Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year

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A new year has arrived, a new year when we all have our individual hopes, aspirations and expectations for the future. A year when visionaries may have their dreams fulfilled or perhaps just furthered a little more.

This time last year I summarised quite accurately the forthcoming main issues likely to dominate the headlines This year the future is a little more difficult to foresee as .so much will depend on the outcome of the forthcoming General Election. So much is dependent on the election result as to determine which direction the UK is likely to go in the world. So many topics from the NHS to Immigration are embroiled in the consequences election result itself.

  • General Election

  • Immigration

  • European Recession

General Election

I normally find in the year leading up to a General Election, it is possibly to sense the feeling of the public mood which gives s good indication of which way the election is likely to go. This is the first time I have not been able to sense any such a feeling. It is almost like there is some form on no-man’s land on the subject. There are certainly exceptionally strong feelings over issues like Europe and Immigration, but I think there is also a general sense of great public unease with all the main parties and how they will deal with these issues, if at all,  except in their election rhetoric.

It is almost certain that increasingly over the next few months we will be faced with a barrage of fatuous and equally hollow promises from political parties mixed in with acrimonious debate. They have already started with promises like a future road improvement programme. One such promise that is likely to effect myself in the West Country where I live is the main arterial road, the A303 from London being duelled along its length. Again locals have heard this same promise so many times before only for it to be cancelled yet again for economic reasons as soon as a new government takes control. Most locals take such promises with a ‘pinch of salt’ and will only believe it when it happens. The likelihood  of the next government using the time weathered excuse of ‘the current economic situation’ for pruning back this programme once again, possibly to the point where it becomes non-existent remains very high.

The only thing that seems reasonably certain in the next election from what I can sense from public opinion, is the Lib/Dems will fare badly, so badly that are likely to gain few, if any seats at all in Parliament.

Even with the Lib/Dems facing political annihilation in the election, it is still unlikely to be a straight contest between the Conservatives and Labour. There are now two new kids on the block that have surged into prominence since the last election in the form of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)  and the Scottish Nationalists.These upcoming parties are likely to heavily drain seats from the Tories and Labour particularly in areas where they had previously enjoyed strong support. So much so, there is a strong possibility no one party will have sufficient seats to form a government. If this happens then the future governance of this country is likely to be another difficult to manage coalition government with policies based on what can be salvaged from the wreckage of grandiose promises and what the economic situation will allow.

With these four parties having  almost diametrically opposed views on a number of policies, the likelihood of a sustained period of horse trading  to form a government between the parties remains high and it is likely the electorate will be left feeling cheated once again on issues like a European Referendum. I would not be at all surprised, unthinkable as it may be, if we end up with either Lab/Scot Nats, Lab/Con or even a Con/UKIP coalition with the support of a few individuals from other parties. It is as if the more traditional mould of British politics is about to be broken for a long time to come. Personally I detest coalition governments no matter what parties they are formed from. They certainly do not lead to strong government and are at best a watered down appeasement of each parties policies.

Immigration

Once again this is an issue likely to figure at the forefront of the election. One thing people most resent is not foreign visitors per se, but a overwhelming flood of people coming from abroad to reside in the UK and in so doing, changing the UK’s own culture in the process. Questions like how things like Education, Health Services, Housing and so on are expected to cope with suddenly increased numbers are valid questions that do not appear to be satisfactorily answered. A sudden increase of people for whatever reason means a strain on the housing market be it social or private. This in turn has led to higher property prices through supply and demand shortages, which in turn has squeezed many people through economic pressures out of the property market all together. Any party that takes away the prospect of people one day ever owning their own home has made a lifelong enemy.The rented sector which began to seriously decline in the 1960/70’s is once again booming but this time with exceeding high and eye-watering rent levels.Although the politicians have claimed immigration is economically good for Great Britain, that is not how it is perceived by much of the UK electorate.

Free migration by EU citizens within member states is a cornerstone policy of the EU. EU politicians claim that any attempt to reform this policy would require a treaty change and would need to be agreed to by all 28 member states. They also indicate that any such move is likely to be fiercely resisted. Despite paying a lions share in contributions to the EU, as many of the UK’s powers have been devolved to the EU by previous governments, political promises to reform immigration do seem to be dead in the water. A point that will not please many of the electorate and could well be a deciding issue in the General Election.

European Recession

Recent months have seen a collapse in oil prices. This is mainly due the the US now being able to exploit its own shale oil resources and reducing its dependency on the world oil market. Recession in other large oil consuming countries in the Far East and South America have added to a world surplus of oil. Petro economies reliant from both the sale of oil and oil taxes have seen their revenues fall. This includes the UK but other forms of income from services like banking are helping to off-set this loss. Had Scotland vote for Independence, their economy would have faced great difficulties.

Other European economies have faced a much slower recovery than the UK and some economists have forecast this could lead to a triple-dip recession in the Euro Zone. It is not possible to turn a blind-eye to this possibility or the effects yet another possible threat from possibly a new Greek government seeking to renegotiate the terms of its bail-out commitments.

Even though the UK is likely to suffer less from a possible recession, the fall in demand for exported goods with a likely rising value of the pound against the Euro would mean a reduced income for a UK government making the likelihood imposing even more harsher spending cuts at home.

The EU heavily criticised in the UK for apparent liberal and ever increasing spending policies irrespective of its member states financial realities, is likely to put greater financial demands on its more wealthier member states if it finds itself in financial difficulties. Again this is something unlikely to please the UK electorate.

All of the above factors are making the fortune teller’s crystal ball a bit murky for the next six months.After that things should become a little clearer although I am not so certain UK citizens will necessarily like what they see. On a optimistic note however, the UK’s future will probably be better than many others.

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February 2011


February is not my favourite of months during the year, however snow drops are in full bloom and daffodils shoots are growing furiously heralding an ever nearing Spring. Lighter evenings are now becoming more noticeable creating a general feel the sap will soon be rising even in myself. Even as I write the outside temperature gauge which sends a signal to my indoor weather station is showing 53° farenheit (11.7° C) which is remarkably mind for this winter month. This is something of a welcome respite after the recent savage weather conditions that the county has experienced. Those who use the centigrade scale must forgive me for still using Farenheit, it is however what I grew up with and to myself, I find Centigrade temperatures do not convey any real purposeful meaning when visualising external weather conditions. I am certain there are many more old-codgers like me who do the same.

Little is going on in the garden at the moment but I must soon start annual hedge trimming before new greenery starts to appear and birds start building nests in the hedges.

South Somerset where I live is mainly comprised of small villages. Even the local District Council logo is made up of a depiction of rural villages. One of the benefits of this scattered residential habitat is most villages have at least one or two public houses within their small communities. Over recent years this has give rise to many fine small restaurant developments as part of a public house, many of them are reliant on this business for their main trade. Unlike many large cities, my small part of the world now has the choice of numerous restaurants all serving well prepared meals at a very reasonable cost and with personalised attention. Given the rural nature of this area, driving to a public house/restaurant is still a necessity but again, most serve non-alcoholic beers allowing for an equally enjoyable time to all concerned.


 6th February 2011

Our bi-monthy community news letter recently arrived through my letter box, I would think that many of the villages in Somerset have something similar. My newsletter covers the villages of Ilchester, Limington, Northover, Podimore and Yeovilton which are naturally bound together by geography. I recall when I first arrived in Somerset to be pleasantly surprised the first time the newsletter arrived. London where I previously lived although a large a city, is still never-the-less comprised of groupings of many communities that merge into each other. In the 45 years I lived in London, I never once saw a community newsletter in any of the districts where I lived. It is hardly surprising that outside of adjoining neighbours in London, many people are complete strangers to each other.

I find our local newsletter very informative with details of forthcoming local events, local council decisions and issues with planning applications and outcomes. There are usually a number of well written articles, some covering local events and history while others are much broader based in both content and location. The local CoE also devotes time to broadcast local church news without sounding like a sermon. Advertisements for the butcher, baker and candlestick maker as well as many other sundry local undertakings abound throughout the news-sheet. I find the advertisements very useful in not only subsidising the cost of the free newsletter, but also useful for a first point of contact should one require an external service. Somerset I have found is an area if one needs advice about a subject ranging from building work to good restaurants, one only has to ask a friend or neighbour for an entire chain of helpful knowledge and contacts to be forthcoming.

National crime maps is a subject recently in the news, These can be found at  http://www.police.uk/. These maps give a breakdown of actual or reported crime both by an area and a street by street basis. I could not get through the link on the first day of operation as apparently the computer crashed due to overwhelming demand nationally for information. Now that things have settled down a bit, I was pleased to see my own village showed a zero in every category of crime. Out of curiosity I looked at my previous London location to find the streets around the previous district where I lived littered with markers indicating burglaries, street crime and other types of offences. I wonder if these new crime maps will have an impact on houses prices in districts that show high levels of crime?

Prior to the online availability of these new crime maps, another Government/Police based crime map was available. I however found this map most unhelpful and meaningless. The previous map showed the entire county of Somerset to be “average” in crime. Bristol was the only location showing above average. To me this posed the question of what “average” crime meant? Did average mean two garden sheds broken into over a period of a few years or, did average mean several murders a day on the same street? I suspect on that on that national crime map a broad-brush of statistics were applied that left a pointless outcome. I did ask about the meaning of average crime on this map at a meeting of local Neighbourhood Watch representatives with the Police. Unfortunately as they were not the composers of this particular national crime map, although they understood the points raised, they could not answer the question.

 


11th February 2011

Yesterday, the leaders of the three main political parties visited the West Country with two coming to Yeovil. The pleasant small market town that comprises Yeovil only takes ten minutes or less to drive through and is where I do most my shopping. Historically, Yeovil was the glove making centre of the UK producing up to 95% of all gloves made. Like many industries, times change and glove making is now all but past history. Augusta Westland in now the major employer that dominates the town and is always a magnet for visiting politicians and notables. It was also the same location which became known as the Westland Affair in the 1980’s which led to the then Defence Secretary Michael Hesletine walking out a cabinet meeting and announcing his resignation.

The West Country is traditionally Liberal Party country but the recent debacle over increased university student fees has more than ruffled a few feathers. Apparently Nick Clegg the leader of the Liberal Party found the visit a little uncomfortable as people voiced their thoughts. I wonder how much forward thinking consideration was given to the effects of breaking an unbreakable pledge so soon after coming into power in a coalition government.

At the turn of the 20th century, there was effectively  only two political parties capable to forming a government, The Conservative and Liberal parties then known as the Whigs and Liberals. With the formation of the Labour Party, voters who traditionally vote Liberal moved their voting allegiances in droves to the new Labour Party effectively leaving the Liberals in the national government wilderness ever since. Due to the electorates intense dislike of the Labour Party, recent election results left the Liberals in the position of King Maker who threw their hat into the ring with the Conservatives. After only a few short months in shared government, the firmest of election pledges was broken for which I suspect they will pay a high price at the next election. Excuses for broken promises may be fine for politicians but not the electorate. Most politicians weasel their way out of political promises with feckless excuses. European, Union and Referendum are words that spring to minds in recent times. But to break such a firm pledge is such a short time means that any other undertaking that may be given will be viewed with immediate distrusting scepticism by the voting public. It’s like making a rod for your back for life.

I am not certainly not knocking any particular political party as personally I do not think any of them are fit for purpose at the moment. It will probably take a few more politicians to fall on their swords before one credible party rises like the Phoenix from the flames.

As for the visiting politicians, they left as rapidly as they came following their whirlwind visits, leaving the people that really run the country to get on with their lives.

 

 


24th February 2011

 The connection between Somerset and the Middle East may seem somewhat remote but the recent troubles sweeping through that region arouse not too distant memories. In 2006 similar troubles arose in Lebanon which involved the rapid evacuation of British nationals from that country. The response of the Government of the day was swift. Naval ships including aircraft carriers, (we still had both in service at that time), moved into that area of the Mediterranean Sea. I also recall watching from my garden, a flight of Sea King helicopters from the Royal Naval airbase at Yeovilton which adjoins my property, leave in formation on a 24 hours flight to Cyprus. At that time the Sea King helicopters were about 25 years old but have proved to be an immensely reliable workhorse. The flight involved a number of refueling stops in various Nato countries but despite the long distance, the Sea Kings managed the flight with ease. The following day the helicopters were involved in ferrying stranded British nationals from the troubled shores of Lebanon.

Now only five short years on and again we have need to evacuate British nationals but this time from Libya currently being torn apart by internal strife. What is the Government response this time? It is a very weak, swift on words but short of action response as one might expect from a government constantly trying to appease its coalition partner. Other European governments took immediate steps to evacuate their nationals while our government was still trying to charter aircraft. Five years ago troubles abroad were foreseen and an aircraft carrier was moved into the area in advance to assist in evacuation. Now we have reduced aircraft carriers with no aircraft and a reduced naval fleet. We still do have large transporter aircraft which could be used in an emergency although the government is closing some of their bases. However, being stranded at Tripoli Airport as upheaval and bullets tear the city apart does not appear to be deemed a sufficient enough emergency to use the transporter aircraft.

I do hope this Government never have to deal with a real national crisis, but I do foresee if the Alternative Voting system (AV) is accepted in a forthcoming referendum, we can constantly expect similar indecisive action from a string of coalition governments that will be inevitably be elected as a result.

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