First 2017 Election Interview with Mr. J. Brazier Esquire.

Oh Goodie! I do like a good old General. Election that is… Nothing like those piles of paper to warm the blood. Little mountains of votes, just for me and my mountain is always the tallest of the mountains. I am an Everest amidst a sea of hillocks.

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‘Hillock’, I said. You clearly misheard.

Anyway, good old May (Tezza to her chums) has said that she also fancies a bit of a General, so off we go. First past the post, reigns to the ready, Whips whipping what they need to whip.

You see, I hail from Canterbury. That’s where I reign. The thing about Canterbury is that even if I beat a small scraggy child in the street, said I supported the ambitions of Kim Jong-un and mowed over an old lady with my motor, they’d still elect me. Fools.

[What’s that Kate? Of course, I’d love a bit of crumpet. Yes, the more butter the better. Layer it on.]

Policies? Not a clue sorry. Next question.

Retire? Never. When I see the pearly gates, I’ll hand in my notice. Next.

Opposition? Ha. Well, Labour did come close once, but those were the dark days, you know… [shudder] Blair. I suppose if they really did their act together and form some sort of alliance with those Liberal Demo-prats and Greenies, they might just mount some sort of challenge, but even then, I’m pretty sure I’d romp home.

‘Romp’, I said. Do you enjoy romping? What do you mean that’s an inappropriate question?

Anyway, must go. Got to dust off the rosette and take off my slippers. Kate! Kate, can you help me pull of my slippers. Always nice to have a woman to hand, if you know what I mean [snort].

Toodle-pip.

See you in 2022.

[Warning: Mr. J. Brazier is a fictional creation. Any similarities to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental]

Last Rites for Kent’s NHS

A&E provision in East Kent is among the worst in the country. Not only have the closure of Emergency Departments in Dover and Canterbury left outlying communities with a potentially 40-minute drive to their nearest A&E, but recent figures released also show that poor consultant provision and huge waits that welcome the injured when they do arrive.

Ambulances struggling to cope with winter illness

Each time that LabourMum checked online to ascertain the current waiting times at East Kent A&Es (checking 8 times in the past week), William Harvey Hospital in Ashford was posting waiting times of ‘Over 4 Hours’. Even with only 10 patients in A&E in Ashford, a new arrival would typically have to wait over 4 hours.

More scandalously, figures released recently in response to a Freedom of Information request, show that the A&E department at William Harvey Hospital was without any consultant provision during ordinary working hours Monday-Friday for a total of 250 hours in 2016. This means, there are an average 5 hours in every Monday-Friday week where you could turn up to A&E to find absolutely no consultants ready to help treat you.

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Reviews of William Harvey A&E care in January on www.nhs.uk show that some vulnerable patients have been left on trollies overnight, without food, drink and assistance with toileting. Other reviewers talk about being treated with an abject lack of ‘dignity and respect’. A further review from December 2016 wrote from the waiting room: ‘I arrived at the William Harvey hospital at 11.30pm’ the anonymous reviewer said, ‘and am still waiting to be seen at 6am it’s not the doctors or nurses fault I know there doing the best they can its all down to the government… (sic)’

The picture is of course, even more perilous at weekends. Some hospital trusts have no consultants at all working at weekends in Emergency Departments, although across East Kent Universities Trust (QEQM in Margate and William Harvey in Ashford) there is a consultant present in A&E for 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday. This is still not good enough. A friend’s daughter recently admitted to A&E on a Sunday evening at 9pm, waited 4 hours, despite only two other souls seemingly waiting (endlessly) for their own treatment.

With a 23.3% increase in the over 65 population of East Kent forecast for the next 10 years, the Emergency Care situation is now intolerable. Facilities (QEQM in Margate) are archaic and need re-building completely. Which political party is going to say it? We need to raise taxes, perhaps even a specific new tax or complete reformation of National Insurance, to pay for our NHS. Missed appointments with ordinary G.P.s should be paid for (some exceptions of course for those whose illnesses actually prevented attendance) and G.P. facilities absolutely should stretch to at least Saturdays. All G.P. surgeries should aim for turn-up-on-the-morning-and-be-seen provision, as is proving immensely successful in Whitstable, Kent. Further suggestions include raising VISA fees for visitors to the UK with the specific aim of balancing the cost of health tourism upon our shattered and broken health system.

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In 1942 the Beverage report identifies the ‘Giants’ of the day as being Want, Ignorance, Disease, Squalor and Idleness. Times have changed and the diseases of ’46 (Tuberculosis, Polio, Measles) have been replaced by the new problems of an increasingly elderly and obese population (Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Diabetes). Want, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness continue to afflict the U.K. It is time for a new ‘Beverage Report’ for the Twenty-First Century. We are not too late to save our NHS, but this time next year we might well be.

My M.P. just got a knighthood….HELP!

So, my M.P. got a gong. I should be celebrating right? I mean, these knighthood-relics from the days of yore are for the special, the hard-working, the community-minded, the humble, the kind…

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Sir Julian Brazier, the longest-serving member of the House, has been afflicting us here in Canterbury, Whitstable and surrounding villages since 1987. He won his knighthood for services to politics and public services. Prior to becoming an M.P he worked in corporate finance and then did a few years telling other people how to work in corporate finance.

He is in person a very nice man. Quentin Letts once described him as an ‘adolescent giraffe’ and I do not doubt the dedication of a life in the service of his beliefs; one can only pity his wife, but I suppose she’s found time to take comfort in her puddings.

However…and here’s the rub. A knighthood has just been given to a man who supported the (unsuccessful) Prohibition of Abortion Bill in 2005, which would have made abortion an imprisonable offence. He voted against the government’s same sex marriage legislation in 2013. He supported Brexit (I mean, okay, so did my mum!) but on the grounds that ‘that the EU makes the people of our country less safe’. Apparently being in the E.U makes our soldiers more likely to fall asleep in their tanks, or something like that. He also voted against a proposal to accept an extra 3000 of the most vulnerable refugee children into the U.K. He voted in favour of Fracking (I’m personally not too bothered about this), was fundamental in planning a trip for M.Ps to visit the Falklands, a political move which ramped up tensions between the U.K and Argentina. The actor Sean Peen accused Brazier and his friends on the trip of ‘ridiculous demonstrations of colonialism’.

But even if this knighthood is the Conservative Party’s equivalent of a golden handshake, pushing Brazier off the back-benches to take up more golf, the fans of the man needn’t worry. In the spirit of 1817, politics in this area is a nepotistic affair. Brazier’s son John, is already considering putting himself forward for the job. He is eminently qualified, having been elected as a city councillor for Westgate ward in 2015. John Brazier lives full-time in London.

Happy New Year 2017!

Trick of the Tongue – The Art of the Speechwriter

‘Few love to hear the sins they love to act’

In Season Four of that sublime Machievellian feast House of Cards, there is an episode where a new speechwriter criticizes the work of the Underwoods’ writing team. Reading their latest offering he says “There [is] no imagination to it. No rhythm.” The established team take offence (of course they do): “We’ve been writing their speeches since they took office. We know what we’re doing.” The new speechwriter shrugs: “Well, do you want it to be good, or do you want it to be yours?’.

Finding the right voice for a great speech is an art; it is a tricky art, born of rhythm, cadence, inflection and reflection. A speechwriter must know the subject (of course); pretenders to the crown of authority will always be found wanting. But the writer must also know the tricks of the trade. The human ear is easy to fool, and as everyone knows, the heart is all too easily led by that most biddable of orifices.

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We can look to the best speeches in history and literature in order to spot those tricks. Antony’s magnificent sarcasm, by repeatedly intoning within his famous ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ speech that Brutus is ‘an honourable man’ (III.ii) is one of the best examples of speech-trickery. Ever. Brutus has spoken first and has made it clear that Antony may speak whatever good he wishes of Caesar so long as he speaks no ill of the conspirators. So Antony does speak no ill: but in his repeated benediction of Brutus and his coterie of cronies (alliteration is a speechwriter’s friend), he serves a rotten surfeit of praise and the audience chokes (descriptions of hyperbolic violence are always memorable… care to remember Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech).

In his February 2016 speech announcing that he was backing Brexit, Michael Gove used the ‘Antony trick’ (ultimate irony surely, as June would see him taking the role of Brutus to Johnson’s Caesar!). When Gove referenced David Cameron, the accolades piled up; Cameron was ‘an outstanding prime minister’, he had led a ‘great reforming government’ and it ‘pain[ed] him to disagree [with Dave]’. Oh stop it Michael! Put down that giant knife…In his Inferno, Dante confined Brutus to the lowest circle of hell for betraying Caesar; at least now he has company.

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Of course, a speechgiver wants to sound geniune whilst also learnéd (note the Chaucerian inflection of that word can make one sound pompous, but certainly draws the ear). Of course, you don’t want to over egg the pudding and too many clichés will make you sound as honest as the day is long (and can be confusing; is a day really that long?). Equally, avoid the use of foreign languages in speeches. If you can’t say it in English, then find another way to phrase it; afterall, a speechgiver using foreign words is just bacati kajmak u oči[1] of their audience, and they may just be about sauter du coq à l’âne[2]. Remember, quem não se comunica se trumbica[3].

You don’t want to bombard any audience with facts, although there must be a few. In the modern era of on-demand TV, the tone is set within the first paragraph and a single joke is worth a thousand statistics (Cicero that Roman master of rhetoric, integrity and proof is turning in his grave). Boris Johnson, a rare speciment of a politician who writes his own speeches, is certainly a master of the gag. Talking to the 2015 Conservative Party Conference (a stony-faced crowd generally), he said of the future of the Party, ‘We’re not done yet. We come now to what we in City Hall call Operation Juddering Climax…’ Johnson knows that the British will always be party to a little twinge of smut. When the politics thing doesn’t work out Boris, there’s an opening at the Christmas cracker factory…

The other tricks of speechwriting are numerous: Repetition (Education, Education, Education anyone?). Brevity. Use of elipsis and well-timed pauses (see paragraph above) and of course the old Grecian logos, ethos, pathos – the classical modes of persuasion from Aristotle’s Poetics.

 An audience loves a personal anecdote. Michelle Obama (U.S President 2024), recently exemplified the art of pathos in modern day speech-giving. ‘My father,’ she said to the Democratic National Convention in September 2016, ‘was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when my brother and I were young. And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain.’

Key words to end paragraphs (see above, ‘pain’), resonate. Yet the end to any speech should always be positive. Never leave an audience glaring into the gloom. The rhythm of those last words is vital; an iambic inflection to the final sentences gives a steadying heartbeat, a lulling music to the crowd. No one wants the meter they remember to have the panic of a butterfly furiously beating its wings against a window; the final tone should always sing of sun.

[1] Croation: throwing cream into the eyes (i.e lying to)

[2] French: to jump from the cock to the donkey (i.e changing topics without logic)

[3] Portuguese: He who doesn’t communicate, gets his fingers burnt.

Old Age Care at £31k a year! No thanks, I’m off to Eton…

sad care home
With average care home fees this week reported to now be £30,917 per year, the UK is facing a crisis. We have an aging population and a society that condones the charging of fees for elderly care which are akin to those charged for a full boarding place at a top public school. The state education system, open and available to all, strives for success; in some towns and even small cities, not a single school in rated less than Good by OFSTED. Yet for our parents and grandparents, elderly friends and relatives, the choice is often terrifyingly poor state care or £31k a year. This is like being asked to choose being a vat of boiling oil or old-fashioned Roman crushing-by-elephant. No-one is ambitious in care-giving provision and the average pensioner annual income at £14,456 falls well short of what is needed. Even if I did dispose of my worldly assets to spend £31k a year, it would not guarantee me quality. Thus, my choice is clear: I am going to have to go to Eton instead.

Eton

At Eton College (at £36k) I would be assured of many things that my 31k investment per anuum in an average UK home could not guarantee me: I could have a nice room, plenty of friends, 3 cooked meals a day. There would be a vast program of academic and non-academic pursuits to keep my body and mind sharp. Those who looked after me would be at the top of their field (educated to an average of MA level and paid an average of £34,500 a year each, with free accommodation and food) and always live on site; they would liaise regularly with my relatives about progress and an on-site medical facility with a qualified doctor and nurses would administer my medication and check-ups. I could take up an instrument, learn a new language and have my evenings taken up viewing the concerts and theatrical performances of my peers. My relatives could visit and picnic with me on our own private island (really, it’s called Queen Eyot and is quite charming). Any special diet I might have would be catered for and I could be assured that Matron would rouse me in the mornings if I was having trouble getting up.

EtonLibrary
The way we are for our elderly in Great Britain desperately needs overhauling. Care England, who represented care homes have this week accused the government of having no strategy for old age care. Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England said: ‘I don’t know how in the age of the Equality Act you have older people having to pay for a service that younger people get for free.’What young people really get for free is ambition: a society and a government that care about achieving results. It is time the UK government were honest. They need to say exactly how much good social care costs, and then universal taxes must be raised – Nordic style – to cover it. We should have the same ambition in the care for our elderly as we do for our children. If we don’t, then we are all the worst side of that Conservative poster-boy Adam Smith (who ironically died at 63 before true old age could knaw at his conviction): writing off those who cannot contribute fiscally as being dead-weight in the economic furtherment of our country and thus unworthy of our love. We might save some pounds, but we lose our heart.

And how do I know that Eton is so much a better option you might ask? Well, my socialist friends: I used to teach there (but that’s a post for another day).

PETITION: INCREASE GOVERNMENT AID TO YEMEN…THE FAMINE THE UK HELPED TO CAUSE

Real politics is about engendering change. So, whilst the Labour ‘faces’ tear the party apart, we’ll get on with the important things…

A PETITION TO: INCREASE UK GOVERNMENT AID TO EASE THE SUFFERING OF THOSE HIT BY FAMINE IN YEMEN

Millions of people in Yemen are starving to death. Latest figures from the UN suggest that nearly half of Yemeni provinces are in desperate need of further aid provision to avert a humanitarian disaster. A million and a half children are malnourished and in danger of starvation.

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Numerous factors have brought the famine about; from the recent freezing of importer’s banks and access to capital, to the fact that (despite Saudi Arabian denial of the matter) dockyards and food-storage facilities have been systematically targeted by factions in the ongoing civil war. With 90% of food in the Yemen coming from imports, many families are living off solely flour bags and the weakest, youngest and oldest are dying in their hundreds.

UK Weapons, including cluster bombs banned by the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in the early 1980s, have been found on the ground in Yemen. The UK is in part responsible for the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands. The UK Government’s current position is immoral; whilst we have the capacity to raise aid to Yemen’s starving civilians through international aid agencies, we must do so.

Last year the UK Government contributed £87million of bilateral aid to Yemen. That is £2.90 per year, per UK taxpayer. In contrast, in the 3-month period July-September 2015, the UK exported £1billion worth of bombs, rockets and missiles to Saudi Arabia; exports of these goods must be signed off by British ministers. Claims from the International Development Select Committee and in the The Guardian have repeatedly suggested that supplying these arms leads to devastation which is then only partially cleaned up with British aid money. Stephen Twigg, Labour MP and chair of the select committee, describes the government’s actions as paradoxical. In 2015, BAE systems – the largest British exporter of weaponry – made a 1.5billion profit;  over 20 times the amount of aid sent to the Yemen. The director of BAE, Sir Roger Carr, continues to assert that selling weapons ‘encourages peace’. 

This petition demands one simple thing: to raise the amount of aid we are sending to ease the suffering of the starving in Yemen. We also call on the UK Government to review the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the training that the UK provides to Saudi troops who then go on to illegally target civilian provisions and food-sources in Yemen.

Please sign this petition and raise awareness where you can.