Stazjia’s Commentary

Archive for November 2008

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The local South West England BBC TV news reported yesterday about protestors on the rooftop of a building in Bristol. They allege that the housing association, Places for People, should be renting it out at an affordable rent instead of putting it up for sale.

Housing associations in the UK are principally in the business of providing social housing. This was once the job of local councils but was put in the hands of housing associations some years ago. In this country house ownership is the norm whereas in many other countries in Europe, renting a home is more usual. There isn’t the same kudos there to be a home owner… Now read on

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Child Cruelty – Local Council Apologises

I didn’t want to write anymore about the case of Baby P because I find it immensely distressing and I can’t get out of my mind what that poor child suffered and how alone and distressed he was. That’s before I even think about the pain.

Yesterday a member of the ruling group of the local council, councillor George Meehan, apologised at a meeting. He said, “There is no failure to apologise in full by this council, we do so unreservedly.” When asked if he apologised personally, he said, “I have no problem saying I personally apologise.”  Now read more

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Child cruelty and news reporting

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Stazjia’s Commentary.

Bank of England

Bank of England

Almost everybody in the UK knows that the Government has given the banks a huge bail-out package to help the British economy in general. Two days ago the Bank of England cut the interest rate by 1.5% – a move that astonished everybody, including the experts.

After the Bank’s announcement, the big question was, would the banks pass this cut on to their customers?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alastair Darling, had a meeting yesterday with the heads of the major high street banks and told them in no uncertain terms that they were expected to pass the cut on to borrowers.

Recent interest rate cuts have not been passed on to customers so not helping to the slide into recession. It is said the Chancellor pointed out to the bank chiefs that people of the UK are not happy having to pay out of taxes to help the banks but still see the banks keeping interest rates on loans and mortgages high. He is said to have told them that any future government help would not be forthcoming if the banks were not prepared to co-operate.

HSBC and Barclays Banks side by side in a street in Devizes, Wiltshire, as well as in defying the government.

HSBC and Barclays Banks side by side in a street in Devizes, Wiltshire, as well as in defying the government.

Mortgages
This pep talk helped to some extent. Only Barclays and HSBC have not agreed to pass on the full interest rate cut to customers on standard variable mortgages (those whose repayments go up and down in line with bank interest rates but its at the bank’s discretion and may not reflect the increase or decrease).

Gordon Brown said, “Yesterday, we saw decisive action on interest rates from the Bank of England and the European Central Bank, and I welcome the fact that a number of British banks have now decided to pass on the interest rate cut to customers, to families and to businesses.”

The people who are happy are those on variable rate mortgages that literally track the rise and fall of the rate set by the Bank of England. Here’s the sting in the tail – most banks will no longer sell tracker mortgages as of yesterday. They have also stopped opening many new premium savings accounts

Behaviour of the Banks
For many years, people in this country have learned to hate banks. Their bank charges have been a scandal and many people have started legal proceedings against banks to recover excessive charges. Almost all of these have been settled out of court by the banks because they did not want a legal ruling (ie case law) on the subject in case it opened the flood gates to more people recovering charges.

In this current economic crisis they are withdrawing overdraft facilities from small businesses, calling in loans after maybe just one missed payment and foreclosing on mortgages much more quickly than they ever did in the past.

House for sale

House for sale

This has led to the closure of small businesses, an increase in bankruptcies and repossessions of homes. The latter is particularly hard to understand.

The housing market is currently in a very bad state. Mortgages are hard to get, prices have fallen and very little property is being sold. Repossessed homes are just going to stand empty while families have to be helped by local councils.

Giving people more time, maybe repayment holidays and trying to avoid repossession would appear more sensible. If the banks were prepared to help people get back on their feet, there is a chance that many of them would be able to pay their mortgages in the future. If not, and repossession has been delayed, at least the housing market might recover somewhat so houses that have to be repossessed might sell more quickly and at a better price.

It seems that the banks are determined to put their own interests above those of the country in general. They don’t seem to understand that a long term recession will hit them too.

Some years ago, a farmer was very upset with his bank so he took his muck spreader to the local branch of his bank in Chippenham, Wiltshire, and sprayed the front of the bank with muck. It was reported on the TV news and most people said “Good for him, serve them right.” Perhaps that’s what the banks deserve now.

Barack Obama - President Elect of the United State of America

Barack Obama - President Elect of the United States of America

To the joy of many people around the world, Barack Obama has been elected President of the USA. For those of us outside America, he seems like a beacon of hope in a frightening world. We await his inauguration and Presidency and pray he can live up to the hopes he carries.

We vote for our government quite differently here in the UK to the way it’s done in the USA.

For a start, we don’t vote for the Prime Minister. We vote for a member of Parliament (MP) from the people who are standing in the constituency where we live. We have a ‘first past the post’ system here meaning that each constituency counts the votes for all the candidates running for Parliament and the party that wins the largest number of seats (gets the largest number of MPs) forms the government. The leader of that party, like Tony Blair, is invited by the Queen to form a government and so becomes Prime Minister.

Election campaigns  are relatively short compared to the USA. Usually no longer than 6 weeks but they can be much shorter.

The other big difference is that, if the former party of government loses the election, the winning party immediately forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. Usually, the ex-Prime Minister moves out of 10 Downing Street the day after the election and the new Prime Minister moves in. It’s quite brutal, really.

The way we actually cast our votes is different too – more primitive, I suppose. There are postal votes but these are a minority. Most people go along to a polling station in their constituence. This is usually a room in a school or town hall, or a village hall, even pubs are used in some places where there isn’t another suitable venue.


polling booths
Originally uploaded by knautia

When I vote, which I do in all elections, I go to the polling station, give my name and address to the polling officer who finds it on the electoral list for that constituency. I’m given a polling slip which has a list of all the candidates on it and the officer marks the register to show I’ve come in to vote. I take the slip to a flimsy little booth, knocked up from plywood but shielded on 3 sides so no one can see me vote with a horizontal, flat surface. There’s a pencil in the booth tied to the flat surface and I use that to put a cross in the box next to my choice. I fold it in half, take it out and put it in a big locked metal box. That’s it – my democratic right exercised!

Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. During that time, no politicians or political party members may canvass for votes or try to influence voters. There are no discussions in the media of the issues or the chances of any of the parties. All the UK media is an election free zone – a blessed relief, usually. There will be party workers sitting outside the polling station but they are not allowed to talk to voters on the way in. On the way out they can ask who you voted for so they can compile an exit poll to see how it’s going for their parties.

No votes are ever counted before the polls closed. At 10pm, when the polling stations close, the boxes are taken, by high security transport, to a central place in the constituency. There bank tellers sit and physically sort and count the voting slips. The candidates are usually there trying to guess how they’ve done by the height of the piles of slips for each of them. There’s a race for which constituency counts the votes first. Of course it’s the smallest constituencies that win. When the poll is counted in a constituency, the returning officer gets all the candidates together behind him, on a platform, and announces the result. The winner makes a speech of thanks and the loser is magnanimous in defeat – that’s the British way.


Cambridge: Local elections
Originally uploaded by Michiel2005

The first results usually come in about an hour or so after polls close. After that, they continue to come in throughout the night. Some constituencies are bellwethers. I can always remember the May 1997 election when Tony Blair became Prime Minister and the Tories were defeated.  The first result came  through from one of these before midnight and it went to Labour. I was in bed watching TV and I bounced, punched the air and screamed “Yeeesssss!” I felt pretty silly a moment later. After that, it was like a massacre as prominent Conservative politicians lost their seats one after another. One was Michael Portillo who had been an important Cabinet Minister. For weeks afterwards people said, with a merry grin, “Did you see Portillo’s face?”

The next day, Tony Blair, with his wife, Cherie, were shown on TV going through the crowds in Downing Street to take up office. He did a speech in front of number 10 and I know that I wasn’t the only one watching who was in tears. We were so fed up with the Conservative government and the country were very happy to see the back of it. Who says the British have a stiff upper lip and don’t show emotion?

Of course, we didn’t know then he would take us to war in Iraq.

We vote for our government quite differently here in the UK to the way it’s done in the USA.

For a start, we don’t vote for the Prime Minister. We vote for a member of Parliament (MP) from the people who are standing in the constituency where we live. We have a ‘first past the post’ system here meaning that each constituency counts the votes for all the candidates running for Parliament and the party that wins the largest number of seats (gets the largest number of MPs) forms the government. The leader of that party, like Tony Blair, is invited by the Queen to form a government and so becomes Prime Minister.

Election campaigns are relatively short compared to the USA. Usually no longer than 6 weeks but they can be much shorter.

The other big difference is that, if the former party of government loses the election, the winning party immediately forms the government and its leader becomes Prime Minister. Usually, the ex-Prime Minister moves out of 10 Downing Street the day after the election and the new Prime Minister moves in. It’s quite brutal, really.

The way we actually cast our votes is different too – more primitive, I suppose. There are postal votes but these are a minority. Most people go along to a polling station in their constituence. This is usually a room in a school or town hall, or a village hall, even pubs are used in some places where there isn’t another suitable venue.

When I vote, which I do in all elections, I go to the polling station, give my name and address to the polling officer who finds it on the electoral list for that constituency. I’m given a polling slip which has a list of all the candidates on it and the officer marks the register to show I’ve come in to vote. I take the slip to a flimsy little booth, knocked up from plywood but shielded on 3 sides so no one can see me vote with a horizontal, flat surface. There’s a pencil in the booth tied to the flat surface and I use that to put a cross in the box next to my choice. I fold it in half, take it out and put it in a big locked metal box. That’s it – my democratic right exercised!

Polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm. During that time, no politicians or political party members may canvass for votes or try to influence voters. There are no discussions in the media of the issues or the chances of any of the parties. All the UK media is an election free zone – a blessed relief, usually. There will be party workers sitting outside the polling station but they are not allowed to talk to voters on the way in. On the way out they can ask who you voted for so they can compile an exit poll to see how it’s going for their parties.

No votes are ever counted before the polls closed. At 10pm, when the polling stations close, the boxes are taken, by high security transport, to a central place in the constituency. There bank tellers sit and physically sort and count the voting slips. The candidates are usually there trying to guess how they’ve done by the height of the piles of slips for each of them. There’s a race for which constituency counts the votes first. Of course it’s the smallest constituencies that win. When the poll is counted in a constituency, the returning officer gets all the candidates together behind him, on a platform, and announces the result. The winner makes a speech of thanks and the loser is magnanimous in defeat – that’s the British way.


The first results usually come in about an hour or so after polls close. After that, they continue to come in throughout the night. Some constituencies are bellwethers. I can always remember the May 1997 election when Tony Blair became Prime Minister and the Tories were defeated. The first result came through from one of these before midnight and it went to Labour. I was in bed watching TV and I bounced, punched the air and screamed “Yeeesssss!” I felt pretty silly a moment later. After that, it was like a massacre as prominent Conservative politicians lost their seats one after another. One was Michael Portillo who had been an important Cabinet Minister. For weeks afterwards people said, with a merry grin, “Did you see Portillo’s face?”

The next day, Tony Blair, with his wife, Cherie, were shown on TV going through the crowds in Downing Street to take up office. He did a speech in front of number 10 and I know that I wasn’t the only one watching who was in tears. We were so fed up with the Conservative government and the country were very happy to see the back of it. Who says the British have a stiff upper lip and don’t show emotion?

Of course, we didn’t know then he would take us to war in Iraq.