The Plastic Hippo

June 17, 2011

Mars attacks

Filed under: Fiction — theplastichippo @ 2:10 pm

They are here. We have to be vigilant. They want to cut our throats in the night and steal our children and our birth right. We have to protect our way of life. We have to defend ourselves against…

People who are different from us.

They are amongst us and they are everywhere. Apart from the ones that look, think and act like us, they are easily recognised because they don`t look, think or act like us. But let us be clear about their dastardly plan. They will stop at nothing in achieving their evil plot to walk on our pavements, shop in our shops, breath the very air that belongs to us and park their demonic caravans of deceit on our historic village greens, beauty spots and burnt-out, derelict waste sites that are vital to our urban regeneration. They have to be stopped or, at least, moved on under Section 62A of the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

They are different and should, therefore, be forced to go somewhere different from here.

These invaders manifest themselves in many different forms. Their leaders are cunning and remain safe on the mother ship. These seven foot long lizards, with bulging eyes and external brains order their slavish minions to take over our world with ruthless, ungodly savagery. Oh yes. They trespass on public, common ground that is rightfully ours and deny us our historical rights to meths drinking, shooting up and dogging. We have to fight to maintain our God given freedom.

Do not be fooled by the do-gooder, bleeding heart, soft soap, namby-pamby excuses offered by so-called “liberals”. These demons are masters of disguise and have infiltrated every level of our precious society. Even the heroic efforts of our local councillors and MPs have been thwarted by the reptiles in mufti who want bail hostels and prisons for delinquent children placed in the heart of our civilised communities. These aliens talk of “24 hour supervision” and “autism” but the truth is that they want to have different people living near to normal ones like us.

We should arm ourselves with pitch forks and flaming torches to drive out these invaders before they take our souls. We should force them back inside the television where we can witness their big, fat weddings with the smug enjoyment of the knowledge that we are more tasteful than them. They have no place in our nice, caring, compassionate neighbourhoods and should go somewhere else.

We have to remain vigilant.

June 15, 2011

Four legs good

Filed under: History,Literature,Politics — theplastichippo @ 3:09 pm

`Comrades, here and now I pronounced the death sentence upon Snowball, “Animal Hero, Second Class”, and half a bushel of apples to any animal who brings him to justice.`

George Orwell’s savage and often heartbreaking parable of Stalin’s Soviet Union is, quite rightly, considered to be one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century. Written in the winter of 1943, Animal Farm: a Fairy Story was finally published on August 17 1945, just 11 days after Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima and so ended one global conflict and initiated a further long, cold war.

With its devastating critique of Stalinist totalitarianism, the book was, somewhat surprisingly, greeted with disapproval by western governments and even the likes of T.S. Eliot who was running Faber & Faber at the time. Such an attack on a war-time ally was seen to be unhelpful. But by the time Stalin was dead and succeeded by Khrushchev, the west seized upon the book as a powerful propaganda weapon against what would later be called the “evil empire” on the other side of the iron curtain. Orwell, who fought along side the anarchists in Spain and who had a bit of a soft spot for Trotsky, must have been horrified.

The book is about the corruption of revolution and the crushing of hope. One of the characters has a vision of society “set free from hunger and the whip, all equal, each working according to his capacity, the strong protecting the weak.” If only Eric Blair were still breathing as opposed to Tony Blair and, more importantly, the current leader of the Labour Party.

The other day, the Rt Hon Edward Samuel Miliband, MP for Doncaster North, rose up to his full height and delivered a speech about “responsibility”. In it, he compared disabled people claiming incapacity benefit with the greedy executives making fat profits at Southern Cross and even the troughing bankers who brought about this shambles in the first place. He describes them as:

“Those at the top and the bottom, who were not showing responsibility and were shirking their duties. From bankers who caused the global financial crisis to some of those on benefits who were abusing the system because they could work – but didn’t.”

His use of the word “shirking” is very interesting and he seems to base his assertion on the anecdotal evidence of meeting a man who claims incapacity benefit but, in Ed`s opinion, is fit for work. The leader of the opposition concludes:
“That these are people who are just not taking responsibility – and the rest of us are left picking up the pieces.”

Since the coalition assumed power, they have systematically targeted the weakest in society to bear the brunt of the failings of the strongest. To justify these attacks, the old, the sick and people with disabilities are now regarded as work shy scroungers; no ifs and no buts. Miliband, instead of challenging these welfare “reforms”, now seems happy to join in with the demonisation of disabled people in a desperate attempt to find the popularist centre ground. That level of political opportunism, particularly coming from a leader of the Labour party, is profoundly disturbing and will only result in dismay and real fear in the hearts of people who once expected his support and protection.

Benefit fraud clearly exists, but the amount of money swindled is a tiny fraction of the billions in unpaid corporate tax and the perfectly legal practice of the millionaires in cabinet and the rest of the ruling class avoiding their correct contribution to the exchequer. Every day, headlines in the right wing press scream of another scrounger claiming benefit playing football, running a marathon or finishing runner up in a break dancing competition. These cases, though, are inconveniently rare and the worst case estimate of fraudulent claims for Disability Living Allowance is less than two percent of the total payments made.

What the coalition, the press and now Miliband prefer to ignore is the current application process for claiming DLA. The application form is long, complicated and designed to confuse and lead the applicant into contradiction. Most applications are rejected. The claimant can appeal and the case goes to a tribunal of a judge, a doctor and a specialist in disability issues, usually a person with a disability and the appellant has to have a medical examination.

Greater significance is given if the claimant arrives alone at the examination. The logic being that if they can manage to get to the clinic, they do not require the care and mobility components of DLA. All this is reminiscent of a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch. “I’ve nothing against your left leg. Sadly, neither have you.” Most appeals are rejected.

Now, along with the rules surrounding Employment Support Allowance, the process for awarding DLA is being made more stringent with existing claimants being “re-assessed”. Orwell would have recognised this as “Two legs good, one leg bad”. A recent poll conducted by the charity Scope found that 61 per cent of people with disabilities living in London suffered verbal and even physical abuse on a daily or weekly basis. The mob, inflamed by the comments of Cameron and now Miliband, doubt that the victims are actually disabled and the evidence before their eyes is an elaborate rouse to steal the bread from the mouths of the able bodied. Consider the television images of a wheelchair user, lawfully protesting during the student rally in December, being pulled from his chair and dragged across the road by a Metropolitan Police officer. This was done, apparently, for his own protection and to remove him from a place of danger. Clearly, the Met have difficulty in re-inventing the wheel.

Later in his speech, after some waffle that seems to condemn and support “The Big Society” whatever that is, Miliband said this:
“We must create a boardroom culture that rewards wealth creation, not failure. To those entrepreneurs and business people who generate wealth, create jobs and deserve their top salaries, I’m not just relaxed about you getting rich, I applaud you.”

Some, it seems, are indeed more equal than others.

What is deeply worrying is that this isolation and vilification of a specific group within our society is being orchestrated by a Prime Minister who fathered a child with disabilities and now a leader of the opposition who is the son of a father who was forced to flee Europe in 1940 because he was part of an isolated and vilified section of society. Dear old dad gets a mention in Ed Miliband`s speech in terms of his service in the navy and the war-time spirit of “all in this together”. Ed omits to mention that dear old dad was a Marxist.

Miliband, Liam Byrne, Ed Balls and the rest of the Labour front bench have a clear choice. They can either be nice, not offend the ruling class and quietly acquiesce with the carnage being inflicted, or they can make a stand for the people who support them and are currently suffering. Whining at the despatch box during Prime Minister`s Question is no longer enough. They can make a start by asking exactly where the jobs are going to come from to employ the people denied DLA and ESA. They can ask how young people, deprived of Education Maintenance Allowance, will find employment particularly with a increase in the age of retirement. With an artificially inflated work force and a reduction in actual job vacancies, one can only hope that Miliband, given his family history, would shudder at the very thought of “work sets you free”.

It is time for Labour to make a stand. Orwell concluded Animal Farm with this:
“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

June 13, 2011

Surf`s up

Filed under: Sport,Transport,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:59 pm

Heavy rain, delays, aquaplaning cars, near misses, dangerous overtaking and the ever present threat of death or serious injury. The Montreal Grand Prix? No, for sheer excitement, try the Arboretum junction on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The Japanese have more than 40 words that describe rain. This poetic language with its rich vocabulary is able to define precipitation with nuances derived from time-of-day, location, season, intensity and duration. This precision would have helped Kamui Kobayashi, who eventually finished seventh in Montreal, to communicate to the pit lane the nature of the challenge caused by the wet stuff falling on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. For visitors to the Pelsall Canal Festival, the Cosford Air Show and hungry hippos heading to Morrisons for snacks and booze, it was, however, simply chucking it down.

Negotiating our wonderful ring road is fraught with danger even at the best of times. Be it on foot, bicycle, Ferrari, canal barge or vintage Spitfire, the transport artery that was supposed to save Walsall is not for the faint hearted. Add a bucket full of rain, and it becomes lethal, particularly at the Arbo junction. Having cost £23million, £5million over budget and delivered very, very late, you would think that someone would have thought about draining rainfall from the carriageways. Sadly this is not the case.

Whenever it rains, a stretch of open water forms at the gates of the Arboretum and lies in wait beyond a blind bend ready to swamp unwary motorists approaching from the direction of Rushall. Needing all the skill and concentration of Michael Schumacher simply to find the correct lane, the last thing a driver needs is to run into an unplanned extension of Hatherton Lake. Pedestrians too, take their lives into their hands, or rather their waders, when crossing the junction. Avoiding the considerable bow wave created by an amphibian 4 x 4 and the walls of water thrown up by every other vehicle is all but impossible. Adding to this the treacherous alluvial slime deposited on the pavements which remains even after the floods have receded, the junction requires a fleet of safety cars and a large team of marshals waving yellow flags.

If the regular flooding at the Arboretum gates is the result of a single blocked drain, then a quick Fix My Street report should solve the problem. Sadly, a Fix My Town website has yet to be established. When it rains, and it does quite often rain in England, the entire length of the new ring road is punctuated with pools of standing water, particularly around pedestrian crossings. Helpful “Look Left” signs painted on the floor are barely visible under inches of murky rain and the latest must-have fashion statement for any walker or cyclist is to wear a designer Walsall puddle kicked up by passing cars.

When the ring road “improvement” was being proposed, an amusing urban myth developed suggesting that the head honcho of road planning in Walsall did not have, and had never had, a driving licence. That might explain the design of the Arbo junction but it is clearly preposterous and a mischievous myth. Or is it?

Desperate to justify the wasted millions, over the last couple of years the good and the great at Walsall council pop up every so often to tell us how great the ring road is. Drivers commuting from Land’s End to John o`Groats via Walsall have seen their journey time slashed by up to three seconds, they say. There is nothing wrong with the construction of the road, we just keep digging it up because we are looking for a second Staffordshire Hoard. The Arboretum junction is safe and has eradicated congestion. It’s true, honest. It has to be true because traffic flow was modelled by computer. Ah ha, so the head honcho that designed the ring road is not only devoid of a driving licence, but also lacks any possibility of cognitive reasoning.

The ring road is a disaster and is an accident waiting to happen. Quite how two or even three lanes of traffic are supposed to merge into a single carriageway without warning over a distance of about 20 yards is proof that the computer, if not having full artificial intelligence, at least has a sense of humour. When the Arbo junction was a humble roundabout, walking from the town centre to Walsall’s green lung took about five minutes and involved two pedestrian crossings. Now it takes 10 minutes, seven crossings, stress and uncertainty and, on a bad day, a lake. The computer seems to have broken the first rule of Isaac Asimov’s three rules of robotics, namely: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” Naughty computer.

Amazingly, the firm responsible for constructing the water gardens, Norwest Holst, are demanding yet more money from the council for their shoddy and inadequate work and Tesco, for whom the ring road was constructed, are doing very nicely thank you. As for the fibre optics buried beneath the tarmac intended to feed the white elephant Gigaport; they are being turning into a dish of sushi and noodles.

To experience the excitement, spectacle and, more importantly, cars out of control in the wet during a motor race, there is no need to travel to Montreal. Just pick a rainy day, wear a wet suit and stand at the gates of the Arboretum. Thrill seekers wishing for a further rush of adrenaline might even risk driving across the sheets of surface water.

The Japanese, of course, have a word for this this kind of activity; “seppuku”, or in its debased form, “harakiri”.

June 11, 2011

Murder in the cathedral

Filed under: Education,History,Law,Politics,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 4:25 pm

The last time an Archbishop of Canterbury had the cheek to challenge the power of the state, it ended in more than tears. Some over zealous knights misheard an aside from Henry II and nipped down to the cathedral to bash the brains out of Thomas Becket. One can only hope that the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams has a stout lock on the vestry door.

Given the now blatant rush by the coalition government to dismantle anything resembling a compassionate and responsible state, the comments made by the Primate of All England seem pretty tame compared to what is being said in hospitals, care homes, schools and the few remaining four-ale bar rooms of this sceptred isle. By suggesting that: “With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted” the Archbishop could be accused of stating the bleeding obvious.

By raising his concerns over the “reforms” being made to health, welfare and education, the leader of the third largest group of Christians on the planet is in danger of being branded as a radical, extremist religious nutter and may find himself banged up for daring to question an illegitimate government. That might seem to be a ridiculous scenario but consider the coalitions latest initiative on countering terrorism which urges British Muslims to embrace “British” values. Presumably “British” values include a lovely bacon butty, cheap cider and taking the kids to a supermarket and then shouting at them. The strange logic being that if you don’t embrace “British” values, then you are a terrorist. Rowan Williams has a big, scary beard, bushy eyebrows and wears funny clothes. Quite what Home Secretary Theresa May and my Lord Carlile, Baron of Berriew would make of Jesus Christ is anyones guess.

Within hours of Dr Williams suggesting that the government did not have a mandate to destroy, sorry “reform”, health, welfare and education, a succession of coalition attack dogs were off the leash and bashing the archbishop.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong” they bellowed. “The government is helping people kick their benefit habit. It is for their own good. The sick, the disabled, the old and the young have to stand on their own two (or possibly one or none) feet, bloody scroungers. We are being kind to them. What the hell does this weirdo Christian fundamentalist know about compassion, love, understanding and the principles of basic humanity. He likes Sharia Law and he’s got a criminal record.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury was, when he was chaplain of Clare College Cambridge, arrested, convicted and fined in 1985. His crime was singing psalms outside the Lakenheath US air base as part of a CND protest. Given the criminal activities of MPs, Peers and the press involving fraud, deception, phone hacking, avoidance of traffic offences and even, more topically, allegations of serious sexual assault, the attack dogs of hypocrisy have managed to put yet more distance between their mortal coil and heaven.

Some expence fiddling “honourable” members went so far as to suggest that the Archbishop`s criticism Michael Gove`s Academies Bill was based on vested interest due to the Church of England`s school estate. Gove`s bill was fast-tracked into law in a legislative proceedure usually reserved for times of national threat and without debate or consultation. The act has to be reviewed again as sudden realisation has dawned upon the small particle of brain located within the skull of the Education Secretary that his sums are wrong…again.

If the infallibility of the bishopric is true, then Dr Williams speaks on behalf of Almighty God, which might prove to be inconvenient when the day comes when the likes of Cameron and Osborne and Clegg and Cable and the editors of certain newspapers are required to present themselves at the pearly gates. If God actually exists, Rowan Williams will undoubtedly enter the kingdom of heaven. If only it were true. That would mean that Gove, Pickles, Willetts, Lansley, Iain Duncan Smith and the rest of the millionaires in cabinet will burn in hell for eternity. There is no point in listing the Liberal Democrats, they are destined to wander purgatory in perpetuity for their obscene betrayal.

But, before we all rush to throw away our crutches, cry hallelujah and be born again into the Anglican Communion, it might be worth considering the the actions of the Church of England regarding education in Walsall. The Diocese of Lichfield, in an unholy marriage with the whore of Babylon Serco, have washed their hands of the education of Walsall children.

After years of neglect and little support, Blue Coat Church of England Comprehensive School is the latest place of learning to be sacrificed on the alter of Michael Gove`s ambition. Battling against crumbling and inadequate buildings and facing the implacable ignorance, spite and incompetence of Serco and the Bishop of Lichfield`s duplicitous education “experts”, the Head Teacher has been cast out into the wilderness. The Governing Body has been summarily dismissed and replaced with an Interim Executive Board comprising of God knows who with the aim of forcing academy status upon the unfortunate school. The Governing Body were blamed for the failings of Serco and the school is nowhere near the conditions for academy conversion. The Christian folk at the diocese happily conspired in all of this without the involvement or knowledge of parents, teachers, governors or, more importantly, students. It would seem that the deceitful will inherit the earth.

Thomas Becket challenged the state over the control of lands, wealth and power and three years after his grey cells ended up all over the flagstones inside Canterbury Cathedral was immortalised as a saint and Christian martyr. It is alleged that his noble assassins took their cue from an exasperated Henry II who is thought to have said: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”. As long as Reginald FitzUrse, Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy and Richard le Breton remain safely in their graves, Rowan Williams is unlikely to have his head top-sliced in the name of deficit reduction.

However, by voicing Christian concerns over the the cynical attack on the poor, weak and vulnerable, the Archbishop has incurred the wrath of more contemporary barons. The Daily Mail, the Telegraph and those paragons of virtue at News International have already unsheathed their swords.

For theirs is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.

June 7, 2011

Single status

Filed under: Education,Law,Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 9:09 am

The tried and tested strategy of ignoring a problem in the hope that it will go away is well established in the Walsall political zeitgeist. Elephants in bedrooms are continually spared investigation. However, the newly formed council can no longer disregard the vast herds of pachyderms ensconced in the Civic Centre and elsewhere.

Shortly after Tony Blair’s first election victory in 1997, the Single Status Agreement between trade unions and local authorities was introduced to ensure fairness and equality in pay and terms and conditions for all council employees. Some 14 years later and with 41 years since the Equal Pay Act, 75 per cent of women working for local authorities do not receive equal pay. The time frame for the agreement intended equality by 2007.

Fairness was to be achieved by undertaking a comprehensive review of job descriptions and terms and conditions intended to “harmonise” pay scales and so reduce numerous and potentially ruinous industrial tribunals. Local authorities signed up to the agreement because they assumed that central government would pick up the bill. The local authorities were wrong. Trade unions signed up to the agreement because they assumed that unfairly underpaid employees would at last see a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. The trade unions were also wrong.

Blair and then Brown, and their chums at the treasury, held the view that it is the responsibility of an employer to adhere to equality legislation and to pay the correct wage. Central government, they argued, was not responsible for the past and continuing errors of councils. This alarming concept of “employer responsibility” took a while to register with numbskull councils up and down the country and across the herd instinct of political one trick ponies. It took even longer for the fact that “something had to be done” to permeate the municipal psyche and once the full consequences were realised, Single Status was firmly on the back burner, kicked into the long grass, saluted and then pulled down from the flagpole.

Meanwhile, local authorities were paying vast amounts of public money defending equal pay tribunals and even higher suitcases full of beer tokens in out of court settlements once some beak in a wig, gown and gaiters told them that they were acting illegally. Now, with conman Cameron, horrible Osborne and the ridiculous Eric Pickles dismantling local councils, the chickens and the bills are coming home to roost.

Add to this heady mix of prevarication, deception and denial the utter ineptitude of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, and the result is a farce worthy of Moliere or Spongebob Squarepants. Because Walsall council did not address the Single Status requirement when it had the chance, it now owes back-dated pay to the employees it has discriminated against with some entitlements going back seven years. That is an awful lot of money.

Slowly, quietly and buried deep in the vast emptiness of the council intellect, a tiny spark ignited the realisation that something was very, very wrong. The reaction was predictable. Quick, hire some lawyers.

The council managed to buy some time and a financial strategy from m`learned friends for an undisclosed fee. Avoiding responsibility and, more importantly, avoiding paying the correct wage would be achieved in three ways. Firstly, make redundant as many posts as possible, preferably the posts that will cost the most to settle. Secondly, look at the job evaluations and rather than increase the wage of the underpaid, reduce the fair wage to the lower level so equality is achieved by universal discrimination. Thirdly, when all else has failed, offer the underpaid a bribe in return for giving up employment rights.

Back in June 2010, our glorious leader publicly stated that 29 per cent of the council workforce would be subject to a pay cut as a result of Single Status. Councillor Bird obviously knew more than Councillor Towe, the financial wizard in cabinet, who said that the council would have to borrow the “notional” sum of almost £50million to pay for the fiasco. The figure was “notional” because not a living soul had any idea how much this mismanagement would actually cost or the numbers of staff involved. It is probably time for Mike, who previously told the world that he works 28 hours a day, nine days a week and 399 days a years, to change his calculator.

Since then, there has been not a word about the £50million borrowing requirement or the leader of the council’s charming disregard of basic mathematics. Instead we have the automated, repetitive droning mantra of inherited debt brought about by the reckless borrowing of the previous government and it’s not our fault even though we are useless. Does anyone spot a flaw in this argument?

Given that Walsall council have said that they intent to borrow their way out of this mess that they have created, the reality of who actually pays for the shambles is somewhat different. The cost of equalising wages and the legal entitlement of years of back pay will be met from existing departmental budgets and redundancies. Schools, for example, where non-teaching support staff come under the auspices of Single Status, are obliged to make the settlements from the already reduced formula capital arbitrarily allocated to them. This is where is gets nasty.

All schools in the borough are, by law, required to set a balanced budget for the coming academic year. The cost of books, computers, materials, services, buildings, utilities, staff and everything else that makes a school has to be planned and accounted for. The moronic Michael Gove, who has slashed funding for schools, insists upon it. Because our hopeless Walsall council has made such a cock-up of Single Status, it’s not just dedicated and professional support staff who will suffer. Schools and, remember them, children will pay the price for the incompetence of our masters.

In panic and desperation, the local authority have offered support staff a “lump sum” to sign away their right to equal pay. Some have signed, some have not and others haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on. The really evil part of all this is that because the settlement will come from a depleted individual school budget, it has been suggested that not signing and standing up for your entitlement will result in redundancies. Because of the uncertainty of the numbers of staff who have signed or not signed, schools across the borough cannot set a budget. The council budget, however, remains set in stone without any details made public. In a different reality, this could be described as blackmail.

It gets worse. Those that decide not to sign away their rights will face tribunal and litigation, cases that could last years in the courts and make the budget setting process impossible. Ambulance chasing law practices are already urging people not to sign and the unions, having agreed to Single Status cannot go back and change what they agreed to in the first place. There are rumours that some Walsall schools face a bill of more than £1million to pay for the failings of our municipal executive. That, in some cases, is more than the annual school budget. Other whispers say that some schools will “borrow” the money to be repaid over 20 or 30 years. That means that the children of the current Year Six will not only inherit the school debt, but also the £50million debt taken out by the clueless cowboys in cabinet.

And what of the £50million that councillors Bird and Towe wish to borrow to dig themselves out of a hole? It sure as hell won’t be spent on schools. Jobs, services and even schools may go down the pan but the fools that have presided over this pantomime can look forward to a local authority pension. They may wish to continue to bleat about inherited deficit and reckless borrowing and ignore the elephant in the room, but they would do well to remember one thing.

An elephant never forgets.

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