The Plastic Hippo

September 30, 2012

Handshakes and hugs

Filed under: Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 5:29 pm

Okay, it might not have been the Battle of Agincourt and Saint Crispin`s Day is actually on 25th October but it was still a good day to be out on the streets of Walsall. That bloke from Stratford-upon-Avon put it nicely when he wrote:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne`er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin`s day.”

Henry V by William Shakespeare

The day started with trepidation. A hippo teenager on the dreadful Facebook had received messages from some of her more hot headed friends that talked of “smashing heads” and “rushing” the English Defence League when they held their legal demonstration on Leicester Street. Plans for a family day out at the counter demonstration in Gallery Square were hastily revised and I left the house alone with only the tantalising aroma of sizzling bacon and freshly baked bread rolls for company. Walsall was getting on with Saturday and the police were getting on with locking down the town. Taxi drivers had decided to take the day off and buses had been diverted. The police settled on the town like a goose feather duvet.

Passing Leicester Street, about 20 or 30 morons were milling about outside the local hostelries; not the usual morons though. These embarrassing examples of English manhood had accents that would challenge the craft of Shakespeare and were definitely not indigenous to the southern suburb of Brownhills. Leaving them to the care and attention of the local constabulary, a completely different atmosphere pervaded the counter demonstration in Gallery Square. Friends, neighbours and even the slightest of acquaintances greeted each other with smiles and handshakes and it was impossible not to have a little bop to Pressure Drop by Toots and the Maytals being played on the sound system. Flags, banners and good nature proclaimed our unity against the real threat of fascist aggression.

The excellent Linda Mason and equally essential Aiden McHaffie have posted their experience of the day regarding the goings on as they attempted to vacate the town centre. They, along with most of the rest of us in Gallery Square, became quite rightly concerned at the arrival of a large group of local, masked and chanting young men. Members of the community, stewards and the police worked hard to defuse the tension but it was clear that these young men were very angry. It might be easy to dismiss the undercurrent of rage as merely the holy anger of youth, but when the hateful language of the EDL is considered, these young Walsall men realise that at some point it might become necessary to fight to preserve not just their own culture and identity, but also fight for the future of a free, tolerant and open society.

Fine speeches were made and good music was played. Valerie Vaz and David Winnick spoke but there was no sign of the MP for Aldridge-Brownhills or the leader of the council, or the chief executive or any Liberal Democrat councillors. Lots of Labour councillors attended but only one Conservative councillor was spotted by this humble correspondent. There was also an unconfirmed sighting of a certain Billy Bragg who strolled into the crowd late on in the day. If it was him and not some look-a-like imposter, then his unannounced arrival to show support for the people of Walsall is an extraordinary act of friendship.

As Linda and Aiden were observing the thugs in Leicester Street, tensions again rose in Gallery Square. Police had placed a steel barrier to block access to Park Street and re-enforced the cordon next to the Wharf Bar. The young men faced the police line in a fairly good natured stand-off until one officer pushed a masked young man who got too close in the chest. Stewards intervened and the man stepped back and removed his mask. Common sense had prevailed. A little later, the crowd at the cordon began shouting and gesturing at some unseen provocation beyond the police line and things began to look serious. Then something utterly wonderful happened.

Someone decided to play some Bhangra very loudly through the sound system and a gentlemen, presumable a community elder, decided to dance. A crowd formed around him and the boys abandoned the barricade to witness the spectacle. For a man of his years, the smiling dancer was remarkably light on his feet. He was joined by others and soon old, young, black, white, brown, pink and some of us the colour of old lard were dancing, smiling and laughing in a celebration of humanity. Occasionally, we would raise our hands and cheer at the sheer joy of dancing. The tension had gone and if it was Billy Bragg in the crowd, the image he will take away of Walsall is a town where the people of all communities dance and stand together.

As the police bussed the EDL out of town, we were held in Gallery Square for perfectly understandable reasons. With an estimated 150 to 200 drunken EDL idiots on the move, public safety had to be the priority. We were eventually released from the kettle in twos and threes and at the gap in the police line, organisers, including a Labour councillor, shook the hands of everyone who had attended. The polite handshakes from friends, neighbours and even slight acquaintances in the morning had been replaced with hugs, thanks and congratulations. The day had gone very well.

Heading home across the town centre proved complicated. The bus station was sealed off by fully tooled-up riot police and the only way south was through the deserted market. Another steel barrier blocked Bridge Street and groups of riot police massed in side streets. Closer to home, more riot police patrolled the streets of Chuckery. Away from the relative peace of Gallery Square, Walsall was reminiscent of a war zone under seize and was a possible portent of what is to come as the country hurtles towards division and economic ruin. The police operation throughout the day was well planed, efficient and successful. The vast majority of officers on duty were polite, friendly and interested only in public safety. One or two were slightly rude when their authority was challenged by even the most polite of enquiries and the riot guys in residential streets long after the EDL had gone growled when asked what was going on. Perhaps more worrying and, indeed, sinister is the fact that as each of us left Gallery Square, we were filmed by police officers.

It transpires that the police made 28 arrests and that there were some minor injuries sustained in Leicester Street. If you require an indication of the level of intellect possessed by the EDL protestors, it is worth taking a look at how these injuries came about. Having been successfully contained, the EDL allegedly attempted to break out of the cordon and rampage through the town. Those at the front rushed the police line. Their chums at the back threw rocks and bottles. Now, it might be as a result of weak upper body strength, poor coordination or, as is more likely, complete and utter stupidity, but the rocks and the bottles landed on the heads of their fellow vermin. Oh dear, oh dear. If they carry on like this then the sub-species will be the first to become extinct due to being total morons. Ironically, the injured were treated by officers they had just been trying to attack. It is impossible to invent a situation more farcical.

In the evening, we went to a concert celebrating the long career of a local music teacher. Hearing Debussy played really rather well in a lovely old church was light years away from the hatred and idiocy of the fascists who came to disrupt our town. There is plenty of room in Walsall for Bhangra, Clair de Lune and so much more. There is not and never will be any room for the EDL.


September 28, 2012

Something wicked this way comes

Filed under: Birmingham,History,Politics,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 11:25 pm

As a politician might say; “Look, let`s be clear about this. We will no longer tolerate barely literate sub-humans coming to our lovely English town of Walsall intent on destroying our English way of life”. The EDL are coming to Walsall.

As perhaps half a dozen knuckle-dragging morons decide to occupy Leicester Street, other more sentient beings might consider how to react to a handful of Neanderthals howling incoherent hatred whilst communicating by head butting each other. It would be all too easy to simply ignore the English Defence League and dismiss their drunken yobbery as just another Saturday afternoon of fun and games in beautiful downtown Walsall. After all, a few more shouting drunks falling out of town centre pubs is hardly likely to shatter the peace and quiet of Walsall`s cafe society. However, even assuming that the majority of EDL members are currently boarding the Eurostar and heading for Poland after misreading the location of their demonstration on the dreadful Facebook, there comes a time when a stand has to be made.

The EDL are, like the BNP and the National Front, not only openly thick but also openly racist and, whisper the cliché, openly fascist. In 1936, the good people of the east end stopped Mosley`s blackshirts marching in the Battle of Cable Street. Interestingly, Sir Oswald Mosley almost beat Neville Chamberlain in Birmingham Ladywood during the 1924 election and stood successfully in Smethwick in the 1926 by election. Astonishingly, the founder and leading light of the British Union of Fascists represented and was a member of the Labour Party. Some years later, a few young men strapped themselves into Spitfires and Hurricanes and fought off the Luftwaffe. In 1978, 100,000 of us marched from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in Hackney for the first big gig organised by Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. The sacrifice of Battle of Britain pilots cannot be compared to the few cuts and bruises picked up by the fists and feet of the National Front in the skirmishes in and around Brick Lane on that eventful day.

Now, as an older, wiser and much slower hippo, I will not be mixing it with the fascists tomorrow. Instead, I shall stand in peaceful silence outside the New Art Gallery to demonstrate my distain for this pond life who seek to disrupt the town I now call home. With 800 police on the streets, taxis suspended, bus routes altered, shops closed and churches, mosques, temples and gurdwaras holding prayer vigils, the implacable silence of opposition will suffice to show this scum that they are not welcome here. The leaders of our local political parties have issued a joint statement saying very much the same. It will be interesting to see if Mike Bird, Tim Oliver, Ian Shires and other Walsall councillors will join us at 11 o`clock in Gallery Square.

As for me, I shall walk down into town with my neighbours Mr Singh, Mr Mohamed and my mate Leroy from the next street. I will probably take my children. If that doesn`t scare off the EDL, nothing will.

September 26, 2012

Andrew Mitchell

Filed under: Birmingham,Law,Politics — theplastichippo @ 4:25 pm
Wheels of steel

Wheels of steel

Last Friday afternoon this humble blog published a hastily cobbled together post that requires an unreserved apology. It had been a long and extremely frustrating day but that is no excuse for poor grammar and shoddy sentence construction. This blog did not use the words that have been attributed to it.

The reason for publishing with such indecent haste was a firm belief that government chief whip and Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield Andrew Mitchell would be on the six o`clock news announcing his intent to spend more time with his family or David Cameron puking up some platitudes about there being no place for rude, arrogant, ego centric, vile bastards in today`s Conservative Party. The six came and went, so did the ten and so did Newsnight. The weekend slipped by without any mention of a future concentration on the concerns of Sutton Coldfield constituents or contracts with TV reality shows. Monday dawned and Mitchell still had his job with Cameron expressing full confidence in his chief whip and Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood saying that there was no need for any further investigation or inquiry because Mitchell had said sorry for calling a police officer who was protecting him a “f**king pleb”. The chief whip now wants to “draw a line” and “get on with his work”. Tuesday came and went with talk of Mitchell being a victim of police brutality because, as we all know, every police officer in the country hates cyclists. (more…)

September 23, 2012

To serve and protect

Filed under: Law,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:32 am

What better way to spend an autumnal Sunday than attending the Walsall Police Open Day at Walsall Police Station on Green Lane. Come rain or shine, a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

The fun starts today at 11-00am with the arrival of an RAF helicopter and goes on until 4-00pm. You can pat a police dog, look at some cars and guns and if you are lucky enough, hold a policeman`s truncheon. The cells will be open for inspection by those few remaining members of our rich, diverse community unfamiliar with the interior of a slammer.

An open day is, of course, an excellent idea and gives the community a greater awareness of the sometimes difficult work undertaken by the police. Anything that promotes trust and understanding between the police and the public has to be a very good thing. It seems a shame then, in this of all weeks, that trust and understanding has taken a retrograde step. This humble blog has consistently welcomed the engagement of social media in Walsall by individual police officers. It would be boring to go over old ground so let`s just say that plods on twitter give a human persona to the wailing sirens in the middle distance and the bugger in the helicopter waking the household at three in the morning. What was annoying before twitter is now reassurance because we are at last being told that some good guys are chasing after some bad guys.

The powerful elite that control us have always hated the internet. The thought that ordinary citizens should have access to information terrifies them and now as the technology advances almost daily, growing numbers of Joe Public are armed with cameras and connectivity. It is increasingly difficult to keep a lid on bad news or to enforce control by ignorance. The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle.

Here in Walsall and in the wider West Midlands, we do very well for tweeting coppers of all ranks. From Assistant Chief Constables to PCSO`s, they are engaging with the public and giving us the benefit of their experience. Robert Peel`s principle of the police being fellow citizens in uniform holds true as the quality of social media engagement reflects the society that we all belong to. Some are mind bogglingly boring, some are bland, some are irritating, some are informative, some are funny and some are very, very important. Once the chaff of “to avoid burglary, lock your doors and windows” or “had a good meeting with the Neighbourhood Watch” have been cleared away along with tweets from senior officers telling us how wonderful everything is, there are bits of vital information that come fluttering through the ether.

“Road closure due to RTA. No casualties” or “Burst water main, diversion in operation” or “Rabid hippo on the loose – stay indoors” is real time information coming direct from the boots on the ground. One example of this is the recent fire at a much loved old building in Walsall town centre. Twitter broke the news with reports of a pall of smoke near the station and within minutes the rumours started to fly suggesting all manner of Armageddon scenarios. It took a plod with a camera and connectivity who was actually there doing his job to tell the world what was going on. Buried deep in a bunker in the northern wastes, the redoubtable Brownhills Bob was collating the incoming intelligence in his state of the art control room and passing the reality of the situation to a concerned public. An hour after we all knew that the BOAK building could not be saved, the official Walsall police twitter feed reported an “incident” in the town centre.

The same boots on the ground who dispelled the barking mad rumours surrounding the BOAK fire has continued to inform the public about issues of concern in this town we hold precious. Social media nerds in Walsall know who he is and so too, sadly, do his senior officers and have decided that this sort of public service has to stop. The day after the terrible events in Manchester, the boots on the ground reported a find of an old rifle and a dud grenade in Walsall. This is inherently of public interest and concern in a way that dubious statistics telling us that crime is at an all time low is not. Boots on the ground took to twitter to organise fellow officers from around the country to cover colleagues from Greater Manchester Police who might wish to attend the funerals of their fallen friends and comrades. This was a step too far for the top brass at Walsall Police. They placed him under investigation for a breach of police procedure and gave his name to the press.

In a very bad week for the police following the depth of corruption surrounding the Hillsborough disaster, one might think that senior officers would embrace the chance to restore public trust. The national grief being expressed for the two fallen officers in Manchester and the disgraceful behaviour of Andrew Mitchell in Downing Street might just make the public appreciate the role of the police in a more positive light. Sadly in Walsall, senior officers are determined to distance themselves from the people that they are paid to serve and protect.

A few years ago, the odious EDL decided to visit the Black Country and spread their ignorant hatred. The police officer in charge of the operation tweeted throughout the day and was able to dispel erroneous rumours and false reporting. His actions prevented a bit of a bundle from turning into major civil disorder. Next Saturday, the apes from the EDL descend upon Walsall. With the greatest respect to the officers who are to police the perfectly legal “static” demonstration, this humble social media nerd wishes that the senior officer from a few years ago and boots on the ground could be there to let us know exactly what is going on. It is our town after all.

So, later today, head on down to Walsall Police Station and enjoy the open day. Say hello to our new borough commander, Chief Superintendent David Sturman and all the other Superintendents who will tell you that everything is wonderful in Walsall.

It is great to know that, for at least one day a year, policing in Walsall is actually open.

September 22, 2012

Lloyd George knew my father

Filed under: History,Politics — theplastichippo @ 1:13 am

Father knew Lloyd George
Today, Brighton welcomes the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference with tight security in place courtesy of Sussex Police. This time, the ring of steel is in place around the venue not to keep protesters out, but to keep Nick Clegg in.

With grass root Liberal Democrat activists complaining of verbal abuse out on the stump and having leaflets thrown back in their faces, Clegg is not the first Liberal luminary to face the ire of his party. As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, David Lloyd George split the party with his principled and vocal opposition to the Second Boer War. His argument was based on the morality, legality and cost of the colonialist adventure. Sound familiar? Lloyd George went on to unite the party and became what is considered to be one of this countries` greatest Prime Ministers. It might worth comparing Lloyd George and Nick Clegg and consider what these two great men have in common.

Lloyd George reunited the Liberals by opposing the government`s Education Act which, incidentally made him popular with voters. Clegg pledged to scrap tuition fees and we all know what happened to that particular promise. Clegg voted with the government to privatise education and scrap ESA and Surestart. The big Liberal Democrat idea of the Pupil Premium, one of the few trinkets he brought to the cabinet table, has just this week been proved to be completely ineffectual and has made no difference to disadvantaged children.

As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George introduced the “People`s Budget” in 1909 which introduced state support for sick and disabled people. This support would be financed by taxation on land and incomes and duty on tobacco and alcohol. The budget was initially blocked by Conservative peers in the House of Lords (sound familiar?) but elections in 1910 saw the budget approved. In 1911, Lloyd George introduced both the National Insurance Act, the Unemployment Insurance Act and widened the availability of old age pensions. In so doing laid the foundations for the creation of a welfare state. Clegg has voted with the government to dismantle the welfare state by allowing corporate vultures like Virgin, Serco and ATOS to profit by not providing an adequate service to sick and disabled people. Clegg also introduced the Youth Contract which has directly led to Workfare, you know, the scheme that allows big companies to make staff redundant and replace them with free labour.

Contrition is a rare thing in politics and it will be interesting to hear if Nick Clegg is prepared to apologise to conference for making the Liberal Democrats unelectable and for consigning the party to oblivion. His toe-curling apology over tuition fees might by viewed as brave by some activists, embarrassing by others and confirmation to the electorate that he will be offered a safe Tory seat in the home counties wearing a blue rosette. Some wag could autotune apologies over broken promises on VAT, the NHS and opposition to replacing Trident. He could be joined on a compilation charity CD entitled “Apology” by David Laws, Mark Oaten, Chris Huhne and John Hemming. Sadly, Lembit Opik is busy touring with his band in Eastern Europe.

For those interested, this is what Brighton has to offer:
Sarah Teather comes out of hiding at 14-50 to talk about education. Don`t worry, it won`t take long.
Nick Clegg will take a Q and A at 15-05. A must see before his tour of Berkshire constituencies.
Vince Cable does his funny turn at 12-20.
Danny Alexander will squeak and look confused at 12-20. As an added bonus there is an emergency debate at 14-20. The subject of which is yet to be announced.
Another intriguing emergency debate at 09-45 and then the big one. At 14-00 Nick Clegg will give a rousing speech to close the conference providing he survives the emergency debates.

For all their similarities, there is a major difference between David Lloyd George and Nick Clegg. Lloyd George may have profited from insider dealing and sold honours for cash, but he would never, ever, ever have been so stupid to allow himself to take the blame for spiteful, divisive and downright malicious Tory policies. Clegg claims to be the controlling influence over the slash and burn profiteering unleashed by Cameron and his well off chums but in reality the carnage continues unchecked and everybody is blaming the Liberal Democrats rather than the public school elite. Demanding electoral reform and reform of the House of Lords, Clegg has achieved precisely nothing apart from public distain and ridicule. The nation might be laughing at the Liberal Democrats but there is one man who laughing the loudest.

David Cameron.

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