Tag Archives: rural

Voters in rural areas are deserting Boris Johnson and the Tories. Why would that be?

Tractor factor: more people than farmers live in the countryside – but will they usher in twilight for the Tories?

A survey of voters in rural areas has found that the Tories are about to lose their lead over Labour in the countryside.

This is the reason This Writer is sceptical about Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton’s reasons for saying he has been admitted to a psychiatric hospital with shock due to his suspension from the Tory whip for sexual misconduct and drug abuse.

Whether he meant it to be or not, it looks like he’s trying to get people to look on him (and his currently-former party) kindly.

And it smacks of whataboutery: people in rural areas have perfectly good reasons to shun the Conservatives this year – concerns over planning and the ‘levelling up’ agenda, but it seems they’re being asked to vote Tory anyway, out of sympathy for one who has been accused – whether falsely or not.

I hope the ploy doesn’t work this time (for a change). The figures – from that most accurate of pollsters, Survation – suggest that it may not:

The Survation survey of Cornwall, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Norfolk and Gwynedd, Wales found that 36% of voters in the countryside now intend to vote Labour at next month’s local elections, two points behind the Tory vote share.

That is a 7.5% swing to Keir Starmer ’s party. At the 2019 General Election 46% backed the Tories and only 29% Labour.

I don’t like Starmer’s Labour – for very good reasons; he’d be a nightmare if he ever got into Downing Street – but anything that makes the Tories think again would be welcome right now.

Source: Boris Johnson losing countryside support as rural voters desert Tories in droves

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Why listen to naysayers when Labour has so many reasons to be cheerful?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn - but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn – but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

Vox Political reblogged a post on the Skwawkbox blog yesterday, identifying a commonplace tactic used by members and supporters of the Coalition government.

It works like this: You make an assertion in the media that will harm your opponents, even though you have no evidence to back it up. You argue your case vehemently, refusing to accept any alternatives to what you are saying. And when the evidence comes in and it’s against you, you say it is a stitch-up and continue claiming both the moral and factual victory.

This is what the Conservative Party has been doing, loudly and continually. Look at its record on the NHS and on social security reforms and you’ll see that this assertion is supported by fact. Now, more factual evidence has arrived to undermine other Tory claims.

In spite of this, the Labour Party presents the appearance of an organisation torn by inner disagreement, after several high-profile figures broke ranks to criticise the leadership for failing to go on the attack during the summer, when the Conservative-led Coalition was vulnerable on any number of levels.

The BBC ran a story in which Labour’s Tessa Jowell warned that public criticism of Labour leader Ed Miliband by party colleagues creates an “unappealing sense of toxic disunity”.

We’ll come back to the BBC shortly, but for now it is enough to say the story quoted an article by Dame Tessa in the Observer, claiming that “disloyalty” of this kind risked handing the next election to the Tories.

She wrote: “There is… nothing constructive in publicly delivering ‘helpful advice’ that could be much better delivered quietly in private,” but for all we know, Mr Miliband’s critics had already done this, only for him to turn a deaf ear.

She is wrong, of course. Those people spoke up because they believed that their leader has been ignoring the mountain of evidence piling up against the Coalition – evidence that he could use to pummel David Cameron and Nick Clegg into the dust long before the next election; that Mr Miliband is unaccountably trying to avoid criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, in an attempt to court the right-wing readership of those papers; and that he would get more respect from those people – and win back disenchanted Labour voters – if he acknowledged and supported the evidence against the Coalition’s policies and set out opposing plans that mapped out a different course for the UK, one that might actually have a chance of success.

There are so many ways to strike against the web of so-called ‘myths’ (in fact outright lies) spread by the Conservatives since they came into office with the Liberal Democrats that it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with the report by the international doctors’ organisation Medecins Du Monde (Doctors of the World), stating very clearly that the claim, by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that health tourism is rife in the UK, is nonsense.

In a policy briefing, the organisation stated: “Seven years of data… shows that service users had, on average, been living in the UK for three years before they tried to access healthcare. Only 1.6 per cent of people using the service had left their country of origin for personal health reasons.”

Concentrating on one particular illness, “Research carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust and George House Trust found that people living with HIV using their services had been resident in England for between 12-18 months before testing positive for HIV. If access to HIV drugs had been their motivation for coming to England, they would have been unlikely to wait so long to become eligible for life-saving treatments.”

Therefore, “Research by Doctors of the World’s European network indicates no correlation between accessibility of healthcare to migrants and migration patterns.”

The government has made health tourism a major part of its anti-immigration campaign, claiming that it costs the taxpayer a fortune, but even this was rubbished by the professionals: “Current estimates vary greatly, although last year the NHS estimates it spent £33 million treating foreign nationals and wrote off £12 million of this sum. This represents about 0.01 per cent of the £107 billion NHS budget. These sums are considerably less than the net contribution made to the UK by migrants of 1.02 per cent of GDP, or £16.3 billion, according to the OECD.”

Just 0.01 per cent of the NHS budget is lost treating foreign nationals who do not pay – even less than the 0.7 per cent of the social security budget that is lost to fraud, according to DWP figures. But the government talks up these comparatively tiny amounts as though they will topple us all into bankruptcy (impossible).

One might almost believe there was an intention to distract us from something else. Remember, the Conservatives are well-practised at ‘bait-and-switch’ fraud, as mentioned in an earlier article. Perhaps they don’t want us examining their lackadaisical attempts at pretending to counter corporate tax avoidance that costs up to £120 billion per year? Or maybe they don’t want us thinking about what could have been done to restore respectability to our bankers after the financial crisis they caused.

Meanwhile, Tory claims that the Bedroom Tax – I said the BEDROOM TAX – would cut the Housing Benefit bill by £480 million have been destroyed after Labour MP Karen Buck retrieved figures from the House of Commons library, showing that the cost will in fact increase by £1.5 billion this year – and still further over the next three years.

The Mirror reported that this is because more than 40,000 more people have claimed HB since this time last year, with the biggest pressure coming from working people who need help with housing costs because their wages no longer cover them, especially since private landlords have increased rents by an inflation-busting three per cent over the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, councils have been forced to rehouse victims of the Bedroom Tax from cheaper social housing into more expensive private rented properties, creating more unwanted extra costs.

It was previously reported that larger social housing is going empty because people do not want to move in and then fall foul of the Bedroom Tax. I can’t currently find the reference for that, but if anyone can help out, please send in a comment with the link.

The SPeye blog has filed an alternative take on Housing Benefit, which claims that the current amount paid by the taxpayer on HB, at £23.77 billion, is £5.77 billion more than George Osborne predicted in 2010 when he said his changes to HB meant it would be “controlled and reduced” from £20 billion in that financial year to £18 billion by 2014-15.

This blog is highly critical of Labour’s reasoning, as reported in the Mirror story, but then comes up with an even greater loss to the taxpayer, caused by the Conservatives’ changes.

Back to the NHS now, where the Coalition government has spent £1.4 billion on redundancy payoffs, rather than care, since it came to power. This can be added to more than £3 billion that was spent on the pointless and unnecessary top-down reorganisation that David Cameron promised, prior to the 2010 election, would not take place.

The government has claimed that the redundancies will save £1.5 billion per year, which will be reinvested in patient care – but this will only bring annual spending back up to just above where it was when Labour left office, as it was revealed at the end of 2012 that annual spending on the NHS has dropped by nearly £1 billion. The government has stated that spending will have increased by £12.7 billion by 2014-15 which, in financial terms, is next year.

The Coalition lied when it said changes to the planning system would protect the Green Belt. This land, “intended to provide countryside access for urban dwellers and ensure conservation of nature, as well as maintaining agriculture and forestry” according to a BBC website article, is being eroded away with the help of new rules introduced by the Coalition, with planning applications on Green Belt land in England almost doubling from 81,000 homes in 2012 to 150,000 this year.

The government said protection was being maintained but the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the Green Belt was under threat. Who do you believe?

The announcement that the UK economy grew by 0.7 per cent, rather than 0.6, has been greeted rapturously by the Coalition, whose representatives have claimed that it shows the economy has moved “from rescue to recovery”. This is, of course, utterly ludicrous. There is no way an improvement of this kind – after years of economic flatlining thanks to Coalition policies – can be claimed as either evidence of a sustained recovery or evidence that Coalition policies are responsible for the improvement. The weakness of the upturn suggests the change brought on by conditions that would have arisen, whether the Coalition had tinkered with the economy or not.

Thankfully Michael Meacher has returned, after a brief holiday from blogging, to give us chapter and verse. “Today’s announcement by the ONS that its initial 0.6 per cent growth estimate for the second quarter of this year has now been upgraded to 0.7 per cent is insignificant when put into perspective against the recoveries of the five other UK recessions in the previous 100 years,” he writes.

“This time the economy still remains 3.3 per cent below its pre-crash level in 2008, while at the same stage of cycle (ie five years on from the crash) it was nearly FIVE per cent above the pre-crash level in the early 1980s, SIX per cent above pre-crash in the 1920s, SIX per cent above pre-crash again in the early 1930s, SEVEN per cent above pre-crash in the early 1970s, and nearly 10 PER CENT above pre-crash in the 1990s.” (Caps and italics mine)

“Come on, at this stage 0.7 per cent is to be apologised for – both historically and in comparison with other other economies emerging from recession this time round – Britain still three per cent down, but France one per cent down, Germany two per cent up, the US four per cent up and Canada six per cent up.”

The above stories emerged over the past couple of days. Look back over the rest of August and we have:

  • The revelation that the upcoming Lobbying Bill will do nothing to prevent professional lobbyists from influencing Parliament unduly, but will attack your right to campaign politically in “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech”.
  • The revelation that a ‘top ten’ list of benefit fraudsters, reported by right-wing newspapers, does not exist.
  • Information that the government may be corruptly supporting fracking because several of its members have stakes in fracking firms.
  • Home Office vans stirring up racism in London.
  • Conservative plans to abolish the human rights of everybody in the UK, in order to inflict a dangerous and exploitative regime on working people that will amount to slavery.
  • The revelation that recent attacks on the NHS for causing needless deaths have been blown out of proportion in order to make public opinion more receptive to further privatisation.
  • The revelation that the DWP is spending £1.3 million on extra staff who have been calculating the government’s flagship benefits cap – perhaps its only popular policy – because the computer system needed to do the job has not yet been built. Ministers had no intention of admitting this and the information only became public after it was discovered by somebody else.
  • And then there’s the fact that the fundamental claim of the Coalition government – that the financial crisis of five years ago happened because Labour overspent massively and mishandled the economy – was absolute and total groundless fabrication. Labour in fact handled the economy responsibly, even when the financial crisis hit.

That has to total more than 10 ways in which Labour could undermine the Coalition. All Mr Miliband has to do is open his mouth and tell people about them in ways that will be reported by the media.

And on that subject: If and when he does, and it is reported by the BBC, we can all be certain that right-wing commentators will claim that this is because the BBC is full of pinko left-wingers who support Labour. Let’s put that myth to rest as well.

A lecturer at Cardiff University has checked the facts and found that the BBC has a broadly right-wing bias. The study showed that the government of the day generally gets more airtime than anyone else (natural considering it is making policy and actually carrying out the business of government) but in reporting of immigration, the EU and religion, in 2007 Gordon Brown’s appearances on the BBC outnumbered David Cameron’s by less than two to one, while in 2012, Cameron’s outnumbered Ed Miliband’s by around four to one. The same ratios occurred for other prominent members of each party. When reporting of all topics is taken into account, Conservative politicians were featured more than 50 per cent more often than those from Labour in both 2007 AND 2012.

Going into the autumn Parliamentary session, Ed Miliband has a strong hand to play – if he has the stomach for it. And if any of the media try to suppress his arguments, he can just point to the evidence of right-wing bias and tell them they need to clean up their act just as much as the Coalition.

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?

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.