Toadmeister

I don’t recall his name, but it was New Years Eve 1998, the comedian walked on stage and was warmly welcomed. His opening gag, “Scotland is celebrating tonight….Lena Zavaroni has had a shit.” His comic timing was impeccable. The room filled with equal bouts of laughter, gasps and groans. It’s a gag that has stuck with me.  Not because of any comic value, but its cruelty, given it was common knowledge that Zavaroni, a child star of the 1970s, had been suffering from anorexia since her teenage years and within a year of this gag the 35-year old Zavaroni was dead. The only thing I took heart from that night was the thinning audience seeking refuge in an adjourning bar where it was concluded the comic was boring, a one-shot pony, no depth and no charisma to manage an audience beyond aiming to shock. Years later 3 things often cross my mind from that evening.

  • The feelings of those in the process of losing a loved one, if they were to discover their loss, suffering, pain and devastation was joke material.
  • The ability to offend and be offended is an integral part of a functioning democracy and should be defended. An argument often overlooked by those on the left and misused by those of the right.
  • Thirdly, by walking out of the comic’s routine, which he will have noticed, we the audience, were in effect holding him to account.

20 years later and the willingness to say something shocking, offend, slag off or degrade is epidemic, even those seeking, accepting or obtaining public office are in on the act, but like that comic, they are often dull and as sure as night follows day accountability ultimately catches them up. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson MP the illustrious Secretary of State for Foreign affairs in the UK (one of the prominent 3 positions in UK Cabinet government). Johnson has sought to position himself as a Trump type character for the common man. Endlessly projecting himself as an affable, jovial person, he is now widely viewed as an incoherent train crash on Thomas the Tank proportions.

Johnson is of that ilk, a background of wealth and privilege giving a pretentious and mistaken belief they are not constrained by the standards decent people self-regulate to demonstrate their dignity. A sense of respect towards others including those less fortunate.  Johnson sense of privilege allows him to casually describe war-torn Sirte, Libya as potentially the next Dubai once the dead bodies were cleared away. In this context, it became of little surprise that Johnston ran to the defence of his fellow traveller Toby Young, (journalist and self-styled educationalist) who has recently been appointed to a government-funded educational quango (The Office of Students). Young believes people attacking his appointment is because of his ‘outspoken Tory’ views, but while this may provide logic to some people, as a parent, with a daughter entering the university sector shortly, his politics are not of my concern on this occasion.

There are principled conservatives, as there is across the political spectrum, who have a sense of service, standards and ethics. They understand the tone they adopt provides a sense of responsibility, leadership and integrity, which underpins our trust and confidence in those wishing to serve the greater public good. Toby Young is not one of them. Toby Young is my 1990s forgotten comic making observations about “huge knockers, having a dick up a woman’s arse, gloating over baps, wanking over the efforts of Comic Relief to raise money for those in need and referencing working people as stains and deformed.” The critical difference between my 1990s forgotten comic and Toby Young is simple. My forgotten comic has never, to my knowledge, sought or accepted public office.

Young’s appointment is rightly receiving the criticism it deserves, and given the noise, he has released a statement regretting “the sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks on twitter and I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Schizophrenically Young is seeking to present himself twice. The virtual Toby detached with less accountability and the Toby in the real world. The real world Toby is demanding to be taken serious convinced in his self-belief, righteous education and privilege that he was born to offer us all the benefits of his gracious service.  There will be those who find Young’s observations as the pinnacle of modern ironic comedy as part of the fight back against a politically correct world constructed by the liberal elites, which he and his ilk have built in their heads.  A world, which they believe suffocates their freedom to call a spade a spade. It is a world where the ‘alt-right’ see themselves as freedom fighters against disabled ramps. A world where the context of equality is determined by wealth, status, the social network you belong too and what remains is a matter of charity.

2014, in an open letter to sitting Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Paul Bew, who chaired The Ethical Standards in Public Service wrote about the public desire of wanting those involved in public life to adhere by common ethical standards. Lord Bew hit the nail on the head when he wrote, “for the public how things are done are as important as what is done.” The ethical standards Lord Bew was talking about are Integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and that holder of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour

By appointing Toby Young, Theresa May is setting the bar for her standards, so what next how about Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown to head up a public body into women’s health. Katie Hopkins to front up a refugee relief quango, how about an Honourary Lordship for Trump in recognition of his work in building religious tolerance? To use your own words Mr Young “I hope people will judge me on my actions.” Well for my small part here I am judging you by your actions and the standards in public life.

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Blue not burgundy is the new black

There is a crucial moment in the first Matrix film when the character Neon is presented with a life-changing choice by Morpheus between taking a red or blue pill“You take the blue pill, You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland.” For those not familiar with the Matrix films the term red pill refers to a human who is aware of the true nature of the Matrix. There is a myth, which persists in the minds of some people in U.K. that the European Union forced the U.K. to change the colour of its passports from blue to burgundy and by regaining the original blue passport is a mark of national identity, sovereignty and taking back control. In the comedy of errors that has become the U.K these things matter to somebody, somewhere, for some reason for which I am not entirely sure. These are the people who have swallowed the blue pill.  Those who have taken the red pill know the British government voluntarily switched the colour of our passports in the 1980s and the EU has never had the power to force member states to change the colour of their passport.

The “news story’ about the colour of our passport is what many would call a politically manufactured distraction or spin after another terrible week for the sitting zombie government in the U.K, which slips and slides from one crisis to another. Meanwhile, properly one of the most progressive-left opposition sit waiting in the wings to deliver a killer blow. To early and Labour will be left picking up the mid-negotiation mess, much better to wait until the next round of negotiations is well underway. This will give an incoming Labour Government, which will not used to the rigours of a free-market economy as enshrined in EU treaties and law to intervene more radically in the economy. It’s not the type of ‘taking back control’ the Brexiters had in mind, but how ironic it would be. PS: The original colour of the British passport was black. Carry on swallowing the pills. 

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The Last Flower

Somethings have explanations, some things take belief, while others just leave you pondering for a rational reason for them to exist. They capture a moment, like stars when they align. On this damp, chilly September morning in the corner of my kitchen, a corner where the plants do their best to thrive, of all these days, a blooming flower stretches out seeking the sky. It’s the last flower, my father planted before he died on the 3rd March 2017, which is exactly, to the day, 12 months after my mum had passed away. The significance of this solitary flower that blooms on this damp, chilly September morning is what causes the pause, as I make a breakfast tea and say happy birthday to my mum.

Out of focus

8 pm, the alarm in my head, “make that call.” The football, sport, TV, news, and weather, how are you feeling today? Idol chatter consumes us both. Speak to me, but there are no answers now. Just the silence of echoes searching for a home.

The distance between now and then is measured in memories like the steps of Whitby Abbey 199 up, 199 down. The miss you words are the easiest to find and father’s day is but a pole in these shifting sands. All my life I wanted you to stay, that is selfish, I know.

Standing on the garden decks, looking over the city lights, the very place we spoke about life, the joys of incidental happenings. The fragments of our personal jigsaw puzzle, which build our picture called life. The relationships, a love lost, a love found, passions, lessons learned and the regrets that can consume if not addressed while taking a breath. So I try to reflect before letting harsh words make a sound, I seek to understand, to leave doors open and not burn bridges as I did when growing from being your child. Things are still out of focus Dad, I guess they will be for a while, but sadness is set aside when I speak to your daughter, watch your grandchildren, their offspring building their own jigsaw puzzle where your smile can be found.

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On days like these

5 am, and God only knows why I’m laid here flicking through social media updates, snapshots of opinions, life, and wisdom projected through an assortment of embarrassing photographs of politicians, historical figures, celebrities, cats, dogs or cartoon characters. You think you know somebody until that awkward post pops up, a regurgitation from a reactionary nutter who has managed to hijack sweet moderation by sensationalising, simplifying complex tragedies and to invade the common sense I associated with the person in question. It’s nothing more than fast food convenience politics, shipped in and shipped out messages tailored to primal emotions. Before digestion of one message concerning welfare scroungers…..bing….another appears about jolly foreigners, the terrorist next door; stop our culture from being diluted. How did that person, I thought I knew, end up re-posting this nonsense?

In truth, I guess there is no simple answer, disempowerment, laziness to think, willingness to participate, misguided. I’m not sure; maybe these rent-a-slogans are desperate measures to scramble together a meaning, a notion of pride, loyalty or even identity in a world where borders are falling in a virtual world to access cheap food and goods, but increasingly pursued in a physical sense. Seeking protection like a boxer caught against the ropes, awaiting the knockout punch. The best, I feel, you can do on Election Day is remember your roots, the struggles of your parents to give you a better life. That one day you will be that older person reliant on care and support and if your family fail to step up, who will? It’s also about your integrity, values, and intelligence. A whole host of pound shop economists will tell you there is no alternative because, well you’ve guessed it, ultimately the prospect of change may disturb their status, wealth or power. Protection of the status quo is their priority, albeit they will tolerate a few crumbs to offset and polish over the harder edges. No matter how we may seek it, there is never any easy way to deal with complex problems. Compassion may not seem in fashion, but without it, we turn inwards, into a spiral of darkness, blaming those less fortunate.

Whatever the outcome of the Election in the UK I take heart that more young people seem to be increasingly engaged, given I trust their judgment far more than my generation and it genuinely feels that a generational change is starting to take place. In the meantime, my only hope is that my generation does not cause irrevocable damage to our eco-system and social welfare infrastructure. My history, values, and integrity lead to the Labour Party, but I cannot help but reflect that on days like these we are all seeking strong and stable leadership, which is for the many, not the few and to change Britains future for the good.

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It’s the end of the year as we know it (and I feel fine)

In 2016 a new study from the world’s leading health journal reported that the number of women dying from pregnancy and childbirth has almost halved since 1990. British Columbia protected 85% of one of the world’s largest temperate rainforests, home to the wonderfully named ‘Spirit Bear.’ World hunger reached its lowest point in 25 years. Child mortality is down everywhere, and it keeps going down. Peru and Bolivia signed a $500 million deal to preserve Lake Titicaca. New chemotherapy breakthroughs have increased the 5-year survival for pancreatic cancer from 16% to 27% (and is getting better). In March, the US government abandoned its plan for oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters, reversing its decision from a year ago.  Scientists figured out how to link robotic limbs with the part of the brain that deals with intent to move, so people don’t have to think about how they will move the limb, it can just happen. After nearly 13 years of difficult negotiations, Malaysia established a 1 million hectare marine park that pioneers a mixed-use approach to marine conservation. Thanks to the ice bucket challenge the gene responsible for ALS has been found, meaning we are closer to an effective treatment. More than 20 countries pledged more than $5.3 billion for ocean conservation and created 40 new marine sanctuaries covering an area of 3.4 million square km. A solar powered plane circumnavigated the world. New research showed that acid pollution in the atmosphere is now almost back to the level that it was before it started with industrialisation in the 1930s. The numbers of tigers are growing pandas are now officially off the endangered list. In 2012, the US and Mexico embarked on an unprecedented binational project to revive the Colorado River. By 2016, the results had astonished everyone. Pakistan has made strides toward outlawing honor killings. The World Health Organisation released a report showing that, since the year 2000, global malaria deaths have declined by 60%. Fresh evidence showed that public smoking bans have improved health in 21 nations. 70,000 Muslim clerics declared a fatwa against ISIS. Uruguay won a major case against Philip Morris in a World Bank ruling, setting a precedent for other small countries that want to deter tobacco use. Pokemon Go players went insane with placing lure modules near hospitals for sick kids. Malawi achieved a 67% reduction in the number of children acquiring HIV, the biggest success story across all sub-Saharan nations and since 2006, they’ve saved 260,000 lives. Volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours. Child mortality rates came down by 12% in Russia. Coffee consumption has been proved to help curtail cancer and suicide rates. Life expectancy in Africa has increased by 9.4 years since 2000, thanks to improvements in child survival, progress in malaria control, and expanded access to ARVs. Mobile phones made significant inroads in the fight against rabies, a disease that kills more people annually than all terrorists combined. 500 elephants were relocated to a better, safer and bigger home. Thailand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa. We made massive strides in Alzheimers’ prevention. The WHO announced that measles has been eradicated in all of the Americas, from Canada to Chile. It’s the first time the disease has been eliminated from an entire world region.The ozone layer is still repairing itself, and all the work we did to get rid of those aerosol chemicals was actually worth it. For the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid. A new therapy developed in Israel could cure radiation sickness. In February, Ontario announced a $100 million initiative to curb violence against indigenous women.The Anglican church resolved to solemnize same-sex unions. The Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution affirming the rights of transgender and non-conforming individuals. Myanmar swore in its first elected civilian leader in more than 50 years. In 1990, more than 60% of people in East Asia lived in extreme poverty. As of 2016, that proportion has dropped to 3.5%. Two brothers saw color for the first time thanks to specially-designed glasses. Taiwan is on the verge of becoming the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Portugal ran its entire nation solely on renewable energy for four days straight. The Gambia and Tanzania banned child marriage, following sustained lobbying by civil society groups. In June, after years of wrangling, the drive to end female genital mutilation in Africa made a major breakthrough, when the Pan African Parliament endorsed a continent-wide ban. An Afghan teacher has been delivering books via bicycle to villages that lack schools. 200 strangers attended the funeral of a homeless WW2 veteran with no family. Germany took on rape culture, introducing a law to broaden the definition of sex crimes by zoning in on the issue of consent. Two weeks before Brexit, the African Union announced a new single African passport that permits holders to enter any of the 54 AU member states without a visa. Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions in 2016, following a long-running battle by campaigners. The 24th year in a row that teenage pregnancy rates declined in the United Kingdom and the United States. New medicine has been shown to increase melanoma survival rate to 40%. Gambia became the latest African country to show that voting does count, and dictators do fall. Over 800 Boko Harem Hostages were rescued by Nigerian Army. The Paris Agreement became the fastest (and largest) United Nations treaty to go from agreement to international law in modern history.Global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels did not grow at all in 2016. It’s the third year in a row emissions have flatlined. The Chinese egypt-society-media-gallery-steve_bell_do_somethinggovernment placed a ban on new coal mines, created new rules for grid access, and doubled its renewables targets for 2020. Following the end of the conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population. ISIS quietly started preparing its followers for the eventual collapse of the caliphate it proclaimed with great fanfare two years ago. In April, a new report revealed that for the first time ever, the death penalty has become illegal in more than half of the world’s countries. Crime rates in Holland plummeted, with total recorded crime shrinking by 25% in the last eight years. One-third of the country’s prison cells are now empty. Norway became the first country in the world to commit to zero deforestation. The average number of large oil spills around the world has been drastically reduced, from an average of 24.5 per year in the 1970s to just 1.8 a year in 2015. Plastic bag use plummeted in England thanks to the introduction of a 5p charge in 2015. Wild wolves started coming back to Europe, and for the first time since the American Revolution, wild salmon began spawning in the Connecticut River. Green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico were taken off the endangered list. The US finalized new regulations to shut down commercial elephant ivory trade within its borders and stop wildlife crime overseas. Mongolia created one of the world’s largest protected areas for snow leopards. Germany took in an additional 300,000 refugees in 2016, despite growing concerns about integration and a backlash from populists.

If you made it to the bottom of this list, then thank you. It was culled from a variety of good news stories, blogs, and articles. We may have lost some good people in 2016, and some election results may have gone against those with a kinder heart, but if you genuinely want to protect what has been achieved then sitting behind a computer screen is not an option. The biggest step to change is the one you take to get involved.

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