Thursday, 6 October 2011

David Cameron bares teeth over Economy

David Cameron: more British Beagle than British Bulldog
David Cameron, our undeniably tough-faced, muscular and far from soggy leader has called on us Brits to shun “can’t do sogginess” and hone that famous Dunkirk spirit to pull together and sort the bloody economy out.

His speech, delivered at the Conservative annual conference, was peppered with WWII rhetoric and imagery, as should be hoped for at a time when, as Vince Cable alluded, our country is facing the economic equivalent of that opening scene from Saving Private Ryan.

With gutsy gusts, he winded that we must not be “paralysed by gloom and fear” but find that “spirit of Britain” that will help us run up those bleak shores of job cuts, face the hissing barrels of pension losses and chuck grenades of Big Society in the face of depressing market figures.

I can just see him now – a Lurpak man dressed in combat fatigues – hulking a fatally wounded Nick Clegg toward the promised land of financial stability as George Osborne provides covering fire from, heck, an ivory tower.

The metaphor he chose was more prosaic (and less fun to picture). Likening the economy to building a house, he said: “the most important part is the part you can’t see – the foundations that make it stable. Slowly, but surely, we’re laying the foundations for a better future.” He continued with another metaphor – damn, I love these visualisation aids: “Remember, it is not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Overcoming challenges, confounding the sceptics, this is what we do.

It was all delivered with boyish optimism and a sense that, if we’re prepared to suffer, we can make it all ok.

And the boy’s got teeth. Teeth, perhaps unlike the traditional bulldog, but of a flabby beagle raised on a sunny Home Counties estate with, most likely, peacocks and daisies to growl at. He briefly flashed these teeth at critics of his planning reforms: “To those who oppose everything we’re doing, my message is this: Take your arguments down to the Job Centre. We’ve got to get Britain back to work.”

Easy to say, Dave, but you try telling that to the face of a BAE Systems worker, or a Bombardier engineer who’s about to lose his job, or a group of nurses about to lose theirs. Yep, we need to get back to work but the public needs more answers as to how. Woof!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Blood Chocolates - Modern Slavery in the Cocoa Industry

Ten years ago yesterday, an agreement was signed that signified what was hoped to be the start of the international elimination of slavery in the chocolate making industry. The Harkin-Engel protocol laid out dates whereby steps should be taken to eradicate what has been described as one of the worst forms of child labour.

Many of the workers in the cocoa producing supply line in West Africa are children. Many of them are thought to have been trafficked against their will from Mali and other African nations and then forced to work in difficult conditions for no pay.

Leading chocolate makers in the West signed the protocol. And yet, a decade down the line, little, if anything has changed.

CNN have campaigned for awareness and forced pressure on the chocolate industry through their Freedom Project to end modern day slavery. Their reports yesterday were damning.

Chris Bayer from Tulane University spent five years in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, countries where the issue is at its most concentrated. He said: “Unfortunately, over the last ten years we have seen very little implementation of the actual commitments. Industry did not live up to the Harkin-Engel protocol. The issues are systemic.”

And Stop the Traffik, the global coalition that aims to bring an end to human trafficking, says that, although the chocolate industry has gained more than £600bn over the past decade, the combined investment from it into the improvement of working conditions in West Africa has been a paltry 0.075% of this.

The facts are difficult to establish, as there is no legal regulator that monitors the entire chocolate supply line and the western companies are not legally obliged to follow through on the promises they made in the Harkin-Engel protocol.

For instance, the International Cocoa Initiative, set up by the protocol to address the issue, appeared sanguine, stating that: “Governments of cocoa producing countries, members of the supply chain and the ICI itself are actively working to improve the livelihoods of cocoa growers.”

Whatever the facts, maybe it’s worth taking a bit of time while you’re chewing your Mars, your Nestle, your Cadbury, Hershey or Ferrero, to think about where it came from. As Chris Bayer said: “We have this disparity between incredible poverty and suffering and yet indulgence and decadence on the other hand.”

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dale Farm Evictions- Tomorrow is the Travellers' D-Day

It’s a moral dilemma of life-changing consequences, a choice between respecting fringe lifestyles and the need for all to uphold the law. The depth of the decision has seized the media and gouged a gaping divide in opinion. Tomorrow, the travellers’ community of Dale Farm will face the bulldozers as eviction day finally hits.

The majority of the site has no planning permission and is situated on greenbelt land. This, on the surface, suggests the situation is a no brainer and, as the law exists for the greater good, the families should cut their losses and leave.

However, complications arise when more facts become clear. The travellers own the land and many have planted roots there. Some children, who go to school in the area, have never known another home. Furthermore, it is alleged that the land was formerly a scrap yard and Basildon Council itself was responsible for concreting over it.

The Guardian reports that Ray Bocking, who sold the acreage to the Gypsy community a decade ago, said it was the local council who laid rough tracks leading to the farm and dumped hardcore onto the site. Bocking told The Guardian that, “Dale Farm was a swamp and a breaker’s yard for years. It was a rubbish ground. I really don’t know why they are throwing away £18m.”

From this perspective, it is easy to see how many are calling for compassion, especially when we learn that some of the residents are elderly or infirmed and have no housing sorted. Add to this the fact that Basildon Council have recently passed permission for 70 houses to be built on greenbelt land and the situation, it could be argued, starts to look like prejudice.

Under the Caravan Sites Act 1968, councils were obliged to provide allowances for up to 15 caravans at a time but this law became obsolete with the introduction of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The Commission for Racial Equality believes this has led to there being a deficit of sites to accommodate all travellers and, therefore, their way of life will inevitably become compromised.

But my two pence is this: nobody should be allowed to think that laws don’t apply to them and, frankly, the travelling community should have showed more respect for the local authority all those years ago by only living and building on areas they were given permission to occupy. Before they sent their children to local schools and before some became too weak to move on, they should have established what exactly they would be certain to get away with, rather than settling down and hoping for the best. Their claims of discrimination and racism seem self pitying and hypocritical. The country needs its greenbelt and, to me, it’s reverse discrimination if the majority are not allowed to build on it but a certain small community who keep themselves to themselves are given an allowance.

Nobody, except fascists and Daily Mail readers, revels in hatred and intolerance and, as such, it can be difficult for modern people to criticise minority groups. But the travellers’ claims of racism from Basildon Council should fall of deaf ears. It is one law for all, not one law for some and different laws for others, no matter how different those others may be.