The Plastic Hippo

March 31, 2010

Health and Efficiency or Comic Cuts?

Filed under: Politics — theplastichippo @ 10:05 pm

Hippos of a certain age will remember a time when there were only two television channels, the boring one and the vulgar one, and a party political broadcast consisted of a grey man in black and white sitting at a desk.

After starting with: “I am here tonight to talk to you about…” – these cadavers would drone on for an expressionless 10 minutes to an unmoved camera and end with “God bless you all” and a forced smile. Mothers would look up from their knitting and comment that Mr Macmillan looked a bit ill. Fathers, claiming that there was something wrong with the contrast, would thump the side of the telly and go off to the pub.

Things improved in the 70`s when PPBs were made as if they were real programmes with film inserts, vox pops and graphics but it didn`t take long before things turned nasty. Negative campaigning raised its ugly head as advertising agencies employed by the parties spent the allocated 10 or 15 minutes slagging off the other lot, usually in the form of vicious personal attacks, rather than explaining their manifestos to us mere voters. That trend, like so many others, came from America and it is surprising that it has taken so long for Britain to stage televised stand up debates between party leaders. It has been 50 years since the youthful, handsome JFK took the presidency from a sweaty, devious Nixon on television. On that occasion it seems the camera did not lie.

Now, with the introduction of hundreds of living colour HD channels that are simultaneously boring and vulgar, the recent “Ask the Chancellors” TV special sounded like it was going to be a new Channel 4 game show. Screw up the economy and you will face a bush tucker trial – get the calculations for National Insurance contributions wrong and you will have to jump through a deficit shaped hole in a wall that is moving towards you. Year 13 in the Big Ben House, who will be evicted? You decide.

As a warm-up for the main event, this middleweight bout had more to do with Gok Wan than Harry Carpenter. On a lush purple set, our media-savvy contenders in well-cut suits handled the questions and camera angles with aplomb. The hours of rehearsal and coaching seem to have paid off as the election was not lost during the hour long spectacular. But, more importantly, it was not won either.

Darling, Cable and Osborne were on their best behaviour and the whole affair was polite and civilised with an unusual level of consensus and even agreement. None of the ya boo sucks politics displayed at the dispatch box here. All three realised that the level of national debt was colossal and all three agreed that cuts in services would be savage. When asked what services would be cut and when, the water became more than a little muddied. It seems that Darling and Osborne have nicked each others bikes and George shot himself in the foot over £11billion in “efficiencies”, a figure he had rubbished the previous week. He shot his other foot by banging on about the lurid “Death Tax” as if it were some sort of Star Wars threat. Darth Badger was able to swish him away with a deft flick of the light sabre.

Alistair, though, did not come out of the encounter well. He huffed and puffed but avoided offering any commitments or indication of where the suffering will start and it was left to cunning old Vince to make hay. Scrapping Trident to ease the pain, on paper, seems a good idea. A billion pound missile system aimed at some nutter on a tube train with underpants stuffed with Semtex is hardly a credible deterrent. But, like Badger and Weasel, the fox refused to be specific and could give no guarantee regarding health provision.

Vince clearly won the Channel 4 smack-down and we can look forward to Toad, Ratty and Mole entering the ring. Once the panel of celebrity judges, Rupert Murdoch, the Governor of the Bank of England and Cheryl Cole make their decision, the future of “The Chancellors” will be known. The possibility of a hung parliament after the election is a real possibility and we might find that Alistair is tasked with making the expected savage cuts to the health service. Vince, on the other hand, representing the party with the least chance of winning, could actually end up being Chancellor. After a poor performance though, George can only look forward to inheriting his father`s title and become Gideon, 18th Baronet of Ballintaylor.

Alternatively, they could record a charity single for comic relief or put in an appearance on Celebrity Master Chief. That`s showbiz.

There now follows a party political podcast…

March 26, 2010

Cider with Rosie

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:11 am

Setting the family budget can be tiresome, even at the best of times. In these days of terrible hardship, sacrifices have to be made and essential expenditure has to be prioritised. The week skiing in Val d`Isere or little Tarquin`s violin lessons? Cordelia`s pony or the summer break at the villa on Mustique? Something has to go, so after this latest pre-election budget, the hippo is giving up the nightly three-litre bottle of Frosty Jack white cider (currently £2-99, available at most corner shops) in order to make ends meet.

Alistair Darling has produced a suave, politically clever but ultimately meaningless budget. This should come as no surprise with an election only weeks away and the Chancellor was never likely to tell us that we are all going to starve to death as a result of crippling public borrowing. Instead, we have the good news that £2billion has been raised in taxing the bonuses paid to bankers. Well whoop-de-doo. If two billion was the tax, how much were the bloody bonuses paid to these blood sucking parasites in the first place?

As for the budget deficit and eye-watering national debt, the man from number 11 explained that away with grand talk of efficiencies, savings in procurement and even reducing levels of sickness at work. This vague waffle will be familiar to council tax payers in Walsall who have heard the same old guff from our local comedians prior to job losses, massive cuts in front-line services and an increase in taxation. Be warned, whatever the results on the morning of May 7th, be they hung, drawn or quartered; it will be double trouble for Walsall.

The difference between Walsall Cabinet and the Cabinet that sits in Downing Street is the sound track. In Westminster, it`s Bryan Ferry; smooth, bland, stylish and lacking any substance. In the Council House, it`s Adge Cutler and the Wurzels belting out “I Yam a Cider Drinker” with the kind of substance you find being grown in empty carpet factories on industrial estates. Darling, though, is a much more intelligent politician than the yokels in this neck of the woods.

Planting the headline grabbing but inconsequential “Cider Tax” reduced Cameron to babbling about apples and Gandhi in the harmless but disturbing manner of a Monday morning tramp clutching a bottle of White Lightening and shouting at traffic from a park bench. Osborne remained silent until his mummy told his nanny to draw him some pictures and tell him what to say. But after 24 hours, it was too late and Darling played the master stroke. Cuts in public services will be tougher and deeper than under Thatcher. “Nanny, nanny, they`ve admitted it; they are a worse government than Thatcher`s.”

“George…don`t do that.”

Going into an election, one would expect the opposition parties to seize on the lack of explanation as to where the cuts are going to happen. Sadly, the tactic seems to be to say nothing except vote for us and we will think about the inevitable cuts later. Brown, Cameron and Cable (sorry – Clegg) refuse to tell us their plans before an election and still expect our votes. There is a real danger of a hung parliament and we will end up with a three-headed knight on the steps of number 10 similar to the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and we, like brave Sir Robin, would be well advised to run away as the nutters in the BNP and UKIP would be elevated to positions of influence.

Walsall has local elections on May 6th when a third of council seats are up for grabs. Some are marginal and some are safe and although Walsall Council does not have to fund a couple of wars and prop up the banking system, the accounts are looking equally horrendous. Paying back nearly three million quid to Europe for a monumental and totally avoidable blunder and then increasing the council tax might make even the Tory voting residents of suburbia think again. Even in it`s attempts to outsource services it is incapable of providing, the ruling group has left children with failing schools, the elderly auctioned off for the lowest price in the same way that wheelie bins are procured, more pothole than road and a refusal to embrace a pot of gold.

If the next elections result in no change in government and no change in local government, the prospect is that the antics of this current council will attract the attention of the Ombudsman, the Government Office of the West Midlands and the Minister of State for Local Government, Rosie Winterton. If any of these factors change, the millions wasted by hopeless politicians and civil servants will be conveniently forgotten and we as tax payers will continue to pay for incompetence.

Whatever the result, Mike Bird and his cabinet chums will have to think carefully before they cosy down with Rosie under the hay wagon with a flagon of Olde Zummerzet Brain Damage.

And as for the tax burden and deficit; we are going to have to drink a hell of a lot of cider to get out of this mess.

March 24, 2010

Do you want any cash back?

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:10 am

The hippo must offer a humble apology to the unfortunate people held up in the checkout queue at Morrisons today. It is hard enough to manoeuvre a disability scooter or shopping trolley occupied by a wailing child through the groves of “value” lager and oven chips and the last thing consumers need is a two tonne semi-aquatic quadruped lumbering down the cake and pastries aisle and then holding up the checkout queue.

However, the BOGOF offer on the Soreen malt loaf was not correctly processed and the final bill had to be questioned. Maureen, operating her till was, as ever, charming and good natured and summoned her supervisor. The receipt was checked, the mistake corrected, the 99p reimbursed and the line moved on. A large X was placed on the incorrect receipt along with the word “Void” in black felt tipped pen and it was placed in a special bag and taken away for scrutiny. That`s how accountancy works.

Walsall Council could learn a lot from supermarket chains, not just in reducing the price of merchandise past its sell-by date and the exploitation of third world farmers, but by adopting something called credible accounting. You might think that dishing out over 3 million quid in European grants to deserving causes, without any palpable financial risk to council tax payers, would be fairly straightforward. Sadly, an ape trained to stack shelves with boxes of shredded wheat would have made a better job of it than Walsall Council.

All the council had to do, was allocate the money and then keep a record of where it went. The failure to account for the cash has resulted in the council having to “de-commit” – that means pay back in council speak – two and a half million pounds to the European Union. An independent report, allegedly costing £80,000, praises the council for limiting the damage and avoiding having to “de-commit” the full £3.2 million. By chance, the £650,000 compensation paid out to Peter Francis almost matches the total. Peter Francis was the guy brought in to manage the funding. After two weeks in the job he saw that something was wrong and set off the alarms. For his trouble, he was suspended, harassed, bullied and then dismissed. He made the mistake of mentioning the mouse droppings in the chicken nugget freezer.

As this bunch of half-wits close care homes, increase council tax and admit to incompetence by selling off vital services to any shyster with a winning grin, the good people of Walsall are paying good money for rubbish management. As a police and CPS inquiry was starting to investigate the fiasco, the then Chief Executive made her excuses and left with an undisclosed wedge of money safely in her handbag. The current bone-head, it seems, is the highest paid Chief Executive in the region, taking home more wonga than the Prime Minister. The constant claim that high achievers deserve high salaries has some logic and we need only to look at the banking industry to see that losing billions deserves a massive bonus. If we pay for achievement, why are we paying the highest rate of council tax in the Black Country with the lowest standard of service provision?

This council is failing; failing its young people, the old, the vulnerable, the people in need of care and failing the people who pay these idiots their inflated salaries. Maureen at the checkout could teach these morons a thing or two about customer care and service.

Just enter your pin number and press the green button.

March 19, 2010

Charlie Gillett 1942 – 2010

Filed under: Media — theplastichippo @ 11:25 pm

Charlie Gillett died on Wednesday morning. Apart from writing the definitive history of popular music “The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll”, his radio shows gave first breaks to the likes of Graham Parker, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Dire Straits. But his greatest gift to us was as a champion of what became known as “world” music.

His Honky Tonk programme on Radio London in the 70`s rapidly gained a cult following with its eclectic mix of tracks from around the world and listeners knew that if Charlie was playing it, it had to be good. As well as being an antidote to Glam Rock and Heavy Metal, the show influenced so many musicians tired of the three minute pop song formula and the three chord trick.

In the 80`s he worked at Capital Radio and his “A Foreign Affair” show brought Miriam Makeba, Youssou N`Dour, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Salif Keita and countless others to a wider mainstream audience. Returning to the BBC, he gave us “Charlie Gillett`s World of Music” on the World Service and Radio 3`s “World on 3” on Friday nights.

After a long battle against illness, his last programme was broadcast on March 13 on the World Service. Anyone who is passionate about good music will miss him and his influence on bringing quality music to a global audience. Friday and Saturday night radio will never be the same.

March 18, 2010

Parachutes and pashminas

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 11:40 pm

Whenever someone starts a sentence with the words:
“I am not a racist/sexist/ageist/homophobic but” (delete as necessary), you can bet your life and immortal soul that they are. The societal and religious intolerant are always very keen to present a public display of equanimity and will smile benignly, secure in a twisted faith and will consider any interlocutor with an opposing opinion to be a moron because, oh dear, you just don`t understand.

The paucity of women MPs, particularly those of Asian origin, is clearly a matter of some concern for not just the Labour Party, but also for the rest of the bunch who any day now will be banging on our doors and promising us the earth if we vote for them. But the problem of under representation is a problem for political parties, not voters in those constituencies that are considered politically safe. Elevating candidates because of their gender or ethnic background rather than merit or local knowledge and commitment, damages the whole notion of equality and plays into the hands of the knuckle dragging BNP.

The imposition of an all woman short list for Walsall South will have undoubtedly angered some local Labour contenders unfortunate enough to have been born male and harbour ambition obviously fuelled by evil testosterone. The unsuccessful attempt by the Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, to force an all Asian woman short list in Walsall is, at best, an example of Westminster tokenism and, at worst, an insult to the Walsall electorate. Interestingly, the rules laid down for Walsall, did not apply in Erdington where Jack Dromey was selected to stand for parliament. It would seem that hubby is more important than sisterhood.

Our next MP, whoever he or she might be, will have difficulty in matching the commitment to the constituency shown by Bruce George, an old war horse who was never afraid to speak his mind and knew this place like the back of his hand. The selection of Valerie Vaz as the next Labour candidate might go some way to filling Labour Party quotas but it remains to be seen if she has the credentials to serve as a capable constituency MP. There is no question that she is bright and able, but the assumption that the first thing she did on hearing of the parliamentary vacancy was to open Google Earth to look for Walsall is irresistible. The tradition of parachuting rising party stars into distant, parochial seats is well established and will continue. Ms Vaz is certainly more familiar with Ealing Broadway rather than Broadway North.

In these days, when MPs have a serious image problem and trust and regulatory compliance is in doubt, the voters of Walsall deserve a credible candidate with local experience who will champion local issues rather than further their own political careers. Valerie Vaz will certainly prove to be a perfect match to the Labour Party job description.

Possession of an X chromosome, looks good on camera, happens to have Asian ancestry and can legitimately wear a pashmina in public without looking ridiculous.

I am not a Labour voter, but…

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