Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

DINOSAUR: Help! I’ve been UKIPed!

In Dinosaur on July 2, 2013 at 12:43 pm

dinosaurI’m sorry to say that I’m not a happy dinosaur right now. It was the county council elections wot done it. During the campaign I did my share of lumbering around, delivering leaflets, feeling optimistic that there were enough folk in our neck of the woods to ensure that we’d elect our Labour candidate.

I cast my vote, and then took off for the May Day weekend (to Scarborough, if anyone’s interested), so I missed the count. And what did I find when I got back home? The UKIP candidate had gained the seat, and would be off to County Hall to represent us all in my particular county ward.

The fact that the “Kippers” stood on a platform which was a contradictory farrago of right-wing nonsense didn’t seem to have deterred the voters. Such slogans as “British jobs for British people” and “put Gloucestershire first by putting Britain first” (however meaningless they may be in themselves) seemed to strike some kind of chord with too many local folk.

I’m hoping that the success of UKIP in the Forest is merely a temporary blip, and that this Nigel in Wonderland outfit will soon implode – but it’s best not to bank on it. It’s up to all of us to ensure that UKIP’s policies are exposed for what they really are – nasty right-wing populism.

Getting off their backsides:

There is a school of thought amongst right-wing Tories that there is what’s termed a “dependency culture” that prevents the unemployed and their families from getting work. If they’d only get up off their backsides, roll up their sleeves and get a job then they could cut loose from reliance on the dole, and everyone would be happy.

This school of thought goes back at least to Norman Tebbit and his “get on your bikes” speech. Indeed it probably dates to the hungry ‘thirties (where many amongst the unemployed couldn’t even afford bikes). Now the mantle has been taken up by Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister for Work and Pensions. His response to this “dependency culture” is to put a cap on benefits, just to ensure that the unemployed end up even poorer. This, in the eyes of his supporters, should provide that much needed kick up the backside, to get the “skivers” back to work.

Of course we all know (or should know) that in the unemployment black spots, the jobs simply aren’t there. It ignores that sense of hopelessness, sometimes bordering on despair, that infects those without work. Those in that condition hardly feel like leaping out of bed in the morning, eager to face the challenge of a new day.

And, of course, the Tory attack on our welfare rights goes much further than that. The “bedroom tax” is already claiming its first victims. Elsewhere, it seems, few of us are safe. There’s the notion that “wealthier” pensioners should lose such benefits as free bus passes and free TV. It might seem comparatively minor – but all these pointers go against the very grain of the welfare state – and that is that we all pay in to the system and all benefit from it. Simple. And it works.

A return to Belfast:

Back in the late 1980s/early ’90s, I made several trips across the water to Belfast. This was at the height of “the troubles”, and I was able to meet a range of leading figures from both sides of the great divide – and also those like the brave “peace women” and their families who were trying to win “hearts and minds” and overcome the bitterness of the conflict.

A few weeks ago, I was back in Belfast for a few days – this time on a short holiday – and was struck by the difference. Gone were the security checks around the city centre, the patrols of armed police and soldiers or the heavily armoured Landrovers. Instead it gave an impression of a bustling city at peace with itself.

And the amount of new development was impressive – particularly along the city’s waterfront. The City Hall which once had a banner across the front proclaiming “Belfast Says No!”, has now been re-vamped, and is a pleasure to visit. Even the old sectarian murals which adorned the walls in the Protestant-Catholic flashpoints have been preserved as tourist attractions.

Belfast, of course, still has its problems. There are still some who’ve failed to learn the lessons of the past. But in many ways, the old, troubled, city has been transformed.

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