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.

A woodland without a forester? – Part 1

A friend of mine recently mentioned an issue with regard to an area of woodland to the west of the River Alt within Sefton Borough in the Civil Parish of Sefton. The issue is about a carved wooden owl which had, I think, been provided/erected as a piece of public artwork (on a concrete base) probably when the woodland was laid out/created around 2002. The owl has keeled over or even been pulled over as this photo illustrates:-

The area concerened is the green shaded one with the location of the carved owl where the red circle is drawn.

My first thought was, oh that will be a matter to be raised with what was the Forestry Commission, now rebranded as Forestry England. After further thought, other organisations came to mind who had or may have had a hand in the laying out of the various pieces of woodland in this part of Sefton Borough back in the early 2000s, or who hold ongoing maintenance responsibilities. Those other organisations are The Woodland Trust (I think they just coordinated the early 2000s work), Groundwork Trust, Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (MWDA) and possibly Sefton Council. I mention MWDA because quite a bit of the land over which the woodland planting was done had previously been used as landfill sites.

A walk in the woods (nothing to do with Bill Bryson’s excellent book I might add) was required to orientate myself and my friend acted as my guide. As we entered the relevant section of woodland this sign came into view:-

Clearly, it has the logos on it of two of the organisations I mention above.

So I fired off an email to pretty much all of the organisations I’ve listed and replies started to roll in. MWDA told me that their responsibilities are only associated with the landfill under the woodland. They thought the relevant part of Groundwork Trust had gone bust around 2005 and that it was possible that Sefton Council had taken on the land. Forestry England confirmed it was not one of their sites and they said they thought it may have passed through the hands of more than one organisation finally indicating that they felt the site was likely to the responsibility of MWDA. They also sent me this updated site plan:-

The area we are looking at above is the green one without a red line around it.

And then yet then another organisation came to mind called Mersey Forest so I emailed them too.

In words used to title the Isaac Hayes album – To be Continued – Keep an eye out for posting two……….

Dogs – Love them or dislike them these are the Sefton rules

Here’s a link to the updated rules for dogs on public land and highways:-

www.sefton.gov.uk/dogs

I’ve not had a dog since I was 14 but I do occasionally look after this lovely old chap called Chester:-

I’ve said it before but I really do wonder how one person can look after 6 dogs. Frankly, keeping Chester out of mischief is a big enough job when he comes to stay with us, another 5 Chesters is utterly mind-boggling to me.

Anyway, as Sefton Council has updated its rules which I might add will apply to all parks and gardens in the Borough (including those run by Maghull Town Council, Aintree Village Parish Council & Lydiate Parish Council) I thought I’d put the new rules out there.

Having a whale of a time in Ormskirk

The other day my good lady wife started to tell me a story about how she went to see a huge dead whale which was being displayed in Ormskirk. At first, she thought it must have been in the 1960s but it seems it was actually in the 1970s. A little Googling later she found this on the BBC website from 2016:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-35891577

Her search continued and bingo she found the very evidence she was looking for on the Ormskirk Bygone Times Facebook page, with photos too.

Whale comes to Ormskirk – Photographer known

Hard to imagine such a touring display happening these days.

Waste, fly-tipping & The Cheshire Lines Path in Maghull

Right on the western edge of Maghull, there’s an industrial estate on one side of Sefton Lane and a waste disposal/recycling centre together with a garden centre and a few houses on the other. Leaving Maghull you go over a significant mound which is the remains of a railway bridge taking Sefton Lane over the former Southport & Cheshire Lines Extension Railway, now the Cheshire Lines Path/Trans Pennine Trail. You then pass by the industrial estate (on your left) and recycling centre & garden centre (on your right) before a small bridge takes you over Dovers Brook, which is the boundary between Maghull and Sefton Civil Parishes.

The area has two significant problems, flooding at times of heavy rain being the most obvious and well known one which I’ve blogged about many times. The other problem is less obvious unless you walk around the perimeter of the waste recycling centre which backs onto Dovers Brook and open countryside. The problem? Rubbish, waste, litter strewn around. Here’s a couple of photos I’ve taken recently:-

View of rear fence of Sefton Meadows Recycling Centre

Rubbish stewn along the eastern bank of Dovers Brook.

When you see the rubbish your first thought (or at least my first thought) is how did it get here? You see where it has been dumped is not close to Sefton Lane so it surely can’t be casual fly-tipping. Having visited the area, twice now, with other concerned local residents and an environmental officer of Sefton Council there’s a possibility that the waste is coming from within the recycling centre. Yes, I know at face value that may seem odd but one theory is that scavengers operating within the recycling centre, out of hours, may be dragging stuff out of the centre and sorting through it on the other side of the fence, taking what they find to be of value whilst leaving everything else.

The problem could do with getting to the bottom of with Merseyside Waste Disposal Authority (MWDA) and their site operator Veolia. If the waste is being brought from inside the recycling centre compound then shouldn’t MWDA/Veolia take action to collect it up on a regular basis? Again, if it is coming via the route suggested does this not mean a beefing up of security is required?

It will be interesting to see how the Sefton Council environmental officer gets on with her piece of detective work. She seemed keen to get to the bottom of the growing environmental mess around this area.

And then just yards away you can walk over to the Cheshire Line Path/Trans Penning Trail which is maintained by the Merseyside North Volunteers and you see the other and very much positive side of our local environment:-