Monday, 28 February 2011

Westminster and the homeless - how UK Uncut are completely wrong and misleading


The latest UK Uncut fib relates to Westminster Council's proposals to "fine the homeless":

Westminster city council, the richest and most powerful council in the UK, is proposing a new bye-law to ban rough sleeping and “soup runs” in the Victoria area of London. The proposed new bye-law will make it an offence punishable by a fine to “sleep or lie down”, “deposit materials used as bedding” and to “give out, or permit another to give out, food for free”.

Clearly this is the work of Evil Tories as they crush the poor and vulnerable? How very dare they!

But when you look briefly into the matter it doesn't quite seem that way at all:

Westminster Council wants to pass a byelaw to stop rough sleeping and soup runs on Westminster Cathedral piazza and the surrounding area.

Westminster Council announced yesterday it has launched a consultation on the proposals with residents, businesses, local day centres and hostels and the voluntary sector.

If it gets a positive response from this, it will ask the Communities and Local Government department to pass a byelaw. It wants this in place by October.

Westminster Council estimates up to 100 people at a time congregate around the piazza while food is being given out and said people travel into the area to receive food hand-outs. The council has said vulnerable adults will be asked to leave the area before being subjected to any enforcement.

So why is the Council doing this? Here's a representative of homeless charity St Mungo's on the subject:

‘While we recognize the compassion involved in providing food to vulnerable people, those in distress and rough sleeping need services that will support them off the streets for good and give them the opportunity for longer term better housing, health and work as they move on with their lives.’

And, for good measure the Chief Executive of another homeless charity, Thames Reach:

‘Street handouts do little to help people make the step away from rough sleeping. Instead they frequently prevent people from facing up to the reality of the harmful lifestyle they have adopted.

‘The Westminster Cathedral piazza and surrounding area has been the focus for soup run activity and rough sleeping for many years and this has inevitably had a detrimental impact on the lives of people living and working in the immediate vicinity.’

So it seems that, in truth Westminster are working alongside homeless charities to try and deliver better support to rough sleepers!

So UK Uncut lied?


A reminder to Britain's left about Libya


From The Times October 28, 1984:

Arthur Scargill, the president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and Roger Windsor, the union’s chief executive, have been holding secret talks with the Libyan government.

Three weeks ago, on October 8, the two men flew to Paris to meet Salem Ibrahim, described by French intelligence as Colonel Gadaffi’s paymaster. Last Monday, Windsor flew to Tripoli, where he met Gadaffi, the Libyan leader.

Windsor’s visit was arranged by a Pakistani living in England named Mumtaz Abbasi, who admits he is the “European representative” of Al-Zulfikar, a Libya-backed terrorist group. Windsor was in the Libyan capital on Thursday when the High Court in London ordered the sequestration of the NUM’s assets after seven months of its national strike. 

But then the NUM took money from any stray left-wing totalitarian dictatorship didn't they!

Newly discovered documents showed substantial sums of money in hard currency were secretly transferred to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) during the major industrial action.


A climate scientist comments....

A real climate scientist remarks on Climategate:

The response to climategate (of which hide the decline is the slogan) of the climate scientists and the broader climate establishment has been to say to the public "not to worry, the science is still sound, nothing has changed." No one is standing up to acknowledge the problems and talk about addressing them so that this kind of thing does not happen in the future. Restoring trust would have been easier a year ago than it is now.

This is a reminder - even to those of us who are inclined to accept the argument for AGW - of the huge damage done to science and to the climate change case by the arrogance of those responsible for "Climategate" and those who covered up after the deception, lies and fiddles were revealed.


Sunday, 27 February 2011

Over to you Africa...


"We are still getting orders from abroad, all the factories are," said Wei. "But no one is taking them because we would make a loss. The foreigners do not want to pay a reasonable price. We have not made any profits for two years."

 So reports the Sunday Telegraph in a piece about the impact of economic growth, higher wages and cost pressures on Chinese clothing manufacturers. And the big deal here is that the businesses can't produce the clothes cheaply enough to satisfy the cost demands of Western brands and retailers.

Now, however, the Chinese factories have hit a wall. The workers who were once happy to work for as little as £30 a month now want ten to 15 times that sum.

Young men with the latest mobile phones and foppish hair cuts stood around two outdoor pool tables on the streets of Dadun avenue, gambling on the games. Their factory is only paying them for six hours a day in a bid to trim its costs.

More and more workers are choosing not to travel to the South to find work, preferring to try their luck at one of the new factories or construction projects popping up in inland China, where life is cheaper and they can be closer to their families.

Familiar? Yet the first response is to suggest that the answer is for us to pay more for our jeans!

The days of so-called "throwaway fashion", where stores could sell garments cheap enough to be worn for a just a few months and then discarded, could be over, he said.

"Companies should be very scared, as throwaway fashion is now dead," he claimed. "For years they wanted to get more and pay less. They have pillaged the system in China. But now they are going to suffer."

Elsewhere in the world there's a huge continent with millions of people crying our for economic opportunity, crushed by the agricultural protection of Western democracies and patronised by aid NGOs.

It's called Africa - I reckon they'd be pretty good at making jeans? Don't you?


Saturday, 26 February 2011

Nationalism, immigration and national recovery - a dark thought

A Poster from the US National Recovery Administration of 1933
In my meanderings round Bradford, in thousands of conversations with folk from every conceivable ethnic, economic and political background, I have often heard non-white people bemoaning new immigration. After all like the white working class, our Black and Asian workers feel threatened by the influx of new people. And – just as white people worry about the impact of new cultures, so do established Asian and Black communities!

And the racism! Some of the racist people I know are Pakistanis – some comments about Bengalis, Chinese, Arabs and Jews cause even a hardened old hand like me to wince. This isn’t to do down my Asian friends and acquaintances but to point out that they live in the same city as the white folk and that the pressures of that urban life produce a related set of prejudices, assumptions and biases to that we are familiar with from white racists.

Now Searchlight, the anti-racism group have conducted a survey looking at attitudes to immigration, race and ethnicity. And here’s one of the findings:

According to the survey, 39% of Asian Britons, 34% of white Britons and 21% of black Britons wanted all immigration into the UK to be stopped permanently, or at least until the economy improved. And 43% of Asian Britons, 63% of white Britons and 17% of black Britons agreed with the statement that "immigration into Britain has been a bad thing for the country".

Stop and think a little. Is what we are seeing the “deracination” of immigration as an issue? Or are these opinions a reflection of racism becoming a more complicated than our current depiction of “white prejudice”? I don’t know but is reminds us again of the challenges we face in managing the competing needs of the economy, community and individual families.

Understandably, the left-wing opponents of nationalism find political concerns in the polling – not surprising given this finding:

 ...48% of the population would consider supporting a new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamic extremism, and would support policies to make it statutory for all public buildings to fly the flag of St George or the Union flag.

I guess that these people would also be susceptible to protectionism, to tougher punishments for criminals, to less tolerance of bad behaviour and to a host of intrusive measures aimed at creating that stable, predictable, mildly hierarchical society beloved of Fabians. This is why we must watch with care the debate inside the Labour Party – the ascendancy of beer-bellied, rough-talking union masters may just, if connected to the agenda of immigration control, nationalism and protectionism, create a terrible government. A government badging itself one of "national recovery" and employing all the techniques of modern media to enforce compliance - far more effectively that with America's NRA in the 1930s.

"Perhaps the most famous case was Jacob Maged, the fourty-nine year-old immigrant dry cleaner who spent three months in jail in 1934 for charging thirty-five cents to press a suit, when the NRA had insisted that all loyal Americans must charge at least fourty cents" that would destroy the great good that has come from 50 years of free trade and free enterprise and squash any real hope of recovery.


A dark day for Ireland - electing a terrorist and friend of murderers to its parliament


Gerry Adams was a leading member of the IRA when the organisation received support and funding - probably arms, too - from Libya:

In 1972, 29-year-old Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi made contact with leading Irish republican Joe Cahill through the Breton artist and sculptor Yann Goulet. The purpose of the approach was an offer of material assistance to the IRA whose struggle against British occupation of the Six Counties was reaching a new intensity. 

I'm sure Gerry Adams knew about this. And the story continues.

In 1973, when Seamus Twomey was arrested Gerry Adams took over as commanding officer of the IRA in Belfast. The Adams leadership was well able to match the body count which occurred under Twomey in 1972 which read, 81 innocent Catholics and 41 innocent Protestants mainly murdered in no warning IRA bomb attacks.

I'm sure Gerry Adams knew about this - his entire political life has been spent around murderers, hoodlums and thieves. Criminals made worse in that they took over a noble cause - uniting Ireland - and brought it violence, death and terror.

Today, Gerry Adams is elected to the Dail - representing the County of Louth, a place he has never lived and has no interest in. It is a dark day for that County and for Ireland. It would be better were Adams rotting in some jail instead of parading his evil across the Republic.


Friday, 25 February 2011

"Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?"

So we’re back to pursuing happiness – or rather to the government’s appointed counters of stuff asking us questions about our state of happiness.

"Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?" We learned this week that that is one of four new questions being inserted into the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Household Survey as the UK's official number crunchers try to assess the well-being of the nation.

The purpose of this exercise is not to get Britain thinking happy thoughts as the axe falls: the determination to measure well-being pre-dates both the coalition and the age of austerity. The real point is to find a better way of measuring social progress than simply how much stuff we have got.

Or that’s what the BBC says about the measurement of happiness – apparently increased material well-being doesn’t make us any happier. We may be a whole load richer, healthier and less stressed than our forebears. We may have things to make our lives better even than the richest 1950s plutocrat. But, as the song goes:

I can't get no satisfaction,
I can't get no satisfaction.
'Cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can't get no, I can't get no.

However, our government wants to know just how dissatisfied – how pissed off and grumpy we are – so as to...well, I guess try to make us happier? And perhaps it will be like this:

"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand." (Huxley, ‘Brave New World’ Ch16)

Of course, for Huxley’s dystopic paradise happiness and stability came at a price – liberty. And a dulling of life’s edge:

“You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."

Get the drift? The Government wishes to measure something called “social progress” – which is measured not through “citius, altius, fortius” but through contentment, mere satisfaction.

...governments could be judged by how happy they make us.

An adviser to the Prime Minister*, David Halpern, told us that within the next 10 years the government would be measured against how happy it made everybody.
*Note this was an advisor to Mr Blair

And how do you make people content? By removing risk, by creating stability and by providing pane et circenses – bread and circuses. Independence of thought, the challenging of norms, questioning life’s sacred cows – these things do not make us happy. And worse, by undermining our neighbour’s contentment they run counter to the cause of well-being.

Government has no responsibility or duty or right to ask me as to my happiness – that is my bother and worry. What is worse though is that Mr Cameron’s happy world contains a brutal attack on my pleasures and the pleasures of my friends:

But he said the government also had to focus on the long-term and he said "the country would be better off if we thought about well-being as well as economic growth".

GDP was too "crude" a measure of progress as it failed to take into account wider social factors - he cited the example of "irresponsible" marketing to children, an immigration "free for all" and a "cheap booze free for all", which had all boosted economic growth at the expense of social problems.

Measuring happiness becomes an instrument of social control – intervening in the choices of parents, ripping cans of lager from the clutches of 19-year-old skinheads and make poorly old women stand out in the rain and cold to have a fag. The message is that clever people with clipboards, spreadsheets and fancy formulae know better how to make us content, how to create the stability of a dead society.

I do not wish for the deadening stability of a content society. A society so content is loses creativity, spark, has all the fight removed – not through aggression but through a hideous, soft blanket of comforting social drugs. A place where nothing’s our fault, where child-rearing is the state’s role, where our governors consider our silence to be satisfaction – and where happiness, the goal of government, is purchased with banal, dumbed-down events and the drug of conformity.

“Overall, yesterday...I was grumpy!”

Friday Fungus: Underground Restaurant and truffled mac & cheese!

I have neglected to speak of many things – and one of them is Ms Marmite Lover (other than a little rant about the Underground Restaurant). So it was a delight to have an excuse for a Marmite Lover themed Friday Fungus.

As with many of these things it started with a tweet – a comment to Mister Truffle from Ms Marmite Lover that she planned a macaroni cheese with truffles. Wow I thought, that’s a brilliant idea – as good as my wife’s approach of adding cayenne pepper. In response Ms Marmite Lover urged me to come and try out said delight at her latest event:


LONDON: The Underground Restaurant - Kilburn

FRI 4TH MAR, 2011 7.30

A meal in which I explore the properties of food cooked in sealed jars:
bean stew
preserved fruits
rice pudding
More details closer to the time.

Arrive on time
BYO or order from who will deliver here directly
Dress: Up!
Service: spring like

Sadly for reasons of distance and engagements I can’t go to this – sounds a fine do and as of now there are still a few places left.

But truffles in a macaroni cheese – that’s a thing I shall be trying! There are any number of recipes with truffle oil – like one from The Taste of Oregon (although there’s not much of Oregon in a Mac & Cheese) – but I wanted one that used the real thing, grated black truffles and I found it here.

I shall enjoy – hope you do too!


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Bradford Council's a thought about tweeting!


The deed is done - the Council has set a budget. For most folk the most important thing about it remains the answer to the question: "so how much is my Council Tax going up by?" I know, I know - the real story is about the cuts - either spiteful and targeted at vulnerable people or forced onto innocent and efficient Councils by the evil monster Pickles. But when - in about an hour - I arrive at the Club ready to win the quiz, I know it will be the Council Tax question that gets asked.

Don't get me wrong here, the 'cuts' are important - especially important if you're the poor soul who has lost a job or no longer get a particular service. But in the round taking £56m out of a £1.2bn budget isn't going to make the wheels fall off the wagon - especially if, as in Bradford's case, the Council anticipated the scale of reductions. Nevertheless the decision today included decisions to cut services - closing small libraries, removing off-highway rural bin collection and dramatically reducing the budgets for maintaining highways, parks and local facilities. These decisions - for all the talk of equity and equality from the Council's leadership - disproportionate affect people living in rural parts of the district.

So when I'm asked why I voted against the budget it isn't because I could write a better one (although I could) but because the Labour Party chose to target cuts directly and deliberately at the people I represent.

And I shall be telling those people about that decision.


Partly related to this is a comment from that rarity - someone in the public gallery during a council meeting - who asked why I was 'playing with my phone'. In truth I was tweeting - commenting on what was being said by members during the budget debate. To do this I have to listen to what's being said!

And it means that a load of people who might not be able to or want to come to the actual meeting are able to get a flavour - albeit coloured by my bias - of what's happening. Perhaps a few hundred people knew something - certainly more than would be the case in past years - about our budget deliberations.

I don't consider that to be disrespectful but to be an enhancement - its extending our engagement and people's involvement in the processes of democracy. I was able to give response and comment on things people were concerned about - care for the elderly, children's services and support for the arts - as decisions about those very things were being discussed.

So no, I wasn't playing with my phone. I was enhancing democracy - something more Councillors should do!


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

How not to make cuts - a lesson from Bradford


I’ve been pretty straight when asked about the cuts – they are needed because we can’t afford to spend money the way we have for years. At the same time I think we should do local communities and local people the justice of being transparent, open and honest.

On Saturday – just a few days before Bradford Council sets its budget – my ward colleagues and I received the news that the Council’s Labour leadership intended to close the two small libraries in Bingley Rural ward (Denholme and Wilsden). This will realise a saving of some £12,000, we’re told (although it is rolled into the closure of 5 libraries to save £70,000). We got the news from reading the local paper not from the Council itself.

Now it may be the right decision to close these libraries – certainly the levels of usage aren’t great and the opening hours have diminished with each passing year – but the manner in which Bradford’s Labour leaders have gone about it is appalling.  We are being forced into a situation of trying to find ways to keep the libraries open set against a deadline that is now just a few hours away.

I could point out that the Council pays for full-time trade union convenors – to the tune of £300,000 and more. I could observe the team of ‘climate change’ officers costing local taxpayers approaching £500,000. And I could observe that we’re still paying 55p per mile to car users when every one else is paying just 40p per mile.

And I could go on listing example after example of achievable, affordable savings that have, at worst, a marginal impact on front line services. Yet I shan’t – instead I’ll talk about giving local communities a chance. A stay of execution so they can explore, with council officers and others, the opportunities to take over running these local facilities that Labour – out of political spite – has chosen to close.

Here’s what Wilsden Parish Council has to say:

In terms of process there has been no consultation whatsoever with the Parish Council or any other element of the community and the timescale from the announcement in the Telegraph and Argus on Saturday to a decision process on Thursday makes a total mockery of democratic process. The time scale available makes it impossible for the Parish Council to convene a meeting that complies with standing orders to discuss the proposal.

It is also difficult to determine the rationale for the selection. The budget proposal before Council on Thursday recommends closing the smallest libraries referred to in the Bradford Library Service Review 2010.  Size appears to equate with opening hours. The Library Service Review simply records Wilsden as being one of five libraries to have opening hours of less than 10 hours per week (para 3.12)

 However the report then goes on to say in paras 3.22 and 3.23 “in resource terms the provision and use of the thirteen village libraries is broadly commensurate with the staff resources and opening hours allocated” and “given the relatively small floor space available at these thirteen village libraries the levels of use are relatively strong”. Wilsden  (and indeed the other four libraries recommended for closure) does not therefore appear to be a failing library that is not worth retention.

It seems to me that Labour are seeking the maximum service pain so as to realise the biggest political gain.


Update: At tonight's Wilsden Neighbourhood Forum the nature of Labour's spite was revealed - the saving from closing Wilsden library is a massive £8,000.  That's less than the Executive's travel bill.


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

It's just a recipe...

It’s a recipe I tell you. I’ve eaten some awful “traditional Cornish Pasties” in the eponymous county and some pretty ace ones made elsewhere. Yet – unlike Yorkshire pudding, Lancashire Hot Pot or the London ParticularCornish pasty gets a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI):

So what you're looking for is this: under new protected status, a genuine Cornish pasty must be made in Cornwall. It must have a distinctive "D" shape, crimped on one side (never on top); the filling should be "chunky" (minced or roughly cut chunks of beef – representing no less than 12.5% of the content); add potato, swede (in Cornwall, some of us call it turnip), onion and a light seasoning, packed into a pastry case ("golden in colour, savoury, glazed with milk or egg and robust enough to retain its shape") and slowly baked.

Sounds lovely and I’m sure there’s a few black and white flags waving but, in truth, it’s just protectionism. It’s just a fix to protect one set of folk who make something from other sets of folk who might make that something. And, worse still, it’s arbitrary – Melton Mowbray Pies get protection despite, like the Cornish pasty, that pie just being a recipe, a variation to a pie of no greater merit than any other pie.

I could wander through the utter nonsense that is EU protection of geography – a world where one product is protected while another isn’t, where we can’t call fizzy wine champagne unless it comes from Champagne but where anyone can make Cheddar or Wensleydale. These are recipes, methods, approaches to the making of something and no more deserve special protection than any other technique.

Take this to its logical conclusion and Yorkshire Puddings could only be made and sold in the ‘Broad Acres’ and Lamb scouse will be something only saleable in Liverpool. What matters isn’t the precise location of manufacturer but the quality of the food being made – all PGIs do is grant a license to certain producers, they give no indication of quality.

I like food and seek out ‘authenticity’ but I don’t think that this authenticity merits protection under the law. Nobody is fooled into thinking a Cornish pasty is always made in Cornwall any more than we believe all the Eccles cakes come from Eccles or Lincolnshire sausages from Lincolnshire. This is simply protection – and arbitrary, selective protection at that.

I’m sure that Ginsters – that massive Cornish maker of food for petrol stations – will be delighted. Indeed, I might try and buys some shares – the EU has just given a big boost to their profits after all!