Eclectic Blue

In search of a conspiracy.

0 Comments 16 June 2017

The celebrity luvvie and former pop star Lily Allen does herself no favours in politicising the Grenfell House tragedy. Quite why she was on Channel 4 news, suggesting that the mainstream media (MSM) was somehow orchestrating a cover-up of the numbers who have lost their lives, is beyond me. Allen has received a great deal of praise for her comments but I hold them in contempt.

Speaking to Jon Snow, she referred to the fact that only 17 people have been declared dead so far, Allen said: “I feel like the government are trying to micromanage people’s grieving here. Seventeen? I’m sorry but I am hearing from people the figure is much closer to 150 – and that many of those people are children. They are off-the-record numbers I have been given from policemen and from firemen.” Let’s attempt to deconstruct that statement.

“I feel like the government are trying to micromanage people’s grieving here.” No, they’re not. Allen appears to be suggesting there is some kind of conspiracy, a cover up. Of course there isn’t. A couple of days ago, an horrendous fire swept through a tower block leaving nothing but a shell behind. We all know the death toll will rise dramatically in the coming days and months, but here’s the thing. Emergency services deal in facts. If they say that 17 people have died but the death toll is expected to rise, isn’t that sufficient? Would Allen prefer it if they took a guess?

Allen is “sorry, but I am hearing the figure is closer to 150”. She has been told this “off the record…from policemen and firemen”. “Off the record?” So far as I am aware, Allen is not a journalist. Apart from her status as a “celebrity”, why was she wandering around asking heroic emergency services workers, some of whom may have been women (Allen doesn’t seem to have noticed that), who were either performing vital humanitarian work or just resting? Allen seems to think that the emergency services should guess how many people have died because they don’t know. That’s just stupid.

It’s stupid because it is likely, probably certain, that the fire was so severe that some people’s remains will never be found. More than that, some of those who died will almost certainly not have been residents of Grenfell House.

I am not saying that what happened was none of Allen’s business because as human beings it is all our business. I am not saying, either, that she is not entitled to an opinion, no matter how crass that opinion is. Here we have a tragedy where a large number of people have died, where many more are fighting for their lives, where many hundreds of people have lost everything and are homeless, where the emergency services have shown heroism beyond the wild imaginings of ordinary people and Lily Allen shows up to play politics.

Of course, people have the right to be angry. The death toll is indeed likely to be in the region of numbers suggested by Allen’s emergency sources and we will discover soon what caused the fire and who was to blame (and someone will be to blame). We can, and must, have a public debate about a country where millions of people are unable to buy their own homes whilst vast numbers of luxury properties all over the land, especially in London, are left empty. More than that, we must ensure that all tower blocks are safe. But for God’s sake, firefighters and police officers are still risking their lives at Grenfell House, trying to find the remains of victims and the causes of the fire. Isn’t that the most important thing right now?

Lily Allen doesn’t make me smile.

Eclectic Blue

Everything has changed

0 Comments 15 June 2017

Last week, I wrote that Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpectedly narrow general election defeat had changed everything. The consensus that nothing could change, that the poor were always destined to remain poor and the rich would carry on getting richer regardless of what happened to society was suddenly challenged. Labour’s manifesto, warts and all, gave people hope. The election result made us all sit up. Maybe Britain really could be a fairer and more equal place after all.

Silently, people had spoken, by way of putting a cross on a ballot paper. Corbyn’s version of Labour resonated with a lot of people who had had enough of the status quo. If it was not for the old – you know: the old who decided last year to snatch the future away from the next generation by removing them from the EU – Corbyn would have achieved a remarkable victory. How things will go from here with Labour, well who knows, but in future the party knows that a large section of the electorate is in favour of a significant retribution of wealth and power. How Labour goes about building a wider coalition of support is a discussion for another day, but then we had the disaster at Grenfell House. I sense this could make even bigger waves.

I do not wish to get into the blame game about yesterday’s tragic fire. We all have our thoughts and suspicions but now we should concentrate our minds on the here and now, the victims and their families, the people who lost everything and are now homeless. But we cannot ignore the enormous divisions in society.

The people who lived in Grenfell House were not the rich and powerful. In fact, Grenfell House is in the 10% poorest areas in the land. The average house price in Kensington and Chelsea is £1,369,708 and even a simpleton like me can see that this figure is well beyond the people who Theresa May refers to as “ordinary working people”, the “just about managing”. These people are not living in luxury: they are living in places like Grenfell House.

I have never liked the big tower blocks. They are the most crowded places imaginable and yet they can be the loneliest places on earth. No member of the House of Commons lives in such a tower block. The landed gentry wouldn’t know how to get access into a tower block. It’s high altitude prefabs, hundreds of feet in the air. It’s all right for someone else to live in.

The media attracted real grief near Grenfell House today. Angry local people had simply had enough. They rounded on journalists including Channel 4’s Jon Snow. Another man angrily attacked the BBC, for only bothering to come to the area when people died. Where were they the rest of the time? Setting to one side comments about the BBC and Channel 4, I would say that the people of Grenfell House and the surrounding area have a point about the media who have demonised working people for years. (I recommend Owen Jones’s book Chavs to illustrate my point.) Some of the newspapers actively demonise their own readers, smearing them as scroungers and skivers when more often than not the opposite is the truth. Unable to strike back, to speak up, these “ordinary working people” knew their place in life. Until now.

David Cameron often referred to “Broken Britain” in his speeches. Granted, it was soundbite politics, no different from May’s “strong and stable” and he was certainly not referring to the broken Britain where young people have had their life choices stolen away, where students are saddled with eye-watering debts, where young people cannot afford to get near, never mind on, the housing ladder, where, yes, those “ordinary working people” being paid buttons for insecure work, where we are supposed to accept a collapsing NHS, schools being starved of funding, severely disabled people having their benefits taken away and…oh, I could go on all night. I don’t know if Britain really is broken, but it sure isn’t fair and the mood is changing.

Look, I am the most moderate man in the room. Politically, I am mainstream left of centre but I’m far from being hard line socialist. In order to win elections, the winning party must tap in to the centre ground of politics but even there, I wonder if the sands are shifting. I think they are.

For people who have enough but not too much, they see their children’s future are far more bleak then their past. It is not just the occupants of tower blocks whose futures are behind them, if they ever had a future at all. Many of those who have enough, have had enough. Seven long years of austerity which was only applied to those at the bottom and many of those in the middle has come to an end. The general election was a kind of uprising and the Grenfell disaster could be another.

Business as usual can no longer be an option for politicians of all colours. A general election and a tragic fire have proved that to be true. One thing is for sure: we can’t go on like this. Everything has changed.

Eclectic Blue

Lower than vermin

0 Comments 15 June 2017

Further to my earlier blog, I feel even more strongly that this is NOT the time for people to try to make political capital out of the Grenfell House fire. In fact, I find it hard to foresee any circumstances under which making political capital out of such a tragedy would be appropriate. And I say this again because of what I have just heard from Adam Boulton on Sky News.

As I write, the death toll is now 17, but this tells only a small part of the story. It is expected that the eventual death toll will be in excess of 100, which came as a complete shock to me when I heard it, but maybe it shouldn’t.

If you want to make political capital, then please do so away from my timelines on social networks. I regard you as lower than vermin.

Eclectic Blue

Making political capital out of tragedy

2 Comments 15 June 2017

My blocked and muted lists on social networks have expanded still further in recent days. I decided some time ago that I did not want to read certain types of extremist nonsense and whilst abuse did not keep me awake at night, I have concluded that life was too short to respond to every Tom, Dick and Harriet. Events following the horrors of Grenfell House have encouraged me to expand the lists still further.

On the same day that a large number of people died in such a terrible tragedy, I was disappointed, to say the least, to find there were people attempting to making political capital. Whilst I think it is fair and legitimate to say how welcome it is to see senior politicians praising the heroism of frontline public sector workers instead of cutting their numbers and attacking their conditions of service, some people have taken things too far.

There are probably a million things about which Theresa May deserves a metaphorical kicking, but to attack her for so say not responding quickly enough to the situation was plainly nonsense. In my judgement, May’s response was fair, compassionate, timeous and wholly proportionate. There was nothing she could have said that would have changed anything. When the whole thing seems to come down to who responded first, Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn, we demean our politics and we demean ourselves.

The point about Grenfell House is that people have died and families and friends are in mourning. Our firefighters have been heroic, as have their colleagues in the police service and the health service. No praise can ever be enough. Many people have not been found yet, some on the top floors. This will not end well. The priorities must be with people, those who have perished, those who were injured, those who have lost their homes, lost everything. What caused the fire comes next.

Not that the authorities should dawdle in finding out what went wrong. On the contrary, the need for explanations is critical. Was this a one-off or could this happen somewhere else? The main question will be this: why did it happen? The answer at the moment is that we don’t know.

Why it happened will determine the actions that will follow. Was it arson, a terrorist attack, human error, structural design flaws? With Grenfell house still smouldering how can we possibly tell?

Is it not enough, for now, to mourn the dead, to feel huge sympathy for those who were trapped on the upper floors, to praise the heroics of the emergency services and then allow for the relevant parties, the police, the health and safety commission and the fire service to go about their business?

These flats have been in existence for some 43 years. Were they always a deathtrap or did something happen more recently to make it one? Perhaps only a full public inquiry will find out the answers, I don’t know, and could the fire have been avoided by additional investment in safety measures, such as sprinklers?

Theresa May, our highest ranking politician, has announced she will be conducting a private visit to the area today. This is the right thing to do and to say otherwise, to try to make political capital out at this time, would be quite wrong.

The pedlars of hate and cynicism, blaming politicians for things they cannot possibly know are true, have principles which are no better than those of the Daily Mail and the Sun. And, quite frankly, I have no more wish to read their bile on social networks than I have in reading the aforementioned newspapers. Both represent the poison that afflicts our divided country and, as with extremes, they have more in common with each other than they realise.

Eclectic Blue

No accident.

0 Comments 14 June 2017

Many years ago, when God was a boy, I was staying with a “friend” at her flat in a tower block just off Easton Way. Everything about the building, apart from the flat itself which was furnished like a luxury apartment, was unbearably awful. There were two lifts, one of which was permanently out of commission, there were always drug dealers at the front door and there were regular fires by the bins. The smell of the entrance and the working lift was awful, a heady combination of weed and urine. This experience, and work experience from a previous life, left me with very bad feelings. These, more often than not, were where the poor people lived. Lone parents on benefits, lonely pensioners, young people living chaotic lives. My experiences probably didn’t reflect the lives of everyone who lived in the giant blocks but I concluded that this was not a good place to live.

I could not possibly have foretold what happened last night at Grenfell Tower in London, but the thought was always there in my mind of what might happen if a fire broke out in a flat? Would it, could it be contained and if so, how? It turns out that there have been many fires in individual flats over the years and never, until now, has such a disaster occurred like this one.

I never liked the idea of tower blocks. Most people I came across who lived in them would rather have been anywhere else, in a self-contained flat in a small scale development or, God forbid, their own house. And yet, in places like Grenfell House, some 600 people lived in them.

So far, 12 people have died in the fire with the likelihood that the final tally will be considerably higher. We do not know who was responsible, arsonists, terrorists or someone else, but someone else will definitely be responsible. It will be someone’s fault, something somewhere either did something very bad or did something very badly. It won’t just be an accident. Heads will need to roll.

To say this must never happen again would be a major understatement. It should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. There is simply no excuse for allowing people to live in a place that was so unsafe. Where were the safeguards to ensure that such a fire could never happen?

Heroes everywhere again today, just as there were during the recent terrorist atrocities, starting with the emergency services and everyone who simply supplied rescue workers with food and drink. The light of human kindness shone through the blackness.

Politicians should now set the agenda to find out urgently what happened here and do whatever it takes and spend whatever it costs to prevent a repeat occurrence. It took many years for my fears about tower blocks to finally come through and I know if I lived in one tonight I’d be very scared.

Eclectic Blue

Letting go

0 Comments 13 June 2017

The terrible conflict facing the parents of the terminally ill boy Charlie Gard is not my business. As they desperately try to keep him alive by taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights, I suppose I should keep my thoughts to myself, but what’s the point of free speech and opinions if you don’t give voice to them? In my mind, I keep coming back to the same old thing. What if this happened to me and what would I do?

The BBC reports that Charlie has “mitochondrial depletion syndrome, a rare disorder that affects the genetic building blocks that give energy to cells.” He cannot see, hear, move, cry or swallow and his condition is terminal. The very best doctors in the land have said that experimental treatment in America, for which the family has raised £1.3 million, will not work and the courts have ruled that Charlie should be allowed to die with dignity. From a distance, I can only find myself agreeing with the doctors and the judges.

Charlie Gard is on life support and plainly has no quality of life whatsoever. All his major organs are affected. The condition from which he suffers will not improve regardless of any treatment and even if the “experimental” treatment was successful, how would success be measured? Charlie’s brain is, according to doctors at Great Ormond Street, is extensively damaged at cellular level and the American doctor offering the treatment readily concedes treatment will not change this. A top American neurologist suggested that the experimental treatment “might, in theory, offer some benefit, though it has never previously been tried in this situation.” British doctors say “it is likely that Charlie would experience pain and discomfort from continued treatment; it is also unlikely, given what is known about it, that Charlie would benefit from nucleoside treatment.” Moreover, they add “continued mechanical ventilation in intensive care is so terrible a life that it would not be worth living.”

All this medical information takes away much of the human aspect out of this because, when it comes down to it, Charlie Gard has a mum and dad who love him very much and don’t want to lose him. The protocol exists whereby if the parents of a sick child cannot agree the way forward with doctors, then the courts must decide. I don’t see how else the matter could be concluded.

More than twice removed from this terrible situation, I find the decision an easy one. I happen to believe in medical science and if the same view is held by all the brilliant doctors at St Ormonds Street, I would suggest they are right. I hate the idea of a young child suffering or living a worthless life. Charlie Gard appears to be in both categories and I hope the European Court makes the right decision.

Eclectic Blue

The belated Friday Music Shuffle (12/6/17)

0 Comments 12 June 2017

I was hitting and losing a shed load of golf balls last Friday, so the weekly music shuffle from my Man Cave was delayed.

But now, in order to bring about your disappointment, here via some blue teeth thru a lovely little speaker system is a random shuffle of music.

Welcome my friends to the show that never ends.

1. Heaven’s What I Feel by Gloria Estefan. A lovely little dance ballad (yes, really) by the lovely Cuban/American.

2. Jesus Was A Cross Maker by Judee Sill. Sill, who died in 1979 from a drug overdose, made some lovely music in her short life and this was the best of it. My iPod plays a live version, but the studio version was produced by Graham Nash whose band Crosby, Stills and Nash toured with her in the 1970s. Beautiful.

3. I Think I Can by Animal Collective. Not quite the Beach Boys meet Kraftwerk, but lush harmonies mixed with gorgeous synths in this little gem from their EP Fall To Be King.

4. The Other Side by Public Service Broadcasting. This is from the magnificent The Race for Space long player and, yes, it’s magnificent, all about Apollo 8 including real transmissions from Mission Control, Houston. The Other Side is the other side of the moon.

5. Tears in the Morning by the Beach Boys. Slightly sugary, lightweight Bruce Johnston tune from the Beach Boys’ best band album, Sunflower, rescued by some gorgeous harmonies.

6. The Great Pagoda of Funn by Donald Fagen. Tight as a duck’s arse, some jazz funk from the 2006 album Morph the Cat, featuring Steely Dan touring players Keith Carlock (drums) and Jon Herington (guitar).

7. Play Dead by Bjork and David Arnold. Some wonderful trip hop from Iceland’s finest. This reminds me of a holiday on the White Island some ten years after its release, the music drifting from a nightclub as we wandered back to our hotel near San Antonio.

8. Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. The opening track on Born to Run which will always be one of the greatest records ever made. Listen to the album in its entirety one evening when the sun is going down and feel the atmosphere. It’s incredible.

9. Autumn Leaves by Coldcut. Some lush electronica here from the London boys.

10. Goin’ Back by the Byrds. Sung by Chris Hillman, this record is 50 years old. And Carole King wrote it, along with Gerry Goffin.

Eclectic Blue

Horsing around

0 Comments 12 June 2017

I posted on Facebook today the news that the government might need to postpone the Queen’s Speech due to the government’s coalition with the charmers of the DUP and furthermore the difficulties that might be presented by a delay. The main difficulty would be the Queen herself who is highly booked up in the next few weeks, not least with Royal Ascot. I was making a sarcastic point about the Queen giving priority to a bit of horse racing over matters of state. It turns out that everyone who replied, not all of them fanatical royalists, were in full support of our Liz and, having actually thought about it, I think they are right.

It was not the Queen’s fault that Theresa May called her reckless general election, putting the interests of the Tory Party ahead of those of the country, just like her predecessor David Cameron did by calling a referendum on EU membership. A quick look at the sporting calendar would have given May a clue as to what was happening and when. I am now firmly of the view that her majesty should indeed go to the racing.

It will not matter a great deal if The Big Speech is put back a week or so because May has already wasted seven weeks since triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by saying over and over again how “strong and stable” she was. The fact that we now have around 18 months instead of two years to carry out what will effectively be 10 years of negotiations with the EU will hardly make a scrap of distance to the overall outcome.

And what will the Queen’s Speech be, anyway? The Queen will attend the houses of parliament and read out verbatim something a civil servant or party apparatchik has prepared for her. Given that May cocked up her election campaign, we are not really in any rush to hear what the policies are since she will have the most difficult job trying to shove them through parliament. For all the difference it will make, she might as well wait until September.

I can bet what the Queen’s preference will be. “Nigh let’s see Philip: would one prefah to gay to Ascot or the Hises of parliament to read ight some rubbish I daint nay the first thing abight?” “Come on old gal. Let’s get in the carriage.”

May apologised today to her defeated MPs for, as she might have put it, “fucking up”. Once she’s apologised to the country for fucking up the country, she might wish to have a word with the Queen and apologise for cocking up her schedule, too.

Eclectic Blue

Todd is God

0 Comments 12 June 2017

I don’t have all Todd Rundgren’s albums, not least because including his latest record there are 26 of them. The first one I bought was way back when (1972, actually) when he released the sublime Something/Anything from which the wonderful I Saw the Light emerged, a great tune on which he played all the instruments. The next year, Rundgren issued another classic, A Wizard, a True Star, which was almost as good. I stuck with him, through the Nearly Human tour of 1991 and he still kept making original new music.

In 2004, he released Liars, almost a concept album about religion, or rather the absence of it. I saw the Liars tour and my feeling was that here was a man right at the height of his powers. On the song God Said, Rundgren sings the words of God, but from a standpoint that there is no God at all:

“Cause you’re not praying to me, you’re praying to yourself
And you’re not worshiping me, you’re worshiping yourself
And you will kill in my name and heaven knows what else
When you can’t prove I exist, so get over yourself.”

Clever.

Liars was a stunning combination of rock, soul, techno and God knows what else and it worked beautifully as a work of art. Could he keep it up? You bet he could.

Arena in 2008 was a classic rock album and he followed this with State and Global, all right up there, with no signs of decline. Todd Rundgren is nearly 70, now. Surely he hasn’t got much left to give?

Enter White Knight, featuring a string of stellar collaborators like Daryl Hall, Donald Fagen, Joe Walsh, Robyn and Joe Satriani. It is Tin Foil Hat where Fagen turns a Rundgren tune into a Steely Dan tune with a sensational vocal performance in a song that tears into Donald Trump. Look at some of the words:

“Cause the man in the tin foil hat
Is gonna drain the swamp tonight
And fill it with up with alternative facts
It’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that.”

It’s the song of the year with the lyric of the year from the album of the year accompanied by the (very funny) video of the year.

For those who say that Todd is God, you might have a point because if there was a God it would have to be Todd. In the absence of the real thing, do yourself a favour and invest in White Knight. Todd is very much alive and it’s best to enjoy him while you can.

Eclectic Blue

What a state

0 Comments 12 June 2017

I suppose the main reason I wrestled with my conscience over how I should vote in last week’s general election was Europe. I could never, under any circumstances, vote Conservative so it came down to two things. Which party had the best anti-Brexit policy and which was the best tactical vote to keep the Tories out. The best party with the EU was the Lib Dems but I reluctantly concluded that it would be a wasted vote and the priority in Filton and Bradley Stoke (FABS) was to remove the useless Tory MP Jack Lopresti. So I voted Labour and it’s Corbyn supporting candidate Naomi Rylatt. With the Tories and Labour having secured over 80% of the popular vote, I have effectively supported a hard Brexit, the one outcome I fear most.

Labour barely mentioned Brexit during the election campaign, almost certainly quite deliberately. It ensured that a substantial number of people who voted last time for Ukip “came home”. Corbyn has long been a Eurosceptic and barely bothered to campaign in the EU referendum and, as in most matters relating to the election, his authenticity on this mattered as much as his authenticity on everything else. Leavers will have noted that Labour had supported May’s hard Brexit before the election and it was another reason to show their disgust with May. Now, what the hell do I do?

I have never wavered in my view that a hard Brexit will be a disaster for Britain. We have been over all the reasons many times and if you still believe, having seen all the evidence, that going it alone will be good for this country then there’s no point in carrying on a conversation about it. The best we can hope for is a softer Brexit and obtain, as Theresa May parrots regularly, the “best possible deal for Britain.” We must be clear that the best possible deal for Britain will be worse than the one we have now. That is a fact. The government may be able to cobble together some kind of deal where we pay a large wedge of money to trade within the single market, or better still stay in it, and agree to abide by all EU trading laws with zero influence to change them. We may be able to get some kind of deal on free movement around Europe that will sit comfortably with our European friends. If we don’t want to dump on the next generation by taking away all the freedoms the older generation enjoyed, like being able to live, love, work, live and study abroad, it will take some negotiating and I hope that we can negotiate it.

The worse thing is that we are days away from the start of negotiations and this country is hopelessly ill-prepared. Having wasted the first two months since triggering Article 50 by calling an election no one wanted, we go to Brussels with no plan. Having declared the election was about Brexit, Labour decided to ignore it altogether. It barely came up in the campaign and here we are absolutely nowhere.

I feel dirty and slightly ashamed I voted for a party that supported hard Brexit and listening to John McDonnell over the weekend still does. The “jobs first” slogan offered by Labour is little better than May’s ludicrous “strong and stable” because it doesn’t mean anything in isolation. Leaving the single market and customs union would be an absolute disaster for jobs, especially the good engineering jobs around South Gloucestershire where I live. Put simply, leaving the single market and customs union and crashing into WTO rules would invoke huge costs to business and consumers.

Brexit remains the biggest issue in our country. Farage and co would never accepted a remain vote and I won’t accept the leave vote because of how it will damage our country. We have now returned to a two party state and we have two parties, at least on Europe, singing from the same song sheet and carrying out policies that they know will make us worse off. What a state we are in.

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