Where have UKIP gone?

Friday 20th June

There was a point when UKIP were the only show in town; when the smiling face of Mr. Farage was everywhere, on the telly and in the papers it was all Ukip.  And actually it almost all was based on the persona of that one man.  And now nothing.  May be he is having a well-deserved rest – a holiday perhaps.  And like some sort of summer madness the whole of the Press has moved on.  The World Cup and Iraq are squeezing any mention of politics out of the way.  Which may not be a bad thing.  But where have all those Ukip voters gone.  Just because there isn’t an election they haven’t disappeared.  Have they?  Well, if opinion polls tell us anything their vote has slipped back.  Or rather the people who were prepared to think the unthinkable and say they would vote for them if there was an election tomorrow have diminished somewhat.  According to the polls their vote is now around 13 or 14%.  Higher incidentally than the LibDems.  But I wonder what is really happening.

There are only about 60% of the electorate who actually go out and vote at all, and there is no reliable way of excluding the unlikely to vote from the numbers.  If you are (un)lucky enough to be asked, which I never have been, by a pollster, are you going to be honest and say that actually you probably wont vote anyway.  Secondly there is a core vote for both Labour and the Tories of around 30% who will vote that way always; they wouldn’t dream of voting anything else, no matter how badly the party is doing.  Thirdly there is a long-term trend of the big two parties losing support.  Call it voter fatigue, or a plague on both your houses, or simply the belief that they are both pretty incompetent.  Fourthly the first past the post system means that an MP can easily be elected with only about a third of the electorate in that seat voting for them.  This means that many votes are wasted; in essence any vote over 50% for your favoured candidate will not help them in any way.  So the opinion pollsters all try to use demographics to work out how these raw percentages will translate into seats. And they are always wrong.  Most campaigns don’t actually change things that much either.  The next nine months are the crunch time to shift public opinion, if that is even at all possible.  But I wonder just how much air-time Mr. Farage will get between now and the starting gun in early April, and where the polls will be then because nothing breeds success like success.  If people think they (or anyone else) is winning they are more likely to vote for them.

95% Sold Already

Thursday 19th June

There is a brown-field site just off the Isle of Dogs where we live.  For years it was a temporary car-park but now the hoardings have gone up and glamourous photo’s depicting London’s Sophisticated Living.  They are building yet another block of flats.  This one will have a partial view of the river (from some angles) just opposite to the Millenium Dome.  However right next door is the recycling centre and opposite is Wood Wharf, where planning permission has been given for high-rise office blocks to be built in the next decade.  We assume that this block will be pretty high as more than twenty floor blocks are all around.  Along with the sparkling photos is a declaration that 95% of the flats (or apartments as they are called) are already sold.  I can only assume that this is to generate some sort of demand for the remainder, though if 95% are already sold the other 5% should present no problem.

This is just another symptom of the problem with London’s housing market.  Too many foreign buyers, buying off-plan without even visiting the site (still unbuilt) or maybe even London.  They are seen as both an investment and a bolt-hole and maybe a way of hiding money from their own tax authorities.  But it buggers up the market (if there really is one) for UK residents.  House prices in London are rocketing and now even buy-to-let landlords are being priced out, let alone normal young people.  Schools and Hospitals are finding it difficult to attract staff as housing costs are so horrendous and normally this would temper the market, but this influx of foreign buyers means that prices keep rising.

So, the disparity between those who own their own homes (maybe lucky enough to have bought a few years ago) and those forced to rent will continue to widen.  London too is seen as a bell-weather for the rest of the country.  Let’s hope it doesn’t follow suit.  There is an easy solution, build far more houses and let councils build  more and more council houses.  But at the moment that seems not only unlikely but unthinkable.

A is for Aztec Camera

Wednesday 18th June

In the mid-eighties there was a flury of brilliant groups who had grown up listening to the Beatles and the Stones, and lived through the nightmare of punk and now wanted to play sophisticated cool music for a new generation.  They included Prefab Sprout, Everything But The Girl and my favourite – Aztec Camera.  Led by song-writer in chief and singer Roddy Frame they came from Scotland and were straight away brilliant.  Every song had a great melody, and words to match.

Songs like Spanish Horses, Deep and Wide and Tall, Good Morning Britain and Killermont Street.  Songs wit an understanding of life and love far beyond Roddy’s tender years.  They petered out some time in the late nineties and Roddy now records sporadically under his own name.  Many bands are fashionable for a while, they have a hit record or two and then disappear, and a few years later you play their record and you wonder what you ever saw in them in the first place.  Not so with Aztec Camera, they get better with age.  Their songs sound as fresh today as they ever did.  Wonderful and timeless music.

England’s chances?

Tuesday 17th June

Before the tournament began very few of us had high hope for our chances.  Yes, we had got to the finals but our group was tough.  Mind you they all are these days.  Time was when there would be one good European team, one from South Africa and a couple of minnows; cannon fodder that occasionally played well enough to cause an upset.  The reality now is that all 32 teams are formidable.  There are no easy games.  Our first match was against Italy, regular winners of the tournament and still amongst the favourites this time.

And we lost against them.  Only just, though as far as points go that makes little difference.  But we played exceedingly well, and actually had far more chances and shots on targets than the Azzuri.   A little bit of naivety at the back let them score twice against our one great goal.  So it goes.  But Roy hodgson’s decision to go all out for a win and play our new talented youngsters in preference to some of the older slower players was the right one.  How are these younger players going to get international experience unless they play against the best.

As to our chances, of winning the World Cup still none, and even getting out of their group will be hard.  As usual it is all nail-biting stuff.  We have to win our next two matches, because Uruguay who also lost, though more surprisingly than us, are in the same boat and have to win the next match against us.  If we lose that we are out.  And then we have Costa Rica, who if they lose against Italy will be desperate to beat us to qualify.  In a way it mught be better this way.  Had we drawn against Italy we might have relaxed against the next two.  Had we won of course who knows?  Honestly I think we are capable of getting to the next round, but in football anything can happen and with England it usually does.

The Old Firestation

Monday 16th June

It used to be quite rare to find good local restaurants, but suddenly we have lots.  In Walton we have the Samui Thai and the Indian, both of which serve good food but in not the best surroundings.  But her on the Isle of Dogs we have a couple of Thai places that are outstanding and of course a few BanglaDeshi Indian places.  Best of all though is the Old FireStation in Manchester Road and only a short walk from the house.  The Décor is simple but effective; everything is white and red.  They have cleverly hidden all the ceiling furniture, the air-con and the sprinkler system by hanging gold painted picture frames horizontally just below them.  Though empty the frames distract your eyes from the ceiling.

But of course, the two other elements of a successful restaurant are the service, which here is excellent, attentive but not intrusive, and the food.  It is Greek or Balkan with enough general Mediterranean dishes to strike a balance.  Starters include Albanian Liver with very hot harissa sauce and prawns in hot chilli jam, plus some nice veggie options.  Main Course always include at least four vegetarian options and the portions are generous too.

But the best thing is the price, around £25 a head including drinks, which is almost unbeatable.   We go quite often because the food is great and we always have a good time.  I just wish some of the Restaurants I work with could be as good.

Father’s Day

Sunday 15th June

The whole concept of Father’s Day is a nonsense;  it’s just a way to sell cards isn’t it?  Or that is the cynical view.  And while there is some truth in that, it is only part of the story.  Far too often fathers are ignored, or rather taken for granted.  I have been somewhat guilty of that myself, but maybe because my mother was always so dominant, at least in my memory, that I never quite appreciated his silent presence as much as I should have.  I certainly appreciate him far more now that I am a father myself.  But really my objection to there being a Father’s Day is that everyday should be a father’s day.  Or rather like Birthdays, we shouldn’t just celebrate them on one day of the year.  Incidentally my own father’s birthday is in mid-June and quite often falls on Father’s Day anyway.  As a child Father’s Day mostly passed us by, I’m not even sure if there were special cards in the shops for it. But we are living in a more and more labeled world, where almost everything is on the telly or the internet and not only can we not escape them but we feel almost compelled to be part of them.  Shop windows are full of cards and gifts to remind us of our obligation, an obligation which should never be one at all.  Companies are cashing in with adverts for the pefect Father’s Day gift.  But everything is like that now, there is a constant stream of events, annual or every four years which draw us in, make us aware, make us take part.  So, today is Father’s Day again: cards will be bought and sent, Restaurants will be fully booked, presents will be bought by Mums for little children to hand over to Daddy.  So here is to all fathers everywhere, even those who have lost touch with their kids either through neglect or divorce or some other reason.  Everyone needs a father despite the many women who have decided to be single mums; they may be able to live without a man in their lives, but can their children?

Sunny day at Walton

Saturday 14th June

Some days are just lovely.  Despite the nightmare reports coming out of Iraq; despite politics; despite the country going to the dogs; when the sun is shining all is well with the World.  I am at Walton, which an sometimes be a bit quiet, a bit flat, a bit boring.  The sun is shining and the place is transformed.  The town is heaving with people, all smiling and enjoying the sunshine.  The shops are all open and full.  The Pie and Mash and Fish and Chip shops are bursting at the seams – everyone is looking for food.  Probably because the tide is in and the beach is in places a tiny strip of sand and in others has gone completely.  Not that this has stopped the bathers.  There are more people swimming than I’ve seen in a long time, all bobbing up and down in the greeny-grey sea.

What a difference a bit of sunshine makes.  We are all affected by it.  If I were Cameron I would have cut and run already and declared an election in the middle of the Euro campaign.  He wouldn’t have necessarily won, but the combination of warm weather and a still undefeated England may have just swung it for him.   But he has stupidly given away the gift of choosing the date of the election and made us into a fixed-term Parliament.  Now, like America we face a final year of stagnation, where nothing controversial  is voted on, all parties too interested in preparing for the coming election.  It is actually even worse in America, as they now have a two-year campaign for President.  Anyway banish those thoughts for the moment and let us enjoy an hour or two more in the sun.

A is for Joan Armatrading

Friday 13th June

I may well have written about this remarkable woman before.  If so I apologise, but good things are worth repeating.  This woman is almost unique amongst black female artists, though I may well be contradicted.  As well as owning a beautiful deep voice she plays incredible guitar.  She also writes all her own material and sometimes even plays all the instruments on her albums as well as producing them.  And she has been going for nearly fifty years.  But the most remarkable thing about her is that she is totally un-manipulated.  She is absolutely her own woman.  She has never followed the trends or changed her style or amended her songs to suit what the record industry might be asking for.

From her very first record “Whatever’s for us” we knew we were in the presence of greatness.  She was singing as she always does from the heart, and yet with an intimacy that is almost shocking.  Rumour has it that she is a lesbian, but her songs are never gender specific so you can superimpose anyone you like into them.   And she writes of the complications of love.  One song “The Weakness In Me” is about the temptations of a new love and the betrayed loyalty to the old one . “Why do you come here, when you know I have troubles enough.”  Brilliant – and to my knowledge hardly anyone else is writing like that.  Maybe Laura Marling.    The other thing about Joan is that she is black, and yet falls into none of the stereotypes that black singers usually do.  She is refreshingly unique, and unlike a lot of artists her age her records are still good, (though I still love the old ones best).

Iraq – a decade on

Thursday 12th June

It is now 11 years since the Iraq war, or massacre as it should really be called.  There was never any doubt of the winner, just how long it might take.  America, the greatest military power in the world bombed the place to bits, and we went along to provide cover and some sort of political fig-leaf for naked aggression.   A few years ago Tony Blair, giving evidence at Chilcott said that Iraq was a far better place now without Saddam Hussein.  But is that really true.

The trouble is that the country is, like many Arab countries, riven by internal strife.  I don’t pretend to understand the rights or wrongs or even the differences between Sunni and Shi-ite – all I know is it is a bloody mess, and it is getting worse.  Forget for a moment the reason we went to war.  Oil and revenge and global domination aside, the ostensible argument was to free an oppressed people and to introduce Democracy.  Well, they have a form of democracy and it patently isn’t working.

Even here in the ‘educated’ West democracy barely works.  Most Governments get elected by less than 40% of those bothered enough to even vote.  In fact probably less than one in four people actually vote for any one party.   And our half-baked form of democracy has taken four hundred years to achieve this level of imperfection, so how do we imagine we can impose “Democracy” on a totally different culture.

And now Civil War has broken out again.  It may be decades before the country returns to anything like the wealth and standards of living it had under Saddam.  The same in Afghanistan too of course.  Does anyone really imagine we will leave that wretched land in a better state than when we so righteously went in.  Guns may win wars, but they never win the hearts and minds of the defeated.

A Sudden Death

Wednesday 11th June

I am as you may know an avid newswatcher, but yesterday (Monday) I was too busy with various computer problems at work to even glance at the news, and then at ten it was the fall-out of Trojan horse and Muslim schools.  Then suddenly the announcement that Rik Mayall had died suddenly at the age of 56 was a real shock.

I remember “The Young Ones” and that brilliant anarchic humour, but was more impressed by his many appearances in “The Comic Strip” for channel four, where hour-long strange comic plays were written, some partly by Rik himself.  These were more parodies than laugh-out-loud comedies and I loved them. Along with Ade Edmundson, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, this was the new generation of young comedians.   And Rik though not quite as famous or successful as French and Saunders went on to star in Bottom and The New Statesman.  Always funny, always to the point.

And now a sudden death.  No lingering illness, no surrounded by his family, just a sudden death.  And I am always shocked by these early deaths.  Especially of people a few years younger than me, it suddenly slaps your own mortality in your face.  Everyone says so sad, but maybe, just maybe that it actually the way to go.