Means Testing Pensioners’ Benefits

My gut reaction to the phasing out of free travel passes for pensioners and the disabled was that this suggestion was outrageous. Mainly because fares in the UK are astronomical compared to most other countries. The full fare to go one stop on a London bus is now over £2 which is quite ridiculous, so if pensioners didn’t have free travel passes many would feel trapped in their own homes, finding it difficult to even find the money to go shopping or attend hospital appointments.

True there are other options, such as Oyster cards in London which reduce the cost of travel, but for pensioners on a limited income phasing out the free travel card will hit them hard.

However there are also suggestions to means test the annual Winter Fuel Payment (£200 for those over 60, £300 for those over 80), and I’ve always been in favor of that, also the free TV license for those over 75.

All these means tests depend on how stringent the testing is. On reflection maybe the free travel pass should be included in means testing along with the Winter Fuel Payment and free TV license. It is offensive to think of The Queen and other millionaire pensioners having all these benefits (whether they use them or not). I always thought it was silly to pay a £200 Winter Fuel Allowance to people who were still working and earning good money. Others whose heating costs are included in their rents all year round also get this allowance, but never face big fuel bills in the Winter months.

As to free travel passes, these were extended to cover the whole of England and Wales. While very useful when away from home, this concession could be discontinued without much hardship. Pensioners on holiday or visiting friends and relations, having afforded the costs of getting away from home, can probably afford to pay local bus fares as well in the area they are visiting.

I see no problem at all in means testing the Winter Fuel Allowance and the free TV license. However means testing the free travel pass for use in the region where they live could cause serious problems if the testing is too strict. It should certainly disqualify millionaires like Peter Stringfellow from traveling free on the Tube and London buses, but what about the old lady who would be trapped in her home if it cost her several pounds just to get down to her local shopping center, lunch club or community center?

Fares are far too high generally in the UK compared to many other countries, which subsidize their public transport systems to a greater extent than we do.

On balance, I could tolerate means testing the free travel pass for pensioners if other concessions were offered instead. In the absence of lower fares generally, the prepaid Oyster card in London, for instance, could give pensioners and the disabled an added reduction, so perhaps a special pensioners’/disabled Oyster or Travel card. What is certainly out of the question is expecting ordinary pensioners to pay over £4 to visit their doctor or local lunch club, which would rise to over £9 if they have to take two bus routes to get there and back again. This is another thing which should be brought in – transferable tickets like other countries have so one ticket covers an entire journey how ever many buses have to be taken to complete it.

The whole question of means testing benefits, and especially fares which are so high, needs to be very carefully considered and the qualifying limit set at the right level. Otherwise there will be real hardship caused, and I can see rebellious pensioners used to traveling free on buses simply getting on them and refusing point blank to pay, so holding up fare-paying passengers.

We need a bit of common sense here, and expecting ordinary pensioners to pay several pounds just to visit their daily lunch club, community center, etc. is just not on. I suggest, if means testing is brought in, an upper limit is set on what ordinary pensioners need to pay in fares weekly. So if this was set at say £10 per week this would be all they had to pay however many journeys/buses they traveled on during this week. At the moment, without an Oyster card, London pensioners could well find themselves paying nearly £10 for one return journey to their lunch club if it involved two bus routes to get there and back – £2.30 x 4 + £9.20. If they go five times a week, plus other journeys to shops, church, doctors, etc. they could well end up paying £50 a week out of their meager pension, which would be untenable. Even with an Oyster card they’d be paying nearly £30 a week, and how many would be able to understand how an Oyster card worked and when/how to top it up?

No, if means testing is introduced for pensioners’ travel passes a simple option of drastically reduced fares needs to be brought in – the Pensioners’ Reduced Travel pass perhaps, which would cost a fixed rate per week or month and then allow unlimited bus travel in their region. This could possibly exclude the London Underground and Overground, which many pensioners and disabled find difficult to negotiate anyway due to the steps and escalators involved.

 

 

Sins of the Fathers

A TV documentary on BBC2 investigated the guilt feelings of descendants of various Third Reich officials, including the grandson of the Commandant of Auschwitz concentration camp. The program, ‘Hitler’s Children’, was horrific and moving, but I don’t see why any of these descendants should feel guilt for what their parents and grandparents did. I do see, however, that they would have very mixed emotions as to how they relate to these parents and grandparents.

I also see that as terrible and horrific as the Holocaust was with the gas chambers, extermination camps, crematoriums, etc. the Allies of World War II came out of it little better. RAF, American and Allied airforcemen flew nightly over Germany and the occupied countries dropping bombs which killed thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands or even millions of completely innocent citizens, including little children. Some were blasted to death, others were suffocated from lack of air, some buried alive beneath rubble, many others burnt alive. The German Luftwaffe did the same to British civilians. All these things are part of the horror of War, and all are guilty.

You could argue that the Holocaust was not part of the War, but the fact remains it happened in wartime when German civilians were being killed nightly by Allied air raids. In wartime all moral standards of behavior break down and anarchy rules. The ‘enemy’ is dehumanized by political and militaristic propaganda, and in the Third Reich various minority groups such as the Jews, Communists, gipsies, gays, etc. were classed as part of the ‘enemy’. I’m not excusing what happened at all, just saying atrocities of this kind happen in all wars.

The Jews and others started being rounded up by the Nazis before War broke out, put in ghettoes, etc. but the Final Solution (the Holocaust) happened in the conditions of all-out War when all standards of civilization had broken down on all sides. I really see little difference in sending civilians, including children, into the gas chambers than bombing them and burning them from the air. Both are equally heinous crimes of genocide.

So if the descendants of the Nazi officials feel guilt for something they didn’t do, then the descendants of the Allied and Luftwaffe airmen who bombed innocent civilians should also feel this guilt. However I don’t feel any guilt for what my father may have done. He didn’t fight in the War, but I know he did many things I wouldn’t be proud of. I don’t know or particularly want to know everything my mother or grandparents did in the War – did some of them work in munitions or bomb making factories? I know my grandfather was a soldier in the First World War, but I’m damned if I’m going to feel guilty about that or the German conscripts he may have killed.

We all have to move on, and learn lessons from the past. What concerns me more than the horrors of past wars are the terrible things being committed now in our name, and being planned and prepared for. Britain is now spending billions of pounds in a time of hardship on renewing the Trident nuclear-armed submarine system. Weapons of mass destruction that would kill millions of innocent civilians, including future generations by the radioactive fallout, and cause many more to be born deformed or with cancers. These make even the Holocaust look tame by comparison. Yet all this is done in our name for political reasons. Whether it’s supposed to be preserving our way of life,  defending freedom/our country, or preserving the ‘purity of the Aryan race’, it is all political and the end never justifies the means if the means are this brutal and murderous.

Ah, but nuclear weapons are just a deterrent, we are told. If so they haven’t worked very well as we’ve had constant wars ever since the Second World War ended. Also consider this. Hitler said, before the Second World War broke out, that if War did start he’d kill the Jews. Was that threat ‘just a deterrent’? If so it didn’t work either. The reverse side of this is, of course, what would have happened had War not broken out? Could the Nazis have gotten away with the Final Solution in the conditions of peacetime? We’ll never know for certain, but my bets are on an arrangement with the Zionists to ship the Jews out of the Third Reich to Palestine where the state of Israel would have been established as a Jewish homeland (on Palestinian soil).

This could hardly be done in the conditions of War when shipping large numbers of civilians out of the Third Reich by train or boat was out of the question. You cannot divorce the Holocaust from the War or what was happening at that time, with German soldiers being killed on two fronts, and German civilians being killed every night by Allied bombing. Everyone’s life was in danger.

There’s also the undeniable fact that, when the Jews and others started to be rounded up by the Nazis before the War started, very few were accepted by the future Allies as refugees. Political asylum was not offered en masse to all the Jews and persecuted minorities in the Third Reich by the future Allies of WWII. Therefore if Germans feel guilty about the Holocaust, then so should the Allied governments which left these persecuted minorities to their fate.

It was this guilt, shared by the Allies of WWII and the Germans themselves, which led to the establishment of Israel after the Second World War. So the horrors of WWII led directly to the horrors now suffered by the Palestinians, thrown out of their homelands by Jewish settlers and their descendants, a classic case of colonialism. The Nazis talked of the ‘master race’ and needing more ‘lebensraum’ (living room), so they invaded all their neighboring countries to create a greater Third Reich (first just reclaiming the lost territories stolen from Germany by the victors of World War I).

The Israelis have also expanded from their original 1948 borders, invading and occupying land around the original state to create a Great Israel for all the Jews in the world to regard as their homeland, a physical impossibility if they all decided to emigrate to Israel. They are not the ‘master race’, of course, just the ‘chosen race’. The Palestinians are the new ‘untermenschen’ or sub-humans. Ironically, due to the backlash from Palestinian terrorists exploding bombs in Israel, that country is probably the least safe place for Jews to reside in the entire world.

What can clearly be seen from this blog is that WWI led directly to WWII and the rise of the Nazis, and WWII led to many of the problems in the volatile Middle East centered on the existence of Israel and the backlash of Islamic/Arab/Palestinian terorrism (a tactic the Jews used in Palestine against the British occupiers prior to 1948).

War leads to more war and more atrocities. WWII also led to the division of Europe for over 40 years, with the nuclear arms race between East and West which could so easily have resulted in an exchange which would make the Holocaust pale into isignificance, with hundreds of millions of completely innocent civilians slaughtered by both sides. This was only narrowly avoided in 1962 at the time of the Cuba missile crisis, a crisis, you will notice, CAUSED by nuclear weapons, and only resolved when the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its missile installations in Cuba (bordering the USA) on the condition that the USA removed its nuclear missiles from Turkey (bordering the USSR).

Wars cause more wars, nuclear weapons have almost caused a nuclear war by their very existence, and the reasons we went to War in the first place in 1939 are conveniently forgotten. It was, supposedly, to defend the freedom and independence of Poland? Why then, at the end of the Second World War, did the Allies agree to hand Poland, Czechoslovakia and many other countries occupied by Hitler over to the dictator Stalin? They could at least have negotiated neutrality, which was granted to countries like Finland, Austria and Switzerland.

The sins of the older generations bear heavily on their descendants, but shouldn’t do. What we must all do is learn from the mistakes and crimes of the past, and vow never, ever to repeat them.

Unfortunately the arms manufacturers and the powerful, profitable interests behind the military-industrial complex have other ideas. We are all just cannon fodder in their drive for more and more profits, propping up the unstable capitalist system, grabbing dwindling oil and other resources, with no regard for the consequences for human beings or the planet. This HAS to change, and quickly, or things will just get worse till we destroy the planet and the human race with it.

The Queen & the Monarchy in Jubilee Year

First of all, it’s not really a Diamond Jubilee Year. That would be 75 years, but as Victoria wasn’t expected to live that long (she didn’t) they brought her Diamond Jubilee forward from 75 to 60 years on the Throne. It has remained 60 years for people and 75 years for other events.

Now as a Marxist Socialist you naturally would expect me to be a staunch republican, which of course I am. I don’t approve of the hereditary ruler principle whether it be in a Constitutional Monarchy like the UK, an absolute monarchy or a nepotist so-called ‘Socialist’ state like the DPRK (North Korea).

The main reason I don’t approve is you get a Head of State by default, not by popular choice.  Once they inherit the position, it is very difficult to get rid of them. Abdication or death being basically the only two ways. So with the hereditary principle you may wind up with a mentally impaired person, or one who is completely lacking in morals.

The present incumbent in Britain is said to do her job well, which basically means she acts as a loyal glove puppet to the Establishment who control her. From her point of view, therefore, it is a great pity she is surrounded by such a dysfunctional family. Three of her children have gone through divorces, including the heir to the Throne, and the fourth has a marriage which, according to the rumors, is mainly for appearances. No children of the Monarch are, apparently, allowed to openly have a gay sexual orientation. It is also royal tradition, apparently, for straight men in the family to have mistresses, and the royal wives are supposed to quietly tolerate this.

With Charles the love of his life was clearly Camilla Parker-Bowles who was thought unsuitable, so Diana was found for him after much searching. However he was not, it seems, expected to give up Camilla, and Diana was mainly for show, to be a glamorous Queen and provide heirs to the Throne. Diana, of course, was made of sterner stuff and was having none of it. She was not about to ‘sit in her palace playing tiddlywinks’ while her husband was gallovating with his mistress.

Diana was indeed a ‘loose cannon’ as far as the Royal Family and Establishment were concerned, not only taking lovers, but revealing all in her Panorama interview. She then embarked on humanitarian causes such as her work for sufferers from leprosy and AIDS, putting many other members of the Royal Family in the shade.

When she embarked on her anti-landmines campaign she started receiving life threatening phone calls, and within months she had been assassinated in a carefully arranged car ‘accident’ which she actually predicted. This shows the amazing courage of this woman.

This cannot be said of the Queen herself. When has she ever spoken out about landmines or other horrors of modern warfare and the military? Indeed she has launched completely illegal submarines armed with nuclear weapons of mass destruction aimed at innocent civilians, capable of killing millions including generations yet unborn. This makes QEII an accessory to planning and preparing for heinous war crimes. Were she to have been made Kaiserin of Germany (she had many German relations and a German surname) and been Head of that State when the Nazis were in power, would she have happily launched the gas chambers in the concentration camps? Presumably, as a loyal puppet, she would have. I see little difference to launching Polaris and Trident nuclear-armed submarines than launching the gas chambers of the Final Solution.

‘Ah, but she is just a Constitutional Monarch, she cannot become political,’ is the excuse of the monarchists. But she IS political. Everything she does is political. She is a puppet of the political ruling Establishment, and her ostentatious display of obscene wealth with her many palaces and expensive jewelry identify her with the very rich and the Conservative Party, even when a Labour government is in power.

As to her not having any options, of course she does. King Edward VIII chose to abdicate rather than give up Wallis Simpson. QEII could have refused to launch nuclear-armed submarines, and said she would abdicate if they tried to force her to do so.

The above are not the only complaints I have about QEII. She apparently muttered something to Paul Burrell, the late Diana’s butler, about ‘dark forces of which we know little’. Of course she knows a good deal more than she’s letting on, including probably that Diana was assassinated. She knows her husband, the Duke of Kent and many other male royals are in the high echelons of Freemasonry planning all sorts of dark deeds, that her husband has or had mistresses, but chooses to keep quiet about all of this. She is indeed a loyal glove puppet.

All Hell will break loose when she dies or abdicates. Charles will not be considered suitable to be King, which makes a mockery of the whole Monarchial system. It is supposed to be hereditary, but if you start to pick and choose by jumping a generation or forcing people to abdicate (like Edward VIII), then you might as well have an elected President, or even an elected Monarch with a set term.

William would be next in line for the Throne, but would he want the responsibility and restrictions of being a mere puppet of the Establishment which murdered his mother? Surely he must realize that was no mere car accident in Paris? No one is indispensible, so up to now he and his brother, Harry, have kept quiet about any suspicions they have. Clearly the message is keep shtum, do what you’re told or we’ll get rid of you just as we got rid of your mother.

The Establishment is ruthless, and the Monarchy has always been ruthless too. Look at the history of this gang of schemers and murderers. Henry VIII set up his own church so he could divorce the wives he didn’t execute, yet even the Church of England he set up officially disapproves of divorce, yet divorced Charles now married to divorced Camilla is expected to be Head of this Church – what a farce!

Why should the Church of England have the Head of State as its head anyway? The Church of England should be disestablished. All states should be secular with people free to follow any religion or none. Most people in the UK are NOT members of the Anglican church anyway, so why should its bishops sit in the House of Lords? Another anachronism which should be done away with and replaced with a fully elected Senate.

The big hope is that the European Union will eventually develop into a fully-fledged federal union, the United States of Europe, that it will be a republic and that the remaining monarchs of this continent, including the British one, will be finally swept away as the anachronism they are.

However since they are apparently, like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in Disneyland, good for the tourists, they could be allowed to keep a postage-stamp kingdom like Monaco. The area around Windsor Castle would be a good place for the one in Britain, conveniently close to London. There the former monarchs of England and their family could happily wave to the tourists, dress up in silly constumes, parade around in their gaudy golden colored coaches, and do all the royal ceremonies and celebrations they like without turning the whole country into a farcical Disneyland.

High time for the Monarchy to go. Let’s have an elected President, and I’m happy for Elizabeth Windsor or any of her descendants to stand for this office and be elected for a fixed term if they defeat the rival candidates. However I would expect any Head of State to insist on a conscience clause allowing them to opt out of any ceremonies or endorsement of things they disagree with, such as setting their seal of approval to totally illegal weapons of mass destruction.

I certainly won’t be celebrating the false Diamond Jubilee year or waving Union Flags. Patriotism has caused too many wars on our Continent already in the last century alone. The only political/geographical flags I’m prepared to wave are the blue-and-gold EU flag, the pale blue UN flag and the Red Flag of Socialism!

De-humanizing effect of war

There have been wars throughout human history, and they always have a de-humanizing effect since they are the breakdown of normal, civilized behavior.

However the de-humanizing aspect does not just affect soldiers on the battlefield. Throughout history it has also affected severely entirely innocent civilians, including children. This can be seen by studying ancient history, not least The Bible and what that old bastard Moses is supposed to have instructed the Israelites to do after a battle with the Midianites (from the New English Bible):

Numbers, chapter 31, verses 15-18:  ‘Have you spared all the women?’ he said…… ‘Now kill every male dependant, and kill every woman who has had intercourse with a man, but spare for yourselves every woman among them who has not had intercourse.’

The Midianite men had already been murdered, but this evil bastard Moses, supposedly a man of God who passed down the Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’, then instructed all the little boys and women who were not virgins to be murdered,  but women and little girls who were still virgins could be raped or forced to be sex-slaves. All the Commandments forgotten by that genocidal monster Moses and his followers in the climate of war. And all this murder and hatred is in a book which should clearly be banned or confined to museums, the so-called ‘Holy’ Bible! No wonder the Crusades and Inquisition in the early Christian era thought they were able to justify their own torture and killing of innocent people. The Bible, like other ancient religious books, was written by men with a hidden agenda,  intent on political power and control of the population. These books are clearly not the word of some divine being, though parts of them are Spiritually inspired and could be preserved for public consumption, such as the sayings of Jesus for instance, clearly a pacifist.

It has been the same throughout the ages, not least in the 20th and 21st centuries. All normal rules and codes of behavior break down in war, so we have men hailed as heroes for committing the mass murder of innocent men, women and children in the bombing raids carried out by both sides. We have women in munitions factories making bombs and shells to kill innocent civilians like themselves and their families, and to kill the fathers of children just because they were conscripted into the armed forces of their country.

The men actually fighting are the most de-humanized by the military machine, appealing to the very basest qualities in people. Some men are very aggressive and enjoy a fight, they also enjoy destroying things and people. This is why video war games are so popular.

I heard a horrific story today from someone who was a child in the War. He was walking down a street, and some other children were walking on the other side. Suddenly a German plane dived down and machine-gunned the children on the other side of the street. How can human beings do this sort of thing? Attacking a bomber which is on a mission to bomb innocent civilians is one thing, but machine-gunning innocent civilians for no reason whatsoever, and children at that? There can only be one explanation, the guys in the airplane didn’t see them as children or human beings, but as ‘targets’. They no doubt enjoyed the thrill of what they regarded as a game. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Allied British and American airmen did similar things in the War. They were bombing civilians, so they probably would have no qualms about machine-gunning them either. It is extra horrific because they could actually see who they were killing. I was absolutely appalled, but I’ve heard such stories before and attribute them to the War mentality which depicts all citizens in the ‘enemy’ countries as legitimate, inhuman ‘targets’.

The military de-humanize the other side, the so-called ‘enemy’, so they are seen as not people at all. A simple example on the Allied side is when German soldiers in the Second World War were, and still are, referred to as ‘Nazis’. By and large they were NOT Nazis, just conscripts of a Nazi government. Such labels serve to de-humanize the enemy, as in the Commies for instance in the Cold War. Just because they got landed with a Nazi or Communist dictatorship does not make all the citizens Nazis or Communists. Hitler won the popular vote in 1933 largely because large areas of Germany were stolen by the Allies of World War I; so all they wanted to do was reclaim their lost territories. Hitler, of course, had a much wider agenda which later became clear.

The de-humanizing  of the ‘enemy’ is meant to justify and gain acceptance for wholesale genocide. Such as the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan was already suing for peace. The bombs, incidentally did not end the war with  Japan who only signed a peace treaty once the Americans capitulated and allowed Emperor Hirohito to remain on the Throne and escape a war crimes tribunal. The Allies of World War Two also escaped war crimes tribunals, though they committed many atroctities, many in their completely illegal bombing raids on German and other cities.

Is it any wonder in this atmosphere when all normal codes of behavior had broken down, when innocent men, women and children were being burnt alive and blown to pieces by Allied bombs (or drowned in the Dambusters raid), and when their soldiers where dying on two fronts, that it was possible for the Nazis to carry out the Final Solution in the concentration camps? Who was going to worry about what was happening to Jews, Communists, homosexuals, gipsies, the physically and mentally disabled when everyone in the Third Reich was facing death every day during the War? Similarly in Britain and America nobody worried what might be happening to foreigners and traitors in their own internment camps, they were too concerned with what was happening to their families and homes in the bombing raids, and what was happening to their male relatives fighting the War.

After the War we’ve had many smaller ones in which civilians and conscript soldiers have been killed, but we also have had nuclear weapons constantly targeting completely innocent civilians, able to kill millions instantly and millions more, including future generations, from the long-lasting radiation effects.

This concept of nuclear weapons ever at the ready takes us into the era of continuous war, or at least, continuous readiness to commit genocide should certain circumstances arise to cause a war situation.

The ridiculous nature of this de-humanizing of the enemy can easily be seen as since the Second World War and the breakdown of Communism in 1989-1991 the Germans, Austrians and all those in the former Communist countries who were targeted by Allied bombers and nuclear weapons are now seen as ordinary people like ourselves. They in turn see us as ordinary people like themselves.

There has to be found an alternative to war. An alternative which settles international disputes by negotiation if possible, and if this breaks down then an international security force needs to be able to step in to prevent atrocities by targeting only those directly involved, either by giving the orders or by being prepared to carry them out.

This may be difficult to organize, but it has to be done. Just as police forces had to be set up in the United Kingdom once the warring armies of the various countries and kingdoms on these islands had been disbanded, and the Union established.

So we need to move towards a world confederation under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, which should be democratized and therefore elected. I see the European Union, the United States, the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslav federation and similar international ventures (but not military alliances such as NATO) as a step towards this international confederation to prevent future wars.

It is very relevant that as soon as the Soviet and Yugoslav federations broke up, terrible wars and genocides broke out once again in these places where peace had reigned for many decades.

Of course war is very profitable for the arms industry, and this in turn keeps the extremely unstable capitalist system going. Human beings are just the cannon fodder of the arms manufacturers. It is high time we said ‘no’ to war and found other means to settle our problems. The alternative is probably the eventual destruction of the planet as war becomes ever more barbaric, and nuclear weapons spread completely out of control to more and more nations.

 

 

Gay marriage?

I can’t get worked up over this one. We gays now have civil partnerships, so I can see no reason why we’d want to ape heterosexual marriage. Civil partnerships give gay couples all the rights they would have if they were married.

You can’t get away from the fact that marriage was originally a religious formality for a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman, mainly for the propagation of children but also to contain sex within this exclusive relationship.

Now some gays are pressing for gay marriage, arguing that civil partnerships are a second rate option and don’t offer equality. They also say civil partnerships should be available to heterosexual couples. I’m quite happy with that last idea, and have no objection to gay marriage as such, but can see certain religious organizations would have strong objections.

If a gay couple wish to commit themselves to a monogamous relationship, then soon they will be able to have a civil marriage in a registry office in the UK, or in a religious place of worship which allows gay marriages.

They can also now adopt children, so aping heterosexual marriage even further. What they cannot provide, within the relationship, are role models from both genders. This will obviously disadvantage the child, as with single parent families, unless a role model of the opposite gender to the same-sex adopted parents can be found and given regular access outside the couples’ relationship. It could, of course, be the biological father or mother if this person is not one of the gay couple.

Few of the gay couples I know are in or have been in a monogamous relationship, but they have been in loving, emotional relationships (often with no or very little sex between the partners) for decades. They have looked after each other in sickness and in health, till death parted them in most cases. This also applies to my own 21 year relationship. We shared an active social life, had a strong emotional attachment and love for each other, traveled the world together, shared a bed and cuddled a lot, but virtually no sex between us. This was quite common among our friends, though not all shared a bed, some had separate bedrooms. So do some heterosexual married couples.

I therefore would have opted for civil partnership rather than gay marriage had these options been available to us. We had no desire to adopt children, our pet cats were our ‘children’. We were not able to be monogamous since there was virtually no sex between us, we being sexually incompatible. However we did promise, and kept it, not to ever get emotionally involved with a sexual partner outside our relationship.

So I see civil partnerships as different from marriage. The former is to put the relationship on a legal footing so rights of inheritance, to visit the partner if hospitalized in intensive care, the right to the shared home if one partner dies, to register the death and organize or help organize the funeral are all protected.

Marriage, on the other hand, is a solemn promise to an exclusive, monogamous relationship for life usually with the intention of raising children in a nuclear family. None of my gay friends or couples would have wanted this or would have related to it, but some would have related to the civil partnership option. My partner and I certainly would have wanted one.

So I’ve no strong objection to gay marriage and wouldn’t oppose it, but neither will I campaign for it.

 

London government

On May 3rd we had elections for the London Mayor (not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of London, an ancient office which applies only to the ‘square mile’ of the City of London financial district), and for the London Assembly members.

London local government is very complicated and has undergone several changes in the years since I was born. Back then there was the London County Council (LCC) which had wide powers in inner London. There were many more boroughs in London than there are now, and those in outer London outside the LCC area were in the various Home Counties. However to complicate things even further many of these had London postal districts, so Wood Green where I grew up, for instance, was in the county of Middlesex but the postal address was London N22.

In the mid 1960s London government was reorganized and the old boroughs were merged to form 32 new boroughs plus the ancient square mile of the City of London, which remained intact. Also the Greater London Council was established to replace the LCC but it covered a much greater area. Even the GLC area, however, did not cover the whole Urban Area of London, which is the continuous conurbation which now officially includes places like Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Hoddesdon, Dartford and Woking, all outside the Greater London administration area.

With this reorganization Middlesex was abolished as a county, and the other Home Counties lost large portions to the new Greater London administrative area. The Post Office refused to allocate London postal districts to all the areas now in Greater London, and this caused much confusion as it was then necessary on postal addresses to retain the old county names which no longer applied to many outer London areas. In the mid 1990s this requirement was dropped as the new postal codes came in, so now for any addresses in the UK it is not necessary to include county names. For reasons of snobbishness and nostalgia, however, many people still include these, and many in West and Northwest London, for instance, still pretend they live in the non-existant county of Middlesex, while those in other London suburbs like to pretend they are in the rural neighboring counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.

The Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 and its powers transferred to the 33 London boroughs. This created much chaos and confusion, as London now no longer existed as a city – probably the only major city in the world without a unitary administrative body. London became 33 separate towns and cities with little attempt to coordinate planning across the capital.

In 2000 the Greater London Authority was established to give London a voice and an administrative center once again, but it did not retrieve all the powers of the old GLC now delegated to the 32 London boroughs and the City of London corporation. Therefore it is a much weaker body, but at the same time the office of Mayor of London was created, directly elected by the Supplementary Vote system. There is also a London Assembly of 25 members, 14 representing new constituencies each consisting of several London boroughs and 11 members elected by proportional representation. These 11 additional members are selected by the political parties, as the party name just appears on the ballot paper. The London Assembly scrutinizes the work, budget and decisions of the directly elected Mayor.

What this has meant, since the abolition of the GLC with its wide powers and the loss of County Hall opposite Westminster, is that despite the creation of the Greater London Authority in new headquarters upstream on the River Thames, the various London boroughs and the City of London have,in effect, retained their status as cities and towns in their own right, and so it is now common practice to see shopping centers in these boroughs described as ‘town centers’ and London suburbs described as towns in neighboring counties or in the long abolished county of Middlesex.

It has also led to local initiatives, such as the London Borough of Croydon (whose residents largely like to pretend that they live in a town called Croydon in Surrey) re-introducing a tramway system, which is excellent for people in that area, but does not cover the rest of London. Such piecemeal transport systems really don’t make much sense in a major metropolis.

However the GLA and Mayor now does have authority over Transport for London, which runs the Underground system, Overground, buses, river services, etc. It also has overall responsibility for the Tramlink in the Croydon area, and apparently there are plans for new tram systems if the money can be found. It also tries to coordinate the many regional rail companies which provide services into and around the capital.

Frankly the whole thing is a mess, and privatization hasn’t made things any easier. With many Underground lines, the bus companies, and rail companies all privatized coordination and unitary ticketing/fares are difficult to achieve. One proposal, not yet achieved, is to bring all London rail services within the Greater London Area under the direct control of Transport for London (excluding the main lines from London to other places in the UK and the Eurostar services to Continental Europe.) The only rail lines so far coming directly under Transport for London (apart from the Underground system) is the privately owned Overground system, created quite recently from largely existing rail lines inherited from the old British Rail.

In the May 3rd elections maverick Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, got elected for a further four years, narrowly defeating former Mayor and former GLC leader, the charismatic Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate. Ken Livingstone has also been something of a maverick in the past, in 2000 standing and being elected as Mayor as an Independent against the Labour candidate (Ken was expelled from the Party, but later re-admitted.)

The election for London Mayor has, since its inception, been based on personalities rather than party labels. Whether this continues depends, I suppose, on how charismatic the candidates are for the office. Boris and Ken are both over-the-top individuals who encourage endearment and dislike in varying quantities. Considering he’s a Conservative and something of a buffoon, I actually quite like Boris though have never voted for him (I voted for Ken each time). He did, for instance, introduce the famed ‘Boris Bikes’, a very green measure to encourage cyclists (they are blue push bikes which can be hired from various centers around central London.) I can tolerate Boris for another four years, though am sorry Ken didn’t get re-elected to host the London Olympics. Ken has announced he will not stand again.

So London is a bit of a mess administratively, but has always been a mess. It was no better back in the 1950s when I grew up and the only elected authority for the capital only covered the inner London boroughs. The London postal district then, and now, bears no relation whatsoever to Greater London nor to the old LCC area. What I’d like to see is further coordination so all areas in the Greater London Authority area are allocated London addresses and postal districts, and all transport systems within Greater London are directly run and managed by Transport for London, thus reversing the privatization of recent decades.  Both these measures are unlikely to happen.

So London bumbles on in the old, rather disjointed way, at least helped by the fact it now has a London Mayor and a Greater London Authority and Assembly to try and coordinate things in this huge metropolis which still seems to think it is 33 separate towns and cities.

In this it is not alone. Los Angeles has been described as many suburbs in search of a city, and places like the conurbations centered on Manchester, the Yorkshire counties and the West Midlands have similar problems in identifying as unitary metropolitan cities with the separate areas fiercely defending their independence as separate towns and cities in their own right.

Water Water Everywhere

Floods, even in London there are huge puddles and flooded areas due to the heavy rain. We had to turn back at one place down by the River Thames because the pathway was flooded with rainwater. April was the wettest for years, yet they tell us we are in a drought situation and the hosepipe ban will stay to the end of the year.

There can only be one explanation: total incompetence on behalf of the water companies. The River Thames isn’t short of water, why should the reservoirs be? They tell us we’ve had two dry years and one month of rain won’t make up for it.

What a load of crap! There are places much drier than the UK who manage their water better. For heaven’s sake, apart from all our rivers, lakes and ponds which never dry up (unlike in some hot countries), we are an island surrounded by water.

Have they never heard of desalination plants? Come to that, regarding renewable energy sources, forget wind power, we have tidal rivers all round our coastline which could be used to generate power. The Thames Barrier sits there doing nothing most of the time when it could be adapted to generate power, and there are loads of other tidal rivers they could use. Also wave power from the seas around the British Isles.

Seems to me if there’s water shortage they are wasting it somehow, probably thru leaking pipes. I assure you there’s no water shortage where I live – 5 minutes walk from the Thames which last year was literally overflowing with water just near here.

We’re awash with bloody water.