Thursday, 31 March 2011

Big Society or Big Community?

Watching the first programme in the excellent 'World at War' series, it was astonishing to come across the little nugget that Hitler and his chums promoted the idea of a ‘Big Community.’  It was begun in 1935 and was meant to engage the German people in good deeds on behalf of their fellow citizens. All hands to the pumps and all that. 

Leading Nazi Party members were filmed shaking collecting tins at various events showing just what good chaps they were. Industrialists and High Financiers were however outside the scheme as they had serious money to make.
Ring any bells?

UK Uncut

UKUncut wants to "ensure government and big business do not get away with making ordinary people pay for a crisis they did not cause. It was the greed and recklessness of the banks that caused the economic crisis, yet the government is making ordinary people pay the price in the form of unprecedented cuts to public services. There are alternatives to the cuts, for example, making the banks pay for a crisis they created and stopping tax dodging by corporations and the rich." (website
“What it did on Saturday was typical of how it operates. At a Boots store, supporters dressed up as doctors to transform the shop into an NHS hospital in protest at the £20bn cuts to the NHS. Outside Philip Green's BHS store on Oxford Street (accused of tax avoidance) actors and musicians protested against arts cuts with Sam and Timothy West performing a high-street staging of an extract from The Voysey Inheritance by Granville-Barker.” Andreas Whittam Smith, The Independent 30/3/2011

The redtop tory media regard these events as the beginning of the end of the world. They seem to argue that those involved in the protest should be strung up. The Tory Home Secretary lumped the 139 peaceful protestors arrested from Fortnum and Mason with the 11 ‘protestors’  arrested for violent acts elsewhere together, thereby giving the appearance of a more effective police operation. It has emerged from the UKUncut protestors arrested that the order to arrest them came from on high. The bobbies on the spot seemed baffled and unhappy to be involved locking up, ‘decent people.’ Can you be guilty of ‘aggravated trespass’ in an open shop? 
One of the ironies (among many) was the report of several big name brands complaining about lack of police protection. Many of these complaining brands are the ones who use offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes in the UK. So who pays for the police?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

UK Uncut and the Met

A peaceful demonstration in a tax-avoiding business was ended by a Police Commander lying to the demonstrators. “You will be free to go” was  said (on camera). Only later were the extra weasel words added, “... to jail.”  
So what you may ask? Well, if non-violent peaceful protest is treated similarly to violent and destructive protest then the result could be a lot more violence and disruption carried out by determined activists who go underground and use far more subversive methods to achieve their ends. Cue an even more polarised and dysfunctional society. Whatever happened to ‘policing with consent’?
The reputation of the police is on the floor with anyone who has four grey cells to rub together. This little wheeze may have ended a local difficulty but stores up far more problems in the future. The police act as stooges for our rotten financial system. How ironic that many of them look likely to lose their jobs to help reduce the deficit created by the Tories' city chums. Will we see protesting plods on the street? Will they get kettled? Will they  react by becoming violent? Will they be treated differently by their colleagues on the other side of the situation? 
Will they get any support from members of the public?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Media and the message

Having experienced many marches in my time it is no surprise to listen to the latest hoo-ha  about yesterdays TUC anti-cuts protest. At every major demonstration there are always a small group of anarchists who seize the moment to spread their disorder. They are hardly invisible wearing a rigorous black uniform, frequently masked and carrying sticks or other implements. They constitute .01%of the total crowd and are ignored by 99.89% of the marchers. It has not been a successful event for them if no-one is arrested and nothing is broken. 
The UK Uncut bunch are in a different league. Non-violent but very active, they occupy shops and banks who they identify as ‘tax-dodgers.’ By doing so they hope to embarrass the companies and point up to their customers just what charlatans they are. More power to their elbow. 
Unfortunately so many of our leading companies and organisations now employ very clever accountants to switch their funds to holding companies in tiny offshore tax havens that tax avoidance is becoming the norm. Several members of the Cabinet have been found doing it. As that execrable American celeb said, “Only the little people pay taxes.”
All in this together? My arse.
The fact that there were disturbances should surprise no-one. It is also a fact of media life that a peaceful demonstration - no matter how massive - goes largely unreported. Given some trouble, the event stays in the headlines considerably longer.
A more mature media would report the bigger picture and spend less time harrumphing about the anarchists thereby justifying their raison d’etre. 

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Vote With Your Feet

“The forthcoming Champions League final at London's Wembley stadium has generated criticism over the fact that its cheapest tickets will cost £150 plus a booking fee of £26.” BBC News Online 23/3/11
Read that again. To buy a ticket costing £150 will cost you an extra £26 for a ‘booking fee.’
This is where rip-off meets Del Boy and spawns a culture which makes bankers look saintly. The solution to this outrageous greed is very simple. Do not go.
An empty stadium would send a powerful message to the fools who run the game and to all the hangers-on who milk the life and soul out of football. It would alarm the tv companies who do not like their cameras panning across acres of empty seats. It may even penetrate the bubble of greed that many players inhabit. 
Will it happen? Will it hell as like. Most football fans occupy the Dodo rung on the evolutionary ladder. Grey matter is routinely left disconnected when football decisions are considered. 

Which is why the greedy venal reprobates running the game keep getting away with it. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Whoops! Here we go again.

It is becoming clearer by the minute that having got ourselves into another war we have very little idea of what happens next.
Having watched Peter Taylor’s excellent but very dispiriting documentary about the war on terror last night, a major danger is that many unengaged muslims will view the attacks as yet more evidence of ‘the Great Satan’ at work again. ‘Collateral damage’ will fuel the flames. Al Qaida must be rubbing their hands.
Our allies have very different agendas. Sarkosy is in trouble at home. The far right in France are on the march again and there is nothing like a little war to bolster political ratings. The French were very quick off the mark - before their allies were ready. The bunch of unelected despots aka ‘The Arab league’ are already squirming at the violence. The abstainers at the Security Council are voicing concerns at the violence. Co-ordinating the different forces and expertise without the wheels coming off will be very difficult.
Even here there are disagreements between politicians and the military. Listening to the equivocation about whether Gaddafi is a legitimate target is unedifying.
It is also very costly both in human terms (no such thing as a surgical strike) and in financial terms. Each missile fired costs £1 million. Each fighter plane costs thousands every hour it flies. Landing on foreign bases is very expensive - so much so that military chiefs tentatively asked about recommissioning an aircraft carrier only to recognise that such a move would not be welcomed by number 10. Nothing like a little bit of politics when war strategies are considered. 
Several weeks ago we were selling Gaddafi arms. Perhaps it would be better if we curbed arms sales to dictators and despots? Unfortunately the speed with which ‘Call me Dave’  took his arms dealers with him on his recent Egyptian trip shows nothing has changed. 

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Liberating Libyan civilians - mind the collateral damage.

Anyone who has studied recent military history will be deeply concerned at the escalation of violence following the UN Resolution. News Bulletins are full of anodyne and blase comments about the targeting of ‘anti-aircraft’ establishments. The use of cruise missiles is mentioned without any pause for concern. Apparently 126 were fired on the opening night of the campaign. 
Gaddafi is a madman, a known liar and propagandist. Western media accept this whenever he is quoted or when a Libyan spokesman gives the ‘official view.’ Western media do not use similar detachment or sceptism when they report on our armed forces activities. Military and Ministerial press briefings are swallowed whole despite years and years of evidence of calamity and cock-up. Remember those very smart bombs that flew into bunkers by wire-guided devices which featured so prominently in coverage of the 1st and 2nd Iraq wars? Turns out they were not that effective after all and most of the damage was done by good old high explosive dropped from a great height. Cruise Missiles? Have been known to go astray, wiping out hundreds of innocent civillians. Doesn’t get the same coverage when the facts emerge months or even years later. 
One of the nastiest and most dispiriting phrases in the current lexicon is, ‘Collateral damage.’ It is used by military spokesfolks on an increasing regular basis in Afghanistan having had an excellent run in Vietnam and Iraq. All the talk of ‘hearts and minds’ is just so much hogwash so long as the military keep bumping off the people they are supposed to be helping. A classic example came from the Vietnam War.  A young US lieutenant cheerfully declared a village had been liberated from the Viet Cong by completely destroying it. 
Anyone who thinks that mindset has gone away has not been following the use of drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Wikileaks recently showed the appalling video footage from Iraq where gung-ho gunship troops killed many innocent civillians without a qualm. 
Do not trust the military to tell the truth or to even be effective. Do not rely on other than a handful of politicians to oppose the use of military force. Do not rely on the bulk of the media for independent analysis and scrutiny. Do not accept anything about this matter at face value. Members of the  ‘Arab League’ who, by pressing for the no-fly zone, gave the UN a significant nudge, are among the most despotic and undemocratic leaders in the world.
As RAF pilots fly thousands of miles to attack Gaddafi’s defences they will have plenty of time to ponder some curious ironies. 
The weapons trained upon them will be mainly British made or supplied (thanks Mr Blair). 
Their RAF squadrons are being cut back (thanks Mr Cameron and Mr Fox). 
The carrier which could have been very useful in this situation has just been decommissioned (thanks Mr Fox). 
By being very effective and ending the conflict swiftly they could fly quickly towards unemployment. 
Politicians are getting too used to sending other people’s kids off to die in foreign wars - they themselves are removed from the event. They can strut their stuff at ‘important’ strategic meetings where they plan the use of monumental force - and try to forget collateral damage.
And as they strut, remember,  they act in our name.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Greedy Bankers

How much more of this are we going to take? The news that over 300 ‘top’ employees at RBS are to share £375 million in bonus payments stretches credulity well beyond breaking-point. This is a bank 84% owned by us, the taxpayer. This is a bank that made a loss last year! That is right. It made a loss. So why the bonuses? What sort of deal is it that  rewards failure on such a scale? Who asked us if we wanted to pay these greedy bastards these ridiculous amounts?
As the government bangs on about cuts and with a budget on the way next week it is instructive to remember who funds the tories. Yes - it is the bankers and the city slickers. 
It is astonishing that there has not as yet been direct action aimed at these greedy, rapacious, resource rapers. It is also astonishing the way the tories have deflected any interest in their funding arrangements. There is a direct correlation between the inadequate actions of the government and the banker’s contributions to the tories.  
Stinky. Very stinky. Very stinky indeed.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Secrets and Lies

An odd waking yesterday to hear 93 year-old Dennis Healey demanding that Civil Servants be tried for treason. Apparently when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the ’60’s he had not been told by the then Cabinet Secretary of a decision to spend many millions replacing the Polaris nuclear weapon system. 
It brought back a remark from Tony Benn, who as Minister for Technology in Harold Wilson’s ‘white-hot’ government, was not told anything by senior civil servants about the 1957 Windscale fire and its aftermath. For those not familiar with ‘Windscale’ it was given a make-over and re-named Sellafield. Very resonant today with developments developing in Japan. Absolutely mind-boggling. Once Healey found out he had been livid. It was not, he declared, the job of unelected senior Civil Servants to  decide how the UK defended itself. 
The nuclear industry has form on this sort of thing. The Russians tried very hard to cover up Chernobyl. It was scientists in Northern Sweden who first announced the presence of a huge plume of highly radioactive material in the upper atmosphere. It took a while for Soviet intransigence to finally admit they had ‘a bit of a problem.’
In the UK the linkage of nuclear power with nuclear weapons immediately wrapped everything up in the strictest security blanket. Why on earth should a relevant Minister of the Crown need to know anything about a disaster in Cumbria which had massive public health implications? “Benn? Bit of a lefty old boy....”
Civil Servants in the 50’s and 60’s regarded themselves as a political class with a patrician approach to governance. Thatcher began to politicise them in the 80’s with her, “Is he one of us?” remark about a senior civil servant. They were (are?) supposed to be neutral. 
We have travelled some way from patrician to spinner. Damian McBride, one of Brown’s aides, was officially a civil servant, paid for by us the taxpayer, to spread his lies, half-truths and insinuations. Cameron’s choice of Andy Coulson as Communications chief says things are just as bad as ever. 

Monday, 14 March 2011

Another Beeb own goal

James Noughtie (in Japan) had a conversation with the Japanese Ambassador (in London) on the Today programme this morning (broadcast from London). Surreal or what? 
During the programme he spoke to several contributors, all of whom were linked by phone.
So what the hell was he doing there? Put yourselves in the position of the Japanese. A mighty cataclysm has struck your country; great swathes of your northern regions are still out of touch, probably devastated; casualty numbers are rising by the minute and to cap it all there is impending nuclear catastrophe to add to the mix. Do you really want all these self-important noodles using up your phone lines, demanding access to the worst hit sites, wanting to speak to very important people, all on your doorstep pontificating away, “it must be serious because I am here...”?

Clearly the three or four correspondents on the spot are totally inadequate and not up to the job of reporting what has happened. It needed Naughtie to fly half-way round the world for me to comprehend what had happened. 
The incredible TV footage didn’t do it. The astonishing amateur video footage didn’t do it. News 24 with its non-stop reportage didn’t do it. Roland Buerck who performed heroics in the first 36 hours clearly didn’t do it. Damian Grammaticus having made his way from Korea clearly didn’t do it. Japanese TV coverage didn’t do it.
It took Naughtie’s presence for me to finally grasp that this was a major natural disaster. 
The Beeb is a fantastic institution. The Today programme is almost unmissable and yet they go tabloid far too readily and too often. All very dispiriting. They have many enemies who want to do them down and they keep scoring own goals.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Stone Age Football

Had the opportunity to compare development in the wide world of football. Watched Barcalona’s surgical dismemberment of Arsenal last week and noted how possession was crucial to their style of play. Pass and move, lots of little triangles, accepting a pass and in an instant sending it on to the next player. Xabi apparently passed the ball over 280 times in the two matches. Constantly ‘giving and going.’ Arsenal were pathetic in their response - not one shot on target in the entire game. That is embarrassing for such a club with a fine passing tradition themselves. Barcalona 71% possession; Arsenal 29%.  Our best passing side are humiliated. 

And so to Buxton to watch the local heroes play the top of the league (by many,many points) Halifax Town. Yes that Halifax Town who used to be stalwarts of the football league and who include notable FA Cup scalps in their history - including Man City in one of their better spells. 

This game should have been renamed airball as the ball spent so much time being hoofed, belted, clipped and headed into the ether. That was when it wasn’t bouncing over the stands onto the railway track or into nearby gardens. It was all extremely physical - and not without physical skill and stamina. Lots of little confrontations all over the pitch and especially at either end. Players lived off scraps with snatched shots and headers. Shapeless and formless, the first half was dire. Halifax had a lot of fans with them - quite a long way to travel to watch such garbage. Midfield tended to be bypassed as the ball was belted from end to end. Highly competitive but highly dispiriting. These were among the better semi-pro teams - allegedly. 

Referees have something to answer for as they set the tone very early in the game. This one allowed over-vigorous challenges in the air - lots of elbows, pushing, shoving and barging. Most was let go. As was possession. Xabi and Messi would have been appalled.

The second half improved a bit and Buxton beat the runaway leaders by 2 goals to 1. Many apparently contented fans left the ground. Having seen Buxton a couple of times this season, it was sad to see them abandon a passing game which they had used to some effect. 
Challenges that are commonplace in British football are quite rightly outlawed in most parts of the world. Ex-pros lament the lack of physical action whilst not seeing that skillful players get kicked out of the game. A pathetically weak and clueless FA; a very greedy Premiership with egotistical owners (many extremely dodgy)allied to rabid one-eyed fans produces the blood and circuses which passes for big football in the UK. 
And each time we go to the World Cup we are embarrassed.