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!

30 April 2015

30th April 2015

Tendring Topics…….on line

The Day of Reckoning

          When this blog is published the General Election will be only a few days away.   It is possible that by the time I prepare another blog we will know the composition of the next government.   Do you remember the situation just before last year’s Scottish referendum?  Scottish public opinion polls showed the YES and NO campaigns to be very close. There was a distinct possibility that the YES vote would triumph.  That, decided the leaders of the three main political parties, had to be prevented at all costs.  In a rare spirit of co-operation they published  a joint promise that if the NO voters comprised a majority the Scots would be offered virtually everything they asked for short of complete independence and the break-up of the United Kingdom.   And of course, the NO campaign was successful.

            I think that we have reached a similar point in the General Election campaign. Opinion polls show that the Labour and Conservative Parties are neck and neck and the leaders are resorting to desperate measures to attract voters.   David Cameron has promised that if a Conservative Government is elected, there will be no increase in either the standard or the higher rate of income tax, or in the rate of VAT, or in National Insurance contributions (three principal sources of Government finance) for the government’s period of office – the next five years.  To make certain that that promise is honoured the government will introduce a bill to Parliament giving that promise the force of law.  The only possible reason why a government should introduce and support a law limiting its own powers must surely be that top politicians now realize the electorate doesn’t believe a word that any of them say.   David Cameron imagines that enshrining it in law will assure electors that that particular promise will be kept.  It still may not be, of course.  Parliament can pass a law and parliament can repeal that same law if it wishes to do so.  I have no doubt that if circumstances demanded, the government would break that promise quickly enough, as it has others.

            This generosity of the government to those of us fortunate enough to be liable for income tax will be funded by further cuts in government grants to local authorities and to welfare and public services.   David Cameron and George Osborne have so far declined to tell us who will suffer.  I am always amused when David Cameron speaks of the wealthy having worked hard and saved to acquire their millions for the purchase of their yachts, their British football teams and their stately homes.  Can you imagine Russian oligarchs, made rich by President Yeltzin generosity to his pals, carefully putting their roubles into a saving bank until they had saved up enough to go to England and buy a thoroughly modernised castle and a professional football team?   I reckon that most, if not all, of Britain’s growing army of billionaires should put OBE (Other B………..s’ Efforts) after their names.

            The current big worry of English politicians is the intentions of the Scottish Nationalist MPs.  To their consternation the SNP didn’t wither and die when they lost that famous referendum.  On the contrary they grew in both membership and supporters so that, although the Liberal Democrats are regarded as the third ‘major party’ in UK politics, their place has in reality been taken by the SNP, despite the fact that their appeal is only to one region of the United Kingdom.  Their former leader Alex Salmond is now leader of the SNP members of the Westminster Parliament while his place as Leader of the party has been taken by Nicola Sturgeon – in my opinion the most articulate, confident and charismatic political leader in the United Kingdom today. 

            In Scotland the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Ukippers barely have a foothold.   It is expected that the SNP will take the place of Labour in dominating the Scottish political scene.  It is by no means impossible that there will be sufficient SNP MPs elected to prop up a minority Labour Government.  It’s a possibility that terrifies all the other party leaders including Ed Miliband, who has repeatedly declared that he would not enter into any kind of coalition or other voting pact with Alex Salmond and his merry men – and women!  A columnist in The Sun declared that a Labour pact with the SNP would be the first step on the path to a Communist Dictatorship! Goodness, I thought that I’d better check on what the SNP really does stand for - beyond independence for Scotland.  I have always found the web’s Wikipedia a very reliable source of information.  Here’s what they have to say about the SNP’s policies

The SNP's policy base is mostly in the mainstream European social democratic tradition. Among its policies are commitments to same-sex marriage, reducing the voting age to 16, unilateral nuclear disarmament,progressive personal taxation, the eradication of poverty, the building of affordable social housing, free higher education, opposition to the building of new nuclear power plants, investment in renewable energy, the abolition of Air Passenger Duty, and a pay increase for nurses

Apart from ‘same sex marriage and reducing the voting age to 16’ (public opinion has changed a great deal in the past seventy years!) those are much the same policies that I, and thousands of other ex-servicemen returning from World War II, thought we were voting for when we rejected the Conservatives and elected the Attlee Government in 1945.   I find it quite refreshing that the Scots have retained – or perhaps rediscovered – the idealism of the old Labour Party.  There’s certainly no sign of a communist dictatorship there.  I think that an alliance between the SNP and Labour would do nothing but good.

Much more sinister and – sadly – I think rather more likely, is the possibility of an alliance between the Conservative Party and UKIP to form a coalition government of Tories and Ukippers.  A great many well-to-the-right-of-the-party Conservative MPs are crypto-Ukippers and have refrained from taking the same path as Clacton’s turn-coat MP Douglas Carswell either from loyalty or after weighing up where their personal advantage lay.  I think that they would find Nigel Farage a much more charismatic and confident leader than David Cameron, and that it wouldn’t be long before the two parties merged with Farage on top!  Then I think we really would be on the way to a right-wing dictatorship, supported ideologically by the Murdoch press and financially by reactionary Republican supporters from across the Atlantic.

Possibly all this speculation about coalitions is pointless and either the Conservatives or Labour will get an overall majority of MPs.   I do urge every blog reader with a vote to use it on Thursday. If you are fed up with both the Tories and the Labourites –  remember that UKIP is not the only, or the best, alternative.  There is, I think, a Green Candidate in every constituency!















26 April 2015

26th April 2015

Tendring Topics………on line

Humankind’s Priorities

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

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

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

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

Hello Ernest,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Natalie Bennett
Leader, Green Party of England and Wales

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


                                          Ernest Hall

 
           

21 April 2015

21st April 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

I’m not alone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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