It was a “public consultation” apparently – or was it a “community forum”? Anyway, it was being run by a couple of people from Post Office Ltd, who didn’t take very kindly to community member Mil Rai suggesting that if it was a community forum, the attendees, being locals, were in charge of it.
Donnachadh McCarthy has been arrested numerous times. Why? He was never a violent man, never a criminal of any kind. He was a classical ballet dancer until a few seconds before someone said “you were supposed to catch him just then.”
Hastings Town Centre Post Office has gone. The building is still there, with its Mercury heads on the window capitals gazing sadly over empty space. There was some talk of turning it into a Nandos. Oh good. We need another restaurant. We campaigned, we argued, we persisted – our MP, Amber Rudd, promoted a ‘consultation’ which asked everyone what they would rather have *instead of* their Post Office.
I’m delighted to have a guest-post here from Keith Lindsay-Cameron, the man who’s famous around social media for writing a letter a day to number 10. It is a fantastic addition to our information for campaigners and activists collection – KG.
“The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with faith to fight for it” – probably there are more people arguing about which politician misquoted which here than there are seriously fighting for the NHS – but whoever said it, the statement appears to be true.
Having trouble with canvassing, political conversations on Facebook, in the pub or even round the dinner table at home? This could be just what you need…
So, my mobile went squiffy and a couple of days later the home phone-lines went down, leaving me the choice of the sort-of functional computers at the children’s library or life off-line. The worst thing was, after a few days of it, the temptation to try and get news from mainstream TV got the better of me.
I wrote a post about love at the end of the election campaign. Now here’s one about hate. I don’t really think love and hate are opposites – saying so gives hate a power it doesn’t deserve but I’d like to say this…
I went out this morning for a quiet five minutes with my coffee in the garden, and discovered the neighbours’ cat had knocked over the strawberry pot and broken it. I know it was the cat because a) he always craps on the doormat when his equilibrium has been disturbed and b) I’ve seen him doing that ‘wipe yourself all over people’s ankles’ thing along that wall, causing serious pot-wobble, quite regularly.
I didn’t get angry with the cat though. It was just doing what cats do. I didn’t even get angry with the badger when he responded to my earthworks near his sett by drastically changing the smell of the boots I had left out to dry afterwards. I don’t get angry even if it’s personal. It was just doing what badgers do.
I didn’t get angry with Nick Wilson for taking four hundred and something votes in the recent election in our marginal constituency. He’s on a mission to publicise the evil influence of HSBC, and he’s just doing what whistleblowers do. The video of Amber Rudd trying to shut him down at the hustings when he got onto the subject of her and HSBC reached 3m viewers, so although he may have lost us votes in our constituency he did contribute, across the country, to the discrediting of banker-Tories.
But I just can’t stop being angry with Lib Dems. It’s partly, I guess, because I was very taken with the commitment and big-heartedness of the Progressive Alliance, and resented those who worked against it which, in our constituency, was mainly the Lib Dems. I did cheer on the Lib Dem who, with the help of the Progressive Alliance, removed a Tory in Eastbourne – but then he already had credit in my book for being the only politician this side of Caroline Lucas who managed to see clearly enough to support both the commuters and the railway staff during the Southern ‘keep the guard on the train’ dispute. He put the blame squarely where it belonged – on the government that supported (and still supports (with our money)) lousy franchise companies. I liked the Lib Dem I sat next to when telling on election day. She was a paragon of local politics in our town for years and for many who remember her career, she represents everything local politics should be.
But I just can’t stop being angry with Lib Dems. I guess the experience of that election left everyone really pissed off with someone but for me, it was Lib Dems. I didn’t always feel that way… I was quite shocked by Emily Thornberry at a Labour event a while back, when she responded to a question about PR with a blistering attack on Lib Dems. She didn’t hide the fact that it was personal and passionate – it started with “I hate…” I was shocked. Now I get it. This was the first general election I’ve ever been involved in as a Labour Party member, and now I totally understand the feeling. “What are Lib Dems for?” Thornberry ranted.
More often than not, their role in elections is to give Tories somewhere to run to. You see, unlike most of us, who get involved in politics when we can see a useful role to play or someone worth campaigning for, many traditional Tories see voting as a public duty so, when the Tory party are being insufferable, they need something else to vote for that isn’t Labour. The result, generally, is to split the vote and let the Tories back in – but they’ve cast their vote and made their point, so everyone (on their side) is happy – a handy quirk of our stupid voting system. Ironic really, when as far as I can remember the only really useful policy the Lib Dems have consistently stood for is electoral reform.
Were the Progressive Alliance right to support Lib Dems where they had the most likely chance of getting the Tories out? Maybe – but it’s a bit worrying because ten minutes after the declaration of a hung parliament, you hear Lib Dems talking about joining in to prop up the Tories again.
So perhaps it’s logical to hate the Lib Dems… no, hang on, hate isn’t ever logical – and it was a damned Lib Dem who reminded me, when I was complaining about them recently, that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour isn’t supposed to do hate. Will it help if I just call it ‘being emotional’? Not really. Oh well.
LOOK WHAT THAT BLOODY CAT’S JUST GONE AND DONE!
That’s not hate, it’s displacement. Often comes in handy. One is transferring anger and frustration, looking for a place to let off steam. What I do hate, if anything, is being lied to and manipulated.
Walking along the seafront yesterday, all hot and tired, I saw a board outside a newsagent with a picture of my favourite ice lolly thing on it. I was going to buy one – but when I got there, the board had a caption – YOU WANT ME it said. Sod off, I thought, and went without. Most people hate being lied to and manipulated. That’s why it won’t do the Tories any good dropping some of their ‘austerity’ measures now they’ve seen it’s a vote-loser, nor will it do them any good belatedly putting up cash to help the Grenfell Tower people after they’d all voted down laws to protect tenant. It’s also why those career politicians who have rushed to be a part of Labour now they’ve seen that Corbyn can win votes will have to tread VERY carefully. It’s why politicians who put on particular views, and take up particular policies, when it’s politically expedient, or good for their careers, do not get very far with me. It can work in the short term but in the long term, it makes them irretrievably unpopular. Come to think of it, that Lib Dem in Eastbourne probably just saw a useful niche for himself as the only MP standing up for passengers who wanted guards. Perhaps it was just a way to get column inches for himself…
But maybe he’s innocent. I hate thinking like that. Why do we think like that? The thing to do is look at what politicians stand for when it’s against the tide, and against their career plans. Look at all the Tories that stand for tax cuts for the rich and austerity for the poor, even when it gets them booed off stage. That is a genuine principle they have there. Look at Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, spending most of their lives as much-vilified back benchers because they are democratic socialists through and through, and won’t be bought. Look at just about every stand the Green Party have ever taken. If they’re standing up for a vote-loser, they probably have a genuine principle involved.
Here’s an illustration of one of my principles: I don’t think I’ll ever forget the part Nick Clegg played in the degradation of modern politics. His line about tuition fees and ‘being nice’ worked for a while. We bought it. We wuz conned. If there’s one thing I hate worse than people trying to lie to and manipulate people, it’s people succeeding at it. It destroys trust. It lowers standards everywhere. He is a main factor in why we’ve had so much trouble getting people to come down off the cynical ‘they’re all the same’ stance and take a look at Jeremy Corbyn’s record. Memories of Nick Clegg poisoned the water. People like that are worse than the cat that craps on your doormat.
Now, here’s the million dollar question: if you change around the names of the parties and politicians mentioned above, and tweak one or two other details to fit, does this post make sense to absolutely everyone who was involved in that election campaign? And the gadzillion dollar question in the light of the Progressive Alliance surge: is socialism just one opinion amongst other equally valid ones, or is everything that’s not a form of socialism just a PR front for degrading, lethal corruption?
In Hastings, this is a story that just runs and runs. Whose fault IS it that we are having all these toilet troubles?
On the 28th April, many local residents received a letter from Amber Rudd, First Class, and produced on House of Commons notepaper.
She said she had been “contacted by concerned local residents about the decision taken by the Labour controlled HBC to close the Ore toilets from next year,” but according to Facebook comments at the time, the letter went to a lot of people who had *not* contacted her about toilets. She said it concerned her as a resident of Hastings Old Town, and she was writing to “local resident(s) of Ore” with a promise “to continue to put pressure on the council to reverse its decision…” you could easily think that’s a message about Ore, but it’s not.
She said “I support local councillors who opposed the closure of the Harold Place toilets and, if I am re-elected after 8 June, I will continue to work closely with them over the coming months to seek to protect the Ore toilets’ future.”
This raised a number of questions in the recipients’ minds, not least whether it’s normal to write to residents from the House of Commons (on paper paid for by the tax payer) on an issue that was a burning one in the on-going county council elections.
Another was that, if she was such a concerned local resident, why was she unaware that, after consultations with residents by local Labour councillors, the results of which they took to HBC, it had already been decided to keep the Ore toilets open.
Yet another question was why Rudd was determined to continue to put pressure on “the Labour controlled HBC”, and yet had nothing to say about the neighbouring, Tory run Rother council, which was at that time considering closing most of the toilets in their jurisdiction.
The whole thing got rather more intense when Labour lost Ore ward in the county elections by a mere 71 votes, and many people wondered whether that little surge in Tory voters had anything to do with a mistaken conclusion that their toilets were in danger and the Tories would save them.
The intensity rose still further when the Hastings and St Leonards Observer accepted a missive for their letters page in the run up to the general election claiming that the Ore toilets, which had been rescued, were in the Labour candidate Peter Chowney’s own ward, strongly suggesting that they were saved cynically to aid his bid to become an MP. That particular claim was laid to rest in an answering letter in another edition, pointing out that Chowney was NOT an Ore councillor – but how many people must have believed the first claim? And Rudd’s full-page advert duly appeared, now focusing on the town centre toilets (she’d worked out by then that that her concern for Ore was misplaced.)
She has not, though, turned her concern towards the toilets in Rother which are likely to be closed by Tory councillors so, now both county and general elections are over and done, let’s have some of the facts behind the whole toilets business somewhere where we can see them, in case the great argument comes up again.
As Peter Chowney has stated elsewhere, many councils have had to close public toilets. There are none in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. None in Tory-controlled Wandsworth. There is only one in the whole of Manchester. There are none in Brighton City Centre. This year, Bournmouth are proposing to close 14 of their public toilets. This situation is not ideal. Most towns now rely to a great extent on facilities provided by commercial organisations – the toilets we have in Priory Meadow are an example. This can be a problem, as indeed we discovered when the Harold Place closure was announced, and we discovered the Priory Meadow ones bearing a “temporary closure” notice. HBC had to remind the shopping centre of their contractual duty to get them re-opened. Amber Rudd did not intervene.
So why are councils closing public toilets? Peter Chowney said: “This year, the council had a £1.2m cut in its government grant, from a £15m net budget. We managed to save/generate income of about £400,000, from commercial property investments, ‘digital by design’ programme (getting more services online), and other internal reorganisation… We will still have to use about half a million from reserves next year to balance the books. Some service cuts are inevitable.
“In rural areas, councils have handed over toilets to town and parish councils, who can raise a precept to cover the cost of toilets (the parish precept isn’t capped). This is why there are public toilets in Cranbrook, Appledore, and Tenterden, for example. We have no parish councils in Hastings.”
So, faced with these difficulties and expenses, the council closed what they considered to be the least necessary and most expensive toilets on their list – “Harold Place toilets cost £64,000 a year to run, and need £100,000+ spending on them for structural repairs.” – at the same time taking steps to ensure other toilets in the vicinity were re-opened, and laying plans for possible replacements at Harold Place – “When closed,” said Chowney, “the toilets will be demolished. They will be replaced with some sort of retail/café facility, depending on what raises the most rent – all new council initiatives will have to maximise income, or we’ll have to make more cuts. That could include toilets available to the public.”
This ‘social entrepreneur’ method of dealing with breath-taking government cuts to council grants is something HBC have become experts at, but the results are often misunderstood by local residents, who see what they think are strangely business-oriented initiatives proceeding around the town. Chowney explains: “Most new initiatives the council undertakes, especially in the form of physical improvements in places like the seafront, or grants for restoration of historic buildings, are funded from external grants, which we bid for in competition with other organisations and councils, and are awarded for a specific purpose (for example, from the EU or Coastal Communities Fund). New kiosks on the seafront are income-generating, and are paid for from the rents from operators.”
It is a skill that’s vital in councillors in places like Hastings in particular because cuts in government grants to Labour Councils have been much deeper than to Tory councils. During the period 2012-2020, so the government has told the councils, the average cut per household in Tory councils is £68. For Labour councils, it’s £340.
Chowney commented: “Any service cuts the council could make would be controversial – the services that could have been cut instead of toilets would be refuse collection, museums, parks, environmental health, housing enforcement…” and, he added, “There are additional pressures on the council’s budget caused by government policy – for example, we’ve had to set aside £63,000 to cope with additional homelessness, and pay a £23,000 apprenticeship levy.”
At the HBC meeting where the toilet closures were mooted, the Tory councillors put forward a budget amendment that involved keeping Harold Place toilets open, not increasing fees for beach huts (they were happy with all other fee increases) and not using any reserves. To pay for this, they proposed to cut 23.5 unspecified jobs across the council. Strangely Amber Rudd, who often congratulates herself for the ‘jobs fair’ she runs in Hastings, did not appear to object to that plan. In fact, she stated in that infamous letter that she supported and would continue to work closely with the Tory councillors – presumably in their efforts to make job cuts to pay for toilets and beach huts.
There have been a large number of job cuts at HBC. To quote Chowney again, “Since the coalition government got elected in 2010, our funding has been cut back year-on-year. Hastings council staffing levels have dropped from around 600 to about 330. We’ve still been able to avoid cuts to frontline services, and have retained the full council tax reduction scheme, which the poorest people have to pay no council tax (in most councils, everyone has to pay at least 20%).”
The council have also put measures in place to mitigate the loss of public toilets, for example, “All cafes, no matter how small, must have a customer toilet in Hastings, under our local planning rules. This isn’t true in many other councils.”
But times are a-changing. Since the drubbing Amber Rudd’s party received in the general election, there have been signals that they have now recognised austerity as a vote-loser, even if they haven’t worked out that it’s downright destructive so perhaps Rudd will now apply some pressure to her own colleagues in Westminster to recognise HBC’s efforts and their problems, and restore some of our lost grant money.
One of the things that’s really absorbing about running writing competitions is that you meet and judge works before you know who’s written them, so when I first read a Bruce Harris story during the 2015 competition judging, I didn’t know that was what it was. The story was called ‘Home Movies’, and it’s a brilliantly presented monologue by a teenager who has escaped from A level revision hell and is amusing himself by annoying various friends and relatives by filming them on his phone. We, the readers, get to follow both his inner commentary, and the reactions of those who find themselves being filmed. It’s intricate and utterly absorbing.
And one of the things I particularly enjoy is when two quite different works get put forward to the shortlist and turn out to be by the same author, so it was a real surprise when ‘Roxanne Riding Hood’, a detective-suspense-thriller that creeps up on you via a drag queen going about his/her late night club act business, turned out to be yet another Bruce Harris creation.
Both stories appear in the resulting Earlyworks Press prizewinners’ anthology, Journeys Beyond. It was some time later that Bruce approached me again to say that he had a big enough collection of prize-winning works to put together a collection of his own – and a very sobering reason for wanting to do so. Let’s leave aside the joy of his range of extremely human, often funny, always well-crafted stories, to consider a very common problem of our day and age – all those long-term, sometimes fatal, debilitating illnesses that don’t quite require permanent hospital care and don’t quite get the kind of home-care that makes life easily manageable for friends and relatives of their victims. When Bruce found himself in the situation of carer for a loved one, he set about looking for ways to improve that situation and his new poetry book Kaleidoscope and the story collection Odds Against which we published as an Earlyworks Press title, are part of that project. In both cases, all Bruce’s earnings from the book are going to the Huntingdon’s Disease Association.
But you don’t have to be in a charitable mood to buy them. Bruce’s poetry and stories are, as Booker shortlisted author Wendy Perriman put it, both amusing and uplifting. ‘Odds Against’ offers 15 stories about people doing what they can, in serious and humorous ways, with difficult and sometimes insoluble situations. You will find a young woman, a victim of refugee trafficking, rescuing herself in midnight London, wartime spies trying to adjust to post-war living, restauranteurs trying to survive the horrors of customers, wedding guests exhibiting contrasting takes on a universal situation, ex-lovers manouvering their way to (perhaps) reconciliation a series of consequences of a falling bucket on a building site, and more… all full of the pathos, belly-laughs and heart-wrenching that human life entails.
Buy Kaleidoscope https://www.artificium.co.uk/buy/Kaleidoscope-p86230028 (Proceeds to the HDA)
Buy Odds Against http://www.circaidygregory.co.uk/shortstories.htm (Proceeds to the HDA)
Buy Journeys Beyond http://www.earlyworkspress.co.uk/fiction_index.htm (Journeys Beyond is an anthology by Earlyworks Press competition winners, including Bruce Harris, but is NOT part of the HDA fund-raiser)
One of the many reasons I’d like to recommend Odds Against is that the much-loved Hastings artist Katherine Reekie offered Bruce the choice of images of her works for the cover. He settled on the haunting ‘Icelantic Field’, with its mix of the bleak, the absurd and the beautiful, as the image to speak for Huntingdon’s Disease sufferers and their carers. You can learn more about the Disease, and the HDA association on their website here, see more of Katherine Reekie’s work on her website, here and find out more about Bruce’s work at Harris Central.