Thursday, 20 February 2014

Churchill and Adolf

The hugely talented Pip Utton performed two of his one man shows as a charity fundraiser in Frome at the lovely Merlin Theatre.

Churchill is a brief run through he life of Winston Churchill.  As he complains, 100 word in a guide book is not enough to sum up someone who packed so much into 90 years of life.  An hour barely scratched the surface either.  The play is brilliantly performed, packed with detail and littered with some of Churchill's famous and not so famous witty comments - as well as a few topical jokes.

The stage set up is small but effectively used, changing pace and feel.  The speech, after the battle of Britain was deeply moving.  I am in awe of Utton ability to transform himself into someone, capturing the mannerism, the gait, the voice, to remember and deliver lines in the right spot with the right gesture or tone of voice, or pause, all done without a slip.  Brilliant.

Adolf, after an interval was rather disturbing, no doubt it's intention.  After being harangued by Hitler with his imagined last testament, Utton continues the play as himself - trying to draw people into to accepting more and more of his views on life and politics.  Sounding like a UKIP supporter after a few pints, it is uncomfortable to listen to. The twist comes at the end, when he starts to morph back into Hitler and asks what will we the audience do when we hear the voice of Hitler - for in a sense he has never gone away.  I am not sure that this is enough.  I would hate to confront Hitler on a talk show or in a  debate.  There is no doubt Hitler was a brilliant orator and had a steamrolling charisma, in an utterly bad way.   99% of the play seems to put forward Hitlers case, of course it is not its intention to promote Hitler, just the opposite - but does it , I am not sure.

Most of us have seen film of Hitler on TV or actors playing the part, here though, he was recreated - yes it was in English, yes it was play but it is about a close to experiencing Hitler as one could wish to get. As Utton said at the start, speaking as Hitler, you wish I would go away, but I won't.  What I find most disturbing is that the debate in the UK at the moment is crowded with little Hitlers, not in the old sense of the words, the petty bureaucrat or parking metre attendant, but the people who hate people on benefits, who attack the disabled, who lump all Muslims together, how see the unemployed as worthless, who think people with mental illness should just pull themselves together, who think every problem can be solved by punishing people.  Yes, Hitler hasn't gone away. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The non-triumph of a by-election win

By-elections have a important role in the mythology of British Politics. Shock by-election wins - like the Liberal Winning at Orpington  in 1962 send earthquakes through the political parties.
Labour have and will try to make much of winning the by-elections held on 15th November 2012, but the reality is that they are dire results for all the political parties and

At least Labour won and their share of the votes cast is up - so a triumph.

The result from Cardiff South and Penarth was

Labour        17,262 now 9193
Conservative12,552 now 3,859
Lib Dem        9,875 now 2,103

Plaid Cymru   1,851 now 1,854
UKIP             1,145 now 1,179
Green                554 now 800
Christian Party   285 now 0

Socialist Labour     0 now 235
Communist Party 196 now 0

Although I could be posting the result from the latest by-election in Manchester - where Labour again 'won' but 70% of electors didn't bother to vote.  It ought to be a real wake up call for politicians of all parties, but more importantly, electors need to realise that not voting doesn't help. No politician has failed to take a seat because they were so embarrassed by low turn out.  Not voting makes it too easy for the bad politicians to win.  Tell them your not voting and they can stop canvassing you, stop leafleting you, stop paying you any attention what so ever. Russell Brand is a complete idiot with his call for people not to vote. People have different views - some method is needed too determine what si to be done - if anyone has a better system than voting, I'd like to know about it. As Churchill said democracy is the worse system, apart from all the others.  If you think democracy is bad, I recomend a year in Afganistan, or imbabwe or Syria or North Korea and see what you think then.

David Steel from rising hope to elder statesman

David Steel - Rising hope to Elder Statesman - by David Torrance iSBN 9781849541404

Cabinet Ministers reach the top, if they are lucky they hang around a bit, get resuffled and hope to do some good. Few are remembered even at the time, let alone years later.  There are exceptions, but even Prime Ministers come and go and fade from the memory.   So David Steel deserves at least recognition of having a  longer and more lasting impact on British politics than most others, without ever having 'reached the top'.

David Steel says he became a Liberal because he knew he wasn't Conservative and he wasn't Labour, so by elimination he became a Liberal. Positive commitment for Liberalism followed  as he listend to others more committed.

Several things are really striking for David Steels Liberalism

1. His willingness to work with people of other parties and none to put Liberal values into action. Notably on abortion reform, anti-aparthied campaigns, on the EU referendum in 1975, the Lib/Lab Pact of 1977-78 and in the creation of the SDP and the SDP/Liberal Alliance

2. His liberalism was rooted in people being nicer to each other. 

3. His willingness to stand up for what he believed, even if it was unpopular, e.g anti-aparthied,

David Steel will always be association with legalising abortion, the 1967 abortion Act.  Actually, abortion was already legal in some circumstances, but still 40 women a year died from illegal abortions.

Steel wanted to take the Liberals back into Government - his willingness to build links with Liberals in all parties is a skill sadly lacking in Nick Clegg.

A life on unemployment benefit ?

Unemployment stands at around 2,500,000
900,000 people have been out of work for over a year,
of these 467,000 – have been unemployed for over two years.
of these accord to Iain Duncan Smith 300,000 have been unemployed for over 3 years.

As you can see, the longer time goes on the fewer people remain unemployed.

If things continue at the same sort of rate,the number of people unemployed for 4 years or more will be
about 150,000,  at 5 years 100,000

So who exactly are the families that have had three generations without a job.Largely an urban myth or a number so extremely small it makes me wonder why we are so concerned about people who don't want a job when we seem unable to provide jobs for people who do.  And where does 3 generations take us back to.  A miner or steelworker or manufacturing worker who lost their job in 1980.

Cutting too far too fast

In 2010 Conservatiev Chancellor of the Exchequer  George Osborne said that "The formal mandate we set is that the structural current deficit should be in balance in the final year of the five-year forecast period, which is 2015-16 in this Budget." But he was going to go even faster: to eliminate the structural deficit in 2014-15. "Or to put it another way, we are on track to have debt falling and a balanced structural current budget by the end of this Parliament."

The contrast with Labour, who lacked "a credible plan to reduce their record deficit" was inescapable.

Which makes what happened next rather awkward. Not only did the Chancellor miss his target spectacularly – the ambition has now been deferred to the next Parliament – but deficit reduction has been slower than under the Alistair Darling plan he denounced as a "reckless gamble".
Mr Osborne wanted the deficit down to £60 billion by 2013-14; Mr Darling's timid plan only reduced it to £85 billion by 2013-14. According to the OBR's last report, the actual deficit will be £120 billion – twice as bad as the Chancellor planned.

Paddy Ashdown low point

Paddy Ashdown was having a difficult time, the social and liberal democrats had just come fourth in the Euro elections - whe asked if he was doing a good job leading the Lib Dems. his net ratings in the opinion polls were minus 26%.   Recently Nick Cleggs apporval rating have been net minus 58%. 

"Benefits Street"

The channel 4 programme benefits street will have delighted the makers with its high ratings (5 million for the 2nd episode) and it impact in newspapers and other media.

Questions have even been asked in Parliament,  sadly ones which say a lot about the poor level of debate in parliament.

Despite the name of the programme - no one is actually able to say how many people on the street get benefits or what those benefits are. A huge number of people get benefits - but strangely we have a weird debate in the country where some people who get benefits - child allowance, state pension, winter fuel allowance seem to think their benefits aren't benefits. 

Tax credits are another benefit. Arguably - lots of tax allowances are benefits. People can get many thousands of pounds in tax breaks.

What is very noticeable is that while there is some anger and some sympathy directed at some of the lead 'charecters' on benefits street, few people seem to want to swap places with them. Which is odd when you think about it - people are being wound up to feel jealous about people who they have no reason to be jealous of.  Would I want to be the alcoholic or the shoplifter who doesn't even try to conceal what he is doing but just grabs stuff and runs out the shop - and has as a consequence spent a long time in prison.  Does anyone think the boredom and drudgery of "a life on benefits" is so marvelous that they  are chucking in their job tomorrow.  I doubt it.  I hear people ranting about people on benefits having big TV screens and tattoos - as if people could have their tattoos removed if they become unemployed or that a second hand TV could be sold for a fortune. 

Winter Olympics

Of all the prejudices, anti-homosexuality makes the least sense to me. It is heartbreaking to see the discrimination practised in Russia, and around the world, including many states in the USA and even the bullying in schools in the UK.  Being Gay or Lesbian harms no one.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Wythenshawe and Sale East By election - Conservatives

The three messages chosenby the Conservatives in the Wythenshawe and Sale East By-election were -  fill potholes, cut street crime and clean the streets more." - utterly bizarre.  I couldn't believe it. It is a sign of a party that has lost it sense of purpose and confidence and message.

Take the EU - the Lib Dems want in, UKIP want out, the Conservatives want a referendum and most of them want to stay in but after a slight renegotiation. Conservative splits are unresolvable - Gay Marriage - the antis can't understand supporters, the supporters can't understand the antis. Climate change, green energy, recycling - was it all a socialist scam, a rebranding tactic, political correctness or a genuine expression of Conservative stewardship of the countryside ? Deficit reduction - if it was so urgent why is it so far behind schedule ?

So it's the bland leading the bland - more bobbies on the beat, fewer potholes and less litter - policies every party in every constituency in every country can sign up to - unless there really is a party promoting higher crime, more litter and dirtier streets.