Sunday, 28 August 2011

Walking the line – a fine choice between boundaries and muscle

A lot of the media have recently started to write about the upcoming constituency boundary review due to three of the UK’s Boundary Commissions releasing their draft proposals this September. For those who don’t know; the Coalition’s Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 gave the Tories their reduction of parliamentary seats from 650 to 600 and gave us a poorly timed AV Referendum which we went onto lose, predictably.

-       It should be noted that according to 2010 GE manifestos, the Tories wanted a reduced number of 585 whereas the Liberal Democrats wanted a shocking 500 parliamentary seats!! This must have been a knee-jerk reaction to the MP’s Expenses scandal as the national casework quota never changes and so less MP’s just calls for more support staff and additional costs. I personally advocate 1000 Westminster MP’s whom represent 45 – 50,000 constituents each. It would make them that more representative to the public, would drive up accountability, strengthen ‘local ties’ and an efficiency drive in the sharing of cross-party parliamentary constituency resources would limit additional costs.

The review could see a big loss of seats for the Lib Dems!
Personal rant over! as we are where we are and where we are is a very difficult place indeed. I first thought this process would be biased in its criteria for the two government parties as had been the way in past boundary reviews. However, it looks like ‘equality’ is the name of the game as Lewis Baston of Democratic Audit, a research group working from Liverpool University has developed a boundary model where “Tories would lose 16 seats – 5.2% of their total; Labour would lose 17 – 6.6%; and the Liberal Democrats a crippling 14 – 24.6%”. It would then appear ‘equality’ is a selective game at that as numerically it’s equal but certainly not proportional. The process of dissecting and transplanting wards onto constituencies in order for their constituent total to range from 72,810 to 80,473 is going to be ruthless and will result in many a parties’ support base being split up and losing its majority significance.

With this in mind, the Liberal Democrats will need to consider their position on several fronts; our proposals and rebuttals towards the boundary review, the mandatory parliamentary approval that must be achieved by October 2013 and our longer-term view of the coalition and post-2015. All the parties will submit consultation responses to the four UK Boundary Commissions as well as attend consultative hearings, however, the final proposal will have good points and bad points – possibly including the loss of several Scottish Liberal Democrats and the narrowing of marginal seats. Mark Pack is leading the Liberal Democrat negotiation team on this and I’m confident he’ll do a sterling job but I do fear the final outcome.

How much longer can the friendship last for them?
One that will need to be voted on!! Question remains; should the Liberal Democrat leadership whip our MP’s into voting their own political execution? I don’t think they should nor could they if MP’s decide to revolt. This leaves us to consider our time in government, hopefully until May 2015 but potentially until October 2013. On the 2013 assumption, Nick Clegg has already sounded sensible cautioning on the UK’s low economic growth and the need for a longer timeframe as we see the country ease itself through the recovery. A change in economic reference is necessary as world events wash up against our economic shores but it puts into real doubt even the slightest glimmer of positive recovery in time for 2013.

A No vote by our MP’s would almost see the instant breakdown of the coalition as this is the Tories only plan in avoiding another hung-parliament and being ‘lumbered’ with us lot again ;). There is a possibility of a Confidence and Supply arrangement and this would see us continue to get some of our policies through but much less than in the Coalition Agreement. With the larger possibility of an Autumnal 2013 General Election and a sluggish economy, should we not consider exercising our recently acquired political muscles in order to leverage some more publically identifiable Liberal Democrat policies in the mean time? It’s a question of strategy and second-guessing – it’s a fine line between love and hate for the coalition partners.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Face to Face - Nick Clegg is wrong on this one!

Today DPM Nick Clegg went on the offensive against the rioters in order to build some resemblance of public confidence in the measures being deployed by the Government and their trust in the liberal democratic rhetoric that I believe is much needed at a time like this.

Nick might be on to something, but I seriously doubt it!
The announcement of a series of Probation Trust Payback Schemes should be welcomed as forcing all the rioters into prison will only give them the education they never received in the first place, however, this would be a higher education of crime and thus not delivering the reformed individuals our society is wanting to see. Instead, the punishment that the public want to see meted out can be properly balanced with the positive effects for the individual by making them work and rebuild their communities in the light of day, under the watch of those who they've hurt so much and whose some lives are permanently changed. I'm hoping a combination of embarrassment, public shame and an inner want to see their prospects truly changed will form an aspect of the personal foundations they each need in order to build a better life.

Unfortunately, all of this was going too well for Nick to receive a rousing applause and so he had to come out with a brow-raising demand such as "I also want them to face their victims" in order to 'understand its real people they've affected', an opportunity to explain why they did it and to apologise. Firstly, I hope he made these remarks under the assumed-expectation that no meeting would go ahead without any victims consent because these people have just gone through a week of hell and forcing them into confrontations when they don't wish it would be completely unacceptable.

That accepted, we still need to decide who, if anyone, will benefit from such an encounter? The rioter is unlikely to have changed their mindset or cultural values anytime soon and I strongly suspect they will see it as just another hoop in which to jump to freedom. Their explanations and apologies will be as carved, crafted and planned as the destruction they left behind them whilst going about their rampage last week. Kids at school get told to say sorry to one another and 'write a letter', for the most part, they quickly learn these are just formalities so that the teacher feels something has been achieved and it can all be patched over, patching over this civil bullying is not an option and the real solution needs to be much more comprehensive.

My suspicions aside, I do believe there is scope for some culprits and victims to understand one another. Without a face, its hard to place your emotions and feelings over the event. The rioter has for the most part not seen the victim and only see's the gains for themselves, likewise, the victim only sees the destruction and chaos around them whilst not understanding the person and their life behind the riot. There is room for understanding one another and it will form a paramount step in the renewed social cohesion that our society so badly needs after last weeks riots, however, I suspect if handled badly and participants poorly selected, then the outcome will only be more pain, resentment and confusion between the community groups.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

They’re sending us a message, even if they don’t know it!

It’s generally accepted now that there is no political agenda behind the chaos and utter destruction we’ve seen across our country these past few days. The heartbreaking and infuriating images splashed across our media have been one of mindlessness and complete loss of inhibitions towards our society. Many have said that the rioters (and this is a riot!) have no particular message, however, their actions are message enough and its our responsibility and duty to understand it.

The embodiment of a new culture's morality?
People are smashing windows, looting, handling stolen goods, driving with intent to kill, committing arson in broad daylight, in front of police and national TV news crews! 

This is evidence enough that their personal moral values are such that this behaviour is felt to be within their own realm of acceptability. What’s more, they’re committing these offences within a group and inter-related national community whereby they approve one another’s actions and collectively support this week’s events.

They don’t know exactly why they’re doing (apart from a perceived greed of consumerism) but we can tell that it’s a clear indicator of division of people’s morality. These riots have actually been an opportunity for an opposing minority culture to surface in the full light of day and amidst the flames of night. A slow decline in morality has been occurring over the last few decades and this was probably always to be its culmination.

Since the 1960’s, the concept of individual rebellion, loss of self-respect and the extent of personal aspirations have slowly declined and this decline has broadened across the class spectrum to cover a majority of the lower-income and middle-low classes. This has created a cultural space within our society for those with a superior sense of self-independence, a lack of awareness of their own potential and a related reduction in their future and aspirations. The reasons for this are of course complex and can easily be attributed to economics, social degradation and evolution (devolution?) of popular culture.

A question of right and wrong, different answers?
This space encapsulates grandparents, parents and children of differing ages and extent to which they possess this poorer morality. We as a society need to understand why this has occurred, the depth that their inhibitions exist to and how they can be reeducated. It can no longer be left to the parents, they too are morally diminished for the most part and so the responsibility, the duty to reestablish the majority morality has to be done by the community with the help of wider society and the state.

We don’t have time to punish them, although we cannot no longer support them to the extent we have done previously, we need to inject potential awareness, routes out of poverty and clear moral examples of what is accepted by society. The biggest lesson of this week is that they know we don’t approve of this behaviour but collectively and for some individually; their morals are skewed enough as to find this perfectly acceptable.


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

2050: Sweetwater announced as Britain’s worst housing estate

This could well be a future headline on the iPads of 2050 if the newly announced post-Olympic neighborhoods decline into poverty and criminality as has happened with previous large scale housing developments along the decades.

What is the future to hold for the Olympic Park?
Chobham Manor, East Wick, Marshgate Wharf, Sweetwater and Pudding Mill are the names of the estates that will take form on the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London over the next 20 years post London 2012. However, I do worry whether a series of economic and urban planning factors may well contribute to the creation of the next problem areas for which police, councils and central government will agonise over in the years to come.
East London has seen a lot of change throughout the past century including the regeneration of the Isle of Dogs into Canary Wharf. All of this urban and commercial regeneration has made notable changes to the skyline of our capital but not many positive changes to the people who live in their shadows and continue to live in some of the poorest areas of our great G7 nation.

Is it to be the continuation of Broken Britain?
The areas around the Olympic Park such as Tower Hamlets and Hackney were still experiencing poverty and poor social mobility before the recession; from 2008 onwards they have seen the worst suffering communities and loss of motivation in the country. My point is, even with all the economic investment on behalf of the Olympics, can they really hope to bring about urban and social regeneration in an inner-city region that is already plagued with poverty?

Moreover, the physical urban layout of these Olympic neighborhoods has clear advantages and disadvantages. Yes, there are considerably good travel connections with the A11 and A12 bordering the park on three sides along with Stratford International rail in the middle. However, what type of person is going to want or be forced to live in an area with major traffic thoroughfares and High Speed rail lines going through your local community? I’m envisioning it to be a mixture of city commuters and thankful yet hopeful social housing tenants.

With the impressive need of social housing in London especially, an opportunity such as this cannot of course be turned down but the type of areas these neighbourhoods will evolve to be is somewhat questionable. Most commuters will travel into the city for their entertainment and use their decreasingly fashionable yet practical ‘Olympic apartment’ for sleep only whilst those in social housing estates will struggle with an ever-changing set of neighbours, the continuous battle over social mobility and the catch-22 situation of having thriving industries on your doorstep.

It would appear that the area’s connectivity is going to be its greatest asset and greatest downfall; good for the flitting commuter put bad for the family that actually lives there day and night. The proportion of commuter/family residents is going to play a huge factor as its rather difficult to create a community environment with a non-existent neighbour who gets home late and leaves early for work. The future local councils of these neighbourhoods will need to organise initiatives and strategies for up-keeping that community spirit. Problem being that these are just flimsy words which are even harder to make a reality in 2050, the people and organisations that build and sell these new 21st Century estates in the coming years will be the ones with the true power to ensure the development of a prosperous East London.

Question remains; Will the lives of these residents still taste sweet in 2050 or instead bitter in the mouths of Sweetwater?

UPDATE on Conflict on this weeks Top Gear - a proper apology?

The JUDGEment was amongst many other outlets and frustrated disabled travelers who outpoured their disbelief in the fact that the BBC's Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May parked their electric cars in disabled parking bays whilst filming a segment for the popular Sunday night BBC2 programme.

The Disabled Motorists Federation and Disabled Motoring UK  were some of the biggest organisations to publicly judge Top Gear on their production choices. "By parking in a disabled bay it appeared Jeremy and James were condoning this antisocial behaviour and as some members put it – encouraging other selfish people to do the same" (Disabled Motoring UK).

'May ponders whether parking there was such a good idea?' - Photograph: BBC
The Guardian and Daily Telegraph were quick to jump on the story and highlight this blatant encouragement in an action which prevents so many people from going on about their day. Unfortunately, I do have to suspect whether this story would have received such increased media coverage if it were not for us being in the 'silly season' where media outlets try and stay hydrated in a drought of news that is deemed publicly interesting.

Nevertheless, the BBC were quick to respond, stating that they had permission from the owner of the car park and that it was purely a production team decision and not one made by the two presenters.  Andy Wilman, Executive Producer of Top Gear said "This was our fault, not theirs, and we unreservedly apologise to all the viewer’s we have upset as a consequence". Question will be whether they apologise in next week's episode and try to educate their young and male demographics that parking in these spaces may save you a bit of time, but can create a lot of hassle for those who can't park in the standard width parking bays which are too narrow to extend doors enough to use wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Top Gear has always be known since its reincarnation to be a volatile and boundary testing programme but it now needs to decide on which boundaries are not to be crossed and I think the encouragement of using disabled parking bays, when you don't have a blue badge is one of them!

Monday, 1 August 2011

London 2012 Paralympics – A real legacy for people with disabilities?

I was watching Newsnight last week and saw a discussion on the diversity and legacy potential of London 2012 with respect to the UK’s disabled population. Some of the remarks made by Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson I was in complete agreement with, whilst others left me perplexed and feeling somewhat cut off from whatever the organisers are trying to achieve.

She is right to say that legislation alone will do nothing to change the mindsets of the majority in our society who see disability as something to be scared of. The reason for this, as with many people’s fears, is because people are not aware of what different disabilities involve and the affects they have on people. Even after attending full state education, there are still some people who believe a physical disability automatically translates into having a learning disability; I’ve had grown professionals shocked by the fact that I can speak clear English, even though there is nothing to imply otherwise.

Nevertheless, whilst legislation does little for the publics’ mindset by itself, it does proactively champion a change in managerial attitudes within the public and private sectors. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and subsequent Equality Act 2010 have both implemented statutory duties that I believe contribute to the changing social attitudes through the public’s interaction with these sectors and their growing acceptance of the legislative themes of tolerance and equality.

Unfortunately, I do not agree with Tanni’s interpretation of how the Paralympics will bring about the greatest attitudinal change by “having the athletes here [which] will do more to normalise disability than anything we will ever see”. In fact, a very small percentage of the public will actually watch the Paralympics games in person or on Channel 4 and out of those that do, how many of them will make that tangible link between those elite athletes and the members of their local community who have a disability? I fear too many will compartmentalise what they’ve watched on TV between the interactions they experience in their community.

With respect to the legacy that London 2012 offers the 10+ million strong disabled population in the UK, I worry that it will actually encourage the exclusion already felt by many. We live in a celebrity driven culture where the ordinary man and woman aspire to the lifestyles lead by the few; increasing the representation of celebrities with a greater range of disabilities will do more good for attitudinal change than focusing on the most-able for just two weeks. I believe there is a real risk that those people who are less able will instead feel pushed aside by majority society and the objectives of the games themselves. Changing a public mindset will always be difficult and I truly believe that the Paralympics has the capacity to be a catalyst for change but their aims are again based on the inclusion of the few and not of the many. A real legacy would focus on all in an inclusive approach.

You should never try to make disability ‘acceptable’; you just need to allow people to understand and that in itself will erode their subconscious casual prejudices.

Conflict on this weeks Top Gear - no clear message?

Whilst watching tonight's Top Gear, I was not surprised but disappointed to see them parking in disabled bays. I know why they did it; because it provided a clear frame and looked good on camera. Additionally, there were empty bays at the time of shooting so visitors could still park. However, what disappointed me is the message they're sending out to their viewers, too many disabled drivers and passengers struggle daily to find accessible parking spaces and in too many instances do we come across people who are "just nipping in for 5 minutes" and prevent us from parking and getting on with our day.

Top Gear's audience demographic centres on 16 - 32 male viewers who tend to be easily influenced, subliminally more so. Seeing presenters and celebrities that they admire, going ahead and parking in these spaces makes it socially and culturally acceptable. This is never going to improve so long as shows like Top Gear carry on this sort of behavior.

Clarkson and May park their cars in disabled bays

Whats almost comical and definitely in direct conflict with their earlier actions is their piece on amputee Veterans who are competing in off road racing. These are the same people who will later go onto struggle with finding the very same spaces the presenters parked in. They were quick enough to praise the soldiers and how they're overcoming their disabilities and quite right too. But they're earlier influencing of the public's relationship to disabled people and the lack of respect and appreciation for the needs of those same people is only going to make those soldiers lives even more difficult, after promoting the support they need.

The BBC should reign Top Gear in over this hypocrisy, behaving one way because it suits them and then playing up the populist pro-veteran card whilst its respectfulness is in stark contrast with what they did previously.