Choosing from campaigns of deceit

Mix of EU and UK flagsNot so long ago, an economics journalist said

It’s astonishing that instead of being wooed by romantic ideals expressed with passion… the debate over the future of the country is being conducted in a style worthy of a clearance sale at a furniture showroom…. Costs and benefits matter, money is a handy measuring rod, and spillovers deserve special attention… but that does not mean the way to make good policy is to stick a price tag on everything.

That wasn’t about the current referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain in or leave the European Union: it was about the Scottish independence referendum. That referendum was vitriolic, with both sides deriding the other’s economic forecast. The EU referendum campaign has been far worse.

Both Remain and Leave campaigns have sprayed dubious economic statistics at the electorate. The Remain campaign claimed that to leave the EU is a leap into the unknown, then bandied around incredibly precise — and increasing large — figures about the alleged cost of that departure. The Leave campaign emblazoned their campaign bus with an exaggerated figure for the UK’s contribution to the EU, and repeated it ad nauseam, despite the figure being widely derided by non-partisan authorities. Both sides have proudly proclaimed their grubby big lies as ‘fact’ and hurled hateful abuse at each other like a once loving couple in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

Yet what that economics journalist said of the Scottish referendum is true of the EU referendum too: there’s more to this than economics, not least because no one can predict what the economic future will bring much beyond the immediate future. And the choice to separate, whether it be Scotland from the rest of the UK, or the UK from the EU, is a choice that will last much longer than a few economic cycles.

So where are the ‘ideals expressed with passion’? Absent. With both campaigns quite bitterly divided, expression of ideals has either been contradictory or muted.

The Remain campaign, officially united under the umbrella of ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’, has been unofficially — but very publicly — divided. The prime minister and his supporters have been peddling a message the best thing for the UK is to remain in Europe and reform it — totally ignoring that this referendum was meant to be after meaningful reforms had been won. Mr Corbyn and many unions, on the other hand, appear to see the EU as a means of reining in future Conservative governments; as a protector and provider of socialist dreams they’ve not yet convinced sufficient of the British electorate to get elected.

The Leave campaign, officially divided with Leave.EU/Grassroots Out not reconciled with the official Vote Leave campaign, hasn’t been so publicly divided, but nevertheless has two very different strands, some with a fortress Britain attitude, others a libertarian and free-trade approach. That the division hasn’t been so apparent is largely down to neither wing loudly proclaiming their vision, through lack of official backing for some, and from fear that the electorate wouldn’t like the free-for-all implications of their vision for others.

So, in the face of a spiteful, blinkered and vacuous campaign, what’s a voter to do? Fortunately some people have been hunting down some real facts about Britain and its place in Europe and the world. But if you’re looking for a vision for the sort of country you’d like to live in, you’re unlikely to find it amongst the politicians shouting abuse at each other.

As a believer in libertarian and co-operative approaches to life, komadori will be voting to leave the EU. But unlike most elections, that’s not a decision influenced by the political discourse that’s gone before.

A future for CAMRA – komadori’s thoughts

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is consulting members on what the future for the campaign should be. These are komadori’s thoughts on the matter, which have been submitted to the consultation.

Kensington Olympia during the Great British Beer Festival

Kensington Olympia during the Great British Beer Festival

Real Ale should remain at the heart of what the campaign does but, as noted in ‘Shaping the future’, the distinction between good and bad ales is not as simple as it was in the 1970s. So whilst the campaign should retain its definition of Real Ale, and continue to champion Real Ale, it should also be supportive of other ales, ciders and perrys that are of high quality but do not meet the criteria for being Real Ale. (And some criteria for what is ‘high quality’ will need to be devised.)

CAMRA should be prepared to welcome the availability of good ale, cider and perry in social venues other than pubs. I noted the comment in ‘Shaping the future’ that “Coffee shop chains are beginning to diversify by selling alcohol, posing a further threat to the traditional pub.” I think CAMRA should welcome a diversification in the venues allowing people to enjoy good ale, cider an perry socially. With most pubs, even newly built ones, offering an environment of ersatz Victoriana, is it not time for the more modern establishments that offer real ale? It also offers a means by which people that have abstained from alcohol might discover the pleasures of good ale. I look forward to the first entry for a coffee shop in the ‘Good Beer Guide’.

The campaign should continue to support real cider and real perry, but I would not be against that support being in the form of helping an independent organisation take that campaign forward.

There’s no reason for the campaign to widen its aims to cover all alcohol drinkers: good quality wine is widely available without CAMRA’s support.

A plate wood be nice

A plate wood be niceThe food and beer at The Crossing public house in Burton upon Trent is very good. Both burger and chips appeared to have been cooked to order and the burger of their own making was very tasty. The bun was Chorley Wood process bread, but bread of any other sort in restaurants or pubs seems a rarity. The beer, Dark Drake by the Dancing Duck Brewery, was also very much to my liking.

But when the bar staff asked if I would like any sauces to go with the burger, any answer but ‘no’ seemed to be courting disaster. Where would any surplus sauce flow? The rim on a plate is not just a decorative item, it serves a purpose: of keeping any food or liquids thereupon in place. A flat plank of wood, however fashionable it may be in the eyes of the pub manager, is just not up to the task of keeping sauces near the food rather than in the lap of the customer.

National political squawking – a prophecy

Here is komadori’s prediction for the political campaigns ahead of the 2015 general election.

Those in the blue Tory nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, in the face of obstruction by their LibDem coalition partners. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit quickly and to improve the economy, by cutting taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim to be the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly but fairly. They’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose economic policies will protect the NHS.

Those in the red Labour nest will claim that what little the coalition government did well over the last five years were things they suggested first and would have done better if in power. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit fairly and to improve the economy, by raising taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, but that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly but fairly. They’d also like you to believe that they’re, naturally, the only party whose policies will protect the NHS.

Those in the yellow LibDem nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, in the face of obstruction by their Tory coalition partners. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit quickly but fairly and to improve the economy, by changing taxes to boost spending. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, and it would be nasty to campaign about it, except to say that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration fairly. Naturally, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies will protect the NHS.

Those in the mauve Kipper nest will claim that everything the coalition government did well over the last five years has been down to them, faced with the fear of electoral meltdown. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to eliminate the deficit and to improve the economy, by ending EU taxes and boosting spending. They’ll claim immigration is an issue, and that they’re the only party with plans to tackle immigration firmly. Of course, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies — once they’ve worked out what they are — will protect the NHS.

Those in the eponymous Green nest will claim that nothing the coalition government did over the last five years was done well, faced with the fear of global warming and meltdown. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party with a realistic plan to save the planet and improve the economy. They’ll claim immigration is not an issue, and it would be nasty to campaign about it, except to say that they’re the only party with plans for fair immigration. Of course, they’d also like you to believe that they’re the only party whose policies — by making life and the planet so much more healthy — will protect the NHS.

Those in the other smaller nests will claim that the coalition government has done nothing well over the last five years and their party’s one-track agenda would have solved all the problems before they even started. They’ll claim you should vote for them because they’re the only party committed to cutting the deficit, improving the economy, tackling immigration, and protecting the NHS.

[This post is based on another from April 2007, just before the local elections of that year.]

An afternoon of sausages and ale

Old Town was alive on Sunday afternoon with visitors wandering between the venues of the Sausage and Ale Trail in Swindon Old Town. The event, to raise funds for the Christmas lights in Old Town, was fortunate with warm sunny weather. With entertainment and market stalls in Wood Street, several pubs were offering sausages — usually served outside — to eat along with their beer. Several shops also had promotions for the day. The Hop Inn was perhaps the most fortunate. With the Arts Centre next door also being a licensed premise, it was able to sell sausages and beer from a counter facing the Arts Centre serving the small crowd watching the entertainment there. For other pubs, it was more discreet, in some cases so discreet that one wondered whether they were worried the event might disrupt their normal Sunday lunch trade.

So busy was the Hop Inn that it ran out of sausages and had to get an urgent re-supply.
Out of bangers at the mo!
A crowd and queue soon formed once they had restocked.
Swindon Old Town Sausage and Ale Trail

Some cycle routes are more practical than others

As part of the planners’ aim for Wichelstowe to be a so called sustainable development, the original masterplan makes plenty of provision for cyclists. Not all of it is entirely practical though. I’m not the first to comment on the cycle route along Peglars Way and Foxham Way. Others passed this way a year ago and were not wholly impressed. A year later and they still weren’t happy.

Some cycle routes are more practical than othersApproaching along Foxham Way from Mill Lane, after negotiating a roundabout with raised cobbles, the cycle lane starts in the middle of the road. To use this cycle lane one has to ride down the central bus lane, marked red to the right of the short cycle lane, in order to hit the pads in the road that work the traffic lights, then do a sharp right turn to hit the cycle lane pads. It might be worthwhile if it were not that the cycle and bus lane ahead is rather short, crossing back over the road a couple of hundred yards further on. At that second junction there are again traffic lights, but with a very long gap between them turning red for motorists on Foxham Way and turning green for cyclists and buses heading for East Wichel Way. I’ve now seen several motorists stop for the red light then, noticing there is no bus waiting to cross, get impatient and drive on. For cyclists content to disregard road markings, ignoring the cycle lane, heading straight on along Foxham Way and then turning left (against the road markings) into East Wichel Way is far quicker, and probably no less safe.

Online renesting

After a week of technical messing about, komadori has moved his blog from Google’s Blogger to WordPress. A rather messy process, that lost all the comments along the way (though there were never many). I’d have been quite content to continue using Blogger — it was easy to use, gave good syndication tools, and did not take too much technical angst to customise a site’s appearance — if it were not for Google’s obsession with integrating everything with Google Plus. I know what my brand is and how I present that, and rather resent the likes of Google insisting ever more loudly that I change that to fit in with their views on online anonymity and identity.

Creditors grab the Brunel Centre

The Brunel — in trouble

In a rather complex chain of financial transactions, it appears that the Brunel Centre has been forced into the hands of ‘fixed charge receivers’ by the fall in property values in recent years. The centre — which is owned by a Jersey-registered company — had breached some of the terms of a loan — traded on the Irish stock exchange — of over £110 M in the first half of last year. The creditor’s agentappointed after the default — had also had the centre revalued, reducing its worth by almost a third, down to £87 M, less than the value of the loan. The closure of the Liquid & Envy nightclub was estimated to have lost the centre income of £90,000, but this was less than 4% of their total income.

With the loan due for repayment on 25 April this year, and with over £100 M of the loan still outstanding, the creditors were clearly getting worried about the chances of getting their money back, and have taken possession whilst considering options, including the possibility of selling the centre. The appointment of receivers was announced on 22 December.

Car park design Musings

Islington & Carfax Street car parks

It seems that unadorned multi-storey car parks have gone out of fashion. Not that they were ever something that could be described as ‘fashionable’. But at least the simple construction of a series of floors, plainly open to the elements, was unpretentious and offer scope for some styling. Looking down Islington Street three such car parks from the 1960s and 1970s are visible. They’re not pretty, but they are functional, with Islington Street Car Park and the Menzies Hotel quite well matched in their brickwork.

Now for the first stage of Muse’s Union Square development something far less simple has been proposed to replace — on a different site — Carfax Street Car Park: a car park encased in aluminium and terracotta ‘fins’. According to the architects, this freak of architecture has

a language for the building where the whole was greater than the sum of the individual parts…. The façade design balances the practical requirement of allowing natural ventilation through the building and creating a striking visual appeal to the building.

Only in the mind of an architect could an overgrown fence be thought of as having ‘a striking visual appeal’.

Union Square car park

In comparison with that, the block of 45 flats to be built nearby are almost stylish. And in the artist’s impression of the flats they felt obliged to hide the car park behind some trees!

Union Square flats