April 4 2013
All is confusion
With just under a week left before the crucial Burton by-election, the Western Telegraph has published a full-page spread on the four candidates.
Naturally, Old Grumpy was keen to read what the Independent Plus Political Group's candidate Rob Summons had to say.
As the WT points out Mr Summons is breaking new ground by being "one of the first" candidates to state their allegiance to the IPPG "publicly before a vote".
I think it should read "the very first" but as I don't have a complete set of IPPG election addresses I am not in a position to quarrel with the WT's more cautious approach.
Either way, it is surely preferable that the voters know the candidate's political colours before they cast their votes.
Mr Summons' makes a valiant attempt to explain away the logical inconsistency between being "independent" and, at one and the same time, a member of a political group.
For a masterclass in the sort of sophistry involved see (Through the Looking-Glass).
Rob, claims that the IPPG doesn't have a "Whip" but then goes on to argue that: "on matters that affect our county overall there is a need for a strong collective voice".
Whip, or no Whip, the only way you can have "a strong collective voice" is if members vote as a block.
And, if members vote as a block, it is difficult to see how they can be said to be independent.
"The Independent [Plus Political] Group on Pembrokeshire County Council continually proved to be one of the best performing authorities in Wales", claims Mr Summons, so, presumably, he hasn't been keeping up with events in the past 18 months which have seen highly critical reports from Estyn, CSSIW and Wales Audit Office on child safeguarding and education performance generally resulting in the county education service being placed under special measures by the Welsh Government.
And the Burton poll has thrown up another first in that Cllr Simon Hancock has become the first local politician to have two dogs in the same fight.
Cllr Hancock is Chairman of the Neyland Branch of the Labour party, in whose area Burton falls, and a leading light in the IPPG - a Cabinet member no less.
Indeed, the "Plus" in IPPG was inserted so that Cllr Hancock wouldn't have to join the IPG - and I didn't make that up.
So, with his Labour Party hat on, he was responsible for the selection of the party's candidate to run against his other party's candidate, Rob Summons.
I wonder if he has been seen out canvassing?
And, if so, how has he resolved this dilemma?
Perhaps, he puts the Labour and IPPG cases on alternate doorsteps.
Old Grumpy seems to remember that the Labour Party used to have a rule that any member who joined another political group on the council was automatically expelled.
That's certainly what happened to Cllr Pearl Llewellyn when she changed sides back in 2006 (Sue's fury).
And, I believe, Ken Rowlands when he defected in suspicious circumstances in 2008 (The plot thickens).
Could it be that Labour, along with the other main parties, has lost so many grass roots members that further reductions by expulsion is seen as a cross between an own goal and a shot in the foot?
Right and left
The uproar over one-time fascist sympathiser Paolo Di Canio's appointment as manager of Sunderland carries with it dark hints of Senator McCarthy's witch hunts against communists in the 1950s.
Would there have been the same fuss if Di Canio had announced he was a communist?
Unfortunately, Hitler poisoned the well for fascism with his ultra racist policies, but if you read the history books you will find that other fascists like Mussolini and Franco were no more racist than say the nice democrats in the USA.
Fascism in its pure form is a perfectly respectable system of government.
It is not one that I would have any truck with because it is a collectivist doctrine which proceeds on the basis that the individual is the servant of the state.
As an old fashioned liberal I believe the relationship works the other way round.
It is not as if communists have a better record than fascists when it comes their treatment of the individuals who fall under their control.
Think Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao.
One of the great fallacies of modern thinking about this subject is that there is a political continuum that stretches from socialists on the left to conservatives on the right and then on to fascists on the far right.
The true divide is between collectivists on the left and liberals on the right.
The idea that people like Hitler and Mussolini were ultra capitalists is strictly for the birds.
Takes these quotations as evidence
"We are socialists, we are enemies of todays capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions. (Hitler)
"Fascism is definitely and absolutely opposed to the doctrines of liberalism, both in the political and economic sphere."(Mussolini)
"The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporate, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organised in their respective associations, circulate within the State. (Mussolini)."
In his book The Road to Serfdom Friedrich Hayek puts forward the theory that socialists such as the UK Labour party are simply too nice to effectively run a truly socialist system.
They believe in things like human rights which have no place in a collectivist system where the individual is subservient to the state.
In the chapter "Why the worst rise to the top" Hayek argues that totalitarianism is the very essence of a socialist society for the simple reason that it can't be made to work without the ruthless suppression of individual rights.
Turning the tables
In 1959, I was fortunate enough to win a place at the University College of North Staffordshire - later Keele University - near Stoke on Trent
Keele was unique because it ran a four-year course - the foundation year being devoted to a general course on the history of western civilisation billed, as I recall: "From Aristotle to Einstein".
There were two one-hour lectures a day between 9 - 11 am.
For a young man who played rugby and bridge and who had recently discovered the delights of the jazz clubs in Burslem, Hanley and Longton, this was a most inconvenient time of day and, if truth be told, my attendance record was not all it should have been.
Fortunately from time to time the college authorities would have a purge on attendance and the prospect of being thrown out would stimulate the backsliders to force themselves from their beds at the unearthly hour of 8.30.
I was lucky because the ex-army hut in which I lived was only a few yards from the door to the lecture hall, so it was possible to rise as late as 8.55 and still make it on time.
So come July, it was with little confidence that I faced the end of term exams.
I remember one of the questions was: "Discuss the economic and social changes brought about by the advent of the bicycle".
This was a gift for someone like me who had few facts at his disposal because you could make up the answer from personal experience.
There was all the obvious stuff about mobility of labour, greater access to leisure activities, the extended range of courting opportunities leading to a reduction in inbreeding and the rest.
And I like to think that the examiners were impressed when I suggested that ladies fashion might also been influenced - trousers being preferred to long skirts which have an unfortunate habit of getting caught up in the spokes of the rear wheel.
Anyway, by concentrating on questions of a more general nature i.e. relying on my wits rather than my knowledge, I passed.
I remember some of my fellow students complaining about the bicycle question because "we hadn't had a lecture on that".
They had obviously not understood the crucial difference between education and training.
I give this brief biographical detail because I have been taking a keen interest in the row between Michael Gove and the teaching unions over what the teachers describe as "the pub-quiz curriculum" proposed by the education secretary.
And though I am a keen advocate of liberal education and appreciate the difference between education and training, or learning and understanding, I am with Mr Gove on this one, because it is simply not possible to understand anything unless you have some basic facts in your head to think about.
It is only when you have learned your tables off by heart, that you are able to think about the relationships between numbers in a creative way.
For instance, it might occur to you that when you add two odd numbers you always get an even number, or that the square of a number is always one more than the product of the two numbers each side of it.
If you learn a piece of poetry you can turn it over in your head at any time in search for its deeper meaning.
What is surprising about this argument is that, as far as I know, nobody suggests that the best way to teach the piano is to sit the new pupil down in front of a Chopin nocturne.
That said, I wouldn't recommend the primary education that I received which consisted of endless sums and verbal reasoning exercises with a view to passing the 11+.
However, there is a happy medium and modern primary education has swung too far the other way.
Nobody can understand science unless they have a basic grasp of maths and if you can't read and write, history will remain forever a mystery.
A couple of years ago, I had an interesting conversation with one of my grandchildren who arrived home from school claiming to have mastered the four-times table.
What's five fours?" I asked.
The fingers were quickly into action and after an interval the answer 20 emerged.
"Nine-fours?" I asked.
This time the fingers got a bit confused and 32 was suggested.
"You don't know your four-times tables", I said.
"But I do know about global warming", he countered, quick as a flash.
Now, even scientists with PhDs can't agree about global warming, so I doubt if there are many primary school teachers who have mastered the subject, though I can imagine it's much more fun to teach than the four times tables.
Manchester police have announced that they will in future treat offences against anyone such as Goths and Punks who are distinguished by their lifestyle and clothes as "hate crimes".
It is to be hoped that South Wales police will soon follow suit and we don't see a repeat of last months disgraceful attack on a group of visitors from England just because they were wearing white shirts.
A few weeks earlier, a party from Ireland were afforded entirely different treatment on their visit to Cardiff when traditional Welsh hospitality allowed them to run up a 30-point first half lead before the home side began to take the game seriously.
A spokesman for the English RFU said that the only difference he could detect was that the Irish visitors were wearing green shirts.
"This sort of shirtist discrimination has no place in the game of rugby," the spokesman said, "and it should be stamped out before someone gets hurt".
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