Yesterday I watched a programme on BBC TV called Panorama. It showed horrendous incidents of racial abuse at football matched in the Ukraine. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Young men, standing on the terraces, making the Nazi salute and shouting racist abuse to the black footballers playing the match. This, in 2012?

Incidents of racial abuse and violence have started to escalate, even on my own patch, the West Country. Just this month, two kids aged 11 and 15 were convicted of racially abusing and assaulting a female black teacher at their school. In the past five years, there have been thousands of racist incidents in schools. Statistics show that across the UK  in total, 87,915 cases were recorded by the local authorities. They included verbal and physical attacks.

Schools have the power to deal with racism, so the Department of Education say. Yet it still goes on and the effect on staff is often devastating. The last Labour government made it obligatory for schools to monitor and report any incidents of racial abuse to their local county council. But our coalition government decided, in their wisdom to do away with this, so now schools do not have to keep records of racist incidents.

‘We urge our members to go beyond recording, reporting and compliance, to really focus on the culture and ethos of the school and its community to tackle incidents of racial abuse head on. It’s hugely disappointing to hear the figure of 88,000 recorded racist incidents in our schools,’  said NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby .

I am grossly offended by racism. It is a heinous crime and should never be tolerated. Yet how many of us would stand up and defend someone if we saw them being racially abused? We tend, in this age of knives and other weapons like dogs, to turn away.

‘There is no room in civilised, modern society for racism. Schools have tough powers to crackdown on abusive and badly behaved pupils – as well as clear responsibility to teach tolerance and respect for others. Heads and teachers are professional enough never to be complacent in dealing with this issue – parents and pupils expect them to remain vigilant and step in to prevent it whenever it occurs,’ said a spokesman from the Department of Education.

Perhaps we need more and different types of teaching programmes to help kids understand what racism is and what it can lead to? Drama is a good way to do that. I have created two projects to raise awareness of racism. I wrote a play called NICE PEOPLE. It was commissioned by an enlightened county council and  toured schools and community venues. Discussion after the performances were always illuminating. I remember one middle-class woman, well-heeled and well-spoken, standing up and in an angry voice , declaring: ‘ It’s all very well, but we don’t get many of them down here, do we?’ She was referring to black or Asian incomers to the region. I suppose she had a point. In those days, ignorance was bliss. It may have been bliss but it certainly wasn’t an excuse for her attitude which, as she continued to express her views, was racist. However, had she been confronted with this, she would, I am sure, have been horrified.  NICE PEOPLE became a DVD film and is used by police forces, who sadly, seem to have always had issues with racism.

I was then commissioned by the Crown Prosecution Service to write a play about racism in the Judiciary. What! I hear you say? Racist judges and magistrates? Never?  The play was commissioned to raise awareness. It was performed at a conference. Again, there was a discussion after the show, that illustrated how even in the Judiciary, there was much to learn about the issues.

In writing these projects I also learned a great deal. How you can inadvertently say something that could be misconstrued as being racist and how you can say something racist and find that it is ignored by everyone else, except the person it is directed to. I learned that we have to monitor our thoughts as well as our words, because racist thoughts lead to racist words and actions.

Xenophobia is the fear of people who are different from us. There are elements of Xenophobia in racism. If we harbour a deep fear of anyone who is different, then it can manifest itself in a racially motivated attack, either verbal or physical. People sometimes need to feel superior to others. One way of doing this, is to racially abuse someone else. It makes you feel better than them.

There is another point to mention here. Groups, like those on the football terraces, use racism to dominate other groups. Racism can also enable regimes to socially, politically and economically dominate their fellow man. It can rationalise the hierarchical domination of one group over another, based on heritage, ethnicity and colour and gives perceived advantages to the dominant group.

The most hateful use of racism is when a government uses it as an excuse to systematically oppress human rights. This is happening as I write this, all over the world. But in the green garden estates and rolling hills of the West Country, it is often ignorance of values, cultures and religions that inspire racism. There are historic patterns of discrimination and prejudice that manifest as racism all too easily.

The UK once had Colonies. The historic hostilities that happened in those places that were part of our empire, have also contributed to modern racism, for there is an echo; a memory of times past, out there. The slave trade in the UK ended comparatively a short time ago, in 1833, when the Abolition of Salvery Act came into being.

There does seem to be a fear of sharing power with other groups. In the UK we currently have a coalition government, so we are doing our best to share the power! But we also have an immigration policy that is under review. We have laws and immigration policies that may in future prevent immigration of certain Peoples and cultures. Could that be construed as racism? It will be a difficult question to resolve.

I only know that when I come across any abuse I have to stand up and make a noise about it.


City Council Interviews
City Council Interviews (Photo credit: Michael @ NW Lens)

Last year, we were throwing up our hands in horror at the alleged misdemeanors of Edinburgh City CouncilBBC Scotland  found evidence of things seriously amiss in building work overseen by the council. It seemed that work done under the statutory notice system – a system that allows the council to commission builders to repair private homes, needed a review. The BBC  said there were claims of bribes offered by contractors, poor quality work, work that is not necessary and over charging.  Edinburgh City Council didn’t comment because a police enquiry was underway.

What is so extraordinary about all this, is that over the past year 15 council officials had already been suspended. The council called this a ‘precautionary move’ and called in the auditors to investigate. So they knew that all was not as it should be, but they appear to have prevaricated until the nasty stuff hit the fan. Why? Is there a culture of cover up in our public organisations?

In that debacle, it looked as if residents had been over-charged for unnecessary repairs that were of poor quality, leaving the buildings in a worse state than before works began. It also appeared that the council were using companies that were not on their list of framework contractors. One company was allocated work worth almost £2m over two years. This particular firm went into administration and has kept its lips tightly sealed.

The allocation of work to certain contractors who may have been ‘lining their own pockets’ has caused some council officials ask some serious questions, thank goodness. I have always wondered if certain councils are in the pocket of some developers. There has always been a interesting relationships between some contractors and some council officials. The boundaries may have been blurred? We all know that if you are a councillor and a contractor offers to pay for your holiday, something is not right; particularly if that contractor is then given the contract. But like the scandal about MP‘s expenses in England, these things seem to go on under everyone’s noses for months, years perhaps and are ignored until some brave soul blows the whistle. Why is this?

We are a tolerant people. I believe we want to see the best in our neighbours and in our leaders, but I also know that we are becoming increasingly cynical about  the disingenuous way some of our leaders speak about such matters; the way they tend to keep their eyes closed and their heads in the sand. Is it some sort of misguided loyalty? This attitude seems to be cascading down to communities. It’s going on but I can’t see it? It’s happening but not on my patch? It’s someone else’s problem?

Basildon Council spent £18m – yes that’s eighteen million pound; the price of a small island – to evict a group of families living in caravans at Dale Farm in Essex.  Planning laws must not be flouted; they are there to protect us all, but to spend this amount of money on evicting a small group of people from their homes, makes Basildon Council look less than efficient to the rest of the world. The ethnic origin of these families has been sited as a possible reason for the evictions; that these people are discriminated against because of their culture. True, there are some nasty, bigoted people out there and some of them may work for the council or live near Dale farm, but the real scandal is that this council could not come up with any other way to deal with this issue that cost less that £18 million.

Edinburgh council and others are calling for a review on what has been happening on their patch. Maybe it is time that there is a general review on how council membersconduct themselves and their business on our behalf? You can read descriptions of fraud, mismanagement and general bad practice on the Internet, concerning any number of local and district councils in the UK. This is worrying. Councils hold a great deal of power and with that comes responsibility to us, the community charge payers and voters. Councils really must get their act together. We rely on them.


Managing emotions - Identifying feelings
Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emotions are an intrinsic part of our intelligence. Without them, we would be strange creatures, indeed! Emotions are a set of sign posts we all carry inside us. They evolved over millions of years and they make us human. If our needs are not being met, it is our emotions that flag this up. So, when we experience feelings of rejection and loneliness, our emotions are  telling us that something is amiss. Our emotions give us information about how we are feeling. If emotional connections are not working, even simple decisions are difficult to make. You have to be able to know how you will feel if you make choices. Emotions help you to do that.

When someone makes us feel unhappy or uncomfortable, our emotions tell us so. If we are healthy emotionally, we will be able to set boundaries and express ourselves in a manner that will help us to protect ourselves. Emotions are also vital to the way we communicate. Our expressions illustrate our emotions moment by moment. Facial expressions communicate to others how we feel inside, so if we look sad or distressed, others can see we need help. If we can also express those feelings verbally, we are more likely to find the help we need. Being in touch with our own emotions can also help us respond to the needs of others.

So how do you know what you are feeling? When you feel happy, you know it!  Your emotions tell you that you are happy. So the better you understand your emotions, the easier it will be for you to understand yourself and to know what it is that makes you happy. Your emotions will tell you.  In a world that is full of conflict caused by religion or political ideology,what can unite us?  Empathy, compassion, forgiveness and cooperation can. Our religious and political beliefs divide us, but maybe it is our emotions that can bring us together?

When the riots happened here in the UK last August, much was made of the fact that the young people who were rioting came from dysfunctional families. But it is unlikely that those kids were going hungry. They had homes and were wearing clothes. They weren’t running naked and hungry through the streets, stealing televisions and trainers. You can give children all the material stuff they say they want, but if their emotional needs are not being met, then they will never be content.

Humans all have emotional needs. We all need to feel excepted and respected. But the difference in how we express those needs, shows that we are not all the same. Some of us need more freedom than others. Some of us need more security than others. But the base line is the same. We all need to have our emotional needs understood and validated by others. If this delicate balance is not understood as kids are growing up, they may feel frustrated and behave badly. Our schools tend to focus on getting children through exams.  They are on a conveyor belt and individualism is not encouraged. Kids reaching their teens can become withdrawn and cut themselves off  if their unique personalities are not encouraged and their needs met. If they are bored at school and live in a home where parents are also out of touch with them emotionally through neglect or abuse – physical or emotional, then the outcome may be what we saw last August in London.

A lack of understanding of the emotional life we all hold inside ourselves leads to much unhappiness. If emotions are repressed from an early age, we can find showing empathy  to others almost impossible. The stiff upper lip does nobody any favours. That’s not to say that spewing out your emotions whenever you feel like it, is a good idea. There has to be some measure of control and that balance can only come from insight and probably from parents who expressed and validated their own feelings and emotions appropriately. But we are not able to choose our parents, so we have to make the best of it. That is why our education system has to wise up and become much more aware of how emotions work and how crucial they are to education and ultimately, to a happy and fulfilled life.



Nick Clegg and other MPs
Nick Clegg and other MPs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The local elections flagged up how fed up everyone is with politics. So few people bothered to leave their TV screens and get out there to vote. It’s not good. Speaking as a woman, our right to vote was hard-won. Women died in the process. I value my vote. But the apathy hanging over the UK at the moment is very worrying.

It is clear to anyone who is even vaguely interested in what is happening in the House of Commons, that our current leaders have lost their way. Mr. Cameron, a nice young chap educated at Eton College, a boarding school that prides itself in producing the flowers of British manhood, is imprisoned in his head, like a stuck chrysalis in a corner of a stately home. (that may sound patronising, but I’m allowed to be, I’m a grandmother.) And as for the rest of us – well, you voted for him. But you were unsure at the time if he could cut it, so you brought Nick Clegg into the equation and ended up with two for the price of one. They have each other to bounce off, you thought. There is safety in numbers, you thought. The whole lot of them are rubbish, so let’s get them working together… some thought.

Sadly, it has all turned out to be an embarrassing mess. The cringing chaos of the last few months must have made even the most stalwart of Tory voters get tinnitus. The singing in the ears comes from hearing their leader spouting words that show how deeply out of touch he is. Liberal Democrat  supporters will never  find it easy to forgive or forget Mr. Clegg’s disingenuous speeches about students fees. There is a phrase in the Italian language: Bella Figura. It means self-respect, putting yourself in the best light possible, making sure you come across well for the benefit of others. The subtext to this phrase, means to me, that in caring about yourself, you care about others; particularly important when you are responsible for the day-to-day lives of millions of people as a Prime Minister and his government are. Our politicians need some Bella Figura…

And what about the dropped stitches in the Rupert and James Murdoch Knitting B? The whole jumper is full of holes and it’s clear that the knitting circle, though meeting regularly, had no idea what was going on outside their cosy  roundelay. They were stitching up people’s lives in the most extraordinary way. Over the past few months, the Levenson enquiry has unsettled everyone and we come back to that old question: does anyone, anywhere, with power have any scruples, any morals, any common sense?

Then the sheer craziness of the media time devoted to the Cornish Pasty and tax thereof. Was this a distraction to stop us seeing what is really going on? A cynical view maybe, but in the light of the trillions of pounds that have vanished through the incompetence of the banks, could it be that some of that incompetence had spilled over into No. 10? Dare I say it, but the people in the so-called top jobs seems to have difficulty in waking up and smelling the coffee right underneath their noses.

The riots of last summer were terrifying. I wonder if we are all scared now. Seeing battleships in the Thames, guns perched on blocks of flats, media moguls squirming in front of judges, people too poor to buy food to feed their children, hundreds out of work, a dead baby found on a rubbish dump, crime beginning to increase everywhere – well, the picture is like turning the clock back. Are we really living in the 21st century? And all this is happening under Cameron and Clegg’s watch… Whether or not these events are as a direct result of incompetent governance is not the question. It’s the public perception that things are going seriously wrong, that life is not as it should be in the UK, with this current government.