Sunday, 25 March 2012

Metal Theft: an issue that deserves just a little more attention.

A few weeks ago, pupils at the school I work at were late visiting a Japanese school, where they were going to meet the penpals they’d been writing to that term. They were late because the mini vans weren’t working. The mini vans weren’t working because the catalytic converter had been stolen. They got there eventually, once spare mini vans had been called, but had a much shortened trip, and it was lucky that they were able to go at all.

Metal theft is a serious problem – from causes train delays to disrupting telephone networks - that would require simple legalisation to combat. Selling metal is currently a “no questions asked” affair; introducing a proper licensing scheme for dealers would be a major step to tackling this problem. Experienced criminals could get round such requirements, sure. But so much of metal theft is opportunistic; not people who would know how to circumvent regulations. So just a little tightening of regulation could make such a difference.

There is currently a private members bill dealing with this issue working its way slowly through Parliament:

But this issue deserves a bigger deal of public awareness and support; because it’s a big problem, with obvious steps towards solution. But of course, it’s so much more fun for the government to reorganise the NHS.

You can sign the petition in support of the bill here:

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Ken: some criticisms require a respectful response.

I wrote this before reading Emma Burnell's post saying pretty much exactly the same thing. So for a more eloquent version of this post, read that here:

As someone who is going to be boarding Ken’s battle bus (too) early tomorrow morning, I currently feel…more hesitant than I would like about talking to people about why they should vote for Ken for Mayor for London. I really, really want Ken to win. Every time I take the tube or get on a bus it annoys me that I know I could be paying less. We currently have a housing crisis that I trust Ken to tackle; that I sure as hell don’t trust Boris to tackle. I want EMA back. Ken was a good mayor, and he will be a good mayor again if he wins.

But recent controversies over tax, and over Ken’s attitude towards the Jewish community, risk jeopardising the campaign.

The attitude of many, often including Ken himself, over the recent Ken controversies has been quite dismissive; “of course Ken pays his taxes!”, “of course Ken’s not anti-Semitic!”. But these concerns are legitimate concerns. It’s not like the telegraph’s claims that Ken is trying to convert Londoners to Islam; of course that’s ridiculous and a collective eye roll is a pretty valid response.

I’m not saying that the accusations levelled at Ken are true; but I’m saying there are reasons for them and there needs to be a respectful response that acknowledges them as valid worries – in many cases coming from groups, such as the Jewish community, who want to support Ken, but feel like, at this point, they can’t. These are not slanders by a right wing press or nasty Boris supporters. These are people with real concerns that they want addressed, not dismissed.

And leaving accusations without a real response can make it look like you don’t have a good response; making it seem like they’re true, in the worst case. But even if this is not the perception of most people, not providing apology and explanation to people with real's dismissive and it's wrong.

Knowing when to eye roll and knowing when to provide a real response is going to be crucial for the campaign. And it, and Ken, need to get their head round this. Now.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

UK Uncut, Occupy & the role of idealism in public discourse.

Yesterday I went to the UK Uncut protest against the budget, forming a “dole queue” to recreate Thatcher’s “Labour isn’t working” poster with the slogan “austerity isn’t working”. It was a good protest, with lots of really lovely people, and it remained peaceful and well organised throughout. Being able to stand with a bunch of other people outside Westminster to collectively make the point that this government’s actions are unfair and wrong…that’s a powerful feeling.

There are times, however, as someone whose main form of activism is within partisan politics, that movements like UK Uncut and Occupy can seem quite distant from my way of looking at society and political change. They can seem quite extreme to someone who wants a Keynesian style stimulus, not to completely do away with capitalism. That’s not to say that everyone in movements like these is that radical, but they are defiantly idealistic, and often anti-establishment in a way that pulls them away from partisan politics; the vehicle through which, really, the greatest change can be made. They also often lack in specific alternatives; it is very clear what they are against, but less so what they are for.

But movements such as these can and do do a great deal of good; by helping to move and set the debate. Yes, they might often be idealistic, but that idealism can be of great benefit when thrown into the mix of all the other ideas and views in our public discourse. It was Occupy that gave us the rhetoric of the 99% and the 1%; though their aims might not be entirely realistic, they have done a great job and shaping this narrative and our society’s perspective on and understanding of social injustices. UK Uncut might not provide a fully thought out economic strategy, but they create a way for people to stand up and say that the government’s actions are wrong, lending strength to a movement against them by the left.

I want to see Labour in power, both nationally and locally; I think securing this is the best way to create change, which is why campaigning for the Labour Party will always, for me, be a priority over engaging in protests like the one I went to on Wednesday. But I’m glad I had a free Wednesday morning to go and support UK Uncut. Because these movements can provide a voice for an idealism that cannot come from a political party. This idealism as it stands could not manifest into social change. But when it becomes part of the wider dialogue, it moves it, improves it, and strengthens the voice of progressive politics within it.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The problem with regional public sector pay cuts...

Living between London and Leeds, it is clear to me that one area requires me to, on a day to day basis, spend more money than the other. Which is why the idea of regional public sector pay is not without basis; if it costs less to live, why shouldn’t you get paid less?

Except areas that cost less to live in are, often, going to be poorer areas, with less money flowing, less investment, less demand…cutting public sector pay will see decreased personal spending when the economy needs people to spend more. Geographical poverty and inequality affects people’s lives, as well as personal poverty. Living in an area with less jobs, less commerce, poorer infrastructure, less opportunity…this makes life harder.

And cutting the pay of people in these areas will hurt those economies, and make those problems worse.

Even in richer, but still cheaper to live in areas, like Leeds, the nationwide problems of unemployment and a lack of growth will be made worse by cuts in pay that will hurt demand in an economy where people already won’t, or often can’t, spend enough to help create growth.

It would, perhaps, make more sense to raise the pay of public sector workers in richer areas; the cost of living does provide a valid argument for greater flexibility of public sector pay. But flexibility should mean real attention to the varied needs of regional economies; not an attitude of “it costs less to live, you get less money”. And it certainly shouldn’t mean a cut in pay when people, already, aren’t spending; this will hurt both regional, and the national, economy.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Super Tuesday drinking game!

So it’s Super Tuesday time! Hope everyone’s ready for a wild night of GOP watching! These are just a few ideas for drinking game rules to get you to a state of inebriation where you can forget the horrendous fact that these people are actually running to become the most powerful person in the world…

"American values” are mentioned = one finger
Reagan is mentioned = one finger
A member of the public explains their reasons for supporting a candidate = one finger

God is mentioned = two fingers
CNN makes something rather unexceptional sound unnecessarily epic = two fingers
Santorum makes a bitchy comment about Romney = two fingers

Newt makes a bitchy comment about Romney = three fingers
Someone awkwardly mentions Ron Paul’s lack of actual victories = three fingers
The generalised concept of “The American People” is invoked = three fingers

CNN uses an overly and needlessly complex piece of technology = take a shot
Exit polls prove an inaccurate indication of the result = take a shot

Newt starts telling an anecdote = down your drink
Romney wins a state = down your drink