champagne and chips

“Mature, and depressing” was how I summed it up. Like the day you decide not to stay up late to masturbate over the Television X “ten minute preview”.

My decision was the big black line drawn through the one word question; “Laptop ?”. My April “budget” now reads like a list of actions rather than objects; nights out, at least two Burscough home matches, and payment of bills. I daren’t deal with percentages: over half my monthly wage is gone before the sun rises on pay day weekend…

Not having a laptop (and therefore regular internet access) is my biggest personal problem at the moment. Well, that and not bringing socks in from the washing line in time to avoid a passing storm. Oh, and eating most of an Easter Egg for breakfast this morning, that weighs pretty heavily, too. But let me focus on internet access for the time being. It’s not that I am the archetypal geek who misses live-tweeting Question Time and updating Wikipedia at 2 in the morning – as much as that truly is missed – it’s the very fact of being ‘locked away’ from a world I have grown accustomed to over ten years of dial-up and broadband access. Yes, okay, I have wandered into the 4chans and meme factories of the ‘net as much as anyone; I am with the Finns on this, Internet access is a human right, as important to business leaders as the child in a high-rise aspiring to be the best they can be in the world outside their flat.

It may sound somewhat like a sulk, and perhaps after nearly a year without access at home, my mild annoyance at having nothing to do when the television lets me down is close to developing into something less admirable.

I will land on one side of the argument, though. By deciding against buying a laptop this month, I have freed up spends and been awfully sensible about the use of my wage over a 5-week month. And that’s far more sensible than I have been recently.

This week Alistair Darling is set to read out Gordon Brown’s election budget, much like the Queen is forced to read Labour’s manifesto at least once a year. Oh for either Darling or Liz to bring their own script to Parliament.

In the case of Darling, he knows Brown cannot wait to get rid of him, which makes the cowardice over the Budget details all the more depressing. If it was me – and Good Lord, can you imagine that! – I wouldn’t let the Prime Minister within stapler-throwing distance of the Budget Speech until it was too late to change so much as the break in the first paragraph. Brown, responsible for the longest and deepest recession in British history, taking low income earners to 20p tax rate, and every other economic shit-storm since 1997, may well fail to impress this week in any case, given UNITE’s attempt to ensure every last detail of 1979 is recreated in colour prior to the election on May 6.

Darling does not want a “give away budget”, exactly the opposite to Brown, who would prefer to plunge into the bottomless pit [as he sees it] of debt to ensure more votes are bought for Labour in seven weeks time. Darling would be best to outline exactly how he intends to deal with the deficit and growing numbers of “invisible unemployed”, signing Brown up to a deal he cannot escape. Clearly in my current state I would prefer a £1,000 “citizens payment” straight into the bank accounts of everybody through some form of the fabled Robin Hood Tax. That personal moment aside, I am a Liberal Democrat, where fairness in the tax system has been at the centre of our policies for longer than Brown has been plotting to parachute Ed Balls into Number 11. And that’s a long time, readers.

I would have used this blog to vent spleen on the latest tabloid target – the legal high “MCat” or “drone”. However, given how well it is written, I leave you in the sensible hands on this subject to Charlie Brooker

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Fall of Gordon


Peter Hennessy’s “Prime Ministers – the Job and its Holders” is one of my most well-thumbed reference books. Each post-war PM is treated with care and consideration, with a chapter heading as concise as they are cutting. John Major is the “solo-coalitionist”, Tony Blair introduced by “command and control”.

So what if Hennessy updates his book to include Gordon Brown? What chapter heading then, what treatment given through the window of recent history? “Flawed by design, floored by events”, perhaps?

It was always clear before the relaunched Observer gave up its pages to the newest allegations that Gordon Brown is a man of short-temper and bullying tactics. It’s how he got the job of Prime Minister in the first place; influential blogger Guido Fawkes has been detailing these allegations for years.

That Brown has mental instabilities is not the sole reason behind wanting him to lose the next election. Pick any of the disastrous policies of this Government from 1997 to the present day for more than enough – from the billions wasted on Trident renewal to decrease in civil liberties through the continued scandal of child poverty levels, lack of funding for public transport, and of course the £800bn national debt. Every failure of the Labour “regime” has Brown’s fingerprints all over them.

The “clunking fist” can barely keep a grip on the ramshackle, tumbledown caboose that is the current Government, of which he has been the over-controlling keeper of the purse for too long.

That Downing Street has been in smear mode for most of today should come as no surprise, either. This Government has run a parallel news agenda to the rest of the media since Tony Blair became its leader; there is the news, and there is the New Labour Reality Information Service, and occasionally the latter will force the hand of the former while rarely vice versa.

Brown, as a leader, is finished after the events of this weekend. He has been lucky to have lost so many Blairites from his Cabinet, so as to dampen the blow of any backbench rebellion, but regardless of this quirk of history, the man has very few friends left to rely on. The allegations of bullying have been around for too long for them to be so easily dismissed by Harman and Mandleson; and events from the “election that never was” and the 10p tax shambles prove Brown can not be trusted to make a single decision without flapping around in a haze of indecision.

Were he a good leader with a short-fuse, very little of this mud would stick. But he is far from a good leader. He has dragged this country to about as low as it can possibly get. Nation-changing, life defining general elections rarely come around very often – after 1979, and 1997, this forthcoming 2010 vote is one of those rare moments.

Show Labour that you cannot afford to trust their policies or unreliable leader any more. Use your vote in 2010 to remove them from power.

The picture comes from this entry in Iain Dale’s blog

Mark Hendrick goes fishing

0.1% growth. The country is a sneezing fit away from flat-lining. Little wonder our dear leaders were not doing much vox-pop yesterday, given the last three months has seen the end of the longest, deepest recession in modern times marked by the slightest possible increase. Well, not even an increase, all told. If the ONS revise the figure downwards later in the year Gordon’s legacy will surely be complete.

If Labour MPs struggling to find anything positive to say about their 12 years in power – what with the aforementioned recession, the increasing deficit, out of control public spending, ID cards, illegal invasion of Iraq, growing gap between rich and poor no better than it was in the 1970s, and so on – they could do worse than to take a leaf out of the book of Preston MP, Mark Hendrick.

One time MEP for the former European constituency of Lancashire Central, Hendrick won the 2000 Preston by-election by a comfortable(ish) margin. He has certainly fostered some kind of reputation, largely for not once voting against the Government line (in a University town he voted for tuition fees, smart enough. Then voted for the Iraq war. Good man. And the DNA database. Everything in fact. Yes-man to the core. Loyalist to a T.)

Well now Hendrick has really taken the proverbial biscuit. Not able to reach for something positive to come from the disastrous calamity that has been Labour in power, he has taken to flooding middle-ranking Ministers with questions that should be prefixed “Could you ensure the answers are easy to copy and paste into my next election leaflet?”. These are such blatant electioneering questions it’s amazing they’re even allowed. Hendrick is wasting our money trying to find content for his election addresses. A scandal by any other name…

But, hang on! Is he actually getting anywhere with this fishing expedition? It seems not. For the good folk in the foothills of Government are not giving Hendrick the kind of answers he’d prefer for his next issue of “The Rose”.

For example…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many women resident in Preston have been awarded the Sure Start Maternity Grant since its introduction.

To which comes the answer…

Helen Goodman (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions; Bishop Auckland, Labour)

The information is not available

Okay, what about…

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many and what percentage of suspected cancer patients resident in Preston saw an NHS consultant within two weeks of referral in each year since 1997.

Nope, not quite got a good enough answer for his press release here neither…

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The two week wait for all cancers was introduced from 2000 (HSC1999/205).

Data for the period 1997-2002 is not available.

There then follows a table detailing the information for Lancashire’s Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Try again, Mr Hendrick! Try again!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much funding his Department has allocated for the treatment of heart disease and cancer care in Preston in each year since 1997.

Ann Keen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health; Brentford & Isleworth, Labour)

The information requested is not collected centrally.

And again, Mark, come on, you know you can do it!

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Transport how many miles of priority bus lanes have been introduced in Preston since 1997.

Sadiq Khan (Minister of State, Department for Transport; Tooting, Labour)

This information is not collected centrally.

Oh dear! Will an answer ever come?

Mark Hendrick (Preston, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the percentage change in numbers of (a) overall recorded crimes, (b) recorded violent crimes, (c) burglaries and (d) vehicle thefts in Preston has been since 1997.

Alan Campbell (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Tynemouth, Labour)

Information is not available in the form requested.

Oh fail! Oh shame!

The disgraceful behaviour of Mark Hendrick should really not go unreported. This man is clearly not asking questions for the people of Preston; he is dealing with his own re-election. It’s a total waste of time, effort, and money. But clearly it is alright for the man whose expenses claims included quite a lot of cash for a comfier bed. I do hope he can sleep well at night…

pennywise

Thatcher’s children turned 18 with the country on an economic high and confidence soaring. Blair’s children turn 18 at a time of deepening recession and unemployment touching 3 million. Such are the circles of history and the echoes which come from whoever is writing the great story of life.

Okay, yes, I know that things are not so simple, but try arguing with ultra-loyal Labour supporters about the real reasons behind the current economic problems faced here and world-wide. They deny that £800bn debt (and climbing) is of any real concern. Gordon Brown was looking somewhere else, doing something different, it was the Bank of England really, nothing to do with anyone on the Government benches. It is such cowardice from Labour and their more vociferous supporters which makes their certain defeat in 2010 all the better to look forward to.

As I wrote some weeks ago this month has turned out to be the complete opposite of what I was expecting. To have only around £7 to stretch out across three weeks is entirely my own doing. How I have lived, and what I have experienced, puts the national politics and economic headlines to one side. I do not want to come across as enjoying these past few weeks, acting like some kind of “poverty tourist” doing it for show.

It has been rather humbling, if nothing else. My 9o’clock or 10o’clock jaunts to the “reduced to clear” aisles as Tesco reminded me how much food waste there must be in this country, and how many people must live without the spare cash available to impulse buy or stock up on expensive treats. “Invisible poverty”, the reality of life behind closed doors, is something which affects thousands of people across the country. Thousands of pensioners who have to choose between heating and eating; a growing number of millions who cannot find a place back on the job ladder.

The first week following the discovery of my less-than-a-tenner situation has been something of a struggle. Entirely my own doing, I have to stress how much I realise this. I have become quite the fan of cut-price hotdogs and sell-by-date skimmed milk. Walking to work – five miles each way – is still hard to master. At Bamber Bridge I start something resembling a hurried trot: I must resemble a sit-com bridegroom late for the wedding after a list of “hilarious misunderstandings” and “you couldn’t make it up” situations.

I had to bite my tongue whenever a beggar asks “Do you have any spare change?”, as strictly speaking I actually don’t, which is different to the times I shake my head and mumble something indistinct about having ‘nothing to give’, whatever that means. As I type this – free Internet!, such things now become welcomed with open arms, thank you, thank you Lancashire County Council! – my bank balance is around £2.70. This should be fine, though, I’ve stacked up on Aldi Shredded Wheat and cup-a-soups. People from work are being quite generous with left overs and unwanteds.

But it’s not a situation I want to repeat. This is a window into another world; of actual poverty, of real life for thousands in this country and millions around the world. Unlike my temporary inconvenience, a lack of money and no guaranteed access to food is the reality for those in developing countries and so-called developed Western superpowers. It’s a bit much, I admit, taking one man’s overspending into the context of starvation in the poorest countries on Earth, but it takes a little of “you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone” to put things into context.

However – and it’s a big “however” – having said all this, and with two weeks of struggle and lack of food still to go, this pay day weekend will be marked by a night of spending money with some abandon. It is surely my right to acknowledge the achievement of living this way by having one or two swift ales and the best darn foodstuffs So! Noodles has to offer of an evening…

…isn’t it…?