Gay Brighton and KY Jelly!

I just have to tell you about a trip I recently made to Brighton, on some book signing thing.

Driving has never been a favourite pass-time of mine, so when it comes to long distances I usually press gang a pal of mine into doing the motoring. He owes me some money and as he’s skint most of the time, it’s services rendered or nowt – at least I don’t charge him 1000% interest, before all you Guardian readers start jumping up and down, besides true friendship is nothing more than licensed abuse anyway.

Now, Brummie Colin is a ladies man or at least the middle aged Boy Band sort, if you get my drift. Hair falling out, shirt out and still believing that a 21 year old nubile beauty is going to fancy him. Me now, I’m a realist. The last woman who made a pass at me was in her eighties and firmly imbedded in an invalid scooter, so I know my place.

Anyway, I might not have been paying him wages but I still had to fork up for all expenses. Being the mean sort, I’d booked us into a B&B for the night (actually, these days B&B’s are more like plush hotels, £150 a night some of them!).

Brummie Colin of course couldn’t resist the bright lights of Brighton, while I could. So that evening off he went ‘on the pull’ while I stayed in the room and read myself to sleep.

The following morning he appeared at the breakfast table, slightly the worse for wear but as always beaming his infectious Black Country smile. After he had sat down he said, ‘ funny shampoo they’ve got here, Julian. Couldn’t get any lather at all. It’s left my hair all greasy. I mean look at it, won’t be using that stuff again.’

I stared at my friend and wondered if I had heard him correctly. ‘Was it one of those blue sachets?’ I asked, trying not to laugh.

‘Yes, I think so. Why?

‘Because they contain KY Jelly, you fool. You’re in Brighton, the Gay capital of the UK, for God’s sake!’

He shouldn’t have gone out ‘on the pull’ with his shirt hanging out either!

It’s all true too.

Julian Ruck – Editor

 

‘Selfies’ or vainglorious urgency?

I don’t know about you, but the thought of staring at myself all day long or worse still my dogs -they’re more intolerant than me for heaven’s sake! – fills me with utter dread. Why people want to take thousands of offensively egocentric and ‘look at me, I’m the best thing since a shag on Mt. Olympus’ photos of themselves (or ‘selfies’ to use modern parlance) all the time is utterly beyond me.

More to the point, all these selfie merchants seem to honestly believe that people are actually interested in viewing their fatuous grins and vacuous, insecure hopelessness!

Is this what we have come to? Self, self and more self?

Internet tyranny and manic FOMO (ie fear of missing out) has a lot to answer for, thankfully I have known another time, a pre- internet time and believe me the world wasn’t so bad and neither was I addicted to photographing my surly chops every second of the day.

Besides, the missus wouldn’t allow it!

Julian Ruck – Editor

Are Women Unhinged?

Now and again I gird my loins and tune in to R4’s Woman’s Hour, if only to remind myself that I’m still a man, no matter what the feminists say.

The presenter Jenni Murray’s voice, with its explosions of treacle coated ‘empathy’ and ‘self-esteem’, never fail to make me want to dive for cover but there we are, that’s part of the fun of listening to Woman’s Hour.

As the title of the programme suggests, Woman’s Hour is all about women – well, I could do a daily piece about women, couldn’t I just! Four engagements (and not one ring ever thrown back at me even in temper, too damned smart the female of the species!),two marriages, one divorce and like most men I keep going back for more if only to try and find out where I went wrong in the first place – women always being right about these things, as we all well know.

Anyway, in my twilight years as it were, actually make that mature years I ‘aint’t an old ‘un yet, I have learnt to adopt one fundamental premise – all women are unhinged.

Lovely, capable, strong and virtuous they may be but still basically unhinged, so we men really have nothing to worry about.

And here’s the thing about dogs. My two never answer back, always do as they are told, easy to feed and water, and sure as hell don’t need £60 every couple of weeks for a haircut!

So then, what with Woman’s Hour and £60 haircuts, not to mention of course the ‘Who’s the Boss around here’ syndrome, we men just can’t help loving ‘em.

Women are all unhinged…….?

It’s probably we men!

Julian Ruck – Editor

Why the BBC should be subjected to serious reform?

According to various official bodies, 204,003 people were prosecuted or fined in 2014 for TV licence offence (4,905 people in Northern Ireland, 12,536 in Wales and 173,044 in England, 13,486 cases disposed of via an out of court fine in Scotland and 32 prosecuted via the courts.) Putting these numbers in perspective, it would appear Wales is the country with the most prosecution per capita. It’s also worth noting that 9 out of 10 areas with the most suspected TV licence evaders are in England, whereas 9 out of 10 areas with the least prosecution are in Scotland.

One thing is clear: over 70% of caught TV licence evaders are female. The BBC assures us that women are not deliberately targeted. But as TV Licence officers will take a statement from any responsible person living at an address without a valid TV licence, therefore, the logical explanation for the gender disparity is quite simple: women are a) more likely to be at home, taking care of children for example b) more trusting and willing to open the door when a cold caller comes and c) more willing to correct their situation when prompted.

Even if the majority of convictions are pronounced in the absence of any defendant, an astonishing number of the prosecutions that are commenced by the BBC do not result in conviction. Freedom of Information Requests show that 1,188 people were wrongly prosecuted of committing a TV licence offence in Wales last year. This means a failure rate of 9.4%. In England, 12.4% of cases were either dropped or withdrawn by the BBC, or people were not found guilty. More worryingly, over 1 in 4 cases failed in Northern Ireland last year. These numbers of ‘unsuccessful’ prosecutions lends weight to the view that cases are initiated on a speculative basis where it is hoped by the BBC that people will plead guilty or won’t contest the prosecution. This surely is a scandalous abuse of the courts’ process by the BBC.

The maximum fine for TV licence offence is £1,000. The actual amount awarded should represent between 25% and 125% of the evader’s weekly income. I guess one needs to be a premier league player to be fined £1,000.

The average fine is therefore relatively low, hovering between £70 (Jersey) and £170 (England and Wales). But, considering that less than 35% of TV licence fines are actually recovered, it would appear that prosecuting people is a long way away from being a profitable business.

TV licence evasion is not punishable by a period of imprisonment per se. It’s only when convicted evaders refuse to pay the fine they were ordered to pay, or are incapable of paying it, that a period of imprisonment may be imposed as a “last resort”. This, however, is an all-round lose/lose situation: the BBC gains nothing in the way of monies and it costs the tax payer an average of £95 per day to keep one person behind bars. This estimate is based on a disclosure from the Ministry of Justice that it costs £34,766 per annum to house a UK prisoner. The length of stay is decided by the amount owed. For example, a debt not exceeding £200 could secure a 7 day stint in prison, whereas a debt not exceeding £1,000 secure up to a 28 days stay.

Considering that 39 people were given an average of 20 days for fine default in relation to TV licence offences in England and Wales in 2014, each stay is likely to have cost tax payers close to £2,000, bringing the combined total to an eye watering £74,000. The situation in Northern Ireland, at least up to 2012, was even more appalling with over 200 imprisonments each year. A Judicial Review led to a temporary suspension of fine defaulters being sent to prison, putting a stop to the unsustainable practice of giving jail time for non-payment of outstanding fines of as little as £5. Now, fine default warrants are apparently only being issued if the defendant is already in prison serving a sentence or if he or she lives outside the jurisdiction. Only one person was sent to jail, for 7 days, in 2014. Thankfully, there were no custodial sentences imposed during the last five years in Scotland and Jersey, which shows a great dose of common sense and progressive thinking.

The British parliament proposed decriminalising the offence once and for all, but unfortunately the proposition was turned down by a House of Lords vote by 178 to 175 in February 2015. This is curious because the Lords actually recommended the offence be decriminalised in their 2005/2006 BBC Charter renewal paper.

Studies have shown that the perceived likelihood of being caught, rather than the formulation of the law itself has the best deterrent effect. Therefore, the act of changing the TV licence offence from a criminal one to a civil infraction should not increase the evasion rate by itself. Behavioural research conducted for the BBC found that if the TV licence was decriminalized and the £1,000 fine was replaced by a a civil penalty of over £300 was set, evasion rates would stay at the current 5%. This is amazing news, but what the BBC and the current government want is a 0% evasion, as, deep down, they firmly believe that everyone saying they don’t tune in to the BBC each week is a liar. And this is why they believe a household levy, (i.e. a flat tax forcing everyone to pay for the BBC regardless if they own a TV) would be fairer than the current flat tax that only applies to those who watch live TV. But what they forget, is, short of being a totalitarian state, TV licence evasion is unavoidable.

A large portion or Europe, Asia and Africa fund their public broadcasters with a TV licence, in one form or another. Prices in Europe go from £40 per year (Poland) and £255 (Norway). But funding a public broadcaster doesn’t have to be through a TV licence as many countries such as Canada and the United States never enforced a TV licence. Also, a substantial amount of countries abolished their TV licence. To name only few: Australia (1974), New Zealand (1999), Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2001), Iceland (2007) and Finland (2013).

The UK appears to be the only country, with Ireland, who thinks that non-payment of the licence fee should be a criminal matter. I think the question “How is this coercive funding method perceived by the rest of the world and how does it reflect on the BBC and the British society?” should be dwelled upon.

Other questions burning my lips includes “Has the BBC become a dogma where people should not be allowed to opt out of it?” and “Can’t we make good television using only money freely given?”

Since “making moving pictures” is clearly not a case justifying a coercive system, a petition, called “End the BBC Licence Fee”, has been created to give the public a voice on the future of the licence fee. It has already been signed by over 165,000 people and it was translated into Polish and in Malayalam. It was recently mentioned in the Daily Mail, as well as over 20 different local newspapers in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The petition can be signed here https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/end-the-bbc-licence-fee

It’s important to raise awareness on this and to get the TV licence payers involved in the process, for the first time ever.

Caroline Levesque-Bartlett is a legal editor who summarises civil judgements for a Reuters owned publisher. She also teaches French part-time. Originally from Quebec, she now lives in the UK.

 

Naomi Klein, whales and me….?

A couple of months ago, I was invited to give some lectures on a cruise ship going up the St. Lawrence River and around Newfoundland. Apparently, we were also supposed to meet some whales along the way.

This pending encounter with raw nature immediately reminded me of a book I had just finished reading: Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’, come to think of it, her ‘The Shock Doctrine’ is also worth a whirl if you really want to know all about international corporate skulduggery.

Now, I’m not and never have been an eco-warrior, but the whales and Klein’s book, which explores the most urgent question of our times ie the destruction of our environment, has made me think and seriously consider what we are doing to our planet and indeed to ourselves.

It has also made me observe that none of our political parties, including the Greens, appear to be highlighting the most urgent and deadly threat of all to humanity: Global warming.

If world governments do not do something comprehensively radical now, and I mean now, then global warming by 2100 will result in wholesale ecological disaster and if you think the Somerset floods caused an environmental problem or two, believe me they are not even an hors d’oeuvre. You can say goodbye to London for starters – mind you, this might not be a bad thing, it would give all these property speculators a kick in the arse if nothing else!

And my personal take on all this?

Mankind has been hell bent on destroying itself ever since Adam and Eve – and yes I know before all you secularists start, but frankly we don’t deserve the beauty of this planet, so bye bye and good riddance to the lot of us I say. The world will be a much better place without our toxic footprints.

Let’s face it, we are nothing more than a virulent disease.

Julian Ruck – Editor

BBC Wales’ political commentary is bowel shakingly inept!

BBC Wales appears to be hell bent on giving the rest of the UK an impression that the Welsh are nothing but a load of Welsh speaking nincompoops!

Its political commentary and commentators are unsophisticated, unpolished and blindingly undynamic.

It is no wonder that Wales is seen as an irrelevance by the rest of the UK, when one has this bias, profoundly fatuous and slapstick delivery of public broadcasting

LFW

Julian Ruck talks with Will Hutton about the Welsh economy.

Julian Ruck: “No one would argue against the fact that the Welsh economy is in a pretty parlous state, would they?”

Will Hutton: “Yes, yes. That’s true.

“Basically, the Welsh economy is not in wonderful shape but there are pockets that are doing rather well. The University of Warwick has produced an innovation map, it’s very interesting. Starting at Cambridge arching through Oxford and finishing in Gloucester, this arc of innovation goes right down to Bristol but stops at the Welsh border. The thing is, South West Wales has almost no innovative firms.

“It has all the problems of the English rural economy, but this is multiplied because much of the land area, Mid Wales and North Wales, is not great agricultural land. You also have the hangover of industrialisation and the collapse of the old coal and iron industries. I actually think that whether its business starts ups or hotspots of inward investment, there are some good things going on in Wales, particularly with Cardiff University eg the Cardiff Bay development and so on, although I don’t know whether they’ve done it completely right.”

JR: “Do you think that the post-devolution ‘Welshification’ process and promotion of the Welsh language is having a negative impact on the Welsh economy, particularly where the recruitment of outside talent is concerned?”

WH: “My great concern, as an outsider looking in, is that the Welsh government is continuing to try and hold on to what you’ve got. This is not unreasonable, focusing on equality, social justice etc but it seems to me that you are really missing out here, because unless you have some dynamism in the private sector what sort of renewal are you going to have in say, the next twenty years?

“I’m not a nationalist or even an English nationalist for that matter, but if you want to play the nationalist card then I think it’s really important to have imaginative ideas but I’m not sure I see that coming out from Wales.

“The Welsh Labour Party are not recruiting people whose first thought is: How do you create a dynamic private sector? Again, I’m sympathetic to social justice, inequality and so on but you’ve got to think about the economic architecture and framework; you don’t have to be a Thatcherite Tory to recognise that, at best Wales has an economy based on small and medium sized businesses.

“Wales needs excellence in innovation, just as you see in Cardiff. Actually, one does really worry about the future of Wales.”

JR: “Wales is a grant junky Will, no-one farts in Wales unless there is a grant behind it (this got a laugh or two, if you ask LFW, economists are not as dour as one is led to believe!). Just take Cardiff Airport, or Pinewood studios, not to mention all the small business hairdressers and false nail emporiums. It’s in our blood, our business culture.”

WH: “I’m not against trying to trigger activity through grants, it’s whether they trigger any activity and this is the question that must be asked. Then one has to ask, are they well designed and will they create a culture in which the first thought is: Not how do I create a viable business model to start with, but how do I impress the grant giver with my case for getting a grant?”

JR: “The trouble here, is that once the company has had the grant, tax breaks and all the rest, when these run out its bye bye. At least this seems to be the situation in Wales, there are countless examples.”

WH: “Wales has got to think through what its offering. Like I say, this arc of innovation going on in England; the area is going to be extremely prosperous, it’s unbelievable what is going on there. It’s absolutely essential for Wales that it goes along the M4 corridor to Cardiff.

“It’s fundamental and anything that obstructs this has just got to be scrapped, otherwise Cardiff will lose out.

“Where Wales is concerned generally, the first thing you have to do is recognise the problem. You must have a national conversation about it, you have to do something. There will be arguments on the left and arguments on the right about it, but it must be argued about and I don’t think this happening in Wales.”

JR: “Now you mention it, you are right. One rarely hears these matters being properly explored let alone debated in Wales, certainly where the Welsh media and political oversight are concerned, but frankly that’s nothing new.”

WH: “ I’m not saying that good things are not talked about, for example skills, improving the health service, education and all that but the economy doesn’t appear to be located in any bigger narrative, it seems that if you can get health and education right then the rest will follow, well it won’t.”

JR: “Do you think that Welsh nationalism is damaging Wales?”

WH: “Yes. It may also be damaging Scotland too. Investors will be thinking: “Why get stuck into peripheral economies, why bother when you have all this stuff going on in England?

“I’ve lots of Scottish and Welsh friends but because they were born in Aberystwyth or Edinburgh, they think they have something special or distinctive that I haven’t got.”

JR: And hear hear to that! That’s nationalism for you. Are you a left winger Will, truth now?”

WH: “Look, the whole conversation in the UK has become so right wing that actually someone like me seems a man of the left. I’m a child of the European enlightenment and when I see things in capitalism that are not just not working then I will say so. I believe in liberty and equity and looking after other people.”

And on that note, the interview with LFW came to an end. Left or right, Mr Hutton raised some interesting and important points where the economy of Wales is concerned. He also raised them with sincerity and frankness.

For want of writing that most awful of political clichés:

Wake up Wales! ‘Lessons need to be learnt’!

Will Hutton is a political economist, writer, weekly newspaper columnist and former editor-in-chief for The Observer.

Julian Ruck – Editor