The Plastic Hippo

January 12, 2012

A Comedy of Errors

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:36 pm


We all make mistakes and there is something profoundly comforting in witnessing someone who should know better drop an almighty clanger. In Walsall, we are not just twice blessed, but thrice blessed.

The Comedy Store on Lichfield Street staged its regular open mic night in the form of a meeting of the full council on Monday evening. Open Mike Bird, a stand up in the tradition of Bernard Manning, offered an hilarious routine themed around how much he is worth. After a successful tour of radio studios and press briefings where he claimed to be the most underpaid entertainer in the West Midlands, the outpouring of outrage resulted in heckling from the cheap seats. Walsall’s answer to Roy “Chubby” Brown realised that trying to line his pockets when cutting services and making people redundant was a bit of a mistake. Faced with a hostile audience, the rotund funny man tucked his thumbs into his trousers, rocked back and forth and head banged the praises of Status Quo.

Bird is a comedian of sublime timing and the killer one line. When it became certain that his attempt to plunder more money for him and his cronies from the public purse was doomed to defeat, he suddenly changed tack and called a vote on keeping the current system of allowances. This is nothing short of comic genius as it allows him and his podgy mates to claim some sort of victory. By telling a long, familiar joke and then changing the predicted punch line makes the gag doubly funny.

If Mike Bird of Ephesus made a mistake by being greedy, then Tim Oliver of Syracuse bodged the response with a howler of herculean proportions. Rather than embrace the opportunity of every elected member, including Bird, rejecting Bird’s avaricious proposal, the Labour group decided to vote against the status quo. The cabinet avoided humiliation and at first glance it looked like Labour were in favour of paying cabinet more. Labour, of course, opposed the idea of rewarding incompetents for failure but that’s not what it looked like and that is at the very heart of Walsall Labour’s problem. It’s all very well voting against the status quo of councillor’s allowances, but without any form of alternative proposal other than vague talk of keeping within existing budgets, Labour look ridiculous.

The insulting idea that Bird and his cabinet should scrounge yet more money from the trough first came to light in October 2010. He dodged the incoming custard pie then by performing a U-turn worthy of R2D2. Since then, Labour have had some time to come up with an alternative. Sadly, we are still waiting for the plan. If, as expected, Labour take control of Walsall council in May, what will they do about councillor’s allowances, health care, an education system in melt-down and a dying town? Erm…hang on…we’re thinking about it.

This time, Bird avoided the rotating plank by simply bending down to tie his shoelace leaving the plank wielder with a nasty blow to the back of the head. Labour then crowed that they had halted the increase in allowances. Sadly, it was Bird who climbed down in the face of public disgust leaving egg on the faces of the opposition. This does not bode well for the future. It must really hurt being out smarted by a buffoon.

It would be interesting to hear the views of Labour councillors adept at the use of social media. Judging recent events on Twitter, any criticism of Walsall Labour produces indignant squeals from the left accusing the author of this humble blog of being a “Tory loving amoeba” or a wild-eyed anarchist Trot. Your correspondent is neither but is merely a left leaning voter and a payer of council tax who is worried by Bird and his chums and is disenchanted with what Walsall Labour are doing and, more importantly, not doing.

As for Dromio in the sad form of local Liberal Democrats, it is probably best not to dwell on the final days of an endangered species. They are, though, very entertaining and always good for a laugh.

The vote to maintain the current system of councillor’s allowances went 28 – 27 in favour with five councillors absent from the chamber. With 27 Conservative councillors and 27 Labour councillors, the mathematics in this are rather interesting. Two councillors sent apologies, one Labour and one Tory. Having recently undergone heart surgery, the absence of the Labour member is understandable. One Libdem was unwell and two further Tories were absent. One was on Twitter complaining of the rail fare from London Euston and the other was probably touring the doss houses of Palfrey clutching postal vote applications and searching for imaginary vagrants.

Maths has never been a strong point on this humble blog, but a simple quadratic equation based on 24 Tories, 26 Labour, four Libdems and one Independent, suggests that Libdems supported Bird and the Independent supported Labour. But, in a triumph for local democracy, we may never know which of our elected representatives voted for what. There is, of course, a huge margin of error in the above calculation. It might be the case that Bird’s U-turn caused such confusion that members did not know what they were voting for and simply raised their hands in a Pavlovian response opposing anything the other lot were in favour of. Tribal block voting does not serve the people of the borough and with Walsall now the laughing stock of local government, councillors should remember that they represent wards and not political parties and group leaders should take a peek at the Council Constitution.

Part 5, Codes and Protocols, paragraph 3, point 2 (b) states that members: “Must not bully any person”.

Point 5 states: “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”

We have gone way beyond disrepute and descended into total farce in Walsall. With Liberal Democrats not bothering to field candidates in by elections, the Conservatives trying to grab whatever they can and Labour’s only policy is to hope that people dislike the existing bunch, it is no wonder that election turn outs are so low.

In these hard times, we really deserve better.

As Antipholus of Syracuse says in Act One:

“Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o`erraught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage;
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin.”

That Shakespeare bloke knew a thing or two.

January 9, 2012

Crippled inside

Filed under: Birmingham,Health,Politics,Rights,Society,Wolverhampton — theplastichippo @ 4:54 pm


We have come a long way since the aristocracy would pay a penny to be amused at the antics of lunatics held in inhumane conditions in Bedlam. But, goodness me, the powerful and wealthy of the 18th century are a tenacious bunch.

The new aristocracy and their merchant followers wasted no time in introducing the Welfare Reform Bill in February 2011. Having brought the world to the brink of ruin, the paymasters of government insisted that the poor should pay the debts run up through reckless greed and at the same time preserve the incomes of the wealthy. So, some nonsense called “Universal Credit” was concocted to turn the screw on those most in need. The most insidious aspect of this loathsome legislation is the removal of Disability Living Allowance, hardly a benefit, but more of an absolute imperative in any humane society.

DLA has two elements, care and mobility and gives our fellow human beings a small chance at independence, dignity and the right to an existence. The coalition government, who we did not vote for, want to take this away. Consider Sarah, not her real name, who lives in Birmingham. She is in her 50`s and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Osteoarthritis, severe Eczema and, understandably, Depression. In 2001 she was awarded the higher rate of DLA for both care and mobility. Recently, the Department of Work and Pensions decided to “reassess” her claim.

A home visit was arranged to conduct the assessment. The DWP official concluded that Sarah was not entitled to any award for DLA. The report made no mention of COPD, which renders Sarah breathless and on the verge of collapse after walking a few paces or the increasing care she needs from her family. Instead, the official offered evidence of benefit fraud by noting that the “client seemed cheerful” and after using a micrometre to measure the depth of the rubber pads at the end of the clients walking aids, concluded that the crutches had seen little use. The awkward fact that the previous walking aids had worn out and had been replaced two weeks earlier is implacably ignored.

Sarah, of course, appealed against the decision, saying that the withdrawal of support had left her with suicidal thoughts. In response, the DWP official described the possibility of suicide as “blackmail” and further proof of fraud. The official then recommended that Sarah should pay back all the benefits she has received since 2001. This is the reality of social care in Cameron’s Britain even before the wretched Welfare Reform Bill has passed into law.

The bill, of course, has its critics but not many within the Houses of Parliament. The huffing and puffing of Liberal Democrat MPs and Peers does not prevent them from supporting the government’s attack on the people it has a duty to defend. Ed Miliband and the increasingly deranged Liam Byrne whine “it’s not fair” but parrot the headlines from the right-wing press regarding “scroungers”. Liam Byrne, incidentally is the Labour shadow minister for work and pensions and MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill. He is probably unaware or has decided to ignore the torture being inflicted by the DWP on my friend Sarah, not her real name.

Disability rights groups, charities, unpaid carers and even the Archbishop of Canterbury have all said that this bill will lead to disaster. Astonishingly, it required the voice of reason that is Boris Johnson to come out and say that this pernicious and discriminatory bill would harm those that can least afford to be harmed. This could be construed as opportunism with an election on the horizon, but the study commissioned by the Mayor of London started a year ago and is based on facts and not spun statistics favoured by a vindictive government.

If the idea of Johnson talking sense for once leaves you speechless, prepare to be amazed at the stance of the Daily Mail. After years and years and years of branding people with disabilities as scroungers, Paul Dacre`s vile rag has accurately reported that DLA fraud amounts to 0.5 per cent of all claims. Up until now, the Mail’s coverage of disability issues has consisted of alleged quadriplegics playing football, so-called wheelchair users pole vaulting and mildly depressed shirkers claiming more hand-outs in a week than the Prime Minister is paid in a year. From the newspaper that claims it was solely responsible for the conviction of the sub-humans that murdered Stephen Lawrence, these are lies worthy of a cabinet minister or, indeed, his shadow.

DLA fraud certainly takes place and there are some very criminally clever people who take advantage of the system and embezzle what the do not deserve. Even if only 0.5 per cent of claims are bogus, that is a serious pile of money, £1.2billion to be precise and the DWP are right to crack down on the fraudsters. However, set against the £16billion in unclaimed benefits due to real disabled people being left in the dark over their rights, the DWP are operating with a hidden agenda. It is also worth pointing out that £70billion is owed to the exchequer in tax avoidance by the able bodied. There are some very criminally clever people who take advantage of the system and embezzle what they do not deserve. Most of them donate to the Tory party and are chums of David Cameron.

Not content with simply removing the dignity and hope of people with disabilities, the Prime Minister now mocks the afflicted. His weak attempt at humour may have been “off the cuff” and irrelevant, but it give us a glimpse at the true nature of Cameron and his millionaire chums. The sadness and grief within his own family makes his premeditated attack on the NHS and social care even more obscene.

Instead of knowing their place, suffering in silence and crawling away to die to ease the budget deficit, people with disabilities are fighting back against this malicious legislation. Led by the remarkable Sue Marsh (@suey2y on Twitter), the wonderful Kaliya Franklin (@BendyGirl) and others, the real experts on disability have produced a report that exposes the government for what it is.

Liars.

Producing the report “Responsible Reform” without funding or an army of well paid civil servants, the victims of prejudice have exposed the true nastiness of Cameron’s government. In reassessing DLA claims, this bunch of toffs think that limbs will grow back after a caring glance from Iain Duncan Smith, the lame shall walk and the blind will see again after touching the hem of Maria Miller’s expensive frock. After refusing to meet disability campaigners, Maria Miller was dubbed the Minister against the Disabled and is, basically, a liar. The good people of Wolverhampton will no doubt be ashamed of their native daughter.

The campaigners wished to deliver a copy of the report to the MPs who represent them. They were told that they would have to pay £290 for the privilege. Today in parliament, £20,000 of tax payers money was spent on food and drink for our MPs.

We have come a long way since John Lennon released the Imagine album in 1971. The BBC immediately banned the title track and for good measure banned the second track because the title contained the word “cripple”. David Cameron was five years old when Imagine was released.

Even at his most cynical, Lennon could not have imagined that his words would be so prophetic more that 40 years later.

January 6, 2012

Unreasonable disadvantage

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 12:22 pm


Back in November 2010, when three “independent” wise men decided that Walsall cabinet members deserved an increase in allowances, the outrage generated on this internet thingy caused a climb down. But, like a bad penny, the proposal is back.

That cycling iconoclast of the Northern Wastes, Brownhills Bob, might be under the weather and keeping the Andrex in the fridge, but being laid low by a dodgy pie has not blunted his ability to pulverise the disgraceful hypocrisy displayed by the leader of Walsall council and his cabinet chums. His excellent piece “Snouts in the trough” beautifully disassembles and exposes the complete and utter contempt that Mike Bird holds for the people of Walsall. Quite how a pompous, arrogant oaf like Bird got his piggy little fingers on the control of this borough must be the cause of sleepless nights for Conservative councillors.

Similarly, voters in Pheasey Park Farm, soon to be returned to the bosom of North Birmingham, will be looking forward to reducing their massive repeat prescription charges for sleeping pills caused by electing the glorious leader, his mini-me deputy and the keeper of the cabinet cook books. But then again, perhaps the good people there are happy to pay money for old rope.

Bird’s justification for awarding himself a £2k increase in his allowance, doubling the money for his curious side-kick and bunging the other cabinet drones an extra grand is the same as it was before. He works 365 days a year, his experience is worth it and the recommendation came from an “independent” panel of experts. His argument then and now, is ridiculous and it would be pointless to refute them again. This humble blog’s opinion, for what it`s worth, can be found here. That piece could have been written and published today and Brownhills Bob’s piece written and published more that a year ago. However, it is worth pointing out that things are much worse now than they were in November 2010. As cuts bite, redundancy in full swing and the Single Status fiasco still unresolved, Bird’s brass neck is likely to be even more attractive to passing political tatters.

The reaction from the Labour group leader was ponderous and vague. Tim Oliver talked of preferring a different approach “at this time” and it took 24 hours for Labour to state that they would vote against this pocket lining disgrace at full council on Monday. With 27 Tory councillors and 27 Labour councillors, it is down to the votes of the Liberal Democrats. You can forget the single Independent, he usually doesn’t bother to turn up. Like in 2010, the Tories will withdraw this insulting proposal.

Then, given the anger expressed at this blatant attempt at profiteering, national treasure Brownhills Bob produced this stunning critique. The comment from a certain Ian Shires is interesting. The Libdem leader said: “I can assure you that the Liberal Democrat Group will vote against.” Shires has again stated that his group will not support the proposal yet strangely attacks Labour. This means that Bird will again climb down and attempt to claim that he is a listening local politician when faced with certain defeat. This would be a shame as we will not be able to know which Tory councillors up for election in May, including mini-me, agree with the plunder. But then again, we live in hope to see a vote as since May 2010, is it ever possible to believe what a Liberal Democrat says?

So it’s back to the drawing board for Bird and his speculating cronies. The report before full council talks of the unreasonable disadvantage to councillors performing their civic duty. Well, here’s an idea. With Walsall people losing schools, care, hospital beds, jobs, businesses, homes and hope, perhaps the duty and expertise offered by Bird and his like could be volunteered for free. We could call it…hmm, let’s see…the Big Society.

If, though, the leader insists on remuneration from the public coffers, he might wish to consider job-sharing with the Chief Executive, he’s worth a few bob, but there should be conditions. Rather like the Single Status re-evaluation, the great leader’s allowance should be performance related. Ah, slight snag there. The police investigation into the missing EU millions might cast a cloud over his annual assessment. As might a very expensive vanity ring road project that is trying to kill people transiting the Arboretum Junction and seems unable to drain itself during a period of rain. Then there is the issue of the huge bags of pound coins holding down Amey`s lamp posts and the undisclosed pot of money being removed from Walsall by Serco. At this rate, given his performance, councillor Bird will owe us money.

On reflection, perhaps we should pay him what he wants, only in the hope that he might just go away.

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