The Plastic Hippo

November 7, 2011

Life on Mars

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:09 pm


Last week, as the Mars 500 volunteers emerged from their sealed containers in a Moscow suburb, the first question the would-be Martian cosmonauts probably asked was: “Is Mike Bird still Leader of Walsall Council?”

After almost 18 months of virtual isolation, those that boldly went were mercifully spared the horror of living in Walsall under a hung council still in the control of a little man with a big mouth. After being told that he was still claiming his meagre allowance for staying awake throughout the last year and a half, and after the gales of incredulous laughter had died down, the brave pioneers were reunited with their families and friends.

The Conservatives in Walsall inhabit a dying planet and the inevitability of extinction, or rather electoral annihilation next May, is beginning to dawn on them. After stating that local libraries will close, no libraries will now close. After destroying the town centre with their death-ray parking charges, parking charges will be reduced. After signing up the first passing charlatan to run education, God knows how many millions it will cost to kick Serco out of town. They have gone strangely silent over their many achievements, namely the Gigaport, the ring road and the holy grail of regeneration. Who knows, perhaps there is a local election coming up?

With the promise of thousands of jobs, the Gigaport was elephantine in its whiteness even as the charming salesmen offered some pretty beads and mirrors to our idiot representatives over the blueprints. “Of course it will work”, said the snake charmers. “Look, look, it’s modern.” Similarly, the success of the ring road can be measured by the number of police cars and ambulances that need to attend the arboretum junction every morning and evening rush hour. Tesco, Asda and Morrisons will soon be demanding their money back if these delays continue. Serco, having failed so spectacularly in providing an education service, will be demanding considerable more of our money for their time and effort after providing precisely nothing. But, hey, our leaders are there to make our decisions for us.

The Conservative administration in Walsall still clings to power due to five, yes five, LibDem councillors. After the recent Bloxwich East by election which returned a Labour councillor, the scores are now equal between the Conservatives and Labour at 27 councillors each. There is one “Independent” councillor and the casting vote goes to the Conservative mayor in the event of a tied vote in the council chamber.

When the newly re-branded and rather good Bloxwich Telegraph suggested that the Tory administration were hanging on by the skin of their teeth, councillor Ian Shires, leader of Walsall LibDems, took umbrage and demanded that the observation should be taken down. His argument might have been better served if he had not said that the by election had taken place in neighbouring Bloxwich West. Oops! Bloxwich West went to Labour in July 2010.

Furthermore, his credibility as a political leader would have been greatly enhanced if his party had bothered to field a candidate in the by elections in either Bloxwich East or West. Clearly an administrative error or an early realisation of defeat. Even more recently, councillor Shires has suggested that the cancellation of broadcasts from the BBC Mailbox facility in Birmingham will adversely affect youth unemployment in Walsall. He clearly inhabits a planet light years away from even Mars. After generations of being irrelevant, the LibDems are now just a irritation. With Danny Alexander in the Westminster cabinet, Archie the Inventor from Balamory is now doing politics.

Other parties stood and lost in Bloxwich East. The ubiquitous Derek Bennett from UKIP and some nutter who seemed keen on “putting England first” came nowhere, even as Europe was facing meltdown. The Greens polled 16, no wind turbines wanted in Bloxwich then, or even next to the Daw End canal.

Labour will take control of Walsall next May by default. Not because they are any good, but because of an understandable backlash against a malicious government and an inept council. Sadly, the Labour group do not seem to possess a clue and the main thrust of a Tory election campaign will be that Labour are more useless than us. The scientists studying the isolation of men pretending to travel to Mars could have saved millions by turning their attention to Tim Oliver and his chums and their inability to operate in a vacuum. Instead of offering viable, alternative proposals to save this town, the Labour group remain silent other than to bleat about how badly the current spacemen are doing. Rather than offer vague generalisations, the Labour group should be studying the budget in order to form a plan to provide a level of service that, with luck, might approach something close to being acceptable.

Priorities must be social care, transport and, with Serco about to do a moonlight flit, education. The PFI contracts with fly-by-night cowboy contractors need to be reviewed and, if necessary, cancelled. The function of the council should return to providing service rather than providing profits to companies more interested in share dividends at the expense of Walsall council tax payers. It’s not rocket science, Tim. With no local elections taking place in 2013, Labour will have two years to reverse the declining fortunes of Walsall. Without a coherent plan and concrete proposals, things will only get worse, not better. Given this arrogance and ignorance, politicians of all persuasions continue to wonder why people do not bother to vote.

After sitting around the samovar with loved ones, the six men of the Mars 500 project were told of the Arab Spring, phone hacking, the British coalition government, bankers bonuses, the “markets” ruling the world, voter apathy and the Occupy campaign.

At the prospect of a Labour administration in Walsall without any apparent policies, they asked if they could go back inside the capsule for another 18 months.

November 3, 2011

Acropolis now

Filed under: History,Politics,World — theplastichippo @ 12:01 pm


Around about 508 BC, some bloke called Cleisthenes decided that it might be a good idea for Athens to give this newfangled democracy a try. Given the apocalyptic financial forecast for present day Greece, democracy has turned up again like a bad drachma. Oh dear, this is not going to end well.

The Greek economy is obviously in a bad way. Crippling debt, unemployment and austerity have already led to serious civil unrest and the threat of political implosion. Riding to the rescue came the G20 nations led by France and Germany with a plan to keep the Ouzo flowing. A 50 per cent write-off of national debt, described bizarrely as a haircut, will save the cradle of democracy from defaulting on the vast amounts owed to the banks registered coincidentally in G20 states. The deal is conditional with the Hellenic population required to survive on a diet of dry pita and hummus made without the tahini, the garlic or, as times get harder, the chick peas. The problem is, nobody bothered to ask the Greek people until Prime Minister Georges Papandreou called for a referendum on the bail out.

The Americans, the French, the Germans, the IMF and the banks are incandescent with rage. They seem to agree with Plato and Aristotle that important decisions cannot be made by an electorate. The issue of sovereign deficit is far too complex for stupid voters to understand and these simple folk simply do not possess the intelligence to make an informed decision. Papandreou has been summoned to Cannes to receive a kicking from Nicola and Angular and was told that consulting with his people is a very, very bad idea. The Greeks, the powerful say, should like us keep quiet and continue to pay the price for irresponsible banking, poor government and global political corruption. The “markets”, it seems, are now in a state of total panic. The very small number of greedy people who make a fat living by transferring vast amounts of imaginary money about and who created this mess in the first place, will not tolerate the preposterous idea of democracy.

Reaction to a Greek referendum has solicited some genuinely frightening comments and rumour. Here in the UK, the right have howled with indignant horror at the very thought of a referendum. These same rent-a-rant bigots turned on Cameron and Clegg when they went back on election pledges to, guess what, hold a referendum on British EU membership. Even ridiculous, barking mad Euro sceptics like Bill Cash and Teresa Gorman returned from the dead to haul their sorry, decapitated heads above the parapet to claim that they had been right all along. Perhaps the rather odd John Redwood is even now learning the words to the Welsh national anthem for another go at being taken seriously.

More seriously, it is the future of Europe and, therefore, the planet that is at stake. Greece may default and so leave the Euro zone and Italy, Portugal and Spain may be next. When a German chancellor talks of not being able to guarantee peace, a French President rattling the sabres in Elysée Palace, an English Prime Minister without a clue and protests and demonstrations taking place across the world, it is time to look back at history with a fearful glance. As the old xenophobia manifests itself in the Lutheran north, some once credible observers are now suggesting that the global financial crisis brought about by avaricious bankers was caused not, as previously claimed, by Gordon Brown, but by indolent, work-shy, corrupt southern Europeans. Other have included Ireland and suggest that these nations are failing because they are traditionally Catholic. As if we didn’t have enough trouble with religious intolerance. Faith groups blaming each other and targeting minorities is just what bankers and their political servants want. Some may recall that this has happened before.

There is more than one way for “accountable” political and financial puppet masters to spike a dangerous referendum. Issuing dark threats of expulsion if the vote is “incorrect”, false rumours of resignations and defections, a quiet word and possibly a brown paper envelope passed discretely to some compliant ministers, will ensure that governments and electorates are irrelevant when it comes down to making the rich richer. Should the Greek referendum go ahead, which is now highly unlikely, the question the G20 want asked on the ballot paper is: “Do you want to starve to death? Yes or No.”

In Adrianou Street and the rest of the Plaka, Athens, Greece and all the islands, the talk today is of a confidence vote that will probably bring down Papandreou or of a military coup to remove the democratically elected government. It seems that senior military officers have been rapidly replaced with more government friendly men. This tactic may have come too late. After an Arab spring that has hopefully removed dictatorships, we can only hope that dictatorships do not return to Europe. China lurks dressed as a fairy godmother ready to fund nations in “difficulty”.

It took a while for democracy to fully establish itself in Greece and Cleisthenes only allowed noble men over the age of 20 to speak and vote in the democratic assembly. Foreigners, slaves and women were, of course, denied the right of citizenship. It was only as late as 1952 that women were first allowed to vote in Greek elections. That didn’t last long. In 1967, an American backed military coup allowed the generals to suspend the national constitution. Only the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 brought about the end of dictatorship and the restoration of some semblance of democracy.

In 1967, Angela Merkel was 13 years old and Nicolas Sarkozy was 12. David Cameron was 12 months old. All three still have a lot to learn about European unity and rather than bullying smaller economies, should realise that the people of Europe will no longer accept the banks and other criminals deciding the fate of nations or facilitating the disintegration of a continent in the name of obscene profit.

Cleisthenes is also thought to have introduced the idea of ostracism to protect the nascent Athenian democracy from potential tyrants. Any citizen amassing disproportionate wealth or power could, by popular vote, be sent into exile. Ironic, then, that the main defence of greedy bankers is a fear that they will leave the country taking their dirty money with them.

We should point out to them that if they object to paying tax, there are lots of empty shops in Piraeus just waiting for a skilful entrepreneur. On second thoughts, the last thing Greece needs is more loan sharks. There are, however, potentially rich markets the Moon, Mars and Venus. Safe journey and good riddance.

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