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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 19 June 2017

Kensington Revolution


This week we have been dealing, in the UK, with the awful tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire.  I send my heartfelt sympathies to all who have been affected in Kensington and huge admiration to all who have helped in the rescue effort and the continuing aftermath.  

If you look online, there are hundreds of articles and reports and comment pieces about this appalling event.  Many have excellent insights and background information.  I won't mention anything particular but following last week's post about getting out of our informations 'bubbles', I would highly recommend reading press and comment from all sides of the political spectrum.

Interestingly, none have attempted to deny that lack of funding is a major cause of the situation on such estates.  (And even the most virulent Right wing papers appear to have slightly toned down their anti immigrant rhetoric, given the backgrounds of many of those who have died or been affected.)

Back in April I wrote a blog post called Doing The Numbers in which I looked at the huge money amounts which are bandied about when referring to football, films etc whilst we in the UK are constantly being told that money for hospitals, schools and housing is not available.

I argued that we are not a poor nation and that lack of funding for services is a political choice not a necessity.  Tragically, events like this tower block inferno bear this out in graphic detail.  Underfunded hospitals and emergency services are left trying to rescue some of society's poorest people from underfunded and clearly dangerous housing.

There is no excuse in a country like ours for money not to be spent where it is needed.  Our health  and social services, schools and emergency workers are looking after all of us in some way.  Only a tiny percentage of the population have a private GP for example.  No-one, to my knowledge, has a private ambulance, fire service or police force on private 24/7 standby.  And even if you could prove that you never touch public services in anyway (impossible but hey, give it a go if you have the money.  Good luck with rubbish collection, using the roads, etc.) who do you think looks after and educates all the people who you rely on to serve you, clean for you, blah  blah.

It took until 1918 for even most of our male ancestors to get the vote to say nothing of the women.  Austerity is a political choice which has been forced upon us.  It is not a necessity.  Hopefully the Grenfell Tower will begin a chain of events which will result in people finally understanding this.  We should not just accept what we are told.  The increase in the young vote was heartening earlier this month.  We need to keep that momentum. 

Kensington Popular Front*, anyone?

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*with apologies to Citizen Smith fans!

Monday, 12 June 2017

Democracy In Action

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I had looked at the UK exit polls in disbelief before I went to bed on Thursday night and was amazed by the result on Friday.  I won't witter on about it.  But I would like to say how bizarre our British electoral system is.  To see such a massive change in Labour's fortunes and still be so far away in terms of seats in Parliament is, well, absurd to put it politely.  Yet it is so much better than feared, I can't bring myself to moan too much about even that.  I had feared we would not have a change of government again until my eldest was old enough to vote!

Anyway, at the weekend I attended the Democracy Focus Day at York Festival of Ideas.  It had been planned well in advance of the General Election being called but of course could not have been more timely.  They already even had the [now re-elected] York Central MP Rachel Maskell on a guest panel.  Impressively, she still made it.

The first session was fascinating and involved threats to democracy.  It was terrifying.  The ways in which modern warfare now includes use of social media and so on to shut down protest or to stir it up.  The Russian takeover of Ukraine was used for many examples.  But Trump and his ilk also figured, as did the possible breakdown of the EU.  (Comment if you would like more details.)

The second session was centred more specifically on how social media influences democracy.  And much of it was very close to things which I have mused on in blog posts over the last twelve months. 

So I would like to share with you a 'Post-Truth Survival Kit' from the keynote speech by David Patrikarakos, a writer for The Daily Beast and Politico amongst others.  He referred, as I have, to our increasing tendency to be in a news bubble.  Surrounding ourselves with news and views from people who we are generally in agreement with.  And having this reinforced by social media like Facebook which start to push more of things which they have noticed you already Like.  This is David's advice:

1)  Go out of your way to friend of follow people that don't necessarily agree with your worldview.

2)  Go directly to the websites of trusted news sources - or better still, buy the newspaper itself.  Read all its reporting.  Don't cherry pick articles with a slant that appeals to your pre-existing beliefs.

3)  Read articles from publications whose political views you DON'T agree with.

4)  Read books.

5)  Mistrust the mob.

6)  Log off!!!

How do we get more people to follow this advice?  It is hard to engage with those we disagree with, even if it is just reading.   But actively engaging brings the fear of trolling and abuse.  We must be brave though.  Social media played larger part in last week's election than ever before.  And as another panel member said, it is just the beginning.  It is not going away.  It will just get more sophisticated.  We must make it work for us.  

(And by the way, when I advise you to 'Log off!!!', I mean after you have read my blog and checked my Instagram obviously...)




Monday, 5 June 2017

For The Many Not The Few

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This weekend we have once again, in the UK, seen the best and the worst of humankind.  Another appalling attack but amazing stories from those who helped with the aftermath.  Along with a wonderful concert organised by Ariana Grande to benefit those hit by the previous attack, just twelve days before.  It is hard to find the words to describe how this rollercoaster of events makes us feel, isn't it?  

We want to know what happened during the attacks but we are scared and upset by the media coverage.  We enjoy the concert but feel dreadful about the reasons it has been put on and guilty that so many will not have seen it because they've lost their lives.  We know that those who carry out the attacks must feel angry and desperate in order to do such things but we cannot condone their methods.  We want to be tolerant of all religions and sections of society.  But it is difficult not to be fearful of what might happen next.

And on top of that, we have to vote in an election this week.  An election which has been called on the back of another kind of huge division within our country.  With an electoral system which does not make most of us feel that our votes count.

I believe we must still very definitely vote for the benefit of the many and not just the few, though.  We must not vote for a party which will destroy our health, social care and education systems just because they might appear to talk tougher about security in the wake of the recent tragic incidents.

These hideous attacks are carried out by the very few and they affect relatively few (although that is not to in any way lessen the awful suffering, I know).  The emergency services are already stretched by such incidents.  What will it be like if the NHS has been allow to crumble and we are still dealing with such events?  And how will we begin to talk to the coming generation of disenfranchised and frustrated young men and women who will carry out future attacks if they cannot receive decent education, social support?  To say nothing of the funding needed for community policing - not just firearms.

Now, more than ever, we need a cohesive and supportive society.  One which benefits as many of us as possible.  It is ordinary people who are bearing the brunt of the attacks, it is state-funded services which are dealing with the aftermath.

I sometimes include an element of family history in my blog posts.  This is not one of them.  But it is, once again, about the world our descendants will face.  And we must take that responsibility seriously.