Thank You For The Music

Way before the Spice Girls divided public opinion, school playgrounds, pubs and workplaces were full of debate as to who you liked more – the blonde or the brunette.
Abba mania was everywhere.
But not being into men with beards – or without, for that matter – it was always about the music.
For the most part, Abba is not about the bubblegum pop of Waterloo and Dancing Queen. It’s achingly beautiful, heart-breaking, bittersweet romantic music. Romantic in the sense of Richard Strauss, Bernard Herrmann, Beethoven and the stuff of pop legend – Cher’s Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves; Rose Royce’s Love Don’t Live Here Anymore; The Beatles’ While My Guitar Gently Weeps; 10cc’s I’m Not In Love…even Sir Cliff’s We Don’t Talk Anymore.
The break-up of the two marriages in Abba was lived out very publicly through the music, although the darker side of the songwriting talents of Benny and Bjorn had surfaced in Knowing Me, Knowing You, when all was happy in the Swedish supergroup’s camp.
There’s a sublime beauty in the emotion of the lyrics set against the triumphant chorus and chord sequence throughout, ably assisted by the solo guitar. Quintessential Abba.
Of course, they also had voices of angels and together formed a heavenly choir.
The Name Of The Game has a rhythm track to conjure with. Great drumming, right in the pocket, and a bass line to die for. Pop at its most artful. Plenty of other examples, too, including the album tracks.
For those of a certain vintage, Abba was a constant through our childhood and teenage years. And it’s been a constant through my 20s, 30s and even now in my 40s. As a bloke in his 40s, I’m not supposed to like stuff like this. It’s called ‘guilty pleasures’ by friends. I don’t care. It’s about loving music; it’s the ability of a song to transport me back to those days at the school disco, when life was simple and I was struggling to come to terms with what love might mean.
Having gone through love – and through the wringer, too – those songs mean more than ever, three decades on.
A couple of weeks ago I took a walk through the fields neighbouring my old school, music from the MP3 pounding out the memories. I hadn’t heard One Of Us for many years. It had remained hidden, never played on the laptop, the CD firmly in its jewel case. Suddenly it was there blaring through my brain. A sad, sad song sung against glorious, uplifting music. For a few moments I was back in that wooden-floored hall which doubled as the school’s 2is or Marquee. Orange curtains pulled across on a lazy summer’s night before the end of term. The naïve boy in clothes only a naïve boy would wear, standing in a group with other boys, firmly making a stance not to dance. Just like a child, stubborn and misconceiving… I was about 12 at the time and frightened of crushes or being seen to dance with girls. Now I never get the chance!
One other Abba song remains hidden and never played. For very different reasons.
Super Trouper, title track of their 1980 long player, was Abba’s final British number one, and it and The Winner Takes It All, helped make the album the UK’s biggest selling that year. It remains a favourite for many.
I can’t listen to it. Whenever it comes on the radio, or television, or whatever, I’ll switch over or even turn off. If I’m in a pub or club or shop I’ll disappear out of hearing.
It’s not that it’s a bad song. Another sad song masked by jubilant chorus and verse.
But my sister sang it constantly. It was her favourite. She sang it badly out of tune yet with verve and enthusiasm. She was to die in 1981, aged three and a half. Victim of a childhood cancer, she was a real super trouper.
I’ll never forget her. She’s in my heart and head constantly. Thirty two years on. Thirty two years on from Abba’s last studio offering. And that boy in the school disco.

The World’s Gone Nuts

SOME of the great literary minds of the past 150 years looked to the future.
It wasn’t necessarily bright or orange, but it was startling.
When H G Wells dreamed up his Eloi, it was in an age where men, women and children had to be tough to survive. The modern girl may be told that she can have it all – the handsome and gentle husband, children and a career – but back then it was work, a husband and then the hard work of bringing up a large family (in most cases).
I’m not advocating a return to that or disagreeing with feminism, merely celebrating the resilience and courage of our maternal fore-mothers.
No taking the kids to McDonalds for them, or a microwave meal to keep the family sweet. Hard work, followed by more hard work.
And dads and men walked, or cycled – or caught buses and trams and trains – miles to their place of work and then grafted. Those were the days of 12 hour shifts and insistent work. Slaves to the rhythm.
Remarkable people.
Fast forward to 2013 and we have a nation, maybe a world, of unremarkable people who’ve had it damn easy. Arguably the education was better back in the days of Wells, but we give more certificates and exam passes these days. The education sector needs to show it’s succeeding.
What about work itself? Well, computerisation and machinery has made life much easier. And in many ways that is a fabulous change. Look at some of the men who struggled with physical jobs fifty years ago and many suffered ill health in later life, or deformities.
Today, health and safety does a lot of good. But it’s also helping us to become a nation of pussycats – the Eloi of Wells’ imagination. Unable to think for ourselves, slow to action and believing someone else will act for us.
Success in many areas today is about not making waves, rather than doing a good job.
For many years in journalism, I worked for editors and news editors who were tough cookies – brilliant minds – who wanted to be the best, to challenge and provoke thought and argument in the communities they served.
Woe betide you if you got something wrong.
People who weren’t up to scratch simply got ditched. Easy as that.
Today, well, at the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, it’s far easier. Even those who still don’t know how to spell and refuse to use spellcheck on their computers are journalists. When I started it was typewriters, no internet and people had a basic knowledge of the world. Or they looked it up and learned. And we were expected to get stuff right first time.
The ‘consumer society’ in which we live has hurt some of the natural routes of non-school learning.
People are reading less books, but more trivia on the internet. Wikipedia, a mass of mistakes at times, has become the Bible for the ill-educated because ‘it’s easy’.
That’s all we care about, we Eloi. Ease. We’re spoiled.
I remember buying records and putting the vinyl LP on a record player with the headphones on and listening to music in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. Listening to every bar, every instrument, every note.
Now, from what I hear of those personal iPods or MP3 players that people believe should entertain everyone else, the concentration of old has gone. We’ll have a snatch of music and then fast forward to the next. Or the next.
Physical standards to join the police or the military have changed. Not so long ago, when I was a bit younger, soldiers would do their basic fitness test – a mile and a half run at best pace – in boots, lightweight greens and athletic vests. Now it’s all trainers and tight running kit amid rumours it might even be scrapped.
Many sections of assault courses across Britain that I once scrambled over in boots, combats, with rifle and webbing, have been closed down. Back to Health and Safety. And there’s one of the problems for me. Go to war – some of us have – and we don’t take the Health and Safety Brigade along. Common sense is left to individual officers and men. As it always was.
Have we lost that common sense in our descent to Eloi-dom? Obviously we have. The BBC has run with a story about a north British supermarket chain being warned and having to clear its shelves of peanuts…
…because there was no warning the packs contained peanuts.
When did common sense stop being the norm? Are the Morlocks here already? Is this part of their master plan? I think Wells would have been appalled.
Somebody stop the world. I’d like to get off.

Make Your Vote Count

WELL, I’ve had some interesting feedback on my series of blogs exploring the main political parties this week.
A UKIP hopeful proved the pot could still call the kettle black by dubbing one piece ‘cliched toss’.
‘Bleating’ was another term used, while several people asked one simple question: ‘Who should I vote for?’
The reason behind the blogs was to show that the main political parties aren’t exactly honest with the voting public. While we remain increasing apathetic, the politicians installed in Parliament and at local level get to do what they want.
It wasn’t to tell people who to vote for.
We moan and it makes not one jot of difference. I firmly believe we need to take more notice and more involvement in politics. I believe the X Factor-style popularity contests have done more damage to Britain than good. I believe it is time for a change, but that it won’t happen quickly.
And while I detest a lot of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, at least she told it how it was going to be. Like it or not.
Tony Blair was a wonderful performer. In the run up to taking power in 1997 he made numerous election promises, soundbites we still remember. He carried on saying them.
‘Education, education, education.’
‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.’
Two major planks of what we thought was Labour policy. Education continues to worsen. In Coventry, a third of 16 year olds each year have no grasp or command of written or spoken English. And that’s not even before debating whether exams have got easier.
Crime and anti-social behaviour? Well, the figures were altered, what could be recorded was changed. But the feel of people around my city is that the fear of crime continues to grow. We’ve less police as a result of Labour. More community support officers who do little to instill confidence and the ASBO that Bliar and his ilk told us would make a real difference has proved to be a joke.
At the launch of the Tory local election campaign today, according to various news sources, David Cameron was set to be in Warwickshire.
His speech, sent out to some news outlets beforehand, said: “We’re rebuilding our country. Backing hard-working people. Making this a country where if you work hard and do the right thing, you will get on.”
I’ve worked damn hard. According to my bosses every step of the way I’ve done the right thing. And some.
But I’m unemployed, apart from occasional hours as a binman. After more than 25 years as a journalist and soldier. I’ve no criminal record, I’m in my 40s and am looking for a break.
Not sitting on my backside hoping something will happen, but actively looking.
Former colleagues have been brilliant across the country, but journalism, at least in local newspapers, is suffering a bleak round of ongoing cuts.
What about other jobs? In the country I live in today, there aren’t the opportunities. At least, it doesn’t feel that way to this 40 something. Hairdressing, tele sales, waiter and waitress, teacher. I’d love to teach, but without the money to press though education I’m stuck.
Tele sales? I’m not a salesman. Could never do it. I’m too honest.
I feel this is not only the result of the recession, but government failure to usher in policies to actually rebuild. Where are the jobs in cities like Coventry? I was told by an unemployment adviser of the Department for Works and Pensions that the only opportunities in this city were care homes and call centres.
When I work a shift on the bins, I get up at 4am. Walk four and a bit miles to the depot and then go out and grapple with heavy wheelie bins, walking up to 12 miles more. Then walk home.
Work hard? Graft? Mr Cameron where are the jobs?
If he doesn’t hang on to power, what then? Have Miliband or Clegg or Farage got what it takes to transform Britain’s fortunes, our fortunes?
Who knows, but people need to start exploring exactly what they’re signing up to. Not reading Wikipedia, or the Sun or Daily Mail, but looking behind the hype.
The politicians are supposed to work for us. We’re the people who ‘employ’ them. We choose them, pay their significant wages and significant benefits. The power of Parliament is supposed to rest with us.
I don’t endorse a political party or urge people not to vote for a political party. Far from it.
But an informed choice has to be better than simply voting X because you’ve always voted X. Or because party leader Y sounded good on the party political broadcast or that snippet you heard on the news.
Party leaders say what they want you to hear. When Cameron said there was no alternative but to ‘bring the [budget] deficit down’ who would have believed it would have hit record levels under his leadership?
In January 2010 he said: “We have to strengthen families and reform schools so we can start to build the big society.
“And we need to give people real power and control over their lives so we can have a political system to be proud of.”
I’m not the only one still waiting.

Immigrant Song – The Sound Of UKIP

THE two main thrusts of UKIP policy, many would say the party’s only thrusts, are aimed at Europe and immigration.
It’s the worst kind of playground bullying, highlighting people for being different and appealing to the basest form of Xenophobia.
If only the problems in Britain were that simple.
Blaming the EU and immigration conveniently forgets many home-grown problems. Poor education, low aspiration, a reliance on the benefits system and resistance to work, especially in low-paid jobs, growing crime and anti-social behaviour, growing drug abuse…and much more. These are all issues involving the UK-born. If every immigrant from the past 20 years was removed from Britain tomorrow, these problems would remain.
UKIP’s short-termism, its Cyclops-like approach to solving Britain’s woes, despite riding a growing swell of public dissatisfaction with the mainstream political parties, is not the answer. Because it’s based on lies and mis-truths.
We have much to be thankful to immigration for. Especially in my city of Coventry. Siegfried Bettmann, a German, came to the Coventry in the Victorian age, after selling sewing machines in London.
He founded the Triumph company, which, over the course of its lifetime, provided jobs, homes, life security and pride to hundreds of thousands of Coventry folk. Many of them economic migrants from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and further afield, as well as elsewhere in England.
George Courtauld, who set in motion the great firm that would carry his name, was descended from Huguenot stock. Refugees from France during the great religious persecutions.
My doctor through childhood was Indian. Charming, well-educated and I wonder how many lives he helped save? Mine, for starters.
And what of the true English? What is our DNA? Roman, Danish, Norwegian, Saxon, Angle, Jute, Norman? That’s just for starters. Jews were here in the dark ages. The Romans, in their occupation, brought military tribes from across the known world, many of whom settled here. From modern day Romania, Hungary, Poland, among others. Many more people have come to Britain down the ages.
Immigration has always been part of us – pumping through our veins.
But to UKIP it’s the heart of all our ills.
Spend some time delving through their press releases and policies and you’ll be faced with a bewildering array of scare-mongering.
In 2008, UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed that EU membership made ‘nonsense’ of a suggestion by then immigration minister Phil Woolas that immigration could be limited.
If he wasn’t so anti-Europe, he’d see what France – one of the founders of the EEC – has achieved.
He told us that: “The European Union says that there can be no restrictions on the half a billion people from the Continent coming here.”
Half a billion? How awful. Where will they all go? How can they fit? This small island can’t cope with that many.
Then comes the truth. Far from 500 million people flooding here, and I quote… “Official figures show that immigration has been the main cause of a growth of two million in the UK population since 2001, making the current figure just under 61 million.”
Two million in seven years. At that rate, it would take 35 years just for 10 million immigrants to be here and we’d be well into the next millennium by the time all ‘half a billion’ finally made it.
A press statement from June 2010 criticised Labour’s failure to get a grasp on immigration.
“Ministers predicted the system would cut immigration by 12% but immigration actually increased, with an astonishing 30% more foreign students coming to the UK.”
Wow, has UKIP actually considered the economic benefits of foreign students to our education system? The truth is that education has long been one of the few areas of economic growth in our country. A 30 per cent increase in foreign students, paying good money to study in the UK, must surely rank as good news? Is UKIP saying it wants to starve the universities of the flow of foreign students in favour of British? And how would it start to determine British if it won on the immigration front? British-born? Or whose family is two generations British?
UKIP tends to cherry-pick figures and promote myths on immigration. It’s in the party’s interest to stir up what is akin race hate. They’ll say it’s not the aim, but listen out there on the streets and it’s certainly the result.
Government and pro- and anti-immigration platforms continue to debate the net worth of immigration to the country’s economy. Most studies suggest either it makes a small positive difference, or else a small negative difference. Small. Not Big. Not as UKIP would have you believe.
Facts don’t appear to mean much for Farage and his fantasists.
The Centre for Economic Performance, at the London School of Economics, concluded in June last year: “…evidence for the UK labour market suggests that fears about the consequences of rising immigration have been exaggerated.”
A report based on research and evidence.
It also found:
* Immigrant inflows to the UK have been falling since 2006, but because immigrants are staying longer, the stock of immigrants in the UK is continuing to rise.
* By early 2012, 14.5% of the UK’s working age population had been born abroad, up from around 8% in 1995.
* Immigrants are younger and better educated than their UK-born counterparts, on average. The most recent immigrants are better educated still. Around 10% of all migrants are in full-time education.
* Immigrants, on average, are less likely to be in social housing than people born in the UK, even when the immigrant is from a developing country.
Yes, you may hear more ‘foreign’ languages on our streets. Yes, people wanting to live here should subscribe to our laws, make the effort to learn English and be part of our society. So should the home-grown British.
In Coventry, last year, a third of secondary school pupils failed to reach A to C grade in English at GCSE level. Home-grown Brits are causing crime and disturbance in their communities. Home-grown Brits are not playing part of our society. The answers could come from education.
UKIP chiefs are aware of the problems, but their sole answer appears to be a return to the three ‘Rs’.
In May 2010, it said: “The falling standard of education is one of the most pressing issues facing Britain. How can our school-leavers be expected to help rebuild the country when they’re leaving education barely able to scribble their own names?”
“UKIP has long been calling for a the three Rs to be put back at the heart of our school system. Schools that aren’t providing their students with such basic skills are failing employers and therefore failing the country.”

Maybe someone should have taught the spokesman about the use of quotes and proof-reading. UKIP has long been calling for a the? Yes, he or she should be sent back to school to achieve those basic skills.
That statement ends with Read UKIP’s education policy here.
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UKIP – Can We Have Unity By Division?

IT has become the great white hope of British politics, its star rising as people finally realise the three main parties have brought the UK to the brink.
UKIP is also on the brink… of gaining a Parliamentary seat. Probably more. If Cameron and Clegg, the Joker and Penguin rather than Batman and Robin of government, haven’t changed tack by the next general election ‘Yookip’ is likely to reap the rewards.
It might take a good few Labour voters, too, as ineffectual Ed Miliband’s sole policy appears to be allowing the coalition to self-destruct.
By contrast, UKIP is loudly – proudly – banging the drum. Against Europe and immigration. Two potential vote-winners.
But beware, you’ll be worse off immediately UKIP runs a national government, thanks to its taxation policy alone.
It proposes a single rate of tax at 25 per cent. You’re currently paying 20 per cent if you earn less than £32,010 a year. That’s the bulk of British taxpayers – eight in ten of us – having to fork out an additional five per cent out of our earnings.
By contrast, the 16 or so per cent (4.13 million) of taxpayers who pay 40 or 45 per cent tax, because they earn more than £32,011 (40 per cent), or £150,000 (45 per cent) will enjoy a cut of 15 or 20 per cent.
The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. At this rate, you’d be better off with Cameron and Clegg.
UKIP’s ‘manifesto’ looks at agriculture – get out of Europe but retain European funding (and for my next trick…); health – we’ll keep the NHS but Brits will get preferential treatment; same sex marriage; police and crime; electricity supply; small business policy and London.
No thoughts on education, which I always considered central to everything.
UKIP is a party embracing what I had hoped was a caricature of the average Brit. The cartoon figure believing in the days of empire, when we were ‘better’ than the ‘Pakis’ and ‘Wogs’, conveniently ignoring that ‘they’ were a key part of our world dominance.
We are a proud island race. Being fiercely anti-European is in our blood. Even though it’s mostly Italian, French, German, Norwegian, Danish…oh, right.
Remember Harold and those damn Froggies at Hastings, or our victories at Agincourt and Crecy? And what about Minden and Waterloo? We’ve always hated the French. Is there any reason to change now?
Or the Hun. We won in 1918 (actually, we didn’t), and 1945 and 1966. Three-nil, Adolf.
Our cartoon Brit hasn’t got a clue about Luxembourg, or Denmark – isn’t that where Abba come from? He couldn’t find Austria on a map.
Italy? We’ve got them pegged as backward-facing surrender monkeys, while the Spanish? Well, we still haven’t really made our minds up, although we like to think Sir Francis Drake’s coolness in the eye of the Armada storm remains part of our DNA.
No, we’ve surrendered control of this sceptred isle to the old enemies, who have done us few favours. That’s arguably true. According to in December 2012, the UK paid £228 billion to Europe from 1979 to 2010. We received £143 billion in return. Hardly fair, referee! The difference would have been worse had not Maggie – oh, yes, the Wicked Witch of the East did some good for Britain – renegotiated our rebate back in 1985. By the way, Smiling Tony surrendered 20 per cent of our rebate back in 2007, meaning we’ve paid out an extra £4 billion into EU coffers since then.
He was a man who just couldn’t say ‘non’.
Europe has offered huge benefits to UK Plc down the years, but politically we’ve been unable to make the most of them. Our fault, not Europe’s. We’ve been on an uneven playing field at times, our ‘free market’ manufacturing industry unable to compete with the state-sponsored competitors of our nearest and dearest over the Channel.
We’ve been slowed by the plastercast of red tape from Brussels and the old divisions are still apparent in Europe. Who could argue?
But pulling out of Europe would be a step backwards, a huge waste of investment and opportunity that has helped some British firms thrive, or survive. The partners of old, the Commonwealth nations, have found their own markets. Ironically, Europe. Don’t believe me, believe the business leaders, who surely know what they’re talking about.
Who would trade with us? If, bar the odd bark from the Iron Lady, we’ve been unable to impose ourselves on the European Economic Community, how will we be able to haggle the best deal with Europe from the outside?
And the US, and India and China? Well, our economic muscle has benefited from the united European approach. UKIP won’t tell you that though. Forget the positives, Europe is to blame for our woes. Not weak, ineffectual government and greed.
And what of investors, who keep our economy afloat? UKIP has persuasive arguments, but then the ConDems believe that ATOS is helping those who want to work back into work.
Do Nigel Farage and Co think we can go back to the days of empire? Or would they rather have a Britain that stands alone? Divided we fall? We can’t even feed ourselves for long, such has agriculture faltered. On the eve of World War One, when there were a lot fewer people to feed in this country and agriculture was a mainstay of the economy, it was known we could only feed ourselves for 125 days – about four months. I’d hate to think what that figure was today.
The bitter truth is we are dependent on Europe and abroad.
Leave Europe and jobs would go, unless there was a return to Keynsian ideology, and with it, a big spike in public spending. Kicking out the immigrants would exacerbate the problem.
The UKIP website proudly declares that it is not ‘Anti-European’. It tells you, in ‘The Truth About Europe’ that The EU did not bring peace to Europe. I must have missed the Third World War somewhere along the way.
It states: “The idea of a single European state came about after the Second World War, when politicians thought we could prevent wars by eradicating sovereign states. Yet the EU failed to stop genocide in the Balkans and today the folly of the Euro is the direct cause of massive strains in Europe. The overwhelming defeat of fascism in 1945 and the creation of NATO were, and still are, the real guarantors of peace in Europe.”
As far as I’m aware, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo aren’t members of the European Union, so it’s a trifle unfair to lay the blame for the genocide of the 1990s at Brussels’ door. Mind you, the EU also failed to stop Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait, the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, Argentina’s takeover of the Falklands and the Martians landing in Victorian Surrey. Bungling Brussels, eh?
But who can fault such a great argument? I mean, NATO did a fantastic job of preventing the genocide in the Balkans, didn’t it? Ah.
UKIP tells us that the EU is a fraud on ALL Europeans. It later tells us that some European countries aren’t members of the EU. I’m already confused by the rhetoric. Surely if some Europeans aren’t members, how can the EU be a fraud on them, too?
UKIP doesn’t actually back up the claim of fraud either, simply talking about red tape and ‘massive waste’. It contends that Britain wants out and so do ‘many other Europeans’. Its evidence for this appears to be a story in the Daily Telegraph and a Youtube video.
“Open borders have brought cheap labour, lower wages and more unemployment to Britain. And increased crime. It’s also bad – and very sad – for the countries which people leave behind.”
This wonderful piece of political prose seemingly plucked from blue skies is backed up by two more links – from the Daily Mail and Express newspapers. Must be true then.
There are two counter arguments to this. The first is, no, you’re wrong. The second is, as we saw in the dark days of the 1970s, that British industry was being priced out of existence by the wage demands of its workers. Nothing to do with immigration. Nothing to do with Europe. The trades unions demanding cash with threats while business struggled to stay afloat. When inflation was rampant, industry was already on its knees, quality was low and government had little answer.
Consumers in the UK voted with their feet, and French, German or Japanese cars, cheaper to build because of lower wage bills for a start, began to dominate our streets. Customers abroad also turned their back on the ‘best of British’. Yes, UKIP, let’s have higher wages for UK employees. And lets conveniently forget that immigration, encouraged for so long by British governments, has been necessary because the white, Anglo-Saxon protestant home-grown worker didn’t want to do certain jobs. Or work for less than a certain wage.
And what are you going to do about the homegrown ills, Mr Farage? The Brits content to live on state hand-outs? The Brits creating mayhem in our streets and to blame for crime? Poor education, attainment and aspiration?
No, our ills are all down to immigration – a subject for later.
And the EU.
It’s worthy of a Monty Python skit. The worrying aspect is, that people are falling for it. There again, we’ve been so apathetic about politics, party manifestos and performance, maybe we – and Labour, the Lib Dems and Tories – deserve UKIP.

Putting The Con In Conservatives

THERE are lies, damned lies and political statements.
David Cameron’s Conservatives have gone to war for Britain, as if they’re trying to punish us for celebrating Robin Hood as a national hero.
Maybe his King John act will finally plunge the country into an era of change for everyone?
Except that his policies appear aimed at keeping the modern-day barons content.
He’s gone to war against his own.
There is no doubting we need to tackle the spiraling welfare bill. He’d do well to remember that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
I’m unemployed, after working damn hard for more than a quarter of a century. When I’m required I’ll work on the bins. It’s hard graft and a bit of come down for a journalist who has interviewed prime ministers and presidents, music heroes, senior industry figures the world over… but no moans from me.
I’m not on benefits because I don’t qualify, making a meagre amount each month that is more than I would get from the government.
My industry has contracted hugely, just in the last 10 years. So have many others. I’m told I’m too qualified, or lacking experience in the new tech, social media world of newspapers. I made the wrong decision to go and work in the Third World for five years.
Austerity is all very well and few can deny we needed to slash back public debt and government spending.
Yet despite all the rhetoric of Cameron, and George Osbourne, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, this Tory-led coalition is spending more of the public purse, and borrowing more, than any government in history.


When every penny should count it almost seems like they’re honing in on the benefits system as their main target. I’ll agree, from first hand experience, that there are those who relentlessly screw the system rather than go out and do a decent day’s work. That needs to be tackled and I’d be the first to back it.
But, and it’s a big but, Cameron and Co. need to ensure there are viable and attractive alternatives. There are not. Especially outside of London. In Coventry, my city, industry, retail and the service sector has been mortally wounded. Some could say kicked within an inch of its life. The city feels dead.
Go to London and it’s a different world. Vibrant, constantly regenerating, with post offices in ready supply as a simple example. It’s strange, but there aren’t many in my city so it’s something that stands out whenever I go to the capital. It’s like the cuts happened somewhere else and forgot London. Public transport there is amazing. Those Londoners who complain should be sent to Coventry for a week to see how they go in an average British city.
North-South divide? No. London-UK divide. Yes.
While Cameron and his disciples talk about austerity, they are doing little to help the ailing economy. Job creation is rejected in favour of job cuts – in the emergency services, armed forces, government and local government.
Ironically, the people at the bottom, who find themselves needing help and being squeezed the most are being added to every day of Cameron’s rule.
And the job statistics? Yes, the government can make us believe, or try to that employment is rising and unemployment is dipping. Truth is, in places like Coventry, the days of ready full-time work, with a decent salary appear to have been succeeded by job share and part-time vacancies. Or zero hours casual, like I’m on.
I agree with the benefits cap. I’ve struggled to earn what some people take home in benefits even when I worked 60 hour weeks. But Cameron’s rolled it out first to London, the most expensive city to live. Why didn’t he choose Newcastle or Birmingham, or Bristol or Manchester?
And it needs to be done on a case by case basis, not a simple sweeping rule where personal circumstances are irrelevant. The computer says ‘no’.
A similar approach would be better with the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax’. Does Cameron really believe that the solution to the housing shortage, which I’m struggling to comprehend, is people renting spare rooms in family homes? Maybe he could chat to his pals who made a killing when social housing was taken away from local councils and continue to hold back land they already own to keep prices high.
He’s shown a complete disregard for a huge swathe of British society. A lack of understanding on a scale hitherto unknown in the modern era.
But say he was right. Why isn’t he going after other sources of money? If the country is in that bad a mess why has he just reduced the top level of tax by five per cent? Surely, we need additional government funds to help slash the deficit?
They say those making a million pounds a year will be £50,000 better off a year. Let’s take 100 of them – and there are many more. If Cameron retained the tax they were paying, he’d get £50 million a year for the public purse .
What he’s actually done is throw that money away. Just when we’re told the country needs it most.
What about tackling tax fraud and evasion? What about those millionaires who avoid paying tax, one way or another?
What about cutting public spending? On Trident, our nuclear deterrent that surely is unnecessary in the modern world? Especially, when Uncle Sam has plenty to go around.
Or what about reducing our payments to the United Nations. We pay more than five per cent of our GDP to the UN. And for what? It took us into Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and elsewhere. It sucks money up like an aggressive hoover and achieves very little, as easily manipulated by Uncle Sam as our John Bull. Bearing in mind that the UK is a secondary power, like it or not, do we really need to be one of the biggest funders?
As I’ve said in a previous blog, the government is spending more on the privatised railway system in this country than it ever did in British Rail days. While the transport giants make money.
We’ve bailed out the banks, who continue to make money at our expense.
Government money – taxpayers’ money actually – is being used to prop up profits for the private sector like never before. And I thought the Tories were supporters of a free market.
Of course, Cameron and his acolytes don’t want us to know the real truth. Like it or not, their war on benefits will go down well with their supporters. It’s a simple logic. If I’m working hard, why should I pay for someone who’s not?
The ticking time-bomb is that many of those people who have worked hard are finding themselves in the position where jobs aren’t there. Realising that it’s not simply a question of living off benefits, but surviving on them, while you look for that chance of getting back into work.
Cameron, a multi-millionaire, will never be in that position. And more’s the pity, otherwise he might have realised what he needed to do to be a good prime minister and save our great country. His government is spending more than the profligate Wilson and Callaghan. Who’d have thought that?

Liberal With Democracy?

“At the root of Britain’s problems today is the failure to distribute power fairly between people. Political power has been hoarded by politicians and civil servants; economic power has been hoarded by big businesses. Both kinds of power have been stripped from ordinary citizens, leaving us with a fragile society marked by inequality, environmental degradation and boombust economics. If government merely tinkers at the edges – the Labour and Conservative approach – Britain’s problems will not be solved. We can change this only with radical action.”
Sounds great. Where can I sign up to the political radicals that came up with this statement?
Before you get excited, it’s the Lib Dems. A party I was once proud to support and be a member of.
It’s a part of their general election manifesto, published in April 2010. It’s still there on the website, under ‘4 Key Policies’.
For the record, the party’s priorities, before being asked to share power were these:
• Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket.
• A fair chance for every child.
• A fair future, creating jobs by making Britain greener.
• A fair deal for you from politicians.
A fair deal for you from politicians? Anyone got Ken Dodd’s address? I might email him that for his next series of shows.
Nick Clegg has been content to turn his back on much of the thrust of Lib Dem belief to hold onto power.
He talks a good game about the failures of his coalition partner in crime, David Cameron, but, when push comes to shove, sticks close to his shoulder.
Fair taxes? Well, the earnings threshold has been raised, so technically, we should have more money in our pockets. But the ‘fragile society marked by inequality’ remains, endorsed by Clegg and his cohorts.
While the tax threshold was raised, those in the top tax brands have enjoyed a five per cent cut. At a time when the coalition government is braying on about the need for austerity. When it needs every single penny to claw back the record public debt it has saddled the country with.
Except the cash of people with plenty to go round. Nothing to do with the fact that the Westminster-educated son of a banker has oodles of it.
The figures don’t bear scrutiny. The savings the ordinary citizen will get comes down to a few quid a week. The savings the rich will get? About a grand a week, if they make a million a year. We’re all in it together, eh?
It’s the inconsistency of this coalition government. It’s the inconsistency of the Lib Dems. Clegg, in the utopian vision of a fair and just Britain I still subscribe to, has possibly made his party unelectable.
From a position ready to pounce on the Labour and Conservative approach that has failed the UK and make a positive difference, he’s simply realigned his party to hold onto a fingertip grip of power.
No strength of character to really bring Cameron and his cronies to heel. No action to speak louder than Lib Dem words.
His belief – well he calls it ‘belief’, I’d probably use a different term – that the MP expenses system needs to be reformed would be welcomed by many, I’m sure. A possible vote winner. Except, the Daily Telegraph, in its series of exposes on the subject back in 2009, showed he was claiming at the limit, or just under.
I know it’s four years ago, but it’s worth considering. Leopards and spots and all that.
Am I alone in open-mouthed horror at the gall of the man in his statement at the time? “People will just simply despair that all politicians look either ridiculous at best or corrupt at worst.”
The figures are there in the Telegraph article, but bear repeating.
He began charging monthly interest repayments of £1,018 on the £279,000 mortgage on his expenses.
He also submitted the stamp duty, land registry and legal costs, totalling £9,244.50.
Over the following months, he fitted the house with a £2,600 kitchen, and had £5,857.63 worth of decorating done.
He claimed for carpets, a laminate floor, tiling and sanding, curtains, blinds, curtain rails and repairs to a garage door.
After a shopping spree at IKEA in 2006, he submitted claims for items including cushions costing £4.99, a £2.49 cake pan and £1.50 paper napkins.

Now read the Lib Dem manifesto comments above, about power being stripped from ordinary individuals, leaving us with a ‘fragile society marked by inequality’.
What beggars belief is the fact that there are still hard core Lib Dem voters out there. As the Eastleigh by-election victory showed, it doesn’t matter how much you fail or how many lies you tell. It’s like those Christians who refuse to believe anything that is not contained within the Bible. Or those atheists who think that the lack of visible proof God exists is a surefire gospel that he doesn’t.
Yet there are people that will vote for a party without concern for its record. Because they’ve always voted that way, or they believe there isn’t an alternative.
I once thought the Lib Dems offered that alternative.
But I woke up. The country needs to wake up, because we’re being left with the Conservative and Labour approach that at one time the Lib Dem leadership told us would not solve the country’s problems.