Time for discussion on potential of drugs

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Ukip like Basil Fawlty on steroids

A Ukip member at their Spring Conference

I was talking to a work colleague over the weekend. He said, “I’m not racist. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what colour you are, if you have a British passport you are British. But I am racist about people without British passports coming over here and getting benefits.”

He lives in Margate. He told me he was going to vote Ukip at the next election.

This was a bit of a surprise. I’ve often had political conversations with him and I’ve always taken him to be a left-winger.

I said, “you know they are more right wing than the Tories, don’t you?”

He said he did, but that he was going to vote for them anyway in order to teach the mainstream parties a lesson. He said that, amongst his friends, everyone he knew was voting Ukip.

This seemed very odd to me. If you look at Ukip policy, aside from their stance on the EU and immigration, they are, indeed, more Tory than the Tories.

Most of their donors are ex-Tories. Most of their candidates are ex-Tories. Most of their members are ex-Tories. The phrase about ducks and quacks springs to mind.

Nigel Farage said that he’s the only politician keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive. I would disagree with that. Pretty well all the parties are keeping the flame of Thatcherism alive, which is precisely what is wrong with politics at the moment.

We only have a choice between Thatcherite parties. Thatcher herself said that her greatest legacy was New Labour.

I’m perfectly in tune with the idea of giving the mainstream parties a bloody nose at the next election. But Ukip? Judging from Meet The Ukippers, on BBC2, they’re more like the cast of Fawlty Towers on steroids than a political party.

I thought I was watching the pilot for a new comedy series.

On the other hand, I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s a good idea to go around shouting abuse at them, as many of my friends did at the Ukip spring conference this Saturday. They love being shouted at. It makes them feel important.

They’re like the embarrassing, drunken uncle at a wedding. The more you pay attention to them, the more you encourage them. Best to ignore them and hope they go away.

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Prosecute scandal bankers

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Alternative Funerals

Claire and Rupert Callender of the Green Funeral Company

Grief over the death of a loved one never really goes away. Even years later an unexpected memory can arise, bearing with it the pain of the original loss. It is vital then, when we say our goodbyes, that this is done in a way that fully expresses the love and the sense of sadness we feel when laying our loved-ones to rest.

This is a universal truth.

How we deal with death tells us a lot about the kind of society we live in.

First published in Kindred Spirit Nov 2014.

Read more here.

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One rule for the rich

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Have a careful read of library proposals

Whitstable Library in a post May Bank Holiday photograph taken at 11.00 am on 28th May 2013. Courtesy of Red Sands Radio: http://www.redsandsradio.co.uk/

Oh dear. “Kent County Council is transforming the way it delivers its services as well as reducing costs.”

I’m quoting from the KCC website here: the Libraries, Registration and Archive Service Consultation page, which links to the consultation document about the future of our public libraries.

It all sounds very nice. To quote from the document itself: “We strive to continually affect people’s lives in a positive way and deliver services for every community in Kent”. What can be wrong with that?

Well nothing, obviously. What these soothing words do is to mask the real reason behind the consultation document: saving money.

If you want to know the purpose behind the government’s austerity programme, then look no further than this. As a policy it has utterly failed to reduce the deficit. Instead it has increased the deficit and made us all poorer.

What it has done, however, is to serve as an excuse for an all-out attack upon our public services.

Once the library service has been handed over to a Charitable Trust, as KCCs consultation document proposes, can we be assured that it will still be the same service?

Will we continue to have democratic influence over the way the service operates?

Will we be able to complain to our KCC Councillors about problems, about proposed closures or cuts or reduced opening hours? Will our Councillors be able to do anything about it if we do complain?

Will free local libraries – open to all and linked to others across the county – be guaranteed? Will minimum levels of properly-trained and paid staff be set for all Kent’s libraries?

Will the number of books and computers be increased or decreased? Will the availability of other information be improved?

If the Trust fails or proves unsatisfactory, will we be able to take the library service back into public hands?

These are just some of the questions you might like to ask. If you value your library service, please go to the KCC website and take a look at the proposals.

It might be your last chance to have your say over the way our libraries are run.

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Out-of-date calendar is making aliens of us all

“It’s what Stonehenge was built for…”

It’s that time of the year again. The clock has ticked, the numbers have switched, and another year has gone by.

Actually the day on which New Year takes place is purely arbitrary. The earth goes round the sun every 365+ days, so it’s a matter of debate when the cycle starts.

If you were going to place the New Year in the winter, the most obvious day would be December 22nd, after the solstice, when the days start getting longer again. That’s the day our ancient ancestors, the people who built Stonehenge, placed it.

It’s what Stonehenge was built for, to track the solstices, so our ancestors would know what time of year it was.

Which makes our modern New Year nine days late.

The calendar we currently use is a recent invention. It is known as the Gregorian calendar, after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582 to correct an error in the earlier Julian system.

The word “calends” means “the called”. It represents a countdown to the day when debts were called in in the ancient Roman world. In other words, it is a bureaucratic device for the management of money.

The moon cycle – or “month” – is actually around 28 days long, but in the Gregorian calendar a month can be anywhere between 28 and 31 days and has no connection to the moon whatsoever.

As a measurement of time it is completely absurd.

Imagine if a mile could be anywhere between 1603 and 1935 yards, depending on which part of the country you were in. It would make calculating distances nearly impossible. And yet we put up with our peculiar and uneven measurement of time as if it was a natural thing.

So we hold our New Year’s celebrations nine days late for no other reason than that our clumsy and outmoded calendar-system tells us to.

We put the clocks forward in the spring and back again in the autumn, thus messing up our body clocks twice a year.

Our months have no connection to the Moon, and our year has no connection to the Sun.

It’s no wonder we’re acting like aliens on our own planet.

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Christmas Eve: we must stop wars for the sake of our children

Christmas Eve. It’s like a pause – isn’t it? – between the preparations that went before and the festivities that are to follow.

The presents are bought and wrapped, the turkey is in the fridge, the drink is in the cupboard. The carpets are clean. We have everything we need. Everyone is waiting. It’s like the whole world is holding its breath.

Me, I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I’m spending Christmas with my new grandchild, meeting the in-laws. I’m sure we’ll get on. The baby will be the centre of attention and the subject of most of the conversations. Nevertheless there’s a tickle of apprehension in my stomach.

One of the things about having a relationship with a very young child is that the future takes on an added dimension. The child represents all that is positive and hopeful about the world: it’s newness, it’s potential to learn.

At the same time, the future is a scary place. Terrible things are happening.

We are on the verge of war. And not a war, like all the wars so far, against an already defeated enemy, with a ragtag conscript army, such as we fought in Iraq.

No: this is a real war, against a nuclear armed enemy, with a well-trained and loyal army. The sides are already lining up. It will be the East versus the West: Iran, Russia and China versus the United States and Europe.

So far it is being played out by proxy, in the Ukraine and Syria. It’s like a game of Chicken – who will blink first? – but with the potential to break into direct conflict at any time. There are already children being hurt.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot look into the face of a traumatised child and not see my own grandchild. All the violence we are inflicting upon the world, it is violence against our own future.

There are torturers amongst us. They justify the torture, saying that it will make the world safer. But it doesn’t. It has the opposite effect. It brings out the torturers on the other side. It brings out the urge for revenge.

Violence begets violence. War begets war. For the sake of our children, we have to find a way to stop it.

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With party vote split, what will happen next?

The Labour Party is like Baldrick from Blackadder. They have a Cunning Plan.

Not content with having won elections in Whitstable for the past 30 years, next year they’ve decided to lose one instead.

The deselection of our two sitting Labour councillors raises all sorts of interesting questions.

According to Labour Party rules, it seems, it is perfectly OK for nine activists sitting in the back room of the Labour Club to overturn the democratic decision of the more than 900 people who each voted for Phil Cartwright and John Wratten in 2011.

Which is fair enough maybe. You join a club and you abide by its rules. If the Labour Party rule book allows this to happen, who are we to argue?

But the next question is: was it wise? Was it intelligent? Did it make any political sense whatsoever?

Apparently the invitation to attend the meeting went out to all relevant members. So, when only nine people turned up, didn’t anyone flag it up as perhaps a little bit inappropriate to go ahead?

At that point it turned into a lottery. It no longer reflected the mood of the wider public. It came down to the particular preoccupations of the nine people sitting in that room.

Now here’s the odd thing. I’m a Labour Party man myself. I know these people. Some of them I count as friends.

I have no doubt that most of them would have voted in good conscience, but when I spoke to one of them a few days ago, I was told that no one expected John and Phil to take umbrage with the decision, let alone to resign the whip and to stand against the Labour Party at the next election.

This is the bit that really astounds me: this complete lack of emotional intelligence, as if the sitting councillors would have lain back after this massive insult and not wanted to turn to the wider electorate, the people who voted them into office, for their opinion.

Which leaves the rest of us stranded. With the Labour vote split, who knows what will happen next?

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Reviewing effectiveness of UK drugs policy

Kill the Messenger: a film about CIA complicity in the drugs trade

I wasn’t sure whether to write about drugs or the media in this week’s column. So I’m writing about both.

As it happens, there’s a new film out which covers precisely these topics. It’s called Kill the Messenger and it stars Jeremy Renner as real-life journalist Gary Webb who broke an amazing story back in the 90s and who was destroyed because of it.

The story was about CIA complicity in the import of crack cocaine into the United States. The CIA weren’t directly involved: rather they turned a blind eye when one of their client groups, the Nicaraguan Contras, used cocaine smuggling as a means of funding their activities.

The CIA were later to admit that the story was largely true, but rather than support Gary Webb in his work, the mainstream media turned upon him. Several major newspapers ran large spreads impugning his work. In the end his own newspaper disowned him and Gary Webb was left out in the cold.

He committed suicide in 2004.

Obviously this story has all sorts of implications. Firstly, we have to ask how a government organisation like the CIA came to be involved in such nefarious activities? The Contras were not only drug smugglers, they were terrorists too.

Then we have to ask how it is that the media, instead of supporting one of their colleagues, could end up destroying him? Is this what we mean by “a free press”?

Finally we have to ask about the drugs laws and their purpose. If they are meant to remove drugs from our streets, they have failed. There are more drugs now than ever.

According to Alfred McCoy, author of a book about CIA complicity in the heroin trade during the Vietnam War: “repression creates a shortfall… which raises prices and then stimulates production…”

In other words, prohibition is an encouragement to gangsters, both in the Mafia and the CIA.

There will be a Parliamentary debate today (October 30). I would urge our MP to attend, to listen carefully to the arguments, and to vote for an independent review into the effectiveness of UK drugs policy.

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