River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Soapbox

September 2010

Ron mounts his Soapbox to discuss sevral pertinent itmes.

Speed Cameras

Our new government stated its intention to do away with speed cameras before the election. It is now back tracking a little by saying that it will not fund speed cameras because they have to make spending cuts, and that it is up to each local government to decide if it can afford to fund them. In that way they can say, if there is an increase in accident rate, "not our fault guv". The election promise was simply a populist move because they knew that speed cameras were not popular in some quarters. Nevertheless there is considerable evidence that these cameras have helped to reduce accidents and save lives, those concerned with road safety are appalled at the decision to remove them. The strange aspect as far as I am concerned is that for years we have had people complaining that speed cameras were just another way of raising money for the exchequer, certainly they did generate a considerable income so it is very odd that the need for spending cuts is given as a reason for removing them. Like a number of actions taken by this government it seems as though 'spending cuts' is an excuse that enables them to introduce policies that they wanted to introduce all along.

Retirement Age

It was always possible for an employer to offer the opportunity for an employee to carry on working beyond the normal retirement age. It was also possible for an employer to retire an employee when they reached retirement age regardless of whether or not the employee wanted to retire and, equally, an employee felt he could justifiably retire if he so chose with no ill feelings. This situation seemed ideal, no employer was likely to get rid of a good employee whom he felt was doing a good job just because that employee had reached a particular age.

The proposal to abandon the concept of a retirement age is, to my mind, a retrograde step. Whatever people might think there is no doubt that physical ability deteriorates with age and similar argument can be put in relation to mental capability, speed of thinking and memory recall. The age at which this becomes noticeable will vary but, in my experience the first signs arise in one's fifties and by the time the mid sixties are reached there is a significant reduction in ability. Most scientists achieve their greatest work before the age of forty. The individual may not accept that their capability has deteriorated and may claim their experience to be invaluable but often it is only their recent experience that is of value, their experience of years ago is no longer of relevance, younger people will have had the same recent experience.

The advantage that the employer had until now was that he could retire an elderly employee without fuss and allow the employee to retain his dignity. The latest proposal is likely to lead to people carrying on in jobs for which they are no longer suited, or sackings with accusations of unfair dismissal and cases going to tribunals with a lot of acrimony because incompetence is more difficult to establish.

At one time we had a situation where there was no retirement age for , they were left to choose the age at which they retired, many went on beyond the age at which they were competent judges. Eventually this was realized and a maximum age of seventy was fixed. I suspect that the truth is that that age has proved to be too high and many would like to see it lowered further. I regard this as evidence of the need to retain the concept of a retirement age generally. I deplore the decision to do away with it.

Of course there is nothing to suggest that a retired person should not seek further employment in a role within their capabilities.

Should I Worry?

In 2009 there were 6000 babies born in Bradford, 3000 were Asian. If the trend continues it is clear that there will come a time in the not so distant future when the majority of the citizens in Bradford will be Asian.

It would be nice to think that these people will become integrated so that we can regard them all as part of one nation but, unfortunately our governments have encouraged immigrants to retain their own distinctive culture and have proudly boasted of our multiculturalism. The result has been enclaves of peoples of different nations and ethnicity, be they Jews, Indians or Arabs et al, these enclaves are growing in number and in size. Localities can become such that an indigenous Englishman can feel uncomfortable if he ventures in them, and in some instances, as a journalist recently reported, there is a deliberate attempt to make them feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, it seems as though the ethnic groups behave as though they do not believe that British rules should apply to them, this may be particularly evident with regard to the minor rules, especially when it comes to traffic rules and obeying road signs and parking restrictions. Of course many of these people of foreign origin have children born in the UK and very many do endeavour to integrate and become truly British. Many try to bring their children up in their own culture, however, this does not worry our politicians, on the contrary they, along with the Liberal-PC brigade, have willingly encouraged it.

Unfortunately these alien cultures often include practises and behaviour unacceptable to British beliefs and ideals, even, in extreme cases, fostering anti-British sentiments resulting in terrorists in our midst. With some ethnic groups it is their behaviour towards women that is often most unacceptable. Daughters may be expected to marry a man chosen by her parents, a clear breach of her rights as an individual. If she rebels and fails to comply that can be seen as a stain on the family's honour, in some instances a stain that can only be removed by killing the offending daughter. Popular with some cultures also is the practice of so called female circumcision. Of course murdering your wayward daughter is against the law and, nowadays, so is female circumcision. But British law appears to be no obstacle when it comes to a matter of family honour, if it is seen as too risky to carry out these illegal acts in the UK then they will take the daughter overseas where there is greater acceptance of these customs or where it is easier to conceal a murder.

To ensure the continuance of their culture the government has encouraged the establishment of state funded 'faith' schools and our new government is endeavouring to make this even easier. These schools help to maintain the isolation of ethnic groups and the continuance of the associated unacceptable behaviour. With so many Christian faith schools it can be argued that it is unreasonable to deny other religions their schools and it would seem to me that the only long term solution is to require all state funded schools to be secular schools where all religions are dealt with equally in a purely academic manner.

The vexed question of the Burka or Niqab is another matter that causes friction between some indigenous people and certain groups. It is an alien garment to the British and many find it unacceptable. Of course the Liberal-PC brigade will insist that people have the right to wear what they choose, but western dress for women is unacceptable in countries such as Saudi Arabia, why should Burkas not be deemed unacceptable in the UK? There was enough of an outcry when youngsters were wearing hoods, hoods that did not conceal their faces, what would happen if there was a craze for boys and young men to wear masks? In our culture masks are associated with criminal behaviour. I believe that there are a number of objections to permitting women to cover their faces:

a) It results in a degree of anonymity such that it is impossible for other people to recognise whom they are communicating with, on a further occasion another woman could pose as the first, or a man could pose as a woman without detection. In the current situation it offers an easy disguise for terrorists.

b) It is not possible to determine if the woman is wearing a mask from choice or if she has been coerced or frightened into wearing it.

c) It has the effect of restricting the woman's opportunity for social contact and preventing her from forming a relationship of her choosing.

d) Completely covering the skin results in vitamin D deficiency which can have serious consequences, especially for pregnant women and their babies.

This type of attire is not an essential requirement of the Muslim faith. Belgium and now France have banned it, even Syria, a Muslim country, has now banned it on their university campuses. It should be banned here but one MP stated that it would not be because, he said, it would not be British. Poppycock! If he wishes to oppose a ban he needs to find a better argument than that.

It is the persistence of the cultural differences, of which dress is the most conspicuous aspect, that fuels much of the racist behaviour and some of the objections to immigration.

Immigration is at the root of many of the problems, in the opinion of many our governments have been far too willing to accept a high rate of immigration with the associated additional burden on housing, health services and education. However, immigration has been strongly supported by the Liberal- PC brigade and by the CBI. Recently Digby-Jones, a former Chairman of the CBI stated that employers want immigrants with the skills that employers need so that they could have a pool of skilled workers, of course they do, they would love to have a surplus of skilled workers that would help them to keep wages down and they are not concerned with the social problems that may be generated. If we need particular skills why has the government not done more to ensure that we produce people with those skills? We have well over two million unemployed and we have many university graduates struggling to find work, why have past governments not provided financial inducements to encourage students to study in the fields where the skills are needed? Why isn't the present government doing this?

It is to the credit of this government that they are putting a cap on non-EU immigration, although the nature of that cap remains unclear, but hopefully it will provide more control than we had from the previous Labour government. It is no credit to them, however, that they have persisted in pursuing a policy of multi-culturalism and are endeavouring to make it even easier to establish state funded faith schools where children may be taught whatever racist, sexist, homophobic and violent behaviour they choose, and, despite all the evidence, the ridiculous notion that the world is only 4000 years old and was created in seven days. Indoctrinating children in this way is not compatible with a civilised society.

No doubt there will be those who read this who will regard it as the ranting of some racist, but that is always the reaction to any criticism of immigration and alien cultures. I would deny most strongly that I am racist, however. I have been pleased to know some immigrants as my friends, Asians and Chinese, some of whom I could honestly describe as lovely people. I have known bright young men with brown skins, and names originating in the Indian sub-continent, who spoke good English but perhaps with a Brummie accent, and who fitted in comfortably and easily with their British peers. I have been angered by the difficulty they have had in getting interviews for jobs, even to the point of suggesting that they might change their name because I was confident that they would impress any potential employer. I don't care what colour a person's skin is so long as they see themselves as British and endeavour to become integrated in the country of their choice. It is those who isolate themselves from their British neighbours and pursue their cultures that will remain as aliens and will ferment resentment.

The Young and the Baby Boomers

There is no doubt that young people looking for work are having a difficult time, many that have been or are going to university are in debt. It is hard for some and I hear it said that they are blaming the old folk, especially the baby boomers, those born in the late forties and fifties, accusing them of having stolen their future. Part of the problem, however, is that their expectations are too high. Except perhaps for a short period in the eighties and nineties, times have always been hard for young people from poor or modest backgrounds. I was a child in the thirties when unemployment was very high and state provision a lot less, it was not so unusual to see barefoot children queuing for stale bread. In the forties, because of the war, times were very hard. Most children left school at fourteen. If you were lucky, as I was, you were one of the one in ten that won a scholarship to a grammar school and, if their parents could afford to keep them, stayed until they were sixteen to take their School Certificate. Far fewer stayed on in the sixth form. As in my case, parents could not afford to go on supporting a child up to the age of eighteen, they needed them to be out working. Those that went to university were very few, about 3% of the population, with few exceptions they were from fairly wealthy families.

After the war the nation was more financially broke than it is today. For those leaving school they had to compete with demobbed servicemen for jobs. There were more apprenticeships, however, although they varied in quality, I was fortunate and obtained a good apprenticeship but, despite having done well in my School Certificate, I still had to take a competitive exam in order to get in (Here again there were four times as many applicants as there were places available). I then started a five year apprenticeship.

Those that did not get an apprenticeship were forced to take relatively mundane jobs that were either boring or physically hard and then try to work their way up, possibly by going to evening classes, very many did that, working for RSA, City and Guilds or National Certificate qualifications, but it was very hard trying to study after a hard day's work and many fell by the wayside. Most of the jobs for women were very boring with little prospect of advancement, mostly repetitive factory work, telephonist, typist etc.

As an apprentice wages were very low, in my case it was not too bad, I started at £1-17s-6d (£1.88) a week (£7/week was about the average worker for an unskilled worker at the time), £1/week went to my mother for housekeeping, leaving me 17/6 for my clothes, lunches, fares entertainment etc, no way could I afford to go to the pub with friends. I could not afford to live away from home but my work was 12 miles away across SE London. To go by public transport I had to go by train into central London and out again, most days I could not afford the fare, I could not afford a motor cycle, not even a moped, and so I went by bike. I studied by day release and evening classes, coming out of evening classes at 9 o'clock on a cold rainy night and cycling the 12miles against a south-westerly was no fun. (Life was quite hard for me but I was fortunate once again, my part-time studies went well and later my employer sent me to university so I became one of the three percent [although I never enjoyed the long university holidays, I was expected to work]. I was fortunate yet again, however, in that I was subsequently awarded a scholarship to undertake post-graduate work. My story was in no way typical. It worked out well for me but it did require considerable dedication and sacrifice.)

Those that wanted to get married and settle down needed somewhere to live, but few people could find the necessary deposit to buy a house and very few had parents that were in a position to help, houses to rent were in very short supply, hundreds of thousands of houses had been destroyed during the war and none had been built so that there was a severe housing shortage. There were council houses but a newly married couple would face a waiting list so long it would take decades to get to the top.

Things did improve for everybody through the fifties and into the sixties, there was a concentrated building programme and with the new towns and council houses the housing situation slowly improved. (Unfortunately Mrs Thatcher's policy of selling council houses and preventing councils from building, combined with Labour's open door immigration policy, has resulted in a situation today similar to that of the fifties, except that in those days there was strict control of rents to prevent private landlords profiteering. Selling council houses was great for some but it has left a dreadful legacy.)

Althoug it was a more equal society in the period after the war, living standards at that time were well below what they are today, central heating was still rare, refrigerators were a luxury and the majority did not own a car. People worked hard, including the baby boomers, and prosperity increased steadily. School leaving age was put up to sixteen, more went into higher education. usually with some financial assistance from local or central government. In the last fifteen years or so the country has been living in cloud cuckoo land, spending more than we could afford and money is now tight. Now the numbers wanting to go into higher education are such that it is difficult for the nation to provide financial support, whether or not they should is open to debate, especially since so many choose to study subjects of doubtful benefit to anyone other than themselves.

Times are hard for the young but perhaps not so hard as they have been in the past. We can regularly see many youngsters getting drunk on Friday and Saturday evenings, spending as much as £100/night or more. They expect to have access to a car, they expect to have laptops and mobile phones and to be able to have holidays abroad. I am sure, however, that there are some who are experiencing considerable difficulty, but to blame the baby boomers and to accuse them of stealing their future is a gross distortion of the facts. It is the older generations that have generated the living standards that the youngsters are enjoying today, many more parents own their houses and this will benefit their children in a way that few of the older generations benefitted. It is up to the young people today to knuckle down and get on with life, facing up to the difficulties as their forebears have done in the past.

Ron Watts

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