The Plastic Hippo

February 8, 2012

Regeneration X

Filed under: Politics,Transport,Walsall,Wolverhampton — theplastichippo @ 4:10 pm

There are a number of strategies that can breathe life into a dying town. Sadly, the bozos of Walsall council cabinet seem to think that the resuscitation of a stagnant local economy will come about by building a multi-storey car park. The plot, along with any credibility, has clearly been lost.

Figures published by the Local Data Company suggest that one in four shops in Walsall town centre lies empty making Walsall the seventh worst town in the country for vacant retail units. Portfolio holder responsible for degeneration, councillor Adrian Andrew was quick to rubbish the data as “potentially misleading”. Lumping in warehouse and office accommodation, he claims that vacant shops represent only 20 per cent of capacity. Presumably this includes the horticultural goings on at an empty carpet warehouse not a million miles from the cabinet table and the empty rooms above empty shops containing imaginary illegal immigrants being offered postal votes in council elections.

Interestingly, the Tory regeneration member for Pheasey Park Farm suggests that the good news is that the figure of one in five empty shops is nearer to what passes for truth in this sorry borough. This is a little like asking the captain of the Titanic if he would like ice in his gin and tonic.

It is surprising that straw-clutching, blue sky thinking denialist councillor Andrew did not point out that Wolverhampton has 27.3 per cent vacant shops compared to Walsall’s meagre 26.9 per cent making Wolverhampton the fifth worst retail experience in this nation of shopkeepers. Bottom of the heap are Dudley and West Bromwich. It is good to know that a long wait and a short bus journey can convey us to other dying towns using a dying public transport system. The growth regenerating czar then offered a list of businesses who have upped sticks and left town realising that in the hands of the current administration, Walsall is a basket case. But, be of good cheer. HS2 means that we can travel from London Euston to Darlaston in three days rather than four.

Rather than the familiar drone of blaming the previous government, Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, Paul Uppal has concocted an ingenious rationale that blames charities for the retail blight in town and city centres. Chuggers, it seems, are turning people away from high streets. If you have never heard of chuggers, they are the people who shake collection tins for the likes of Macmillan Nurses, Lifeboats, Air Ambulances and a variety of other worthy causes and are, seemingly, the very basis of Cameron’s Big Society. Mr Uppal wants them banished from the streets. Extensive research involving asking a few of his mates, has convinced the successor to Enoch Powell than chuggers are a bigger problem than extortionate parking charges. Powell died 14 years ago today. If you have never heard of Paul Uppal, you are not alone.

The good and the great around the cabinet table in Walsall will, no doubt, take note of this new excuse for failure. Hmm…charities. That’s good. Yeah, with everyone hard up let’s encourage them to kick beggars. Any other ideas? What? A multi-storey car park? Brilliant. Let’s vote to increase our allowances.

Parking in Walsall town centre is a disaster. Having been out smarted by supermarket giants offering free parking, the nice little earner of council run car parks is a golden goose that now needs therapy and the possible attention of a crash trauma team. As ever with this incompetent cabinet, there is very little in detail, transparency, consultation, accountability or common sense. Scratching in the dirt for anything that remotely resembles a plan, our civic leaders say a multi-storey car park is now the answer.

No site has been identified, no costing proposal has been formulated, no time scale is offered. The need for private sector investment is mentioned as is the possibility of selling off council car parks that are “underused”. The mighty intellect that is Mike Bird, who incidentally made his money by specialising in insolvency, said: “We have got car parks in areas that are no longer used.” Does that mean the car park or the area? An underused car park because of empty shops or empty shops because of an underused car park? It’s difficult to know which came first, the chicken or the golden egg.

Cabinet meet tonight (Wednesday) to discuss, amongst other things, the “redevelopment” of the Old Square shopping centre. The proposal is to hand over the land to property developers Zurich Assurance who will then evict and pay off the current landowners and businesses. For good measure, a huge chunk of space used by market stalls will disappear. The genius of this strategy is that we will be able to enjoy yet another supermarket and, joy of joys, Primark. Should cabinet wish to see supermarket regeneration in action, a quick stroll along nearby George Street will reveal a row of boarded up shops in the shadow of Asda.

There are, however, a number of other strategies that can breathe life into a dying town. Sensible parking charges and the dismissal of a private enforcement company intent on profit rather than service. Waiving business rates for the first year of any new small retail enterprise. Start up grants and, if necessary, loans to small retailers and an end to bowing the knee to multi-national high street giants and property developers. Encourage a diversity of retail outlets that bases a local economy on more than supermarkets, pound shops and purveyors of junk food.

Walsall cabinet, along with other local authorities and the likes of Paul Uppal MP, should have a quiet word with Gideon Osborne and request an immediate cut to the rate of VAT, the reversal of sacking public sector workers who will now be forced onto benefit rather than paying taxes and buying stuff and, if they have the backbone, tell the Chancellor and his millionaire friends to pay their own taxes.

If these radical ideas seem alien to Bird, Andrew and Uppal, perhaps the should consider it as a PFI outsourcing deal with the public. They provide the shops, parking and transport infrastructure and we spend money. It might just work, unlike the ruinous deals with APCOA, Amey and Tarmac.

There is, though, one PFI scam that will induce tremors around the cabinet table. Whisper the name Serco and our civic masters will retreat to a darkened room, place a blanket over their heads, reach for the Prozac and wonder if their reserved parking space in front of the Council House will still be there in May.

Cabinet will discuss the mess left by Serco behind locked doors, well away from the irritating attention of those made to pay the bill. It could be a good night for Prozac shareholders.

February 5, 2012

Snow blind

Filed under: Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 11:31 pm

One of the more endearing qualities of the human race is its marvellous ability to be constantly surprised. It is winter, it is February, it snowed. Good grief, we didn’t see that coming.

On Saturday afternoon, with snow falling and settling, the regular jaunt to the supermarket for weekend treats became a delightful cabaret as panicked heathens stocked up for the unfolding apocalypse. It was difficult not to laugh as some very large people were pushing each other out of the way to get to the oven chips, burgers and beer and with loaded up trolleys, lined up to buy cigarettes by the 200. With enough food to feed Napoleon’s army on the retreat from Moscow, they trekked across the frozen tundra car park, eyes cast to the heavens, fearing Armageddon. For days the weather forecast predicted snowfall.

In wellies, three warm coats, gloves and a ridiculous but very warm hat, the rucksack of provisions was conveyed up the hill by Shanks`s pony in half the time it took cars to slide out of the supermarket car park. The Wellington boots proved to be rather efficient at negotiating freshly fallen snow, in marked contrast to the very best of German, French, Italian, Japanese and American design and engineering. One nascent Jeremy Clarkson, attempting to drive up the hill by keeping his foot down and spinning his wheels, finally brought his back sliding “hot” toy car to a halt. On being overtaken by a fat man on foot with a rucksack, he pushed the button to lower his window and asked for a push. The response that he should learn how to drive in snow resulted in a facial expression that was reminiscent of a recently emasculated butcher’s dog. Taking pity and suggesting second gear and keeping the revs down ensured a friendly gesture when we met again at the top of the hill some time later.

Once home, and after cheese on toast, crumpets and mugs of hot chocolate, the family decided on a walk in Walsall Arboretum even as the light was fading. Too cold for vandals, junkies and butcher’s dogs, the Arbo was stunning. Even after dark, the reflected light from the snow allowed snowball fights and some rather tame sledging on limited slopes. Invigorated, we returned to French onion soup, steak, sautéed potatoes, Vichy carrots and apple crumble with custard. The domestic staff at hippo towers were magnificent in the face of a weather related crisis.

Sunday morning saw bacon butties, stuff being thrown into the slow cooker and the promise of a thaw. Determined to make the most of the snow and after checking to see if an elderly neighbour was okay for milk and bread, we collected the adopted dog and again resorted to the Arboretum. You would not believe the fun we had.

In eastern Europe, people are actually freezing to death. Here, with a coating of snow, BAA decide to cancel half the flights out of Heathrow “as a precaution”. The police and the local council advise that we should not undertake journeys unless absolutely necessary. Stay at home, don’t go to work, keep your children away from school, it’s hell out there. Expect the government to explain away another down-turn in the economy in the the first quarter of 2012 because of 24 hours of snowfall. It could have been worse, of course. Imagine the damage to the balance of payments if two and a half inches of snow fell on a Thursday afternoon and was gone by Friday rush hour. Act of God melt down.

Returning from the wonderful Arboretum, we enjoyed a Chicken Marengo worthy of Bonaparte. With the Wellingtons in the hall, and sitting before a warming log fire, some fatherly advice was administered regarding snow. Snowballs only hurt a bit, sledging is perfectly safe until you kill yourself and the best way to avoid polar bear attack is to be accompanied by a friend that runs slower than you.

Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t rain tomorrow. Take an umbrella and watch out for polar bears and make sure that your journey is necessary.

February 3, 2012

Financial privilege

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:46 pm

Lichfield`s most famous son, Dr Johnson, said: “Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.” Boswell described Dr Johnson as an “arch-Tory”.

Dear old Lichfield Sam, for all his arch-Toryism, would be dismayed at the antics of the current Tory government and their compliant Whig servants. After suffering no less than seven defeats in the House of Lords at their attempt to pass the deeply flawed Welfare Reform Bill, Cameron`s government ignored the noble Lords and Ladies and overturned all the ammendments in the Commons. Not content with simply dismissing the scrutiny and proper investigation of new legislation, the millionaires in cabinet now evoke the obscure “financial privilege” clause of governance to avoid any further scrutiny.

Financial privilege is a term that seems strangely apt. Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and the rest are financially privileged thanks to inherited wealth and have never done an honest days work between them. These public schoolboys now talk of the undeserving poor with such vehemence that even arch-Tory Dr Johnson would have parodied and dismissed with a witty one-line metaphor.

Sadly, this humble blog is not of the calibre of Samuel Johnson. Let`s just say that the current coalition cabinet is a bunch of self-serving, greedy, arrogant, bigoted rectums that deserve to be consigned to the deepest, darkest and most painful pits of Hell. How`s that Sam?

To take away benefits from disabled children and those dying of cancer proves that this nation is wretchedly governed. To describe disability and terminal illness as a “lifesyle choice” goes beyond all common decency and is beyond satire. To promote anecdotal evidence of benefit fraud is a hate crime worthy of Joseph Goebbels or Adolf Hitler. To blame previous governments and then state that we are all in this together is insulting, dangerous and untrue.

Ed Lester is all in this together. The boss of the Student Loan Company avoided paying tax with the permission of David Willetts and Danny Alexander. Fred Goodwin is all in this together. The former RBS boss continues to receive tax payers money for destroying the ecomomy. He might have been stripped of his knighthood, but the crooked bastard won`t care as he enjoys his retirement in his villa in the south of France.

Chris Huhne is all in this together. The millionaire owner of eight homes was forced to resign after being summoned by the beak to stand trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice. Huhne, apparently, is one of the good guys and one of the few Liberal Democrats equipped with a spine strong enough to stand against the government in its policy of destroying society and civilization. The Tories will breathe a sigh of relief if Huhne is banged up. However, Huhne`s grasp of responsible capitalism did not stop him, along with Ed Davey, Norman Lamb and the odious David Laws, from voting with the government to abandon cancer patients and children with disabilities.

John Terry is all in this together. Having been summonded by the beak to stand trial for racial abuse, this dubious role model has again been sacked as England captain. With a premier league manager up before the beak on charges of tax fraud and given the state of Britain`s overcrowded prisons, one can only imagine how Terry, Rednapp and Huhne will react to having to share a slop bucket. Terry, however, will be spared the indignity of a trial until July when the football season and the European Championships are over. Tories and Liberal Democrats in the Commons and the Lords who stand accused of hate crime by supporting the Welfare Reform Bill and the destruction of the NHS will not, as yet, be required to face judge and jury. That is, of course, until the next election.

Even as the coalition ran roughshod over the democratic process, the reaction of our local politicians was, to say the least, interesting. One Conservative councillor tweeted about football, the leader of Walsall Liberal Democrats tweeted about misleading ads for beauty products and from Labour came the usual implacable silence. Even as parliament was being misled and decieved by an avarious and mendacious government, our local elected representatives stuck their fingers in the their ears and went “la la lalla la, can`t hear you”.

The “savings” made by denying the basic human rights of the most vulnerable will do nothing to reduce the deficit as the sums involved are tiny compared to the tax avoidance, corruption and fraud perpetrated by the already wealthy and privileged. These “reforms” are nothing more than ideological dogma and an attack on a fair society and an insult to civilization.

Our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers fought and worked to make the world free. They returned to homes fit for heroes based on the Welfare State. If we are lucky enough to survive the dismantling of a society that they fought for and deseved, will we be able to tell our grandchildren that we stood by and did nothing as a government shoots fish in a barrel in the name of financial privilege?

The time for opposition is over, the time for resistance has passed. It’s time to stand and fight.

February 2, 2012


Filed under: Politics,Rights,Society — theplastichippo @ 12:31 am

According to Hansard, here is the list of Liberal Democrat MPs who supported the government in withdrawing benefits from people with terminal cancer and children with severe disabilities.

Danny Alexander
Norman Baker
Alan Beith
Gordon Birtwistle
Tom Brake
Annette Brooke
Jeremy Browne
Malcolm Bruce
Paul Burstow
Lorely Burt
Vince Cable
Menzies Campbell
Alistair Carmichael
Nick Clegg
Edward Davey
Tim Farron
Lynne Featherstone
Don Foster
Stephen Gilbert
Duncan Hames
Nick Harvey
David Heath
John Hemming
Martin Horwood
Simon Hughes
Chris Huhne
Julian Huppert
Norman Lamb
David Laws
Stephen Lloyd
Tessa Munt
John Pugh
Dan Rogerson
Robert Smith
Andrew Stunell
John Thurso
Jo Swinson
David Ward
Steve Webb
Mark Williams
Roger Williams
Stephen Williams
Jenny Willott
Simon Wright

Remember those names as the very definition of shame. Remember those names whenever you hear a broken promise. Remember those names when they ask for respect, trust and votes at an election. Remember those names because Liberal Democrat MPs will forget the names of children and the terminally ill who they have just condemned to a death without dignity or support.

I hope this scum rot in Hell.

« Previous Page

Create a free website or blog at