Friday, 17 July 2009

Hampshire Tigers parade in Romsey

On Tuesday I decided to go into the centre of town to see the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR) parade through on their homecoming from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The parade was due off at 16.00, and so I headed down three-quarters of an hour early. I did not know quite what to expect, and was amazed to find that the town was bustling - so much so that I had to park on the verge of the bypass outside town, along with dozens of other cars on either side of the road.

A quick walk into town showed that there was little point in staying around the market square, where medals were due to be given out after the parade - the crowds were already five or six deep. I have never seen Romsey so busy. I made my way along the High Street, then up Latimer Street - still crowded - then cut across towards the abbey, where I finally managed to find a quieter spot. It seemed like the whole town - and more - had turned out.

The parade passed; a band in black trousers and scarlet jacket; then the desert-camouflage clad soldiers and finally the veterans.

After they passed I ran back to Latimer Street, where I got a glimpse of them passing again (there were too many people to see clearly).

What was remarkable about this was the numbers of people who turned out. There were thousands, literally, in a town not quite designed for such numbers. Whether you agree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or not, it is good that so many people appreciate the valour of these brave men and women.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Arguments and writing

Do you know when you've spent too long writing historical fiction?
That's right, when you start arguing in an eighteenth-Century manner.
"Don't grin at me in that manner, it is most unbecoming!"
What on earth made me say that? Not only is it demeaning, it's also hilariously outdated. I'd just been editing a scene set in 1827, so it's probably down to that. What's next?
Forsooth, I can do little but disagree with the proposition that you have put forward.
or perhaps in dialect:
What'cha sayin' that for; stop or I'll scat yer 'ead.
It is, however, a great way of ending an argument, as we were both too busy laughing to continue.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Cuts, the CSR and future tax rises

The battleground for the next election looks as though it will be cuts. Labour want to send the same message that they did so successfully in 2001 and 2005; that the Tories will cut public services (on this occasion, by 10%). This time, however, the Tories have a strong counter-argument - that, due to the economic crisis, cuts are needed. Even Labour's own figures seem to point towards this.

Currently the Government is making it very hard to see where we stand. They are not going to hold a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), which is due this year, and which will cover the Government's spending plans up to 2013. Their stated reasons for not doing one - that times are too uncertain to hold one - is farcical; any scheme that tries to set out plans for the future has to face uncertainties.

Labour are trying to force the Tories' hands; they want the Conservatives to detail their public spending plans, and then Labour will criticise those and come up with their own, less draconian ones. Yet that is not the way it should work; Labour is in Government, and they have access to much more data than the Tories, and they should be coming up with the plans.

The Government should govern, and the opposition should criticise, amend or support any proposed legislation. What we are getting is a stupid waiting game; the Tories waiting for Labour to release figures; and Labour, who are in much more of a position to release figures, are waiting for the Tories.

This will simply not do, and the ball is firmly in the Government's court.

The worst thing is that Brown is trying to define the Government in relation to what he says the Tories will do, not what Labour wants the Government to be doing. This is exceptionally important and is a sign that the Government has few genuine ideas. Just listen to Prime Minister's Questions: The only questions that Brown answers are the planted ones from Labour MPs. To everything else (and indeed some of the questions from his own party) he goes on a rant about what he says the Tories would be doing.

This is not good enough. He should worry less about what he thinks the Tories will do, and more on what his Government would do. Yet, as seen in the recent U-turns (and the part U-turn on ID cards this week), his Government appear to have very few policies.

It is still possible for Labour to win (if they do, I sincerely hope that it is not under Brown's leadership). If so, they will be faced with a choice: cuts to services, or tax increases. And I reckon Labour's post-election message will be as follows:
"We're cutting some areas (defence, transport, etc), but we will continue to grow core services such as education and health. Therefore we will put up taxes to pay for this growth and to help deal with the debt burden. There are too many inequalities in the country, and we will sort that out. The have's have to help the have-not's."
The next election may well be a choice between cuts to services and an increased tax burden. Yet there is no way that either side can say the latter of these, as increasing taxes is seen as being an election-losing issue. One of the policies that I used to agree with the Liberal Democrats on (with caveats) - the 1p income tax rise - has now been abandoned. It was a policy that, if they had firm spending constraints in place for the extra income, put clear blue water between them and the other two parties. Yet Nick Clegg abandoned it, right before the recession when that money might most have been needed.

Times are tough, yet the Government is not giving us the lead that we need. That lead is the truth on their own policies.