Young people and rural voters could all be kept happy with solutions to the Foxhunting debate that are already hiding in plain sight

December 25, 2017 Leave a comment

images (5)Like Brexit, Hunting has become an emotive subject which is safest left far away from discussion with people we know little about.

Few of us consciously acknowledge why this really is, and the elements of a solution which has the potential to be one supported by all have become hidden by the polarisation of ideas. The inevitable isolation of facts which follows is seen as an unacceptable compromise for each party as they become ever reluctant to recognise validity in any idea which extends beyond the scope and value set of their own.

The biggest elephant in the room for Hunting, is that no matter what supporters or those against this pastime tell us, the debate has long since been anything to do with either the activities or survival of a fox. Yet the actions of both groups in the debate present a story which is very different. If a resolution that works for all is genuinely to be found, each side and the politicians in between them will have to accept that both sides will have to be far more practical in the way they manage the pathways of their respective idealistic ground.

With the various truths presented as fact by some and interpreted as myth by others, the objective reality of this ‘sport’ is that it has very little to do with being competitive and everything to do with a highly social and lifestyle movement, which to its own detriment has become obsessive about a perceived right to hunt our indigenous wild-dog.

The world has moved on. Very few of us believe that the most efficient way to control any kind of mammalian pest, is to become hierarchically attired, mount a very expensive and well-kept horse and then charge around what is left of the open countryside with forty or more others doing exactly the same. Trundling alongside a pack of perhaps a hundred English Foxhounds who are never as happy as when they are simply out for a very long run.

In the years since the implementation of the ‘hunting ban’ under the tenure of the last Labour Government, Hunts around the Country have been doing surprisingly well without any genuine need to reverse the purpose of the Legislation. Hunt protesters and saboteurs would beg to differ, as foxes can often be disturbed and find themselves at the mercy of a brutal, but nonetheless non-intentional act, and it is at this point that we should perhaps all be minded of the propensity of accidents and the fact that many, many more foxes are likely to be killed on the roads during hunting season, than those uncovered accidentally by any hunt which should happen to gallop past.

Open discussion regarding the experience of death for any human or animal concludes quickly for any rational person, as soon as the presence of any deliberate cause or intent is removed. Like it or not, we cannot control that which cannot be controlled, and seeking to prevent any form of accident would easily bring into question just about everything that we do.

Those against hunting – even in its current form should remember this well and be ever mindful of the progressive leap which has already been achieved. There now needs to be an acceptance that this fieldsport is nothing like what it once was and that any form of resentment based upon perception alone, whilst dressed up as a legitimate debate will help no one.

Hunts and the hunt lobby itself would likewise do well to recognise and accept that killing foxes at any costs by applying the law in its most literal sense is a self-defeating act. Using devices such as large birds of prey to kill foxes they have uncovered, gives the true lie to an unnecessary intention and mindset which itself continues to fuel the antagonistic fervour and physical-activist approach of those against whom they have in some cases become violently opposed.

Hunting in its current form and in the way it really should now evolve, is not just the preserve of the wealthy and the one percent which many now love to hate. It is a lifestyle enjoyed by people from all backgrounds and we are as likely to see a plumber, builder or chef taking part as a rider, as we would a landowner or a London banker out for a day from their country home.

It is time that we recognised that Hunting is not about foxes and can be enjoyed by anyone. The Hunts need to stop attempting to play the rules and accept the spirit of the hunting ban in the manner in which it was implemented. The anti-hunt lobby should accept and recognise that they themselves have no legitimate right to police the activities of any hunt, and that holding a set of different ideas to someone else doesn’t mean that we have no choice but to physically collide.

The Hunting Act desperately needs intelligent and considered reform. There is nothing to be gained from it simply being overturned. The direct and related steps that a government seeking to deliver a revised act that would appropriately consider the rights, welfare and respect for the genuine rule of law for all – including the fox itself, could however include:-

Making it illegal to:

  • Intentionally and/or proactively pursue a fox as, for or as part of a social gathering, either directly with dogs or indirectly with alternative measures such as firearms or birds of prey.
  • Intentionally and/or proactively interfere with the activities of any hunt, its members, supporters or guests so convened as a social gathering

Recognising that:

  • Genuine intent is everything. That accidents do occur and no hunt, officer, member, guest or supporter thereof should ever be held liable for the result of any fox or other mammal being uncovered by a group of hounds during the course of a social hunt

Reviewing the role of the RSPCA:

  • Either restructuring the Governance structure of the Charity’s ‘Council’ to ensure that appointments are democratic and reflective of the impartial and non-political nature of the responsibilities with which the RSPCA has been entrusted
  • Or removing the responsibility and prosecutorial role of the RSPCA altogether, perhaps passing them to local authorities where democratic transparency and professional impartiality would be easier to monitor and define

With the current political environment having made hunting feel almost impossible to discuss, it is little wonder that our embattled Prime Minister is looking to secure votes by being perceived to be considering switching sides. The irony of such a choice is that divisive as Foxhunting may be, the very best solution will be making the effort and winning the arguments which will deliver a less than perfect, but nonetheless beneficial win for all.

Odd as it may seem to many of today’s political class, solutions which work for all of us are always possible, whenever there is a genuine willingness to talk.

 

image thanks to businessinsider.com

 

 

 

Social victimisation has become the cultural norm and we are all unwittingly at risk of becoming the bogeymen

November 1, 2017 Leave a comment

social victimisationBlame has sadly become the watchword of our evolving 21st Century culture, and unless bad experiences have literally been caused by nothing more than the weather, it has become a social norm to pinpoint the individual or organisation that is identified to be ‘at fault’.

In the early days of this ‘progressive’ revolution, many of us fell into the trap of seeing the ambulance chasing phenomenon and the surge of ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ litigation as nothing more than an americanisation, not unlike the commercialisation of Halloween which has become just another timetabled roll-out on the shelves of every supermarket store.

But something far more sinister has unfolded alongside the developing sense of personal entitlement and the rejection of responsibility which has gone with it. Culturally, we have started to believe that others can be held responsible for our own feelings and emotional response to any incident, whether there was meaningful or wilful intent to hurt, control or abuse on the part of another or not.

Whilst the Internet age continues to deliver many advantages and benefits to our lives on an almost daily basis, it also has brought with it a regressive flip side that in no small way sees the near 100% opinion content of news channels and their pretenders being taken, absorbed and often regurgitated as pure fact.

The destructive force and exponential amplification of skewed viewpoints within this new world of echo chambers, coupled with an unconscious form of confirmation bias on the part of many, has led to social and mainstream media alike becoming judge, jury and executioner in one. Careers and even lives are being wrecked with little or no thought for the facts, circumstances and the subtle realities and nuances that we all know to exist within real world interactions when we pause for a moment and think about them. Perception is everything and whether we like it or not, when two people interact, there will always be at least two truths created.

The strap line of Dr Frank Luntz’s book ‘Words that Work’; “It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear’ sums up the reality of this situation very well. As we look upon the explosion of the Weinstein scandal, the sharing of #me too and now the outing of what is being portrayed as a sex-pest insurgency at Westminster, we are all in danger of elevating poor social skills, overstimulated egos and downright stupidity to the level of deliberate criminal intent. By doing so, we risk the trivialisation and dismissal of genuine crime against vulnerable people who are already too scared to seek help.

Many doors have thankfully now been opened to equality within all workplaces. Yet the counter-intuitive nature of the response that such sensationalism promotes, could be far reaching.

An increased reluctance on the part of high profile and senior level managers or employers to place themselves at what many of them will now perceive to be an increased risk of spurious accusations, will not encourage the enlightened thinking that will promote open access to the opportunities for all that silent prejudices have obstructed the most.

This reality makes uncomfortable reading. But the fact remains that no level of regulation or control will ever counter the way that any individual privately thinks.

No matter what their background or outward views, people operating at this level in any organisation or capacity will always have the opportunity to say and be seen to do one thing, whilst quietly, perhaps even less than consciously doing quite another.

Public outcry over Grenfell may ensure prosecutions, but the root causes of public sector indifference are cultural and injustices are destined to continue

Residents of Kensington and Chelsea are right to be very concerned about the conduct of the local Council in their handling of events leading up to, during and after the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Yet we should all be concerned with the reality sitting beyond and concerning the state of the whole Public Sector, which leaves Grenfell unique only because of the size and obvious impact of this horrific event, which has captured the public imagination for all the wrong reasons.

It would be difficult for anyone not to picture the horror of the event and to at very least attempt to consider just how significant the impact of an experience of this nature would be. But the race to apportion blame and the politicisation of this disaster for purposes which reach way beyond those of helping or supporting the people directly involved are diversionary at best, and belie the indirect culpability which lies at the feet of politicians of all backgrounds and officers alike, who are operating and making decisions within a system which might appear fine beyond without the presence of Austerity, but is otherwise quietly failing us all miserably.

Yes, the criminal inquiry which the Police are now working on may well identify individuals who will be charged and subsequently found guilty of having some kind or level of criminal liability. Just as the Judge-led inquiry into the technical aspects of the event, construction and renovation of Grenfell Tower may identify problems with wider policy which will then be used to inform changes which will be intended to make structural development safer for users.

But as I have written before when then Prime Minister David Cameron was talking up Jail-terms for the individuals responsible for the failures of the Local Council and Public Sector in Rotherham, there are cultural issues present right the way through local government and the public sector which make incidents that continue to disadvantage the public all but inevitable at all levels, and in many ways that people outside of Government may never become aware of.

Did anyone get jailed over Rotherham? Has anything changed since then? Have any of the parliamentary political parties demonstrated even the slightest hint that they are in touch with the greater problems caused not by Austerity alone, which persist far more significantly in the background and way beyond?

No being the answer to these questions is of course a travesty in itself. Yet even worse is the misleading direction that this whole debate will be taken if sound bites and labels such as ‘social murder’ continue to be taken literally by followers of the media who rely on news mediums – rightly or wrongly as it may be – to provide them with an accurate view of what is really going on, when all they are really getting is very little fact and one hell of a distorted view.

If the complexity of the issues which make our public services arguably unfit for purpose in all but name are not understood by the very people who hold the responsibility to lead us at all levels of Government, how can anyone who does not even have the slightest experience of the inner workings of the public sector be expected to have even a remote idea of what is really going on?

If they did, we would surely be now looking for names for a whole range of crimes either carried out or instigated without intent otherwise known criminally as corruption, embezzlement and fraud, to name just a few.

Some might like that idea greatly. But the very regrettable reality is that the problem spanning the public sector is culturally embedded and the result of many issues which to address will take political leadership of a kind that we have long since seen on offer.

Ultimately, an embedded problem of this kind must be addressed by action taken at the very top and this is why I previously asked if the last Prime Minister should himself be the one facing the jail term.

Until there is an acceptance and willingness on the part of politicians from all political parties to address the greater problems which sit behind not only events with the level of notoriety of the Grenfell Tower disaster and Rotherham, but also the ‘unintended’ injustices of all kinds which are visited upon taxpayers daily, we remain destined to have future events of this kind continuing to unfold.

This is at best unjust and it is a very long way from what we should all be able to expect from any form of government which actually works for the people it is supposed to serve.

10 Years on from the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods: Some things are different, but out of sight is still very much out of mind for the politicians and this is what must really change

Floods 2007 1

Unloading water at the Wheatpieces Community Centre, Walton Cardiff, near Tewkesbury, following the July 2007 Floods

With 10 years now passed since the Gloucestershire floods of 2007 we cast our minds back to the magnitude of those events that affected significant numbers of people and communities across the County and surrounding areas in the middle of July that year.

Only a matter of weeks into my first term as an elected councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, I remember well that the significance of what felt like a tropical rainstorm parked overhead for most of that Friday would go way beyond a vast extension of what sadly remains a regular local event.

So much water trying to find its way to a natural watercourse created rivers and lakes in the most unexpected locations and seeing upended cars by the roadside and in ditches the following day, like some scene from War of the Worlds left a picture in my mind which was at the very least quite surreal.

But it was on the Sunday, when word really began to spread that there had been a problem at the Mythe Water Treatment Plant as a result of the Flooding which meant tap water was about to run out, that the real consequences of what we were afterwards told was a 1 in 100 year event really began to unfold.

After an unexpected phone call from a constituent that afternoon, asking where they could get water I found myself spending over two weeks delivering water and coordinating drinking water supplies around my Council Ward, increasingly conscious of how very thin the veil of individual social responsibility, commonly known as civil order actually is, when it was pricked in so many other areas by people fighting over water, steeling it and even urinating in bowsers where communities had been supplied. We can only begin to imagine what would have happened if the emergency services had not won their battle against the rising floodwaters of the River Severn when just centimetres from flooding the Walham Electricity Substation just outside Gloucester.

From my own perspective, the contact with members of the community I then represented that getting so directly involved gave me was of incalculable benefit. Not only did I see the impact of the breakdown of our utility service supply at first hand, I also gained real-time understanding of flooding and also what can be the very localised nature and requirements of our arbitrary Planning system, which continues to fail local people, and the communities in which they live every day.

The news channels have today made use of the good-news stories which followed the 2007 Floods, such as the permanent flood protection and defences that have been erected in places such as Upton on Severn, just a few miles upstream from Tewkesbury. Yet the bigger story beyond remains the lack of understanding or failure to acknowledge the real impact of building not only near or on flood plains themselves, but also on ground which in extreme weather events, would or has historically become the natural channels where a rainfall overload will find its way to our local main rivers via the floodplains in between.

Sadly, consideration of the issues which sit behind those which are most obvious is not something that Government at National or Local level beyond is happy to embrace, particularly at a time when the politically expedient route to solving our housing supply problems is to simply focus on everything that encourages people and businesses to build.

Events like the 2007 Gloucestershire Floods are not rare events. This fact has been only too well illustrated by the many different experiences that Towns, Villages and in some cases even Cities have been continuing to experience ever since, and yet we still have a Planning system, environmental policies and public sector approach which is in real terms not even fully reactive in nature.

The pain, loss and suffering which people suffer, often much longer than during the time of these flooding events themselves should have by now resulted in a proactive approach to flood prevention. But 10 years now gone – a period in which even the very slow wheels of Government could have delivered the creative and fully considered policy changes and developments which might at least have future-proofed existing properties from what might be avoidable disaster – Politicians are still failing to adapt to dealing with the biggest issues which are facing communities, albeit the ones that are far from being obvious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth, post truth, lies or one persons truth is another is another mans lies: falsehoods and technical truths are the order of the day, but filtering for fake news will just take mass manipulation to a new level

December 23, 2016 1 comment

truth-2

Whichever way we turn, we have started to hear the media using the term ‘post truth’ as a label for just about every piece of news with which someone, somewhere disagrees. Some are more direct and call these stories lies. But politicians and activists have been using the same methods that they do now that they have for generations before the events of 2016 were even thought as being the remotest of possibilities. The only thing that has changed is that this method of communicating politically expedient truths has simply been given a name.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that this as happened, given that both the result of the European Referendum and the US General Election went completely against the establishment script, leaving many of most skillful users of this manipulative dark art crying foul, simply because the very same weapon that they have used against so many, has been so effectively been used against them.

So what is the ‘post truth’ – It literally sounds as if we have entered an era where everything now being said and done in government has progressed beyond the point of being true?

To be fair, we often say to others observing and discussing the same events that we experience, that they are ‘unbelievable’. But this is a turn of phrase that doesn’t suggest that these events or what has been said is untrue. It reflects a reality that the acts of the political classes often defy logical explanation; that they present outcomes it would be unlikely to imagine, or that the stories we hear are of kind ‘that you simply couldn’t write’.

Words present a different challenge again and we must be mindful of the fact that a story which one person’s experience tells them is true, can all too easily be dismissed through the eyes of another who has had an alternative or perhaps wider level of experience.

Sadly, the world of politics long since arrived at the point where saying that something was true – but in reality only just from the point of view of the speaker, would mean they could make what are wilfully misleading statements, whilst ‘honestly’ painting that particular perspective or alternative reality as being true.

Doubling down or the art of sticking to the story or script makes watching media interviews with politicians from all sides absolutely cringeworthy. I am sure I have not been alone in wondering ‘why the hell don’t you just tell them the bloody truth?!’

Unfortunately that’s how today’s unethical and morally devoid political establishment operates and how it expects new entrants to always behave. Whether always being ‘on message’, accepting that as a junior politician you will be told what you will think, or simply becoming a vote to be used in government at the will of the party leadership as soon as the elections are over, that is the distasteful and utterly dishonest way that the current political regime works.

Trump, Cameron, Farage, Osborne, Johnson, Gove, Hannan, May and every figurehead politician we can identify as having played a role in key events this year have all been telling us their very own truths. What they are not however, are genuinely or completely false. And we should all be very concerned that there is now a growing movement at work which is looking to filter ‘fake news’ from the material that we read. A development which has been spearheaded by the work which Facebook is now doing.

Fake news in its genuine sense is a concept which social media has facilitated and a source of satire and ridiculous comedy that most of us thoroughly enjoy. The Poke, The Southend News Network, Newsthump and The Onion are but just a few of many more that we can as easily have posting to our newsfeeds each day.

We access them just the same as the apparently legitimate sources we read like the BBC, Sky News, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Times, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, or again a great many others too. Yet even they all promote the truths of the journalists, the editors, the companies that own them and the advertisers who pay the bigger part of their wages within them too.

People do know and understand the difference between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news already. They do not need filters – which will inevitably contain the bias or prejudices of the people who run or program them – to ensure that they are only exposed to news that they can ‘trust’.

In a certain manner of speaking, no form of news can really be trusted today, as very little of the news we read or hear arrives on the screen in front of us without some hint of opinion being present. This has always been the case on a broader level within the various parts of the national press. But it does now seem to have become that bit more unpalatable to dissenters when a reader’s exposure to the ‘wrong’ stories through targeted material they often really want to read removes the chance that the alternative – or to others the ‘acceptable’ or ‘correct’ point of view will not be revealed to them.

If every reader or viewer were to engage with the news that reaches them by thinking critically today, the media industry would simply cease to exist overnight. But that doesn’t mean they are unaware of the realities and truths at some level.

It has long been accepted socially that opinion is what makes news sell and what turns ‘news’ into a product that we then want to buy. However, we certainly don’t want to read, watch or hear anything with which we don’t identify, and this is the indisputable truth that all of those who now want to control news for their own purposes will be very quick to deny.

image thanks to unknown

Degree level entry for all Police Officers is a retrograde step which will push a common sense approach to policing even further away down the bureaucratic queue

December 22, 2016 Leave a comment

police-training

With everything happening across the political and public sector world feeling so very uncertain already, it will have come as a surprise to many that the Government has allowed the College of Policing to announce that candidates wishing to become Police Officers will be required to have Degrees from 2020.

The reasoning cited behind this move is the increasing level of activity within the role including the research which Police Officers are required to undertake online. But is this itself really justification enough to raise the bar to an occupation and public service which in recent years has been a key target to become a lighthouse of diversity?

Information Technology and ‘web fluency’ levels are arguably highest within the generation now reaching the workplace at 16 and above – irrespective of the level of formal education they have attained, simply because use of smartphones and PCs to access the web has now reached a point of social permeation where children are culturally conditioned in their use. To suggest otherwise would arguably demonstrate just how seriously out of touch our policy makers have now become.

Cyber-crime has become increasingly prevalent. But it has not in any way superseded the need for real-world policing, which has itself become painfully absent in recent years as a mix of bureaucracy and the public sector funding crisis have hit the Police Service very hard indeed. The widespread perception exists that the physical presence of our Police forces have now dwindled to a point where it would logical for us to ask if our communities are really safe.

The concept that more can be delivered using less is one that is now followed in every sector. In some cases there are significant efficiencies that can be made within organisations of all descriptions, particularly when new technology can reduce the workload or requirement of staff numbers. However, this is not without consequence as the current raft of strikes in the UK have arguably displayed. There is also a significant question to be addressed regarding these economies being made when the financial benefit has become the priority over the experience of the customer or members of the public.

Like many, I grew up with a respect for the Police which is increasingly hard to justify, given the level and type of interaction which Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers now have within the community. The focus on a system of delivery where you once felt that a Police Constable really did have autonomy as they enforced and represented the Law appears to have long since left the building. It appears to have been replaced with a bureaucratic nightmare where Officers now have to look over their shoulders before they decide either to engage or to act.

It may seem romantic, but an age where a Police Officer didn’t have to resort to making arrests or presenting Court Summons to achieve a real-life result with ‘petty crime’ was not so long in the past. Yes, these Officers of the Law did not have to chase their quarry online, but they also engaged with would-be criminals in a much more meaningful way. One which was adapted to the specific circumstances they were addressing and did not result in so many young people being tarred by acts of stupidity which with the arrival of the net itself, have become far too accessible to the people looking for controversy who need no degree to go searching for any mud that can easily be used to stick.

Most of those less senior Officers had very little formal education. But what they did have was life experience and common sense by the bag load; the essential ingredient for constructive interaction with people of all levels and of all kinds.

Being ‘streetwise’ isn’t something that can be taught from a text book. One of the simple facts that the College of Policing may be seriously overlooking, is that degree level students want to earn their money straight away. University leavers will not have the world view or wherewithal that the public should be able to expect any Police Officer to have, whilst waiting for the graduates who would make ideal police officers to gain experience in other occupations first may prove to be a fruitless exercise given that they will probably stay in other safer, more lucrative and perhaps even more rewarding careers if they have by then already found them.

Police Officers in the UK already undergo extensive training to support them in their roles, and extra modules to support non-specialist officers to fit their IT skills to the purposes of our Law enforcement regime would be no quantum leap for those who have qualified for entry by today’s terms.

Sadly, this move towards elitism within the Police Service has all the hallmarks of taking one very large step in the progress of bureaucracy too far and risks disenfranchising communities from those in power beyond that too.

 

image thanks to http://www.telegraph.co.uk

An Oath of Allegiance to a broken system will legitimise the punishment of scapegoats whilst the real problems within public services will remain unresolved

December 19, 2016 Leave a comment

oath-1It was perhaps inevitable that with the publication of messages which were supposed to result in a public-wide swift and audible intake of air, Dame Louise Casey’s report on social cohesion would provoke the Government into making a knee-jerk but nonetheless media-hyped response.

Reviews and Reports of the kind which are commissioned by a government are of course expected to make recommendations. But can we really have confidence that the implications of adopting any policy which logically represents a very narrow and isolated point of view have been considered in the widest context just a couple of weeks after its publication?

Comments from The Casey Review did indeed resonate with many more people than the Government may realise, purely because it was stating in many ways what many already know to be clearly true. But that doesn’t in anyway mean that Dame Louise has the answers to those questions.

We all want to see decisive government action of the kind that we can be sure Sajid Javid intends this policy to be. But it is not in anyone’s interests and least of all his own, for the social injustices which we are now experiencing throughout society, to be compounded by legislation which will legitimise witch hunting and provide a focus for irresponsible leaders who to publicly point the finger of blame.

After all, when we make an oath, the mere act of breaking it becomes a verdict of unquestionable guilt. One that for others makes an easy target upon which to attribute much more negative association besides as they draw attention away from their own roles and [lack of] responsibility.

The whole public sector is in a mess, and it desperately needs top to bottom reform initiated in the form that only the Government can provide. However, making anyone associated with delivery itself liable for actions which personally, professionally, culturally and in some cases contrary to social acceptability are outside of their control, is surely a giant step upon a very slippery slope to a dark place indeed.

I am not arguing against taking action in any way. But the suggestion being made by Mr Javid is no better than the discussion initiated by David Cameron following the child abuse scandal in Rotherham in which he suggested that public servants who overlook their safeguarding responsibilities should simply receive jail terms. I wrote about the issues facing the Sector then, and nothing has been improved by the politicians with the real ability to do so in any way since.

If public services operated as effectively as they could, and were underpinned by processes and localised standards of governance which really worked to ensure the very best deal possible for each and every end-user, yes, an Oath by all employed or elected to represent us within would be a fair and appropriate benchmark.

However, they don’t work effectively and they are certainly not underpinned with the continuity and levels of service to make it possible for only one person to be branded as being at fault when so many more are always, if not inadvertently involved.

 

image thanks to unknown

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