1 October 2016

A good man, gone too soon...........

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Michael Fraser-Hopewell. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Michael was a resident of Somerton and, in late 2009, became one of the leading lights in the opposition to an industrial development at Badger's Cross, on the outskirts of the town. It was during that period that I first met Michael and he struck me as someone with great spirit and determination.

In October of 2009, Somerton Town Council staged a mass resignation and Michael, with the commitment that was his hallmark, stepped up and sought election to the new Town Council. The election was held in early 2010 with Michael being elected to the new Town Council and subsequently being elected Chair.

Michael led the Town Council with clarity and he was clearly determined to set a raised standard with regard to the Council's behaviour and conduct. He also sought to make the Council's activities as transparent as possible.

Sadly, his election as Chair made him a lightning conductor for the animus borne both by those who resigned and by their associates. Thus, the next 30 months of Michael's life was, in part, taken up attempting to deal with attacks of a personal and professional nature and those attacks finally led to his stepping down from the Council in May of 2012.

Michael bore this trial with characteristic stoicism and, whilst his spirit was intact, the experience certainly took its toll on his health.

I met with Michael on a number of occasions since May 2012 and it was clear that he had put the experience of the Council behind him. He had more time to concentrate on the house and the garden and his craft skills were self-evident.

Michael was a thoroughly decent man who had a mischievous smile and a great sense of humour. He was committed to his family and I cannot begin to consider the sense of loss that must be experienced by them. He will be sorely missed by his family and friends.

23 September 2016

Temporary insanity?

Kathy Miller, a campaign chair for Donald Trump in Ohio, has resigned because of comments that she made regarding the current state of race relations in America. Miller is quoted on the Guardian website as saying:

“If you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault. You’ve had every opportunity, it was given to you,” she said.
“You’ve had the same schools everybody else went to. You had benefits to go to college that white kids didn’t have. You had all the advantages and didn’t take advantage of it. It’s not our fault, certainly."
“I don’t think there was any racism until Obama got elected. We never had problems like this … Now, with the people with the guns, and shooting up neighborhoods, and not being responsible citizens, that’s a big change, and I think that’s the philosophy that Obama has perpetuated on America.”

Now, Kathy Miler may well be a 'rogue chair', a 'lone wolf' working on their own and misrepresenting the Trump campaign and Trump's own beliefs. But I doubt it. Just as we have seen here in the UK, post-Brexit, there is a permission in Trump's public pronouncements which encourages others to give in to their basest beliefs. Maybe Kathy Miller was just describing what America is likely to be like should Trump succeed in his presidential campaign. The Brexiteer's views seem benign in comparison.

PS Have a look at another view of a Trump presidency here.

28 August 2016

Locking the gate...........

The Guardian carries an interesting piece about public opposition to high-rise buildings in London quoting Heritage England saying that historic London's skyline is under threat. Its an interesting article which really proves just how short our 'community memory' actually is.

If your knowledge of London extends back, say, 5 years, then you might take Heritage England's comments seriously but if, like me, your memory goes back 10 or 20  or 30 years, you will know that London's historic street scene has been steadily eroded for decades.

Possibly the first time that I paid any attention to the damaging impact of unrestrained development was in the 1980's when I became aware of the opposition to the redevelopment of Little Britain, just off London Wall. At the time I seem to remember that a group of 5 and 6 storey victorian buildings were to be demolished to make way for an office block and photographer Malcolm Tremain made some images of the area as it was then. Its fair to say that Britain, at that time, was a pretty grim place but the perceived wisdom of the time was not to renovate or refurbish but to demolish and rebuild in a glossy and superficial manner with little reference to, or interest in, the past.

Now this might suggest that I agree, to some extent, with Prince Charles about the state of British architecture but I don't. Anyone who has visited Poundbury will know that Prince Charles embraces a 'theme park' view of what he thinks is British architecture, all façadism and no substance. How much better might it have been had the good Prince campaigned to protect  worthy original buildings, like those in Little Britain, ensuring that, at the same time, they might be juxtaposed with contemporary architecture of the highest aesthetic and build quality. Instead, the Prince promoted facadists like Quinlan Terry who seek to perpetuate the past through their apeing of what their selective interest suggests the past looked like, ignoring what it actually was.

The Guardian article, about the threat posed to London by the wave of applications for 'tall buildings', ignores the fact that historic London has all but been erased (certainly in the the Square Mile) leaving only the street plan as a guide to the past. These new developments have nothing to do with London's heritage and everything to do with making money, which, more today than in previous decades, is the only reason to build anything. And the continually overheating London property market will ensure that this remains the case, as long as our selective inattention allows us to ignore it.

10 August 2016

The Donald and guns.............

Trump seems to be able to court controversy with consumate ease as illustrated by his latest vague comments about the Second Amendment holding the key to obstructing Hilary Clinton's (potential) influence over the Supreme Court. Many commentators have interpreted Trump's comments as suggesting the 'arms' (as in the 'right to hold and carry arms') might resolve what Trump saw as a problem. Does this mean that he supports the individuals right to do violence to anyone they disagree with or object to? And would Trump take the same stance with other peoples or governments with whom he disagreed, should he be elected to the Oval Office? No wonder some Republicans are supporting Hilary.

22 July 2016

But we are not alone..........

Political life in post-Brexit Not-Quite-United Kingdom may well be a little topsy-turvy but at least we don't have Nigel Farage as a potential Prime Minister. Compare this to the USA where Donald Trump (Farage on steroids) is now the Republican candidate in the upcoming Presidential election. But there is a very real comparison between our situation and that in the USA - in both places, politicians are making general policy statements which lack any detail, which are completely open to interpretation and which, most likely, cannot be implemented whatever the interpretation. The real downside of this approach is that people who vote for these 'policy promises' are very likely to be disappointed and when they are, the shit will really hit the fan.

The Brexit vote may well have been more of a protest vote but the fact is that many voters feel that they have been ignored or left behind and it is that constituency that politicians both ignore and embrace at their peril. If politicians address that constituency with their promises, then they had better deliver and ensure that those voters feel that their situation has improved. The problem there is that, referring to the UK, to improve the situation of the disaffected (outside of the major conurbations) will require a major policy shift e.g. a general refocussing of investment away from, for example, the M25 bubble and more towards the wider UK.  Is that likely to happen - probably not so what happens when voters who voted for 'change' find that nothing changes? More extremism is the answer. And more finger pointing - blame them, they are the problem.

The 'stay or go' referendum could be characterised as change vs no-change and the 'change' camp used phrases like 'taking back control of parliament' or 'taking back control of our borders'. Only time will tell but neither promises are likely to be delivered and Farage has already made it clear that he won't be around to share the responsibility for failure. He's made it clear that he is far happier to foment dissatisfaction and then move on than he is to stay and deal with the entrenched attitudes that maintain the M25/Westminster/City of London bubbles. More dangerous are Trump's wild policy generalisations about delivering safety and Law & Order the moment he takes office.

Whilst Farage's efforts may have made the UK a less liberal place, Trump's vision could easily make the world a more dangerous place.

12 July 2016

Chaos reigns .............

Whilst I feared that the referendum vote would, at least be close, I certainly didn't see the chaos that has followed on the heels of the Brexit vote. The 'exit stage left' of Boris and Farage simply showed them to be the opportunist politicians that we knew they were. They got the result that they claimed to want and when they had it, they recognised it for the shit-sandwich that it is and beat a hasty retreat. Then Gove, having stabbed his good friend Boris, sought the Leadership of the Tory Party and found out that he was not well liked (how could he have been surprised?) and that left us with a two mare race, May vs Leadsom, to decide who would lead the country into the valley of  death.

Loathsome Leadsom did us all a favour when she seemed to wear her fertility like some sort of qualification when we all know that getting pregnant requires little, if any intelligence. On the other hand, Theresa May's childlessness may (and I stress may) indicate that, like myself, she fears for the future of humanity and decided that the world might not be a great place for the next generation.

Whatever the case, Leadsom, having also taken time to 'sex up' her CV, decided that she would step-aside for the good of the party and the country. What utter bull-shit. Being an opportunist politician,  she saw the opportunity to parley her complete obscurity into some sort of position in the new administration. What surprised me was the disappointment on the faces of her beery-nosed supporters when she decided to 'do the right thing'.

So, Theresa May is now left to sort out the mess left behind by Cameron et al and she will have to do it with little cross-party support given that the Parliamentary Labour Party seems determined to tear itself apart in the most public manner.

Jeremy Corbyn seems a decent man and a conviction politician but, unlike most politicians, he doesn't court the media and that has made him their enemy. It has also made him the enemy of his parliamentary colleagues who see courting the media as an integral part of the job. Not only do they see it as integral to the job, they also see it allowing them to spend more time inside the Westminster bubble and, by extension, less time with the electorate.

This approach stands in stark contrast to Corbyn's approach during the Leadership election when he went out to the country and spoke at local meetings, talking to local people and real voters. As a consequence, membership of the Labour Party grew substantially resulting in Corbyn's election by a huge margin over the other candidates. And, in the face of Angela Eagle's challenge, Corbyn will probably win again, by another significant margin.

But the trials of the Labour Party speak eloquently to the wider problems with our Parliamentary Democracy - it is out of touch with and disconnected from the electorate. Living inside the Westminster bubble isn't real life or anything near it and, whilst living outside the Westminster bubble would not necessarily guarantee a better democratic process, it would increase the chances that it might reflect something better approaching real life.

So, my prescription for Theresa is that her first priority should be to use the proposed renovation of the Houses of Parliament as an excuse to turn them in to a theme park whilst moving Parliament itself to somewhere north of Manchester, to the geographic centre of the United Kingdom. Theresa might also consider creating a 'virtual parliament' where Members vote from their constituency offices, preferably in the presence of their electorate.

An underlying intention of Parliament's relocation would be to expose our parliamentarians, and media, to the standards of infrastructure that most of us experience. That would also be followed by a radical rebalancing of infrastructure expenditure to ensure that most such expenditure is focussed outside the M25. Theresa should also extend 'right to buy' to the private housing sector whilst, at the same time, impose a 50% purchase and 50% sales tax on non-dom owned property in the UK. Empty residential property should also attract a 10 times increase in Council Tax.

Will any of this happen - I doubt it but, when chaos reigns, we can at least dream.

4 July 2016

First Boris, now Nigel........

It came as a huge surprise to everyone  (well, maybe not everyone) when Boris announced his decision not to seek the Leadership of the Conservative Party. Now, the awful Farage announces, not for the first time, that he is stepping down from Leadership of the Ukippers and I wondered what do these two decisions have in common?

In simple terms, both Boris and Farage have realised that Brexit, which they both claimed to support, will, most likely, be an unmitigated disaster, not least because none of the Brexiters had the faintest clue how Brexit would be managed. The awful truth has now dawned of both these individuals and they share a common desire not to have to consume the shit-sandwich that will be Brexit. In fact, although there is meant to be a Tory Leadership election, the Brexiteers will be very happy if, at least in the short term and maybe in the longer term as well,  if Teresa May gets the job. That will give them the perfect excuse to blame the Remainers when Brexit doesn't happen.

So, whilst all of this sad manoeuvring is going on, Dave (He of the Big Tent) will be sunning himself in the highly paid shelter of directorships which usually follow senior politicians who exit the political field. Don't be surprised if Dave indulges in some sniping of his own.