What is a government for?

 

A slight detour into the realms of the political for this blog. It struck me that all of my children will be old enough to vote in the referendum in June, so in large part this is for them. I think they probably know all this anyway, but this was inspired by imagining them listening to the debates, reading articles, and trying to decide which way to vote. So, just what is a government for?

This seems to be one of those questions that few of us ever find ourselves pondering, and if we do then it tends to get brushed aside quickly with a, ‘Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? The government is supposed to be running the country.’

The thing is it rarely seems to be obvious in practice. Who gets to be the government and how should we choose them? How is the government supposed to run the country? Whose policies should be followed? Do they slavishly follow manifesto promises or should compromise be reached when it comes to everyday practicalities? Who gets to benefit?

As we endure the run up to the Brexit referendum on June 23rd and the US Presidential campaign I have found myself pondering just how many people ponder this, and what conclusions do they come to? With me so far? Good.

I expect, or at least hope, that if you were to stop the proverbial man or woman in the street and ask them if they think that any government, of any political persuasion, should run the country for the benefit of that government alone and their few trusted cronies that you would receive a resounding No! Government should not be for the few. Apart from anything else, once you have a situation like that then those in power will rig things so that they stay in power, and then you have a diminishing number of options to change a situation and you’re already starting from a point of disadvantage. Coups happen in situations like that, or revolutions, civil unrest and uprisings. All of which are bloody and far from guaranteed to succeed, much less have the outcome you thought they were going to. ISIS in Syria, anyone? Or to quote a fictional example, 1984.

So should governments run the country for the voters? Simply do what benefits voters and no one else? Well, not really. For a start not everyone is eligible to vote. We have what most people would consider universal suffrage in the UK, which means that virtually all adults have the right to vote, but there are still a lot of people who cannot vote. Mostly children, but also some adults who are not registered to vote for whatever reason. You might think that it would be a strange country that would ignore its own children and channel all resources into adult voters, and yet a quick look at various childrens services in the UK will tell you that’s exactly what we do. Childrens Mental Health Services have lagged behind those of adults for decades – a GP told me way back at the turn of the century that the waiting list for children to access mental health services was so long that you would have to wait at least a year even if your child was suicidal. I can’t imagine that things have improved at all since then. Then there are the cuts to support services for families, cuts to child benefits – I could go on, but it is clear that governments will not put money into services for people it doesn’t see as important ie those who can’t vote for them or provide them with a pay cheque.

Another case in point is the District of Columbia. The people who live there have no representation in the Senate, limited representation in the House of Representatives, and very few voting rights. It’s a situation that arose because Congress decided they wanted full control of the surrounding land, to not be beholden to one state or another for its security, but the unintended consequence is that without anyone to speak up for them the residents in the District live in some of the greatest poverty in the United States. Not all of them, true, but there is a lack of integration between the white communities and the black communities and I’ll give you three guesses as to which come off worst and see their circumstances getting worse. Oh, DC residents are still liable for full federal taxes, by the way. They just don’t see much of that money back in terms of social care.

And then there’s the fact that throughout history there has been a pattern of not allowing everyone to vote. It is within living memory that women in the UK were finally allowed to vote no matter what their income or social status. Within living memory. If governments only serve those who can already vote then that would never have changed.

So should governments do what is best for the majority of their citizens? After all, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so why not just go with what will make scarce resources work for the majority of people? This is another No, although I see enough comments online and in the print media to realise that many people wish that this was the case. At least, they seem to think that way because they assume that they are in the safe majority. The problem with this strategy, apart from its inherent cruelty and unfairness towards some of the most vulnerable people in society, is that it is open to such abuse. As soon as you are willing to accept that some people are worth helping, but that others can be safely consigned to the waste bin, then you open the door for those who wield power to change definitions, shift goal posts, and just generally behave in ways that benefit themselves and no one else (remember the governing for the benefit the government and cronies above?) You get people who vote for a party because they think they are the hard-working family that is being talked about in the manifesto and they don’t want to spread thin resources thinner by propping up others who are labelled as scroungers. Except then they discover that they are now labelled as scroungers, because although they are hard-working they are so poorly paid that they rely on benefits to make ends meet. Benefits which are being cut, or taken away entirely.

Or, you might have been a business owner that believed the promises that red tape would be cut for small businesses, rates and taxes would be set to allow you to cling on through the recession, only to discover that you’re not operating in the right development zone to benefit, or your business is considered just a tad too big, and so you get hit with all the extra rates and administrative hassle you thought you might be spared until business had picked up enough to cope with it.

I haven’t even mentioned people considered minorities because they are disabled, or have a different colour skin, or are LGBTQ , or practice a different religion, or weren’t born in this country, because I figured that was obvious enough. The thing is, being different doesn’t mean lesser, and doesn’t mean being less deserving of full participation in the life of the country that you live in, wherever it is.

So no, no governing for the benefit of the majority only. Govern a country for the benefit of everyone, and if you hear anyone proposing anything different then look very closely at what they are really saying. How do you imagine they would act if they actually got into power? So anyway, as the dude in the suit of armour said, ‘Choose wisely.’

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Glamour

‘I think I’ll call you Roo’ she said, as she twirled her fingers through his greying black beard. He just nodded, astonished that after all the uproar over the past few days such a glamorous woman had knocked at his mother’s door and asked to see him. At least, he assumed that’s what she had done – one minute he’d been alone in the basement and the next She was there.

‘I’m sorry, but what did you say your name was?’

‘Tatiana.’

He shook his head a little, confused, he could swear that she’d said Titania when she had first introduced herself, but maybe it was the accent confusing him. The police had only just left after he’d called them to investigate the death threats he’d received, and he was still in his sweaty grey tshirt and shorts, but the tall brunette in front of him didn’t seem to notice that he smelled rank and badly needed to brush his teeth, except, hadn’t she been a red-head when she’d first appeared? Never mind, he’d always preferred brunettes anyway.

He tried to listen to what she was saying but his senses felt overwhelmed that such a beautiful woman was standing there, actually wanting to talk to him and not turning away in disgust. For all his bragging on-line it had been years since any woman had spent more than 2 minutes in his company, apart from his mother and the police woman who had just left. He thought he had just heard her suggest that they go over to her place. Result!

He agreed enthusiastically, as he knew that his mother would only be nagging him to clear up and take out the garbage when she came back from work – and getting out of the house would mean she wasn’t there to cramp his style. Although, truthfully, he’d nearly forgotten what his style was – it had been over 20 years since he’d snatched a kiss from Chantelle behind the bike sheds. He didn’t even stop to pick up the overnight bag that he told his on-line fans he kept in readiness for such occasions, mainly because that was as much a figment of his imagination as the rest of his online life.

Somehow he couldn’t remember walking up the stairs and out of the door, or any other part of the journey, but he knew they had arrived when he could smell pine needles and wild rosemary. The trees grew together so closely that he couldn’t see any gaps between them, but suddenly he was surrounded by women. A lot of very, very angry women. Except that he wasn’t totally sure they were human, there was something about the eyes, and the teeth, and the claws…

He turned to Tatiana, bewildered and more than a little scared now. As he did so she allowed the glamour to drop for one second so that he could see her as she really was, and then he was gone.

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Confidence

Jane looked up as Lizzie wandered over to her desk. She tried not to frown or look disappointed but she knew that this could only mean one thing – Lizzie wanted a chat over her morning coffee and Jane would have to listen, nod and agree when all she really wanted to do was shake Lizzie and tell her to wake up and smell the coffee, you are living in a dream world. If only it was that easy.

It was exactly as Jane had dreaded. Lizzie had been to the spiritualist meeting last night and had been told she was doing well, her mother was looking down on her and was proud. The usual garbage that anyone with half an ounce of blather could pull off if they wanted to. Jane looked at Lizzie as she talked; noticed the colour back in her cheeks, the sparkle in her eyes, and the gaunt look disappearing as she started to eat properly again. No, it wasn’t going to be easy to negotiate this minefield. The problem was that Lizzie really was doing well, and her mother ought to have been proud, but it seemed that the only way Lizzie would hear that was from her mother’s own mouth. Or that of the spiritualist currently claiming to be doing that.

Jane had let her mind wander as she pretended to listen, but was brought back to the present by a note of sudden doubt in Lizzie’s voice. Oh no, she thought, but oh yes. Lizzie was starting to notice cracks in the current spiritualist’s knowledge. Crap. Jane knew what would happen next – Lizzie would fall out with the medium, then she would get depressed, stop eating, barely make it into work, and just generally fall apart. Jane had seen it all before in a never-ending cycle over the past twenty years, since their mother had died when Jane was twenty-two and Lizzie not quite twenty-one. She had hoped that time would help Lizzie move on, but it didn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

After the coffee break was over Jane tried to concentrate on her work, but found it difficult. She kept getting distracted, thinking through what she was going to have to do next. She’d hoped for a little more time, but she was clearly going to have to be prepared with a back-up plan a lot sooner than expected.

At lunchtime she googled the contact details of all the spiritualists and mediums  that she hadn’t used before, and prayed that this time she would find one that could remember all the inside family information she gave them.

 

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Bronze

Clara opened the last cupboard door in her father’s house. Ever methodical she had gone from room to room, drawer to drawer, emptying, sorting and dealing with the contents. It had been just a few weeks since he had died, and she was relieved that her father had never been a hoarder and had always been disciplined about keeping the house scrupulously clean and tidy since her mother died over forty years ago now. It had made the whole process so much easier, not having to sort through endless piles of meaningless stuff to find the one nugget of golden memory that she wanted to keep hold of.

This cupboard was news to her, though. It had been partially hidden behind a massive mahogany wardrobe in her father’s bedroom and she had briefly wondered if it was a door to a secret room and was imagining all sorts of mysteries before realising that wasn’t possible – it was simply a blocked in alcove to one side of the chimney breast and there simply wasn’t the space for a whole room between the bedroom and the outside wall of the house.

She turned the handle and simply stared. This cupboard was jam-packed, full to the brim – there were cardboard boxes stuffed with notebooks, piles of yellowed newspapers, and any number of buff folders that contained goodness knew what paperwork. The whole thing was a mess.

Reaching for a newspaper at random she unfolded it and looked uncomprehendingly at the front page – there was a picture of her mother, standing on what looked like an Olympic podium, with a bronze medal around her neck. How on earth had she not known about this? Why had her father never mentioned that her mother had competed and won a medal?

Clara pulled out all the boxes as fast as she dared, and sat on the floor sifting through. The first cursory glance told her that she had training records, diaries, medical records and, right down at the bottom, a box containing the medal itself, wrapped carefully in tissue paper. She held it up and examined it, never having seen an Olympic medal before. It had the date and location on it, Munich 1972 – the Olympics famous for the kidnap and murder of the Israeli athletes and coaches. She had been born a year later, and her mother had died when she was two years old – was that why her father had never mentioned it?

Rummaging through the piles of stuff Clara focused on looking for anything that might give her a clue; a letter, a diary entry, anything. She found nothing, but she was running out of time – the estate agent would be here soon to show the first potential buyer around. Deciding that she’d have to deal with it all later she boxed everything back up again and drove it home, feeling both frustrated at the lack of answers and glad that there’d been a mystery after all.

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Relative

Christmas was going to be a real drag this year, Felicity decided. Mother was coming, which meant that the house was actually going to have to be cleaned for once. Not so much for mother’s benefit as she was mostly deaf and completely blind, but because she would be bringing Grace, her daughter – Felicity’s sister.

To say that the two of them didn’t get on was like saying that gazelles weren’t that fond of lions, or that water did everything it could to repel oil. Or was that the other way round? Well, whatever, they didn’t mix well. Particularly not when Grace had sunk a few Christmas brandies. Her tongue, always unpleasant, gained a particularly barbed and bitter quality after that.

She never wanted to remember that she’d only moved back in with mother after her husband had left her, having finally had his fill of her cross ways. No, the way she told it she’d given up her marriage to go and care for their ailing parent, ignoring the fact that mother had been in full possession of her faculties at the time and very reluctant to have a child move back in just as she was enjoying herself. The stroke that had caused her deafness and blindness had come out of the blue for everyone, and Felicity suspected that no one had resented it more than Grace, having suddenly found herself catapulted from the status of freeloader to carer. Not that she had been a nice person before that, but it had certainly made things worse.

Grace never tired of accusing Felicity of neglecting her mother and making much of all that she did herself – completely ignoring the fact that Felicity lived three hundred miles away, across the channel, and had a job and family of her own to be there for. No, that bit was never mentioned. She wheeled across the kitchen to give the Christmas pudding mix a final stir before going back to finish greasing the pudding bowls. She looked at the small bottle of almond oil on the table top by the mixing bowl virtually overflowing with dried fruits, candied peel, apples and spices. It smelled heavenly and was completely nut free. They had been left out because of Grace.

Felicity didn’t know why she’d even got the almond oil out of the cupboard, but it was there now, tempting her to add just a few drops to the mix. After all, who would know? Except Grace, of course, when her face and throat swelled up until she could breathe no more. Yes, it was very tempting, and with mother here already there’d be no dash back home to care for her. Felicity filled two of the bowls then added some almond oil to the mix for the last two. Would she label them correctly? She didn’t know. She hadn’t made her mind up yet, it was a difficult decision to make. Oh well,  she thought, all problems are relative.

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A story for Halloween

As darkness fell the lights across the valley came winking on, showing which houses had people home. There was one stubborn patch of darkness, however, where no-one lived. Or at least, where no-one had lived for a very long time.

The house in the middle was more moss and stumps of wooden beams than anything else, but it was noticeable that no birds nested in it. No rabbits nibbled at the grass growing between the broken walls. Dogs being walked along the paths tended to drag their owners around on other paths rather than pass it. Even the foxes seemed to avoid it, and there were no badger setts anywhere near.

The weather was unusually warm for late October – everyone was commenting on it and it had even made the national press. The long term forecast had been for the coldest winter in at least ten years, but if that was going to happen then it was taking its time starting – it felt almost as if something was making summer stay on beyond its welcome. The warmth was unsettling everyone, even the animals: migrations were delayed and hibernations postponed.

Everything was waiting.

The old bloke who lived up the lane had been heard to mutter that he hadn’t known a year like this in his life, but that he remembered his granfer telling him of one, must have been about 150 year ago now, them being a very long-lived family. He told everyone who would listen not to go out after dark on the 31st, but most people ignored his warnings as being the ravings of an elderly man who probably belonged in a home – despite the fact that he still dug over his allotment and cycled to the pub every Friday.

The forest wasn’t usually quiet – birds twittered as they settled for the night, owls hooted as they started swooping around, and the little creatures made the leaves rustle as they scurried about. Tonight there was no sound at all. Even the trees were silent in the windless evening.

The Aussie family who’d just moved in to the old farmhouse had no dogs, no pets of any kind, so maybe that’s why they didn’t notice anything strange. They didn’t like the wildlife much, so had set about evicting every living thing that wasn’t human from their home. They’d even shooed the bats out of the attics, despite them being a protected species. No-one quite knew how they’d got away with it, but no court case ever followed.

It wasn’t surprising that they’d chosen to have a barbeque that evening – it was as warm as July. What did surprise people was that they had loaded everything into their car and driven to the centre of the forest, to the old house, to get out their gas stove, unload the cans of Fosters and start cooking. Afterwards, no-one could understand why a family who hated the wilderness as much as they did had chosen to go there.

The silence deepened over the forest. Even the movements of the Aussie family seemed muffled, subdued.

Then there was a single flurry of movement that flew out of the centre of the old house
There was no movement, no sound, for the space of a heartbeat and then the forest sighed. The birds and animals went about their usual business, knowing that the balance was restored, the sacrifice made.

When their car was found by dog-walkers next morning there was no sign of the Aussie family. They had been evicted from the natural world more thoroughly than they had tried to evict the natural world from their farm.

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Manifesto for Tripe Dog 2014.

Friends, Romans, Country dogs, lend me your tripe.

Well, not lend as such. If you really don’t want to eat tripe then I’ll do it for you although please bear in mind that I can only get through a couple of hundred grams per day at most and my family have limited freezer space. But most definitely I will (indeed, do) eat tripe so you don’t have to.

If, on the other hand, you really love tripe then I’m not going to take it from you (please see the previously mentioned limited capacity of my appetite) and I can recommend visiting Rome, a place which appears to have humans who also see tripe as a delicacy.

In the spirit of ‘waste not want not’ I would like to assist The Tripe Marketing Board in their campaign to promote tripe. It seems that it is an underused, misunderstood commodity and I can’t see why you humans don’t love it as much as I do, but each to their own.

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Rumours that I have plans to use tripe as fuel in a canine bid to enter the space program are false, though, as not even a Springer Spaniel can escape the earth’s gravity without mechanical transport. Jumping is out. Oh, and those rumours that tripe would be used, not to give me strength and stamina, but to provide gaseous propulsion are as scurrilous as they are false. No jet-propelled dogs in space fueled by tripe. Sorry.

There are other ways we can use tripe, though, and if you give me a month or two I’m sure I’ll come up with one.

It strikes me that I may have done an Ed and forgotten a couple of paragraphs of my manifesto. If they come to me later there’ll be an update.

In the meantime I would very much appreciate your vote in the final of #TripeDog2014 on Thursday 23rd October. I’m amazed to have got this far and would like to thank all my fantastic supporters who have helped to get me here.

Vote Shadow, Vote Tripe, Vote Freedom! (from eating tripe unless you really, really want to).

Notes: My Twitter handle is @SpringerShadow and this competition is run by The Tripe Marketing Board (TMB) Twitter handle @TripeUK Please come and say hello on Twitter. 🙂

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