Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Chocky shock

Well, actually I don't think they're that bad myself.

Lies that life is black and white

This week I got a £15 HMV voucher from my daughter (I bought it off her 'cos it was a Xmas present she'd overlooked) and as I'd already pre-ordered the Dylan Live CD I browsed and came across a gem of a DVD. Alan Bleasdale's The Boys From The Blackstuff. Brilliant! If ever historians want to look back on life in the early 80's under the Tories then they could sit down for 6 hours and watch this and laugh and cry with Chrissie, Loggo, Dixie, George and Snowy & company. If we want to whinge about New Labour, and let's face it, there's a fair bit to moan about, we shouldn't forget the Tories and the way they sucked the life out of a generation. And to-day, at PM's questions, Michael Howard fell back on the old Tory cliche of a 'country swamped by immigrants' just to jog our memories of how vile they can be. As ever with the mealey-mouthed, they dress it up a Home Office inefficiency, but how much more efficient would they make the Civil Service with their promise to throw them on to the dole. Errm... this is where I came in.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Hospital penalised for treating too many patients

Regular readers of Private Eye will have probably read the history of scandals associated with the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). The real problem associated with of PFI is that those councillors and NHS administrators who are so keen on promoting it will, in most cases, be either pruning their roses, or have had their ashes scattered on them by the time the big bills start rolling in. At the last General Election an Independent MP was elected in Kidderminster because of public hostility to the virtual closure of their acute hospital in order to support a PFI hospital just outside of Worcester. Kidderminster closed. Worcester was operating at 98% capacity. Worcester has to pay a £200,000 fine, money that could have been spent on patient care, to a private company because, to quote the Trust spokesperson "people who come into A & E are given a bed when they don't necessarily need one."

Monday, March 29, 2004

If it wasna for ya wellies

When the young Bobby Dylan wrote A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall back in 1963 we were all so impressed with his sense of imagery. It would appear that those nice people at the Ministry of Defence took him just a tad to literally.

Outing Howard

Is there anything more ridiculous in the news today than Michael Howard, the Local Government Minister who oversaw the introduction of section 28 cynically deciding to woo the 'gay vote' (as if there were such a thing)? I didn't think there was until I saw this terrific reference on Tim's site at Bloggerheads. I must get some!

Now the man on the stand, he wants my vote...

When the Today programme on Radio 4 decided to try a 'phone in vote to introduce a new piece of legislation, it was a disaster. So what chance now of a psycho with a shotgun winning a parliamentary seat?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Smoke signals

Smoking will be banned in bars in the Irish Republic after tonight. The Tobacco Manufacturer's Association has urged the UK Government not to follow in their footsteps. Bears also defecate amongst the trees, apparently.

In Gaza you can live like a dog, or go with a bang

The Guardian weblog recommended a blog called Ihath, written by a former Iraqi citizen, who now lives in Israel with her Palestinian husband. It is a really good read. Until the wrongs that results in people having to live like dogs is addressed, then they will choose to go with a bang.

Pants on fire

"It’s time to restore honor and dignity to the White House." That, according to a book by the Washington Editor of The Nation magazine is No.1 in his own hit parade of the top ten lies by George W. Bush. As Corn says, narrowing down Bush's lies to a top ten from a book of fourteen chapters and 120,000 words, is no mean feat.

If the US sneeezes...we catch a cold!

Please, please don't anybody tell Blunkett about this.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

All the best...

Going to the wedding party for an old mate tonight. I hope Mick and Susanna have had a good day and are very happy together.

Off the rails

Was this the most short-sighted and stupid decision of the 20th Century... or was the Tory privatisation of 'public' transport even more stupid?

Another one bites the dust

The curtain has barely closed as Jose Maria Aznar slinks off the stage, when another Leader of the Coalition of the Willing begins to prepare his leaving speech.

Among the stars

Went to the Sandwell 30th Anniversary celebrations today, and it was great fun. Cyrille Regis looked as fit as a butcher's dog and seemed a genuinely nice bloke. Frank Skinner was hilarious. He wouldn't normally qualify as one of my favourite comedians, but his wit was razor sharp, and not as cruel as he sometimes comes across on the TV. But the undoubted star was Julie Walters who was so natural, so friendly to everyone she spoke to, and together with Frank and Cyrille spent hours having her photo taken. Julie is the patron of my local park which is run by a Community Trust and myself and my fellow Councillor, Ann Jaron, had our photgraph taken with her, hopefully for inclusion in their newsletter.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Freedom to tether your horse on common land...

Be honest, do you really know where Sandwell is? Well, this week we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the creation of the borough in a local government re-organisation. Sandwell is not the most obscure borough, I mean, where is Thurrock? I could have sworn it was in Scotland.

To commemorate the 30th Anniversary (of Sandwell, not Thurrock) this Saturday the Council is awarding the Freedom of the Borough to three people, Julie Walters (who was born and brought up in my Ward), Frank Skinner (who is actually Chris something or other and used to live in the next Ward) and Cyril Regis who was born in French Guyana, which is not near here, but who made his name hear about 25 years ago. Which should answer the question: West Bromwich and the surrounding Towns.

And then he kissed me....

..or not, as the case may be. Very disappointing for me old mate Reg who was hoping the Colonel would give the lad the full, tongue down the throat job!

"We have no permanent allies -only permanent interests" - Lord Palmerston

Madness is a strange illness. It has a tendency to strike amongst all sorts of political leaders, and yet, seemingly without any medical treatment or drugs, there apparently is a miracle cure available and the insane become sane.

President Nasser of Egypt was one of the first people I remember in my childhood being widely described as ‘mad’. Shortly after he nationalised the Suez Canal and introduced agrarian reform for the peasantry in the 1950’s, Nasser was vilified in the country as the madman ruler of Egypt. Later, when it transpired he was not going to convert the Arab world to communism and nationalise all Western interests, Nasser was declared sane and fit to sip tea with the Queen.

Since then there have been a string of ‘mad’ dictators from Kaunda to Mugabwe, from the Ayatollah to Arafat, most of whom seem to have incredibly regained their sanity and been welcomed back into the ‘world community’. From pathalogical terrorists to world statesmen, and you can hardly spot the join. Today, one of the most dangerous mad men in recent years less than a year ago, Colonel Qadaffi of Lybia, moves from being the ‘Mad dog of the Middle East' according to Ronald Reagan (people in glass houses, Ronnie) through to being a statesman who can shake hands with our own great world leader. Only a few (Fidel Castro) seem to fail to respond to the miracle cure.

This afternoon I will be attending a meeting of my local mental health nhs Trust. What they would do for a miracle cure that they could dispense which would transform their patients in such a radical way. Obviously it is a cure that, like so much in this world, is only available to the rich and powerful.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

It's alright Ma, it's life, and life only

The Tories are jumping up and down about Blair's visit to Libya to meet with the Colonel. Party Chairman Michael Ancram seems particularly incensed about it. So is his Leader Michael Howard. How dare the boy Blair shake hands with a tyrant who is directly associated with the Lockerbie bombing, they squawk. Is this the same Michael Ancram and Michael Howard who were Tory MPs when Hurd, Channon and their cronies were sitting on Saddam's white sofa flogging him WMD as long as he only used them on Iranians and the Kurds? But just in case you are labouring under the delusion that Tone's visit to Libya is about fostering world peace and bringing the Colonel back into the world community, forget it. Where there's oil, there's muck! "You can be sure of Shell."

In total comparison, the attitude shown by Dr. Jim Squire, whose daughter Flora was killed onboard PanAm Flight 103, could serve as an example to all the mealy-mouthed headline grabbers as an exercise in sheer dignity and understanding.

Dazed and confused

Former BNP councillor Maureen Stowe has admitted that when she was "conned" into standing for election to Burnley Council she was "naive and politically clueless." Say what you will then, no-one could say she didn't represent those who voted for her. Fortunately, Maureen has subsequently seen the error of her ways and has ditched the BNP.


I go to Planning Committee, I raise the issue, and then some publicity-seeking, freeloading Tory who couldn't even take the trouble to come to the Committee, and doesn't even represent the Ward under discussion, shoots off at the lip and tries to claim the credit. Brass neck we call it where I come from. you go!

Ah! No wonder I haven't been getting a buzz, I was using oregano!

Monday, March 22, 2004

The assasination capital of the world

About 6 years ago en route to visit the Polosario refugee camps in Southern Algeria on a UNISON delegation, we had the dubious pleasure of spending three days in Algiers. It really is the most frightening place to visit. There have been well over 100,000 assainations in Algeria over the last 15 years and we were effectively placed under armed guard and 'house arrest' in the hotel for the duration, (for our own good, I might add). On the one occasion we ventured out we were accompanied by members of the SAS in armed jeeps. Our journey, less than half a mile, took us for a meal at the British Embassy, where the ambassador welcomed us to what he described as "the most heavily guarded British Embassy in the world" where soldiers armed with machine guns were positioned discreetly within the grounds. This is all brought back to me by the news that the Embassy has had to be relocated as it is thought to be a likely target for al-Quaeda.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Council housing shortage - you're having a laugh!

Twenty-five years after Thatcher and Heseltine embarked on their mission to destroy local authority housing, continued apace by their New Labour successors, we are treated to the sickening sound of Tory councillors squealing like stuck pigs about the shortage of... council houses. It's bad enough having to put up with criticism from those on the left who believe in public housing in the public sector, but to have to endure the whingeing hypocrisy from the Tories who encouraged the flogging off of the best houses and starved housing departments that wanted to improve the remainder... Unbelievable.

Happy Anniversary

"I felt horrible that Baghdad was being reduced to rubble. With every explosion, I knew that some vital part of it was going up in flames. It was terrible and I don't think I'd wish it on my worst enemy. That was the beginning of the 'liberation'… a liberation from sovereignty, a certain sort of peace, a certain measure of dignity. We've been liberated from our jobs, and our streets and the sanctity of our homes… some of us have even been liberated from the members of our family and friends." Baghdad Burning records the anniversary of the start of 'shock and awe' and exposes the reality of liberation. "We're watching with disbelief as American troops roam the streets of our towns and cities and break violently into our homes... we're watching with anger as the completely useless Puppet Council sits giving out fat contracts to foreigners and getting richer by the day - the same people who cared so little for their country, that they begged Bush and his cronies to wage a war that cost thousands of lives and is certain to cost thousands more."

The winds of change are blowing wild

As the gales batter Britain I am sure I'm not the only person on the island wishin' and a hopin' that they will rip down the proliferation of mobile 'phone masts that seem to be springing up on almost every street corner. Yes, most of us want the convenience of a mobile 'phone, but I had one ten years ago and still got a signal. So why do we have to have so many of the bloody things now when technology should be improving things? There is a water tower in my Ward which now resembles some sort of mini-Jodrell Bank. I don't know whether these masts damage your health or not, and the 'phone companies assure me they are no more dangerous than your average kitchen microwave oven. Ofcom, the industry regulator, offers expert advice, but also has a disclaimer from any liability. I suspect people remember the decades of tobacco companies issuing their reassuring advice about the dangers of smoking. I've got to say that most of the people who contact me about these masts say that they think Gordon Brown is in hoc to the mobile 'phone companies having ripped them off when he auctioned off the licences. The residents of a small village in Warwickshire have already decided what they think about the situation. Are there any other succesful strategies?

What did you say?

Have a nice day , mom. At a recent convention addressed by a spiritulalist the audience are asked "Is there anyone here who has ever seen a ghost?" A small forest of hands go up, and over the next hour they share their experiences. As they are winding up the spiritualist light-heartedly asks, "Is there anyone here who has ever made love to a ghost?" A small elderly man near the back puts his hand up. Incredulous, the spiritualist asks, "You've actually made love to a ghost?" "Oh, no, sorry" says the man, "I thought you said a goat!"
Which brings to mind the story Joe Slovo used to tell about the first day Fidel Castro gathered his revolutionaries together after they swept to power in Cuba. Needing to form a Government, and starting with Finance Minister, Castro asks, "Step forward if anyone amongst you is an economist." To Fidel's surprise, his old comrade Che Guevara steps forward, and is duly appointed Finance Minister. Six month's later, after the economy had plummeted into a deep depression, Che confessed to Fidel he thought he had said, "Step forward if anyone amongst you is a communist!"

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth

Mad Melanie Phillips seems to have accepted every word of a briefing from the impartial US Embassy press counsellor who told the world that 4 of the 5 Britons released from the Guantanamo concentration camp last week were in fact known terrorists and al-Qa'eda soldiers. So, Mel asks, why haven't they been arrested and charged with treason? Well, here's another question for you Mel. If they were guilty, and the embassy press counsellor, Lee McClenny could have presented his evidence, why didn't the US put them on trial in a court of law? Why, given the strength of the supposed intelligence McClenny could offer, Dubya could even have arranged to have them fried in an East Texas Armchair. Of course, it could be that the Guantanamo Four were not lying, that in fact McClenny didn't have the evidence he claimed to have, that he was spinning a pack of complete lies, and The Scum, Melanie Phillips, and all the other pundits who swallowed the White House press briefing hook line and sinker, were simply repeating what they wanted to believe!

If you can't beat them... (oops, no pun intended)

Earlier this week I included a link into a website which had a bit of fun by allowing you every time you clicked your mouse to generate a random ridiculous quote from our Home Secretary. But now we find Blunkett's policy advisors have got in on the game and are doing it for themselves.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Don't waste your words, they're just lies

The Christan Science Monitor has apologised and paid damages to George Galloway MP after it was established that the reports they printed claiming he had been paid millions of pounds by Saddam Hussein were a pile of crap. The CSM mealey-mouthed apology said it paid the money because Britain does not have the same "free press or free speech" protections as the US. What they mean is that if you print a pack of blatant lies that cannot be backed-up with a shred of evidence, you can actually be sued for it in the UK. Well, I'm not sure that we do have many of the 'rights' that US citizens have enshrined in their constitution, but this is one improvement we could do without.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

A life saver?

Steve Bell offers his insight into Brown's budget


Thanks to qwghlm for this superb David Blunket Policy Maker. Other absurdities include the wonderful Michael Howard Sings The Smiths.

Career opportunities the ones that never knock, and every job they offer is to keep you out the dock

Spent yesterday driving to and from Southampton where my daughter has been offered a place studying politics and international relations. Without meaning to be offensive to anyone, the University seemed incredibly dull, and I was less than impressed to note that the Students Union was not affiliated to the National Union of Students. The political highlight of the day for me was motoring down the M40 listening to the late great Joe Strummer and The Clash belting out White Man in the Hammersmith Palais and Armagideon Time.

Now listening to that, it strikes me, would give the politics students of Southampton a pretty good starting point.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Don't even ask..

So, how much does it cost to marry a donkey? Only wondering. Thanks to Tim for this.

Not so super markets

In my Ward, Bearwood, the shopping centre is dominated by Safeways, soon to become Morrisons. Over the years Safeways has shown a singular lack of respect to the local community. Smaller shops selling a range of fresh food and vegetables have gradually dwindled until the shopping centre consists of pizza parlours, estate agents and charity shops. Safeways has shown absolutely zilch commitment to the local community they have been party to the destruction of. So good to read George Monbiot's analysis of these leeches.
Of course, Morrisons, meanwhile, are set to dispose of many of the sites they have taken over. Will we be left with the shell of a shopping centre to try to reconstruct?

Monday, March 15, 2004

You can't walk the streets in a war...

"One example of an arbitrary detention we heard about the other day was of a man who was arrested in Tikrit. They raided his home and gathered the 25-year-old man, two brothers and an elderly uncle. They got the usual treatment: a bag on the head, and hands behind their backs. They were taken to a place outside of Tikrit and thrown into a barn-like area with bags on their heads- still tied up. For 3 days, they were kicked and cursed by the troops. In between the kicking and cursing, a hefty soldier would scream questions at them and an interpreter would translate, "Are you part of Al-Qaeda?! Do you know Osama bin Laden?!" On the third day, one of the young men struck up a deal with who he gathered was their 'head'- the man who gave all the orders. They agreed that one of the soldiers would accompany the man back to the city and wait while he came up with $300/detainee. The rest of the men would be freed a couple of days later. "
This excerpt from the Baghdad Burning website gives a flavour of what life is like under an army of occupation. If there was no link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq a year ago, it seems extremely likely that there is now. The words 'internment' and 'recruitment' spring to mind.

Inside job?

Quite disgraceful. Has anyone checked out Clair Short's handbag to see if she is packing a Swiss Army penknife?

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Hasta La Victoria Siempre!

Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party has proved to be somewhat less than popular with the Spanish electorate. Hearty congratulations to Socialist Party leader Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero whose stance against the war against Iraq has clearly proved a popular position with the electorate.

Poll's apart

Whilst confidence in Tony Blair seems to have waned significantly since the days when he could do no wrong, the Tories would appear to be making no inroads at all. Despite all the hype about Michael Howard's new dawn, the continuing embarassment over the war in Iraq, Hutton, etc. the opinion polls reveal the Tories are standing still. Any half decent opposition would be out of sight by now... but then again...

The usual suspects...

As someone living in Birmingham in November 1974 when the IRA bombed two bars in ther city centre, the horror and fears of the people of Madrid this week feel all too familiar. However, as the news filters in that the Spanish authorities have detained five people in connection with the bombings in Madrid, I have other feelings of Deja vu.
Just 13 years ago today, the six Irishmen swept up by the police in the immediate aftermath of the bombings were finally released after spending more than 16 years in prison for something they patently did not do.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

BNP back Brits Out of Ireland campaign

Confusing. The British National Party appear to have arrived at a position whereby they are ditching their usual pro-loyalist allies in favour of a republican Brits Out policy, and demanding Ireland for the Irish. I bet Gerry, Martin and co. in Sinn Fein are delighted to be joined by these particular Neanderthals.

Life on the front line

There's a popular image of local government workers as a pampered bunch of couldn't care less, tea-swigging tossers who are time-serving their way to an index linked pension, cosseted away in a dusty town hall basement. As so often with myths, the reality is somewhat different.

Friday, March 12, 2004

'Scab union' leaders sitting pretty

As we reflect on the 20th anniversary of the start of the Miners' strike, the leaders of the breakaway UDM scab union are still busy lining their pockets and expoiting miners. £150,000 a year pay and perks for a union with less than 1500 members. When these people led their members across the picket lines they knew what they were doing...

Pot to kettle... come in please.

Apparently the British National Party have gone running to the police calling for the prosecution of Billy Bragg for calling them names and apparently "inciting violence" against them. In an article in The Guardian, Bragg was quoted as saying he was in favour of an elected House of Lords even if it meant the BNP winning a seat. "It would shine a torch into the dirty little corner where the BNP defecate on our democracy, and that would be much more powerful than duffing them up in the street - which I'm also in favour of." Apparently this has deeply offended the genteel BNP leadership, who of course, have never seen the inside of a courthouse in their lives, although Tom Watson's archives paint a very different, and more accurate picture of the thugs in suits.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Fingers on your keyboard arrows

Harmless, soothing fun. Just load, fingers on your arrows and drift away (requires Flash). Thanks to Funjunkie

The Chimes of Freedom Flashing....

In December 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and declared:

"It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him."

The United States and United Kingdom Governments are signatories to this declaration.

Yet in spite of this we still find that people have been detained unlawfully by the United States Government, held captive outside of the rule of law, interrogated, and given no access to legal representatives or their relatives.

To make matters worse when they are released from this blatant abuse of the UN Declaration, without a single charge being made against them, their local MP appears on the national media and instead of welcoming their release, urges the British police to detain them in this country to ensure they do not represent a ‘threat’.

A threat to what? Our democratic institutions and way of life? You're having a laugh!

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

According to the company's website, the latest line of McDonalds healthy looking salads may contain more fat than its burgers. Be warned!
The residue of bitterness felt by Britain's firefighters following their dispute over 'modernisation' last year means that although the strike is over, the dispute is likely to rumble on, as it is currently doing in Norfolk. The FBU's argument is that cutting back on numbers and reducing the professional nature of the service will lead to a far worse service to the public. Let's hope we are not basing our futures on the US model.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

A message on my e-mail asks me if this website has got anything to do with me.
Can I say, emphatically, no... but I do like a good tomato!
Have you ever pondered the question Why do politicians need weblogs? Good question... good answer!

Friday, March 05, 2004

This evening we went to a gathering of the Warley Woods Community Trust to say farewell to Marion Blockley. Marion has been the Trust Co-ordinator through a few difficult years as the inexorably slow process of transfer of the management of the Woods from Birmingham City Council to the Community Trust... and on the eve of it happening she moved on. She was incrediby enthusiastic, not just about the Woods, but the wider Bearwood Community and she will be sorely missed by activists in the Trust and beyond.
In celebration of International Women's Day the Birmingham Trades Union Council have organised a celebration at the Bread and Roses trade union pub in Paradise Circus (near the Central Library) in Birmingham on Saturday (tomorrow). With a Cuban theme, between 5pm-7pm there is a Women's Reception, and from 7pm till late there is a Cuban Social with music from Diweni Ketebu and speakers from Cuba Solidarity and Birmingham Action for Central America.

On the subject of International Women's day, the next time a smart-arsed male asks you when International Men's Day is, refer him to the Amnesty International website where they have an impressive range of statistics from around the world about violence against women.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

At last... the US have found weapons of mass destruction. Traces of the deadly nerve agent sarin have been found. Unfortunately... the discovery was about 50 miles from Birmingham, Alabama! (How on earth did Saddam manage to hide them there!)

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

If you take heed of the overwhelming majority of media coverage of the crisis in Haiti you could be forgiven for thinking the corrupt regime of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been overthrown by a popular revolt amongst the masses. There is another side of this story Dont fall for Washinton's spin on Haiti that offers an alternative view, if want to read it.
Most of us waste hundreds of pounds a year, just by doing nothing! A lot of corporate bodies, banks, insurance companies, gas and electric suppliers etc. rely on people being complacent and not switching suppliers. A really good website allows you to make instant comparisons... and savings! Give it a try at money saving expert.
Who says politics is a safe job. Take a look at these pictures of our legislators taking their lives into their hands with a series of dangerous stunts... and some hilarious letters of excuse from those who played it safe!