...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Day 4846: Joining the Blog Tour – a convenient way to make my excuses for where I’ve been…


Someday's you're just walking down the street and our of the blue a perfectly nice strangers say: "don't you write Millennium's diary?"

(Hello, by the way!)

And the answer is: "Not so's you'd notice recently." And "Sorry!"

But then, quite flatteringly, I got invited to join The Writing Process Blog Tour, a kind of Internet chain letter between writerly types on the web. And I say flattering because there're some actual real quality people doing this.

The idea's a simple one. Each writer in turn answers four questions about their work and then pass the torch to someone else. My invitation came from Lawrence Burton, who is a friend and artist and author of the wonderful and remarkable Faction Paradox novel "Against Nature" which I reviewed here. He was also kind enough to create the cover art for my own book.

Previous entries on the tour are from Lawrence (obviously), Nick Sweeney and Sharon Zink and so on back.

And so this is me:

1 What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing an SF novel called “anarchy rules”.

Or to be more strictly accurate, the first volume, “before dawn”, is finished, and ready to publish, but most of the feedback I have had, while positive, has it as only whetting the appetite without delivering. And that’s fair enough, because it is very “prologue-y”. So I’m writing the second volume, “gods & men” (and occasionally parts of the third “there are no forevers”).

Volume two should start to have real story in it.

A bit.

But, the bad news is it’s looking like being about twice as long as the first volume, so it’s going to take longer to finish. It’s about half done now.

The worse news is that I have a full-time job which is taking ever-increasing amounts of my time, so what I’m mostly writing at the moment is incredibly dull, because it’s a set of monthly accounts.

Should I have any time of my own, though, that’s what I’m doing.

2 How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Philosophically, I’d say it’s because I’m a Liberal.

You need to start by saying who I’m like, I suppose. The people who I admire, and I guess try to emulate, are the likes of Douglas Adams, Iain (with or without an M) Banks, Charlie Stross, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Lawrence Miles… People with an incredible density of ideas on the page; people whose world-building is as vast and intricate as anything by Tolkien or Martin but whose starting point is a skewed version of our own sliver of reality.

But there is a tendency in this line to be a bit of a lefty, well just look at the list. Or worse, there are others who are full on Randian right-wingers. I’m trying to plough a Liberal furrow.

In practical terms, it’s all about stories within stories. The books are very much written as anthologies, seven short stories – ten to twenty thousand words apiece – within a framing device, and with other asides and spin-offs, that, as a whole, form a bigger picture: the first volume, say, the completed one is at its heart “origin stories for super-heroes gone wrong”. Then the three volumes together form a bigger picture, of order descending into chaos because you can’t give people godlike powers and expect that to end well. If it goes beyond that, there’s a bigger picture still to explore.

3 Why do you write what you do?

In a way, this question perplexes me, a bit like asking “why do you breathe oxygen?” Writing is as necessary as breathing and these ideas are the atmosphere I happen to be writing in.

My background, my student days as a mathematician, my politics, my partner, my preferred television – Doctor Who, the Avengers, Babylon 5 – the people who’ve inspired me (Andrew, Lawrence) and what they write about, the times we live in… all of these things combine to infuse me with the ideas that my stories are built out of.

I suppose there is a single overriding concept at the root of “anarchy rules” – I’m not going to say what it is because it’s part of that bigger picture to explore that I mentioned, so it’s not ready yet – but there’s a lodestone there that draws in the other ideas and sets them in their orbits, begins to accrete plot, and directs the overarching story.

That concept means writing a story that is a “story about stories”, about worlds within worlds, and about what is real and what is imagined and what is real because it is imagined.

4 How does your writing process work?

Like a magpie building a nest.

You start gathering lots of shiny things. Pop science, culture, faces seen in the street, news items… they are all sources of possible ideas, BBC Radio4 – now I’ve discovered a lot of their output is available as podcasts – is a terrific resource. And reading. Lots of reading. You’ve got to see how writing is done to know how to do it. (And then you’ve got to write a lot to work out how you can do it.)

Then from all the shiny things, you start to throw them together and see what sort of structure emerges. There’s an idea about a plot – that is a sequence of events that you’re going to hang this story around – but that’s actually remarkably fluid early on.

For each bit you write there’s direct research. Start on the Internet: Wikipedia (yes, afraid so) and Google Maps are incredible tools for the writer wanting to look quickly at a subject or a location. And again, your old fashioned actual books. More reading.

As you write, you start to get the feel of what your characters want to do, and that may be go off in a different direction than you thought. Keep on writing and connections will emerge that you weren’t aware of to begin with but you’d clearly been thinking of. You can trust to your subconscious a lot.

But also keep reading it back and don’t be afraid of chucking it out if it’s rubbish. Or just if it no longer fits. Keep the pieces, there’s always a chance you might be able to recycle them later. Keep writing stuff. Doesn’t matter if it’s crude to start with. Rereading it will give you the chance to hone your language. You can make sure your imagery and metaphors reflect and foreshadow once you know where you’re going to end up. Try not to write exactly the same thing twice. For me, I’m trying to show reflections, parallels, similarities in the stories, but time they do have to be slightly different every time.

I am, however, rubbish at finishing things. I flit from one story to another as bits of idea catch my eye. So there are seven stories to write and only one is finished. Another is getting nearly finished. A third was making good progress but hasn’t seen me for a while. The fourth is a framework, the fifth a skeleton, the sixth just a cloud of words and the seventh not even that, existing purely in my head as a location and a bit of a twist.

So in the meantime, here is a song…

We welcome you to Goblin Town
Where the king wears sunshine for a crown
We dance and sing for the pleasure of the king
And so will you when he's around

We welcome you to our Unselie Court
Where pleasure bent is our every thought
To play some more is the whole of the law
And we'll have our way in wicked sport

We welcome you to the place of feast
Where you'll love the taste of juicy meats
We'll have you for dinner too
For everything is good to eat

Welcome to our labyrinth of gold
Where jewelled trinkets overflow
You'll be amazed in our crystal caves
And vaults that hold you till you grow old

You're welcome too to iron and ire
To furnace hot, and forge and fire
Far from the sun our tunnels run
To the house of pain that ends desire

Welcome then to the heart of stone
Where gods of chaos make their throne
Where talk of rules is the song of fools
And you find yourself left all alone

Welcome last where the Deep Ones swim
Where the fires fail and the light grows dim
There's no coming back from the heart of the black
From the darkest hole where you've fallen down
We welcome you to Goblin Town
We welcome you to Goblin Town.

Now I suggest you go and check out Mr Andrew while I try to rope some more folks into this tour larks!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Day 4833: In and Proud


Did you miss me? I've been EVER so busy (definitely NOT sulking. JUST because I'm a TEENAGER now!)

Tonight we'll be supporting a POSITIVE case for IN, cheering on Captain Clegg when he faces off against evil former-banker Mr Farrago, aka Dr Nigel No, Chief Kipper of the UKPNuts.

And HOORAY! for that! It's been AGES since I was so PROUD of the Liberal Democrats*. Just watch the video:

Doesn't that WARM your FLUFF!

It's certainly woken Daddy Alex up. He's written some NEW words to help the Captain out: Putting #WhyIAmIN Into What the Lib Dems Stand For!

And, like BAGPUSS, when Daddy wakes up, all his fluffy friends wake up! (Don't be RUDE! I mean ME!)

Like Daddy, I've had another look at my answer to his challenge last year and like Daddy I've added more guff included even more good Liberal values!

“The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom.

Freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

Freedom for every individual, family, group, community, society or nation.

Freedom from inheriting the financial and environmental mistakes of earlier generations.

Freedom to live your life enjoying the rewards for your own endeavour, governed by your own choices – with equality before the law; without harming others.

To deliver these freedoms, for today and the future, needs both fairness and practicality; opportunity and compassion.

  • An economy that is stronger, and sustainable for the future, where everyone also pays their share.
  • A society which is fairer and that recognises that we work better together, together locally, together in the UK and together in Europe, to fight crime, ensure fair trade, tackle climate change and break down barriers to understanding.

The Liberal Democrats believe in a better future. That’s why Liberal Democrats are working to build a fairer, freer society and a stronger, greener economy, enabling every person to live the life they want.”

With all that help, I'm sure that Captain Clegg will do well.

*What has a Liberal Government ever done for us, eh?

Apart from being the only Western country with falling inequality, obviously, what have the Lib Dems in government actually done for us?

That is apart from falling inequality and getting through the worst recession for a hundred years with falling unemployment, falling inflation and a falling deficit, what have the Liberal Democrats achieved?

You know, set aside the falling inequality, strengthening economy, and raising the personal allowance so that millions of people on low and average earnings have had a tax cut (while taxing the rich more), can you think of anything that the Lib Dems have actually done?

Because and obviously we're not mentioning the falling inequality, strengthening economy, fairer taxes and sorting out the pension system, with a triple lock to maintain the value of current pensions, with better provision for everyone in future AND trusting people with their own money when they retire, can you think of any reason we should be proud of the Lib Dems in power?

I mean, not counting falling inequality, strengthening economy, fairer taxes, better pensions, and turning Labour student loans into what is effectively a graduate tax when graduates will pay less each month and that has seen more people from less well-off backgrounds than ever before going to University, what use have the Lib Dems been in the Coalition?

So if we ignore the falling inequality, strengthening economy, fairer taxes, better pensions, wider access to University, and of course free school meals… and ending child detention … and the world's first green bank… and apprenticeships… and no I.D cards… and the pupil premium… APART from all that…

What HAVE the Liberal Democrats done to make us feel proud?

Oh, and before we all have a Miranda moment, we got equal(er) marriage too.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Day 4749: Heart and Stomach of a Concrete Elephant!

New Year's Day:

Wishing you all a very happy MY BIRTHDAY (thank you for all the fireworks).

This year, I have been immortalised in ceramic!


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Day 4742: DOCTOR WHO: Silent Night

Christmas (Day not Town):

How can you have a duck pond if there aren’t any ducks?
How can you have Time if there aren’t any Time Lords.

The Time of the Doctor was everything you would expect from the capstone of the Matt Smith era: beautiful, touching character moments; ingenious, retrospective plot explanations; and ever so slightly not as good as he deserved. We got answers: what were the cracks, who blew up the TARDIS, where the Pandorica Alliance came from, the origins of River Song, what “Silence Will Fall” actually means. What we were missing, though, was a story.

Specifically, we were missing Kovarian’s story.

Who the hell is Kovarian, you may well ask? Because expecting you to remember is typical of Steven Moffat, even for a throwaway line to explain the Series 5 plot arc and a second to explain the Series 6 one, but: going back a couple of years (or a few hundred for the Doctor), Madame Kovarian was the Doctor’s murderer, with the eyepatch, with the Silence, with the psychopath River Song, in the study Impossible Astronaut and all that Demon’s Run. Remember? Okay, Moffat style, we’ll do it round the other way…

Somewhere on that flying Papal Mainframe there was a little, dark-haired girl, raised in the way of the Church, who believed, really believed in the goodness of the Doctor. Maybe she was even his “companion” in the town called Christmas. Who then had to grow up, and grow old, while the Doctor stayed, while the siege of Trenzalore lasted, stretched into “long, bitter war”. That little girl is Kovarian, and Kovarian is the mirror of Amelia Pond. Amelia – Amy – had her life turned upside down because the Doctor failed to come back. But Kovarian’s life was destroyed because he stayed. The Destiny Trap is her story. She goes back in time to change history and in so doing creates the very circumstances that shaped her life in the first place.

That’s a terrible and tragic story, maybe a bit too heavy for Christmas, and Francis Barber is a busy actor. But it must have happened pretty much like that, because we’re seen all the other bits. We rather deserved to see this bit too. And while the first half of The Time of the Doctor actually works rather well, the second half descends into more of a series of disconnected vignettes, with Orla Brady’s Mother Superis Superious Spuriousius… whatever… Tasha Lem narrating. But saying “and three hundred years passed” and sticking some glue on Matt Smith’s face does not a sense of passing time create. There’s a hint of a story going on with the young Barnoble – the little boy that the Doctor does come back for – with maybe a hint that the young man at the end is his son or grandson, but it’s not explicit. We really don’t see any kind of change, we don’t get to follow the live of the people of Christmas, we don’t see their village evolve at all, which undermines the idea that this siege last for ages. It’s like “State of Decay” with the Doctor playing the Three Who Rule. And that can’t be right.

In fact, there isn’t anything to suggest that the Doctor wouldn’t have been better off evacuating the human colonists, getting the Church to teleport the whole lot off them off Trenzalore and run for it, rather than leaving them in the firing line between all the monsters and the Time Lords. (Except that would have left him with a rather lonely vigil over the crack; but keeping them around as, well, pets would belie the “every life I save is a victory”. Oh look there’s the TARDIS; come on Doctor you can save everyone now!)

There’s a weird sense that Steven Moffat listens to the criticisms of his writing and rather than addressing them head on, almost tries to retcon them out. So the Silence aren’t an ancient race that’s been secretly ruling the Earth since forever, but are really just genetically modified priests (so that thing the Doctor does at the end of “The Day of the Moon” is ethnic cleansing not genocide after all. So that’s all right then). And I think Moffat probably doesn’t understand the point of confession if he thinks that forgetting you’ve done it straight afterwards would be any part of the practice. (Whereas Priests who would forget what you’ve told them when they’re not looking at you, they would be ideal for confession.) The whole way that they behave – the way they seem to live in nests, the whole Nosferatu hanging from the ceiling thing – does this make any kind of sense for a religious order? And I’m still not entirely sure why you wold want a priesthood who can shoot electricity out of their fingers.

It’s not the only way that Moffat cheats. When Dorium (or his head, anyway) told us the prophecy back at the end of Season Six, it was:
“On the Fields of Trenzalore, when no living thing can lie or fail to answer, a question will be asked, the oldest question in the Universe, hidden in plain sight.”
Or fail to answer: the Doctor spends at least three hundred years failing to answer that question. Or is that why he can’t leave? It holds onto him until he answers, and it’s only when the Crack moves itself that he’s free of the pull of Trenzalore?

And he’s pretty adept at telling lies inside the truth field by the end, too – when he says to the young not-Barnoble that he has a plan, and then tells Clara he hasn’t got a plan; one or other statement isn’t true.

Minor niggles: I would have liked to see the Doctor’s thirteenth regeneration leave the “scar in time” (from “The Name of the Doctor”) at the top of the church (ish) tower, regardless of his life continuing. And I’d have rather the Time Lords opened their crack in the Universe through that Dalek command saucer, blowing it up, than weaponising the Doctor’s regeneration to the point of absurdity. I thought that – in a moment of Chekov’s Gun – the appearance by young-again Matt Smith in the TARDIS would be revealed as the new Doctor wearing the hologram clothes, to comfort Clara and ease the shock of the transition for her. And, lovely as it was for Matt to be reunited with Karen again for the “Raggedy Man, good night”, surely for the Doctor it should have been River.

More serious niggles: more of Moffat’s trademark dubious sexual ethics and misjudged comedy. I’m all for normalising and accepting naturism. But the Doctor is naked here for laughs, but Clara doesn’t like it, but he still goes and exposes himself to her family, and then he makes her get naked, and is variously inappropriate, but it’s all working up to a wig joke… yes, it’s been an extended gag about Matt getting his hair cut for another role. And that’s before we’re introduced to yet another “powerful woman” with a sexualised relationship with the Doctor. Why not just save time and have the Papal Mainframe be the Library from Silence in the Library and River be the Space Pope after all. But I guess Alex Kingston is a busy actor too. You do think maybe Moff just doesn’t sit down and think these things through, though.

It’s like the way that the Daleks forgot all about the Doctor in the last appearance… only to learn all about him again this time (assuming any of them survived the latest wipe out). Likewise, at the end of “The Day of the Doctor”, the Grand Moff sets up what everyone expected to be a perfect “quest for Gallifrey” arc for Peter Capaldi’s season eight, only to immediately burn that plot thread by saying: “and the whole of the Eleventh’s story was how the Time Lords tried to come back… again… and they couldn’t because it would mean another Time War”.

It’s not that these are actually bad ideas, but – I hesitate to say this after the agony of the stretched-out Silence arc, but – might this not have worked better as a season arc? Or at least played over several episodes. Possibly Matt’s decision to quit meant Steven had to collapse several stories into one. Even at an hour, this is, ironically, too short. That might explain why this feels so… exposition-y. Or maybe it’s just Moffat’s habit of machine-gunning us with ideas, rather than ever developing and examining any of them.

On the other hand, he’s re-established the Daleks as the preeminent enemy of the Doctor Who Universe (and all Gold RTDaleks too, with not a Fatlek in sight this time, either! I suppose delivering flying Spider Daleks from “The Day of the Doctor” is enough to satisfy him.)

And the Silence arc does – just about – come to make sense. Admittedly it needed the Doctor and the Space Pope to sit down and literally explain it to each other… as Lawrence (you wondered how I was going to get a mention of him in) Miles once said: “who would have thought? After all that the enemy turned out to be two pages of technobabble”. That they might choose the victory of the Daleks over the recommencement of the Time War suggests that the Church’s logic was a bit pickled, but it is (sort of) logical that the Silence arc – like River Song, who of course comes from them – is backwards compared to the Doctor, his end is in their beginning. The Timey-Wimey of the Doctor, you might as well say. And so, having reached a point where a message from Gallifrey would actually mean something to him, he can finally understand what this is all about.

And there are beautiful moments, beautifully played, along the way. Some people say that small, beautiful moments are what life is all about. Sunrise on Trenzalore and the passing of Handles – whatever qualms I might have about the Doctor using bits of dead Cyberman to make a friend out of – managed to turn a joke about a reminder from a digital assistant into something moving. Clara’s gran finding just the right words at the right moment – in spite of Moffat having skipped over putting the work in to establish Clara’s family, and was Linda a step-mum? – was a lovely Christmas “family” moment, something true against the sentimental grain of the season. And Matt’s final speech – again, even though I dislike the “reset”, typical of Moffat undoing any consequences of the Doctor’s centuries-long sojurn – with his imagined seeing of lost companion Amelia (how like “Logopolis” or “The Caves of Androzani” that the past companions return to salute their Doctor) and his final casting aside of the bow tie. And bravely to accept that we all change; the final admittance that Ten was wrong to want to stay.

Oh, and “The Time Lords gave him a new regeneration cycle” is a rubbish way to get around the limit of thirteen. No, tossing in continuity references to “The Five Doctors” doesn’t make it clever. It’s cheap fan-fic. (Yes, we all know that the Time Lords offered the Master a new regenerative cycle in “The Five Doctors”; we all also know that most of us assumed they could do that because he’d stolen a whole new body. If he could just have another go, why did he almost blow up Gallifrey to try and prolong his life in “The Deadly Assassin”? No don’t say it’s because he’s a psycho.) It’s a “phew that was close” moment. It makes the Time Lords into Tinkerbell and the Fairy Godmother. And Clara’s speech to convince them to help him was done better – by Moffat – in “The Curse of the Fatal Death”. It makes the Doctor’s actual death less than the spoof version.

The Doctor’s life needs to be more important than that, more important than “of course we’re going to carry on”. If Moff had had a genuinely interesting idea for getting the Doctor off the mortality hook then I’d be delighted at his “cleverness” and go along with the “and now he’s not eleven he’s thirteen” guff. I like that Ten (who was actually Eleven) regenerated into himself (as Twelve). It almost makes sense of his regeneration blowing up the TARDIS when he changed into Eleven (who is really Thirteen); he’s trying to regenerate into himself again but doesn’t have a compatible container (i.e. a handy hand) to catch the regeneration energy, so it fries him and the TARDIS together. But discovering that Moffat didn’t have any idea better than that makes me think… he shouldn’t try to tell a story he doesn’t have.

Also, why does Clara now live on Rose Tyler’s estate?

Next Time… A new body… at last. Doesn’t Peter Capaldi have a beautifully interesting face, weird, expressive, and alive with possibilities? So, who’s up for “The Twenty-Five Doctors”?

And now, thanks to the BBC, that Christmas Special in full...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Day 4735: If the Economy Is Getting Stronger Why Are the Queues at Food Banks Getting Longer?


The latest figures show that unemployment has fallen to 7.4%, the lowest since 2009 (i.e. now lower than Labour left behind), and an email from Mr Danny Alexander arrives to celebrate that there are now thirty million people in work.

Inflation, down to 2.1% is also at a four year low.

So “Yay!”

But there’s also been a huge rise in people getting emergency food from food banks – as highlighted in today’s Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons.

We need to cast some light on this debate; we need some understanding of what’s driving this increase.

At the moment it’s all too easy for the Left to cry “Evil Tory Government” as though that was all the explanation necessary (and for some of them, all too often, it is); while the Right respond with “poor people have made poor decisions”.

(In fairness to Gove, he actually said “…so we need to help them”; that is, he meant to be patronising, not dismissive.)

The Tory responses in the debate – essentially to blame it all on Labour – won’t wash. Worse, they’re a cowardly approach, denying that the Coalition has changed anything.

The actual cold, hard, statistics – employment, inflation, interest rates, or my personal favourite the gini coefficient that shows that for the first time in thirty years, and uniquely among Western nations, inequality in the UK has actually fallen (as a result of the Coalition’s changes to taxes and benefits pushing the tax burden up the income scale) – all point to the UK having worked well together to mitigate the harm of the recession and to be moving into recovery.

But people don’t believe statistics.

Or rather, they’ll believe a statistic that says the use of food banks has trebled, but not ones that say the economy is growing.

And with inflation still running ahead of wages it’s easy to see why: a lot of people still have to live with their pay frozen – yes, including MPs’, despite what you’ve heard; IPSA’s recommendation still only being a recommendation so far, but massively unhelpfully adding to the prevalent (and probably untrue) “them and us” narrative. By spreading the pain so broadly we’ve avoided the horror of huge spikes of unemployment that the recessions of the Eighties saw – unlike the Thatcher governments, the Coalition hasn’t “written anyone off” – but at the expense of a whole lot more people feeling the impact of 2008’s economic disaster.

This is why Labour get traction from their “cost of living crisis” rhetoric. It’s a cunning way of turning the Coalition’s “we’re all in it together” into “we’re all hurting” (particularly when tossing in the odd sly reference to the “1%” who somehow aren’t in it together), while stealthily dropping that “Plan B” that they’ve been banging on about since 2010. (And how has borrowing more and super-taxing the rich worked out for France, by the way, Mr Balls?) What it doesn’t disguise is that Labour still only have one policy and that it won’t work. (Hence Ed’s… er… difficult time responding to the Autumn Statement.)

Hysterical commentary from Labour supporters, cherry-picking this food bank statistic and saying “we haven’t had food parcels since the Second World War so things are worse than they have been since the Second World War” simply is not credible in light of the overall picture. We can’t compare the use of food banks now to how they were used in the recessions of the Eighties (or Seventies) because they simply didn’t exist then. In fact, as an extra-governmental route for the “haves” to help the “have-nots” they’re a perfect example of Mr Balloon’s “Big Society” (though the Conservatories have dropped that as quietly as Labour dropped Plan B).

But we cannot in conscience ignore this evidence either.

It’s no good denying that some of the decisions of the Coalition government have caused genuine hardship, either directly by cutting people’s benefits (through the benefit cap, through the second room bedroom tax, through continuing to employ the evil of ATOS) or indirectly by the increase in decisions to freeze or stop payments (decisions often later overturned).

Actually, Mr Iain Drunken-Swerve’s DWP (the Department of Workhouses and Prayer, a ministry well known for their accurate use of statistics) does deny that decisions to freeze or stop payments have led to more people using food banks. Which comes back to begging the question: what does?

The most urgent question has to be are more people in poverty?

(Let’s not mess about with terms like Food Poverty and Fuel Poverty as though people have a meaningful choice between the two; if you’ve not got enough to meet your basic needs you’re screwed one way or the other so what’s the difference.)

There are a number of fairly hefty policies in place that are supposed to stop this: Labour’s minimum wage and tax credits; the Coalition’s triple lock on pensions; Liberal Democrats also managed to strong-arm the Chancellor into indexing benefits in line with inflation through the difficult years when it was highest.

So are these failing? If so which, and how, and how do we stop them failing?

How much of this increase in food bank use genuinely reflects an increase in poverty? Is it possible that there are other factors? I can think of a couple of alternative, not to “explain away” the rise, but to try to think about there being more to the picture.

The most obvious would be people who were previously choosing “eat” over “heat” now have another option: instead of deciding that they must have food and then shivering under a duvet, they can now pay for the heating bill and go to the food bank and get some emergency supplies. What has happened is that an “invisible” poverty has become a visible one.

Another is what you might call the “NHS” effect. If help wasn’t there, people wouldn’t use it. Since its inception, NHS use has grown almost exponentially even as the nation has become fitter and healthier. Similarly, as more food banks are introduced, and more people become aware of food banks, so more food banks are used by more people.

It’s possible that that interpretation is even supported by the authors of that “use of food banks has trebled” statistic: the Trussell Trust, a food bank provider – in fact they describe themselves as “a Christian charity that partners with local communities to provide practical, non-judgemental help to people in crisis”. (Although that’s not an interpretation they would put on it as they’re not as non-judgemental about the Government, whom they blame for the “scandal” of their own success.)

Their accounts (available on the Charity Commission website) say that they’ve demonstrated that their franchise model is “scalable and sustainable”, which suggests that they’re not so much answering an acute need as having found a necessary niche.

(Incidentally, almost all the stories of food banks seem to stem from an October press release of theirs. Though oddly, in researching this, I came across virtually the same story – same source, the Trussell Trust, same number, 350,000 people needing food parcels – but from May relating to 2012.

I’m not saying it’s wrong; it looks a bit weird but it’s probably just a coincidence when the October story compares April to September 2013 with April to September 2012, while the May story is comparing April to March 2012 with April to March 2011. As they say: they helped as many people in six months this year as they did in their whole 2012/13 year. I’m not surprised they have to help more people in Winter when the choice between heat and eat becomes acute.)

Stories about the increase in the use of food banks serve as publicity for food banks; so the Trussell Trust’s press release is not just impartially informing us of the situation, it’s also advertising their product. (Indeed, Tesco, for example, are now encouraging people to donate a shop – at Tesco of course – to the food bank, so turning them into advertising for Tesco!)

You could also say that if people in need are discouraged by shame from looking for “hand outs”, hearing that many more people are using the food bank reduces that disincentive, in a way “permitting” the people who need the food to go and claim it.

Let me emphasise though that just because I can hypothesise alternate explanations for some of the rise in food bank take-up, that doesn’t mean that they’re right. That’s why we need to be asking questions.

I don’t want to rain on the economic parade, but Labour and Labour supporters have latched onto this as “A Big Thing”, and I can’t say that they’re wrong to do so. I know that it’s a big cause for concern, for me and many other Liberal Democrats. We’re concerned for the human tragedy, obviously, but also because it seems to fly in the face of statistics that say the economy is getting both stronger and fairer.

Policy ought to be evidence-based (and unlike Labour I won’t just grab a statistic and say “so there!”), and we need to understand what this piece of evidence is telling us, so these are questions for which we need an answer.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 4717: Millennium’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Top Trunks #50: THE DOCTOR


Age: Between his twelfth and last incarnation… hang on if Davy T used up regeneration eleven AND twelve now, doesn’t that make Mr Dr Matt both twelfth AND last…? Uh oh!
Stories: 2
Awesomeness: the Catharsis of Spurious Morality!
Cuddles: there’ll be no impropriety with the Inquisitor!
AKA: m'learned doctor of law (allegedly; Boatyard, Backyard, Graveyard, Knackers’ Yard… Keeper of the Great Key; Peter Guillam (Tinker, Tailor); Neville Badger (A Bit of a Do); Colonel Mustard (Cluedo); Colonel X (no relation) (Press Gang); …and James Bond on the radio; he’s the immortal Michael Jayston.

He'd better be in the Christmas Dr Woo!

Nya ha ha ha haaaa

Bwa ha ha ha haaaa




Friday, November 29, 2013

Day 4716: Millennium’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Top Trunks #49: SIR IAN CHESTERTON KNIGHT OF JAFFA CAKE


Age: Hasn’t aged since the Sixties
Stories: 37
Awesomeness: Knighted by King Richard; can defeat Aztecs with only his thumb; married Barbara and lived happily ever after
Cuddles: Barbara Wright, the one and only
AKA: Sir Lancelot, the magnificent William Russell Enoch