Category Archives: CURRENT AFFAIRS

Social Cleansing: Yet again government policy not living up to their rhetoric

Today we have a new scandal on the front pages, “social cleansing” and the movement of masses of people to other areas of the country.

This type of action is only something previously heard of in war torn countries or extreme right wing (even fascist) regimes.  Yet today, Grant Shapps, Conservative Housing minister is trying to explain why the actions of Newham Council are happening when he specifically told the country that this would NOT be the result of government policy.

Newham Council, in London, the Olympic capital for 2012, is in discussions with Stoke on Trent, one of the most deprived areas of the country, to take up to 500 residents from their area because they can no longer afford to provide social housing for people due to the caps on Housing benefit.

We were assured by ministers that the idea of “social cleansing” and the fear of wholesale movement of poorer people out of the well off areas of London was simply hysterical, is now looking a little hollow.

We were assured by Grant Shapps in interviews:

Housing minister rebuts opposition critics: “We are not being unfair”
and
Concerns over Housing Benefit reforms “complete nonsense” says Grant Shapps.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/oct/28/housing-benefit-cuts-defended

Now the very concern dismissed by the government is now becoming fact.  Whether by design or simply government incompetence (it is difficult to tell the difference at the moment) their policy is having the exact result that they stated would not happen.

The BBC reports:

Newham Council says it can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation.

The gap between market rents and the housing allowance is too big, it says.

It has written to the Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke, offering it the “opportunity” to lease homes to it.

The letter says the local private rental sector is beginning to “overheat” because of the “onset of the Olympic Games and the buoyant young professionals market”.

It says the council can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation as the gap between market rents and the local housing allowance has become too great.

The council has been “forced to look further afield for alternative supply”, it adds.

And unbelievably this is a “Labour” council.

But along with so much this government says like “no top down re-organisation of the NHS” ; “We are all in this together”; “No Banker will have a bonus of more than £2,000; and that they had no plans to raise VAT, all become hollow in the face of reality.

As with the NHS reforms that will have changed the service for ever, we will not know the full effects of the reforms until several years later, when the damage will have been done and most probably irreversible.

In respect of moving 500 people to Stoke On Trent, I understand that the “people” concerned have neither been consulted or their concerns heard.

This is policy could have some of the most vial consequences our country has ever seen, but we will sleep walk on regardless.

IS SUICIDE SELFISH?

After the carefully thought out philosophical comments by Jeremy Clarkson this week, it made me think further about the stigma in society that we face about  suicide and those in mental distress.

The common preconceptions that suicide is “selfish” appears to still pervade society’s public houses and homes throughout the UK.  After all this time, can mental illness ever lose it’s stigma, or will it remain the acceptable butt of people’s jokes and prejudices.

Something in the region of 1 in 4 people suffer mental distress each year and suicidal thoughts can be a regular occurrence for those in extreme distress.  Suicide is the biggest killer in the “world” of all young people (under 25), while each year more people die in the UK from suicide than they do from road traffic deaths and homicides combined.    Yet despite this, people are loath to talk about this subject or to acknowledge it’s significance.

This cultural attitude is exemplified by the ignorant and over bearing like Jeremy Clarkson who are happy to comment on subjects he knows little about in order to garner more kudos from his “fans” and of course gain himself a “little earner” – (did you know he had a new dvd out? )  – I’m sure being racist would be on his radar if he thought he could get away with it.

Unlike many, I have to say I am not a Clarkson hater.  I find his pithy vaguely funny remarks in a sometimes overbearingly politically correct world sometimes entertaining. However, what many episodes along the way have shown is that his ignorance and willingness to offend for monetary gain, gives his game away.

Suicide is selfish

An interesting statement, and many believe it.  The cognitive thought process that goes into this statement

Suicide is selfish

Is easy to understand.  We see the individual.  We see the consequences.  We see the son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, lover, family, home – left behind, seemingly to pick up the pieces.  To carry on, with the cloud that suicide leaves in it’s wake darkening the lives of those left behind.

I hear the call that it is an “individual choice”, surely we all have a choice.  People who commit suicide have a choice to commit the act of suicide or not to.

All of this makes sense to many people.  It’s obvious isn’t it?

Over the past year, I have volunteered for a charity called CHANGES BRISTOL which provides support groups for those in mental distress.  The subject of suicide comes up all too frequently.

Many who have suicidal thoughts are never allowed to articulate these thoughts in society, due to the stigma and taboo surrounding the subject.  Yet in a safe and non judgemental environment people can and do open up.  Sometimes, to ask someone if they feel suicidal, or if they have ever thought that suicide was an option, the relief they experience is tangible to see.

Suicide is real.  It is committed by the old and young; black and white; male and female.  It cuts across boundaries and those suffering from mental distress can be found in every corner of our society.

For those who attempt suicide, it is often a transient feeling at the depths of despair.  For those who fail in their attempt at suicide, most when asked 12 months later are happy they failed.  Their life has moved on and things change – they are now in a better place.

The more we can help those with suicidal thoughts get past this moment of despair, the more chance we have of saving lives.  Not just the lives of those who commit the act, but of their families and friends.

The truth is hard for many to come to terms with, but for most who attempt suicide, their cognitive functions are diminished. That is at the moment of attempting suicide, they are in so much pain, that they cannot think through their actions or what it would mean to their families.  Indeed many reach the     cul-de-sac of thought where there is no other option – their family would be better off without them.

This is not a thought process that could be described under the heading of “selfish”.

There are others, who have been so ill and in so much pain for so long (decades in some cases), that they do come to a decision that to end their lives is the only option for them.  In these minority of cases, who are we to judge their “selfishness”.

“Every year, around 200 people decide the best way to go is by hurling themselves in front of a speeding train.”

“In some ways they are right. This method has a 90 per cent success rate and it’s quick.”

“But it is a very selfish way to go. The disruption it causes is immense – and think what it’s like for the poor driver”

“Change the driver, pick up the big bits of what’s left of the victim, get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away or hard to find.’

Jeremy Clarkson

It appears the “gooey” bits that he should be concerned about are that which is not functioning to it’s full capacity between his ears.  Or maybe the problem is that it is functioning to it’s full capacity.

In truth the only way society can move forward is when we can have a sensible and level headed debate about suicide in this country.  To reveal the inadequacies of our mental health services and to be honest about the extent of the problems we face.   Suicide must no longer be the taboo that we should never discuss, but a reality.  The less stigma and prejudice we have in society against mental illness the more people will get help for their problems and the fewer suicides we will have.

This new attitude and the end to the stigma of mental illness should please Mr Clarkson, after all, this would mean for him – fewer delays on the trains, and less of his precious time “wasted” .

LIAM FOX RESIGNS AS HE IS HOUNDED OUT OF GOVERNMENT

So finally Dr Liam Fox has resigned from government, and not before time.  Within 24 hours of the story breaking it was obvious he had to go, but many Conservatives would not accept this or even see what he had done wrong.

It quickly became clear that Dr Fox’s close friend Adam Werritty was being used as an “unofficial advisor”, without security clearance, and without a clear defined role that could be held up to scrutiny, accountability and transparency.

The very idea that being an important member of the government as defence secretary, going to important meetings with heads of state, and bringing his “mate” along to all these meetings all over the world costing thousands of pounds of “some ones” money, and that this would be acceptable just defies logic.

I can just see myself going to a business meeting, discussing confidential information and bringing a “mate” along to sit in on and take part in the meeting. I would be looked at as being completely mad, and rightly so.  Adam Werritty had no business being at those meetings and being able to take advantage of networking government contacts on the basis of being a “friend”.

There are still questions to be answered like who exactly was paying for Adam Werritty’s expenses and what was he gaining from the relationship, details we may now never find out.

As for David Cameron, I’m afraid he dithered on this issue.  We know that Liam Fox had already broken the ministerial code and acted irresponsibly and in a way that no ordinary mortal could have acted in business.  On this basis, I think David Cameron got this profoundly wrong and will be damaged by the affair.

I was wrong in my previous comments when I stated that Dr Fox would be gone within 5 days . . . . . . it actually took 6!

Sadly, I do not believe that the act of arrogance by Liam Fox will be the last we see in this coalition government.

bb

WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR EXCEPT FEAR ITSELF

Sir Mervyn King has stated about the World Economic Crisis that:

This is the most serious financial crisis we’ve seen, at least since the 1930s, if not ever.

Just the latest in a line of adjectives to be uttered by world leaders; economists; the IMF; the World Bank; politicians and commentators.

This latest declaration of doom is nearing the end of the last roll of the dice for the Euro and the current system of capitalism as we know it.

Even John Major is being seen as being back in vogue as he waded in to the debate on the economic crisis by stating that the Euro is unbalanced and that Germany has massively benefited while the weaker Euro nations have suffered. His argument is that the Euro was formed with the wrong exchange rate causing massive imbalances within the Euro zone, so it was formed at the wrong time, without the right convergence policies in place and at the wrong rate.

He may well have a point, but sadly, his analysis probably comes from his own personal inadequacies on economic policy in the early 1990’s when he himself made those very same mistakes when entering the ERM.  The result was a massive home grown recession.

The past week has been another turbulent week for the markets, banks, investors and savers.

The latest of many shocks to the system has been the downgrading of British Banks by the credit agency Moodys.  A bizarre evaluation of the Vickers report which  actually means that the UK government is less likely to bail out banks in future.

I have thought about the logic of the markets and credit rating agencies a lot recently, and this latest news just confirms many of my suspicions.  Basically there really is no hope for the system as it works at the moment.

The markets are so divorced from the realities of the real world that the two cannot coexist.  Those that profess to believe in the Capitalist system as we know it today, are the very people who seem to forget how it works and why.

The Vickers report, although welcomed by many, may well be seen as weak in some areas, but is the least that could and should be done to try to make the capitalist system within the UK work. Indeed, reform of the world system is required, but few are contemplating such a move.

Capitalism works on the basis that those that take unnecessary risks that do not succeed are allowed to fail.  The survival of the fittest is crucial to it working properly within the boundaries of laws and regulations.

Sadly, the way the markets and credit rating agencies react appears to be without any logic.  Some might say, in a simplistic sense, almost Socialist in intent.  You couldn’t make it up.

The idea of Vickers is to make those that take the biggest risks and fail, to be allowed to fail and for the burden not to be taken by the tax payer or government.  What the credit agencies appear to be saying is that we should not let anyone fail and the government should intervene.

By downgrading banks in this way, it causes a further climate of fear which is already in a severe cycle, much like a whirlwind, causing havoc across the world.

The credit rating agency Fitch on Friday, proceeded to downgrade the credit worthiness of Spain and Italy.  This further exacerbates the problem by creating difficulties for those countries financing their debt.  This in turn puts more pressure on the Euro zone and in itself creates more debts for governments making the overall debt crisis worse.  The cycle just goes on.

The credit rating agencies are now a part of the problem rather than a solution to guide where the money should go.  Rather than deal with economic realities, the agencies are concerned with only what is a safe bet, based on little more than hear say, and intuition.  Every downgrade leads to more turmoil and more reactive policy making.

The economic realities are bad enough, with many more shocks to the world economy to come, but after the many downgrades recently from credit rating agencies like the downgrade of the US from its triple AAA rating, can we really any longer take them seriously?

We know, until the capitalist system collapses, the US will still be a safe haven for investment as seen by the negligible effect this downgrading has had on the US.  This is the difference between real economics and speculation.

Is it time to finally knock the credit rating agencies on the head when it comes to their influence?  It is a wonder anyone is willing to listen to what they have to say anyway, after they AAA rated sub-prime mortgages that partly caused the financial crisis in the first place.  Perhaps a part of the failure of the capitalist system is that the credit agencies themselves cannot fail.  Indeed, at the time they themselves “failed”, and rated sub prime mortgages and the assets of banks so inadequately was the very time that they made the most money.  Does this make sense?

At home in the UK, the government has had a narrative of Austerity for the whole of its term so far.  The consequence is that people and businesses are scared to spend and invest, and banks are scared to lend, even to businesses with a strong order book.  Project Merlin has all but completely failed and the cuts are only just biting.

With a narrative of austerity and fear, along with every whisper on the grapevine of economic expectation being downgraded, it is no wonder that there is a race to the bottom economically.  We have effectively been in recession for the last 9 months, and the prospect of economic growth is bleak.

There are systemic problems with our capitalist system, but no politician or mainstream economist is even discussing it.  The credit rating agencies, banking system and speculators are all a part of this system that no longer works. Rather than dealing with the real problems, politicians and heads of central banks are chasing their tales with each bit of bad news reported.

FD Roosevelt said

 let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Although, like any saying, this is simplistic, there is much in this simple statement about the predicament we face.  Much of the problems we are encountering on a day to day basis with the economy, is based on fear created by people who have no interest in economic stability, but in making money whatever the cost.

There are real underlying problems, but while speculators; credit rating agencies; the ideological madness in financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank; and the markets continue to have their hold over day to day political decision making, the chances of sorting out our problems are slim. Democracy itself is being subverted by the vested interests of the markets.

We have dark days ahead, but to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we need a radical rethink of how our capitalist system works.

David Cameron Ditches His “Green” Credentials

It’s funny how the veneer of politician’s promises and posturings suck so many into the path of follies heaven.  David Cameron, like Tony Blair before him, is a master of saying it well, but meaning very little.

Zac Goldsmith must be wondering what on earth he is doing after the latest party conference season.

The announcement from the Conservative Party of ensuring that the UK will go no faster than anyone else in Europe to reduce carbon emissions, just about ends their bid for the “green” vote in the UK.

With a road building expansion on the horizon, increasing the speed limit on motorways (exactly the opposite to green policies to reduce the speed limit) and the loosening of planning controls making “sustainable development” or “economic benefit” the main objective of any consideration of planning applications, those defending the environment in various respects must be in a tail spin.

Add all this new bluster to the debacle that was the big “Forest sell off” that never was and some may be wondering which party really is speaking up for either rural Britain or the environment.

It has been a highly amusing rise to mediocrity for the environmental evangelist Cameron.  He who stated soon after becoming leader that all houses should put wind turbines on the side of their houses  . . . . . before someone pointed out, a little late, that they don’t work on the roofs of houses!

Then showing how much of a new man he was by cycling to work, while the gas guzzling car carried his parliamentary papers behind him.

Those who fell for this nonsense must be pretty sick right now, but then again they only have themselves to blame.  Cameron was always a charlatan when it came to green policies with a naked act of trying to show how touchy feely the Conservatives are –  re branding with a tree, and a few well spoken titbits to titillate the some time middle class environmentalists was all that was needed.

Priorities dear boy is what we are told makes this government different.  They pick the right priorities for the UK’s future.  With that in mind, it is highly efficient and environmentally friendly, not to mention a very good use of resources to bribe councils with £250 million to   .    .     .     .   yeah wait for it – an extra bin collection.  Great.

My advice for Zac is give it up mate, you made a pact with the devil and now you have to look at yourself in the mirror and simply admit – you got it wrong.

Bleeding Heart Liberals or a Sane Voice in an Insane World

Swift justice and stiff sentences were called for after the riots as the politicians fell over themselves to be “tough” on crime.

Well it appears that is just what we have.  Courts have been sitting through the night to deal with the hundreds of people arrested and an unprecedented number remanded in custody either as a sentence or awaiting trial.

All was looking like just what Mr Cameron ordered until a rather peculiar thing happened – newspapers started reporting that sentences were too harsh and inconsistent. Remarkable because usually the complaint over the past 30 years has been that sentences were too lenient rather than too harsh.

A new political debate is now on the cards and whispers of “divisions” within the coalition are muted by such places as the Guardian and elsewhere.

I now find myself in a rather peculiar position, having been accused of being a “bleeding heart liberal” in the past.

I watched an interesting debate a few nights ago in which Michael Howard (yes the former Tory leader who lurched to the right in a cynical attempt to pick up votes and who proclaimed “prison works”) defended the sentencing being laid down by the courts for those perpetrating the riots and looting.

Others broadly described as “on the left”, “liberal thinkers” or those campaigning for “human rights” and “prison reform” have argued that many of these sentences are too harsh and inconsistent.  Not only that, but it has been argued that the appeals procedure will bring the justice system into disrepute and cost the tax payer more money.

As written in a previous post What are the causes of the riots?: An impossible question but one we have to ask I am sympathetic to and insist upon finding the causes behind why there is a section in society who seem to not feel they belong to society or their own community and have a set of values many of us simply do not understand.

However, I along with many others have been so shocked and sickened by the rioting and looting that went on as also discussed in Armageddon Days – Britain’s Riots   that the call for tough sentencing did not just come from the usual suspects on the right of our political system.

Seeing violence and looting on a mass scale without any immediate causal link like “the cuts”, “political demonstration”, or “poverty” – but rather naked wanton violence and thievery on an opportunistic mass scale regardless of the harm it caused to their own neighbours, community or wider society was shocking.

45 people lost their homes and 4 people died in the riots, and be it for a lot of luck, more would have died as the haunting pictures of the Polish lady jumping from a first floor window to escape the flames shows.

Not only were large businesses affected, but small businesses where a small interruption to their activities will send them to the wall and thus people losing their jobs. There is also the much unreported events of looters breaking into peoples homes in places like Ealing while people were in their homes and breaking into restaurants where guests where locked into basements while the staff fought off looters and rioters.

These people took part in riots without thought for their victims or society at large, because they thought they could get away with it and even if they did get caught they had nothing to fear.

Talking to Police – it appears that there is so much evidence they have obtained, from blood samples, finger prints and cctv evidence that they will still be making arrests in 2 years time.  The culprits did not take hardly any precautions because they never thought they would be caught.

Then there are those who committed “minor” offences of receiving stolen goods.  However, anyone who “received” stolen goods during or immediately after the riots when “picking up a TV set off the street” or “buying stuff in the pub off someone he didn’t know”, must have been living on the planet Venus not to know where these items had come from.

Michael Howard said famously that “prison works” – he was partly wrong.  Prison breeds criminals and starts a vicious circle of crime and institutionalisation. However, we have to have as a society an ultimate sanction.  In our society we no longer thrash people, or throw tomatoes at people in stocks or thankfully hang people – so for us prison is the ultimate punishment.  Prison works to keep those dangerous off the streets.

It seems obvious to me that if you take part in the worst rioting seen in this country for a hundred years; where it was wanton greed and violence; where 4 people died and 45 people lost their homes, then a prison sentence is likely to be the appropriate outcome for  good number. Indeed, to put rioters and looters back on the streets immediately could be seen as asking for trouble.

I do not accept the argument that people appealing their sentence brings the system into disrepute.  It is inevitable that there will be SOME inconsistency in the system as magistrates and judges are after all human (shock horror).

It is very easy to cite a few cases where sentences are disproportional or inconsistent when over a thousand people have been sentenced in a short period of time.  That is why we have an appeals procedure and that is how the law works.

I find myself, in the peculiar position of agreeing with Michael Howard, (if I believed in God I may well ask for forgiveness at this time!).  Prison sentences in many cases will be appropriate and the context of the riots should be taken into account.

The public appear to agree with this as seen in a recent YouGov polls showing that OF THOSE SURVEYED 81% either agree with the sentencing or think they are too lenient. However, as with all surveys we should be guarded. It is also easy to follow the mob in justice as in rioting.  During the riots it is worth noting that 33% were polled as believing the Police should use LIVE AMMUNITION on the rioters.  Yet another shocking statistic in the saga.

The question for the politicians now is what they do about the numbers game. Their prison policy is in tatters as the prisons are now about to be full to bursting point as Newsnight have reported that those convicted of knife crime are being housed in a Premier Inn Hotel rather than a prison!

They will surely be preparing a U-Turn for the Justice Secretary soon enough.  It may well be time for a rather more searching debate on the role of our justice system in future.  A balance between punishment and rehabilitation without policy led by the need to save money.

On this occasion I would have to say the “bleeding heart liberals” have got it sadly wrong.

Britain’s Night of Riots

I’m writing this at 2am and now the unrest has hit the city in which I live – Bristol.

The 24 hour news saturation is now in it’s element as they switch to different areas of London, shops and buildings ablaze.

I heard the Police helicopter hovering above a few minutes ago before I heard that riots had hit Bristol in Stokes Croft, St Pauls, Broadway and Cabot Circus, not too far from where I live, only a mile or so down the hill.

I initially went to bed with the knowledge that there was sporadic violence in areas of London and a building alight in Croydon.  I was woken by my partner with the knowledge that riots had spread to other areas of London near people we know, rioters and looters damaging buildings within 100 yards of our friends houses.

Now we see fires being started in shops with flats above and breaking into shops and looting seemingly at will to grab mobile phones and bottles of beer.  Stories of people breaking into residential properties.  It seems only a matter of time before people die in the numerous fires being set a light.

Just seen a report interviewing Diane Abbott with her asking people to stop wrecking their own communities while  2 youths behind her giggle while talking on their mobile phones.

I don’t think I would have believed this could happen in Britain if I had not seen it with my own eyes.  The wilful destruction of property and businesses – peoples livelihoods being destroyed, jobs lost and families homes destroyed.  Do these people have a clue what they are doing?  Do they care?

There have been odd occasions in my life I have felt ashamed to be British or English and I’m afraid I am beginning to have that same feeling again.  It seems sickening that communities that work their arse off to make a living for their families and pride in their areas have their hard work destroyed by a small number of people who simply do not care.

At a time of recession and hard times, falling living standards and international financial crises; the last thing the UK needs is people destroying the very fabric of society that we rely on.  Our economy, jobs and family income will only suffer after the last 3 days of violence.

I would not be surprised if David Cameron employs a Curfew policy for tomorrow night, as the only way for the Police to regain control.  I never thought I would see something like this in my lifetime in the UK.

A sad night.