Saturday 29 May 2010

Square peg in a round hole

Before this all blew up I had decided that I didn’t like David Laws. Now that he has resigned I have realised why. With all the praise being heaped upon him from various Conservatives and their sympathisers it is clear the man is really a closet Tory. What on earth is he doing in the LibDems?

Friday 28 May 2010

Title deeds

Despite being an atheist I did for a period of five years attend Quaker worship. I won’t bore you with the details or my reasons for attending. Putting the religious element to one side the Society of Friends has from its inception has been a forward thinking and truly egalitarian organisation. I am totally in favour of pure secular government, but if we had to have a religious based government one based on Quakerism would be just fine. Ironically though Quakers wouldn’t want to impose their ways on others so it would never happen. Basically what I’m trying to say is you could do a lot worse than turning to the Society of Friends for inspiration.

One thing in particular that Quakers do that reinforces their egalitarian credentials is that they don’t use titles. To a Quaker I am Paul Garrard. Not Mr Paul Garrard, Sir Paul Garrard or Dame Paul Garrard, just plain old Paul Garrard. I suspect you are thinking, ‘does this really matter?’, and my answer to you would be that it does. If we are to build Jerusalem, that fair and equal society in this green and pleasant land we need to eradicate unnecessary labels that continue to segregate or mark us out by gender or class. I realise that Daily Mail types that think that this is ‘political correctness gone mad’ but equality is as much about perception as it is about economics. If you change people’s perceptions and remove erroneous classifications you make it a bit harder to discriminate and enable social mobility to be that bit easier. This of course needs to go hand in hand with economic measures that facilitate equality - better housing, better education chances, employment and decent wages – but they do need to be done together to have the greatest possible effect. Having said that if any government introduced a law that banned to use of titles for all form filling and systems, be they in the public or private sector, it would at least start us on the road to changing the mindset of the whole nation in favour of equality for all.

In the future all people will be equal, and some won’t be more equal than others!

Thursday 27 May 2010

Credit where credit is due

Whilst I obviously don’t care much for the new government’s policies, there are two in particular that I actually welcome. The first is an issue relevant to where I live. They are going to scrap plans for Norwich to become a unitary authority. Norwich being given unitary status never really made any sense and I don’t understand why the Labour government was so keen on it. I’m not against unitary authorities in principle but the solution for Norfolk always seemed like a costly one for a small city and a not so densely populated county. The other decision that I agree with is the Con-Dem’s plans to curb excessively large salaries in the public sector. I hope that they tackle the nonsense that is bonuses in the public sector as well.

Before you start to think that I am in some way bashing those that work in the civil service or for local government, or you think I’m starting to turn from red to blue, fear ye not. One of the great achievements of the last Labour government was the introduction of the minimum wage. I personally think it is set too low but it doesn’t dilute the fact that it is a good thing. And, interestingly, the sky didn’t fall in when it was introduced, unlike the reactionary prophesies. Unfortunately the social chapter doesn’t go far enough because as well as a minimum wage it is my firm belief that we should also have a maximum wage. Not just for one section of the economy but for all. Wages should be controlled both for public and private sectors alike. Is it such a crazy idea?

There are no doubt lots of reasons why a maximum wage wouldn’t work, and people would find loopholes to get through it, but those loopholes could then be plugged by punitive tax measures. Just doing nothing can never be an option for those that want to build a fairer future for all. A society where one person earns more in a day, a week or a month than another earns in a year can never be cohesive or unbroken.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Dieu et Mon droit!

What right has any person, through accident of birth, to own great riches, to be venerated or hold constitutional powers?

What right has any person, just by being famous, to own great riches, to be venerated or influence the process of government?

The answers, in case you are in any doubt, are none and none.

The cult of ‘celebrity’ is a strange beast. Many think of it as a modern phenomenon but in essence it’s been around since time immemorial. Nowadays the machine that creates this superficial infamy uses the technology of the digital age to full effect. Celebrities wax and wane at the blink of an eye, and in their droves. The limelight life of the latter-day celebrity tends to be quite ephemeral. Most fall by the wayside quickly, but occasionally some manage a near permanence. Nouveau celebs are no doubt frowned upon by those that have been practising the mystical art of celebrity status for generations; namely the aristocracy, and in particular the monarchy.

It is hard to understand why in an age of supposed equal rights we still have a monarchy and an unelected second chamber. Whilst it’s conceivable that the new Con-Dem government might actually do something about the House of Lords, one thing that’s for certain is that they are not likely to call a referendum on the UK becoming a federal republic. No Tory would ever support the abolition of the monarchy, and I suspect if there were a referendum tomorrow a vote in favour of abolition would be highly unlikely. The ruling classes never let up in their propaganda war and the populace continue to fall for it, as a result the status quo is maintained. If we are ever to build a fair and just society this can only ever be carried through if we have a fair and just form of government. Power should only ever be bestowed upon an individual or groups of individuals via the ballot box. Political power and vast wealth gained through birthright is unfair, undemocratic and immoral. The monarchy is morally indefensible. A democratic republic is the only form of fair and just government. Principles and practicalities need to go hand in hand. Without both we can never transform society into an equal and cohesive collective.

Monday 17 May 2010

A level playing field

Being the old cynic that I am I would treat with suspicion anyone who claimed that a book had changed their life. But a book has changed my life. Well its change the way I think about people and many of my political beliefs, so from that point of view it has changed me. The book responsible for this Road to Damascus type revelation is The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

If the data in this book is to be believed then there is an undeniable case for the need for greater equality in our society, and fast. Before I read the book I so wanted it to offer compelling evidence to justify the need for more equality in our society, and it certainly seems to do that. Whilst it is obvious that a lot of this information has been available within academic, health and political circles for a little while I think it is fair to say that it is only now starting to seep into the consciousness of society.

It would seem that contrary to, what is probably, ‘popular belief’ just raising the living standards of the poorest in our society is not enough if the upper end of the income scale continues to rise in an uncontrollable and ever extreme way. What people earn is not as important as the difference between those at the lower end of the economic scale and those at the top. The greater the income inequality the more ills a society has. In the UK where income differences can be quite extreme we have higher rates of crime, substance dependency, mental illness, obesity, teenage pregnancies, lower average life expectancy overall and lower average educational attainment. More equal societies like those in Japan and Sweden have a much lower rate of these ‘social ills’. Inequality facilitates social breakdown. The extremes difference of wealth levels in society creates anxiety. At all levels in the socio-economic scale people are anxious about their position. They will measure this using any number of criteria and react according to their perception of their position. This anxiety fosters mistrust and hostility towards others. It produces a heightened form of individualism where people either feel far superior to others or very much inferior. This perpetuates the anxiety, fuels further mistrust and the further eroding of social cohesion. It affects those that have and those that have not in equal measure.

This book doesn’t answer all the questions but it certainly goes along way down the road. Also, it doesn’t offer solutions, save make society more equal. It gives you the goal but leaves it open as to which road to follow. It challenges a lot of preconceptions people have about tackling social ills.

I urge you to read this book. If enough people are made aware and can be convinced by the message that equality is not only desirable, but essential for improving the quality of life for all, then we can build a better world.

For more information please visit the Equality Trust website.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Gogol Bordello

Last Monday night we went to see Gogol Bordello. ‘Never heard of them’ was the response we universally received from friends, family and colleagues on mentioning our attendance at the UEA gig. Thankfully many other people had heard of them and the concert was sold out. The audience was made up of a wider than normal age ranges which always make me feel good. It’s great when you don’t feel like you are one of the oldest in the audience.

The gig itself was a lively affair with the band giving it their all, sweating profusely for their art. Gogol Bordello play what they describe as ‘Gypsy Punk’. I call it bloody good music. I’ve only managed to find one clip of the concert on YouTube so far. It is embedded below. Unfortunately it is not really typical of much of their output. Their best known song ‘Start Wearing Purple’ best sums up what they are about. Catch them if you can.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Bayerische Motoren Werke

Prejudice is a terrible thing and unfortunately it is something that most of us, apart from the truly pious, are guilty of. I know I am. Many of us might not be guilty of any prejudice towards people from other countries of different creeds or of different ethnicity but we are none the less guilty of prejudice towards people for other reasons.

I go to work by train, and my walks to and from the station take me past a number of riverside flats and houses. These relatively recent developments all have car parks nestling behind automatic gates. The other morning as I walked towards the station I noticed someone attempting to drive out of one of these car parks. This person had driven up to the gate, clearly pressed a button on their remote control and then suddenly realised that only being 6” away from the gates that opened inwards (towards them) was not a good idea. I looked at the car and smiled. It was a BMW. Typical I thought, that explains everything. You see my impression of BMW drivers is that they are self-centred, pea-brained Neanderthals. How judgemental is that? I was quite horrified. I don’t know this person. They’ve done nothing to me. I felt quite ashamed that I should feel so negative towards someone because of their slight error of judgement and their choice of car.

Quakers look for “that of God in everyone”. I think I should try harder to look for ‘good in everyone’. Not always an east task but I must try. If we all became rather less judgemental, bigoted and downright discriminatory this world would be a far better place.

Wednesday 12 May 2010

Lovers are mortal

Dave: 'how about a snog then Big Nick?'      Nick: 'tee hee, yes but no tongues'

Tuesday 11 May 2010


I’ve been a fan of proportional representation for many a long year. Long before it became fashionable. I don’t say that with a sneer as I’m rather glad it has become fashionable. The only way we will get proportional representation is if it is fashionable. Our current system is far from democratic and that needs to change. The old adage states that democracy is government for the people by the people. This is not how it is in the UK at the moment. But changing the mechanics of the voting process is only half of the story.

The outrage that was the MP’s expenses scandal left many people feeling angry, cheated and in many cases politically impotent. Still to this day there are, I imagine, MPs and former MPs who don’t understand what they did wrong. The electorate in some constituencies did tell their ex-MPs what they thought of them by not re-electing them, but having to wait for a General Election is a far from satisfactory way of dealing with an MP that no longer represents or commands the support of their constituency. If we are to make our ‘democracy’ more democratic, enabling our elected representatives to truly represent us, we need a greater degree of accountability from those representatives. Whilst it shouldn’t be too easy, it should be possible ‘recall’ an MP (or councillor come to that) if it is felt that they are not representing their constituent’s best interests. As I write this I have an open mind as to how this might be achieved, but the current system does need to change.

Political parties also need to play their part, and parties need to better reflect the wishes of their members. I realise that sometimes members wishes will no doubt be at odds with those of the general public but that shouldn’t mean that we shy away from a system that might contain these challenges. Greater accountability would I’m sure increase the interest and participation in politics by the population at large. We need greater accountability. We can’t carry on as before.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Electorate 1 Parliament 0

Despite being a Labour Party member I’m not that down-hearted by the result of the election. It did feel as though, manifesto-wise, the party had run out of steam. We thought that treading water was acceptable, and it really wasn’t.

The people of this country have spoken. They have said that they don’t want one party politics. It was parliament as a whole that was given an electoral raspberry. The economy is important and a government to tackle the crisis in a fair way is needed. I’d rather that was Labour but it is probably not to be. Almost as important is the need for democratic change. We need a fairer voting system and a mechanism for making our politicians accountable to the people they serve, namely us, the electorate. I hope we get it.

Friday 7 May 2010

It was the Sun wot didn’t wot win it

The general election has propelled us in to interesting times of that there is no doubt. My one hope is that at least we get a reform of the voting system out of this once the dust has settled. My one joy (two I suppose) is that the Tories didn’t get an overall majority and the Sun didn’t ‘win’ the election.

In the Labour Party lessons need to be learned and changes need to be made. We got the kicking we probably deserved.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Wotsa Grecian urn?

I abhor violence. There is no excuse for what happened to those poor people who lost their lives due to the fires started during the protests in Athens yesterday. That doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for those protesting, because I do sympathise. I sympathise greatly. They have every right to be angry, but it does need to remain peaceful.

There is true injustice in the world when rich people can plunge the world into financial disarray and not be penalised financially for it. It is only ever the little people that suffer, and the poorer you are the more you suffer. Is it right that low paid government workers should suffer and have to foot the bill for the financial mess that the rich and powerful have created? No of course it isn’t. It can never be right, proper or fair. If a country like Greece, Portugal or even the UK is in a financial crisis, a financial crisis that has been caused by banks, financial institutions and the wealthy that ultimately control them then they are the ones that should pay first. Taxation needs to be applied to those that can afford to pay, namely the wealthiest strata in society, the top five, ten or twenty per cent depending on how much cash is needed. Start at the top and make sure that you don’t work all the way down.

I don’t doubt that there are some very rich people in Greece. They are the ones that should cough up first, and not the low paid. It’s about time we in Europe adopted some financial justice.

Monday 3 May 2010

The future is radio

The future’s bright, the future is radio!

One of the delights of moving to the big city is that you have access to so much more in a cultural sense. Coming from Bury St Edmunds a conservative, and Conservative, market town in the middle of Suffolk I been deprived culturally all my life. You mostly had to travel to see bands, art, decent cinema etc. etc. Now I have it on my doorstep and I feel like a kid in a sweetshop.

I love radio. I’m a child of the fifties. I was weaned on it. For my eight birthday (in 1963) my parents bought me a transistor radio; an expensive consumer item in those days. It remained glued to my lughole like mobiles are glued to yoof these days. These were the heady days of pirate radio. They played exciting new music, and had adverts. This was a brave new world. I was hooked, and I still am. Radio is just so much better than the telivisual idiot box.

I love radio. So imagine my interest when I read in the local newspaper that John Osborne, author of Radio Head (a book I own but have yet to read) had a programme, entitled ‘John Peel’s Shed’, on Future Radio. I had to investigate. I searched the interweb and discovered that Future Radio is a Norwich based community radio station. So last night I dusted down our one remaining VHF (only twats call it ‘FM’) radio and tuned in. John’s programme is based around a prize he won in a competition that John Peel ran in 2002. His prize was “four foot of vinyl”. As you can imagine what John Osborne played was a “teen terrific” and eclectic mix. After his programme I carried on listening, and have done so again this morning. Joy of joys, this is truly wonderful entertainment. Yes it’s amateur, but that’s a plus. This is anti-celebrity, and that is the future.

If you live in Norwich you can listen on 96.9VHF. If you don’t live in the hub of the universe then you can listen online.