The Plastic Hippo

March 14, 2011

Truth, dare, kiss, tell, promise

Filed under: Education,History,Politics,Rights — theplastichippo @ 12:34 pm

History, according to Winston Churchill, is written by the victorious. In these strange days, the defeated, the disgraced and the disingenuous can now shred the evidence of wrong-doing and incompetence so that everyone ends up a winner. From Walsall to Westminster and from Tipton to Tripoli, history will show that there are no losers. Except, possibly, the fatalities.

At the Liberal Democrats spring conference in Sheffield and behind a £2million “ring of steel” to protect him from the people he represents, Nick Clegg faced the party membership. After taking an almighty kicking from the delegates over his supine acceptance of the privatisation of the NHS, the Deputy Prime Minister tried to reassure the overwhelming majority of angry Libdems that he had not sold the soul of the Liberal Democrat party for a brief moment of power. History re-written. Sadly, Satan in the form of Andrew Lansley and the Conservative party whips will be waiting for him when he returns to Westminster.

His speech betrayed his and his cabinet colleagues real motivation: power before principle. With the Libdem manifesto torn up and thrown out of the window and the coalition agreement ignored, Trident, tuition fees, Operation Merlin and the destruction of welfare is now part of the perceived liberal mind-set. Clegg attempted to defend his seat at the top table. He said:

“Never, ever, doubt the value of being in Government. Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have ended child detention? Got an extra ten billion out of the banks? Would it have held a referendum on the voting system? Or put up capital gains tax? Ordered an inquiry into torture? Brought in a pupil premium? Or replaced Control Orders? Would a Government without Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for the poorest?”

The answer to all these tub-thumping questions is, of course, a resounding “no”. None of these things have actually happened. Illegal child detention perpetrated by the likes of our very own Serco, continues, Operation Merlin allows bankers to keep giving themselves outrageous bonuses and the demand for Proportional Representation watered down to AV, with boundary changes chucked in to benefit the Conservatives, is likely to be rejected in the cobbled together May referendum. Capital gains tax is not relevant to major corporations or, indeed, most cabinet ministers who avoid paying tax. An inquiry into torture? Oh look, torture.

The pupil premium is worthy of Kafka. No details of how this is going to work have been announced other than it will be based on the current erroneous system of the number of children entitled to free school meals. With families being cheerfully labelled as “deprived”, the word from the chalk face is that the funding for FSM children within a Local Education Authority will be divided amongst all schools in that authority. So, schools in affluent areas where mummy drives to school in the Range Rover will receive pupil premium funding and other schools battling real poverty will have their funding cut. Nice one, Nick. You must be proud.

Control Orders?…err…no. They are still in place. Cutting taxes for the poorest? At this point, the party faithful in the hall must have been crossing their legs in embarrassment and wondering what on earth they would say to their friends and relatives upon escaping the Sheffield “ring of steel”.

Clegg, in desperation, summoned up the shades of Lloyd George, J M Keynes and William Beveridge to rally the masses. The cadavers of those gentlemen may even now be stirring to rise and wrap their skeletal fingers around the throat of the Deputy Prime Minister. Does Mr Clegg think his party membership are stupid?

He probably does. If, however, the endangered species of Liberal Democrat MPs and local councillors think that their electorate are stupid, then they too will face an eternity of wandering the after life to a Thiller backing track. After being economical with the truth, Clegg will not dare take a stand against his Tory masters and we can kiss goodbye to jobs, services and dignity. He may tell his party to stand firm against criticism and promise the earth as long as they support him. If the Liberal Democrat party develop some backbone and return to the principles that gave them some credibility, it is unlikely that Clegg will survive beyond lunchtime on May 6.

The coalition government is failing. Failing to the point where lives are now at risk. Fine words from the wealthy and powerful will never assuage the misery we are about to face.

If history is written by the victorious, it is worth noting that the people writing history at the moment did not win the last general election. As Mohandas Gandhi said:

“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”

March 11, 2011

Barnsley chop

Filed under: History,Politics,Walsall,World — theplastichippo @ 3:57 pm

Seven days is a long time in politics, be it in Walsall, Westminster, Benghazi or Barnsley. Only 168 little hours since Walsall council was tweeting self-love and William Hague was desperately trawling Youtube for Winston Churchill speeches and Colonel Gaddhafi was howling at the moon outside his tent, the Barnsley Central by election result is all but forgotten.

Extrapolating the national zeitgeist from a by election result is always a futile exercise. Local issues, the relative strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates, the glare of media speculation and the historical loyalty of the bemused electorate muddy the already murky political waters. The retention of the copper-bottomed safe Labour seat of Barnsley Central came as no surprise but, more significantly, the reaction of coalition apologists proves that the game is up for both Clegg and Cameron.

The few remaining Liberal Democrats with the courage to dare to speak its name in public whispered: “just like Cheadle in 2005”, a reference to those far off days when the Labour candidate lost his deposit set against the abject failure of Tony Blair’s adventure in Iraq. Blaming a low turn out in a constituency that is home to the National Union of Mineworkers is really no excuse for finishing sixth. Now it is the Libdems turn to clutch at Jack Straws.

Prolific tweeter, Times columnist and shameless self-publicist David Aaronovitch was quick to express outrage that an increased Labour majority and share of the vote was in some way a reward for Labour party corruption. The former darling of the bohemian Hampstead Heath left lost his intellectual chutzpah when he took the Murdoch shilling, hid behind the News International pay wall and started to end his tweeted plugs with (£) symbols. If Andy Coulson was an isolated bad apple, then so too was Eric Illsley.

In summoning up the ghost of the Cheadle by election to find some comfort in facing the grim reaper, the heirs of Whiggery forgot to mention the disgraceful negative campaigning that tainted the 2005 humiliation of Labour. The Libdems came close to taking legal proceedings against their new Tory best mates over some particularly poisonous election leaflets and all this was years before Phil Woolas was rightly booted out of Oldham East and Saddleworth.

The cuddly Libdems, though, are not beneath a bit off nastiness when on the stump. There was a suggestion that Dan Jarvis, the Labour candidate, would not be welcome in Barnsley because he was born in Nottingham where, during the dark days of the miners strike, Nottingham miners refused to take industrial action. Mr Jarvis was 12 at the time of the miners strike and can hardly be described as a scab. Ever gracious in the ignominy of defeat and seeing his deposit wiped out, Liberal Democrat candidate Dominic Carman suggested that the Barnsley electorate who rejected him were racist and homophobic.

It is a good job then that Carman did not model his campaign on that of the self-styled voice of reason Simon Hughes when he stood against Peter Tatchell in the Bermondsey by election of 1983 when the issue for the Liberal Democrats was not political, but was about sexual orientation. Hughes claimed to be “the straight choice” and won, but years later confirmed that he was bisexual after some newspaper revelations. The lust for power and the expedience within the party facing extinction confirms that they will do and say anything to cling onto any hope of credibility regardless of principle.

In spite of his bitterness towards the people of Barnsley, one must feel some sympathy for Dominic Carman. Abandoned by Nick Clegg, who was otherwise engaged with a skiing holiday in Klosters, his target constituency went unvisited by Liberal Democrat leaders too busy discharging their duties in high offices of state to even think about setting foot in South Yorkshire. They might just end up in the apres-ski fondue as Clegg negotiates the nomination for a European Parliamentary seat representing the Swiss canton of Graubunden including Klosters and Davos. After all, these days, Clegg is more familiar with the pistes of Switzerland than he is of the chalet maids and ski instructors of his Sheffield constituency. Clegg`s ministerial chauffeur will need to ask for directions to the venue of this weekends Liberal Democrat spring conference.

Interestingly, the boy Dominic is the son of the late George Carman QC, defender of the rich, famous and infamous. In 1979, it was George who got former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe off a charge of conspiring to murder his lover, a certain Norman Scott. Present day cabinet ministers might wish that Carman senior was still around to share his expertise after getting Ken Dodd off charges of tax evasion.

Even though Carman the younger was unfortunate enough to represent a party that is both dishonest and ridiculous, he never stood a chance anyway. Coming up against Dan Jarvis, the Labour candidate, Saint Francis of Assisi would have lost his deposit. A former major in the Parachute Regiment, Jarvis served in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Intelligent, erudite and now, tragically, bringing up two young children on his own, he would have taken the seat even if he stood for the Chimps Tea Party.

As the coalition government make a total pigs ear of the crisis in Libya, Liam Fox and William Hague would be well advised to give the new member for Barnsley Central a quick call. After cocking up the evacuation of British nationals, Hague speculated that Gaddhafi had legged it to Venezuela. This pronouncement prompted the oppressed of Libya to take to the streets in celebration directly into the gun sights of Gaddhafi`s mercenaries. It’s okay, though. Britain has sent medical aid to treat the injuries caused by British supplied ordnance and Muammar is checking his Paypal account with the British “businessmen” who recently accompanied Cameron on his arms dealing jaunt to the Middle East. As for Hague`s no-fly zone, the RAF are currently queuing up at the job centre.

The Liberal Democrat leadership now face the faithful in Sheffield, just a stones throw from Barnsley. Grass root members might like to remind the future MEP for Klosters and my Tory Lord Clegg of Sheffield Forgemasters of the broken manifesto pledges and the enthusiastic destruction of Liberal values in return for a sniff of power without responsibility. The delegates have the opportunity to save the NHS and halt the wanton vandalism of public services, education, welfare and the criminal abandonment of people with disabilities.

If not, their Libdem MPs in the House of Commons will continue to flock into the government lobby like so many yellow sheep, only to find that government office is actually an abattoir. Chop, chop, chop.

March 9, 2011

The bus station at the end of the universe

Filed under: Transport,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:35 pm

The venerable and ever vigilant Pig Blog comments on yet another RTA at Walsall bus station. Thankfully, there were no casualties this time but the safety record of this transport hub is rapidly gaining the reputation of a Baghdad market targeted by lunatics wearing unusually packed vests.

Two cars and two buses had a coming together in a place where cars should not be and where bus passengers might wish to avoid. This latest accident indicates that Saint Paul would be well advised to look both ways before crossing the road to Damascus, the church that bears his name or even the road to Bloxwich. With a hopeless local authority determined to bank roll its lamentable financial failure by charging the earth when anything that moves wants to stop, public transport in Walsall has taken on the adrenalin rush of a game of space invaders.

Never one to turn down an opportunity to blame just about every other sentient being in the cosmos and seizing the chance for further extortion, council leader Mike Bird said this:
“My question would be what are the cars doing there in the first place as they will have driven through a pedestrianised zone to get there. I would once more ask the police to enforce this. We aren’t going to get the money for a new bus station but what we are in a position to do is get police on side and issue fixed penalty notices to drivers who flout this rule. We have already written to the Government asking them to transfer these powers to our civil enforcement officers at the local authority as the police are busy and could do without dealing with things like that.”

So, according to Councillor Bird, it is the fault of motorists who have been directed to the town centre unaware that they are driving into a dead end and the fault of the police for allowing them to do so. Approaching the town centre from the south, there is just one sign prohibiting cars and motorcycles and this is some distance and out of sight of a left turn at Flan O`briens after the new bit of road built to keep Asda happy. This single sign allows buses, taxis and access and so it is not, strictly speaking, a “pedestrianised” zone as Councillor Bird claims. There are some drivers who intentionally use the route illegally but consider the evidence presented to someone unfamiliar with the arcane road layout redesigned to keep Tesco happy. Buses, taxi ranks, delivery vehicles, parking bays for disabled drivers and yellow lines do not summon up the image of an environment where the walker holds sway. Once committed, the visiting motorist has no option but to continue and do the sensible thing and get the hell out of town. Unlike the stance of the council, a U-turn can be hazardous.

The design of the bus station is a disaster, only marginally better than the daily chaos visited upon Bradford Place where some bus companies fear to tread. Completed in 2000, the new bus station with its “futuristic” architecture courtesy of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, soon attracted criticism due to the complexity of bus access and the interaction between traffic and pedestrians. Former Walsall South MP Bruce George wanted the place demolished and present day bus drivers grab handfuls of valium at the very thought of swinging a bloody great bus through the twists and U-turns required to reach the stands. The bays run along a north east to south west axis. The buses arrive and leave to the north west and the south east. It really isn’t rocket science.

After 11 years, the green moss growing on the roof can be seen from space and the winds they do blow cold towards the struggling shops opposite. In 2000, the bill to build this piece of civic pride was £6.5million, the result of an architectural competition that attracted close to 100 entries. So who judged the entries and made the final decision? The panel was made up of two representatives of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, now known as Centro, and elected councillors. And who was one of those councillors?

Step forward, Mike Bird, current leader of the council and a man who can hear the creaking of very thin ice under his feet and the possible plod of a cut and demoralised police force already asking to be taken to your leader. Following this latest demolition derby, his first thought seems to be how to generate revenue rather than how to keep bus users safe. He must like the design of the bus station, after all, he approved it.

March 5, 2011


Filed under: Media,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:52 pm

Jack Bauer is out there, cruising the mean streets of Walsall and, along with the rest of the team at the press office, protecting us from unimaginable threat, terror, destruction, plagues of frogs, boils, hail and locusts and the irritation of over loud chickens.

The decision to stage a 24 hour “tweetathon” to highlight in real time the work of our council was, and is, a noble undertaking and Walsall can be rightly proud of this ground breaking initiative to engage its citizens with new media. Following a similar event by Greater Manchester Police, this inspired idea was to give an insight into the usually ignored but vital tasks the local authority performs on our behalf.

Sadly, the power of the internet in the hands of the press office turned into a loaded shotgun aimed directly at the right foot of Walsall council.

The bold experiment on Twitter with the #walsall24 hash tag intended to offer a day-in-the-life-of snapshot of the inner working and minutia of local government. Instead, as with so many things in control of Walsall council, it turned into an exercise in delusion, obfuscation and misplaced self-congratulation. Walsall, it seems, is a land of milk and honey, with cigarette trees, soda water fountains and lemonade springs; our very own rock candy mountain.

The day started at six am with news that council workers were already up and heroically collecting rubbish. Others were investigating complaints of noisy roosters. Local government at its very best. The day wore on with a barrage of RT`s from various feeds and trolls telling us how wonderful the council is. It would, of course, be a ridiculous assumption to expect the council not to concentrate on the positive and in these dark times, some blue sky thinking is always welcome, but when services being cut were celebrated, the whole exercise descended into Orwellian double-speak. School crossing patrols, pollution control and the Green Spaces Team have been, or are about to be, cut and the distribution of personal alarm pendants to the vulnerable withdrawn. A case of accentuating the negative.

The contributions from the library service, the police and the local history centre were less hysterical and very welcome given that they too are facing cuts. There was, not surprisingly, an eerie silence from the “partners” who provide services to the community through rather profitable outsourcing deals paid for by council tax. The lights were out at Amey, Tarmac was otherwise engaged and Serco was celebrating a £200million profit announcement, the imminent redundancy of 100 staff and the disgraceful realisation that the school transfer computer only allowed 75 per cent of year six pupils their first choice of secondary education.

The long awaited and inevitable confirmation that Walsall illuminations are to go the way of Hosni Mubarak went strangely untweeted and not a single elected councillor bothered to offer any contribution. These omissions in the the day-to-day running of a local authority was justified by the erroneous claim that the stunt was giving just a “cross-section” of council activities. Well, there are now sections of the community who are now very cross indeed.

On the day that BBC journalists were ordered to replace the word “cuts” with the word “savings” and Rupert Murdoch was finally allowed to rule the nation and a Daily Star hack resigned in disgust at being forced to fabricate stories, Walsall council became the first authority in the universe to tell its people what the ruling elite were doing. The day certainly attracted some national publicity in the wider media but dissenting voices, including this humble blog, were ignored, erased and deleted. Hash tag #walsall24 will now be forever associated with hash tag #fail.

The lost opportunity for credible engagement with social media is a tragic consequence of the desperation of the incapable in their addiction to power. After the event, amid the congratulations and tales of exhaustion, human endeavour and heroism, the sad fact is that these people are paid to do a job. The undoubtedly big job they did attracted, according to “official figures”, an audience of 116,273. That is half the population of the borough. A case of spinning the spin.

One wonders if the carers, teachers, police officers, social workers, doctors, nurses, fire crew, paramedics and all the others who keep us going will be able to pat each other on the back for the vital work that they do. At the moment, they are in fear for their livelihoods.

When last seen, Jack Bauer was at the wheel of his Chevy SUV, clamped by traffic enforcement officers on Lichfield Street, his head in his hands and weeping.

March 2, 2011

Mad dogs and Englishmen

Filed under: Politics,Walsall,World — theplastichippo @ 7:58 pm

Muammar Gaddafi, or to give him his catchier title of “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, is clearly barking mad. Whilst it is normally acceptable to laugh at deranged foreigners, the level of abductions, torture and murder perpetrated by this fruit cake is no laughing matter. “There are no protests in Libya, all my people love me”, he gibbered, “and I will not close any libraries in Walsall.”

Okay, he didn’t actually mention libraries in Walsall, but the crazy Colonel shares the same weird logic of Walsall council who did. It seems two Walsall MPs, Valerie Vaz and David Winnick, managed to question a coalition government minister in a parliamentary adjournment debate on library provision in Walsall. The brotherly Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for Culture, Media, Sports, Olympics, Business, Innovation and Skills, the Honourable (daddy is a Lord) Ed Vaizey MP, also the leader of the Conservative Wantage Jamahiriya in Oxfordshire, must have wondered what libraries in the capital of Poland had to do with him.

Fortunately, his spin doctors put him on the right track and programmed him with the default response in defending barbarism. Once on his feet, the “play” button retro-fitted to the back of his head was pressed and he droned out the familiar coalition mantra to justify what has basically become a new class war. “Difficult choices are having to be made. Walsall council, like councils up and down the country, is tackling the legacy of the budget deficit left to us by the previous government.” He should have added that there have been no protests, petitions or outrage at plans to close libraries.

Vaizey, a cultured man with a taste for antique furniture claimed against his expenses, went on to praise Walsall council for its “positive” approach to library provision by sacking librarians and spending £200K on “radio frequency identification systems”. It will be fun to hear every dog within a mile of the central library howling and imagine the surprise when the latest Catherine Cookson starts picking up taxi messages. Hearing aid users will be able to track Easyjet Airbuses as they turn final into BHX and “volunteers” will dish out microchip armed books.

The press office at Walsall council was quick to seize on this claptrap and issued a statement containing more spin than planet Zanussi. According to the council website, the local MPs were in the house to “discuss” the provision of library services in Walsall. There was no mention of what the Walsall MPs actually said. In her opening statement to the commons, Valerie Vaz said:
“Clearly the council has failed to consult and to make an assessment of local needs” and she also asked the Secretary of State if he intended to repeal the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to allow library closure.

These facts and questions are clearly inconvenient for a council hell bent on diminishing public services that are the entitlement of local residents. Instead, the gushing praise dolloped on Walsall by Vaizey, who was at public school with Gideon Osborne, was given prominence.

“I truly admire how Walsall is going about its business, because it is genuinely consulting and not rushing to judgement. It is determined to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for the people of Walsall, which takes its culture very seriously.”

This complete and utter drivel goes beyond the laughable and into the realms of insult and deception. The figures have already been crunched, the doomed libraries identified and individual librarians targeted. That local champion of culture, the barely coherent funfair owning Councillor Anthony Harris, was quoted thus in the council piffle.

“We welcome the comments from the culture minister, Ed Vaizey who has endorsed our approach for the future of our library service. We agreed in setting the local authority budget last week that we have no proposals to close any libraries.”

This is the same Councillor Anthony Harris that stated at full council that six libraries will close, later confirmed in an rare council press release that approached some approximation of honesty. If Councillor Anthony Harris is not an incompetent, then he must be a liar. He should have added that all of his constituents love him.

The delusional nonsense issued by the administration in Walsall gives rise to some serious questions. It is clear that cabinet and the spin doctors on the borough payroll consider us to be stupid and that we will happily swallow their breathtaking duplicity. In issuing the biggest pile of camel droppings this side of Benghazi, those in the press office have revealed themselves as political tools in the pay of the ruling political group and not, as they should be, governed by local authority rules regarding political and ideological bias. There is a threat to impartiality that is worthy of a Maghreb dictator passed his sell by date.

Gaddafi told the BBC that it would be impossible for him to resign because he had not been elected in the first place. Cameron might find this bizarre logic useful as the same applies to him. Call me Dave started the week with much sabre rattling and talk of military intervention not in Walsall but in Libya. The slapping he received from other western leaders was nothing compared to the quiet word he was given by people who know about these things. A no fly zone would be difficult to deliver after the announcement that two Tornado squadrons were being made redundant and the Typhoon Eurofighter will be seven years late in achieving a ground attack role and each aircraft will be £55million over budget before delivery.

Ironic then, that last week Cameron was swanning around the Middle East and North Africa not in the company of experts on human rights and democracy, but pimping for a bunch of British arms dealers happy to flog their misery to insane despots. Cameron seems to have learnt at the feet of one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, and may yet find a cushy number as a “peace envoy” when his time at number ten is up. Who can forget the snog fest in 2004 between Tony and Muammar on the tarmac of Tripoli airport when Lockerbie, WPC Yvonne Fletcher and the tons and tons and tons of arms supplied to the IRA were conveniently forgotten in order to sell some bombs and buy some oil?

Democracy, freedom and, it seems, Walsall libraries are not important enough to get in the way of a decent profit. Protests? What protests? If the unrest in Libya has been brought about by a conspiracy to spike the drinks of the “yoot” with hallucinogenic drugs, heaven knows what is being slipped into the tea of Councillor Anthony Harris.

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