The Culture of Cuts

Sunday 18th June

We have lived through seven years of cuts.  I can remember the smile, no – it was a smirk, on the face of George Osborne, as he presented his catalogue of cuts in the ‘emergency’ budget of 2010.  How he persuaded the LibDems to agree to it I still marvel at.  Like rabbits caught in the headlights of sudden power, of ministerial positions, of titles like ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ – they succumbed to this illogical logic.  And these Conservatives were the party of business.  When you run a company and you are making a loss you have to take decisions.  Yes, some jobs may have to go, some savings can be made (mostly, by buying better) – but you also look at your prices – and yes sometimes they must go up.  But hang on – what about the competition – won’t they sell more if they are cheaper?  But Government is the ultimate monopoly.  The Revenue which Governments receive are not in competition with anyone else.  If taxes go up, where else can you go to pay your taxes?  Okay – a few companies may move abroad, but most will stay.

Not that the Tories have ever been shy about putting up VAT – the invisible tax.  In many countries VAT or Sales Tax is shown separately, here it is absorbed into the overall price, so the customer isn’t reminded of just how much tax they are paying.

But the Tories chose ‘cuts’ as the remedy for our failing fiscal policy.  And wow, how successful they have been.  They were certain that not only were the cuts easy to make and would have barely any discernable consequences, but the gap in the deficit would soon disappear.  It would take five years, they reckoned.  But two years in this was extended by a year, and again a year later – so that took us up to 2017.  At the election of 2015 this was pushed into the long grass of 2020.  Then we had the referendum, bye-bye George, hello Phillip – who promptly announce that 2022 would now see the deficit finally closed…

The election of 2017, by which time the deficit should have been finally over for two years – it suddenly became 2025.  That is ten years later than planned.  Three times longer to suffer Austerity.  The Culture of Cuts had become the norm….forever cuts, each new Administration salami slicing away at budgets.  Do it cheaper boys.  Hold down the wages of nurses and doctors and police and firefighters.  Choose cheaper panels to put on the side of Tower blocks – just think how much we can save at £2 a panel…

And so it went on.  And is still going on actually.  The Culture of cuts continues.  Driving down the deficit – which somehow, stubbornly refuses to quite disappear.   But now the birds are coming home to roost, too few police, too few firefighters, too few nurses….oh dear.  Did we make a mistake somewhere?


Saturday 17th June

It was quite soon after Harriet left that Jane started hurting herself.   She felt so dependent on her sister that as soon as she was gone for a few weeks, Jane couldn’t even cope and had just let herself go.  Or had she always been insecure, relying far too much on Harriet than was good for her?  Was she really so useless on her own, or was it something deeper inside her, that gained comfort in suffering?  Would she have ended up like this anyway?  She really don’t know.

At the time she blamed Harriet, or rather her dependence on her, the fact that Ishe had let her so dominate her that without her sister she couldn’t see any point in anything.  Whatever the reason, whatever justification she might try to come up with it didn’t change the facts.  She was hurting herself regular as clockwork; every two or three days the wound would stop itching and a roove would form as the blood dried and started to block out the pain, and then she would do it again, and sometimes she would just scratch and scratch her forearms and send all the scabs flaking and breaking away and scrunching under her nails where she would nibble and eat the dried blood and her arms would just be awash with streams of blood, and the gorgeous  release of pain would ecstatically sweep her away again.

And she had no idea she was in any sort of trouble, she never once asked herself if this were anything like normal behaviour.  She never once questioned why she had started doing it, it just became a habit and like all habits, although occasionally a demonic little voice would tell you this was bad, the pain was so glorious and really sharp and bitter and a release at the same time that she just kept on doing it.  Reminding myself how miserable she was became an end in itself.

Deep down she must have known why, but there was something, some mechanism blocking her from telling myself or anyone else come to that the reason, and of course the reason was Harriet.

Let’s go back a bit into the months and weeks before she left for University.  They were both nervous as fuck, Jane because she was losing Harriet, and Harriet because she was going from this quiet little world where she ruled, where she was everybody’s favourite and into a new world altogether.  Jane knew that deep down Harriet was just a bundle of uncertainty like the rest of us, she just wore it better; she never gave the slightest hint that anything might scare her, might intimidate or threaten her in any way.  But she couldn’t help noticing how even in those few months between taking her ‘A’ levels, which to Harriet were just a formality, and going off to Leeds, that she was incredibly restless.  But not restless just with anticipation, because of course her life was about to change so radically, but restless with herself, and restless with Jane too.  It seemed as if Jane didn’t matter to her so much anymore, it felt as if she had lost any interest in her and it felt awful.  And it was a hot summer too, so they would sit around what they had once thought of as their magnificent pool, and look jadedly at this pathetic heath-robinson construction with its leaves and dead insects and skin of shiny slimy water that neither of them wanted to break even though the heat at times was quite unbearable.

Harriet would drift around town, in and out of the Mikado, drinking a bit too much in the evenings at one or other of the pubs they used to hang out in.  Sometimes Jane joined her, but it all seemed pointless and she got bored with the monotony of it all.  Obviously Harriet did too, because she suddenly discovered something to take away the monotony, though heaven knows it became so monotonous for her too in the end.

They had read in 1966 in the News of the World that the Beatles smoked marijuana, or cannabis, and they were totally amazed.  What could it be, this dried extract of the cannabis plant that obviously had helped them to create such weird stuff that was creeping into their music, especially John’s stuff on ‘Revolver’.  Well it wasn’t long before the papers were awash with it all; all the flower-power stuff, the hippies and the Stones being constantly arrested for possession.  And suddenly their little world was awash with it too.  They had never heard of dope, or indeed any drugs at all before, and suddenly they were being offered it at parties all the time.

Jane never actually smoked the stuff at all.  She ‘smoked’, yes, well they all smoked cigarettes, but whereas everyone else was doing it for real, Jane was just pretending.  She had tried, and kept on trying to smoke cigarettes; she couldn’t possibly let the side down – She couldn’t not smoke, that would never do.  All the cool people smoked.  But it killed her, the burning in her throat was unbearable and she always felt like heaving if any smoke got down into her lungs at all.  So she pretended, and stood there as bold as anything, pouting and puffing and even learnt to take the smoke into her mouth and let it out through her nose without it going down into her lungs at all.

Only Harriet noticed that Jane was just posing and pretending to smoke so that she would be accepted by these older friends of hers, who all, of course, smoked.  And then when joints appeared she would pretend to smoke these too.  She did feel some effect from the smoke but it obviously wasn’t what everyone else was feeling, so she pretended to get stoned too.  And she would put her head back and exhale and sigh and go all bleary-eyed too.  But the Music was enough for her anyway, it was all getting incredibly creative and exploding into psychadelia and all that heavy stuff Jimi was doing, Jane just loved it all, and even though she knew that it was the dope and the drugs making most of the Music, she just didn’t need to be stoned to hear it and to love it, she loved it anyway.

But what she didn’t realise until later was that Harriet had moved on from dope.  She was always a few steps ahead of everyone else, and had discovered all manner of pills too.  I won’t bother to make a sad catalogue of the stuff she tried, and Jane had never heard of most of it before, but this is the terrible bit, she was never satisfied by any of it.  Everything she tried just made her bored and so she tried something else, something stronger.  This must have been in the first weeks after she went to Leeds, as I am sure she hadn’t done anything like that before, and the change in her was so pronounced that it must have been at Leeds that she tried that stuff.   And Jane never knew the reason, not for ages – she saw that she had changed but didn’t know why.  That little conspiracy they had, that sharing of everything, the late-night sisterly chats had all gone by the board ages ago.  They were now on their own, and on their own they shared nothing; Harriet didn’t tell Jane about the drugs, and she didn’t tell her about making herself bleed.  So a really nice couple of loving little sisters they were after all.

Nothing Has Changed…

Wednesday 14th June

The moment Theresa may lost her majority, and if the election had gone on a while longer, possibly the election itself.  In that moment when she truly lost it, and waved her hands in the air, her shell of perfect composure and confidence cracked and we all saw her for what she was.

Well, six days after the election and she can no longer claim that nothing has changed.  Everything has changed.  Even though Theresa May is still Prime Minister everybody knows she lost the argument, and almost lost her job.  She is now at the mercy of three things.  Her own Cabinet, who have almost admitted that she was a Dictator, are now in charge.  She cannot afford to disagree with any of them.  Sacking a senior Cabinet member is now unthinkable, they would automatically become the leading contender for her job.  Two, she is at the mercy of her own party.  In the delicate and complex Brexit negotiations she could run into trouble from either side – she may find it almost impossible to get any consensus.  In some ways the long smouldering divide in the Tory party over Europe is about to re-open.  The nuclear option of simply walking away from what she might consider a ‘bad deal’ is receding fast.  A consensual approach is now essential.  Thirdly, of course, there is the DUP, and the whole Peace process in Northern Ireland, which could erupt in unexpected and uncontrollable ways.  A deal with the DUP is fraught with danger.

Then of course, there is the Opposition.  The wind is in Jeremy Corbyn’s sails.  The Tories are running scared of another election, at least in the foreseeable future.  The Labour party is at last united, both in the country and in Westminster.  The young are flocking to join Labour.  I can see a long hot summer of discontent.

So, nothing has changed.  But of course, everything has changed.

Never-Ending Road Works

Tuesday 13th June

Towards the end of last year we learned that Eymet, our little town here in South West France, was to be the one of the staging posts for the Tour de France.  A couple of years ago it passed through, in the blink of an eye, but now it was going to actually start here.  The date emerged as the Twelfth of July.   In some ways France is almost a third world country (which may be why we love it so much), the pavements are a disgrace, as are many of the roads in town.  Electricity cables loop dangerously down the sides of houses and the drainage is antiquated; everything heads down towards the river, but when, as it often does, it rains hard – the roads turn to rivers in minutes.  So, again we were delighted to learn that major improvements were coming.  New drains and water pipes; electricity cables going underground and the road we have our Café in,was to be redesigned and relaid completely.

Work started in early January.  Well, actually it started last year in some streets, but the work on our street Rue du Temple started in January.  We received a letter from Dubreuil, the main contractors, apologizing in advance for the disruption which would take approximately seven weeks.  And there was a lot of disruption.  For weeks the road in front of us was both closed and dug up.  New pipes laid, and the cobbles relaid.  It did cause us some problems but we got through it.  The market, which partly goes down our street was moved and we had a dip in trade on Thursdays.

Well, seven weeks passed quickly, and it was obvious that the work would not be finished in time.  Such is life in France.  Never believe delivery times.  Prochaine Semaine and a shrug of the shoulders.  Ah Well.  Then we heard that the road would be finished by Easter.  Then by the end of April.  The actual road was finished about the middle of May – so, not too bad.  But they are still working on the rueelles, back alleys to those of you in England.  But work is painfully slow.  And several other roads in town have been dug up and relaid at least three times.

Everyone can see that it will not be finished by the Tour de France.  But hey.  But almost the worst thing is that many roads in town are a mess still, the dug up trenches filled with a mix of sand and chalk and grit, which is messy when it rains and gets stuck on peoples shoes, which they traipse in to the café every day.  We assume that one day the work will be finished, although the work-men amble along in their slow and methodical fashion, and the roads re-surfaced.  But for now we have never-ending road-works…


Letter to the Queen

Monday 12th June

Your Majesty.

I beg your pardon for writing this letter, but I feel that maybe you are actually the only person who can resolve the impasse we find ourselves in.   In your many years you have seen and had to tolerate many Prime Ministers.  Some you may have liked and some you probably detested.  But surely you have never had such an arrogant and incompetent first Minister as you now find yourself with.

It would seem that we are at an impasse.  We have two main Political parties, neither of which can on their own command a majority in the House of Commons.  The current Prime Minister’s immediate predecessor had a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which among other things passed a law determining that each parliament should last for five years.  Fat lot of use that was.  The current (but I am writing this on Sunday so I may already be out of date) Prime Minister tore that up for purely party Political reasons.  She asked you to dissolve parliament simply for her own advantage.  As it happens she lost badly and is clinging on to power.  Incidentally you did not have to agree with this and given the pass we are in, maybe your regret it already.

We now face the prospect of our country being run at the whim of the nastiest party, the DUP,  this country has ever seen.  But far more important than that is the Peace Process in Northern Ireland.  This was already in trouble because of the arrogance and intransigence of Arlene Phillips, who will now be pulling the strings of Theresa May.

But you do not have to let this state of things continue.  You do have the power to dissolve an obviously unworkable Parliament.  You can refuse to read out the words of your first Minister called ‘your speech’.  It must be in this country’s, and especially for the Peace process in Northern Ireland, interests to have a Government that has the backing of both the public and the House of Commons.  The arguments have already been laid out in detail, the process need only take two or maybe three weeks.

Once again I beg your pardon for addressing you.  I am sure you are receiving advice already from many quarters.  In your many years on the throne we have not asked you for so much; a bit of arm waving, a few buildings and ships to consecrate.  But we need your help now to rid us of this truly incompetent crew of opportunists.  Do the right thing, your Majesty, just this once.

Your sincerely  – your humble subjects.


Sunday 11th June

The very next morning Harriet noticed a pinned up flyer in the Students Union, there were a few bands playing but the one that caught her eye was Amen Corner.  They had just had a big hit with “Bend Me, Shape Me” and here they were playing at Leeds University, she couldn’t believe it, no-one ever played at Ipswich, well no-one anyone had ever heard of, so she decided to go, it was next Friday night and she couldn’t wait.   The band was playing in one of the student canteens, hastily converted with a raised stage at one end and a bar which was little more than a table and a few boxes at the other.  The lights were dimmed with a single spotlight on the bleak stage.  Black cloth was hung over the windows, the room was really quite small and was crammed with students all sweating and drinking and smoking.  The familiar smell of dope hung in the air, and Harriet was beginning to crave a drag, the wisps swilling around simply heightening her need.  She used to smoke it quite regular back home; someone always seemed to have some but she had no idea how to get hold of it up here.

The band were actually pretty crap; apart from the single which they played three times they hardly seemed to know how to play, or how to hold our attention and people were beginning to drift out of the back of the hall and onto the stairs and outside.  Harriet wandered out and was sitting on the stairs when this really long-haired guy approached her.

‘Mind if I join you?’ he said, tilting the beer bottle in his hand.

‘Be my guest.’  she said and shifted her bum along the narrow step to give him room to wedge himself in next to her.

‘Shit band’ he said as he handed her the bottle and reached into a cloth bag slung around his chest.

‘Yeah’ Harriet replied, taking a swig of his quite disgusting tasting pale ale. ‘I was expecting something better, what with the single and everything.’

‘But they didn’t really have anything else did they?’ he finished off the sentence for her.  ‘Typical pop band if you ask me.  One-hit wonders, you wait and see.’

He started rolling a joint and leaned back, lit it and took a deep drag, sighed and then handed it to her.  It was great, really strong and with that familiar smack on the roof of her mouth as the drug hit home, she relaxed.  ‘God, I really needed that, thanks.’

She handed him back the joint, and he was smiling at her with laughing eyes.  ‘Where the hell did you get that accent man, that’s the craziest accent I heard in my life.’

‘Suffolk, actually.  Is it that bad?’ Harriet asked, feeling quite embarrassed.  She had always thought she had no accent at all, well not compared to most of the country bumpkins you usually met in Suffolk.

‘It’s not bad, it’s just different.  You don’t get many people from Suffolk up here in Leeds. This must be your first year, what are you studying?’

And that was it, the ice broken for her and with the gentlest of sledgehammers.  Jim was from Liverpool and a couple of years older than her.  He invited Harriet back to his flat but half stoned as she was, she just smiled and said, ‘Maybe another time, Jim.  I only got here last week; I don’t really know anyone up here yet.  Still finding my feet.’

‘No big deal babe, but let’s have another drink and maybe I can see you tomorrow.’

So, only here a week and already being picked up, not that had ever been a problem for her.

‘Yeah, that’d be cool, let’s meet tomorrow.’  And they sealed their deal with a long and lingering blissed-out kiss, Harriet let their mouths stay together for a few minutes, gently sliding over each other, just enough to keep him interested, a promise of pleasures to come without losing her own self-control.

No Need To Be Disheartened

Saturday 10th June

Yes, it was almost sickening to see Mrs May re-entering Downing Street – but she had to go and apologise to the Queen, and grovel to the terrible bigots of the anti-gay, anti-austerity DUP, just to do so.  Her big gamble has not paid off.  In fact – we are sick of gamblers.  Gamblers in American and British banks brought the Financial system crashing down in 2008, and lost Gordon Brown the 2010 election. The reckless gambler Cameron nearly lost IndyRef1 and led to the SNP almost wiping the board in 2015.  He also, of course gambled on the EU Referendum.  And lost, which is why we are in a mess now.  And Theresa May gambled that she could gain another two years because the polls had never looked so good.


We almost did it.  And despite an enormous mountain to climb.  I have watched elections since the mid-sixties, and NEVER has a party come from so far behind to almost make it.  NEVER has a party, or a leader enthused the young so brilliantly.  NEVER has a leader confounded his (or her) critics to turn around the public perception of them like Jeremy Corbyn has done.  I will admit I was a doubter.  I never thought he would possibly cut through the Media bias and reach and enthuse and touch people in the way he has.

So, now is not the time to be disheartened.  Now is the time to press home the attack.  Mrs. May is fatally wounded, and the Tories will try another leader soon, maybe mad Boris, or maybe Amber Rudd.  My money is on Hammond, boring but sensible.

Corbyn should first congratulate his new M.P.s, many of them women.  Possibly reshuffle his cabinet, if possible bringing in a few from the Centre.  The Labour party should also congratulate Jeremy and John McDonell for the best Labour campaign in years.  But I think we must also act as if the General Election were not over.  Meetings, Rallies and Marches even and in parliament we must harry and oppose with all our might this hopeless crew of opportunists and millionaires.  We must not lose momentum now.

And smile.  We have almost done it.  Nobody seriously thought we could do it in one go, let alone even force her into a Minority party.  Brexit talks are about to start.  Let us make sure she doesn’t sell us down the river.  And be ready at any moment for the next election.

The Swingometer Thrown Out Of The Window

Friday 9th June

The Swingometer has proved meaningless in this election.  Both Labour and the Conservatives increased their share of the vote.  I suspect that very few Tory voters switched to Labour, or vice versa.

It was simply that in England and Wales the UKIP vote absolutely collapsed.  Their leader, just like his name, appeared to want to nut all around him, becoming more and more ludicrous as the campaign went on.  And the election was decided by two things.  Where did the UKIP vote go?   And, Jeremy got young people on board and the more people saw of him the more they liked him.  Theresa assumed that all the UKIP voters, who had left Labour because they appeared to neglect ordinary voters, would go straight to the Tories.  Well, many did, especially in the North of England.  But in London and the South more and more ex-Ukippers voted Labour.  But it wasn’t at all uniform; there were many rogue results where the Tories increased their majority, and the ‘swing’ was anything but uniform.

In Scotland it was a totally different story.  It was an anti SNP vote.  Nicola Sturgeon’s wish and request for a second referendum was a fatal error.  And she paid for it, losing 21 seats, mostly to the Tories, but some to Labour and a few to the LibDems.  In fact if it hadn’t been for Scotland and Ruth Davidson, Mrs May might have well and truly lost.

What now?  The leadership of the Tory party is now a poisoned chalice, whoever takes over, or indeed if Mrs. May stays on, they will surely struggle.  Brexit is now even more an unknown project.  I think that Jeremy will now go on to a constant attack, holding rallies up and down the country.  Eventually there will be a new election…

But the swingometer was all over the place, there was absolutely no consensus.  Maybe it will now be consigned to the rubbish bin…

June Elections

Friday 9th June

Conventional wisdom was always to hold an election in May or October.  The winter is too cold, people will hunker down in their homes.  Summer is too hot, who can be bothered to go out and vote.  Cameron stupidly chose June for the referendum and now May has repeated the error.

But far more fundamental than that was the combination of a terrible campaign run as a personal coronation of Queen Theresa, and a brilliant campaign and hope-filled manifesto by Jeremy Corbyn.  Austerity has not worked, because it was combined with tax-cuts for the wealthy and remember for three years the economy either fell back or stagnated.  If the election had continued for a couple more weeks I believe that Labour would have actually won.

Best situation for Labour will be for the Tories to limp on, screw up Brexit, get that voted down in parliament, a new election in 2019 which Labour will win.  Return to Brussels for more talks and get some sense back into the whole Brexit thing.

Mind you, most of my predictions in the last two years have been proven wrong…


Thursday 8th June

I have lived through too many Elections to take anything for granted.  Addicted as I am to reading, and reading into, Opinion polls – I know that they are at best a snapshot of a moving picture, and at worst a harbinger of hopes dashed.

Snapshot 1 – 1992.  Neil Kinnock had struggled against Thatcher in 1987, though he did reduce her majority a bit.  And in those days it wasn’t, as it seems now almost obligatory, for a defeated Leader to fall on their sword.  Harold Wilson had stayed on as Labour leader, losing in 1970 to return victorious in ’74.  So Kinnock stayed on and seemed on course against the seemingly dull and hopeless John Major, who had surprisingly beaten Heseltine in the War of the Thatcher Succession.  All the polls were indicating a Labour Victory.  We were 7 or 8 points ahead of the Tories.  And yet we lost.  Some say it was the triumphalist final Sheffield rally, but I suspect that it was that phenomenon we have come to know as shy or guilty Tories; people who profess to be undecided or even tell pollsters they are Labour but who secretly like the tax-cuts which may benefit them at the expense of others.  Who knows?

Snapshot 2 – 1997.  Five years later and the polls were all showing a landslide for Labour under the new management of Blair and Brown.  But somehow we couldn’t allow ourselves to believe it.  Our hopes had been dashed too many times before.  Could we dare to believe the polls this time.  As it happened they were spot on this time and Blair had a hundred seat majority.

Snapshot 3 – 2015.  Milliband now in charge of Labour, and though they were just behind the Tories, it was generally accepted that they would be in Coalition with the SNP.  Newspapers on the day were prediciting this result.  Then the shock, as the SNP almost cleaned up completely in Scotland but Labour lost seats in England where they should have won.  Was it shy Tories again, or possibly the fear tactics from the Tories of the Jocks pulling the strings of Milliband.  The Tories won again.

Snapshot 4 – 2017.  Theresa May has run a disastrous campaign and Labour’s polling has risen from 25 to 40%.  But…..the Tories are still mostly in the low or mid forty percents.  On average a gap of 6 or 7 points.  Enough to give her a majority.  YouGov had predicted she will get around 310 seats and lose her majority.  But how much of this is wishful thinking?  The pollsters say they have changed their methodology to take account of the shy Tories, but I am still unsure.  Two scenarios – One a victorious May with approaching a hundred seat majority, and Two a celebrating mob as Jeremy stops her, or at least means she will be running a minority government…..