This week with Brian 27 October to 3 November 2022

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including knowing about money, a graceless speech, grubby accusations, pointless legislation, pointless repression, Mr Fry’s view, the Home-secretary laboratory, a sly-boots, more like BoJo than BoJo, sad over-educated old misogynists, a pointless waste of intelligence, a deep breath, boundary changes, flex and compromise, black cat week, a punch-up, the happy man, 1.3 million earths and a short element.  

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• It won’t have escaped your attention that we have another Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak is the first Indian to hold the office: and probably the richest person to do so. He would seem to know about money, then. Let’s hope so. He’s going to need to. Good luck to him in ending what seems to have been a period of political long-Covid over the last four months. He seems better than the last two and also has some form in what was widely regarded as a good response to the pandemic (true, there were some serious frauds with the furlough system but perhaps no more than generally happens with any government intervention in our lives, including taxation). He bought himself a bit of time by admitting that his predecessor had made mistakes – easy enough to do on behalf of someone else, perhaps, but a welcome moment of reality none the less. Talk is cheap, of course. Let’s see what his administration looks like in 45 days’ time.

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Liz Truss’ resignation speech, by contrast, was wholly free of any admission of shortcoming. The one she made after Sunak’s victory seemed even more graceless and stripped of emotion. She certainly makes all her public pronouncements as short as possible, in keeping with her tenure in office. She said that “it was a huge honour” to the lead the UK during the mourning period following the Queen’s death. Well, yes, I’m sure it was: but that’s not what she’ll be remembered for. Anyone who thinks that the words of politicians are empty and unheeded need only to reflect on the disastrous “mini-budget” announcement. Millions will be living with the consequences of this idealogical experiment for years. At least Margaret Thatcher – on whom she seemed to model herself as much as her predecessor did on Winston Churchill – waited for a year or so before unleashing her vision and did something in the way of preparing the ground first.

• At his first PMQs, Sunak found himself having to defend the re-appointment of the tofu-dodging Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. The accusation was made that, as she had been forced to resign over a technical breach under the previous regime, the matter of reappointing her was “grubby.” It was also probably necessary for Sunak to have someone from the right of the party – and it’s hard to think of anyone who better matches this description than Braverman – in the cabinet. For many, concern about the circumstances of her re-appointment are less serious than some of the views she holds.

• Principal of these is her belief that the problem of protests can be defeated simply by passing more legislation against them. The XR and Just Stop Oil protests recently have been eye-catching, disruptive, annoying – add your own word. That’s the point of them.

In this excellent video (which has the uncompromising title Something has to be done), Stephen Fry says that not only is the situation every bit as serious as these people are all claiming but also that the disruption that the protests cause is largely justified. “Disruption” is, he points out, not always destructive: it can be necessary “to stop the world going down the wrong path.” The suffragettes and the civil rights protestors were disruptive and caused inconvenience but few people today would feel that the causes they were fighting for were wrong. At the time, though, many felt otherwise. This is perhaps the very situation we find ourselves in now.

Being prevented from crossing a bridge or leaving a motorway by a protest is, he concedes, incredibly inconvenient. These are, however as nothing compared to the inconveniences that lie in wait, ranging from a ruined landscape to violence and instability; a kind of “Mad Max horror,” as he vividly puts it. “Sometimes,” he concludes, “you have to sacrifice the present to save the future. All we’re being asked to sacrifice are some of the conveniences that will never exist if we don’t act now.”

Repression, like censorship, ultimately achieves nothing unless you’re prepared to go the whole way, as so many countries like China, Iran and Russia have. The problem, Suella, is not the inconvenience the protestors are causing but the reason they’re doing it. The Just Stop Oil protestors, as this recent talk at Hungerford Library showed, don’t want to be “selfish”, as she perplexingly described them, but to draw our attention to what is increasingly felt to be an existential threat. This isn’t just some crazy fringe view. The UN Secretary General said on 26 October that “we must re-prioritise climate change or the world faces catastrophe.” Can we accept that his view has some merit – or are we going to leave the UN as well?

It’s a horrible irony that, at the very time when the world needs to be concentrating on re-tooling its energy sources, it is in fact having to cope with the aftermath of Covid and the horrors unleashed by Putin. The warning signs, however, have been around for some time. We’ve screwed up on this. Many people, though not nearly enough, have done what they could. Most people have not because they cannot afford to. Governments exist, or should do, to help lay the ground for future things that people can accomplish, on their own or with government help. Most of governments are more concerned with undermining their enemies and clinging onto power than solving problems like this, particularly as to do so might put their country at a momentary disadvantage. Xi’s China, Putin’s Russia and Farage’s Brexit all sit in this basket. Remember the fatuous phrase “we’re all in this together” which the hapless David Cameron uttered in 2010? Well, this time it’s true, though not in the way DC could have foreseen.

There’s also the question of martyrdom. Some activists have been held in jail for six months before trial. This might be regarded as a badge of honour. If I were still alive an employing people in 10 or 20 years, I wouldn’t be put off hiring someone who’d served time for such protests (my third son may yet find himself in this situation, though probably not with regard to me as an employer). There’s also the question of how many people the state can prosecute and incarcerate for such things and how many really dangerous people will be walking the streets as a result.

This article in The Big Issue suggests that there are a number of alarming legal and financial issues that the Public Order bill will throw up. It will certainly make criminals of this who disagree with the state’s view on what is or is not an acceptable reason to protest. By definition, the target of any criticism is not a suitable judge of the criticism’s validity. None of the protestors are calling for a global revolution, merely a recognition that addressing climate change should be be the top priority. History will judge – if there will be any history left.

• Turning back to UK politics, where on earth do Home Secretaries come from? Is there some lab in which they’re created? In general, they seem a very creepy lot. Mind you, it’s a creepy job and probably the only one in government about which there can never, in any circumstances, be any good news to announce. It’s constant back-foot stuff. Takes a special kind of person to do it, I guess.

• Oh BoJo, what a sly-boots you are. You waited until you had over 50 backers (according to the BBC, which I believe) or over a hundred (according to you, whom I don’t) before saying that you weren’t standing. Then you implied that you could have won this one (but “the time wasn’t right”) and that you could win future ones. Let’s’ just rely to remember that the man is an opportunistic, selfish, unprincipled, priapic liar when the time comes around for his next election and cast our votes accordingly.

• If you miss our last PM but one, can’t cope with Nadine Dorries’ doe-eyed obsession but still want the BoJo dial tuned up to 11 out of 10 and beyond, you need look no further than any recent utterances by Micheal Fabricant MP, whose ambition seems to be to look even more like Boris Johnson than Boris Johnson does himself. He treated the listeners on The World at One on 24 October, the day Sunak was confirmed as PM, to a perplexingly long series of personal observations on the subject of his and Mr J’s general excellence. I was driving at the time and so had more important things to concentrate on. Two things stuck with me, though.

The first was his regret that the Tory membership had not been given the opportunity to confirm the appointment of the new PM. Really? Look what a mess they made the last time they were asked. No membership of any party should be allowed within a hundred miles of choosing a leader if the immediate result is that they’ll become PM. The MPs doing this I can just about accept (with reservations, as I suggested last week) – but not the party members.

He also was keen to stress, as a result of a pathetic conversational crowbar, that he he had appeared in the wonderful TV series House of Cards. As an extra, mind: nothing important. He then quoted Francis Urquhart’s catchphrase that “you might very well think that; but I couldn’t possibly comment,” and got it wrong. How dismal. And still the interview droned on. What was the BBC producer thinking? I thought Auntie was meant to be biased in favour of the tofu-eating, Guardian-reading liberal left? Seems not.

• I find it very hard to watch or read reports of what’s going on in Iran, with the continuing protests following the death of Mahsa Amini who died in custody after being arrested for allegedly wearing her hijab “improperly.” It’s hard to escape the conclusion – nd I’m not going to try to – that this is the work of a bunch of sad, over-educated old misogynists who get up every morning filled with a renewed desire to tell as many people as possible, mainly women. what they ought to be thinking and doing. I apologise if this is not a very nuanced view but there you go.

• On a similar theme, The Foreign Secretary has suggested that “LGBT football fans who attend the World Cup in Qatar should show a little bit of flex and compromise and be respectful of the host nation, where same-sex activity is illegal.” That’s probably good advice if there were any LGBT fans who were planning to go to the event and unroll some banners.  (The Australian football team doesn’t appear to have heeded it.) His advice does, however, suggest that any point of view is OK as long as it’s been hallowed as a religious idea. In the whole history of the world, nothing has been responsible for as much pointless waste of human intelligence as has the pursuit of theology. Many are still trapped in its chains. I shall try to escape it by paying as little attention as I can to the World Cup of a sport I love that has been given to Qatar for so many questionable reasons. I doubt my boycott will change anything: but we all have to what we can…

Across the area

• News from your local council if you live in the Vale of White Horse, Wiltshire, Swindon or West Berkshire.

• Further information on your district, county or borough council’s activities is referred to in the respective Weekly News sections for the nine areas that Penny Post covers – Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

Boundary changes

There’s an article in Newbury Today (and also on p13 of this week’s Newbury Weekly News) which refers to the proposed changes to constituencies proposed by the Boundary Commission (BC) and the representations that MP Laura Farris has made to have part of the proposed changes reversed. Readers of the newspaper article, which refers in its sub heading to these proposals being “new”, might suspect that these have only recently been announced. In fact, they were first published 16 months ago on 8 June 2021 and we (and the NWN) mentioned this at the time. The reason this has re-surfaced now is that the BC’s review process is currently at its second consultation stage.

The  BC’s job is to ensure that constituencies are all of roughly the same size and of a sensible shape. Its work is part of a rolling exercise that tries to keep pace with demographic change. Where a constituency or ward boundary falls can have major political consequences so it’s important that politicians be kept a long way from the decision making. I was therefore alarmed by the suggestion that an MP could influence the process in any way. A call to the BC on 27 October, however, put my mind at rest. A spokesperson re-assured me that it is wholly independent of political interference. An MP can make comments about the proposals but these will be given no more weight than anyone else’s. Revisions will be adopted or not based on how sound they are according the criteria the BC needs to follow and not because of who made them. That’s what I suspected but it’s good to have it confirmed.

A separate matter is why Laura Farris this change was so important. The claim made in the article is that she feels this would be to the detriment of the racing industry which would as a result be “spliced in two” (I imagine the author meant “split”: to splice means to join together, not to separate). I find it hard to believe that she even believes this herself. It’s not as if one needed a passport or a visa to cross from one constituency to another, on horseback or by any other method. It might actually be to the advantage of the local industry as it  would then have two MPs to plead its case in Westminster rather than one.

Applying Ockham’s razor to the issue, the reason is more likely to be a political one. She might feel that, were the Newbury constituency to retain the bit around West Ilsley, it might make it more likely to return a Conservative (such as her). She might be right. It might also be because she wants to still live in the constituency (mind you, her predecessor didn’t and that didn’t do him any harm).

Whatever the real reason she’s absolutely entitled to lobby for this change, even on the spurious grounds she offered. The good news is the Boundary Commission isn’t obliged to act on these if there isn’t a sound demographic, as opposed to political, reason for doing so.

A service of thanksgiving

A service of thanksgiving for the late Queen Elizabeth II will be held at St Nicholas Church in Newbury at 7.00 pm on Friday 4 November. This will be an opportunity for West Berkshire to come together to remember Queen Elizabeth II and celebrate her life. It will reflect her connections with West Berkshire and fondness for horse racing and give thanks for her lifetime of service to the country and its people.

Among the almost 500 guests to be invited to the service will be district councillors and town and parish councillors representing communities across West Berkshire and local members of parliament. The service will be led by the Rev Will Hunter Smart, Rector of St Nicolas Church. Local residents are also invited to attend the service but must book online in advance. Tickets are available until Monday 31 October on a first come, first served basis and can be booked by clicking here. The service will be streamed online on the St Nicholas Church YouTube channel.

The cost-of-living hub

West Berkshire Council’s Cost of Living support hub provides advice and practical support for local people in financial hardship, making it easier for residents to get the help they need.

Anyone who needs advice and support around cost of living issues will be able to contact staff who can provide advice and match their needs with the support available both nationally and locally, including from local charities and voluntary organisations. The initiative has been set up by West Berkshire Council in partnership with Greenham Trust and the Volunteer Centre West Berkshire and will work closely with the local community and voluntary sector.

The hub will be open from Monday-Thursday 8.30 to 5.00pm and Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm. More information about the hub and an online contact form can be found here.

Volunteering 

The Volunteer Centre West Berkshire is a charitable incorporated organisation. whose “overriding ethos is to match local people to local need”. It provides information, advice and guidance and helps place people with one of the more 350 volunteering opportunities in West Berkshire. It also provides help and information to charitable organisations – including help with starting a new charity and providing assistance with fundraising, training and governance – and runs local schemes providing help for socially isolated and the elderly.

The VCWB is currently concluding an exercise designed to refresh its information on the amount of volunteering that takes place in the district. To this end it has produced a short questionnaire – click here to take part. This closes on 31 October 2022.

The VCWB also organises V365, a volunteer recruitment event. This has not been held for three years but returns on Saturday 14 January at the Corn Exchange in Newbury. If you’re interested in taking a stall (spaces are limited) you need to act now. See the top story on the VCWB’s latest newsletter here for more information.

Take a deep breath and calm down…

I’ve recently received a press release from the West Berkshire Conservatives complaining about a proposed question by a Lib Dem member to next week’s WBC Executive. This compared an aspect of WBC’s policy to Putin’s annexation of part of Ukraine.  The question has been disallowed by the Monitoring Officer for being “distasteful.” I understand that there’s no reason it wouldn’t be accepted were it to be rephrased. This would be worth doing, for the point it seeks to explore (concerning the LRIE) is an important one.

I don’t think either side comes out of this very well. The question was at best very robust and at worst a notch or two up from how the Monitoring Officer described it. As a means of encouraging rational debate and eliciting information, it could have been improved upon. On the other hand, the matter has only become widely known because a member of the Executive decided to get tweeting and then do a press release. Politically – we had to get to that word eventually – this might have been the wrong move: better, perhaps, to have allowed the question (though this is the MO’s decision) and torn into the questioner at the meeting. This would, of course, have been even more unedifying.

Nor is there anything inherently political about all this. Neither the question nor the retorts supported any ideological position. It was just playground noise and could as easily have been the result of a Labour member asking a question of a LibDem/Green administration, or any other combination you care to pick. If all the disparaging, unpleasant or personal tweets, texts, letters and emails that WBC councillors have written to or about other councillors since May 2019 were gathered together, they would make a long and rather depressing blog. Again. you could swap all the names and party affiliations around and almost of all of them would still be just as believable. Fortunately, you can forget each particular instance fairly quickly – after all, there’ll be another one along in a minute, probably even less funny and a bit nastier than the one before.

I think what all the councillors need to do is to take a deep breath and calm down. There are still over five months to go until the election. If they’ve already cranked the dial up this far in October, what’s it going to be like come May?

CIL charges

We’ve written about this before and do so again.

There have been at least two cases in West Berkshire of residents being charged eye-watering and life-changing sums of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments as a result of simple error, of the kind that even the VAT or HMRC inspectors would accept as an honest mistake.

The campaign to have these cases reviewed continues: click here to sign a petition which is, if one adds the paper responses (not recorded on this site) quite close to the magic 1,500 number required to trigger a debate on the subject at West Berkshire Council. 

For more information on there issue, see this post.

Other news

• As mentioned last week, the new weekly food-waste collection system will start in West Berkshire on 31 October (and on 28 November for households which receive a communal bin store collection). You can click here to see a separate post we’ve done on the subject; and click here to see WBC’s recent newsletter about this. As well as being environmentally beneficial, financially advantageous and legislatively compliant, the scheme may also reduce food waste by confronting us with the consequences of what we throw away. Like any new measure, of course, it will take time for us to get used to it. The collection lorries have been given names following a competition aimed at local children: “Wastey McWasteface” was not among them.

• West Berkshire Council has announced an initiative to help those who have tins of unused paint at home left over for from DIY projects. It will shortly be introducing “a new community paint re-use service at the Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRC) at Newbury and Padworth. Community Repaint allows residents to drop off left over paint at either of our HWRCs in the usual way. Staff at the HWRC will assess the paint and see if it is in a good enough condition to be re-used.” Click here for more information.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

• Local charity Connecting Communities in Berkshire (CCB) has stressed that help is available for those struggling with rising energy bills. CCB has been running a project tackling fuel poverty for 10 years and can provide expertise in supporting low-income families that are struggling with the recently confirmed price rises. For more information, contact Helen Dean on helen.dean@ccberks.org.uk or visit www.ccberks.org.uk.

Click here for the best coverage we’ve seen of all things football-related in Berkshire.

Click here for the latest museums newsletter from WBC.

• Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Click here to visit WBC’s business website.

Click here for details of consultations currently being run by WBC.

Click here for the latest libraries newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest waste and recycling newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest residents’ newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest business newsletter from WBC.

Click here for the latest environmental newsletter from WBC.

• You can click here to choose to receive all or any of West Berkshire Council’s e-newsletters.

• See also the sections for Wantage, Marlborough and Swindon for initiatives from Vale of White Horse Council, Wiltshire Council and Swindon Council and the various towns and parishes.

• Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animals of the week are black cats. I learn that 27 October is national black cat day. We have a black cat so will celebrate this by giving him an extra stroke. Here are a few facts and legends about these domestic Bagheeras. One of these concerns good luck, of which we could all do with some more of right now.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of long letters, arcane meetings, Eagle Quarter, confusion on the number 4 and a replacement (or not).

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So it’s the  Song of the Week. No particular reason but I just love it: The Happy Man by Thomas Lang. Takes me right back every time…

• And so we come to the Comedy Sketch of the Week. No particular reason for this either but I also just love it: Big Train’s Cat and Mouse Punch-up.

• So that leads u finally to the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: What is, in English, the only three-letter chemical element? Last week’s question was: Roughly how many planet Earths could fit inside the sun? The answer is about 1.3m. That’s about 1.3m more than we have to spare.

For weekly news sections for Lambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area please click on the appropriate link

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