Monday, 20 April 2015

Postponed Until Further Notice? The Fight for Democracy and Social Justice

I’ve been spending rather too much of my time of late on social media, involving myself in arguments of varying degrees of ferocity and passion about the upcoming general election.

Not being involved in anybody’s campaign for once, and having no real enthusiasm for any of the leading contestants, the sensible thing for me to have done would probably have been to have put my feet up, sent off my postal vote when and if I found the time, and looked forward to watching Peter Snow, tinny in hand (me, not Peter Snow), trying to pre-empt the verdict during the counting of the votes. What I have done instead, as is my wont, has been to throw myself into endless online debates and squabbles, typically between loyal Labour voters and those generally to their left who have opted for one or other of the smaller, anti-austerity parties which have been propelled into the public gaze largely as a result of their participation in the various televised leaders’ debates.

Finding myself rather naturally on the side of the revolutionists, I have encountered opposition (sometimes civil, sometimes abusive) from Labour Party supporters who can broadly speaking be broken down into two distinctive categories – the hopeless (and often mindless) partyists for whom Labour can do no wrong and those who argue that, whatever the merits or otherwise of more deep-rooted, radical change, the urgency of the present situation requires a single-minded, “all hands on deck” approach to getting rid of David Cameron and the Conservatives. Any lingering concerns about what might be achieved when the Tories are gone, they argue, can be addressed once the deed is done.

It is fair that I should record, at this stage, that I have long-standing and ongoing quarrels of a purely local character with the Labour Party in my own backyard. Where I live the Labour Party is a vile organisation, opposed almost to the point of derangement to any kind of organisation from within the community, unless it is guided by its own hand. It matters not whether we are talking about a borough-wide tenants’ federation, a single-issue action group or a domino club at a sheltered unit for the over-60s, if the Labour Party isn’t involved in some organisational or directional sense then it has to be crushed. Where such an approach is resisted there is no restraint upon the unholy horrors that may be unleashed. Even physical violence has not proved beyond them, and it is probably only due to lack of personal courage that this has thus far been restricted to property rather than person, and then on a purely hit-and-run basis, but rather than being restrained those responsible have actually been rewarded for their efforts with senior office, telling us all we need to know about the local party on an institutional level.


Somebody close to me who is a supporter of the Labour Party has suggested that my instinctive dislike of the party may have been influenced by my local experiences. It is a fair point to make, but I don’t think it is true. My observations during this general election campaign have been inspired by what I have seen of the party at a national level, and of the approach it has taken in its quest for national office.

For the tribal herd I have nothing but contempt. In politics our duty surely is to choose, and if necessary to change, our party loyalty according to our principles, not to change our principles according to our party loyalty. One almost forms the impression that some of these types would champion the slaughter of the firstborn if it was in the manifesto. It was this kind of blind organisational obedience which landed us with Tony Blair, and which permitted a party whose leader took us into a war which led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, many of them children, on the back of a lie, to continue along afterwards almost as though nothing had happened.

Those who plead the “urgency” of the situation, on the other hand, deserve to be heard. That said, I believe their argument to be flawed on two very basic counts. The first is that it demands our righteous anger over the treatment of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society by the present government, without paying much heed as to how the lot of these people can be expected to improve when Labour replaces the Tories in office. It is not enough to be stirred by poverty and deprivation. Without a radical programme for the redistribution of wealth from those whose greed has brought the current situation to pass the indignation of the “other side” is meaningless.

Indeed, perversely, there is an argument that suggests the fortunes of the poor and hungry may actually deteriorate further under Labour. Certainly many of the food banks have been contributed to and staffed by Labour activists and supporters, whose sincere altruism will not have been lessened by the desire to drive home a political point. When a Labour government assumes office the temptation to make another point – that the food banks are no longer necessary – will certainly be present. Those finding themselves locked out, food cupboards still empty, may have cause to reflect.


The second weakness can best be summed up by the old maxim “tomorrow never comes”. If there is an urgency now to get rid of the Tories then in the event of Labour failing in that objective on May 7th that urgency will become all the greater, from the day after polling day all the way to 2020. Conversely if Labour wins the election the imperative will be to keep the Tories out. Either way the cause of working for real, meaningful, lasting, root-and-branch change will be placed yet again onto the back burner, a convenient place for it to stay in the symbiotic eyes of the major parties, both of whom stand to benefit from things remaining precisely as they are in perpetuity.

In any event the election on May 7th provides genuine radicals with an opportunity which may never again arise in our lifetimes – a likely stalemate between the two major parties coupled with the meteoric (although not necessarily permanent) rise of a real anti-austerity force, the Scottish National Party, with the potential to deliver an uneasy pact of convenience which promises (or threatens, depending on where you happen to stand) to shake up our politics forever by corrupting the ethos of the First Past The Post system in a Union of contradictions.

The decision of the SNP to discount at a very early stage any prospect of co-operation with the Conservatives and to offer instead to support a Labour Prime Minister brings in its wake a dynamic all of its own. Now, whether Scottish voters stick with Labour or jump ship to the SNP there is no net gain to be had by the Tories. In other words the Labour soundbite which would have it that a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Tories is revealed to any thinking person to be so much nonsense. Beyond tribal loyalty there is precisely no excuse for any Scottish elector who stands against cuts and austerity to plump for the Labour candidate in preference to the SNP one.

The permutations, and implications, of the SNP holding the balance of power at Westminster compel us to think the unthinkable. A broadly centrist pro-Union Labour Prime Minister kept in office by a left-wing anti-Union party which doesn’t even need the support or the goodwill of 90% of the voting population of the UK. Or, to consider another interesting scenario, a politically doable but almost universally unwelcome Con-Lab coalition with (probably) Alex Salmond, heading a regional party (in UK terms), as Leader of the Opposition. The mind truly boggles.

In the plans of the “urgency” advocates there is no time for change, not now or not ever. In my eyes and in those of many others, there is no time like now.

As for me, I think I’ve probably said more or less enough on this subject in the course of my many forays into the land of social media. What will be will be. But having sampled the sweet taste of opportunity that the convergence of coincidences can bring I am determined, once this election is over, to do something and to play some kind of role, tiny though in the wider scheme of things it must inevitably be, to hasten the change that some of us desire but have never until now really thought possible.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Why the System Has To Go

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What do we mean when we refer to “the system”?

It can of course mean a host of things, and many use the term simply to describe the political forces which prevail in the corridors of government in any given place. But to properly understand “the system” within any political construct we surely need to understand the internal dynamic which propels the society in which we live, or the society that we are examining.

The United Kingdom has a “system” which is based on more or less unfettered capitalism. It is true that governments make laws which even the rich and powerful have to abide by, and that on occasions even senior politicians or seminal figures from the world of business fall foul of them and end up in durance vile. All the same, within the limitations defined by the law of the land big business effectively runs rampant, sweeping aside not only organised (and even more so disorganised) labour but also honest small business in its wake. Witness the death of the family grocer or the independent high street trader as the likes of Tesco exploit farmers and their own workers alike to bring you their produce at the most competitive prices whilst still reserving for themselves the seemingly divine right to make a vast profit.

Under a totalitarian system such as fascism or communism the state will dictate just how far enterprise is allowed to go. Under the former it may be controlled or it may be permitted to run riot, but the fact remains that that permission is needed. The state, in theory at least, calls the tune. Under communism ownership is transferred to the government, which in practice operates a controlled economy of its own, the state replicating the role of the capitalist owner and the wider public playing the same part of the unquestioning consumer.


In a “democratic” society such as ours however it is the forces driving the economy that are in control. This is because the conflation of wealth with power makes it inevitably so. The richer an individual or a corporation is, the more power he, she or it will inevitably wield. Power over the media, the power of patronage, the power to sell (or to distort) a message which can make or break a politician or decide the destiny of a political party. Within such a system it is inevitable that the political parties which take it in turns to man the offices of government will strive to serve the master. I wanna sell you a Tory, as the late Max Bygraves might have put it.

It is because of this unfailing logic that I, as those who know me will attest, instinctively wince whenever I hear some self-styled critic of the system bleating about how it is all going to change when the party they dislike the most is removed from office at the next general election and replaced by the party they have opted to endorse. At times I just want to wake up screaming. The two main parties are not the same, they protest, and of course they are right. Why, after all, would the system offer us two parties from which to make our selection and not imbue each of them with at least some kind of superficial defining characteristic? It is essential, in a “democracy”, to keep alive the illusion of choice.

What we are not given, of course, is the means through which to challenge the master. And in the master’s unrelenting drive towards ever greater profits there needs to be somebody else providing the labour, at as low a cost as possible, to drive the master’s success. Understand that and combine it with a recognition that neither of the major parties aspires to change that reality at source, and their essential sameness becomes a given. Any “difference” between them can only define the range of flexibility that the master is prepared to grant in order to preserve the illusion.


But to talk of there being just two “system parties” is of course overly simplistic. Whilst radical on matters of constitutional reform their support for the economic status quo demonstrates that the Liberal Democrats clearly are and have been since their inception a party of the establishment. I voted for them in 2010 in spite of this, not because of it, mostly because of the qualities of the local candidate but also because I felt the injection of the Lib Dems into the government of the country would in some way upset the apple cart. A crisis for capitalism perhaps not, but an unscripted fly in the ointment for the two-party system it indeed was.

Neither am I so blindly optimistic as to consider all if indeed any of the smaller parties that are currently enjoying some relative good fortune as being anti-system in the broadest sense. Certainly UKIP aspire to be and in some senses are already a party of the establishment. Rather like Trotsky’s theoretical fascists, they are a proto-establishment party waiting in the wings, currently something of a nuisance and an embarrassment but there if ever they are needed.

Which brings us to the left of centre, anti-austerity parties – the Greens, the SNP and Plaid. Are they the stuff of which revolutions are made? Probably not, but that is to miss the point somewhat. In our fast-changing political environment the establishment does on occasions find itself playing catch-up with events. The two-party system has, for the time being at least, already given way to the three-party system. If the three-party system in turn heralds the emergence of the four-, five-, six- or seven-party system then a fissure is created in the edifice of the all-powerful financial establishment which has effectively been the puppetmaster of our body politic for as long as any of us can remember.


What emerges from the haze just may be better – more answerable, more democratic, more radical – than the façade which went before. If it isn’t then nothing has been lost. The financial elites will, I have no doubt, attempt to buy into the new politics but the more widely they need to cast their nets the less control they can hope to exercise. The plethora of significant parties which challenge both major system parties from the left, and the further-left grouplets which are emerging by dint of social media from amid the growing dissatisfaction with Labour’s presumably permanent shift to the right, coupled with the threat to the Tories from their own right flank in the form of UKIP, is making political engagement in the run-up to May 2015 uniquely interesting.

On top of it all are the “Don’t Vote” voices and the “None of the Aboves”, both positions with which I have some sympathy although I do intend to cast my cross, on this occasion at least. For those who are serious about real, lasting, meaningful change the outcome of the traditional contest between the toxic twins of the old establishment is a sideshow of scarcely any relevance. The real determining events for the future of our politics are to be found about the periphery of this elaborate charade.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Back to the Barricades

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Some depressing news is coming in from Isleworth's Ivybridge estate. It would appear that some seven and a half years after the old administration at the London Borough of Hounslow managed to unite the factions in the historically divided tenants' movement on the estate, its successor has contrived to prise them apart again, leading to the rebirth of the independent group Ivytag (Ivybridge Tenants' Action Group) after a group of former officials split from the Council-backed United Residents' Association (URA), which is operating unconstitutionally with the backing of the ward members and the Leader of the Council.

I don't have the full story as yet, but essentially we are back to the pre-2007 position in which one "approved" group exists to tick the boxes whilst another comprises an active group of residents which is likely to outflank and embarrass the recognised association by achieving a naturally higher profile through its work and its commitment to the estate.

Ivytag is planning a number of activities to draw attention to its re-formation and to garner support from residents. There will be more on this anon.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

How "Green" is Blue Labour?

It was Isleworth Labour councillor Ed Mayne who first introduced me to the concept of Blue Labour, in a conversation which took place between us shortly after he had been elected for the first time in 2010.

I had never heard of Blue Labour before. When I did I confess I baulked a little, because I kind of assumed that the “blue” aspect referred to a peculiarly rightist tendency within an organisation which had already moved too far to the right in my humble opinion. I envisaged a kind of ultra-Blairite movement within a movement, maybe something along the lines of the Progress grouping.

But it appeared that Blue Labour, oddly named as it was in my view, was something entirely different. Its emphasis was on fusing together “a progressive commitment to greater economic equality with a more 'conservative' disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality”. The use of the term “conservative” is in this sense, of course, descriptive as opposed to organisational.


So it would appear that Ed had perceived my possible interest to lie with the “community and locality” aspect of Blue Labour’s outlook, as opposed to its “conservatism”. Which was fair enough, bearing in mind my deep-rooted commitment to a politics which sprang upwards from the grass roots as opposed to one that was imposed from on high.

The term “Blue Labour” was first coined in 2009 by a Labour life peer and academic by the name of Maurice Glasman, a senior lecturer in Political Theory at the Metropolitan University in London. Amongst its adherents was none other than John Cruddas, the hero of the successful struggle against the BNP in Barking and Dagenham and a man certainly associated with the left of the party rather than with any Blairite strand of thought.

It seemed to me, and still does seem, an odd choice of terminology for an idea which appears to transcend the traditional left-right divisions which engage the party at various times. Rather than taking either part in this historic debate, it instead positions itself as a champion (by Labour Party standards) of community co-operation and working class activism as opposed to the draconian “We Know Best!” mindset of the Labour Party with which I am much more familiar.

Because of its emphasis on family and locality many on the authoritarian left, as well as on the more dominant right, see Blue Labour as an attempt to shift the party in a more conservative direction on issues such as immigration. But Cruddas in particular has been clear in his thoughts on this subject, that whilst any kind of racist or xenophobic thought is rightly opposed it is legitimate to be concerned about the effects of rapid, unforetold immigration on such things as social cohesion and pay and living standards.


Blue Labour does not, as I see it, move the debate in a more leftwards or rightwards direction, but in a more community-friendly direction, to a place where the electorate whose votes are begged at five-yearly intervals are trusted during the intervening periods to hold opinions that may actually be worth listening to. It is not a left-right divide, in other words, but a Red-Green divide, Green being traditionally the colour of organic democracy alongside its other association with environmental politics.

It is no coincidence that environmentalist organisations such as the Green Party tend overwhelmingly towards a sympathetic view of localist democratic institutions, alongside small industry and ideally self-sufficiency. These are the aspirations which are most threatened by the relentless onward march of the big corporations – by the capitalism either of Big Folding Money or of the State.

I still fail to understand why such a radical tendency within the Labour Party is labelled “blue”, but whatever it chooses to call itself it seems to be one that is gaining currency.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Talking About BFC

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With my single-minded pursuit of keeping my son Joe at school for the remaining four months – a commitment way above our means but necessitated by events elsewhere in our lives – my availability for attending Brentford matches has diminished to almost zero. By a happy coincidence however Joe himself, after a junior flirtation with Arsenal which cost me several items of the requisite kit during the course of his rapid growth, has matured into a fully-fledged Brentford season ticket holder in his own right and thereby, I like to believe, discharges my obligations by proxy.

But having been a supporter since 1965 I do nonetheless take a close interest in the fortunes of the team, and like everybody else have been excited by events this season, when a perennial lower league side (only one previous and very brief foray beyond what is today known as League One in the whole of my lifetime) has taken the Championship by storm, and brushed aside teams with the pedigree of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the course of what had appeared to be a realistic, if unlikely challenge for promotion to the Premier League itself.

Then came the bombshell. And it was a bombshell of such magnitude that even long-suffering Brentford fans are calling it – well, a bombshell. An article in the Times (that’s the real Times not the local paper of the same name – such is the respect that Brentford has achieved in the football world) revealed that Mark Warburton, the rookie manager who had delivered so much success on the field of play, was to be surplus to requirements at the end of the season. Taken by surprise by the leak the powers that be at the club wobbled, panicked, and issue a verbose, almost Cantona-esque statement saying not very much at all which only served to make matters far, far worse than they were already for shocked fans as well, perhaps, as for the players, who subsequently slumped to a very untypical 3-0 defeat by a poor Charlton Athletic side who had all but played them off the field.


An awkward silence ensued, until a couple of days later a more considered statement emerged from the club, to which both owner Matthew Benham and manager Mark Warburton were signed up. The truth of the matter was that Benham wants to introduce a radical new management system much used on the continent but relatively unknown here in the UK, and Warburton and his closest staff had felt unable to work with it as it ran contrary to their own footballing philosophies. And so the parting of the ways, when it happens, is to be by mutual agreement. Now fans are hoping against hope that “Warbs” hangs around to finish the job of getting the Bees promoted to the dizzy heights of the Premier League, but most of us are realistic enough to know that if a top team were to come in for him now it would be very difficult for him to resist taking up the challenge, knowing that his days at Griffin Park are drawing to a close.

For the benefit of Bees fans, or for that matter of mere voyeurs who may wish to be kept regularly updated on this story, my advice would be to visit BFC Talk, an excellent private blog by Bees fan Greville Waterman which is frequently replenished with eloquent articles and well-presented news and views from around the club. On this particular subject, as with many others, regular new features are posted to this site to relate and offer intelligent comment on all the latest developments.

If you are a Brentford supporter BFC Talk deserves your unqualified support. Especially so as it is a useful, not to mention probably the most articulate source, of regular post-match analysis.

It would be a brave punter who was to commit to a position on Brentford’s likely performance for the remainder of this campaign. An uninspiring if uncharacteristic wipeout at Charlton was followed by an impressively dominant performance against high-flyers Bournemouth and a walkover against no-hopers Blackpool in which the 4-0 scoreline flattered the visitors, which in turn was followed by defeat at the hands of a less than spectacular Birmingham side.

This year’s ongoing Brentford saga is a fascinating one on and off the pitch, whether you are an avid fan or a mere passenger. It is a blessing that we have the tools to keep us well informed.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A Horsey Story that's a Racing Cert to Run and Run

Anybody following the local community news forum at could not have helped but notice the big story that has come out of Isleworth over the past few weeks or so, that of the horses which currently graze in the idyllic rural setting of Northcote Avenue, on the Worple housing estate.

The land on which they roam was, before they arrived, open land available for use by the entire community, from the estate and beyond. It was particularly popular with dog walkers. Not no more.

Now ordinarily I would painstakingly relate the whole saga of how a public park became overnight a private facility for the exclusive use of two equines and their owner, particularly in respect of the total lack of engagement with residents and park users. But I understand that this highly entertaining episode will be related in very great detail elsewhere in the near future, so I counsel patience. Suffice it to say that much consideration has been given to whether this rather unconventional annexation of a public facility without a by your leave, far less a proper consultation, was brought about by officers behind the backs of councillors or actually at the councillors' behest.

Ever since the scandal blew up councillors have been (convincingly) acting dumb about the whole thing, although one of them was subsequently discovered to have been the person who actually signed off the authorisation for officers to do the dirty deed!

Like I say there will be much, much more on all of this very soon. But in the meantime let us leave the last word to the Council Leader, whose choice of friends may very well come galloping back to haunt him before his tenure is through:

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

How to Use My Feed on Your Website or Blog

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If you'd like to display a list of my latest articles on your blog or website, please just follow the simple instructions below:

On any Blogger platform (like this one), click "Design" and choose the "Layout" option on the left hand column. From there scroll down to "Add a Gadget", select the "Feed" gadget, open it and insert the following URL: Give it a name and drag and drop it to wherever you want it on your site.

For websites, download any free widget provider such as Surfing Waves and again insert the URL Then just follow the instructions to upload the widget to your site. Simples.

If you'd prefer to place a feed list on the toolbar of your browser just hit one of the "Subscribe" buttons on the right hand column beside this article and again follow the directions given. Then just bookmark the Feed URL to your toolbar. This way you don't need to visit and scroll through the blog to see what is new - all the article titles are there for you.

Why add my feed to your site? Well, for a start if you do it and let me know you will get a backlink from here (I'm PR2 at the moment and hoping to bounce back to PR3 at the next time of asking). Plus of course you get added content. Every one's a winner.

The whole thing is fairly straightforward but please e-mail me if you have any difficulties and I'll be happy to talk you through it. Thanks.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Isleworth Grammar School Class of '72 Reunion

My two recent articles about the Worple Road Primary School reunion held last November (see here and here.) both exhausted and frustrated me. Exhausted because of the feeling of exhilaration the whole occasion brought to me, and frustrated because I lacked the words to truly do it justice.

Last Saturday's reunion of my old classmates and schoolmates from Isleworth Grammar School (which went on to merge with Syon to form today's Isleworth and Syon School) at the Old Isleworthians' Club was similar but different in equal measure.


I suppose I must have been a clever pupil at one point, otherwise I guess I would never have ended up at IGS, a selective state school, in the first place. All the same no sooner had I breached its varnished wooden portals than I resolved of an instant to clown around and to get as little schoolwork done as I could get away with, the result being the rescheduling of earlier aspirations to Oxbridge into scraping an entry to Manchester Polytechnic and thereafter flunking my first-year exams on account of the fact that I had barely set foot in the building, let alone opened a book, in all the time I was there.

So when tales were exchanged amongst the curious little circles that formed, broke up and then regrouped with an altered line-up, of the things we had achieved
in our respective careers since all going our separate ways back in 1979, this humble postman had somehow to hold face amongst the doctors, lawyers, property developers and musicians in whose company he stood.

And it wasn't too daunting, to be honest. In truth I'd been a councillor the last time most of us were gathered, back in 2002, which although not a career as such was as good a talking point as any. So rather than having started at the bottom and worked my way up, like so many of them, I could feasibly say I had started somewhere in the middle and worked my way down.


What struck me was the warmth, the charisma and the generosity of spirit that each and every one of my old school friends exuded. Perhaps the often clumsy approach to character building on the part of our old masters at which we had for so long scoffed had had something about it after all? It was throughout the whole of the evening a wonderful experience, and truly surreal.

We were a bit light on numbers considering that most of us as I write remain on this side of the mortal divide, and we were grateful for the presence of several of the old girls (that is old in the sense of having been "former") from the Green School, with whom those with an inclination to drama or to sport had spent much of their sixth form, although I didn't really know them other than latterly as contributors to the various
old school Facebook threads. It was a goodly gathering enhanced by friendly staff and a well-stocked bar.


We dispersed amid a fond discussion about when we might do it again. Another thirteen years seems far too long as time and age power relentlessly on. Living in Isleworth an annual event would seem ideal to me. To those who had travelled further for the gig, one of them from California, probably less so.

More than ever before I feel the need to be firmly rooted in my roots. One of my old classmates admitted to me that at school he used to consider me obnoxious. I told him he had probably been a sound judge.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed senior school much more had I not played the fool, but I always enjoyed the company of those around me. What a fantastic evening last Saturday was. Special thanks to Richard Andrews (no relation) for laying it on once again.

Photos courtesy of Malc Shaw

Monday, 2 February 2015

Is Do-Goodism Poised to Surmount the Final Frontier?

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Forget the celebrity deaths, politicians arguing about who should and shouldn't be on the telly, FA Cup shock exits and uppity Greek voters, the real news in recent days has been the shock announcement that the institution that was and currently is still the 500ml 9.0% ABV can of Carlsberg Special Brew may very soon be a thing of the past.

First brewed by the Danes in 1950 in honour of Winston Churchill - ironically himself in the news this last week as a result of him having not been with us for a full half-century - this true King of Beers (and let's be honest, by comparison Budweiser is but a clown prince) has fallen foul, it would appear, of the government's new "responsibility deal" which pledges to stop selling any carbonated beverage containing more than four units of alcohol in one self-contained container.

A can of Carlsberg Special, in its present 500ml incarnation, boasts something between four and five units.

Assuming that decarbonating is not an option, this leaves Carlsberg, which is determined to play by the rules, with essentially two options. The first is that it could reduce the size of its can. The second option - and forgive me Lord for I know not what I say - would be to diminish the ABV of the product until it is compliant.

Sad though it undoubtedly is, Carlsberg SB has a special (npi) place in my heart. As a young man of, well, a certain age (and I'll not incriminate myself further), I developed a fondness for the "tinny" which, as befits my character, naturally led me to embrace the strongest, meanest and kick-assest beer on the planet. I gravitated to Carlsberg Special Brew like a bluebottle to flypaper. Conveniently after imbibing a couple of tinnies over the Old Deer Park the empty can, suitably crushed, doubled as a football, and by that time probably looked like one too. Many a great time was had by me and my mates courtesy of the 500ml, 9.0% deity in a tin.

Progress, of course, is not always to be frowned upon. Whether the park bench topers and folk who shout at passing buses will lack the wit or the determination to open an extra can or two to negate the impact of the government's benign wickedness remains to be seen. Turpentine remains a valid alternative - and a perfectly legal and respectable one too, uncarbonated as it is.

Me, I will mourn the passing of the half-litre tinny like a much loved aunt. It is a sign of our times that they could dare to interfere with something so fundamental to our society, our memories and everything we are.

Salut, fine friend. Sir Winston would never have approved.

Follow Your Convictions – This Could Be the End of the Politics of Fear

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Syriza, Podemos, the SNP: the neoliberal consensus is collapsing. Forget tactical considerations in May and vote Green for a genuine alternative

By George Monbiot

Here is the first rule of politics: if you never vote for what you want, you never get it. We are told at every election to hold our noses, forget the deficiencies and betrayals and vote Labour yet again, for fear of something worse. And there will, of course, always be something worse. So at what point should we vote for what we want rather than keep choosing between two versions of market fundamentalism? Sometime this century? Or in the next? Follow the advice of the noseholders and we will be lost forever in Labour’s Bermuda triangulation.

Perhaps there was a time when this counsel of despair made sense. No longer. The lamps are coming on all over Europe. As in South America, political shifts that seemed impossible a few years earlier are now shaking the continent. We knew that another world was possible. Now, it seems, another world is here: the sudden death of the neoliberal consensus. Any party that claims to belong to the left but does not grasp this is finished.

Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Féin, the SNP; now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter. On Tuesday morning, its membership in England and Wales passed 50,000; a year ago it was fewer than 15,000.

A survey by the website reports that in blind tests (the 500,000 people it has polled were unaware of which positions belong to which parties), the Green party’s policies are more popular than those of any other. If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government.


There are many reasons for this surge, but one of them must be a sense of popular ownership. Green party policies are determined democratically. Emerging from debates led mostly by younger members, they feel made for their time, while those of the major parties appear trapped in the 1980s.

Let me give you a flavour of the political transformation the Green party seeks. There would be no prime minister of the kind we have today, no secretaries of state. Instead, parliament would elect policy committees which in turn would appoint convenors. It would also elect a first minister, to chair the convenors’ committee. Parliament, in other words, would be sovereign rather than subject to the royal prerogative that prime ministers abuse. Leaders would be elected by the whole parliament, and its various political parties would be obliged to work together rather than engage in perennial willy-waving.

Local authorities would set the taxes they chose. Local currencies, which have proved elsewhere to have transformative effects in depressed areas (see Bernard Lietaer’s book The Future of Money), would become legal tender. Private banks would no longer be permitted to create money (at the moment they issue 97% of our money supply, in the form of debt). Workers in limited companies would have the legal right, after a successful ballot, to buy them out and create cooperatives, with help from a national investment bank.

The hideously unfair council tax system would be replaced by land value taxation, through which everyone would benefit from the speculative gains now monopolised by a few. All citizens would receive, unconditionally, a basic income, putting an end to insecurity and fear and to the punitive conditions attached to benefits, which have reduced recipients almost to the status of slaves.


Compare this vision of hope with Labour’s politics of fear. Compare it with a party so mesmerised by the City and the Daily Mail that it has promised to sustain the Tory cuts for “decades ahead” and to “finish that task on which [the chancellor] has failed”: eradicating the deficit.

Far too late a former Labour minister, Peter Hain, now recognises that, inasmuch as the books need balancing, it can be done through measures such as a financial transaction tax and a reform of national insurance rather than through endless cuts. These opportunities have been dangling in front of Labour’s nose since 2008, but because appeasing the banks and the corporate press was deemed more important than preventing pain and suffering for millions, they have not been taken. Hain appears belatedly to have realised that austerity is a con, a deliberate rewriting of the social contract to divert our common wealth to the elite. There’s no evidence the frontbench is listening.

Whether it wins or loses the general election, Labour is probably finished. It would take a generation to replace the sycophants who let Tony Blair and Gordon Brown rip their party’s values to shreds. By then it will be history. If Labour wins in May, it is likely to destroy itself faster and more surely than if it loses, through the continued implementation of austerity. That is the lesson from Europe.

Fearful voting shifts the whole polity to the right. Blair’s obeisance to corporate power enabled the vicious and destructive policies the coalition now pursues. The same legacy silences Labour in opposition, as it pioneered most of the policies it should oppose. It is because we held our noses that there is a greater stink today. So do we keep voting for a diluted version of Tory politics, for fear of the concentrate? Or do we start to vote for what we want? Had the people of this nation heeded the noseholders a century ago, we would still be waiting for the Liberal party to deliver universal healthcare and the welfare state.


Society moves from the margins, not the centre. Those who wish for change must think of themselves as the sacrificial margin: the pioneering movement that might not succeed immediately but which will eventually deliver sweeping change. We cannot create a successful alternative to the parties that have betrayed us until we start voting for it. Do we start walking or just keep talking about the journey we might one day take?

Power at the moment is lethal. Whichever major party wins this election, it is likely to destroy itself through the pursuit of policies almost no one wants. Yes, that might mean five more years of pain, though I suspect in these fissiparous times it won’t last so long. And then it all opens up. This is what we must strive for; this is the process that begins in May by voting, regardless of tactical considerations, for parties offering a genuine alternative. Change arises from conviction. Stop voting in fear. Start voting for hope.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Guardian.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part Three: Thorness Bay

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This is the jewel in the Park Resorts crown, the king of holiday parks where the Isle of Wight is concerned. As the largest of the four sites in the company's Isle of Wight portfolio, Thorness Bay Holiday Park is the place to be for holidaymakers who like to get involved in what is happening around the site.

Thorness Bay has all the touring, camping and holiday home ownership opportunities (caravans start at £14,495 and the site is now open all the year round), plus an extensive range of chalets and caravans of all grades, from the pleasant and comfortable to the luxury with every mod con.

The entertainment is out on its own. Like other Park Resorts venues the Sparky's Krew Club are always around to entertain the children, with a host of daytime and early evening activities. Later in the evening there is music, comedy, in-house cabaret and party dances - something for everybody as you enjoy excellent service from the spacious and well-stocked bar.


An adventure playground, archery, horse riding, an indoor pool with an imaginative themed water chute and a large multi-purpose sports area mean there is no shortage of things to do for the young and the not so young.

The on-site restaurant (with another bar!) provides breakfast in the morning and a varied menu throughout the day. From the spacious balcony outside one can observe all the activity on the busy Solent and across the water around Southampton, or one can take a short walk down to and along the beach to see it all from closer still.

Throughout your stay it is possible to keep stocked up with supplies from the busy camp shop.

Thorness Bay is located near to Cowes, so it can be accessed with the minimum of inconvenience from the Red Funnel after arrival at East Cowes.

On selected dates a free ferry is available as part of an inclusive holiday deal. Take advantage of the Early Booking Offer by organising your 2015 holiday before the 31st January, and get up to 30% off the published price. Click on the links here for further details.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.