15 September 2014

Week 38 2014

Tendring Topics ……….on line

Don’t tear our happy family apart!’

            That is the message that David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, leaders of the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties, took with them on their separate journeys to Scotland last week in a desperate attempt to boost the number of NO votes in the referendum to be held in that country on 18th September (only three days away as this blog is published!). This will decide whether or not Scotland becomes an independent nation or remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as it is at this moment.

            They have left it a little late. Over 150 years ago Benjamin Disraeli, destined to become a distinguished Prime Minister and to be regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative Party, declared in his political novel, ‘Sybil, or the Two Nations’  that Great Britain had already been torn apart ‘horizontally’ into a nation of the rich and a nation of the poor.  He wrote vivid descriptions of the squalor and abject poverty in which  working people lived in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign.  Since then circumstances have improved for all of us. However, the yawning gap between rich and poor caused by that ‘horizontal tear’, dividing Britain into two nations grows wider year by year. This is a direct result of the actions and failure to take action of the political predecessors of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.  It widened during the decade of Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ rule, and is widening again today as the coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats rewards the wealthy and penalises the poor!

            No government ever agrees to a referendum unless it feels confident that a majority will vote the way that that government prefers. Two years ago, David Cameron felt quite sure that a referendum on Scottish Independence to be held in September 2014 would yield a comfortable NO majority vote. He was happy to agree to its being held. He insisted on a simple IN or OUT vote because he thought, probably quite correctly, that there might well be a large number of voters who would hesitate to vote for full independence but would like greater autonomy for Scotland.   I have little doubt that he now wishes that he had offered Scottish voters that ‘middle way’.   If the Scots had been offered the choice of greater autonomy within a looser British federation, it would certainly have split the nationalist vote and might well have made it possible for the present system to continue unchanged.  Now – faced with the real possibility of a majority YES vote, he is having to offer ‘greater autonomy within the UK as a bribe to try to win over a few thousand still-undecided or YES voters. Thus, even if the Scots Nationalists fail to get a majority YES vote they will have achieved considerably greater autonomy – as well as having retained the possibility of full independence at a later date; not perhaps a win/win situation but far from being a total defeat either.
             The possibility that an independent Scottish Government might try, in at least one part of Britain, to narrow the gap caused by that horizontal tear that makes one nation into two, the poor and the wealthy, is one of the reasons why if I were a Scot, I’d be voting YES in that fateful referendum in a few days time.  Other reasons are the hope that independence might result in country free of nuclear weapons and without Trident nuclear submarines, and a country that wished to remain in a more closely integrated European Union but was questioning whether it benefited from membership of NATO and from a very one-sided ‘special relationship’ with the USA.

            Within the United Kingdom these are all issues that are not available for negotiation and (except for EU membership) on which we will never be given a chance to vote.  Oh yes – and it would be nice to live in a country virtually free of the neo-Fascism of Ukip!

And the effect of a YES majority on the rest of us?

           I don’t live in Scotland and, as far as I know, I don’t have a single Scottish ancestor.  I am about as southern-English as it is possible to be.  On several happy camping holidays though, my family and I have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland from the border to John o’ Groats and from the Isle of Skye to the east coast.  We liked the Scottish people and the mountains and the lochs – though we never learned to love the Scottish midges and few would deny that we generally get better weather at home on the north-east Essex coast!  We don't call a drizzle a 'Scotch Mist' for no reason!

            If the referendum on the 18th yields a YES majority I’ll congratulate our Scottish neighbours and wish them well.  If I were half a century younger I’d be considering emigrating there! I can’t though ignore the fact that we English would miss them badly.  There would be no group of Scottish MPs to challenge the more outrageous of the coalition government’s policies. It is very likely that we would have to endure a Conservative/Ukip coalition government – perhaps a succession of them! We would probably leave the EU without bothering to go to the expense and trouble of a referendum. Outrageous Ukip demands would be likely to result in many responsible Conservatives repudiating the coalition, and the Ukip leader deciding that ‘because of the mess we have inherited from the previous Con/Lib.Dem. coalition government it will be necessary to have temporary single-party government under firm leadership, to ensure the speedy implementation of necessary emergency measures. The country’s political leader will adopt the traditional English title of Lord-Protector and will continue in office until those measures have been introduced and enforced’.

            No, I don’t really suppose that England’s future would be quite as dire as that in the event of a YES majority. During what is proving to be an unconscionably long lifetime I have discovered that, particularly where political issues are concerned, outcomes are very rarely as good as optimists had hoped – but are even less frequently as bad as pessimists had feared.   I do remember though how, in Germany in the late 1920s and early '30s, many people first dismissed Hitler as a funny little man with a Charlie Chaplin moustache and some really daft ideas – a bit of a fruit-cake in fact.  Later, major German industrialists and traditional military leaders thought they could control him and use him for their purposes – but he and his brown-shirted followers controlled and used them – and the Third Reich was born.  I hope that I didn’t spend seven years of my late teens and early twenties playing a tiny role in the destruction of that Third Reich, only to live to see comparable developments in 21st century Britain!

 Our own by-election

            The possibility that Ukip could develop into an Anglicised NAZI Party and its leader into an Anglo-Saxon Adolf Hitler will certainly be in my mind when I place my cross on the ballot paper on 9th October. United Kingdom Independence Party sounds innocent enough, and Nigel Farage seems a pleasant enough fellow – enjoying a fag and a drink, and not a bit like everyone’s idea of a scheming politician.  Quite so, but then who would have expected the mildly cranky National Socialist German Workers’ Party to become a movement of extreme right-wing nationalist thugs prepared to use any means – mass murder, torture, genocide – to achieve their ends.  Hitler too; we think of him as being an unscrupulous raving rabble-rouser, but he had an unquestionably magnetic personality and could be good company when he chose to be.  Certainly he too was no-one’s idea of a scheming politician.

             The national press is forecasting a landslide victory for Douglas Carswell and his Ukippers.  I can’t think why. Our former MP has deserted the political party that has loyally supported him and has forced a totally unnecessary by-election only seven months before a scheduled general election. That by-election will cost us taxpayers something like £100,000.  He presumably hopes to bask in the glory of being Ukip’s very first Member of Parliament.  That should guarantee him  a top job if and when Nigel Farage forms his first government!

            Douglas Carswell and his Ukippers are certainly working hard for his election and don’t appear to be short of funds.  I, and presumably all Clactonians, have been deluged by leaflets – I’ve had at least five of them (two a couple of weeks before his defection!) telling us what a wonderful fellow he is and how lucky we have been to have had him as our MP.  I have also had a leaflet from the Labour Party.  The Conservatives have been handicapped by not having a new candidate waiting to be selected, but they’ve chosen one now and I wish local man Giles Watling, actor and Frinton town and district councillor, success in this expensive, absurd and totally unnecessary by-election.

            I had a doorstep Ukip canvasser calling at my home before the Conservative candidate had been selected.  He was armed with a list of voters, a clip-board and a ballpoint pen. He seemed to have expected me to be an enthusiastic Ukipper and  may have been a little taken aback when I told him I was hoping that Douglas Carswell would be roundly defeated in this by-election, and that all Ukip contestants in all future elections would have the same fate.  I intended to vote for the candidate most likely to defeat him, and that - for this by-election and for the very first time in my long life – I intended to vote for the Conservative Candidate, whoever he or she might be!

08 September 2014

Week 37a 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

More Refugees

          2014 is becoming the Year of the Refugees.  We have seen harrowing pictures on the tv of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking shelter and asylum in make-shift camps in Turkey, Lebanon and other nearby countries, from the cruel war in their own homeland from which there seems to be no end in sight.  We have seen similar refugees from Gaza trying to escape relentless shelling and bombing from Israel.  They didn’t even have the option of fleeing to a safer country because the Israeli blockade prevented them from escaping from the strip of land that has been described as ‘the world’s biggest concentration camp’.  More recently we have seen thousands more refugees from northern Iraq, many of them members of Christian communities who have lived peaceably with their Muslim neighbours for centuries, fleeing from the bloodthirsty murderers and torturers of the so-called Islamic State. 

            A brief mention on a BBC news bulletin this (2nd Sept) evening persuaded me to seek more information about at flood of refugees of which I had previously heard virtually nothing.  Did you know (I certainly didn’t before I consulted Google) that over a million refugees from eastern Ukraine had fled into Russia to escape from the relentless bombardment of their towns and villages by the forces of the Kiev government? No wonder the Russians sent a convoy of humanitarian aid vehicles to the south!  I also discovered that there have been over 2,000 fatal casualties from the civil war in the Ukraine  - most of them among the ‘rebel’ population and many, as in Gaza, civilians including women and little children. Isn’t bombing and shelling his own people one of the war crimes of which we constantly accuse President Assad of Syria?   But, as I have remarked before in this blog, It’s not what is done – it’s who it is does it, that matters as far as ‘the west’ is concerned.  The Kiev government has the support of the UK, the USA and NATO, and the refugees in this case are rebels said to be backed by Russia. They clearly ‘don’t deserve our sympathy and aren’t going to get any help from us!’

             The UK, the USA and NATO’s response to this civil war has been to blame it all onto Russia, to impose ever stronger economic sanctions on Russia and to carry out troop manoeuvres in Poland and naval exercises in the Baltic Sea. These highly provocative activities have produced a response from Russia.  They too are strengthening their armed forces and carrying out military exercises.

            A few weeks ago I wrote in this blog about the way in which, as a result of a series of military alliances, the great powers of Europe had ‘sleep walked’ into World War I.  I think that Vladimir Putin, David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Barak Obama, have sufficient sense not to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors in 1914, but some of the more bullish US Senators and Congressmen may be eager for a confrontation: ‘Sure we should teach them Rooskies a lesson  – and our boys could he do it and be home again before Christmas’. I have little doubt that within the Russian parliament there are similar irresponsible idiots.  World-wide the number of those who remember the devastation of World War II is getting smaller and smaller. 

            Certainly the Kiev Ukrainian government has been doing all it can to lure their west European friends into the conflict.  Remember how its spokesman announced that the ‘black boxes’ on that ill-fated air liner had revealed that the ill-fated Malaysian air-liner had been shot down by pro-Russian rebels. (We haven’t yet received any official word about those black boxes or about the report of the team of international experts who inspected the crash site).  The latest claim is that two Russian armoured divisions have crossed the frontier and are fighting with the rebels.  Really? I reckon that if the Russian government really had sent two armoured divisions to support the rebels, the Russian flag would by now be flying over Kiev Town Hall!

            The bloody advance of Kiev government forces has been halted (possibly with Russian help).  Now, before a counter- offensive by the pro-Russian rebels begins, is surely the time for peace talks to begin.   It should be noted that the pro-Russian rebels have never sought to take over the whole of Ukraine.  All they ask is to be allowed to keep their own language and customs and to make their own international friendships, perhaps within a loosely Federal UkraineIs that really too much to ask?

            It is, of course, a very ill wind that blows nobody any good. The blood-thirsty fanatics of IS (Islamic State) and their counterparts and supporters world wide, are delighted to see their infidel opponents – the enemies of jihadist Islam in the Russian Federation and those within NATO - at each-other’s throats.  They’d like to see a real ‘shooting war’ break out between the warring infidels, hoping that when half the world had been reduced to a radio-active wilderness, the jihadists would be able to move in and enforce their evil perversion of Islam on whoever was left alive.   

Later News

            I wrote the above four or five days ago.  I am writing this on Saturday 6th September.  Yesterday afternoon we learned that a cease-fire has been agreed between the forces of the Kiev government and the pro-Russian rebels.  The ceasefire involves a cessation of hostilities, an exchange of prisoners and negotiations on a permanent peace based, almost exactly, on the suggestions made in the paragraph above that I have now italicised and emboldened.

            I am unreservedly thankful and very much hope that the cease-fire will hold* and that the negotiations will be successful.  The response from our government and NATO has been, to say the least, ungracious.  The increased sanctions against Russia will be put into effect and there’s to be a ‘rapid response force, stationed in Poland, ready to counter any ‘act of aggression’ on Russia’s part!   Do they really want a third world war?  I am beginning to wonder.

            What they should be doing is making sure that those Baltic countries ‘the west’ is so eager to protect – don’t deliberately provoke Russian action.  Estonia, where Barak Obama made a bellicose speech, has an ethnic Russian minority of 25 percent of the population.  That means that one quarter of the population use the Russian language and have a Russian culture.  Do we, before we make unreserved promises of protection, make sure that these Russian speakers are not treated as second class citizens?  Is Russian an official language?  There’s certainly nothing unprecedented about a country having more than one official language – Belgium, Switzerland, Wales and Canada for instance are just a few examples.

            We should also ask ourselves how we British would react if the Republic of Ireland or possibly an independent Scotland, entered into a hostile military alliance against us and had a ‘rapid response’ unit stationed within its borders as a defence against British aggression.  We do know how the USA would react.  In order to prevent a successful repetition of the ‘Bay of Pigs’ failed attempt at invasion from the USA, the Cuban Government invited the USSR to position missiles and their launchers on its territory.  The USA was so concerned about this that they were prepared to risk  a nuclear war to prevent it.  Fortunately Nikita Khruschev, the Soviet President, was not prepared to risk such a conflict and withdrew the missiles.  This was hailed as a great American victory – but it’s worth noting that there was no further attempt to invade Cuba from the USA!

            Blessed are the peace-makers………………for it is upon them (not on those who constantly prepare for war) that the survival of the human race depends

Monday - 8th September (7.55 a.m.)

            Yesterday there were reports of the cease-fire being broken - probably by both sides.  As I pointed out earlier in this blog, neither side has a monopoly of irresponsible idiots.  I switched on the TV for BBC's 7.00 am news bulletin with some trepidation.  Ukraine wasn't mentioned.  No doubt it will have been later on, but a major breach of the truce would surely have been given headline status.

                I'm still hoping, and praying, for peace.

Meanwhile – back in sunny Clacton-on-Sea…………………
          ………………..the political parties are getting ready for the unexpected by-election caused by Douglas Carswell's defection to UKIP, which we now know is to be held on 9th October.   UKIP has the advantage of knowing for certain who is to be their candidate and beginning their cempaign early.   There’s no honour among thieves and, so it seems, precious little among Ukippers.  Douglas Carswell has deserted the political party that helped him win his seat in two general elections at just about the worst possible moment, publishing and distributing two self-advertising leaflets before announcing his defection. Local Ukippers have cast aside the local candidate they had democratically elected only a few weeks earlier, in favour of this defector from the Conservatives.  Mr Ling has not taken his sacking quietly.  He has resigned from UKIP, intends to resign his UKIP seat on Essex County Council and to take no further interest in politics.  Who can blame him?

            I have just received another circular and what appears to be a personal letter from Mr Carswell (but I bet dozens of people have received them!) in which he addresses me as ‘Dear Ernest’ – and I had no idea we were on first-name terms!

            I do think that the local Conservative Party has hit on a very good idea in having an unofficial ‘primary election’, even though it means that their election campaign will begin later than those of UKIP or the Lib.Dems.  .Local residents of any or no political persuasion are invited to a public meeting to help select the Party’s candidate from a short list of hopefuls who will briefly address the meeting and answer questions.  There’s also a questionnaire especially for those who won’t be attending this meeting.

            I won’t be going to the meeting and I won’t be filling in the questionnaire. To do either would give a false impression.  If I vote for the Conservative Candidate in the forthcoming by-election (which seems quite likely) it won’t be because I want him or her to be my representative in parliament.  It’ll be simply because I want to keep Douglas Carswell – or any other Ukipper - out!   The election of someone of another party (any other party) as an MP is likely to be the only way of ensuring that. So I shall vote for whoever has the best chance of defeating Douglas Carswell and that at the moment seems to be the Conservative, whoever he or she may be..


01 September 2014

Week 37 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

I told you so!
 Well no, I didn’t really – because I didn’t imagine for a moment that he’d actually desert the Conservative Party, join UKIP and resign his seat in the House of Commons so that we Clactonians could decide in a by-election whether or not we wanted a Ukipper to be our member of parliament.  I did know though that his heart was with UKIP rather than with David Cameron’s brand of Conservatism, and I respect him for following his own convictions rather than his financial and social advantage.  The fact that I am quite sure that his conviction was pointing him in the wrong direction is beside the point.

            I am, of course, referring to Mr Douglas Carswell who is/was (does a resignation from parliament have immediate effect?) Clacton and District’s MP.  A few months ago Mr Carswell asked local members of the Conservative Party to describe him in two words.  I wasn’t invited to do so for obvious reasons.  However I joined in the fun and described him in this blog as a Crypto-Ukipper. Recent events have demonstrated that that description was correct

        During the time in which Douglas Carswell was deciding where his true loyalty lay, members of the local branch of UKIP were selecting their own candidate to fight for their cause in next year’s general election.  Successful candidate was Mr Roger Lord, a farmer from Great Bentley and already a UKIP County Councillor. I had thought that it was the prospect of having an election battle with someone whose views were very similar to those of Douglas Carswell, then their candidate, that had prompted the local Conservatives to push two election campaign leaflets through my letter box,  a week or so apart.  A copy of the latest one – it came just a few days ago – is shown above.  It’s quite eye-catching isn’t it?

            The contemptuous way in which UKIP members rose in the European Parliament and turned their backs on the playing of the European anthem, suggests that common courtesy doesn’t rate very highly among the qualities valued by Ukippers.   However, it might have been thought that someone from UKIP would have let Mr Lord know about Douglas Carswell’s impending defection and his intention to stand for the parliamentary seat for which the local Ukippers had selected Roger Lord as their candidate.

            Mr Lord is quoted in the Gazette as saying, ‘I was selected and have appointed a campaign team and we have an election strategy planned.  I have already recruited several members of Douglas Carswell’s team and they don’t want him back – they fell out with him big time’.

            Mr Lord isn’t the only one to whom Douglas Carswell’s actions have come as a surprise.  Ms. Dewlyth Miles, a former Chairman of the Clacton Conservative Association said, ‘This is a total blow to Conservative supporters in Clacton.  I had no inkling that he was going to do this and would have done everything in my power to persuade him to stay.  Had the Conservative Party known what was going to happen they would hardly have gone to the trouble and expense of printing those eye-catching leaflets and pushing them through our letter boxes!   Looking at that leaflet for a second time, I note that nowhere on it (not even in the small print) is there any mention of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative dominated government, though it gives the address of the Conservative Party in Clacton's Station Road, as the place to contact Mr Carswell.  Could it be that local Conservatives have paid for some propaganda for their UKIP opponents?

            I don’t want either Mr Carswell or Mr Lord to be our MP.   I am not a supporter of UKIP.  I am a Europhile and am proud of it. The EU needs reform –  but so does the UK – and I have no doubt that for us to leave the European Union, to which we are bound by Geography, History, Culture and economic self-interest, would be disastrous.

            I recall that I wrote in this blog that in the European Parliamentary Election I would vote for the Green Party because the election was by proportional representation and every vote counted.  For British first-past-the-post elections my choice would be for whoever was most likely to defeat the UKIP candidate. If he or she were to be a Conservative I’d have a struggle with my conscience but – for the first time in my life – I’d vote Blue.

         When I made that somewhat rash promise, the General Election was nearly two years away and I didn’t really expect still to be around when it took place.  Now though – we’re to have a by-election, probably in a matter of weeks.  My resolve could be sorely tested!   
Debt again!

            I have sometimes wondered if I am over-obsessed with the problem of debt.  My parents spent their lives determined never to owe anything to anybody.  I can recall them discussing for hours whether or not to make their first and (I’m pretty certain) only HP purchase – of a new ‘Murphy’ radio or, as we called it in those days, ‘wireless set’.   Pre World War II, if you wanted something expensive, perhaps costing as much as £5.00 (in those days, two–weeks wages for a working man!), you saved up for it, a concept that seems to be almost unknown today.   My wife’s parents (her dad was a skilled and experienced carpenter and never out-of-work) were just the same.

            Consequently when my wife and I took out a mortgage for the purchase of our own home – the bungalow in which I am writing these words today – we did so with some trepidation.  I had already started spare-time freelance writing and, year by year, my earnings from this source steadily increased.  Every penny that I earned from that spare time writing was used to reduce the mortgage debt.  As a result it was paid off completely, and my wife and I became ‘home owners’ and not just ‘home buyers’, ten years earlier than had been planned.

            Nowadays I have both a credit and a debit card but, on the rare occasions that I use the credit card, I pay the debt off directly the demand is made by my bank, thereby incurring no interest charges.

            Partly at least as a result of government policy, debt is at the very heart of today’s society.  To be free from debt has become the exception rather than the rule. Interest rates are artificially low – though they become high enough for those who fail to make their regular repayments!  Young people leave University or other further education with a debt that can amount to £20,000 or £30,000.   It’s true that they don’t have to start repaying that money until they are earning a decent salary – but that debt has to be repaid at just the time when the debtor might otherwise be saving up for a deposit on the purchase of his or her first home.  And that, of course, is another debt that has to be repaid – with interest.  The government’s ‘help to buy’ schemes, by guaranteeing a large percentage of that deposit,  drive up house prices and add to the regular monthly repayments made by the purchaser
It seems that the North-East Essex Coastal Area in which I live, in particular Clacton-on Sea, Frinton and Walton-on-the Naze has the highest level of debt in Eastern England.  A report from the Children’s Society and the Step Change debt charity reveals that within our area one third of families are mired in debt totalling more than £5 million!  The report says that 4,826 children in Clacton are affected  and that families are being forced into debt to make ends meet and to pay for the essential needs of their children.  Mike O’Connor, Chief Executive of Step Change told a Clacton Gazette reporter that, ‘Families face a unique set of pressures, but the sad reality is that for many parents credit, which is often unsustainable, has become the only way to cover their essential household bills’. 

            The report in the Clacton Gazette records that our MP Mr Douglas Carswell is well aware of the local debt problem.

 ‘I know from my regular advice surgeries that family debt is a chronic problem and getting worse.  If you look at average earnings in Clacton, they have barely gone up at all in five years, yet the price of basics like food and energy are going up and up.  The Government tells us that the economy is recovering, but in our corner of Essex the only thing going up is the prices in shops, and debt.

            But, of course, Mr Carswell said all that before the Clacton Gazette or I or anyone else knew that he would be changing sides and forcing a by-election in which he hopes to stand as a Ukipper.  I’m rather pleased that the last words that I shall type from him as Clacton’s Conservative MP expressed thoughts with which I can whole-heartedly agree.

            I don’t think that my obsession with the problem of debt is completely unjustified.


25 August 2014

Week 35 2014

Tendring Topics……..on line

Family Friendly?

          I am sick of hearing top (and lower rank) politicians going on and on about supporting ‘the family’ and hoping thereby to get a few more votes at forthcoming elections. Politicians (of both main parties) carry the primary responsibility for the creation of a society that is thoroughly Family Unfriendly and unlikely to be anything else unless there is a revolutionary change in society’s outlook.

            I have probably written in this blog before (one of the characteristics of old age is a tendency to repeat oneself!) that I quite often feel like a time traveller, a ‘poor man’s Dr Who' perhaps.  I  am an early twentieth century man, born in 1921, who finds himself in the twenty-first century and (although I fully appreciate, and take every advantage of, the many benefits the present century offers)  still isn’t quite comfortable with some of the twenty-first century’s practices and attitudes.  This is never more so than when I contrast pre and post World War II attitudes towards marriage and bringing up children.

            The 1920s and ‘30s were not a poor-people-friendly time. My mum and dad were poor though that isn’t how they would have described themselves.  There were plenty poorer.  My dad was never unemployed and I was always adequately fed and clothed.  In fact, I was one of the privileged minority, who went to a secondary school and, unlike most of my contemporaries who were thrown onto the labour market at 14, I didn’t leave school till I was sixteen. Then, armed with my ‘matric’, I went straight to a ‘white collar job’.  It was a struggle though and my parents had to watch every penny.  They were proud of the fact that they never had to ‘ask for charity’ and never owed anyone anything.

            It was a family-friendly time though.  My dad went to work and earned enough, with his army pension just enough, to keep us in what I think the Prayer Book Catechism describes as, ‘that state of life into which it has pleased God to call us’.  My Mum stayed at home, kept the home clean and welcoming, cooked the meals and ‘made do and mended’ as all housewives were exhorted to do during World War II.  Before marriage she had been a cook in an Edwardian household and knew how to cook and how to pickle and preserve!    She was always at home with a welcoming smile and something on the table when my dad and I arrived home from work and school.  We were a small and a united family.

            In those days young men ‘courted’ their girl-friends and didn’t ‘ask for their hand in marriage’ (now there’s a couple of old-fashioned phrases you don’t hear nowadays!) until they were earning enough to support both of them.  Once married their roles were clear.  The husband was ‘the breadwinner’ and went out to work every day to earn sufficient to keep them both.  The young wife stayed at home, cooked the meals and – in due course – had children.  They were a family, and a great many of them were quite content with their lot.  My dad, who had been a Regimental Sergeant-Major in the army – and the senior non-commissioned officer in the small garrison town in which I was born was – I  think – disappointed with his lowly job as clerk, dispenser, veterinary nurse and general dogsbody in a local veterinary practice.  My mum had married my dad ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health’ and was, I am pretty certain, content with her lot.  They were both very proud of me and hoped I would ‘better’ myself.  I suppose that I have, though I doubt very much if I’ve ever been any happier than they were.

            When I married in 1946, it never even occurred to either of us that my new wife – who had been secretary to the Managing Director of a large firm of printers – would continue to work.  I was the ‘bread winner’ and she was the ‘home maker.’  Throughout our sixty years of marriage I always managed, though it was sometimes a struggle, to ‘win enough bread’ to keep my wife and, in due course, our two sons in modest comfort though certainly never in luxury.  She was always at home, ready to listen to their stories of school and play, and prepared to give an experienced hand with their homework, when our sons came home from school. She was always ready, with a meal on the table, when I came home from work.  We lived and brought up our two sons in ‘family friendly’ times.

            I really think that ours was the last generation able to do so.  First of all came the idea that in order ‘to keep up with the Jones’s’ young wives should continue in work until the first baby arrived.  Then it became quite acceptable for a young wife to carry on working after children were born.  I think this dated from the time when – eager for custom – banks and building societies decided that they would loan money for home purchase on the basis of a multiple of the family’s total income, and not just the income of ‘the breadwinner’,. Proper arrangements were needed, of course, for child care.  This helped some working couples to ‘get their feet on the home ownership ladder’ but, since it increased the demand for home purchase without increasing the number of houses for sale, inevitably pushed up the price of houses. That was a trend which – with a pause during the period of recession – continues to this day.
The joy of motherhood.  My wife Heather, with our first-born son, in 1953.
 Imperceptibly  (I think it gathered momentum during the years of Thatcher rule  in the 1980s) it became not only acceptable – but expected – that young mothers should get back to work ‘to help create wealth’ as soon as possible after the birth of a baby.  It has become increasingly difficult for a family to survive on one income alone.  How can family life hope to flourish when parents both come home weary from a day’s work and see their children, if they’re at home when the parents return, only for a few hours in each evening?  This system, I believe, is responsible not only for the break-up of family life, but for gang culture, juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour, and teenage pregnancies.

            No, I’m not suggesting that we should return to the ways of the 1930s where women were regarded as inferior to men and virtually barred from some professions. I believe that women can excel in any job or profession that demands something more than brute force and blind obedience.  We will soon have women bishops.  One day I hope we’ll have a woman Archbishop of Canterbury! Women are uniquely child-bearers though and I believe that many, though by no means all, women do find home making and bringing up children a thoroughly satisfying and fulfilling career. They too are helping to make Britain a better country in which to live. This should be recognised and made financially possible.  Only policies that work toward this end can properly be described as ‘family friendly’.

The Shadow of a Doubt?

          A recent email from a blog reader says that the activities of IS (Islamic State terrorists) in Iraq must surely present problems to Quakers like myself who look for a non-violent solution to every difficult situation and believe that no-one is one hundred percent evil.

            I wouldn’t pretend that it doesn’t.  Central to my, admittedly sometimes shaky, Quaker faith is the conviction that we all, every man, woman and child in the world, rich and poor alike and whatever our race, colour or creed, have a divine spark (early Quakers called it the ‘inward light of Christ’) within us.  St. John refers to it in the first chapter of his gospel as ‘the true light’ that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.  It shines in the darkness of the world and the darkness cannot overwhelm it.  It is the instinct that urges us to compassion, friendship, generosity, and forgiveness, and away from hatred, violence, greed and vengeance.

            During my long life, in the army and as a civilian; as a prisoner of war and as a free man, I have become acquainted with folk of every religion and none, and of every nationality – Germans, Italians, Russians, Serbs, Arabs, Turks, Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis, black and white Africans and North and South Americans.  Not all of them I would particularly like to meet again – but neither did any of them persuade me that the Quaker conviction that every one of them had ‘that of God’ within them was false.

            I have only met members of IS on a tv screen and that was quite near enough. War is defiling.  Every nation at war, at some time or another, performs acts that are clearly, I can’t think of a better word, ‘sinful’.  We could, no doubt, all list the ‘crimes against humanity’ of the Germans, the Russians, the Chinese and Japanese – but how about the blanket bombing of German cities, full of civilians, towards the end of World War II by the British and Americans?  What about the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima by the Americans with British approval and support – and, after seeing the devastation wrought by that atom bomb, dropping another such bomb on Nagasaki? Those who have committed these crimes against humanity know full well they have done so and either deny their guilt or try to justify it.  ‘Our blanket bombing of Germany and the two atom bombs on Japan hastened the war’s end and may have saved untold numbers of lives’.  They may have!

            Members of IS though are unique among war criminals.  They not only commit unspeakable atrocities but glory in having done so – posting pictures of themselves on the internet with the broken bodies and severed heads of their victims.  And they claim that their actions will earn them God's approval.. I can think of nothing more likely to provoke God's wrath! They are surely uniquely evil - and among them are believed to be some 500 young men born, brought up and educated in the UK!

            I like to think that the inward light of God does still smoulder deep within the hearts of these evil men – and can somehow be rekindled.  Meanwhile their activities must be halted, and their victims protected and helped back to normal life. I can't bring myself to criticise those who resort to  violent means to achieve this, but I have observed that such violent means rarely, if ever, achieve their objectives.  I applaud those who bring humanitarian aid to the victims and I give as generously as I can to those who do this work.  Otherwise, and at my age, all I can do is to pray.  And, who knows?  Perhaps that is the most effective thing I could do.


18 August 2014

Week 34 2014

Tendring Topics……on line

Sleep Walking…….into war!

           Just before 5 p.m on every day from 28th June 1914, the centenary of the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, until  4th August,  the centenary of the date on which the UK declared war on Germany,  BBC’s Radio 4 gave listeners a brief account of that day’s events one hundred years earlier, as recorded in contemporary newspapers and official documents.

            I found the account fascinating. It seems clear that it was several weeks before it occurred to anyone in Britain that that assassination could possibly have anything to do with us.  ‘An assassination in Sarajevo, where’s that? In the Balkans? That’s the sort of thing that they do there isn’t it? An Archduke?  I thought they were to be found only in comic operas. These foreigners!  There’s really no accounting for their ways.

            Besides, there were lots of much more worrying things happening nearer home; in Ireland for instance.  Ireland was an important part of the British Empire. There was a serious and imminent risk of civil war there over the question of Home Rule.  Most Irish people were Roman Catholics and wanted Home Rule but in the north there was a Protestant majority who would resist any move in that direction. Ulster will fight – and Ulster will be right! was a slogan of the day.

            Then there were the militant suffragettes; women demanding the right to vote in elections and breaking windows, chaining themselves to railings and throwing themselves in front of race horses to draw attention to their cause.  Arrested, they refused to eat and were cruelly force-fed. 

            There was also labour unrest and the threat of a general strike.  There were plenty of things to worry about at home without having to give thought to foreigners murdering each other in, to quote a more recent Prime Minister, ‘a faraway country of which we know very little’.

            Meanwhile, the ripples from that murder began to spread.  It had occurred in Bosnia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The perpetrator was a Serb who wanted Bosnia, many of whose population were ethnic Serbs, to be free of Austrian rule.  The Austrian government, which would have liked to add Serbia to its empire, was quite convinced (or convinced itself) that the Serbian government had orchestrated the assassination.  They presented Serbia with a very strongly worded ultimatum that would, in effect, have robbed the Serbs of their national sovereignty.

            Serbia however, had a very powerful ally in Imperial Russia. Austria-Hungary also had a very powerful ally in Germany, and Russia had another powerful ally in France.  Just outside this system of alliances was the United Kingdom and its great Empire.  Close friends though we were with France and Russia, we had no treaty obligations to join with them in case of conflict.

            The Serbs agreed to all but one clause of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum.  That wasn’t enough for the Austro-Hungarians.  They declared war on Serbia and ordered their army to invade and attack Belgrade.  Like falling dominoes, the alliances came into effect.   Serbia asked for Russian support.  Austria then asked Germany and Russia asked France to honour their treaty obligations.   We don’t generally think of the German Kaiser as a peace-maker but, perhaps sensing what was to come, he asked his cousin, the Tsar of Russia, to cease mobilisation of his army.  It was too late.  The major powers of Europe were at war with each other.

            Only the UK remained at peace – and there was a strong peace movement in Britain.  We might well have remained neutral had the German High Command not decided that they must avoid a war on two fronts. They could best achieve this by quickly defeating France and then turning, with all their strength, on Russia.  This, they thought, could be done by attacking France through Belgium.   And that brought Britain into the war.  We were bound, by a treaty dating back almost to the Battle of Waterloo, to defend the neutrality of Belgium.   Thus began World War I. In the 1920s and ‘30s we called it ‘The Great War’.  Millions were killed, millions more were maimed.  It was supposed to be ‘the war to end wars’ but, in fact, the peace treaty imposed by the victors made World War II, just 21 years later, inevitable.

 All of this would have been solely of historical interest were it not for the fact that some events today are uncomfortably similar to those in 1914.  We have a rebellious faction in Eastern Ukraine who have taken up arms against a new government in Kiev.  The ‘west’ is quite sure that the rebels are supported and provided with arms by Russia – just as the Austro-Hungarians were quite sure that the rebels in Bosnia who were responsible for the assassination of their Arch-Duke were puppets of the Serbian Government.

            Ukrainian Government Forces are mercilessly shelling and bombing towns and villages in the rebel held areas, killing civilians on a similar scale to the much-more-publicised shelling and bombing of the Palestinians in Gaza, and preventing the proper inspection of the wreck of the air-liner that the rebels are accused of shooting down.   To help the victims of this bombing and shelling the Russian Government is, with the knowledge of the International Red Cross, sending a convoy of lorries bringing humanitarian aid. The President of the Kiev Ukrainian Government says that this convoy will be refused admission to Ukraine.  What will happen then?  If his troops attempt to stop the convoy by force does he really think that NATO will support him – and risk a third world war?  If so, I sincerely hope he is wrong.

            This possibility though, does illustrate the dangers of ringing Russia with small potentially hostile, NATO states – and declaring that an attack on any one of them is an attack on NATO, which will respond appropriately.  It was a system of military alliances that led to World War I.  I hope (though I’m far from confident!) that the world’s governments are not so stupid as to allow a similar system to lead them into World War III.

Recent and still breaking news

            The news about that Russian convoy of lorries bearing humanitarian aid to the homeless and shell-shocked folk of Eastern Ukraine is mixed.  A solution to the problem of the delivery of that aid appears to have been solved in an extremely sensible manner, and one that is a credit to both the Russian and the Ukrainian negotiators.  The contents of each vehicle are to be inspected by  Ukrainian Government officials and then driven, by their Russian drivers to a destination in eastern Ukraine. There the humanitarian aid will be distributed by representatives of the International Red Cross.  That should quell Ukrainian fears that the lorries might prove to be ‘Trojan horses’ loaded with weaponry for rebel fighters. TV cameras have brought to viewers images of the contents of two lorries, selected at random. They were filled with food for  the hungry and tents for the homeless.

            Rather more worrying is the fact that reliable witnesses have seen one or more Russian armoured vehicles crossing the border from Russia to Ukraine.  This, needless to say, is causing David Cameron ‘serious concern’ and making him talk threateningly about ‘further consequences’.   It should, I think, be remembered that the areas each side of that particular part of the frontier are populated by the same ethnically Russian people, many of them probably related, and all on the Russian side shocked by the way rebel cities and towns are being ruthlessly shelled by the Ukrainian army.  The rebels, for all their small-arms and captured tanks and armoured vehicles, have no artillery with which to respond to that relentless bombardment and no air force with which to attack their enemies. I don’t think it would need the prompting of Vladimir Putin, hundreds of miles away in Moscow, to make some of those on the Russian side of the border decide to go to the assistance of their embattled brethren. 

              More encouraging is the news that Russians, Ukrainians and representatives of the Ukrainian rebels are meeting in Berlin in a day or two's time to try to find a peaceful solution to this terrible civil war.  I hope they succeed.

The latest news - this morning 18th August.

I do not believe that a single aid vehicle has yet been allowed to enter east Ukraine.  The Kiev Government insists that they are carrying arms, despite the fact that their officials have been invited to inspect them.  I really believe that the Kiev government is deliberately provoking Russia in the hope that their reaction will bring NATO to the rescue! 

 This is today’s news…….

          One day last week IS (Islamic State) terrorists had driven thousands of Christian and other non-Muslims from their homes in northern Iraq and compelled them to seek temporary shelter in barren mountains – devoid of water, food or shelter.  The USA had carried out air strikes on IS forces that were claimed to have slowed down (but not halted) their advance.  There was an uneasy truce in the Holy Land between Israel and the people of the Yemen.  The World Health Organisation had authorised the use of drugs that have not yet been rigorously tested, in a last-ditch attempt to stem the pandemic of Ebola that was currently rampant in parts of West Africa.  Ebola in a potentially fatal infectious disease for which there is, so far, no vaccination and no effective treatment.  Which of these, I wondered, would be the lead story on BBC tv’s news bulletin at 6.00 pm?

No, it was nothing to do with any of the above.  The lead story, that took up at least one third of the half-hour news bulletin, was about an American entertainer, an alcoholic and a drug addict, who had taken his own life during a period of depression.  We had a résumé of his life, his film and other successes, comments on his struggle with drink, drugs and depression and a few words of adulation from Barak Obama President of the USA.

There's no doubt that Robbie Williams was a very gifted entertainer with fans world-wide  – but I would have expected his decease to have deserved a mention only towards the end of a British news bulletin on a day in which nothing much else was happening either in the UK or the world!

11 August 2014

Week 33 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

It wasn’t ‘too good to be true’

          Regular blog readers will know that I have been concerned about the fate of Meriem Ibrahim, the young North Sudanese mother who had been convicted of the ‘heinous crime’ of abandoning Islam for Christianity (she had, in fact, been brought up by her Christian mother and had never been a Muslim) and sentenced to death by hanging.  Before being hanged she was to be flogged with 100 lashes for marrying a Christian and having a child by him.  Such marriages are forbidden by Sharia law and are condemned as ‘adulterous’! At the time of her condemnation she was heavily pregnant with her second child – a baby girl who was born while her mother was shackled to the floor of her cell.

            Following world-wide protests an appeal against the sentence was successful but she was prevented from flying with her family to her husband’s home in the USA on the pretext of a faulty passport. A fortnight ago a report on BBC tv announced that the whole family had been allowed to fly to Italy where they had met the Pope who had congratulated Meriem on her steadfast refusal to abandon her Christian faith, a course of action that could have earned her freedom.  Sadly this report was never confirmed or taken up by the media – and a search on line by Google discovered no news of Meriem later than her re-arrest at Khartoum airport when she had tried to leave the country.  I concluded that the news of the family’s flight to Italy was ‘too good to be true’ and this gloomy opinion was reinforced by a news report that the family had taken refuge in the United States Embassy in Khartoum and that her father (who had left her mother to bring up her baby alone!) was urging the reinstatement of the death sentence.

 Home – at last.  The Ibrahim family re-united in the USA.  Baby Maya, born in a Sudanese prison cell, is in her mother’s arms and her toddler son in the care of his Grandpa.   

 It has now become clear that that early BBC report was true.  The whole family had clandestinely flown to Italy with an Italian government minister.  They had met the Pope and Meriem had been congratulated on her refusal to renounce her faith despite the dire consequences that could have followed that refusal.  It seems too that that hasty departure from the American Embassy and from North Sudan, was not a moment too soon.  A lynch mob had been threatening to storm the Embassy and seize its prey!  At a time of bloodshed and violence and of the persecution of Christians throughout much of the Middle East and large areas of northern Africa, the Meriem Ibrahim story is one that has a happy ending!  Latest news reports confirm that Meriem, her husband and two children have flown to her husband’s home in the USA where they have been given a heroes’ welcome.  It was one story that wasn’t too good to be true!

Still living with Mum at 21? - and 31?

          Members and supporters of the present government never tire of complaining about the ‘terrible mess that the previous Labour government left us to clear up’. Well, I was never an enthusiast for New Labour but the Governor of the Bank of England who has recently retired always insisted that it was the Bankers and money-lenders, not the politicians, who were to blame for that mess.

            One of the messes that the New Labour government inherited from the Thatcher years – and failed to address – was the iniquitous right to buy legislation that compelled local authorities, but not private landlords, to sell their council owned houses at a fraction of their market value to sitting tenants  Inevitably council houses in pleasant rural areas were quickly bought up and sold on - often at an enormous profit – directly this legally became possible.  Equally inevitably, since councils were unable to build houses for letting ­to replace them, there were no properties for letting at reasonable rents in many rural villages.   Young couples, whose forbears had lived in that village for generations, found themselves compelled to move away.  Many villages consequently became ‘dormitories’, with their inhabitants commuting daily to the nearest town, doing much of their shopping there, and taking no interest in local life and local affairs.

            Mrs Thatcher and her successors, in pursuit of their dream of home ownership for all changed public attitudes so that, as Paul Honeywood, Tendring Council’s ‘housing boss’ told a Clacton Gazette reporter ‘Council homes are often looked at as a last resort for the unemployed and people in financial trouble but’ he added, ‘we are trying to change that perception and offer it as an alternative for those wanting to set up on their own or start a family’. What Mr Honeywood is urging is in fact, a return to the system that existed and worked satisfactorily for a century before the advent of Thatcherism – when local authorities, without interference from national politicians, built houses for letting and allocated them to those in need.  There was then no stigma attached to ‘living in a council house’.  When I was appointed as a Public Health Inspector by Clacton Council in 1956, my family and I were happy to live in a Council House in Holland-on-Sea until, after a few months, we purchased and moved into the bungalow in which I am living today.

            Clacton, and the Tendring District generally, is particularly in need of social housing available for letting at a reasonable rent.  The housing charity Shelter has discovered that one third of Tendring’s 20 to 34 year olds, despite being in work, continue to live in the family home with mum and dad.   They simply can’t afford ‘to get their feet on the housing ladder’ with house properties at their present level – and there are no longer, as there once were, council houses available for letting.

            Tendring’s position is worse than that of other neighbouring local authority areas.   In Colchester 6,064 (22 percent) of 20 to 34 year old are still living in the family home, in Braintree 5,770 (28 percent) and in Tendring 4,801 (37 percent) Typical of such a ‘stay-at-home’ is 22 year old Natasha Fuller of St Osyth who works full-time as a hairdresser.  She told a Gazette reporter, ‘I still live at home with my parents even though I have a full-time job.  I don’t earn enough to save for a mortgage or rent on my own home while running a car at the same time’.

Shelter representative Campbell Robb told the Gazette ’The clipped-wing generation are finding themselves with no choice but to remain living with mum and dad well into adulthood.  And those who aren’t lucky enough to have this option face a lifetime of unstable, expensive, private renting.  The government knows that the only way to turn the tide of the housing shortage is to fill the gap between the homes we have and the homes we need’.

And the only effective way of doing that is to repeal the ‘right to buy’ legislation and – as in the pre-Thatcher past – encourage local authorities to build the homes their district needs, and to let them to local people who need a home, without interference from ‘Nanny knows best, dear’ politicians!
ISIS is still with us!

          The blood bath in Gaza, the downing of the Malaysian air liner over eastern Ukraine and the centenary commemoration of World War I have driven ISIS and its determination to establish an extremist Islamic Caliphate throughout Syria and Iraq (and that’s just for a start!) from the news headlines during the past week or so.  They’re still there though and although they don’t seem to have made any progress towards taking Baghdad, they’re consolidating their strict Islamic rule over the territories that they have taken and are edging forward whenever they have the opportunity to do so.

            A recent effect of this has been to drive tens of thousands of Christian Iraqis from their homes in areas where the Christian faith has flourished for centuries.  Many in northern Iraq had been protected by the semi-independent Kurds but their protectors have now been driven out and the new extreme Islamic regime has offered the choice of death, conversion to their own extreme version of Islam, or a crippling tax payable by all non-Muslims. nearly one hundred thousand have fled and are now trapped on a barren mountain without shelter, food or water..  They urgently need the help of their Christian brothers and sisters in Europe and elsewhere. ISIS has changed its name and now likes to be called simply IS, standing for Islamic State.  Its members haven’t changed their nature though.

            Successive British governments’ no-doubt-well-intentioned meddling in Iraq, Libya and Syria has prepared the ground and earned recruits for extremists like IS and Al Qaeda.The Christian faith is being eradicated from the very area that gave it birth, and the whole of the Middle East and large areas of Africa, are now areas in which Britons visit, live and work in danger of their lives!  

            I wonder if Tony Blair and his successors are proud of the results of their activities?

Later News

         Since I wrote the above, only a day or two ago, events have moved quickly.  The USA and the UK governments have heeded the call for help of the thousands of Christian Iraqi civilians in their barren mountain refuge.   We are co-operating with the Americans in dropping water, food and the means of providing shelter to those refugees and the USA is also carrying out air strikes on the IS forces, though both governments insist that there will be no ground forces involved.

I applaud wholeheartedly the provision of humanitarian aid though, quite apart from the morality of the action, I doubt very much whether air strikes alone can be expected either to make it possible for the refugees to go peacefully to their former home free from persecution, or to pass through territory IS holds to a place of safety. Obviously the present situation cannot continue.  We can't supply those refugees indefinitely - and winter is approaching.  I wish that I could envisage a happy non-violent ending to the present situation.  I can't and, if I'm to be absolutely honest, I can't  imagine a violent one either.

I hope and pray that someone can! 


04 August 2014

Week 32 2014

Tendring Topics…….on line

Nick Clegg

          Do you remember the televised debates of the Party leaders prior to our last parliamentary General Election?  I don’t usually listen to politicians sounding off – but I did watch those debates, and thought that I learned from them. 

 I had for many years considered myself to be an internationalist and a democratic socialist. More recently though I had come to the conclusion that the most important task any new British government needed to undertake was the reduction of the yawning gap between the incomes of country’s wealthiest and poorest citizens. I had been impressed by The Spirit Level by Quakers Kate Picket and Richard Wilkinson which demonstrated that reducing that gap benefited the whole community and not just the poor. I had become a modest supporter of the Equality Trust* and had come to realize that public ownership of the means of manufacture and distribution (whether by local or national government) was only one of the means by which greater economic justice could be secured.  .

During the decade of New Labour rule the gap between the incomes of the rich and poor had actually widened!  Lord Mandelson, a creator of New Labour had publicly declared that he had no problem with billionaires.  Well, I believe that while there are families that are homeless, ill-clad, and don’t know where the next meal is coming from, he should have a problem with them! 

Despite being well into my eighties at the time of the last election I was one of those ‘floating voters’ that politicians are eager to persuade. I intended to vote for the candidate of the Party most likely at least to attempt to reduce that ever-widening gap.

           I have to confess it.  I was taken in by Nick Clegg.  He I thought was the most inspiring of the three speakers, and the one with the most radical ideas.  He appeared to have a ‘fire within’ that reminded me of some of the early twentieth century Labour Movement pioneers  Because of this, for the first time in my life, his party received my vote and although with our system of voting it would have made no difference which way I voted, I have since deeply regretted it.

            Tony Blair, although he abandoned many of the purposes for which the Labour Party was created, did at least win elections for his New Labour.  Nick Clegg didn’t.  His party did quite well – but not well enough.  He went into an unequal coalition with the Conservatives and began to drop the principles on which he had been elected.  I had hoped that he might work towards a more equal society.  He supported the new Chancellor’s early gift to the super-rich, the reduction of the highest rate of income tax, thus benefiting those with a taxable income in excess of £150,000 a year – while beginning an austerity programme that particularly affected the poor and disadvantaged!  In his election campaign he had tried for the student vote – promising not to raise tuition fees.  In coalition this was one of the first promises that he abandoned.

            He would no doubt claim that by membership of the coalition he had been able to modify his Conservative partners more objectionable policies in a way that would have been impossible had he been in opposition.  In the world of British politics today, I don’t believe that that is true.  When a government doesn’t command the majority of votes in the House of Commons a determined opposition party can support the government on matters about which they agree or at least find acceptable, and join (or threaten to join) with other parties to defeat legislation that they find unacceptable.  Thus, in modifying the policies of a ‘minority’ government  a determined opposition party can exert more effective influence than a coalition partner.

            Nigel Farage’s UKIP has an increased representation in the European Parliament - where the Ukippers revealed themselves as an ill-mannered rabble, insulting their fellow parliamentarians by ostentatiously turning their backs on the European Anthem!. In the European and local government elections UKIP have shown themselves capable of appealing to the xenophobia, greed and fear of a great many electors and of taking votes, particularly from Conservative candidates.  They haven’t yet any Westminster MPs and they haven’t gained control of any local authority, but they have gained many Council Chamber seats and, again and again, have driven representatives of the Conservative, Lib.Dem. and Labour parties into ‘third place’ in the polls.

            Anybody surveying the UK political scene today can see that it is the Ukippers rather than the Lib.Dems. who pose the greater threat to an overall  Conservative Majority at next year’s General Election. Ukippers themselves are becoming increasingly confident.  I have always regarded our own Conservative MP Douglas Carswell as a Crypto-Ukipper.  He has the essential qualification of acute Europhobia and has even been singled out for praise by Nigel Farage.  Yet UKIP has selected a candidate to oppose him in the forthcoming General Election.  That candidate probably won't win – but he could take enough Conservative votes to ensure that Douglas Carswell doesn’t win either.  It isn’t surprising that David Cameron is much more concerned with out-flanking Nigel Farage with ever-more Europhobic measures to halt the flow of EU visitors and immigrants, than he is with the concerns of his own Lib.Dem. ‘deputy’.

   I think it likely that Nick Clegg will be remembered in history as the man who finally destroyed the once-great Liberal Party.

*For further information about the Equality Trust and ‘The Spirit Level’ contact www.equalitytrust.org.uk or Equality Trust, 18 Victoria Park Square, London E2 9PF   Email – info@equalitytrust.org.uk

The Slaughter of the Innocents!

          Last week the CIA announced that it had found no evidence of Russia being directly involved in the destruction of that Malaysian air liner.  That, I am sure, was not what their political bosses had wanted them to report and I am equally sure that, had the Russians been directly involved, the CIA would have found evidence of it.

            On 28th July,  a spokesman for the Kiev Ukrainian Government declared that the aircraft’s ‘black boxes’ had revealed that the air liner had been destroyed by a ground-to-air missile as had been surmised.  That was surely extraordinary.  We had been told that the ‘black boxes’ had been handed over intact by the pro-Russian insurgents to representatives of the Malaysian Airline and that they were being sent to the UK to be opened and have their contents analysed.  How, I wonder, did those boxes fall into the hands of the Kiev government and had they tampered with them in any way?

It was a fortnight before international inspectors were able to secure the site of the crash and begin to make a proper inspection of the remains of the plane and even now their situation is far from safe and secure.  This has not been because of lack of co-operation from the insurgent authorities (they, after all, found and secured the ‘black boxes’ and handed them over untouched to the Malaysian air line). The reason the inspectors can't get on with their work is continued shelling by the artillery of the Kiev Government and the refusal of that government’s forces to cease their attacks while inspection is going on. 

In fact, we still don’t know for certain how that air disaster took place.  We don’t know if it was shot down by a missile and, if it was, who fired that missile, why they fired it and from where.   This hasn’t prevented the leaders of the EU from deciding that it was all the result of Russia’s support of the Ukrainian rebels – and they have imposed a further set of economic and political sanctions on Russia.  Meanwhile, NATO is holding a series of naval exercises in the Baltic Sea and the UK is sending troops to take part in military exercises in Poland. Both actions are surely quite uncalled for and dangerously provocative.  Can we really have already forgotten the horrors of the two twentieth century world wars?  The few of us who still remember World War II certainly haven’t.

Meanwhile in the ‘Holy Land', Israel is conducting a bloody and destructive campaign in Gaza which has so far resulted in the deaths of nearly 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians and many of them women and children. A fragile temporary cease-fire lasted only a matter of hours and the Israeli Prime Minister has suggested that the campaign may go on for much longer. Yes, they have been provoked.  HAMAS too bears some responsibility for the slaughter – but the Israeli response has been and is totally disproportionate.  The situation is made worse by the fact that Israel exerts a tight blockade on Gaza which means that the unfortunate victims haven’t even the choice of fleeing their country and becoming refugees. Twice at least, Israeli forces have bombed or shelled United Nations buildings in which hapless civilians have sought safety.  ISIS, Al Qaeda and the like must be delighted by the extra recruits that the situation is producing!

Why is there not even talk of sanctions and dire ‘consequences’ for Israel and those who support her and supply her with the weapons of death?  Israel is responsible for many more deaths and much more destruction than those east Ukrainian insurgents.  Are the lives of Middle Eastern women and children less sacred than those of European countries?  Or is it, as I suggested in this blog a fortnight ago: It’s not what is done, it’s who it is does it, that really matters?  How much more strident and belligerent the voices from 'the west' would have been if only it were the 'Russians’ who were slaughtering innocent women and children in Gaza!