We’re exploited for our intolerance and fears

We live in a society where far too many of our political representatives seem to all but promote intolerance and fear. Those two words are often at the heart of what, usually in more deliberately vague language, is being peddled and promoted. Of course, much of our press is on the same regressive agenda. They work with politicians to exploit intolerance and fear which they then manipulate to enable messages to be sold to folk who, to put it bluntly, are being played.

Politicians know that most of us can be tribal in outlook and tribalism is the big brother of intolerance and fear. If you can gauge what sections of the voters are intolerant about and then feed those voters fears which magnify such intolerances then you can lead them by the nose into voting for things that they feel will ‘deal with’ what they fear and can’t tolerate.

Of course, virtually no one will admit to being a racist these days as it’s deemed to be socially unacceptable but that does not mean there are fewer racists about; they’re still there but don’t like being labelled racists. However, you’ll often hear them say ‘I’m not a racist but’ and that ‘but’ often means that in reality, they are a racist. So the fears of racists are there to be exploited by dog-whistle political comments seemingly made to us all but actually aimed at the racists who get the message. Words like immigrants, refugees, illegal immigrants etc. are used in contexts that blame such people for our ills and try to make us think they are from a DIFFERENT tribe, they ARE a threat, they are using scarce resources which OUR OWN poor should be accessing etc. etc.

Think which tribes you are a part of – religion, football team, your colour, the language you speak, straight or gay, the town you live in, the party you vote for, the paper you read, the clubs organisations and societies you’re a member of. Most of us are members of quite a few ‘tribes’ and we can view those who are members of different tribes as ‘not one of us’, or we can exhibit intolerance towards them, indeed we can even fear/hate them. It’s those doubts, worries and fears which unscrupulous politicians are openly exploiting together with a press/media friendly to such agendas.

If you’re being told that ‘we are losing our Britishness’, ‘our way of life is under threat’, that ‘outsiders are taking our jobs’ then our first reaction should be why are we being told that and what’s the agenda of politician or media outlet sending me such messages. But those producing the messages know that the vast majority of the time we don’t act logically, we simply hear messages which seemingly fit with our own often ill-informed perspective and they comfort us because they agree with what we’ve been thinking.

Of course, the less educated and more insular someone may be the more they can be open to being exploited by the unscrupulous. That’s why we need our up and coming generations to be well educated, with open minds rather than them carrying the prejudices and intolerance of previous generations of their families like a weight on their shoulders. I’m firmly of the view that we don’t hate as a matter of course we do it because it’s taught behaviour. Tribalism, prejudice and intolerance are simply the irrational fears of previous generations (anti-Semitism comes to mind) which are passed down as a right of passage. They close down young minds, they create fear where none needs to exist and they lead to racism and manipulation by media and politicians.

If you’ve ever said in front of a child ‘I don’t like the French, Italians, Irish etc.’ what are you trying to do? You’re probably hoping that child will come to hold the same view when logically they’ve no reason to hold that view. Or how about ‘I hate supporters of X football club’, again you’re hoping the child will think likewise; you’re trying to close down a mind because you don’t want them to come to a different view to your own. So what if you keep saying migrants, illegal immigrants? Yes, you’ve guessed it you’ve done it because you think such people are a threat and you want the next generation to think that too. Future generations will be open to being exploited by unscrupulous media and politicians if we don’t open up children’s minds so that they welcome their views being challenged and want to get to the truth rather than what passed for the truth from someone banking on them still carrying their family prejudices on their back.

We can be free of intolerance and fear and the exploitation that comes with it but only if we open our minds up and stop closing the minds of children down.

A woodland without a forester? – Part 2

Since I posted the first half of this blog (here’s a link to part 1 – tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/05/14/a-woodland-without-a-forester/) a fellow local environmental activist, Frank Sharp, has been in touch and he’s suggested that the downed wooden owl may actually be the body of a carved spider. I had been told that there had been/maybe still is a 2nd carved piece of public artwork within this particular wood so Frank could well be right. For reference here’s the photo again of the one I have seen and which we thought maybe an owl:-

Well as for progress I have none to report. Sefton Council hasn’t provided any further response and I’ve heard nothing from Mersey Forest and the Groundwork Trust. So who does have the maintenance responsibilities for Sefton Meadows No.3 woodland? The bottom line is that I have no idea and the powers that be whom I’ve contacted – Forestry England, Mersey Forest, Sefton Council, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (MWDA) & Groundwork Trust – either don’t seem to know (Forestry England and MWDA) or don’t seem keen to engage over the matter (Mersey Forest, Sefton Council, Groundwork Trust).

The mystery remains unsolved……………….

Sefton Labour Councillor goes Independent

It’s not been hard to pick up on the fact that Molyneux ward Labour Party have not been a happy bunch of campers for quite some time so when Sefton Cllr. Tony Carr announced he was resigning from the Sefton Council’s Labour Group, last week, to see out the rest of his term as an independent it did not come as a complete surprise to me.

If memory serves Tony was elected to serve for Molyneux ward (Southern Maghull, Melling and Aintree) in 2010 the year before I moved from Molyneux ward to Park ward (western Maghull and Lydiate) as a Lib Dem Sefton Councillor. I continued as a Sefton Councillor until 2015 so served alongside Tony for 5 years. My memory is of him being someone who was a good caseworker for residents and of a decent guy too. Like me, his background was from within the trade union movement. I think he was from UNITE, whilst I was PCS. I’ve noticed in the past that lay trade unionists can also make decent councillors as in reality the roles are not dissimilar; both need good communication skills and a willingness to help folk in difficulties.

I must admit to not really knowing Tony very well so I’m not sure where he would sit within the very wide spectrum of Labour activists. I’m guessing that he will not hold views as progressive as my own as a Social Liberal but I might be doing him an injustice there. It’s just that experience has taught me over many years as a trade unionist and politician that most Labour folk hold views that are to the right of me, some very much so.

I do hope there won’t be calls for Tony to resign his seat due to him leaving Labour to sit as an independent because my understanding is that he’s well thought of across the political divides and in particular by Molyneux ward residents.

And yes I have noted the very public allegations that Tony has made (via Facebook) with regard to his reasons for leaving Sefton Labour. Suffice to say that they are troubling indeed.

I wish Tony well as I’m not particularly tribal in my politics and am willing to say when someone from a differing political tradition to my own is doing a good job.

Operation Close Pass day – Still trying to get Lancs & M’side Stats

My posting below from 26th April mentioned a national policing campaign which was held on 14th April this year called ‘Operation Close Pass Day’ when police forces across the country would be sending out officers on cycles to try to catch those drivers who dangerously overtake cyclists by passing far too close to them. Here’s a link back to that posting:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2021/04/26/a-random-act-of-abuse-on-a-beautiful-day/

Photo from Cycling UK showing the likely change to the Highway Code for passing a cyclist.

I said back then that I awaited a response from both Lancashire and Merseyside Police about how they engaged with the campaign day and the results of their participation. To date, I’ve still had no response so, with the help of Cycling UK, I’ve now contacted them both again this time via their respective Road Safety Partnership websites in the hope that they will answer my queries.

Close passing of cyclists is highly dangerous and in my part of the world, the roads where it seems to be a big problem are Southport Road and Moss Lane in Lydiate and Prescot Road in Aughton, although it can happen on any road particularly where it’s one which vehicles are driven along at high speeds. Even drivers who would normally leave plenty of room when overtaking a cyclist can end up passing one far too closely. This often happens where a vehicle has started an overtaking manoeuvre and then the driver sees another vehicle approaching on the opposite carriageway. Obviously, most drivers will pull back in such circumstances but the impatient ones carry on sometimes coming within inches of a cyclist. Sadly, this can lead to cyclists being knocked off their bikes just because a driver is in too much of a hurry.

The present Highway Code is a little vague about this as it says that as much room as possible should be left when overtaking a cyclist. The plan is to change that to 1.5m of room must be left when overtaking a cyclist as the photo above demonstrates.

So there you have it or in the case of Lancs & Merseyside Police there you don’t have it as I still do not have their data from the campaign day. Let’s hope my contact via their Road Safety Partnerships delivers or it will have to be Freedom of Information Requests and I really hope it does not have to come to that.

Blair – Progressive but authoritarian

Tony Blair is a man much disliked particularly within Labour Party circles but, without doubt, he has been the most progressive PM the UK has had in many generations. Yes, I know that’s not saying a great deal because all the other PM’s who have won General Elections, have been Conservatives.

The left and particularly those who are within Labour’s fold seem to hate Blair with about as much passion as they hate Thatcher. This has long intrigued me not least because all the other elected PM’s, as I said, in recent times have been Conservative and therefore regressive of political nature.

Why does the left despise Tony Blair so much?

Readers of this blog site will know that I’m no supporter of Blair or indeed Labour as both are generally too right-wing and authoritarian for me. As a Social Liberal, I certainly don’t see myself as a centrist or a moderate, more as someone who is of the left but not a socialist. Having said that, I am happy to acknowledge that Blair is the nearest thing we have had to a progressive winning elections and sitting in No.10 because for me it’s a statement of fact. Yes, he was too moderate, too centrist, too authoritarian and not progressive enough for my political taste and of course he fouled up hugely over Iraq but having said all that he is still the most progressive PM to win general elections in many a year.

Listening to Labour folk talk about Blair over the years I think the reason they dislike him is due to his perceived middle-classness. With Labour very much a class-based party being working class is very important to them. And how many times have I mentioned the Labour Group on Sefton Council launching into a chorus of ‘we are old Labour’ whenever Blair or New Labour came up in a council meeting whilst TB was PM; it must have meant a lot to them to need to be seen to distancing themselves from their own party in government. The odd part of all this is I’ve rarely if ever heard Labour members chuntering about Blair because of Iraq. You see to those of us lefties who are not within the Labour fold that was his greatest foul-up.

I’m also guessing that being anti-Blair is something those within the Labour Party have to be for them to have credibility, so there’s probably a fashion in Blair-slagging even from those Labour members who have a sneaking but unspoken liking for him and his governments.

Do I like Blair? No, not really, he often comes across to me as rather superior and irritating to listen to. Having said that he sometimes has well thought out progressive things to say and at times I’ll say Blair is right. Trouble is most Labour folks cover their eyes and put their figures in their ears whenever Blair appears on the TV.

Blair’s Government called it both right and wrong over Sefton’s Council Housing

One of his government’s unnecessarily authoritarian moves affected the Borough of Sefton and in particular its council housing stock and it shows how Blair could be good and bad at the same time. He was spot on when it came to realising that council/social housing across the UK was not up to standard so his government devised a policy called Decent Homes Standard. Sefton Council was in the frame for a big chunk of his government’s money to bring its council housing up to this new standard BUT, in a typically Labour move, they took the view that the council was not the appropriate body to get the work done. They demanded, as my friend and former Borough Councillor Geoff Howe recently pointed out, that the Council transfer its council housing stock over to a housing association or there’d be no money provided to bring Sefton’s council housing up to the new Decent Homes Standard. It sounded to me like blackmail then and it still does now. It led to Sefton having to ballot its council house tenants over such a transfer, which on the first ballot they refused but then agreed to via a 2nd ballot.

I never quite got why the council would not be an appropriate body to get the work done; did Blair’s government think Sefton would take the money and use it unwisely? It certainly showed a lack of trust in the council in my view yet there’d been no previous fall-outs with them before they took what I saw as an unnecessarily authoritarian position; a position which led directly to a new housing association having to be set up to deliver the Decent Homes Standard with both land and housing needing to be transferred to it. I still think the whole saga was a waste of time and resources because it also meant that Sefton Council no longer had control over its social housing stock. It was a ‘we in Westminster know what’s best for Sefton and if you don’t agree there’s no money to do up your council houses’ position and it was ridiculous authoritarian micro-management. I don’t have a problem with housing associations, I might add, it’s just that in Sefton’s case it was simply an unnecessary requirement to have to create one in my view.

So yes I have big issues with Blair both nationally and locally but whichever way you cut it he is still the most progressive politician to win the PM’s seat in General Elections for far too many years. On that basis can I suggest that hounding Blair for his failures whilst not being willing to acknowledge his generally progressive position on a number of important social issues is counter-productive as the alternative has always been a Tory one!

Raised to the sound of a piano

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, a common theme was that often the background to whatever I was doing at home was the playing of a piano by my Dad George Robertson and sometimes by my Mum Sheila Robertson. It’s probably because of that playing that I am often drawn towards someone tinkling the ivories. I’m into smooth jazz and David Benoit playing ‘You read my mind’ (try the link below) is probably top of my list of favourites although I also love the playing of Bob James, Keiko Matsui, Joe Sample etc….

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrBYBffdG5g

Mum liked Charlie Kunz and Russ Conway whilst Dad was often playing church-related music as he was in two church choirs in his lifetime – St. Wilfrids Kirkby-In-Ashfield and St Andrews Maghull.

I’m told that they had a piano from when they first got married and moved into 14 Orchard Road K-In-A. I think this will be that original piano just visible in the background of a photo of my October 1958 Christening:-

Later they had a beautiful ‘Baby Grand’, a Gors & Kallmann, which I’m told came from family friends Millie* & Len Rodwell. That piano followed us from Kirkby-In-Ashfield to Rochdale and then on to Maghull as Dad’s jobs for Thomas Cook took us on a Cook’s Tour of northern England. And that piano was probably the most important piece of furniture in all 3 houses. It was French Polished on one occasion and tuned a couple of times each year. I recall watching the piano tuners at work, one of whom was blind.

The Gors & Kallmann Baby Grand in Mum & Dad’s Sefton Ln Maghull house.

I never learned to play myself and whilst I don’t do regrets in life in general I’ll make an exception over this. I should have learned.

But playing music had fortunately just skipped a generation as our daughter Jen plays the flute and is a member of Maghull Wind Orchestra. She can also play the piano a little and Dad would help her learn when she was little. Then one day we were at Mum and Dad’s house and I was called in to hear Jen play one of my favourite tunes, Forever Forever by Keiko Matsui and to say I was delighted is putting it mildly.

Then as in all families, the older generation fades away and I was left to clear Mum and Dad’s Sefton Lane house in Maghull but this house had a Baby Grand to dispose of! And what a task finding a new home for it proved to be. I’d assumed that a piano in such great condition and so lovingly cared for would be snapped up. Think again, no one seemed to what it so I contacted Sefton Council’s Music Service to see they had any contacts wanting a Baby Grand piano. They did, and the piano moved to Formby in 2009 finding another loving home for another little girl learning to play.

Jen, in particular, regretted us having to let the piano go but for the same reason I had difficulty finding a new home for it (even a Baby Grand is big) we just did not have the space to keep it.

I’m grateful that I was raised to the sound of piano playing as I find listening to the likes of David Benoit so relaxing………

* Millie, I understand, was a librarian at the Children’s Library in Urban Road Kirkby-In-Ashfield

** The people in the black and white photo are George Poskith Hadley (my great grandfather), Bill Robertson (my Grandad on my Dad’s side), George Robertson (my Dad), Walter Calladine (my Grandad on my Mum’s side), Annie Calladine (my Grandmother), Sheila Robertson (my Mum holding me) and Nellie Robertson (my Grandmother). George Poskith Hadley, Bill Robertson & Nellie Robertson lived at 36 Hampden Street K-in-A. Walter and Annie Calladine lived at 31 Urban Road K-in-A.