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End clustering of betting shops on our high streets

First published on The Independent Blogs, Tuesday 28 February

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street

Are clusters of betting shops, fast-food outlets and coffee shops taking over the high street?

The high streets of the UK have been hit extremely hard from all sides lately. If competing with out of town shopping centres and the boom in internet shopping wasn’t enough, the 5,200 shops that closed last year because of the recession is another example of the old saying that bad news comes in threes.

It has become all too common in the UK to find clusters of similar shops in certain areas. All too often there is a string of bookmakers, kebab houses, tanning salons, with little diversity in between. Very few would argue that streets filled with similar shops make the area appealing to potential buyers.

A ComRes survey found that over half of participants in England and Wales felt that clusters of sex and betting shops had a negative impact on high streets. A further 36 per cent said the same of tanning salons and fast food outlets.

Last week Southwark Borough Councillor Rowenna Davis sent an open letter to Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, highlighting that there are 77 bookmakers in her constituency.

“What’s happening is they are clustering in particularly poor areas,” she explains, “so we are pushing for the government to respond to Mary Portas’s high street review by giving more powers back to councils.”

Davis is not the only person to speak up for our town centres. MP David Lammy has expressed concerned that in his constituency of Tottenham there are 39 bookies and not a single bookshop. And even Boris Johnson has written to Mr Pickles to demand more powers for councils to counter clustering.

Chairman of the LGA, Sir Merrick Cockell explains, “Currently councils are powerless to prevent betting shops setting up.”

Clusters spring-up because of planning laws allow stores with the same ‘use’ license  to replace each. This means that when an independent café, shop or bank closes down, there is nothing the council can do about a new one opening, no matter how many shops of that kind there are already.

The principle is the same for betting shops. Currently they fall into the same category as banks, which are financial services. It means banks can be changed into betting shops without local authorities having any say in it.

The LGA is campaigning for a new ‘use’ class, or ‘super’ planning class as Sir Merrick describes it, for premises of potential future concern to local authorities. Each council would be able to add to this new class premises which their residents believe have a negative impact to their high streets.

This call seems to be widely echoed by the public, 63 per cent said they would be in favour of the government giving more power to councils to tackle clustering. But nearly three quarters of respondents were in favour of giving more powers to councils to help shape the high street based on communities’ wishes.

The public also has some strong opinions about what they would like on their high streets too. Nearly 80 per cent felt local producers would be important to the future success of their high street, followed by over 70 per cent feeling retail stores and local amenities would too.

Last year Mary Portas recommended the government to address the restrictive ‘use class’ system to make changing property uses easier, and suggested that betting shops have a ‘use class’ of their own. The rationale behind this was that many vacant lots were not being filled because changing the use required planning permission. By separating betting from the financial service class this would mean that every betting shop would have to apply for planning permission if they were changing the use of premises.

With the Department for Communities and Local Government building up to launch its response to Portas’s recommendations, a spokesman said: “We are currently reviewing ‘change of use’ and are considering views expressed on this, including betting shops.”

Cait Reilly’s heart’s in the right place, but maybe her head isn’t?

January 13, 2012 1 comment
Cait Reilly rails against workfare by taking coalition to court

Anti-worfare protests have appeared all over the UK, but is this part of a something-for-nothing culture?

My dad always had a saying: “If you’re young and a socialist your heart’s in the right place, but if you’re old and still a socialist, you’re head’s in the wrong place.”

When I was young I used to thin this was a simple platitude. I would bring it out at the pub every now and again as an adage, or prove a point, usually getting an appreciative chortle from the crowd.

In it’s most basic context it says that the young, free of any great burdens, are free to pursue ideological concepts. They can moan about the status quo, and rile against the establishment because they have no vested interest in it yet.

Once you hit a certain age you notice that we all need money to live and do the things that we enjoy. The older you get the more money becomes the necessity needed to allow those dependent on you to live and do the things they enjoy. Hence, poor Karl Marx spent most of his life in poverty.

I was a naive teenager once. I don’t say this condescendingly, or patronisingly, I say it with a certain degree of melancholia. While studying philosophy I envisaged a country where communism might work. I agreed with Marx’s idea that capitalism, embodied by private property, separates labour, capital and land, degrading the worker to a commodity to be bought and sold.

But poor Cait Reilly takes the biscuit. Her heart is in the right place as she rails ‘forced labour’, these poor graduates and unemployed people who have to do a few hours a week at Poundland. Marx would be pleased at her stand. But to anyone who has worked at places like Poundland, her stance is naïve, insulting and arrogant.

I may sound very Daily Mail here, but I didn’t languish on benefits waiting for an employer to hire me. I got myself a job that was flexible enough that allowed me to earn enough to take a week off here and there to do what I needed to do.

Benefits are for people who cannot find work. They are not a grant for students who think that after their degree they can sit around being paid by the state to volunteer. If you want a specific job, then yeah, you may have to do voluntary work, but a mature adult works to fund their placements.

At present I study two days a week on my NCTJ. I then work four days a week from either 11 or 12:30 until 9pm in a call centre, so that I can afford my rent, pay my bills and buy food.

But I go through this six days a week rigamarole so that every month I can do a week at a local newspaper. This is the pièce de résistance of my time, where I do the work that I want to do, where I use my philosophy degree, and get a stab at proving myself to editors and staff there that I may be a good employee one day.

So I have very little sympathy with someone who sits at home on the dole (sorry jobseeker’s), paying no rent or bills, and enjoying an perpetual work placement in a museum.

I have stacked shelves, waited tables, folded clothes, swept floors, emptied bins and cold-called hundreds, if not thousands of people. I have also chased shoplifters, been verbally abused (both in person and over the phone) and treated like a slave by employers. And you know what, the only ‘value’ this was to me was that I got paid and I’d eat!

It is insulting that there is such expectation out there, that I don’t need to take any job, because the state will provide for me. It is insulting to everyone who has ever had to take any job because they have mouths to feed. It is insulting to those who have had to do voluntary work in their spare time, giving up much of their social life because of the time they’ve missed work. And it isn’t just insulting to all the people who didn’t either go to university, or get the opportunity to do so, it is arrogant to be so presumptive about your qualities. Get the job, then be smug.

And although I have very strong opinions against Workfare, I do not think it breaches a human right to say you have been on benefits for six months, how about doing a bit of work to earn that?

Yes, there should be a less draconian way of getting able-bodied graduates and the long-term unemployed work experience. Yes, it is almost slave labour, and Marx would turn in his grave at the thought of it. But, guess what, in the real world you have to do things you don’t want to. I work with a considerable number of people who have lost good, well-paid jobs due to the recession. Do they sit about on benefits? Like hell, they have responsibilities. I have colleagues on my course who are having to do their work experience during their holidays because they have jobs and responsibilities.

And to cap it all off she seems to want to claim more money off the government by taking them to court? After living on benefits for over six months, she now wants to take more tax-payers funding as compensation? Is she using her jobseeker’s to pay for her lawyer? Or is it a ‘no win, no fee’ claim?

People Power only begins with peaceful protests

Occupy the London Stock Exchange is the most recent of many peaceful protests
Lord Kitchener asked the British public to unite, so now do OLSX

 I raise money for a homeless charity at the minute. It’s not glamorous, but I’d say that I am proud of the fact that for now, the fruits of my labour don’t line some fat cats wallet. So, instead of camping outside St Paul’s, I can go to work, knowing in my heart of hearts that I am helping some of the 99 per cent.

Unfortunately, the other reason I’m not down on the picket lines is that it is unlikely to ever influence the government to change anything. It seems like even the most famous peaceful protesters, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jnr, were assassinated before any kind of long-lasting change was implemented.

An assassination can be a rallying cry to the half-hearted, the meek, and the ignorant. When a death is witnessed and felt by enough people, the shared grief and the anger boil over. It can be a call to arms or simply the straw that broke the poor camel’s back.

It can also be a call for unity like the day Diana died, or 9/11. The world in their shared grief and fear forget their woes and sat glued to the TV watching the news as it came in. The old and young, the rich and poor, the one per cent and the 99 per cent, people of all races, were brought together into a united whole, together in their grief. When a whole people, a whole country, or even the whole world comes together under emotions so strong it boggles the mind the sheer power that collective could have.

It was Marianne Williamson in Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles, who said it best:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?”

And who are we not to be so? We have groups of the Occupy the London Stock Exchange in cities throughout our country. The National Association of Head Teachers has for the first time in over 100 years voted to strike, the other unions are rallying as well. The students have twice been out in force and even the uneducated have tried to make their voices heard in this Summer’s riots.

But, it is not enough. Because there are still so many out there who feel inadequate, who are too scared to be powerful beyond imagination.

It is easy to get scared, the world can be terrifying. But in the end it is unsatisfying and hollow, and results in a gradual degradation of the soul. The democratic capitalism we live under, is run by politicians, the markets, civil servants, and diffused through to us by the media, advertising and marketing. It is the people at the top of these trades that want us to feel awful, ugly, untalented and squalid, because they want us to feel brilliant, beautiful, talented and fabulous on their terms, using their products and in a way that perpetuates all the power in their hands. It is about control, and it is so easy to buy into it that we can all be forgiven for doing so.

Their path to beauty, talent, splendour and brilliance is easy to follow. You jump on a career ladder and get a salary. You start to forget how you could be brilliant et al without these things. Suddenly you have a mortgage and a family, a financial and social debt that will never be lifted. By this time you are quite old, and set in your ways, and to imagine the world any differently is scary indeed.

This is why it is only the young, the students, and the unions, as well as a limited number of idealists are the only ones who still believe that a world without the one versus the 99 per cent is less scary than this one. A small group that feel that they have so little to lose that anything will be better than what we have already.

But this leaves a majority who cling on to what they have, proud that they have touched brilliance and talent et al through following the crowd. They have buried their heads in the sand because a change in the fundamental order of things is too scary to behold. ‘Imagine all the things we could lose,’ they think, and to protect what they hold dear, they condemn those who fight for change.

This has turned illiterate children into vandals and thugs, students into anarchists, and unionists into communists. It helps protect the illusory world, because even though it isn’t perfect, it is safe and secure. We have worked so hard to reach the levels of achievement that our leaders and idols have told us to emulate that to try and find those things within ourselves is too hard 

But, with the financial crisis this could change. Maybe it will be the spark that wakes up a nation. When people see their children being kettled by police, or their savings disappear, or their pensions taken, maybe they will realise, like the young and the idealistic, that things aren’t, and never have been, as good as our politicians and co. have painted them.

If we are going to find our light, and our brilliance, we must shrug off the conceptions of these ideas that are forced on us, and accept the ideas of these things we have of our own. Only then will we be able to stand together, humble and proud, yet united. Our media fed ideas of beauty and talent have done nothing to nurture either of these things, but only to make us arrogant, divided and suspicious of each other. So we must shrug off the yoke of the one per cent, and the cronies and sycophants who are their priests, and create something better or at least fairer.

This would, unfortunately, require a lot more than a student protest or a union strike. It would require the biggest mass walkout ever seen, across not just the public, but the private sector too.

It isn’t just for us, for we are too far gone to touch it, only to create it. It is for the future, and the children who will remember us not as the people who accepted greed, hoping we could one day be greedy, but renounced it, so that they could enjoy equality.

Rhetoric: proper debating or unhealthy arguing?

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Ever fallen victim to Godwin’s Law, also known as the Rule of Nazi Analogies? I have, and it wasn’t very pleasant. Firstly, I was embarrassed, because I’d used the Nazi’s, or Hitler (I don’t remember which) as a comparison, which is extremely lazy. Secondly, it made me bit miffed to have my point shut down by a debating rule. Childish I know, but we all secretly want to throw a temper tantrum at times don’t we?

Anyways, tantrums and feet stamping aside, on reflection, I was a bit disturbed by this run in with Godwin, however trivial.

I realised that GL is just one of many ways to shut down an argument without actually refuting someone’s point. If you go to the Fallacy Files you can research exactly how many logic tricks there are to beat someone in a debate.

We all know that an argument has premises that lead to a conclusion. In its most basic form, modus ponens, it is:

If a then b (if the leaves are golden (a) it’s autumn (b))

It’s a, (the leaves are golden)

Therefore it’s b too (it must be autumn).

(You could argue with this example but I made it up looking out the window and I am not going to find another one, and the fallacious nature of my example shouldn’t retract from my point).

But in an argument you also have two other aspects, which regularly get ignored: The conclusion and the truth.

This is why another example of modus ponens is logically true, but it has no point and can’t be true:

If the sky is pink, I’m a pink elephant. The sky is pink, so therefore I’m a pink elephant.

The argument is valid, but what point does it prove? We can use any number of premises to argue our point, so just because our premises are incorrect, shouldn’t invalidate my point, it just invalidates the way I made the point. And, however logically valid it is, it cannot be said to be true. It seems so basic, but it is often forgotten.

Politicians, businessmen, people at the pub, hoboes in fact, can make a valid argument, but it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

I might have approached this indirectly, but here’s what I mean. Two anti-abortionist could disagree on why they are against terminating a pregnancy, even if they agree with the point in question, abortion should be illegal. To put across this point they can take any of innumerable premises and conclusions. One might think abortions should be illegal because they cost the NHS too much money. The other might feel that the foetus is a human being as soon as the sperm and egg meet. But our first antagonist could think that the foetus is not a person until the baby is born.

The fact is, you could tear apart either of these fictitious debater’s arguments, yet their point could remain valid. Abortion could be totally immoral for all I know. Just pointing out that their argument is a fallacy doesn’t escape the point of the matter, or the truth.

This is why winning a debate is the wrong approach to arguing. When you win a debate, you miss the point, which should be to find the truth. If you disprove someone’s argument, you haven’t disproved the truth – because by definition the truth is the truth and cannot be false (there’s some logic for you). What debate should lead to is a balanced answer, based on the truth, not a winner and a loser.

And the reason, oh very patient reader, that I was disturbed by my encounter with Mr Godwin’s Law, was because shutting down a debate, or winning a debate I should say, applies to all our political lives.

Politicians are the most talented rhetoricians I’ve ever heard. They are very skilled at tearing apart each other’s arguments and winning debates. But, because they have policies and agendas, they are not winning arguments for the sake of finding the truth.

The truth is that the UK is in a very sad place just now and a lot of people are feeling the heat (or the cold if energy prices are anything to go by). Our government should be interested in lessening our burdens and protecting our economy, yet they squabble like school children. By having a process of debate and law enactment based on winning and losing, I wonder if any of their policies actually are ‘truly’ best for our country.

I don’t like using ‘what is best’, but it’s, ironically, the best term I’ve got. There is a range of measures which would be best for our country, but because politicians think so much about re-election, they want to do what pleases their voters or campaign funders.

This was put excellently by Christina Patterson in the I Paper. “Most people in this country support capital punishment. Most people like the idea that teenagers caught up in mass hysteria should have their lives wrecked. Most people even seem to think that people who earn six times as much as they do shouldn’t pay a higher rate of tax. They believe these things because their parents, and the newspapers, and even sometimes because their politicians tell them they should.”

I was the same. I went into my first philosophy tutorial full of opinions that I quickly realised were echoes my mother’s. It happens, but as Christine notes, “we can change our minds”.

We need politicians who are willing to give up everything for the truth, and the truth is constituents don’t know what is good for them, they just know what they want. And politicians sway the masses with promises of what they want (like the Lib Dem promise to freeze tuition fees, nice as an idea, impossible in practice), and behave like experts when they’re not.

As one very wise commentator stated, rhetoric “is the art of persuasion in courts of law and other assemblies” and that it “creates belief about the just and unjust, but gives no instruction about them.”

He adds, “The rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who do know.”

My commentator is Plato, writing over 2,000 years ago in the Gorgias. But he’s still right. Our business leaders, media moguls, bankers and even people on the streets, are not experts outside their fields. We all know a little this and a little that, but when we stand united, we know a lot about a great many things. Rhetoric in government and business ignores the truth for the sake of comfort and the status quo, to please shareholders or voters.

Politics has lost the truth, the media and banks have lost the truth, and our country has lost the truth. That’s why, over the last few years we’ve endured expense scandals, banks crashing, phone hacking and riots. What we need is to take stock and realise that we can’t live in a country where we’re all trying to survive individually because competition and consumption is finite. We need to live somewhere where cooperation is offered, compromise is welcome and compassion isn’t a lefty ideal. I know which state of affairs would make me happier.

Rabbit Ears Review (originally published on Guide2Bristol.com)

The latest production by Theatre West showing at the Alma Theatre is a subtle and intriguing production, and not just for its suitably ambiguous title, Rabbit Ears.

Written by Bruce Fellows as part of the Theatre West season, many will not know what to expect from a local production performed by a cast of only three. After the first seemingly straightforward scene where Rosie’s boyfriend leaves her to go on active duty in Afghanistan the plot thickens and then twists in to quite the climax.

The venue is small and intimate, which benefits the small cast of Susie Riddell, Dan Winter and Ursula Entry. The audience is right up close and personal with the actors emotions, as is the intention, and throughout the performance you can tell that Fellows is trying to offer a glimpse of emotion that is usually too raw to be aired publicly.

The writing is subtle, and Fellows drops all sorts of hints that there may be a twist not to be expected. Rosie, performed with subtle dignity by Riddell, is not a character the audience is intended to empathise with. She talks to the clock on the wall, the only heirloom of her deceased father when alone, and hints at a dark and selfish side to her nature, whilst being openly generous and friendly with her companion in waiting Bren.

The two women are waiting at home on ‘passive service’ describes Fellows, while their respective partners are on duty. Thrust together, the show is stolen by Entry as Bren, whose nervous energy, open demeanour and subtle wit carry the audience through the long waits when all that can be heard is the clock ticking their frustration and heplessness in to near anxiety.

Winters is strong as the male figure, moving between his relationship with the two smoothly and not betraying much to the audience. His lengthy soliloquy about his time on duty is poignantly held together by the emotion he adds to the dialogue. Although we have all heard similar stories of wartime strife through cinema and theatre, being so close to the performance only added to tension, the beat of which was measured by Rosie’s clock.

The only music score is a famous Rosemary Clooney show tune, due to the fact that Rosie’s dad named her after the famous singer. The addition of Rosie singing it to Winter and forgetting the words simply adds to the realism of their situation, and ultimately wrenches on the heart strings.

Cleverly directed by Alison Comely, Artistic Director of Theatre West, it seems that in some cases she has added the light touch to the relationship between Rosie and Bren. The dialogue between the two over glossy magazines, and the sharing of a mug each of ‘rosie lee’ makes you feel like you could be sitting their with them. But Comely’s direction in the mundane only makes the dramatic scenes more compelling, with Rosie’s stubborn reticence to talk about pregnancy building the relationship of the two women to breaking point.

Not knowing what to expect from a small, independent production, I entered the Alma for the first time with an open mind, and can’t say I was disappointed. The first thing I did on leaving was pick up the listings for future showings at the Alma, knowing that a return visit will definitely be on the cards.

 

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August 1, 2010 1 comment

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