Friday, 30 September 2011

In a bit of a pickle

Anyone on Twitter today will have noticed that Communities Minister Eric Pickles is a trending topic. Closer analysis will reveal why: he has unveiled plans to support councils who plan to revive their weekly bin collections to the tune of £250m.

What follows is an angry tirade at the announcement and the scheme itself. So don't say you weren't warned.

Let's start with the scheme itself. In the greater scheme of government spending, £250m is pocket money. So why has it got me so angry? We live in a time of cuts, and so seeing some money being spent should appeal to the part of me that believes a government needs to do its utmost to help growth (and that includes spending money on various schemes). And yet this scheme hits me as being beyond stupid, in the context of the day.

The Tories are making cuts to crucial services. Over 1,000 Navy staff were told they would be out of a job, to save a sum of money smaller than the amount which would go on this scheme. £1bn was cut from adult social care. But it was so important to make sure that Middle England could have their weekly bin collections that these thousands of people who had their livelihoods and standards of living directly affected by the cuts could just go hang.

I've used just two small examples there, the two examples used by former deputy PM John Prescott earlier today. But I could go on. Schemes to help young people find work have been cut. NHS staff are left underresourced for their work, spending 13 hours and more working one shift. £250m might be pocket money in political terms, but it could still go a long way to making the lives of thousands of people better.

Were this announcement made at a time when Britain was enjoying prosperity, with falling (and already low) unemployment, an NHS working at its most efficient, etc, then I wouldn't be complaining. But it's all about context. And in the context of its time, this is a scandalous move which just shows the Tories don't give a hoot about 90% of the people in this country, just that minority of backwards reactionaries who underpin the party and its policies.

And now, I shall move on to the announcement itself.

Eric Pickles is an idiot.

There. I said what I think straight off the bat. He's an idiot for a range of reasons. I encourage people to go off and read the announcement in any number of newspapers (Guardian here). It just makes my blood boil that he can describe weekly bin collections as 'a basic right'.

Here's a list of basic human rights (as provided by the European Convention on Human Rights):
  • A right to life
  • A right to freedom from slavery
  • A right to privacy
  • A right to freedom of expression
And I'll add a few of my own to that list. Notably, the right to an education and the right to the highest quality of free healthcare available, as well as, arguably, a right to work. Does Pickles think that the 'basic right' to weekly bin collections is as important as any of those? Or is he just an idiot who has risen to far too high a level of responsibility?

Something else Pickles said was that bin collection was the most visible of all front-line services a council or local authority would have on offer. To sum up: that's utter rubbish (pardon the pun). What about schools? Provision for businesses to set up shop? Financial support for those going to university? Libraries? Planning departments? Housing? Ombudsmen? I'd argue that each and every one of those provisions is more important - and more are more high-profile to anyone not just sitting at home waiting for the bin men - than a weekly bin collection. Yes, the rubbish needs collecting at some point, but right now it's not the most important thing in the country. To say it is the most visible of all front-line services is a self-serving and ignorant statement.

I'd like to end with a message to the Daily Mail. Let us not forget who campaigned for this, and who Pickles is trying to win over. Congratulations to them. On their campaign to make Britain as xenophobic, ignorant, selfish and moronic as possible they have won a famous victory. They must be so proud.

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