On the 42nd day of the year 2011, Ground Hog Day was more than a week late in Pennsylvania, 18 days late in Cairo, seven months late in Sandwell, a thousand years on Cannock Chase and much later than that in Walsall. It remains to be seen if the hope of Spring is a false promise or a prompt to send us back to our burrows to sleep through the continuing winter blizzards.
February 11 was, to use David Cameron’s words, “a remarkable day”. We celebrated the births of Thomas Edison, King Farouk of Egypt, Dennis Skinner, Manuel Noriega, Gene Vincent, Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin and Jennifer Aniston. Imagine compiling a horoscope for that lot. We also commemorated the passing of Rene Descartes, Sylvia Plath, Roger Vadim, Jackie Pallo and Alexander McQueen.
Also on this day, Henry VIII became the supreme head of the Church of England, Elbridge Gerry invents gerrymandering, the Lateran Pact was signed between the Pope and Mussolini, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini takes power in Iran and Nelson Mandela is released after 27 years of captivity. February 11 was a busy day for folks who like to remember stuff.
This time next year, thanks to the people who claim to rule us and have made such a mess of things, there will be an awful lot more to remember.
After 7,000 years of oppression under dictatorship, the people of Egypt finally have a slim chance of achieving something approximating to democracy and, therefore, civilization. In just 18 days, they toppled a 21st century Pharaoh not by violence but by a belief in freedom led by young people who had grown angry at corruption, lies and tyranny. They solved the riddle of the Sphinx and Mubarak hobbles off on three legs in the knowledge that his “assets”, estimated to be $70billion, about the same as the Egyptian national debt, have been frozen by those that control the Swiss banks. What is astonishing is that those who defied oppression and the stones and petrol bombs of hired thugs to claim democracy and freedom, welcome and trust governmental control by the military. The defenders of Tahrir Square remain there but now are armed with brooms and bin bags and the army high command must allow the peaceful transition to a new Egyptian civilization. Their difficult journey to that goal has only just begun. Things, though, are not looking good in Cairo.
Those with the courage to make a stand against injustice become the victors and although Sandwell might not have a Valley of the Kings, it does have a valley of kingfishers set in a rather attractive country park and has triumphed in a less dramatic stand against iniquity. Along with every other local authority in our green and pleasant land, Sandwell suffers from crumbling schools, inadequate classrooms and a scandalous level of investment in the future of education. When Building Schools for the Future was unceremoniously cut in a vindictive act of spite by the idiot masquerading as a Secretary of State for Education, most local authorities, including Walsall, shrugged compliant shoulders and accepted the punishment dished out by Madame Gove. Some councils, and Walsall in particular, seemed to enjoy the humiliation.
Not so, Sandwell who, along with five other courageous councils, mounted a legal challenge and February 11 saw them victorious in the High Court. Mr Justice Holman ruled that Michael Gove had acted “unlawfully” and that his conduct was “so unfair as to amount to abuse of power”. It is coincidental that the catalogue of destruction perpetrated by Gove and his department includes the sweeping away of the unnecessary bureaucracy of Criminal Record checks designed to protect children from bad people who wish to harm them. Given the decision by the judge, the unlawful and abusive Gove should not be allowed anywhere near a child and headteachers forced into photo opportunities might like to see his CRB form before allowing him into their schools.
Any minister with even a shred of honour would resign in shame over such a failure and any Prime Minister connected to the real world would dismiss the incompetent hoping to avoid the embarrassment of attention from the Crown Prosecution Service. But these strange days just got even stranger with the Department of Education claiming victory “on the substantive points” of the decision and were pleased to point out that any reconsideration on providing buildings that might, one day, provide anything remotely described as an education would be undertaken by the Right Honourable Michael Andrew Gove MP. Hurrah, the future of our children is in safe hands.
It was not just in Sharm el-Sheik and the Department of Education that February 11 saw rats poking their heads out of holes to see if was safe outside. The coalition rodents in Westminster backed down over the sell-off of national forests and the weasels in Walsall claimed that no libraries would close. This is complete, utter, grade A bovine excrement or, in other words, lies.
If allowed to remain in place, the unelected will continue with their plans and these latest announcements are intended to placate those who rather than occupy a square, have chosen to sign petitions. The hope is that middle England, with the green wellies and Golden Labrador in the four-by-four ready to defend the greensward, will return to voting Conservative and those nerdy book-loving types in Walsall will stay at home on May 5 and not impede the long tradition of vote rigging in the borough. But revolution starts with a whisper and people are already shouting.
Throughout the Egyptian uprising, the most crucial gauge of the viability of the state was how the administration was described by the media. At the start, the BBC reported on “the Egyptian government”, by the time the secret police and paid thugs were hurling stones and petrol bombs into Tahrir Square, it had become “the Mubarak regime”. When the army told Uncle Hosni to go, it was the end of “a dictatorship”. The excellent Al Jazeera on the other hand, whose coverage was superb, described Mubarak as a dictator from day one and must have been delighted to be blamed for the unrest by the Deputy President Omar Suleiman. Omar lasted in the job for a total of 14 days.
The events on the streets of Tunis and Cairo will not have gone unnoticed by the people and “governments” in Algiers, Beirut, Tripoli, Tel Aviv, Sana’a and even the last feudal sheikdoms of the Gulf States. Al Jazeera is providing accurate reporting on the actions of those nervous “governments”. Perhaps they should dispatch news crews to Westminster and Lichfield Street, Walsall.
As the May 5 local elections approach, will they be the first to talk of “the Cameron dictatorship” or “the Bird regime”? Will they quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley who ends his poem Dirge for the Year with this:
“January gray is here,
Like a sexton by her grave;
February bears the bier,
March with grief doth howl and rave,
And April weeps – but, O ye Hours!
Follow with May’s fairest flowers.”
You could order a copy from your local library or ask about the poem at your local school. But then again, the Ground Hogs are still hibernating.