Who’s asking silly questions?

Governments like to tell us how well the country’s doing.
Our future prime minister, Mr Brown, has been particularly adept at it.
But bare, hypothetical economics often disguises real hardships.
For instance, while luxury goods such as clothes in fashionable high street shops, DVDs and electrical goods continue to fall in price, food and energy costs rise.
This means the elderly and vulnerable suffer most, with inflation on essentials running three times as high as the national figure.
It is not exactly what we would expect after 10 years of a Labour Government.

However, politicians don’t see any concerns about cash when it comes to spending between £25bn and £70bn on the new range of intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace Trident.
There was, it was mooted last year, going to be a consultation on the decision but it’s most likely you’ll have missed it.
And when the crunch comes, the Blair babes and blokes – jaded though they now might be– will stand in line and wave it through.
Not surprising then that a sense of helplessness overtook protesters at Faslane in Scotland earlier this month when a number were arrested for blockading the weapons base.
Among those carted off were Jill Evans MEP and AM Leanne Wood. The demo featured elected members from Westminster, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and European parliaments, and local councils.
In lieu of real and meaningful consultation this is what it naturally comes to: protest.
There is, after all, a cowardly aspect to the way many politicians fail to recognize any alternative to the Trident replacement. They live in fear of a public they believe will turn on a government which supposedly leaves it defenceless.
This is at the heart of the nuclear obsession.
And so we will take on some system designed to destroy the centres of Prague, St Petersburg and Bucharest – work now done at weekends by stag and hen parties.
We will also be told that Britain must remain strong – when true strength would be to lead the way in disarmament, not to puff out our chests, beef up our muscles further, and act again like the agitator rather than the peacemaker.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant was among the first to slag off Evans and Wood for their protest.
“I think trying to get yourself arrested is childish politics,” he said. “They should be representing their constituents. I think it’s a shame they have got their priorities all wrong.”
Childish politics? I’d love to know what Bryant sees as grown-up issues…
Four years ago this week, for instance, while working on Wales On Sunday, I posed the following question to all Welsh MPs: “Would you support British forces taking part in a war on Iraq without the backing of the United Nations?”
As we know the backing never came; the war did.
Almost all MPs responded with few sitting on the fence.
Ann Clwyd, Cynon Valley, whose response to Saddam’s execution featured here last time, was according to her assistant “not making herself available to answer that question.”
And Chris Bryant? Well, his response was priceless.
“I don’t do surveys,” he said pompously. “I don’t answer silly questions.”
Childish politics? Silly questions?
He’s the one who is not taking the real issues seriously.

Bob Peters learnt his politics from conviction.
Growing up in the 1920s, he couldn’t find work in his hometown, Penarth.
With his mother struggling to make ends meet – she was alone with nine kids – the Salvation Army stepped in to train him for a trade. Aged 16, he sailed for Canada.
There, as a deckhand on the cargo ships of the Great Lakes, he worked hard for union recognition, a battle that sparked a political fire inside him.
Within a short time he was in Spain, fighting against General Franco’s Hitler-backed forces.
I knew Bob for a short time before he died last week, aged 92. We worked together on a book.
Its title, ‘A Bullet Saved My Life’, alluded to an incident in Spain when Bob was shot in the back: the wound took him away from a unit which went on to suffer terrible losses.
But Bob was more than a war veteran. He was humble and kind. A gentleman.

:::from The Big Issue Cymru, January 22

Bob Peters

WALES’ last veteran of the Spanish Civil War has died.
Bob Peters, was the last surviving member of a brave generation of Welsh men, who volunteered to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s.
He died on Monday, aged 92, after a brave battle with cancer.
Today First Minister Rhodri Morgan paid tribute to Mr Peters, saying Wales could “take pride in his memory”.
Mr Peters was born in Archer Terrace, Penarth, in 1914 and was the youngest of nine children.
He left Wales to find work in Canada when he was just 16 and was working as a deckhand when he learned about the war in Spain.
He volunteered to fight for the democratically-elected government against the military uprising led by General Franco and supported by Hitler. The volunteers were called the International Brigades and around 150 went from Wales.
However, in July 1937, he was badly wounded and transferred from the frontline. As casualties were so high in his former unit, Bob says if he had stayed on the battlefield he would have been killed.
For 70 years he kept quiet about his time in Spain. All that changed when in 2006 his remarkable story was recorded in a book called ‘A Bullet Saved My Life’ published by Warren and Pell.
“Maybe we were naive, I don’t know,” said Bob. “We thought we could help and that’s why we went.”We never considered we might be killed. Not until we got there.”
When Mr Peters was shot, medics could not at first remove the bullet as it was too near his spine.
However, he recovered to become a motorcycle despatch rider, taking messages to the frontline. While riding on rough roads the bullet moved and it was cut out. In October 1938, the International Brigades were withdrawn. Although the war was lost they were treated like heroes.
During the Second World War Mr Peters served in the British army in Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia. He later settled in Kent where he worked as a fork-lift driver.
His wife Frances died in 1990 and Rodney, the eldest of their four sons, died last year.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan said: “Bob’s death is almost the closing page of the history of Wales and the Spanish Civil War – one of the great ideological dividing lines of the 1930s; his was a life charted not only by unemployment, hunger and the other necessities that guide working people everywhere but also by his commitment to fight for his socialist principles.
“We all take pride in his memory and pay our respects for his contribution, and send our strongest sympathies to his family.”

Lost in the Supermarket

Hoping for better luck at supermarkets this year. Have avoided them so far.
At the end of last year I’d found myself trying to enforce a personal boycott of the new self-serve checkouts.
No way would I use one of them, I said to myself: somewhere along the line, they would mean the end of someone’s job.
Then, I found myself standing in a long queue at Marks and Spencer with just a sandwich in my hand.
The self-serve option beckoned and I took it. I was in a hurry, I told myself.
But, walking off, I realized I’d failed myself. Somewhere I heard a computer click. Another shopper had chosen self-serve. Another nail knocked into the coffin of the poor old human alternative.
Then, on a visit to Tesco, I went from breaking one of my rules to breaking one of their’s.
Rushing again – honest – I turned a trolley of goods into the wrong checkout.
And I had half unpacked before the checkout lady pointed skywards to a sign telling me I was in the Ten Items Or Less queue.
Oh, the shame!
The till worker took time to etch a look of contempt into the inside of my eyelids.
I left wondering if those self-serve checkouts weren’t so bad after all.
Finally, I returned to Marks. With a few snacks, I hit the queue.
My arm was tugged. “Is that all you have, sir?”
I hesitated, aware of what was coming next.
“Yes,” I said. My fate was sealed.
I was led to the self-serve. There was no way I was putting up a fight and blotting my copy book there as well.
“Have you used one of these before, sir?”
I tried not to sound pompous and undoubtedly failed.
“I try not to because I’m sure in the end they will cost people’s jobs.”
“Good point,” she replied, but was still smiling professionally as I guided the barcode of my BLT across the little screen.

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