Little regulation & minimal enforcement

I can’t say I was big on or even thought much about regulation and enforcement until after the turn of the last century, but that’s probably because for most of my life UK governments, of all colours, made a reasonable fist of regulating and enforcing things across our society.

What I think made me sit up and take notice was when Gordon Brown brought in his ‘light touch’ regulation of banks before the financial crisis hit. It struck me straight away as being a bad move to trust too much those who control our financial systems and my feeling is that the crisis, which soon followed, demonstrated why shutting one eye to the activities of banks and the financial sector, in general, was a really bad idea.

But deregulation and light touch/no-touch enforcement is now the thing across many sectors. It’s as though there’s now a general acceptance that ‘do as you please and beggar the consequences’ is mainstream in our politics! Yes, I realise that the austerity which followed the financial crisis will have brought with it a considerable reduction in the enforcement of regulations simply via the regulators and enforcers being reduced in number within government agencies/departments, councils, the police etc. etc. So my first question is, was austerity used as a back door by the libertarian right to get regulators off their backs to enable that ‘do as I/we please’ attitude? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is a rather obvious YES.

Our roads are a clear example of pretty much no regulation or enforcement leaving drivers to do as they please with little chance of any come back other than via retrospective enforcement due to an accident where someone has been injured or killed. But policing, in general, is surely now a process of reaction to events with prevention very much a thing of the past. Community policing has all but been abandoned and with it the local intelligence that used to be gathered by policewomen and men in neighbourhoods they knew well.

There’s little point in having laws if there are no effective regulators or enforcers of our laws. However, bit by bit over the years we have arrived at a point where those who wish to break laws and regulations have realised that there’s a high likelihood that they’ll be able to get away with whatever dodgy things they wish to. Human nature is to push at boundaries to see how far our luck can be pushed. Sadly, we’ve now created a society where those who want to push boundaries a long way are doing so because they’ve twigged that no one is likely to stop them or enforce action against them.

So whether it be a poorly regulated financial sector or no effective enforcement of bad driving (and there’ll certainly be other sectors too) this process leads to a wild-west approach to our society. You could call it an ‘every man and woman for themselves society’ where significant numbers of the population are beyond any effective control and they know it.

This libertarian right approach has been driven by Conservatives and other right-wing political groupings, yet it’s within living memory that there would have been significant numbers of people within the Conservative Party who would have been far from happy about our developing a lawless society. To me, this shows how much the Tory Party has changed from being the party of law and order to a party of spivs and chancers. Of course, those spivs and chancers have always been there but our politics ensured they were kept in the background; now they are upfront and running the show!

Once you start down the road of desiring government to be as small as possible, deregulation and a lack of enforcement is where you’ll pretty much always end up. That’s a challenge for progressives as it’s hardly a vote winner to tell the electorate that you want more inspectors, more police etc. etc. It’s easy to say pay less tax and we’ll get rid of red tape even if that red tape keeps us all safe and sound.

So do we need better regulation and enforcement? Yes of course we do if we are ever to have a fair and equitable society. The alternative is more spivs and chancers taking us all for a ride!

Birkenhead – It’s rather lovely Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

I recently visited this art gallery and museum with daughter Jen and a fine place it is too. Sadly, due to austerity and money troubles for Wirral Council, it’s had more than a few threats to its continued existence but thankfully it is safe for now. Here’s a link to its website:-

williamsonartgallery.org/

I took quite a few photos of the exhibits and here are my personal favourites:-

Trams at Woodside by George Anthony Butler 1927 – 2010 – Painted in 1988

Winter Twilight by James Thomas Watts 1853 – 1930 – Purchased 1913

A beautiful display of pottery. The wooden and glass case is as beautiful as the exhibits

There are some cracking lasrge scale ship models such as these Mersey Ferries

An interesting former Birkenhead Corporation ferry poster

Well worth a visit I’d say. Can’t really understand why it’s taken me all these years to have my first visit, but glad we went.

Trans Pennine Trail V Tissington Trail

These two photographs tell a story and in the case of the Trans Pennine Trail, specifically the part of it through West Lancashire which is also known as the Cheshire Lines Path, it’s not a good one as far as maintenance is concerned

Trans Pennine Trail/Cheshire Lines path – Looking south from Cabin Lane Great Altcar – December 2020

Tissington Trail Derbyshire – March 2019

The difference in maintenance regimes is stark indeed yet (I thought*) both are National Trails and I’ve cycled them both.

I’ve commented on the terrible condition of the Cheshire Lines path, through West Lancashire, previously but it continues to deteriorate and seems to be fast becoming the forgotten Trail – so very sad. But before you shout ‘austerity’, which will of course clearly be a significant factor in recent years, this path has been suffering a lack of maintenance since it was fully opened some 30 years ago through West Lancashire. There was, in my view, hardly any maintenance to cut back on!

The part of the Trail/Path in Merseyside (Maghull) has seen some improvement work in recent years at the hands of the Merseyside North Volunteers. This is some of their excellent handiwork just north of the site of the former Sefton & Maghull Station and behind Sefton Drive, Maghull:-

* The Trans Pennine, it turns out, has not been made a National Trail (despite efforts to have it designated as such) and that probably indicates why its maintenance levels are not up to National Trail standards – With thanks to those correcting my view that it is a National Trail.

Covid 19 – Highlights of a (minority) lawless anti-social society

Me outside the old Maghull Police Station. This was once a real hub of community policing.

In any society there will always be a minority, possibly a significant one, which will not play by the rules set down by that society. Looking at the UK lockdown of recent months I’m wondering if our significant minority are wearing their non-conformist views on their sleeves? And I’m not taking about non-conformism here in the radical and Liberal sense of the word but more in the two fingers up to society as a whole way.

Let’s look at 3 pieces of potential evidence from the BBC website:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-53176717

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52370352

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52674192

We will do as we like, when we like and the rest of you can rot in hell, maybe one way of putting it.

From my perspective the the issue is clear. If as a society we decide to turn a blind eye to minor acts of non-compliance with laws (which we have in reality done) then we have started what amounts to a game where those willing to push at the boundaries will do so to see how far they can get.

The solution, as it has always been, is community policing where local Bobbies are well known and they know those in their community who are likely to be the cause of anti-social behavior and crime. And I’m talking about sufficient numbers of Bobbies and probably more significantly PCSO’s for there to be boots and cycles on the ground 24 hours a day, NOT Bobbies parading miles away and being sent out when there’s trouble.

Yes that means all kinds of laws which are presently being broken many times each day in most communities being enforced for the common good. Start with the little things and our society will end up respecting its own rules and those who are tempted to ignore those rules will think twice before doing so. Most law breaking and anti-social behaviour at a community level is done because those doing it know, almost for sure, that they will not be held to account.

My view is our society has lost respect for itself because we’ve adopted, almost by accident, an every man or woman for themselves attitude.

Here on Merseyside we almost got there in terms of community policing of the kind first advocated by John Alderson the former Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall in the early 1980’s. His at times one person battle to establish community policing was rejected by fellow police officers and ignored by government but eventually the Penny dropped and it became the goal of most police forces. On Merseyside we had specific officers and PCSO’s allocated to particular communities/local government electoral wards although the numbers were not high enough for it to work really well. However, it did work and just needed building on. Sadly it was abandoned on the high altar of austerity and probably because there was a feeling within the police that community policing was soft/not real policing. No fast cars, no drug busts, no big career opportunities in an organisation where getting up the slippery pole has always seemingly been the most important thing.

So we unlearned all the lessons we learned from taking Bobbies out of communities for a 2nd time. We did it first in the 1960’s and 1970’s as police officers were withdrawn from many communities into brand new central police stations in bigger towns and cities. John Alderson could see how that had failed communities so he tried to bring back community policing in the 1980’s. He eventually won the argument but we went and did it all over again in the 2000’s!

I wonder how long it will be before we adopt real community policing again? You never know there could well be promotions in it for police men and women keen for advancement who advocate it!

And there you have it that’s my potentially too simplistic reason for the state that we are in with anti-social behavior and crime and it’s an opinion I’m firmly stuck with. Covid 19 has brought out the best in most of us but the worst in others of that I’m also sure.

Oh and by the way I hope it goes without saying (but I fear it does not) that all community Bobbies in fact all police officers need to be recruited on the basis that don’t hold racist or homophobic views.

When political parties all go wrong at the wrong/same time

The more I think about the 2019 General Election the more I realise what a terrible choice the British public had on offer in terms of potential Prime Ministers. On that basis is it any wonder they picked (with the more than significant help from our warped electoral system) the politician to lead them who is probably best summed up as a populist entertainer.

If Corbyn had been really credible he would have won in 2017. That he didn’t and went down hill from there makes you wonder what on earth the Labour Party was doing keeping him on as they must have known they were on the road to nowhere with him. And so it proved with a shocking electoral performance in December 2019 – Labour losing many seats to a Tory Party under the leadership of someone that no one trusted.

The Tories had been in a right old mess ever since David Cameron found himself calling the EU Referendum having surprisingly gained a majority in 2015; a majority which privately he must have very much hoped not to have for it forced his hand to go where he did not want to go with the EU.

The Lib Dems recovered some ground in terms of vote share in 2019 but bizarrely ended the election with one seat less than they won in 2017. Our wonderful NOT electoral system at work of course. But their leader Jo Swinson proved not to be an asset to the Party as on balance she wasn’t liked by voters and yes I do realise there will sadly have been some misogynist views at play in her downfall.

And then within a couple months a huge crisis envelopes the world, one that the UK reacted to far too slowly and which because of our obsession with austerity we have been incapable of addressing well. Here we are 6 weeks after lockdown with only a few brave Tories willing to wave the flag for Boris Johnson; the rest of the population wondering how on earth we ended up where we are with a shockingly poor government at the very time we need a strong one.

Oh for an Obama, a Blair, a Merkel or a that wonderful young lady from New Zealand whom we all struggle to say the name of (Jacinda Ardern) in our hour of need, but true leaders in UK politics are hard to find anywhere. The blood letting in both the Tories (over Brexit) and Labour (over Brexit, antisemitism and Corbynism) has led to the loss of many credible politicians and the Lib Dems have failed to come up with a leader the public really can take to since the demise of Charles Kennedy. That someone as credible as Dominic Grieve has found himself unwelcome in the Tory Party or that Louise Ellman walked away from Labour tells us that our politics is far from healthy and that dogmatically driven sects are far too powerful in our two major political parties.

That Labour has finally sobered up is a given in that they’ve now elected a reasonably credible leader in Keir Starmer although the jury is clearly still out. He’s no charismatic leader and worryingly seems still wedded to too many of the faults within Corbynism such as Brexit (he opposes the transition period being extended). He needs to become a true progressive as Blair clearly was in his early years, before he fouled up big style over Iraq. Yes it’s hard as Labour’s core working class supporters can easily swing to the right into regressive politics (as they did to deliver Brexit) but if Blair could be progressive and keep them on side Starmer has to as well. It will be no good appeasing them by throwing in a few ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ policies Keir.

As for the Lib Dems, who for reasons no one can quite get their heads around have contrived not to have an elected leader in place since the December 2019 GE, there is hope that someone like Layla Moran can come through to be a truly progressive Social Liberal Leader. I hope so as I want my Party to be placed not between the Tories and Labour but to the left of Labour on many social issues/policies as we were in Charles Kennedy’s day.

What will become of the Tory Party is a very big question indeed. You can’t see Johnson surviving or indeed wanting to survive as PM in the long term. His popularist entertainer position which he’s carved out over many years is clearly unsuited to a country in crisis as is his legendary personality fault-line of not doing detail.

Politically the UK is in a mess, England probably more so than the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations. There’s room for some optimism but it will be a long road before our main 3 political parties become fit for purpose again.

Libraries – Lost at an alarming rate but will we ever get them back?

This is former Aintree Ratepayer Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at a meeting to try to save his local library in 2013.

Libraries have been lost at an alarming rate across the UK because of austerity which, I might add, was backed by all 3 major political parties in the 2010 General Election. So whichever party had won back then the consequences would have been as they turned out to be or even worse across most public services. Indeed, it has been argued that under Labour in the 2010 – 2015 Parliament the cuts would have been greater as they planned to make £1b more than the Coalition Government actually made. The Treasury/Institute of Fiscal Studies chart below illustrates my point:-

But for me one of the greatest losses in our communities has been the demise of libraries, indeed I put a great deal of effort into trying to save Sefton’s closing libraries along with many other community campaigners. The loss of Aintree Library caused me the most concern as until 2011 I had been a Borough Councillor for Aintree Village. Others of course will have felt just as keenly the loss of their local library be it in Churchtown, Ainsdale, Crosby (College Road), Birkdale, Litherland or Orrell as Sefton Borough lost 7 of its libraries to cost cutting by the Council.

All that, as they say, is history. However, my question is will we get any of the lost libraries (in a suitably modern form) back? Well we won’t be getting Birkdale or Aintree Libraries back in Sefton Borough as the sites both now have housing on them. Here are before and after shots of Aintree:-

Me outside the former Aintree Library

The same site in 2017 when the houses, now completed, were being erected.

Libraries are far more than places where books are kept and borrowed from and I say that as a hoarder of books. A library is a community meeting place, a hub for the community, a place where lonely and isolated people can meet others. Yes they provide IT access and they should all have coffee shops within them too, like at Liverpool Central Library. Their foundation was all about the joy of reading together with gaining knowledge and such worthy aims are still quite valid to my mind.

Readers of this blog-site will probably know that I found Sefton Council’s unwillingness to run libraries, that it could not afford to run, in innovative ways using volunteers most perplexing (and that’s being polite about it!); it was a though the Council saw volunteers as more trouble than they were worth. But other models of running libraries have been successfully established across the UK where councils did not use their dead hand to stop such innovation.

Such innovations have regularly gone though my mind as I’ve come across them and then recently on a visit to the north east I saw this in Tynemouth:-

What’s more it was directly opposite a flat we had rented for a week’s holiday. Wow I thought, that’s great a library to visit and explore. And then the cold light of reality struck me, it was a closed library although not obviously so until you got right up to it. As you can imagine my heart sank when I realised I’d witnessed another gone library. Then this appeared a couple of days later:-

North Tyneside Council mobile library

Well a mobile library is far better then no library at all but whilst any kind of library will make me smile there is a part of me which looks upon them in a similar way to a rail replacement bus, if you get my drift. And so I thought, well at least Tynemouth has a mobile library as some council’s have withdrawn them too and my mind, such as it is, wandered elsewhere.

Then almost by chance I saw a local newspaper in our flat called the News Guardian and in flicking through it and smiling at some of the local articles of the kind you only find in local newspapers:-

‘Man bites dog – dog to sue’
‘Council leader thinks new traffic island is fantastic’
‘MP has a cup of tea and a cake with with potholing club members’

(and yes I did make these headlines up for the avoidance of doubt)

my eyes fell upon this article:-

Well that’s innovation and a future for Tynemouth Library I thought and my spirits lifted until that is I thought back to the lack of library innovation back home in Sefton Borough of course!

Libraries are still worth saving and personally I’d like to see a new modern network of them being re-established….

Click on the photos and newspaper article to enlarge them