What A Mess

The recent General Election in the UK has created an even bigger political mess …

The unadulterated arrogance and pigheadedness of Prime Minister Theresa May was the sole reason for her calling an election as she wanted to increase her parliamentary majority in order to achieve her ambitions regarding the UK withdrawal from the European Union.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, things did not go according to plan. There was a major upsurge in the younger vote, the vast majority supporting the opposition Labour Party, with the end result being a hung parliament. Rather than increase her majority, Mrs May lost seats and is now clinging on to power by her fingertips. Whilst her party holds the greatest number of parliamentary seats, the number is critically low meaning that key policies could be voted down if members of her own party rebel. In order to try and alleviate this, the Prime Minister is trying to negotiate a pact with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, but even if this debatable unconstitutional alliance goes ahead, her government could still face defeat on key measures.

Many aspects of the Conservative Party election manifesto have been abandoned. Whilst most of these were highly controversial, it illustrates that the government has already made major U-turns on policy and, therefore, cannot be trusted. The main focus of the government will now be on Brexit, the name given to the country’s withdrawal from the EU. Even within her own ranks, Mrs May is facing opposition to her dictatorial policies and rumours abound that there could be another leadership contest before too long. Sadly, most potential candidates would likely be even worse than the current incumbent, but inevitably any change will rock the party and almost certainly lead to yet another general election way prior to the projected end of this government in 2022.

It is extremely ironic that throughout the election campaign, Mrs May promised the electorate a ‘strong and stable’ government. In fact, she quoted the phrase so many times that she appeared more like an automaton than a human being. Needless to say, the government is anything but strong or stable, and more closely resembles a weak and wobbly administration drifting in an ocean without rudders. Whilst Brexit talks have only just begun with the EU Parliament, it’s too early to project what the final outcome will be, although it’s difficult to imagine that Mrs May will get all her own way.

There are interesting, albeit worrying, times ahead, both for people living within the United Kingdom and its citizens living in other EU member staes.

Britain In Reverse

After candidates were reduced to two contenders in the Conservative Party leadership race, the underdog Andrea Leadsom suddenly pulls out, leaving just one person to inherit the reins and become Prime Minister by default.

It was generally assumed that no successor to Prime Minister David Cameron would be in place before September 2016 at the earliest but now everything has changed and Theresa May has moved into 10 Downing Street as the country’s second female premier. It is far too early to comment upon what she may or may not achieve in the coming months, but her track record is not encouraging and she comes across in a similar dogmatic fashion to the late Margaret Thatcher. Some people will remember that Thatcher ‘was not for turning’ when it came to policy decisions although she is famous for doing a complete u-turn on the issue of the Community Charge or Poll Tax as it was more readily known. In the same vein, May has already stated that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ so it would appear that she is determined to bring the UK out of the European Union despite having campaigned for the country to remain a member.

There is little doubt that Theresa May is a strong character, and in that respect, may be beneficial to the party that she leads. One cannot help drawing comparisons with Thatcher despite the fact that it’s 26 years since she was toppled from her position. May comes across as very determined, at times fixated, on the issues at hand. She has spent the last six years as Home Secretary with a focus on immigration and the controversial streamlining of the country’s police forces. Now, as unelected leader, she has rejected an early election, despite being extremely vociferous in demanding one when Gordon Brown took over from his predecessor, Tony Blair. The last three weeks since the referendum have been a rollercoaster and the electorate seem more divided than ever so it remains to be seen how accepting they will be of a new Prime Minister who was not only on the losing side in the referendum, but won the job without a contest to validate her ascent.

So what can the country expect from Theresa May? She has promised to build a “better Britain” and to make the UK’s exit from the EU a “success” whatever that means in common parlance. Her leadership bid was based on the need for “strong, proven leadership”, a “positive vision” for the country’s future, and the ability to unite both her party and the country. She has stated that she has a vision of a country that works not for the privileged few, but for everyone, and people are going to be given more control over their lives, thereby building a better Britain. It’s rather ironic, then, that once Brexit is all done and dusted, an important control of one’s life will have been removed … namely the ability to live and work almost anywhere within Europe!

 

The daughter of a priest, May is driven by high moral standards as evidenced by her attacks on police corruption, demanding an inquiry into institutional child abuse, and overruling civil service advice. In her leadership campaign speeches, she implied a moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. Given the reputation of the Tory party to line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor in society, this approach remains to be seen. As the well known proverb states, a leopard can’t change its spots.

Irrespective of what she may or may not achieve, it seems highly likely that the UK will be under Tory rule for the next four years under the terms of the Fixed Period governments. With so much uncertainty and doubt following the referendum result, it is inconceivable that the country will make much progress but more likely be in reverse. For all its faults, the EU is forward-thinking, progressive and beneficial to its members, albeit more favourable to some than others, but that is the nature of different economies. The UK has been a strong player within the EU in over 40 years of membership, and so much has been achieved through active participation and dialogue with neighbouring countries. It now faces considerable isolation and an economic battle to try and regain favour in the wider world. This is likely to take many years, way beyond the foreseeable tenure of Therea May. How much she can achieve in the next four years remains to be seen.

More Britain In The 1970s

Trends in the decade …

As people yearned to get on the housing ladder, they also yearned for the latest furnishings and gadgets of the time. This was despite the fact that most people could not afford all the so-called luxury items becoming available but help was at hand in the form of the trusted credit card and as mentioned in the first part of this review, the decade saw a dramatic rise in debt. This was coupled with rampant inflation but the credit card was seen as a means of obtaining things at any cost.

The furnishings of the time were hardly going to stand out as design masterpieces or even stand the test of time. It was the beginning of the throwaway era which, sadly, is all too commonplace nowadays. Products were no longer being built to last generations but simply to last a few years in the anticipation that people would return to buy new replacements. One of the most expensive items adorning many people’s homes was the colour television, something that, in the UK, had only been around since 1969 and still commanded a premium price. Anyone reading who is old enough to remember early colour broadcasts will recall either garish resolutions or rather washy images. It seemed almost impossible to obtain a clearly defined picture on the screen, with some makes of tv displaying colours running into each other. Whilst my home did not benefit from colour television until 1974, I remember watching the investiture of Prince Charles at Caernarfon Castle on 1 July 1969, courtesy of a neighbour who had one of the first colour tv sets available. A snippet of the investiture can be found on YouTube which shows just how poor the pictures were compared with today!

The all-in-one compact music players of today, albeit now in rapid decline, were but a dream. Many people had fairly cumbersome gramophone players but the first combined record player, radio and cassette player was just around the corner. This was a decade long before the advent of the compact disc and even cassette tapes were relatively new, an innovation from Philips in the Netherlands. This company also introduced the boombox or ghetto blaster as it was affectionately known. This was essentially a portable device which fused the booming sound of home stereo systems with the convenience of cassette players … all in a small, black but heavy box. The youth of the era could be found roaming the streets with these heavy boxes held up to their heads! As the demand for deeper and louder base increased, so did the size of the ghetto blaster, rendering it almost anything but portable.

Although the first commercially available microwave oven was available as far back as 1947, the item we know today did not really enter domestic markets until the 1970s. Yet again, a microwave was an expensive luxury and actually took considerable time to be adopted as an everyday utensil.  Telephones were still connected by fixed wires to the exchange box inside houses so there was none of the hands-free portability we use today. All phones were the property of British Telecom so the availability of choice was very limited. In fact, the plug-in sockets in use today were only introduced in November 1981!

So what makes of car were people driving? Some of the current big names were obviously around such as Ford and Vauxhall (GM to overseas readers), but modern giants such as Volkswagen only had a limited share of the market. Other marques included Rootes Group products and those from the Austin Rover Group which was formerly British Leyland. Japanese manufacturers were only just beginning to make inroads into the UK domestic market so their popularity was yet to gain momentum. Top sellers of the decade based upon registrations were the Cortina, Escort, Capri and Granada from Ford, the Viva from Vauxhall, the Mini, Marina, Allegro and 1100/1300 range from Austin Rover, and the Avenger from Hillman, part of the Rootes Group. Looking back, many of these vehicles were extremely unreliable and badly made. Compared with the cars of today, most were only equipped with so-called basic levels of comfort.

Tobacco consumption was still very high and in 1971 the government introduced the first printed warning message on the left side of cigarette packets: “WARNING by H.M. Government, SMOKING CAN DAMAGE YOUR HEALTH”. Over time, this began to have an impact and consumption has declined considerably since these first warnings. Nowadays, the warnings are far greater with graphic illustrations of what damage smoking can actually cause. Diametrically opposite this, people were beginning to adopt new eating habits and yoghurts became much more popular in the 1970s. We were still a nation of beer drinkers although lager was adopted by many younger adults. The consumption of wine, however, was low due mainly to an absence of choice and our insulation as an island. In other areas, sales of the tea bag escalated and duvets or continental quilts became the must-have for the bedroom. People began to embrace new technology, albeit on a far lower scale than today, as pocket calculators and digital watches swamped the market place.

The 1970s were certainly a decade of change and new ideas although technological advancements were very much in their infancy. The most compact camera one could use was the Instamatic from Kodak and users of modern day photo-editing apps will see just how poor images actually were. Televisions didn’t come with remote control so one actually had to exercise simply to change the tv channel. On the subject of channels, there were just three to watch … BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. Even Channel 4 was not around as this was launched in November 1982. BBC local radio started as an experiment in the late 1960s but did not expand until the early 1970s at which point Independent Local Radio was also granted licences to broadcast. Despite some of the advances in the decade, it was a time of economic strife and Britain’s position amongst world powers diminished. Some things really don’t change …!

Britain In The 1970s

A decade that is both derided and revered …

Despite all the bad things to be revealed about life in Britain during the 1970s, statistics actually show that living standards were at their best levels for most ordinary families in the decade. This is despite the fact that the years were very difficult for the country, both economically and politically. So what exactly happened in this period? It was a decade which saw four Prime Ministers, industrial unrest, horrendous IRA bombings, dubious fashion styles, a mixture of successful and disastrous motor cars, not to mention the coloured bathroom suites!

After years of Socialist rule, the Conservatives were returned to power under their new leadership of Edward Heath. Like all politicians, he made laughable promises that would effectively reinvent the wheel. This was at a time when Britain was resting on its laurels and enjoying post-war affluence, oblivious to the fact that other nations were becoming both more competitive and innovative. It was Edward Heath who sealed the UK membership of what was then the Common Market of Europe, but he would also reign supreme over a financial crash, a miner’s strike and an ensuing energy crisis. Amidst all this, more people were becoming home owners as lending rules were relaxed. New suburban homes were springing up offering the latest in modern design and that ubiquitous choice of coloured bathroom suite. How many readers will be familiar with the pink and lemon suites, not to mention the then popular avocado?

As is the trend in a buoyant building period, people were also splashing out on trendy 70s-style furnishings. Top of the list was a colour television, which although introduced in the late 1960s, was still very much a luxury item. Popular tv shows included Dad’s Army, The Liver Birds, Pebble Mill At One, and Love Thy Neighbour. Surprisingly, familiar titles such as Coronation Street, Emmerdale, A Question Of Sport, and MasterMind still dominate our schedules nearly 40 years on! It was a time when normal working-class people could afford a few luxuries and the latest trend in toys for their children. How many remember the Raleigh Chopper bicycle and the ludicrous space hopper?

Another trend to take off in the 1970s was the package holiday abroad. The number of people flying off to Spain or similar increased by a staggering 200% as a fortnight in the sun became affordable to the masses. This did nothing for the domestic economy which was already suffering as a result of non-competitiveness. The decade also saw the Silver Jubilee of HM The Queen in 1977 and way back in February 1971,  our currency was finally decimalised. Gone were the 240 old pennies to the pound, to be replaced by 100 new pennies to the pound. Inevitably, people were suspicious that prices would rise as a result but in truth this was not generally the case although high inflation would soon contribute to higher prices.

In order to try and combat inflation, Edward Heath introduced a stringent incomes policy leading to a devastating miners’ strike. He went to the country in 1974 and lost the election to the former Labour PM Harold Wilson who managed to get the country back to work but inflation reached a staggering 30% and unemployment peaked at over a million. Eventually he resigned his leadership of his party and was succeeded by James Callaghan who failed to get unions to limit pay increases to 5% resulting in yet another bout of crippling strikes … the period from 1978-79 now known as The Winter of Discontent. Such was the state of the country at the time that more people actually emigrated than entered the country. Even Callaghan had previously voiced disdain at the state of our nation with our dominance in the world shrinking and the country lacking economic strength. Not surprisingly, the 1979 election returned power to the Conservative party under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher who became the first, and to date, only woman Prime Minister of Britain. This was to herald a new era and decade, itself renowned for many dubious and life-affecting changes.

So the 1970s was a period of great political instability here in Britain. We had major union uprising, long power cuts and reduced working weeks, diabolical destruction of innocent lives, a huge surge in credit card debt as people were tempted by the latest household products, absurd fashion sense … the mini skirt, flared trousers, platform-soled shoes … and without doubt a major decline in moral standards, However, despite everything, some people look back on the decade with a weird affection. This will undoubtedly be the reaction of many no matter which is their defining decade.

A second article will look more closely at some of the other changes in the decade.

Not-so-Great Britain

Some thoughts on the recent riots, looting and arson across much of England.

“We are reaping what has been sown over the last three decades of creating a grotesquely unequal society with an ethos of grab as much as you can by any means. A society of looters created with MPs and their expenses, bankers and their bonuses, tax-evading corporations, hacking journalists, bribe-taking police officers, and now a group of alienated kids are seizing their chance” John McDonnell MP speaking on 9 August 2011.

This effectively sums up the situation with the moral decay of our society being as bad at the top of the social spectrum as the bottom. No decent person would condone the actions of the past week as the actions perpetrated by looters and arsonists was both criminal and despicable. They have shown total disrespect for authority and for the lives of the innocent people who have had their livelihoods either tarnished or ruined by their acts of destruction.

Parliament was recalled from its summer recess for an emergency debate on the crisis situation and almost unanimously MPs denounced the actions as being totally alien and unacceptable to society. Sadly, however, they were quick to criticise sections of society and third class neighbourhoods and suggest that these people were entirely to blame. Of course, there is an element of truth in that, as many offenders live in rundown communities and see little hope of a rewarding life ahead of them. Furthermore, it is highly likely that some of the looters come from fragmented family units, many without a father figure, a person who will more likely help instil discipline in the household.

Perhaps our MPs should be looking a little closer to home before castigating other members of society. Many of our politicians come from wealthy backgrounds and know little of the reality of living in today’s world. In the last couple of years, we have witnessed the expenses scandal which revealed that numerous privileged parliamentary members have screwed the country by falsifying claims. How can underprivileged people be expected to behave impeccably when our elitist government and opposition lie and cheat? These people are witnessing a culture of selfishness and greed surrounded by ever-falling moral standards.

Let’s take a look at the world around these looters and rioters. They are being told what to do by law breakers. Constant media advertising suggests that their lives are meaningless without the latest must-have gadget. They witness corruption in our police forces. Huge 4×4 vehicles driven by the vulgar rich threaten to mow them down if they don’t get out of their way. Footballers and A-list celebrities flaunt their wealth, most of it gained from their exploitation of ordinary men and women. Then there is the banking fiasco! In essence, the world before them says that success depends upon money and greed. What sort of morals are these to be influencing today’s society?

a symbol of despair

The actions of these rioters must be seen in perspective. They are a minority of society who have either chosen or been influenced through peer pressure to ignore the law and follow the example of short-term greed as promoted by successive elitist governments. It was encouraging to see so many more young people turning out to help clear up after the riots, compared with the numbers actually involved in the fracas. Sadly, not everyone can react in the same way, and society and government needs to address this problem.

Political correctness is now beyond a joke. Parents need to be allowed to use reasonable force to discipline their children. Schools need the cane as a meaningful deterrent to unruly and disrespectful behaviour. I grew up in an era where the cane was used quite regualrly. It did me no harm at all and made me a stronger and law-abiding individual. Furthermore, we need to see effective punishment handed out for crimes and to bring to an early end this nanny state syndrome which now pervades! Perhaps conscription or something similar should be reintroduced.

There are many theories being banded about as to what caused the riots in the first place. Some suggest it was the shooting of a man, believed to be armed, in Tottenham, and what started as a protest simply escalated across many towns and cities. Many of the looters were young teenagers so why weren’t they safely in the charge of their parents? Undoubtedly the ineffective police tactics deployed on the first two nights were a catalyst to subsequent disturbances.

This moral decline of what was once Great Britain has been in the making for over a quarter of a century. Capitalism and greed has been king with the social divide between rich and poor becoming ever wider. Of course people should be rewarded for their hard work and commitment but it should also be acknowledged that many people do not have the same advantages or lucky breaks through no fault of their own. A fairer distribution of wealth should be a priority of government, with an escalating taxation system rather than fixed cut-off points, and a realistic living minimum wage introduced. Depressed inner-city areas should be redevloped instead of green belt land being commisioned for building so that the heart of city communities can be re-established.

Britain isn’t yet broken but it’s moral fabric is certainly crumbling. Fortunately the vast number of people in our country are honest and decent human beings and live their lives in accordance with the law. Perhaps we should all unite and show our politicians, the Sloane Square chavs and the minority of misguided youth how to live a life based on morals rather than greed.

Lost In A Lost World

This is a song written by Mike Pinder, formerly of The Moody Blues. Essentially it is a protest about tyrannical governments but to me it also relates to recent events witnessed here in the UK!

I woke up today, I was crying, lost in a lost world.
So many people are dying, lost in a lost world.
Some of them are living an illusion,
Bounded by the darkness of their minds.
In their eyes it’s nation against nation against nation,
With racial pride.
Sad hearts they hide
Thinking only of themselves,
They shun the light, they think they’re right,
Living in their empty shells.

Oh, can you see their world is crashing
Crashing down around their feet and angry people in the street,
Are telling them they’ve had their fill of politics that wound and kill
Grow, the seeds of evolution
Revolution never won it’s just another form of gun
To do again what they have done
With all our brothers, youngest sons.

Everywhere you go you’ll see them searching
Everywhere you turn you’ll feel the pain
Everyone is looking for the answer
Well look again.
Come on my friend, love will find them in the end
Come on my friend, we’ve got to bend
On our knees and say a prayer.

Oh, can you feel the world is pining
Pining for someone who really cares
Enough to share his love,
With all of us so we can be an ever loving family.
Oh, have you forgotten we’re all children
Children from a family tree that’s longer than a centipede
And started long ago when you and I
Were only love…

I woke up today, I was crying, lost in a lost world,
So many people are dying, lost in a lost world.
So many people, so many people, people lost in a lost world
So many people, so many people, people lost in a lost world

Unfortunately the video used has now been removed from YouTube

A Pigging Dilemma

A light-hearted view on the nonsense of agricultural grants and Government bureaucracy!

Dear Secretary of State

My friend, who is currently farming, recently received a cheque for £3000 from the Rural Payments Agency for not rearing pigs. I would now like to join the ‘not rearing pigs’ business.

IPiggy 2n your opinion, what is the best kind of farm on which not to rear pigs, and what is the best breed of pigs not to rear? I want to be sure I approach this endeavour in keeping with all government policies, as dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy.

I would prefer not to rear bacon pigs, but if this is not the type you want not rearing, I will just as gladly not rear porkers. Are there any advantages in not rearing rare breeds such as Saddlebacks or Gloucester Old Spots, or are there too many people already not rearing these? As I see it, the hardest part of this programme will be keeping an accurate record of how many pigs I haven’t reared. Are there any Government or Local Authority courses on this? My friend is very satisfied with this business. He had been rearing pigs for forty years or so, and the most he ever made on them was £1422 in 1973. That is, until this year… when he received a cheque for not rearing any.

Piggy 1If I get £3000 for not rearing fifty pigs, will I get £6000 for not rearing a hundred? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, restricting the business to about 4000 pigs not raised, which will mean about £240,000 for the first year. As I become more expert in not rearing pigs, I plan to be more ambitious, perhaps increasing to about 40,000 pigs not reared in my second year, for which I should expect about £2.4m from your department. Incidentally, I wonder if I would be eligible to receive tradable carbon credits for all these pigs not producing harmful and polluting methane gas?  Another point: these pigs that I plan not to rear will not eat 2000 tonnes of cereals. I understand that you also pay farmers for not growing crops. Will I qualify for payments for not growing cereals to not feed the pigs I don’t rear?

I am also considering the ‘not milking cows’ business, so please send any information you have on that too. In view of the above, you will realise that I will be totally unemployed, and will therefore qualify for unemployment benefits.

I shall, of course, be voting for your party at the next general election!

Yours truly

A FARMER