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1968

scan_pic0506In 1968 I was very cold.

I was sleeping on the floor of my university administration block which had been occupied by us students. The administration had turned off the heating. Why was I there? I was seventeen and had had very little political education or leanings. My motivation was probably similar to that of George Orwell who arriving in Catalonia with, he said, a similar lack of political education, just felt that the revolution was something he wanted to participate in. Given that Orwell went to the front in a shooting war, my experience might be described as two or three octaves down the scale.

The University union was run by a selection of elected officers, generally left wing but also pragmatic, often focussing on the sabbatical that the president received and on the catering and entertaining requirements of the student body. The turnout in the student elections was generally low. But that year, revolutionary enthusiasm had gripped campuses across the land. The mechanism employed to mobilise this enthusiasm was the extraordinary general meeting (EGM), which according to the student union constitution, could be called if a certain number of people could be gathered to propose it. An EGM is nothing exceptional. It is a standard feature of many constitutions and almost always in those of public and private commercial companies (now just referred to in company legislation as a General Meeting). An EGM was called and it authorised the occupation.

As the days went on opponents to the direct action mobilised and called their own EGMs and more and more students became involved and many more voted than had ever done so in the regular annual elections, and support for the occupation increased. At the last meeting the students filled the main hall of the university.

Then the administration announced that it could no longer carry on university business. It was suspending lectures and would not award degrees. A further EGM was called. So many attended that it had to be held outside and the numbers were counted by passing through arches. The vote went against the militants, the occupation was called off and, in that context, 1968 was over.

I think this episode throws some light on Brexit because a referendum is a form of EGM for UK PLC. But the authority of the EGM depends on the ability of those affected to call it. Without that, all you have is a snapshot of opinion at one point in time. If we have no mechanism for calling another referendum, then what does that say about the authority of the original? If only parliament can call a referendum then how can that referendum have any authority independent of it ?

I obviously hope that just as in 1968, at some stage the reality principle will kick in and we will think again. And, however big a majority may be, there can always be a bigger. But I don’t think we have reached the stage for our second EGM yet. I think we may reach it at some point. The “will of the people”, after all, is a moveable feast.

I don’t regret joining in the occupation. It’s core demand was that students should have a say in the composition of their studies and the principle that those involved should have a participatory role in their government at the most immediate level is one I still hold. I hold it locally as a member of the Patient Participation Committee championing co-production in the running of my local NHS, and nationally as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, themselves the champion of localism in politics in the UK generally.

I think the photo is of Gerald Hitman who was a leading figure in the occupation. He later became a controversial property developer and died in 2009.

2011 revisited – the Coalition, the Deficit and the Debt.

A piece published by Hackney Liberal Democrat Councillors in N16 magazine, 2011.

The Hackney Lib Dem councillors have made it clear that for them it is “Hackney First” and Lib Dems are as worried as anybody that the impact of the cuts should not fall disproportionately on Hackney. That is why, for example, we have joined with the majority party to call for the retention of the Educational Maintenance Allowance.

But since some people feel that our party has gone back on our principles by joining the coalition it is time to say something about why we did it, what we gave up, and what we have achieved.

Labour gave us identity cards, DNA databases, imprisonment without charge, detention camps for children, overbearing scrutiny of private and public lives, erosion of civil liberties. It waged illegal war in Iraq, created massive civilian casualties and costed our soldiers’ lives. It embarked on a massive increase in public spending, building up an unsustainable deficit for which we are now paying. We could not easily join with such a party. In any case, the figures did not add up – and they did not want it.

Alternatively we could plunge the country into anarchy or allow a weak conservative government to continue alone during the worse financial crisis for generations. Or we could join and influence the coalition even if it meant giving up some of our own policies. We chose to join.

The public arena is now dominated by the need to reduce public expenditure – the cuts. This will inevitably hurt the poor most. Are the cuts really necessary?

Imagine a family which for years spent £5 for every £4 earned and borrowed to make up the difference.  It is the £1 which is the deficit,  a deficit leading to a debt. That is our situation in the UK. It is not just having the debt – it is the ball and chain of interest payments which go with it. For every £1 we spend on the NHS, we spend another 42p to service debt.

The debt is not wholly Labour’s fault; the deficit is. The debt can only be managed if the deficit is reduced. That is why we support the cuts.

But not blindly. We are determined the cuts will be as fair, and to achieve as many of our manifesto promises, as possible. We are now yoked to a very different party. We believe in liberty, the Conservatives in authority; we believe in equality, they in differentials; we believe in society, they think there is no such thing. But we have caught the Conservative party at its most liberal and, before it starts to swing back to the far right we can work with it to produce good results, even at this fraught time. What have we achieved ?

We have taken 880,000 low earners out of the tax system and this number will go up each year. We have invested £9 million in stopping tax evasion, raised capital gains tax to equal income tax, restored the link between pensions and earnings and scrapped the compulsory retirement age, introduced a banking levy, set up a Green investment bank and scrapped the ID card programme. There will be no replacement for Trident this parliament. There will be a judicial enquiry into rendition and torture. We have ended child detention. Gay men, for that alone, will no longer have a criminal record.

These are manifesto pledges we have carried out. Equally important is reform of the bureaucratic and over-regulated state that Labour and the Tories have left us. Power is returning to local bodies, the pupil premium will go directly to schools and we are simplifying the early years foundation stage and the national curriculum.

We wanted to reduce the cost of University education. That has failed. We have, after all, 57 out of 650 MPs. But we have capped the fees at £9,000 when our partners wanted no cap at all.

The financial situation and the extent of the cuts mean that many people will be hard hit and most of them will have a good case to complain . We must listen to them and do everything we can to assist with problems. But cuts must come, sooner or later, and we also have to say, “if not from you, then from whom? If not now, when?”

Photos of the Roof

Traffic on Lordship Park

A number of Manor Road and Lordship Park residents met up with Cllr Rosemary Sales and officers to consider parking and speed problems on their roads

What did the Lib Dems achieve in the coalition?

My Adventures in the EU (Referendum 3)

2016-06-02 15.00.51I just came back from Wales.

What struck me on the motorway was the number of European lorries carrying stuff, lots of stuff, up and down. It seems pretty clear that whatever we do, Europe is always going to be our major trading partner.

I have spent my life mostly working for and running SMEs, small and medium enterprises. These are the concerns that are often said to be least in favour of the EU and to be looking forward to less “Red Tape”. How does the EU actually affect us? How has it affected me?

Lets take Joe. Joe is an antique dealer. He sells a van load of antiques to a dealer in France to be delivered to his shop. The bill of sale gives the address. When he gets there the customer says, unload half here and take the rest to my other shop on the other side of town. No problem. But Joe is stopped by the police, the address he’s going to is not on the bill of sale. He is operating a commercial vehicle in France without licence or any documentation. Joe’s van is impounded. OK, this was told to me. I’ve never met Joe. In my opinion Joe may be an urban legend. But lots of stuff like this, perhaps on a smaller scale, used to happen and can’t happen now. Perhaps its no concern of yours if Joe loses his van, or is too frightened to trade into Europe or loses his livelihood or is just poorer, but there are quite a few Joes and Joe may be your customer, your relative or your friend.

In the seventies I worked on rock festivals. Legal wasn’t my field but I knew from colleagues that getting documentation for visiting musicians from the states was a nightmare. I don’t know how bad it is today but it would be a serious setback for entertainers if those rules were applied to Europe.

http://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home/News/2016/Apr/MU-position-on-Europe

In the eighties I worked for a company importing chairs from Spain. The chairs had to be bought by container. They had to go to Rotterdam first and used to get stuck there. We needed a customs agent at Felixstowe. Nowadays stuff like that comes in smaller quantities, in a van to the door. We pay by cheque or BACS.

Let’s think about K. They are a company that designs and sells furniture (I spent fifteen years running a furniture shop). K used a factory in Poland to make their furniture. One day the factory decided it could sell the furniture itself. In business you try to protect yourself against this sort of thing but it’s not always possible. K could have given up but they went to Poland, bought their own factory and filled their orders. It was a difficult time but most of their customers (including me) stuck with them and they survived. They mght have been able to do the same without EU rules but probably not quickly enough.

How about Shirley. Shirley’s parents split up and her siblings live in the UK. Shirley is very attached to her family and wants to join them here. She finds an employer and gets a work permit. Her employer knows she is a unique employee, will be an asset to their business and the Home Office agrees. But a junior diplomat in the embassy with a quota to make refuses her a visa. The employer appeals and wins but it’s a year later and Shirley has started a career in her own country. This is a real story, “Shirley” is a real person and is an American citizen. I was the employer. If Shirley’s mother had moved to the EU rather than the USA she would be here with her family now. You may think this is a good thing, that an English person should have that job and in any case we’re full up but I have never filled that position.

Later, one of my colleagues spent three years supervising a team of mental health workers in northern Germany. They would visit them every one or two months and do the rest on Skype. Apart from earning money this gave us some insight into Germany’s social care and mental health system and allowed us to spread ways of working that are not much appreciated in this country. EU rules allowed us to do this.

So I’m fairly positive about the EU but I realise there’s a cost for it. If people and vehicles and goods are to move freely than they have to pass similar driving tests, similar MOTs and the goods have to be of similar quality. And that means usually to the most strict standards applied by any member state. If you buy a German mattress for example, it will be made to British fire safety standards even though Germany never had these standards before and fought hard against having them imposed. If you have free movement of professionals then they have to be trained and regulated to a similar standard, maybe a standard that is alien to your own traditions. And all of that makes life more expensive. This, it seems to me is one of the “legs” on which the Brexit argument stands. And its a real argument. The problem is that if Europe is always going to be our major trading partner then we need a lot of this regulation to sell to them anyway. And other trading partners will and do impose their own requirements – but you have heard all this already if you’re interested in argument.

Next: A motorcyclist looks at the EU

Poems on houses

DSCF8341This is written on a wall in Den Bosch. There is something of a tradition of writing poetry on house walls in Holland. It’s called,

 

ghe Quetste

 

Ben ic van binnen,

Doorwont mijn hert so seer,

Van uwer ganschen minnen

Ghe Quest so lanc so meer.

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ic en can gherusten dach noch nachte;

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ghi sijt alleen in mijn ghedachte.

 

Google tells me that it is a 14C anonymous poem but its translation left something to be desired.

 

I’m from inside,

Does my deer so hurt,

Of your goose memories

Ghe Quest so lanc so much more.

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ic and can regret either neither nor nor;

Waer ic mi wend, waer ic mi keer,

Ghi sits alone in my ghetachte.

 

So I had a go basing it mostly on English Homophones and looking up individual words sometimes removing the “h”. “Lanc” was a killer. Perhaps someone can translate in properly but here is my go.

 

The Journey

 

I am like ice inside

My heart is sore

From memories of you.

This journey is long and gets more so

Wherever I go, for how many times,

I feel regret, day and night

Wherever I go and for however many times,

I sit alone with my regrets.

 

Or more freely (with no attempt at the rhyme scheme)

 

My heart is sore and icy

From memories of you.

This journey, long and longer,

Provides no other view.

The powers of time and distance

Cannot ease our divorce,

Nor novelty, nor friendship

Decrease my self-remorse.