Category Archives: News and Current Affairs

Stuck for Christmas Present ideas this year?

well step this way, I have a solution.

1.  Watch this trailer

2.  Buy the film and give to everyone you know

Everyone should know the real reasons why we are in the mess we are in… and it hasn’t got a thing to do with public sector workers.

Then ask yourself this:-

How much influence does Goldman Sachs now have in the Eurozone and will that benefit anyone but them?

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The Depressing Truth about the British Tabloids

As someone scandalised by the despicable phone hacking practices of our gutter press long before the story broke about the hacking of Millie Dowler’s voice mail messages, I thought the Leveson Inquiry wouldn’t be telling me anything new.

And maybe it hasn’t. But what it has done has confirmed and compounded how profoundly scurrilous the actions of the tabloid press have been.  When it came to getting the “story” no behaviour, and I mean no behaviour, was off-limits. If you haven’t been listening to the proceedings, let me bring you up to date.

From Millie Dowler’s parents and their heart-breaking testimony of private moments grieving for their daughter were splashed across the front page.  How they were given false hope when messages from Millie’s phone had been deleted.

From Hugh Grant debunking that tired tabloid myth that film publicists need the oxygen of tabloid publicity.

From Steve Coogan about the lies written about him during a friend’s very painful episode. (Owen Wilson’s alleged suicide attempt) and how it was better to say nothing so as not to give the story “legs”.

Sienna Miller as a 21 old year old girl being chased down the road at nighttime by 10 to 15 men with cameras and other cameramen spitting at her to get the reaction shot. Of having a terminally ill child photoshopped out of a picture so the tabloid could make up a story about her being drunk and abusive.

And the McCanns, still searching for their daughter, talking about the lies printed about them, sometimes opinions of one official being printed as cold fact. Cameramen swarming their car, banging on the windows, frightening their other children. (Indeed a journalist from the Daily Mail on 5live after their testimony said the McCanns let the Express  continue to print all those lies about their missing daughter so they could get a better payout for the Madeleine fund, which was broke.  Words failed me that afternoon.  It was a real insight into the culture of the tabloid journalist.  People so mean-spirited, so lacking in any kind of compassion of fellow humans, yet are the conduit for information and opinion to a large swath of society. As a force of malign influence it was genuinely frightening.)

On and on it continued, huge waves of damming testimony detailing deeply shameful actions of a section of the British press.

J K Rowling on receiving a note from a journalist, in her 5 year old’s school book bag. About how no-one gives you a manual when you become a house-hold name, so she mistakenly thought if she didn’t include her children in any publicity they would left alone. And how wrong she was.

Even today Charlotte Church about the devastating effect on her family when they too became cannon fodder for the papers, how people at Murdoch allegedly asked her to waive a £100,000 fee in lieu of good publicity at the beginning of her career, and how she was advised this was a good deal.  How it made her feel as a 15 year old girl when a paper ran a clock counting down the days until she reached the age of consent.

Anne Diamond, also today, about the death of her baby son, how reporters were at her door an hour after the tragic event.  How she wrote to every editor in Fleet Street asking them for privacy at the funeral.  How the Sun defied her wishes and printed a picture, this after a phone call from the editor requesting permission was denied by the family. The editor’s words ” we are running it, the picture is so strong”.

The same themes recurred, press complaints commission were powerless, it was often better not to react.  That if a complain was made and upheld, the subsequent apology was printed in the middle of the paper and the small fine was no real deterrent to printing lies and falsehoods to get a front page scoop.

How untrue stories were often printed with an anonymous by-line, how the ubiquitous “sources close to the” subject of the story were either obtained from hacked messages, or in many cases just made up.

And how papers saying they have cleaned up their act have done no such thing.

The most depressing element of this story is, it is all for profit. Tabloids are not in the business of information, they are in the business of making money, and lots of it, and all at the expense of truth and human suffering.

Over the course of the inquiry the extent to which tabloids themselves have covering this story is laughable, it has been so miniscule.  This is what worries me the most.  What happens if even after this tsunami of appalling practices has been evidenced, nothing changes?  I want a free press, that uncovers political and corporate scandals, that covers wars and events aboard  and works for the good of this wonderful country.   I don’t want privacy laws that will impede true investigative journalists.  But there needs to be a code of ethics drawn up and heavy penalties imposed for anyone contravening it.

And tabloid editors if I was drawing up your code my first rule would be this.  If you print lies about anyone, your retraction will be writ large on the front page.

I live in hope.

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Can you imagine a time when bankers were good?

Currently, I am not sure I can.

But this week Ian Hislop showed us that bankers had not always been the most hated profession in Britain as he took us, now living with the severe consequences of banking recklessness and untrammelled fat cat greed, through what seemed a fairytale period of history in comparison.

Indeed the programme could not have been timed better, coming just one day after the High Pay Commission found that the excessive remuneration of Executives was “corrosive” and damaging the economy.

We only had to go back 150 years to the time of the Victorians.  Banking was a profitable business that drove the industrial revolution forward, and Quakers with their values of order, sobriety and paid work were extremely successful.  But they had an abhorrence of avarice and it was this desire to “use their wealth to better the world” that lead to such levels of generosity and munificence. In particular, the Gurneys of Norwich, whose highly successful banking family included the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, lived believing they had a duty as people who had made good to do good and that financial recklessness was something to be embarrassed about.

A relative of the Gurneys whose bad business decisions led to the last run on the bank before the Northern Rock in 2007, was so repentant and ashamed he committed suicide.    It goes without saying that bankers do not need to be throwing themselves off buildings as an act of penitence, but the lack of any apology, or even admission of any responsibility for the global economic meltdown from today’s bankers is staggeringly arrogant.

The Quakers were by no stretch the only bankers to show such charitable generosity.  From George Peabody to Miss Burdett-Coutts and Natty Rothschild we were shown examples of how they lived by the principle to “make their money and spend it well”.

The Peabody Buildings were set up to house the poor and needy of London.  George Peabody, a merchant banker, gave way over half a million pounds from 1862 in order to build decent houses for the industrious poor.  Today there are still 50,000 people housed in 20,000 properties across London.   Another point where today’s bankers could take note.  The current housing crisis in the UK would be well served by their beneficence.

Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts was bequeathed the entire Coutts fortune, and spent most of her life giving much away to countless charities, (an estimated £3million) often under the watchful direction and advice of another of the time’s great social reformers, Charles Dickens.  Indeed Dickens was to dedicate the novel Martin Chuzzlewit to her.  Again compare her to today’s equivalent of an heiress who even shared her penchant for small dogs, Paris Hilton. What is her great contribution to society? The catch-phase, “That’s Hot” and a dodgy sex-tape.  I think we are being short-changed.

There was also an illuminating interview with the Canon of St Paul’s Giles Frazer, which took place shortly before he resigned, as a matter of principle over the Church’s reaction to the right to protest against the excesses of Globalisation and corporate greed by Occupy London. He too used the word, corrosive, about the effects of being profligate with high-end consumer goods.  He reminded us that even the bible said a love of money is the root of all evil.

As, when I watched the Inside John Lewis documentary, whose Quaker ideals meant all workers shared in the annual profits and rules regarding remuneration ensured the differential in salary was no more than 80 times from lowest to highest paid staff member, I felt deep regret that these principles now extremely rare or have been forgotten entirely.  That I belong to a culture where greed is considered a virtue.   That I live in a Me, Me, Me society, where the values of moderation and consideration of fellow humans has been abandoned in the headlong rush for money, status, and more and more stuff.

A descendant of Natty Rothschild, spoke of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who have been donating huge amounts of their personal wealth.  He said they were like “fishermen putting the fish back.”  He had a message for today’s bankers “Behave better and give back more”.    Wouldn’t it be nice if they did.

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We are the 99%

It makes my heart soar to see Occupy London Protesters taking inspiration this weekend from the month-long occupation of Wall Street.

This is a planned peaceful protest to occupy the Square Mile in London in order to highlight the social and economic injustice in the UK and beyond as part of a global movement for real democracy.

It is so wonderful also, that the Vicar of St Paul’s has welcomed these peaceful protesters with open arms.  He understands their message and has asked the police to leave.  In return, as this is a peaceful protest, the occupiers moved to one side so that services were able to go ahead for today’s congregation.  It was wonderful to see such mutual respect and co-operation. I was even happier to see this actually got some news coverage this morning.  The networks have been shameful in their under-reporting of this issue in recent weeks.  This is one protest that deserves the oxygen of publicity.

I am so happy that people around the world are finding their voice and realising that together we can make a difference. That together we can stand up to corporate greed.  That we are the 99% of the population who are paying in blood sweat and tears whilst the 1%, even in a time of recession, are getting wealthier and wealthier.

One banner read The People are Too Big To Fail.  A poignant reminder that ordinary people’s needs have been completely forgotten during this economic downturn and yet it is their tax revenue that has kept the banking sector afloat since 2008.  A banking sector let us once again remember, that refused to take any responsibility for their part in the global financial crisis, that refused to rein in their excessive bonus culture after the crisis and are currently refusing to consider much-needed regulation.

Another banner said People before Profit. We live in a time when CEO wages have been escalating ever upwards completely detached from their work force or value.  In the US CEO pay has increased by 24% last year.  In the UK rises in Executive pay outstripped rises in performance.  On average FTSE Top 100 CEOs earned 221 time the UK median earning for 2010, and 417 times the national minimum wage.  It was also noted that private companies with large public sector contracts paid their Chief Executives far more than the highest paid public sector employees.  Another example of taxpayers funding the very wealthiest in society.

During the same time scale workers’ pay has, at the very best, only gone up by 3%, and is no match for the increases in fuel, food and energy.    At worst, jobs have been lost to make corporations ever yet more profitable.  Profitability which then translates into even higher  pay hikes of the CEOs.  A vicious circle if ever there was one and one that needs to be broken.

There is a wonderful book called The Spirit Level:  Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  Quoting from Chapter 13 “Across whole populations rates of mental illness are five times higher in the most unequal compared to the least unequal societies.  Similarly, in more unequal societies people are five times as likely to be imprisoned, six times as likely to be clinically obese, and murder rates may be many times higher.  The reason why these differences are so big is, quite simply, because the effects of inequality are not confined to just the least well-off: instead they affect the vast majority of the population.”

This is why we need these protests.  Corporations and governments need to see the damage these terrible inequalities inflict on ordinary decent, hard-working people. The protesters occupying the financial districts around the globe are starting the discussion to make a better world, and I support them wholeheartedly all the way.

All sources quoted via the click through links.

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Does this scare you?

Please indulge me for a moment and watch this clip from BBC News…

Did it scare you?  It certainly scared me.

I wasn’t really too surprised.  It has been obvious that Governments have been living in fear of markets for years.   The lack of regulation, especially after the global economic crisis in 2008, made that abundantly clear.

Money, and the acquisition of it, is the number one goal in our society and no-one has the ability to make (or indeed lose) money like the financial institutions.  These are corporations making money in huge amounts.  To the majority of us, who do not understand the instruments of this world, it can seem to be made out of thin air.  As unbelievable as fairy-tales of golden geese or magical never-ending pots of gold.

What really really frightened me though was that an well-dressed intelligent man could be so wrapped up in his own wealth creation that he would, on BBC television, openly declare that he dreamed of a recession because of the money-making opportunities it would bring.

That he has no regard for lives ruined, jobs lost, houses repossessed, whole sectors of society destroyed just so he could have more money, and to what end? Buy a bigger car, watch, have an even more expensive holiday, destroy the environment some more jetting around the world.  Acquire more material possessions?

Ed Balls said in his Labour Party Conference Speak yesterday “It wasn’t too many police officers or nurses or teachers here in Britain that bankrupted Lehman Brothers in New York.”  But we are all paying the price, the very heavy price for it on our families, and will be for many years to come.

Not one banker or trader has been prosecuted for the global economic crisis on 2008.  Don’t forget that was caused by financial institutions selling mortgages to people in America, who were not credit worthy and would  default on  loans they couldn’t afford in the first place.  But these mortgages were actively mis-sold to the sub-prime market because, when packaged up into another form of bundled up debt they became even more lucrative to the markets.  To my mind it is the financial equivalent of feeding cows’ brains back to cows.  I am sure everyone reading this will remember the horrors of BSE. and how terrible that was for British farming and our beef trade with the rest of the world.

We can not let these bankers and traders put us into another recession just because they want to make money.  We need to rise up, be united and say no, this is morally reprehensible.  We have had enough.  Only if we are all united will the government start to take notice and will seriously look at the issue of regulating the markets.

At the same time as this trader was speaking on BBC, protesters have been occupying Wall Street demanding that our current financial institutions change. Have you heard about it on the news? No there has been no coverage at all.   This is a disgrace.  Why is this story not being covered? The protesters have been there for two weeks now.

On the subject of what is really going on in the financial markets and who really has the control and the power of  countries’ economies and how abhorrent it all really is, I can not recommend highly enough Sebastian Faulks’ One Week in December .  We all need to wake up and reclaim our lives and our financial security back from these parasites. Before it is too late.

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Obesity: A Taxing Problem

Whilst I was on holiday I caught a  snippet of news, the report in The Lancet urging Governments to tax junk food.  I also heard someone, probably from a food manufacturer or one of their lobbyists saying that taxation wouldn’t work.

My blood was boiling.  I consider some of those food manufacturers akin to drug dealers, pushing high fat, high sugar, high salt foods onto us, getting us hooked and making BILLIONS out of our misery.

If you disagree or think these are claims  are too strong, or that I am over stating the case then I suggest you read The End of Overeating by David A Kessler MD and then let me know what you think.

David Kessler has worked in US Public Health Administration for many years and holds many honours for his work.  He stood up to the US tobacco industry and introduced many programmes including the regulation of marketing and sale of tobacco products to children.  He has also introduced nutrition labelling for food.

In his book The End of Overeating Kessler looks at the reasons why we are now in the midst of this obesity crisis.

Putting it very simply junk food manufacturers know about the bliss point, a point where we get the greatest pleasure from a mixture of sugar, fat and salt.   They are actively engaged in creating foodstuffs that hit the bliss point, making their products irresistible.  “Irresistible Products”.  This is the holy grail for companies such as Doritos, they ensure a high degree of “repeat”, customers will keep coming back and buying again and again.

If this wasn’t bad enough, Kessler also explains how eating more sugar, fat and salt makes us crave more products with higher levels of sugar, fat and salt.  This is known as “palatability” and it’s this hyperpalatability that we are being bombarded with from all directions, from fast food outlets to crisps, chocolates, cookies, biscuits and cakes, that makes us put food into our mouths long after our calorific needs are satisfied.

And worst of all over time, the stimulus and reward of these foods changes the brain chemistry, we are driven by dopamine to seek out the reward of the food, even when we only see “cues” such as an advert or pass a restaurant or shop, despite not actually being hungry.  The brain starts to rewire itself and will work very very hard to get the food that it “wants”, even when it doesn’t need it.  This was the most scary bit of the book for me.  To think that children might be having their brains rewired, leading to a life time of battling with food.  It also made those free giveaways at McDonald’s even more sinister: Children are being “rewarded” twice, once by the food and then reinforced by the toy.

You don’t even want to know what is said about KFC, put it this way that secret recipe is the perfect vehicle for getting even more fat and salt down us.

There is information about how the food industry tries to make the food easier to chew (inject more fat into it).  Easier to chew means we eat faster and therefore will eat more (which of course equals more profits for the companies and bigger bodies for us).  How Food has become Entertainment, and the Power of Priming, how sometimes just a taste of a food is enough to trigger over-eating even when we are not remotely hungry.

It is an educational, sobering, and at times a frightening read.

Kessler does offer solutions, and says we need to look at our conditioned hypereating as a biological challenge not a character flaw.  Effective treatment which will break the “cue, urge, reward” habit cycle at the core of the problem.  We need to look at food in a whole new way.

I have only very briefly outlined a 300+ page book, but I urge anyone to read it and not be so angry that we have allowed the junk food industry to grow so unchallenged, leaving us with a ticking time bomb health issue.  There are of course other issues and solutions but The End of Overeating tackles a very important area that is not being given nearly enough attention ie the role and responsibility of the food industry.

I really hope that the Government will  look at this obesity crisis without self-interested pressure from the junk food manufacturers.  We need to get tougher on this industry: Tax their products like cigarettes have been; Get much tougher on all tv advertising aimed at children, not just around children’s programmes; Stop the portion sizes rising ever larger; Cut back even more on the salt, fat and sugar in refined foods.

I imagine like the tobacco industry the junk food industry will have very powerful lobbyists protecting their profits.  But this is money that is literally being made from the fat of the land, from every packet of crisps they make more irresistible,”once you start, you just can’t stop”, from every super-sized chocolate product out of all proportion of need or appetite, a child is being potentially being condemned to a lifetime of obesity and health problems.  And if that isn’t immoral I don’t know what is.

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Panic on the Streets of London, Panic on the Streets of Birmingham

When I wrote my blog yesterday I couldn’t imagine just how the violence would escalate, and I watched with horror how it spread, literally like wild fire, from borough to borough in London, and beyond to Birmingham. I know many people have said Morrissey is a prophet, last night I could believe it.

I couldn’t really believe what I was compulsively viewing, I found it hard to go to bed, I didn’t want to sleep until things had calmed down. As I watched the destruction of Clapham Junction and the furniture store burning so ferociously in Croydon, there seemed no end to the momentum; It was deeply upsetting to see London, a city I love so much being destroyed by its own inhabitants.

Through all the apocalyptic coverage, one story seemed to be coming through, from the Turkish shop-keepers in Dalston, to the poor lady in Ealing who found thugs in her house, to the chefs in Notting Hill. People who were standing up to the looters, were having an effect; The looters were leaving them alone.

These looters were so young, 14 years of age was reported in places, and it seemed the looting and arson was getting so out of hand because no one was stopping them. It become a frenzy, this orgy of violence because they couldn’t believe that they were getting away with it. Naughty children pushing the boundaries but finding no one stopping them. Why did only a handful of areas challenge them? Couldn’t more communities acted like the Dalston shop-keepers and the Notting Hill chefs?

I don’t want to attack the police on the ground, all the emergency services showed incredible bravery. Some police were working 30 hour shifts. But this was the third day of unrest, it was being reported that only 1,400 police were on duty last night, after 2 days of rioting. Compare that to the 5,000 police on duty when William and Kate got married.

Surely it doesn’t take much deduction to order as many police on duty as possible. To cancel all leave and get a heavy police presence in our capital. It certainly shouldn’t have taken 3 days, and the return of Cameron from his jollies in Tuscany to make this happen.

What is going on with the capital’s police force? This is the third serious incident of poor practice from the Met in as many weeks. Coming hard on the heels of the resignation of the Commission and Deputy Commissioner over their handling of the phone hacking scandal. It shouldn’t be forgotten this whole incident was sparked by the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham on Thursday and the subsequent evasion by the Met on Saturday when his family sought answers. Whilst probably many of the people on the streets last night didn’t have Mark Duggan in mind, if there hadn’t been the riots on Thursday, Croyden wouldn’t have been burning out of control last night.

The rioters are not political, but there is a political sub-text. It is no coincidence that high status items such as trainers and tv screens were being looted. We live in a very material world, where purchasing power determines your status and self-esteem. Why should we be surprised when people who can’t afford these things and have no route to them in the future become deeply resentful. We all have to look at our values. It is possible to condemn the violence but also to want to understand the underlying reasons.

It has been a very turbulent time, with the US and Eurozone debt crisis before the riots kicked off. Why were the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London all on holiday at the same time? Even in the smallest business, everyone has to stagger their holidays. It is almost incredulous that the very top level of government don’t do the same.

But there is hope. The magnificent spirit of the riot clean up campaigns illustrated this. People volunteering to clear up the shattered aftermath of last night. It was said at one point that everyone getting off the train at Clapham Junction had a brush. All over Twitter offers of clothes, food and bedding were being offered to people made homeless by the riots. Maybe communities will be able to come together over this, that some good will come out of this after all and that it can start tonight, with a peaceful night. I bet I am not the only one praying for rain.

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“I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach” – William Cobbett

As I watch the London Riots unfold, that quote, “I defy you to agitate any fellow with a full stomach”, keeps repeating in my mind over and over again.

The Tottenham riots were sparked by the death of a man by a police firearms officer.  The evidence is now pointing to no other shots being fired except from police weapons.  A peaceful vigil only turned ugly after questions were being evaded by the police.

The scale of violence was horrendous, and I feel so much for the small retailers whose shops have been devastated and whose insurance will not cover the damage.

I watched with horror on Sunday as the violence turned to Enfield.  Enfield, home of my daughter’s god-mother, a place much visited, a happy leafy suburb.  What unrest could be there? As we saw the looters on the high street, I thought this is opportunism, ugly violence for the sake of it. Mob mentality bent on destruction, new trainers and a 42″ flat screen tv.

But there were also disturbances in Brixton, the police station there was surrounded.  I thought of Smiley Culture, who died earlier this year in police custody, and 333 other deaths in police custody since 1998.  Since that date no police officers have been convicted, despite relatively strong evidence of misconduct and neglect.  What effect does that have on communities?  Tonight the unrest has moved to Hackney.

I heard Theresa May talk about the mindless thuggery and pure criminality.  But there are thugs and criminals in every town in the country, in every part of London.  Why are there no riots in Kensington and Chelsea or Chiswick and Wimbledon, only the poorest ones (with the exception of Enfield)?

Is it because people who live in those more affluent parts of London have hope, jobs and a future?  They have no need to riot because if they are unhappy about issues they know they have the ability and access to change.  They are not living on Council Estates in places of poor education and high unemployment, places where they are regularly stopped and searched.  Where the economic hardships of rising prices and energy costs have been most deeply felt.  Where cuts to council run youth initiatives have left them without focus.

I don’t want to make excuses but we are going through the toughest economic times we have seen in decades.  Where youth unemployment is staggeringly high I think we need to ask questions about why this has happened.   How does it feel being powerless, without a voice or hope.  Is this reason why the rioting has spread?

William Cobbett was alive during the time of revolutions in France and the States, he was a great campaigner known as ‘the poor man’s friend’.  He was a conservative, who became a radical as he fought rotten boroughs, class inequality and taxations on imported grain.

As I thought again about his quote in relation to the riots I remembered another couple of his quotes, “to be poor and independent is very nearly an impossibility” and “the power that money gives is that of brutal force:  it is the power of the bludgeon and the bayonet”.

Disenfranchised people have no other way of expressing themselves, of getting their voice heard.  They are unable to be independent, their views and rights are always second to those with money, power and influence, and with the inequalities of this country getting greater all the time, the problem is only going to get worse.

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Every Little Helps….

I was delighted to read the Labour Party are prepared to tackle, in their words, “the almighty conglomerate” Tescos and are asking the government to deal with the problem of the supermarket’s huge market share, gained at the expense of small retailers, farmers, suppliers and customers.

Even before the global downturn, in those halcyon days when credit was easy, I found pronouncements of Tesco’s pre-tax profits staggeringly large.  Billions of pounds return every year seemed obscene.  News that Tescos took £1 in every £7 in the UK strengthened my resolve not to put my money into their tills.  The practice of squeezing farmers and suppliers just to satisfy the shareholders seemed completely immoral.  Who were these insatiable shareholders who demand year on year increases regardless of the effect it had on everyone else?

It really made me question, for the first time, capitalism; everyone else has to pay just so shareholders get better dividends.  It felt wrong and deeply unfair.  I have since learnt about the John Lewis business model based on Quaker principles.  No-one in the company is allowed to earn more than 80 times the wage of the lowest paid worker.  It feels to our detriment that this did not become standard business practice, imagine the effects it could have had, helping to make our society a more equal one.

It felt as if I was shouting into the wind, a one-woman-losing-battle as friends would proudly tell me about all the deals they had got with their Teso Clubcard points.  But then I heard about the protests in Stokes Croft, Bristol over the opening of a new store, and everything changed.  I wasn’t a lone voice, there were other people who felt exactly the same way as me about Tescos.

The Bristol experience, where Tescos managed to open in an area despite strong local objection, is because the planning permission for change of use was acquired before the property was sold to the supermarket.  This happened in our local area too.  Leeds Halton could not be described as a bohemian area, but it was still a high street that contained plenty of grocery shops, Co-Op, Jack Fultons (discount frozen foods, think Iceland without the advertising budget or own store ranges) and a Lidl.   The Tesco site had previously been a pub and the effects have been very noticeable.  The Co-Op (almost directly opposite the new store) has been decimated, takings down 75%.  It is looking very likely the store will close.  If this is happening in Leeds and Bristol it must be happening all over the country.  There must be a way to prevent these stealth openings.

I know that the big four supermarkets are all guilty of these practices but Tesco is the giant, the far and away market-leader, a would-be monopoly.  It’s as big as Sainsburys and Asda combined.  If we don’t stand up to them now I worry there will be no come back for the high street in a couple of years.

Tescos often defend their actions stating that they provide much-needed jobs to the area, but recent calculations show that there are 276 net job losses (British Planning Retail Forum) due to smaller shops closing within a 7 mile radius of the new supermarket opening because they cannot compete.

I must confess I am swayed by the convenience of the one-stop shop, especially when pressed for time.  My most local shop IS a Sainsburys.  I convince myself  that with their wings at both the National Gallery and British Museum, Sainsburys are doing good, adding to the cultural wealth of the country.  That Sainsburys is a more ethically run company. That for me it is marginally greener.  That it isn’t Tescos.

But I know this is collusion, I should support our high street more.  We all need to, this is something where every single one of us can do our bit.  Support the local butcher or green grocer, ‘every little helps’… cuts both ways.

The Labour opposition minister is looking to Mary Portas as head of the government commissioned review into the future of the high street to bring in a competition test to prevent dominance by one grocery store.  Especially when they are trying to diversify into every area of our lives.  We now have a chance to halt the decline of our high street, to be a nation of shopkeepers once again, not a nation of empty shop fronts.

It is imperative this goes through, because as we have seen time and time again and most recently with Murdoch and News International, when one company dominates, none of us benefits.

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A Capital Offence

There was much mention across the news schedules yesterday about the return of capital punishment, abolished in the UK at the end of the sixties (except Northern Ireland who followed suit in 1973).  This is because of the government policy to debate issues raised by e-petitions that collected over 100,000 signatures.  Listening to the Radio 4 bulletins it seemed as if  the UK was just one big flaming pitch fork wielding gang, hell-bent on mob-rule.

This made me rather question the society I thought we lived in.  Were people really serious to bring back the gallows or some other equally ghoulish form of state murder?  What happens when there has been a miscarriage of justice? A posthumous pardon seems a poor deal for an innocent person wrongly executed.  Coupled with statistics in the US showing that murder rates were consistently lower in non-death penalty states than in states that still have the death penalty.   (source:  Death Penalty Information Centre)

Murder rates

Why would anyone want to return to this?  Surely conviction rates would drop as jurors find it much harder to find people guilty for capital offence cases?  The defense would only have to find the tiniest sliver of reasonable doubt.  Were there really enough people in this country that think this is the future?  This enormous step backwards.

As I was musing this  I went onto Twitter and saw the reality.  There were far more names on e-petitions against the return of the death penalty, but this fact was given absolutely no media time yesterday.  Why was this?  Why would all the news outlets report this incredible non-story?

Was it just ‘light-relief’ from phone hacking, famine and global economic meltdown?  Had the news got so bad that reports about the return of the death penalty, THE DEATH PENALTY was the fluff piece?

For about the millionth time since joining Twitter I was so grateful for its direct access to facts, without any agenda.   The access to raw data on Twitter made me see how broadcast and print news is put through a prism of opinion.  Murdoch’s papers were a prime example of this.  The phone hacking scandal was being extensively covered on Twitter long before it hit the headlines.

Once the story really broke, Twitter lead the way, asking advertisers and consumers of the NOTW to consider their involvement.  This demonstrated that together we could make a difference, and take action to show the powers at News International that we were not prepared to accept their diabolical practices.

It has allowed me to see that the news is not always fact.  It has always been perceived as such, but Twitter has given us access to the bare truth.  Yesterday’s ‘news’ took me by surprise because I trust the BBC, and expect that when they lead with a story all day across all their radio channels that there is weight behind it.

Twitter is much maligned by people who don’t use it, that it is all about eating and watching tv,  but I believe without social media, something as important as the Arab Spring would not have taken place.  Twitter in particular is a powerful tool, it can take a snapshot of the nation’s feelings faster and more accurately than any Harris or Mori poll.  When you see other people feel the same way as you, it makes us a force to be reckoned with, gives us the belief that we can change our society for the better, that ordinary men and women do have a voice and it can be heard.

This is a very precious gift and I hope that media attention on flimsy non-stories such as the death penalty e-petition will not take this away from us in the future.

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