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The gift of sin, in a box

Fast food companies learned a long time ago that if you want to hook customers when they’re young, give them toys. Kids love them, and they’ll want to go back for more.  Not long and they’ll be going not for the toy but for the food.  It’s how they build their brand awareness.

Cynical? Yes.

So it’s no surprise that religious organisations use the same technique.  Organisations  like the evangelical church Samaritan’s Purse, which runs the Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal every year.  They give some poor kids in an awful place some toys, and expose them to their brand. Religion.

Cynical? Yes.

But where the fast food companies only want to sell food, Samaritan’s Purse want to sell everlasting torment, unless the child accepts that Jesus died for their sins 1 thousands of years before they were even born.

Creepy.

Here in South Tyneside though, instead of protecting children from some deeply disturbing ideology, people like Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn and mayor Fay Cunningham positively celebrate proselytising to children using toys.  Toys in boxes often gifted by other children.  Maybe they’ve fallen for the attractive concept of putting a smile on the faces of unhappy children.  But it’s the idea that goes with the smile that should be worrying.

Sin. A made up condition for which they sell the made up cure.

So here are South Tyneside’s politicians, smiling for the camera, celebrating gifting shoeboxes with toys, guilt and sin.

Watch the video. It’s sickening.

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Our MP wants to save the NHS

Over at the Shields Gazette, South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck slaps herself on the back for courageously voting for whatever lobby fodder are told to vote for. And what could be more core Labour voter friendly than a soft soap early day motion that makes all the right NHS noises?

The Tories and Lib Dems may be holding the axe to the neck of the NHS, but Labour brought it to its knees. Before the Tory reorganisation, Labour saddled the NHS with its very own reorganisation, the Private Finance Initiative. PFI has landed NHS trusts with decades long debts worth billions. On top of that, Labour obligated trusts to offer services to private providers, even if the NHS services were better value for money. Even without the Con-Dem slashing, a Labour government would have meant cuts to NHS services.

Labour put profits before people.

If Labour is serious about saving the NHS, then cancellation of PFI debt must be at the top of the wish list. Next would be to put the NHS at the heart of a British constitution to stop future governments using the NHS as a political and profit football.

But it won’t happen. Labour is as wedded to dismantling public services and handing them to the circling privatisation vultures as the Tories, Lib Dems and Ukip.

Running up the white flag to the Tories

I’m going to be a different sort of MP“, she said.  When she was campaigning to replace David Miliband as South Shields’ MP, she played on the fact that she was local born and bred, with a deep Tyneside family history, and a social worker who knew the needs of and the difficulties facing the people of South Shields.

After safely winning the South Shields seat, Emma Lewell-Buck pluckily threw down the gauntlet to David Cameron, saying that he might need a lifeboat “after sailing HMS Coalition straight into the rocks, aided by his captain, George Osborne, and his cabin boy, Nick Clegg”.  Well, our South Shields MP has joined the crew of the not-so-good ship HMS Coalition.  Today, she voted with the Labour whip in support of the Coalition’s Charter for Budget Responsibility, otherwise known as the ‘annual welfare cap’, a cap on the overall level of spending in the welfare budget, excepting pensions and some jobseekers benefits.

It’s a nasty piece of legislation, another broadside in the Coalition’s dirty media war against those in receipt of benefits, and it seems, a war in which Labour wants to see some frontline action.  Unfortunately, Labour chose not to fight against the Coalition, but instead chose the easy target in a hunt for the middle England vote – against those in our society who are most in need, the poor and the unwell.  If Labour MPs wanted to distance themselves from the values of the creators of the NHS and the welfare state, they couldn’t have picked a more treacherous flag to run up their mast.

So is ensign Lewell-Buck a ‘different sort of MP’ for South Shields?  What better benchmark could we find than the late Tony Benn, whom she claimed for her was “an inspiring figure… because of his absolute dedication to his principles and his belief in the rights of working people.”  I find it difficult to believe that Tony Benn would ever vote for such a divisive policy, which in this time of savage austerity further victimises the poorest and most unfortunate in society, whilst the rich get richer.  If Lewell-Buck is a ‘different sort of MP’, it’s one that’s hugely different from Tony Benn, but remarkably similar to South Shields’ previous parliamentary disappointments, David Clark and David Miliband.

South Shields could as well have voted a Tory in, for all the difference it would have made.

A tale of two crimes

In the local paper, two crimes.  In one crime, a man was caught drink-driving for the fourth time in ten years.  The other, a sixty-four year-old man with no previous convictions caught growing cannabis.  The convictions are very different.  The drink driver, who has a history of putting his own and other people’s lives at risk whilst in control of a deadly weapon, gets a four-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and a four year driving ban.  The cannabis farmer is jailed for twenty months.

This is what passes for justice in the UK, applied through a blurry lens of morality which our society should have already outgrown.  I can’t see a rational argument for putting sixty-four year-old William Smith, who has hurt no-one, behind bars.  Yes he broke the law.  He supplied cannabis for profit.  But what risk did this man pose to society?  Judge Jeremy Freedman said to Smith:

“You know very well cannabis, albeit a Class B drug, causes much harm and misery within the community and that is why it is prohibited.”

Ill informed nonsense.  The scientific evidence that cannabis is less harmful than cigarettes and alcohol is clear cut.  That’s not to mean that there are no dangers, there is certainly evidence of health problems related to cannabis use, but much of any ‘harm and misery within the community’ will be down to the criminal supply chain because cannabis is illegal.  This ‘harm and misery’ though, pales into insignificance against the huge cost to society through alcohol related illnesses and crime.  The biggest harm from cannabis use?  I’m guessing that it’s otherwise harmless and law-abiding people becoming criminalised and brutalised by an out-dated legal system and black-hatted judges.

Judge Jeremy Freedman didn’t provide a judgement, it was a moralising sermon.

A recasting of UK drugs law to reduce the harm of drug use is long overdue, despite prompting from successive government science advisors, but whilst there are politicians desperate to look tough on drugs and judges like Jeremy Freedman passing moralising punitive judgements, it’s difficult to have a sensible grown up discussion about a rational drugs policy.

On a side note, Smith’s capture was another in a long line of cannabis arrests featured in the Gazette due to nasally skilled police officers sniffing out cannabis with their super sensitive schnozzles:

“Officers attended the address because of the strong smell of cannabis actually coming from the address.”

Yeah, right.  They would make mint hunting truffles.

Yes, Labour won South Shields

So what?  It was going to happen.  The UKIP claims of “giving Labour a bloody nose” were bloody stupid, typical Farage shouty bravado in the vain hope that someone will believe him.

Despite the pitiful 40 per cent by election turnout, Labour pretty much kept their share of the vote and held on to their percentage majority.  They managed this with actually very little campaigning.  Such is the nature of the confidence in South Shields’ electorate. 

UKIP got what they wanted: second place.  They put a lot of money into their campaign and bussed in supporters from outside the town, supporters who to their credit worked very hard, no matter how silly I think their politics are.  The result gives Farage a chance to claim that UKIP are now the second party in Britain.  Such a claim would be more than optimistic: UKIP are yet to get themselves in parliament.  In South Shields, they’re merely the new Tories on the block, and will likely see their vote drop at the General Election in 2015.

What should be remembered is that this was a by election, where sometimes the electorate throw the dice on a protest vote, but it looks like the only ones protesting were Tory and Lib Dem voters.

The way I see it, the top three parties in the vote are all tied to a neo-liberal economic model which values money over people.

It’s been a while since South Shields voted a left wing party into parliament.  I find that saddening.

Scraping the biscuit barrel

broken biscuits

Jumping on the South Shields by-election bandwagon, UKIP have set up shop, in a shop, on King Street.  It’s tastefully decked out in posters and a couple of baloons.  Classy.  The shop was formerly a branch of Bay Biscuit Co, a now defunct Newcastle retailer specialising in broken and bargain biscuits.

Let’s ignore that UKIP’s position on climate change ignores the science.  Let’s ignore that UKIP’s position on equal marriage is as libertarian as the Pope’s.  Let’s ignore that UKIP representatives have a bad habit of failing to keep their promises.

The real question which voters should ponder in their analysis of the by-election candidate should be: if UKIP were a biscuit, what biscuit would it be?

Not Hobnobs, clearly that’s for the Tories, a party run by toffs.  Jammie Dodgers is more of Lib Dem biscuit, given their dodging tough decisions, their commitments and their principles.  Drifter seems designed for Labour, the party continually drifting from it’s original purpose.

No doubt a UKIP representative would consider a biscuit like a Breakaway, reflecting their desire to tear the UK from Europe.  Maybe Party Rings in a nod to South Tyneside UKIP councillor David Pott’s love for Bunga Bunga parties.  Or perhaps McVitie’s Gold  bars for UKIP’s nonsensical attachment to the gold standard.  I think maybe Jacob’s Odditities would be the most appropriate.  Or Jacob’s Crackers.

Or something with nuts in.

And the Member of Parliament for South Shields is…

South Shields Labour party has selected the next MP for the town, Primrose councillor Emma Lewell-Buck. Some would say I’m jumping the gun, but let’s be pragmatic. South Shields is about as safe as it gets for Labour.

The real competition in the by-election is going to be for second place, with UKIP trying to claim another media coup by scalping the Tories at the polls. This is a cynical approach to democracy which I find distasteful. It shows that there’s really no interest in the people of South Shields from UKIP, only a desire to suck in more publicity for the long haul, with an eye on 2015. South Shields has one UKIP councillor, David Potts (although he was elected as a Tory), a tweeting disaster zone, and his past could prove poisonous for a UKIP parliamentary candidate.

From what I’ve seen of Emma Lewell-Buck in the local press I’ve been impressed. She seems hardworking and involved with the people of the Primrose ward. She particularly impressed me as being the only Labour councillor to actually risk publicly criticising the BNP when they were trying to goose-step their way into Jarrow.

Coincidentally, a notification from South Tyneside Council Elections Office hit the doormat today, warning that “there is likely to be a Parliamentary by-election… the earliest date for which is Thursday 2nd May.” So, if you’re not registered to vote, get your finger out and contact South Tyneside Council and get sorted. I know I said the MP has already been selected, but, you never know…