Monday, 29 August 2011

The Labour Party and I- the end of a 47 year relationship

I got back from holiday to discover a letter from the Labour party rejecting my readmission. I had attended an appeal a few weeks ago and the tenor of the meeting was such that it suggested to me that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. I really regret allowing myself to be gulled into re applying and allowing myself to be angered by the attitude of some people in the Staffordshire Moorlands Labour party who used this process to discredit me. No one likes words and phrases like " unstable", "not a team player" or "untrustworthy" banded around but they were. I disliked it because I don’t believe it to be true.

 I do regard myself, as being a good team player as I hope my colleagues on the Leek Co-operative Emporium will testify. I am particularly good at coming up with ideas. This might be a problem for the Labour party. The whole exercise of the appeal was bizarre and perhaps the apogee or nadir, dependent on your position, was reached when I was asked whether it was on my "conscious" to have worked and stood against the Labour party. I obviously led the more spineless and weak willed into voting green and depriving them of their chance to be part of the Socialist Commonwealth offered by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. I was asked the question on conscious with a straight face. For a second I thought it was a joke but obviously it wasn’t and I said "no".

How could I not stand against a party that supported the 90 day detention, was keen on ID cards and most heinous of all for a left wing party carried out the 10p tax fiasco in June 2008. What was going through the heads of people to tax the lowest paid workers at a higher rate. Such a policy seems to me a lack of a moral compass, if one existed in the first place.

Now I know many good people in the Labour party. I also know or have been told of a fair number of crooks, lechers and thoroughly disreputable types who are or have been Labour party members. Some have flourished as well. I was told by a fellow Councillor that one other Councillor was the most corrupt politician operating in North Staffs. The person was returned to an authority last spring. I presume that his loyalty and unthinking commitment to the Labour Party overweighed the lesser virtues of integrity, honesty and public service.

No I think that "conscience" is not an issue there.

I suspect what doomed me in some quarters was that I have an independent streak and I’m not easily controlled. Being thought of as intelligent also does not help. And I have the proof. Somewhere I have in my possession two copies of applications that were made for a chairmanship in the County Council. The documents are about a decade old. I filled in my application seriously as if I was applying for a job giving many examples of my interest in cultural and conservation issues. My form was densely written. My opponent submitted the same form leaving large areas blank. Reader, who won the contest? Well, it was not I. In any other walk of life the winning application would have been just tossed in the bin but because this particular Councillor was highly thought of by the leadership then there will prevailed. Independence and probably having a little intelligence have always been a barrier as far as my relationship with the Labour party is concerned.

I had thought that with the emergence of Ed Milliband then all that would have changed and that a welcoming hand was being proffered to former members of the party, but this was illusionary. There are elements in the Labour party who cannot help themselves. I read of the recent vote taken of the Bentilee community facility where pressure was applied to difficult councillors who represented the area. I recognised the scenario as the same had happened to me in 1999/2000 over the closure of a local nursery. I ended up being disciplined by the County Group for my apparent failing in standing up for a community interest in the ward I was representing. The sane response would be to let the ward representatives speak out and let them vote the way that their constituents would want them rather than applying group discipline.

Again I reiterate there are some good people in the Labour party, but there are others where meeting the electorate especially the disadvantaged is an exotic experience. I can recall an occasion on Election Day 2010 when I was in the back of a candidate’s car when another party member and subsequent Councillor openly mocked the poorly dressed people of Stoke as we drove down London Road. I was open mouthed at the sheer arrogance of this woman. I hope that in the intervening time she has acquired empathy because the display of snobbery I witnessed does not sit comfortably with the "peoples party".

It is my intention never to have anything to do with the party. I will recognise positive policies when they come out with them as well as criticising them if they are in error but I cannot get away from the thought that politics is changing, the old certainties are breaking down, as are the old voting loyalties. A Labour Party that is closed to ideas and demand unquestioning loyalty is doomed.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The plight of Brett Taylor and the unemployed of Leek

I have every sympathy with the plight of Brett Taylor reported as having applied for over 100 jobs without success. Many thousands of people in North Staffordshire will recognise that experience. It is important that people are not reliant on welfare and that they spend their time in useful endeavour, but the present Government policy of "welfare to work" which attempts to address the dependency culture is deeply flawed and deserves closer scrutiny.

Firstly, long term full time jobs are as rare as hen’s teeth. I will go further any permanent job is a rarity that is if you believe the Job Centre Plus which advertised just three jobs in Leek last week and they were all temporary and part time. Even jobs, which are historically associated with North Staffordshire no longer, exist - leastways on government websites. Out of curiosity I sought to see if there were any pottery worker posts available and the only one I could see was for a worker needed in Warwickshire.

The jobs that many people in North Staffordshire would have done years ago have all but disappeared. It has been calculated that since the 1960s we have lost in excess of 100,000 in the staple industries of pottery, textiles, mining and steel that loss of many long term and stable jobs has not adequately been replaced.

As an experiment I looked at what sorts of jobs were advertised in the local Leek papers during the two big recessions of the last 30 years. I researched those jobs advertised in the autumn of 1981 and 1992. In the first recession of Mrs Thatcher’s government between 1980-6 over 3 million people lost their jobs and North Staffs was especially badly hit. Yet even in the months of rapid increase of worklessness jobs in the staple industries of textiles and potteries jobs were still being advertised. The mills of Leek still wanted machinists, winders, over lockers and fitters.

There were also jobs in engineering going in the many small companies often looking for young and willing staff to learn a trade in a "hands on " way. Potbanks were still recruiting.
In the early 80s we still made things and that was still true albeit in a reduced way at the time of the next recession in 1992 where again 3 million people were without work. In a full-page advert in August Halle Models, for example, were undergoing an expansion and were looking for workers. It was true that there were job losses at the time most notably at Britannia Building Society and at Peri Lusta in Mill St.

The local newspaper reported in 1992 that there were 2,300 people of working age who were unemployed and around 160 vacancies. These seemed varied and there was even a job as a trainee journalist which required 2 A levels and 5 O levels from likely candidates. I would imagine that the basic requirement now as far as entry qualification is now a post graduate journalism qualification.

In the Post and Times last week there were a number of jobs advertised; but many were part time, temporary and agency based work. Jobs existed in retail, cleaning, catering, security and nursing and also in the public sector including the local schools and universities usually requiring a degree. There was one job advertised in engineering. This was the only job that actually resulted in something being made- the decline of the manufacturing sectors is one consequence of government policy over the last 17 years.

The growth of employment agencies is the most marked change from previous recessions and it is now to these organisations that the long term unemployed are directed to find them work. Such work is not guaranteed and usually temporary. As someone remarked leaving the security of the benefit system for such posts is like stepping on thin ice.

In such circumstances the present benefit system has failed to move with the times because it is programmed to expect claimants to move into steady jobs instead of the reality of the insecurity of "zero hours contracts" or commission based work that face the unskilled. The system is designed for predictability when work patterns are anything but. Individuals who return to benefit after their short-term contract has ended often face weeks of waiting before benefits are re activated and in that time they build up rent arrears and debts.
The poor bear no responsibility for the present economic crisis, the blame for that lies at the feet of bankers and politicians, yet as elsewhere the most vulnerable have to bear the brunt of the hardship while those who are guilty get away scot-free feather bedded by taxpayers money. The reliance of financiers on state handouts is one form of dependency culture that is rarely spoken of.

The answer? Well, to take up Brett’s point more could be done by the big employers in the area including Councils to employ local people through " community benefit " clauses in contracts rather than exporting work to Derbyshire might be a start. We should reflect how the community can create work in Leek especially for the young and how morally justifiable to the comfortably off is the increase of unemployment and the poverty that inevitably follows.

However, what is probably required is a root and branch reform of the welfare system if the future of employment for the poorest in society continues to be so vulnerable and doubtful. The idea of a basic liveable income, which everyone receives, has been kicking around now for 200 years- perhaps its time has come.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

Frankie Howerd at Blackshaw Moor- Titter Ye Not

The contestant who won the semi final of the Mastermind programme that I appeared in earlier this year went on to take Frankie Howerd as his final subject Ah Frankie, the double entendres, the verbal tics, the pout and rolling eye. Growing up in the 70s Frankie along with Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper and Les Dawson were part of my TV experience. They had in common a craft acquired following long years of struggle in smokey clubs and draughty halls.

I was somewhat surprised to read that things were not always easy for him. I was carrying out some research and came across an advert promoting Howerd’s appearance at the Three Horseshoes on Blackshaw Moor in March 1969. Titter ye not! I have nothing against that pub or Blackshaw Moor, but the combination of these factors suggests to me that the comic must have been hard pressed .It seems his career was not a smooth one.

In fact one biographer described Howerd’s career as series of comebacks. After he left the army he was a regular feature on radio and TV but his career took a nosedive. He had begun to lose self-esteem, which culminated in a nervous breakdown. He entered into a lengthy period of psychoanalysis aided by taking LSD
A revival of interest lead to the appearance at the Three Horseshoes in 1969.

His greatest achievement was just around the corner. Someone had the brainwave of setting a comedy in the days of Ancient Rome. Frankie was a natural for the lead role of the slave Lucio. The pilot was first broadcast in September 1969. Up Pompeii re-established Howerd’s celebrity a position that never left him
His great secret only revealed after his death was his long-term relationship with Dennis Heymer. Being gay in the 1950s carried with it a possible criminal conviction. Heymer stayed loyal to the memory of Howerd’s who died in 1993 and on his own death 2 years ago was buried in a replica of Tutankhamun's sarcophagus, taking with him 18 personal items belonging to Howerd - including his chestnut-brown toupee.

 Please yourselves!!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Only $2 trillion out!

Is a strange world when the Chinese Communist party lectures the Americans that they need to run Capitalism better. Even the Philippines has its say on the failings of the Americans. Strange world in deed.
Some 30 years ago I recall the opprobrium that attached its self to organised Labour in the UK that they were running the country. Barely a week went by where the Daily Telegraph or Mail would trumpet who runs the country. Well it’s taken over a quarter of a century to resoundingly answer it seems that the credit agencies do. And not only that they probably had a hand in developing the crisis in the first place.
Moody's Corp and Standard and Poor's triggered the worst financial crisis in decades when they were forced to downgrade the inflated ratings they slapped on complex mortgage-backed securities, a U.S. congressional report concluded earlier this year.

In one of the most stark condemnations of the credit rating agencies, a Senate investigations panel said the agencies continued to give top ratings to mortgage-backed securities months after the housing market started to collapse.

The agencies then unleashed on the financial system a flood of downgrades in July 2007, the panel said.

``Perhaps more than any other single event, the sudden mass downgrades of (residential mortgage-backed securities) and (collateralized debt obligation) ratings were the immediate trigger for the financial crisis,'' the staff for Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn wrote in their report.
It also seems that the agency that down rated the triple AAA rating of the US economy according the Americans was $2 trillion out in their analysis of the state of the US economy.

If anyone rails against the trade union movement I shall ram the role of the undemocratic, unaccountable than I will ram this point down their throat

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Creation and Evolution- does it have to be this way

The main claim to fame of the 19th century biologist Alfred Russel Wallace was the part he played in the writing of perhaps the most influential book ever published
. Wallace, a friend of Leek architect Larner Sugden, was studying the fauna of Malaysia in the 1850s when he came up with the idea of natural selection. His insight was independently arrived at. He wrote to Charles Darwin with an idea that closely matched Darwin’s own. Darwin’s friends urged him to quickly write up his own conclusions on evolution which lead to him completing his book " Origin of Species" which was published to instant success in 1859.
The debate around creation and evolution has raged ever since and even in the last few weeks the controversy has continued with Texas State Board of Education unanimously rejecting a creationist supplements to textbooks, instead voting to endorse science-based ones.
Perhaps we expect the clash between the creationists and the supporters of evolution to be at its most intense in the US although from personal experience believers of a biblical interpretation of the history of the Earth remains strong locally. Earlier this year I went to a public meeting at the Salvation Army. The meeting was well attended and lengthy: it went on for three hours. The 3 principle speakers railed against the secular conspiracy that threatened their belief in creationism imposing, in their opinion, the questionable theory of evolution. I spoke, as I believe that there is no incompatibility between science and religion on evolution. I also pointed out the great contribution that clergymen have made to scientific enquiry. I was the only person in a room of 50 who spoke this way.
In retrospect I found the view expressed in the room that Christians believe that they are being persecuted difficult to square with reality. Certainly since Tony Blair’s premiership faith groups have more participation in social care and educational provision and a higher government profile
And persecution seems a rather objectionable conclusion to arrive at when compared with the suffering of believers in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.