Friday, 9 June 2017

What should happen now...

I don't agree this is a disaster. I think it creates the opportunity to get some sense of 'oneness'. Here's how:
  • She must resign - not only was it a disastrous, patronising campaign, but she clearly was massively uncomfortable meeting people and debating face to face. That won't do. She must go immediately preferably; at worst she must indicate her intention to resign soon
  • There can't be a 2nd election this year. We've had the Scottish referendum in 2014, the GE in 2015 & now, the Brexit referendum last year. There's no appetite or energy for another election
  • There can't be a Labour government. Apart from the small matter of them not having enough seats and no mandate (though JC did campaign very well), he, and more particularly his policies, are as loathed by the right as she is by the left, albeit more quietly
  • So, who should be PM? It should be Ruth Davidson, as I think she's the only figure in British politics a majority could coalesce around, but she's and MSP and not an MP more's the pity, so it has to be Boris. I know he creates strong reactions in people, but he is at least a communicator, and can probably reach just enough of the under 35s to be credible
  • The result must be recognised, and particularly the subjects that matter to the younger voters who voted for Labour in big numbers. In reality this means:
    • Brexit: the negotiations must proceed. I haven't seen anything in the results that persuades me the referendum result would be any different if re-run. However, the deal reached must be subject to Parliamentary approval. That should be enough to lead to some moderation, if that's what the majority want
    • NHS: personally, I'd give JC the chance to nominate someone in the Labour Party to be Health Secretary, and promise them a year-on-year increase in real terms, paid for by a combination of freezing rather than reducing corporation tax, and reducing the overseas aid budget - and total autonomy to use that budget
    • Housing: the instigation of a massive programme of local authority house building, paid for by scrapping HS2
    • Tuition fees: a Royal Commission to review the whole current model - numbers going to uni, what courses are on offer and do they create value, and the best funding model that's fair to both student and state
  • Those are the concessions. What the left have to cede to the right is a recognition that our budget must be balanced sooner rather than later. As it is, £48bn a year is going on interest on our debts - we really are crippling future generations if it goes much higher.
There we are. That's what I think should happen. It's 9.30 on Friday morning - let's see how things work out. It's going to be interesting.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


This one felt personal. I was on United flight 93 five weeks to the day before Al Qaeda hijacked it on 9/11. I've walked down the Promenade des Anglais in Nice several times. I run across Westminster Bridge regularly before work. But those terrorist attacks didn't feel personal. This was different. For the first time, I wept.

My wife and I have met many times before concerts at the exact point the explosion happened. My mum and sister walked past it last Thursday as they left a Take That concert. My eldest daughter and boyfriend live 600 metres away, and heard the explosion (and, bless them, were among the many who offered refuge to those stranded in the city centre). But more than that. Several of the dead were from places I've known well for years. The combination of the type of bomb it was, and the targeting of teenage music fans is a uniquely repulsive mix, if it's not insensitive to compare these horrors.

And then there's Manchester itself. I've no doubt that Newcastle, or Leeds, or Birmingham would have reacted just as admirably. But Manchester is my 'big city', even though I'm Cheshire born-and-bred. It's where I - we - go for some posh shopping, a good night out, and yes, to big concerts. It's our place, along with native Mancs themselves obviously, and all the other folk from Cheshire, Lancashire and beyond who flock to it.

So what? Why am I writing about it, when hundreds of thousands of other words will be written and published? Because I'm angry, that's why. And anger's only constructive if it can lead to improvement, change. I have no platform other than this, so I'm using it to say what I think needs to happen differently. Please share it if you think it has any merit.

So what do we need to do? Lots of things, but they fall into just two big buckets.

First, we need to get on the front foot in terms of preventing these incidents. That's not to suggest the security services don't do a brilliant job in preventing far more of these atrocities than actually happen - I don't know that of course, but I suspect it's true. No, what I'm talking about is doing more than just saying "we've got to carry on as normal, or they've won". Of course we have; what else are we going to do, stay at home all day? But enough of the peace, love and harmony platitudes. I'm not suggesting anyone should target Muslims; I despise the kind of people who verbally or physcially abuse random Muslims, or vandalise mosques.

However, I think we need to get a little more muscular in our responses. I'm obviously no expert, but ideas that to me seem to have some sense to them include:

- segregating the Muslim prison population between those who aren't radicalised and those who are, with solitary confinement for the most strident of the radicalisers
- checking on the messages imams in mosques are spreading to their congregation. And if that has to mean non-Muslims undertaking that activity, so be it
- looking very carefully at the overseas funding of the madrassas, particularly from the Saudis. If that risks upsetting them, again, so be it
- withdrawing the passport of anyone who leaves to fight for ISIS abroad, even if they were UK-born. No exceptions
- rigorously enforcing control orders
- banning Muslim-only faith schools
- doing whatever we can to undermine the ability of sections of the community to live wholly separate existences from the mainstream - withdrawing translation services in all but emergency circumstances for the NHS and in the legal system for example

As I write this, these things feel a bit intemperate. But as I'm writing this in France, I ask myself: if I were a member of a religion here, though I was wholly peaceful, law-abiding and integrated, would I feel any of the above list unreasonable if some extreme elements of my religion were killing and maiming indiscriminately? I'd like to think not.

Which brings me to my second bucket of things we need to do. If we were to do some or all of the above, there would undoubtedly be cries of "it's racist", "it's Islamophobic". And, I regret to say, the vast majority of our political classes are so afraid of those labels sticking, they steer clear of the muscular approach to preventing these incidents. But it's time for us to treat those accusations the same way elements of the black and gay populations have historically reacted to the choice insults thrown at them - they appropriated the words for themselves; you know the ones I'm talking about.

So yes, if you want to call me racist or Islamophobic for believing in any of the above list, fair enough; if that's your definition, I'll take it. I know there's a million miles between the idiot on the football terraces who makes gorilla noises at a black footballer and what or who I am, but I'm not going to waste my energy or be diverted by 'proving' I'm not racist. If you think I am, that's your prerogative. I'm not going to worry any more. And I am going to say these things out loud, and in public. Many of us should. I'm not giving succour to skinheaded scum. But I refuse, by not saying them, to give succour to jihadist scum.

We need to get that message across to politicians. Of course it's right for them to remind us that the vast majority of muslims have nothing to do with terrorism, and of the dangers of a backlash. Yes fine, tell us that terrorists aren't going to divide us. But for God's sake, do everything, EVERYTHING, possible to prevent another incident which results in medics having to pick nuts and bolts out of children's heads, or police having to collect body parts off the the floor of a concert hall. Stop this thing at source; make it so that MI5 don't have anything to infiltrate and thwart. And if that means you're called some unpleasant names along the way, don't fall into the trap of defending yourself - if stopping the slaughter is someone's definition of being racist, accept it, and do what you need to anyway.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Nice Big Election

Sorry for the 'ooo, missus' nature of the title, but I had to get your attention with something that wasn't too serious, given what follows.  So here we go, the Top 10 Things That Matter To Me And What I Think Politicians Should Be Addressing And What I Will Be Voting On:

  1. The Deficit & Overall Debt Levels - they're still hideous. They're still lumbering future generations with massive debt repayments, if, or rather, when interest rates return to historic norms. It needs sorting, even if that means taking unpopular decisions, e.g. abandoning the triple lock for pensioners, of whom there are many perfectly well-off ones getting unrequired money off the state.
  2. Housing - the current market is scandalous. It's a failed market, with real prices at all time highs through failure to match demand with supply, both private and public. There's plenty more governments could be doing to ensure that owning a home is not a pipedream for the majority of under 35s. "Use it or lose it" granting of planning permission to housebuilding firms to stop them creating land banks would be a start.
  3. NHS - it's not a national marvel, it's not the envy of the world, our doctors and nurses don't have a global monopoly on compassion, the model shouldn't be sacrosanct. Many, many countries get significantly better health outcomes with comparable levels of spend. It's a combination of arrogance, nostalgia and timidity that stops us learning from the much better systems that exist across the world. Time for this sacred cow to be slaughtered.
  4. Overseas aid budget - partly, see 1. above. Partly, see 8. below. Partly, too much of it is squandered. Repeal the ludicrous Act of Parliament that commits us to spending 0.7% of GDP on it (that was just Cameron grandstanding), target aid where it's not going to disappear down a plughole of fraud and appropriation.
  5. Brexit - it's got to be done, so do it properly. Do everything possible to ensure we have an open and co-operative trading relationship with as many nations as possible, we have a decent immigration mix of the people we need and the people that genuinely need us (i.e. war-driven refugees), and match infrastructure planning to the resulting levels of population growth.
  6. Social care generally, and for the elderly in particular - the current situation gums up the NHS, and provides wildly differing standards of care at wildly differing cost. This, more than the triple lock on pensioner benefits, is the key to ensuring we look after the infirm and the elderly properly. It needs some imagination, and maybe some more money.
  7. Physical infrastructure - too much of our transport system operates so closely to its capacity that minor problems create disproportionate disruption and misery. Or it's just in a terrible state. I'm not sure the £50bn on HS2 is the best use of that cash - review it, do it quickly, and get projects started elsewhere
  8. Defence & intelligence - beef them up. We face a range of threats. Defence cuts have gone too far, and intelligence is the key to ensuring as few innocent policemen, tourists and ordinary citizens are murdered as possible. Oh, that and...
  9. Prisons - which are a disgrace from everything I read. Prisoners need to be segregated properly, whether that's violent offenders from everyone else, or those at risk of Islamic radicalisation from the people who'll radicalise them. Rehabilitation needs to be a real thing, rather than just a word on a mission statement. Security needs to be effective so that drugs and phones can't get in. If we don't do this, and soon, I fear more trouble in prisons themselves, and out on the streets from those who are released
  10. Public health - this one is my little quirk, and covers a multitude of things. I'm not in favour of tokenistic things like a fizzy drinks tax. I want people, starting in schools, educated in the basics of nutrition, exercise and looking after themselves. I want it safer and easier to make healthy choices around cycling, running, walking.
So there we are. Those are the things that matter to me. You'll be different. But I will be voting, and for the party that I think provides the best set of answers to my priorities.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

You're grounded...

So this time yesterday I was sitting on the ferry, all smug with beer in hand and my lovely new trailer sitting on the car deck. Should have known better. Nearly every first day at the house here in France proves difficult for one reason and another, and today was no different, as I shall relate.

So, I emptied the car and then decided to tow the trailer to the back garden, where it'll live. There's a small slope up the entrance to the garden, so I took the jockey wheel off the trailer so as not to snag it on the bolt where the gates to the garden meet in the middle. All was fine - trailer parked, time to put the car back round the front of the house.

Only this time as I drove over the gate bolt, there was the most sickening noise of the car's underside scraping over it, and as it turned out, getting stuck. Here's the offending item, post my mangling of it, but still with car on top.

At this point, I'd rushed to the garage, dug out a jack, and lifted the back wheels off the ground to at least relieve the pressure on the underside, chocking all four wheels first of course.

The question was - how to free the car? The moment I let it down off the jack, it was wedged again.

Theory number 1 - try to manoeuvre the concrete bolt and bolt back into position with rope (pictured), so as to re-create enough clearance. Fail; they were was loud and proud, and not going anywhere thanks very much.

Theory number 2 - pump the car tyres up to 45 psi, wedge some planks under the back wheels, and reverse (as it's rear wheel drive and its rear was pointing upwards anyway, thus:

Fail. All I succeeded in doing was burning some rubber and half burying the plank on the right hand side in the ground.

Theory number 3 (I was running out of theories at this point, and there's no-one around to consult on a March Mothering Sunday afternoon in rural France) - dig out the concrete block and bolt by digging a channel sideways, emerging on the left hand side of the car. So that's what I did. For an hour I lay on my belly and dug a 3 feet long, 1 foot deep, 1 foot wide channel in order to wiggle a pretty heavy concrete block out, with a variety of tools. It was more The Great Escape than A Year In Provence. I've had less fun on Sunday afternoons, but I can't remember when.

Anyway, it worked, two hours after the original incident. The car is parked round the front again. The bolt caught on a lateral strut underneath, and I don't think I've damaged exhaust or any other pipes. I'll go for a drive tomorrow to see if the thing now goes forward sideways, if you know what I mean.

Still, it could have been worse - it could still be there awaiting professional recovery. But here's my tip for the day - if you want to sharpen up your problem-solving abilities and self-reliance, just be a prannock in the first place. No, I mean buy a house in the middle of nowhere in a foreign country.

Any suggestions for what would have been a better approach - keep them to yourself thanks.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

2016 - relativism vs. absolutism?

I've grown tired over the last few days of hearing and reading things like "what a terrible year it's been", "I can't wait to see the end of it", "next year can't be any worse", blah blah.  For all those who've suffered personal setbacks or tragedies to prompt you to say those kinds of things, fair enough.  But for the media types, from whom I've heard this bilge pour forth, what they've really meant is "Brexit, Trump, populism in general, tut tut."

Well, in Scrooge mode, I say suck it up guys, because there's plenty more to come. I don't necessarily like or agree with it all the manifestations of 'populism', but I like and agree with it a heck of a lot more than the self-satisfied politicians, bankers, lawyers, industrialists and diplomats around the world for whom their world is very cosy thanks. It works for them. It doesn't work for millions of others - the homeless who I saw in their multitudes in Manchester the other night, the low paid workers who despite working hard for 40+ hours a week, still need the state to top up their pay, or the young professionals who can't afford to buy their first house. I've never thought of myself as a revolutionary, being essentially right wing, but things have got to change - we do need more equality, but not of the sort that the Labour party espouses, which takes a few more quid off middle earners and transfers it to the welfare budget. We need the sort of equality where people don't build up massive asset bases through government monetary policy of the day, or where the free market in housing isn't restricted by central and local government planning policy.

Anyway, all that's not the point of this post. The point is the people who are saying 2016 has been terrible are, in my estimation, largely those for whom the world has been pretty cosy. It's been relatively poor for them.  By many other absolute measures, it's been fabulous, which might seem a strange thing to say after writing the last paragraph - I'm not going to quote sources, as it's Christmas Eve and there are many things to be done - but, in no particular order:

- there are fewer people in absolute poverty than at any point in our history
- inequality between rich and poor countries has never been lower
- the incidence of wars (despite Syria) is still very low by historical standards
- transfers of power still happen peacefully and smoothly in many countries
- ISIS is on the wain
- access to technology is easier, cheaper and more life-changing/enhancing than ever before
- etc etc.

...and these trends will probably continue. So in absolute terms, I'd say 2016 was a pretty good year - and next year will be even better. Your personal graph might ebb and flow, but overall, the world's is on an upward trend, and long may that continue.

Have a very Happy Christmas, and a terrific 2017.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Strictly Come Trumping

Slightly embarrassingly, I like to watch Strictly if I'm at home early on a Saturday evening. Forgive me, but it's fun. Anyway, here's this week's unlikely hypothesis...there was an aspect of last week's edition of the programme that directly explains why Donald Trump won the US election this week.

OK, bear with me - clearly it's not the only reason Trump won, and maybe I've already drunk too much Desperados Red (beer, tequila, guarana, cachaca - how ironic that I'm drinking a Mexican-inspired beer and writing about Trump huh?), but it's certainly part of the explanation.

So, Strictky, you know the bit before each participant does that week's dance live in the studio, there's a pre-recorded couple of minutes telling the story of "their week in training". Well, last week no matter how sweaty, how energetic, how early, how late or how difficult the training routine, they and their professional partners were wearing a poppy. It just wasn't realistic.

But of course they were wearing their poppies - because the BBC is terrified of being accused of being disrespectful to the whole Remembrance thing, which in turn is because Remembrance and what goes with it is an Acceptable Point Of View (APOV).  More than that, it's the ONLY Acceptable Point of View. As it happens, there's only one version of all APOVs.

The Remembrance APOV is quite unusual, in that its associations with the military give a slightly militaristic, patriotic vibe, which normally wouldn't feature. But because it's an APOV, which by definition if you're not "for it", you must be "against it", it grates with me. Don't get me wrong, I respect and admire the sacrifices made down the years by our armed services, but I'm damned if I'm going to be judged for not visibly expressing that support. So I don't wear a poppy, because I'm a bit contrary like that. But I do put money in the Royal British Legion boxes. And as it happens, I completely understand those who feel discomfort with the poppy's symbolism, given that we're now encouraged to see it as a universal emblem of the contributions made in all conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan? Despite my general right-wingery, I'm very uncomfortable with us throwing our weight around overseas).

But I'm straying away from the main point - which is that on an enormous variety of issues these days, there's a single, universal APOV. And if you happen to even question, let alone openly disagree with it, among a large section of the left-leaning, liberal population, you're deemed beyond the pale, irredeemable, disgraceful, one or more of a range of bad things that normally end in 'ist'. Certainly not one of us. And most definitely not someone to be argued against, debated with, to seek to change their opinion - other than in shrill moralistic terms.

This is the phenomenon that at its silliest, most puerile, leads to 'safe spaces' and 'no platforming' on university campuses (do grow up you delicate little snowflakes), and the election of an individual with an apparent basket of personality flaws to the office of President of the United States.

Why? Because the debate, the press coverage and the commentary became about him, and the fact he didn't hold APOVs. But the reaction was not to take on or challenge his views from first principles of decency and treating people equally and with integrity (let alone actually examine the viability of his policies) - it was to wail and shriek about the despicability of the individual and anyone who expressed support for him. You're irredeemable!  You're disgraceful! You're stupid! You're in the basket of despicables! And guess what happened? That wailing and shrieking entrenched his support, not undermined it. The psychology ain't hard to work out.

But whether it's the more extreme of the Remainers in this country, or those fools burning the flag on the streets of US cities, they still don't get it. It's not about you any longer, losers. Democracy's happened. Stop whinging about how you don't like its results, or trying to overturn or reverse them, and particularly stop telling the people who created the results how despicable and stupid they are, and get on with arguing with us - because here's the thing: a lot of us have got surprisingly open minds.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Lesson Learned

Last winter I spent every weekend, and quite a few weekdays, training for an event that because of a knee injury, I had to withdraw from. It was like a pro cyclist planning his whole season round the Tour de France, and then crashing out on his last training ride.

For a pro cyclist it would be livelihood-threatening. For me, it was merely disappointing; I really wanted to do my first competitive ultra-marathon. And one day, I will manage it - but that day won't be any time in the next few months.

Partly because of the disappointment earlier in the year, partly because it's just damned hard to get enough miles in when you're away from home as much I am to contemplate ultra-events, and partly because - if I'm honest - I seem to have lost the urge to do unusual things (at least in the UK), I've resolved to train less, and compete more. What's the point of training on your own for hours on end?

And so it was that I entered and ran the Gawsworth 10k today, after no more than a few pootles round central London, and one run longer than 10k since I finished my summer cycling. Unbelievably, given that it's the shortest event I've entered since I was at school, I had the old butterflies just before our local MP set us off at the start. Which were justified, as the 45 mins and 58 seconds of half-road, half cross-country slogging, hurt. It's not a fast course, so my time was enough to place me 36th out of 215, and 14th of the over 45s.

Most importantly, however, I loved it. It helped that the weather was perfect - sunny, and a not-too-warm 16c. In the queue for the loo before the start, I ended up talking to a 78 year old, who must have been the oldest runner out, but who, bless him, came in only 27 mins after me. He looked comfortably 10 years younger than his age, and had a real twinkle in his eye - if that's what running and competing does for you, well...

...I need some of that twinkle. Macclesfield Half Marathon online entry form, here I come....

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