A Long Week in Politics – A Personal View.

They say that a week is a long time in politics. This last week has surely proved the saying true. Who could have predicted the roller-coaster ride we’ve been on since we cast our votes last week?

One of the things that has emerged throughout the referendum campaign, and since, is that many of the British people don’t understand debate and reasoned argument. Once their stance has been decided, whether through emotion, anger, or some other reason, they will metaphorically stick their fingers in their ears, to save having to listen to the alternative arguments, then shout very loudly so that no one around them can hear those opinions or facts they have rejected. If all else fails, they resort to shouting insults and abuse at anyone who doesn’t agree with them, because they have to be in the right. Unfortunately, it seems that sometimes this approach isn’t just applicable to the general public, some of our politicians are seen to use it, too.

As a writer, I have found it intriguing to watch the responses of the authority figures as the dealt with the result the British people delivered. The EU officials, steely-eyed, challenging ‘well come on then, get it over with’, as though they couldn’t wait to be rid of us. Angela Merkel, looking very weary and worried. The Conservative politicians, who were largely responsible, suddenly very quiet and, after David Cameron announced his resignation, suddenly it seemed that no one wanted to take the next step, no one wanted to go down in history as the person who led Britain out of the European Union. And of course we discovered that no one had a plan. They hadn’t expected to need one. Of course there are some politicians who are ever happy to talk a lot, and were only too happy to fill the void: Nigel Farage, crowing, gloating, even though he’s about to lose his job; Nicola Sturgeon, furious, determined, trying once again to tell Westminster now to do their jobs and threatening action from Scotland if they don’t do as she says; Alex Salmond, back from obscurity to add his comments. But where was George Osborne? It almost turned into a ‘where’s wally’ competition to find the most obscure suggestion of where George was hiding.

And what of our loyal opposition? At a time when the country is gripped by its worst political crisis for many years, they decide the way to deal with it is…to stage a coup, split their party, and try to oust their leader! What planet do they live on?

The rest of the world has watched in astonishment as, in one short week, this once Great Britain has torn itself apart in a tide of in-fighting, xenophobia and, at times, outright racism.

So where does the blame lie?

Obviously, it was David Cameron who set up the referendum to try and settle the divisions in his own party. He was clearly confident that the British people would see the benefits of being part of the EU and support him in laying the argument to rest – after all, they had returned him and his party to power only last year (albeit with a slim majority), when he hadn’t expected to win. Unfortunately, he misread this support. It now seems clear that a substantial number of people only voted Conservative because he had promised a referendum on membership of the EU and because they wanted a chance to escape its clutches. Why? For years the media – particularly the newspapers, have blamed the EU and its regulations for everything they felt was wrong with the country. They have exaggerated the problems way out of proportion and whipped up public opinion to almost hysteria in recent weeks. (It seems that some of the strongest myths about the EU – for example the straight banana story – were, in fact begun by none other than Boris Johnson, when he was working as a journalist, years ago.)

When the date of the referendum was first announced, the Leave campaign was very quick off the mark to try and influence the public and spread their opinions and scare stories, so that by the time the Remain side began to try and counter these stories, it was already too late – a large proportion of the population were no longer prepared to listen to what they saw as excuses. Added to which, every time anyone spoke in public in favour of Remain and present an outline of what might be the consequences of leaving they were shouted down and accused of scaremongering, by the side who had been scaremongering all along!

All through the campaign members of the public asked and almost begged for more facts on which to base their decisions. In the last few weeks there were TV programmes which tried to present some of the facts and possible consequences, but by now many people had switched off mentally from any discussion on the referendum, fed up with hearing all the hype and emotive rants. There were also informative article in some of the more serious newspapers, and online, but most of these seem to have been by-passed by the bulk of the population. It was all too little too late.

Another thing that has emerged through this exercise is the continuing influence of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and particularly her view that there was ‘no such thing as society’ it was ‘every man for himself’.  (This apparently worked so well that much later when David Cameron spoke of the ‘Big Society’ no one knew what he was talking about.) In interviews on how they were making/ had made their decision on how to vote, most people spoke of how it would affect them personally, or at most their children/grandchildren. Some spoke of not being able to get doctor’s appointments, or places in schools, but it was still very personal. Very few people seemed to be looking at the bigger picture, of how it would affect us all as a society – because most seem to have forgotten, or in the case of younger people, never learned what ‘society’ is – and that is Thatcher’s legacy.

The current turmoil in the Labour Party also ties in with this theory. The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) politicians who have rebelled, appear to be largely career politicians who believe that their jobs and opinions are more important than those of the public they were elected to represent. They claim the party cannot win an election with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, when in actual fact, the reverse is more likely true. They totally ignore the thousands of people who not only joined the Labour Party to vote Corbyn into the leadership, but also all who have joined (or re-joined) since and all the crowd who gathered outside parliament in his support at the very time they were telling him they had no confidence in him. Who do they think is going to vote for them? They have exposed themselves as being self-seeking and out of touch with public opinion just as much as the Tories, more anxious to preserve their cosy way of life than represent the public as they were elected tp do. They need to be taught a brutal lesson.

Of course we all know the real reason for this attempted coup. We’ve known it was coming for months. It is an attempt to control and cover up some of the findings in the imminent publication of the Chilcot Report on the Iraq war. Many of the coup’s leaders are likely to be implicated in this report. They also want to avoid action being taken against their leader at the time, Tony Blair, who stands to be the most damned by the report. Well, I’m afraid that if it is found that Tony Blair committed crimes, he should pay the price, just the same as anyone else would. And that goes for any other politician who commits crimes, too. No one is above the law.

The British public have shown they are tired of corruption, cover-ups and dishonest career politicians, whether that be connected to the EU, phone-hacking, expenses scandals, alleged paedophilia rings, or covering up illegal wars. They want a different kind of politics. More honest, serious, sober, caring, concentrating on getting the job done rather than playing to the media. In the last few years television coverage has allowed us to see inside the parliaments of several other countries as they dealt with problems. Nowhere else appears to engage in the showmanship, yah-boo, schoolboy-style jibing and hollering of the House of Commons. In the 21st century it is an irrelevant anachronism. Why is it allowed to continue? Politicians who have grown used to dealing in this way clearly don’t understand that Jeremy Corby represents a different kind of politics, and a form of politics that the public is crying out for. The politics of honest debate, sober discussions, and above all a politics that cares about and looks after the weakest in our society.

The Conservatives came to power promising to ‘fix broken Britain’, instead, they have caused the deepest divisions in our society in living memory. This in turn has caused frustrated pockets of communities to seek someone to blame, attacking the disabled, foreign worker, and anyone else who looks different and so might be a threat to them. Many people living at the lower levels of society are now terrified of the future, of how they are to find the basics of life, how they are to survive. To these people, Jeremy Corbyn is a beacon of hope – the only beacon of hope in what has become a frightening and uncertain future.

However, there is also one good thing that has emerged during this last week. It is the growing re-discovery of people-power. Some have realised for the first time that their vote does count for something, others are discovering that that there is a way to show self-centred politicians what they think of them and their opinions and perhaps though this they are beginning to rediscover that such a thing as ‘Society’ does exist after all.

It looks like we’re going to need a more caring society to survive in a post-EU Britain.

 

Who Is A Pensioner and How Should We Treat Them?

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 License: CC 3.0 Attribution/BYCG

 This year there have been several incidents among my family and friends which, taken together, have caused me to be more observant and more thoughtful about how the elderly are treated, the attitudes towards them and the perceptions of what they are able to do and what is appropriate ‘at their age.’

In the last twenty or so years there has been a big general shift in the way the elderly are treated – mostly because of the need to adjust as a country to deal with the increasing numbers of elderly people.  The move towards keeping the elderly in their own homes for as long as possible is much better for them, but there is also less social stigma attached to families placing an elderly relation in a care home – or indeed the elderly themselves declining to go into a home to be looked after, if they prefer (and can afford to pay). However, the system is still developing and does not move smoothly in all areas at all times – as the many scandals still being uncovered, testify.

Misconceptions

Although most of the situations I have witnessed are on the charitable side towards the elderly, there have also been occasions where people have been unhelpful or appeared vaguely frightened about contact with an elderly person. There have also been some misconceptions:

Wheeled walking aid = likely dementia sufferer.

The evidence of a ‘wheely walker,’ as we call them in our family, means simply that the person has some balance problems, and the walker is to stop them falling over when out and about. They are usually perfectly sound of mind, especially if out on their own, and these walkers may be needed at any age – not just pensioners. Sufferers of certain illnesses and conditions such as MS may need a walking stick or wheely walker to help with balance, and MS is usually discovered when the person is only in their thirties. There may also be cases where someone needs temporary help while recovering from surgery and ‘finding their feet’ again.So we shouldn’t make snap judgements

People in their eighties should be content to stay at home at night.

An elderly lady I know, after a significant time in hospital followed by a spell of recuperation in a care home returned home to pick up her life. As she lives alone, carers were assigned to go and help twice a day. However, she was greeted with some astonishment when she asked to cancel the evening carer once a fortnight so she could go out and meet a group of friends in a nearby town. The assumption was that at her age she shouldn’t want to go out at night. But why not?

She books a taxi to transport her from door to door and because she has used the same company for several years, she and the driver tend to ‘set the world to rights’ in discussion as they travel. The small group she meets is fairly mixed in age range and their discussions exercise her mind. Sometimes she is also given something to think about at home afterwards. The staff at the venue also know her and chat to her. All in all she finds a lot of mental stimulation from attending, which keeps her topped up until the next time. In the winter, this is often the only time she leaves the house and so she really looks forward to it.

Grey hair = bus pass user.

This one is common among bus drivers, and to be fair, perhaps they are only playing safe. Perhaps it is also many people these days choose to dye their hair to cover up the grey, but it’s not everyone that can afford to do so in these difficult times, and some prefer to age naturally by letting the grey appear as it will. There is no defined age when hair turns grey, it can actually happen at any time of life, and so it could be taken as an insult to be taken for a pensioner when you are nowhere near pension age. As the retirement age is pushed back, for everyone to work longer, this is likely to happen more and more. Increasing numbers of ‘working age’ people will have grey hair long before they can claim their pensions.

Care and Institutionalisation

We are all familiar with the old image of care homes. Elderly people sitting in a circle of easy chairs nodding off in boredom. Fortunately, most care homes are no longer like that, and some go to great lengths to provide mental stimulation and varied activities for those well enough to take advantage of them. Unfortunately, there are still some homes where the elderly are left sitting alone in their room all day, with nothing to do, which is even worse than sitting together in a communal room with nothing to do.

There is also a problem of lack of mental stimulation in hospitals, among the elderly. Now we all know that the NHS is always short of money and the staff are overstretched, but mental health and physical health are not totally detached from each other. If an elderly person is left sitting in a chair, staring into space, hour after hour, day after day, even the most strong-willed person could lose the drive and will-power necessary to fight their illness.

A younger person would be far less likely to be treated like this, so why do we expect it of the elderly? Just because they look frail doesn’t mean their minds cannot be still sharp and very active. This is how patients become institutionalised. It may make them easier for staff to handle, but it’s not good for their well-being, or their recovery.

When an elderly person goes home after a prolonged stay in hospital carers are often sent to help for at least a few weeks to make sure they can cope. The job of the short-term care team is to help and encourage the person to do things for themselves and make the necessary adjustments to take back control of their lives. If it is then felt that the person still needs help on a daily basis, a long-term care team is assigned to go in and do whatever is necessary, for an allotted time, for up to four times a day, although most only need help twice a day. If the difficulty is borderline, the elderly person can begin to feel they have to wait for the carer and give up trying to do things for themselves.

Finding a Balance

The carers I have met have been pleasant and generally efficient at their work, but some of the elderly are very independent and not ready to admit they need help, they can feel resentment at the ‘intrusion’ into their homes and their lives. Finding the balance between helping a person remain independent for as long as possible and taking their independence away can be a very fine line.

As a society, we need to think hard about who we judge to be ‘old’ and not write people off too early. Grey hair doesn’t mean a person is incapable of working efficiently. But we also need to continue developing the care system for the genuinely elderly with their needs at the centre – and be prepared to listen to their comments and complaints. Don’t brush them aside just because they are old and infirm, be prepared to help them continue to do as much as they can for as long as they can. After all, it’s their life and we will be in their situation one day. Think carefully about how you would want to be treated at their age.

What do you think?

Does Anyone Respect Intellectual Copyright These Days?

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Some years ago, a writer friend of mine entered a short story competition run by a publisher of children’s books. The story she submitted had previously been sent to a radio station which was, at that time, regularly reading short stories on air, but this didn’t appear to clash with the competition rules. Her story didn’t win anything in the competition.

Not very long afterwards there was a children’s book published with a VERY similar storyline and (surprise, surprise,) the publisher was none other but the one who had run the competition. The characters had been altered just enough to make a difference and the credit was all given to the well-connected illustrator, who had also produced a suitable story about how he had come up with the idea. That book has since sold millions of copies, world-wide. Was it really just a coincidence?

My friend has no children of her own, she was unaware of the book until another friend told her (and I was present on that occasion). Her own records show she sent the story to the radio station several years before the book was published, and so I am convinced that the original story was hers. The publisher clearly had the opportunity to read her work before the book was published. Unfortunately my friend was not in a financial position to challenge the copyright.

Incidents like this make you wonder, how many other times this has happened with writing competitions? How many publishers exploit competitions and writers this way?

I’m afraid the incident put me off entering competitions, especially when I heard that several years later my friend had another idea stolen by entering a competition. This time the organisers were a respected writer’s organisation and she had been planning to attend their conference, where the stories were to be judged. Unfortunately, she fell ill and had to cancel her trip. Some time later, she discovered that someone in the admin staff of the organisation had apparently submitted her story under their own name and won awards for it.

There have been several high-profile copyright cases over the years, not only in writing, but also in music. The trouble is that it is very difficult for a small-time writer or musician to fight a copyright case through the courts, even if they dare risk the financial implications, and so some unscrupulous people take advantage of this situation. Some claim there is no copyright on ideas, but the difference between an idea and a piece of intellectual work can be a fine line.

The problem is not just confined to competitions either. Submissions to magazines and newspapers are also easily exploited. I too, have had the experience of a carefully-crafted piece of writing published under someone else’s name. I complained, and had a correction and apology printed in the following issue, but these are always small and not easy to spot. The damage has already been done – and the results linger for all time in archives, with the retraction easily missed.

Now we have the age of the internet, copyright theft is rife. It is so easy to cut and paste. If this is only for personal use/ study purposes, authors might not mind, but if someone is republishing the work, virtually untouched, under their own name, that is a different matter.

Photographs and images are just as much, if not more vulnerable on the web. Not everyone bothers to check if the picture they want to use is royalty-free, or has a creative commons licence. They just post whatever they want to post.

And then there is the whole music download argument that has rumbled on for many years…

Today’s young people have grown up with the internet, with such a wide range of content being so freely available with a few clicks of the mouse. They take it all fro granted and many don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to download/ share anything they want – for free. If they are asked to pay, they expect the charge to be a pittance – a token amount. After all, it’s out there on the internet, why should they pay to save it? What difference between that and other content given away for free?

The problem lies in what they don’t see. Behind all these items there are wordsmiths, researcher, artists, musicians, photographers, etc., working hard to produce the content, which can take many hours to create and seconds to be stolen. Yes, stolen. Copyright theft is just like any other kind of theft. Many of the people who produce this kind of work are depending on it for at least part of their living expenses. When it is stolen they are not paid.

If creative people cannot be paid for their work, they will either take it somewhere else, where they will be paid, or else they will stop producing it. The quality of new material would then gradually deteriorate. After all, why put time and effort into something if there’s no reward at the end?

Those who expect to be able to download anything for free from the internet, should ask themselves how they would feel if they were suddenly expected to carry on doing their own job without a wage at the end of the month. It’s the same thing, only creative people often don’t have the luxury of monthly pay.

Why is there such disrespect for intellectual property in this day and age? How much of it is because of the development of the internet – and information overload?

Perhaps the world-wide-web has made creative content seem more ethereal, so that consumers are less able to judge its worth because it’s no longer tangible. When music was sold on records or discs or tapes, when writing was in books and artwork hung on walls, they were tangible products and their value was, perhaps, more easily assessed. How come these same products are now worth so much less when published in a different way? The value is not only in the physical production costs, intellectual time is also a valid production cost.

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Publishers who take the work of an unknown author and publish a version as someone else’s work could be shooting themselves in the foot. If a person’s work is good enough to publish, it is good enough to publish under their own name. If they can come up with a good story once, maybe they could do it again and again, like my friend, and if given a contract, could earn the publisher more money over time. Instead, any further ideas may be kept from public view – even eventually destroyed – because someone treated the author and their work with contempt.

Writers who deliberately steal from other writers are not really writers at all.

What do you think?

Has Capitalism Gone Too Far?

ImageWhen the poorest in our society can no longer afford to heat their homes, while energy companies make large profits…

When big businesses seize all opportunities and charge high prices to consumers, in order to make money for shareholders…

When even politicians are so worried about upsetting multinational companies that they fail to take the action needed to protect the lives of their constituents…

Has capitalism gone too far?

Economy out of balance

House prices are beginning to boom again – at least in the south – which means more southerners are likely to look further north for ‘bargains’ and the wave will begin to sweep across the country again, putting properties even further out of the income-reach of many northerners.

Since privatisation energy prices have soared, and continue to rise each year as soon as the cold weather begins, leaving more and more of the poorest people shivering and frightened to turn on their heating – risking hypothermia.

High energy costs, together with other overheads mean food prices have continued to rise dramatically throughout the economic crisis of the last few years.

The cost of petrol/ diesel, which goes up fast but never drops back to the same level, affects everything that needs to be delivered to shops, and businesses that need to travel to their customers.

At the same time, government policies limit income and there are far more people either unemployed or underemployed. Household incomes have plummeted for many families over the same period as prices have rapidly increased.

The politicians of the Labour Party like to take about the ‘squeezed middle,’ but what about those at the bottom? Who represents the working class, and those who cannot even find work, these days? And for how many people was the bedroom tax the last straw?

Take this all together and add in tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor and it is clear that there is something going drastically wrong with the economic balance in our society.

The economic indicators all show the gap between rich and poor is wider that it has been for well over a hundred years, and the north-south divide is also widening. We are supposed to be an advanced, civilised society, so why is this being allowed to happen?

Wages

Minimum wage was supposed to stop employers from paying slave wages and give employees a decent income, with which to pay their household bills, etc. But it doesn’t seem to have kept up with the cost of living, and as usual, big business felt they had to find a way around the increase in their wage bill, this time they found it by adopting zero-hours contracts.

When working tax credit was introduced to top up low wages, big business simply paid the majority of their wages minimum wage, knowing it would be topped up by the state where necessary.

The introduction of flexible working was supposed to allow employees to work around family commitments, transport problems, etc. Instead, employers use it to try and keep their employees at their beck and call, to phone them at short notice and expect them to abandon all other responsibilities and jump to their ‘master’s’ voice.

Whenever a move is made to protect/ improve the lives of workers and give them a better work/ life balance, many employers seem hell-bent on twisting the legislation and turning it back on the employees in ways that actually make their lives worse.

Big business is so keen to profit, but many of them are also keen to avoid paying tax.

Energy

There are ways of cutting energy costs to homes, but at present only those with spare money, or access to borrow, can afford to take advantage of these ways, whether it be soar panels, a small wind generator in the garden, heat-exchangers, passive homes.

What kind of society are we that those with money have access to cheaper energy – and can even be paid for producing it – while the poorest pay the higher prices on ever-decreasing incomes?

When wind-power was first developed, I remember reading about a man in Scotland who had produced a small wind-power generator which could be fixed to a rooftop, similar to a TV aerial. He envisaged that we could all have one of these on our houses and generate at least part of our own electricity, to bring down costs. He couldn’t find anyone to back him to go into full production. Why? Because big business was already seeing pound signs in the development of the technology. They began to push to build swathes of the biggest possible ‘windmills’ to make profits for their shareholders and the still become angry and upset when campaign groups fight them over these plans. Surely, a small windmill on every rooftop would be less obtrusive? But of course, big business cannot allow the little man and woman to deny them profit.

Pyramid_of_Capitalist_System

Food

What kind of society are we, when even working people are having to resort to using food banks to enable them to eat? How many more are going hungry rather than be seen to be so desperate? (And how many more are simply getting deeper and deeper into debt rather than use this last resort?) It’s obvious, if people can’t eat properly, they can’t work properly. They can’t function to solve the problems that are daily being thrust upon them. They become run down, exhausted, malnourished, ill. What kind of workforce will they be then?

Health

The more pressure that is put onto the already overstretched poor to pay higher prices/ find non-existent jobs, etc., the more their health is likely to suffer – especially in the long-term. Hypothermia, malnutrition, stress-related illnesses or even worse. This is turn, puts more pressure on the already over-burdened NHS – another national institution threatened with creeping privatisation. It could even be argued that big business, with its determination for power, and greed for more and more profits for shareholders, is gradually killing our citizens!

Even those who work for these businesses are not exempt, as employees are driven by ever-increasing targets – pressure again.

Time for debate

What’s the alternative? I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but perhaps it’s time we all began to think about what kind of society we want to live in, in the future and come up with a new theory.

The runaway train of big business seems to be travelling faster and faster – is it out of control? How do we stop it, or at least slow it down? Is it going to take a big disaster?

Before the gap between rich and poor, south and north widens any further, it’s time we began to debate how to stop the trend and make society fairer to those at the bottom. They are running, like hamsters on a wheel, faster and faster, but still slipping further and further behind, in and effort to simply survive. Otherwise we may be returning to a time when the poor are forced to live on the streets – or in self-built shanty towns, and beg for handouts from passers-by.

A home, heat, food, health, are all basic human rights. European legislation is in place to protect us from extremes at the moment, but the Conservatives want to opt out of it. Those considering voting for UKIP should also be aware of this. I’m no great fan of the European Union, but without support from them a ruthless right-wing government coupled with big business could quite easily push us back into something like a feudal society. All in the name of profit.

What do you think?