McDonald’s in Leek? Discuss…

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It’s a funny thing, given the upcoming election and the myriad reasons to get angry at the way things are during a time of potential change, the one thing that has really angered me this week, enough to write a blog about it, is the self satisfied Facebook announcement from a certain Conservative town councillor that the beautiful, market town of Leek, with it’s progressive drive for localism and independence, is going to get a McDonalds.

I’m not going to name the person, but as the comment was posted on a public forum, here is the wording (truncated):

“Well the news as (sic) broken! McDonalds have just publicly confirmed they are coming to Leek. This is something that the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council have been working on for over 12 months now and it’s just another success story for this Conservative led Council…”

Whoopsy-freaking-doo. The picturesque, historic town is going to get a garish red and yellow cheap meat house to provide that much awaited backdrop of discarded packaging, low paid jobs and totally unbalanced competition for the local trades. Add to that a smattering of mal nutrition, obesity, and hmmm, this is a tasty burger!

Interestingly, however, the following article does make it sound like the junk food lovin’ Tory might have jumped the gun a little, as it sounds like the clown faced spokesperson for the golden arches of liver damage is not so sure yet:

““We are looking at several potential opportunities in the area but currently have no confirmed plans.” – Source: http://staffslive.co.uk/2015/03/mcdonalds-confirms-interest-new-leek-restaurant/

That said, who truly knows what has been agreed and confirmed behind doors with the Tory-led council, certainly not the local electorate from the sound of it.

So why so angry? I don’t live in Leek anymore, even though I visit almost every week, and I have on occasion (to my shame), eaten a McDonald’s. That said, I can count on one hand the number I’ve had over the last five years, and it has usually been down to some catastrophic error of time and food management.

Because that’s what it is, isn’t it? Lazy food. Lazy, cheap food laced with enough salt and sugar to trick you into thinking something good is happening at the time of consumption, when you know (usually within an hour) that something good really, really wasn’t happening.

But anyway, we can put the well known nutritional problems aside, along with the well known environmental problems, and the well known low skills and wages problem, and the well known affects on localism and look at this objectively… er…

Actually, yeah, those are the reasons I don’t like it. I now live in Stoke on Trent, and I have at last three McDonald’s within fifteen minutes of my house. I know what they look like, they’re everywhere, that is until I take a nice drive into the Staffordshire Moorlands. The buildings thin out, the fields and tree’s stretch out, and there, on a hillside as I approach, I see the Leek skyline and I know that there is something different, something unique, something I won’t find anywhere else waiting for me at the end of the road.

I’m not against every chain-store, for the record, I think the introduction of Waitrose into a building that was already being used as  a supermarket and the Premier Inn were good ideas. Tourism makes sense, and Waitrose has a profile that makes the area more desirable and encourages footfall. But when was the last time you visited a town because it had a McDonald’s? Rather than just passing one on the motorway or some grey business park and conceding that it is probably the only viable option save for eating your own hands?

So they’re not coming to town to bring more people in, to get them spending in the local shops. They’re going to do the opposite. The more bland and multi-chain commercialised the town gets, the less people are going to visit it, and the less independent businesses are going to remain open, and one will feed into the other in a downward spiral until the gateway to the peak district is rotting in obscurity under golden arches.

I know from experience that there will be people rejoicing this announcement. I can’t do anything about that. There are people who would be happy if the Library was ripped out and replaced with a car park, but that’s why those of us who are bothered about these things need to keep on being bothered. This is a town that now has a food-bank, and Tory councillors are spending twelve months ‘negotiating’ with one of the richest brands in the world to allow them to come in and take business away from local people. Maybe that time could have been better spent elsewhere? Rate reliefs (or cessation) on empty shop units to encourage new local businesses perhaps?

This represent more than just a tacky food store in an unsuitable location, it represent the whole ethos of the Conservative party, and any other mainstream party who put the greedy world of global capitalism on a pedestal and placates us with false promises of ‘trickle down’ economics while cutting our society back to the bone and beyond.

So anyway, discuss, debate. Someone’s got to, because we can’t be leaving it to these clowns (literally, in this case).

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Do worry – but it’s not your fault

Did you build this? (I didn’t think so)

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I like to think that the people I consider friends are fairly representative of the wider world at large. If this is the case, than I can optimistically presume that the wider world, all be it nuanced and imperfect in many ways, is generally made up of decent people.

I also like to think that I am able to see past prejudices about other sections of society who I may not have so much in common with. I understand that circumstances and environment can radically distort a human view of the world, and it is hard to see that from within the distortion, so when I encounter prejudice or hatred – I do try and see the human at the other end of it. Especially when I bear in mind that I may have many of my own, hard to recognise from my point of view.

And if this is true, then it leads me to conclude that how I think about things that are happening in the world, on an instinctual level at least, must be similar to how many, many others think. We may not all express these feeling in the same way, we may not all be aware of them or pay them much heed – but I reckon we all feel them, somewhere, to some degree.

For example – take today’s headline:

 

‘POLLUTION TO SPREAD AROUND ENGLAND’

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26844425)

 

How does this make you feel? Like me, do you despair a little? Have you looked out of the window only to see the faint haze blocking the sun and thought to yourself, ‘well this is rubbish’? Have you imagined, even for a second, what it will be like if this becomes normal? If every day we have to don our carbon filter masks, scrape off the airborne grime from the car windscreen, and head out to contribute further pollutants to our communal air?

If so, have you felt a little guilty? Come on – group therapy here – have you? I did, for a moment. But then I decided, it’s not my fault. And you know what, it’s not your fault either.

Of course, we may be made to feel like it is our fault. Just as we were made to feel like the global economic crash was our fault, and that’s why we have to suffer for it. Just like we are made to feel that energy consumption in the way it is organised and distributed now is our fault, and that’s why we have to pay through the nose for it.

If this all sounds like a shirking of personal and social responsibility, let me put it another way – when I say not our fault, I mean those of us (the majority) who aren’t actually responsible for the organisation, design and distribution of these services, or the legislation that surrounds their usage or alternatives.

So yes, I drive a car. A car pollutes. I don’t drive all the cars though. I don’t decide who can drive a car and when, and where, and what type of fuel and engine is allowed to be used, or how much these cost. I don’t legislate for emissions. I don’t decide how extensive, or expensive, the public transport alternatives are, or should be, if we were serious about reducing pollution. I don’t come up with laws to allow massive companies to trade in pollutant quota’s and offset pollution against ‘development’ projects in the third world that are often doing more harm than good. I don’t decide how much we prioritise the development of ‘clean’ energy, or spend my time pandering to media inflated fears over subsidies and trivial aesthetic excuses. I don’t go over to China and shake hands and say ‘yes – this is more like it!’ and broker deals over nuclear power plants. I don’t lift and drop scientific advice at the whim of whatever business interest is sponsoring me or my party. I don’t have control or influence over the media. I do not make millions/billions/trillions from decisions that may not always be in the best interest of the majority of people, or the health of the planet. I do not conjure up money that doesn’t exist to give to none sovereign organisations who systematically remove wealth from the many and redistribute to the few. I don’t fill screens and billboards with adverts for things we don’t need. I don’t encourage a climate where consumer goods are made to be broken or outdated as quickly as possible in the name of profit and so-called ‘healthy’ economies. I don’t think that numbers going up and down are more important than people’s lives and well being, or obsess over them. I don’t have the option to use alternative sources of energy. I don’t have the option to use free/cheap and well connected public transport. I don’t decide to build a high speed railway that will create a two class transport system and is unnecessary, unpopular, expensive, and destroying homes and the countryside at the same time. I don’t decide who can and can’t work from home or in their communities so as to reduce commuters. I don’t run London. I don’t offer more debt to buy houses we can’t afford while always promising more, rather than letting prices fall, just in case it might upset my wealthy associates. I don’t declare that the world works better in competition and then step in when the outcome of that competition doesn’t suit my interests. I don’t charge people tens of thousands to better educate themselves and try to achieve a more fulfilled life. I don’t encourage debt while pretending that I don’t. I don’t profit from debt. I don’t have inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit. I don’t control the resources. I don’t start wars. I don’t judge one country over another thanks to trade deals, energy reserves and arms contracts. I don’t think it’s okay that the top five families in this country have more wealth than the lowest 20%. I don’t think it’s okay that the money spent on defence could lift every child in the world out of poverty. I don’t have the power to change that. I don’t have an  alternative option who represent my concerns to vote for, or any remote chance of becoming that option myself (because I don’t have the inherited wealth/status family connections and influence to exploit).

In short: it’s not my fault, and it’s not yours either. Unless of course, you are one of the very few people significantly involved in the things mentioned above, and you can’t put your hand on your heart and honestly say ‘I am doing this for the good of the greatest number of people, and not for the narrow gain of a few’. If you can honestly say that – we’d love to hear from you – and your thoughts on why it’s not working.

 

Hobson’s choice.

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Here’s a little insight into how I plan and write my blogs. Throughout the week, if I’m lucky, I have an errant thought, a loose little notion that is triggered by something I’ve read, talked about, heard or seen – usually one that engenders an emotional response of some kind – and I think, yes, I’ll blog about that.

This week, these words have been sitting on a virtual post-it note on my desktop:

“This week’s blog – Lib Dems. Seriously? What are they going to do? I mean like, really…”

It is in no way an original thought, it’s not even a novel idea. If you are the kind of person who ever talks politics with friends or family (or strangers), then I would guess that this topic has come up at some point in the last four years. If, like me, you are one of the betrayed many who felt you were voting for something new and interesting in the last general election and actually got the Conservatives, I can guarantee you’ve had this discussion.

Just to be clear, I am not a Liberal Democrat supporter, not anymore at least, and that’s the point. I was, for five minutes four years ago when I made a rudimentary mark against a name I have already forgotten on a piece of paper in a polling station in Leek. But not now, for reasons I’m sure you don’t really need me to explain.

So who do I support? If you’ve ever read my blog before then you are likely to have seen me be pretty clear about my general lack of support for any of the established political parties, furthermore, for established politics in the way we have it in general. But let’s say, for the sake of discourse, that I don’t have democratic reformist tendencies, that I do feel I should vote for someone at the next election, and that I believe in the whole process (I don’t, but let’s pretend).

Let’s also say that I still have my general sensibilities and beliefs about how I think the world should operate and be organised – roughly meaning I am all for trying to achieve an equal society in which people are truly involved and responsible for decisions that concern themselves and each other, with guiding principles of sustainability and human development (both individual and at population level), and I am against market driven capitalism where we all try to step on each other’s heads to get a run up the ladder, are labelled and treated as consumers and tax payers, have little concern for other people’s wellbeing or aspirations, and are the mass losers in a rigged competition based economy.

It would seem from my requirements above that one could simply say, ‘ah – you’re a socialist, you should vote Labour’. Hmm, yeah. The problem with that is that Labour spend more time telling us what they’re not going to reverse or change from the coalition’s policies than telling us what they are going to do. That leads me to believe that Labour do not represent my views. Also, they seem pretty keen to distance themselves from being the ‘state that spends’, because as we all know, from the GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRASH of 2008, it was actually the state spending our taxes on public services that caused the banks to gamble away all our money, award themselves massive bonuses and get bailed out by the governments of the world; and therefore to suggest actually spending taxes on things that help society as a whole, is now political suicide (according to the circus). This fallacy, to which Labour subscribe and more depressingly, have apologised for, is unforgivable.

So not Labour then! Obviously not the Conservatives (given my list of what I don’t want to see is their ‘to do’ list), and seeing as the Liberal Democrats have propped up the Tories for the last four years and seem to have adopted Godzilla sized blinkers to their pending political demise, I have no love for them either.

Do I even need to mention UKIP? Not really. I’m not a frightened little nationalist with dubious views on immigrants (or as I prefer to call them ‘other humans’). So no. That also rules out other nationalist far-right parties whose names I don’t want to even mention here.

The Green’s? Well, I like their stand on many aspects, and I admire Caroline Lucas’s hands-on approach to protesting, but where are they? I’m not sure I even have a Green candidate in my area, and given the rapid rise of UKIP over such a short space of time, and the Green’s longer history – I just can’t help but feel they are happy to be a small voice, not a real contender. If the candidates aren’t there, the campaigning not visible, it doesn’t seem to be a real choice.

Independents? That could mean anything. They have neither the financial backing or (inherently) the joined up approach to not be sucked into mainstream agenda’s in the cut throat world of Westminster, or even local politics (which I believe they are often cold-shouldered out of by the established parties anyway).

So here’s me, wanting to vote, not feeling I have any options. What am I to do? Can somebody tell me?

Is it any wonder that as a result of this circular thought process, I conclude that the system is not serving my interests or ambitions as an individual or as someone who is concerned for the trajectory of human civilisation as a whole? Am I wrong for giving a shit about what happens to other people as well as myself? Sometimes it’s hard to conclude otherwise. After all, we live in a world where we increasingly demonise those less well off than ourselves, throw blame down the ladder, and are led in our views by a government and media who seek to divide and sow fear and suspicion amongst the masses. Just read any tabloid. Just listen to the myriad TV and Radio debates in which power responds to them, allowing them to set the terms and boundaries of the argument. Ignorance is rife, glorified and encouraged.

This post started as a thought about the Liberal Democrats and how I can’t understand why they are going to let themselves be wiped out at the next election, and it led to the rest, because it is all connected. We are all connected. We are no different than Clegg, Cameron, Milliband and the rest. There’s more of us than them. I mean like, loads more. Why are we scrabbling about and wasting our time on these people and their powerful friends? Who invests the notion ‘power’ into them anyway? That would be us, allegedly, so it makes sense to limit our choices – in case we actually make them.

So well done, ‘politics’, you’ve succeeded in this case. You’ve removed or sidelined any feasible chance of representation I had, and if I don’t vote you will chastise me for not taking part. Hardly feels fair does it?

Billboards of DOOM!

Do you remember that moment in school assemblies where the teacher would tell off the whole year group for the actions of one individual? It was usually because they didn’t know who the culprit was, so they hoped that by telling us all off the guilty party would be exposed. If so, do you remember that feeling of guilt or hysteria that would creep up your spine as it was happening, making you fear that you might just jump out of line and start screaming ‘it was me! It was me! I dunnit!’, even though you didn’t ‘dunnit’?

I’m guessing some or all of you have had that feeling at one time or another when in the midst of a group bollocking that had nothing to do with you. It’s almost as if our empathy goes into overdrive, so much so that we start doubting ourselves. ‘Maybe it was me who flooded the girls changing rooms, even though I’ve never been in them?’ Luckily for most of us those thoughts are superseded by logical reason and we resist the urge to surrender ourselves for no good reason.

Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, the reason this thought comes to mind was because when I decided to write today’s blog on the subject of a HMRC tax evasion billboard campaign, I got the same gut feeling. Even though I know I’ve done nothing wrong, having a set of two foot tall creepy eyes peering out at  you from behind some ripped spyhole atop the legend ‘WE’RE CLOSING IN ON UNDECLARED INCOME’ made me feel guilty is some way… I can’t think why.

I mean, just look at it (below). There’s nothing wrong with that is there? Why would the sight of giant disembodied eyes staring at you and accusing you of hiding money from the government cause anything but feelings of pleasant belonging and peace in the country you call home? Oh I know, because it’s insane.

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I first noticed these billboards on a recent trip from my house to the train station in Stoke. I live about 5 miles from the station. In that trip I saw four of these billboards, two of which were within 100 meters of each other.

Now, apart from the simple fact that it’s not very nice to traverse the streets of your home city while being followed around by an intense accusation, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of the campaign being so concentrated in Stoke-on-Trent. I concluded that there are two possible reasons for this:

Theory #1: Stoke-on-Trent is a major centre of undisclosed income in the UK.

Actually the evidence for this is plain to see. The reason we are so good at not disclosing income in this city is because we are so very careful not to spend it on anything (otherwise people would find out wouldn’t they?) That’s why we’ve allowed our several town centres to fall into commercial ruin, and why vast swathes of wasteland are waiting to be developed. That’s why so many of our community services are being cut to the bone or abolished all together – because we’re hiding income! Of course! It would be too obvious if we all started spending our secret stash on big houses, renovations, luxury items etc… So yeah HMRC, you might be onto something… OR:

Theory #2: Billboards (like most other real estate) are really cheap in Stoke-on-Trent.

But wait, maybe it’s because the HMRC like to boast about how many locations they have ‘hit’ around the country with this campaign, and by buying up space in all the really cheap areas of the country, they can make the figures seem more impressive?

If theory #2 is correct, does that mean that by trying to target ‘undeclared income’ with this campaign, while also looking to minimise costs, they are unfairly targeting those areas that already have very little income left to give (declared or otherwise), so they can save a bit of money? But then, why have the campaign in the first place? Isn’t that just costing money in order to make it ‘look like’ they are doing something about it?

If this campaign was targeted by severity then really, all of these billboards should be removed and used to form a massive wall enclosing the UK head offices of the likes of Vodafone, Amazon, Starbucks and the rest, let alone the ‘advisers’ who help them steal billions of pounds from the economy (Deloitte, for example).

But no, obviously all the missing money in this country is tied up in ‘cash in hand’ labourer jobs in the post-industrial north. If only Stoke would cough up, we’d all be better off – come up here and look for yourselves, see what you’re missing.

Whatever the reasons, isn’t it just massively unfair that the rest of us have to have our public spaces plastered in damning accusatory and pointless propaganda? Advertising is garish and brash enough as it is without adding Big Brother style iconography and fear to the mix.

I don’t want those feelings of guilt inside of me. Even if there was a real problem with undeclared income in this area (which I’m guessing, compared to high finance tax evasion, there isn’t) – what is a poster going to do about it, other than make everyone else’s life just that little bit more unpleasant?

Anyway – I write this in the hope that some of you may agree with me, and that some of you may well have some dealings with or influence over stupid ideas like this, and if so, may raise objections in the future. If more people in the planning stages spoke up and said ‘this is stupid’: maybe these things wouldn’t get passed in the first place.

I don’t want to walk in the suspicion and guilt of others. Life’s too short.

Good news blog! With Diane Plebbasher.

Have you heard? Of course you have! How could you have missed national good news month?!

It makes such a nice change to switch on the news and be greeted with relentless statistical optimism. Unemployment is falling, crime is falling, we are all better off, the economy is growing faster than expected…, it’s just, it’s just… so damn good I can hardly contain myself! And neither can thousands of people who have unexpectedly taken to the streets of London in spontaneous celebration of this unprecedented golden age we are all living in (as of this month).

To find out more I sent roving reporter Diane Plebbasher into the fray. Here’s what happened to her.

I can feel that feel good feeling

By Diane Plebbasher

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Picture the scene: London, the world’s gravy train. But recently, some people have been complaining that they aren’t getting enough gravy, and that they’ve had to wash down their meat and two veg with hot steaming bowls of bitter austerity juice.

It seems that everywhere you look nowadays, someone is complaining: “I can’t have that” or “I can’t have this” or “I can’t do that job because I’ve got no legs” and “Why are you taking money off me because I was once housed in a house with more rooms than people” and “I haven’t had a pay rise in three years while the cost of living has risen dramatically” and “Why should the banks have all the money and I have none?”… and other such negativity.

Studies (what I’ve done) have found that the sum mass of all this negativity has actually caused all the bad weather recently – data which I’ve passed onto the insurance companies because I think it’s only fair (it’s like setting fire to your own failing business really isn’t it? Why should we suffer higher premiums for others ability to control the weather via mass group emotional manipulation?)

So imagine my surprise when I looked out of the window from my penthouse suite in Mayfair, only to see lines of people happily marching towards parliament, singing and dancing and waving signs of joy and happiness in a union of positivity, not seen since all those sports people came over here that time and did some running and stuff (I have to admit, I didn’t go to that – I was given a few hundred complimentary tickets in the executive stands, but I couldn’t be arsed frankly. Once you’ve witnessed the death of the noble Rhino, you’ve seen it all).

When I got down to street level, I could feel the excitement in the air. It made my hair stand on end and I got so caught up in the moment I hissed like a cat and chased rats for a while. But when that was over, I went to talk to some of the jolly crowds to gauge the mood. The first such human-thing I met was of the man-folk, and was called Brian or Robert or something – I wasn’t really listening. I started by asking him what his placard said.

Diane:

What does your placard say?

Man:

Can’t you read love?

Diane:

Not the scrawls of the proletariat, no.

Man:

It says, “who put the N in cuts?”

Diane:

How charming!

Note: (I was loathed not to point out his simple spelling mistake, but I felt it best not to aggravate the great beast on his special day).                            

Man:

If you say so. Are you from the news or something?

Diane:

Some people say that I am the news!

Man:

What does that mean?

Note: (I decided it would be a fruitless affair trying to explain my metaphorical ‘tag’, or the fact that I literally manufacture news at the bequest of the highest bidder. I opted for an alternative approach.)

Diane:

Yes it does. Tell me, are you happy?

Man:

Happy? I’m furious!

Diane:

How wonderful! Go forth and celebrate! You deserve it!

After I checked my pockets for missing items I reflected on this brief encounter. How good must our government be to make a man (a real man no less) so happy that he is furious? It is a glowing exoneration of the polices of our leaders that they are able to make you, the people, so overwhelmed with joy that it actually completes the circle and comes back out the other end as pure hatred and loathing. You are so happy, you don’t even know it!

And nowadays, the streets of London, indeed the world, are alive with this warped expression of gratitude. Everywhere you look, just under the headlines about the latest ONS survey that PROVES you are happy, there are pictures of people celebrating around the world. Gaily throwing fireworks and flaming bottles at buildings, having fun with massive hosepipes in the streets, playing a good old round of ‘beat and wrestle’ and ‘lie down still and don’t ever get up again’. It’s truly wonderful!

So next time you are looking at your meat and two veg and worrying where the gravy is, just remember: it’s out there, waiting for you to find it. It’s in every headline, it’s in every feature, it’s in every speech from some warehouse just off the M25, it’s inside of us all. You don’t need actual money or jobs, or benefits, or rights or food – the happiness is right there in the numbers. To read those numbers, all you need is eyes. To hear those numbers, all you need is ears – and guess what? You have eyes and ears (well most of you). So be grateful and happy! I am, and I’m basically better than you, so I think that tells us a lot, don’t you?

Diane Plebbeater is also a regular guest on Channel 6’s ‘Get up and go to work’ morning show where she hosts features on mandatory spontaneous combustion for those out of work or less fortunate than herself. If you want to reach Diane, keep dreaming Cowboy, keep dreaming.

 

 Final word. But seriously…

Back to me (Garry). I originally wanted to write a rant this week, as I am genuinely fed up off having headlines based on statistics telling us that ‘everything’s alright again’ pushed on us almost daily. It seems we are in the season for good news from the government, but I don’t buy it.

The reason I don’t buy it is because, I’m guessing, 99% of us aren’t statisticians, and simply being told that x% is now y%, according to a survey (often contested), should not guarantee politicians headline status. Often these figures are wrong, we don’t have the expertise to scrutinise them, and any retractions or corrections are either printed weeks later (in the case of newspapers) or covered with far less prominence (on the TV and radio). And either way, even if challenges are covered in the article or feature itself, the headline strap or sound-bite is usually sufficient to seed the message into many people’s minds – far more I suspect than those who will take time to research the claims or digest the full feature.

But as I said, I didn’t feel like ranting this week at any length, I felt like writing a sarcastic parody article about cocooned reporting of issues from people in a position who are in no way affected by the difficulties facing so many vulnerable people. So that’s what I just gone done.

Thanks for reading!

Do we BENEFIT from IMMIGRATION? (a brief exploration of semantic influence).

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Can you see what I did there in the title? I conflated two loaded terms together to make one all pervasive semantically primed caption – designed to capture your attention and activate certain feelings and emotional responses that are being subconsciously suggested to you on a daily basis through the myriad of programming on these two topics.

Now, before you start screaming ‘lizard people!’ at me – this is not to say that someone or some group has sat down and decided to use the semantic priming of the electorate to stir up ill-feeling and division against certain groups of people in order to divert attention from themselves. No. That would be ridiculous wouldn’t it?

Of course, if the ongoing demonization of these perceived social sub-groups is not some diversion tactic by the powerful elite, then it must be something else. Stands to reason really. So what else could it be? Here are some options and considerations.

1.            We (as a collective entity incapable of individual thought) are genuinely concerned about benefits/migrants.

Sounds reasonable. I mean, there are no shades of grey here are they? We, the 63 million headed beast known as ‘the electorate’, have come to a majority consensus that we don’t like bene-grants, sorry, I mean, immi-fits, (whoops!) I mean benefits and immigrants.

I suppose that’s because we all wake up every day, covered in immigrants, go downstairs only to find we’ve lost our JOB to an immigrant and that we’re not entitled to any support because the welfare bill is being used by all those bloody benefit claimants. Then, as you walk down your street, which is full of immigrants and benefit CHEATS, you look through their windows and they’re all having a big party around a FLAT SCREEN TV, watching SKY, drinking BEER, smoking CIGARETTES, taking ILLEGAL DRUGS, committing other CRIME and having BABIES at our expense.

What’s worse is some of them are one and the same thing: immigrants on benefits (OMG!). And some of them look just like us so it’s hard to tell which is which and who to hate the most! I mean, we hate our ‘own’ benefit claimants anyway, so what if they are foreign? I suppose that means we hate them twice as much? Does it work like that?

For example, you are trapped in a burning building with two other people: one is a white British benefit claimant, the other is an immigrant benefit claimant. Only two of you can survive. Do you a) save the evil British person cos they’re only ‘one bad’, or b) save the ‘two bad’ evil foreign person because you probably are one too, or c) let yourself burn and let them both live (whatever!), or d) let them both burn as they are evil anyway and you are a better human being than them?

I suppose if you genuinely do hate immigrant/benefits then you will have given this much thought. I mean, ‘hate’ is a really strong word and historically has led to all sorts of problems, so you don’t want to take a subject like hating a whole section of society lightly. It’s not like you would just watch say, one episode of a ‘structured reality’ TV show on Channel 4 and come to this opinion, that would be absurd. (Or worse still – read the opinions of one newspaper and think that represents the whole complexity of the issue!)

2.            You are not so concerned about the individuals who are being targeted, more the impact on the economic situation these issues can cause.

We’ve moved up a notch here from burning people alive, for those of a more academic disposition. It’s not racist to talk about immigration after all, and it’s not elitist to talk about benefit claimants. To give you an idea of the kind of audience this option applies to, listen to any Radio 4 phone-in at the moment, or watch question time.

This kind of opinion doesn’t come from tabloids or scare tactics. How can it when you read broadsheets and watch the neutral BBC treatment of these topics? (mostly commissioned in response to the tabloids and political scare tactics – in order to represent a ‘balanced’ debate of the issues of the day).

Now we’re considering, in a mild mannered and measured way, the IMPACT on SCHOOL PLACES, on HOUSING, CRIME and the NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE. Let alone the overall contribution to THE DEFICIT. We’re talking about immigration CAPS and CHECKS and BALANCES. Also, on what it means to make a FAIR CONTRIBUTION to the STATE. And this is the world of STATISTICS.

Funnily enough, this is also the world where during a three hour debate phone-in, an expert can happily tell us that there isn’t really a problem – that the figures are massively insignificant in comparison to say, financial fraud and tax evasion at the highest level – and yet no one stops the debate and says “oh well, there isn’t much point us continuing to talk about people on benefits and immigrants anymore if this isn’t really a problem compared to these other things.” No, the show continues to debate the none-issue anyway in a weekly series of ill-formed opinion tennis, as that’s what we want to hear, apparently.

It’s tempting to think, when listening to some semi-retired bed & breakfast owner in Torquay waxing lyrical about the strain on the NHS due to immigration, and how it wasn’t like that in ‘my day’, that they are only ever a stone’s throw away from suggesting we put up a big wall around the country and shoot on sight. But it’s okay, because they don’t mind immigrants as people because they met some nice one’s working in the 5 star hotel they once visited in London (even if they did have trouble understanding the accent). And they understand the plight of people out of work on benefits, but why should these people have FLAT SCREEN TVs, and not go out and GET A JOB like they did once in another decade/place/social situation?

You may have noticed throughout this blog that I have been using a lot of CAPS to emphasise certain key words. Not very subtle, and I’m sorry if it seems like I’m typographically shouting at you. The reason however was to see if anything illuminating comes from stringing these words together once I’d finished ironically appraising the broad ‘camps’ of public opinion as presented above.

Option 1 was, roughly, your tabloids and shock TV approach to making ‘folk devils’ out of immigrants and benefit claimants (‘folk devils’ by the way, is a social sciences term for how the media represent  sections of society perceived to be ‘out of order’ with the rest of us – often totally sensationalised and disconnected from the reality of the situation: there are theories that this comes out of political and corporate influence to divert attention and/or good old fashioned profiteering – both seem likely, both are probably true.) Option 2 was your BBC/Broadsheet coverage of these issues which does much the same with a different audience in mind and longer words.

So, we were left with a number of ‘buzz words’ that I have categorised below:

Public Services:

SCHOOL PLACES – NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE – HOUSING – CRIME

Consumer Items:

FLAT SCREEN TV – SKY – BEER – CIGARETTES – HOUSING – ILLEGAL DRUGS

Lifestyle:

JOB – BABIES – CRIME – HOUSING

Economics:

THE DEFICIT – CAPS – CHECKS – BALANCES – CONTRIBUTION – STATE – STATISTICS

Emotive:

CHEATS – IMPACT – FAIR CONTRIBUTION – GET A JOB.

For me, this little list is basically a ‘picture postcard’ of almost every domestic political issue going, with a bit of advertising thrown in for good measure:

  • We all want high quality and easily accessible public services (no brainer). But these are suffering (for reasons such as benefits and immigration) and therefore need private help, unsurprisingly.
  • Owning a flat screen TV with an expensive SKY subscription is apparently the pinnacle of modern existence. Our reward for being good tax-payers. (Which makes it much more annoying when some cheat achieves this without even going to work!)
  • Alcohol, cigarettes and illegal drugs are almost pitched as envy items for the option 1 readers/viewers. After all, what we all really want (according to that view) is to watch SKY on our TVs while getting intoxicated one way or the other, especially if you are in a low paid job with little prospects. So these migrants and benefit claimants are cheating their way to that ideal. Naughty. Furthermore, for the option 2 view – these are mostly seen as repugnant vice’s, putting moral distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’. For option 2 views, we want to be able to watch our flat screen TVs enjoying moderate legal intoxication. Because, as stated, that is the aim of all humanity.
  • Apart from that, we all want to work, no matter the job(?). Breeding is arguably one of the certain motivations of all life, and having somewhere to live one of the others. If you don’t want to work, you’re probably a criminal (although robbery does involve a lot of heavy lifting I hear).
  • But we can’t have all these thing all the time because of the economic deficit! That’s why we need checks and balances and caps on (all manner of) things. Use the words state control instead: it’s easier and more accurate. Plus we need to contribute to survive, and that’s shown in the official statistics for almost every aspect of our existence. (And again, if you don’t, you are probably a criminal).
  • Which brings us to the ‘idea’ of fairness. Which boils down to: get a job and contribute to avoid the crushing and devastating impacts that cometh to us if we don’t. (Or be a criminal and face punishment).

And who is to blame (at the moment) if we can’t have these things in the way we want, as often as we want, without concessions? One, two three… The immigrants and benefit cheats! Yes! We have an answer to all our problems, as spelled out to us daily in every article, debate, documentary and news item to grace our senses.

Now, Mr and Mrs readers – I hardly need to tell you all this. You are after all probably not who this type of media is aimed at (or maybe you are, I have no way of knowing), and are probably unsurprised about these conclusions. The question I want to ask is BUT WHY? And WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT? I don’t have these answers yet, and don’t think any one person can without consensus, but I would really like to know what those of us who aren’t swayed by sensationalism and rhetoric can do to help those that are. Because this is making a real and negative difference. It’s not the migrants and benefit claimants who are the problem (at the very least, not to any degree of scale as is being portrayed) – it is the media representation (for whatever motives, political and private), and it needs to stop.

Please send your ideas on a postcard to Mr Cameron, 10 Downing Street, or alternatively, leave them in the comments box below.

Thank you for reading.

Mystic Gaz – Ten predictions for 2014

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What better way to start the new year than with some predictions eh? Predictions are much easier than resolutions: there is no implied permanency of action or intent. One can just make a prediction, write it down, walk away and forget about it until a given time (if indeed, a time is specified), and then (if it turns out true) bask in a smug all-knowing glow, or (if it is false) marvel at the randomness and unpredictability of the chaotic world we live in.

I suppose the best way to make predictions is to abandon any personal notions of optimism or pessimism, and instead just follow the trajectory of events to a logical progression. But the world rarely works like that does it? Last year, I would have had no inkling that within days of the new year, the words ‘Horse Meat’ would come to dominate our screens, papers and radios – because there was no precedent. Similarly in 2012, unless I had been a keen follower of Russian fem-punk outfits I would have never been able to predict that I would get the childish joy of hearing BBC newsreaders saying the words “Pussy Riot” over and over again (which, I maintain to this day they take great pleasure from – next time you hear a report on ‘Pussy Riot’, listen to the aplomb and clarity by which the presenter pronounces the name).

I guess that last paragraph was to excuse myself for wild inaccuracies or glaring omissions should the following predictions be reviewed this time next year. I will now set out ten predictions, covering various aspects of our world, mostly based on the news headings you find on the BBC news website (which as we all know are the ancient categories of all life entrusted to the guardians of knowledge by the great sun God Ra himself).

To get us in the mood, the first five predictions are ‘quick fire’ and not at all serious:

  1. George Osborne will pull such an evil face in a photograph that anyone who looks at it will be immediately turned into a Tory. (Note – replace George Osborne with ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ or ‘Michael Gove’ if you wish.)
  2. Nick Clegg will call someone a bigot on camera and no one will care. This will cause Clegg to go on a rampage, running around the streets of Sheffield naked, pointing at people and shouting all manner of abuse. Still, no one will care.
  3. The hysteria over the ‘influx’ of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants will continue regardless of any actual facts or evidence. One newspaper will coin the term ‘Bromanian’ to further homogenise two whole nations of people into one nasty baddy who is coming over here to steal the jobs we don’t have from the people who don’t want them.
  4. Google and Amazon will join forces and declare themselves the ‘winners’.
  5. In a bid to outdo herself, a naked Miley Cyrus will inject heroin into her eyeballs live on stage while licking a rod of weapons grade plutonium.

Now onto the serious (or at least semi considered) predictions. As when playing Trivial Pursuit, let’s get the difficult category out of the way first:

 

Prediction 6: Sport – England won’t win the World Cup.

Ok, ok, so I’ve gone for a bit of a freebie here when it comes to sport. I’m  not really a ‘sport’ man (I’m definitely not a sportsman) but I do like a bit of football here and there, and I do enjoy the international tournaments (and not, I must say, because of England, though I do watch them for the few matches they play before being inevitably and anti-climatically eliminated).

Let’s face it, looking at the likes of Spain and hosts Brazil (who I guess in a little sub-prediction, will face each other in the final if that’s possible, or at the latest possible knock-out stage, the winner of that match going on to win the competition) – England aren’t going to win. I’m not going to give you detailed or technical reasons as to why (because I can’t), but I will tease that it might have something to do with Wayne Rooney’s hair graft causing a major upset in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

Other sport will happen too. I can guarantee that.

 

Prediction 7: Business – Sometime in late Autumn, America will look over the ‘fiscal cliff’.

Well, it’s almost tradition now isn’t it? I think it’s generally around October time that the American government propose and vote on the ‘debt ceiling’ and come to loggerheads about it. This year it got so bad that the White House gift shop had to close for a week or two, so as you can see, this is serious stuff. Similarly, back home, we will see the budget announcement in March as always, where slight variations of percentages will be announced, poured over and dissected by the press and the opposition (who will of course, offer up their own slightly different variations of the same percentages to appease our perceived desire for democratic choice).

It will be much of the same I reckon. The BOE ‘base rate’ will remain unchanged at 0.5% – but it will be increasingly hinted at that this might rise as the economy ‘recovers’ and unemployment ‘falls’. It is so very hard to talk about business and politics in this world without the use of inverted commas to represent the fact that nearly everything they talk about is ‘bullshit’. In fact, I predict that inverted commas are going to be so popular in 2014 that they will be privatised by the ‘government’.

 

Prediction 8: Politics – Early General Election.

This is a biggie. I’ve said it before somewhere last year, but in a nutshell, these things will happen:

  1. Some issue will arise that divides the coalition on how to respond. At a guess, I reckon something to do with tax breaks or welfare proposed by the Tories.
  2. All of a sudden, the Liberal Democrat membership will be up in arms about supporting this new policy – even though they’ve happily propped up the Conservatives for the last three years.
  3. This will provoke a leadership challenge within the Lib Dems as Nick Clegg fails to convince his party that supporting the new tax/benefit measures is a good idea (he will stake his career on it – well, I suppose it’s best not to gamble with anything valuable).
  4. A new leader will arise who has a track record of being an outspoken critic of the Tories, even though they too have spent the last three years propping them up (my money’s on Vince Cable).
  5. This division will split the party, make the coalition untenable, and force a general election in which the Lib Dems will have the opportunity to rebrand themselves away from the Clegg/Tory era, and have at least a slim chance of not committing self-political genocide.

This may happen in early 2015, with the signs of it in late 2014. My reasoning for this is I just can’t believe that the Liberal Democrat membership, financial backers and ‘old guard’ are going to let Clegg take them into an election next year as one half of an unpopular coalition having broken so many promises. They must know what is coming to them in 2015 if they do: obliteration. Unfortunately, out of the two parties in power, we weren’t surprised when the Tories started acting like Tories because that’s what they are. The Lib Dems, however, have actually let people down. If you vote Tory and believe in their philosophy, you are getting what you asked for (more’s the pity for you). If you voted Liberal Democrat, you are not.

But fear not! If they simply follow the above plan, they can direct all the scorn and mistrust into Nick Clegg, boot him out and pretend to be a changed party. It’s either that or have Clegg, possibly one of the most unpopular politicians in history, try and convince us that we should trust him and that ‘he really means it this time’ when it comes to his pledges and abilities to temper the top down policies of the Tories. Nah. It will be a managed move. At the very least, Clegg will not be taking the Lib Dems into the next election, whether this happens in 2014 or 2015.

Oh and Labour will just watch it all unfold and get some column inches making jeering comments about the whole debacle while failing to realise that no one likes them either.

 

Prediction 9: Welfare – Something will happen to the Nationwide Building Society

Now remember these are predictions okay?! I don’t want to do a ‘Robert Peston’ and potentially cause the thing I’m providing discourse on (not that that’s very likely unless unbeknownst to me this blog is read by leading influential investors and hedge fund managers). But, they are the only sector of the financial industry left not to have been embroiled in some major scandal, and given the fake-inflation of house prices due to the dubious government loan policies – maybe they are next? After all, they are the UKs biggest Building Society and the general ‘go to’ company for mortgage and housing data. The second largest used to be Britannia, but they got merged into the nation’s only cooperative, and look what happened there… So, even though I have no cause, reason or evidence to suggest this, there may be an outside chance it will happen so I’m saying it anyway.

Prediction 10: Scotland referendum – Bye, bye Scotland.

It’s a damning indictment of Westminster that this referendum is even happening. It is happening for a reason. I can only imagine what it would mean to me if I was ‘attached’ to this government with an option of leaving it all together in these times. Maybe I am in the minority and the waffle about security, monetary union and EU membership will be enough to convince people that they aren’t good enough to ‘go it alone’, but I hope not: because change is a good thing. Not this fake, incremental creep of percentages this way or that, but real, tangible change is a rare opportunity and I hope that they grasp the thistle with both hands and show us all that there is more to life than the whims and needs of the City of London and demonstrate (in time, and no doubt with some difficulty) that alternatives do exist.

And there we go, my predictions for the new year. I’m sure I could have made a list of hundreds but I have neither the time, patience or attention span to do so. I will refer back to this list should anything happen, and I will review this in early 2015 when I make next year’s predictions (presuming of course that by that time I’m not an international best-selling author who has teams of people to write his blog and manage his social networks on his behalf – did I mention I’m releasing a book shortly called ‘The Dimension Scales’ featuring 14 short stories based around themes of malevolent and secret authorities, metamorphosis, survival and projections of contemporary fears into near-future realities?).

Have a great new year everyone.

Garry