Monday, 26 January 2015

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

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.

MULTI-PURPOSE SPORTS AREA

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.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part Two: Lower Hyde

The second location in our Park Resorts series is Lower Hyde, one of two parks situated in the popular seaside town of Shanklin.

Lower Hyde Holiday Park is of a similar size to Nodes Park, but is situated close to a major Island town - an easy walk both to the shops and down to the beach. As such it is an ideal retreat for families and seaside dwellers.

The star attraction is maybe the popular heated outdoor pool, open between May and September. As well as the pool itself an attractive patio area is provided for lounging. For those who prefer the warm ambience of an indoor swimming pool this is shared with neighbouring Landguard Park, with modern facilities and overlooking bar and food area.

As with all Park Resorts venues Lower Hyde boasts some great evening entertainment at the Squires Showbar. There is also an amusement arcade which has been recently refurbished.

Great news is that the park is now open all the year round, albeit with some curtailment of facilities during the short former closed season in winter. Holiday home ownership is available as on all sites and caravans can be purchased from just £16,995.

Remember the Early Holiday Booking Offer in which you can save up to 30% on all 2015 Holidays when you book before the 31st January.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Mary Macleod Takes Up Mogden Complaints

Residents suffering the effects of the ongoing odour problem at Thames Water's Mogden Sewage Treatment Works have been given some hope of respite following the intervention of Brentford & Isleworth Conservative MP Mary Macleod.

Mary has already raised the matter in the House of Commons and has met with the Environment Minister alongside members of the community-led Mogden Residents' Action Group (MRAG). She has also established a line of contact with the Environment Department at the London Borough of Hounslow, where planning permission was granted to Thames to expand the plant when it was patently obvious to all but a handful of dopey politicians that Thames had lied about its capacity to minimise odour once the proposed works had been completed.

It is worth noting here that Ed Mayne, one of the three Labour ward councillors for Isleworth, has also written to Thames in the strongest possible terms calling for action over the smell.

Campaigning residents are hopeful that these latest high-profile interventions will impress upon the Mogden management at last that the present situation in which odour is simply allowed to escape at will and impinge upon the quality of life of tens of thousands of neighbouring residents is unsustainable.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Park Resorts on the Isle of Wight - Part One: Nodes Point

Much though we like travelling around, the one place we can always be guaranteed to return to each year is on the wonderful Isle of Wight. As holiday parks go these are the ones which in our view provide the best balance between peaceful enjoyment and entertainment, with high standards retained in every aspect of the holiday experience.

Park Resorts has four parks on the Island. One of them is Nodes Point, situated at St. Helens, near Bembridge. Just a short walk down to the beach (owned by the National Trust) at the beautiful Priory Bay, Nodes Point boasts an adventure playground, indoor fun pool with water slide, all-weather sports court, horse riding and evening family entertainment in a newly refurbished complex.

More good news is that Nodes Point is now open all the year round. As well as static caravans touring and camping is also provided for on site. A good selection of food is available from the Harbour View Terrace, and there is a well-stocked shop on site too which will provide for most of one's needs throughout one's stay.

One comment frequently heard about Nodes Point Holiday Park is that it has a strong community feel, not least because of the many caravan owners who return sometimes several times a year. Holiday homes can be purchased from as little as £16,995 and it is always discussing what may be available in terms of finance and offers.

Until 31st January Park Resorts is running an unmissable Early Booking Holiday Offer, with up to 30% off all holidays booked for 2015. Click on the links for more details, but don't miss out - this offer expires at the end of the month.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to The Holiday Zone.

Democracy Day: A Few Additional Thoughts

Today (Tuesday) is, by all accounts, Democracy Day. Whose idea this was I've no idea - I can't remember ever having been asked to vote on it - but let us not be churlish. In recognition of the great event I have reproduced an interesting article below by Paul Cartledge, taken from the BBC News Magazine.

I am sure there are many sound arguments against the notion of replacing the present party system with a pure Athenian model of government. But the one usually invoked, that being that our towns and cities are far too large for such a thing to be practical, has been effectively neutralised by the rapid advance of technology. As any X-Factor or I'm a Celebrity enthusiast will know, voting in large numbers very quickly is these days a surprisingly easy thing to organise.

Instead, we have a version of democracy which involves two large exclusive organisations and a handful of smaller ones who use their collective power to monopolise our political process in a way which provides them with total power over us as a society. As if this were not bad enough, the whip system ensures that no dissent can usually be heard even within these organisations. Our First Past the Post electoral arrangement means that, effectively, there are only two schools of thought to be considered amongst a population of some 64 million, and with the convergence of official opinion even those are so similar as to be close to identical.

Mention the prospect of replacing the system we have with something resembling a real, organic democracy and the squeals of anguish that emanate from that tiny chosen minority that is actively involved within our present system can be heard from miles around.

The Internet may lack the splendour of the Athenian assemblies, but since it arrived we have had no excuse for the continuation of the perversion of democracy that is the banker-sponsored, media-driven two-party state. Does Ancient Athens have something to teach us? You decide.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Would Athenian-Style Democracy Work in the UK Today?

The following article was written by Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, Cambridge University, and AG Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College for the BBC as a contribution to Democracy Day.

Ancient Athens operated a unique system of direct democracy in which all citizens could vote on laws themselves rather than electing representatives to do it for them. Could such a system operate in the modern UK?

We're all democrats now. "We" in the liberal, late-capitalist West, that is, whether we are upper-case democrats (Christian Democrats, US Democratic Party supporters, etc) or lower-case. And we have been that since roughly the mid-19th Century.

During the course of the long and horrendous 20th Century, we recovered some of the original ancient Greek term's ideological resonance. Demokratia - "people-power" - was born in classical Athens around 500 BC, explicitly as an anti-tyrannical political mode of self-governance.

Against any simple, straightforward application of ancient Greek democratic ideas and practices to our modern democracy, however, there stands the apparently insuperable obstacle of incommensurable differences of scale.

Even Athens, by far the largest polis - a city or citizen-state - in ancient Greece in terms of the size of its adult male citizen body (60,000 maximum), was minuscule by our standards, though for Aristotle (not an ideological democrat) even that was way too large.

DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY

Yet thanks to new digital technology and instant online intercommunication, it is theoretically possible for us today to replicate virtually (if not necessarily virtuously) the conditions of an ancient Athenian primary decision-making assembly by mass meeting and face-to-face voting.

Then there is the further obstacle of our very different, indeed contradictory notions of the state, political parties, and representative government, all of which for an ancient Greek democrat would add up to something far more like oligarchy ("rule of the few") than anything he would recognize as democracy.

Unlike our representative democracy, or politics at a distance, however, ancient Greek politics were always face-to-face, and often enough in-yer-face. A frequently fevered contention for domination or control of public affairs, constantly risking civil dissension or even outright civil war.

It was this pressure-cooker, zero-sum character of ancient Greek politics that helps explain why the compound noun demokratia, so far from being a descriptively innocent term, was always loaded - in the artillery sense as well as the gentler metaphorical one.

EMPOWERED PEOPLE

The -kratia component of demo-kratia was derived from kratos, which meant unambiguously and unambivalently power or strength. Demos, the other component, meant "people" - but which people, precisely?

At one extreme it could be taken to mean all the people - that is, all the politically empowered people, the adult male citizenry as a whole. At the other ideological pole, it referred to only a section of the citizen people, the largest, namely the majority of poor citizens - those who had to work for a living and might be in greater or less penury.

Against these masses were counterposed the elite citizens - the (more or less) wealthy Few. For them, and it may well have been they who coined the word demokratia, the demos in the class sense meant the great unwashed, the stupid, ignorant, uneducated majority.

So, depending where you stood on the social spectrum, demokratia was either Abe Lincoln's government of, by and for the people, or the dictatorship of the proletariat. This complicates, at least, any thought-experiment such as the one I'm about to conduct here.

However, what really stands in the way is a more symbolic than pragmatic objection - education, education, education.

PARTICIPATORY

Pericles - Greek statesman, orator and democrat
For all that we have a formal and universally compulsory educational system, we are not educated either formally or informally to be citizens in the strong, active and participatory senses. The ancient Athenians lacked any sort of formal educational system whatsoever - though somehow or other most of them learned to read and write and count.

On the other hand, what they did possess in spades was an abundance of communal institutions, both formal and informal, both peaceful and warlike, both sacred and secular, whereby ideas of democratic citizenship could be disseminated, inculcated, internalised, and above all practised universally.

Annual, monthly and daily religious festivals. Annual drama festivals that were also themselves religious. Multiple experiences of direct participation in politics at both the local (village, parish, ward) and the "national" levels. And fighting as and for the Athenians both on land and at sea, against enemies both Greek and non-Greek (especially Persian).

Formal Athenian democratic politics, moreover, drew no such modern distinctions between the executive, legislative and judicial branches or functions of government as are enshrined in modern democratic constitutions. One ruled, as a democratic citizen, in all relevant branches equally. A trial for alleged impiety was properly speaking a political trial, as Socrates discovered to his cost.

DEMOCRATIC DEFECIT

In short, ancient Athenian democracy was very far from our liberal democracy. I don't think I need to bang on about its conscientious exclusion of the female half of the citizenry, or its basis in a radical form of dehumanised personal slavery.

So why should we even think of wanting to apply any lesson or precedent drawn from it to our democracy today or in the future? One very good reason is the so-called "democratic deficit", the attenuation or etiolation of what it means to be, or function fully as, a democratic citizen.

The recent Scottish referendum, whatever one may think about its outcome, was quite extraordinary if for nothing else for its very process - a one-off, once-for-all popular democratic vote, the majority on the day (plus of course the postal voters) winning and taking all (but the Athenians would have raised an eyebrow at the voting equality of 16 and 17-year olds - 18 was their age of political majority).

ACCOUNTABILITY

There's another dimension, too, that I would myself wish to recover from the ancient Athenian democratic experience - the Athenians were incredibly hot on responsibility or accountability.

Most of their office-holders were, as a matter of fact, selected by the lottery rather than by election, the latter being considered in principle un-democratic, since it favoured members of the few rather than the masses.

But even allotted officials were no less subjected to official public scrutiny and audit than were the elected high officials who served the community as generals or treasurers or water-commissioners.

All too easily today, in our era of cabinet government and prime-ministerial autocracy, it is possible for our high officials to evade even routine accountability for their actions or decisions. Abolition of parties is another plank in my own personal neo-democratic platform - but putting the case for that must await another occasion.

Reproduced with acknowledgements to BBC News Magazine.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Why I'm Excited by the Rise of the Greens

For the first time in quite a few years I am coming to the view that, far from gaining an overall majority, Labour may actually not even be the largest party following this year’s general election.

No matter how great our loathing of the austerity project forced upon us in the name of “reducing the deficit” by the ConDem government, and how unscrupulous Labour has been in positioning itself as the natural opposition to this government’s policies even though in the small print it is pledged to continue them, the various factors which come into play are beginning to conspire against Her Majesty’s opposition in a very serious way.

Of course it is difficult, even for expert psephologists (which I am certainly not) to get a handle on this year’s contest because it will be a contest unlike any other, in which the date of the election will have been known for years beforehand and the campaigning period will have been uniquely long. It could be that come May the country will be so fed up with politics that the election itself will be more poorly supported than usual. Or conversely, the intensity of the debate might just drag a few more souls along to sign up to the ritual in a way that keeps the system limping on with its credibility retained, at least for another five years.

THE GREEN SURGE

I am excited, if it is possible to be excited by anything that occurs at the circus that is British politics, by what has become known as the “Green Surge”. That is the emergence of a party which would appear to have been in relative slumber for as long as Rip Van Winkle as a serious player at the contest to come. This week the Green Party announced that its membership had surpassed those of both UKIP and the Liberal Democrats, and was growing at a rate of 500 per day. For the benefit of any Martians or recently released solitary confinees who may be reading this, this is the party which the powers that be have decided should be excluded from the forthcoming televised election debates in which Nigel Farage and his party are to participate.

I am not a member, nor a doctrinaire supporter of the Green Party. For many years I have prided myself on my independence from the whole shebang and have stood in elections as an independent in which the Greens have been listed amongst my rival candidates. I served for twelve years as a local councillor, three of them as a member of the borough executive, without once feeling the need to be involved with any political party and I remain of the view that the adversarial party system lies at the root of most of the problems which afflict our politics. I have long foreseen with a sense of impatient expectation the demise of the establishment parties and look forward to seeing their woes compounded on May 7th, or whenever the results of that contest become known to us. It would appear that, for the short term at least, my erstwhile belief that voters would turn their backs on party politics entirely has proved to have been overly optimistic in that they would seem to be looking to smaller parties instead. I’ll settle for that, for now at least.

The Green Party has positioned itself firmly to the left of the Labour Party, a development which I believe has come about organically rather than having been a mere tactical ploy. Speaking personally I dislike labels, which serve to slot free-thinking human beings into neat pigeon holes when surely the need to retain freedom of thought and of action should be of paramount importance. Nonetheless, with the Liberal Democrats having their fingerprints over far too much of the malign and inequitable legislation that has issued forth from David Cameron’s government under cover of tackling debt which has conveniently been blamed entirely upon its predecessor, I feel the Greens to be very much the most likely recipients of my vote, and my support, at the coming election.

It isn’t that I blame the Lib Dems for having gone into coalition. I do believe that, at the time, it was the correct thing to do. But the inescapable conclusion for me is that over the four and a half years in which they have ostensibly shared power with the Tories they have allowed their partners far too much freedom in which to shape the government of this country in their own image. I know from personal experience that in coalition the big parties are pre-programmed to take much and to give little, possessed as they are with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and being so very quick to forget the reasons for them having been compelled to enter into coalition in the first place, viz. that they failed to win enough votes or enough seats to be able to form an administration in their own right.

SINCERITY

There is an added attraction in voting for a minor party and that is that, on aggregate, there is likely to be more sincerity to be found within its ranks. People who enter politics in the hope of self-advancement above all else will naturally be drawn to the big establishment parties where there are jobs aplenty and hundreds of “safe” seats up for grabs. That is not to say that nobody joins such parties with honest intentions, but simply that those who have will quickly find themselves in competition for office with those whose speciality it is to tread on the heads and stab the backs of others in the uncompromising cause of the advancement of self.

As well as being a socially progressive party the Greens have the added appeal, to me, of being committed to devolving democratic participation to the people. Many of its adherents describe themselves as being of the “libertarian left”, which contrasts favourably to many like me with the authoritarianism, left or otherwise, of the Labour Party.

Of course the Greens are not the only minor party whose involvement is likely to impact significantly upon the outcome of the election to come. Much publicity and speculation has been heaped upon the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which in recent years has both topped the national poll at the European elections and won (or in some senses retained) two parliamentary seats at by-elections. As a consequence of its high profile and its clear impact upon our current body politic UKIP has been invited to the televisual ball from which the Greens have thus far been excluded.

Whilst I welcome the role that UKIP is destined to play in further helping to undermine the two-party hegemony, my problem with them is that I don’t actually support their policies. It is true that UKIP has called both for local referenda and for the recall of under-performing MPs, both of which I have no problem at all in endorsing, but it is undeniable that the party’s main policy planks are centred around a lazy xenophobia which would threaten the gains made by working people in the UK in terms of employment protection through its policy of withdrawing from the EU, and take us backwards as a society which respects cultural diversity within the confines of a cohesive whole.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY

The other smaller party which is likely to play a major role in shaping the character of the next Westminster government is of course the Scottish National Party (SNP). I use the term “smaller” here in an entirely UK context, as in Scotland the SNP is by far the largest party in terms of membership, has a majority at the Scottish Parliament and is expected to win the largest number of Scottish seats in May, mostly at Labour’s expense. Its membership in Scotland alone far exceeds those of the Lib Dems, Greens or UKIP throughout the UK and, if projected proportionately, it would by some distance be the biggest party in British politics.

It is for me a richly amusing irony that in spite of having been edged to defeat in the Scottish independence referendum by an unholy alliance of the three UK establishment parties invoking all the international and media power at their disposal, the SNP emerged when the dust had settled as the clear political beneficiary of that campaign in its aftermath. Scotland’s left-leaning electorate has found it particularly hard to forgive a Labour Party which joined with the Tories to deny them their right to self-determination for no other reason than that the union serves the party interest at a UK level. The humiliating and shameful spectacle of Gordon Brown, the son of Alba who grew into a British establishment politician, making promises to his fellow Scots which immediately after the event he admitted he was in no position to deliver, in exchange for their acquiescence, will live in Scotland’s collective national memory for a very long time to come.

Most opinion polls suggest that Labour will now lose a significant number of its Scottish seats to the SNP. It is going to be exceptionally hard for Labour to reverse this process over the coming few months. Having been stitched up once the Scottish people won’t, as the song goes, be fooled again. By ruling out the possibility of any deal with Tories post-May the SNP has very cleverly trumped Labour’s likely strategy of trying to convince Scottish voters that a vote for the Scots Nats is a vote for the Tories. In the wake of the referendum and of Labour’s betrayal it will be a brave Labour politician who attempts ever again to append the label “Tartan Tories” to the SNP. The Conservative vote in Scotland, modest though it is, is unlikely to be too much affected by the events surrounding the referendum as it is by definition a unionist party anyway. In opposing Scottish independence the Tories were at least acting according to principle.

To win even a larger number of Westminster seats than the Tories, let alone an overall majority, Labour needs therefore not only to overtake the Conservatives south of the wall, but also to gain enough seats to offset those which are likely to be lost to the SNP. Failing this, the party may still have the option of entering into an agreement with the SNP, allowing it to form a government. This could happen even if Labour is not the largest party in parliament. But the SNP will demand a king’s ransom. Any success for the Greens, who are pro-independence, elsewhere in the UK could strengthen the SNP’s hand still further if called upon to join a rainbow coalition.

SCAREMONGERING

One of the many things which unite the two major parties is their dependence upon scaremongering as a means of hooking in what they perceive to be their straying sheep. A vote for anybody other than Labour is a vote for four more years of Tory austerity, Labour tells us, with the curious inference that Labour austerity will in some undefined way be an altogether more enjoyable experience for us. It’s a two horse race, the Tories insist. A vote for anyone except the Tories will plunge us back into debt and consign us all to eternal damnation. Yawn.

The desperation of the establishment and its need, above all else, to preserve the old duopoly has led to some amusing sideshows. Presently the Prime Minister David Cameron is refusing to take part in the forthcoming televised debate unless the Green Party is involved too. Correct though his position is on this, does anybody seriously believe that it is one inspired by altruism towards the Greens? Rather than one taken by a politician who sees the Greens as being a potential thorn in Labour’s side, unlike UKIP, which will be a bigger thorn in his own?

And what should we make of “progressive” Labour’s implicit endorsement of the decision to include the hard-right UKIP but not the Green Party in the TV debates? Possibly the same as I made of the same party’s much-publicised alliance with UKIP in my own little part of the world during the local elections of 2014, in opposition to a moderate independent residents’ group. Namely that here is a party devoid of any semblance of scruple, a party which will say or do anything in naked pursuit of organisational power at all costs. The same party which, like the Tories, is currently trying to out-UKIP UKIP on matters of immigration.

UNITY COALITION

For all the permutations and possibilities there is of course one potential coalition which certainly would achieve an overall majority and which, politically, would make perfect sense. In case anybody thinks my argument is far-fetched, the Guardian covered it recently in an article by Ian Birrell entitled A Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May. The subject matter speaks for itself. It is an unavoidable truth to any who care to scratch and look beneath the surface that of all the parties which are likely to have any meaningful impact at the election, the two with by far the most in common are the Conservative and Labour parties. For this reason, Birrell argues, it would be a logical step for the two major parties to come together in a unity coalition in order to avoid a “constitutional crisis” (which evidently would be the outcome of voters having the audacity to support parties outside of the big two in significant numbers).

Of course if could never happen. The reason is that the voters, supporters and members of neither party would stand for it. Whatever the similarities between the two major parties in practice, preserving the fa├žade of “British democracy” depends entirely upon maintaining the illusion of choice, and it is simply astounding how many otherwise intelligent people still buy into the notion that these two organisations represent two distinct social constituencies and bodies of opinion in the face of increasing evidence that the real power is wielded behind the scenes and that British governments of whatever hue are merely the public faces behind which lurks an amorphous and entirely self-serving financial elite.

Although they will get my vote I am not convinced that under First Past the Post, and with all the forces that are ranged against them as well as against the other small parties, the Greens will increase their representation in Parliament by much if at all. Ditto UKIP. The SNP will certainly inflict some damage on Labour. But the system parties will still occupy the overwhelming majority of the seats on the green benches.

The challenge to their near-monopoly will be in terms of credibility, with a heftier share of the vote going to smaller parties than ever before as well as individual outcomes within the constituencies being thereby affected. It is beginning to happen, at long last. Aslan is on the move.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

We Got There, in a Roundabout Way

Mogden - no flowery notes to its bouquet
I am not the most observant of people, so for all I know the advertising for a scaffolding firm which features on the now so flowery Mogden Lane roundabout at the entrance to Tesco may have been there for some time. But this weekend was the first I saw of it.

The current political leadership at the London Borough of Hounslow, who presumably authorised it, may or may not have been aware that the general idea of seeking private sponsorship of our roundabouts was originally mooted by the late Chiswick Conservative councillor Dr. Robert Kinghorn, at the initial "brainstorming" session of the then new coalition administration back in 2006. For whatever reason it was never implemented by that administration.

This is one small example of the kind of area in which the introduction of private capital really does work. I am less enthusiastic about it in areas such as health and social services - or for that matter public utilities.

It is perhaps ironic that this particular roundabout sits just outside the much and rightly maligned Mogden Sewage Works - the best example I can think of a privately-owned enterprise that has been charged with the task of providing a service for a neighbouring community about which it clearly gives not a toss. It doesn't offset the smell, but it was maybe felt that passers-by might be able to endure it a little better if they had some nice flowers to look at whilst retching.

Nevertheless it is, as they say, the thought that counts, and the scenic display serves as a fitting tribute to a good man who was so excited about the prospect of a new approach to managing the borough.