The Plastic Hippo

March 30, 2011

Putting on the Ritz

Filed under: Law,Media,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:09 pm

The opulence of the sales floors at Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly is rivalled only by the sheer luxury of the new Tesco in Walsall. It is only a matter of time before Her Majesty transfers her royal appointment loyalty to the aircraft hanger just off the ring road. The photo opportunity as our dear Queen nips in to pick up some marmalade and oven chips will provide a welcome distraction from the last rites of a dying town.

Fortnum and Mason, according to some sections of the press, has been trashed by barbaric anarchists in a mindless orgy of violence. Boris Johnson attributes this manifestation of class envy and murderous Bolshevism to none other than Ed Miliband who, it seems, stirred up this revolutionary insurrection by shamelessly addressing a rally in Hyde Park. One assumes that the indignant outrage at people smashing things up for fun expressed by the Mayor of London is shared by his old Bullingdon Club chums David Cameron and George Osborne.

In a rare consensus, the organisers of the march on Saturday agreed with the Metropolitan Police that 250,000 people took to the streets to protest against coalition cuts to jobs and services. Others, including the hysterical Daily Mail put the figure at half a million. Other media outlets claimed that one million protested. It took four hours for pensioners, babes in arms, samba bands, fancy dressed and “ordinary” people to set off from Victoria Embankment. By the time the back of the march reached Hyde Park, the speeches were over and the stage was being dismantled. The impeccable organisation by the T.U.C. and the Met resulted in zero arrests, no criminal damage and a day that made you proud to live in a big, democratic society. However…

As it became clear that England would not take a wicket in Colombo, the cricket commentary was replaced by the BBC News channel coverage of the march. Astonished reporters on the ground talked of the sheer scale of the demonstration. “And still they come” gushed one excitable hackette. The BBC dragged Paymaster General Francis Maude out of bed to comment on the “unprecedented scenes” but all the former director of Morgan Stanley could offer was the pre-programmed drone of inherited deficit. Against images of little old ladies and small children carrying placards denouncing the coalition government, he attempted to compare the protest to that of 2003 when one million took to the streets opposing what he described as “Tony Blair’s decision” to wage war on Iraq. As air strikes in Libya escalate, the decision to invade Iraq was supported by him and his party.

To try and offer some balance, the BBC pulled up a paving stone and discovered an idiot from the Tax Payers Alliance. Comedy gold.

Then we came to the speech by Ed Miliband. He had barely cleared his throat and after a couple of minutes of his adenoidal whine, the BBC decided to cut away to images of some nutters throwing stuff at Topshop in Oxford Street. The shocking scenes relayed by the BBC helicopter of black-clad face-masked anarchists involved in some argy-bargy with black and yellow-clad police officers with visors down was accompanied by the dulcet, nasal tones of Miliband quoting Martin Luther King.

At last, the media had its news agenda and the BBC re-ran the footage over and over again and dumped the speeches from Hyde Park. By the time the VT was run for the fifth time, it was possible to ascertain that what, at first, looked like a huge crowd of angry thugs was, in fact, no more than about a dozen. The crowd was made up of rank after rank of photographers holding aloft the products of Nikon, Canon and Fujifilm. Beyond that melee, shoppers, tourists and passers-by held up their mobile phones to record the fun and games. Behind the thin blue line, “evidence gatherers” took photographs of photographers. The black bloc had legged it with the BBC describing a tactic as a movement.

The mischievous, if small, Durruti Column then descended upon the HSBC and Santander banks followed by the pack of press snappers. Two or three of the masked men managed to cave in the front window of Santander and then moved on in the direction of the Ritz. First into the bank were about 30 press photographers. Having caught up, the front line paparazzi stood shoulder to shoulder with the anarchists as they attempted breach the defences of London’s premier hotel. By now, the BBC helicopter was on a shopping spree.

The peaceful march by a quarter, a half or a million was now a side show.

UK Uncut is an organisation committed to what it calls “direct action” and have previously staged peaceful protests in the retail outlets of the likes of Topshop, Boots and Vodaphone, companies who avoid paying taxes.

The decision by UK Uncut to occupy Fortnum and Mason was described by disgruntled organisers of the march as an attempt to hijack the love fest in Hyde Park. However, it was UK Uncut who were hijacked by the boys in black. The sit down protest at the Queen’s grocer, targeted because its parent company avoids paying taxes, was peaceful and legal and according to a spokesperson for Fortnum and Mason, damage was “minimal”. The anarchists within resisted looting the four quid lollipops, five quid small chocolate bars and 85 quid Easter Eggs and instead recited poetry at each other. They did not help themselves to Ostrich Scotch Eggs at £75 each or the £500 picnic hampers. One 15 year old girl carried a home made banner which read “We are peaceful, making a point and haven’t broken anything”.

By the time the point had been made, the angry mob outside had been allowed to climb onto the canopy, paint some very rude words on the wall and make good their escape by sliding down lamp posts. The shot from the helicopter revealed that the heavy police presence did nothing to stop this vandalism or apprehend the perpetrators as they headed off toward Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, back inside, some chocolate bunnies were dislodged from a display pyramid and someone nicked some bottles of wine. With chocolate bunnies costing 15 quid each and a bottle of Chevillon Nuits-St-Georges Les Vaucrains 2007 retailing at £65, the cost to the proprietors was probably about the same as a Saturday mornings shoplifting at Tesco.

Having become bored with poetry, UK Uncut wanted to leave but were, quite rightly, prevented from doing so due to the volatile situation outside. Footage released by The Guardian shows a calm negotiation and a courteous atmosphere inside Fortnum and Mason. Sadly, once outside, protesters were kettled, arrested, charged with aggravated trespass and marched off to spend a night in the cells. Given the evidence from so many cameras, it is unlikely that any convictions will result.

Clearly, the role of the police is a difficult one, especially in situations where a small minority are intent on civil disorder and criminal damage. The excellent blog by PC Richard Stanley links to another Guardian video showing the day from the perspective of the Met`s Territorial Support Group. The film finally lays to rest the old ACAB lie.

The BBC, in possession of some brilliant shots of violence, gave up on reporting the main march and rally and played the best bits of people throwing things on loop. To their credit, they did repeatedly stress that the aggro was nothing to do with the T.U.C. and only a small number of people were involved in disorder. One had to admire the professionalism of our man on the ground as he was shouted at, had a can of Special Brew opened in his ear and had every lunatic this side of Tripoli making rude signs behind him as he attempted to deliver a piece to camera. First prize, though, goes to the hoodie who walked through shot and causally offered “bollocks” as a critique of our reporters craft.

As day turned to night, the quarter, half or million teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, uniformed fire fighters and, allegedly, off-duty police officers dispersed and returned to their coaches, trains and homes. The hard-core black bloc headed for Trafalgar Square, where, a party had been arranged. In the days leading up to the protest, whispers on the internet spoke of a Tahrir style sleepover to celebrate the end of a fairly groovy day and to be intentionally away from home on census day. Our man on the ground was aware that something was up but let the cat of the bag slightly when he reported that all was “calm at the moment but we will be back to you when we get some action…err…if anything happens.” Later a television journalist from Sky News allegedly offered a youth £25 to throw a brick. Things soon turned ugly as the black bloc tacticians were hijacked by the drunks that congregate in Trafalgar Square on a Saturday night.

Now that the dust has settled, the paint cleaned off the Fortnum and Mason walls and the windows at the Ritz repaired, the police face another challenge. A 20 per cent cut in funding, nebulous definitions of what front-line means and the possibility of elected and, therefore, political police commissioners leaves the constabulary with a dilemma. When further demonstrations take place, and they will until we see the back of this wretched, unelected coalition government, will the police continue to keep the peace and protect the population. Or will they be forced again, as during the miners strike, to keep a political party in power and protect dogma, ideology and oppression.

Unlike press photographers who can afford to dine at the Ritz, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one…happy one.

March 25, 2011

A nasty little growth

Filed under: Politics,Sport — theplastichippo @ 9:43 am

The hippo will remain below the surface of Hatherton Lake in Walsall this coming Saturday, but his spiritual presence will be divided between Cardiff, Colombo and, more importantly, the streets leading from the Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park.

The England national football team, led by the philandering John Terry, travel to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for a Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales. Given their previous lack of ambition, commitment and flair, perhaps Fabio`s boys should spend the afternoon at a garden centre in order to spare us further disappointment and embarrassment in the tournament finals.

Far away, the England cricket team face Sri Lanka in a World Cup quarter-final and after delivering the wrong kind of runs against Ireland and Bangladesh, prospects do not look good.

But, at noon, between Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge on the banks of old father Thames, people from all over the country and from all walks of life will take a stand and protest against the cuts to jobs, services and dignity. The boy Gideon, in his first foray into economics, gave proof positive of two things. Firstly, he hasn’t got a bloody clue about economics and secondly, a war has been declared against the majority of the British people.

Undeterred, his second budget confirms that the already wealthy and privileged will benefit and those in need of benefit will be abandoned and made to pay for the excesses of the greedy. This latest lunacy also proves that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is economical with the truth.

Claiming that the most pressing economic priorities facing the coalition government are deficit reduction, a curb on public borrowing and developing economic growth, the Old Etonians are heading off in an entirely opposite direction. Growth is slowing down and the Office of Budget Responsibility, created by Osborne to massage the figures when he came out of hiding following the election, has advised him that he is talking out of his bottom. Last November, the coalition government borrowed more than in any other November and a new record level of borrowing was achieved for February. Launching Tomahawk, Tornado and Typhoon in the crunch relegation zone play-off match against Libya doesn’t come cheap and the deficit, along with Gideon`s nose, is growing.

The headline grabbing one pence reduction in fuel duty has not exactly resulted in spontaneous outpourings of gratitude from delighted motorists. After six months of increases in fuel duty, Tuesday saw petrol retailers increase the price again, in some cases by two pence. On Wednesday, Gideon pulled the rabbit out of the hat and shook it at the party opposite resulting in numerous damp patches on the coalition benches produced by over excited Tories and Liberals. At six pm it cost £1-50 less to fill a Ford Focus. By Thursday morning, the price of petrol was back to where it was on Monday.

To finance this slight of hand, or lie in plain English, oil producers in the North Sea will have to cough up a £2billion windfall tax. Yeah right. Regardless of what he says now, Gideon will allow them to put up prices to cover the shortfall in profits. Just minutes after the Chancellor sat down, the odious Danny Alexander, Libdem MP for Inverness of all places, talked darkly of oil supply uncertainty due to the current bun fights in the Middle East. No mention of the likely devastation to the Scottish oil industry when the producers decide to pull up sticks and develop new oil fields in, let’s think now, hmm, off the coast of Libya perhaps? For a government that stated its intention to be the “greenest” yet, British Petroleum will be delighted that negotiations with Gaddafi are on temporary hold.

But there is more good news. Changes in taxation means that low and middle income families will be better off by the princely sum of £48 per year. Ignoring the rise in VAT and cuts to tax credits which makes a family worse off by up to £500, we can now buy 48 items from the pound shop with impunity. You spoil us Chancellor.

Regardless of the promise made by Cameron, the winter fuel allowance to pensioners will be reduced. Disability Living Allowance, paid in the past to the Cameron family, will all but disappear. The NHS, along with education and social care are being dismantled. “Growth” allows a reduction in tax paid by big business. Supermarkets, strip clubs, kebab shops and (deep breath) open cast mines will be able to “grow” without the tiresome need to apply for planning permission or listen to the concerns of neighbours. Localism at its best.

Irrational and violent even when in a good mood, the hippo will not march in London on Saturday. The appearance of a two tonne furious water horse renouncing life-long pacifism and rampaging along Whitehall would be too provocative for the good officers of the Metropolitan Police. Already veterans of suppressing peaceful demonstrations by school children and students, any attempt by the Met to kettle an angry hippo will end in tears.

After Tolpuddle, Tienanmen and Tahrir, future historians may need to consider the events in Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park on Saturday 26 March 2011. The games on the three fields of play are of no consequence and whatever the final goal tally, runs scored, wickets taken and heads counted, England and the rest of the UK, is being defeated.

March 21, 2011

The Glums

Filed under: Literature,Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 11:04 pm

When this humble blog insinuated itself into the ether, its surly author baffled by unfamiliar technology, agonised over the possibility of abusive “comments” being returned in response to the inane, miserable nonsense contained within these pages. More worrying was the possibility of no “comments” at all. But theplastichippo has arrived. We are in the presence of local legend and literary giant Mr IAN PAYNE.

Victor Hugo upon completing his master-work, Les Miserables, took a holiday and in 1862 wrote to his publisher. Clearly exhausted by producing a three page, 823 word sentence contained in his novel, Victor wanted to know how sales were going. He simply wrote “?”. In contrast to a biography of a 1950`s supporting film actor, “Les Mis”, as it became know in the West End more than a century later, was flying off the shelves. Hugo`s publisher replied with “!”.

With a charming fondness for upper case when writing his name, Mr IAN PAYNE has commented on another comment on this humble blog. Regular contributor Martin juxtaposed a crowing cockerel with the imagined reaction of a narrow-minded self-publicising irritant. Astonishingly, Mr IAN PAYNE took this as some kind of compliment along with a tawdry bit of fluff posted way back in December. He also claimed to agree with the hippo regarding the Walsall illuminations regardless of previous evidence within these pages that the hippo says good riddance to that particular pile of tat. It was down to the redoubtable Brownhills Bob to get to the bottom of this miraculous conversion from bigot to all-round jolly good fellow.

At the suggestion of the “lord and master” of the northern wastes, a quick look at the search log reveals someone looking for “is ian payne of walsall an irritant” just before the comment was posted and some 16 days after the piece was published. Note the absence of upper case and the rather sad mix of narcissism and a need to be loved.

Of the five magnificent sentences offered by Mr IAN PAYNE, two end with a series of full stops and the other three with a series of explanation marks. Literary skills worthy of Victor Hugo`s publisher but without the brevity. The cheery bonhomie is, however, less beguiling than the previous bellicose glumness.

The suggestion by Brownhills Bob that Mr IAN PAYNE publishes his own blog is a good one. The entertainment would be superb !!!!!!

And if…..

He allowed comments……he will be thrilled with our reaction!!!!!!

And he can go and Google himself…….

March 19, 2011

The lunatic is on the grass

Filed under: Environment,Literature,World — theplastichippo @ 2:18 am

Today, Saturday March 19 2011, at precisely 7-10pm, the moon will be 356,577 kilometres from the earth, the closest it comes in its elliptical orbit. If we are blessed with clear skies over Walsall just after dusk, the moon at its fullest and rising in the east, will appear larger and brighter than usual. There are some idiots who are terrified.

The happy conjunction of a full moon and such close proximity is really rather rare and if clouds do not obscure the view, we will be treated to the sight of a Perigee Moon not seen since 1993. Back then, the UN Security Council were passing resolutions about no-fly zones and armed interventions. Earthquakes and tsunamis killed people and a royal wedding was in meltdown.

There are some that suggest that this close encounter has, in some way, triggered the dreadful events in Japan. Because the moon influences tides, the crackpot logic of strangers to science and astrophysics claim that the gravitational pull of the moon produces movement in tectonic plates, mood swings in human beings who are 80 per cent water and the draining of coolants intended to keep nuclear reactors safe.

This might explain why the hippo is dragged every lunchtime from his repose and into the nearest pub.

The soothsayers, Mountebanks and mystics who display a complete ignorance of actual science are comparable to cavemen who are frightened by something shiny in the sky. As Shakespeare said in Othello:
“It is the very error of the moon;
She comes more nearer earth than she was wont,
And makes men mad.”
Act V Scene II

The capricious moon will be 406,655 kilometres away on April 2. Will that make the world more sensible?

March 17, 2011

Beyond our Ken

Filed under: Law,Media,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 11:08 pm

The legacy left by the current coalition government will be one of desolation and destruction that will blight the fortunes of coming generations. The dogmatic dismantling of all we hold dear ensures that the architects of misery will burn in hell, if hell exists, or be destined to wander the deserts of vast eternity in the political purgatory of class hatred. So far, only one minister has any hope of salvation.

The Right Honourable Kenneth Harry Clarke QC, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, cigar smoker, jazz aficionado, advocate of real ale and serial hush-puppy wearer, has introduced the draft defamation bill. This might not, at first sight, seem terribly significant given the wanton vandalism of the Cameron Clegg axis, but if you are reading this humble blog and feel moved to comment on the mindless drivel you see before you, this legislation is vitally important.

The bill, initially moved by my Lord Lester of Herne Hill, seeks to update antiquated libel and defamation legislation that has become, to all intents and purposes, unworkable. Currently, an accusation of libel or an alleged defamatory statement can be brought without any proof of actual damage to the reputation of the plaintiff and can result in lengthy, complex and very expensive court cases in front of a jury. Calling a media whore a whore, regardless of the facts, can be rather costly. Based on case law rather than statute, trivial cases take years to resolve and the only beneficiaries are the very well-paid defamation lawyers who find this kind of representation more profitable than chasing ambulances.

There is cross-party support for the bill and a commitment to reform appeared in all the major party manifestos, if they can be believed. Unusually, the draft bill currently offered for public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny, is written in plain English and not the arcane and impenetrable legal-speak of the self-interested. It seems like a very good bill.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this legislation is that it takes into account the internet and social media for the first time. It seeks to introduce a “single publication rule” which means that if an alleged defamatory statement is re-published on a web site or a blog, or held for eternity in an online archive, the plaintiff cannot launch multiple legal actions against those media platforms. The lawyers are, by now, weeping into their Chablis.

This humble blog has previously commented on this subject and now waits with interest to see the bill enacted into law. However, there are still gaps in the legislation that need to be addressed. According to our glorious Walsall council leader, Mike Bird, Twitter and Facebook are “not everyone’s cup of tea”. The draft defamation bill does not encompass micro-blogs limited to a 140 character observation or whatever people are up to on Facebook. Considered to be more conversational than journalistic, these forums have attracted law enforcement agencies evoking prevention of terrorism law rather than libel legislation.

The “I’m Spartacus” fiasco took absurdity into the realms of Ionesco and Albert Camus and the unwise comments of councillor Gareth Compton in Erdington regarding the stoning of women led to his arrest, suspension from the Conservative party and, presumably, his decision not to contest the next election. Recently, a local councillor in Caerphilly wrongly tweeted that a political rival had been removed from a polling station by the police during the 2009 election. The erroneous tweet attracted a £3,000 fine and estimated legal costs of £50,000. Thought to be the first successful case in Britain where defamation took place on Twitter, that is about £380 per character, colon, zero, open bracket.

The draft bill also makes no mention of how internet sites and social media forums should react to the issuing of super-injunctions. By definition, super-injunctions are secret and are intended to silence reporting by threatening editors and proprietors of print and broadcast media with court action. So covert are these super-injunctions, that even their very existence cannot be referred too. Where does that leave a blogger or twitterer with a juicy piece of news?

It needed parliamentary privilege to expose this last refuge of the scoundrel when a Liberal Democrat MP asked a question in the commons regarding the legal requirement of a businessman who wishes to force the press into not mentioning his profession. At first glance it would seem that the pedantry displayed by this particular piece of slime is laughable and his attempt to sail his pirate ship seems destined to run aground on the Goodwin Sands. But there are deeper under currents beneath the surface of this super-injunction which suggests that hacks might have evidence of fingers in the till and, perhaps, the indiscreet bonking of secretaries. We will, of course, find out sooner or later and this knight of the realm will be left without a shred of reputation to cover his naked greed.

How refreshing then, and in complete contrast to the secrecy of the above avaricious failure, to hear that the Royal Bank of Scotland has, as a condition of Project Merlin, released the payment figures of its top “coded” executives. Following a loss of £1.67billion, £375million was paid to just 323 bankers, an average of £1.2million each. British taxpayers bailed out RBS and are now seeing cuts in just about everything apart from bankers pay. Chancellor Osborne will undoubtedly surface to congratulate the greedy and the inept who caused the financial crisis and praise their “restraint” in remuneration.

George Osborne is an idiot. He also avoids paying his taxes and encourages corporate giants to avoid coughing up what they owe to the exchequer. When in opposition, he flipped his second home in order to pay less tax and claimed £47 from the public purse for two DVD copies of a speech he gave about “value for taxpayers` money”. This slimy, two-faced hypocrite is married to a Yak and is obsessed with Victorian female undergarments.

Under the current Defamation Act, this humble blog could only defend the above statements using “justification” and “fair comment” under common law. The new bill, if successful, will replace these defences with “truth” and “honest opinion”. So, some of the above are true and others are honest opinion. The bit about the Yak is fabrication. His authoress wife is probably rather fragrant.

Kenneth Clarke, for all his obvious failings, seems very keen on the idea of free speech and in introducing the draft bill, he said:
“The right to speak freely and debate issues without fear of censure is a vital cornerstone of a democratic society. In recent years though, the increased threat of costly libel actions has begun to have a chilling effect on scientific and academic debate, and investigative journalism.”

As all the other cornerstones of democracy are beginning to tumble, it is good to know that we might still be allowed to complain about it until blogs come under the jurisdiction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Even Nick Clegg has an opinion.
“We cannot continue to tolerate a culture in which scientists, journalists and bloggers are afraid to tackle issues of public importance for fear of being sued.”

Well said. Hey Nick, you are a liar and you betrayed the people who voted for you. So, sue me. All you will get in terms of damages is possession of a Yak. Sir Fred Goodwin is a banker.

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