Will the cuts cause society to break down?

May 17, 2011

Here in the UK, we’re facing pretty big cuts at the moment – not as bad as some will have you believe, but bad all the same. And with every cut comes a protest, mostly harmless, but every now and again they turn violent and a horror to behold. Everyone wants what matters to them – and we can’t have everything.  The question is, as the cuts worsen, is society slowly breaking down?

Quite a bold question and one that you hope the answer to is no. Surely losing a few services here and there won’t turn us back into apes. But I reference a show I watched last night – ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ on BBC1. If you didn’t see the show, the concept was that a street in Preston became completely independent of the council for 6 weeks. During that period they would replace the service the council normally provides, using the same amount of Council tax they would pay in that period.

The shows point was of course to show how much we rely on the council and the tough decisions they have to make on a daily basis, but it ended up simply showing the darker side of human nature and how deep down, we are all pretty selfish.

Now, obviously this was a 1 hour 40 minute programme showing edited ‘highlights’ of the 6 week experiment. Of course the BBC were going to edit the show in the most sensational way they could and get the arguments. After all,  no one wants to watch a couple of hours of people getting on and sleeping (unless it’s the Big Brother live feed).

But I was genuinely shocked by some of the comments made. One resident suggested evicting a neighbour due to her asking for benefits (which she normally got for being a job seeker). These aren’t people who have just met for a reality show, they have lived on the same street (in some cases) for years. And now they feel threatened they turn.

In fact the benefits battle went on for a while. In some cases I could see the other residents being annoyed at one family taking a large proportion of the money (in fact I agree when it came to providing University subsidy’s, but that’s another matter!), but most of these things were necessary. A 7 year old child being picked up from school, the same child having school dinners. These are things you can’t discriminate against.

Eventually the residents – very reluctantly – did agree to these benefits. But it didn’t end there, people were denied £1 to by a torch (which was needed due to the streetlights being turned off). Others attacked one another for not disposing of waste correctly. Yes it was annoying and incurred the street a fine, but there’s no need to cause so much aggro over it, simply move on and don’t make the same mistake again.

I suppose it also showed how important power is in our lives. We’re all very keen to rage against our ‘leaders’ but when they were taken away without a proper unified replacement, the results were devastating (ironically I suppose it’s a bit of a comment on the coalition!)

Now I missed the second half of the show, hopefully I’ll have a look on iPlayer tonight, but something tells me it didn’t end up happy families. People were planning to move by the end of episode one, change their entire lives after what their neighbours had said to them.

These people were admittedly under a lot of pressure. The show was a case of extremely heightened realism throughout -the tasks were so over-the-top that The Street residents must have seen Nick Robinson as a bald, speccy devil by the end of it all. It’s not every day that a load of rubbish is tipped in your front yard… unless Nick’s about!

But the point remains that several people were cracking under the pressure after a short amount of time. They’d decided that they were for themselves and didn’t care much for the wider community they were in. Some people took their own share of the council tax fund and abstained from the community as a whole. How long would it have taken before all had done that and society in that street would have effectively broken down?

I don’t believe that this will happen. I’ve said several times that this was a ‘for-TV’ production which was edited to look worse than it was. But nevertheless, those actions need to happen to be edited in. It’s scary how nasty and selfish people can be when they think they’ll lose what they need.

It’s often been said that society itself is a very delicate balance and can be tipped at anytime into oblivion. These are all extreme statements, but as we lose more of the things we took for granted, are we headed for an even bleaker future, created not by our Governments, but by ourselves.

I should write something lighter one day… 😀 !

Watch ‘The Street That Cut Everything’ here 

AV or No AV?

May 4, 2011

The day is almost upon us, it’s time to decide if we’re going to stick with our current ‘First-Past-The-Post’ voting system or switch to the ‘Alternative Vote’. And I don’t think I’m the only person in the country who still hasn’t decided!

It’s not because I don’t care about the vote like some, in fact quite the contrary. I think I may have overthought this decision. Throughout my time of studying History, Politics and Law, I have always had a bit of an unnatural interest in voting systems. Yeah, not the most interesting subject, but a lot of this stems from the fact that I see the current ‘First Past The Post‘ system of politics as unfair.

And it is unfair, no-one is going to sway me away from that fact. On a national level, your vote could be entirely wasted because you vote in local sectors which then make up the national image. That may seem fair on a simple level, but when you delve closer, you find the issues.

When I voted in the elections last year, I was based in Stoke-On-Trent central – a Labour stronghold. Because of that fact, the seat remained Labour by quite a margin – after all, they appeal most to that area on a local level. But because of that, my vote (which was not for Labour) was essentially wasted due to the large mass of Labour voters in that region. In fact, many people told me in the run up that you’d be silly to vote for any party other than Labour as it would only help the BNP’s margins as all other party’s are so low in that area. This shouldn’t be how politics works, my vote should make a difference on a national level.

Still not convinced? Well lets look at some stats from 2010’s election. If we look at percentage seats in parliament won through the FPTP system, the stats tell us

  • Conservatives – 47.2%
  • Labour – 39.6%
  • Lib Dem – 8.7%
  • Others – 4.5%
Pretty clearly still a two-horse race. Then look at the percentage of votes cast across the country as a whole.
  • Conservatives – 36.1%
  • Labour – 29%
  • Lib Dem – 23%
  • Others – 11.9%

These are the figures of people who actually voted for each party and although they do still form the same overall picture, they tell a quite different story of how close the race was. Is it fair that 23% of the public voted for the Lib Dems, but they are represented with only 8.7% of parliamentary seats?

Let me put it in a way some people might understand more, would you accept this in the X-Factor? Of course not, there’d be a scandal in all the national papers, yet we accept it fully as the voting system for our country. Ludicrous!

But now we reach the problem. As much as I disagree with the FPTP system, I don’t believe that Alternative Vote is really any better.

The system is (contrary to what some people have said) fairly easy to understand. By rating partys on the voting slip in order of preference, more opinions can be taken into account. The top votes are then looked at and counted. If a party has 50% or more of the vote then they will win that seat. If however no-one has that high a percentage then the vote moves on to a second round where people’s second preferences are taken into account. This keeps on going until someone has over 50% of the vote.

This system is more proportional and means that candidates will have to get at least 50% of the vote to win (meaning by theory, that more people want said candidate to win). I do think the system is fairer in that extent and I also refute the ridiculous comments that AV will make voting difficult (are we so thick that we can’t rate people by preference!). AV also means that we are more likely to move out of the current trend of Labour vs Conservatives and other parties may eventually become real alternatives (although I think the Lib Dems may have messed up their chance within the last year!)

But it will cause problems. For one thing, AV is much more likely to create coalition Governments and I don’t think anyone (even those in the cabinet) have been that impressed with the current one.

AV also doesn’t eliminate the ‘safe-seat’ and less proportional system we already have, we could still end up with quite skewed results compared to what people actually voted.

And lets not also forget that AV can in a manner of speaking, not lead to the person with the most prime votes winning. A bit of an odd way to run an election.

The fact is that many people want electoral reform, but most don’t think AV is the answer (including the Liberal Democrats who ideally wanted a Proportional Representation ‘every vote counts’ system). And this is why tomorrow is really a Conservative Win/Win. They know that few people really want AV, but by giving the Lib Dems this referendum as part of the coalition, they still got the Government they wanted (instead of the LD’s joining Labour).

It’s a tough decision and one I’ll mull over until I put my cross in the box tomorrow. The real fear is that whatever happens, it will make little difference. This is simply a referendum and even if the vote goes against the Tories, they’ll most probably just ignore it.

Happy voting!

Thoughts for Japan

March 11, 2011

I’m sure we’ve all seen the terror in Japan today after what has been the biggest Earthquake/Tsunami to ever hit the country.

I first heard about the disaster this morning from my mother and then the radio, but I wasn’t ready for the sheer scale of the incident.

I think the image of the Sendall Airport having been tuned completely into a wasteland is one of the most shocking. You would hardly think that yesterday this place was an international airport as planes and vehicles lay strewn across the flooded tarmac.

The news channels have also had horrific footage all day as the wave slowly made it’s way over the land, taking everything from trees to cars to buildings to people with it.

This has to be one of the worst disasters I have ever seen and my thoughts and prayers are obviously with the victims and family’s of this terrible ordeal in Japan and the other countries affected by the mammoth wave.

And it’s at times like this that we should really consider how lucky we are to have what we have and enjoy it for as long as we can.

If you would like to donate to the appeal,  you can at the Red Cross Website.


Twitinions – The Lib Dem Massacre

March 4, 2011

Things didn’t go exactly to plan for the Liberal Democrats last night. The Barnsley Central by-election saw Nick Clegg’s party poll 6th, behind both UKIP and the BNP. More crucially there was a drop from 17.2% of the vote to a feeble 4.1%.

Naturally this has been a massive talking point, with the media slamming the Lib Dem’s in every way they can whilst Clegg desperately tries to convince us that it’s not all that bad.

But what about the views of the Twittersphere? The following are extracts from the global conversation still ongoing on Twitter and are the views of those credited, not my own.

The main concensus was – unsurprisingly – that the Liberal Democrats are fast becoming the countries least popular party!

@eviemoh Just found out the results for barnsley. Just wow. This is just proof that the Lib Dems are dead.

@stupor Oh dear. The Lib Dems are trending for all the wrong reasons.

A lot of Twitter was overrun with people blaming Nick Clegg for allowing the Conservatives to ruin the party:

@gporritt Lib Dems crawl into sixth place in Barnsley, yep that’s #nickcleggsfault

@law_ender Let’s get this straight, Lib Dems aren’t in a position of power, they’re in a position of doing what they’re told by the Tories #R5L

@rossgillam Clegg has recieved quite a bashing since forming the Coalition, but even he must be concerned by how badly the Lib Dems polled in Barnsley

@jeffbres Anyone else a bit surprised at how glibly Lib Dems dismiss Barnsley interest as not being the same as national interest?

A few were looking at the bigger picture:

@Ciaran_Laval I don’t know whether to laugh at the Lib Dems for coming sixth in the Barnsley By-Election or be horrified that the BNP are more popular.

@londonolympix Just think if we had #avvoting now the Lib Dems would probably have won Barnsley election BUT wouldn’t have known result till mid next wk

But mot people (including a few ‘famous’ faces) spent the day Lib Dem bashing!

@richdavidson @ollygrender lib dems = good men doing nothing.

@Number10cat Things must be bad for the Lib Dems; Gazza’s just turned up in Clegg’s office with a bucket of chicken, some beers and a fishing rod…

@Queen_UK Mr Clegg on the phone. Bit upset that the Lib Dems are now less popular than Colonel Gaddafi.

@gedrobinson Lib Dems have been saying “wait for real results not opinion polls”, I wonder what they are saying now? #Dan4Barnsley

@johnprescott What’s the difference between @CharlieSheen and the Lib Dems? Charlie Sheen is #winning

Not everyone wanted to be negative though:

@trurojoe @ns_mehdihasan why not seize this wonderful opportunity to say something nice about the Lib Dems?

And some weren’t even sure what all the fuss was about:

@SACricketGirl Why on earth are the Lib Dems trending????


As always, some brilliant comments on Twitter, thanks to all of you who shared them with the world and made us think as well as giving us a laugh. Something tells me it’s more of the thinking and less of the laughing that @Nick_Clegg is going to have to do in the coming months…


Cancelling the Bahrain Grand Prix – right decision?

February 21, 2011

Of course it is! I was relieved when I got home from work this evening to find that The Bahrain Grand Prix has been officially postponed. Any attempt to run it on March 13th would have surely been a disaster.

The Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa made the announcement today after F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone had put the decision in his hands at the end of last week.

Speaking on Twitter, the Crown Prince said: “We felt it was important for the country to focus on immediate issues of national interest. Bahrain’s priority is on overcoming tragedy, healing divisions and rediscovering the fabric that draws this country together to remind the world of the very best that Bahrain is capable of as a nation once again united.”

And that’s exactly the point. The country is still in a state of civil unrest due to the ongoing protests. Radical decisions are being made. People have lost their lives over what they believe. Is this really the time to host a global sporting event. Would you feel right, celebrating a pole position or victory in a country which is still in turmoil. And the whole event would just create more trouble, due to it being pretty much run by the Bahrani royal family.

There should never have even been a debate about the sport going there at this time. In fact, should it even be the matter that’s being discussed?

The F1 season will now start on March 27th in Australia. There’s a very strong chance that a race will still be run in Bahrain this year after the current ‘unrest’ has come to an end. But if Bahrain is to follow the massive wave of change traveling through the middle-east at the moment, it could be a very different country by the time F1 does pull up there again.

Shame it won’t be a different track!


Our problem with control

February 11, 2011

All these protests in Egypt and even closer to home have got me thinking. We don’t like control do we. It doesn’t matter who the individual or entity is, we just simply hate anything controlling us. I suppose we all want our say and don’t want to be mindless puppets for our governments to control. But if we all take a step back for a moment, we’d realise that we need control to function.

Now before I go any further, I would like to say I am not criticising the people in Egypt making their point heard against Mubarak. They are fully justified and I am glad that they have finally today got what they were asking for. I was going to try and sound Mubarak’s side of the argument, although when I searched Google for ‘good things President Mubarak did) I found nothing, so I think they’re protest has been pretty justified!

Likewise I am not arguing against people in our country protesting against cuts. I strongly believe that our government have gone too far and I worry that I wont be able to find a toilet, library or even forest I can visit soon at this rate.

But what does annoy me is when people say of the people in charge ‘they don’t know what they’re doing’ or ‘they’re doing this to screw us’. Believe it or not, the powers at the top in a democracy (dictatorships are obviously a very different story) do want to run the country for the good of it’s people. You may not think this and believe that politicians lie all the time (and to be fair they don’t have a good track record) but most of the time, the reason they don’t keep their promises is because running the country is bloody hard!

And even if you don’t think that’s true, then think about what politicians want. They want to be in power and at the present time, in a democracy, the only way they can do that is with votes from the public (or by siding with the biggest party in the case of the Lib Dems!).

But rather than see this side, we always want to rage against those in charge.

A good example of the rage against control would be the journalist Johann Hari. Now Johann made some very good points when he was on ’10 O’Clock Live’ last night about the ‘Big Society con’, but he continued further than this and went as far as to say he thought Tony Blair should be in prison and Gordon Brown was an utter disgrace to his country. Now both of these former leaders made mistakes, there’s no doubt about that, but I found Johann’s comments to be nothing more than a simple attempt to blame someone.

And this is the thing, our leaders become scapegoats for everything that goes wrong in the country. And perhaps they should, they are after all the ones running the country. Maybe we should burn effigies of them every time something goes wrong, maybe we should destroy their offices and throw fire extinguishers from a roof.

Or maybe we should realise that it’s far too easy to criticise and a whole lot more difficult to do their job. I’d like to see how Johann Hari and many other journo’s who constantly criticise the government would handle running an entire country and keeping everyone happy. Not so easy.

The debate on 10 O’Clock Live’ raged on and ended with everyone on the panel claiming the government is simply a pile of … I know it’s a satirical show, but comments like this (although quite funny) just annoy me.

So next time you have a problem with control, say why, be constructive, explain the problem and the solution. post on a forum or blog to make your point *wink wink*! Perhaps then we can move a bit further on in life instead of just slagging each other off, or perhaps we’re doomed to fall into a world where all anyone does is just sling increasingly more creative insults at each other. I blame Simon Cowell!

Hmmm, I’ve just realised, I’ve spent the last 650 words defending the likes of Cameron and Clegg, what is wrong with me!

Twitter and Google give Egypt a voice

February 1, 2011

I’m sure that just like me, you were appalled at the news that the internet had been effectively turned off by ‘the powers that be’ in Egypt. I believe that the internet is a fantastic resource that should be available for all and that no-one should have the authority to deprive it from anyone else.

But as you can clearly see, the net was all but cut off at by 6am on 28th January to try and prevent the mounting protests in the country.


The sudden internet traffic drop

Of course this approach hasn’t worked an protests are ongoing in the capital of Cairo, and rightly so in my opinion.

But what about the people who need to use the internet, who need to get a message out to let loved ones know they are ok. Who want to communicate with others on the web completely innocently. Who want to express their freedom of speech. These people have been disconnected completely unfairly, but two of the webs giant’s may just have the answer.

Google and Twitter have teamed up to create voice tweets. The service works over the phone, was set up over the weekend and is live right now.

All people in Egypt have to do is phone a special phone line set up by Google and leave their voice message. This will then be posted on Twitter with the tag #egypt . Users on the website can then click the link or phone the same number to hear the message left by people within Egypt.

It’s not an ideal system, but it bypasses the current internet cut-off and more importantly gives a voice back to those stuck in the middle of the crisis.

You can view the tweets coming through live on the Speak2Tweet twitter page (which appears to be working for other countries too, could be something Google and Twitter branch into long term!).

I think it’s a great piece of work by the two companies and I hope it helps bring the internet back to those who have cruelly had it taken away.

Scrapping EMA is a good thing!

January 27, 2011

Now there’s been a lot of chat about the Education Maintenance Allowance recently. It turns out that our Government are scrapping it. Pretty much all of the press about this subject has been negative, saying it’s a bad thing, saying 70% of students will drop out if it’s scrapped.

But that’s rubbish! I’ve been against EMA ever since I first head about it because it is a total waste of money.

Now, I should point out that I never received EMA during my sixth form studies, but I know people who did. And every single person I knew who got EMA did NOT need it to continue their studies. After all, why would a student (normally still living at home) attending college need £30 per week to continue their studies. The argument is that it funded books, equipment, meals and transport. But I needed to buy no more that 5 books in the two years I was at my Sixth Form. I hardly needed £30 per week for that.

So what do students spend their money on? Well some still brought things to read, but they were more likely ‘Nuts’ than Shakespeare. Some brought equipment, but it was normally to smoke. Some brought transport, but not to and from education, it was more likely put towards petrol to drag their car wherever they wanted.

I was left to watch all this with little money to my name (as I wasn’t able to get a job until my second year of Sixth Form), wondering why the world had turned so unfair. Why were people the same age as me being funded to have fun? It made no sense.

I am a realist and I understand that some people from less well-off background do need a certain amount of funding during their sixth form/college courses. But it’s not like the government have left them with nothing. The Learners’ Support Fund is being increased to around £70m a year, aiming to help those who actually need it with their transport and studies. It may not be the £560m which was being wasted on EMA, but these are hard economic times and we need to be realistic.

As I have personally not seen a single penny of EMA spent for any educational good, I think this decision is correct. I may not agree with most things our Coalition Government have suggested, but this is the right one. The replacement may not be the complete answer, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the massive waste that was being made.

I’ve interviewed the Labour leader!

September 25, 2010

Within the last hour the result came in. After weeks of campaigning, Ed Miliband has become the 23rd leader of the Labour party.

And it was the closest of votes.

Ed had been trailing his brother all the way through the various rounds of the election, only edging the victory in the final round of the ‘alternative vote’. It’s interesting to see how this AV vote works in action (especially with the Lib Dem’s call to use it in general elections), as it meant the original victor from the round one vote, David, did not win out overall.

Of course the mass media are now jumping on the story, claiming there’ll be a divide in the party. That’s quite possible as nearly half the party wanted David over Ed and the fact that Ed won on the UNION’s vote alone.

But that’s for the coming weeks to show us, as for right now, I’m happy for another reason. I’ve met Ed Miliband before, in fact I’ve interviewed him only a few months ago. Back then he was in Stoke-on-Trent, campaigning during the general election. It was a flying stop so I was only able to get a few questions in, but he gave very full answers and came across as a genuinely nice guy.

Now he is a politician, so how genuine he really is is up for massive debate, but you can decide for yourself from my original interview for StaffsLive below.

Now of course the real work begins for Ed, but with the coalition already starting to crumble, maybe it’ll be easier than he thinks…

Staffordshire Hoard Comes Home

February 12, 2010

Very exciting day for me today! As part of my work for StaffsLive, I got to go and see The Staffordshire Hoard this morning ahead of it’s public opening tomorrow.

The Hoard was discovered seven months ago and has been touring the country for museum-goers to see. It’s valued at almost 3.3 million pounds. There’s currently plans to raise money to keep the find in Staffordshire.

The selection of the treasure in Stoke will remain there until 7th March.

I went along this morning to find out why the Hoard is so important.