A future full of potential regrets

These are some thoughts inspired by a conversation I had with my fiance about how, at just 28 years old, most of my regrets still sit in front of me. It explores how regrets are also rather complicatedly mixed up in taking the risks in life that ensure I live the sort of life I, and others, can be proud of. A life lived to the full. 

regrets
Regret rests in the past. That is what we are told.

Regret resides in those residual reminders of actions, or inactions, of days, months, or years gone by. The mantra, so often used by oneself to torment oneself is that ‘if only I had another chance, I would have done it all so differently’.

This perspective is one that comes with age. Age forces regrets into memories of days, months, and years that now rest in our personal rear view mirrors, distorted by the lens of time that we all place over our memories.

And yet, even with the most painful of regrets, the ones that loom largest in our memories, the ones that haunt us without warning in the middle of the night, we know where they are. If we have the courage we can turn to face them, we can take action to rectify them, or at the very least, we can learn to live with them.

At the age of 28 though there is something far more terrifying, in my mind at least, than my existing regrets. This is the concept of all the potential future regrets that rest in front of me, in my future. Sitting on the side of the mantra of ‘I would have done it differently’ that still holds the agency to enact the change that could steer myself and others away from regret is ironically both terrifying and debilitating.

My main regrets sit in my unknown future not the past. This is a challenge unique to the privileged and the young – neither of whom normally realise their predicament.

Like a rabbit caught in headlights I can see paths roll out in front of me leading to actions and inactions that hold all the potential for regret. I can see them all too clearly but choose to keep going, to keep walking.

Why? Why not stop now? To explain, I must tell you a little of myself.

I write these words with thousands of miles resting between me and the friends and family that I grew up with. Each mile serves as a barrier for why I can’t, or worst choose not to, spend the time with the people that mean the most to me.

The future holds a deceptiveness that leads you to think that it is infinite. Just as you fail to appreciate the beauty of the rising of the sun because you think it will always happen, so you can also fail to take the time or appreciate the beauty in being able to pick up the phone and speak to your parents, friends or loved ones.

Despite the warnings, the heart attacks, the high blood pressure, the years passing of my parents, I convince myself that the future will hold the same potential to always be able to pick up the phone, jump on a plane or even send an email to them.

This is of course not true. Life is finite.

Simply, you never appreciate what you have until it is gone.

I am all too aware that it is this that holds the potential for so much regret.

With this foresight, there is a question of why not take action now – look for a job back home sooner, close to friends and family? Why not take action to limit that potential for regret?

To answer this question, an explanation of my parents is needed. From the earliest age they encouraged me grasp opportunities with both hands. To fight for them and to appreciate them to the fullest.

All too clearly I remember both my parents repeating the phrase ‘just give it a go’ throughout my childhood.

Every day I feel the importance of living life, of giving it a go. I push myself to do things, to be bothered, and most of all to appreciate every bit of it – even the supposed failures. I think for that alone my parents are proud.

Life has thrown me around geographically. It dropped me on this earth in the UK but has since taken me all over. I sit now in East Africa thousands of miles away from the parents that made me who I am. I live, I make mistakes, and I regret them. But even these regrets I try my hardest to cherish and to savour because I know that these regrets are signpost to risks taken, choices made and a life lived to the full.

The biggest potential regret of not spending enough time with my parents should they die before me rests in the future alongside other potential regrets. I have no idea how I will react if suddenly the ones I care about are taken from me, but for now at least, that is a question for tomorrow. Today I plan to live every second to it’s full.

My regrets reside in front of me, but so does the rest of my life. I know I can’t have one without the other.

As always, please do contribute comments and thoughts below. 

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On international media representation of Uganda

The international media today picked up comments from Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, saying that Uganda’s tourism industry should rival that of Spain’s.

His comments, made in Uganda’s ‘New Vision’ newspaper were then picked up by Agence France-Presse (AFP) and published in global news platforms such as The Guardian.

After reading The Guardian article I did something I very rarely do – I read the comments section.

The first comment came from one Herman Lategan and said:

Grd 6

Other early commenters followed a similar theme in their comments:

Grd 1

Grd 2

Grd 3

Whilst I find the hateful and widely misinterpreted rhetoric of anti-homosexuality in Uganda deeply worrying I equally find it sad to see a country lumped with such a characteristic as its one defining feature.

Equally, I am not convinced that by choosing to not visit Uganda (let alone leaving comments under Guardian articles) you are doing anything to help alter this hateful and misunderstood rhetoric that is a much larger than just Uganda.

What I do know though is that Uganda faces a huge image problem in ‘the west’ and these comments, at least in part, are a symptom of this.

This image problem is one exasperated by painfully fictitious portrayals in the media such as the one in Series 2 of the Newsroom that I have just finished watching (other than the lyrics of Band Aid 30 I struggle to think of anything recent that is so crass).

Or, closer to home, try searching Uganda on the Guardian’s home page. All you will find are articles about the anti-homosexuality bill, the hunt for war-lord Josef Kony or bizarre novelty pieces quoting some supposedly hilarious thing an official once said.

Whilst all legitimate issues to cover they are, by themselves, playing into a mainly false perception of what Uganda is like.

In short, it’s crass, it’s unhelpful and it represents a form of low level journalism that I dislike. And importantly it’s all people in the UK (my home country, the place I love most), hears about Uganda (my home, the place that is pushing for that top spot in my heart).  

I find that really fucking sad.

I was about to write something along those lines in the comments section when this well-intentioned comment, one which many in Uganda would see as a balanced response but many in the UK will read like trolling, popped up.

Grd 5

I wasn’t sure I had the stomach to ever enter into the comments section of The Guardian let alone on a subject like this and so I headed back here to the safe shores of Hynd’s Blog.

Sane and respectful comments welcomed!

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Stroud MP tables question on British resident still held in Guantanamo Bay

Stroud MP, Neil Carmichael, has tabled a written question to the FCO about British resident, Shaker Aamer, who is still being held in Guantanamo Bay without charge or trial. In light of this (and previous interactions with him which you can read here), this is a copy of my latest letter to him on the subject. 

Dear Neil,

Thank you for taking action on Shaker Aamer’s case. It is important that those within the FCO are regularly made aware that voters, including your constituents, have not forgotten about Shaker Aamer and that also we are not prepared to witness inaction from our own government and elected representatives on this issue.

I note however 2 things from the question you submitted and Mr Ellwood’s eloquent response:

  • Mr Ellwood did not really answer your question. You, very clearly, asked ‘what assurances he has had from the US administration about the (a) treatment of remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay (b) efforts to seek the release of Shaker Aamer‘ to which the Minister replied that the UK government ‘continue[s] to seek assurances regarding Mr Aamer’s health and welfare…‘I note that ‘continue[s] to seek’ dodges your direct question around what existing assurances the UK government has on Mr Aamer’s health and chances of release or trial. As such, I request, that you write in person back to Mr Ellwood asking him to clarify what current assurances the UK government has regarding Mr Aamer’s health and his potential release or trial as well as highlighting your concern about reports of his ill treatment and deteriorating health.
  • Secondly I note that although your question was important it was not specifically what I asked you to ask. I originally asked you to:’…write to the Foreign Secretary outlining that your constituents will not settle for anything short of an agreed and fixed timeline for either the trial or release of Shaker Aamer.’

    As such, in addition to the existing point in the letter you will be hopefully writing to Mr Ellwood, I ask you to reiterate that your constituent, upon whose behalf you are writing, will not settle for anything short of an agreed and fixed timeline for either the trial or release of Shaker Aamer. 

Lastly, I note that I have not heard back from you regarding my original request that you:

‘…make urgent representations for a full debate in the House of Commons for the release and return of British resident Shaker Aamer to the UK in accordance with the e-petition process.’

As such, I humbly request you use your position in the HoC to make representations for a full debate. If this is not possible I ask simply for an explanation as to why it is not possible or desirable in the current circumstances.

I hope you do not feel pestered by these on-going chains of communications and requests for actions – that is not my intention. I hope instead that you feel the enormity of the challenge that we face in securing the trial or release of British resident Shaker Aamer and the evident importance of ruffling some feathers to secure this.

In addition I am still awaiting an explanation or apology to the apparent plagiarism that you undertook in your initial response to me about Shaker’s case. How is it that Sajid Javid’s constituent received an identical letter to the one I received purportedly from you? The good people of Stroud elected you Neil, not the Tory Whip’s Office. When we write to you, we want to hear your thoughts on the subject not those of the Whip’s Office – is that too much to ask for?

As always, I look forward to your response by email.

Best,

Steve Hynd

This is a copy of the tabled question and the answer provided by the FCO:

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assurances he has had from the US administration about the (a) treatment of remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and (b) efforts to seek the release of Shaker Aamer. (215169)

Tabled on: 19 November 2014

Answer:
Mr Tobias Ellwood:

With the exception of those relating to Shaker Aamer, the British Government receives no specific assurances from the US administration about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, as no British nationals remain among them. However, whilst Shaker Aamer is not a British national, his connections to the UK mean that he remains a high priority for the British Government. We continue to seek assurances regarding Mr Aamer’s health and welfare through our engagement with the US authorities, and we continue to make clear to the US that we want him released and returned to the UK as a matter of urgency.

The answer was submitted on 25 Nov 2014 at 14:43.

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Read Stroud MP’s copy and pasted response to constituents concerns

As British resident Shaker Aamer remains being held, without charge or trial, in Guantanamo Bay I decided to do what I could to increase the pressure on the US authorities to ensure his release.

In a personal plea to my local Conservative MP Neil Carmichael I wrote:

“At this point I ask for your empathy to spur action – imagine that this was your own father or brother being held without reason in such barbaric conditions and then remember that you have the power to bring about change on this issue!

The status quo will remain so only for as long as we collectively remain silent. I am asking you to speak out, loudly and with passion.”

Just under two weeks later I received a response from his office saying:

“I share your concern about Mr Aamer’s continued detention in Guantanamo”

It went on to assure me that:

“Securing Mr Aamer’s release is a high priority for the Government and I understand that it has been using all diplomatic channels available to communicate this.”  

I wrote back naively thinking that these words were at best his own genuine heartfelt views but that at worst, they might be those of his caseworker who would be employed to write such responses on his behalf.

Sadly not, they appear to not even be his caseworker’s words.

Today someone on twitter shared with me this response to their letter to their own local Conservative MP, Sajid Javid.

Javid Aamer letter
A word for word match to the response Neil Carmichael sent to me.

Now I personally find this insulting and misleading. I would have been disappointed to receive a cut and paste response if it had been made clear it was such, but to try and pretend it represents some original thoughts on the subject is, in my mind, reprehensible.

If I had wanted the views of the whips office I would have asked my MP to relay to me the views of the whips office. I didn’t. I waned his own views on the continued barbaric incarceration of a British resident in Guantanamo Bay.

To respond to a matter of, quite literally life and death, in such a glib institutional way is a damning reflection on the seriousness in which he takes his job. Following up and acting on the concerns of constituents is one of the cornerstones of being a MP.

On this occasion my local MP Neil Carmichael has utterly failed.

I hope he makes an effort to amend for this but I suspect stony silence is more likely. It has been a month now since I wrote back to him and I am still awaiting a response.

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UKIP, not the Greens, are attracting the most former Labour voters

Farage
Today’s polling from YouGov shows the Conservatives beating Labour and the Greens beating the Lib Dems each by one point. Some within the Labour party (and media) are panicking that this is a symptom of Ed Miliband’s failure to inspire more left-wing voters who are in turn moving to the Green Party.

The problem is, the polling does not support this.

Of those surveyed who voted Labour in 2010, a significant 76% of them are still planning on voting Labour in 2015. This is more than the Conservative equivalent (75%) and significantly more than the Lib Dem equivalent (28%).

This does however suggest a 24% voter leakage. It is UKIP however, not the Greens, who are picking up most of these disillusioned former Labour voters. 10% of those who voted Labour in 2010 said that they are now planning on voting UKIP.

In comparison the Conservatives are picking up 7%, Greens 4%, SNP/Plaid 2% and Lib Dems 1% of former Labour voters.

Labour have a problem here but the problem is UKIP shaped, not Green! Labour’s response though has been to appoint Sadiq Khan to lead a unit responding to the Green threat whilst essentially ignoring the much larger and significant threat of UKIP.

This might well be one of a list of mistakes that may just cost them the majority they are seeking in 2015.

If the Green Party though are not picking disillusioned Labour voters, where are these new found supporters coming from?

The Green Party are making their gains primarily through disillusioned former Lib Dem voters. 16% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 are now planning on voting Green in 2015. Specifically the Greens are making huge ground among young voters (especially 18-24 year olds) which used to be a Lib Dem strong area.

16% of 18-24 year olds said they would vote Green compared to just 8% of who said they would vote Lib Dem.

Both the Green Party and Labour’s relative position in the polls are dependent on the sinking Lib Dem ship continuing to sink (more 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour than they are Lib Dem!).

If after 2015 the Lib Dems end up back on the backbenches and start to regain some of the trust they lost in government and Labour attempt to run a government, it will be interesting to watch where these floating voters settle.

There is a big chunk of the electorate who are no longer attached to one political party which is going to make the coming decades hard to predict and interesting to watch.

In the words of Master Yoda – “Difficult to see, always in motion are the future”

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Band Aid 30 lyrics as ‘patronising and fatalistic as they are bizarre and untrue’

Madagascar missing from Band Aid 30 logo

Madagascar missing from Band Aid 30 logo

There is nothing, literally nothing, in the whole world, that I dislike more than sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – nothing!

It is out of this bugbear that [at least part of] my dislike for Band Aid/Band Aid 30 comes from.

I plan to take off from where the ever-awesome Bim Adewunmi left off when she wrote in the Guardian about how the lyrics of the original Band Aid still haunt her. Under the headline ‘Band Aid 30: clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways’ Adewunmi writes:

“…there were a few parts of the song that always stuck in my craw. For example, the lyric that begins: “And there won’t be snow in Africa …” It does snow in Africa! I say under my breath every December when shopping malls roll the track out.”

Well indeed – just as I can assure you there is snow in Africa so I can also assure that the original Band Aid song is filled with idiotic sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – you know….the sort that niggle at me until I am forced to write an irate blog post.

Adewunmi finishes her article by offering what I feel to be premature credit though saying:

“To his credit…[Geldof] has said some of the lyrics will be tweaked slightly for this new version. Gone are the references to Africa’s “burning sun” as well as the assertion that it is a place where “no rain nor rivers flow”. 

Well yes, this may be true but believe me, it does not seem that he has learnt any lessons about crass generalizations. While reference to famine and starvation have been removed (acknowledging that those “inappropriate” lyrics did not reflect that swathes of Africa that are “booming”) he has instead replaced them with these pearls of linguistic idiocy:

“At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear

Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear”

Firstly, let’s clarify something Bob – we (the generalised European/American masses) are not all having fun at Christmas. We are sleeping rough, dying of cancer, being beaten and raped by our partners, choking on pieces of lego and/or drinking ourselves into oblivion. I have no doubt that many people enjoy Christmas day greatly but this hits at the heart of the problem Bob, not everyone does.

Just as not all Europeans enjoy Christmas, so (it should be axiomatic but evidently it isn’t) not all ‘West Africans’ live in a ‘world of dread and fear’ because there’s death in every tear’.

Ebola has killed around 5,000 people at the time of writing and has impacted on many more. It is a crisis that is as terrifying for those as involved as it is potentially life-threatening. According the MSF latest update:

  • Guinea has 1,760 confirmed cases and seen 1054 deaths,
  • Liberia (Cases 6,619. Deaths 2,766),
  • Nigeria (Cases 20. Deaths 8),
  • Sierra Leone (Cases 4,862. Deaths 1,130),
  • Senegal (Cases 1. Deaths 0) 
  • and recently Mali (Cases 1. Deaths 1). (all WHO figures)

Now in West Africa alone this leaves (off the top of my head), The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea – Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso etc etc who have nothing more than a vague geographic connection to the Ebola crisis.

But hey – why let the reality of millions of people get in the way of a good song?

The lyrics of Band Aid 30 continues:

No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa

The only hope they’ll have is being alive

Where to comfort is to fear

Where to touch is to be scared

How can they know it’s Christmas time at all”

These lyrics are as fatalistic as they are simply not true, as patronising as they are utterly bizarre.

Did no one think to point out to Geldof that when you get some very well paid Europeans to sing that there is “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa” that you are rather undermining the millions of West Africans who will be living in peace in West Africa this Christmas – including I might add the courageous, well organised, and utterly wonderful Nigerian health workers who contained and then removed Ebola from their country?

And then the back to that line again, How can they know it’s Christmas time at all” – well here is a suggestion…. Either through the wide-spread access to the internet or perhaps because a few of the approximate 400 million Christians in Africa know when one of the own most important celebrations of the year takes place.

This song, in both its literal lyrics through to its conceptual approach is depressingly archaic. What is more depressing though is that so few of the mistakes from the cringe worthy original Band Aid seemed to have been rectified. As much as I have focused here on the simplistic idiocy of the lyrics there are also a plethora of other questions that need answering such as why Band Aid still has such little input – both musically and logistically – from people from the countries that the song aims to be helping?

Still, to every cloud there is a silver lining. At least they don’t still have have Bono singing that line which is maybe the most insidious in pop history:

Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
Donate to the MSF response to the Ebola crisis here.

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BNP tweets ‘remembrance’ tweet day late

The BNP were left embarrassed after tweeting a remembrance day message 24 hours late.

Opps.

BNP

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Poll finds Labour at record low and Greens on record high

The Ipsos MORI poll due to be published in today’s Evening Standard has caused ripples today as it shows support for Labour at a record low since 2010.

However behind the headlines there is another interesting figure to pull out of this latest polling – the Green Party are on a dramatic high securing 9% of the voting intention of all adults over the age of 18:

Mori poll

Despite this quite momentous rise in the polls the Ipsos MORI write up of the results does not mention the Green Party once.

UKIP by contrast (down 2% at 14) get four mentions in the write up. The Liberal Democrats (just one percentage point above the Green Party at 10%) equally also get four mentions.

Frustratingly, it is from this text that lazy journalists will copy and paste their articles not bothering to look at the data tables behind the polls (something which I have to do if I want to find out how the Greens are doing).

If they did, I am sure that they would use the headline finding of this poll (Labour being on a long-term low) but equally is it not noteworthy that the Greens are reaching such competitive heights?

Let’s see if any journalists pick up on this…

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Green Party membership surges past 25,000

On June 9th Hynd’s Blog reported how Green Party Membership was growing in a way that the other ‘bigger’ parties were not. At that time they had just over 17,000 members.

On September 17th Hynd’s Blog reported that Green Party membership had tripled between 2002 and 2014. At that time Green Party membership stood at about 18,500.

On the 3rd October Hynd’s Blog reported that Green Party membership was, for the first time in the party’s history, over 20,000.

Today, 11th November, Hynd’s Blog notes a tweet sent from Derek Wall (former Principle Speaker and now International spokesperson of the Greens):

This is, by anyone’s standards, quite an extraordinary growth in party membership. In their words:

In the last 2 weeks someone has joined the Green Party every 10 minutes”

ten-minutes-450x314
Hynd’s Blog is excited to see this growth in progressive political participation!

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70 years of mountaineering in Uganda

An edited version of this article was published in Saturday’s Daily Monitor – Uganda’s best selling independent newspaper. 

11615Summit Speke
As the late afternoon mist draws down the valley the spectacular peaks of the Rwenzori mountain range are left tantalising exposed, reaching high up into the bright warm sky. The image of snow packed glaciers glistening on rocky mountain tops so close to the equator is one of the many wonders of mountaineering in Uganda and is cherished by those lucky enough to witness it.

Standing atop these majestic snow covered peaks is an experience that only a few have managed and perhaps, due to melting glaciers, only a few more will have the chance to see. Many perceive these peaks as too cold, dangerous or difficult to reach, but since its inception in 1945 the Mountain Club of Uganda (MCU) has been accessing and documenting the foothills and the peaks of this magnificent mountain range.

Soon to celebrate its 70th birthday, the MCU has undertaken renewed efforts to expand the Club and to fulfil its core mission: to encourage everyone in Uganda to enjoy, explore and celebrate the outstanding natural beauty that Uganda has been blessed with. This inevitably includes the mountaineering jewel – the range of the Rwenzori Mountains, but goes beyond this to cover all areas of the country.

Charlie Langan, the current President of MCU, talks keenly of the diversity of mountaineering in Uganda, saying, “Although the Rwenzoris provide an impressive challenge for anyone, Uganda has so much more to offer. From the hills of Agoro in the north, to the spectacular peaks of the Virungas in the south west, from the crater lakes of Fort Portal in the west to the peaks of Kadam and Napak in the East, Uganda has something for any level of fitness, enthusiasm and experience. At MCU we are here to help people get out and enjoy the outdoors in this incredible country.”

The MCU was first founded in the Geography Room in another of Uganda’s long standing institutions, Makerere University in Kampala.  The Club was originally founded as the Uganda section of the East African Mountain Club by Rene Bere along with students and lecturers but soon developed into the ‘Mountain Club of Uganda’ – a name that it still proudly bears today.

Indeed, it was in these early years that the MCU laid down the foundations for mountaineering in the country. Deo Lubega, the Club’s Patron who has been active in MCU for over 25 years, reminds newer Club members that it was the MCU who between 1949 and 1958 built a circuit of six huts on the Rwenzori Mountains as well as a hut on Mount Elgon and on Mount Muhavura. At the time the Club was dominated by expatriates but very early on decided to offer training for interested Bakonjo porters to offer formal porterage services on the Rwenzoris as an alternative source of income.

As such in 1960 Timothy Bazarrabusa became the first Ugandan to climb Margherita peak, 5,109m above sea level – the highest point in the Rwenzori range and Uganda. Bazarabusa went on to become the President of MCU and later its Patron and a key advocate for mountaineering in Uganda.

In 1972 MCU Presidents Henry Osmaston and David Pasteur published the “Guide to the Rwenzori’s”- a definitive guide to the range and its history and peoples. Along with Andrew Stuart and James Lang-Brown, these were some of the key figures in the history of mountaineering in Uganda who have documented and explored the mountain areas of Uganda.

Since that time the Club has held a commendable but somewhat discontinuous existence, due to political instability and restricted access to the mountains due to civil unrest. Today, as the MCU turns 70 it continues to build on its proud history and to open its doors to members old and new.

Langan, the current MCU President, commented, “In the last few years the Club has grown from a handful of people interested in mountaineering to a vibrant and diverse community of people eager to enjoy the outdoors. We have spread beyond simply walking and climbing and now regularly kayak on the river Nile, mountain bike through forests and villages and of course, meet up regularly to socialise with like minded friends.”

This ethos of encouraging others to enjoy the outdoors has also driven the Club to try and document the potential for climbing, walking and other activities in Uganda. Just as the Club proudly published a ‘Guide to Rock Climbing’ in 1963, so the Club is today editing the final draft of an updated guide to encourage others with a sense of adventure to leave the comfort of Kampala to head out and explore the extraordinary outdoor environment that Uganda has to offer.

More information:

Web: www.mcu.ug
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/mountainclubofuganda
Regular events: http://www.mcu.ug/?page_id=19

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UKIP and Greens to influence the 2015 General Elections

Both UKIP and the Green Party are consistently polling at record highs. Hynd’s Blog takes a look at how this might impact the outcome of the 2015 General Election. 

polling station
There is a broad feeling within the Westminster bubble that Labour will win the most seats at the next election. Opinion polls, with the exception of the aftermath of Miliband’s farcical conference speech when he forgot to mention the deficit (opps), show that Labour have consistently polled a few points ahead of the Tories.

Significantly though few expect them to secure enough seats to form a majority government. This means that a coalition is more than possible.

The latest uniform swing predictions put Labour short of an absolute majority by just one seat.

uniform swingIf this prediction comes true then Labour could comfortably (mathematically speaking) enter into coalition with one or a range of parties and rule with a majority government.

However, there is also a scenario where the Lib Dems (currently estimated to pick up 23 seats) fail to have enough support to help Labour secure a coalition with an overall majority.

With this in mind, the relative rise of both UKIP and the Greens and the demise of the Lib Dems takes on a whole new level of interest. No longer is it a given that the Lib Dems will secure enough seats to be able to go into coalition with Labour (or Conservatives) and form a majority government.

It is also worth looking at how in key marginal battle grounds the new found support for both UKIP and Greens might cause a split in the vote a cause an upset.

Those, including myself, who used to talk about the UKIP support just being an electoral blip, have surely enough evidence in front of them now to admit that they were wrong. Equally after a strong showing at May’s European elections and continued growth in support in opinion polls the Greens are increasingly securing their places as a major player in British politics – despite many commentators patronizing dismissal.

To illustrate the current consistent support both the Green Party and UKIP are enjoying I have looked back over the last 10 YouGov voting intention polls. This show that both UKIP and the Green Party are relatively consistent in their new highs within the polls (16-18 % and 5-7% respectively).

graph

The next obvious question then is to ask where this new found support for these two relative outsiders is coming from.

Peter Kellner over at YouGov provides us with this useful infographic from surveys that had a collective sample is 26,724, of whom 1,314 said they would vote Green and 3,401 Ukip:
UKIPGreen demo
Kellner analysed these findings saying:

“In many ways the Greens and Ukip are mirror images of each other. Half of Ukip’s supporters are ex-Tory voters, while the Greens attracted half of their vote from the Lib Dems. Green voters are younger, more female, better-educated and more middle-class than the average – whereas Ukip voters are older, more male, more working class and far less likely to have a university degree. Ukip voters veer to the Right in ideology and choice of newspaper, while Greens veer to Left.”

UKIP, although picking up working class Labour voters, are overwhelmingly picking up former Tory voters. The Greens on the other-hand are picking up a lot of former Lib Dem voters.

If the Greens maintain this level and demographically specific support we can expect to see:

  • Greens returning Caroline Lucas as MP in Brighton Pavillion (Labour’s number one target seat in the South East).
  • A possible second MP in former Lib Dem strong holds (they are targeting Norwich South and Bristol West).
  • A significant impact on Tory/Labour marginals (likely to dent the Labour vote).
  • An increased threat of sitting Lib Dem MPs losing their seats – this is especially true in Lib Dem/Labour marginals.
  • Greens increasing their vote share across the country looking to secure deposits (by securing 5% or more of vote) and possibly beating the Lib Dems.

If UKIP maintain this level and demographically specific support we can expect to see:

  • The standing UKIP MPs (who knows how many other current Conservative MPs will follow Douglas Carswell’s example and defect) returned with little challenge.
  • UKIP gaining a significant number of seats (exact numbers are hard to predict but probably the gains will be counted on one hand).
  • A significant impact on Tory/Labour or Lib Dem marginal (likely to dent the Tory vote more than the Lib Dem/Labour vote).
  • An increase in vote share leaving them with at least double that of the Lib Dems.

In addition there is also a small chance, that UKIP (and even less likely Greens and nationalists) will secure enough MPs to become the minority partner in a coalition themselves – unlikely though.

With all this said and done we are left with more questions than answers: Is this the end of two party politics in the UK? Is our electoral system up to the job with the potential demise of two party politics? Will the Lib Dems enter back into coalition? Would Greens look to join a progressive alliance to form a government? Will Nigel Farage become the next DPM?

So much of this that seemed like an impossibility 4 years ago suddenly seems dramatically possible! When all the talk is of voter apathy it strikes me that there never has been a more exciting time to be involved in politics as the status quo is ripped wide open.

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Why in Tag Rugby is a girl’s try worth twice that of a boys?

touch
Prior to puberty, there are no significant differences between boys and girls in height, weight, strength or endurance. Therefore, from a physical standpoint, children can participate equitably in all sports and physical activities on a coeducational basis until puberty. 

That is the not very surprising conclusion of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Sports Medicine Department that I found when I googled whether there was any significant variation between a boy and girl’s ability to participate in sports at primary school age (up to 11 in the UK).

This fits with what I would have presumed and reinforces the sense of outrage that my primary school teacher friend felt when she was researching tag rugby and found this caveat in the rules:

tag

Taking that there are no significant differences between boys and girls in height, weight, strength or endurance one has to wonder why a girl’s try would be valued at twice the score of a boys.

The stated aim is ‘to encourage greater teamwork’ but it offers no guidance on how having a separate scoring system for young girls than young boys encourages this teamwork. As far as I can see, all it does is highlight a difference between children which, at primary school age, is primarily not there.

I would be interested to hear from other P.E teachers, rugby coaches etc to see I’ve got the wrong end of the stick on this.

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Out of hand…

My latest poem ‘Out of hand…’

It always started like this for him,
beer in hand, everything in hand,
a few mates just having a laugh,
a vodka chaser, another quick half.

On this night though he was seeing doubles,
a line of then lined up on the bar,
another tequila placed in his hand,
as this runaway night grew out of hand.

Like other nights that had gone before,
everyone out drinking knew the score,
everyone having a laugh and another line,
the same group of mates out for a good time.

On this night, time had slipped away fast,
as each drank what they said was their last,
before lighting a ciggie that burned bright red,
producing a light that leads from bar to bed,

The night tried to end with the kebab in hand,
everything in hand although a little unplanned,
a stumble sideways as he enjoys his last smoke,
before seeing he’s been joined by another bloke.

‘Give us a drag mate’. ‘Nah, you’re alight mate’.

And with that he sees the end game of the night…

…the inevitable fight.

As this big fuck squares up all he thinks is fuck it,
before his hand digs down deep into his pocket,
in those next moments it didn’t feel like taking a life,
any more than what he was holding felt like a knife.

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Some reflections on learning to kayak on the River Nile

Paddling past 'The Bad Place' on the River Nile

Paddling past ‘The Bad Place’ on the River Nile

I have always loved the outdoors and growing up I occasionally ventured out onto the flat waters of the River Wye, close to my parent’s house in the UK, to do some paddling with my local scout group.

As much as enjoyed these ventures out into the pleasant surroundings of the Wye valley, kayaking remained for me a sport that failed to conjure the passion or excitement of other sports I loved in my teenage years such as mountaineering, football or skiing.

When I moved to Uganda then, it took me almost a whole year until I was persuaded by friends into trying my hand at white-water kayaking on the River Nile.

In retrospect my biggest regret is that I waited this long to try it. Equally though, it was far from love at first sight, or perhaps a more appropriate axiom, all plain sailing from the start.

Getting off the water at the end of the first lesson I knew that a seed had been planted that had the potential to grow into a real passion. I made a conscious choice, despite feeling apprehensive, to give this seed the best chance possible to grow and booked myself onto an additional four lessons with the kayak school ‘Kayak the Nile’.

At that stage, I can remember distinctly feeling that my enthusiasm for kayaking could go either way. As much as I enjoyed the adrenalin of kayaking my first rapid, I also remember a few hours earlier the less pleasurable spluttering for air as I first attempted an upside-down ‘t-rescue’.

Looking back on the last 10 months of padding, I can see though that it was as much the spluttering for air moments, the times I had to work hard, to persevere at practicing skills as it was the exciting splashing down rapids that have helped grow my initial excitement into a real passion.

The hours I spent alone in mate’s swimming pools practising, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, my flat-water role and the sense of achievement at now rolling in (quite) big white-water stands as just one illustration of this.

Unlike some friends that I see now out on the water I don’t feel like kayaking came naturally to me. It took me a bit longer than what I have observed to be ‘normal’ to start feeling relaxed out on the water and especially upside-down.

Even now, 10 months after starting this sport, I still feel panicked when I move into territories that are new to me. Just last weekend I went to surf a wave that was much larger than I was used to and this filled me with an apprehension that, at least in part, dictated how I kayaked on the wave.

It only seems fair at this point to give a virtual hat-tip to the instructors of ‘Kayak the Nile’ who seemed to instinctively know that when I said my goal was to ‘feel in control on the wave’ I was not just referring to the physical challenge of staying up-right but the psychological one of staying relaxed and confident.

Without the careful and consistent guidance of the instructors I am convinced that my seedling of passion planted on that first lesson could easily have been flushed away at any moment.

For as much as I am grateful to the instructors though it is an interesting reflection to note that learning to kayak is also a lot about learning to understand and control yourself. It is not just about taught new skills.

It might sound like an exaggeration to say kayaking teaches you to ‘learn about yourself’ but from a personal experience I can say that one of the most rewarding parts of learning to kayak has been the journey of learning to stay psychologically more in control (for I still don’t feel 100% in control) out on the water.

My passion for kayaking on the Nile though goes beyond all of this.

There is something really profoundly special about being about being on such a huge powerful expanse of water.

Out the Nile I feel something comparable to how I do in large mountain ranges. I feel a sense of my own size and vulnerability in the grand scheme of nature, I feel a sense of wonder at the amazing beauty that surrounds me and a sense of profound appreciation that I am lucky enough to have experienced it.

Even the experience of being near the Nile the night before feels magical. I love waking up after camping on the banks of Nile to see the strong sunlight breaking through the trees with the sort of intensity you only really get on the equator. I love lying in my tent hearing the powerful sound of the water in the rapids carving itself through the rocks in the Nile. I love the, admittedly quite hippy, idea that kayaking is about harnessing the amazing power of nature and working with it.

DSCN5090

Most of all though I think enjoy sharing this passion with people. I love seeing friends do their first lesson, first roll, or first trick on a wave. I love watching those with less experience than me and seeing them progress as much as I love watching those with far more experience than me and feeling that mixture of aspiration and dread about what I might, or might not, be able to achieve in the future.

When I move away from the paddler’s paradise of the River Nile I have no idea if this passion will stay with me but I do know that at this moment I really hope it does.

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A follow up letter to Neil Carmichael MP on the detention of Shaker Aamer

This is a copy of a follow up letter sent to my local Conservative MP, Neil Carmichael, in response to his response to my original inquiry:

Dear Neil,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter regarding the ongoing detention without charge or trial of British resident Shaker Aamer.

It is heartening to note from your reply the seriousness with which both yourself and purportedly the British government takes this issue. However I note that your otherwise positive response failed to take note of, or respond to, my request for you to take two actions to help secure Shaker’s release or trial.

I write to you now therefore to reiterate those requests to:

  • To make urgent representations for a full debate in the House of Commons for the release and return of British resident Shaker Aamer to the UK in accordance with the e-petition process (1).
  • To write to the Foreign Secretary outlining that your constituents will not settle for anything short of an agreed and fixed timeline for either the trial or release of Shaker Aamer.

Without actions your supportive words are left as nothing more than well intentioned words.

I understand that ultimately Shaker’s future rests in the hands of the American government but I urge you to do what you can, at this time, to ensure that he doesn’t have to endure one more day in this inhumane legal limbo.

I once again look forward to a timely response by email.

Steve Hynd

  1. The Government e-petition requesting “new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing detention in Guantanamo Bay” has so far obtained at least 117,442 signatures. An adjournment debate was held in Westminster Hall on 24th April but this did not lead to immediate action for Shaker’s return.

You can read my original letter to Neil here and you can read a copy of Neil’s response to my original letter below:

Thank you for contacting me about the detention of Shaker Aamer.

I share your concern about Mr Aamer’s continued detention in Guantanamo Bay. I believe it is vital that he is released as soon as possible and returned to the UK so he can be reunited with his family.

The Prime Minister personally raised Mr Aamer’s case with President Obama at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland and later wrote to the President reaffirming the importance the UK places on the request for Mr Aamer’s release. The Former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, also raised the case with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in June this year.

Securing Mr Aamer’s release is a high priority for the Government and I understand that it has been using all diplomatic channels available to communicate this.  Foreign Office Ministers have often reiterated that the British Government’s policy is unchanged – that it will support efforts in the United States to close Guantanamo Bay and to seek the return of UK residents and nationals.

While any decision about Mr Aamer’s release ultimately remains in the hands of the United States Government, please rest assured that I will support the UK Government’s efforts as it does all in its power to seek his return.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Neil Carmichael

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Green Party ahead of Lib Dems in latest Lord Ashcroft poll

Can you remember how excited the Green Party was when various polls put them neck and neck with the Lib Dems?

Well, imagine the levels of excitement in Green Party HQ when they spot this week’s Lord Ashcroft polling which has them, for the first time, ahead of the Lib Dems!

Lord Ashcroft

More evidence to back up the Daily Telegraph’s assertion that next May’s election will be a 5 horse race.

UPDATE: I have just spotted on twitter that some Greens are claiming their membership has also broken 30,000 – it was only a few weeks OK that Hynd’s Blog was reporting it had broken 20,000 for the first time ever!

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First ever self defense programme for people with Dwarfism launched

A good friend of mine and occasional contributor to Hynd’s Blog, Eugene Grant, has launched the first ever self-defence programme for people with dwarfism. This is a cross-post of his article that explains why he sees the need for such a self-defense course. 

Eugene-2

I don’t even remember where I was going. All I remember is looking to my left, distracted by a homeless man asking for change as I walked past. When I turned my head back to the front, a tall man – about 6’ 0” – was advancing aggressively in my direction, just a few feet away, his hands outstretched towards me.

I have Achondroplasia – one of the most common types of dwarfism. In 28 years, I’ve had stones thrown at my head; I’ve been chased by youths on mopeds; I’ve been grabbed and assaulted by strangers. I was frequently bullied at school. The list of instances in which I’ve been verbally abused or threatened is too long to include here.

Now, I make no assumption that my experiences are representative of other dwarfs. But I know I’m not alone.

Throughout my life, I’ve studied boxing, self-defense, and martial arts: Karate, Kick-boxing, Ninjitsu, and Tae-kwon-do, to name but a few. Growing up, these provided a valuable outlet for me as a frustrated and isolated young man, who struggled to deal positively with an environment that felt harsh and hostile towards me.

And yet, over time I realised that so many of these forms of self-defence were completely inapplicable for people with dwarfism. Even at 4’6” – hardly small for a dwarf – my hips are at the height of most people’s knees. I’m never going to get my leg up high enough to kick an attacker in the head – as you’re taught in Taekwondo. Nor, at 7 and a half stone, would I try to grab, trip, and throw him to the floor – as you might in Judo. Like most dwarfs, my arms are short – making boxing difficult (but not impossible…).

I realised that what people with dwarfism, people like me, really need is a self-defense system designed for our body types and the sorts of threats and assaults (being grabbed, picked up, bear hugged, and so on) which, sadly, some of face all too often in our daily lives.

And so SPD – Self-Protection for Dwarfs – was born.

Designed and developed by myself, under the expert guidance and instruction of  Urban Warriors Krav maga Chief Instructor Kelina Cowell, SPD is a unique, practical, and applicable form of self-defense for people with dwarfism. For us, by us; tailored to the modern day environment (not the battlefields of feudal Japan!).

dwarfism dwarf boxing martial arts krav magaOf course there’s a desperate need for us as a society to re-evaluate how we treat those who are different; to think critically about how a dearth of real representations of people with dwarfism – and indeed other disabilities too – in the media perpetuate prejudices and spread stereotypes.

But as Kelina herself has said before, the world will never rid itself of violence, abuse, and discrimination. That we also need to address structural problems like poverty and inequality, social immobility and educational disadvantage, shouldn’t stop us from locking our doors at night to prevent burglars and home invaders.

Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs is a serious step forwards to helping people with dwarfism be better prepared to look after and defend themselves in times of crisis; to learn new skills and grow as individuals and as a community; and to build our self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-confidence.

To me, that’s truly empowering.

All we have to do now is to spread the word, teach and train others, and watch the movement grow.

Interested? Want to know more? For more information about Urban Warriors Self Protection for Dwarfs, Please like the Urban Warriors SPD Facebook page, follow us on the Urban Warriors SPD Twitter page, or contact us urbanwarriorsspd at gmail.com

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3 ways Labour can still win back Gloucester

Gloucester
A new poll of Labour/Conservative marginal seats by Lord Ashcroft has found that my home city of Gloucester will be held, by the skin of their teeth, by the Conservatives.

This will come as a blow to the Labour party who placed Gloucester 38th on the list of must win key battlegrounds.

Significantly though, the poll finds some key variations between the national picture and that of local voting intention in Gloucester that provides some clues to how Labour can still win back Gloucester…

Local Labour need to win over former Lib Dem voters

The latest national YouGov polling reinforces a key trend that many, including those within the Labour party, have spotted and that is that there lead in the polls is based on picking up former Lib Dem voters. The latest national figures suggest 38% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour in 2015, compared to just 26% Lib Dem and a meagre 11% Green and 10% UKIP.

Locally however in Gloucester, just 16% of 2010 Lib Dem voters are planning to vote Labour compared to 25% Lib Dem and 20% UKIP.

This suggests that although the Lib Dem vote has collapsed in Gloucester like other parts of the country local Labour have failed to capitalise. UKIP are, as well as picking up ex-Conservative voters, also taking chunks of key demographics that Labour need to be claiming!

The size of the former Lib Dem vote share should not be underestimated in Gloucester…

In 2010 the Lib Dems picked up close to 20% of the vote in Gloucester (9,767 votes). Assuming that they retain 25% of this (approx. 2,500 votes) that leaves 15% of the total vote share in Gloucester up for grabs (approx. 7,500).

Interestingly Greens have also failed to capitalise on this. The poll predicts they will pick up just 7% of 2010 Lib Dem voters. This, combined with the higher than national average ‘don’t knows’ among 2010 Lib Dem voters in Gloucester, suggests that there are still a significant number of key floating voters in the constituency.

The campaigning will be important…

Local Labour must battle apathy and ensure a high turnout

Nationally the above mentioned YouGov poll suggests 6% of people will not vote and 13% do not know who they will vote for.

Locally however in Gloucester, Lord Ashcroft found that, 13% would not vote and 14% do not know who they will vote for. In short, according to this poll, Gloucester has more than double the national average of people planning on not voting in May 2015.

In 2010 Gloucester had a 64% turnout rate, marginally lower than the 65% national average. If this drops further this will in itself prove to be crucial as high turnouts traditionally favour Labour while low turnouts tend to support the Conservatives.

If Labour wants to defeat the Conservatives they must ensure a high turnout, especially among key demographics such as the 18-34 age range who typically are more likely to back Labour but also are much less likely to vote.

The 24 hour lead up to the election will be key in terms of Labour getting their supporters out and voting…

Labour need to get out there and knock on doors and deliver leaflets  

With just over 6 months to go until the election it is interesting to note that the poll found 70% of those surveyed said that they had not heard from any local political party in the last few weeks. Marginally more however had heard from the Conservatives than they had from Labour.

Being active locally and being seen to be champions of your local area remains an unmovable part of the path to electoral success. With so many floating voters in Gloucester this only reiterates the need for Labour to be getting out onto the door steps making the case for why they think voting Labour is the best thing for Gloucester.

The question though is not only will local voters hear them but, but will they believe them?

 

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Is there a case for making exceptions to the national minimum wage?

Conservative Lord Freud

Conservative Lord Freud

In 1997 the Blair government, to their credit, reversed 5 years of Conservative feet dragging and introduced the minimum wage. This policy, at its now slightly inflated but still chronically too low rate, is a basic safety net for paid workers.

Hynd’s Blog has consistently called for the advancement of the minimum wage to match that calculated as the ‘living wage’ – the minimum amount it is deemed to be able to have a reasonable standard of living off.

Today though the paper’s are not filled with the argument for increasing the minimum wage to match a ‘living wage’ but instead, the idea of some people being able to earn less than the minimum wage – an idea which Hynd’s Blog is not immediately and unconditionally opposed to.

Lord Freud, the Conservative Welfare Minister, has been thrown into the heart of this debate when a recording of him saying, “There is a group, and I know exactly who you mean, where actually as you say they’re not worth the full wage” was released.


In short, he suggests that certain disabled people are ‘not worth’ the meager £3.79 (for under 18s) that stands as the current minimum wage.

Moving this debate though beyond the despicable language that suggests you can assess the ‘worth’ of an individual there is a pertinent question to ask around whether or not exceptions should be made to minimum wage legislation – like for example the system they have in New Zealand.

I would personally advocate for a system where an individual employee could apply for an exception to the national minimum wage that is then assessed by a government agency so they can continue working in a job that they are perhaps good at but cannot perform at the speed or efficiency of other workers.

An example might be an adult with learning disabilities who works slowly and methodically at a certain task benefiting greatly from the social interaction, the responsibilities of work and the limited financial independence of a reduced salary but who works too slowly for a commercial employer to feel they can justify paying a minimum wage.

This opt out clause could easily be supported through an existing financial top up scheme comparable to that ‘disability premium’ income support to ensure the employee is protected whilst the employer does not lose out.

With this in mind, it is worth also examining the politics of the current uproar. Lord Freud’s comments were unacceptable and as such he needs to apologise. But, equally, the nature and severity of the attack from Labour on this issue only serves as party political point scoring and does little to add to the social policy question that the Conservative Cllr and Lord Freud were addressing – what is best form of legal protection disabled workers whose output is partially effected by their disability?

I don’t have the answer to this and certainly not the research to back up the above idea but it would be interested to get a discussion going – something unlikely to happen in the current media hyperbole.

UPDATE:

Full text of Lord Freud’s apology:

Lord Freud statement

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UKIP but not the Green Party included in TV leader’s debate

FarageBennettThe BBC this morning reported:

“UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage has been invited to take part in a TV debate with David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg ahead of next year’s general election.

The BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 have announced plans to hold three debates.

One would involve a head-to-head debate between just the Conservative and Labour leaders, and another would include the Liberal Democrat leader.

The other debate would involve all three leaders plus Mr Farage.”

Almost instantly a variation of the pertinent question ‘On what basis is Nigel Farage included and not Natalie Bennett and the Green Party?’ was being replicated across social media.

Now UKIP have one elected MP, but of course The Green Party has also had one MP since 2010. Recent polling figures show UKIP flying high but have also shown the Greens polling in the same ball park as the Lib Dems.

Norman Smith, the Assistant Political Editor at the BBC, at least could foresee this inevitable anger and frustration:

But many still felt his language didn’t do the scale of this stitch up justice:

UPDATE:

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “With these statements the broadcasters are demonstrating just how out of touch they are with the public mood, and how ridiculously they cling to the idea that the future of politics looks like the past.

“It is clear from votes and polls that the public are fed up with the three business-as-usual parties and are looking around for alternatives.”

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