Thursday, December 14, 2006

Can you spot a trot?

Today Jack Straw told the lobby that
"Since I was I teenager I've had the ability to spot a trot at fifty yards."

Does he really? Does anyone else share this amazing ability.
In order to find out, we present our first ever.... Trotty report.
See how well you know your trots. If you see Jack, print it out and see how well he does.
...and no, they're not all Trots, though they've all come close in one way or another.

(and by the way, the fact that when you google Janine Booth, you get this link as the first result nearly made me drop my cup of tea. Oh, the irony, the horrible, horrible irony.)

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Jolly Good Post, this.

by the Hamers, some of whom are apparently of the female persuasion and look just like the Pussycat Dolls. That's what they meant, right? I was just thinking of the gyrating Hamers with a contented smile.

Go read, and never darken your MPs doors with a postcard campaign again. Just write a green ink job about aliens taking over your brain. At least that will give the poor ducks some pleasure.

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Small interview, Not many hurt.

I've resisted blogging too often about the "cash for honours" enquiry, mostly because while I love my own opinions about most things, my own opinions about this is coloured by nothing more than near total ignorance.

That ignorance still remains, so I won't comment on the substance of the PM's questioning at all. I don't know what he was asked about, how serious the various lines of enquiry are, and if his questioning differed from that of Michael Howard.

Still, I can't help but feel a slight sense of pleasure that the frothing at the mouth brigade have been denied their orgasmic spasm.

What ever will Guido's commenters post about now?

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The murder of prostitutes.

Watching the news yesterday and today, I reflected on the difference between the political debate of the day on family breakdown and the news of the day the three murders of prostitutes in Ipswich.

A few years back, I read Nick Davies' book "Dark Heart". Published in 1998, it begins with a description of the author being approached for sex by a boy of ten or eleven, in my home town.

This chance encounter led Nick Davies to try and discover what had happened to this boy, his friends, and from there he went from inner city to inner city, from youths who burnt out pubs to families trying desperately to hold their area together.

Dark Heart is not a party political book. It is about individuals, families, communities trying to hang on on the face of overwhelming odds.

One of the things that caused me to read the book with a desperate haste was how much it reminded me of my childhood.

I grew up in a red light district, and my street was mentioned twice in the opening pages.
I remember looking out of my bedroom window and seeing the street walkers opposite.

I remember seeing the most prefectly executed mugging. A woman stood on a street corner, a car drew up. She went over to the passenger side and as she did so a couple of men ran to join her, relieving the John of his money. Chances of the crime being reported? Pretty small.

I can't help but think he deserved it. Those women were so broken, so used that even now I can't think how any man would think they were happy to please them, that they had any choice in their presence on the streets.

Ever since those days, I've had an abiding, even irrational, dislike of men who use prostitutes.
To me, it speaks of a blindness to the moral consequences of your own actions. A hollowness of the soul that warrants more condemnation that anything done by the woman themselves. I even argue that while prostitution should be legal, buying sex should be illegal under all circumstances.

So, here we are, ten years later, and three prosititutes are killed. Wealthy journalists head to East Anglia and interview prostitutes still on the streets, who tell them that they are working because of their heroin addiction. I wonder whether any customers are buying since there seem to be more television cameras than prostitutes.

So what helps those women? What protects them or stops them from falling into those lives? Yes, "falling" with all the moral and social connotations of that word.

The ingredients of these lives are so familiar. Low levels of education, alcohol abuse, a lack of stability.

The history is long too. This is no new phenomenon, no product of a lack of Victorian morals.

To remember Victorian values, read Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor.

"if, indeed, it needed a special creation and example to teach the best and strongest of us the law of right, how bitterly must the children of the street-folk require tuition, training, and advice, when from their very cradles (if, indeed, they ever knew such luxuries) they are doomed to witness in their parents, whom they naturally believe to be their superiors, habits of life in which passion is the sole rule of action, and where every appetite of ouranimal nature is indulged in without the least restraint.

"I say thus much because I am anxious to make others feel, as I do myself, that we are the culpable parties in these matters.

"That they poor things should do as they do is but human nature -- but that we should allow them to remain thus destitute of every blessing vouchsafed to ourselves -- that we should willingly share what we enjoy with our brethren at the Antipodes, and yet leave those who are nearer and who, therefore, should be dearer to us, to want even the commonest moral necessaries is a paradox that gives to the zeal of our Christianity a strong savour of the chicanery of Cant."

The strong savour of the chicanery of cant.

We all have to be aware of that when we are tempted to pontificate about family breakdown.

The sad truth is there is no simple, easy answer. There will always be drug addicts. There will always be prostitutes, alcoholics, the mentally ill, the criminal. There is no utopia and the attempt to create one inevitably leads to worse sufferings.

All politicians can do is develop public policy to gradually reduce poverty, to reduce the numbers that fall into these traps. To give a little extra strength to the weakest, the poorest, the most vulnerable.

All politicians can do is try to provide mothers (and fathers, where thay are around) with as much help as they can as early as they can.

All MPs can do is try to make sure that people have the chance of a steady stable job and that if they get sick they won't lose their livelihoods. If they do, try and help them find something else. Then, if they can't or won't or are too addicted or lost to work, all a government, or an activist or a campaigner can do is try to help them work, try to help them get clean or sober.

All a council can do is try to help young children with nurseries, with parenting centres, with better schools and decent food. Try to give them help with child care. If they abandon their children try and intervene. Give people jobs to teach hygiene and good food and how to read, and put up with it when it's called "the nanny state".

All Ministers can do is try and give people decent homes and make sure there are no slums or sink estates or no go areas and try to put police, or CCTV, or community support or social workers or the much mocked "sex worker outreach officers" on the streets to help protect people.

Then, after you've done all this, your job is to explain to the hard pressed familiy paying their taxes for all this, that it is worth it. That doing, trying and failing to protect those who fall is of benefit to everyone in society. That you're not just wasting their money on the criminal, the feckless, the feral.

All the time, whatever politician, or MP, or councillor, or minister or simple activist or campaigner you are, know that all this won't be enough, that as a part of what you're doing, because of the compromises you make, you will be failing some.

That perhaps more could have been done, or done differently. That you will never succeed completely.

So cross your fingers and hope that evil will not take the weakest in the night.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

It's Deja Vu all over again.

When did the destruction of marriage under this government begin? Listening to the Tories today, you'd think that the Labour government had unleashed all hell's armies against the institution of marriage.

Yet hold on, there's been no major increase in the divorce rate, and the marriage rate has been pretty stable too (do you need to see the graph again?). So what's really going on?

So to explain what all this talk of marriage is really about, it's time to go BAAAAAACK IIIIIIN TIIIIIIME to the salad days of 1999, when a young, thrusting Iain Duncan Smith, newly elevated to the front bench, is lambasting the government for tearing apart the foundation stones of marriage in a debate on the Budget. Sounds familiar, eh?

What had this dastardly government done that destroyed marriage and led to the pretty pass we find ourselves in now?

Why they'd abolished the Married Couples tax allowance and replaced it with a tax credit that went to low income parents of children. YOICKS!

In effect what the Labour government had done was to take money from wealthy married people and give it to working families on low incomes, whether married or not. THE SWINES!

"Arguably as important, if not more so in the long term,
is the position that the Government have taken on marriage.

On the married couple's allowance, the Conservativeparty disagrees with the thrust of the Government's policy--that is nosurprise, given the Secretary of State, his predecessors and his colleagues in Cabinet.Their contempt for marriage is now clear--[Hon. Members: "Oh!"]

"…I have said that the Conservative party is pledged, on returning to office, to reinstate the special position of marriage in the tax and benefit system…

"…The Government's real reason for the change is that they oppose the structure of marriage...

"…Those who suffer from the change to the married couple's allowance will see just how wrong-headed this policy is. It is nonsense to chase the children with the money without any sense of structure.

"…If the Chancellor was so certain that he had the money and wanted achange, why did he give the money to children at the expense of marriage? Ido not understand that unless there is a clear message…

"...It is at the expense of marriage. The right hon. Gentleman need only look at the Red Book to see how the figures flow. The Chancellor saved some
money, but transferred the bulk to the children's tax credit

"…The Secretary of State says that nobody gets married because of the married couple's allowance, but he knows that the greater the pressure piled on, the more difficult it is for married couples to stay together and the less likely it is that unmarried couples will get married--all the figures for the past 30 years show that.

"The Government are barking mad if they really believe that that is an argument for getting rid of the married couple'sallowance."

What this whole debate is about, and has always been about is replacing tax credits for the poorest working families with a tax break for wealthy families.

It's the only solution the Tories are really interested in. Trouble is, We had that in the eighties and it did nothing to stop familiy breakdown. Still, who need worrisome facts? Not today's Tories.

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That Conservative “Tax cuts for the married” policy in full

1. Marriages are good. Tasty, wholesome and good for you.

2. If you don’t get married, your children will become yobs and we will have to hug them. Nobody wants that.

3. So if you do get married, we’ll give you a tax cut. Doesn’t matter how rich you are already, you deserve free cash for getting wed. How does Two grand sound? Who’ll pay for the tax cuts? We’ll tell you some other time, but don’t worry, it won’t be you. Probably thaose pesky Tax Credits, which only give money to the feckless poor, whether married or not.

4. We think that a tax cut for every married couple will solve the problems of people with mental illness, people from unstable non-working chaotic families, people with a record of criminality in their family and people who are barely literate.

5. This strategy worked brilliantly in the Eighties, when we had the married couples tax allowance. No married couples broke up then, and there was no rise in crime and everyone had a pony.

Why are you saying that isn't true?

Look, just because divorce rates rocketed in the eighties when there was a huge fiscal encouragement to marry, doesn't mean we shouldn't try giving wealthy people free money again. Let Sunshine win the day, y'hear?

6. Look, don’t ask difficult questions. We know what’s best for the paupers, and that’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

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