The Plastic Hippo

June 30, 2011

House of ill repute

Filed under: Education,Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 12:44 am

The Secretary of State for Education, The Right Honourable Michael Gove, Privy Councillor and Member of Parliament for Surrey Heath, knows a thing or two about reputation and what you have to do to bring a profession into disrepute.

The handsome, noble statesman that addressed the House of Commons regarding the evil industrial action being taken by teachers and civil servants was hardly recognisable as the fresh-faced youth manning a National Union of Journalists picket-line long ago and far away. Beneath his boyish good-looks lurked a fanatical trade unionist taking on the might of the Press and Journal, an Aberdeen based newspaper serving the crofters and fishermen of northern Scotland. With a notoriously parochial reputation, in 1912 the P&J famously announced the sinking of the Titanic with the headline: “Aberdeenshire Man Drowned At Sea.”

Now older and wiser, Michael no longer pays his NUJ subscription and told the house that he lost his job because he went out on strike. It is more likely that he proved to be too boring even for the Press and Journal. Happy then to withdraw his labour to protect his own well-being, Gove the Older now lectures and hectors on the irresponsibility of strike action and asks “militant” teachers to think of the children. Crucially, he claims that a strike will damage the reputation of the teaching profession.

Citing the hardships that have to be endured by parents, particularly single, working mothers, in arranging child care, he states that Headteachers and Governing Bodies have “a moral duty” to make sure that schools remain open during the 24 hour strike. Strangely, he urges parents to volunteer to keep the schools open by crossing picket lines to replace striking teachers. Untrained, unchecked and unregulated, Gove has not made clear how these parents can be two places at the same time. Taking a day off work to break a strike to save on child care? No, don’t think so, Michael.

This nonsense about defending “single mums” and protecting the education of children is a cynical attempt to lay a smokescreen across the systematic destruction of education. A few short weeks ago, local elections, Inset days, Easter and a royal wedding resulted in current Year 6 pupils having just three classroom days to prepare for SATS. The preferred method of condemning children and schools as failures did not require parental contribution to a Headteacher’s moral duty.

In desperation, Gove has written to Headteachers and Governing Bodies reminding them of their moral duty to support the Conservative led coalition in its mission to privatise schools. Failure to comply will not be tolerated. The Academies programme, less than a year ago seen as a reward for outstanding schools, has proved to be so unpopular that the only way for it to continue is to impose Academy status on schools that Gove considers to be “failing”.

SATS results other than outstanding, lost schools days due to industrial action and, to use Gove`s own words, “thick kids” and “stupid” teachers not reaching the arbitrary and meaningless target set by government, will result in a school being judged as failing. Crucially, contained in the contracts and job descriptions of all school staff is the clause that states that employees should not bring the school into disrepute. Gove`s carefully chosen words about damage to the reputation of the teaching profession, therefore, suggests a justification of disciplinary action being taken against individual striking teachers. Another box ticked in branding a school a failure. Intimidation is an ugly and inappropriate word in this scenario. Vindictive malice and oppression seem more apt.

If this wasn’t enough to force Academy status on schools, Gove has backed up his final solution by re-branding the Ofsted framework. Ofsted, already devoid of any credibility, in less than a year has become a blatant enforcer of Conservative policy. Far from protecting the interests of the child, Ofsted now acts in the interests of Gove, Osborne and Cameron. Previously, 27 separate criteria had to be investigated to secure a valid judgement on the state of a school, each with three separate sets of verifiable evidence. The new framework reduces the criteria to just four, with the emphasis now on “attainment” rather than progress. Evidence is now purely based on the ridiculous SATS results. So, a child who arrived a year ago with no English or even experience of school, is judged by the same criteria as Michael Gove`s privately educated children. The fact that the incoming child has learnt English and progressed three levels at Key Stage Two is, as far as Ofsted is concerned, irrelevant.

Gove might be an excellent journalist and an exemplary parliamentarian, but he is no mathematician. Who can forget the endless lists, revised over and over again, of the unlawful Building Schools for the Future cancellations, the figures surrounding the withdrawal of Education Maintenance Allowance and the utter confusion of what exactly is the Pupil Premium.

Not exactly Einstein, Gove give us the expected figures of school closures due to industrial action. Very few schools are actually closed, most are “partially closed”. Partially closed means that the caretaker has unlocked the gate because he or she, as a member of a different union, will be the subject of disciplinary action if they did not execute their duties. There are no teachers, no pupils, no volunteering parents. Just the Head, the caretaker and Teaching Assistants rearranging the displays on the wall. Thus, Gove will crow that the majority of schools were open and that the strike lacked support and was a failure. Sure is easier than hitting miners over the head and starving them back to work.

Gove has now sailed through being merely incompetent and is now in the choppy waters of actual negligence. If he continues on his course, he is about to present a real and imminent danger to the well-being of children. A man without any shred of honour, he is unlikely to resign over the carnage he is instigating. Cameron, a man lacking any vestige of ethical responsibility is unlikely to sack him. The opposition front bench offer no credible challenge with Ed Miliband and Andy Burnham agreeing that the strikes are “a mistake”.

We are told that Labour MPs will cross picket lines formed by civil servants at the House of Commons. There can be no clearer message that we are now on our own and that teachers and civil servants in fighting to preserve their pension entitlements are in the vanguard of the battle that is to come. As Albert Einstein said:

“I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their economic status and, also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.”

With an increase in pension contributions, a rise in the retirement age and public sector pensions linked to the lower Consumer Price Index rather than the Retail Price Index being non-negotiable, the plundering of pension assets to bail out bankers recklessness is nothing short of theft. MPs continue to receive a final salary scheme pension with a retirement age remaining at 65 with the option of retiring at 55. We are, obviously, on our own.

Michael Gove might talk of damaged reputations, but coming from a career as a journalist and now a politician, he has managed to tarnish even the reputations of both those scurrilous professions. As Oscar Wilde said:

“By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

Gove may have a future at The News of the World.


June 28, 2011

The wrong trousers

Filed under: Politics — theplastichippo @ 3:39 pm

Last week it was benefit claimants shirking responsibility. This week it’s about the irresponsibility of industrial action. Next week will be about curbing the power of Trade Unions. You may be forgiven in thinking that these rabid rants are the contents of a Daily Mail editorial or the wild-eyed drone of a coalition minister. But you would be wrong as these are the musings of the Leader of the Labour Party. We live in very strange days.

Since Ed Miliband became Leader of the Opposition, apart from some ill-judged, lack-lustre performances at the dispatch box, we have waited nine months for the benefit of his wisdom. Only now, as we are about to embark on the most protracted, divisive and vicious periods of industrial unrest since the Battle of Orgreave, has he bestowed upon us anything approaching an actual policy.

In spite of their weasel words, it is clear that the Conservatives are determined to destroy just about everything that matters in a mature, compassionate and valued social democracy. The poor, the not so poor and even the reasonably well off are being forced to suffer so that the very wealthy can remain very wealthy. Given that Cameron, at the behest of his very wealthy backers, has declared this new class war, the long awaited response from the Leader of the Labour Party has been, to say the least, unpredictable.

Instead of issuing a clarion call to protect the people from a particularly nasty, vindictive old school Tory government, Red Ed seems to be agreeing with the millionaires who populate cabinet. According to the Leader of the Labour Party, public sector unions have made a “mistake” in taking industrial action to preserve their pensions. Negotiation, claims Miliband, is a more public spirited approach. Ed does not mention the negotiating stance of the government in the ridiculous shape of Danny Alexander. Take it or take it, says the LibDem idiot at the treasury, otherwise we will make your life Hell. Working longer, paying more and receiving less is not up for negotiation. Strange then for Miliband to describe the only option available to this mill-owner stance as a “mistake”.

In response to anarchist teachers and revolutionary civil servants, the government is issuing dark threats of “reforms” to trade union law which, given a basic grasp of coalition logic, will result in industrial action being made illegal. Rather than screaming “no pasaran” and invoking the memory of Keir Hardie, Ed has decided to reduce the power of the union bloc vote on the National Executive and to do away with elections to the shadow cabinet. He sees himself as a football manager so it’s only fair that he should pick the team. Miliband unexpectedly beat his brother to the leadership thanks largely to the bloc votes of the unions and an electoral system known as AV. Strange days indeed.

Seismologists have detected unusual movement and rumbles taking place below the surface of the earth. We need not be alarmed. With Ed as Leader there will be no earthquake or tsunami. The spikes on the seismographs are just the sounds of Ramsay McDonald, Clement Attlee and Michael Foot turning in their graves.

The Leader is clearly very bright, politically shrewd and not afraid to lead from the front. After all, he is credited with writing the manifesto that saw the Labour Party do so well at the last general election. At the dispatch box, however, there is something of the swotty schoolboy about him. With an expression that varies between confusion, guilt and defiance, he seems like a teenager caught in possession of a magazine he is not old enough to buy.

He says that Labour “can only win if we change”. In this case “change” would appear to be abandoning long established, deep rooted principles in favour of mimicking the questionable success of the Conservatives. With the LibDems already absorbed into the Tory hegemony, power before conviction seems to be the political imperative. Whilst not yet wearing Thatcher’s twin set and pearls, Miliband is attempting to pull on Cameron’s trousers in the increasingly vain hope of victory. After nine months, we now see the Emperors new clothes.

For those who oppose the madness that is being inflicted, turning to Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition for support is now futile. Change might be needed to win power, but change is also now needed to regain any credibility. The Labour Party could make a start by changing its leader.

June 26, 2011

Walsall to stage F1 Grand Prix

Filed under: Fiction — theplastichippo @ 8:03 am

Motor racing enthusiasts are celebrating the astonishing announcement that the final race of the 2011 Formula 1 season will be run on the streets of Walsall.

The shock news came after months of secret negotiations between the Federation Internationale de l`Automobile (FIA), the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) and the Walsall Motoring and Biking Club (WMBC) and as a result of the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix. It is thought that WMBC approached F1 supremo Bernie Ecclescake with an offer to stage the prestigious event as soon as it was realised that a corrupt authority that harms its people was needed to secure sponsorship, advertising and television rights.

Mr Ecclescake said:
“F1 is above politics and it’s disappointing that a few people being shot and the doctors who treated them tortured and imprisoned should scare off the advertisers. Sport, especially F1 with millionaires racing around in fast cars is the only way to bring people together to sort out their differences. Is Walsall near Birmingham?”

The actual race circuit will be Walsall’s famous and much admired ring road, the A4148, which will be renamed the Nerdbirdring in honour of the Grand Prix. Other street names will be changed to avoid confusing television viewers.

The start/finish line will be at the centre of the Arboretum junction and the cars will speed off in the direction of the Leather Museum along the Tesco Straight. At Le Gendarmerie, and with the pit lane to the left leading to the Crown Wharf car park, the drivers will approach turn 1, a left into Pleck Road, or Crash and Burn as it now will be known. As part of the planning for the race, a large hospital with an A&E department will be placed close by for the drivers who fail to make the turn.

After a fast, meandering straight through the picturesque hamlet of Pleck, now renamed Rascasse, drivers will face the challenging Morrisons hairpin into Wallows Lane. Another long, fast straight through Fulbrook, Leckie and Club de Rugby leads to the tricky Hotel double chicane followed by another at Harvester. Then the long run to the finish through Arbo and Chuckery which will see cars screaming downhill at 200mph towards the finish line.

The Walsall Motoring and Biking Club are convinced that the circuit will provide fantastic racing and, hopefully, lots of entertaining accidents. Leader of WMBC, Mr Bike Merde said:
“This is a golden opportunity to showcase our wonderful ring road and bring loads of money into the town. We already have state of the art signs that warn drivers to wear their seatbelts, keep to the speed limit and not use their mobile phones. I am really looking forward to welcoming Fangio, Graham Hill, Sir Donald Campbell, George Michael and all the other top drivers to Walsall. Do you want to buy some souvenir cuff links?”

The deal that brings F1 to Walsall was struck with all sides having to make concessions. The FIA have agreed to five compulsory pit stops in the Crown Wharf pit lane. This will allow WMBC to collect £1.20 for every stop. If the pit stop is longer than five seconds, a further charge of 10p per nano second will be levied. Should a car break down, or hopefully crash, in a bus lane or on a red route, a charge will be made for its recovery. WMBC will also receive a proportion of the television rights in the form of a flat screen HD television awarded to every member of its executive committee.

In return, WMBC must improve the start/finish line as both the FIA and FOCA consider it too dangerous. Therefore, the Arboretum junction will be closed for three months prior to the race to allow remodelling so as to give drivers a clue as to which lane they should be in. Following the race, the junction will be closed for a further six months to re-instate the existing configuration. This work should cost WMBC no more than £200million.

Speaking via satellite from Valencia where he is on a fact finding mission to the European Grand Prix, Dr Merde of the WMBC said:
“This is money well spent and will regenerate Walsall. Supermarkets have had their day. The future is in internal combustion.”

Chief Circuit Marshall Tom Mitchells-Butlers, also in Valencia, added:
“We have massive stockpiles of grit and all the pot holes are fixed. At least that’s what somebody told me.”

Professor Merde will shortly return to Walsall to plan the motor sport extravaganza. As well as the feature Grand Prix, earlier races will include flat bed trucks loaded with scrap and blowing bugles, WM Travel buses against private bus companies, young men with more sound system than car, horses, carts and WMBC vans ignoring the designated circuit. Sir Bike Merde of the WMBC is confident that the event will be a success and said:
“Look, these are difficult times and we have to make difficult decisions. In these circumstances, bringing Formula 1 to Walsall is the only option. I keep saying this.”

On hearing of Lord Bike of Pheasey`s comments, top driver Jason Buttonhole said:
“Great. I love racing in Poland. The women are so attractive.”

Ticket prices to attend the two hour race start at £250, rising to £5000 for a standing position with a view of the circuit.

June 24, 2011

Do the Stanley

Filed under: Media,Music,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:44 pm

With English rain falling, it must be the season for Glastonbury. Perhaps a few of the multitude going down to Worthy Farm to set their souls free remember the first festival 41 years ago when the entrance fee was £1 including milk from the farm. Things have certainly changed.

Back in 1970, Edward Heath had just come to power and the festival opened the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix. In those far off, heady days, going to Reading, the Isle of Wight or Glasto was regarded as an act of defiance and open rebellion. The establishment were horrified by lurid tales of promiscuity, anarchy, drug-taking and even gratuitous nudity. Police were used as a rather blunt instrument to suppress this dangerous free expression but to no avail. Festivals got bigger.

Now, Glastonbury is an established date on the social calender along with Glyndebourne, Henley, Royal Ascot and that other rain fest in SW19. The elite arrive by helicopter and enjoy corporate hospitality in designer wellies whilst getting down to some cool grooves in the acid house tent. The off duty police officers joining the mud slides and tweeting that they will protest at Bono`s tax avoidance now probably outnumber their uniformed colleagues charged with keeping order. It is a sure sign of Glastonbury’s age that the police seem to be getting younger and younger.

In the wake of Kent State, Grosvenor Square and the Paris riots, police forces across the globe were seen as the natural enemy of emerging baby-boom “youth” culture. As an implacable instrument of the state, actual officers were always denied an individual opinion as the uniform represented the state. Things have certainly changed.

If a bunch of hippies sitting in a muddy field smoking dope was considered a credible threat to the very fabric of society 40 odd years ago, it is understandable that the new establishment is scared witless at the rise of social media. If information is power, then informed opinion becomes dangerous. The last thing any government needs is an electorate armed with actual facts and when servants of government break the traditional ranks of silence and discretion, alarm bells are ringing up and down the corridors of power. With MPs, civil servants, local councillors, police officers and members of the armed forces offering opinions on blogs and twitter, those that rule us resemble King Canute attempting to close Pandora’s Box whilst trying to get the Genie back in the bottle. Something has got to give.

Old school politicians, who expect old media to print and broadcast whatever they are told to, have been somewhat taken aback by the power of the internet. More savvy politicos have embraced the chance to communicate but only tend to post or tweet about opening garden fêtes, how hard they work, to spoon feed the party line or to make some supportive comment about the local football team in an attempt to gain popularity.

The Old Bill, however, particularly in this neck of the woods, are taking social media much more seriously. Superintendents, Inspectors, Sergeants and response officers are all over Twitter and are producing informative and often entertaining blog posts. We are even treated to tweets from a police dog and a helicopter. This seems to be more than just a PR stunt as the bobbies, bobbettes, mutts and choppers are attempting to actively engage with the public, give an insight into the work of the police and encourage community involvement.

So far, it seems to be working and as a consequence has placed actual human beings inside the implacable uniform and adorable pooches with a fondness for puppies replacing fearsome attack dogs. This harks back to a time when everyone in a neighbourhood knew, respected and either trusted or feared their local beat bobby. Rather than being annoyed at being woken up at two in the morning by a low hovering helicopter, it’s rather reassuring to receive a tweet telling you that three masked men armed with knives and baseball bats have been arrested whilst running down the street.

This initiative to gain trust and share information has, unsurprisingly, attracted criticism. Not, as one might expect, from anarchist revolutionaries, but from the right wing press and the rather sinister Tax Payers Alliance who bellow that tweeting for help to find a missing child is an abuse of police resources and therefore a waste of tax payers money. This is an erroneous argument as the police still have plenty of time to perform their traditional duties of hitting students over the head, harassing ethnic minorities and doing the dirty work of bad, failing and secretive governments.

In 1970, the 1500 people who attended the first Glastonbury were treated to Quintessence, Amazing Blondel and T.Rex. The festival was opened and closed by a wonderful band who are still recording and still touring. With more police officers now on Twitter than self-obsessed bores, the coppers are winning the battle for hearts and minds and are doing a lot to counter the suspicion generated by the actions of some of their more aggressive colleagues. Here in Walsall we are fortunate to have a number of officers who are willing to engage in social media. Some write with clarity, honesty and humour. One hopes that others, including councillors and council officers would do what they do and give a little candour.

One tweeting policeman has a keen sense of humour and a fine taste in music. His posts usual feature a song lyric as a title and he offers a virtual nod to the first to spot the reference. If only more would do the Stanley.

Here’s a clue.
The hippo offers a virtual nod to him.

June 22, 2011

The hippo is unwell

Filed under: Health,Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 11:08 am

To be fair, it wasn’t entirely the fault of the cats. It was very early, drink had been taken the night before and they only really wanted their breakfast. But the next time the malicious little assassins decide to trip up the hand that feeds them on a Sunday morning, they might just find themselves playing a starring role in a pie or a curry.

The fall itself wasn’t too bad. A low wooden bench successfully slowed the descent to the kitchen floor and only cracked two ribs in the process. Ouch, ouch. It was the actual landing that tore the tendons in the lower back. Ouch. Apart from the pain, the most annoying aspect was the attitude of the causes of a hippo and two bowls of delicious duck and rabbit chunks in gravy ending up on floor. With one bowl of gloop having landed some six inches away from the hippo snout, one of the little sods urgently pawed the bowl away so as not to have to share it with the prone provider. Given that the whole hilarious ballet came about by the objective of not standing on and squashing a couple of cats, next time, that moggy will end up as a tea cosy and his brother has a future as an oven glove.

Then came the Thora Hird Alan Bennett moment. The choice was to stay prostrate on the kitchen floor and cry like a girl, whimpering for help or stand up like a man. The alpha male instinct kicked in and only a few more tendons were torn in the struggle to regain perpendicularity. That’ll show those cats who is the daddy and, therefore, top of the food chain. Ouch.

The hippo is no stranger to excruciating physical pain and proudly carries the various battle scars of blackberry picking, Center Parcs and Bescot Sunday Market, so a visit to the local GP surgery seemed an over reaction. However, it was left to Mrs Hippo to point out that sustaining broken ribs in a rugby game played in 1976 is a very different kettle of delicious tuna and herring chunks in jelly inflicted in 2011. The evidence of bruising, roughly the same shape and colour and only slightly less than the actual size of Africa suggested that the alpha male might have to swallow some pride. So by the time any slight movement, cough, sneeze or burp produced oaths worthy of sailors and the agonised moans of the undead, it was time to experience the new NHS at first hand.

It was very, very good. A telephone call was returned by a triage nurse and an appointment booked for within the hour. At the surgery, a touch screen booking-in system ensured that the consultation took place within 15 minutes of the allocated time. The doctor conducted a thorough examination and carefully explained the medical diagnosis. In less than two hours from the initial contact, and now armed with pain management usually associated with dropping rhinos at 100 yards, the road to recovery is well established. Given this remarkable efficiency, good practice and obvious patient care, what kind of blithering idiot wants to screw around with the NHS?

There is no need for this humble blog to name the guilty.

Doing your back in after a run-in with some homicidal and barking mad cats is something of an inconvenience. Every tiny, automatic movement and action needs careful planning if one wishes to avoid the pain of Satan grabbing a handful of your insides and squeezing until you scream. The simple action of lifting the toilet seat, so as not to offend the female hippos, requires the assistance of a younger, bemused and male pod member. Walking to the kitchen, so recently the scene of a great fall worthy of Humpty Dumpty, becomes a trek of epic proportions. Even tapping a keyboard or cutting up food can be painful.

But, with industrial strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, ice-packs and the care and support of those that are close, tendons heal, bruising recedes and some semblance of normality will return within a few days. Consider, though, those people with disabilities who suffer pain 24 hours a day, every day, with no hope of relief and only the prospect of further deterioration. Those, who through no fault of their own, cannot walk, prepare a meal, attend to personal hygiene or be safely left alone. What kind of heartless bastards would brand these fellow human beings as “scroungers” and remove their Disability Living Allowance?

There is no need for this humble blog to name the guilty.

There are those that talk of us being “all in this together” and the need for a “Dunkirk spirit” to ensure that banks and corporate interests remain free to profit and plunder. After more than a year of coalition government, the very people that invented the “Dunkirk spirit” lie neglected and abandoned, robbed of their dignity and their contribution to society, both moral and financial, ignored. With perverse, self-interest, the state is turning its back on those who pay for it. In this surreal bedlam, “U-turns” become progress, the armed forces are told to shut up and stick to fighting and those coming to the end of their lives after defending this country are described as an unaffordable liability.

With a nod of respect to the late Jeffrey Bernard, perhaps the Spectator, in the absence of anything coherent or sensible, should publish the headline “Britain is unwell”. There is not much time left, because pretty soon, the headline will have to read “Britain is dead”.

Ignoring the body sprawled on the kitchen floor, Cameron and Clegg are happily tucking into the duck and rabbit chunks in gravy.

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