the promises that helped the Conservatives to win the May General Election were measures aimed at helping widows and orphans – well, if not actually always widows and orphans those who were left after a house-owner’s death.  There were two measures promised; No inheritance tax (death duties) would be payable on the death of the owner of a property valued at less than a million pounds.   There are more of those than you might imagine – and anyone affected who wasn’t already a Conservative supportet could reasonably be expected to vote to secure a Conservative victory and the honouring of that promise.
The other promise affected a great many more people, including myself.  Folk nearing the end of their lives and needing local authority care, had to pay for that care unless they had very little savings and did not own a property that could be sold to raise the necessary cash.  This meant that many modest family homes had to be sold to pay for the care needed by the owner during his or her final years. Home owners were unable to pass on their most valuable asset to their sons and grandchildren.  The government was to put a cap (I think it was £75,000) on the amount that someone in care could be required to pay.  The family home might still have to be sold but the home-owner’s heirs might, at least, receive a worth-while legacy.
Well, the Conservatives did win the election though (I’m glad to say) without my vote.  Guess what?   They’re implementing at once that freedom from inheritance tax on homes valued at less than a million pounds.   And the cap on those in receipt of care?   Oh yes, they’re going to apply it – but not for another couple of years.
Well, I’m 94 and have stayed out of care so far.   It looks as though, if my heirs are to inherit my modest bungalow, I must try to stay out of the clutches of the official carers for at least another couple of years – or ‘pop my clogs’ without too much further delay!.   



29 June 2015

Blog date 32

Tendring Topics……..on line

‘Now is the hour…..

                          …….for me to say goodbye’
 
            Those were the opening words of a popular song of the wartime years when there were so many goodbyes, many of them for ever.   I am afraid, dear Blog readers, that time has come for what was my weekly blog.  Google informs me that I have been writing and publishing it for seven and a half years and that I have written and published 390 blogs in that time.   For the first three or four years I wrote an average of about 2,000 words per blog.  More recently I have reduced that to about 1,000.  I reckon that I averaged about 1,200 words a week for seven and a half years.  That’s 7.5 x 1,200 x 52.  No, I’m not going to work it out but it certainly comes to quite a lot of words.

            Also thanks to Google, I learn that my blog has a world-wide readership.  There are twice as many regular readers in the USA as there are in the UK.  I have regular readers in Germany, France and Russia, and occasional readers in virtually every European country and in such countries as China, India, Sri Lanka, and Japan.  Thank you all, dear readers, for your interest and encouragement.

            I used always to enjoy writing my blog and was proud of it. Lately though I feel that I have become stale and repetitive.  I find myself forgetting how to spell simple, straight-forward words.  I often have to refer to Google for facts that should be – and once were! – engraved in my memory.  It is, I think, just old age. Now that I am 94, it seems better to depart from the internet stage before I publish something that is obviously total rubbish.

            The causes that I have supported throughout those seven and a half years remain the same.  I can only hope that others will keep them alive.

Nuclear Disarmament

I believe in unilateral nuclear disarmament.  Our own nuclear arms are concentrated in the Trident Submarine Fleet wrongly described as ‘our independent nuclear deterrent’.   It is anything but independent (can you imagine our government even threatening to use a nuclear weapon without the OK of the USA?).  It hasn’t deterred any one of the many acts of violence and aggression that have taken place since the end o0f World War II.  Did those nuclear submarines deter the Argentines from invading the Falklands?

It might persuade other governments relying on nuclear defence to refrain from using their weapons because of the certainty of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD!)  It would not deter the jihadists of the Islamic State from using such a weapon if they ever got hold of one. They are quite certain that they’ll be assured a ‘front seat’ in Heaven if they kill themselves while precipitating a satisfactory number of infidels and apostates (every-one who doesn’t share their noxious beliefs) to the ‘other place’!

 A country relying on a nuclear weapon ‘as a deterrent’ has a government as stupid and as irresponsible as a fifteen year old adolescent who carries a sheath-knife into the classroom with precisely the same motive!     

Working for World Peace

            I do not believe that the best way to secure world peace is to ring Russia around with members of Nato – inevitably seen by the Russians as a hostile alliance.  We complain of the ‘provocative action’ of the Russians in flying a couple of bombers round Britain keeping just outside British air space.  What are the Russians to think of NATO military manoeuvres in Poland, just beyond Russia’s frontiers?  We know the Russians have an enormous army and air-force.  They know that NATO has too!  For goodness sake, let’s stop trying to prove that ‘mine is bigger than yours!’   They’re both big enough to reduce our wonderful world to ruins if their top politicians are daft enough to let them. And I fear that some of them may be. For goodness sake let us talk peace and join together to think of how best to counter the acts of the jihadists – the real enemies of both Russia and ‘the West’.

Working for a more equal economy

            The top ‘at home’ priority of any responsible British government should be to narrow that yawning, and ever widening, gap between the incomes of the very poorest and very wealthiest of our citizens. Shamefully this gap actually widened during the decade of New Labour rule.  A way in which any government could narrow that gap would be the radical reform of the income tax system and making a reformed income tax the principal source of government revenue. Every adult, rich or poor, should be required to pay the same percentage of his or her gross income as their annual subscription for the very-considerable privilege of living and working in the UK.   Benefits to the very poorest of us would need to be raised to prevent this tax reducing anyone to homelessness or malnutrition.  I think that 20 percent of every adult’s gross income (before there’s a chance to salt it away overseas or in a charitable trust!) would probably be sufficient.  We would then all have an interest in Britain’s economic future and really would ‘all be in this together’

The European Union

Forty years ago I voted no to the European Common Market in that famous referendum. I had the rather romantic idea that we could seek closer economic and political union with the countries of the Commonwealth and what was left of the British Empire, to create a political and economic bloc capable of co-operating or competing with the USA and the  world’s emerging powers.

If I’m still around when we have the opportunity to vote either to stay in or depart from what is now the European Union, I shall vote to stay in, and I will hope that we achieve an even closer economic and political union with our European partners. I believe that the UK can make its voice heard and its opinions respected better as an active member of a federal Europe than as a non-voting protectorate of the USA.

We are part of Europe by geography, history and culture.  Nowadays it isn’t politically correct to say so but over the centuries the Christian faith has been the background in front of which the ancestors of all we Europeans have lived, worked and died.  As was repeated over and over again in the Scottish referendum campaign;  We’re better together’!

I’d have a little more respect for Ukip if they really stood for an independent United Kingdom as they claim. They don’t. Their venom is reserved for our neighbours and friends in Europe.  You’d think that the EU was another hostile country determined to weaken and destroy the UK instead of a union of Nations in which we have exactly the same influence as anyone else. Remember the Ukip members of the European Parliament rising and turning their backs at the playing of the European Anthem.  I don’t believe that even the most fervent Republicans would be so ill-mannered as to turn their backs when others were standing and singing ‘God save the Queen’.

Ukippers seem to be quite happy with our membership of NATO (on which we Britons have never had the opportunity of expressing an opinion) and our one-sided ‘special relationship’ with the USA.    NATO and the ‘special relationship’ have cost us far more that the EU in both blood and money.  They involved us in two ‘colonial wars’, one illegal and the other unwinnable.  In every country where we have interfered the result has been disastrous. In Iraq Islamic State forces are slowly but surely taking over.  I’d be very surprised if there are not Iraqis today who look back on the rule of Saddam Hussein as a golden age! In Afghanistan the Taliban attacks ever more boldly, and the even-more-bloodthirsty jihadists of Islamic State have also put in an appearance.  Libya is now ungoverned and ungovernable – thanks to our helping in the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi!  Gaddafi’s rule was awful but the current anarchy (of which Islamic State is already taking advantage) is surely worse.

Climate Change

            I have left climate change till the last despite the fact that this is the threat that is capable of making the other causes that I have supported seem to be trivial irrelevances.  The reason it comes last is that effective countering of climate change demands the support and action of the government of every country in the world, and there are powerful forces trying to prevent this.

I took this photo of the Rhone Glacier on the pass between Italy and Switzerland in 1980.   I was told that last year 2014 there was no ice visible from that vantage point 
            
We don’t need a university degree to note that in recent years there have been more extreme weather conditions than even folk of my age can remember.  There have been extreme heat waves destroying rain-starved food crops.  There have been typhoons and hurricanes, devastating floods, prolonged droughts, occasional unseasonable spells of arctic weather. All of these have brought loss of life and destruction of property world-wide. The polar ice-caps are melting at an accelerating rate as are the mountain glaciers.

            The overwhelming conclusion of the world’s most eminent scientists has been that global warming is taking place and that this has caused those extreme weather conditions world-wide.  Furthermore, they are equally certain that most of that warming is due to human activity – to humankind’s relentless exploitation of the world’s natural resources, in particular to the profligate burning of fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) for space and water heating in the home, in industry, for travel, and for any other activity needing an energy supply.  The remedy seems simple and straightforward enough; reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels and replace them with sources of clean, renewable energy such as can be supplied by wind turbines, solar panels, the sea’s waves, the flow of the rivers, the ebb and flow of the tide. There may be others. The UK, with its enormous coastline, is well suited for the use of tidal energy.

            Voices demanding urgent international action to combat man-made climate change include virtually the whole of the scientific community and, surprisingly but very, very gratifyingly, the Pope.  The present Pope has won the admiration of many non-Roman Catholics  and will, I hope, have persuaded thousands over to the ‘Green cause’.  Lined against them are the many thousands of people who work in, or profit from, the fossil fuel industries.  These include some very wealthy and influential men.

            Our new government which once, just before an election, urged the electorate ‘if you want Green. Vote Blue’, seems to have joined the forces of Mammon.  They are abolishing grants toward the production of wind turbines, giving local councils the final word over whether they should permit wind turbines in their areas (of course there will always be lots of local Nimbys who will oppose them) and are encouraging fracking – exploiting yet another source of fossil fuel as well as despoiling our  countryside.  In an earlier blog I said that if either the Conservative or the Labour Party won the election outright the results wouldn’t be as good as supporters had hoped but, on the other hand, they wouldn’t be as bad as their opponents had feared, I was wrong.  On the climate change front at least, the Conservative government’s action is even worse than their opponents had feared. Shortly there’s to be an international conference on climate change  My guess is that there will be lots of good intentions expressed but precious little urgent action promised.

            Perhaps I’ll conclude with a couple of verses from a poem by Arthur Clough, a 19th century poet.  It has cheered me on occasion:

Say not the struggle naught availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been, they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars.
Perhaps by yonder smoke concealed
Your comrades chase e’en now the flyers
And, but for you, possess the field.

Although the tired waves, vainly breaking.
Seem here no painful inch to gain;
Far back, through creek and inlet making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.

And that, dear blog readers, is the end of my final blog.  I’m sorry I couldn’t contrive a happy ending – but it is, at least, a hopeful one.


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02 June 2015

2nd June 2015

Tendring Topics………on line

Dwellers in ‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’?

The NHS.

          I sometimes wonder if I live in the same world as today’s top politicians.  Here in Clacton-on-Sea there is an acute shortage of general medical practitioners (family doctors).   I have been served by the same medical practice since my family and I moved to Clacton in 1956 fifty-eight years ago.  In those distant days there were just two doctors. They were Dr Craig and Dr Geddes, both Scotsmen and not dissimilar to the Dr Cameron and Dr Finlay of the tv soap ‘Dr Finlay’s casebook’.  They behaved similarly too.   I remember several occasions when one or other of them visited my home late at night or early in the morning when one of my two then-young sons, or my wife or I, needed urgent medical attention.   There were no appointments.  Patients just turned up at the surgery.  They might have a longish wait to see a doctor but see one of the two doctors they always did.  And that doctor was always familiar with their medical history and could refresh his memory from written notes.

            Lots of changes have taken place since 1956.  Clacton has almost doubled in size and my doctors’ surgery, now renamed a ‘medical centre’ has doubled in size too. There are several practice nurses and a practice manager.  Both Dr Craig and Dr Geddes died many years ago.  At one point there were as many as six medical practitioners, two of them women.  There were, I think, appointments but most people just turned up at the medical centre and saw either their preferred doctor or whichever doctor was available.

            Now, there are only three doctors and one of them is only part-time.  They see patients only by appointment and it’s very difficult to make an appointment. ‘Phone just after 8.00 am’, you’ll be told by the receptionist – but the line is always engaged.  By the time you manage to get through all the doctors are booked.  I have found from experience that the only way I can make almost sure of seeing the doctor of my choice is to turn up at the medical centre fifteen minutes before they open at 8.00 am and ask the receptionist for an appointment then.  There’s usually a queue so I may need to get there before 7.45 am to be at the right end of that queue!   As I am now 94 I rarely bother!  The service provided for patients by our local doctors (the ‘front line’ of the NHS) is clearly not nearly as good as it was as recently as five years ago.   If it were much better than it had been when the coalition government took over, I am quite sure that it would be trumpeted as one of the government’s successes.  As it is, I’m not quite so partisan as to proclaim that ‘It’s all the government’s fault’.  I don’t suppose that it is – but the government, with its continual ‘targets’ and its reorganisation of the NHS so as to increase the field of local GP responsibility, has certainly played a major role in this deterioration.

            We need to attract many more qualified doctors to the Tendring Area – and this can’t be done just by offering them more money.  For goodness sake – our coast has the lowest annual rainfall in the British Isles and more than the average amount of sunshine.   It’s a lovely place to bring up children (my late wife and I have done it and I write from personal experience!) and it’s only about an hour and a half from London by road or rail.  It really shouldn’t be difficult to attract young doctors here.

            Is the new all-Conservative government taking any steps to encourage this?  Not as far as I know but, of course, they’ve only been in office a few weeks.  During those few weeks though, Prime Minister David Cameron has found time to promise that within a couple of years we should be able to consult a doctor any day of the week and all hours of the day!  Can David Cameron really inhabit the world that I do?  I, and I suspect a great many other local people, would be happier if he were to concentrate his efforts on the – surely much more easily achieved – objective of making it possible for us to see the doctor of our choice between 8.00 am and 5.00 pm on Monday through to Friday in every week!  That surely shouldn’t be too much to ask

 Home Ownership

            So the Government plans to go ahead with its determination to ‘buy votes with other people’s money’ by extending their ‘right to buy’ scheme from council house tenants to the tenants of housing associations.  They justify this by the alleged fact that 86 percent of the public have aspirations (that’s the OK word just now) to become homeowners.  Presumably this claim follows a public opinion poll on the subject conducted among those not owning or buying their own home.  If they were just asked Would you like to own your own home? I’d have expected that even more than 86 percent would have answered positively.  No-one particularly likes paying rent, having to observe tenancy rules and never knowing when and why they may be given notice to quit.  Neither do adults, particularly with young children, like being homeless or having to share with ‘mum and dad’.   Of course they’d much prefer having their own home.

            But that’s not what they are being offered.  What they are being offered is the possibility of home ownership (you’re not ‘the owner’ till you hold the deeds of the home) after repaying a large loan month by month over a period of twenty years or more.  During that period you’ll be responsible for paying council tax and for carrying out all repairs and internal and external decoration.  If you default in making those regular monthly payments (and who knows what’s going to happen in twenty years?) you’ll run the risk of homelessness for yourself and family, and the loss of much – even perhaps all – of the money you’ve already paid. That prospect might, I think, considerably reduce the number of potential home buyers on whose aspirations the government claims to base its policies.

            As a former local government Housing Manager I have always objected to council tenants being treated as second class citizens.  But I don’t think they should be given special privileges or financial benefits either.  Most Council tenants were happy to remain as tenants until the possibility of buying their homes ‘on the cheap’ was offered them. Under former governments they enjoyed payable rents, security and reasonable tenancy conditions.  All structural repairs and maintenance was the council’s responsibility. I am sure that Housing Association tenants are the same.

            The sale to Housing Association tenants of their homes at discounted prices is  still only one of the 'intentions' of the government.  I think that they may find themselves facing a few expensive legal challenges on the way to its fulfilment.  To David Cameron and his pals in Westminster, Housing Associations and local authorities are much the same thing.  They both owned lots of rented houses in which not-well-off people enjoyed secure tenancies ‘for life’ or at least for as long as they paid their rent and observed their not-usually-very-onerous tenancy conditions.  Both provided ‘social housing’ which they had a responsibility to keep ‘fit for habitation’ and neither made a substantial profit from their house ownership.

            In fact there is one crucial difference between Council Houses and those owned by Housing Associations.   Council Houses were built with public money – from the rates and from central government grants.  It could be claimed that a more than usually stupid government had every right to require local authorities to sell them off at bargain-basement prices.  A similar case can not be made for the compulsory sale of Housing Association property. Those homes were not provided from the rates and taxes of earlier, more responsible, governments and local councils.  They were provided by charitable giving, mainly from the generosity of very wealthy and benevolent 19th century business men, for the purpose of providing the ‘working classes’ with comfortable, secure and healthy homes at affordable rents.

            George Cadbury and George Peabody must be among many wealthy Victorian philanthropists who are turning in their graves at the thought that, for electoral advantage, the homes that they provided for the poor may be compulsorily sold off at bargain basement prices.  They probably would have had sufficient foresight to see that such homes would eventually fall into the hands of profiteering landlords – and be let at ridiculously high rents to tenants who would only be able to pay them by means of Housing Benefit from their local authority!

            If, of course, it is found that the government can legally compel Housing Associations to sell off their properties with a substantial discount, there can be no reason why they should not extend the ‘right to buy’ to many thousands of tenants who are charged unreasonably high rents, have no security of tenure, and who fear that asking the landlord to carry out repairs will only lead to their losing their homes.  They are the tenants of private landlords.  Surely the ‘right to buy at a discount’ should be extended to them to them before it is offered to Housing Association tenants who are already satisfactorily housed?



























21 May 2015

21st May 2015

Tendring Topics……….on line

……and in the rest of the World

            I have been preoccupied with the British General Election in recent weeks and have barely mentioned the two devastating earthquakes that have taken place in Nepal, and the appalling loss of life there.  They certainly demonstrated humankind’s helplessness in the face of the forces of nature, and our inability either to forecast the occurrence of natural disasters or to counter or modify their power. It may be that events in Nepal will teach us all a little much needed humility, but terribly sad that this should have been at the cost of so much destruction, so many innocent lives lost, and so much human sorrow.

            Then there have been the thousands who have seen Europe as a promised land of wealth and prosperity and have tried to reach it from African and Middle Eastern poverty and strife – and the hundreds who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in the attempt. Our efforts have all been towards saving their lives and preventing their attempting that hazardous journey.  We may slow them down but they’ll still keep coming.    Ought we not to give some thought to the reasons for their flight and help them to make their homelands better places in which to live?

            There has been one unequivocally good thing that has developed on the world scene in recent weeks, and that is the restoration of normal relations between the USA and Cuba.  Ever since Cuban rebels overthrew the corrupt Batista regime in Cuba and, under their leader Fidel Castro, established their own Communist government, the USA has tried by one means or another to secure a regime change.  The failed Bay of Pigs invasion from the USA (which could certainly not have happened without United States help and encouragement) resulted in Castro asking for help from the Soviet Union.  They sent some missiles and we had the Cuban missile crisis that could have developed into a nuclear World War III.  Fortunately the Soviet Union withdrew its missiles and the US government made sure there were no further attempts at armed invasion from the USA.

Instead the USA cut off all diplomatic relations with Cuba, tried to isolate it from South and Central America and from the rest of the  world, and its CIA made several comic opera attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro Cuba’s President. These included, would you believe it, a gift of exploding cigars!   A new U.S. President stopped these assassination attempts.

With external threats reduced, the regime mellowed (it had long been a paradise of freedom and human rights compared with – for instance – Britain and the USA’s ally, Saudi Arabia.  President Obama, to his credit, is resuming normal diplomatic relations.

I had hoped that the commemoration of the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe might have brought about a similar effort on Britain’s part to bring an end to current hostility towards Russia.   Have we forgotten that from 1941 to 1945  Russia, or the USSR as it then was, was our ally – and had been our ally against Nazi Germany for rather longer than the USA?   What’s more, not only had the people of the USSR suffered far more than those of any other country at the hands of the invading Nazis, but they had contributed more than any other country towards Victory in Europe and the destruction of Nazism.  Winston Churchill acknowledged this when he declared that The Red Army tore the guts out of the Wehrmacht’

 I spent the final eighteen months of World War II as a POW at a ‘working camp’ (Arbeitskommando) in a small town in eastern Germany.  I well remember how our spirits rose when we heard artillery fire in the east during the bitter winter of 1944/1945, as the Red Army advanced through Poland into Germany itself.  At first a faint murmur, the sound increased almost daily to a roar.  We knew that the day of our liberation was close at hand.  And so it was.  On 7th May 1945 we could hear the chatter of machine gun fire as well as the thunder of the guns as we were marched, with armed guards, southwest into the Zittau mountains and away from the battle-zone.  The following day our guards, having heard that the war was over, deserted us – and we made our own way home.  With a mate, I hitch-hiked through Soviet occupied Czechoslovakia at first to Prague, then on to Pilsen, where we encountered the American army. They transported us by air to Rheims and the British Army.  I walked through the door of my home in Ipswich at about 10.00 pm on the 18th May – just ten days after VE Day.  By a fortunate coincidence it was my twenty-fourth birthday!

Had it not been for Hitler’s mistake in invading the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 I have little doubt that Britain would have been invaded and occupied.  Even if the USA had eventually won, the war would have dragged on for at least another two or three years.  Very likely I would never have returned home.  Many POWs didn’t.

I have never forgotten the debt that I owe to the Russian army and to the Russian people.  I am sorry that Angela Merkel, an East German who has probably learned from her parents and grandparents something of the horrors of modern warfare, was the sole ‘western leader’ who joined with President Putin and hundreds of others in the commemoration of Russia’s loss of tens of thousands of men, women and children, who had died in what the Russians call their Great Patriotic War.  I am not, of course, referring to the depressing display of military hardware on the anniversary of VE Day but the much quieter and more peaceful commemoration on the following day.

David Cameron quite thought, until he was corrected, that the United Kingdom was ‘junior partner’ to the USA in the struggle against Hitler in 1940.  I hope that all blog readers are aware that Britain ‘stood alone’ in that fateful year, that the USA was neutral and that many Americans (including the US ambassador to the UK – the patriarch of the Kennedy clan!) were determined that their country would remain neutral.  It follows that David Cameron may not be aware of the USSR’s leading role in Hitler’s defeat – or even perhaps, that they were our allies in World War II.  He certainly gives that impression.

‘The west’ is cold-shouldering Russia and applying economic sanctions because of Russian activities in the Ukraine. What on earth are they expecting to achieve?   Do they seriously hope to return the Crimea to the rule of the Kiev Government in the Ukraine against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the peninsula’s population?    The Crimea had been part of Russia since the rule of the Tsars.    It was ‘gifted’ to Ukraine by Nikita Khruschev during the period of his presidency of the USSR, without any thought of consulting the residents.  It made little difference at the time because both Crimea and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union as they had both previously been part of the Tsars’ Empire. Crimea was recovered by Russia after a referendum established that that was the wish of the Crimean people.  David Cameron claimed that the referendum took place ‘under the shadow of the Kalashnikov’ but a recent opinion poll commissioned by the Ukrainian Government in Kiev emphatically confirmed that wish.

The people of the eastern provinces of Ukraine wished to retain their Russian ethnicity and the Russian language and traditions.  We saw on tv news bulletins the non-violent resistance of men, women and children to the incursion of Kiev government tanks and armoured cars.  The Kiev government used its military superiority to enforce its rule – and the eastern Ukrainians responded in kind.  Thus civil war broke out, costing thousands of lives.  Remorseless shelling of residential areas in rebel-held areas by government forces has resulted in over a million civilians crossing the border and seeking political asylum in Russia.

Peace overtures, supported by Germany and France but not by the UK, resulted in an uneasy ceasefire and the resumption of peace talks.  The Kiev Government insists that what is taking place is an invasion of eastern Ukraine by the Russian army – they criticised the Pope for referring to ‘the civil war’ in eastern Ukraine!  Since the cease-fire, UN observers and British journalists have been present in the rebel-held areas.  They would surely have noticed – and reported – the presence of Russian army units.  I think it quite likely that the Russians have supplied the rebels with arms and that Russian volunteers have strengthened the rebel forces.  We do know that the UK has supplied the Kiev Government with armoured cars and is sending British army units to train government forces in ‘defence’, although the rebels have neither the ability or intention of invading western Ukraine.  The Kiev government tries continually to involve NATO in the civil war that has resulted from its obstinacy.  I notice that the BBC’s news bulletin always refers to the Ukrainian rebels as the ‘Russian backed rebels’. Perhaps they should also refer to the Kiev government as the ‘British backed Kiev Government’.  The UK is, I think, the only NATO or EU country that is so blatantly backing one side in this civil war.

For goodness sake – it’s time that we reviewed the sanctions that are harming British interests as well as Russian, and made real efforts to bring about a permanent peace in the area.  We should be talking to the Russians.  It was Winston Churchill again who remarked that jaw, jaw is always better than war, war – and Churchill had had more experience both of patient negotiation and of the realities of warfare than most of us.   Both sides must make concessions.  The Kiev government must be made to realize that they can’t ethnically cleanse eastern Ukraine of Russian culture and influence and the rebels must, in the cause of peace, be prepared to accept something short of full independence.  With a permanent peace established, both the ‘west’ and Russia must come together to rebuild Ukraine and undo the damage done by this disastrous civil war …….or would we really prefer to walk blindly into World War III? 



















   

 



           


10 May 2015

10th May 2015

Tendring Topics…….on line

The Day of Reckoning (2)

            I can’t even say, ‘I told you so!’, because I didn’t!  Like almost everyone else, I believed that the outcome of the General Election would be a hung parliament. Either David Cameron or Ed Miliband would have to form a coalition, or at least come to an understanding with one of the smaller parties in order to produce a workable government.  Most of the press feared an understanding between Ed Miliband and the SNP.  I would have welcomed it because I thought that Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader was far more impressive than any of the other party leaders. She might prevent a Miliband premiership from becoming a pale imitation of a Tory one.  Perhaps that’s just what the press lords feared!

            My own worst possible outcome was of a coalition between the Conservatives and the Ukippers which I felt could easily develop into a right-wing dictatorship.

            In this blog I did at least consider the possibility that, despite the predictions of the opinion polls, one or other of the two main parties might achieve an overall majority and  manage to form an effective government without seeking the support of any other party.  I said that if that happened I could confidently predict that the final outcome would not be as good as supporters of the majority party were hoping, but was unlikely to be as awful as their opponents feared.  I still stand by the first part of that prophecy – but am a little less confident of the second.

            I did correctly foretell the humiliating defeat of the Lib.Dems but really didn’t expect Ukip to lose one of the two seats it held prior to the election, thus making Douglas Carswell, our own MP for Clacton-on-Sea, the sole Ukipper in the House of Commons.  Ukip gained a lot of votes but they were spread fairly evenly over England.  As a result, our first-past-the-post electoral system prevented those votes being translated into parliamentary seats.  It has been quite educational to observe Mr Carswell’s sudden conversion to the idea of proportional representation. I quite expected the SNP to triumph in Scotland but was astonished by their almost complete demolition of the previously dominant Labour Party there.  

            Ed Miliband’s defeat was, I think, at least partly due to the constant drip, drip, drip of denigrating and scare headlines principally in the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, about his weakness as a leader and the probability that he would be subjugated by the wicked witch from the north (Nicola Sturgeon).  Several people interviewed after the tv debates said they were quite surprised to discover that the Ed Miliband they had seen on tv didn’t match those headlines.

            The Sun is part of the Rupert Murdoch press empire, the Daily Mail is owned by Lord Rothermere, and the Daily Express by Richard Leonard, who also owns the ‘adult’ tv channels Television X and Red Hot TV   (No, I haven’t tried to access either of them but their names suggest their nature).  Oh yes, and Richard Leonard has recently donated over a million pounds to Ukip.

            Do you find it as extraordinary and shaming as I do that three very wealthy individuals – a foreigner with no ties of loyalty to the UK, a ‘non-dom’, and a purveyor of soft porn, should own and control the means of influencing the British electorate?

            The Conservative Government will have only a very small majority over all other parties in the House of Commons. I don’t think they’ll find their task to be an easy one, especially bearing in mind the fact that the opposition, with its Scottish, Welsh and English MPs, is much more representative of all the people of the still-united United Kingdom than the members of David Cameron’s government.

…….and the Green Party?

            I have never made any secret of the fact that I voted for the Green Party in the General Election and am now a member of that Party.  On the face of it they failed dismally.  They gained not a single extra member in the House of Commons.

            Look a little deeper though and it will be clear that they are a Party on the way up, not down.  Their candidates obtained a total of over a million votes throughout the UK.  Remember too, that for every voter who puts a cross against the name of a Green candidate there are probably at least two others who would be supporters, but because they live in a strongly Tory or Labour area, or like me, in the heart of Ukipland, imagine that a vote for the Greens is a wasted one.   I knew perfectly well that Chris Howell the Green Candidate in my area hadn’t a hope of being elected, but he did get twice as many votes as he did in the by-election only a few months ago.  Caroline Lucas, our one MP, retained her Brighton seat in Parliament with a substantially increased majority, and the Green candidate came second in four constituencies.  The Green Party now has more actual members than either the Lib.Dems. or Ukip.  

            No, I don’t consider that my vote was a wasted one.

Some sage advice

          Did you see that some has-been Labour politicians have been commenting on Ed Miliband’s lack of success in the election.  Some say that he should have made a greater effort to reach the ‘aspirational’ voter.  Lord Mendelson (he’s an architect of New Labour who has ‘no problem with billionaires!) says that Ed Miliband took the Labour Party too far to the left.  Too far to the left!  We’re talking about the chap who apologised for Labour’s original opposition to ‘right to buy’, who, if he had been elected would have carried on with austerity, and who supported the renewal of the wildly expensive and utterly useless Trident submarines!

            Hasn’t anyone noticed that Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party swept away New Labour in Scotland with policies well to the left of anything that any Labour leader in England has ever dared to suggest?


            If the electorate want Conservative policies, they’ll vote Conservative – not New Labour!