Thursday, December 28, 2006

Crawley News Update

After last month's RMF exposé on the double-standards of the Crawley News, it seems that the paper has taken some action.

Firstly, after Skuds linked to the article here, he received an email which seemed to suggest that it was the News' duty to publish the story because otherwise they'd be accused of burying it to placate advertisers. Personally, I'd think it a better idea to refuse the advertising to avoid accusations of hypocrisy, but hey?

Now, after becoming an avid reader of the back pages of the News' classifieds, section, I've noticed this disclaimer appearing above the 'Adult' ads this week:

Notice to Readers
East Surrey and Sussex Newspapers advise readers that the content of the advertisements in this section relate to products and services of an adult nature. We accept these for publication in accordance with guidelines issued by the Newspaper Society and the Advertising Standards Authority, together with our own policies and procedures. If you have any concerns or comments about the nature of the material in this section, or complaints about specific advertisements, please contact Jo Mockford

Well. That's us told! The adverts have also changed slightly, perhaps because they've been rejected or simply that the payment for them has ceased. Certainly the one for 'The Honeypot' has gone. The one looking for 'Glamorous ladies' has also gone.

But the kicker is this: Scattered throughout the classifieds are little boxes which advertise the - News classifieds itself, either in general terms or for specific services. Most are for recruitment. And the little box in the 'Adult' section is no different. 'Do you have difficulty finding staff? Call our dedicated Recruitment Team'.

Now why would they put that in the section dedicated to Adult Chat lines, Escort Agencies or 'Massage' services?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Crawley News for sale?

Trinity Mirror today announced that it would be selling off a number of its titles (story here). They are keeping hold of their major national papers (the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People) as well as the regionals in Scotland, Wales and northern England.

However, they will divest of the Racing Post along with all sports titles, and local/regional papers in the Midlands, London and the South East.

The Crawley News is part of 'Trinity Mirror Southern', and so I assume that it is up for grabs. Whether a buyer would take on the whole stable (the Birmingham Post, Croydon Advertiser and Surrey Mirror are also going), or it would be broken up piecemeal isn't clear. Of course, the main alternative chain of regional newspapers owns the Crawley Observer, and so if they bought out the News, they could create a monopoly. Alternatively, a new owner may take the News in a radically different direction.

We wait and see.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Crawley Tories lose their Head

Fresh from Skuds, and supplemented by the Lib Dems, the story of how Marcella Head has defected from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats, meaning that Crawley Borough Council now has no majority group:

Conservatives: 18
Labour: 16
Liberal Democrats: 3

The Lib Dems now hold the balance of power and could, if they wanted, cause the Tories to lose their cabinet seats. What will actually happen? Perhaps the main area of change will be on the Housing Transfer, but it's a bit late to do much about that now.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Old book meme

Searching around today, I found that I'd been 'tagged' by snowflake5 back in September. Ho hum...

1. Name a book that changed your life.
'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists' by Tressell, which for the first time introduced me to what this socialism thing was all about. Until then I'd been simply tribal in my politics, but at the age of about 14 I borrowde my dad's copy and started to understand

2. One book you've read more than once
'Sideshow' by Sheri S Tepper. It's where I got my pseudonym from.

3. One book you'd want on a desert island
Can I take the entire 'Baroque Cycle' by Neal Stephenson?

4. One book that made you laugh
Any by Pratchett. 'The Colour of Magic' is still the best one of all the Discworld novels

5. One book that made you cry
I'm a bloke. Books don't make me cry. What utter nonsense!
(ok ok, I did sniff a bit while reading 'Feersum Enjinn' by Iain M Banks, when Bascule is trying to climb the fastness - but don't tell anyone, right?)

6. One book you wish you've written
'Harry Potter and the thingummy wotsit'. Then I'd be a squillionaire!!

7. One book you wish had never been written
Anything by Ayn Rand. Particularly 'Fountainhead', which I tried to read but gave up as I hated every single character and what they stood for, particularly her 'hero' and 'heroine'. There'd be a lot less nerdy american libertarians about if it wasn't for her drivel.

8. One book you are currently reading
'Basket Case' by Carl Hiaasen. I like a bit of Floridian sleaze and intrigue.

9. One book you've been meaning to read
There's a few that I have on a shelf waiting for me to get to. 'The Euro-killers' by Julian Rathbone, which is a book he wrote a long time before his historical novels.

10. Now tag five people
What, and make them go through this? Nahhh.

Housing revisited

Thinking of the last two posts reminds me that a while ago I wrote a letter to the Crawley News which (as well as pointing out that Fastway was down to the Tories at Chichester) said that I thought tenants should vote against transfer as it was in their best interests.

Shortly after that, Duncan Crow challenged me in a reply to say how. I didn't bother, mainly because Martin Ballard does a far better job. But here's a few ideas:

  • Tenants will pay higher rents.

    Ok, rents go up every year. But Housing Associations generally charge more than councils.

  • Tenants will pay higher rents

    What is more, the transfer documents do not include anything to stop a revaluation of the stock by the new HA after transfer (this was one thing that the Council referred back to the Executive on Nov 22). A revaluation would probably lead to steep rises for at least some tenants. Would we be hugely surprised it it turned out to be most tenants? Shouldn't the stock have already had a recent valuation as part of the process going on now?

  • Tenants will pay higher rents (so will home-owners)

    If they are also renting a garage. In fact, most garages are rented by homeowners. When I asked a flippant question from the gallery on Nov 22 about whether garage rents would rise to meet the levels of house rents (as the valuation of the average house is about £2000 and the valuation of the average garage is about £2600 by the latest figures), I was surprised to get the answer from Bob Lanzer that the rentable value per square foot for a garage is indeed apparently more for a garage than for a house.

  • Tenants will pay higher rents

    The way the finances work is this. A new Housing Association will be set up to buy the housing stock etc from the Council. They will pay £30M, or thereabouts. As a brand new entity, it will not have the cash, so will have to borrow at market rates to do that. So, immediately, the HA will not only inherit the liabilities that landlords have (sitting tenants, repairs & maintenance), as well as assume new promises made for them by the Council to replace over 4000 kitchens and 5000 boilers in the next five years, but they will also have a massive debt. Who pays the interest on that? Tenants do, through their rents. If interest rates increase, we can expect that to be passed on.

  • Did I mention that tenants might have to pay higher rents?

    Of course, I could be spouting fearmongering propaganda (but at least I'm not spending £30K of public money on DVDs to do it). After all, the council sets up a rent agreement with the new HA doesn't it?

    Yes. But the National Audit Office has found that 17% of transfer associations had ripped up those agreements. Scottish Borders was supposed to limit increases to inflation plus 1%. But instead rents went up by 5.5% (inflation plus 3%). Increases in tranfer associations in Scotland are higher than increases in pre-existing Housing Associations, which are higher than for councils.

    And of course these agreements have a time limit. What happens when the time runs out? Well, look to Hastings, where the transferred tenants of 'Ten-Sixty-Six' found that the average rent went up by 10% in the year that the agreement lapsed.

  • Not to labour the point, but rents might increase

    Housing Associations are beholden to their 'owners' and creditors, not to the tenants. If there are financial problems, there's no hefty bank account to help out (Crawley Borough Council is £100M in credit), and so the choice is to increase rents, to sell assets, to cut services or to borrow (which will of course mean higher interest payments).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Crawley News sensation!

Today the Crawley News had a splash on the front page (actually page 3 as it had yet another of those outer-page advert thingys):


Teenage girls could be lured into £1000-per-night escorting work from an advert placed in a shop window"

Pretty shocking stuff, huh? The advert reads "Wanted - female 18+ to earn good money. £30+ per hour. Open minded, fun work immediate start".

In a masterpiece of investigative reporting, a female reporter called the number and got more details. A few residents, and a councillor are reported as (surprise surprise) thinking this advert is 'shocking', 'outrageous', 'wrong for this sort of area' and so on.

Well, I'm certainly glad that the Crawley News brought this to our attention. After all, it's not as if Crawley is already fairly well known as having a number of adult services being offered - apparently the airport draws in a lot of 'trade'.

However, I wonder if the Crawley News reporters ever read their own paper. For example, this week on page 55 we have the 'Adult' section of the classifieds has:
  • 6 ads for Adult Chat lines
  • 1 ad for 'The Honeypot' for Adult Massage
  • 1 large ad for 'No strings dating contacts' with 8 ladies briefly described
  • 2 ads for Escort services

But best of all under the heading "Staff Required":

"GLAMOROUS LADIES REQUIRED for prestigious escort agency. Please leave name and number for interview"

Below which is a blue box to try and encourage people to place ads in the Crawley News.

Now, did the reporters really have to expose the dodgy nature of an ad in the Tilgate newsagents, when pretty much the same thing is being delivered to every household in the town? I would call the number myself, so as to launch my own 'exclusive', but my impersonation of a female is not very good. Perhaps the Crawley Observer will look into this possible scandal? (of course, I don't buy the Obs, so I have no idea if the same sort of ads appear in their classifieds, or in the Herald, which I think is part of the same stable).

Local newspapers - as ethical as ever, eh?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Councillor Crow, snide?

Skuds discusses the recent Council meeting on the Transfer of council homes, with the opening line:

"I think it was meant to be a snide remark from Councillor Crow at tonight's extraordinary
council meeting about council housing transfer, but really its a compliment."

The thought of Duncan Crow ever making a snide remark? Gosh! And he was going on about personalising politics earlier (trying to defend Cllr Quirk, who was being questioned from the public gallery about statements he'd made when trying to get elected). Of course, I've never heard Councillor Crow ever utter a word which might be construed as a personal attack, or 'playing the man, not the ball'.

Well, not so much since I left the Council anyway...

A new way forward?

I've just signed up to the manifesto of the New Generation Network.

I meant to do it last week, but didn't get around to it. When I saw Dave Hill's marvellous article on the Grauniad's CiF, I knew that I had been tardy.

If only to increase the total number of signatories by 1, it's worth it, but it's also important to live by the manifesto as well as support it:

Our principles
1) An end to communal politics

2) Against prejudice
3) For equality
4) We believe in freedom of speech
5) We are for respecting people's multiple identities
6) A new national conversation about race

I can't think of anyone on the 'progressive' side of politics who should fail to support these aims.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fame, fortune, beer!

I didn't think that they'd go for it, but I got an article published on the Guardian's Comment Is Free pages (CiF).

They changed the title, and added a reasonable standfirst (that's the preamble paragraph, which was news to me until quite recently). They took out the links I put in to pages about Joseph Chamberlain and George Lansbury in local government, but they didn't fix my appalling clash of perspective the the fifth paragraph (which maybe no-one else will notice but is flashing in red lights to my eyes). The picture is the least awful one I could get, using a mobile phone camera in my front room.

Anyway - it's low level fame. After being in the background of a NorthWestminster piece, and being interviewed for local TV down here, my media empire inexorably spreads to the national stage.

Mwah ha ha hahhh!

Right, as I have the day off and my mate Darren is about, I'm off to the pub.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The month of Fultober

For the first time since I was a season ticket holder, I will be watching all of Fulham's league games this month. Well, the first two are a bit of a cheat, as I saw them on the telly down at the Labour Club, but that's more than I usually do.

October 2 - Watford 3 - 3 Fulham

Fanstastic for a neutral. Watford cheekily take a 2-0 lead, Fulham battle back to edge in front (thanks to a goalmouth scramble and own goal), Watford almost immediately equalise. Gutted.

October 16 Fulham 2 - 1 Charlton

Much better for the partisans. Well, as long as they aren't Charlton fans. Both defences were pretty poor, but luckily our attack was only slightly less lame - but only when Claus Jensen came on. Almost immediately my Charlton supporting mate, Toby, is on the phone giving me stick. ha ha!

October 21 Aston Villa v Fulham

This will be very odd. I'm taking the girlfriend's nephew to his first ever game. He's only seven, and is apparently really excited. Unfortunately for me, it means sitting in the home stand and not attempting to indoctrinate the lad into cheering for the black-and-white.

October 28 Fulham v Wigan

A bit of a blokes day out with my dad and some others - not sure yet. A pub crawl, the game, a few pubs on the way back. I quite like Wigan, having seen us play them back in 1996 and 1997. I was living in Manchester at the time, and I went down on a Wigan supporters coach for the Fulham game, where we met up with my old man, introduced them to Abbott Ale and joined them in the Away end.

Odd that - most football supporters will never think of sitting or standing with the other set of supporters. I think it's against the rules at most grounds, although if you keep your mouth shut, don't wear colours and (as a last resort), be nice to the people near you, you won't get problems, especially if you know people there already.

Mind you, I wouldn't do it if they were Millwall or Portsmouth fans. I'm not suicidal you know

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Who wants to be Leader then?

It's been a pretty eventful few weeks. If a load of verbiage and veiled insults can be considered 'events'.

Do I want Blair to stand down? Hell yes. I didn't support him in 1994. I never bought into the 'New Labour' project. Yes, I wanted to win in 1997, 2001 and 2005, and I can't deny that Blair was a big part of that - at least in terms of the magnitude of the 1997 victory.

But Iraq is not the only major decision which irks me. Pushing through policy changes without bothering to consult (despite having set up the Partnership in Power process) such as University fees, Foundation Hospitals and then being annoyed when MPs and members raise objections is the real issue. Blair (and New Labourism) is 'right' and if we disagree then we are 'ungrateful' or 'harking back to 1983' or 'dinosaurs'. Yes, that attitude really fosters debate.

The last couple of weeks was less about Blair than about Brown though. I don't believe that he orchestrated things, rather that some low-level MPs were getting frustrated. People like Milburn and Clarke seem to think that Brown doesn't deserve the leadership, and I suspect a certain amount of briefing (not just the public statements of course).

But last week I went to the Constituency Party GC. We barely discussed the leadership issues. In a two hour meeting we talked about:

1) The Tory council trying to sell of Council Housing, and our lobbying of the government to allow the '4th Option'.

2) The recent move to outsource NHS Logistics, and a motion to Conference to raise concerns about the direction that Health policy is taking - another round of re-organisations, more possible service 'reconfigurations',

3) Who will be on the list of candidates for next May's local elections

4) The ridiculous decision by Ruth Kelly to override the Planning Inspectors' upholding of the Borough Council's opposition to the Russell Way development. (by the way, the original decision was taken before the May elections, and was probably approved by all members from Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative. But to read the press (and Alan Quine's odious missive) you'd think it was only the Tories.

Personally I think that there are more important things than arguing over a leadership election that hasn't started yet. Charles Clarke in particular has demonstrated why he should not return to any cabinet with his outburst. However, the personalised Blair leadership has led to that, because all policy discussion is subverted by whether TB or another individual pushes a line or not. The Party needs to get back to real politics - discussing what affects real people and directly influences their lives and livelihood.

Now, while there's a barney going on, the media wonks in Westminster and the main outlets are focussing on that as it is fun to watch, whereas proper debate is quite boring. But it's the latter we need, and we already get it in the grassroots.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Cameron and Human Rights

So, the Tories are still on this kick about abolishing the Human Rights Act (story).

The thing is, that the 1998 Act is not so easily taken out of existing UK Law. I know that DC claims to have a load of experts ready to dissect and remove this 'foreign' legislation, but they can't. If they can, they'll undo a lot more than just the last 8 years' worth.

Why? Well, the 1998 Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into Law. However, it had already been heavily influencing our law, as since its inception in 1950, the Council of Europe (not the same thing as the EU) has been the main body looking after Rights law. And several times the UK Government was taken to the European Court of Human Rights - and it lost.

Not only is it logistically difficult, not only is it nothing to do with the EU, but it's actually a betrayal of Tory values.

Why? Well, who was the man who made the call for the Council of Europe? Why it was that great 20th Century hero of Conservatism, Winston Churchill.

As it is, the ECHR is more lenient than the UN Human Rights aims, and we can hardly condemn countries like Cuba and Zimbabwe for their abuses of human rights if we are rolling back our own.

The main issue that DC is addressing is the idea that the 'victims' of the rights culture are ordinary people, and that criminals etc are using the Human Rights Act to gain things they shouldn't have. Now, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, what is wrong with actually using the Act to push the balance back? Already the family of a murder victim are trying to sue under the Act because the killer was released early. If they succeed, then surely the HRA has actually done what the Tories claim it does not - recognise everybody's rights.

Anyway, I'd love to see what the Tories proposed 'British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities' would contain if it can't ever be used by people who the majority of people in the UK don't really like (travellers, immigrants, petty criminals). Will it be like the Magna Carta, which was great for establishing the rights of people who already had them (the gentry), but did little for those who needed them (the peasantry)?

Like a lot of current stuff from DC, is this posturing to try and build support, or is it a real policy - and which is the more worrying?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Labour's 41 Stealth Tax CUTS

We all know about 'stealth taxes'. The Daily Mail will relish in describing how Middle England is being ravished by a miriad of tax increases, all introduced in secret by the evil gnome Gordon Brown. Such as in this article: Tax rises under Labour

Gosh. Thats a lot.

But wait, Gordon Brown doesn't just raise taxes. He also cuts them. In effect, the 'tax burden' or the average amount we pay in tax is about the same as in 1997, it's just that the balance between the lower earners and higher earners has shifted. 'Middle England' is really not that badly off - How often do we see figures of '£50,000' or '£100,000' as 'middle england' type wages or household incomes, and how many people actually have that kind of money coming in? The Average salary is less than £25,000.

But, courtesy of snowflake who got the details from the Treasury, I can list 41 of the tax cuts since 1997 you may not even have noticed! Now we can reveal how that sneaky Mr Brown has been putting money right into your pocket. Do you wonder why you feel better off under Labour, while people around you are moaning...

1. Cutting VAT on domestic fuel (electicity and gas) from 8% in 1997 to 5% now.

2. Cutting basic income tax from 23% in 1997 to 22%.

3. Introduction of the 10p starting rate of tax (lowest starting rate since 1962) for £2150 of earnings above the personal allowance.

4. Cutting large company corporation tax from 33% to 30%

5. Cutting small business corporation tax from 23% to 19%

6. Capital gain tax for long term business assets cut from 40% to 10%

7. Stamp Duty threshold raised from £60,000 in 1997 to £125,000 now

8. Vehicle excise duty for 38 tonne and 41 tonne lorries cut by 500 pounds; the 40 tonne class lorries rate cut by 1,800 pounds; for all other heavy lorries rates frozen. (2000 budget)

9. Abolition of the 2% employee N.I. "entry fee" payable on earnings from £0 - LEL, when earnings crossed the lower earnings limit.

10. Abolition of the 3% employer N.I. "entry fee" payable on earnings from £0 - LEL, when earnings crossed the lower earnings limit.

11. Abolition of the "stepped" employer N.I. rates, saving companies administration hassles.

12. Alignment of the LEL with the Income tax personal allowance. This involved increasing the LEL sharply from £64 per week in 1998 to £87 in 2001 and £97 per week today, which means the exempt threshold has increased by 51% since 1998 (or at a rate of 5.33% per annum, considerably faster than the rate of inflation).

13. Class 2 flat rate of self-employed N.I. reduced from £6.55 to £2.10 per week.

14. Freeze on duty on spirits since 1997.

15. Employee shareholders capital gains tax cut to 10%

16. Business investors in new and unquoted companies who invest between 5% and 25% have capital gains tax cut to 10% on investments above 5% held for four or more years

17. For small and medium companies, the 40% capital allowances are made permanent

18. Research and development tax relief introduced for business

19. Tax relief for intellectual property and goodwill introduced (2001 budget)

20. Abolition of withholding tax on payments of interest and royalties between companies in the UK.

21. Abolition of withholding tax on interest paid on international bonds

22. Working families tax credit introduced

23. Child tax credit introduced and extended for families who earn £58,000 and below

24. Introduction of stakeholder pensions which for the first time are available to the unwaged, giving then a tax-free savings vehicle where a contribution up to £2808 also attracts tax relief of 22%.

25. For businesses with turnover of up to £58,000, VAT is not charged at all.

26. To bring disused properties back into use, VAT on residential property conversions cut from 17.5% to 5%

27. For cleaning up contaminated land, an accelerated tax relief, set at 150%

28. To help revitalise high streets, government provided 150% first year capital allowances for bringing empty flats over shops back into the residential market.

29. For churchs, for repairs started after April 1st 2001, a new grant, the equivalent of a VAT reduction from 17.5% to 5%. This was further abolished to 0% in the 2004 budget.

30. Vehicle excise duty abolished for tractors

31. Betting duty abolished for pools.

32. Exemption for companies from corporation tax on the gains from the sale of substantial shareholdings. (2002 budget)

33. Automatic entitlement for business to reclaim VAT on bad debts after six months, introduced for the first time.

34. Betting duty abolished for bingo players

35. A 20p per litre reduction in fuel-duty for bio-ethanol

36. A 20p per litre reduction in fuel-duty for bio-diesal

37. Fuel-duty frozen for petrol and diesal since 2003.

38. Halving of beer duty for pubs that brew their own beer

39. People with disabilities who got back to work entitled to tax credit

40. Child-care tax-credit introduced for people who place their children in nurseries

41. Vehicle excise duty cut to £0 for cars emitting less than 100 CO2 g/km (saving of £65), cut to £40 for cars emitting between 101-120 CO2 g/km (saving of £35) and cut to £100 for cars emitting 121-150 CO2 g/km (saving of £5).

Please note that while the Mail lists 80 rises, they had more time than snowflake to do the research, and they put every single year for Council Tax (so if it was the Tory County Council who whacked up the bill, they still blame Labour). There may be more than these 41 cuts. Who knows, that Brown is so sneaky, he could be cutting more taxes AS YOU READ THIS!!!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Not that bloggers ever self obsess...

I've been 'tagged' by Skuds, so I'd better provide my reader with a list.

I am sitting down
I want a socialist government
I wish I had more enthusiasm
I hate intolerance
I love marmite
I miss trains
I fear my boss noticing how rubbish I am
I hear the birds nesting in my roof
I wonder where Tories come from
I regret having spent too much time on regret
I am not as dumb as I look
I dance like no one's watching
I sing to Pantera
I cry at the end of Mean Machine
I make arguments
I write less than I ought to
I confuse myself
I need a good strong coffee
I should get out more
I start as late as possible
I finish the few things I don't forget about
I tag no one. so there

Monday, May 08, 2006

Beer In The Evening

To announce the publication of an epic tome, the book for our times, the answer to all of life's questions:

Beer In The Evening: London Edition

Buy it! Go on, you know you want to, it tells you what real customers think about 250 of London's pubs. If you follow the Amazon link on the BITE page, the authors get a little bit extra. As they are pals of mine, and they put a lot of work into the Beer In The Evening site, and into the book itself.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Tory town

It wasn't entirely unexpected, but the way it happened and the actuality are quite disappointing. The Tories won seats in Southgate and Ifield, and got lucky with the drawing of lots for Broadfield North (just as they did in Furnace Green and Maidenbower not so long ago).

So, from a Labour majority of 1 we go to a Tory majority of 1. Bob Lanzer will be the new leader. Duncan Crow will be the deputy. I wonder who else will be running departments. Will Brenda Burgess be tasked with trying to convince tenants to opt for Stock Transfer? Who will have to handle the travellers (and what will they actually DO, now that they have ruled out the only sensible option)? What cuts will they make:

Voluntary sector - currently CBC donates about £600,000 to local voluntary groups. None of them is a loony left 'muslim lesbian single mothers coffee morning' group. They include the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Crawley CVS. Any cuts here will not exactly chime with the national Tory line about using voluntary and charitable bodies to do good in the community

Community Wardens - Labour was going to increase the number of them. If the Tories don't or even more cut them, will that make our streets safer?

Raid the bank - Crawley is one of the few councils in the country which has kept itself debt free. In fact, there's some money in the bank. The easy option would be to spend that money to keep council tax down. However, the interest on it is also used to keep council tax down. So if you dip into those reserves and don't decrease revenue demands, all that will happen is that the savings will disappear. I'm all for using that capital to invest to make savings. But a Council Tax giveaway - while popular - will erode the financial position long term.

One thing I do know - we need a decent, united opposition on the Council. Part of the problem with the group appears to me that they didn't notice that a majority of 16 had gone down to a majority of 1. You can afford posture politics sometimes, but not with a single vote at play.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Strange coincidence

I wrote the contents of that preceding post about two years ago. I deleted the old site that it was on and posted it here, in case anyone wanted to see some long winded rant.

And then I read an article in the Guardian about the history of 'Englishness':

Englishness is more about Crécy than cups of tea by Ian Mortimer.

Nine hundred years ago, England was a kingdom and its monarch was the "king of the English". A century later he had become the "king of England". But a Devonian in 1200 would not have considered himself of the same nationality as a Northumbrian. They spoke differently, dressed differently, had different building traditions, used regionally minted coins, observed different customs and even broke different laws. Their loyalty was personal, to their lord and king, not national... is a good thing that the debate about Englishness goes on and on without reaching a conclusion. The flag of St George that fluttered above Edward III's soldiers as they marched through France in 1346 now flies at international sports venues. We have shrugged off the militaristic connotations of the flag of St George and can wave it as an emblem of our diverse, confused, contradictory, multicultural English identity. But at the same time the flag speaks for 600 years of our history. Its symbolic power has developed along with the English nation. That says much more about Englishness than Stonehenge or a cup of tea.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The English - Who?

I consider myself to be English. I was born here, lived all my life here, in Sussex and in Manchester. But am I really? And what is it to be English?

Given the past millenium or so of history, one could be forgiven for thinking of England as a homogenous state, with a common language, culture and history. But look a little deeper and is that the case. 'English' derives from the Angles, a Germanic people who crossed the North Sea as the Roman Empire collapsed and colonised South-Eastern Britain. Their cousins the Saxons arrived alongside them, as well as the Jutes. All of these tribes had previously inhabited Denmark, Northern Germany and Holland (and to an extent the descendants of those they left behind still do). They supplanted and mixed with the pre-Roman Celts, who were displaced to the northern and western parts of Britain, forming their own kingdoms. However, they weren't the only ones to colonise 'England'. The Danes, who are more nordic, took control of much of Central Britain (Northern England), later on Vikings not only raided much of the coasts but settled in scattered parts of the islands. Not to mention that after a few hundred years of Roman rule, many immigrants from across the Empire had settled and mixed into the population.

Then came the Normans. Essentially they became our ruling class, and while there weren't many of themn, their culture became our 'high culture'. Anglo-Saxon and Danish culture was for the peasants. English as a language wasn't spoken much by our monarchs until the Wars of the Roses. Many of our Kings ruled from across the Channel - the nation under Henry Plantagenet was the 'Angevin Empire', a reference to its seat of power at Angers. The Hundred Years war confined 'England' to the island of Britain.

Meanwhile, England absorbed (or conquered, or partnered with, depending on your point of view) Wales, kept Scotland subdued as much as possible and viewed Ireland as a land of hostile pirates.

That was the last time 'England' really existed. With the Tudors winning (or stealing) the throne, Wales was less a colony as it had been under Edward I, and more of a partner. A hundred years later, with the acession of James I (VI of Scotland), the moves toward Anglo-Scottish Union began their 100 year long course. Ireland had an English colony in the Pale of Dublin, soon to be joined by the Scottish Presbyterian plantations into Ulster. Slowly, England ceased to be a separate country and became the senior partner in 'Britain'.

So what is England then? Britain minus the Celtic Fringe? What images are conjured up of 'England' on its own? And do we all share the same culture? After all, anyone can tell you that there is more variation in English dialects in the mother country than in the USA, a far bigger country. Cloth caps and whippets don't mix with pearly kings, or cream teas, or lager louts. Football, the real national game, doe unite us in its divisions, but then in Scotland, Italy or Argentina, the same could be said.

We look to writers like Orwell, or poets like Larkin, to comforting images (warm beer and cricket, bobbies on the beat, red pillar boxes, a dignified monarchy) to represent the core 'English values', but how representative are they now. And how representative were they 200 years ago? Do they only belong to a particular time-frame, when - by no coincidence - Britain (and by extension England) ruled the world, led the Industrial Revolution and sat down for a nice cup of tea at 3pm - when we could be more assured of our place in the world (dominance, naturally of a benign and paternal kind, unlike those horrid French or Spanish imperialists), when we spread the word of God through the CofE and the practice of commerce through trade (in everything from wool and cotton, slaves and sugar through to salt and steel), and before Germany, the USA and everyone else started to catch us up.

In fact these images appear to hark back to an age of complacency. We thought we ruled the world, and so ignored it (although not as much as the USA does today). We didn't so much have our place at the top taken from us, but lose it through resting on our laurels, and overstretching our colonial conquests.

So when people talk about the English, particularly when its those nationalistic fools on the Right, or the demagogues of the Left, what do they mean? And does their meaning bear any relation to the real England.

England is not homogenous, not really united. There are always going to be distinctions, the North-South divide, Town vs Country debates, not to mention the continually changing class issue.

Lets see how English we are. What do we drink - Beer. Now there's a nice English drink. Except that of course our most popular beers are lagers, which originate in Central Europe. English style Ale is enjoying a renaissence at the moment, after the dire days of the 70s, but still, most of the English (and particularly the young), steer weel clear of the brown, sometimes cloudy, brew in favour of something with bubbles but less taste (which is why you have to drink it cold).

What do we eat - Curry. Not always of course. We might go for a pizza, or a Chinese, or a burger perhaps. Even when eating in, the 'English' foods are the ones we eat because we have to, not because we like them. Of course we have a lot of nostalgia for Sunday Roasts, Hot Pot, Spotted Dick or Tapioca pudding, but these stodgy staples are in decline. Mainly because they are a product of the times when the English seem to have been proudest of our lack of adventure and lack of external influence in our cuisine. If we'd seen the food eaten by the late Tudors, with its spices mixed with fruits and meat, we'd have been looking at something closer to Middle Eastern food than our old favourites.

Here's where even my polemic starts to show up how hopeless it is to define what is solely 'English' (or even British) culture. The most popular beers are indeed lagers. And yet they are anglicised to a certain extent. There is a difference between continental beers (particularly those brewed under purity laws) and our own - even the ones with foreign names. Stella and Heineken in Britain are not the same as they are in Belgium or Holland.

And curry is the same. Yes, it is called 'Indian' food, and yes, it is rooted in the cuisine of the sub-continent (after all, a majority of 'Indian' restaurants are owned by people of Bangladeshi origin). But the food is not the same as one would find in India or Bangladesh. Two of the most popular forms of curry were invented in England. The Chicken Tikka Masala and the Balti are both developments designed to cater for the English palate, as indeed are many of the 'traditional' curry-house meals.

So perhaps this becomes rather circular - English culture borrows heavily from external influences. And those influences are in turn 'anglicised'. Maybe this is the core of out culture?

Maybe diversity - so disparaged by the neo-liberal literati - is something that every 'culture' needs. After all, British political satire has developed out of the political friction which we have been experiencing since the 17th Century. The clash between the values of 'freedom' and 'stability' has been at the very centre of political discourse. And to an extent both values lose out when they clash. Certainly stability is dependent not only on such staples as church, family, class, but also on economic wellbeing, the influences from outside a society and the extent to which people within it feel free to make their own way. Freedom can, if overly emphasised, cause major differences of opinion. Freedom of speech cannot be absolute if you also have freedom from slander or bigotry.

To a large extent, we look back at English history and (when not simply thinking of it as a list of monarchs, battles and other such dry statistics learnt by rote) see that the culture of England in the 18th Century was very different to that of today. For example, the monarchy was not held in such great regard. I know that there is a growing trend towards republicanism today, and the monarchy as an institution was probably more popular then than now, but the monarchs themselves were often figures of hate or at least fun. Partly this stems from the turmoil of the mid to late 17th Century when Charles I was beheaded, James II was subject to two rebellions of which the second was successful and when the religion of the monarch was to some extent more important than his rule. The other major factor of course was the end of the Stuart dynasty and the accession of the Hanovers, who at first couldn't speak English, and at the end of the 18th Century appeared to descend into decadency.

England was a much more agrarian society, we were barely moving into the Industrial Revolution, and that factor probably has done as much as anything to change our society and culture.

When I read or hear about English culture, particularly when the source is patriotic or right wing, I always get the same message 'We must preserve our culture against outside influences'. Firstly this begs the question 'who is "we"?' Secondly it begs the question 'Why preserve a culture which is a snapshot in time, when culture always changes regardless of its influences?' These two questions are sometimes addressed. The final question that always springs to my mind but is never answered is 'What IS our culture?'

It seems that Tories, the BNP and various commentators take it for granted that we all know exactly what they mean by 'English' or 'British'. Well I'm sorry, but as a reader will see from what I have written so far, I don't know what they mean.

So what are the staple influences used?

In literature it would have to be Shakespeare, probably more than Chaucer. But while Shakespeare was writing for an English audience, and many of his plays are English 'Histories', many of his plays are set abroad. Here is an Englishman, from the heart of the country, writing about depressed Danes, tragic Italian lovers and comedy Greeks. His themes are essentially human, his plays deal with ambition, revenge, love, betrayal, hope (and its loss), the battle of the sexes, war, and so on. That is why Shakespeare is so valuable, because just like Goethe, he's not simply addressing his own culture, he's showing us all of human life.

In art we look at Turner. And yet his influences must have been the Italian masters just as much as the English landscape.

I must say that I love my country. And thats whether you call it England, Britain or the UK. I am proud to be from here, I feel privileged to live here and be able to live as comfortably as I do. But an essential part of that is that I love the people and the place, not the institution. I couldn't care less if my town were an independant mini-state, or if I was a citizen of a world-state, I don't see a difference. Would it be so tragic if England or Britain were to cease to exist? What matters really is brass tacks, not esoteric notions of nationality. I identify with my friends, my family, my workmates, people who support the same football team, people who like the same music as I do. Does it matter what the colour of their flag is?

Selling off the team


Six months ago, Crawley Town was bought out by the 'SA Group'. They own a few bars and restaurants around the county, and don't seem to have any football experience. When they turned up they said the plan was to conver to full time Professional status over the season, then they suddenly decided to do it in August, causing chaos as some players weren't prepared to leave their day jobs.

After a reasonable start, the club were sliding down the table, so the long serving, successful and popular manager Vines was sacked, Alan Mullery was brought in to consult and his mate John Hollins got the job. Still second from bottom, but games are close (and have been all season).

Suddenly today the whole team are up for sale, their wages are cut (and I expect they are all getting advice from the PFA about breaches of contract).

I'm reading the comments on the boards - a protest of some kind is being discussed - probably a boycott of 'Redz' and a demonstration before and after the game.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Been a while...

Sheer slackness really.

The sheer drudgery of the football season, with Crawley bobbing around in the relegation zone and Fulham heading for mid-table mediocrity if they don't lose it, has not been much of an inspiration. Neither has the state of politics - every time I start thinking that the Labour Government is starting to respond to the Party and the people, they do something like the Education Bill.

And don't even get me started on the local council and the way that the Labour Group completely lost the plot over travellers. All I'll say is that after all the moaning about how we can never allow a Tory Mayor, or even Deputy Mayor, we got one anyway.

Oh well. In the meantime, I did get to find out about this:

The Evil Atheist Conspiracy

I'd join it, if it exists. Which it doesn't. Of course.