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!





           

             

              

             

           

           


             

16 April 2015

18th April, 2015

Tendring Topics……on line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is ‘Ironic Fate’ waiting in the wings?

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

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

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

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

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

11th April 2015

Tendring Topics……..on line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United Kingdom Independence………but from whom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Fruits of Desperation

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

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

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

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































    




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