Monthly Archives: May 2015


Last night, Gaynor, Ellie and I sat down to watch “Made in Dagenham”, another of those lovely films that describes how “ordinary” people stood up to be counted and made a real difference. In this case, the struggle for equal pay for women. Those women car seat makers, at Ford’s in Dagenham, even managed to get this enacted into law over 40 years ago. Although, it has to be said, the struggle still goes on.

As I sat down in front of the computer this morning, the attitudes displayed in the film brought to mind an article in “The Guardian” on Wednesday on number plates that feature on the DVLA “suppressed” list. According to the report, this came to light after a “Mr Islam” was told that his surname, rendered as 15LAM, was deemed “inappropriate” whereas KR15HNA wasn’t, although JE55US and AL14LAH also were. Revealingly, PEN15 was “released” some years ago (an interesting concept that) whereas VA61ANA wasn’t allowed. This latter I find particularly revealing of attitudes towards matters of sexuality. Which leads me onto my final observation.

Now, what people do with their money is, largely, their concern provided that it isn’t directly harmful to others. However, I have to say that sometimes wealth seems to like being shouted about in a way that I find, somewhat, crass. Driving up to Derbyshire last weekend, we were overtaken by a car with the personalised number plate, HI8TAXES. Interestingly, it was a Bentley. It said so much about the flaunting of wealth today. Maybe, however, it was always so. Personally, I believe, like President Obama and, I suspect, millions of others, that a better measurement of our worth, than how much we earn, is how much we help others.

Does the Attraction of Opposites Hide what’s Beneath the Surface?

My wife and I appear to be opposites. One can be somewhat outspoken, loud and opinionated who doesn’t hide their feelings. The other tends towards the opposite end of the spectrum, (I leave you to guess which is which). However dig a little deeper and you will see a great deal that makes the relationship work. In fact, what I now recognise, is a bond between us.

Not that the other relationships for me, at least, didn’t have some bonds but that they were more to do with physical attraction than, probably, anything else. This was reflected in a joke I used to make, which was that Gaynor and I would have to go our separate ways before too long as I’d never had a relationship with anyone of her age. The joke was she is considerably younger than I am. Well we are now growing older (not old you will notice) together and it’s something I take great pleasure in; probably because I never expected that to happen with anyone. If you should want to understand the feeling it’s in a song by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, “Feels Like Home to Me”. It has the ability to open the tear ducts.

Yet what is it that’s just below the surface? The glue that holds us together, in fact. Well the love is based on things that I never allowed myself to look at or listen to previously. It’s not fleeting and, somewhat, physical as my relationships tended to be in the past, although it has its moments. I, the noisy one, who tended to ride roughshod over others’ feelings, have learnt to listen to this quiet one whose actions can convey more than her words. She may do very good Buster Keaton expressions but, if you stop and listen, there is an enormous amount of feeling there. About injustice (this, a quiet rage, in fact), a concern for others, especially those less fortunate, a determination to do the right thing irrespective of the personal cost, a love of family and a whole lot more besides.

Over the past couple of years when I’ve been trying to build a new career, it has, largely, been her income as a teacher that has kept us afloat. Well, that may be about to change; he said, with fingers crossed, not counting his chickens and holding tightly onto a large piece of wood. Gaynor has been thinking about changing her own career again (yes, we have that in common too), and started studying for an RHS Diploma in Horticulture. We both kept our eyes and ears open for other jobs and she has now been shortlisted for one. I won’t say which as they would be stretching our luck too far. What I will say is that it’s in just the sort of community and environmental work that has been the best part of my own working life. So, it appears that we also have that in common. Whatever the outcome, it may be that the die has been cast.

So, scratch the skin of opposites and you may find that they have a lot more in common than you imagined.

So Socialists Don’t Have Aspirations?

Most of us, I believe, carry in our heads perceptions of the world as we see it, either generally or specifically; some of which are, somewhat, at odds with reality. It’s often how we cope in a harsh environment. I know that it is with me. Some of us even need to, at least, attempt to create their realities; what I call “little bits of Wonderland”. For my sins, I have been very lucky in my life to have succeeded in doing just that. With, of course, a great deal of help from others. Moreover, these projects are all still there, many years later. It is, if nothing else, an extremely satisfying way to demonstrate to others that things can be different. Our economic system doesn’t have to use greed and avarice as its motivating forces. In fact, it’s a, somewhat, demeaning view of humanity to think that all we think of is ourselves. I believe that most of us don’t. To demonstrate the alternatives also doesn’t take a great deal. Just a little vision, effort and perseverance. So when it comes to “walking that walk”, I like to think that I’ve done it, albeit on a small scale. These projects all used, as their foundations, the positive qualities that I see in humanity. Moreover, most of these involved people on the receiving end in society being helped to tackle their own problems. That they were very successful in their endeavours is without doubt.

So I get, somewhat, disenchanted when I hear or read of those who misrepresent the views of others, who they have little or no knowledge of, in order to promulgate their own, somewhat, distorted view of others. The latest of these is the view that those on the left don’t aspire. The aim, of course, being that, if you repeat such nonsense, it will eventually frame the perceptions of others and undermine opposing views. And that is what, I believe, is now taking place. Evidently Ed Miliband didn’t shout that those on the left have aspirations, despite the fact that he was a demonstration of both of these. Well, maybe he didn’t. Maybe he took that for granted, as I and all my left leaning friends do. How can you not aspire, especially if you have children? Besides, do none of them study the history of their own country? Do they not realise that those early socialist pioneers were autodidacts who practiced what they preached, ie the creed of mutual self help? The point at issue here is an important one which is that it’s not about enterprise, making a profit or any of the other mantra’s that we hear. It’s about who manages the first of these and what you do with the second. At which point, I would refer you, once again, to my first book, “The Real Big Society and My Part in It”.

So, if it needs us on the left to shout about aspiration, let’s do it. The reality is that it’s always been central to our vision for those who cared to listen.

The World is Still Turning

One week on and the world is still turning. That may be the way some of us, myself included, come to terms with what has happened. When I was a child, I experienced more than my fair share of separation and upheaval and dealt with this (and still do) by thinking that the moment I left someone I loved or somewhere I was happy, it’ was actually one second nearer to being reunited. I deal with governments in similar fashion; that is, I get on with the rest of my life, reasonably confident that I can deal with whatever life throws at me. After all, I’ve always done that in the past. Surely, though they can’t be as incompetent, stupid and nasty as they have been up till now. Well, don’t bet on it. Living in a bubble for most of your lives can have a strange effect. It’s called “group think” and is reflected in the way in which those in power, for example, reinforce one another’s views. Another way to describe the situation is that fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

So, what’s this got to do with now? Well, one particular person (yes it’s you, Big Dave) seems to spend much of his time rewriting history and making promises on the hoof. I use euphemisms, of course. Now the problem with this behaviour is that, when you find yourself in a position in which you have no one else to blame anymore, you may have to deliver on these promises. In addition, when you stay around for longer, you become the history that you’re trying to rewrite. Provided, that is, that you stay the course. So here’s a little scenario. A government with a small majority holds a referendum on Europe which results in a vote for leaving. I can’t imagine those in the business worlds being very happy with that outcome. A tired PM then decides to set in motion the procedure for his “staying till the end” which, in reality means giving his successor time to plan for that succession. The alternative is that voters actually opt to stay in Europe. The right wing of the party will be less than happy with this and we have a rerun of the Major years. A tired PM decides he’s had enough anyway and sets the same procedure in motion as for Plan A. We now, of course, have the successor that many on the right want, not only as an MP but actually with a seat at the Cabinet table. Folks, it could get a whole lot worse. For those who think he’s good for a laugh, please read his biography. Anyway, to rephrase the slogan that was around when the Eisenhower elections took place in the US. “Sam Sneed for President. After all if you’re going to have a golfer, you might as well have a good one”. For “golfer”, of course, read “clown”

Interestingly (and I think I heard it correctly on the radio last week) someone was discussing the responses they got on the doorstep while canvassing in Scotland. It seems that many people didn’t vote SNP just because it stood for independence but as an expression of its more left leaning agenda. Courage, mes amies. If you’re going to lose, you may as well go down fighting for what you believe in. You also might not lose in the first place. Whatever, you will have tried.

A Fairer Society

The mantra for today is “A Fairer Society”. Well, Mr Cameron, the ball is well and truly, as they say, “in your court”. To quote from your speech on immigration five years ago, “No ifs, no buts”. So what does that fairer society comprise and how do you start to create it?

Firstly, though, what is it? Well, it’s one in which, to use a religious expression, “we are all equal in the sight of god”. Yes I know, heresy for someone with my views on religion but, in essence, none the less, true.  It is one in which we should all be able to develop our abilities and talents irrespective of the scale of our parents’ wealth. From what I’ve read, talent is fairly evenly distributed throughout society whereas the resources to foster and develop it aren’t. That redistribution will be a massive task but one that is central to the issue.

Importantly, there needs to be an explicit recognition of that which is implicit in your statement; which is that what we have now is manifestly unfair. In addition, in your five years in government so far, you have made that situation considerably worse. I read an article in The Guardian recently in which the journalist made a comment to the effect that you genuinely believe that, if it is good for those at the top, it is good for everyone. Well, that was always nonsense as the last five years have amply demonstrated.

These things are also not just important in their own right. If our country is to prosper in this, increasingly global, commercial environment, we must surely address that issue as a matter of some urgency. Of direct relevance, for example, is why we subsidise private schools, which, for some reason, we call public ones, to the tune of £700m per year?  We might as well subsidise five-star hotels. They’re both the preserve of a small, privileged elite. The difference being that five-star hotels don’t shore up a centuries old system of institutionalised inequality. Oh, and before you say that that’s the politics of envy, it’s not. It’s that of a fairer distribution of resources as the bedrock of that fairer society.

I could go on and on. However, I would make a practical suggestion. Before the last election, you will, no doubt, have read Jesse Norman’s book, “The Big Society”. Might I suggest that you do the same with my own, “The Real Big Society”? Readily available on Amazon, it describes that society with it historic precedents and current, practical examples.

Happy reading.

My New Jerusalem

Probably the best I had was my fingers crossed while, just once or twice, thinking that it just might happen. Well, it was quite the opposite. Yet even in the wreckage, I see signs of what might be.

It appears that Scotland decided to ditch “socialism lite” and go more for the real deal with a resounding and joyous shout. Wales remains, largely,  Labour and does much of the Capital. In response our Prime Minister talks about one nation. Did I hear echoes of the “Big Society” here; whatever happened to that? In my view, one nation shouldn’t be a comfort blanket that those who govern us use to cover the fault lines but about how people really feel about what we all have in common, what unites us. One nation has to be about us all being in it together and where have I heard that before? In this I am reminded of those things that featured in that amazing opening ceremony at the London Olympics of 2012; some of the foundations of which may well be dismantled with even greater cuts planned over the next five years.

Well, this morning the UK is a place where the fracture lines have been well and truly exposed. In addition, it now appears that much of the new government’s time and effort over the next 18 months will be taken up with a referendum over our EU membership with the ensuing uncertainty that that will create for business; while the next five years will see even more stringent cuts and greater austerity. Where is hope and optimism especially for our young people who have their whole lives in front of them?

Well, nothing is inevitable so let me say what I would like to see, which is a government that thinks it has a more active role to play in our society than just dismantling its foundations. I want one which recognises that, just as we as individuals try to move seamlessly from day to day, planning as best we can, so should governments. They need to have a clear view of the world as they see it based on more than just market forces and “Blow you, Jack, I’m all right”. The market, after all, is a guide not a god.

This plan needs to be based on a decent education system that helps our all young people to develop the “vast amount of untapped talent” that Jesse Norman described in his book “The Big Society”. It needs to have a comprehensive system for health and social care, a decent and co-ordinated transport system, a living wage (surely not too much to ask for in the seventh richest economy in the world). Above all, these should not be based on the ability to pay. That’s, surely, what we pay taxes for. You don’t, after all, choose to have a disability.

So, this morning, as I survey the wreckage, I still see my New Jerusalem. Fortunately, for me, that light shines even in the darkest of times. Hope, as they say, springs eternal. You just have to keep going. It’s funny but just writing this has helped me to do just that.

Carpe Diem.

Last Blog before the Election

Like, I hope, most people, I hate being lied to. The truth matters. Yet I accept that things are not always as they seem. However, there are some lies that need to be nailed, especially when decisions will shortly be made over who will form the next government. Now I know that popular opinion is that overspending by the last Labour government is to blame for the financial crisis of 2008; whereas I had understood it at the time to be a banking crisis. Now you could argue, as I might, that the, then, government should have regulated the banks more. Unfortunately for the major party of the coalition, as I understand it, at the time it was arguing for less regulation. So it was interesting to read in today’s paper that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, has said that “The 2008 crisis was a banking crisis, pure and simple”. It is useful to have that on the record before people go out to vote on Thursday.

A second report in the same newspaper reviews the Conservative party’s mantra that the government’s long term economic plan is working with such rebuttals as:

The slowest recovery from recession in 100 years

A deficit that has been halved over the last five years when the plan was to eliminate it completely

House building is at its lowest since the 1920’s

Manufacturing and construction are operating below pre recession levels

Homelessness is up by one third

There has been the first fall in living standards, over a five year period, since modern records began in 1960

More than 900,000 people rely on food banks, a 15 fold increase since the last election

Now I realise that I am either preaching to the converted or to those who won’t be converted by these arguments anyway. What I would ask for, though, is that you vote on the basis of what has actually happened and not on the basis of propaganda. And that you apply that to all parties equally. If you then vote with your heart, as many do, you will at least have done so knowing that it is your heart and not that you have been persuaded by, shall we politely say, inaccuracies.

So, please go out and vote. Our future shouldn’t be decided by apathy.


Some Thoughts before Election Day and Other Things

Blogs aren’t normally things I prepare for in advance (Yes, I know, it shows). I write about whatever is on my mind at the time. So, what is it to be today? Well, a number of things both in the wider world and personally.

In a week’s time, we will know the result of the general election; probably one of the most significant in my lifetime. Now, at this point, I could go on about how much I dislike this government but, although it might make me feel better, it wouldn’t persuade anyone else of anything.  So what I would do is urge people to vote even if it’s just to spoil your ballot paper. It may be an inconvenience when you feel that you have better things to do, but writing “Bollocks to all of you” is, surely, a better response than apathy. Contrary to popular opinion, politicians do take some notice and a newspaper headline that read “TURNOUT  100% with a sub heading of Conservatives 15%, Labour 15%, Lib Dems 2%, Others 3% and the aforementioned “Bollocks” 65%” would give none of the parties legitimacy. It may also (and this is important) cause them to reconsider and actually, get them to tell you what they really plan to do. I know but I can dream, can’t I?

On that specific point, how any party can say that it plans to have another £12bn of cuts but that it will not tell you what these are until AFTER the election, is beyond satire. In fact, it’s treating us all with particular contempt. So, unless you don’t care or feel that it won’t make much difference, that party really shouldn’t be one of your voting preferences. As for the whole austerity rationale, I suggest that you read an excellent article in The Guardian on Wednesday by Paul Krugman. Under the headline, “The Austerity Delusion” it carries a subtitle, “The Case for Cuts was a Lie”. Read it before you vote and, if you do vote for such swingeing cuts, please don’t complain in my presence afterwards.

As for the good news, well it’s to do with me personally and demonstrates that, thus far, I have always managed to survive what life has thrown at me. Hopefully I will continue to do so. With the previous cuts that came with the heralding of the fiasco that was the “Big Society”, my voluntary sector work dried up. On the positive side it made me publish my first two books and try to build a career in writing and public speaking, the latter of the inspirational kind. It has been a long and slow process but may just be starting to reap dividends. I have been asked to give a talk at a conference in London next week and, yesterday, got a wonderful plug on Radio Horton to which many thanks are due. I am also about to start work with two voluntary organisation for which I will be paid!

The really important part, however, has been the change in me with. It may just be that I am beginning to believe that it really is me who does all this. Steady, old boy, let’s not get too carried away.