Thursday, 29 August 2013

Turning our backs on Syria? When the rhetoric gets in the way.

I generally think that Twitter is a good thing. It allows people to air their feelings, to be more connected, to be more open. It also allows people to turn armchair aristotle on us, and that can be a bit embarrassing.

Today's vote on the situation in Syria has shown parliament for what it should be - a living, breathing, thinking space. On very few occasions do you actually watch proceedings in the house and actually think that something is being considered and contemplated - very rarely do you think that a decision is being made there and then, without the help of back room deals or agreements.

What has happened since the vote has been far less interesting.

I've seen people online condemn the government for rubber stamping the use of chemical weapons on civilians. I've seen people saying that they'll go to sleep tonight ashamed to be British. I've seen people write that this is a massive victory for Labour and that Cameron should resign. I hope that in time, the tweeters look back on all of those things and feel a little bit embarrassed. Quite clearly, tonight's result isn't what a lot of people would have wanted, but this was not anybody condoning the use of chemical weapons. Similarly, it needn't, and better not, mean the UK turning it's back on the people of Syria.

The failure of tonight's motions does make military action on the evidence that we currently have incredibly unlikely, and I'm glad that it does. It isn't because of Iraq (though you'd be forgiven for thinking so) it's because we simply cannot and should not take forceful action against anybody on the strength of the evidence that we currently have. We need to remember, amongst the grandstanding and pontificating, that we still do not have a solid enough basis for full scale intervention. Was the Iraq war fought on less? Very probably. Were MPs more reticent to support it in the light of Iraq? Very possibly also.

However, let this be clear. A decision on intervention needs to be made on the merits of the evidence, and that alone. Not party political mudslinging. Not whether or not it will turn out to be like Iraq. Not whether it'll affect the 'special relationship'. A decision of that magnitude should be made of the facts of the situation and nothing more. My conclusion was that the facts simply were not there.

What I will support, wholeheartedly, is a move to ensure that those people who say that we're turning out backs on Syria are proved wrong. I hope, deep down, that the lasting legacy of this night, isn't of the UK turning a blind eye, it's of the UK playing by the rules and offering support in more than just firepower.

So - bugger the rhetoric. Bugger Ed Miliband getting applauded into his whips office. And bugger what this means for David Cameron's leadership.

Tonight, millions of people sleep in refugee camps whilst their homeland is torn asunder. Tonight, hundreds of people lay dead after chemical weapons were turned upon them. Tonight, we need to stand with the people of Syria who wanted not the first thing to do with the whole sorry affair.

In the face of tonight's vote, we must stand with the people of Syria in word and deed.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

A New Coalition? Calm down, dear.

I was reading last night a piece on the Indie website where members of our party were discussing how they felt a second coalition government would be difficult to get past our members. Is it just me, or have I missed out on a whole General Election campaign, and I've woken up a few days into May of 2015? Talking about another coalition is all well and good if it's a question of taking precautions and putting plans together, but, discussing the likelihood of a second one completely negates the process of election.

2010 was my first General Election campaign and I actually took a month off of school to be a part of it. It was probably a dangerous idea considering my A-Level exams were in the June, but it felt like something I needed to do. Some people who became very close friends and I travelled the constituency acting as some kind of roving campaign battle bus, delivering areas that we had gaps and canvassing like nobody's business. I remember the buzz after the TV debates, where it seemed that we were properly in contention. I remember the excitement of a Sunday I spent at Frome's artisan market where people were queueing to get posters saying 'I agree with Nick' and to have their picture taken with his life size cardboard cutout.

I remember the crushing feeling of waking up on that Wednesday morning to see that almost every newspaper was running a smear campaign on Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats and I remember driving to the count and feeling as though I was about to throw up. I remember winning.

Talking about the logistical issues of another coalition is fine, but I really don't think now is the time for discussing who would like it, or who wouldn't. I've been clear all along that I joined the LibDems because I want to see a majority LibDem Government. That said, if we need to work in coalition, we should do.

My point it this. Talking about who we would or wouldn't like to form a coalition with is pointless when no votes have been cast yet. Let's make sure we're ready and make sure our plans are in place, but how about we ensure that we have some seats in the House of Commons before discussing who they'll side with.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Depressive Patchwork (or, the road back)

I'm a bit loathed to write this one - largely because when talking about personal issues I tend to think it's a slippery slope and you only realise where you are when you're doing a Liz Jones. I also do it with trepidation because people read my blog for a whole host of different reasons - some because they live near me, some because we're in the same political party and some because they were looking for funny pictures of cats and got sidetracked an hour ago. Either way, if I do start doing a Liz and telling you far more than you want to know, just holler at your boy.

PROOF - Sam Phripp. Quite good company
on a night out. 
My psychology teacher once said that psychology was like six people touching an elephant and describing what they felt. The idea being that each of them feels something different and nobody understands the whole. In a sense, that's how I'm starting to feel about depression.

Like most other people, I didn't wake up one day and think 'Jesus, I'm depressed' - it was far more gradual.

To start with, I'm not a depressive person. Even now, if you saw me in the street, I'd be just as LOL as I've ever been. I can still be funny, and I think I'm still quite good company on a night out. I didn't even recognise the hallmarks of depression either, which is difficult. Nowadays I'm learning to. Way back when, I didn't even notice that I was laughing at things but not actually connecting with what funny felt like. I didn't notice how odd it was that I was talking to people in the street and planning what platitude I'd come up with next. I also didn't notice that I'd stopped carrying out pretty basic functions.

Nowadays, I notice if I haven't cleaned my teeth, or if I've been shlupping around the house a bit too much. I realise that I've been asked to do the dishes while my partner is at work, and I still haven't talked myself into doing it when he comes home eight hours later. It doesn't mean that those things have stopped happening, it just means that I see it happening, and I think that's probably part of the fight.

Perhaps the most poignant example of this was brought to my attention by my sister the other day. We were talking about how we used to drive places together and belt out Celine Dion classix, and she mentioned how it seemed as though since I'd stopped singing I'd become progressively more sad. Not only was this an absolutely spot on comment for her to make, it also made me realise that it was another aspect of myself that I'd lost. That isn't to say that her saying it was devastating, but it reminded me of a version of myself that I hadn't seen in a while. It all comes down to the same thing - I can tell that I'm getting better, because it feels like I'm learning to be who I am again. Not the person who only sings when he's doing an impression of Heather Small, but a person who sings because he's happy.

Hooking into the early hours...
One of the ways that I've been trying to mark my own progress is through a craft that I love - crochet. I've been a bit of a dabbler in yarn-related doings for some time, but my current project is my first big one. I decided, on the same day that I entered therapy that I'd do a kind of depressive crochet along, creating something as I went. I decided that I wanted some way of quietly marking what was happening - a visual and physical version of personal growth. I want something that I can keep hold of, and when my child turns to me and asks where I got the blanket from, I can tell them that I made it one summer while everyone else was busy getting on with their lives and I wasn't very well at all. (The pattern, and inspiration - for those interested - is available from the wonderful According to Matt)

'Yet still, I rise'
The other kind of place marker, is one that I decided upon a month or so ago and one which caused a bit of a stir on my Facebook page this week. It's nothing more than an excerpt from a very good poem, tattooed onto the forearm of somebody old enough and wise enough to know what he was doing, yet, you might be forgiven for thinking I'd gone over the Mona Lisa with a dry-wipe marker. If I'm honest, I'm not really the tattooey type. If you were to imagine somebody with an anchor tattooed on his bicep with the name 'Brenda' next to it, that person and I don't have much in common. However, I wanted to challenge myself, and also, I wanted a lasting reminder of how I felt at this point and the place I was in. I've been told that I shouldn't let voters see it, I've been told that it might give the impression that I'm a drug lord, but I like it and it makes me smile every single time I look at it - so there.

All of these things feel to me like signs that I'm getting better. No, I won't be getting a tattoo a week until I feel that I'm on tip top form. No, I don't think that I'm quite out of the woods yet, but, I think I'm definitely turning a corner. The blanket will continue to grow, and undoubtedly it will tell a story. Too often when discussing depression cliches are used - I don't feel like there's a light at the end of the tunnel, because I don't feel like I'm in a tunnel. I'm in Frome. What it does feel like, is that there are fewer clouds, and that the sun is making me stronger.

I've also realised that my sister was absolutely right, and I sang earlier on for the first time in ages. Properly sang - not singing in the voice of Cher - but singing like I meant it and, let me tell you, it was like a bird taking flight.

Anyway, that's enough mushy stuff for a while.

Find below :
1. A picture of my dog Bentley with a comedy hat on to cheer you up
2. The text of my favourite stanza from 'Still I Rise' by Dr Maya Angelou
3. 'Silenced by the night' by Keane, which feels like the most hopeful song ever.

Not actually his birthday, he was just seeking attention.

'You may write me down in history, 
with your bitter, twisted lies,
you may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.'
                          Dr Maya Angelou

Monday, 12 August 2013

No place like Frome.

A few days ago there was an article in The Times, about Frome - my hometown. It's one of a few that have popped up over the last couple of years, about the town that I live in and have grown up in, and, largely, the Arts culture and Independent Town Council. The article can be read (behind the paywall) by clicking here.

For those who don't have access the general gist is this. Frome is a really cool place. Some celebrities live in Frome, which is good. It all started in 2011 when the Independents took control of the Town Council. The Town Council is essentially responsible for Frome's continued success.

Basically, whilst it's nice to have articles bigging up Frome, it isn't entirely factually correct. There's a lot of posturing going on, and very little challenging, so, lets have a go.

Frome wasn't founded in 2011. In 2011 a number of things happened. The Liberal Democrats lost very safe control of the Town Council to a group of Independents - the Independents for Frome (the LibDems didn't actually field candidates in every seat - in some TC seats in fact, there were no LD candidates and in one three member ward we had none). On the same day, the Liberal Democrats retained 10 out of the 11 District Council seats with the last one going to a Conservative. In 2011, Frome had it's own Radio Station, it's own online TV outfit, an annual ten day arts festival, a monthly artisan market and an uphill bike race. Frome is a pretty cool place.

However, as with most things, politicians have claimed credit for things that really didn't have much to do with them. We're all guilty of it to some degree. I know of politicians who would claim to be the godparent of the Artisan Market because they once bought a bracelet from a stall at it. Almost all of the things I've linked above, and a lot of others, happened because normal, unelected people got off their backsides and made them happen. Yes, various politicians have helped with funding. The Liberal Democrats funded lots of them, and the IFF fund a lot of them, the Tories have been arguing against funding almost anything for years. So far, so good.

What I find endlessly bloody annoying is the fact that there's been a MAHOOSIVE simplification in the message. I'm going to try and be objective about how Frome got to where it is now, and if I end up being political, then hey, shoot me. What I can promise is that I'll miss a load of it out - please add things in comments.

1970's - Merlin Theatre built, run by professional staff with volunteer support.
1980's - David Heath (LD), as leader of Somerset County Council approved the new bypass for Frome, allowing the Town Centre to be developed properly and stopping it being a massive through-route.
David Heath also approved and funded the new Library and Black Swan Arts Centre.
1990's - Labour acquired the Cheese & Grain building and set it up as a music venue.
A group of people got together to build the European Community of Stones, an amphitheatre on the campus of Frome College, with stones from each of the initial European Member Nations.
The Frome Memorial Theatre trust was set up, turning the theatre into a functioning, successful venue with huge volunteer support.
2000's - Frome benefits from massive infrastructure investment from the LibDem County Council, funding for theatres, arts outreach and entertainment for young people.
Frome Festival was launched and was a great success.
2000's - various brilliant ventures set up by local people including The List magazine, the Artisan Market, Frome FM, the Cobble Wobble, Christmas Markets and Frome TV.
2009 - Frome is included in the Tour of Britain cycle race, in large part thanks to Cllr Alvin Horsfall who funded it as part of his County Council portfolio.
Lib Dem run Frome Town Council purchased various pieces of land including an area near the River Frome and an area on North Parade - now public gardens.

The latest innovation, and something I'm a big fan of is the Loop de Loop Cafe, near the Library in the Town Centre. Was it Council Funded? Yes, in a small part. Largely it was funded by local people who love a new project to get behind. The scheme was the brainchild of a local person who wanted to turn a disused toilet block into a cafe and art gallery. It's been a great success. The point I'm making is, it's been a great success because it was powered by people who got off their backsides and did something. Yes, it had political support, but I dare say it would have been a success without it.

What's happening at the moment is a real battle for Frome's identity. It's interesting. I don't think it's a battle between 'old Frome' and 'new Frome' - something I've been accused of believing before. It's a matter of people trying to commandeer what a great place Frome is for their own benefit. The Independents at FTC will claim it's all down to them, just as LibDems propbably do too. In all reality, it's down to the people - most of whom are apolitical and just get on with things regardless.

The thing that annoys me most, is that most of the articles use the fact that celebrities live here as a way to hang their articles. Yes, some famous live here, but actually, a lot of the ones quoted don't. Pearl Lowe and Danny Goffey live in Frome - nope, not any more. Kevin McCloud lives in Frome - no, he lives a little while away. Mariella Frostrup lives in Frome - don't think so. The real point, is that the people who live in Frome, live in Frome, and they make it incredible. It's not thanks to tenuous links with celebrities - but, yes, that one off Hollyoaks did once brush past me in the Golden Goose.

It's probably also not thanks to politicians as a whole either - of whatever stripe. That isn't to say that Councillors and MPs haven't left their mark. David Heath, currently the Minister of State at DEFRA would have Frome written through him if he was cut in half. His fingerprints are all over Frome, whether it be the Arts Centre or the current artisan boom. Similarly, people like Phil Moakes (once a Councillor, now Mr Frome FM) and Jock Garland had a massive part to play. Just as with so many places, politicians can and do play their part in shaping success - I became a Councillor in the hope of doing the same.

If there's been a revolution at all, it's been the fact that local people have realised that waiting for the Council to solve their problems is generally useless, and that, if they want something really cool to happen, they do it themselves. Whilst Councils need to be more responsive and more effective - I hope that Fromies never lose that spirit.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A bit about the Badger Cull.

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

Bodger and Badger - nothing weird happening here at all...
You know what, as a vegetarian, I don't like killing live things. There are exceptions - I do believe that if it's in my house, the only good spider is a dead one, but there aren't many living things I dislike enough to kill them. That includes badgers. I am one of the Bodger and Badger generation - in a tiny part of my mind, badgers are cute things, making mashed potato and living in a house with a middle aged man called Simon. The reality is sadly different, and I'd like to try and put a few things straight, lest we all start reading the Guardian and thinking Labour are actually right about something.

 I live in Frome, part of the Somerton and Frome Constituency and we're lucky enough to have David Heath represent us in Parliament. You might have heard of him, because he's the Minister of State at DEFRA, or, more likely, because he's reluctantly assumed the title of Chief Badger Murderer. It's odd really, that he's taken up with such a brutal sport because actually, he's quite a mild mannered man really. Yes, he can probably get a bit bombastic if he's watching rugby, but he doesn't strike me as a natural born killer - for instance, he wrote in last week's paper about going to a folk festival. I might be wrong, but I don't think he took a machete with him in case a badger crossed his path. Anyway, I'm digressing. 

As Minister of State, one of the things that David has had to deal with is the shocking rise in Bovine TB. That's not the fact that badgers have TB, it's the fact that they give it to cattle and the cattle end up being killed. Last year, around 30,000 cattle were bumped off because they had contracted TB. Not only was this a bad deal for the cows, it was also a bad deal for the farmers, whose livelihood was jeopardised. The plan that David and his department have put forward isn't just to wholesale murder badgers. He hasn't turned into some kind of guerilla minister waving a gun at anything that moves out of the back of a Land Rover. The plan that has been put forward is actually a lot more reasonable than that, so hear me out.

Rather than just killing badgers, the plan also involves vaccination schemes. This is what the whole argument has been about. Why not just vaccinate them? The answer is simple, because the vaccine for badgers isn't effective enough to stop the blight. The vaccine that we need is an oral vaccine, which is easier to administer to badgers and is far more effective at stopping the spread of the disease.

Did you know, that on the odd occasion that David hasn't been rootling through the countryside looking for black and white creatures, he's actually fast tracked the funding for that oral vaccine?

Labour, and Mary Creagh in particular, would like you to believe that David Heath has his head hidden in the sand. He hasn't. He's openly said that the current plan is a cocktail of things - yes, culling, but also vaccination and better bio-security - and he's openly said that he intends for vaccination to play a larger and larger role in tackling the problem.

However, please don't be fooled. We aren't there yet. The vaccination that will make the difference is still in development, and is still being funded. None of that is going to stop the rate of Bovine TB going up, none of that is going to stop tens of thousands of cattle being culled.

So, accept Labour's line on this if you like. But, please be aware, the truth is a lot greyer and more complex than simply cull or no cull. I for one, am proud that a Minister of ours is standing up for the health of badgers as well as the health of farmers' herds.

So, I'm not a blood thirsty killer, but on the balance of the argument, I support the plan, and still, I love Bodger and Badger as much as the next man.

If you're going to be totes pro any animal, you'd be better off choosing hedgehogs
- they're much nicer altogether.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

A Right Royal Emergency

Follow Sam on Twitter - @SamPhripp

I'm a child of the nineties. By the time I was born, the age of great peril had been forgotten. There was no major aggressor, extremist Islam hadn't really happened yet and the Cold War was effectively over. Of course, we know that the relative calm wouldn't last long, but the threat of World War was largely over. In that same sense, I find it intriguing to imagine that in 1983 the Government took part in War Games, modelling responses for Nuclear Warfare - even down to possible newspaper headlines. It's almost a novelty for me in a way.

Nuclear War isn't something that my generation has had to worry about. My Mum tells me that during her childhood she was quite regularly scared to death about the fact that a major nuclear strike could be imminent. That's something I never had to deal with. My generation were the ones who grew up imbued with suspicion of Muslims, suspicion of people rooting around in backpacks on buses, suspicion of people who didn't deserve it and were doing nothing wrong - the only thing I knew as a child about Russia was that that was where t.A.T.u. were from.

The release of files by the National Archive under the twenty year rule is a revelation for me. These files allow us to get a real snapshot of the work of Government at a particular time. For people like me, whose only experience was New Labour, it's a whole new perspective.

I'm fascinated with the way that Governments gear their citizens up for impending disaster. I remember reading the Government's 'Preparing for Emergencies' leaflet back in 2004 and being mildly panicked that danger could be lurking around the corner. Of course, danger wasn't, I've always lived in rural Somerset, and the only thing that lurks around the corner is a hurd of cows trying to extend your journey. There is of course an argument that these kind of emergency planning exercises are used to scare the general population. I agree with it in part. It may sound a bit Shock Doctrine, but it'd be a hell of a lot easier to justify another Middle East conflict if the general population thought they were about to attack us.

In that sense, the release of a draft Queen's Speech - drawn up as part of a planning exercise for Nuclear War - is even more striking. This wasn't something released for public consumption, it was part of a serious exercise. The speech makes pretty chilling reading, as the Queen asks the general public to help the helpless or homeless. For somebody who never really knew that threat (okay, so North Korea is troubling if I think about it for long enough...) the idea of imminent threat of that kind makes my blood run cold.

The fact that we can even consider whether a like for like replacement of Trident is right and proper just shows how far we've come. I hope that we've come far enough that when I have children and they have families, the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction is just as much a throwback as carrier pigeons or enigma machines.

Read the full text of the draft speech below. Makes very interesting reading.