Monthly Archives: March 2012

It is impossible to persuade a person who is irrational

Those of you who follow this blog will be aware that I have been involved in a dialogue with one Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel, in the letters pages of the Mid Wales Journal, over statistics relating to poverty in my home town of Llandrindod Wells.  My initial findings are documented as Britain’s idyllic rural life: poverty and joblessness, and Ms Parkinson’s letter and my response are in the article I won’t tolerate this insult to my town.

It seems I was not sufficiently persuasive. The Journal dated March 23 contained another letter from Ms Parkinson which I shall share with you forthwith.

Under the headline If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it, she writes:

“I’m mortified. I’ve upset Mr Sivier (letters, March 9). How true to type he should choose to interpret what I wrote regarding Llandrindod’s generosity at Christmas in a way that suits his ‘loud-mouthed’ agenda.

“Since when did Nantmel become to Llandod what Harrods is to the Co-op? What a risible analogy.

“I would no more wish ‘disgracefully to insult’ the people of Llandrindod, than I would those of any other part of our glorious United Kingdom. But I reiterate if its residents – and countless others – found themselves more heavily in hock after Christmas than before, it is only because they are representative of people the world over who feel pressurised by what next door is buying, eating, drinking, or watching and whose aspirations do not match their incomes.

“It’s called ‘societal behaviour’, but for Mike’s sake, let’s call it peer pressure.

“And this pressure – be it from next door or from advertising, trying to sell you ‘stuff’ at any cost (to you) – is what leads to societies founded on debt. Mike, have you not noticed what’s been happening because of societies founded on debt?

“I do not applaud the ‘generosity’ that made LW the 15th most likely town in the UK to have overspent at Christmas. I’m sorry that LW and the 14 towns before it seem to be populated by people who do not have the strength of character to resist the forces of temptation.

“LW is hardly unique. Its residents fall prey to this modern consumerist disease – no latest iPhone? no street-cred. It’s patently clear that society would be in better economic shape today if it was not entirely founded on debt.

“Those who can’t afford the run-up to Christmas will do whatever it takes to keep up with the Joneses and regret it afterwards. Whatever happened to ‘if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it’?”

It’s quite a piece, isn’t it? I have to admit, I found it hard to take seriously while I was reading it out to my girlfriend in the aisles of Llandrindod’s local Co-op. It seems clear that there can be no rational debate with this lady. She simply won’t pay attention to an argument based on fact.

However, I have responded – not out of any animosity towards Ms Parkinson but because I wanted to reassure those who have read her letters of a few important facts. Here’s what I wrote:

“I was delighted to see that Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel found enough of interest in my last letter to respond, allowing us all the pleasure of a further insight into her remarkable mind! Sadly, there was little substance to it, being mainly a rehash of the anti-Llandrindod statements she made in her initial epistle. I’m sure most residents will have been insulted enough by her comments, without me re-opening the wounds.

“But I must take issue with two of her claims. Firstly, Ms Parkinson, I never wrote that Nantmel was Harrods to Llandod’s Co-op. Those are your words, not mine, and I think it is right that I put the record straight. It is wrong of you to try to portray me as pitting Nantmel against Llandrindod. I have no animosity towards the other residents of your village at all; I merely take issue with your opinion. I do not make false attributions of this kind. I wonder why you do.

“Also, madam, your allegation that people in Llandod spent more than they had due to greed might be credible if it was a year-round phenomenon, but it isn’t. The statistics I quoted were for Christmas only. In my last letter, you will recall, I asked to see the factual evidence behind your assertions. None has been forthcoming. I therefore invite readers to conclude that you do not have any, and to condemn your claims about debt-fuelled “societal behaviour”, “peer pressure”, “temptation”, weakness of character, greed, selfishness or whatever else you want to call it, as nonsense.

“As a candidate in this year’s Powys County Council elections, I feel proud to be standing up for the people of Llandrindod in this matter.”

Fair enough?

Whatever happened to patriotism?

I was just watching a TV discussion about the debate over dropping the 50p tax rate, and the attitude of the Tories seems very strange to me.

Firstly, the party of patriotism seems to be suggesting that Great British people should all prefer to leave these shores, rather than pay the current top rate, which doesn’t strike me as being very patriotic at all.

“Breathes there a man with soul so dead, he never to himself has said, ‘This is my own, my native land’,” – unless he has to pay the top tax rate, in which case he should scarper to foreign parts, apparently.

Also, this only emphasizes the fact that most of us are tax prisoners here; we can’t afford to up stumps and hightail it abroad, and many countries wouldn’t have us because we wouldn’t have unique skills that they’d want to employ.

Equally important is the fact that they seem to be saying a lower rate would encourage people to immigrate to the UK.

Aren’t they the people who are critical of immigration? Don’t their supporters want fewer foreigners coming to Blighty and taking advantage of the system? They might say it’s okay if they’re contributing, but they would be contributing less and benefiting just as much.

I was born in the UK; I live here and I expect to die here, paying the rate of tax set for my pay grade by the government. It’s one of many ways in which I contribute to my country – part of my patriotic duty as a citizen, if you like.

If the Conservatives are suggesting higher earners – who are more likely to support them – will do the unpatriotic thing if they are asked to do their bit, then they are not the party of patriotism.

Perhaps it’s time someone else took that mantle off them.

I won’t tolerate this insult to my town

On February 17, the Mid Wales Journal published a letter from Caroline Parkinson of Nantmel, responding to my article, ‘Britain’s idyllic rural life – poverty and joblessness’. The letter is reproduced below and you will see that it made several points that required a response. Unfortunately the paper has steadfastly failed to publish my reply. Now, I don’t want the world to think I’m going to let a few ill-chosen words by someone who doesn’t understand the situation go past without a fight! If the Journal won’t afford me the right of reply, I’ll just have to publish it here.

This is what Ms Parkinson scribbled:

“Mike Sivier makes a good show of spouting statistics about the various aspects of poverty in and around Llandrindod Wells.

“However, when forming an opinion on what he has said, bear in mind that as Llandrindod’s Labour Party secretary he is hardly going to be unbiased.

“Also, how much credence do you give to someone who calls himself ‘the biggest loudmouth in Wales’? Does he intend to get his point across by using bully tactics? That’s how it appears to me.

“He finds it ‘revealing’ that LW is ‘the 15th most likely town in the UK to have overspent’ and says that some of the most generous householders have some of the lowest incomes!

“These are not ‘generous’ households and I am deeply concerned that he seems to be applauding them in such a way.

“They are simply the product of a reckless society that is entirely built on debt, where no-one lives within their means, selfishness abounds and if next door’s got it, well, I’ve got to have it too, whatever the cost, both financially and otherwise.

“There is no sense of self-restraint, no modesty, only greed and the weakness of those who cave in so easily to the pressures of our consumerist modern world.

“You will often hear people using the word ‘need’, when actually they mean ‘want’. What we need and want, is self-serving loud-mouths and others to develop a sense of humility, stop always blaming the opposition for everything that’s wrong in society and lose the obvious chip on the shoulder that so negatively influences their musings.

“The help Mr Sivier seeks will not be forthcoming and he is too short-sighted to see why. One little word: debt. Until the British learn the lessons of the mess we’re in, the problems faced by Llandrindod and the developed world will not go away.”

Here’s my response:

I’m not going to lose sleep because Caroline Parkinson has a low opinion of me.

But she has also – disgracefully – insulted the people of Llandrindod Wells, and I’m not going to let that pass.

Ms Parkinson doesn’t know me and therefore cannot know that the subheading on my blog is based on a friend’s comment: “Oh, so now you’re going to be the biggest loudmouth in Mid Wales?” Her attitude to me proceeds from a false assumption and I think her comments about Llandrindod are also based on prejudice rather than reason.

By the way she highlights my political affiliation, one can deduce that Ms Parkinson is a supporter – or a member – of one of the other main parties, Liberal Democrat or Conservative. If they think this behaviour is acceptable then I am doubly glad to be Labour!

According to Ms Parkinson, it is the residents’ fault that much of Llandrindod is in poverty. She claims that this is a town where “no-one lives within their means, selfishness abounds and if next door’s got it, well, I’ve got to have it too, whatever the cost.

There is no sense of self-restraint, no modesty, only greed and the weakness of those who cave in so easily to the pressures of our consumerist modern world,” she writes.

These are not ‘generous’ households.”

Since she does not apply them to any individuals or groups, her words must be applied to the whole town. I’d like to see the factual evidence for these assertions, please, Ms Parkinson.

I supported my claims with facts. The average wage in Powys is only 72 per cent of the national average but we all know that income tax, council taxes, utility bills and the cost of groceries are as high as they are everywhere else. Unemployment in Llandrindod is the highest in Powys. Child poverty in Llandrindod North is the highest in Powys. The last fact follows on naturally from the others and you can check these figures; I didn’t make them up.

Taking them into account, it is no wonder that people in Llandod were among those considered most likely to have overspent in the run-up to Christmas. It’s a very expensive time of year and in a town with as much poverty as ours, they simply couldn’t stretch the budget any further.

It is easy to sit in Nantmel and slag off people in hardship in Llandrindod. But I live here too. Nobody near me has been overspending because they want what the person next door has. They’re too busy trying to keep what they have themselves.

I said I was doubly glad to be Labour – here’s why: Labour is standing up for Llandrindod. The parties represented by Ms Parkinson will only run it down.